I purchased this at a used book sale back in 2015.
Almost four years later, I received an email from a man who attended a camp in 1969, where the writer, Clair Armin, gave out copies of Pithy Pellets. He had long since lost his.
Today I mailed it off to him. And while it was bittersweet to part with it, I’m so happy to have captured my favorite parts from it here, and to have been part of a story of a treasure lost and found. – Wolf
Pithy: of language or style, concise or forcefully expressive.
Pellets: pellet are small particle typically created by compressing an original.
Selected quotations from an undated booklet, titled Pithy Pellets, compiled by Claire Armin.
*unattributed / unknown
“A person who aims at nothing usually hits it.” *
“The habit of being happy enables one to he freed, or largely freed, from the domination of outward conditions.”
– Robert Louis Stevenson
“The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem, but whether you are dealing with the same problem you had last year.” *
“To speak ill of others is a dishonest way of praising ourselves.”
– Will Durant
“Eventually, why not now.” *
“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
– Aldous Huxley
“Time goes you say? Ah, no! Alas, time stays; we go.” *
“A mediocre plan, well executed, is better than an excellent plan, poorly executed.”
– Napoleon Bonaparte
“Whatever you dislike in another person be sure to correct it in yourself.” *
“Every man carries with him the world in which he must live.”
– J.M. Crawford
“We do not see things as they are, but as we are.”
“Don’t be fooled by the calendar. There are only as many days in a year as we make use of. One man gets only a week’s value out of a year, while another man gets a full year’s value out of a week.”
– Charles Richards
“The size of a man can be measured by the size of a thing that makes him angry.”
– J.K. Merely
“A committee of one gets things done.”
– Joe Ryan
“One often contradicts an argument when what is really uncongenial is the tone in which it is conveyed.”
“Great minds have purposes, others have wishes.” *
“A great leader takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit.”
– Arnold Glascow
“Have patience. All things are difficult before they become easy.”
“What you are to be, you are now becoming.” *
“The difference between a conviction and a pleasure is that you can explain a conviction without getting angry.” *
“The best measure of a man’s mentality is the importance of the things he will argue about.” *
“Fools can make money. It takes a wise man to know how to spend it.”
– English proverb
“Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you’ll understand what little chance you have trying to change others.”
– Arnold Glasgow
“Much happiness is overlooked because it didn’t cost anything.”
“The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
“The true art of memory is the art of attention.”
“Character is a victory not a gift.” *
“No two people ever met and were the same ever again” *
“Judging others is a dangerous thing; not so much as you will make mistakes about them but because you may reveal the truth about yourself.”
“There is no pillow so soft as a clear conscience.”
– French proverb
“Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.” *
“Responsibilities gravitate to the man who can shoulder them.”
– Elbert Hubbard
“Every man should endeavor to belong to himself.” *
“Politeness is better than logic; you can often persuade when you cannot convince.”
– W.W. Shaw
“All problems become smaller if you don’t dodge them but confront them.
– William S. Halsey
“Lampis, the shipowner, on being asked how he acquired his great wealth, replied, “My great wealth was acquired with no difficulty, but my small wealth, my first gains, with much labor.
“If you want to know whether you will be as success or failure in life, you can easily find out. The test is simple and infallible. Are you able to save money?”
– James J. Hill
“Let us not complain against men because of their rudeness, their ingratitude, their arrogance, their love of self, their forgetfulness of others. They are so made. Such is their nature. To be annoyed with them is like denouncing a stone for falling, or a fire for burning.”
– Jean De La Bruyere
“Variety is the spice of life, but it takes monotony to finance it.”
– Arnold Glasgow
“The less a fellow knows, the more eager he is to prove it to anybody who will listen.” *
“Genius is the ability to evade work by doing something right the first time it has to be done.” *
“The haves and the have-nots can often be traced back to the did and the did-nots.”
– D.O. Flynn
“It’s not what you would do with a million
if it should fall to your lot.
But what you are doing today
with the dollar and a quarter you’ve got.” *
“A great number of people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”
I am so terribly happy, I find myself stupefied by my undeniable joy.
Never have I, alone, felt anything like this; and it’s not the transitory kind of happiness either – my disposition seems to have altered; although, it’s not without cause. I’ve doubled down on my boyhood dreams, put my money where my mouth is, and invested in myself as a boy wishes to do when he is a man. Furthermore, I returned to the simple, instinctual joys of my childhood – those natural, comforting acts and habits in which one’s soul receives communion from the steady, centering spirit of the earth. But as we age, the ego emerges and we slowly abandon ourselves, eventually burying any sense of duty to the self, sometimes for decades, sometimes forever. I’m just one of the charmed, fortunate fools who rediscovered something lost long ago; lost long before I knew heartbreak; lost long before I lost faith in myself, for a time, that time not so long ago.
Today I’m again happy as only a boy is, as only one is who has not yet lost the unblemished optimism of youth, the hope of boyhood, and the innocence of promises whispered to teddy bears.
Back then, long before I carried this scar on my brow and this sorrow in my heart, I spent every free waking moment with my unsullied face in a book, the stories a balm on the dimples of my heart, still faint impressions formed by a world less perfect than the ideals of my ten-year-old heart.
Today, the boy who grew up lost in a book has found himself again in the libraries of time and in the words of his heroes, strangers who told the world their secrets: as a boy whispers them to his stuffed animals.
These, beautiful, peace-filled days pass in books and walks and endeavors meant to shape the world, at least, the world I live in.
It’s been said that happiness is the absence of neurosis, and I have discovered this to be true, for I have not a love, nor a fortune, nor a magical secret – but I smile as one who does, knowing I will.
I’ve realized the gift in losing, the freedom in uncertainty, and the rapturous joy to be found in the treasures of the heart. For this heart is mine and I’ve been to hell and back with it. And I’ll be damned if I ever forget the song in it again: the song I learned as a boy; the song I sing as a man.
In 1955 a forty-nine-year-old Anne Morrow Lindberg (Wife to famed aviator Charles Lindbergh) spent two weeks alone in a New England coastal cottage, where she penned her thoughts on aging, relationships, solitude, being a woman, and caring for the soul. Sixty years and three million copies in forty-three languages later, Gift From The Sea remains a highly relevant work of inspirational literature. Lyrical prose and uncommon insights elevate this book above the genre.
Copyright 1955, Pantheon Paperback Edition, 1997
The heart’s desire for grace
“I want to give and take from my children and husband, to share with friends and community, to carry out my obligations to man and to the world, as a woman, as an artist, as a citizen.
But I want first of all – in fact, as an end to these other desires – to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. I want, in fact – to borrow from the language of the saints – to live “in grace” as much of the time as possible.
I am not using this term in a strictly theological sense. By grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony. I am seeking perhaps what Socrates asked for in the prayer from the Phaedrus when he said, “May the outward and the inward man be at one.” I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God.”
– p. 23
The Balancing Act
“For life today in America is based on the premise of ever-widening circles of contact and communication. It involves not only family demands, but community demands, national demands, international demands on the good citizen, through social and cultural pressures, through newspapers, magazines, radio programs, political drives, charitable appeals, and so on. My mind reels with it. What a circus act we women perform every day of our lives. It puts the trapeze artist to shame. Look at us. We run a tight rope daily, balancing a pile of books on the head. Baby-carriage, parasol, kitchen chair, still under control. Steady now!”
– p. 26
“How desirable and how distant is the ideal of the contemplative, artist, or saint – the inner inviolable core, the single eye.”
– p. 29
Shedding the mask of insincerity
“The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere. That is why so much of social life is exhausting; one is wearing a mask. I have shed my mask.”
– p. 32
Grey hairs and cobwebs
“The unfinished beams in the roof are veiled by cobwebs. They are lovely, I think, gazing up at them with new eyes; they soften the hard lines of the rafters as grey hairs soften the lines on a middle-aged face. I no longer pull out grey hairs or sweep down cobwebs.”
– p. 33
Our fear of being alone and the vacuum of our inner life
“We seem so frightened today of being alone that we never let it happen. Even if family, friends, and movies should fail, there is still the radio or television to fill up the void. Women, who used to complain of loneliness, need never be alone any more. We can do our housework with soap opera heroes at our side. Even daydreaming was more creative than this; it demanded something of oneself and it fed the inner life. Now, instead of planting our solitude with our own dream blossoms, we choke the space with continuous music, chatter, and companionship to which we do not even listen. It is simply there to fill the vacuum. When the noise stops there is no inner music to take its place. We must re-learn to be alone.”
– pp. 41, 42
Spiritual isolation and the wilderness of the mind
“For it is not physical solitude that actually separates one from other men, not physical isolation, but spiritual isolation. It is not the desert island nor the stony wilderness that cuts you from the people you love. It is the wilderness in the mind, the desert wastes in the heart through which one wanders lost and a stranger. When one is a stranger to oneself then one is estranged from others too.”
– p. 44
Among the most important times in one’s life
“Actually these are among the most important times in one’s life – when one is alone. Certain springs are tapped only when one is alone. The artist knows he must be alone to create; the writer, to work out his thoughts; the musician, to compose; the saint, to pray.”
– p. 50
The problem of the stirring, hungry soul
“The problem is not entirely in finding the room of one’s own, the time alone, difficult and necessary as this is. The problem is more how to still the soul in the midst of its activities. In fact, the problem is how to feed the soul.”
– p. 51
Feeding the center
“Nothing feeds the center so much as creative work, even humble kinds like cooking and sewing. Baking bread, weaving cloth, putting up preserves, teaching and singing to children, must have been far more nourishing than being the family chauffeur or shopping at super-markets.”
– p. 53
The Kingdom of Heaven
“Men, too, are being forced to look inward – to find inner solutions as well as outer ones. Perhaps this change marks a new stage of maturity for modern, extrovert, activist, materialistic Western man. Can it be he is beginning to realize the kingdom of heaven is within?”
– p. 58
On relationships, and refinding oneself
“With each partner hungry for different reasons and each misunderstanding the other’s needs, it is easy to fall apart or into late love affairs. The temptation is to blame the situation on the other person and to accept the easy solution that a new and more understanding partner will solve everything.
But neither woman nor man are likely to be fed by another relationship which seems easier because it is at an earlier stage. Such a love affair cannot really bring back a sense of identity. Certainly, one has the illusion that one will find oneself in being loved for what one really is, not for a collection of functions. But can one actually find oneself in someone else? In someone else’s love? Or even in the mirror someone else holds up for one? I believe that true identity is found, as Eckhart once said, by “going into one’s own ground and knowing oneself.” It is found in creative activity springing from within. It is found, paradoxically, when one loses oneself. One must lose one’s life to find it. Woman can best refind herself by losing herself in some of creative activity of her own. Here she will be able to refind her strength, the strength she needs to look and work at the second half of the problem – the neglected pure relationship. Only a refound person can refind a personal relationship.”
– pp. 68-69
Rediscovering the double-sunrise
“One way of rediscovering the double-sunrise is to duplicate some of its circumstances. Husband and wife can and should go off on vacations alone and also on vacations alone together. For if it is possible that a woman can find herself by having a vacation alone, it is equally possible that the original relationship can sometimes be refound by having a vacation alone together.”
– p. 70
“For not only do we insist on believing romantically in the “one-and-only” – the one-and-only love, the one and only mate, the one-and-only security – we wish the “one and only” to be permanent, ever-present and continuous. The desire for continuity of being-loved-alone seems to me “the error bred in the bone” of man. For “there is no one and only,” as a friend of mine once said in a similar discussion, “there are just one-and-only moments.”
– pp. 72-73
The fallacy of the permanent relationship
“One comes in the end to realize that there is no permanent pure-relationship and there should not be. It is not even something to be desired. The pure relationship is limited, in space and in time. In its essence it implies exclusion. It excludes the rest of life, other relationships, other sides of personality, other responsibilities, other possibilities in the future. It excludes growth.”
– pp. 73-74
Note: nineteen years after Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote these words, her husband, aviator Charles Lindbergh, would pass away, after forty-seven years with her, leaving her a widow for the last twenty-seven years of her life.
The dynamic nature of relationship
“One learns to accept the fact that no permanent return is possible to an old form of relationship; and, more deeply still, that there is no holding of a relationship to a single form. This is not tragedy but part of the ever-recurrent miracle of life and growth. All living relationships are in process of change, of expansion, and must permanently be building themselves to new forms. But there is no single fixed form to express such a changing relationship.”
– pp. 74-75
Middle age: a time to be completely oneself
“Perhaps muddle age is, or should be, a period of shedding shells; the shell of ambition, the shell of material accumulations and possessions, the shell of the ego. Perhaps one can shed at this stage of life as one sheds in beach-living; one’s pride, ones false ambitions, one’s mask, one’s armor. Was that armor not put on to protect one from the competitive world? If one cesses to compete, does one need it? Perhaps one can at last in middle age, if not earlier, be completely oneself. And what a liberation that would be!”
– pp. 84-85
Climbing above the plateau and freeing one’s self for spiritual growth
“Many people never climb above the plateau of forty-to-fifty. The signs that presage growth, so similar, it seems to me, to those in early adolescence: discontent, restlessness, doubt, despair, longing, are interpreted falsely as signs of decay. In youth one does not often misinterpret the signs; one accepts them, quite rightly, as growing pains. One takes them seriously, listens to them, follows where they lead. One I afraid. Naturally. But who is not afriad of pure space – that breath-taking empty space of an open door? But despite fear, one goes through to the room beyond.
But in middle age, because of the false assumption that it is a period of decline, one interprets these life I signs, paradoxically, as signs of approaching death. Instead of facing them, one runs away; one escapes – into depressions, nervous breakdowns, drink, loves affairs, or frantic, thoughtless, fruitless overwork. Anything rather than face them. Anything, rather than stand still and learn from them. One tries to cure the signs of growth, to exorcise them, as if they were devils, when really they might be the angels of annunciation.
Annunciation of what? Of a new stage in living when, having shed many of the physical struggles, the worldly ambitions, the material encumbrances of active life, one might be free to fulfill the neglected side of one’s self. One might be free for growth of the mind, heart, and talent; free at last for spiritual growth…”
– pp. 87-88
Two wholes, rather than two halves: the personal relationship
‘And in this new freedom, is there any place for relationship? I believe there is an opportunity for the best relationship of all: not a limited, mutually exclusive one, and not a dependent one; but the meeting of two whole, fully developed people as persons. It would be, to borrow the definition of the Scottish philosopher MacMurray, a fully personal relationship, this is, “a type of relationship into which people enter as persons with the whole of themselves.” “Personal relationships,” he goes on to explain,”… have no ulterior motive. They are not based on particular interests. They do not serve partial and limited ends. Their value lies entirely in themselves and for the same reason transcends all other values.’
– p. 93
Becoming world to one’s self
“Perhaps both men and women in America may hunger, in our material, outward, active, masculine culture, for the supposedly feminine qualities of heart, mind and spirit – qualities which are actually neither masculine nor feminine, but simply human qualities that have been neglected. It is growth along these lines that will make us whole, and will enable the individual to become world to himself.”
– p. 97
Communication as coffee; thirsting for the night stars
“…good communication is stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after. Before we sleep we go out again into the night. We walk up the beach under the stars. And when we are tired of walking, we lie flat on the same under a bowl of stars. We feel stretched, expanded to take in their compass. They pour into us until we are filled with stars, up to the brim.
This is what one thirsts for, I realize, after the smallness of the day, of work, of details, of intimacy – even of communication, one thirsts for the magnitude and universality of a night full of stars, pouring into one like a fresh tide.”
– pp. 102-103
The only real security in a relationship
“We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching ad they pass, but partners in the same pattern. The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what it was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now.”
– pp. 108-109
The luxury of silence; communication as communion
“At home, when I meet my friends in those cubby-holed hours, time is so precious we feel we must cram every available instant with conversation. We cannot afford the luxury of silence. Here on the island I find I can sit with a friend without talking, sharing the day’s last sliver of pale green light on the horizon, or the whorls in a small white shell, or the dark scar left in the dazzling night sky by a shooting star. Then communication becomes communion and one is nourished as one never is by words.”
– p. 116
I bake biscuits and feel just as pleased
“There are all kinds of experiences on this island, but not too many. The simplicity of life forces me into physical as well as intellectual or social activity. I have no car, so I bicycle for my supplies and my mail. When it is cold, I collect driftwood for my fireplace and chop it up, too. I swim instead of taking hot baths. I bury my garbage instead of having it removed by a truck. And when I cannot write a poem, I bake biscuits and feel just as pleased.”
– p. 117
Note: this is the sublime.
The richness of the unknown
“We tend not to choose the unknown, which might be a shock or a disappointment or simply a little difficult to cope with. And yet it is the unknown with all its disappointments and surprises that is the most enriching.”
– p. 119
A false sense of values vs. conscious selectivity
“When I go back will I he submerged again, not only by centrifugal activities, but by too many centripetal ones? Not only by distractions but by too many opportunities? Not only by dull people but by too many interesting ones? The multiplicity of the world will crowd in on me again with its false sense of values. Values weighed in quantity, not quality; in speed, not stillness; in noise, not silence; in words, not in thoughts, in acquisivitiveness, not beauty.”
‘I will have to substitute a conscious selectivity based on another set of values – a sense of values I have become more aware here; simplicity of living, as much as possible, to attain a true awareness of life. Balance of physical, intellectual, and spiritual life. Work without pressure. Space for significance and beauty. Time for solitude and sharing. Closeness to nature to strengthen understanding and faith in the intermittency of life: life of the spirit, creative life, and the life of human relationships.’
“Island life has been my lens through which to examine my own life in the North. I must keep my lens when I go back. Little by little one’s holiday vision tends to fade. I must remember to see with island eyes.”
– pp. 129-120
American vs. European living
“The present is passed over in the race for the future; the here is neglected in favor of the there; and the individual is dwarfed by the enormity of the mass. America, which has the most glorious present still existing in the world today, hardly stops to enjoy it, in her insatiable appetite for the future. Perhaps the historian or the sociologist or the philosopher would say that we are still propelled by our frontier energy, still conditioned by our pioneer pressures or our Puritan anxiety to “do ye next thing.” Europe, on the other hand, which we think of as being enamored by the past, has since the last war, strangely enough, been forced into a new appreciation of the present. The good past is so far away and the near past is so horrible and the future so perilous, that the present has the chance to expand into the golden eternity of of here and now. Europeans today are enjoying the moment even if it means merely a walk in the country on Sunday or wiping a cup of black coffee at a sidewalk café.”
– pp. 126-227
Note: this is writing par excellence.
Growing pains as part of a necessary collective evolution
“Much of this exploration and new awareness is uncomfortable and painful for both men and women. Growth in awareness has always been painful. (One need only remember one’s own adolescence or watch one’s adolescent children.) But it does lead to greater independence and, eventually, cooperation in action. For the enormous problems that fave the world today, in both the private and public sphere, cannot be solved by women – or by men – alone. They can only be surmounted by men and women side by side.”
This is the second entry in my Passages series, where I transcribe my favorite passages from a book I have just finished reading. Today I felt like an enjoyable read and thus returned to a story I relate to as both a writer and a human being. Fitzgerald manages to tell a story that is free from verbosity without being as robotic and curt as I find his contemporary chum Ernest Hemingway.
The Great Gatsby is, in my estimation, a novel without flaw. Read the passages below to discover why this work is considered to be a masterpiece of American literature.
Copyright 1925, Scribner paperback edition, 2004.
Jay Gatsby’s extraordinary gift of hope
“If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of “creative temperament” – it was an extraordinary gift of hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again.”
– p. 2
“This was a permanent move, said Daisy over the telephone, but I didn’t believe it – I had no sight into Daisy’s heart, but I felt that Tom would drift on forever seeking, a little wistfully, for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game.”
– p. 6
“I looked back at my cousin, who began to ask me questions in her low, thrilling voice. It was the kind of voce that the ear follows up and down, as I’d each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again. Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth, but there was an excitement in her voice that men who cared for her found it difficult to forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered “Listen,” a promise that she had done gay exciting things just a while since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour.”
– p. 9
Unpredictable, realistic dialogue
“You make me feel uncivilized Daisy,” I confessed over my second glass of corky but rather impressive claret. “Can’t you talk about crops or something?”
I meant nothing in particular by this remark, but it was taken up in an unexpected way.
“Civilization’s going to pieces,” broke out Tom violently.
“I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read The Rise of the Colored Empires by this man Goddard?”
– p. 12
“As for Tom, the fact that he “had some woman in New York” was really less surprising than that he had been depressed by a book. Something was making him nibble at the edge of stale ideas as if his sturdy physical egoism no longer nourished his peremptory heart.”
– p. 20
Insight, Intuition, Inference
“Something in his leisurely movements and the secure position of his feet upon the lawn suggested that this was Mr. Gatsby himself, come out to determine what share was his of our local heavens.”
– p. 20
How to begin a chapter
“There was music through my neighbor’s house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”
– p. 39
“He smiled understandingly – much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced – or seemed to face – the whole eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.”
– p. 48
Nick Carraway’s impression of himself
“Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.”
– p. 59
“As we crossed Blackwell’s Island a limousine passed us, in which sat three modish negroes, two bucks and a girl. I laughed aloud as the yolks of their eyeballs rolled toward us in haughty rivalry.
“Anything can happen now that we’ve slid over this bridge”, I thought; “anything at all”…
Even Gatsby could happen, without any particular wonder.”
– p. 69
Cultural commentary / observation
“Americans, while occasionally willing to be serfs, have always been obstinate about being peasantry.”
– p. 88
Daisy’s effect on Gatsby
“He hadn’t once ceased looking at Daisy, and I think he revalued everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew from her well loved eyes. Sometimes, too, he stared around at his possessions in a dazed way, as though in her actual presence none of it was any longer real. Once he nearly toppled down a flight of stairs.”
– p. 91
From Gatz to Gatsby: Jay’s reinvention and backstory
“I suppose he’d had the name ready for a long time, even then. His parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people – his imagination had never really accepted them as his parents at all. The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God – a phrase which, if it means anything means just that – and he must be about His Father’s business, the service of vast, vulgar, and meritorious beauty. So he invented the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end.”
– p. 98
“I wouldn’t ask too much of her,” I ventured. “You can’t repeat the past.”
“Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can!”
He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand.
“I’m going to fix everything just the way it was before,” he said, nodding determinedly. “She’ll see.”
He talked a lot about the past, and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was…”
“She’s got an indiscreet voice,” I remarked. “It’s full of – ”
“Her voice is full of money,” he said suddenly.
That was it. I’d never understood before. It was full of money – that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell with it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it… High in the white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl….”
– p. 120
“She never loved you, do you hear?” he cried. “She only married you because I was poor and she was tired of waiting for me. It was a terrible mistake, but in her heart she never loved anyone except me!”
– p. 130
Carraway describes the Midwest
“That’s my middle west – not the wheat or the praries or the lost swede towns, but the thrilling returning trains of my youth, and the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark and the shadows of the hokky wreaths thrown by lighted windows on the snow. I am part of that, a little solemn with the feel of those long winters…”
– p. 176
Carraway’s breakup with Jordan Baker
“I thought you were rather an honest, straightforward person. I thought it was your secret pride.”
“I’m thirty,” I said. “I’m five years too old to lie to myself and call it honor.”
She didn’t answer. Angry, and half in love with her, and tremendously sorry, I turned away.”
– p. 177
Carraway’s verdict on Tom and Daisy
“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they made…”
– p. 179
The End: Gatsby believed in the green light
“And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light on the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning –
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
I have begun sharing select literary passages on Facebook as of late, where, despite my small list of friends, I have received a substantial amount of positive feedback in the form of likes, shares, and comments. Prompted by this experiment, and spurred by my desire to champion good literature, I will be publishing a series of entries entitled Passages, where I will share my favorite prose and wisdom within a given book.
I’m excited about this. As a writer, I’ll get to transcribe the passages I enjoy most, endearing their texture and syntax evermore deeply to me; and as a reader, this practice will foster more thoughtful, perceptive reading – something I am duly more conscientious of, having just read Mortimer J. Adler’s and Charles Van Doren’s classic literacy manual: How to Read a Book.
As I embark on this journey of transcribing these beautiful bits of books, I offer a caveat and a disclaimer: Passages are not CliffsNotes, nor it is not my wish to contribute to the pseudo-intellectual culture promulgated by the internet and television; that which gives the viewer a false sense of knowing, without any background, context, or experience, the same stacking of facts that allows people to quote so-and-so without ever actually having read blah-blah-blah.
I am not one who espouses highbrow elitism; however, I believe the world would be a better place if people read more books, for few things have profited my soul as time spent between pages.
Without further ado, I hope you enjoy these selected passages.
Inner Reaches of Outer Space, Joseph Campbell
Passages excepted from the 1988 Harper and Row Edition
The inner, transformational world of myth
“The seat of the soul is there, where the outer and inner worlds meet. That is the wonder-land (sic) of myth. From the outer world the senses carry images to the mind, which do not become myth, however, until there transformed by fusion with accordant insights, awakened as imagination from the inner world of the body.”
– p. 31
The borderless omnipresence of the holy land
“The holy land is no special place. It is every place that has ever been recognized and mythologized by any people as home.”
– p. 44
The transcendent, larger than life power of story
” …as noticed in the Chhāndogya Upanishad: “Just as those who do not know the spot might pass, time and time again, over a hidden treasure of gold without discovering it, so do all creatures of this world pass daily into that Brahmā world [in deep sleep], without discovering it, distracted as they are by false ideas.” The distinguishing first function of a properly read mythology is to release the mind from its naive fixation upon such false ideas, which are of material things as things-in-themselves [vs. metaphor]. Hence, the figurations of myth are metaphorical (as dreams normally are not) in two senses simultaneously, as bearing (1) psychological, but at the same time (2) metaphysical, connotations. By way of this dual focus the psychologically significant features of any social order, environment, or supposed history can be transformed through myth into transparencies revelatory of transcendence.”
– p. 56 | note: I find Campbell’s normally eloquent and succinct writing a bit obtuse here but if you can discern what he is saying – there is a lot to take away from this passage on happiness and the transcendent, larger than life power of story. To quote Gabriel Garcia Marquez from One Hundred Years of Solitude (a book I could not get into): “It’s not so much what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.” In other words, the story we tell ourselves matters more than the plot of our lives, for the story shapes the plot.
The metaphorical, transcendent nature of G-d
“…the term and concept “God” is itself but a metaphor of the unknowing mind, connotative, not only beyond itself, but beyond thought.”
– p. 57
Cross-cultural archetypes in myth and identification with the sacred
“The first task of any systematic comparison of the myths and religions of mankind should therefore be (it seemed to me) to identify these universals (or, as C.G. Jung termed them, archetypes of the unconscious) and as far as possible to interpret them; and the second task then should be to recognize and interpret the various locally and historically conditioned transformations of the metaphorical images through which these universals have been rendered. Since the archetypes are not limited in their distributions by cultural or even linguistic boundaries, they cannot be defined as culturally determined. However, the local metaphors by which they have been everywhere connoted, the local ways of experiencing and applying their force, are indeed socially conditioned and defined. Bastian termed such local figurations ” ethnic ideas,” völkergedanken, and Mircea Eliade has termed them “heirophanies” (from hieros-, “powerful, supernatural, holy, sacred,” plus phainein, “to reveal, show, make known.”).
“The very dialectic of the sacred,” Eliade declares, “tends to repeat a series of archetypes, so that a heirophany realized at a certain historical moment is structurally equivalent to a heirophany a thousand years earlier or later.”
The Elementary idea is grounded in the psyche; the Ethnic Idea through which it is rendered, in local geography, history, and society. A heirophany occurs when through some detail, whether of a local landscape, artifact, social custom, historical memory, or individual biography, a psychological archetype or elementary idea is reflected. The object so informed becomes thereby sacralized, or mythologized. Correspondingly, a religious experience will be realized when there is felt an immediate sense of identification with the revelation. The sense of a mere relationship is not the same. In popular cult the experience of relationship is frequently all that is intended. Thereby a sense of social solidarity may be rendered. Through identification, however, a transformation of character is effected.”
– p. 100
Schopenhauer on the synchronicity that shapes a life
“Schopenhauer, in his bold and really magnificent “Transcendent Speculation upon an Apparent Intention in The Fate of the Individual” (1850), takes up the idea, remarking that in the later years of a lifetime, looking back over the course of one’s days and noticing how encounters and events that appeared at the time to be accidental became the crucial structuring features of an unintended lifestory through which the potentialities of one’s character were fostered to fulfillment, one may find it difficult to resist the notion of the course of one’s biography as compatible to that of a clearly constructed novel, wondering who the author of the surprising plot can have been; considering further, that as the shaping of one’s own life was largely an effect of personalities accidentally encountered, so, too, one must have oneself worked effects upon others.
It is one great dream dream dreamed by a single being, but in such a way that all the characters dream too. Hence, everything links and accords with everything else.”
– pp. 110-111
The restrictive, mechanistic, religious view of the sacred
“From the standpoint of an exclusively mechanistic view of human experience and action, any such attribution to nature of, “a presence… far more deeply interfused” as that of Wordsworth’s poetic lines of meditation written above Tintern Abbey, or of Schopenhauer’s “Will in Nature,” must be qualified in the derogatory sense as feelings; the so called pathetic fallacy: a sentimental projection of the imagination like Don Quixote’s morbid fantasy of a magician’s work in a windmill. Anthropologists, in the same vein, describe as “animism” the attribution in tribal mythologies, not only of consciousness, but also of a discreet indwelling spirit, to every material form of reality, whether it be animal, plant, stone, star, moon, sun, or cyclone. While in the vocabulary of Judeo-Christian theology, diabolism is the word for such beliefs.
For already in the Old Testament, as in post-Gallilean sciences, there is in nature itself no divinity. There is no god in all of earth but in Israel (II Kings 5:15), and the gods of the gentiles are devils. The texts of Christian missionaries to this same point in justification of their labors are legion, Satan himself being there recognized as even literally present in the idols, sacraments, sorceries, and miracles of every worship but the mission’s own.”
– p. 114
The priest vs. the artist and the artist as innovator
“Carl Jung somewhere has written that the function of religion is to protect us from an experience of God.
The priest’s practical maxims and metaphorical rites moderate transcendent light to secular conditions, intending harmony and enrichment, not disquietude and dissolution. In contrast, the mystic deliberately offers himself to the blast and may go to pieces.
Like the priest, the artist is a master of metaphorical language. The priest, however, is vocationally committed to a vocabulary already coined, of which he is the representative. He is a performing artist executing scripts already perfectly wrought, and his art is in the execution. Creative artists, in contrast, are creative only in so far as they are innovative. And of their innovations, two degrees are readily distinguished. One, the more immediately obvious, has to do with technical innovations; the other with innovative insights.”
– p. 121
The pornographic nature of art intended to foster desire
“Art that excites desire Joyce calls pornographic. All advertising art is in this sense pornographic, since it is intended that the viewer should desire to possess in some manner the object represented.”
– p. 123
The “proper” artist as revolutionary prophet, and mirror for the social mask
“For nature, as we know, is at once without and within us. Art is the mirror at the interface. So too is ritual; so also myth. These, too, ” bring out the grand lines of nature,” and in doing so, reestablish us in our own deep truth, which is at one with that of all being.
So that the artist, functioning in this “proper” way, is the true seer and prophet of his century, the justifier of life and as such, of course, a revolutionary far more fundamental in his penetration of the social mask of the day than any idealist fanatic spilling blood over the pavement in the name simply of another unnatural mask.”
– p. 132
The sublime nature of art that cleanses
“The word ” catharsis” (Greek katharsis; from kathairein, “to cleanse”) which in Aristotle’s usage denotes the effect of tragedy as “effecting through pity and terror a katharsis of these emotions,” was a term which referred in the Greek religious vocabulary to a spiritual transformation brought about by participation in a rite. The mind, “cleansed” of attachments may merely secular aims, desires, and fears, is released to a spiritual rapture. Plato writes of katharsis, for example, as a “defeat of the sensation of pleasure.” The ultimate effect, that is to say, is not to be of beauty (which when seen pleases), but of the sublime (outreaching human comprehension).”
– p. 134
The degradation of art, myth, and religion, and the artist as deliverer
“The question finally at issue, however, is not of individual psychology, alienation, and resentment, but of the irreducible conflict of metaphysics vis-à-vis morals within the jurisdiction, not only of art, but of myth, religion, and social action as well. For during the course of the nineteenth century, the separation of those two opposed orders of human experience, concern, and fulfillment became in the west exaggerated to such a degree by the radical materialism of the increasingly industrialized megalopolitan centers of mass intelligence and democratization, that anything like the functional grounding of a social order in a mythology (so that individuals of whatever social class, participating in the metaphorical festivals, should become joined with all in a profoundly shared experience of the ground and sense of their lives) simple disappeared into irrelevance. And with that, the proper artist lost his function. Today’s pitiful contracts to invent monuments commemorating local-historical events and personages are hardly compatible to the earlier challenges of art, to break through the walls of a culture to eternity. Thus, the only true service of a proper artist today will have to be to individuals: returning them to forgotten archetypes, les grandes lignes de la nature, which have been lost to view behind a cloud contending Jeremy Benthamoid philosophies of the greatest [economic] good to the greatest number.”
“If we must escape from reality, it should be to a deeper, or greater, reality. This is the reality of our inner life, of our own unique vision of the world. To discover this reality makes us happy; the experience is deeply satisfying to some part of ourselves we do not normally touch. In any event, the rules of reading a great work of literary art should have as an end or goal just such a profound experience. The rules should clear away all that stops us from feeling as deeply as we possibly can.”
I remember walking into a coffeehouse on Milwaukee’s East side four years ago and being struck by the haunting beauty of the music I heard. This possessed me to ask the barista if she knew who the singer was, to which she adorably replied: “Me.”
For some reason I thought of this the other day, and I listened to the song, looking up the singer on Facebook as I did. In doing so I discovered she is no longer in Milwaukee – having moved to Brooklyn. I was happy to hear of this, but I was also called to account by it: She’s living her dream, seemingly in love, and I’m in San Diego.
It’s rightly said that comparison is the thief of joy, but comparison can also be a great barometer – a yardstick of your actualization. This may sound counterintuitive but I’m not advocating setting goals or measuring your happiness against another’s; I’m merely advising you to set standards and benchmarks for yourself, of which others can serve as a great motivator for.
I found it duly inspiring Rae moved to Brooklyn, and it made me feel overdue to return to my own mecca, The City of Angels, which I am soon doing. For I absolutely yearn to return to the place I feel most alive, most free – and while the Monopoly of fate has circuitously deposited me back in San Diego multiple times, I’m done not passing “Go” and not collecting my two-hundred dollars.
Little, if anything, could draw me back again.
I’ll be returning to LA a different man, having spent these past seven post-relationhip months engaged in solitary refinement, a phrase I heard John Mayer use.
Within this alchemical chrysalis of solitary refinement I discovered what I wasn’t and who I was; what lie underneath the persona I had unknowingly worn for so long, for the man beneath the mask had emerged, and it became clear I could no longer deny myself – not without the truth stalking me forever.
There was never any looking back after crossing this revelatory threshold for fate itself seemed to be taking me, or rather – leading me – to a destiny I wouldn’t dare attempt evade.
As James Joyce wrote in Ulysses: “Think you’re escaping and you run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home.”
Yes, it’s been a long way round.
Thankfully at thirty I’m still on time – for writing is a man’s, rather than a boy’s game. At present I’m making my way to work on my novels fulltime, leveraging my capitalist brawn and intellectual property as bond, knowing full well that fate holds it for me never to put the pen down.
True: one may succeed in escaping fate for a time, but no destiny or identity is avoidable entirely. At least not without paying for it with your happiness and inner peace.
As Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote: “Character is destiny.” However for most persons, their character is not fully conscious, it’s embattled with the forces of the subconscious, resulting in a destiny that cannot be foreseen or chosen by design. Hence so many people ending up in lives they desired but never really wanted. In the words of Carl Jung, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
Diving into this submerged realm of the psyche is where our true power lies; hidden in the shadows we find the ingredients for our personal myths. This is the place where the underlying story of our life takes place.
The demons and dragons of these stories are but our own weaknesses, the things that take possession of us, making us the impotent victims of ourselves.
The adage that the mind is a terrible master but an excellent slave is dearly true, but one can only gain submission over what is conscious, hence the importance of bringing the darkness to light; for what’s unseen is unknown and what’s unknown is wild and uncontrollable, like the urges that lead us to make a mess of our lives, hurting ourselves and others.
For some, life is more simple – for me it is not – but I never wanted a plain, simple life. I was born with a sword, born to yield the light that casts out the shadows: the fears we bump into again and again; the past, all those buried things that haunt like ghosts, invisible yet terrible, their existence an inescapable aberration, condemning us so long as we wander in darkness.
We call these shadowlands fate. To invoke William Earnest Henley’s Invictus: “Beyond this place of wrath and tears looms but the horror of the shade.”
So how does one enlighten the dark, damning recesses of life; the cannibalizing abyss between the moth and the flame; the place that draws faith to the impossibility of reason?
This abject destination of dimly lit failures no safer than the uncharted reef in the dark: ships wreck on wrecks as dreams die on the graves of old dreams – like their predecessor’s damnation, theirs too lay unseen.
These fearful traps loom over what would be, masking the very light capable of illuminating them; and our secret worry, the unspoken truth of these demonic ghosts, serves as no more than a prayer for what we don’t want to happen, proving us right time and time again by fulfilling the dark prophecies of our fears.
Our only salvation from these nightmarish dead ends the light of ten-thousand suns; the very brightness of a reality that negates its opposite; in a word: hope.
It is in kindling undying hope, in living not a moment without this torch aflame, in fueling the light that shines in the inner citadel of a man’s soul – it is in practicing this religion of abiding faith that the eye of heaven shines on a brighter future than fears or dreams ever hath foreshadowed.
The sky is clouded – not a star in sight – nothing but the pale gray of a nearly solid-white night-sky. The only exception to the dull concrete atmosphere, the deep blue darkness of the enveloping horizon.
A stiff onshore wind has forced me to turn away from the sea; directing my back to the water, my hood now pulled up, I face a row of soulless condominiums – lifeless aside from the synthetic strobe-like glow of a television illuminating one of the rectangular living areas. Next to me, the storm drain access-point protrudes from the sand, I notice this as it comes to life with sound: a surge of what I imagine to be sewage rushes through it towards the blackish body of seawater behind me.
I had not expected to find myself staring at the chockablock facades of khaki and tan condo buildings while listening to a thousand gallons of inorganic water flushing into the ocean; I wished to meditate under a full moon but the clouds refuse to budge, unmoved by the wind whipping at my back.
I’m cold and the unnatural sound of the storm drain mechanically purging itself into the sea has once again roused me.
Fuck this, I’m going home.
On the way home, I pull out a small piece of charcoal from my pocket – for I bring bits of found beach charcoal home, where I place them in a mason jar and pull them out to draw – so, removing the charcoal from my pocket, I crouch low and, in an act of frustration, I tag the sidewalk with the lyrics of rapper Kendrick Lamar:
I enjoy spending my sunsets seated comfortably on a soft Mexican blanket, facing the calm, placid shore near my home. This evening, I sat relaxedly listening to the ankle high waves falling softly on the shoreline, and I became transfixed by the steady, ceaseless rhythm of their arrival. In a moment, the tranquil, soothing sound of the waves giving themselves to the hard, wet sand had welcomed me into that blissful meditative state, where a man’s thoughts rise to a height only attainable in nature. The very space where nature becomes a kind of Garden of Eden and The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil bears the sacred fruit from which man may sparingly digest the wisdom he needs to grow and go on his way – knowing he will be blessed to return again when the time is right.
In this Edenlike state, my gaze still transfixed on the shoreline, my mind took from The Tree what I was given, and I ingested the knowledge that these lonely, unending, impetuous waves were completely impartial as to whether I were a pauper or prince, bum or billionaire.
The waves were simply indifferent – like all of nature – yet men falsely think they must wrestle with the universe to attain what they wish, as if there is some secret law, which governs all, some mind game to win or lose.
A man can spend decades wresting with the universe, his relationship to it lost in his own private battles, never realizing the universe is not his adversary, but, rather, that it’s his own nature he must overcome.
Only when a man stops fighting the world and instead slays his own dragons and demons does the universe seem to bow before him, acquiescing to his plans. Only then does he realize it was his own dragons and demons holding him back all along.
In the next instant I thought of something Steve Jobs said:
“Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is – everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.
…Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”
I thought of this because I realized in that instant that, for Jobs, the idea that everything around him was made up by people no smarter than himself was what gave him the confidence to accomplish what he did. This “simple fact” was his catalyst, the knowledge that empowered him once and forever.
I also realized in that moment my own one simple fact: the idea that man’s fate is his and his alone and his limits are entirely self imposed.
Man’s fate is his and his alone and his limits are entirely self imposed.
I too realized that every person must discover their own one simple fact. They must acquire the specific knowledge that negates their limiting beliefs and destroys their mental barriers.
Then I had one last thought; I thought of Kryptonite, the mythical radioactive substance from Superman’s home planet, Kryptos. According to comic legend, Kryptonite is radioactive and thus causes “Kryptonite poisoning”, rendering superman powerless. I realized we all have our own Kryptonite, our own innate susceptibility to something capable of stealing all our power. Maybe it’s toxic relationships, maybe it’s our desire to escape reality, numbing ourselves with alcohol or drugs. It could be anything, vanity even. But, whatever it is that renders us powerless, unable to make our impact on the world, we must treat it with the same reverence and fear with which superman treats Kryptonite. It is the thing we must avoid at all costs, no matter how many times it finds us.
Yes, my time in Eden had been fruitful.
My mind expanded, my optimism brightened, my confidence deepened, I arose, shaking the sand from my blanket before stuffing it in my bag. I walked home knowing the evening had changed me. I was grateful I had found Eden again. Grateful for another magical, wondrous sunset.