vastness

“Although it is still hot I roll up the windows of the car. The people on the streets regard me casually in this car of too-bright red which bears Ontario licence plates. And I recognize now upon their faces a look that I have seen upon my grandfather’s face and on the faces of hundreds of the people from my past and even on my own when seeing it reflected from the mirrors and windows of such a car as this. For it is as if I am not part of their lives at all but am here only in a sort of movable red and glass showcase that has come for a while to their private anguish-ridden streets and will soon roll on and leave the same as before my coming, part of a movement that passes through their lives but does not really touch them. Like flotsam on yet another uninteresting river that flows through their permanent banks and is bound for some invisible destination around a bend where they have never been and cannot go. Their glances have summed me up and dismissed me as casually as that. “What can he know of our near-deaths and pain and who lies buried in our graves?”

And I am overwhelmed now by the awfulness of oversimplification. For I realize that not only have I been guilty of it through this long and burning day but also through most of my yet-young life and it is only now that am doubly its victim that I begin vaguely to understand. For I had somehow thought that “going away” was a physical thing. And that it had to only do with movement and with labels like the silly “Vancouver” that I had glibly rolled off my tongue; or with the crossing of bodies of water or with the boundaries of borders. And because my father had told me I was “free” I had foolishly felt that it was really so. Just like that.”

Alistair MacLeod, The Vastness of the Dark, 36

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anima

“I have never liked successful people.

Not for being successful per se, but because they become defined by their success and are nothing but one blinkered ego. Unfettered egos spell the end of us.

The Crisis is making everyone feel a little more alone. What do people mean when they harp on about what ‘we’ are going through? There is no ‘we’. Instead of huddling together round a fire, all the individual ‘me’s are slinking off alone, eyeing one another with suspicion. Everyone thinks he’s doing better than the next man, and that too probably spells the end for all of us.”

Éric Faye, Nagasaki, 75

daze

“I seldom feel uplifted in a city; on the contrary, I feel oppressed and confined. In my travels I have been more interested in the places that lay between the great cities than the cities themselves: the hinterlands, not the capital. It is my suspicion that people who are glamoured by big cities and think of themselves as urbane and thoroughly metropolitan are at heart country mice – simple, fearful, overdomesticated provincials, dazzled by city lights.”

Paul Theroux, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, 20

return

“The decision to return to any early scene in your life is dangerous but irresistible, not as a search for lost time but for the grotesquerie of what happened since. In most cases it is like meeting an old lover years later and hardly recognizing the object of desire in this pinched and bruised old fruit. We all live with fantasies of transformation. Live long enough and you see them enacted – the young made old, the road improved, houses where there were once fields; and their opposites, a good school turned into ruin, a river poisoned, a pond shrunk and filled with trash, and dismal reports: “He’s dead,” “He’s in jail,” “You can’t go there anymore.”

Paul Theroux, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, 20

quake

“I’ve never one thought about how I was going to die,” Junko said. “I can’t think about it. I don’t even know how I’m going to live.”

Miyake gave a nod. “I know what you mean,” he said. “But there’s such a thing as a way of living that’s guided by the way a person’s going to die.”

“Is that how you’re living?” she asked.

“I’m not sure. It seems that way sometimes.”

Haruki Murakami, After the Quake: Stories, 36

yield

“Sometimes, all you need is permission to feel. Sometimes, what causes the most pain is actually the attempt to resist feeling, or the shame that grows up like thorns around it. During my lowest period in New York, almost the only thing I found consoling was watching music videos on YouTube, curled on the sofa with my headphones on, listening again and again to the same voices finding the register for their distress. Antony and the Johnsons’ miraculous, grieving ‘Fistful of Love’, Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’, Justin Vivian Bond’s triumphant ‘In the End’, Arthur Russell singing ‘Love Comes Back’, with its lovely permissive refrain, being sad is not a crime.”

Olivia Laing, The Lonely City, 138

seclusion

After I’d unpacked, hung up the clothes I’d brought, plugged in my tea kettle and my electric toothbrush, and turned on my phone to find no messages, I started to wonder what I was doing there. This very basic question can occur to anyone, anywhere, at any moment in his life, but there’s no denying that the solitary traveller is especially vulnerable. If Myriam had been with me, I’d still have had no good reason for being in Martel, yet the question simply wouldn’t have arisen. A couple is a world, autonomous and enclosed, that moves through the larger world essentially untouched; on my own, I was full of chips and cracks, and it took a certain amount of courage for me to slip the information sheet into my jacket pocket and go out into the village.

Michel Houellebecq, Submission, 71

 

revenant

Travel can induce such a distinct and nameless feeling of strangeness and disconnection in me that I feel insubstantial, like a puff of smoke, merely a ghost, a creepy revenant from the underworld, unobserved and watchful among real people, wandering, listening while remaining unseen. Being invisible—the usual condition of the older traveler—is much more useful than being obvious. You see more, you are not interrupted, you are ignored.

Ghosts have all the time in the world, another pleasure of long-distance aimlessness—traveling at half speed on slow trains and procrastinating. And this ghostliness, I was to find, was also an effect of the journey I had chosen, returning to places I had known many years ago. It is almost impossible to return to an early scene in your traveling life and not feel like a specter. And many places I saw were themselves sad and spectral, others big and hectic, while I was the haunting presence, the eavesdropping shadow on the ghost train.

Paul Theroux, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, 5-6

narrative

How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but—mainly—to ourselves.

Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending, 79

aftermath

I remember a period in late adolescence when my mind would make itself drunk with images of adventurousness. This is how it will be when I grow up. I shall go there, do this, discover that, love her, and then her and her and her. I shall live as people in novels live and have lived. Which ones I was not sure, only that passion and danger, ecstasy and despair (but then more ecstasy) would be in attendance. However … who said that thing about “the littleness of life that art exaggerates”? There was a moment in my late twenties when I admitted that my adventurousness had long since petered out. I would never do those things adolescence had dreamt about. Instead, I mowed my lawn, I took holidays, I had my life. But time … how time first grounds us and then confounds us. We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them. Time … give us enough time and our best-supported decisions will seem wobbly, our certainties whimsical.

Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending, 77