I guess the best secrets from yourself are the ones that even if someone else tells them to you, you still don’t know them.
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The history of art is almost three times longer than that of writing, and the relationship between the two types of expression can be seen in the earliest forms of writing, such as the Egyptian hieroglyphics. However, very few people treat art as a system of communication which is historically linked with language. If more people were to take this view they would find that their approach to art would change. Man is used to the fact that there are languages which he does not at first understand and which must be learned, but because art is primarily visual he expects that he shouild get the message immediately and is apt to be affronted if he doesn’t.
Edward T. Hall, The Hidden Dimension: An anthropologist examines man’s use of space in public and private (1966)
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An Irish Childhood in England: 1951
The bickering of vowels on the buses,
the clicking thumbs and the big hips of
the navy-skirted ticket collectors with
their crooked seams brought it home to me:
Exile. Ration-book pudding.
Bowls of dripping and the fixed smile
of the school pianist playing “Iolanthe,”
“Land of Hope and Glory” and “John Peel.”
I didn’t know what to hold, to keep.
At night, filled with some malaise
of love for what I’d never known I had,
I fell asleep and let the moment pass.
The passing moment has become a night
of clipped shadows, freshly painted houses,
the garden eddying in dark and heat,
my children half-awake, half-asleep.
Airless, humid dark. Leaf-noise.
The stirrings of a garden before rain.
A hint of storm behind the risen moon.
We are what we have chosen. Did I choose to?—
in a strange city, in another country,
on nights in a north-facing bedroom,
waiting for the sleep that never did
restore me as I’d hoped to what I’d lost—
let the world I knew become the space
between the words that I had by heart
and all the other speech that always was
becoming the language of the country that
I came to in nineteen fifty-one:
barely-gelled, a freckled six-year-old,
overdressed and sick on the plane,
when all of England to an Irish child
was nothing more than what you’d lost and how:
was the teacher in the London convent who,
when I produced “I amn’t” in the classroom
turned and said—“You’re not in Ireland now.”
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We were almost at the end of our years together, and without ever fighting or deviling each other as most other roommates did, we were farther from being friends than on our first day. We had made ourselves unknowable behind our airs and sardonic courtesies, and the one important truth I’d discovered about him we’d silently agreed never to acknowledge. Many such agreements had evolved between us. No acknowledgement of who we really were — of trouble, weakness, or doubt — of our worries about the life ahead and the sort of men we were becoming. Never; not a word. We’d kept everything witty and cool, until the air between us was so ironized that to say anything in earnest would have been a breach of manners, even of trust.
Tobias Wolff, Old School (2003)
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The dictionary-maker has to record what people say, not what he thinks they can politely say
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Skating to Antarctica,
Desolation island –
A place apart where
The wasteland ends;
Soul on ice into
The silent land
The other side of you.
[more of my book spine poems]
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