Wednesday Words

East Coker
T.S. Eliot



So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years —
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres
Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate — but there is no competition —
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.

There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
Fro a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.



— This is the fifth and final section of “East Coker,” the second poem in Eliot’s Four Quartets

Wednesday Words

When I have Fears That I May Cease to Be
John Keats

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-pilèd books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love — then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.


— from Complete Poems and Selected Letters of John Keats (The Modern Library, 2001)

Wednesday Words

In the Drawing Room

How they’re all around us, these gentlemen
in chamberlain’s dress and jabots,
like a night growing ever darker
around its Order Star, implacably,
and these ladies, slight and fragile, yet
made large by their dresses, one hand in their laps,
small, like a tiny dog with its collar:
how they’re around us all: around the reader,
around the peruser of these bibelots,
of which several remain their property.

Tactful, they let us live life undisturbed
as we conceive it and as they fail
to understand it. They wanted to blossom,
and blossoming is being beautiful. But we want to ripen,
and this means being dark and taking pains.


— from The Poetry of Rilke: Bilingual Edition, trans. & ed. Edward Snow (North Point Press, 2009)

Wednesday Words

Renamed. Reworked. Same basic premise as the “Required Readings” I was doing before.

I recently wrote a review of Sue Sinclair’s Heaven’s Thieves, and I still find myself thinking about it almost daily.


The shoddy balconies,
sliding glass panels,
reflected swirl
of leaves.
Why does everything
that appears in glass
look like a face?
The mirror-trees stand half
in this world and half somewhere else,
a place not necessarily better than this one
but faraway
and therefore enviable.

— from Heaven’s Thieves (Brick Books, 2017)

Read This

Sometimes something bothers me but I can’t articulate exactly why. And then someone else comes along and articulates it for me and I want to give them the best high five that has ever happened (ignoring, for the moment, that I am truly terrible at high fives). This Man Repeller article was one of those times. All-female reboots bothered me for…some reason I couldn’t quite identify. I didn’t want to see Ghostbusters, despite everyone talking about it, partly because I didn’t watch it as a kid so I had no nostalgic connection to the story, but also partly because…something about the entire endeavour felt off to me. I just didn’t know what. And then, a few months ago, Haley Nahman told me what in “My Problem With Ghostbusters and the All-Female Reboot“. I particularly like the last paragraph:

But those felt different. They weren’t remakes with a new representation angle unilaterally applied and marketed, a gimmick that’s hard for me to swallow regardless of the group swapped in. I can’t shake the feeling that these reboots are sloppy seconds, plain and simple. That the driving force behind them is patronizing and rooted in money while parading as feminist liberation.

Let’s write new stories.

Read it. I mean it. Read it. And then let’s do it. Let’s write some new stories.

Read This

I’ve always found that I favour difficult female characters. Honestly, I kind of want to be a difficult female. So you can imagine how much of a “duh” moment it was when I read this BBC article on anti-heroines and realized “I love anti-heroines!” Anti-heroines are not a brand new concept, but they do seem to be popping up with increasing frequency. Carrie Bradshaw, Olivia Pope, Alicia Florrick, Gretchen Cutler, Julia George, Hayes Morrison…these are the kinds of women that fascinate me the most on TV. While this article is by no means exhausted, it does provide an interesting framework to consider them within. It also makes the academic part of my brain really want to do research on this topic. If the idea of anti-heroines interests you even a little bit, I recommend you take a moment to read “These are the anti-heroines we’ve been waiting for“.

Read This

It’s been a while since I posted one of these. Though I’m not sure all that many people are reading this blog anyway, so I figure if my screaming into the void is occasionally intermittent, it doesn’t really matter all that much.

This essay by Curtis Sittenfeld is so very well-written. And it is about precisely the kind of friendship that I hold most dear. The kind of friendship that endures across distance. The kind of friendship that greets most things with humour but lapses into gravity when necessary. Take a moment and read “My Friend Sam“. As usual, the first part quoted here. Click the link to go to the full essay.

If you’re trying to tell the story of a friendship, do you start when the two of you met? For Sam and me, that was in the late summer of 1996, after we became co-editors of the arts and entertainment section of our university’s student newspaper.

Do you start with the beginning of your friend’s life? Sam was born in 1976, in São Paulo, Brazil, the younger brother of two sisters, the son of parents who’d left Korea two years earlier and who, in 1991, would resettle in Torrance, California, just south of Los Angeles, and work as garment fusers.

Do you start with your friend’s personality? Sam has always been loyal and generous, neurotic and melodramatic, wickedly but unostentatiously smart, frank and funny and someone who makes the people around him feel funny, too, because he laughs frequently and hard.

Or do you start the story with the day everything changed? Which was in 2014, right around his thirty-eighth birthday, when Sam was given a diagnosis of Stage III-C stomach cancer. For the enviably uninitiated, about nine per cent of people who receive such a diagnosis are alive five years later.


Read This

Required Reading. This is what it is like to be a woman in this world. And it makes me angry. It should make you angry too. Read it: Marry Karr’s “The Crotchgrabber“.

I particularly appreciated these paragraphs, early in the essay:

“In case you haven’t been on the receiving end of this sort of assault, you should know the primal physiological response it evokes—in this woman, anyway. The stomach drops, as if you’ve been shoved backward from a skyscraper and are flailing through space. Time dismantles. There are more frames per second, and people’s facial features become very specific. This guy had a squashed-down forehead, wide-set eyes, and heavy but neatly waxed brows.

Cops later told me my description was uncannily detailed—the result, I think, of the kind of change in perception post-traumatic-stress experts call “hypervigilance.” The reptilian area of the brain jolts you either to do battle or to bolt. Adrenaline and cortisol juice through you like a hit of meth, so you might find yourself still up and jittery at 4 a.m. (maybe even watching something as god-awful as “Waterworld,” the way I later did).”

Read the whole piece here.

Read This

I cannot begin to count the number of times someone has tried to sell me on meditation as a way to deal with anxiety. This concept is laughable to me. Like, I literally burst into laughter most times it is suggested to me. I know it works for many people. I know it is a practice, and therefore I might need to, you know, practice if I want it to be useful down the road. But, honestly, right now, at this point in my life, meditation does sort of the opposite of what it is supposed to. As I once told a dear friend, “Yes, because what I need is more time alone with my thoughts.” So when I came across Casey Johnston’s “A Guided Meditation for the Anxious Mind“, I couldn’t stop laughing. Welcome to the inside of my brain.

Welcome to your Buddha Buddy five-minute guided meditation. During this practice, we will focus on your body and breathing awareness, in an attempt to soothe the mind. Find a comfortable seated position somewhere in nature. Now close your eyes and take a deep breath. Picture your front door. Did you lock it when you left? Even if you did . . . well, we can’t guarantee anything.

As you let your breathing settle into a steady pattern—eyes closed, arms at rest, palms face up—ask yourself, is that a pain in your forearm? You haven’t even done anything yet today. How can your forearm hurt, when there are hardly any muscles in there? Resist the urge to poke it. If you poke it, the pain won’t go away, and it might even get a little worse. Yes, it does feel worse. Do blood clots cause pain?

Take a deep breath in through your nose, and let it out—slowly, very slowly—through your mouth. Draw another breath in, and feel your belly fill with air. Your pants are awfully tight. You haven’t been to the gym in several days. Has it been two weeks already? It seems like you’ve been extra bloated after your last three Seamless orders from the Thai place downstairs. Food poisoning can cause bloat, can’t it? On your next inhale, fill your belly just a little bit less. Stop at, like, eighty per cent full. Maybe not just when you’re breathing, but when you’re eating, too. Just a thought. Now let it go.