Category Archives: quotes

Will be back soon: Gone Lookin’

Fear is a good thing[…]fear is what drives us to take risks and extend ourselves beyond our normal limits, and any writer who feels he is standing on safe ground is unlikely to produce anything of value.

– Paul Auster, “Invisible”

Dear Void,

I have felt fear this past nine weeks. A lot of fear. I smelled the sulphur breath of a dragon still many miles away but surely snorting in anticipation of meeting me. It was healthy until…

…I stopped writing every day. You may have noticed. The fear became stale and crippling. The sulphur had plugged my synaptic junctions.

My thoughts now stray so far that my hands are always playing catch-up without ever catching up.

So here’s a pensive pause.

I’ll miss looking into you, dear Void, but I need to look into finding fresh fear.

I hope you’ll miss me too.

I shan’t be long.


To feed on fresh fear
confidently go Pale Fish
to water’s surface

Pond (c) Sam Rappaz


The reward of just light and sound

We welcomed the new year from a chalet, looking over a vast valley sparkling with the fluorescent lights of alpine villages. We had the Milky Way above and its poor but deeply enchanting reflection below us. At midnight the villagers lit their fireworks and we opened our window to let in the sub-zero winds that carried the crackle and pop of communal cheer. We saw before we heard. We felt before we saw. We then turned out our lights to watch and listen.
There is something so poetic about seeing light suddenly emerge from darkness. It kindles an emotion of pure joy in me. I wonder if that is a remnant of my very first experience of light, as I emerged into it almost three decades ago.

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Colour is the touch of the eye, music to the deaf, a word out of the darkness.

– Orhan Pahmuk, “My Name is Red


Entry for Weekly Photo Challenge: I consider this moment the greatest reward for not having subjected us to the tyranny of a typical "New Year Party".

On why poetry could save me

There are moments in life, rare ones, when you feel utterly connected with the inanimate. You cannot believe that something that can’t move, is as still as that pen that refuses to write your words for you, has moved you. I had one of these moments last night. I didn’t go looking for it but this journey that I am on led me to it. Sort of like when you turn a blind corner and a lush garden in bloom with all your favourite flowers meets your unfocussed eyes to make you suddenly aware that you had been walking with a purpose. The air becomes still and the moment is etched in your mind with a smile that surprised even you. Then come the tears almost instantaneously, tugged by the engine of this thing that is not moving but is slowly gaining momentum. How are you not transported then to another realm of consciousness? How are you to resist the implication of these connections? It is all inevitable. It happens because the black on white speaks of all the grey in you and what is dead in terms of life is more alive than all the real you see.

Thank you Mary Oliver for a poem that may just have saved me,

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
‘Mend my life!’
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognised as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Copyright @ 1986 by Mary Oliver. First published in Dream Work, Atlantic Monthly Press. Reprinted in New and Selected Poems, Volume One, Beacon Press.

Solar by Philip Larkin teaches

Sunset in France
Sunset over the marshes of Camargue, Southern France. (c) Sam Rappaz, 2012


Suspended lion face
Spilling at the centre
Of an unfurnished sky
How still you stand,
And how unaided
Single stalkless flower
You pour unrecompensed

The eye sees you
Simplified by distance
Into an origin,
Your petalled head of flames
Continuously exploding.
Heat is the echo of your

Coined there among
Lonely horizontals
You exist openly.
Our needs hourly
Climb and return like angels.
Unclosing like a hand,
You give for ever.

(November 4, 1964; 1974)

 – Philip Larkin (1922-1985)

Larkin’s mastery of metaphors leaves me breathless. Each image is unexpected and unforced. I read, I try, I learn and with each passing day the talent for expressing the ordinary in extraordinary terms is developed. It’s tough, frustrating and words can seem immalleable but the rewards outweigh the effort multifold. Anyone who has ever wanted to write in any genre and write well must read poetry – a lesson I am learning too late for my liking but ever so eagerly.

Why so serious?

They say the seeds of what we will do are in all of us, but it always seemed to me that in those who make jokes in life the seeds are covered with better soil and with a higher grade of manure.

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

I wish I had the courage and the skill to make fun of everything. #JeSuisCharlie

Causal relationships

My husband and I deciding to go out and stay out for more than 3 hours will cause it to rain. It has been so since we started dating, which was seven years ago. So now we have enough data to plot graphs and show that the effect is not a coincidence. All we need to do is say, ‘Looks like it’s going to be a sunny weekend. You want to head out somewhere?’ If anybody needs rain badly buy us tickets!

We have also noted that if we decide to cancel an outing because the weather forecast is dismal then it ends up being a good day to have gone out and THAT is far more frustrating.

On a more serious note, some profound ‘Cause and Effect’ relationships I have discovered these past years in books I have read; for your pleasure,

Great discoveries[…]are often the result of making the wrong mistake at the right time. Ask Columbus.

– Shashi Tharoor, The Great Indian Novel

People always hurt us with their trust. The surest way to hurt someone you like, is to put all your trust in him.

– Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram

Like pregnancy, being a foreigner[…]is something that elicits the same curiosity from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect.

– Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake

I guess we’re all, or most of us, the wards of that nineteenth century science which denied existence to anything it could not measure or explain. The things we couldn’t explain went right on but surely not with our blessing. We did not see what we couldn’t explain, and meanwhile a great part of the world was abandoned to children, insane people, fools, and mystics, who were more interested in what is than why it is.

John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent

The consequence of every act are included in the act itself.

– George Orwell, 1984

At present we’re snowed under an irrational expansion of blind data-gathering in the sciences because there’s no rational format for any understanding of scientific creativity.

– Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

All things truly wicked start from an innocence.

– Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Insensibly he formed the most delightful habit in the world, the habit of reading: he did not know that thus he was providing for himself with a refuge from all the distress of life; he did not know either that he was creating for himself an unreal world which would make the real world of every day a source of bitter disappointment.

– W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage

A father is always responsible for how his son is.

– Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything is Illuminated

Did a painting become legendary for what it was or for what was said about it?

– Orhan Pamuk, My Name is Red

[…]from the palm of her hand against his, from their fingers locked together and from her wrist across his wrist something came from her hand, her fingers and her wrist to his was as fresh as the first light air that moving toward you over the sea barely wrinkles the gloomy surface of a calm as light as a feather across one’s lip or a leaf falling when there’s no breeze; so light that it could be felt with the touch of their fingers alone, but that was so strengthened, so intensified, and made so urgent, so aching and so strong by the hard pressure of their fingers and the close pressed palm and wrist, that it was as though a current moved up his arm and filled his whole body with an aching hollowness of wanting.

– Ernest Hemingway, For Whom The Bell Tolls

I have been alone while I was with many girls and that is the way that you can be most lonely.

– Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

Women kill themselves because they hope to gain something.[…]Men kill themselves because they’ve lost all hope of gaining themselves.

– Orhan Pamuk, Snow

I think and think and think, I’ve thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it.

– Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The greatest triumphs of propaganda have been accomplished, not by doing something, but by refraining from doing. Great is the truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view is silence about truth.

– Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Fear is a good thing[…]fear is what drives us to take risks and extend ourselves beyond our normal limits, and any writer who feels he is standing on safe ground is unlikely to produce anything of value.

– Paul Auster, Invisible

I can’t pick a favourite from amongst these. They have all led me to perceive the world differently and that is probably the most straightforward cause-effect relationship that there is between a writer and the reader.


To achieve… Picasso’s prolificacy

I first saw Picasso’s works in Vienna, then extensively in Barcelona and finally when I went to Málaga – the artist’s birthplace. There, in the Museo Picasso Málaga, I think l finally connected with him. The art felt personal and the presentation intimate. I understood Picasso’s message and creative process better. Around corners, printed on walls, were words by Picasso on the philosophy of creating art and his love for all craft. I took a photograph of the words that, I felt, were sitting there just for me to read them. They resonate with the current journey I am on: rediscovering my love for writing through blogging. I worried when I published a post –

 Is it all I wanted it to be? Could it have been better?

Picasso's words as found on the walls of Museo Picasso, Málaga, Andalusia, Spain.
A photograph of Picasso’s words as found on the walls of Museo Picasso, Málaga, Andalusia, Spain (2014). Brassaï (pseudonym for Gyula Halász) is a famous Hungarian photographer (among other things) who lived in Paris during the 20th century and photographed many famous artists, including Dali, Matisse and of course Picasso. The book ‘Picasso and Company’ is a collection of his conversations with Picasso and a few other artists.

I don’t worry anymore.

Here and Nowhere

Eiger & Mönch (October 2014) (c) Sam Rappaz
Eiger & Mönch (October 2014) (c) Sam Rappaz

To the untrained eye ego-climbing and selfless climbing may appear identical. Both kind of climbers place on foot in front of the other. Both breathe in and out at the same time. Both stop when tired. Both go forward when rested. But what a difference! The ego-climber is like an instrument that’s out of adjustment. He puts his foot down an instant too soon or too late. He’s likely to miss a beautiful passage of sunlight through the trees. He goes on when the sloppiness of his step shows he’s tired. He rests at odd times. He looks up the train trying to see what’s ahead even when he knows what’s ahead because he just looked a second before. He goes too fast or too slow for the conditions and when he talks his talk is forever about somewhere else, something else. He’s here but he’s not here. He rejects the here, is unhappy with it, wants to be farther up the trail but when he gets there he will be just as unhappy because it will be “here”. What he’s looking for, what he wants, is all around him, but he doesn’t want that because it is all around him. Every step’s an effort, both physically and spiritually, because he imagines his goal to be external and distant.

– Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Mönch & Jungfraujoch -(October 2014) (c) Sam Rappaz
Mönch & Jungfraujoch -(October 2014) (c) Sam Rappaz

Can’t sing but can read

The friendly editors at The Daily Post had prompted us (WordPressers at large) to write about/construct a soundtrack to our life a couple of days ago. It didn’t inspire me then to write anything ‘meaningful’ or ‘transcendent’ even in the mildest sense of these words and the end result can be found here. It did however get me thinking about books that I had read that have a musical theme. I could recollect two such books: Jazz by Toni Morrison and An Equal Music by Vikram Seth. Both alike in some ways but really worlds apart.

An Equal musicAn Equal Music is a love story between a violinist and a pianist. The lovers use classical music to bind, express, remember and repair their emotions. It seems like music is the second, parallel language in the book, and that unless you known your quartets and quintets and your Schuberts and your Beethovens you won’t fully understand the gravity of the dialogue. Despite my lack of ‘culture’ I found it engaging; mostly because Vikram Seth’s character portrayal is good. Well, that was the least I expected after having read A Suitable Boy. It is definitely shorter and better paced than A Suitable Boy (thank heavens!). I went from liking to pitying to finally getting annoyed with the lead character, Michael Holme. What more can you say about an ageing underachieving but talented musician, who has issues with authority and throws tantrums like a disgruntled child, and who is hopelessly in love with the unattainable woman of his dreams? It gets messy in a very neat, well-imagined and well-researched package. It shouldn’t take you long to unwrap though. I would say go for it if you know more about classical music or have played classically. Maybe then you will gather more of the novel’s essence. (Note: I did put on Beethoven and Schubert while reading the novel. It helped.)

Jazz is sJazzimply art. For this book Toni Morrison uses her mighty, almost unearthly, powers to do something I have not experienced before. She uses Jazz music as not the theme of her novel but as its rhythm. She writes her story, which is essentially that of love and betrayal, with a musical soul. Her language seems to jump out of the page and engulf you. At times it feels like a sudden descending thick fog and you lose your orientation and at other times it rattles your very bones. It can soothe and caress your mind’s eye. It can lift your soul and then an ingenious turn of phrase can bring it crashing down. Such is the force of her talent. Such is the force of Jazz music, no? Here’s what she had to say about the process in her Foreword,

I had written novels in which structure was designed to enhance meaning; here the structure would equal meaning. The challenge was to expose and bury the artifice and to take practice beyond the rules. I didn’t want simply a musical background, or decorative references to it. I wanted the work to be a manifestation of the music’s intellect, sensuality, anarchy; its history, its range, and its modernity.

To me, it is special. It’s always special when you are on a journey with Toni Morrison. But this one more so because it was hard on me personally. It moved me the whole way through. I was calm outside but I was in turmoil internally. Funnily enough that’s what Jazz, the music, makes me feel. I find that this book also has the rare distinction of being a perfect companion to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue record.

Here are my favourite chord progressions from Jazz – they all broke my heart.

…Laughter is serious. More complicated, more serious than tears.

‘Taught me two lessons I lived by all my life. One was the secret of kindness from whitepeople – they had to pity a thing before they could like it. The other – well, I forgot.’

Don’t think I fell for you, or fell over you. I didn’t fall in love, I rose in it.

‘A son ain’t what a woman say. A son is what a man do.’

I still see the dips and dunes on the pages made by the drying of my tears, from back in 2011, when I first read the following prose and even now as I type out these borrowed words I am choked up.

Only now […] that I know I have a father, do I feel his absence: the place where he should have been and was not. Before, I thought everybody was one-armed, like me. Now I feel the surgery. The crunch of bone when it sundered, the sliced flesh and the tubes of blood cut through, shocking the bloodrun and disturbing the nerves. They dangle and writhe. Singing pain. Waking me with the sound itself, thrumming when I sleep so deeply it strangles my dreams away. There is nothing for it but to go away from where he is not to where he used to be and might be still. Let the dangle and the writhe see what it is missing; let the pain sing to the dirt where he stepped in the place where he used to be and might be still. I am not going to be healed, or to find the arm that was removed from me. I am going to freshen the pain, point it, so we both know what it is for.

Read it if you have the time. If not, make time.

Now to the actual question of the soundtrack to my life: ‘Life’ is too abstract a concept I find. ‘Memories’ is a better word. I do not wish to start cataloguing my music montage just yet, even though it does make for an interesting insight into my psyche. For example, my earliest memory of loving a song which was not a lullaby and which I wanted to play all day was (not a rhyme, but) Funkytown by LIPPS INC. I was maybe 3 or 4 years old. ‘Nuff said.

I thank the Universe for Stephen Fry

Here are my favourite bits and bobs from Stephen Fry‘s brilliant autobiography of his young years – Moab is my Washfry_moabpot. A few years old now but timeless in its relevance. It’s funny, acute, sad and charming. He’s brutal when he sits in his own judgment and paints the world of teenage angst with such honesty that it breaks your heart. Of course, he writes this knowing now that some of his more extreme behaviour was the first manifestation of his bipolar disorder. And yet he spares no rebuke. A genius who hates himself for it. A human who challenges humanity to be more tolerant, inquisitive and just better.

I thank the Universe for Stephen Fry!

We keep our insignificant blemishes so that we can blame them for our larger defects.

Glory never arrives through the front door. She sneaks in uninvited round the back or through an upstairs window while you are sleeping.

Good advice, like a secret, is easier to give away than to keep.

Novels meant less to me (unless they were stories about my kind of love) and rightly too, for while the novel is an adult invention, the poem is universal but often most especially charged in the mind of the adolescent. The most common betrayal the literary-minded make as they grow up is to abandon their love of poetry and to chase the novel instead. To find oneself believing, as I did when in my twenties, that John Keats for example was strictly for moonstruck adolescents is as stupid and ignorant as to think that grown-ups shouldn’t ride bicycles.

…I don’t know that love has a point, which is what makes it so glorious. Sex has a point, in terms of relief and, sometimes procreation, but love, like all art, as Oscar [Wilde] said, is quite useless. It is the useless things that make life worth living and that make life dangerous too: wine, love, art, beauty. Without them life is safe, but not worth bothering about.

Didn’t Woody Allen say that all literature was a footnote to Faust? Perhaps all adolescence is a dialogue between Faust and Christ.

We tremble on the brink of selling that part of ourselves that is real, unique, angry, defiant and whole for the rewards of attainment, achievements, success and the golden prizes of integration and acceptance; but we also in our great creating imagination, rehearse the sacrifice we will make: the pain and terror we will take from others’ shoulders; our penetration into the lives and souls of our fellows; our submissions and willingness to be rejected and despised for the sake of truth and love and, in the wilderness, our angry rebuttals of the hypocrisy, deception and compromise of a world which we see to be false. There is nothing so self-righteous nor as right as an adolescent imagination.