Month: February 2015

Quotes from “Letters to a Young Poet” by Rainer Maria Rilke

“Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast. I learn it every day of my life, learn it with pain I am grateful for.”

“But if we nevertheless endure and take this love upon us as burden and apprenticeship, instead of losing ourselves in the whole easy and frivolous game behind which people have hidden from the solemnity of their being, — then a small advance and a lightening will perhaps be perceptible to those who come long after us.”

“If only it were possible for us to see farther than our knowledge reaches, and even a little beyond the outworks of our presentiment, perhaps we would bear our sadnesses with greater trust than we have in our joys.”

“People have already had to rethink so many concepts of motion; and they will also gradually come to realize that what we call fate does not come into us from the outside, but emerges from us.”

“This is in the end the only kind of courage that is required of us: the courage to face the strangest, most unusual, most inexplicable experiences that can meet us.”

“If we imagine this being of the individual as a larger or smaller room, it is obvious that most people come to know only one corner of their room, one spot near the window, one narrow strip on which they keep walking back and forth.”

“Do you remember how that life yearned out of childhood toward the ‘great thing’? I see that it is now yearning forth beyond the great thing toward the greater one. That is why it does not cease to be difficult, but that is also why it will not cease to grow.”

“So you mustn’t be frightened, dear Mr. Kappus, if a sadness rises in front of you, larger than any you have ever seen; if an anxiety, like light and cloudshadows, moves over your hands and over everything you do. You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change.”

A Different Way of Reading

There are so many online lit mags now that sometimes I wonder if anyone is reading them. It’s hard enough to keep up with reading print lit mags and new novels.

The best print journals, like Tin House and Ploughshares, have loyal subscribers who presumably read most or all of the content in each issue. However, I have a hard time believing that people read online journals in the same way. Perhaps the very best online journals like Word Riot and PANK do have regular readers. But is anyone actually reading every issue of some tiny, random lit mag?

This might seem discouraging, but it is not intended to be. I often read random pieces of writing in online mags I’ve never heard of. But the way I come across these stories is not by reading every single issue of a journal. Instead, I visit these journals when they have published the work of a particular writer I’m interested in.

Usually, if I like a writer’s work, I will search for that person online to read more of their stories. There will be several links on the first two pages of the search that lead to examples of their work. Tech-savvy writers make this even easier by having a page on their website where you can click through all their stories in different online journals. If I really like someone, I don’t care where the work has been published. It’s not about the particular journal. In this sense, the journal really is acting as an online “home” for the story, a place where the story lives so that readers can find it through searching.

This is quite different from the way people read traditional print journals. With print, it’s a lot harder to find a bunch of one author’s stories in different journals all at once. Your only hope of doing that is by reading a published collection of stories.

I enjoy this new online literary ecosystem. It’s fun to click from one online journal to the next in the process of exploring one writer’s work. It feels a lot more free than reading print journals. It feels like there’s more to discover. It plays into the immediacy that we have come to expect in an online age.

My online reading style has also affected how I submit to journals. I aim for journals that get good Google results. Before submitting, I Google a few of their authors to see if the journal’s website appears in the first 1-2 pages of the search. If it does, then I consider it a “good” journal. If the piece doesn’t make it into a traditional print journal, it might as well live where people will actually be able to find it.

Our Land

I spent Saturday afternoon snowshoeing through the woods. There were about two feet of snow on the ground. Snow covered the pine trees, bending some of the slender young ones in arcs. There was a creek that was mostly frozen. Tracks of rabbits, foxes, and deer traced eloquent paths. There were two concave circles in the snow where some deer had slept. When I stopped to listen, it was utterly quiet. I could only hear the wind stirring in the pines, snow drifting almost imperceptibly, my own breath.

This was just 50 miles from Boston, an hour’s drive. Massachusetts is one of the most densely populated states in the U.S. But we are lucky to have undeveloped tracts, places where animals roam and we can walk outside and see the trees, hear the silence. Massachusetts has organizations like the Trustees of the Reservations that care deeply about preserving our natural places, organizations that do almost unbelievable work toward conserving places of beauty.

And yet. Not far from where I walked in the woods, there’s a piece of land closer to the local highway. It used to have a meadow filled with wildflowers, a small clear pond, and an old red house. The house was there from the days when this area was still mostly farmland. The house and pond stood far back from the road, so you had to gaze across all the wildflowers and Queen Anne’s lace to see them. I always liked to imagine the people who lived in this house, and how it must have felt to live in such a beautiful meadow.

But the road was getting busier. The house felt somehow doomed, as though its proximity to such an increasingly popular road would be its downfall.

I was right. Now the house is gone; the pond is surrounded by concrete pavement. A mall has sprung up where the meadow used to be, with a TGI Friday’s, a Michael’s, and Best Buy. This mall has expanded across the road and is now spreading slowly down both sides of the street, like a growing tumor. The lights from this mall blaze late into the evening hours, creating a dome of hazy brightness that blots out the stars.

In the woods I felt afraid for my beauty, my silence. What will become of these pine trees, this creek, this unbroken white snow? In twenty years, will there be a Wal-Mart? Perhaps a McDonald’s, or a parking lot? For surely these things are more worthwhile, more profitable, than a simple stand of woods.