Emotions, in my experience aren't covered by single words. I don't believe in "sadness," "joy," or "regret." I'd like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic traincar constructions like, say, "the happiness that attends disaster." Or: "the disappointment of sleeping with one's fantasy." ... I'd like to have a word for "the sadness inspired by failing restaurants" as well as for "the excitement of getting a room with a minibar." I've never had the right words to describe my life...
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At night the cries of cats making love or fighting, their caterwauling in the dark, told us that the world was pure emotion, flung back and forth among its creatures, the agony of the one-eyed Siamese no different from that of the Lisbon girls, and even the trees plunged in feeling.
The daily act of writing remains as demanding and maddening as it was before, and the pleasure you get from writing - rare but profound - remains at the true heart of the enterprise. On their best days, writers all over the world are winning Pulitzers, all alone in their studios, with no one watching.
There have been hermaphrodites around forever, Cal. Forever. Plato said that the original human being was a hermaphrodite. Did you know that? The original person was two halves, one male, one female. Then these got separated. That's why everybody's always searching for their other half. Except for us. We've got both halves already.
Reading a novel after reading semiotic theory was like jogging empty-handed after jogging with hand weights. What exquisite guilt she felt, wickedly enjoying narrative! Madeleine felt safe with a nineteenth century novel. There were going to be people in it. Something was going to happen to them in a place resembling the world. Then too there were lots of weddings in Wharton and Austen. There were all kinds of irresistible gloomy men.
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As they were walking, a beggar came up, holding his hand out and crying, "Baksheesh! Baksheesh!" Mike kept on going but Mitchell stopped. Digging into his pocket, he pulled out twenty paise and placed it in the beggar's dirty hand. Mike said, "I used to give to beggars when I first came here. But then I realized, it's hopeless. It never stops." "Jesus said you should give to whoever asks you, " Mitchell said. "Yeah, well, " Mike said, "obviously Jesus was never in Calcutta.
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Historical fact: People stopped being people in 1913. That was the year Henry Ford put his cars on rollers and made his workers adopt the speed of the assembly line. At first, workers rebelled. They quit in droves, unable to accustom their bodies to the new pace of the age. Since then, however, the adaptation has been passed down: we've all inherited it to some degree, so that we plug right into joy-sticks and remotes, to repetitive motions of a hundred kinds.
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For our own part, we learned a great deal about the techniques of love, and because we didn't know the words to denote what we saw, we had to make up our own. That was why we spoke of "yodeling in the canyon" and "tying the tube, " of "groaning in the pit, " "slipping the turtle's head, " and "chewing the stinkweed." Years later, when we lost our own virginities, we resorted in our panic to pantomiming Lux's gyrations on the roof so long ago; and even now, if we were to be honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that it is always that pale wraith we make love to, always her feet snagged in the gutter, always her single blooming hand steadying itself against the chimney, no matter what our present lovers' feet and hands are doing.
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Discussing it later, many of us felt we suffered a mental dislocation at that moment, which only grew worse through the course of the remaining deaths. The prevailing symptom of this state was an inability to recall any sound. Truck doors slammed silently; Lux's mouth screamed silently; and the street, the creaking tree limbs, the streetlight clicking different colors, the electric buzz of the pedestrian crossing box - all these usually clamorous voices hushes, or had begun shrieking at a pitch too high for us to hear, though they sent chills up our spines. Sound returned only once Lux had gone. Televisions erupted with canned laughter. Fathers splashed, soaking aching backs.
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I understood at those times what I was leaving behind: the solidarity of a shared biology. Women know what it means to have a body. They understand its difficulties and frailties, its glories and pleasures. Men think their bodies are theirs alone. They tend them in private, even in public.
Historical fact: people stopped being human in 1913. That was the year Henry Ford put his cars on rollers and made his workers adopt the speed of the assembly line. At first, workers rebelled. They quit in droves, unable to accustom their bodies to the new pace of the age. Since then, however, the adaptation has been passed down: we've all inherited it to some degree, so that we plug right into joysticks and remotes, to repetitive motions of a hundred kinds.
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We felt the imprisonment of being a girl, the way it made your mind active and dreamy, and how you ended up knowing which colors went together. We knew that the girls were our twins, that we all existed in space like animals with identical skins, and that they knew everything about us though we couldn't fathom them at all. We knew, finally, that the girls were really women in disguise, that they understood love and even death, and that our job was merely to create the noise that seemed to fascinate them.
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A love story can never be about full possession. The happy marriage, the requited love, the desire that never dims-these are lucky eventualites but they aren't love stories. Love stories depend on disappointment, on unequal births and feuding families, on matrimonial boredom and at least one cold heart. Love stories, nearly without exception, give love a bad name. We value love not because it's stronger than death but because it's weaker. Say what you want about love: death will finish it. You will not go on loving in the grave, not in any physical way that will at all resemble love as we know it on earth. The perishable nature of love is what gives love its importance in our lives. If it were endless, if it were on tap, love wouldn't hit us the way it does. And we certainly wouldn't write about it.
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She lost much of her appetite. At night, an invisible hand kept shaking her awake every few hours. Grief was physiological, a disturbance of the blood. Sometimes a whole minute would pass in nameless dread - the bedside clock ticking, the blue moonlight coating the window like glue - before she`d remember the brutal fact that had caused it.
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Mr. Lisbon knew his parental and neighborly duty entailed putting the retainer in a Ziploc bag, calling the Kriegers, and telling them their expensive orthodontal device was in safe keeping. Acts like theses - simple, humane, conscientious, forgiving - held life together. Only a few days earlier he would have been able to perform them. But now he took the retainer and dropped it in the toiler. He pressed the handle. The retainer, jostled int he surge, disappeared down the porcelain throat, and, when waters abated, floated triumphantly, mockingly, out, Mr. Lisbon waited for the tank to refill and flushed again, but the same thing happened. The replica of the boy's mouth clung to the white slope.
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They didn't exchange a single word. But in the weeks that followed, Trip spent his days wandering the halls, hoping for Lux to appear, the most naked person with clothes on he had ever seen. Even in sensible school shoes, she shuffled as though barefoot, and the baggy apparel Mrs. Lisbon bought for her only increased her appeal, as though after undressing she had put on whatever was handy. In corduroys her thighs rubbed together, buzzing, and there was always at least one untidy marvel to unravel him: an untucked shirttail, a sock with a hole, a ripped seam showing underarm hair. She carted her books from class to class but never opened them. Her pens and pencils were as temporary as Cinderella's broom. When she smiled, her mouth showed too many teeth, but at night Trip Fontaine dreamed of being bitten by each one.
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Emotions, in my experience, aren't covered by single words. I don't believe in "sadness, " "joy, " or "regret." Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I'd like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, "the happiness that attends disaster." Or: "the disappointment of sleeping with one's fantasy." I'd like to show how "intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members" connects with "the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age." I'd like to have a word for "the sadness inspired by failing restaurants" as well as for "the excitement of getting a room with a minibar." I've never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I've entered my story, I need them more than ever.
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Fin da piccole sapevano quanto poco valore il mondo attribuisse ai libri, e non perdevano tempo a leggerli. Mentre io, anche adesso, continuo a credere che quei puntini neri su fondo bianco abbiano il pie¹ alto dei significati, che se insisto a scrivere potre² cogliere l'arcobaleno della coscienza e rinchiuderlo in un barattolo.
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They had killed themselves over our dying forests, over manatees maimed by propellers as they surfaced to drink from garden hoses; they had killed themselves at the sight of used tires stacked higher than the pyramids; they had killed themselves over the failure to find a love none of us could ever be. In the end, the tortures tearing the Lisbon girls pointed to a simple reasoned refusal to accept the world as it was handed down to them, so full of flaws.
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On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide-it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese-the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope.
But this is all chasing after the wind. The essence of the suicides consisted not of sadness or mystery but simple selfishness. The girls took into their own hands decisions better left to God. They became too powerful to live among us, too self-concerned, too visionary, too blind. What lingered after them was not life, which always overcomes natural death, but the most trivial list of mundane facts: a clock ticking on a wall, a room dim at noon, and the outrageousness of a human being thinking only of herself.
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According to an ancient Chinese legend, one day in the year 240 B.C., Princess Si Ling-chi was sitting under a mulberry tree when a silkworm cocoon fell into her teacup. When she tried to remove it, she noticed that the cocoon had begun to unravel in the hot liquid. She handed the loose end to her maidservant and told her to walk. The servant went out of the princess's chamber, and into the palace courtyard, and through the palace gates, and out of the Forbidden City, and into the countryside a half mile away before the cocoon ran out. (In the West, this legend would slowly mutate over three millennia, until it became the story of a physicist and an apple. Either way, the meanings are the same: great discoveries, whether of silk or of gravity, are always windfalls. They happen to people loafing under trees.)
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I don't want to ruin your life, " Leonard said in a gentler tone. "You're not ruining it." "The drugs just slow the process down. But the end's inevitable. The question is, how to turn this thing off?" He jabbed at his head with his index finger. "It's cutting me up, and I can't turn it off. Madeleine, listen to me. Listen. I'm not going to get better.
Often he had the impression that the person answering questions from the scratchy armchair was a dummy he was controlling, that this had been true throughout his life, and that his life had become so involved with operating the dummy that he, the ventriloquist, had ceased to have a personality, becoming just an arm stuffed up the puppet's back.
We knew the pain of winter rushing up your skirt, and the ache of keeping your knees together in class, and how drab and infuriating it was to jump rope while the boys played baseball. We could never understand why the girls cared so much about being mature, or why they felt compelled to compliment each other...
College feminists made fun of skyscrapers, saying they were phallic symbols. They said the same thing about space rockets, even though, if you stopped to think about it, rockets were shaped the way they were not because of phallocentrism but because of aerodynamics. Would a vagina-shaped Apollo 11 have made it to the moon? Evolution had created the penis. It was a useful structure for getting certain things done. And if it worked for the pistils of flowers as well as the inseminatory organs of Homo sapiens, whose fault was that but Biology's? But no-anything large or grand in design, any long novel, big sculpture, or towering building, became, in the opinion of the "women" Mitchell knew at college, manifestations of male insecurity about the size of their penises.
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I studied English literature in the honors program, which means that you had to take courses in various centuries. You had to start with Old English, Middle English, and work your way toward the modern. I figured if I did that it would force me to read some of the things I might not read on my own.
Dr. Armonson stitched up her wrist wounds. Withen 5 minutes of the transfusion he declared her out of danger. Chucking her under the chin, he said, "What are you doing here, honey? Your not even old enough to know how bad life gets." And it was then Cecelia gave orally what was to be her only form of suicide note, and a useless one at that, because she was going to live: "Obviously, Doctor," she said, "you've never been a 13 year old girl.
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All of a sudden America wasn't about hamburgers and hot rods anymore. It was about the Mayflower and Plymouth Rock. It was about something that had happened for two minutes four hundred years ago, instead of everything that had happened since. Instead of everything that was happening now!
Depending on the year or the therapist he was seeing, he'd learned to ascribe just about every facet of his character as a psychological reaction to his parents' fighting: his laziness, his overachieving, his tendency to isolate, his tendency to seduce, his hypochondria, his sense of invulnerability, his self-loathing, his narcissism.
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When I think back about my immediate reaction to that redheads girl, it seems to spring from an appreciation of natural beauty. I mean the heart pleasure you get from looking at speckled leaves or the palimpsested bark of plane trees in Provence. There was something richly appealing to her color combination, the ginger snaps floating in the milk-white skin, the golden highlights in the strawberry hair. it was like autumn, looking at her. It was like driving up north to see the colors.
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