Luckily, I remembered something Malcolm Cowley had taught us at Stanford - perhaps the most important lesson a writing class (not a writer, understand, but a class) can ever learn. 'Be gentle with one another's efforts,' he often admonished us. 'Be kind and considerate with your criticism. Always remember that it's just as hard to write a bad book as it is to write a good book.'
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You, and in fact quite a lot of your generation, have in some way been exiled from that particular sanctuary. It's become almost impossible for someone to "go mad" in the classical sense. At one time people conveniently "went mad" and were never heard from again. Like a character in a romantic novel. But now you are too hip to yourself on a psychological level. You all are too intimate with too many of the symptoms of insanity to be caught completely off your guard.
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We'd just shared the last beer and slung the empty can out the window at a stop sign and were just waiting back to get the feel of the day, swimming in that kind of tasty drowsiness that comes over you after a day of going hard at something you enjoy doing -- half sunburned and half drunk and keeping awake only because you wanted to savor the taste as long as you could.
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Which is just another way of blaming, and perhaps the best way, because there is solace and a certain stoical peace in blaming everything on the rain, and then blaming something as uncontrollable as the rain on something as indifferent as the Arm of the Lord. Because nothing can be done about the rain except blaming. And if nothing can be done about it, why get yourself in a sweat about it?
I discovered at an early age that I was - shall we be kina and say different? It's a better, more general word than the other one... I got sick... It was the feeling that the great, deadly pointing forefinger of society was pointing at me - and the great voice of millions chanting, "Shame. Shame. Shame." It's society's way of dealing with someone different.
I discovered at an early age that I was - shall we be kind and say different? It's a better, more general word than the other one... I got sick... It was the feeling that the great, deadly pointing forefinger of society was pointing at me - and the great voice of millions chanting, "Shame. Shame. Shame." It's society's way of dealing with someone different.
But if the strength ain't real, I recall thinking the very last thing that day, before I finally passed out, then the weakness sure enough is. Weakness is true and real. I used to accuse the kid of faking his weakness. But faking proves the weakness is real. Or you wouldn't be so weak as to fake it. No, you can't ever fake being weak. You can only fake being strong...
I'm accustomed to being top man. I been a bull goose catskinner for every gyppo logging operation in the Northwest and bull goose gambler all the way from Korea, was even bull goose pea weeder on that pea farm at Pendleton - so I figure if I'm bound to be a loony, then I'm bound to be a stompdown dadgum good one.
The most work he did on [the urinals] was to run a brush once or twice apiece, singing some song as loud as he could in time to the swishing brush; then he'd splash in some Clorox and he'd be through... And when the Big Nurse... came in to check McMurphy's cleaning assignment personally, she brought a little compact mirror and she held it under the rim of the bowls. She walked along shaking her head and saying, "Why, this is an outrage... an outrage... " at every bowl. McMurphy sidled right along beside her, winking down his nose and saying in answer, "No; that's a toilet bowl... a TOILET bowl.
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I realized I still had my eyes shut. I had shut them when I put my face to the screen, like I was scared to look outside. Now I had to open them. I looked out the window and saw for the first time how the hospital was out in the country. The moon was low in the sky over the pastureland; the face of it was scarred and scuffed where it had just torn up out of the snarl of scrub oak and madrone trees on the horizon. The stars up close to the moon were pale; they got brighter and braver the farther they got out of the circle of light ruled by the giant moon. It called to mind how I noticed the exact same thing when I was off on a hunt with Papa and the uncles and I lay rolled in blankets Grandma had woven, lying off a piece from where the men hunkered around the fire as they passed a quart jar of cactus liquor in a silent circle. I watched that big Oregon prairie moon above me put all the stars around it to shame. I kept awake watching, to see if the moon ever got dimmer or if the stars got brighter, till the dew commenced to drift onto my cheeks and I had to pull a blanket over my head. Something moved on the grounds down beneath my window - cast a long spider of shadow out across the grass as it ran out of sight behind a hedge. When it ran back to where I could get a better look, I saw it was a dog, a young, gangly mongrel slipped off from home to find out about things went on after dark. He was sniffing digger squirrel holes, not with a notion to go digging after one but just to get an idea what they were up to at this hour. He'd run his muzzle down a hole, butt up in the air and tail going, then dash off to another. The moon glistened around him on the wet grass, and when he ran he left tracks like dabs of dark paint spattered across the blue shine of the lawn. Galloping from one particularly interesting hole to the next, he became so took with what was coming off - the moon up there, the night, the breeze full of smells so wild makes a young dog drunk - that he had to lie down on his back and roll. He twisted and thrashed around like a fish, back bowed and belly up, and when he got to his feet and shook himself a spray came off him in the moon like silver scales. He sniffed all the holes over again one quick one, to get the smells down good, then suddenly froze still with one paw lifted and his head tilted, listening. I listened too, but I couldn't hear anything except the popping of the window shade. I listened for a long time. Then, from a long way off, I heard a high, laughing gabble, faint and coming closer. Canada honkers going south for the winter. I remembered all the hunting and belly-crawling I'd ever done trying to kill a honker, and that I never got one. I tried to look where the dog was looking to see if I could find the flock, but it was too dark. The honking came closer and closer till it seemed like they must be flying right through the dorm, right over my head. Then they crossed the moon - a black, weaving necklace, drawn into a V by that lead goose. For an instant that lead goose was right in the center of that circle, bigger than the others, a black cross opening and closing, then he pulled his V out of sight into the sky once more. I listened to them fade away till all I could hear was my memory of the sound.
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While McMurphy laughs. Rocking farther and farther backward against the cabin top, spreading his laugh across the water. Laughing at the girl, at the guys, at George, at me sucking my bleeding thumb, at the captain back at the pier and the bicycle rider and the service station guys and the five thousand houses and the Big Nurse and all of it. Because he knows you have to laugh at the things that hurt you just to keep yourself in balance, just to keep the world from running you plumb crazy. He know's there's a painful side; he knows my thumb smarts and his girl friend has a bruised breast and the doctor is losing his glasses, but he won't let the pain blot out the humor no more'n he'll let the humor blot out the pain.
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I been silent so long now it's gonna roar out of me like floodwaters and you think the guy telling this is ranting and raving my God; you think this is too horrible to have really happened, this is too awful to be the truth! But, please. It's still hard for me to have a clear mind thinking on it. But it's the truth even if it didn't happen.
One of the dumbest things you were ever taught was to write what you know. Because what you know is usually dull. Remember when you first wanted to be a writer? Eight or ten years old, reading about thin-lipped heroes flying over mysterious viny jungles toward untold wonders? That's what you wanted to write about, about what you didn't know. So. What mysterious time and place don't we know?" [Remember This: Write What You Don't Know (New York Times Book Review, December 31, 1989)]
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