What counts and how, and who decides

“ ‘Are you bipolar?’ My daughter was ten when she asked me. We were in her bed reading together before she went to sleep. It was something I knew I had to tell her one day, but I didn’t expect it to come out this soon, and in the moment she had taken me by surprise. I felt instantly awash in shame. By way of explanation, she said that her friend’s mother had googled me. Google. Fucking Google. For the first time I regret having written a memoir about my illness. She was a toddler when I wrote it. At the time, a handful of friends suggested that it was irresponsible of me; what would my daughter think when she was old enough to read it? Insulted by the question, I was cavalier in my response. Aren’t men allowed to write about their illnesses, their affairs, their acts of aggression and unkindness? Why are women held to a higher standard? Why is our mothering called into question when we reveal something unpleasant? All of my indignation fell away when my daughter looked up at me. I had told the world my story, only now I faced the only person for whom the truth mattered.” – Betsy Lerner, The Bridge Ladies

Ins and outs

“There are two sides to the world that have to fit together somehow, but do not seem to fit together in a way that we presently understand. One is the existence of sensations and other mental processes that are felt by an agent; the other is the world of biology, chemistry, and physics.” – Peter Godfrey-Smith, Other Minds

Shake, rattle, and roll

“There is a limit to the amount of misery and disarray you will put up with, for love, just as there is a limit to the amount of mess you can stand around a house. You can’t know the limit beforehand, but you will know it when you’ve reached it.” – Alice Munro, “Bardon Bus”

Not guilty

“She had never been able to get rid of the fourteen-year-old girl within herself who was ashamed of her breasts and had the disagreeable feeling that she was indecent, because they stuck out from her body and were visible. Even though she was proud of being pretty and having a good figure, this feeling of pride was always immediately curtailed by shame. She rightly suspected that feminine beauty functioned above all as sexual provocation and she found this distasteful. She longed for her body to be related only to the man she loved. When men stared at her breasts in the street it seemed to her that they were invading a piece of her most secret privacy which should belong only to herself and her lover.” – Milan Kundera, “The Hitchhiking Game” (trans. Suzanne Rappaport)

You could get lucky

“If you lead a completely useless life, but do it with style and die young enough, you’re quite likely to be remembered with more affection than the man who has a record of accomplishment. But the secret is to die young enough. If you think you’re going to live to a ripe old age, it’s better to pile up a record of accomplishment of some sort. It may be bridge-building, or money-making, or butterfly-collecting, but it has to be something. People don’t like to see longevity wasted on a do-nothing.” – John O’Hara, “Flight”

Power is its own reason

“It’s the same double-standard, always;
a god can sleep with as many
mortals as he wants
but a goddess takes a man as a lover
and Zeus must intervene.
I decried Zeus for his indiscretions
with Leda and Europa,
but, alas, he’s Zeus, and there’s no reasoning.
When I uttered Leda’s name, I faltered,
because she’s the reason for Helen
and this insipid war.
At the crack in my voice, Zeus
chuckled—I knew my case was lost
but tried every trick possible,
Odysseus isn’t really a mortal—
he’s almost a god, or why would Athena,
your daughter, from your own head sprung,
so adore him? Or
Odysseus is less than a mortal—
it was a pity. He washed up on my shore,
more a half-drowned kitten than a man—
can I keep him?
But none of these worked.
Zeus, who must have Hera and Leda
and Europa and many others
can’t understand the curse
of being alone
and immortal
in paradise.”

Shaindel Beers, “The Calypso Diaries” (emphasis in original)

Democracy in action

“We voted constantly on everything—issues and offices of every kind. We were expected at every age to have an opinion on all matters . . . . We voted in fifth-grade physics that half a pound of feathers weighed more than half a pound of steel. We were adamant. Knowledge itself was a democracy. We studied fanatically. We were as competitive as only a child state can be. We voted to stone the girl who banged her head—not because she banged her head, but because she was so fat and furtive and whining all the time. She lost a loafer running across the athletic field. None of the stones hit. We were too uncoordinated and too young to throw accurately across the distance we had also, in all fairness, voted for. The space-time continuum became clear to us with that event. So, perhaps, did the quality of mercy, after all.” – Renata Adler, Speedboat

Classy

“It is curious that in these republican countries where ‘Jack is as good as his master,’ and much better in his own estimation, there is a much wider gap between class and class than there is in England. There, at least in the old times, you would go an see your poorer neighbours and rather enjoy a talk with them, especially in the country. Here [Australia] if you did anything of the kind they would return your call and bring their children to tea. The consequence is that, though we are surrounded by little farms, I do not know one of the farmers’ wives, even by sight, except an old lady, whose milking-yard borders the road to the post-office, so that I have seen her in passing. Mr Taylor knows most of the men, so far as saying good day to them, but any further intimacy would lead to their borrowing every tool and instrument on the farm, to say nothing of horses and oxen.” – Rachel Henning Taylor, April 8, 1874, The Letters of Rachel Henning, ed. David Adams

Are you left-handed or right-handed

“There are times when every act, no matter how private or unconscious, becomes political. Whom you live with, how you wear your hair, whether you marry, whether you insist that your child take piano lessons, what are the brand names on your shelf; all these become political decisions. At other times, no act—no campaign or tract, statement or rampage—has any political charge at all. People with the least sense of which times are, and which are not, political are usually most avid about politics.” – Renata Adler, Speedboat

And don’t fall in

“Trying to write something of permanent value is a full-time job even though only a few hours a day are spent on the actual writing. A writer can be compared to a well. There are as many kinds of wells as there are writers. The important thing is to have good water in the well, and it is better to take a regular amount out than to pump the well dry and wait for it to refill.” – Ernest Hemingway (interviewed by George Plimpton in Paris Review)

Shush

“Now sometimes when I can’t sleep, I wonder. A twenty-four hour curfew every day, for everybody. Suppose we blow up the whole thing. Everything. Everybody. Me. Buildings. No room. Blast. All dead. No survivors. And then I would say, and then I would say, Let’s just have it a little quiet around here.” – Renata Adler, Speedboat