“He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
― Robert Frost, The Poetry of Robert Frost
“Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents’ beds, unerringly I rush! Naught’s an obstacle, naught’s an angle to the iron way!”
― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or, The Whale
Oblique Strategy: Don’t be frightened of cliches
Are you making your plans for next year? Do you have fixed in your mind the exact person you want to become?
Your mind, though, is not of one voice – but of at least two. Do you hear the little voice already telling you that you will fail and you will never become the person you think of? “It is too late anyway,” the voice says.
Where will you fall? Who will win in the end? Does it even matter?
“That’s all the motorcycle is, a system of concepts worked out in steel. There’s no part in it, no shape in it, that is not out of someone’s mind […] I’ve noticed that people who have never worked with steel have trouble seeing this—that the motorcycle is primarily a mental phenomenon. They associate metal with given shapes—pipes, rods, girders, tools, parts—all of them fixed and inviolable., and think of it as primarily physical. But a person who does machining or foundry work or forger work or welding sees “steel” as having no shape at all. Steel can be any shape you want if you are skilled enough, and any shape but the one you want if you are not. Shapes, like this tappet, are what you arrive at, what you give to the steel. Steel has no more shape than this old pile of dirt on the engine here. These shapes are all of someone’s mind. That’s important to see. The steel? Hell, even the steel is out of someone’s mind. There’s no steel in nature. Anyone from the Bronze Age could have told you that. All nature has is a potential for steel. There’s nothing else there.”
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values
Oblique Strategy: Is the intonation correct?
After a really rough day I needed a little victory so I made a sweet potato casserole to take to a potluck tomorrow. Is a well-cooked casserole a work of art? Probably not. Especially when its destiny is a long table already groaning under other casseroles also full of sweet potatoes (at least mine does not feature marshmallows – it has goat cheese and walnuts) or green beans mixed with oversalty industrial mushroom soup and canned fried onions. I’m sure mine will be ignored, no matter how delicious. Such is the ultimate destiny of all art.
P.S. After having written the above, I went to the kitchen to put my cassarole, which had been cooling on a rack, into the fridge to take to the potluck tomorrow. While transferring it, I dropped it, flipping it onto the kitchen floor.
The day continues.
“Q: What genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?
A: I love reading anything about gigantic animate blobs of molten iron who secretly long to be concert pianists. It’s not a particularly well-populated genre, but in particular I’d mention, “Grog, Who Loved Chopin,” as well as the somewhat derivative “Clom, Big Fan of Mozart.”
― George Saunders
“After all, we were young. We were fourteen and fifteen, scornful of childhood, remote from the world of stern and ludicrous adults. We were bored, we were restless, we longed to be seized by any whim or passion and follow it to the farthest reaches of our natures. We wanted to live – to die – to burst into flame – to be transformed into angels or explosions. Only the mundane offended us, as if we secretly feared it was our destiny . By late afternoon our muscles ached, our eyelids grew heavy with obscure desires. And so we dreamed and did nothing, for what was there to do, played ping-pong and went to the beach, loafed in backyards, slept late into the morning – and always we craved adventures so extreme we could never imagine them. In the long dusks of summer we walked the suburban streets through scents of maple and cut grass, waiting for something to happen.”
― Steven Millhauser, Dangerous Laughter
The army sent him halfway around the world and forgot him. He was wounded and they remembered him long enough to take the shrapnel out of his chest – they said they took it out but they never showed it to him and he felt it still in there, rusted, and poisoning him – and then they sent him to another desert and forgot him again. He had all the time he could want to study his soul in and assure himself that it was not there. When he was thoroughly convinced, he saw that this was something that he had always known.”
― Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood