whereabouts of the muse 2

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Reading biographies helps one regain perspective regarding the long run in life. Especially these days, as we find ourselves overwhelmed with news from all of the world, instant messages, and social networks. We live in the middle of constant social ferment and never ending noise and chatter. The radio and TV amplify the sound of advertisement, and the telephone signals that a new message is waiting for us while we try to study texts from the internet, or converse with a friend. We are constantly in the ‘now’. So much so, that we lose sight of the slow movements characteristic of the progress of nature, and the affairs of man.

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The biography of Gertrude Stein, brought me back to thoughts on the movement towards ‘new art’ in the period between the two world wars at the beginning of the last century. Among many other important artists and thinkers of the art world, I was reminded of Picasso and Hemingway, both of whom influenced my own attitudes towards art and writing. But the scene that played out in the biography, especially in the salon of Gertrude Stein, with all the fine artists around her and Alice B. Toklas, was very different from my memory of the scene, based on the many stories I had heard and read over fifty years ago.

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I had read Hemingway with great enthusiasm at first, and grown a little tired of him after a while. Decided it was about time to revisit, and picked up ‘Moveable Feast’ where he describes his first flowering as a writer of literature, after starting out as a journalist. He relates to some of the same scenes and people that appeared in the biography of Stein. Once again, I loved the way he wrote. But a lot of time had passed since I first read his writing, and I had changed. The world had changed too. We have different expectations from a thinking man today. But there is a description in that book, of how the writer went about his work. He contemplated his subject, determined to write one sentence that was completely true. And after studying the words and the composition… when finally satisfied that he had written a good sentence, he went on to write another. His descriptions of the creative process, and the way he went about writing, sounded just right, even after all this time. Reading his conclusions about how to write were up to date even now, regardless of the sport he enjoyed… his cruelty to animals is no longer acceptable. But I found personal inspiration in rereading his work.

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Some of my blog readers may remember the two posts I wrote a little over two years ago, contemporary fine literature, and contemporary literature part 2, which dealt with my search for new reading material. After spending many years with a heavy work load, during which I pretty much abandoned reading for pleasure, and lost touch with what was happening outside of my own country, I was hoping to find those who had emerged as the outstanding men of letters, and what was considered fine literature in the world today. Especially in English language literature. But after reading some ‘best sellers’ and some of the recommended reading in the critiques of the top journals, I found it very hard to relate to what was popular today. I was going to search further, and I asked my readers for recommendations. Well, I got some interesting comments, and quite a few mails. I checked out the critiques of different recommended books, and went on to read some of the books. I read quite a few. But many seemed negative to me. I realized that this was the age of the ‘flawed hero’ or the anti hero. And in many popular narratives, the stories concerned victims. or people who had surrendered to the caprices of fate. I was seriously considering going back to classical literature, but hadn’t given up completely, when my internet friend, David Lockwood, shared a quote by Robertson Davies, and I looked him up on the internet.

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I read the Deptford trilogy, one book after another. It was good. There were some weak moments… at times the narrative just sort of coasted along. But the story was woven with the same threads through three volumes, and there were some very fine passages along the way. His themes reflect the nature of life and human awareness and sensitivity. Each of the three volumes present a part of the same story with some overlapping, as seen from different perspectives. And one realized along the way that what is seen from different points of views can seem like different stories even if they relate to the same cold facts. The focus was not on heroes or villains, but on those who live their lives between the raindrops, characters who are usually part of the background when the narrative is focusing on heroes. I liked his style very much. I enjoyed reading his books and wanted to read more.

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These books helped me to divert my attention from the horrors that had invaded the day to day life around me. I was inspired to consider the general nature of human beings and the lives we live. It was possible to dismiss the extremism that had been forced upon us, and had influenced my judgment regarding all I saw or heard. When I finished the trilogy, I recommended it to Chana who reads English. I wanted to recommend it to other friends of mine, and looked for a translation into Hebrew. But to my disappointment, I discovered that none of his books had been translated. What a shame. I hope that someone does take on the job. I’ve already started to read another of his trilogies. This time, the Cornish trilogy. It concerns the academic life, and so far it has been very interesting.

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The photos published here were taken yesterday, on a sunny day between bouts of winter weather, while walking around the Nachlaot neighborhood in central Jerusalem. I started my walk feeling sad, but I so love this town that I was soon awake with appreciation. I found my consolation in literature. But this city of mine is my own personal inspiration, even in bad times. Found some excellent examples of graffiti, yesterday, and enjoyed the images of the local modest housing which has attracted many artists and students. Spent time in the shuk, which is the market place, and watched people going about their business. As the hours passed, I grew more positive and encouraged. Came back with many more photos than could be printed here. But I might share some more on a future blog. May it be a good year for all of us.

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45 responses to “whereabouts of the muse 2

  1. Good morning dear Shimon….Thank you so much for this post….A reminder to me to re-read Gertrude Stein’s biography and I will definitely order one of Robertson Davies books…..Thank you.

    Your first paragraph talks so succinctly about the state of the world today, fuelled by a myriad of constantly changing technology which none of us can keep up with. I don’t think that this kind of living in the now, is the kind prescribed by the Buddhist philosophy! Yes, we have been de-sensitised and have lost touch with the beautiful rhythms and pace of Mother Nature.

    I always enjoy the photographs of your beautiful home town…..Even though I have never been there in person, through your eye, I get to see it as it really is…..filled with colour, life and energy.

    I also really like the illustration with cat….:) But then I would – wouldn’t I?

    May peace and love be with you this day….Janet. xx

    • I agree with you, Janet. As I understand it, the ‘now’ prescribed by the Buddhist teachers is a coming together of all the forces of nature, and the human being finding his proper place within the harmony of the entirety, sentient beings, vegetation, boulders and gasses. It is essentially the uplifting of consciousness. Unfortunately, the fashion of living in the moment for many people today is a total immersion in the affairs of man. And even that has become an obsessive interest in gossip and trivia and a lot of gazing into the mirror. The technology is truly a blessing. But let’s hope we learn to appreciate our blessings properly, and not just waste our time worshiping them. Thank you so much for your sweet wishes, my dear friend. And mine to you. xxx

      • Good morning dear Shimon….just read the following about Monet and his work interconnecting gardening with painting….I think it expresses what you have said in your comment. ‘Landscapes of water and reflections’, as he called them, moved even further from direct depiction of a separate natural world towards a sense of oneness with, and immersion into nature. Marmite Heaven, here I come:) Have a beautiful day my friend. Janet. xxx

        • Thank you very much for this addition, Janet. Yes, the words of Monet are very apt to the appreciation of art and the world around us both. As you so often say, all is interconnected. xxx

  2. I got quite stuck on Hemingway’s advice about the true sentence, but that can easily kill any writing and you never get to write a second one.
    Happy to hear you’ve found books you enjoy. There’s plenty on offer but it’s not easy to find what you’re looking for. Thanks for the pictures and the reflections.

    • It is truly amazing and awe inspiring to study the history of the written word. Not very long ago, the majority of humanity was unable to read. And books were copied by hand with great patience and exacting standards. We live in a time today when more books are published each year than one could read in a lifetime. So both standards and expectations are constantly changing. I think there are many, today, who appreciate writing for the intimate connection the afford with the soul and the imagination of another human being, and people do not demand the seriousness or the intrinsic weight of what was expected from the classics. Each writer today chooses what is important for him or her to communicate. But I think it an enriching experience to study the standards of those who worked before us. Thanks very much for your comment, Olga.

  3. Perhaps you’re the person to translate some of the works of Robertson Davies into Hebrew.

    • Ah, if I were younger, Steve, maybe. But I’m an old man and have given up complicated long range projects. I enjoy each week as it comes, and part of my enjoyment includes a wide variety of reading. These days, I’m also seeing a lot of wild flowers that have appeared after each rain, and I am often reminded of you as I gaze at these wonders of nature. Best wishes,

  4. This line stuck me the most …. “in the middle of constant social ferment and never ending noise and chatter.” …. and thus the need of something to take the mind away from that – thus glad literature is doing that for you.

    • Yes, Frank, I’ve found that when I’m troubled or sad, it can be very worthwhile to listen to someone else… and reading fine literature transcends time and space. It really opens up the possibilities. Thanks for your comment.

  5. Nice one, Shimonz. Well said.

  6. Thank you.
    joy,
    walt

  7. And how kind of you to share your lovely day. 🙂

  8. It was refreshing to read of your literary adventures, and the discovery of a voice that was new to you, and how it has captured your attention. It was especially encouraging to read that your walk through the Nachlaot neighborhood helped to lift your spirits and allowed you to rediscover an appreciation for the treasures hidden within.

    Always good to hear your voice, Shimon. Today has been a little rough for me, in that my head is cluttered with sad thoughts. Must be time for a walk. I might even snap a few photos, just to help me focus on something other than what is circling around in my head. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

    • I am sorry to hear that you too were struggling with sad thoughts a few days back. I hope you are occupied with more positive thoughts today, Nancy. But we both know that sad is very much a part of life too. I remember my mother once telling me about how in her youth, she liked to go to the movie pictures, and watch a sad movie and cry her heart out. She felt she needed it then. I guess we got more than our share from real life, and didn’t have to search it out. My best wishes to you always.

  9. Intriguing. As you know most of my life, my reading was medical journals and such. I got by and it definitely made me a much wider based surgeon. I fear that there will be fewer and fewer “general” surgeons, or even trauma surgeons. The residents aren’t given the freedom I had. It’s very sad. So I read your text about Hemmingway and his one sentence start. I knew of it before but had never considered it in my lifestyle. Imagine making a single incision and then taking the time consider its appropriateness. I brag about having survived an extreme emergency where an unconscious and heavily bleeding pregnant woman is found, and it took just 3 swipes of a scalpel to have a baby out and both mother and child survived. And now I sit here in my solitude awaiting my end. It’s a joy to read you Shimon. Please know that.

    • My dear friend, what you wrote here reminded me of a blues song I heard once… I think it came from your country. The singer sang that he was born with a lot of talent… he could have been a lawyer, but he just couldn’t bear the thought that one of his clients would have to go to jail… He could have been a doctor… But it was devastating to imagine a patient of his, dying because of a mistake he’d made. So in the end, he chose to sing the blues. I don’t think life would be so fine without doctors or the law, and a whole lot of other professions, and my blessing goes out to those who are willing to take the necessary risks, in their efforts to bring peace and recovery to the suffering. Each of us have something to offer society, and how wonderful it is when we find our proper niche. Thanks so much for your comment, Bob

      • Dear Shimon,
        Your conversation with Robert is fascinating! What a thought-provoking post that has inspired such an interesting exchange of ideas.
        I appreciated the photos, and am very glad that your time in Jerusalem has lifted your spirits.
        Sending you warm wishes from Seattle,
        Naomi

  10. Hello, Shimon! Now you have us quivering with book zeal… I don’t know if your readers suggested this already, but have you read any Alice Munro? To call her stories “exquisite” (even “Nobel-prize-winning,” which they are) is an understatement. I particularly love “The Bear Came Over The Mountain” from the collection “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories” and the ENTIRETY of her “Dear Life” — at 84, Munro cuts through that “never-ending noise and chatter” you mention here, and helps us reflect on our own lives, via the inner lives of her characters. Yup, the more I think of it, you’re a perfect match! 🙂
    Shabbat shalom, Jean

    • Thank you very much, Jean. I don’t remember if any of my readers mentioned Munro, but I had the pleasure of finding some of her stories quite a few years ago, and enjoyed them very much. But I will read the bear very soon. Thanks for that recommendation. And wishing you a very good week and a good month too.

  11. Thank you for sharing these vibrant photographs of you city with us. To you and your beloved ones as well: may the coming year be better than all the years before. Stay safe!

    • Thank you so much for your good wishes, Labelle. May this new year mark a change for better for all of us. So glad you enjoyed the photos. I plan to share some of the graffiti I found that day very soon.

  12. Reading recommendations are not always successful, reading is very much a personal and subjective experience.

    I intersperse what I call my more general reading with English classics. The written presentation is so very different from the modern reading. I find the development, use and disuse of language wondrous, it slows down my progression. My current classical read has been slow moving, too slow. In part because I have not connected well with the core stories. Yet I marvel at the writer’s perceptiveness of human behaviour, the characters’ interactions and the socialite politics that existed. There are also the politics of State for the time, which can be compared to the antics we hear currently about elsewhere. I have about 22% left to read, so, I am nearly there.

    Gr8 to hear from you! 🙂

    • Yes, taste in literature is a very personal issue. It’s influenced by what we’ve experienced in the past, and what influences us in the present… there are so many influences. Patience too, is a very individual matter. Thanks for your comment.

  13. I’m so pleased that you have found reading material that you enjoy and that diverts you from what is going on in your beloved country. Finding the right book is an escape, and a total joy. I still manage to lose myself in a real good read, but as you say so many novels are about victims…..btw I loved that sentence talking about people who live their lives between the raindrops, that conjures up such wonderful images.
    I did enjoy the pictures you took on your walk, I am constantly surprised to see such relaxed cats in so many different poses! I am happy to hear your walk ended on such a positive note, observing how our fellow man goes about his everyday business. Another marvellous set of posts.xxx

    • Yes, it is good to have interesting reading material waiting for me, whenever I have time to read. Though I have to admit, that there are certain sources that I can always depend on for great interest. I suppose part of my search is a desire for variety. Even when we have treasures close to home, we have the need occasionally, to wander off to the great world outside, and find new treasures and stimuli. And yes, Dina, I would say that the disposition of the cats in our town is an important part of why I love Jerusalem. Always a pleasure to visit with them. xxx

  14. Well Shimon, tomorrow is the day to take my grand children to spend time in the library and I will look to see if Davies and Munro are on the shelves. I enjoy your photos, the pictures of your tour through the neighborhood are engaging. So many small details indicative of “place”.
    These two activities…walking around my own neighborhood and reading have also become staples in my life. My physical self, my thoughts, my feelings seem to find their own equilibrium here, gelling into something more cohesive and responsive. I can more easily carry the sadness and concern, since they are not going to be remedied any time soon and I don’t choose to become inured.
    I am glad you are continuing to write, sharing your own passage through what you find difficult. It makes a difference to hear how you are choosing to be “present’ with it. Plus… we get to go with you on your walks! Love, Jana

    • What you wrote, “I don’t choose to become inured,” is the key to a world view with which I agree completely. After my first heart attack, some years back, I was advised by my doctors to take valium. I told them, I have worked most of my life to become more sensitive. I have no desire to become insensitive now.

      How good it is to visit the library with our grandchildren. I have done that myself, but I must say that I often wonder if their experiences resemble mine at all. Their sources are so different from what I knew and loved as a young man… their expectations too.

      As for me, I’m limping through life right now… when I was young, if I was ill or injured, I would only wonder how long it’d take me to get back on my feet again. These days, I wonder if it’s temporary, or just part of the decline, before I retire from this world completely. Meantime, from time to time I have the urge to communicate… though it seems easier to remain passive. Thanks for your encouragement Jana. You’re very sweet.

  15. I’m happy to hear that you were cheered by the walk through your city. I am a hopeless optimist at heart and believe that no matter how deep the darkness, the light will prevail.

    • I used to be an optimist, yearstricken… I hope that characteristic will yet return. Thanks so much for coming by, I always love seeing your icon. Best wishes to you.

  16. Books are a great way to escape to a different world, while putting thoughts of the present on a back burner somewhere. It’s hard to beat a good book for company when times are trying.

    • Yes, Bev… when reading, I usually feel that I’m in good company. And I don’t have to open my mouth and say anything… that’s good too. I’m hoping for better times. Thanks for the comment.

  17. Reading really is such a wonderful way to take you out of yourself. Sadly this is a pleasure that has left me since my MS. I find myself reading and re-reading paragraphs over and over it becomes such a chore. Walking around your city clearly has a similar effect Shimon. For me, a trip to the beach usually does the trick, with my camera of course. I very much enjoyed these pictures. All the very best my friend!

    • Thanks for your kind words, Chillbrook. I’m sorry you don’t have the consolation of reading anymore… but I can understand it. I love going to the seashore too. But it is a trip for me. And so I save it for special occasions. But actually, any departure from the routine can provide unexpected inspiration, and a new perspective. Sometimes I go out just to stretch my legs… and afterwards find I’ve stretched my mind as well.

  18. For years, I misunderstood Hemingway’s words. I read the famous quotation (“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know”) but never looked beyond it to the context. It comes from A Moveable Feast, and of course you’ll remember it:

    “Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there.”

    The one true sentence never was meant to be the end; it always served as a beginning. And here’s something else. I’ve come to believe Hemingway wasn’t using “true” in opposition to “false.” I’m convinced he meant “true” in a carpenter’s sense of truing up a door — to true a sentence is to accurately shape or form its words, to fit them in the best possible way. If your work in the beginning is true, the structure will be solid, and you can begin to build with confidence. That’s true for a house or an essay.

    You’re right about the noise and chatter that surrounds us, but it’s also the case that we often have more choice than we’re willing to exercise. The fear of “missing out” — on a phone call, a social trend, the latest celebrity gossip — seems sronger every day. And yet,if we make a choice to miss some of what is compelling everyone’s attention, we may discover wonders others miss altogether.

    That’s why I like to chew over your posts as I do, even if it makes me a later responder. Reading and reflection belong together, and I cherish the way you make me think.

    • Quite true, Linda, that the one true sentence was never meant to be the end. And I like your view of ‘true’ in the sense that a carpenter would use it. Unlike many of the writers before him, Hemingway didn’t work much at sentences that established mood or atmosphere. He didn’t like too much explanation. True and false can be very subjective. In his writing, Hemingway often left it to us to guess the mood or the character of the individuals that appeared in his stories, by listening to what they said. Or watching what they did. He was very economical in his descriptions, All the same, he had a lot of power in his narrative. My guess is that he influenced a lot of American writers after him, even if very few adopted his methods. Thank you very much for your kind comment. It is a great pleasure to converse with friends.

  19. what you describe about your day, which relates to your feelings about literature, is captured perfectly in the photos – but strangely, it seems without trying. Your gift is always subtle. The fourth photo in particular brings it home – there is such a solid sense of everyday warmth and human life in it. Like you say, people going about their business, but the architecture adds rich layers of time. Thank you, Shimon, for being there, in spite of the horrors.

    • I am here because I love it here. In my youth, I had a desire to see the world, and I did travel… and saw quite a bit of it. But even so, I realized that I was a part of this city, and it was a part of me. Right now, we’re going through hard times. And I’m waiting and hoping that we’ll figure out a solution in the near future, or that one or more of our leaders will figure out what to do about all of this. Almost every place has its ups and downs. Some places suffer earthquakes, some tsunami, there are people who suffer from a dictator, there are wars all over the world… crime, cold, mosquitoes, wild animals and poisonous insects and reptiles. Life is a struggle. But on the whole, I truly love this place I call home, bluebrightly. So I’m waiting for things to get better.

  20. Hello Shimon,
    Your journey through your neighborhood and your reflections on reading Hemingway and Stein reminded me of my insistence in seeing 27 Rue de Fleurus in the Left Bank of Paris many years ago. I stood looking up at her apartment, trying to imagine what a rush it must have been for young Hemingway and Fitzgerald to sit in that apartment.

    In the Special Collections Library at Stanford, a friend there showed me Hemingway’s letter written from Cuba to his publisher,( typed) in which he first coins the term ” The Lost Generation.” That that was a rush for me.

    Perhaps the sentence in this post which caused me pause is this one:
    “We have different expectations from a thinking man today.”

    I am interested in your take on what those expectations might be and whom you might classify as a “thinking man.”

    • Hi there Cheri. Of course, we all think. But I have a special interest and affinity for people who ask themselves what they really want from this life, from the world around them… who live with intention; not just going along with the current and accepting the conventions around them. Fashions are found everywhere. Even among well learned intellectuals. And there are those compulsive non conformists who swim against the current, no matter what. I prefer those who ask the hard questions. Why should I do this or that. Which pleasures are worth the work? What is truly meaningful to me? How much am I willing to sacrifice to bring happiness to a neighbor, a friend, or someone I love. Fine writers have often weighed and chosen their values in public, sharing what was precious to them with their readers. In the case of Hemingway, though I respected him, and respected him for his thought and honesty, I found it hard to accept that he justified using animals for sport. I had other criticisms. But this was an important example.

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