"Let yourself be inert"

From Marcel Proust's 1907 letter to his friend Georges de Lauris, regarding the recent death of his mother:

"Now there is one thing I can tell you: you will enjoy certain pleasures you would not fathom now. When you still had your mother you often thought of the days when you would have her no longer. Now you will often think of days past when you had her.

When you are used to this horrible thing, that she will forever be cast into the past, then you will gently feel her revive, returning to take her place, her rightful place, beside you. At the present time, this is not yet possible.

Let yourself be inert, wait until the incomprehensible power ... that has broken you restores you a little, I say 'a little' because henceforth you will always keep something broken about you. Tell yourself this, too, for it is a kind of pleasure to know that you will never love less, that you will never be consoled, that you will constantly remember more and more."

*this translation I took mostly from the September 13 issue of the New Yorker, which has a really touching compilation of Roland Barthes' notes on mourning. I changed a few words of the translation after finding the original letter in French here.

On seizing the day, and the difficulty thereof

"The truth is that in every way, I am squandering the treasure of my life. It's not that I don't take enough pictures, though I don't, or that I don't keep a diary, though iCal and my monthly Visa bill are the closest I come to a thoughtful prose record of events. 

Every day is like a kid's drawing, offered to you with a strange mixture of ceremoniousness and offhand disregard, yours for the keeping. Some of the days are rich and complicated, others inscrutable, others little more than a stray gray mark on a ragged page. Some you manage to hang on to, though your reasons for doing so are often hard to fathom. But most of them you just ball up and throw away."

--from Michael Chabon's brilliant foray into non-fiction, "Manhood for Amateurs," in which he writes about fatherhood. I'm just about 1/4 of the way in, but I'd highly recommend it.

"Nothing Ever Happened, so don't worry"

I just came across this letter Jack Kerouac wrote to his first wife, Edith, in January 1957 (a few months before the release of On the Road.) Jack and Edith were married from 1944 to 1946.

I particularly like the final paragraph (as do a lot of people, judging by the fact that that's the only part of the letter that seems to be published anywhere, mostly in spiritual quotation books and websites) but I prefer to read things in context, so I tracked down the whole thing here. I'm glad I did, because now I have a new favorite way to sign off on letters.

Your eternal old lady,


Monday, Jan 28, 1957

Dear Edie,

That was a beautiful letter you wrote me. I read some of it to Lucien later on.

You know, before Joan died, when I saw her in 1950, she said you were the greatest person (I think she said nicest) she had ever known.

As for Willy B., he's queening around now but as ever he never bothers me with that. Instead we take long walks in the evening with hands clasped behind our backs, conversing politely. He is a great gentleman and as you may know, has become a great writer, in fact all the bigwigs are afraid of him (W.H. Auden, etc.) Yes, he knows we're coming in February, late.

Allen never loses track of me even when I try to hide. He does me many favors publicizing my name. Well, we're old friends anyway. But I can't keep up the hectic “fame” life he wants and so I won't stay with them long in Tangiers. I'm going to get me a quiet hut by the sea on the Spanish coast, then join them in Paris in the Spring.

Escaping reality to go into simplicity is just what I do, except I regard reality as being simplicity. That is, God is Alone. Don't worry, I eat plenty, I have my cook kit in my pack and make delicious food wherever I go, when I have to. In NY naturally everybody invites me to big dinners in homes. But like in Spain and Europe, I'll make my pancakes and syrup with black coffee for breakfast, boil my big pot of Boston baked beans with salt port and molasses, make salads, eat French bread, cheese and dates for dessert. Etc.

I'll write you and you keep writing and if you suddenly get the impulse to see Europe I'll be here to show you around.

I have never left you either, and had many dreams of you, wild dreams where we're wandering in dark alleys of Mexico looking for a place to bang, etc.

I want to end my life as an old man in a shack in the woods, and I'm leading up to that soon as I dig the whole world including the orient. I'm invited to a Buddhist Monastery in Japan and will go within 5 years. Also other things. Make movies too, later. I'll have more money than I need. Or maybe only what I need. I'm glad to send my mother her reward, think eventually I'll take her out to California and get her a little rose covered cottage, and get me a shack for half the time, in the wild hills beyond Mount Tamalpais.

Hearing your voice at night over the phone, in a hotel where I'd gone to hide out to work, was like a strange and beautiful dream. You sounded warmer and more mature. You will always be a great woman. I have a lot of things to teach you now, in case we ever meet, concerning the message that was transmitted to me under a pine tree in North Carolina on a cold winter moonlit night. It said that Nothing Ever Happened, so don't worry. It's all like a dream. Everything is ecstasy, inside. We just don't know it because of our thinking-minds. But in our true blissful essence of mind is known that everything is alright forever and forever and forever. Close your eyes, let your hands and nerve-ends drop, stop breathing for 3 seconds, listen to the silence inside the illusion of the world, and you will remember the lesson you forgot, which was taught in immense milky ways of cloudy innumerable worlds long ago and not even at all. It is all one vast awakened thing. I call it the golden eternity. It is perfect. We were never really born, we will never really die. It has nothing to do with the imaginary idea of a personal self, other selves, many selves everywhere, or one universal self. Self is only an idea, a mortal idea. That which passes through everything, is one thing. It's a dream already ended. I know this from staring at mountains months on end. They never show any expression, they are like empty space. Do you think the emptiness of space will ever crumble away? Mountains will crumble, but the emptiness of space, which is the one universal essence of mind, the one vast awakenerhood, empty and awake, will never crumble away because it was never born.

The world you see is just a movie in your mind.

Your eternal old man,


Dining à Deux

"A happy marriage is simply a series of successful dinners."

-the aforementioned Mme. Genevieve Antoine Dariaux, in her very fun to read book The Men in Your Life: Timeless Advice and Wisdom on Managing the Opposite Sex