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A scrapbook of stuff I'm reading / looking at / listening to / thinking about...



Posts tagged "death"

Sep 16, 2014
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Cyril Pedrosa, Three Shadows

Some of the most beautiful drawing I’ve seen in a comic — no surprise that Pedrosa used to be a Disney animator. He’s sort of hard to find online, but you can see some of his old Moleskines here, and a nice, short interview about the book.

Filed under: my reading year 2014

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Clive James is dying and just published this lovely poem in The New Yorker. It reminds me of the practice of Japanese Death Poems.

On jisei:


  In the death poem or jisei, the essential idea was that at one’s final moment of life, one’s reflection on death (one’s own usually but also death in general) could be especially lucid and meaningful and therefore also constituted an important observation about life. The poem was considered a gift to one’s loved ones, students, and friends. The tradition began with zen monks, but was also popular with poets, whose poems were often just as solemn as those of monks, or entirely flippant and humorous. The poems are often full of symbols of death, such as the full moon, the western sky, the song of the cuckoo, and images of the season in which the writer died.


Here’s another poem by James.

Filed under: death, poetry

Clive James is dying and just published this lovely poem in The New Yorker. It reminds me of the practice of Japanese Death Poems.

On jisei:

In the death poem or jisei, the essential idea was that at one’s final moment of life, one’s reflection on death (one’s own usually but also death in general) could be especially lucid and meaningful and therefore also constituted an important observation about life. The poem was considered a gift to one’s loved ones, students, and friends. The tradition began with zen monks, but was also popular with poets, whose poems were often just as solemn as those of monks, or entirely flippant and humorous. The poems are often full of symbols of death, such as the full moon, the western sky, the song of the cuckoo, and images of the season in which the writer died.

Here’s another poem by James.

Filed under: death, poetry

Aug 05, 2014
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It’s really fun being married to me.

It’s really fun being married to me.

Jul 01, 2014
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If you love something that somebody does—some art, some words, some sounds—you tell them that you love it. You tell everyone how much you love it, repeatedly and enthusiastically. Don’t save your appreciation for later, or worry about wearing people out with your passion. Because the happy truth is this: If a piece of art truly moves you, you will never, ever run out of new adjectives to express how much you love it. Getting to love someone’s art is one of the very finest parts of being alive.

Oct 05, 2013
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The story before ‘The end’ — a conversation with Anders Nilsen

Death doesn’t really make sense. You can try and force it into having a reasonable shape and meaning that fits the human mind, but it will always resist. So if you can’t make sense of it the next best thing is to simply tell the story. Even non-sensical things begin to feel like they make sense when you repeat them over and over. If I had any advice to someone with a friend who just lost a loved one, it might be just to let them tell the story. Be available.

Nice to hear Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow is back in print — it, like The End, is a beautiful, but devastating, comic.

FIled under: death, Anders Nilsen

The story before ‘The end’ — a conversation with Anders Nilsen

Death doesn’t really make sense. You can try and force it into having a reasonable shape and meaning that fits the human mind, but it will always resist. So if you can’t make sense of it the next best thing is to simply tell the story. Even non-sensical things begin to feel like they make sense when you repeat them over and over. If I had any advice to someone with a friend who just lost a loved one, it might be just to let them tell the story. Be available.

Nice to hear Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow is back in print — it, like The End, is a beautiful, but devastating, comic.

FIled under: death, Anders Nilsen

Sep 28, 2013
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Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one’s body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lighting, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one’s soul. And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead.

Sep 03, 2013
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Letters of Note: The light has gone out of my life


  On Valentine’s Day of 1884, just 36 hours after the birth of their only daughter, Alice, 25-year-old future U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt held his young wife in his arms as she passed away from undiagnosed Bright’s disease. Incredibly, just hours before, in the same house, he had already said a final goodbye to his mother, Martha. She had succumbed to Typhoid, aged just 48.
  
  Theodore’s diary for that day read as follows.


And yet, life goes on, as evidenced by the ghost text of the coming days underneath…

Letters of Note: The light has gone out of my life

On Valentine’s Day of 1884, just 36 hours after the birth of their only daughter, Alice, 25-year-old future U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt held his young wife in his arms as she passed away from undiagnosed Bright’s disease. Incredibly, just hours before, in the same house, he had already said a final goodbye to his mother, Martha. She had succumbed to Typhoid, aged just 48.

Theodore’s diary for that day read as follows.

And yet, life goes on, as evidenced by the ghost text of the coming days underneath…

Aug 22, 2013
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A Band Called Death

Punk before punk existed, three teenage brothers in the early ’70s formed a band in their spare bedroom, began playing a few local gigs and even pressed a single in the hopes of getting signed. But this was the era of Motown and emerging disco. Record companies found Death’s music— and band name—too intimidating, and the group were never given a fair shot, disbanding before they even completed one album. Equal parts electrifying rockumentary and epic family love story, A Band Called Death chronicles the incredible fairy-tale journey of what happened almost three decades later, when a dusty 1974 demo tape made its way out of the attic and found an audience several generations younger. Playing music impossibly ahead of its time, Death is now being credited as the first black punk band (hell…the first punk band!), and are finally receiving their long overdue recognition as true rock pioneers.

I saw these guys at Fun Fun Fun Fest in 2009. (That’s my doodle, above.) This doc got a little sluggish in the middle, but the music kicks ass, and the story choked me up quite a bit, as it’s really a story about brothers and spirituality as much as it is about music. (Sidenote: a great article could be written about all the mothers of famous musicians who encouraged their kids practice in the house.)

Recommended. Also check out their album, …For The Whole World To See.

Jun 11, 2013
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Oliver Burkeman, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking

I had this on my Kindle for a while, but my friend Mark Larson wrote such a good review I had to read it:


  What a fine book. If, like me, you have ongoing interest in stoicism, happiness, mindfulness meditation, thinking about death and failure, and tend to be a skeptical of your Rhonda Byrne/Tony Robbins types (but are at the same time, kind of amused by them), you’ll probably like [it.]


Check! Check! Check! On a side note, one of my favorite things about the book is that it riffs on self-help books without totally abandoning the winning structure of many self-help books—in each chapter, there’s usually a story, mentions of a few studies, and a lesson, or extrapolation. (The Malcolm Gladwell-ish “story-study-lesson” formula.) It works.

Some favorite bits, below.

A great description of meditation:


  Meditation, the way he described it, was a way to stop running. You sat still, and watched your thoughts and emotions and desires and aversions come and go, and you resisted the urge to try to flee from them, to fix them, or to cling to them. You practised non-attachment, in other words. Whatever came up, negative or positive, you stayed present and observed it. It wasn’t about escaping into ecstasy – or even into calmness, as the word is normally understood; and it certainly wasn’t about positive thinking. It was about the significantly greater challenge of declining to do any of that.


The importance of routine:


  [T]he daily rituals and working routines of prolific authors and artists – people who really do get a lot done – very rarely include techniques for ‘getting motivated’ or ‘feeling inspired’. Quite the opposite: they tend to emphasise the mechanics of the working process, focusing not on generating the right mood, but on accomplishing certain physical actions, regardless of mood. Anthony Trollope wrote for three hours each morning before leaving to go to his job as an executive at the post office; if he finished a novel within a three-hour period, he simply moved on to the next. (He wrote forty-seven novels over the course of his life.) The routines of almost all famous writers, from Charles Darwin to John Grisham, similarly emphasise specific starting times, or number of hours worked, or words written. Such rituals provide a structure to work in, whether or not the feeling of motivation or inspiration happens to be present. They let people work alongside negative or positive emotions, instead of getting distracted by the effort of cultivating only positive ones. ‘Inspiration is for amateurs,’ the artist Chuck Close once memorably observed. ‘The rest of us just show up and get to work.’


On the connection between capitalism and our concept of “failure”:


  One crucial development, he argues, was the emergence of credit rating agencies, whose role was to sit in judgment upon individuals seeking loans from banks, helping the banks determine the risk they would be taking by making the loan. In a society increasingly dominated by business, a bad credit rating could all too easily come to be seen as a verdict condemning a whole person – and it is from the language of credit rating, Sandage notes, that we take several modern idioms for describing someone’s moral worth, such as ‘good-for-nothing’ and ‘first-rate’. Failure, he writes, became transformed from a bump in the road of life to the place at which ‘the story stops’. From the middle of the nineteenth century onwards, failure started to be thought of ‘not merely [as] a cataclysm that adds to the plot of your life, but [as] something that stops your life cold, because you lose a sense of your future’.


And not fearing death:


  Why do you fear the eternal oblivion of death, he wonders, if you don’t look back with horror at the eternal oblivion before you were born – which, as far as you were concerned, was just as eternal, and just as much an oblivion? Vladimir Nabokov famously opens his memoir Speak, Memory with lines that drive this point home: ‘The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with much more calm than the one he is headed for.’ If you weren’t traumatised by not having yet been born, it seems logical not to worry about being traumatised by being dead.


Lots of great stuff here. Recommended.

Filed under: my reading year 2013

Oliver Burkeman, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking

I had this on my Kindle for a while, but my friend Mark Larson wrote such a good review I had to read it:

What a fine book. If, like me, you have ongoing interest in stoicism, happiness, mindfulness meditation, thinking about death and failure, and tend to be a skeptical of your Rhonda Byrne/Tony Robbins types (but are at the same time, kind of amused by them), you’ll probably like [it.]

Check! Check! Check! On a side note, one of my favorite things about the book is that it riffs on self-help books without totally abandoning the winning structure of many self-help books—in each chapter, there’s usually a story, mentions of a few studies, and a lesson, or extrapolation. (The Malcolm Gladwell-ish “story-study-lesson” formula.) It works.

Some favorite bits, below.

A great description of meditation:

Meditation, the way he described it, was a way to stop running. You sat still, and watched your thoughts and emotions and desires and aversions come and go, and you resisted the urge to try to flee from them, to fix them, or to cling to them. You practised non-attachment, in other words. Whatever came up, negative or positive, you stayed present and observed it. It wasn’t about escaping into ecstasy – or even into calmness, as the word is normally understood; and it certainly wasn’t about positive thinking. It was about the significantly greater challenge of declining to do any of that.

The importance of routine:

[T]he daily rituals and working routines of prolific authors and artists – people who really do get a lot done – very rarely include techniques for ‘getting motivated’ or ‘feeling inspired’. Quite the opposite: they tend to emphasise the mechanics of the working process, focusing not on generating the right mood, but on accomplishing certain physical actions, regardless of mood. Anthony Trollope wrote for three hours each morning before leaving to go to his job as an executive at the post office; if he finished a novel within a three-hour period, he simply moved on to the next. (He wrote forty-seven novels over the course of his life.) The routines of almost all famous writers, from Charles Darwin to John Grisham, similarly emphasise specific starting times, or number of hours worked, or words written. Such rituals provide a structure to work in, whether or not the feeling of motivation or inspiration happens to be present. They let people work alongside negative or positive emotions, instead of getting distracted by the effort of cultivating only positive ones. ‘Inspiration is for amateurs,’ the artist Chuck Close once memorably observed. ‘The rest of us just show up and get to work.’

On the connection between capitalism and our concept of “failure”:

One crucial development, he argues, was the emergence of credit rating agencies, whose role was to sit in judgment upon individuals seeking loans from banks, helping the banks determine the risk they would be taking by making the loan. In a society increasingly dominated by business, a bad credit rating could all too easily come to be seen as a verdict condemning a whole person – and it is from the language of credit rating, Sandage notes, that we take several modern idioms for describing someone’s moral worth, such as ‘good-for-nothing’ and ‘first-rate’. Failure, he writes, became transformed from a bump in the road of life to the place at which ‘the story stops’. From the middle of the nineteenth century onwards, failure started to be thought of ‘not merely [as] a cataclysm that adds to the plot of your life, but [as] something that stops your life cold, because you lose a sense of your future’.

And not fearing death:

Why do you fear the eternal oblivion of death, he wonders, if you don’t look back with horror at the eternal oblivion before you were born – which, as far as you were concerned, was just as eternal, and just as much an oblivion? Vladimir Nabokov famously opens his memoir Speak, Memory with lines that drive this point home: ‘The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with much more calm than the one he is headed for.’ If you weren’t traumatised by not having yet been born, it seems logical not to worry about being traumatised by being dead.

Lots of great stuff here. Recommended.

Filed under: my reading year 2013

May 04, 2013
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David Shields, The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead

I put off reading this book because I couldn’t imagine it could get any better than the title.

Couple of things to know about me at this moment:

I’m a month or so away from turning 30. 
I’ve been sort of obsessed with thinking about death ever since my son was born.
I caught a nasty cold this week, and when I have a cold I spend a lot of time on my back thinking about my body and its eventual demise. 
So yeah, this book and me, we got along. Won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and Shields can be a little much when he turns inward instead of outward, but I found the collage style pretty damned propulsive…kept me turning pages.

Filed under: my reading year 2013

David Shields, The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead

I put off reading this book because I couldn’t imagine it could get any better than the title.

Couple of things to know about me at this moment:

  1. I’m a month or so away from turning 30.
  2. I’ve been sort of obsessed with thinking about death ever since my son was born.
  3. I caught a nasty cold this week, and when I have a cold I spend a lot of time on my back thinking about my body and its eventual demise.

So yeah, this book and me, we got along. Won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and Shields can be a little much when he turns inward instead of outward, but I found the collage style pretty damned propulsive…kept me turning pages.

Filed under: my reading year 2013

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