FOUR HUNDRED AND EIGHTY NINE

Joan Didion on self-respect in Vogue (also in Slouching Towards Bethlehem).

“Although to be driven back upon oneself is an uneasy affair at best, rather like trying to cross a border with borrowed credentials, it seems to me now the one condition necessary to the beginnings of real self-respect. Most of our platitudes notwithstanding, self-deception remains the most difficult deception. The charms that work on others count for nothing in that devastatingly well-lit back alley where one keeps assignations with oneself: no winning smiles will do here, no prettily drawn lists of good intentions. With the desperate agility of a crooked faro dealer who spots Bat Masterson about to cut himself into the game, one shuffles flashily but in vain through one’s marked cards—the kindness done for the wrong reason, the apparent triumph which had involved no real effort, the seemingly heroic act into which one had been shamed. The dismal fact is that self-respect has nothing to do with the approval of others—who are, after all, deceived easily enough; has nothing to do with reputation—which, as Rhett Butler told Scarlett O’Hara, is something that people with courage can do without.

To protest that some fairly improbable people, some people who could not possibly respect themselves, seem to sleep easily enough is to miss the point entirely, as surely as those people miss it who think that self-respect has necessarily to do with not having safety pins in one’s underwear. There is a common superstition that “self-respect” is a kind of charm against snakes, something that keeps those who have it locked in some unblighted Eden, out of strange beds, ambivalent conversations, and trouble in general. It does not at all. It has nothing to do with the face of things, but concerns instead a separate peace, a private reconciliation.

Like Jordan Baker, people with self-respect have the courage of their mistakes. They know the price of things. … people with self-respect exhibit a certain toughness, a kind of moral nerve; they display what was once called character, a quality which, although approved in the abstract, sometimes loses ground to other, more instantly negotiable virtues. The measure of its slipping prestige is that one tends to think of it only in connection with homely children and with United States senators who have been defeated, preferably in the primary, for re-election. Nonetheless, character—the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life—is the source from which self-respect springs.”


FOUR HUNDRED AND EIGHTY SIX

Nick Cave on grief, via Austin Kleon.

I feel the presence of my son, all around, but he may not be there. I hear him talk to me, parent me, guide me, though he may not be there. He visits Susie in her sleep regularly, speaks to her, comforts her, but he may not be there. Dread grief trails bright phantoms in its wake. These spirits are ideas, essentially. They are our stunned imaginations reawakening after the calamity. Like ideas, these spirits speak of possibility. Follow your ideas, because on the other side of the idea is change and growth and redemption. Create your spirits. Call to them. Will them alive. Speak to them. It is their impossible and ghostly hands that draw us back to the world from which we were jettisoned; better now and unimaginably changed.

FOUR HUNDRED AND EIGHTY FOUR

From RM Vaughan’s interview with Paul Vermeersch about Self Defence for the Brave and Happy.

RM Vaughan: The book moves effortlessly between prophetic pronouncements and intimate, personal observations. Is it a goal of the book to conflate the two in order to make the reader more keenly aware that we live in prophetic times?

Paul Vermeersch: I think all times are equally prophetic and intimate. The lives of individuals unfold along with the cosmos. But the prophets only seem to get at half the picture, only the grand events. Perhaps one of the jobs of a poet is to be a prophet of the small things, too—to prophesy the taste of lobster, the pang of guilt, the fear of darkness. We can’t put small things on hold when big things happen. I think my poems encompass that spectrum: both the landscape and the figure within the landscape, both the star system and the escape pod within the star system.