“You’ve ruined it,” she says.
“Ruined it?” he says, hurt. “No, that’s just because—No, kibble, this is a hell of a lot better than whatever edge Grandpa put on there. That grindstone, it’ll put a perfect edge on that blade, a hundred microscopic serrations, that’s what really gives the blade a cutting edge. The razor edge you had on before, that’s just the vanity of patient men—that’s no good for the real activity of cutting, kibble, which is to saw through things. A mirror polish like that—that’s only good for a push cut, you know what that is, kibble?”
Turtle knows what a push cut is, but Martin can’t resist.
He says, “A push cut, kibble, is the simplest kind of cut, when you lay the knife down on a steak and press without drawing the blad across it. That, what you had before, was a glorified straight razor. In life, you drag a blade across something. That’s the business of cutting, kibble, a rough edge. That mirror polish is meant to distract from the knife’s purpose with its beauty. Do you see— Do you see—? That razor edge, it is a beautiful thing, but a knife is not meant to be a beautiful thing. This knife is for slitting throats, and for that you want the microscopic serrations you get from a rough grindstone. You’ll see. With that cutting edge on there, that thing will open flesh like it was butter. Are you sad that I took your illusion away? That edge was a shadow on the wall, kibble. You have to stop being distracted by shadows.”
— My Absolute Darling, Gabriel Tallent
Part of me thinks that your very vulnerability brings you closer to the meaning of life, just as for others, the quest to believe oneself white divides them from it. The fact is that despite their dreams, their lives are also not inviolable. When their own vulnerability becomes real — when the police decide that tactics intended for the ghetto should enjoy wider usage, when their armed society shoots down their children, when nature sends hurricanes against their cities — they are shocked in a way that those of us who were born and bred to understand cause and effect can never be. And I would not have you live like them. You have been cast into a race in which the wind is always at your face and the hounds are always at your heels. And to varying degrees this is true of all life. The difference is that you do not have the privilege of living in ignorance of this essential fact.
— Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
Burning is an art.
I remove my shirt and step toward a table where I have spread out the tools I will need. I swab my entire chest and shoulders with synthetic alcohol. My body is white against the black of space where we hover within a suborbital complex. CIEL.
Through the wall-size window I can see a distant nebula; its gases and hypnotic hues make me hold my breath. What a puny word that is, beautiful. Oh, how we need a new language to go with our new bodies.
And on the next page:
There is a song lodged in my skull, one whose origin I can’t recall. The tune is both omnipresent and simultaneously unreachable; the specifics drift away like space junk. There are times I think it will drive me mad, and then I remember that madness is the least of my concerns.
Today is my birthday, and pieces of the song from nowhere haunt my body, a sporadic orchestral thundering that rises briefly and then recedes.
— The Book of Joan, Lidia Yuknavitch
If any one faculty of our nature may be called more wonderful than the rest, I do think it is memory. There seems something more speakingly incomprehensible in the powers, the failures, the inequalities of memory, than in any other of our intelligences. The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient; at others, so bewildered and so weak; and at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond control! We are, to be sure, a miracle every way; but our powers of recollecting and of forgetting do seem peculiarly past finding out.
Jane Austen, Mansfield Park
Whatever the balance, every marriage is based upon some understanding, articulated or not, about the relative importance, the priority of desires, between its two partners. Marriages go bad not when love fades—love can modulate into affection without driving two people apart—but when this understanding about the balance of power breaks down, when the weaker member feels exploited or the stronger feels unrewarded for his or her strength.
Phyllis Rose, Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages
You best quit your ghosts, I hear my father saying. Focus on what’s here rather than what’s in your head. Do your damn work, Roscoe.
“All right, Pa.”
I respect his words just now, a truth in them I couldn’t catch before. Here in this barn with my hands bloodied by meat scraps and dusted with bonemeal, my nose stuffed up with the stink of it–here I can see why he took such comfort in those veins of coal. They were tangible, as were the coal cars and the mules and the men. They could be touched and moved, nothing like the slippery current running through the wires I so admire. His coal was like the corn in the fields or the cows in the barn or the dogs in their pens–solid things we can feel with our hands and see with our eyes, smell and hear and taste. There’s relief in that sort of integrity.
I’d like to tell him I understand.
— Virginia Reeves, Work Like Any Other
The country was at war, but for most people the war was more an idea than an experience, and I felt something between anger and shame that Americans–that I–could sometimes ignore its impact for days at a time. In Croatia, life in wartime had meant a loss of control, war holding sway over every thought and movement, even while you slept. It did not allow for forgetting. But America’s war did not constrain me; it did not cut my water or shrink my food supply. There was no threat of takeover with tanks or foot soldiers or cluster bombs, not here. What war meant in America was so incongruous with what had happened in Croatia–what must have been happening in Afghanistan–that it almost seemed a misuse of the word.
— Sara Nović, Girl at War
And the world goes on regardless of joy or despair or one woman’s fortune or one man’s loss. And we can’t know the lives of others. And we can’t know our own lives beyond the details we manage. And the things that change us forever happen without us knowing they would happen. And the moment that looks like the rest is the one where hearts are broken or healed. And time that runs so steady and sure runs wild outside of the clocks. It takes so little time to change a lifetime and it takes a lifetime to understand the change.
— Jeanette Winterson, The Gap of Time
Everything passed, and what trace of its passage remained? It seemed to Kitty that they were all, the human race, like the drops of water in that river and they flowed on, each so close to the other and yet so far apart, a nameless flood, to the sea. When all things lasted so short a time and nothing mattered very much, it seemed pitiful that men, attaching an absurd importance to trivial objects, should make themselves and one another so unhappy.
W. Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil