There are moments in my life when I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I’m supposed to do. I pay attention to them. They’re my cosmic landmarks, letting me know I’m on the right path. Now that I’m older and can look back and see where I missed a turn here and there, and know the price I paid for those oversights, I try to look sharper at the present.
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There are moments in my life when I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I’m supposed to do. I pay attention to them. They’re my cosmic landmarks, letting me know I’m on the right path. Now that I’m older and can look back and see where I missed a turn here and there, and know the price I paid for those oversights, I try to look sharper at the present.

-Karen Marie

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I feel to that the gap between my new life in New York and the situation at home in Africa is stretching into a gulf, as Zimbabwe spirals downwards into a violent dictatorship. My head bulges with the effort to contain both worlds. When I am back in New York, Africa immediately seems fantastical – a wildly plumaged bird, as exotic as it is unlikely.Most of us struggle in life to maintain the illusion of control, but in Africa that illusion is almost impossible to maintain. I always have the sense there that there is no equilibrium, that everything perpetually teeters on the brink of some dramatic change, that society constantly stands poised for some spasm, some tsunami in which you can do nothing but hope to bob up to the surface and not be sucked out into a dark and hungry sea. The origin of my permanent sense of unease, my general foreboding, is probably the fact that I have lived through just such change, such a sudden and violent upending of value systems.In my part of Africa, death is never far away. With more Zimbabweans dying in their early thirties now, mortality has a seat at every table. The urgent, tugging winds themselves seem to whisper the message, memento mori, you too shall die. In Africa, you do not view death from the auditorium of life, as a spectator, but from the edge of the stage, waiting only for your cue. You feel perishable, temporary, transient. You feel mortal. Maybe that is why you seem to live more vividly in Africa. The drama of life there is amplified by its constant proximity to death. That’s what infuses it with tension. It is the essence of its tragedy too. People love harder there. Love is the way that life forgets that it is terminal. Love is life’s alibi in the face of death. For me, the illusion of control is much easier to maintain in England or America. In this temperate world, I feel more secure, as if change will only happen incrementally, in manageable, finely calibrated, bite-sized portions. There is a sense of continuity threaded through it all: the anchor of history, the tangible presence of antiquity, of buildings, of institutions. You live in the expectation of reaching old age.At least you used to.But on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, those two states of mind converge. Suddenly it feels like I am back in Africa, where things can be taken away from you at random, in a single violent stroke, as quick as the whip of a snake’s head. Where tumult is raised with an abruptness that is as breathtaking as the violence itself.

-Peter Godwin

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Three miles from my adopted city lies a village where I came to peace.The world there was a calm place, even the great Danube no more than a pale ribbon tossed onto the landscapeby a girl’s careless hand. Into this stillness I had been ordered to recover. The hills were gold with late summer;my rooms were two, plus a small kitchen, situated upstairs in the back of a cottage at the end of the Herrengasse. From my window I could see onto the courtyard where a linden tree twined skyward — leafy umbilicus canted toward light, warped in the very act of yearning —and I would feed on the sun as if that alone would dismantle the silence around me.At first I raged. Then music raged in me, rising so swiftly I could not write quickly enough to ease the roiling. I would stop to light a lamp, and whatever I’d missed — larks flying to nest, church bells, the shepherd’s home-toward-evening song — rushed in, and Iwould rage again. I am by nature a conflagration; I would rather leap than sit and be looked at.So when my proud city spread her gypsy skirts, I reentered, burning towards her greater, constant light.Call me rough, ill-tempered, slovenly— I tell you, every tenderness I have ever known has been nothing but thwarted violence, an ache so permanent and deep, the lightest touch awakens it. . . . It is impossible to care enough. I have returned with a second Symphony and 15 Piano Variationswhich I’ve named Prometheus,after the rogue Titan, the half-a-god who knew the worst sin is to take what cannot be given back.I smile and bow, and the world is loud. And though I dare not lean in to shout Can’t you see that I’m deaf? —I also cannot stop listening.

-Rita Dove

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When people dis fantasy—mainstream readers and SF readers alike—they are almost always talking about one sub-genre of fantastic literature. They are talking about Tolkien, and Tolkien's innumerable heirs. Call it 'epic', or 'high', or 'genre' fantasy, this is what fantasy has come to mean. Which is misleading as well as unfortunate.Tolkien is the wen on the arse of fantasy literature. His oeuvre is massive and contagious—you can't ignore it, so don't even try. The best you can do is consciously try to lance the boil. And there's a lot to dislike—his cod-Wagnerian pomposity, his boys-own-adventure glorying in war, his small-minded and reactionary love for hierarchical status-quos, his belief in absolute morality that blurs moral and political complexity. Tolkien's clichés—elves 'n' dwarfs 'n' magic rings—have spread like viruses. He wrote that the function of fantasy was 'consolation', thereby making it an article of policy that a fantasy writer should mollycoddle the reader.That is a revolting idea, and one, thankfully, that plenty of fantasists have ignored. From the Surrealists through the pulps—via Mervyn Peake and Mikhael Bulgakov and Stefan Grabiński and Bruno Schulz and Michael Moorcock and M. John Harrison and I could go on—the best writers have used the fantastic aesthetic precisely to challenge, to alienate, to subvert and undermine expectations.Of course I'm not saying that any fan of Tolkien is no friend of mine—that would cut my social circle considerably. Nor would I claim that it's impossible to write a good fantasy book with elves and dwarfs in it—Michael Swanwick's superb Iron Dragon's Daughter gives the lie to that. But given that the pleasure of fantasy is supposed to be in its limitless creativity, why not try to come up with some different themes, as well as unconventional monsters? Why not use fantasy to challenge social and aesthetic lies?Thankfully, the alternative tradition of fantasy has never died. And it's getting stronger. Chris Wooding, Michael Swanwick, Mary Gentle, Paul di Filippo, Jeff VanderMeer, and many others, are all producing works based on fantasy's radicalism. Where traditional fantasy has been rural and bucolic, this is often urban, and frequently brutal. Characters are more than cardboard cutouts, and they're not defined by race or sex. Things are gritty and tricky, just as in real life. This is fantasy not as comfort-food, but as challenge.The critic Gabe Chouinard has said that we're entering a new period, a renaissance in the creative radicalism of fantasy that hasn't been seen since the New Wave of the sixties and seventies, and in echo of which he has christened the Next Wave. I don't know if he's right, but I'm excited. This is a radical literature. It's the literature we most deserve.

-Tolkien

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