Suddenly, and uncharacteristically, for she was a happy, sweet-natured child, not a rebel, the claustrophobic pressure of urban life became too much for her. She picked up a stone from the street and hurled it with all her might at the glass window of a shop selling numdah rugs. “I don’t know why I did it,” she told Firdaus years later. “The city seemed to be a kind of illusion, and the stone was a way of making it vanish so that the forest could reappear. Maybe that was it, but I really can’t be sure. We are mysteries to ourselves. We don’t know why we do things, why we fall in love or commit murder or throw a stone at a sheet of glass.”

– Salman Rushdie, Shalimar the Clown

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‘Description is fueled by HUNGER for the world, the need to taste, to name, to claim what’s seen, to bring it, as Rilke would put it, “O endlessly into ourselves.” But it would be simplistic to conceive of such hunger as simply celebratory or affirmative; that is part of it, but it’s very often true that what we are compelled to describe is terrible, or oppressive, or heartbreaking. Language is hungry for that, too. It wants, as it were, to eat everything. Even the falling and fading world, even misery.’

– Mark Doty, The Art of Description: World into Word

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‘If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.’

– George Eliot, Middlemarch (quoted by Mark Doty in The Art of Description)

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‘It sounds like a simple thing, to say what you see. But try to find the words for the shades of a mottled sassafras leaf, or the reflectivity of a bay on an August morning, or the very beginnings of desire stirring in the gaze of someone looking right into your eyes, and it immediately becomes clear that all we see is slippery, nuanced, elusive. As Susan Mitchell says, ‘The world is wily, and doesn’t want to be caught.”

Perception is simultaneous and layered, and to single out any aspect of it for naming is to turn your attention away from a myriad other things, those braiding elements of the sensorium – that continuous, complex response to things perpetually delivered by the senses, the encompassing sphere that is such a large part of our subjectivity.’

– Mark Doty, The Art of Description: World into Word

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‘These agitated periods of sleep-speech were mercifully brief, and when they ended she would subside for a time, sweating and panting, into a state of dreamless exhaustion. Then abruptly she would awake again, convinced, in her disoriented state, that there was an intruder in her bedroom. There was no intruder. The intruder was an absence, a negative space in the darkness. She had no mother. Her mother had died giving her birth: the ambassador’s wife had told her this much, and the ambassador, her father, had confirmed it. Her mother had been Kashmiri, and was lost to her, like paradise, like Kashmir, in a time before memory.’

– Salman Rushdie, Shalimar the Clown

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‘One afternoon as she was typing, her hand began to shake. When she held up her other hand, it was shaking, too. She felt the way she had on the Greyhound bus that weekend Jace had told her about the blonde, when she kept thinking: This can’t be my life. And then she thought that most of her life she had been thinking: This can’t be my life.’

– Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge

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