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“It should surprise no one that the life of the writer — such as it is — is colorless to the point of sensory deprivation. Many writers do little else but sit in small rooms recalling the real world. This explains why so many books describe the author’s childhood. A writer’s childhood may well have been the occasion of his only firsthand experience.” — Annie Dillard

In The Writing Life by Annie Dillard there is a scene that always makes me want to stop writing. Dillard is sitting, as I have often sat, writing in a darkened room when she…

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A few years ago, I did a poetry reading as a childhood friend lay dying in the hospital. I had been with him all night and it had felt like sitting in an airplane crossing some large body of water. The static hum of oxygen. Screens displaying his pulse and blood pressure, like a map slowly updating to show the outline of that other continent.

Backstage, as the theater was filling up the evening after, I tried to capture this feeling in a bundle of words. The immensity of what was happening made it seem dishonest to go out there…

Wherever I start, telling the story of living my life makes me feel like a motorist who has stopped at a farm in Northern Ireland and asked for the road to Dublin: “If I were you, I would not start from here.”

So lets not.

There is a philosopher named Morton or Mortom or something like that — he likes to do ecstasy and falls down on the dance floor so overwhelmed with emotions that he can’t hold back his tears as the music makes the air vibrate. Anyway. …

On the island of St Kilda, beyond the Outer Hebrides, a few hundred people lived cut off from the world until 1930. Some cliffs that plunged into the sea, grass gripping on to the slope — this was their entire world. They had once come to St Kilda aboard boats, some two thousand years ago, but the boats were not left and the art of building new ones had disappeared together with the trees.

The Islanders survived by crawling on the rocks, collecting the eggs of the great auks. They wrote letters and threw them into the waves, something they…

I once did a poetry reading as a friend lay dying in the hospital. I had been with him all night; it was like sitting in an airplane crossing some large body of water. My ears clogged. Then they popped. Backstage, as the theater was filling up, I tried to capture this feeling in a bundle of words. Going on stage reading things from before seemed impossible. Salmon that swam upstream, lovers who exchanged bodies — it felt like lying.

Afterward, I wished that I had lied. Or, better still: shouldn’t I have had the sense to cancel? I walked…

When Dante finds out how God metes out justice, he is close to vomiting.

for pity,
I swooned away as if I had been dying,

And fell, even as a dead body falls.

There is a strange tension here. We stand before a hymn that does not praise God by making him glorious, but by portraying Him as a psychopath, so elaborate in cruelty that witnessing His work causes a collapse from anxiety. Dante, the author, depicts the character Dante as horrified by God’s justice, and at the same time, through Virgil, Inferno’s second protagonist, Dante states that what we…

Tove sleeps and I step out into the woods next to the apartment, turning on Chopin’s Nocturnes. Lying in the moss, meditating, I realize that someone passing by could take me for a corpse. So I sit on a rock instead and focus my presence on the air that rushes cold into my nostrils; in and out; outside in; I cease to be my thoughts, and become what the thoughts pass through.

We tend to spend our lives aiming for the future or endlessly rehearsing our past. We desperately try to escape what makes us uncomfortable (the hunger, the…

One morning on his way to school, Thomas Bernhard turned around in the middle of the street and began to walk in what he would later call the opposite direction. He turned onto Rudolf-Biebl-Strasse, walked past the facility for the deaf and dumb, heading toward one of Salzburg’s poorest neighborhoods.

“For years I had been in a teaching factory at a teaching machine that had made me deaf and distorted my mind,” Bernhard later wrote about the incident. What he fled from was the pressure exerted by the state and the market, that gravitational field that causes the streams of our consciousnesses to tumble down the slopes of our lives and merge into a controllable mainstream.

To go in the opposite direction is to head upstream on that river, seeing the water fan apart in ever smaller tributaries as they climb the mountain, trembling, weak, but curious.

Henrik Karlsson

Anthropologist. Programmer. Poet.

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