Monday, November 16, 2015

Byron Glacier, June 24, 2009

My son’s first glacier. He, who has been stumbling through his fifteenth year, moves as if born attached to these tools, performing a dance more natural than walking. Even his frontpointing appears effortless, delicate, as if he’s tiptoeing up a sidewalk upon which his heels will never touch, as if youth holds some antidote for ice and gravity. He wants what we all want: more.
            Farther, steeper, higher, the whole mountain, and then, of course, another.
            He knows I go to the mountains, but I don’t think he knows why. And here he is, treating this ice work, this frozen world, with a kind of reverence, as if guessing that for him, too, salvation may be found here.
            Now that we cannot pretend they are not shrinking, every visit to a glacier is more sacred than ever. The Byron is so close, our backyard glacier, an hour by car from Anchorage and only a mile more of flat walking on a well-maintained trail before we enter the primeval world of snow: a jumble of seracs, leaning towers, perfectly named erratics of rock and ice, the alluvial fans of debris where a dozen miniature avalanches have spread their wares as a card dealer fans the deck, pick a card.
            Random, he says, one of his favorite words. He’s right, sure, but I don’t like to encourage him: he seems to see the whole world in the word.
            A glacier is called alive because it moves, advancing, retreating, a frozen army.
            It also speaks. Under the rush of wind, the sound of rushing water. Under the snow, under the ice, creaks and groans, every once in a while a crash, an echo. Ancient, almost translatable, it says beware in every tongue. Jake Breitenbach knew that mountains move: his elegy tells us, his body encased within the Khumbu Icefall. And closer, on Denali, Mugs lies in the crevasse that “swallowed” him “silently, quickly,” as his clients said. When I would see Mugs around town, at the bakery, I was surprised that he walked around, lived, and breathed the same air as the rest of us; but if you knew what he’d been doing in the mountains, it would have never occurred to you that he wasn’t immortal. 
            We say he died doing what he loved. We say he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. We say when your number’s up, your number’s up.
            But for us this is the right place and the right time. The mountain won’t move.
            We will. Upward, we reach the toe, or the head, opposites that describe the same feature when applied to glaciers: the terminus. Or is this the beginning?

This is the week of the Northern solstice when time becomes unhinged. We’ve got all night, dad, my son says; he sounds exasperated that I want to stop just after nine pm. The sun won’t set for hours, but now it’s gone behind a ridge. In its shadow, we return to winter. We layer on all our clothes, point out with our axes the possible routes to the summit, etching them into memory for future use.
            Why the ridge and not straight up? he asks. Damn, I think, Day One and already with the straight up. I explain the likely paths of the seracs above the directissima, the probable crevasses, and then, for balance, the lesser dangers of the cornices on the ridge. That’s a real word? he asks, direttissima? He looks at me as if for once in his whole life I have told him something possibly useful for navigating the world.
            On the way down a new landscape appears: ice chunks, aglow in the twi-night sun, float across Portage Lake like burning ships. Above the lake, more snow and peaks float on the shadowed forest, alight in the long alpenglow, gateway to the infinite: Begich, Boggs, Maynard, their names map-learnt, not yet experienced. 
            I think of the way my British friends say the word glacier: Glahss-y-ear, making it sound the enchanted place that it truly is. My son and I have been to the glahss-y-ear but my language won’t hold it. “Earth’s the right place for love,” Frost best said, and like him, I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The New Yorker Asks Some Questions


I was in an interrogative mood when I read the June 22 issue of the The New Yorker.  Not to be confused with an Interrogative Mood, which is a book by Padgett Powell that I love and that I believe to be a work of genius—check it out, please.  No, I was reading The New Yorker in a particular way: seeing only the questions: in titles in subtitles, in carton captions and in every form of writing, sometimes spoken by subjects, sometimes by the writers.  Here they are:
 “What Else Can Art Do?” [1]
“Was that a lady I saw you with last night, digging up parsnips at Farming Field 3908, or was it just a commissar of the Forced labor Brigade?”[2]
“Chapel Hill wasn’t tiny––what were the chances it was someone they knew?”[3]
“You remember that movie ‘The Constant Gardener?’”[4]
“Before we send a man to prison, shouldn’t we at least be positive that he’s not rich?”[5]
“When should people with a non-terminal illness be helped to die?”[6]
“So what if there was no precedent for a full-scale human melt, bodies reduced to liquid flowing from a window?”[7]
“What is soft dick rock?”[8]
“If  ‘the novel’ belongs to the parents, to the generation that witnessed and suffered and did thongs (or, in the case, of the narrator’s parents, did nothing very much) then what is left for the next generation?”[9]
“It’s as if each picture wondered, ‘What am I? Am I even art? O.K. but what does that mean?’”[10]
“What must he do to keep her?”[11]

[1] Calvin Tompkins, “What Else Can Art Do?”
[2] Bruce McCall, “Shop Till We Make You Drop”
[3] Margaret Talbot, “The Story of a Hate Crime”
[4] Connie Bruck, “The Inside War”
[5] Paul Noth, cartoon caption
[6] Rachel Aviv, “The Death Treatment”
[7] Ben Marcus, “The Grow-Light Blues”
[8] Anwen Crawford, “Soft Apocalypse”
[9] James Woods, “The Story of My Life”
[10] Peter Schjeldahl, “Painting’s Point Man”
[11] Anthony Lane, “Fighting Monsters”

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My Life as a Creative Writing Exercise, with rain

These three events happened to me in the last month.  One of them happened in a dream, the other two happened during wakefulness.  Teachers of creative writing will recognize this as a variation of a popular in-class writing exercise. Discuss.
I was driving on a rural two-lane and there were cars ahead of me and I was moving too fast.  Raining lightly. Suddenly the car ahead of me slammed on its brakes and to avoid hitting it I had to pass on the right shoulder, half in the ditch when a kid ran past me and I just missed hitting him.  The car felt like an out-of-control ski run just after you catch an edge and you’re just hanging on before the inevitable crash, even though sometimes you can pull out of it. As I slowed to a stop I could see in the rear view a cop chasing the kid into the ditch and hauling him back across the road.  The kid was bloodied. It was hard to tell what kind of event was in progress, and whether I was going to be ticketed for speeding, reckless driving, and god knows what else. I turned the car off and waited for the cops.  But they didn’t come and I realized that whatever was going on had their full attention and I didn’t really count in that story, so I started the car and rolled slowly onto the next town looking for a place to get a cup of coffee.
We were staying in a modest hotel by the airport after a climbing trip on which no climbs were successfully completed.  Since we were leaving the room super early we were completely packed.  The mood was less than jubilant.  Outside it was raining hard.  In the middle of the night I was awakened by some kind of domestic commotion.   I poked my head out the door and there was guy holding a woman down and punching her, yelling with each punch, “Gimme my money bitch.”    I start yelling at him to stop and debating to what extent I want to get involved.  I am in standing in the rain in my underwear.  The man, too, is in his underwear.  The woman is fully dressed.  “Gimme my money bitch.”  Stop, I yell, the cops are on their way.  “Gimme my money bitch.”  Before I get to him, still uncertain what I will do when I reach him, a cop shows up.  The woman from the front desk is yelling, oddly, at the woman, to give the man his money.  It occurs to me that the woman is known to both the cop and the hotel person.  It occurs to me that the woman is a prostitute.  I leave it in the cop’s hands.  It’s quiet, except for the rain, but I do not fall back asleep.
The phone rings.  2:30 a.m.  Good news is never delivered at this hour.  My son has locked his keys in the truck, do I have a spare?  Yes, but it’s at the office. Figure it out, I tell him and hang-up.  But then I call him back and tell him I’ll go get the key.  When I finally arrive at the truck it is pouring rain and he is standing under the eaves on his crutches.  He is three weeks into a broken ankle. Fuck.  I have brought the wrong key.  Back to the office and return with the right key.  Over an hour has passed since he first called. Then he admits that the key fell out of his pocket and he believes that it was found and stolen by some hopped-up dudes who pretended to help him look for the keys.  As he was starting the car a woman wrapped in a blanket, barefoot, approaches.  “Can you give me a ride?” She asks, “I need to get some shoes and shit.”  Can’t help you, I say, feeling bad.    Before I leave, I say to my son, ”Don’t give that woman a ride.”  He looks at me, like, no shit, and I drive off.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Remembering James Salter


In early 1990 I had the pleasure, honor, really, of hosting James Salter when he visited the University of Utah.  I remember the date mostly because Buster Douglas had just shocked the world, the boxing world, by knocking out the previously thought to be indestructible, Mike Tyson.  Douglas had been a 42-1 underdog and we were still talking about it weeks later.

Salter arrived from Aspen by train and travelled with a thermos of pre-mixed martinis.
When I tell the story of his visit I usually tell how David Wright and I took him out to dinner at what was then probably the swankest Salt Lake City restaurant, The New Yorker.  Salter made David and me nervous by commandeering the wine list and ordering, what to us then was, an unseemingly expensive wine at fifty dollars a bottle.  Then another bottle, then another.   We were graduate students: many were the things that could make us nervous. We were risking being late for his reading.  Also, we doubted the university would reimburse us for the wine.  Luckily, the person who was to sign off on the reimbursement was Larry Levis who didn’t blink as he signed and, in hindsight, wouldn’t have done so even if he had noticed the extravagant amount.  Levis, sigh.
What I want to tell you now is that when Salter signed my copy of Solo Faces, a book I continue to much admire, he turned first to page 132 and changed a typo: against the left hand margin of a left page was the word “here.”  Salter added at “t” in the margin to make it “there.”  Then he wrote out the sentence from memory in his inscription to me when he signed the book:
“There is something greater than the life of cities, greater than money and possessions; there is a manhood that can never be taken away.”
I’m glad I looked in the book for the typo, because I hadn’t remembered that I kept there my hand-written introduction to him that I read to the audience that night in 1990.  This was the first time I had publicly introduced anyone of his stature and I remember the paper fluttering as my hand shook with nerves.  Here it is, as I wrote it:
“The faculty and staff of the creative writing program would like to thank you all for being here and to thank James Salter for reading and speaking to us this evening.
“Mr. Salter’s first book appeared in 1957.  His most recent book, Dusk and Other Stories published in 1988 by North Point Press was awarded the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, certainly one of the highest honors a writer may be awarded in this country. One of the stories from that collection, “American Express, ” was included in The Best American Short Stories of 1988, edited by Shannon Ravenal, and is currently being produced for television by PBS.
“Mr. Salters’ reputation has grown quietly and elegantly, according to Esquire.  His best known books are two very fine novels, A Sport and a Pastime, first published in 1967 and Light Years, 1976, both available from North Point Press.  Mr. Salter speaks self-deprecatingly about another novel, Solo Faces, which I promise you is far and away the best portrayal and use of mountain climbing in a work of fiction.
“When I asked Mr. Salter if there was any particular thing I should include in my introduction, he asked only that I not use hyperbole.  My problem is just the opposite: I can’t find praise enough to describe the experience of reading his work.
“Mr. Salter once cited a passage by de Laclos, author of Les Liasons Dangereuses to describe how he feels about writing: “To Write, What a Marvelous Thing!”
“It’s somehow comforting to know that the pleasure he takes in writing is somewhat commensurate to the pleasure one derives from reading his work, because to read his work is indeed a very marvelous thing, as you will all learn, or be reminded of, this evening.
“I give you James Salter.”
During his visit he read one of my stories and was complimentary.  He had remained interested in climbing, thinking that Solo Faces never really got to the heart of Gary Hemming upon whom it was loosely based.  He was almost regretful about that. I urged him to think of the book as completely independent from Hemming’s story, but he said he had a hard time doing that.  He gave me some advice about my own story that has been helpful: “You’re showing off here. It’s unnecessary.” I’ve watched for that in my work ever since.
His son, also James Salter, lived in Park City and asked me privately if Solo Faces was any good, because he had heard climbers speak poorly of it.  I had to explain that a) climbers didn’t really accept writing from anyone that wasn’t a known member of their own tribe, and b) the concept of what is literary was beyond most of them anyway. James the younger was grateful to hear this.  We made plans several times to ski Deer Valley together, but never managed to make it happen.  Some time before I left Salt Lake City for good I heard he had moved to Taos.
Now James Salter has left us, last week at the age of 90, and I am about the age he was when we met in 1990.  Salter wrote “Life passes into pages if it passes into anything.”  And now his has.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A Late and Unvited Correspondent Responds to Maggie Nelson's Bluets

1. During the time she was writing Bluets, 2003—2006, Maggie Nelson received “blue reports from the field” from her “blue correspondents.”  She acknowledged 22 “principal correspondents.” I am nine years after the fact, and uninvited.

2. When Dylan wrote, “Where have you been my blue-eyed son?” I always heard my father talking to me.  Also, I took his first answer, “I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains,” literally and personally.

3. I took Bluets on a short climbing expedition in the Alaska Range.  As it happened we spent only one night at base camp and I was only able to read about the first third of the book.

4. “I am not very interested in the matte stone of turquoise,“ Nelson wrote.    Nor was I.  Once I knew professional gambler, wildly successful who wore enormous turquoise rings on gnarled fingers that belonged to his past life, the workingman he once had been.  I associated turquoise with a kind of aesthetic coarseness.

5. I have read some great books in expedition tents, including Moby Dick and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man for the first time in the St Elias Range. More recently China Mieville’s The City, The City on the Harding Icefield.

6. Late in her book Nelson confesses to learning very late into her project that bluets can be translated “cornflowers.”

7. In the 1970s a “bluet” was French stove favored by climbers and backpackers all over the world.  The parts of it that were not chrome were blue and it matched the propane canisters for it, also blue, and known in Europe simply as “gaz.” These stoves were simple to use, and lasted forever.  The empty gaz canisters were littered all over the wild places of the world, even Everest Base Camp.  The flame, too, was pure blue.

8. In a dark forest in Nepal I came across a lone nomadic trader who had set up a small table in the most unlikely place. The scene was out of a fairy tale.  From him a bought a stone of turquoise and I have not thought of the stone the same since.

9. ”Once I travelled to the Tate in London to se the blue paintings of Yves Klein . . . ,”  Nelson writes. Just this spring I became reacquainted with an old friend who had traveled to Amsterdam as a form of escape and discovered a passion for Vermeer.  He would write a book about this obsession and I acquired a copy of it.  The next day, I was in the Minneapolis Museum of Art and there on loan from the Rijksmusem was “Vermeer’s Woman in Blue Reading a Letter.”  You could make this coincidence up, of course, but why would you?

10. On this expedition the most dangerous aspect is the number of crevasses on the glacier. They are both hidden and visible, and there are many.  Peering into one the whiteness goes to blue, goes farther than I can see, to darkness.

11. Horace de Benedict de Saussure invented the cyanometer, Nelson tells us, to measure the blue of the sky.  She mentions this critically, in disbelief that such a thing may be measured. She does not mention his early, the third ever, ascent of Mt. Blanc, nor his attribution as the father of alpinism, nor that he is considered the person who “made” Chamonix what it is today.

12. I love writing with fountain pens, always with blue ink so that my signature contrasts conspicuously with the black ink of machine-printed documents.

13. In The Blue Light (Das Blau Lichte), Leni Riefenstahl plays Junta, the beautiful mountain girl who reigns over a sacred mountain space, a grotto of crystals high on the mountain that is illuminated during the fill moon.  Many young men from the village below have fallen and died trying to find this place. When Junta shows a young man the source of the blue light, he harvests all the crystals and she is crushed and falls to her death.  The film was made in 1932.  Later Riefenstahl would be a kind of Nazi sympathizer and the names of the Jewish people who worked on the film were elided from the credits.

14. My own blue-eyed son, the one who looks the most like me, is the child I understand the least.  Is the most tenuously tethered to the world, to me.

15. Half the world’s people list blue as their favorite color, Nelson tells us, a fact which did not deter her.  Blue was always my own favorite color, but in retrospect I suppose this was due to the fact of my blue eyes and saying that was my favorite color was like saying I was my own favorite person.

16. When Nelson cites Schopenhauer it is to note his insistence that pain is the “most real thing.”  In On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, Schopenhauer discusses how reason affects our perception of distance, including an anecdote that "Saussure is reported to have seen so large a moon, when it rose over Mont Blanc, that he did not recognize it and fainted with terror."  Apparently Schopenhauer thought this ridiculous.

17. Reading Bluets on the glacier I was struck deeply by the book's femininity.  As if this were an artifact from a world I had left far behind.

18. Every dozen or so years someone writes a book about blue, Nelson observes.  Hence, I suppose, there is no need to attempt to be exhaustive; perfectly appropriate to be personal.

19. Another rhetorical literary question I have taken personally comes from Cummings: “How do you like your blueeyed boy/Mr. Death?”  Mr. Death, one suspects, is indifferent, but I can tell you that this blueeyed boy does not much care for Mr. Death.

20. The best definition of the blues I know comes from James Baldwin: “ They [the blues] were not about anything very new,  . . . keeping it new, at the risk of destruction, madness and death, in order to find out new ways to make us listen.  For while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard.  There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.”

21. After the expedition we sit on the glacier waiting for the pilot who will take us back to the green world.  We stare across at the forbidding north face Mt. Huntington, its icy blue seracs and cornices enshadowed until the morning.  Climbed only once.

22. Flying over the Ruth Glacier there are small blue ponds of meltwater forming on the snow.  This blue is known only to a privileged, lucky, few: pilots and mountain travellers.

23. I have written of this elsewhere, but once on the glacier below Mt Blanc, we witnessed a moonrise so bright and overpowering that at first we couldn’t believe it was the moon.  Don Whillans, the great British workingman climber, drunk, and pugilist also experienced this.  So go back to your dark smoky library, Schopenhauer, and mope for few more centuries.

24. I saw a piece of turquoise in the parking lot on my way to lunch.  I bent to pick it up and upon touching it realized it was a well-chewed piece of bubble gum.

25. When I return from the glacier I first finish reading Bluets, which in the end, I suppose is not so much about blue as it is desire and loss.  And then I turn to the account of the first, and only, ascent of the north face of Mt. Huntington by Jack Roberts and Simon McCartney in 1978.  It is an unimaginable feat, leaving no mystery as to why it has gone unrepeated.  And, this blue-eyed boy is very happy to have been released from the glacier, its blue ice and the myriad possible ways it might have held us in its grasp forever.

Monday, April 13, 2015

My Cabinet of Wonders: a Report from AWP '15


A Wunderkammer is literally a cabinet of wonders, kept, in this case—a special show at the Minnesota Art Museum--by one of the Habsburg emperors. It housed collections, starting with, but not limited to, natural objects.  The Habsburg’s included, for example, Montezuma’s crown (bastards).  The Habsburgs ruled Europe for 600 years. Wunderkammers were precursors to museums.  I too am partial to things. I collect fountain pens, black and white photographs, but mostly books.  I collect words, but in a certain order.  Welcome to my Wunderkammer.
While at AWP in Minneapolis I saw two three-legged dogs in one day.
I saw a scraggly grey-bearded man playing Don Mclean’s Vincent on his accordion on the Stone Arch Bridge.  A song that in and of itself will break your heart but particularly so if you don’t have any cash to drop in the man’s bucket, which I didn’t. 
Later that day we went to the art museum where I stood in front of Van Gogh’s The Olive Trees and, once more entranced by his universe, which so seldom seems ours without his help.  And Aisha told me that physicists discovered that Van Gogh’s swirls and eddies match the famous Kolmogorov statistical model of turbulence, generally considered the last unsolved mystery of classical physics.
Reading with Alaskans, feeling like a fraud (again).  Our friend Peggy reads our friend Eva’s poems because Eva is too sick to travel.  Somehow Peggy’s reading them drove home Eva’s absence, Eva’s illness, everyone in the room struggling to hear her words and not think about her health. Dance from dancer.
My student, now a professor, introduces me to her students thusly: “This is person who has been important in my life.”  I see two other students from my past who hold PhDs but don’t have full-time work. May God forgive me.
I chatted with Francine Prose who I haven’t seen since taking a class with her in 1987.  Thanked her for some advice she gave me.  About life, not writing.
I wasn’t going to buy any books.  Then I was only going to buy as many books as the number of my own that were sold.  Then I just started buying books, despite earlier convictions.  See Works Acquired.
I bought Mike White’s Travels in Vermeer and began reading it.  That same day I went to the museum where I was stunned to see Vermeer’s Woman Reading a Letter on loan from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.  It was a one painting exhibit with the stature of a religious shrine.  Vermeer who left 35 paintings, 11 children and a bankrupted household when he died suddenly at the age of 44 in 1675.
Aisha and I were out to dinner at a very upscale French restaurant.  During dinner we received a phone call with unexpectedly wonderful news.  The kind of news that is intensely private and one can only pray for with no expectations of success.  We ordered dessert and my wife’s plate had a beet on it, which seemed odd.  The waiter would inform us that this was a pear marinated in red wine and trilled, “You thought it was a beet!?”
I won a book in a drawing at the bookfair.  The book is called Scattershot by Amy L Eggert and each of the books has been shot, literally, several times with a .22 caliber rifle. 
During the conference I walked across the Mississippi River six times.
This is sentence from Erika T. Wurth’s Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend: “He sewed into my skin with his delicate freckled hands, reminding me of a time my auntie, Jakes’ mom, had taught me to peyote stitch beads, before his family had become born again.” Woman. Can. Write.
The photography collection was amazing and included the Shomei Tomatsu photograph of a watch dial stopped at 11:02 when the bomb dropped on Nagasaki.  The dial is centered in the frame, the only image in the picture.  Imagine a quarter on an 18 inch by 18 inch off white background.
Three moments from the reception.  1) A woman arrives with the friend of Jeremy’s.  An acquaintance, Jeremy corrects me.  When the woman discovers we are mostly from Alaska she asks if we know Liz Bradfield.  You just missed her, I said.  They are poets in Provincetown who once read together.  Liz is a beautiful human, she says.  True.  2) The end of the party is always the most fun: Alysse re-enacting her star-struckedness when face-to-face with the awesomeness that is Anne Carson.  3) Then, when it was only Sherry and Aisha and me, I read aloud from Samantha Irby’s Meaty until the tears from laughing so hard blinded me and we were all convulsed in laughter and crawling on the floor. Seriously, that’s how funny Irby is.
Networking is verb I find particularly unappealing.  Couldn’t the Germans (Wunderkammer!) have a word for meeting with old friends from different periods of your life and taking great pleasure in seeing them?

Works Acquired
Monica Berlin & Beth Marzoni, No Shape Bends the River So Long (Free Verse Editions)
Ian Bostridge, Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession (Knopf)
Jane L. Carman, Tangled in Motion (Lit Fest Press)
Samantha Irby, Meaty (Curbside Splendor)
Amy L Eggert, Scattershot (Lit Fest Press)
Debra Monroe, On the Outskirts of Normal (Engine Books)
Jeremy Patacky, Overwinter (University of Alaska Press)
Andrea Spofford, Everything Combustible (dancing girl press)
Michael White, Travels in Vermeer (Persea)
Michael White, Vermeer in Hell (Persea)
Erika T. Wurth, Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend (Curbside Splendor)

Photograph by Cinthya Soto in the Minneapolis Museum of Art

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

“Reach Up:” Karl Ove Knausgaard on Writing


About ten days after my travels a small unexpected package arrived in the mail from, of all places, Alaska Airlines.  Inside was my copy of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle: Book 1 which I had left on the plane in Salt Lake City as I hurried off to make the connecting flight to Calgary.  I realized this nearly instantly in the terminal but I didn’t have a spare minute.  Besides, I had finished the book.  My only regret was that I had marked three of Knausgaard’s passages on writing for further contemplation and I knew that in order to find them again I would have to reread the whole book. And that wasn’t going to happen.  I was still debating whether I would go on to read Book 2, of the proposed six volumes. Much less reread Book 1, as much as I liked it.
So, I was very happy to have my copy back and delighted (word chosen carefully) that Alaska Airlines had returned it unbidden: so  . . . civilized. 
Here are the passages:
You know too little and it doesn’t exist.  You know too much and it doesn’t exist.  Writing is drawing the essence of what we know out of the shadows.  That is what writing is about.  Not what happens there, not what actions are played out there, but the there itself.  There, that is writing’s location and aim.  But how to get there? (192)

Our minds are flooded with images of places we have never been, yet still know, people we have never met, yet still know and in accordance with which we, to a considerable extent, live our lives.  The feeling this gives that the world is small, tightly enclosed around itself, without opening to anywhere else, is almost incestuous, and although I knew this too be deeply untrue, since we actually know nothing about anything, still I could not escape it.  The longing I always felt, which some days was so great it could hardly be controlled, had its source here.  It was partly to relieve this feeling that I wrote, I wanted to open the world by writing, for myself, at the same time, this is what made me fail.  The feeling that the future does not exist, that it is only more of the same, means that all utopias are meaningless.  Literature has always been related to utopia, so when utopia loses meaning, so does literature.  What was I trying to do, and perhaps what all writers try to do—what on earth do I know?—was to combat fiction with fiction.  What I ought to do was affirm what existed, affirm the state of things as they are, in other words, revel in the world outside instead of searching for a way out, for in a way I would undoubtedly have a better life, but I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t something had congealed inside me, a conviction was rooted inside me, and although it was essentialist, that is, outmoded, and furthermore, romantic, I could not get past it, for the simple reason that it had not only been thought but also experienced, in these sudden states of clearsightedness that everyone must know, where for  few seconds you catch sight of another world from the one you were in only a moment earlier, where the world seems to step forward and show itself for a brief glimpse before reverting and leaving everything as before . . .  (Ellipsis: Knausgaard’s) (221-222)

. . . the world of advanced literature, where you wrote essays about a line of Dante, where nothing could be made complex enough, where art dealt with the supreme, not in a high-flown sense because it was the modernist canon with which we were engaged, but in the sense of the ungraspable, which was best illustrated by Blanchot’s description of Orpheus’s gaze, the night of the night, the negation of the negation, which of course was in some way above the trivial and in many ways wretched lives we lived , but what I learned was that our ludicrously inconsequential lives, in which we could not attain anything of what we wanted, nothing, in which everything was beyond our abilities and power, had a part in this world, and thus also in the supreme, for books existed, you only had to read them, no one but myself could exclude me from them.  You just had to reach up.  (330)

So, the third passage is more about reading, but the advice—Reach Up—works for writing as well.  Thanks Alaska Airlines.  And, yes, I will be reading Book 2.