Monday, December 29, 2014

Once upon a time at the Mountain Meadows...

At the top of the deep gully overgrown with willows and tules, they parked the car and walked the rest of the way. The land stretched out. Once upon a time there was no time and it was then that . . . autumn stood, blue haze along the horizon, the dusty smell of dry grass and wheat stubble in the air. And they came, fixed, perpetuated in unchanging form, sometimes at night, sometimes by broad daylight. It happens like that in the vicinity of churchyards, marshes, great buildings, solitary places, or places notorious because of some murder or where a very dreadful crime has been committed. Ambulones, they move about at midnight on great heaths and desert places.
            The trail boss, he comes first, heading the procession of carts, white-tops, horsemen . . . silent as clouds. God, they have banged along. Drive a man crazy, gritty wheels, the iron clank of traces, neck yokes, clumped hooves, clump clump clump, buckets, rattling pans, a crying child, laughter, moos and bleats, yells and barking
dogs and squeaking brakes, men taking the name of the Lord in vain, the long whip’s crack when deadhead oxen drop back and let their mates do all the pulling. This causes, God damn ’em, the doubletrees to scrape the wheel and the ox doing the pulling gets nervous . . . and then . . .
            But all is noiseless as the still moon now, as pinnacles of aged snow, they plod behind thick glass, walk like treading water through soft sand with feet like leaden weights, stumble on rocks, climb and run downhill, bodies with their measure and their space but instantaneous pictures on the air, shadowgraphed like life there, eerily . . .
     --From Variation West (quoting from Robert Burton's 1621 The Anatomy of Melancholy)

Sunday, August 31, 2014


Righteousness is a fuel that, when it has some pitch in it of ambitious rivalry and the damper's left open to envy's draught, makes a hot enough fire to cook somebody's goose in quite a hurry.
     --From Marry Me, Carry Me

Friday, August 8, 2014

Women as paraphernalia

"A woman's supposed to be beautiful for a very good reason, because she's paraphernalia, she comes under the same category as September Morn or a Turkey carpet or a pair of deer's horns. You judge a man's looks by how well he's made to stand stress and strain and don't need to take anything off anybody and can walk right up to the old world and spit in its eye. The more fit he seems to be for life and to do all that's expected of a man the better looking he is. But a woman now, her looks depend on how fit she seems to be for a man, and how different she is, from him. The way she's built, there's supposed to be a lot of unnecessary furbelows here and there, impractical, while him, the more he's built like a tool to work with and the more there's nothing unnecessary, the better it is."
     "That's right," Alitta said, feeling rather disheartened, as at a sermon, drawing a deep sigh.
     "I could tell you a few things about fashion," the dressmaker went on. "What the men like best are what there's the least sense in, dresses you can't sit down in, that won't stand a lot of action, that hobble you and truss you up and slow you down and fix it so you can't hardly breathe, till finally you're off in one corner, like a bird in a cage, not cluttering up the busy paths in life that men has got to use. That's the styles they really like! They want to be the movers and shakers. They want to do the world's business and be the Brigadier General and whoa and giddup and carve the roast on Sunday. Women are just supposed to be, like an ornament on the mantel. . . ."
     "You think men don't like dyed hair and crimped hair and paint and powder an inch thick and beads and feather boas and I don't know what all," Rose said. "The majority of 'em say they don't--but listen--all that fixing and fussing and hanging things on suits 'em right down to a T. You know why? Because the more dolled up a woman is, the more of a dumb image she is, and there's nothing a man likes better than a dumb image except a still dumber one. Images don't fly in the face of nobody for one thing, and they don't rack their brains and start getting ideas, which can scare a person out of seven years' growth."
     --From Marry Me, Carry Me

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Not one word was left out

"The book is long, all right," grinned Harrison Leussler, the publisher's Western representative. He flew from Palm Springs, Cal., to attend a cocktail party for Miss Kennelly at the Multnomah hotel. He recounted how Houghton Mifflin Co. had received a note from an unknown author out in Portland saying:
     "I've written a book, my first. If you are not interested, please wrap it up and send it back."
     "In a few days, along came 1000 sheets of closely typewritten copy," Leussler continued. "It was enough to floor a first reader, particularly when the author was unknown."
     But the first reader read it line by line--all of it. So did the other five readers, then the editor and finally the editor-in-chief "who lost no time in writing a contract."
     "The book would have ordinarily taken 660 pages, but by lengthening lines and crowding margins a little, it was published in 375," said Leussler. "Not one word of the manuscript was changed or left out."
     --"First Novel of Portland Author, 'Peaceful [sic] Kingdom', Blunt, Lively," in the Oregon Journal, November 11, 1949, page 1

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Lies and truths

Lies tell truths that are astonishing sometimes.
     --From Variation West

Monday, February 24, 2014

Enlarging your horizon

You could develop a taste for enlarging your horizon, that obligation more important than any other.
     --From Variation West

Friday, February 21, 2014

The hairdresser can tell you

There are few concepts so difficult that they do not yield to the repeated attack of the ordinary mind, and after dealing with all the basics over and over, love, death, money, and simple bits of local confusion, the hairdresser can tell you as well as any menticultured abstractionist that an inch is enough to keep us from drowning, that solutions are always partial and always subject to expiration, either short-term or long-term, and that . . . oh, yes, you could go farther and fare worse.
     --From Variation West

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Courts gone to hell

The courts in Utah, for instance. Once high-class tribunals, where Gentiles (few and far between) were barred from jury duty and every Judge stood high up in the Mormon church, had as the years passed plummeted to hell. On the bench and in the jury box now sat formless voids of primordial matter, Democrats, Catholics, wild-haired atheists, Trade Unionists, Masons. A man hadn’t a chance. “Two years’ hard labor, step down”—bang! with the gavel. Chains, the iron ball, convict stripes even on your hat. No appeal either! to anyone, even in a case where the excess “wife” in evidence was not the defendant’s wife at all but only the hired girl to a wife. So that just goes to show the rottenness.
     --From Variation West

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Not till the job is done

The artist who is going to do something spins out of his own mind a cocoon, he goes mentally into it, he seals it up and never comes out till the job is done.
     --From Variation West, paraphrasing Walter Prescott Webb

Monday, February 17, 2014

Early death

And that was one thing you could say for early death. It put off for the failer of full performance a date of grief forever.
     --From Variation West

Sunday, February 16, 2014

What a sensible person does

There was a silence. Then Serapta said, “That woman is as crazy as a loon.”
     “She’s not, Serapta. In fact, she’s using reason—”
     “You call that using reason? To want to do a terrible thing like that?”
     “Well, what does a sensible person want to do? Save their life if they possibly can. That’s built-in instinct,” Hindle said in the tone Doctor used to use when trying to teach her something. “If they got a problem, they want to solve it. If there’s doubt, they want to clear it up. If a thing needs settling, they want to settle it. A sensible person uses their faculties.”
     --From Variation West

Saturday, February 15, 2014

What art is for

He shook his head. “It wouldn’t seem like anything!”
     “Now wait,” she said. “It seems like something, doesn’t it? when they scare poor Falstaff in the woods? When Madame Butterfly kills herself? When the stone man, the man of white marble, comes clomping into Don Giovanni’s dining room, bump bump bump? That’s what art is for, isn’t it? to take something measly—measly in comparison with the universe—and make it count for something?”
     --From Variation West

Friday, February 14, 2014

Ardyth at her best

The holidays were so filled with social engagements—how odd for us!—that there was not even a half an hour to sit down and recollect. Ardyth was throughout at her best. She looked, with the additional ten pounds put on in the past two months, at her very, very best. Calm, enchanting, endearing and beautiful as ever a woman, and so witty. Not one single outbreak of Irish anger in all these days, full of plans and good intentions. Whenever people fall for her charms, she becomes frightened and confides later that she really does not love them as much as they might think she does and is afraid that some time sooner or later might be caught in anger and spoil the picture. Actually she never does, because what little of the deep, ever-whirling emotional pool of her comes to the surface, I am absorbing like a shock absorber, and she always makes up.
     --From her husband Egon's journal, New Year's Day 1948

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Not picky readers

They read anything, as a goat eats tin cans, apples or underwear off the line.
     --From Variation West

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

"And what of insouciance then?"

He said that according to his friend Dr. F. Avery Jones, pathological fermentation in the stomach may generate enough methane gas to cause a pretty big explosion if a person should belch while lighting a cigarette. As a comparable microbic effect in the lower intestine generates inflammable and explosive hydrogen sulphide and plain hydrogen, if God had not in his mercy arranged for evolution to place the anus quite far away from the mouth, smoking would never have become popular. And what of insouciance then?
     --From Variation West

Friday, January 24, 2014

Showing your collection

He loved to quote, the way other people like to show their coin or stamp collections.
     --From Variation West

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

How to be saved

But what was “saved”? . . . Well, “saved” might be to learn to bear what happens to you. Because how you bear it is more important than what it is. To line up the unchangeable amid constant change. To protect your freedom with a certain amount of discipline, the way a rancher fences in his grazing lands. To mark your pivots through the abyss, and (order being heaven’s first law) run a course of action through the formless void. But because the biggest part of the entire universe of space and time can never be apprehended by direct, first-hand experience, you’ve got to get at it in other ways, he said. By such as the mechanism of Wyandra’s perception and her memory, and by books. But books that give rise to something, like a steam engine produces steam.
     From Variation West

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Never a day

But never a day, all should remember who are fretted, or corrupt, corroded and consumed in secret, but what somewhere in the world the most astounding truths like opals in a mine are being found.
     --From Variation West