Category: Litany

Litany: 10 Excerpts from The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa

Image Credit: Christine Zenino, Wikimedia Commons Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet is aptly titled. “Disquiet” refers to a feeling of anxiety, and this story has plenty of unease for both its narrator and readers.

The narrator, perhaps a stand-in for Pessoa himself, is clearly a distant literary relative of Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Eliot’s Prufrock. He is a man of inaction, excessively and perhaps obsessively analytical. He is beset on all sides by the ills of modernism–fragmentation, cynicism, paranoia, spiritual emptiness. Due to the personal, first-person perspective, it is difficult for the reader to avoid the resonance of these same ills, particularly the fragmentation.

Pessoa writes, “Each of us is several, is many, is a profusion of selves. So that the self who disdains his surroundings is not the same as the self who suffers or takes joy in them. In the vast colony of our being there are many species of people who think and feel in different ways.” Sounds beautiful, yes, but after only a few pages one realizes this “profusion of selves” is also problematic. It is the paradox of choice in terms of self. Who should I be, and when, and why, and how? The narrator is frustrated, and consequently, frustrating, but that does not make him any less sympathetic.

The writing itself is the book’s best quality. Pessoa is a stylist. Like Nabokov his prose sparkles like a multi-faceted diamond bathed in light. But he is not a storyteller; he is a thought-teller, and therefore this book is not for the adventurer, but rather the contemplator. He is, in a sense, Hemingway’s exact opposite. If we can accept that then we can appreciate not only what Pessoa has written, but also how he has written it–marvelously. Below are some excerpts over which you may marvel, but I recommend you read the entire book for yourself.

1. …and from the majestic heights of my dreams, I return to being an assistant bookkeeper in the city of Lisbon.

But the contrast doesn’t overwhelm me, it frees me. And its irony is my blood. What should theoretically humiliate is what I unfurl as my flag; and the laughter I should be using to laugh at myself is a bugle I blow to herald–and to create–a dawn into which I’m transformed.

2. And at this table in my absurd room, I, a pathetic and anonymous office clerk, write words as if they were the souls’s salvation, and I gild myself with the impossible sunset of high and vast hills in the distance, with the statue I received in exchange for life’s pleasures, and with the ring of renunciation on my evangelical finger, the stagnant jewel of my ecstatic disdain.

3. And I wonder if my apparently negligible voice might not embody the essence of thousands of voices, the longing for self-expression of thousands of lives, the patience of millions of souls resigned like my own to their daily lot, their useless dreams, and their hopeless hopes.

4. I feel a religious force within me, a species of prayer, a kind of public outcry. But my mind quickly puts me in my place.

5. To heed the present moment isn’t a great or lasting concern of mine. I crave time in all its duration, and I want to be myself unconditionally…Inch by inch I conquered the inner terrain I was born with. Bit by bit I reclaimed the swamp in which I’d languished. I gave birth to my infinite being, but I had to wrench myself out of me with forceps.

6. Whether or not they exist, we’re slaves to the gods.

7. Absurdity is divine…Let’s buy books so as not to read them; let’s go to concerts without caring to hear the music or to see who’s there; let’s take long walks because we’re sick of walking; and let’s spend whole days in the country, just because it bores us.

8. Sadly, or perhaps not, I recognize that I have an arid heart. An adjective matters to me more than the real weeping of a human soul.

9. Whenever I see a dead body, death seems to me a departure. The corpse looks to me like a suit that was left behind. Someone departed and didn’t need to take the one and only outfit he’d worn.

10. I want to raise my arms and shout wild and strange things, to speak to the lofty mysteries, to affirm a new and vast personality to the boundless expanses of empty matter.

Bonus – My march of triumph didn’t get as far as a teapot or an old cat. I’ll die as I’ve lived, amid all the junk on the outskirts, sold by weight among the postscripts of the broken.

– from The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa, translated by Richard Zenith, published by Penguin Books, 2001.

Litany: Seinfeld + Quotes + Poets = Seinquoets

As an avid Seinfeld viewer and poetry reader, I enjoy when the two inexplicably coalesce in my mind. The more I considered it, the more I realized that quite a few famous Seinfeld quotes could have been uttered or written by famous poets. If you truly know your Seinfeld and your poetry, you’ll understand why I paired the Seinfeld quote with a specific poet. Some are more obvious than others, but since it’s safe to assume more people know their Seinfeld better than their poetry, I added the hashtags as context for those not as knowledgeable about poetry.

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Image Credit: Castle Rock Entertainment & Sony Pictures,
  • “Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason.” – Robert Frost #roadnottaken
  • “I can’t go to a bad movie by myself. What, am I gonna make sarcastic remarks to strangers?” – Dorothy Parker #acidtongue
  •  “I’ve never heard of a relationship being affected by punctuation.” E.E. Cummings #modernistpoet
  • “Actually it was in gym class. I was trying to climb the ropes and Jerry was spotting me. I kept slipping and burning my thighs and then finally I slipped and fell on Jerry’s head. We’ve been close ever since.” – Allen Ginsberg #howl
  • “The sea was angry that day my friend, like an old man trying to send back soup at a deli.” – Stevie Smith #notwavingbutdrowning
  • “You have the chicken, the hen, and the rooster. The chicken goes with the hen… So who is having sex with the rooster?” – William Carlos Williams #redwheelbarrow
  • “Y’know I remember when I was a kid growing up, kids would make fun of my name like you wouldn’t believe – ‘Jerry Jerry Dingleberry’, ‘Seinsmelled.’”- Shel Silverstein #sidewalkends
  • “I’m not a lesbian. I hate men, but I’m not a lesbian.” – Anne Sexton #herkind
  • “Do you ever get down on your knees and thank God you know me and have access to my dementia?” – Edgar Allan Poe #darknessilluminated
  • “This woman hates me so much, I’m starting to like her.” Charles Bukowski #misogynisticlove
  • “Do you have any idea how much time I waste in this apartment?” – Emily Dickinson #aloneintheattic
  • “I couldn’t raise a kid? C’mon, I love bossing people around.” – Gertrude Stein #mentor?
  •  “Man, it’s the nineties… It’s Hammer time!” – Frank O’Hara #celebritypoems
  • “I’ve always been a stall man.” – T.S. Eliot #uptight

Litany: Rules for Users of the Lone Star Card at Grocery Stores

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My local grocery store is known as the Deco District H-E-B. Sounds glamorous, I know, but don’t let the moniker hoodwink you. The Deco District is a small area in Central San Antonio that feels incomplete, like an experiment in haphazard gentrification. The store itself is a mishmash of repulsive humanity, not unlike what you might see on a Saturday night at 2 A.M. in the emergency room. In fact, an ambulance has graced the premises numerous times…at a grocery store.

To endure shopping in a store like this, you have to be one of two types of people. You must be either utterly oblivious to your surroundings or have a really good therapist to work out your anger subsequent to shopping.

Since I’m neither oblivious nor able to afford a consumer therapist, I now shop at the next closest H-E-B, a much more pleasant and civil grocery store.

Perhaps one of the things that frustrated me the most about this store before I made the switch was customers using their Lone Star Card (LSC), which offers “access to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) food benefits and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) cash benefits”. While I believe in helping those who truly need it, the LSC was obviously one malfunctioning part of an overextended welfare system degraded by the lazy and corrupt. Its misuse became increasingly exasperating.

Therefore, following rule list is composed of somewhat facetious rules I’d like to see implemented by the Texas government. It details my frustrations with LSC users who abuse the system and is entirely based on my real-life experiences. It is not directed at those truly in need of government assistance.

Rule 1 – You must memorize which foods are eligible to purchase using a LSC. If you make a mistake in this regard your card will be confiscated. You will no longer delay other customers in line behind you. Instead, you have to use all the cash that is clearly visible in your wallet.

Rule 2 – You are not allowed to use a LSC to purchase items in order to sell them to the ice cream truck driver in my neighborhood, only so he can resell them at higher prices for a profit. This is especially true if the ice cream truck is already embellished with a fanciful paint job, an aftermarket stereo system, or custom rims.

Rule 3 – You cannot carry your card in an actual Burberry handbag or a faux Burberry handbag. If you are even aware of Burberry, you are in no position to qualify for LSC benefits.

Rule 4 – You cannot use your card if your nails (finger and/or toe) are immaculately trimmed, manicured, and painted, obviously the work of a nail salon. Additionally, if your nails (finger and/or toe) are painted a color offensive to others’ aesthetic sensibilities, such as a neon lime color, any remaining benefits will be deducted.

Rule 5 – You cannot use a LSC and then unload your groceries into a $30,000 vehicle, such as a Chevrolet Suburban with twenty-two inch chrome spinner rims, heavily tinted windows, dual exhaust, and aftermarket grill guard. Because the LSC views nutrition as more important than transportation, your “vehicle” must be a large rectangular one with the word “Via” painted on the side of it, a bicycle, or you must use your own two feet to carry you and your groceries home.

Rule 6 – You cannot use a LSC while wearing more than a single piece of gaudy jewelry, otherwise known as bling. Any more than that is just poor taste, but probably also an indicator of mishandling money.

Rule 7 – Your children, of which there are undoubtedly too many, may not touch any of the other customers’ items, step on their feet, scream uncontrollably, or throw the impulse items across store floor. There must discipline, or there will be disavowal.

Rule 8 – You cannot use a LSC if your body is painted with a dizzying and inky array of colors and designs depicting the guard tower or spider web, which indicate pride in the fact that you’ve been previously incarcerated for illegal activities.

Rule 9 – You cannot use an iPhone or Android mobile phone while checking out. Actually, you cannot even own a smart phone. While enjoying LSC benefits, you are only allowed to use a colossal “Saved by the Bell Zach Morris” style phone, if you happen to find one available.

Rule 10 – You cannot use the LSC if you verbally abuse or contest the actions of the cashier, who on a daily basis exhibits work ethic, self-reliance, and patience, the very qualities with which you are completely unfamiliar.

Rule 11 – You cannot use your LSC if you cannot determine that you have more than ten items in the “ten items or fewer” line. There’s a reason this is rule eleven.