A noise some people hear and others don’t

isn’t speaking to the ears. It’s speaking to the heart, and you have a hole in your heart. All young people do. It’s there to catch the wonderful things of the world, and later on it gets filled up by broken things. Forget about your ears. Listen with your heart. Aim the hole at the sound and follow in the direction where it hurts the most.

– Master Li Kao, to Number Ten Ox,
The Story of the Stone, Chapter 5,
Barry Hughart

The grass beside my elbow parted to reveal

the cat, stepping out in his seven-league boots, with a 4-inch-long bright green grasshopper in his jaws. […] It immediately began to trill, a noise that sounded as if in the body of this insect the grass had gone to emerald, sparkling like newly pressed sap. Translated through that insect intelligence, it had become music. If I had been asked to make music out of grass, I would have transcribed the movement of grass stalks, the way they sweep and weave in shadow and light over distance. I would have talked about mathematics, not about colour and sap. But then, I’m not an insect.

I stepped out into the knee-high clover and laughed and called Diane over, for the grass all around me was covered with those insects. There were hundreds of them chirping their bird-like bell tones in that small field I had let grow wild, and nowhere else.

After a couple minutes, both of the cats were prowling through the music like bad liner notes. […] All the time, the little brass songs of the insects rose out of the grass like Adam’s name for the grass itself.

– Winging Home, page 199-200,
Harold Rhenisch

On the Road

Then here came a gang of young bop musicians carrying their instruments out of cars. They piled right into a saloon and we followed them. They set themselves up and started blowing. There we were! The leader was a slender, drooping, curly-haired, pursy-mouthed tenorman, thin of shoulder, draped loose in a sports shirt, cool in the warm night, self-indulgence written in his eyes, who picked up his horn and frowned in it and blew cool and complex and was dainty stamping his foot to catch ideas, and ducked to miss others – and said, “Blow,” very quietly when the other boys took solos. Then there was Prez, a husky, handsome blond like a freckled boxer, meticulously wrapped inside his sharkskin plaid suit with the long drape and the collar falling back and the tie undone for exact sharpness and casualness, sweating and hitching up his horn and writhing into it, and a tone just like Lester Young himself. … The third sax was an alto, eighteen-year-old cool, contemplative young Charlie-Parker-type Negro from high school, with a broadgash mouth, taller than the rest, grave. He raised his horn and blew into it quietly and thoughtfully and elicited birdlike phrases and architectural Miles Davis logics. These were the children of the great bop innovators.

Once there was Louis Armstrong blowing his beautiful top in the muds of New Orleans; before him the mad musicians who had paraded on official days and broke up their Sousa matches into ragtime. Then there was swing, and Roy Eldridge, vigorous and virile, blasting the horn for everything it had in waves of power and logic and subtlety – leaning to it with glittering eyes and a lovely smile and sending it out broadcast to rock the jazz world. Then had come Charlie Parker, a kid in his mother’s woodshed in Kansas City, blowing his taped-up alto among the logs, practicing on rainy days, coming out to watch the old swinging Basie and Benny Moten band that had Hot Lips Page and the rest – Charlie Parker leaving home and coming to Harlem, and meeting mad Thelonius Monk and madder Gillespie – Charlie Parker in his early days when he was flipped and walked around in a circle while playing. Somewhat younger than Lester Young, also from KC, that gloomy, saintly goof in whom the history of jazz was wrapped; for when he held his horn high and horizontal from his mouth he blew the greatest; and as his hair grew longer and he got lazier and stretched-out, his horn came down halfway; till it finally fell all the way and today he wears his thick-soled shoes so that he can’t feel the sidewalks of life his horn is held weakly against his chest, and he blows cool and easy getout phrases. Here were the children of the American bop night.

Stranger flowers yet – for as the Negro also mused over everyone’s head with dignity, the young, tall, slender blond kid from Curtis Street, Denver, jeans and studded belt, sucked on his mouthpiece while waiting for the others to finish; and when they did he started, and you had to look around to see where the solo was coming from, for it came from angelical smiling lips upon the mouthpiece and it was a soft, sweet, fairy-tale solo on an alto. Lonely as America, a throastpierced sound in the night.

What of the others and all the soundmaking? There was the bass-player, wiry redhead with wild eyes, jabbing his hips at the fiddle with every driving slap, at hot moments his mouth hanging open trancelike. … The sad drummer … completely goofed, staring into space, chewing gum, wide-eyed, rocking the neck with Reich kick and complacent ecstasy. The piano – a big husky Italian truck-driving kid with meaty hands, a burly and thoughtful joy. They played an hour. No one was listening.


– On the Road, Chapter 10, Part Three,
Jack Kerouac

The promise of her life is the gift she has given. It is that which makes me able to face the years ahead. What [they] may do will not last. It will blow away like the sand that flies from beneath her feet along the trail into tomorrow.

– Tomorrow’s Sphinx, final paragraph
Clare Bell

What about the main thing in life, all its riddles?

If you want, I’ll spell it out for you right now. Do not pursue what is illusory – property and position: all that is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade, and is confiscated in one fell night. Live with a steady superiority over life – don’t be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn after happiness; it is, after all, all the same: the bitter doesn’t last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing.

– The Gulag Archipelago, Part II, Chapter IV,
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Seeing like an artist.

…John Ruskin, when he launched his ambitious plan to teach factory workers to draw, had no desire to fill London’s parks with labourers toting sketchbooks and charcoal, his desire was to teach them to see. For their own sakes, not to make them better artists, but to have their vision constantly refreshed. Drawing, whether in nature or from some interior landscape, is a form of meditation, an effacing of self, a suspension of time and conscious thought. The local park or the banks of the Anduin: little difference, just a question of detail.

…There is something of the archaeological in illustrating Middle-Earth. means staking out a dig, working down through strata of meaning, explicit and implicit, layer upon layer of influence and culture. […] It is, in a sense, digging in air, which has always been the business of artists.

… [Tolkien’s] drawings are drawn out of himself not from a desire to determine once and for all the visual details of his word, but to provide something tangible to satisfy an urge to see, however imperfectly, those places of the imagination that are so hard to describe in words, but are so well depicted by describing the emotions of the protagonists. Naturally, while this means facing mundane issues of draughtsmanship, perspective and colour, it provides opportunities to distil reality on another plane.

– “From Babel to Barad-dûr” (emphasis mine),
John Howe

And then, the stars came out. […]

[…] And there were a thousand, no ten thousand, no ten million billion stars filling the darkness. The stars were manifold and bright, and they did not care. Even then he had known: they do not care. If I breathe or do not breathe, live or die, the eyes that look from all around don’t care.

…Beneath his feet, space opened wide and let through yet another billion sparks of light.

He was suspended as a fly is held upon a vast telescopic lens. He walked on a water of space. He stood upon a transparent flex of great eye, and all about him, as on a night in winter, beneath foot and above head, in all directions, were nothing but stars.

…And Wilder stood again in space where God had stood before creating a world out of Chaos.

– The Lost City of Mars,
Ray Bradbury