This Astonished Heart (The Stories of My Lives)

Once upon a time, a certain King was hunting in a great forest, and he chased a wild beast so eagerly that none of his attendants could follow him. When evening drew near he stopped and looked around him, and then he saw that he had lost his way. He sought a way out, but could find none.

What will I do with my life? (What will life do with me?)
I write because I’m royally lost. (Life is my great forest as well as my wild beast.)

There was once a girl who trod on a loaf to avoid soiling her shoes, and the misfortunes that happened to her in consequence are well known.

There was once a boy who masturbated morning and night – in bed, in the shower, on the roof; lying down, sitting, standing, and kneeling; alone and with others, real and imaginary. The enormity of his guilt crushed his adolescent Catholicism into a single terrible tenet – masturbators go to hell!

The little old kitchen had quieted down from the bustle and confusion of midday; and now, with its afternoon manners on, presented a holiday aspect that, as the principal room in the brown house, it was eminently proper it should have.

As a child, I was strangely drawn to the dim cramped damp servants’ quarters which smelled vaguely obscene to me. Simultaneously excited and repelled by the room's pungent shadows, my thrilled nostrils longed to cross its dark threshold to explore the netherworlds whose mysteries aroused obscure desires in me.

On a bright December morning long ago, two thinly clad children were kneeling upon the bank of a frozen canal in Holland.

It was never cold in Manila. In America my hands and feet are always freezing – so I write, I wander to keep them moving. (In the heat of writing, my tropic past returns.)

From the old and pleasantly situated village of Mayenfeld, a footpath winds through green and shady meadows to the foot of the mountains, which on this side looked down from their stern and lofty heights upon the valley below.

Which mountain should he climb? (Should he climb?)

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?”

–What are you writing? the child asked.
–I’m writing letters.
–To whom?
–To strangers and the dead.
–Do they write back?
–They wrote me first.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

I can’t go back to Manila – my youth’s vanished city – so verb by verb (reverberation by reverberation) I’m building a memorial metropolis of words, reconstructing not its streets and buildings but the feeling of being someone else (It’s me; it isn’t me.) with an unknown future in another world.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

I don’t know how many times I reread Pride and Prejudice before I finally realized (admitted?) – it was Mr. Darcy I was in love with.

Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo . . . .

My mother loved fables, so she read me stories of cocky foxes and sassy asses, translating their catty ratty batty dialogues into Tagalog for me. (Though it feels like I’ve always already known English, this memory proves it was once as foreign to me as Tagalog is now.) Ant the squirrel of the storkie is . . .

I begin my story with an experience from the time I was ten years old and attending the grammar school in our small town. Many memories are wafted to me, touching me inwardly with melancholy and pleasurable thrills: narrow, dark streets and bright houses and steeples, the chiming of clocks and people’s faces, rooms filled with hominess and warm comfort, rooms filled with mystery and profound fear of ghosts. There is a smell of cozy confinement, of rabbits and servant girls, of home remedies and dried fruit. Two worlds coincided there, day and night issued from two poles.

Where to begin? Where to end? I don’t remember the beginning. I can’t foretell the end. Shall I make up stories?

I first heard of Ántonia on what seemed to me an interminable journey across the great midland plain of North America.

I jumped on – no, I was thrown on – this hurtling logomotive thirty years ago, and I still don’t know where this careening train of words-words-words is taking me. (Where did it come from? Where is it going?)

As Karl Rossman, a poor boy of sixteen who had been packed off to America by his parents because a servant girl had seduced him and got herself a child by him, stood on the liner slowly entering the harbour of New York, a sudden burst of sunshine seemed to illumine the Statue of Liberty, so that he saw it in a new light, although he had sighted it long before. The arm with the sword rose up as if newly stretched aloft, and round the figure blew the free winds of heaven.

747. Manila-Narita-L.A. Freeways of Liberty glittering in the sun. Dazzled thirdworld eyes.

“Yes, of course, if it’s fine tomorrow,” said Mrs. Ramsay.

–Don’t become your father, my mother was always saying (not in so many words).
–Don’t become your mother, said my father’s silent contempt.
Don’t become yourself!

When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.

I saw E.T. seven times when I was in the seventh grade.

I am living at the Villa Borghese. There is not a crumb of dirt anywhere, nor a chair misplaced. We are all alone here and we are dead.

Beneath all my external semblances of order, what feared-desired disaster lurks?

For a long time I would go to bed early.

For a long time I would go to bed whirly. (My head it simply swurls!)

This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.

My favorite book in all the world is this very world which I can scarcely read, this voluminous book of dreams, this cyclopedic librarinth of my myriad waking lives.

While Pearl Tull was dying, a funny thought occurred to her.

Old enough to feel that each remembrance was a little death (memory’s a cave littered with impetuous Lazaruses dying to be resurrected), but still young enough to wish that he didn’t have a past, he dreamed of writing a memoryless book .

You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler.

You are about to begin reading Felipe Kalbo’s new schizography If through my splintered life a traveler.

It was the summer that men first walked on the moon. I was very young back then, but I did not believe there would ever be a future. I wanted to live dangerously, to push myself as far as I could go, and then see what happened to me when I got there.

1995 was the year I turned queer. I was a virgin back then, but I was returning to San Francisco to become a pervert.

Where now? Who now? When now?

And if questions abandoned me too?

All of this happened while I was walking around starving in Christiania – that strange city no one escapes from until it has left its mark on him.

Whenever I bump into another exile marked by Sodom, our blazing city rises up between our querying eyes, and our gay smiles of recognition say – welcome home.

From a little after two oclock until almost sundown of the long still hot weary dead September afternoon they sat in what Miss Coldfield still called the office because her father had called it that – a dim hot airless room with the blinds all closed and fastened for forty-three summers because when she was a girl someone had believed that light and moving air carried heat and that dark was always cooler, and which (as the sun shone fuller and fuller on that side of the house) became latticed with yellow slashes full of dost motes which Quentin thought of as being flecks of the dead old dried paint itself blown inward from the scaling blinds as wind might have blown them.

What will my death pass on?

The longing for a destiny is nowhere stronger than in our romantic life.

His disbelief in love was more romantic than others’ belief in it.

Geryon was a monster everything about him was red

C. was a seamonster everything about him was wet his mind was water always wavering his eyes were water his tongue was water his thirst unfathomable

Writer is pretty much tempted to quit writing.

I want to say everything – I can’t say anything.
I have nothing to say – why can’t I stop talking?

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