20 Lines from 20 Lines a Day by Harry Mathews
In 1983-1984, while writing Cigarettes, Harry Mathews followed Stendhal’s dictum of writing “twenty lines a day, genius or not.” In 1988, Dalkey Archive published the notebook of all of Mathew’s daily 20 lines. Lots is genius. Here are 20 bits (though I will note that the real pleasure is in the accrual of the bits in daily sections and in the whole project, so if you like the bits then just think!):
No matter how much one loves sunshine, its assault here on the eyes and skin makes shade delectable. One knows one’s tan will have more fuel than it can use.
…even if the air was cluttered with social smells and substances.
Or should one aim at portraying objects that are perpetually in flux or, better, that are transformed by our very description of them, like this page?
…but even if the basis of simile is continuity, to compare wobbly daffodils to invisibly moving stars is like comparing white bunny tails to snowy mountain peaks. So let’s do that.
…how to manage disagreeable emotions by scheduling them…
‘Nothing will ever be the same,’ except oneself, and who wants to rely on that pathetic little monster?
Do I now run errands to make the outdoors safe? Why does buying things, especially ones that are relatively expensive, calm me so extraordinarily?
But watch out: ‘fragmented, exciting’ mustn’t become an excuse for getting less done.
Every morning–early every morning–I’ll set aside ten minutes and concentrate exclusively on feeling anxious about sitting down to write. The most rudimentary sense of absurdity should get me going by minute number three.
…no one could conceive of a jellyfish being male.
I walked away, as often from dentists and chiropractors, feeling that I was a thing, and a poor thing at that.
Ending a novel: like leaving Venice and a life entire, if not unique.
…being betrayed is an old racket of yours…
Each day happiness lies in wait for you around unpromising corners. Conceivably, if you weren’t careful, it could surprise you at every moment–how you possibly survive that?
She made sure we wiped our eyes of the sticky secretions of winter sleep. She would not listen to excuses. She hugged us mildly, rarely, bonily.
So whatever gets in the way, eat it.
…becoming a mechanical puppet linked absurdly to the rhythm of the photocopying machine, a stiff puppet, although a quickly moving one not without a stiff coordination of the hands.
(i.e. drowsiness, ‘lowered blood pressure’ [almost wrote: lowered blood pleasure]).
American pretends not to be European at all.
Why ever hesitate to recognize the beauty of athletes?
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