“What is happiness, anyhow? … so impalpable — a mere breath, an evanescent tinge…” “One can’t write directly about the soul,”, Virginia Woolf wrote.
“Openness to life grants a lightning-swift insight into the life situation of others.” Months after his death in a plane crash while traveling to negotiate a ceasefire during the budding civil war in Congo, the Swedish diplomat, economist, and author Dag Hammarskjöld (July 29, 1905–September 18, 1961) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
“Life’s essence should always be clearly noticeable behind the love, or the music, or the work.” Between the time Albert Einstein composed his courtship letters and Richard Feynman wrote his extraordinary letter to his departed wife, another Nobel-winning physicist contributed to the small and singularly beautiful canon of scientists’ love letters.
In praise of “the rejoicing of strength that is returning, of a reawakened faith in a tomorrow and the day after tomorrow,… of impending adventures, of seas that are open again.” “The gray drizzle induced by depression,” William Styron wrote in his classic memoir of what depression is really like, “takes on the quality of physical pain.” In my own experience, the most withering aspect of depression is the way it erases, like physical illness does, the memory of wellness.
“The thing seemingly freely given often isn’t. It is rare to receive the gift of love, for instance, from someone who doesn’t want to be celebrated for their generosity in having offered it.” “The temperament to which Art appeals,” Oscar Wilde wrote in 1891, “is the temperament of receptivity.” If art and love are one, as Vincent van Gogh so ardently believed, and if the experience of love — that splendid osmotic permeability of loving and being loved — has taught me anything, it is that Love, too, arises from the temperament of receptivity.
“Progress is never permanent, will always be threatened, must be redoubled, restated and reimagined if it is to survive.” “All the goodness and the heroisms will rise up again, then be cut down again and rise up,” John Steinbeck wrote to his best friend at the peak of WWII.
From Sappho to Toni Morrison, an homage to writers who have wielded the power of the mind in language with uncommon virtuosity.
“We hear and apprehend only what we already half know.” “No really creative transformation can possibly be effected by human beings,” physicist David Bohm wrote in examining the nature of creativity, “unless they are in the creative state of mind that is generally sensitive to the differences that always exist between the observed fact and any preconceived ideas, however noble, beautiful, and magnificent they may seem to be.” And yet, stranded in the purgatory between objective and subjective reality, we are often too blinded by our preconceptions to receive facts as we encounter them, the raw material of reality — something Galileo considered the greatest enemy of critical thinking as he was launching his epoch-making crusade against delusion.
“It is singular, that a thing so obviously useful, … should have been so long overlooked.” “Finding the words is another step in learning to see,” bryologist Robin Wall Kimmerer wrote in her lyrical love letter to moss.
“There is another, inner way… which binds the artist to the world. He who walks this trail sees the beauty of the earth, and hears its music.” German geologist Hans Cloos (November 8, 1885–September 26, 1951) belongs atop the hierarchy of great nonfiction writers — a scientist who wrote about his subject matter with a poetic conscience and an expansive sense of aesthetic harmony.
A vibrant ode to the inherent poetry of existence. It is often said that we are born scientists — naturally curious, tickled rather than daunted by the unknown, unafraid to experiment and to stumble in learning the world.
“The fact that religions through the ages have spoken in images, parables, and paradoxes means simply that there are no other ways of grasping the reality to which they refer.
“One of the functions of art is to give people the words to know their own experience… Storytelling is a tool for knowing who we are and what we want.” “People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them,” Emerson wrote in contemplating the key to personal growth.
“When we can play with the unself-conscious concentration of a child, this is: art: prayer: love.” “Art like prayer is a hand outstretched in the darkness, seeking for some touch of grace which will transform it into a hand that bestows gifts,” Franz Kafka told a young friend ambivalent about pursuing a creative life.
In praise of the mundane, unquantifiable, impractical activities that feed creative work and fill life with meaning.
“This winter day — grim, yet so delicate-looking, so spiritual — striking emotional, impalpable depths, subtler than all the poems, paintings, music…” To view the world with a poet’s eyes is to see in it unseasonable splendor and unreasonable gladness where other eyes see only bleakness, only blankness.
An irreverent invitation to reconsider the world’s givens. The lever by which the human imagination moves the world rests on one little word: if — that linchpin of possibility allowing us to question the way things are and imagine better, truer alternatives for how they might be.
“The creative self [asks] the surrender of ordinary conceptions of identity and will for a broader kind of intimacy and allegiance.” A human being, Oliver Sacks observed in contemplating the building blocks of personhood, needs “a narrative, a continuous inner narrative, to maintain his identity, his self.” We need this interior storytelling to thread ourselves together, because the self is so elusive a constellation of intangibles which fade to black under the beam of direct scrutiny.
“Don’t write at first for anyone but yourself.” “If you write what you yourself sincerely think and feel and are interested in,” the great marine biologist and author Rachel Carson advised a blind girl aspiring to be a writer, “you will interest other people.” Six years earlier, around Valentine’s Day of 1952, a sixteen-year-old self-described “aspiring Young Writer” by the name of Alice Quinn reached out to T.S.
An imaginative extension of Euclid’s parallel postulate into life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.