Wisdom on the rhythms of creativity from a lighthouse daydream. “One can never be alone enough to write.
“Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but most of all, endurance.” In 1989, Paris Review founding editor and trailblazing interviewer George Plimpton edited a wonderful collection titled The Writer’s Chapbook: A Compendium of Fact, Opinion, Wit, and Advice from the 20th Century’s Preeminent Writers (public library).
“Awakening, I immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper.” Trailblazing chemist Dmitri Mendeleev (February 8, 1834–February 2, 1907) came to scientific greatness via an unlikely path, overcoming towering odds to create the periodic table foundational to our understanding of chemistry.
“People don’t trust you without getting to know you and watching you work and seeing you make good on your word.” On a gray January morning, I was taking a run through a London cemetery, the BBC in my ear, when news of David Bowie’s death broke.
“Love? What is It? Most natural painkiller what there is. LOVE.” “It’s funny that it’s so plain that it’s love that makes the world go round,” Iris Murdoch wrote in one of her magnificent her love letters, “although it’s so very difficult to get it right.” In those rare moments when we’re able — or, rather, willing — to strip away our cynical resistance to sincerity, we can glimpse the plainness of love and relish it as the richest reality of life.
“We are here on earth to live, grow up and do what we can to make this world a better place for all people to enjoy freedom.” “The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately,” Seneca counseled two millennia ago as he contemplated the shortness of life and urged us to live wide rather than long.
“Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises, don’t worry about making a bunch of money… If you build a good name, eventually, that name will be its own currency.” For several years, I’ve been compiling an evolving library of timeless advice on writing from more than one hundred of the craft’s greatest masters, dead and alive — authors like Kurt Vonnegut, Susan Sontag, Neil Gaiman, Joan Didion, Ernest Hemingway, David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith, and dozens more.
“The notion of obligations comes before that of rights, which is subordinate and relative to the former.
“When I have composed a piece just as it sprang from my heart, then I have done my duty towards it; and whether it brings hereafter fame, honor, decorations, or snuff-boxes, etc., is a matter of indifference to me.” The German composer, pianist, and conductor Felix Mendelssohn (February 3, 1809–November 4, 1847) performed his first public concert at the age of 9.
“If I am to write anything fine or noble in the future I shall do so only by listening at the doors of your heart.” As an ardent lover of love letters, I have encountered few exemplars of the genre more piercing than those penned by James Joyce (February 2, 1882–January 13, 1941).
“Are all of nature’s greatest secrets encrypted in our own selves?” One aphoristic definition of madness is repeating a behavior that has previously led to disappointing results over and over again, expecting a different outcome each time.
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” In the 150 years since Lewis Carroll first told the story of Wonderland to the real-life Alice, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has attracted a number of stunning visual interpretations ranging from Salvador Dalí to Yayoi Kusama, but none more influential than those Arthur Rackham (September 19, 1867–September 6, 1939) created in 1907.
“The roaring of the wind is my wife and the Stars through the window pane are my Children… I do not live in this world alone but in a thousand worlds.” “Nourish yourself with grand and austere ideas of beauty that feed the soul… Seek solitude,” the great French artist Eugène Delacroix counseled himself in 1824.
From Dalí’s red salad to Warhol’s cream of tomato soup. “Art is a form of nourishment,” Susan Sontag wrote in her diary.
“Age cannot manage to empty either sensual pleasure of its attractiveness or the whole world of its charm.” “There is, after all, something eternal that lies beyond the hand of fate and of all human delusions,” Albert Einstein wrote in his beautiful letter to the Queen of Belgium, “and such eternals lie closer to an older person than to a younger one oscillating between fear and hope.
“Before we even show up at the doorstep of an opportunity, we are teeming with dread and anxiety, borrowing trouble from a future that hasn’t yet unfolded.” “We know that we live in contradiction,” Albert Camus wrote in his magnificent meditation on strength of character, “but we also know that we must refuse this contradiction and do what is needed to reduce it.” One of the most pervasive and perennial contradictions pulling the human spirit asunder is our yearning for greatness, which coexists with our chronic propensity for self-doubt.
On choosing the turn of mind that expands your happiness rather than contracting it. In the final year of his life, the great Scottish philosopher, historian, and essayist David Hume (May 7, 1711–August 25, 1776) penned a short, beautiful autobiography titled My Own Life (public library) — a potent packet of wisdom on the measure of a life well lived, which became a major inspiration for the contemporary counterpart Oliver Sacks wrote at the end of his own life.
“Making art is all about humans and our psychology: who we are, how we behave, what we do with the hand we’ve been dealt.
How a day is composed in the hours between sleep o’clock and symphony o’clock. “The patterns of our lives reveal us.
“It’s snowing (big flakes) and I love you.” “A self that goes on changing goes on living,” Virginia Woolf wrote in her defense of letter writing as the humanest art.