A labor of love four years in the making, celebrating a trailblazing woman who shattered multiple glass ceilings.
Where the hard edge of physics meets the vulnerable metaphysics of the human heart. Few people have enchanted the popular imagination with science more powerfully and lastingly than physicist Richard Feynman (May 11, 1918–February 15, 1988) — the “Great Explainer” with the uncommon gift for bridging the essence of science with the most human and humane dimensions of life.
“The constellations of solidarity, altruism, and improvisation are within most of us and reappear at these times.” In his diary of moral development, young Tolstoy proclaimed: “This is the entire essence of life: Who are you?
A subtle meditation on the meaning of solidarity, the relationship between the ego and the capacity for love, and the little tendrils of care that become the armature of friendship.
“I did not know that I could only get the most out of life by giving myself up to it.” “One must know what one wants to be,” the eighteenth-century French mathematician Émilie du Châtelet wrote in weighing the nature of genius.
A trailblazing effort “to give, in as systematic and compact a form as possible, the history and present condition of a large group of human beings.” On a recent research visit to the Emily Dickinson museum and archives in Amherst, I chanced upon a most improbable discovery of forgotten, pioneering work by another titan of culture.
“The sort of fearless openness required to turn toward our suffering is only possible within the spacious receptivity of love.” “It is the most supremely interesting moment in life, the only one in fact when living seems life,” wrote Alice James, the brilliant and terminally ill sister of Henry James and William James, as she reflected on how to live fully while dying.
“Why do you paint? For exactly the same reason I breathe.” “The Artist is no other than he who unlearns what he has learned, in order to know himself,” wrote E.E.
“Freedom is the capacity to pause in the face of stimuli from many directions at once and, in this pause, to throw one’s weight toward this response rather than that one.” “Everything can be taken from a man,” the great Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote in his timeless treatise on the human search for meaning, “but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” A generation later, James Baldwin examined how we imprison ourselves and asserted: “Freedom is not something that anybody can be given; freedom is something people take and people are as free as they want to be.” These are discomfiting sentiments, for they annihilate the protective possibility for self-victimization and place the responsibility for freedom squarely on our own shoulders — a responsibility whose first demand is that we learn to want to be free.
“A work of art is not a piece of fruit lifted from a tree branch: it is a ripening collaboration of artist, receiver, and world.” “Art is not a plaything, but a necessity,” Rebecca West wrote in her stunning 1941 reflection on how art transforms mere existence into meaningful being, “and its essence, form, is not a decorative adjustment, but a cup into which life can be poured and lifted to the lips and be tasted.” Few cups hold life more sturdily and splendidly than poetry.
“It was so pleasant to see a place where any man may go for a moment’s quiet, and there is none to find fault with him, nor make him afraid.” At twenty-nine, already an outlier in being unmarried and having claimed for herself erudition comparable to what the best formal education offered men at the time, Florence Nightingale (May 12, 1820–August 13, 1910) did something completely radical for a woman in her era — in the winter of 1849, she traveled to a foreign country on another continent with a fundamentally different culture, accompanied only by a middle-aged childless couple she had befriended in Paris through her parents.
“What hurt me so terribly all my life until this moment?” “The gray drizzle of horror induced by depression takes on the quality of physical pain,” William Styron wrote in what remains the most gripping account of living with depression.
“To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.” “No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life,” wrote the thirty-year-old Nietzsche.
“People would hardly ever tell falsehoods about a matter, if they had been let tell truth in the beginning.” Just as we have drained the word friend of meaning by misuse and overuse, we are constantly abrading the integrity of the word love with insincerity of sentiment.
“There are some people downstairs who drive everywhere and admire nothing.” To be an artist, in the most expansive sense, is to live with uncommon wakefulness to the world, both interior and exterior, unafraid to be moved by a universe observed with benevolent and unrelenting curiosity, then to give shape to those observations in a way that helps other people live.
“When cynicism becomes the default language, playfulness and invention become impossible. Cynicism scours through a culture like bleach, wiping out millions of small, seedling ideas.” “There is nothing quite so tragic as a young cynic, because it means the person has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing,” Maya Angelou wrote in contemplating courage in the face of evil.
“Our origins are of the earth. And so there is in us a deeply seated response to the natural universe, which is part of our humanity.” “The exceeding beauty of the earth, in her splendour of life, yields a new thought with every petal,” the nineteenth-century English nature writer Richard Jefferies wrote.
“Day by day I am approaching the goal which I apprehend but cannot describe.” “After all that has been said and mused upon the ‘natural ills,’ the anxiety, and wearing out experienced by the true artist,” Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who paved the way for women in the arts, wrote in reflecting on art and suffering from her sickbed, “is not the good immeasurably greater than the evil?
“Our respect for other people… can only grow from a humble respect for the cosmic order and from an awareness that we are a part of it… and that nothing of what we do is lost, but rather becomes part of the eternal memory of being.” In his clever 1958 allegory I, Pencil, the libertarian writer Leonard Read used the complex chain of resources and competences involved in the production of a single pencil to illustrate the vital web of interdependencies — economic as well as ethical — undergirding humanity’s needs and knowledge.
A beautiful clarion call for making creative work “the filling joy of your life” no matter how difficult the cards you’ve been dealt.