For however many centuries, people have trusted the wolves that ate their way into leadership, or whom the people, stupidly blinded by visions of fair democracies handing down doughnuts and plum pudding, voted into power over themselves.
The wolves have had all this time to establish their legitimacy as they swallowed people, and entire nations whole with nary a complaint: the doughnuts and puddings were still manifesting, if in smaller size and quantity.
And now, the people, having learned nothing – like sergeant Schultz “seeing nothing, hearing nothing, knowing nothing” are expecting some wolves whose mouths are filled with the blood of the poor and oppressed, to expose other wolves of their own pack and equally blood thirsty. According to the sheeple, it is entirely possible for a corrupt ruler to rule justly over another part of the corrupt regime. And I thought I was naive.
“If I could catch the feeling, I would; the feeling of the singing of the real world, as one is driven by loneliness and silence from the habitable world.”
By Maria Popova
There is a kind of loneliness that lodges itself in the psyche and never fully leaves, a loneliness most anguishing not in solitude but in companionship and amid the crowd. If solitude fertilizes the imagination, loneliness vacuums it of vitality and sands the baseboards of the spirit with the scratchy restlessness of longing — for connection, for communion, for escape. And yet it is out of this restlessness that so many great works of art are born.
In the late summer of 1928, a month before the publication of Orlandosubverted stereotypes and revolutionized culture, 44-year-old Woolf found herself grappling once more with the yin-yang of loneliness and creation. In a diary entry penned at Monk’s House — the countryside cottage she and her husband had bought in Sussex a decade earlier, where she crafted some of her most beloved works — she writes:
Often down here I have entered into a sanctuary … of great agony once; and always some terror; so afraid one is of loneliness; of seeing to the bottom of the vessel. That is one of the experiences I have had here in some Augusts; and got then to a consciousness of what I call “reality”: a thing I see before me: something abstract; but residing in the downs or sky; beside which nothing matters; in which I shall rest and continue to exist. Reality I call it. And I fancy sometimes this is the most necessary thing to me: that which I seek. But who knows — once one takes a pen and writes? How difficult not to go making “reality” this and that, whereas it is one thing. Now perhaps this is my gift: this perhaps is what distinguishes me from other people: I think it may be rare to have so acute a sense of something like that — but again, who knows? I would like to express it too.
The following fall, thirteen days before the publication of A Room of One’s Own — that ultimate paean to the relationship between loneliness and creative vitality — Woolf revisits the subject in her diary, contemplating the strange ways in which we deny or confer validity upon our loneliness. Loneliness, after all, is an interior chill independent of externalities and often thrives precisely when our circumstances appear most enviable to the outside world — a warping of reality that is itself intensely, almost unbearably real. Woolf writes:
These October days are to me a little strained and surrounded with silence. What I mean by this last word I don’t quite know, since I have never stopped “seeing” people… No, it’s not physical silence; it’s some inner loneliness.
I was walking up Bedford Place is it — the straight street with all the boarding houses this afternoon — and I said to myself spontaneously, something like this. How I suffer. And no one knows how I suffer, walking up this street, engaged with my anguish, as I was after Thoby [Woolf’s brother] died — alone; fighting something alone. But then I had the devil to fight, and now nothing. And when I come indoors it is all so silent — I am not carrying a great rush of wheels in my head — yet I am writing… And it is autumn; and the lights are going up… and this celebrity business is quite chronic — and I am richer than I have ever been — and bought a pair of earrings today — and for all this, there is vacancy and silence somewhere in the machine. On the whole, I do not much mind; because what I like is to flash and dash from side to side, goaded on by what I call reality. If I never felt these extraordinarily pervasive strains — of unrest or rest or happiness or discomfort — I should float down into acquiescence. Here is something to fight; and when I wake early I say to myself Fight, fight. If I could catch the feeling, I would; the feeling of the singing of the real world, as one is driven by loneliness and silence from the habitable world… Anything is possible. And this curious steed, life, is genuine. Does any of this convey what I want to say? But I have not really laid hands on the emptiness after all.
Hang around the office crowd long enough and someone is sure to tell you that “jobs are obsolete”. They’ll tell you it’s the “work” that matters in that tone of voice meant to elicit wonder from a three year old grappling with his first paradox in the hope of one day giving a TED talk about ‘Grappling with Paradoxes’. It’s work with a capital ‘W’ that will eventually yield a self-driving minivan that runs on gluten. It’s work without the actual worker that will “make the world a better place” . . . for the people who are busy destroying it one TED talk at a time. It’s ‘work’ carried out by everybody except the worker, because workers, after all, cost more than the visionaries and geniuses who tend to live with their parents in upscale communities and can afford to think up ways to deal with the the world’s unwanted gluten supplies, while strapped into the car seat of their mom’s minivan.
Jobs, those ‘think-outside-the-box’ dipshits will tell you, are “soooo last century” when you consider the unwieldy and oppressive administrative aspects that are crippling enterprise and stifling creativity. ‘Work’ is precise and unencumbered by the bureaucracy necessary to maintain pensions, heath insurance, paid leave and compensation for missing limbs and brain cells. ‘Work’ frees you up to take on the burden of paperwork your former employer once took care of, leaving you plenty of time to pull out your hair and scream obscenities at a computer screen. ‘Work’ is authentic and life-affirming, while jobs are why Preparation-H was invented
Naturally, they fail to mention that not all ‘work’ pays, whereas jobs generally guarantee an income. The problem with jobs is that they sound a lot less glamorous than the more aspirational model of ‘work’, which supposedly makes you frei, and not just in the nazi sense of the word. Thus you’ll be hard pressed to meet anyone who isn’t a filmmaker, IT consultant, or “poet”. Tell people what you actually do for money and they’ll react as if you said “I kill surplus baby animals at a petting zoo with my own bare hands” or “I shoot ping pong balls out of my hoohoo in exchange for tequila shots” – as if that’s somehow worse than “leading a global team of market analysts for a European bank”. People who have jobs can fight for improved working conditions. People who ‘work’ at non-jobs as freelancers, interns or just aspirants in the field are unlikely to challenge the status quo. Thus ‘work’ is heralded as value producing, worthwhile and fulfilling, whereas jobs are for shmucks who can’t compete in the “real world”.
‘Work’ guarantees productivity since it involves spending several hours a day outlining your goals, describing how you plan to achieve them and making complex mathematical equations on spreadsheets to compare your previous goal-achieving output with your present task of writing unintelligibly upbeat minute-by-minute assessments of your “performance”. Sadly, belting out Latvian show tunes while balancing the entire contents of your desk on your head doesn’t count for ‘performance’. Nor does yodeling or swallowing flaming swords despite requiring an infinitely more useful skill set than writing highly fictionalized accounts of your usefulness to an organization that hates you by default.
‘Work’ is developing an app that can tell you the day of the week without having to consult a calendar, or a device you can wear around your wrist so you don’t have to consult a watch. With enough money thrown at it, work might even yield a solar powered data amassing drone for those times you want to gather the world’s emails and text messages in case a Bedouin somewhere harbors a less than charitable thought about your country’s democratic values, then you can vaporize his second cousin several hundred miles away at his own wedding.
‘Work’ is making a shitload of money and giving a percentage of it to a boutique girl empowerment school in a famine-ravaged African country that has a functioning runway to land your private jet twice a year for a photo op. Never mind that the famine in question is directly related to the water privatization scheme your financial instrument helped create under a Ponzi “start up” scheme or a Global Initiative spearheaded by a flaming cock and his leggy, polyglot arm candy.
Never mind that millions of people world wide, having fled from their war torn nations need jobs to survive in their new homelands, and their host countries need willing and capable hands to strengthen and expand the infrastructure necessary to support all life, and not just the soulless, oxygen-wasting, single-cell invertebrate bottom dwellers who somehow oozed their way up to the top of the food chain. Watch how fast self-employed, enterprising brown-hued individuals become “terrorists” when they compete with the government in illegal trades involving drugs and weapons. And watch just how quickly investor enthusiasm dwindles when you mention your idea for a 3-D printed guillotine despite the kind of demand worldwide that would guarantee a billion dollar return on their investment in the first week.
Jobs, with their lack of “fluidity” are for old timey, non-robotic dock workers and other “losers” who eat donuts and hide their inefficiency behind labor unions. Work, on the other hand, is for people who eat ‘cronuts’ and conceal their venality and ineptitude behind inspirational quotes. It allows a “kreator” like Kylie Jenner to mass market lip liner for tweens whose parents live on food stamps, using the money her own mother scored from a sibling’s sex tape. Before you slam the ‘self-made’ teen for merely lending her name to a forty dollar crayon while laying on her back, remember it takes ‘work’ to inspire an entire generation of girls to wish they had good surgeons and rich parents willing to pimp them.
“Work” is a white guy showing up at an indoor playground on a little scooter and ‘brain scanning’ his team for their input on a worthless idea. But mostly, it’s harnessing a temporary force of itinerant laborers with a wide range of collar colors, and releasing them as soon as they are no longer needed. It sometimes involves pep talks about the “beauty and necessity of change”, but should ‘Zen’ fail to move redundant “associates” and “team members”, having tear gas canisters lobbed at them as they are forcefully ejected from the premises will help them on their journey towards “transitioning into a new sphere of excellence” – in other words, dumpster diving alongside abandoned, feral cats until the next time a “visionary” needs help wiping his ass.
Even the French, who founded their Republic on the quaint notion of having a life outside of pushing paper in slow motion five hours a day, five days a week, are dismantling the institutions that demanded compliance to this ideal by allowing companies to reduce their workforce each time profits and earnings fall below a point that threatens a CEO’s chance to acquire another mistress. “But pushing paper in slow motion five hours a day, five days a week and with a five month summer vacation thrown in, is hardly productive”, one might argue. “Think of what they could do with a 15 hour work day a few months of the year, seven days a week with five minute bathroom breaks at five day intervals . . . and sans vacance!” In the US, it’s called “Work Life Balance”. Elsewhere, it’s called ‘Feudalism’.
Rather than enjoying a glass of lunch wine on the company dime, as is their right enshrined in the constitution just above “the right to expound authoritatively about cinema”, French workers could be pushing buttons at the speed of light to develop a GM, petrol-based product that looks and smells like cheese. Or working out the logistics of bottling wine in Bangladesh before being forcibly ejected from their desks and escorted out of the building when Chinese demand for artificial stem cell grape flavored beverages reaches its peak. Instead they want to enjoy decent food with a roof over their heads, and not be clubbed over the head by a Nazi gendarme while exercising a basic democratic right to protest having cake shoved up their asses and being told to ‘eat it’.
Having jobs that didn’t demand too much work is why the French excelled at philosophy, sex and gastronomy, and why their more “industrious” counterparts in the US excel at violence, porn and obesity. For the sake of the economy, we must all demand jobs that require not too much work – jobs that free us up to rethink a system that would sooner crack open our skulls with a police truncheon than allow us to just do our jobs without all the bullshit ‘work’. Better yet, why force anyone into a job if he/she is better suited to not working in a Poundland outlet in the outskirts of Manchester, unloading merchandise in a warehouse while tethered to life support oxygen tent in exchange for ‘benefits’. (Yes, England, I’m talking to you!) Or as Buckminster Fuller famously said before he was mercifully spared the sermons about “following your passion” by the Business Guru sect of late Capitalism:
“We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.”
“The full humanization of man requires the breakthrough from the possession-centered to the activity-centered orientation, from selfishness and egotism to solidarity and altruism.”
A pioneer of what he called “radical-humanistic psychoanalysis,” the great German social psychologist and philosopher Erich Fromm (March 23, 1900–March 18, 1980) was one of the most luminous minds of the twentieth century and a fountain of salve for the most abiding struggles of being human.
In the mid-1970s, twenty years after his influential treatise on the art of loving and four decades after legendary anthropologist Margaret Mead turned to him for difficult advice, Fromm became interested in the most basic, most challenging art of human life — the art of being. At the height of a new era that had begun prioritizing products over people and consumption over creativity, Fromm penned a short, potent book titled To Have or To Be? — an inquiry into how the great promise of progress, seeded by the Industrial Revolution, failed us in our most elemental search for meaning and well-being. But the question proved far too complex to tackle in a single volume, so Fromm left out a significant portion of his manuscript.
Those pages, in many ways even richer and more insightful than the original book, were later published as The Art of Being (public library) — a sort of field guide, all the timelier today, to how we can shift from the having mode of existence, which is systematically syphoning our happiness, to a being mode.
Fromm frames the inquiry:
The full humanization of man requires the breakthrough from the possession-centered to the activity-centered orientation, from selfishness and egotism to solidarity and altruism.
But any effort to outline the steps of this breakthrough, Fromm cautions, must begin with the foundational question of what the goal of living is — that is, what we consider the meaning of life to be, beyond its biological purpose. He writes:
It seems that nature — or if you will, the process of evolution — has endowed every living being with the wish to live, and whatever he believes to be his reasons are only secondary thoughts by which he rationalizes this biologically given impulse.
That we want to live, that we like to live, are facts that require no explanation. But if we ask how we want to live — what we seek from life, what makes life meaningful for us — then indeed we deal with questions (and they are more or less identical) to which people will give many different answers. Some will say they want love, others will choose power, others security, others sensuous pleasure and comfort, others fame; but most would probably agree in the statement that what they want is happiness. This is also what most philosophers and theologians have declared to be the aim of human striving. However, if happiness covers such different, and mostly mutually exclusive, contents as the ones just mentioned, it becomes an abstraction and thus rather useless. What matters is to examine what the term “happiness” means…
Most definitions of happiness, Fromm observes, converge at some version of having our needs met and our wishes fulfilled — but this raises the question of what it is we actually want. (As Milan Kundera memorably wrote, “we can never know what to want.”) It’s essentially a question about human nature — or, rather, about the interplay of nature and nurture mediated by norms. Adding to the vocabulary of gardening as a metaphor for understanding happiness and making sense of mastery, Fromm illustrates his point:
This is indeed well understood by any gardener. The aim of the life of a rosebush is to be all that is inherent as potentiality in the rosebush: that its leaves are well developed and that its flower is the most perfect rose that can grow out of this seed. The gardener knows, then, in order to reach this aim he must follow certain norms that have been empirically found. The rosebush needs a specific kind of soil, of moisture, of temperature, of sun and shade. It is up to the gardener to provide these things if he wants to have beautiful roses. But even without his help the rosebush tries to provide itself with the optimum of needs. It can do nothing about moisture and soil, but it can do something about sun and temperature by growing “crooked,” in the direction of the sun, provided there is such an opportunity. Why would not the same hold true for the human species?
Even if we had no theoretical knowledge about the reasons for the norms that are conducive to man’s optimal growth and functioning, experience tells us just as much as it tells the gardener. Therein lies the reason that all great teachers of man have arrived at essentially the same norms for living, the essence of these norms being that the overcoming of greed, illusions, and hate, and the attainment of love and compassion, are the conditions for attaining optimal being. Drawing conclusions from empirical evidence, even if we cannot explain the evidence theoretically, is a perfectly sound and by no means “unscientific” method, although the scientists’ ideal will remain, to discover the laws behind the empirical evidence.
He distills the basic principle of life’s ultimate aim:
The goal of living [is] to grow optimally according to the conditions of human existence and thus to become fully what one potentially is; to let reason or experience guide us to the understanding of what norms are conducive to well-being, given the nature of man that reason enables us to understand.
But one of the essential ingredients of well-being, Fromm notes, has been gruesomely warped by capitalist industrial society — the idea of freedom and its attainment by the individual:
Liberation has been exclusively applied to liberation from outside forces; by the middle class from feudalism, by the working class from capitalism, by the peoples in Africa and Asia from imperialism.
Such external liberation, Fromm argues, is essentially political liberation — an inherently limiting pseudo-liberation, which can obscure the emergence of various forms of imprisonment and entrapment within the political system. He writes:
This is the case in Western democracy, where political liberation hides the fact of dependency in many disguises… Man can be a slave even without being put in chains… The outer chains have simply been put inside of man. The desires and thoughts that the suggestion apparatus of society fills him with, chain him more thoroughly than outer chains. This is so because man can at least be aware of outer chains but be unaware of inner chains, carrying them with the illusion that he is free. He can try to overthrow the outer chains, but how can he rid himself of chains of whose existence he is unaware?
Any attempt to overcome the possibly fatal crisis of the industrialized part of the world, and perhaps of the human race, must begin with the understanding of the nature of both outer and inner chains; it must be based on the liberation of man in the classic, humanist sense as well as in the modern, political and social sense… The only realistic aim is total liberation, a goal that may well be called radical (or revolutionary) humanism.
The two most pernicious chains keeping us from liberation, Fromm observes, are our culture’s property-driven materialism and our individual intrinsic tendencies toward narcissism. He writes:
If “well-being” — [defined as] functioning well as a person, not as an instrument — is the supreme goal of one’s efforts, two specific ways stand out that lead to the attainment of this goal: Breaking through one’s narcissism and breaking through the property structure of one’s existence.
He offers the crispest definition of narcissism I’ve encountered (something that took Kafka a 47-page letter to articulate):
Narcissism is an orientation in which all one’s interest and passion are directed to one’s own person: one’s body, mind, feelings, interests… For the narcissistic person, only he and what concerns him are fully real; what is outside, what concerns others, is real only in a superficial sense of perception; that is to say, it is real for one’s senses and for one’s intellect. But it is not real in a deeper sense, for our feeling or understanding. He is, in fact, aware only of what is outside, inasmuch as it affects him. Hence, he has no love, no compassion, no rational, objective judgment. The narcissistic person has built an invisible wall around himself. He is everything, the world is nothing. Or rather: He is the world.
But because narcissism can come in many guises, Fromm cautions, it can be particularly challenging to detect in oneself in order to then eradicate — and yet without doing so, “the further way to self-completion is blocked.”
A parallel peril to well-being comes from the egotism and selfishness seeded by our ownership-driven society, a culture that prioritizes having over being by making property its primary mode of existence. Fromm writes:
A person living in this mode is not necessarily very narcissistic. He may have broken through the shell of his narcissism, have an adequate appreciation of reality outside himself, not necessarily be “in love with himself”; he knows who he is and who the others are, and can well distinguish between subjective experience and reality. Nevertheless, he wants everything for himself; has no pleasure in giving, in sharing, in solidarity, in cooperation, in love. He is a closed fortress, suspicious of others, eager to take and most reluctant to give.
Growth, he argues, requires a dual breakthrough — of narcissism and of property-driven existence. Although the first steps toward this breaking from bondage are bound to be anxiety-producing, this initial discomfort is but a paltry price for the larger rewards of well-being awaiting us on the other side of the trying transformation:
If a person has the will and the determination to loosen the bars of his prison of narcissism and selfishness, when he has the courage to tolerate the intermittent anxiety, he experiences the first glimpses of joy and strength that he sometimes attains. And only then a decisive new factor enters into the dynamics of the process. This new experience becomes the decisive motivation for going ahead and following the path he has charted… [An] experience of well-being — fleeting and small as it may be — … becomes the most powerful motivation for further progress…
Awareness, will, practice, tolerance of fear and of new experience, they are all necessary if transformation of the individual is to succeed. At a certain point the energy and direction of inner forces have changed to the point where an individual’s sense of identity has changed, too. In the property mode of existence the motto is: “I am what I have.” After the breakthrough it is “I am what I do” (in the sense of unalienated activity); or simply, “I am what I am.”
While the Danube Valle civilization isn’t as famous as other ancient cultures around the globe, is it one of the oldest civilization to exist in Europe, developing from around 5,500 and 3,500 BC in an area known today as the Balkans, a vast area of land that stretches from Northern Greece to Slovakia (South to North), and Croatia to Romania (West to East).
The Danube civilization was one of the most influential and important cultures in south-eastern Europe, being among the first civilizations to develop copper tools, advanced architecture, including two-story houses, design and production of furniture, and most importantly a writing system. All of this occurred while most parts of Europe were in the Stone Age, and advanced development was nowhere to be seen. This ancient civilization from the Balkans developed unprecedented skills like weaving, leather processing, clothes manufacturing and they invented the wheel.
The Vinca Symbols (Source: Wikipedia)
However, the most prominent feature of the Danube Valley Civilization is without a doubt, the controversial written language they developed. Even though many archeologists believe the Danube Valley script isn’t a written language but a collection of geometric shapes, others believe that this is one of the first writings systems to ever appear on Earth. In fact, if this theory is proven to be accurate, it would mean that it is the OLDEST written language ever found on Earth, predating the well-known Sumerian Writings in Mesopotamia and the Dispilo Tablet which according to researchers dates back to 5360 BC.
“One can never be alone enough to write,”Susan Sontag observed. Solitude, in fact, seems central to many great writers’ daily routines — so much so, it appears, that part of the writer’s curse might be the ineffable struggle to submit to the spell of solitude and escape the grip of loneliness at the same time.
In October of 1954, Ernest Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. But he didn’t exactly live every writer’s dream: First, he told the press that Carl Sandburg, Isak Dinesen and Bernard Berenson were far more worthy of the honor, but he could use the prize money; then, depressed and recovering from two consecutive plane crashes that had nearly killed him, he decided against traveling to Sweden altogether. Choosing not to attend the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm on December 10, 1954, Hemingway asked John C. Cabot, the United States Ambassador to Sweden at the time, to read his Nobel acceptance speech, found in the 1972 biography Hemingway: The Writer as Artist (public library). At a later date, Hemingway recorded the speech in his own voice. Hear an excerpt, then read the transcript of the complete speech below:
Having no facility for speech-making and no command of oratory nor any domination of rhetoric, I wish to thank the administrators of the generosity of Alfred Nobel for this Prize.
No writer who knows the great writers who did not receive the Prize can accept it other than with humility. There is no need to list these writers. Everyone here may make his own list according to his knowledge and his conscience.
It would be impossible for me to ask the Ambassador of my country to read a speech in which a writer said all of the things which are in his heart. Things may not be immediately discernible in what a man writes, and in this sometimes he is fortunate; but eventually they are quite clear and by these and the degree of alchemy that he possesses he will endure or be forgotten.
Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.
For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.
How simple the writing of literature would be if it were only necessary to write in another way what has been well written. It is because we have had such great writers in the past that a writer is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him.
I have spoken too long for a writer. A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it. Again I thank you.
By the time you get this letter, I’ll have gotten hold of some of the recent issues of The Sun. Unless it looks totally worthless, I’ll let my offer stand. And don’t think that my arrogance is unintentional: it’s just that I’d rather offend you now than after I started working for you.
Fresh out of the military working his first job as a copy boy at Time magazine in New York City. Hunter S. Thompson was already frustrated that his profession was “overrun with dullards, bums. and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence.”
Sick of being broke, hunter wrote a letter to Jack Scott, the editorial director of the Vancouver Sun, offering to move to British Columbia, to work at the new paper.
TO JACK SCOTT, VANCOUVER SUN
October 1, 1958 57 Perry Street New York City
I got a hell of a kick reading the piece Time magazine did this week on The Sun. In addition to wishing you the best of luck, I’d also like to offer my services.
Since I haven’t seen a copy of the “new” Sun yet, I’ll have to make this a tentative offer. I stepped into a dung-hole the last time I took a job with a paper I didn’t know anything about (see enclosed clippings) and I’m not quite ready to go charging up another blind alley.
By the time you get this letter, I’ll have gotten hold of some of the recent issues of The Sun. Unless it looks totally worthless, I’ll let my offer stand. And don’t think that my arrogance is unintentional: it’s just that I’d rather offend you now than after I started working for you.
I didn’t make myself clear to the last man I worked for until after I took the job. It was as if the Marquis de Sade had suddenly found himself working for Billy Graham. The man despised me, of course, and I had nothing but contempt for him and everything he stood for. If you asked him, he’d tell you that I’m “not very likable, (that I) hate people, (that I) just want to be left alone, and (that I) feel too superior to mingle with the average person.” (That’s a direct quote from a memo he sent to the publisher.)
Nothing beats having good references.
Of course if you asked some of the other people I’ve worked for, you’d get a different set of answers. If you’re interested enough to answer this letter, I’ll be glad to furnish you with a list of references — including the lad I work for now.
The enclosed clippings should give you a rough idea of who I am. It’s a year old, however, and I’ve changed a bit since it was written. I’ve taken some writing courses from Columbia in my spare time, learned a hell of a lot about the newspaper business, and developed a healthy contempt for journalism as a profession.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity. If this is what you’re trying to get The Sun away from, then I think I’d like to work for you.
Most of my experience has been in sports writing, but I can write everything from warmongering propaganda to learned book reviews.
I can work 25 hours a day if necessary, live on any reasonable salary, and don’t give a black damn for job security, office politics, or adverse public relations.
I would rather be on the dole than work for a paper I was ashamed of.
It’s a long way from here to British Columbia, but I think I’d enjoy the trip.
“In any art you’re allowed to steal anything if you can make it better.”
By Maria Popova
“As a writer you should not judge. You should understand,” Ernest Hemingway (July 21, 1899–July 2, 1961) counseled in his 1935 Esquire compendium of writing advice, addressed to an archetypal young correspondent but based on a real-life encounter that had taken place a year earlier.
In 1934, a 22-year-old aspiring writer named Arnold Samuelson set out to meet his literary hero, hoping to steal a few moments with Hemingway to talk about writing. The son of Norwegian immigrant wheat farmers, he had just completed his coursework in journalism at the University of Minnesota, but had refused to pay the $5 diploma fee. Convinced that his literary education would be best served by apprenticing himself to Hemingway, however briefly, he hitchhiked atop a coal car from Minnesota to Key West. “It seemed a damn fool thing to do,” Samuelson later recalled, “but a twenty-two-year-old tramp during the Great Depression didn’t have to have much reason for what he did.” Unreasonable though the quest may have been, he ended up staying with Hemingway for almost an entire year, over the course of which he became the literary titan’s only true protégé.
Samuelson recorded the experience and its multitude of learnings in a manuscript that was only discovered by his daughter after his death in 1981. It was eventually published as With Hemingway: A Year in Key West and Cuba (public library) — the closest thing to a psychological profile of the great writer.
Shortly after the young man’s arrival in Key West, Hemingway got right down to granting him what he had traveled there seeking. In one of their first exchanges, he hands Samuelson a handwritten list and instructs him:
Here’s a list of books any writer should have read as a part of his education… If you haven’t read these, you just aren’t educated. They represent different types of writing. Some may bore you, others might inspire you and others are so beautifully written they’ll make you feel it’s hopeless for you to try to write.
This is the list of heartening and hopeless-making masterworks that Hemingway handed to young Samuelson:
Not on the handwritten list but offered in the conversation surrounding the exchange is what Hemingway considered “the best book an American ever wrote,” the one that “marks the beginning of American literature” — Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (public library).
Alongside these edifying essentials, Hemingway offered young Samuelson some concrete writing advice. Advocating for staying with what psychologists now call flow, he begins with the psychological discipline of the writing process:
The most important thing I’ve learned about writing is never write too much at a time… Never pump yourself dry. Leave a little for the next day. The main thing is to know when to stop. Don’t wait till you’ve written yourself out. When you’re still going good and you come to an interesting place and you know what’s going to happen next, that’s the time to stop. Then leave it alone and don’t think about it; let your subconscious mind do the work.
The next morning, when you’ve had a good sleep and you’re feeling fresh, rewrite what you wrote the day before. When you come to the interesting place and you know what is going to happen next, go on from there and stop at another high point of interest. That way, when you get through, your stuff is full of interesting places and when you write a novel you never get stuck and you make it interesting as you go along. Every day go back to the beginning and rewrite the whole thing and when it gets too long, read at least two or three chapters before you start to write and at least once a week go back to the start. That way you make it one piece. And when you go over it, cut out everything you can. The main thing is to know what to leave out. The way you tell whether you’re going good is by what you can throw away. If you can throw away stuff that would make a high point of interest in somebody else’s story, you know you’re going good.
He then returns to the psychological payoff of this trying practice:
Don’t get discouraged because there’s a lot of mechanical work to writing. There is, and you can’t get out of it. I rewrote A Farewell to Arms at least fifty times. You’ve got to work it over. The first draft of anything is shit. When you first start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none, but after you learn to work it’s your object to convey everything to the reader so that he remembers it not as a story he had read but something that happened to himself. That’s the true test of writing. When you can do that, the reader gets the kick and you don’t get any. You just get hard work and the better you write the harder it is because every story has to be better than the last one. It’s the hardest work there is. I like to do and can do many things better than I can write, but when I don’t write I feel like shit. I’ve got the talent and I feel that I’m wasting it.
When Samuelson asks how one can know whether one has any talent, Hemingway replies:
You can’t. Sometimes you can go on writing for years before it shows. If a man’s got it in him, it will come out sometime. The only thing I can advise you is to keep on writing but it’s a damned tough racket. The only reason I make any money at it is I’m a sort of literary pirate. Out of every ten stories I write, only one is any good and I throw the other nine away.
Hemingway tempers this with a word of advice on ambition, self-comparison, and originality:
Never compete with living writers. You don’t know whether they’re good or not. Compete with the dead ones you know are good. Then when you can pass them up you know you’re going good. You should have read all the good stuff so that you know what has been done, because if you have a story like one somebody else has written, yours isn’t any good unless you can write a better one. In any art you’re allowed to steal anything if you can make it better, but the tendency should always be upward instead of down. And don’t ever imitate anybody. All style is, is the awkwardness of a writer in stating a fact. If you have a way of your own, you are fortunate, but if you try to write like somebody else, you’ll have the awkwardness of the other writer as well as your own.
“I felt a twinge, a curious yearning, imperceptible to passersby, my mother, the trees, or the clouds.”
Source: The Swan and the Blue Sail: Patti Smith on the Creative Impulse and the Childhood Epiphany in Which She Knew She Was an Artist – Brain Pickings
By Maria Popova
Jan 10, 2016
“I felt a twinge, a curious yearning, imperceptible to passersby, my mother, the trees, or the clouds.”
By Maria Popova
How does one become an artist — not in a practical sense, not by some external measure, but by an invisible and intimate surrender to the creative impulse? It often happens in a single moment of recognition — a point of contact with some aspect of the miraculous in some aspect of the mundane, catalyzing an overwhelming sense of the unity of things and an uncontainable desire to emanate that sense outwardly; to share it, in some form, with others — whose otherness is suddenly dissipated by the very impulse.
For Virginia Woolf, it was an epiphany by the flowerbed; for Pablo Neruda, the childhood incident of the hand through the fence; for Albert Einstein, his first encounter with a compass.
For Patti Smith, one of the most radiant creative spirits of our time, it was a similarly precise and transcendent childhood experience. In Just Kids (public library) — the magnificent memoir that gave us Smith on reading as a form of prayer and her lettuce soup recipe for starving artists — she recounts what she considers to be her first memory of the creative impulse:
When I was very young, my mother took me for walks in Humboldt Park, along the edge of the Prairie River. I have vague memories, like impressions on glass plates, of an old boathouse, a circular band shell, an arched stone bridge. The narrows of the river emptied into a wide lagoon and I saw upon its surface a singular miracle. A long curving neck rose from a dress of white plumage.
Swan, my mother said, sensing my excitement. It pattered the bright water, flapping its great wings, and lifted into the sky.
The word alone hardly attested to its magnificence nor conveyed the emotion it produced. The sight of it generated an urge I had no words for, a desire to speak of the swan, to say something of its whiteness, the explosive nature of its movement, and the slow beating of its wings.
The swan became one with the sky. I struggled to find words to describe my own sense of it. Swan, I repeated, not entirely satisfied, and I felt a twinge, a curious yearning, imperceptible to passersby, my mother, the trees, or the clouds.
In this excerpt from her altogether terrific conversation with The New York Public Library’s Paul Holdengräber, Smith reads the swan passage, punctuated by a most endearing two-way volley of graciousness:
Smith revisits the animating presence of the creative impulse in her most recent memoir, M Train (public library) — one of the best books of 2015, a beautiful exploration of time, transformation, and how the radiance of love redeems the pain of loss. In her appearance on NPR’s consistently stimulating On Point, Smith reads a passage from the final pages of the book — a lyrical meditation on the seemingly arbitrary fragments that compose the magical mosaic of life’s creative force:
We seek to stay present, even as the ghosts attempt to draw us away. Our father manning the loom of eternal return. Our mother wandering toward paradise, releasing the thread. In my way of thinking, anything is possible. Life is at the bottom of things and belief at the top, while the creative impulse, dwelling in the center, informs all. We imagine a house, a rectangle of hope. A room with a single bed with a pale coverlet, a few precious books, a stamp album. Walls papered in faded floral fall away and burst as a newborn meadow speckled with sun and a stream emptying into a greater stream where a small boat awaits with two glowing oars and one blue sail.
Complement Just Kids and M Train with Smith’s advice on life, her poetic tribute to Robert Mapplethorpe, and her fifty favorite books.
On November 8, 1970 — three days before his forty-eight birthday and shortly after his play Happy Birthday, Wanda June opened in New York — Vonnegut showed up at an NYU classroom as a guest lecturer with a handful of handwritten talking points. In the fifty meandering minutes that followed, the beloved author opened up about his life and his writing with unparalleled candor, discussing his mother’s mental illness, being raised by his African American nanny Ida, what it takes to be a writer, and the ultimate task of the artist.
The talk was recorded and broadcast on New York’s WBAI public radio station, and has been preserved by the Pacifica Radio Archives. Forty-five years later, the wonderful folks of Blank on Blank have brought an excerpt of it to life in one of their signature animations — please enjoy:
I’ve heard that a writer is lucky because he cures himself every day with his work. What everybody is well advised to do is to not write about your own life — this is, if you want to write fast. You will be writing about your own life anyway — but you won’t know it.
And, the thing is, in order to sit alone and work alone all day long, you must be a terrible overreacter. You’re sitting there doing what paranoids do — putting together clues, making them add up… Putting the fact that they put me in room 471… What does that mean and everything?
Well, nothing means anything — except the artist makes his living by pretending, by putting it in a meaningful hole, though no such holes exist.
For Vonnegut’s most dedicated fans, the full 50-minute recording is available in its entirety:
“Our citizens should know the urgent facts…but they don’t because our media serves imperial, not popular interests. They lie, deceive, connive and suppress what everyone needs to know, substituting managed news misinformation and rubbish for hard truths…”—Oliver Stone