Decades before Kickstarter, a vision for how micro-patronage can help creators “ascend to new heights” and “gain in confidence, in self-esteem and in fortitude.” As a great proponent of the mutual gift of gratitude to those who touch our lives in a meaningful way and a joyful practitioner of sending regular notes of appreciation to these generous people in my own life, I was extraordinarily moved by a letter of gratitude that legendary composer Leonard Bernstein sent to one of his big heroes and mentors, the Russian-born conductor, composer, and Boston Symphony Orchestra music director Serge Koussevitzky.
A posthumous diagnosis of the paralyzing mental malady that afflicted one of humanity’s greatest minds.
How the lies we tell each other can become our greatest springboard for self-transcendence. “What is love but acceptance of the other, whatever he is,” Anaïs Nin wrote in a letter to her then-lover, Henry Miller.
“Artists have no choice but to express their lives.” At the age of fifty-three, the influential artist Anne Truitt (March 16, 1921–December 23, 2004) confronted the existential discomfort any creative person feels in facing a major retrospective of his or her work — the Corcoran Gallery of Art had just staged one of Truitt’s.
How to counter the gradual narrowing of our horizons. “Keep your baby eyes (which are the eyes of genius) on what we don’t know,” pioneering investigative journalist Lincoln Steffens wrote in a beautiful 1926 letter of life-advice to his baby son.
Wearable emotional memories from John Hodgman, Marina Abramovic, Piper Kerman, Pat Mahoney, Debbie Millman, Paola Antonelli, Kenneth Goldsmith, Meghan O’Rourke, Rosanne Cash, and more.
How to sculpt an environment that optimizes creative flow and summons relevant knowledge from your long-term memory through the right retrieval cues.
A gentle illustrated reminder that we can’t love what we don’t know. “Love,” wrote Leo Tolstoy in his poignant letters to Gandhi on why we hurt one another, “represents the highest and indeed the only law of life, as every man knows and feels in the depths of his heart (and as we see most clearly in children)…” Tolstoy believed that if only we managed to see through our superficial differences and our fear of the other’s otherness, we’d recognize instantly the universe’s basic “law of love” — something to which we are born attuned, only to forget as we enter adulthood.
“Smashes,” “crushes,” “spoons,” and other curious nineteenth-century relationship varieties. Thoreau used to lie awake at night and “think of friendship and its possibilities,” while his dear friend Emerson, in contemplating the secret of friendship, marveled, “What is so delicious as a just and firm encounter of two, in a thought, in a feeling?
A timeless guide to “understanding the truth that does not merely inform the mind but liberates the soul.” “What is essential is invisible to the eye,” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry memorably wrote in The Little Prince.
“I don’t put off to tomorrow doing what I must do, right now, to find out what my secret self needs, wants, desires with all its heart.” Ray Bradbury (August 22, 1920–June 5, 2012) was not only one of the most celebrated writers of the past century and an invaluable source of practical advice on the craft, such as the creative benefits of list-making and the secret to a fruitful daily routine, but also a modern sage with a seemingly bottomless well of quotable wisdom on everything from failure to space exploration to the interplay of emotion and intelligence to the importance of working with love.
“The strongest and fieriest emotions of life defy all analytical insight.” Something magical happens when a great artist interprets a great author — one need only look at William Blake’s paintings for Milton’s Paradise Lost, Picasso’s 1934 drawings for a naughty ancient Greek comedy, Matisse’s 1935 etchings for Ulysses, and Salvador Dalí’s literary illustrations for Cervantes’s Don Quixote, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and the essays of Montaigne.
The chemistry of ridable explosions. In recounting the riveting experience of what it’s like to launch on a Space Shuttle, pioneering astronaut Sally Ride vividly recalled how “the shuttle leaps off the launch pad in a cloud of steam and a trail of fire.” But what produces this fiery magic?
“Love is the only way to rescue humanity from all ills.” In 1908, Indian revolutionary Taraknath Das wrote to Leo Tolstoy, by then one of the most famous public figures in the world, asking for the author’s support in India’s independence from British colonial rule.
“The war of an artist with his society is a lover’s war, and he does, at his best, what lovers do, which is to reveal the beloved to himself and, with that revelation, to make freedom real.” “The sole purpose of human existence,” Carl Jung wrote in his reflections of life and death in 1957, “is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” Five years later, in one of his least well-known but most enchanting works, the great novelist, playwright, poet, essayist, and cultural critic James Baldwin argued for this existential kindling of light as the sole purpose of the artist’s life.
A gentle reminder that everything is a matter of perspective. It’s hard enough for grown-ups to grasp that distances shape how we relate to the world, so how is a child to comprehend the importance of positional relationships in making sense of the world?
“Something is always far away… After all we hardly know our own depths.” “To see the Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats,” the poet Archibald MacLeish wrote after Apollo 8′s legendary “Earthrise” photograph made its debut in 1968, “is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold…” Its unprecedented perspective of distance seemed, paradoxically enough, to bring us earthlings closer together, to desire connection to one another more strongly than ever before.
“Catering to bad taste, which we so readily attribute to the average reader, merely perpetuates that mediocrity.” “Paul’s a gem [who] works on perfecting the exterior of a curmudgeon,” Steve Jobs reminisced about working with legendary art director and graphic designer Paul Rand (1914–1996), adding, “He’s perfected it to new heights, actually.” Indeed, Rand is remembered as much for being one of the most significant visual communicators and commercial artists in history as he is for his famous grouchiness — a fact that renders his little-known vintage children’s books a doubly intriguing paradoxical curiosity.
“There is nothing quite so tragic as a young cynic.” In 1982, nearly a decade after their spectacular conversation about freedom, beloved poet, memoirist, dramatist, actor, producer, filmmaker, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou and celebrated interviewer Bill Moyers traveled together to the beautiful Texas countryside to discuss the ugliest aspects of human nature at a conference titled Facing Evil.
“It’s annoying for others to have to hear you.” We live in a culture that often romanticizes books as the tender and exhilarating love-making to the “orgasm without release” of Alan Watts’s admonition against our media gluttony — an antidote to the frantic multitasking of modern media, refuge from the alleged evils of technology, an invitation for slow, reflective thinking in a fast-paced age obsessed with productivity.