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Emerson on What to Write About

“The highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato and Milton is that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men, but what they thought.”


Alan Watts on the Artist’s Job

“The artist’s problem is to avoid changing the rules so radically that no bridge remains over which the public can follow him.”

Alan Watts

Every Morning I am Pulled Apart

Every Morning I am Pulled Apart Every morning I need an hour or so to remind myself that the significance and notoriety I seek won’t make me feel what I think they will, won’t give me what I feel I need.

I am already as significant as I can be. There’s other columns in the spreadsheet — notoriety, influence — they have no real weight to me if I survive past my 60s.

I am already as significant, as important, as meaningful as I can be. Every morning that feels lame. Every morning I have to breathe through it, sink into it. Every morning I remind myself, ask myself to live in the way of my already-there-ness, creating from rest instead thrusting outward at more, always more.

I am ripped apart by this every morning. The call for significance, the impulse to matter more, to be more than the average person erupts every morning like survival’s older brother, an animal instinct evolved. Even as I write this: will they see it? Will they see me? All flows from the source. Every morning I search it out, reminding, re-membering.

And every day I forget: I clutch and reach. Leaning, top heavy, I end the day off balance. I bring myself to my son, my wife, this way. I bring myself to movies and shows and books this way and I thrill: here is the thing I want, to make THIS. I lean into them. Do they support me or just my lean? Is this codependence?

Everyday I remind myself: I am enough. And everyday I forget. I am everyday pulled apart and reformed from the scraps. I hear Allan Watts tell me I am not a put together thing, I am the pulling, I am togetherness, I am all of this. I see it for true, yet there’s some dark magnet inside that won’t let me transform, a black hole in the deep, pull-push of… of what? Creativity? Life-death? Insecurity? Life-death seems best but too on the nose. What’s really here is: WILL THIS MAKE ME FEEL IT!? I am an inconsolable child, my parents love me and whisper over me but I rage on incapable.

There is deep debt within me; there is also enormous wealth. This year, my 33rd, is the first I’m able to say: everything is OK.

“There’s a wonderful moment that comes when you realize, ‘I’m not striving for anything. What I’m doing now is not a means to achieving something later.’ Youth has always to think that way. Every decision a young person makes is a commitment to a life course, and if you make a bad decision, that angle, by the time you get [older] you’re far off course. But after a certain age there’s no future, and suddenly the present becomes rich, it becomes that thing in itself which you are now experiencing.” ~ Joseph Campbell

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This post was originally published at Medium.

Gary Snyder on the Surprise of a Poem

“I finished off the trail crew season and went on a long mountain meditation walk for ten days across some wilderness. During that process—thinking about things and my life—I just dropped poetry. I don’t want to sound precious, but in some sense I did drop it. Then I started writing poems that were better. From that time forward I always looked on the poems I wrote as gifts that were not essential to my life; if I never wrote another one, it wouldn’t be a great tragedy. Ever since, every poem I’ve written has been like a surprise… You get a good poem and you don’t know where it came from. ‘Did I say that?’ And so all you feel is: you feel humility and you feel gratitude. And you’d feel a little uncomfortable, I think, if you capitalized too much on that without admitting at some point that you got it from the Muse, or whoever, wherever, or however.”

Gary Snyder

Lewis Hyde on Creation vs. Invocation

“An essential portion of any artist’s labor is not creation so much as invocation. Part of the work cannot be made, it must be received; and we cannot have this gift except, perhaps, by supplication, by courting, by creating within ourselves that “begging bowl” to which the gift is drawn.”

Lewis Hyde

May Sarton on the Only Real Deprivation

“There is only one real deprivation, I decided this morning, and that is not to be able to give one’s gift to those one loves most … The gift turned inward, unable to be given, becomes a heavy burden, even sometimes a kind of poison. It is as though the flow of life were backed up.”

May Sarton

“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

Jesus via Gospel of Thomas

Elizabeth Gilbert on Work, Fear and Time

“The work wants to be made and it wants to be made by you.”

Elizabeth Gilbert

This was an excellent interview. Never read her books, just became an instant fan. Below are some more quotes from this interview (I couldn’t stop collecting them).

On not enough time

One of the most important things I was ever given as a piece of advice was from a woman I was complaining to in my 20s about how I didn’t have enough time to pursue my writing because of all the other obligations I had in my life. The eternal complaint; you’re never going to meet another creative person who doesn’t have that essential, fundamental complaint. They’re dreaming of some slow, grass growing place where they can gently allow these things to ferment. Everyone fantasizes about that, it never comes. I was just sort of griping to her, and she said: what are you willing to give up to have what you really want? And it was such a searingly important question to me at that time. And she also said, “what’s your favorite tv show?” I said the Sopranos, and she said “not anymore! You’re done watching evening television. What are you willing to give up in order to have what you say you want?” Of course you have to know what you want.

On how the work feels about you

I love it when people let themselves love something that they made because it loves you, it wanted to work with you, it came to you because it wanted to be made manifest and it tapped on your shoulder and said “do you want to be a collaborator with me?” because it liked you. … Most of us like to be liked and so does inspiration and creativity. All this stuff likes to be appreciated. Just say “I welcome you, I love you, I want to work with you.”

On the voice of self doubt

I have an answer in the chamber when the dark evil demon in my head says, “who the hell do you think you are trying to do this!?” I realized long ago that that evil psychotic demon in your head who says that you’re worthless, that’s the only question he ever asks: who the hell do you think you are? But if you take the tone of voice away from him, maybe he’s just curious. Maybe because you’re insecure you’re hearing it as an assault, but he’s really, like, “hey, who are you? Who do you think you are?” And so, I just answer him now, really sincerely. “Hey, thanks for asking! I’ll tell you who I am: I am a child of God just like everyone else and I am a constituent of creation and therefore I have every right in the world to participate in its unfolding.”

On marriage partner expectations

Here’s what you’re putting on (your spouse): they have to be incredibly sexually exciting to me forever. They have to be my best friend. They have to be my soulmate. They have to be my intellectual match. They have to be the perfect parent for the kind of parenting I want to do. They have to fit in to my family and my community and all my friends and be interested in the same stuff that I’m interested in. When you start to quantify what people are expecting out of this it’s kind of overwhelming and maybe a little bit unrealistic.

On the big fear mistake

Here’s the mistake we make with fear: we hate it, we fear it, we resent it and we want it gone. And the biggest mistake we make with it is that we don’t start by showing it our enormous gratitude. Because before everything else, before we bitch about how it holds us back and stopping us, start with ‘you’re here because your fear has saved your life.’ You literally owe your life to this thing. You’re here because your ancestors survived because they were terrified enough to save their own life. You’re here because you didn’t get into the car with that guy, because you got out of the ocean when the waves were too big. And all you want to do is be mad at it, the most loyal protector of your bodily life. So, before you start hating on it, just take a moment and say to it, ‘thank you so much for all the times that you stood in front of that car for me, took a bullet for me, stopped me from doing that stupid thing. I owe you literally everything.’ Start with that. When your fear rises up, start there, say thank you. And then explain what you’re doing and why you don’t need its services right now. ‘Thanks so much, I know you’re concerned for me, but you can wait offstage and I’ll come join you when I’m done.’ That’s what I’ve learned about fear: respect it, admire it, thank it and then just ask it to stand down, no ones going to get hurt, I’m just writing a poem.

“Whenever you start to question your own artistic choices, just remember: Picasso drew a butt.”

Patrick Rothfuss

Stephen Colbert on the Moment Comedy Chose Him

“[describes a comedian bombing] If failure of this scale can cause this much joy in anyone then this is the healthiest thing I could do with the rest of my life and I will do nothing else. And I’ve never looked back from that moment.”

Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert on Grief

“I was left alone a lot after Dad and the boys died…. And it was just me and Mom for a long time,” he said. “And by her example am I not bitter. By her example. She was not. Broken, yes. Bitter, no.” Maybe, he said, she had to be that for him. He has said this before—that even in those days of unremitting grief, she drew on her faith that the only way to not be swallowed by sorrow, to in fact recognize that our sorrow is inseparable from our joy, is to always understand our suffering, ourselves, in the light of eternity. What is this in the light of eternity? Imagine being a parent so filled with your own pain, and yet still being able to pass that on to your son.

“It was a very healthy reciprocal acceptance of suffering,” he said. “Which does not mean being defeated by suffering. Acceptance is not defeat. Acceptance is just awareness.” He smiled in anticipation of the callback: “ ‘You gotta learn to love the bomb,’ ” he said. “Boy, did I have a bomb when I was 10. That was quite an explosion. And I learned to love it. So that’s why. Maybe, I don’t know. That might be why you don’t see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage. It’s that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”

I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.

I asked him if he could help me understand that better, and he described a letter from Tolkien in response to a priest who had questioned whether Tolkien’s mythos was sufficiently doctrinaire, since it treated death not as a punishment for the sin of the fall but as a gift. “Tolkien says, in a letter back: ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” Colbert knocked his knuckles on the table. “ ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” he said again. His eyes were filled with tears. “So it would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude. It doesn’t mean you want it. I can hold both of those ideas in my head.”

He was 35, he said, before he could really feel the truth of that. He was walking down the street, and it “stopped me dead. I went, ‘Oh, I’m grateful. Oh, I feel terrible.’ I felt so guilty to be grateful. But I knew it was true.

“It’s not the same thing as wanting it to have happened,” he said. “But you can’t change everything about the world. You certainly can’t change things that have already happened.”

From this excellent interview with Stephen Colbert. Here’s some of my other favorite quotes from this article.

When an Internet Friend Dies

My friend died yesterday. I got a text as I was leaving my house. “did you see the email!?”

I hadn’t seen the email. I had been entertaining some close friends for a few days.

I want to share a little what it’s like to lose someone you like a lot, even if you didn’t live near them or spend a significant amount of time with them.

His name was Scott Dinsmore. To be frank, he was — to me — a “Marina Bro.” But unlike most of the Bros I know, there were more ingredients in Scott. Fun loving, sensitive and brutally charming; he believed in himself without being arrogant; a child-like exuberance mixed with an upper middle class “we can do whatever we want” kind of confidence; utterly adventurous; it was almost terrifying to make plans with him because you might accidentally end up on an eccentric billionaire’s yacht… or a hot air balloon or something.

He was California and Tony Robins and Evil Knievel and Ekhart Tolle and a toddler boy enthusiastically putting everything in his mouth all wrapped up in one exquisitely manicured DNA string. Oh god, did he ever come from good stock.

I worked with Scott professionally for a time. Scott had grown a huge website. Then he did a TED talk and after that video got, like, a billion billion views we worked together to redesign his site.

I never tired of poking fun at him for the “passion” stuff he wrote about and I always guffawed at how he mangled the beautiful typography I setup for him… italicizing and bolding every other word, throwing in HUGE QUOTES OUT OF NOWHERE and writing in tiny, 5 word paragraphs like his return button was sticky from one of his morning fruit smoothies. He thought it “looked cool.”

I made fun of it, but it fucking killed it on the internet. People ate it up. Scott, even though he was literally extraordinary, felt like he was just one step ahead of you; like you were exploring some ancient ruin and he pauses just in front of you, taking a big breath and turning toward you with a cheezy dad-with-daughters kind of smile to say, “oh man, you gotta see it from up here,” before giving you a hand up.

I made his website pretty and he filled it up and the people kept coming and all the words on that site were written by a person who is dead now.

He was a pair of Sperry Topsiders with brandy and pineapple juice spilled on them. He was the Jimmy Buffet of small hedge funds and the Warren Buffet of the beach. He was like a Tommy Bahama party you were actually glad you went to. Jesus, I’m really going to say this, I’m trying so hard not to, it’s too on the nose: he really was a living legend. His site was called Live Your Legend and he was a goddam living legend. That’s as bad as any of his dad jokes ever were and I can’t delete it because I know it’s true.

His perfect DNA. His stunning bride. His love for his dad. Oh god this is hard. The parents who made him, the woman he loved… I’m just a guy who got to hang out with him quite a bit in the past 5 years. I got to call him and jest and pour him strong cocktails, I got to bar-hop late night in San Francisco and Portland with him during conferences and dream up ideas with him about his business and my own. Goddammit, Scott.

This is, I think, the first time I’ve lost a friend I knew principally on the internet. We had only a handful of days together, really. But we texted and tweeted and Skyped and I sent him Gifs and he’d laugh and we’d get serious and he’d recite his nearest goal to me and then I’d laugh… and he’d wear those fucking five-fingered shoes. I really knew him, but when I look back on it, the relationship principally lived on the internet.

This is the second time I’ve had to watch grief as it moved through me. Two years ago we lost our son Rowan in labor. I hadn’t known Rowan; but I knew him. And I processed that like this and like this and like this. It was the first time I had experienced grief, and it had this weird “I know this person but I also don’t” kind of thing going on.

I feel something similar with Scott. I knew him but we weren’t fixtures in each others’ lives. We cared about each other, but it’s not like we had a weekly call or a season where we lived near each other or a yearly vacation or something like that. Let’s put it this way, he’d definitely get an invitation to my wedding, but he’d be sitting at the “friends from the internet” table… actually, if we were getting married today, most of the tables would be “friends from the internet” tables.

I had this moment when I was grieving my son where, exhausted and isolated and lost under thousands of leagues of dense sadness, I could clearly picture Rowan alive, bundled in his baby blanket, wearing the hat my sister knit for him, sucking on a pacifier and looking at me through the slats in the crib we made for him… and I saw his eyes for the first time… in my mind… and he looked at me with empathy and pride — he was proud of me. For how I was taking care of his mom, for how I was talking through it with his brother, for how I was grinding through the gears inside myself trying to know how to feel and what to do. It’s almost as if he spoke the words: “I am so proud of you and it doesn’t hurt and you’re not doing it wrong and you’re not disappointing me and if you cried for a million years or shouted or wrote until you withered away or never wrote again there is nothing you can do to change how I feel about you, what I know about you. You don’t have to keep trying, you can just be.”

If you’ve ever lost a friend and didn’t know the right way to grieve, if you knew Scott but from afar, tell stories about him amongst yourselves, feel all the things, be reminded of the good stuff we get in these slowly expiring bodies.

Scott, I loved you. I couldn’t see that when we were together, I didn’t know what was at stake. I will keep missing you and the ways you wrote and the shoes you wore and the exuberant perma-youngness that lubed up our interactions.

More on grief & Scott

“I am myself the matter of my book; you would be unreasonable to spend your leisure on so frivolous and vain a subject.”

Michel de Montaigne

“We are gods with anuses.”

Ernest Becker