Hey T Ludikrist! If you missed last week's edition – Frank Lloyd Wright on learning, Ray Bradbury remembered in his most timeless quotes, the link between creativity and dishonesty, and more – you can catch up right here. And if you're enjoying this, please consider supporting with a modest donation.
"The secret of success is concentrating interest in life… interest in the small things of nature… In other words to be fully awake to everything."
For Father's Day today, let's take a moment to pay heed to some of the wisest, most heart-warming advice from history's famous dads. Gathered here are five timeless favorites, further perpetuating my well-documented love of the art of letter-writing.
F. SCOTT FITZGERALD
In a 1933 letter to his 11-year-old daughter Scottie, F. Scott Fitzgerald produced this poignant and wise list of things to worry, not worry, and think about, found in the altogether excellent F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters:
Things to worry about:
Worry about courage
Worry about Cleanliness
Worry about efficiency
Worry about horsemanship
Things not to worry about:
Don’t worry about popular opinion
Don’t worry about dolls
Don’t worry about the past
Don’t worry about the future
Don’t worry about growing up
Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don’t worry about triumph
Don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault
Don’t worry about mosquitoes
Don’t worry about flies
Don’t worry about insects in general
Don’t worry about parents
Don’t worry about boys
Don’t worry about disappointments
Don’t worry about pleasures
Don’t worry about satisfactions
Things to think about:
What am I really aiming at?
How good am I really in comparison to my contemporaries in regard to:
(b) Do I really understand about people and am I able to get along with them?
(c) Am I trying to make my body a useful instrument or am I neglecting it?
In this beautiful 1928 letter, culled from American Letters 1927-1947: Jackson Pollock & Family, Jackson Pollock's dad, LeRoy, offers his son a sincere, optimistic lens on what matters most in life and how to cultivate it.
Dear Son Jack,
Well it has been some time since I received your fine letter. It makes me a bit proud and swelled up to get letters from five young fellows by the names of Charles, Mart, Frank, Sande, and Jack. The letters are so full of life, interest, ambition, and good fellowship. It fills my old heart with gladness and makes me feel 'Bully.' Well Jack I was glad to learn how you felt about your summer’s work & your coming school year. The secret of success is concentrating interest in life, interest in sports and good times, interest in your studies, interest in your fellow students, interest in the small things of nature, insects, birds, flowers, leaves, etc. In other words to be fully awake to everything about you & the more you learn the more you can appreciate & get a full measure of joy & happiness out of life. I do not think a young fellow should be too serious, he should be full of the Dickens some times to create a balance.
I think your philosophy on religion is okay. I think every person should think, act & believe according to the dictates of his own conscience without too much pressure from the outside. I too think there is a higher power, a supreme force, a governor, a something that controls the universe. What it is & in what form I do not know. It may be that our intellect or spirit exists in space in some other form after it parts from this body. Nothing is impossible and we know that nothing is destroyed, it only changes chemically. We burn up a house and its contents, we change the form but the same elements exist; gas, vapor, ashes. They are all there just the same.
I had a couple of letters from mother the other day, one written the twelfth and one the fifteenth. Am always glad to get letters from your mother, she is a Dear isn’t she? Your mother and I have been a complete failure financially but if the boys turn out to be good and useful citizens nothing else matters and we know this is happening so why not be jubilant?
The weather up here couldn’t be beat, but I suppose it won’t last always, in fact we are looking forward to some snowstorms and an excuse to come back to the orange belt. I do not know anything about what I will do or if I will have a job when I leave here, but I am not worrying about it because it is no use to worry about what you can’t help, or what you can help, moral 'don’t worry.'
Write and tell me all about your schoolwork and yourself in general. I will appreciate your confidence.
You no doubt had some hard days on your job at Crestline this summer. I can imagine the steep climbing, the hot weather, etc. But those hard things are what builds character and physic. Well Jack I presume by the time you have read all this you will be mentally fatigued and will need to relax. So goodnight, pleasant dreams and God bless you.
Your affectionate Dad
Originally featured here in February.
Days before 26-year-old Michael Reagan's wedding in June of 1971, would-be U.S. President Ronald Reagan sent him this thoughtful and strikingly honest ↬ letter of marital advice, found in Reagan: A Life In Letters:
Enclosed is the item I mentioned (with which goes a torn up IOU). I could stop here but I won't.
You've heard all the jokes that have been rousted around by all the "unhappy marrieds" and cynics. Now, in case no one has suggested it, there is another viewpoint. You have entered into the most meaningful relationship there is in all human life. It can be whatever you decide to make it.
Some men feel their masculinity can only be proven if they play out in their own life all the locker-room stories, smugly confident that what a wife doesn't know won't hurt her. The truth is, somehow, way down inside, without her ever finding lipstick on the collar or catching a man in the flimsy excuse of where he was till three A.M., a wife does know, and with that knowing, some of the magic of this relationship disappears. There are more men griping about marriage who kicked the whole thing away themselves than there can ever be wives deserving of blame. There is an old law of physics that you can only get out of a thing as much as you put in it. The man who puts into the marriage only half of what he owns will get that out. Sure, there will be moments when you will see someone or think back to an earlier time and you will be challenged to see if you can still make the grade, but let me tell you how really great is the challenge of proving your masculinity and charm with one woman for the rest of your life. Any man can find a twerp here and there who will go along with cheating, and it doesn't take all that much manhood. It does take quite a man to remain attractive and to be loved by a woman who has heard him snore, seen him unshaven, tended him while he was sick and washed his dirty underwear. Do that and keep her still feeling a warm glow and you will know some very beautiful music. If you truly love a girl, you shouldn't ever want her to feel, when she sees you greet a secretary or a girl you both know, that humiliation of wondering if she was someone who caused you to be late coming home, nor should you want any other woman to be able to meet your wife and know she was smiling behind her eyes as she looked at her, the woman you love, remembering this was the woman you rejected even momentarily for her favors.
Mike, you know better than many what an unhappy home is and what it can do to others. Now you have a chance to make it come out the way it should. There is no greater happiness for a man than approaching a door at the end of a day knowing someone on the other side of that door is waiting for the sound of his footsteps.
P.S. You'll never get in trouble if you say "I love you" at least once a day.
Half a century ago last month, 37-year-old Malcolm Scott Carpenter piloted the Aurora 7 into space, becoming only the second American to orbit the Earth. The day before his landmark journey, he received the following letter from his father, Marion, found in For Spacious Skies: The Uncommon Journey of a Mercury Astronaut:
Just a few words on the eve of your great adventure for which you have trained yourself and anticipated for so long — to let you know that we all share it with you, vicariously.
As I think I remarked to you at the outset of the space program, you are privileged to share in a pioneering project on a grand scale — in fact the grandest scale yet known to man. And I venture to predict that after all the huzzas have been uttered and the public acclaim is but a memory, you will derive the greatest satisfaction from the serene knowledge that you have discovered new truths. You can say to yourself: this I saw, this I experienced, this I know to be the truth. This experience is a precious thing; it is known to all researchers, in whatever field of endeavour, who have ventured into the unknown and have discovered new truths.
You are probably aware that I am not a particularly religious person, at least in the sense of embracing any of the numerous formal doctrines. Yet I cannot conceive of a man endowed with intellect, perceiving the ordered universe about him, the glory of the mountain top, the plumage of a tropical bird, the intricate complexity of a protein molecule, the utter and unchanging perfection of a salt crystal, who can deny the existence of some higher power. Whether he chooses to call it God or Mohammed or Buddha or Torquoise Woman or the Law of Probability matters little. I find myself in my writings frequently calling upon Mother Nature to explain things and citing Her as responsible for the order of the universe. She is a very satisfactory divinity for me. And so I shall call upon Her to watch over you and guard you and, if she so desires, share with you some of Her secrets which She is usually so ready to share with those who have high purpose.
With all my love,
Nobel laureate John Steinbeck was a prolific and eloquent letter-writer, as the magnificent Steinbeck: A Life in Letters reveals. Among his correspondence is this beautiful response to his eldest son Thom’s 1958 letter, in which the teenage boy confesses to have fallen desperately in love with a girl named Susan while at boarding school. Steinbeck’s words of wisdom – tender, optimistic, timeless, infinitely sagacious – should be etched onto the heart and mind of every living, breathing human being.
We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.
First – if you are in love – that’s a good thing – that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.
Second – There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you – of kindness and consideration and respect – not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.
You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply – of course it isn’t puppy love.
But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it – and that I can tell you.
Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.
The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.
If you love someone – there is no possible harm in saying so – only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.
Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.
It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another – but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.
Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.
We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.
And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens – The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.
Originally featured here in January.
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The science of creativity, the creativity of science, and what your internal clock has to do with Saudi Arabia.
Summer, with its steady supply of barbecues, picnics, parties, and other heavy doses of sociality, makes the need for a well-timed antidote of solitude more urgent than any other season, and what better solitary escape than a good book? It's time for the annual Brain Pickings summer reading list for cognitive sunshine. Gathered here, in no particular order, are 10 recent and forthcoming books to infuse your season's well-measured you-moments with a wealth of cross-disciplinary stimulation.
From McSweeney's and Tom Bissell, one of today's finest essayists, comes Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation (public library) – a collection of fourteen essays originally published in arbiters of literary culture such as The New Yorker, Believer, and Harper's Magazine, spanning a decade of Bissell's best writing and dissecting the creative process through such diverse subjects as Werner Herzog's films, video game voiceovers, Iraq war documentaries, sitcoms, and David Foster Wallace. Underpinning them is a somewhat uncomfortable reality to which just about any creator can attest – that no matter how meticulously we trace creativity's history, dissect its neuroscience, flowcharting our way to it, and itemize it into a 5-point plan, the essence of creation remains subject to a great deal of uncontrollable chance and serendipity.
To create anything – whether a short story or a magazine profile or a film or a sitcom – is to believe, if only momentarily, you are capable of magic. These essays are about that magic – which is sometimes perilous, sometimes infectious, sometimes fragile, sometimes failed, sometimes infuriating, sometimes triumphant, and sometimes tragic. I went up there. I wrote. I tried to see.
A closer look, along with excerpts from some of the essays, here.
"Six hours' sleep for a man, seven for a woman, and eight for a fool," Napoleon famously prescribed. (He would have scoffed at Einstein, then, who was known to require ten hours of sleep for optimal performance.) This perceived superiority of those who can get by on less sleep isn't just something Napoleon shared with dictators like Hitler and Stalin, it's an enduring attitude woven into our social norms and expectations, from proverbs about early birds to the basic scheduling structure of education and the workplace. But in Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You're So Tired (public library), a fine addition to these 7 essential books on time, German chronobiologist Till Roenneberg demonstrates through a wealth of research that our sleep patterns have little to do with laziness and other such scorned character flaws, and everything to do with biology.
In fact, each of us possesses a different chronotype – an internal timing type best defined by your midpoint of sleep, or midsleep, which you can calculate by dividing your average sleep duration by two and adding the resulting number to your average bedtime on free days, meaning days when your sleep and waking times are not dictated by the demands of your work or school schedule. For instance, if you go to bed at 11 P.M. and wake up at 7 A.M., add four hours to 11pm and you get 3 A.M. as your midsleep.
Sleep duration shows a bell-shaped distribution within a population, but there are more short sleepers (on the left) than long sleepers (on the right).
This myth that early risers are good people and that late risers are lazy has its reasons and merits in rural societies but becomes questionable in a modern 24/7 society. The old moral is so prevalent, however, that it still dominates our beliefs, even in modern times. The postman doesn't think for a second that the young man might have worked until the early morning hours because he is a night-shift worker or for other reasons. He labels healthy young people who sleep into the day as lazy – as long sleepers. This attitude is reflected in the frequent use of the word-pair early birds and long sleepers [in the media]. Yet this pair is nothing but apples and oranges, because the opposite of early is late and the opposite of long is short.
Roenneberg goes on to explore how the disconnect between our internal, biological time and social time – defined by our work schedules and social engagements – leads to what he calls social jet lag, a kind of chronic exhaustion resembling the symptoms of jet lag and comparable to having to work for a company a few time zones to the east of your home. From unreasonably early school and work start times to shift work to the invention of Daylight Savings Time, he examines a number of sociocultural structures that impede, rather than harness, our biological clocks, and offers strategies for countering social jet lag.
An in-depth look, with infographics and video, here.
100 IDEAS THAT CHANGED GRAPHIC DESIGN
Design history books abound, but they tend to be organized by chronology and focused on concrete -isms. From publisher Laurence King, who brought us the epic Saul Bass monograph, and the prolific design writer Steven Heller with design critic Veronique Vienne comes 100 Ideas that Changed Graphic Design (public library) – a thoughtfully curated inventory of abstract concepts that defined and shaped the art and craft of graphic design, each illustrated with exemplary images and historical context.
From concepts like manifestos (#25), pictograms (#45), propaganda (#22), found typography (#38), and the Dieter-Rams-coined philosophy that "less is more" (#73) to favorite creators like Alex Steinweiss, Noma Bar, Saul Bass, Paula Scher, and Stefan Sagmeister, the sum of these carefully constructed parts amounts to an astute lens not only on what design is and does, but also on what it should be and do.
Idea # 16: METAPHORIC LETTERING
Trying to Look Good Limits My Life (2004), part of Stefan Sagmeister’s typographic project '20 Things I Have Learned in My Life So Far.' Words are formed from natural and industrial materials and composed in situ.
Idea # 19: VISUAL PUNS
Gun Crime (2010), illustrated by Noma Bar, is a commentary on the tragic toll of gun-related violence in the UK. The trigger serves as the mechanism and outcome of gun attacks.
Idea # 83: PSYCHEDELIA
Gebrauchsgraphik (1968). The youth style influenced by drugs and rock and roll quickly became a commercial visual vocabulary. Founded in San Francisco, this German version smoothed out some of the rough edges.
A recent closer look, with many more visual examples, here.
Having spent far longer than acceptable in a self-inflicted moratorium on fiction, I thought there was hardly anything more apt to get me back on the bandwagon than a galley from Studio360's Kurt Andersen. True Believers: A Novel (July 10) tells the story of 65-year-old Karen Hollander, an enormously successful attorney who has just recused herself from consideration for a U.S. Supreme Court position because of a secret she has kept for the past 40 years, since an unsettling event that took place in 1968, when Hollander was only 18. As she readies her memoir, in which she plans to reveal all, she sets out to tie some loose ends and find the answers to some vital last questions. Andersen takes us back to the 1960s to weave a timely story about counterculture and intellectual rebellion. But, as absorbing as the story is, what makes the novel spellbinding is Hollander's fascinating, layered character – at once brilliant and irreverent, brimming with equal parts intelligence and humor.
And don't be fooled by the eyeroll-inducing publisher synopsis (which features the phrase "kaleidoscopic tour de force of cultural observation and seductive storytelling") – Andersen's style is anything but self-important or clichéd; a master of simple yet tremendously evocative narrative, he moves swiftly between well-timed wit, without a hint of smugness, and (I'll give Random House that) keen cultural observation.
See for yourself – you can read the first chapter here.
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"Beyond the age of information is the age of choices."
Today marks the 105th birthday of Charles Eames – legendary furniture designer, deft universe-explainer, celebrated champion of design as a force of culture, creative genius of uncommon sincerity, honesty, conviction, affection, imagination, and humor.
100 Quotes by Charles Eames is a tiny gem of a book, originally published in 2007, full of exactly what it says on the tin. Each of the 100 pearls of Eames wisdom, culled from his articles, books, films, interviews, lectures, notes, and office files, appears in 7 languages – English, Complex Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, Brazilian, Portuguese, and Spanish. A beautiful, minimalist cover with debossed typography adds a layer of joy to holding and touching the micro-tome.
Here are 15 of my favorite quotes.
Eventually everything connects – people, ideas, objects... the quality of the connections is the key to quality per se.
Most people aren't trained to want to face the process of re-understanding a subject they already know. One must obtain not just literacy, but deep involvement and re-understanding.
Beyond the age of information is the age of choices.
If nothing else, a student must get from his training a feeling of security in change.
Innovate as a last resort. More horrors are done in the name of innovation than any other.
Recent years have shown a growing preoccupation with the circumstances surrounding the creative act and a search for the ingredients that promote creativity. This preoccupation in itself suggests that we are in a special kind of trouble – and indeed we are.
To be realistic one must always admit the influence of those who have gone before.
(Because we already know everything is a remix, all art builds on what came before, and creativity is combinatorial.)
We work because it's a chain reaction, each subject leads to the next.
I don't believe in this "gifted few" concept, just in people doing things they are really interested in doing. They have a way of getting good at whatever it is.
(Cue in some famous thoughts on finding your purpose and doing what you love.)
Unlike Keats, who said that knowing about the rainbow shatters its beauty, I feel that the knowledge about an object can only enrich your feelings for the object itself.
(Cue in Richard Feynman on the pleasure of finding things out.)
Don't be like I was. Don't be afraid of history. Take all of it you can get.
At all times love and discipline have led to a beautiful environment and a good life.
Any time one or more things are consciously put together in a way that they can accomplish something better than they could have accomplished individually, this is an act of design.
Ideas are cheap. Always be passionate about ideas and communicating those ideas and discoveries to others in the things you make.
Take your pleasure seriously.
Amazon seems to be having trouble restocking the book, but Eames Gallery appears to still have some copies left, as do a handful of public libraries.
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