Hey you! If you missed last week's edition – the best resignation letter ever written, how we got "please" and "thank you," Asimov's fan mail to young Sagan, Carl Jung on human personality, Edward Gorey illustrates Dracula, and more – you can catch up here. And if you're enjoying this, please consider supporting with a modest donation.
Two surprisingly simple yet effective techniques for ameliorating anxiety.
"We must gain victory, not by assaulting the walls, but by accepting them," wrote James Gordon Gilkey in his 1934 guide to how not to worry. "Don’t worry about popular opinion … Don’t worry about the past. Don’t worry about the future. … Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you," F. Scott Fitzgerald advised his young daughter. And yet we do worry – we worry about money, we worry about whether our art is good enough, we worry that we're all alone in the world, we worry about almost everything. For Kierkegaard, anxiety was the hallmark of the creative mind, but for most of us mere mortals, worries are more of a crippling than a crutch.
In Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception (public library) – which also gave us this fascinating explanation of why time slows down when we're afraid, speeds up as we age, and gets warped when we're on vacation – BBC's Claudia Hammond explores the psychology of mitigating our worries:
Ad Kerkhof is a Dutch clinical psychologist who has worked in the field of suicide prevention for 30 years. He has observed that before attempting suicide people often experience a period of extreme rumination about the future. They sometimes reported that these obsessive thoughts had become so overwhelming that they felt death was the only way to escape. Kerkhof has developed techniques which help suicidal people to reduce this rumination and is now applying the same methods to people who worry on a more everyday basis. He has found that people worry about one topic more than any other – the future, often believing that the more hours they spend contemplating it, the more likely they are to find a solution to their problems. But this isn’t the case. His techniques come from cognitive behavioral therapy and may sound remarkably straightforward, but they are all backed up by trials.
'My Wheel of Worry' by Andrew Kuo, depicting his inner worries, arguments, counterarguments, and obsessions in the form of charts and graphs. (Click for details.)
Hammond makes appreciative note of the fact that Kerkhof "does not make grand claims for his methods." Rather, he offers the open disclaimer that his techniques won't forever banish any and all worrying – but they do offer a promising way to cut down the time we spend worrying. Hammond offers a practical exercise based on the technique:
If you find yourself awake in the middle of night worrying, with thoughts whirling round repeatedly in your head, he has several strategies you can try. This is where imagery comes in useful again. Imagine there’s a box under your bed. This is your worry box. As soon as you spot thoughts that are worries, imagine taking those individual worries, putting them into the box and closing the lid. They are then to remain in the box under the bed until you decide to get them out again. If the worries recur, remind yourself that they are in the box and won’t be attended to until later on. An alternative is to choose a colour and then picture a cloud of that color. Put your worries into the cloud and let it swirl backwards and forwards above your head. Then watch it slowly float up and away, taking the worrying thoughts with it.
For those apt to dismiss this as Pollyanna psycho-blabber, Hammond points out that there is strong empirical evidence supporting Kerkhof's theories and offers another of his techniques for those who find themselves too skeptical to try the abstract imagery exercise:
Set aside a time for worrying. Your worries relate to real and practical problems in your life, so you cannot rid yourself of them altogether, but you can learn to control when you think about them. Fyodor Dostoyevsky famously commanded his brother not to think of a white bear, and we know from the experiment on thought suppression which followed that, given that instruction, you can think of nothing but a white bear. … Likewise, telling people not to think of their worries isn’t going to work. Instead Kerkhof recommends the opposite. Set aside 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening to do nothing but worry about the future. Sit at a table, make a list of all your problems and then think about them. But as soon as the time is up you must stop worrying, and whenever those worries come back into your head remind yourself that you can’t contemplate them again until your next worry time. You have given yourself permission to postpone your worrying until the time of your choice. Remarkably, it can work. It puts you in control.
Time Warped is fantastic in its entirety. Pair it with Philippa Perry's indispensable How to Stay Sane.
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Feynman's sketches, Monroe's poetry, Plath's drawings, Magritte's album art, and more.
A recent piece on director David Lynch's avant-garde visual art sounded the dot-connecting bell and sent me digging through the Brain Pickings archives for more examples of artists famous in one medium or genre who created little-known but wonderful art in another – a living testament to creativity's medium-blind nature. Here are ten favorite surprises.
RICHARD FEYNMAN'S SKETCHES
Nobel-winning physicist Richard Feynman – champion of scientific culture, graphic novel hero, crusader for integrity, holder of the key to science, adviser of future generations, bongo player – was a surprisingly gifted semi-secret artist. He started drawing at the age of 44, shortly after developing the visual language for his famous Feynman diagrams, after a series of amicable arguments about art vs. science with his artist-friend Jirayr "Jerry" Zorthian – the same friend to whom Feynman's timeless ode to a flower was in response. Eventually, the two agreed that they'd exchange lessons in art and science on alternate Sundays. Feynman went on to draw – everything from portraits of other prominent physicists and his children to sketches of strippers and very, very many female nudes – until the end of his life. His drawings are collected in The Art of Richard P. Feynman: Images by a Curious Character (public library), edited by his daughter Michelle.
Dancer at Gianonni's Bar (1968)
Female Posing (1968)
Jirayr Zorthian (date N/A)
In an introductory essay titled But Is It Art?, Feynman recounts his arrangement with Jerry and observes the intersection of art and science:
I wanted very much to learn to draw, for a reason that I kept to myself: I wanted to convey an emotion I have about the beauty of the world. It's difficult to describe because it's an emotion. It's analogous to the feeling one has in religion that has to do with a god that controls everything in the universe: there's a generality aspect that you feel when you think about how things that appear so different and behave so differently are all run 'behind the scenes' by the same organization, the same physical laws. It's an appreciation of the mathematical beauty of nature, of how she works inside; a realization that the phenomena we see result from the complexity of the inner workings between atoms; a feeling of how dramatic and wonderful it is. It's a feeling of awe – of scientific awe – which I felt could be communicated through a drawing to someone who had also had that emotion. I could remind him, for a moment, of this feeling about the glories of the universe.
See more here.
MARILYN MONROE'S UNPUBLISHED POETRY
Did you ever begin Ulysses? Did you ever finish it? Marilyn Monroe did both. She took great pains to be photographed reading or holding a book – insistence born not out of vain affectation but of a genuine love of literature. Her personal library contained four hundred books, including classics like Dostoyevsky and Milton, and modern staples like Hemingway and Kerouac. While she wasn't shooting, she was taking literature and history night classes at UCLA. And yet, the public image of a breezy, bubbly blonde endures as a caricature of Monroe's character, standing in stark contrast with whatever deep-seated demons led her to take her own life.
But her private poetry – fragmentary, poem-like texts scribbled in notebooks and on loose-leaf paper, published for the first time in Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters (public library) – reveals a complex, sensitive being who peered deeply into her own psyche and thought intensely about the world and other people. What these texts bespeak, above all, is the tragic disconnect between a highly visible public persona and a highly vulnerable private person, misunderstood by the world, longing to be truly seen.
Only parts of us will ever
only parts of others –
one's own truth is just that really – one's own truth.
We can only share the part that is
understood by within another's knowing acceptable to
the other – therefore so one
is for most part alone.
As it is meant to be in
evidently in nature – at best
though perhaps it could make
our understanding seek
another's loneliness out.
See more here.
ANDY WARHOL'S CHILDREN'S ILLUSTRATIONS
Andy Warhol may be one of only seven artists in the world to have ever sold a canvas for $100 million, but you might be able to own "a Warhol" for about $5 – that is, if you can get your hands on a used copy of one of the children's books he illustrated in the late 1950s, while making a living designing book covers and illustrating dry business books as one of Doubleday's freelance artists. Shortly before halting his love affair with the corporate world in fear of compromising his flirtations with the art world, he illustrated six stories for the classic Best In Children's Books series, including "The Little Red Hen" in 1958 and "Card Games Are Fun" in 1959.
See more here and here.
RENÉ MAGRITTE'S ALBUM COVERS
Legendary Belgian Surrealist artist René Magritte had a little-known early commercial career. Young Magritte made rent by working as a draughtsman at a wallpaper factory and designing graphic ephemera, among which were some 40 sheet music covers he produced in the 1920s, nearly two decades before Alex Steinweiss invented the album cover as we know it today.
'Marche des Snobs,' sheet music cover (1924). 13 3/4x10 1/2 inches, 35x26 3/4 cm. J. Buyst, Brussels
See more here.
DR. SEUSS'S WWII PROPAGANDA
Dr. Seuss may be best-remembered for his irreverent children's rhymes and the timeless prescriptions for living embedded in them, but he was also a prolific maker of subversive secret art and the auteur of a naughty book for adults. Though his children's books have already been shown to brim with subtle political propaganda, during WWII, he lent his creative talents to far more explicit, adult-focused wartime propaganda when he joined the New York daily newspaper PM as a political cartoonist. Dr. Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel (public library) collects 200 of Geisel's black-and-white illustrations, but more than half of his editorial cartoons were never previously made publicly available.
See more here.
PATTI SMITH'S POETRY
Patti Smith is a modern-day creative muse of rare eclectic brilliance. The Coral Sea (public library) collects her breathtaking prose poems exorcising the loss of her lifelong spirit-mate, beloved photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (1946–1989). She describes the collection as "a season in grief" and writes:
All that I knew of him encrypted within a small suite of prose poems. They speak of his love for art, his patron Sam Wagstaff, and his caring for me. But most importantly his resolute will to live, that could not be contained, not even in death.
Here is an exclusive recording of Smith reading my favorite poem from the book, the stirring "Reflecting Robert":
Blessedness is within us all
It lies upon the long scaffold
Patrols the vaporous hall
In our pursuits, though still, we venture forth
Hoping to grasp a handful of cloud and return
Unscathed, cloud in hand…
See more, including Smith's original handwritten manuscripts, here.
J.R.R. TOLKIEN'S DRAWINGS
In October of 1936, J.R.R. Tolkien delivered to his publisher the manuscript of what would become one of the most celebrated fantasy books of all time. In September of the following year, The Hobbit made its debut, with 20 or so original drawings, two maps, and a cover painting by Tolkien himself. But it turns out the author created more than 100 illustrations, recently uncovered amidst Tolkien's papers, digitized by Oxford's Bodleian Library, and released in Art of the Hobbit – a magnificent volume celebrating the 75th anniversary of The Hobbit with 110 beautiful, many never-before-seen illustrations by Tolkien, ranging from pencil sketches to ink line drawings to watercolors, as well as conceptual sketches for the now-iconic dust jacket cover painting of the mountains Bilbo Baggins transverses in his adventures.
See more here.
JIM HENSON'S EXPERIMENTAL FILM
The nature and mystery of time is a subject of long-running scientific fascination, but what about its subjective, abstract nature? In 1964, exactly a decade after creating his original Muppets for Sesame Street predecessor Sam + Friends, Jim Henson wrote, produced, directed, and starred in a short experimental film titled Time Piece, exploring in a visceral way the effect time-keeping has on all of us. It premiered on May 6, 1965 at the Museum of Modern Art and was nominated for an Academy Award in 1966.
Originally featured here.
FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT'S GRAPHIC DESIGN
Frank Lloyd Wright is commonly regarded as the most influential architect in modern history, but despite his enormous cultural recognition, the full extent of his contribution to design – posters, brochures, typography, murals, book and magazine covers – remains relatively obscure. In Frank Lloyd Wright: Graphic Artist (public library), Penny Fowler examines Wright's ingenious and bold graphic work – his covers for Liberty (some of which were so radical that the magazine rejected them), his mural designs for Midway Gardens, his photographic experiments, his hand-drawn typographical studies, the jacket designs for his own publications, including The House Beautiful and An Autobiography, and a wealth more.
From his childhood encounter with Friedrich Froebel's educational building blocks at the 1876 Centennial Exposition to his experiments with geometric designs long before the Mondrian age to his obsession with the woodblock art of Old Japan, Fowler traces Wright's inspirations, influences, and singular style as his work dances across aesthetic movements like Bauhaus, Japanisme, Arts and Crafts, and De Stijl.
Hendrikus Theodorus Wijdeveld, wrapper design for the Wendingen Wrightnummers (fourth paper, January 1926).
Published by C. A. Mees, Santpoort, Netherlands. Black and red ink on white paper. This wrapper design was used (with minor variations) for all of the Wrightnummers (October 1925–April 1926). ©FLW Foundation
See more here.
SYLVIA PLATH'S DRAWINGS
Sylvia Plath – beloved poet, lover of the world, repressed "addict of experience", steamy romancer – had a few creative surprises up her sleeve. In addition to her little-known artist and children's books, she was also a strikingly adroit artist. The pen and ink drawings collected in Eye Rhymes: Sylvia Plath's Art of the Visual (public library) capture the literary icon's "deepest source of inspiration": art. They reveal Plath's exceptional attention to detail and her diverse yet introspective curiosity about the world, from nature to architecture, from intimacy to public life.
The Bell Jar
Tabac Opposite Palais de Justice
See more here.
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"To me a heaven would be a big bull ring with me holding two barrera seats and a trout stream outside that no one else was allowed to fish in and two lovely houses in the town."
In the 1920s, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway became good friends, despite their frequently conflicting worldviews and lifestyle choices. Only three years apart, their literary careers paralleled one another and both authors reached worldwide acclaim by the time they were thirty. From the altogether fantastic tome Letters of the Century: America 1900-1999 (public library) comes 26-year-old Hemingway's delightfully irreverent meditation on his ideas of heaven and hell. It captures with subtle but remarkable precision his characteristic oscillation between humor and insight and the very tug-of-war between idealism and vice that both produced his Nobel-worthy literary legacy and claimed his life:
Hemingway and Fitzgerald in Paris, 1925
July 1  –
Dear Scott –
We are going in to Pamplona tomorrow. Been trout fishing here. How are you? And how is Zelda?
I am feeling better than I've ever felt – haven't drunk any thing but wine since I left Paris. God it has been wonderful country. But you hate country. All right omit description of country. I wonder what your idea of heaven would be – A beautiful vacuum filled with wealthy monogamists. All powerful and members of the best families all drinking themselves to death. And hell would probably an ugly vacuum full of poor polygamists unable to obtain booze or with chronic stomach disorders that they called secret sorrows.
To me a heaven would be a big bull ring with me holding two barrera seats and a trout stream outside that no one else was allowed to fish in and two lovely houses in the town; one where I would have my wife and children and be monogamous and love them truly and well and the other where I would have my nine beautiful mistresses on 9 different floors and one house would be fitted up with special copies of the Dial printed on soft tissue and kept in the toilets on every floor and in the other house we would use the American Mercury and the New Republic. Then there would be a fine church like in Pamplona where I could go and be confessed on the way from one house to the other and I would get on my horse and ride out with my son to my bull ranch named Hacienda Hadley and toss coins to all my illegitimate children that lined the road. I would write out at the Hacienda and send my son in to lock the chastity belts onto my mistresses because someone had just galloped up with the news that a notorious monogamist named Fitzgerald had been seen riding toward the town at the head of a company of strolling drinkers.
Well anyway were going into town tomorrow early in the morning. Write me at the / Hotel Quintana
Or don't you like to write letters*. I do because it's such a swell way to keep from working and yet feel you've done something.
So long and love to Zelda from us both –
* Quite the contrary, Fitzgerald himself was a masterful letter-writer with enormous range, from the heartwarming to the instructive the brilliantly acerbic.
Complement with Hemingway's wisdom on writing, his magnificent Nobel Prize acceptance speech, and his soul-stirring account of shooting his beloved cat. Letters of the Century: America 1900-1999 is a treat in its entirety, featuring missives from such luminaries as Mark Twain, Charlie Chaplin, and Albert Einstein.
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"If you ever find a man who is better than you are – hire him. If necessary, pay him more than you pay yourself."
Advertising legend David Ogilvy endures not only as the original Mad Man, but also as one of modern history's most celebrated creative leaders in the communication arts. From The Unpublished David Ogilvy (public library) – the same compendium of his lectures, memos, and lists that also gave us Ogilvy's 10 no-bullshit tips on writing, his endearing memo of praise to a veteran copywriter, and his list of the 10 qualities of creative leaders – comes a chapter titled "Principles of Management," based on a 1968 paper Ogilvy wrote as a guide for Ogilvy & Mather managers worldwide.
In a section on morale, he admonishes that some companies "have been destroyed by internal politics" and offers seven ways to curtail them:
- Always be fair and honest in your own dealings; unfairness and dishonesty at the top can demoralize [a company].
- Never hire relatives or friends.
- Sack incurable politicians.
- Crusade against paper warfare*. Encourage your people to air their disagreements face-to-face.
- Discourage secrecy.
- Discourage poaching.
- Compose sibling rivalries.
* Though Ogilvy was writing decades before email, the same applies with equal urgency to today's electronic warfare.
Echoing Dickens, who advised his son to "never be hard upon people who are in your power," and presaging the modern science of autonomy, mastery, and purpose as the key to motivation at work, Ogilvy adds:
The best way to "install a generator" in a man is to give him the greatest possible responsibility. Treat your subordinates as grown-ups – and they will grow up. Help them when they are in difficulty. Be affectionate and human, not cold and impersonal.
Italo Calvino cautioned in his collected insights on writing that "one cannot say a priori that a writer just because he is a writer is more capable of handling ideas and of seeing what is essential than a journalist." Similarly, Ogilvy notes the democratic nature of ideas and urges managers not to subscribe to siloed stereotypes:
Senior men and women have no monopoly on great ideas. Nor do Creative people. Some of the best ideas come from account executives, researchers, and others. Encourage this; you need all the ideas you can get.
Reflecting on mastering the pace of productivity, he argues:
I believe in the Scottish proverb: Hard work never killed a man. Men die of boredom, psychological conflict and disease. They do not die of hard work. The harder your people work, the happier and healthier they will be.
Writing shortly after Arthur Koestler's famous treatise on the relationship between humor and creativity, Ogilvy affirms the importance of that link in cultivating a creative environment:
Kill grimness with laughter. Maintain an atmosphere of informality. Encourage exuberance. Get rid of sad dogs who spread gloom.
In a section on respect, he calls for creative integrity:
Our offices must always be headed by the kind of people who command respect. No phonies, zeros or bastards.
In a section on hiring, he offers the two essential criteria for recruiting talent:
The paramount problem you face is this: advertising is one of the most difficult functions in industry, and too few brilliant people want careers in advertising.
The challenge is to recruit people who are able to do the difficult work our clients require from us.
- Make a conscious effort to avoid recruiting dull, pedestrian hacks.
- Create an atmosphere of ferment, innovation and freedom. This will attract brilliant recruits.
If you ever find a man who is better than you are – hire him. If necessary, pay him more than you pay yourself.
He adds a note on equality in hiring (though, on the cusp of the second wave of feminism and shortly after the Equal Pay Act, he makes no mention of equal opportunity for women):
In recruitment and promotion we are fanatical in our hatred for all forms of prejudice. We have no prejudice for or against Roman Catholics, Protestants, Negroes, Aristocracy, Jews, Agnostics or foreigners.
In a section on partnership within the company, he offers four points of advice:
It is as difficult to sustain happy partnerships as to sustain happy marriages. The challenge can be met if those concerned practice these restraints:
- Have clear-cut division of responsibility.
- Don't poach on the other fellow's preserves.
- Live and let live; nobody is perfect.
- "Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considers not the beam that is in thine own eye?"
In a section on comers, exploring the management of talent, he reiterates some his 10 criteria for creative leaders and advises:
The management of manpower resources is one of the most important duties of our office heads. It is particularly important for them to spot people of unusual promise early in their careers, and to move them up the ladder as fast as they can handle increased responsibility.
There are five characteristics which suggest to me that a person has the potential for rapid promotion:
- He is ambitious.
- He works harder than his peers – and enjoys it.
- He has a brilliant brain – inventive and unorthodox.
- He has an engaging personality.
- He demonstrates respect for the creative function.
If you fail to recognize, promote and reward young people of exceptional promise, they will leave you; the loss of an exceptional man can be as damaging as the loss of an account.
The rest of his principles go on to explore such intricacies as the perils of leadership, the art of cat-herding creative people, and how to know when to resign a client. It's worth reiterating just how excellent and timeless The Unpublished David Ogilvy is in its entirety.
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