Saturday, December 13, 2014

Elkhonon Goldberg

"What I have lost with age in my capacity for hard mental work," Goldberg writes, "I seem to have gained in my capacity for instantaneous, almost unfairly easy insight."

--from The Wisdom Paradox

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Chocolate Whiskey Cake

Ms. Kilpatrick [who submitted the recipe] describes the cake as an ugly frog of a confection, but promises that anyone willing to bet a kiss on its excellence would be amply rewarded. The interplay of coffee, black pepper and cloves is subtle but powerful, and results in a deeply flavored, moist confection that comes together quickly. It's just delicious.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Mark Twain, on the occasion of his 70th birthday

"I have achieved my 70 years in the usual way: by sticking strictly to a scheme of life which would kill anybody else."

Then he proceeded to explain the lifestyle that had gotten him there, which included eating mince-pie after midnight; smoking at all times when he was awake (including in bed); avoiding exercise at all costs; and living what he called "a severely moral life."

He ended his speech: "I am 70; 70, and would nestle in the chimney corner, and smoke my pipe, and read my book, and take my rest, wishing you well in all affection, and that when you in your turn shall arrive at pier No. 70 you may step aboard your waiting ship with a reconciled spirit, and lay your course toward the sinking sun with a contented heart."

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Lisa Genova

I'm at the top of Rabbit Lane instead of the summit, and I'm on a handicapped snowboard instead of skis, but nothing about this experience feels less than 100 percent, less than perfect. I'm on the mountain with my family. I'm here.

--from Left Neglected

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Geoff Warburton

So, in grief you're going to meet hate, anger, emotional pain, rage, terror, if you get through that, you're probably going to feel torn to pieces, you might feel crazy, you might end up in a total emotional abyss. You need to feel that emotional abyss. You need to let that abyss swallow you. So, it may feel that in that abyss a part of you is dying. And maybe, a part of you needs to die. Close off your experience of the abyss, and you close off the flow of life. Here's the thing: Block that anger, and you block your vitality. Block that fear, and you'll block your excitement. Block that deep emotional pain, and you'll block your access to compassion. Even block your hatred, and you'll block your access to peace. Block your experience of that abyss, and you will block access to the depths of who you really are and the energy that's going to take you forward.

Right in the center of that abyss, in that silence, you'll find your liberation even if you've lost the love of your life. We do that not to get away from what's hurting us, we do that --we embrace all that, all those emotions-- to connect to the flow of life. Connecting to the flow of life is what will ultimately make us happy. Happiness, for the people I came across in my journey, was about the way they traveled; it wasn't some end destination; it wasn't some place they reached when they "got over grief"; it was about how they continued to be open to their experience. If we close our experience, we're more likely actually to feel or become depressed. How many of you associate grief and loss with gloominess and depression? The thing is, grief is not depression.

Loss through bereavement can become an adventure to be had, rather than a problem to be solved.

--Geoff Warburton, The Adventure of Grief

Vijay Iyer

Speaking to your Harvard students, how would you define what makes a work of music great?

I will never say anything like that. I would never say, “This is what makes something great.” Because greatness is relative, and it’s subjective and it has to do with one’s own standard of greatness. And when you tell someone, especially in a pedagogical situation, that this is what makes something great, they don’t have a chance to really explore that for themselves. They just feel like, ‘oh, I guess that’s what I’m supposed to write down and that’s what I’m supposed to know for the exam’ and stuff like that. It’s not real.

From Ingenious: Vijay Iyer: On the science and talent of Kevin Berger, Nautilus, Oct 30, 2014

Vijay Iyer is a 2013 recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant, a musician is versed in seeing the world through the lens of science. Iyer’s Yale undergraduate degree in math and physics paved the way to his Ph.D. in technology and the arts at the University of California, Berkeley. The jazz pianist has recorded over 15 albums and in 2012 was voted Jazz Artist of the Year in the DownBeat International Critics Poll.

Gabriele Oettingen

MANY people think that the key to success is to cultivate and doggedly maintain an optimistic outlook. But the truth is that positive thinking often hinders us.

Why doesn't positive thinking work the way you might assume? As my colleagues and I have discovered, dreaming about the future calms you down, measurably reducing systolic blood pressure, but it also can drain you of the energy you need to take action in pursuit of your goals. Positive thinking fools our minds into perceiving that we've already attained our goal, slackening our readiness to pursue it. 

What work[s] better is a hybrid approach that combines positive thinking with “realism.” Here’s how it works. Think of a wish. For a few minutes, imagine the wish coming true, letting your mind wander and drift where it will. Then shift gears. Spend a few more minutes imagining the obstacles that stand in the way of realizing your wish.

This simple process, which my colleagues and I call “mental contrasting,” has produced powerful results in laboratory experiments. When participants have performed mental contrasting with reasonable, potentially attainable wishes, they have come away more energized and achieved better results compared with participants who either positively fantasized or dwelt on the obstacles. 

Mental contrasting spurs us on when it makes sense to pursue a wish, and lets us abandon wishes more readily when it doesn’t, so that we can go after other, more reasonable ambitions. we found that people who engaged in mental contrasting recovered from chronic back pain better, behaved more constructively in relationships, got better grades in school and even managed stress better in the workplace.

--from "The Problem With Positive Thinking,Oct. 24, 2014, New York Times

Gabriele Oettingen, a professor of psychology at New York University and the University of Hamburg, is the author of “Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation.”

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Claire Creffield

Fearful of such an immense decision amid such uncertainty, I allowed myself to drift into parenthood instead of choosing it. I let other people’s expectations, the sheer normality of having children, construct a new, sociological destiny for me to replace the biological one and protect me from what seemed an impossible choice.

Even when we reassure the parents of wrongdoers that they are not to blame, we do expect them—require them—to feel guilt, to need such reassurance.

from Parenthood, the Great Moral Gamble: The decision to have a child is more ethically uncertain than you might realize in Nautilus by CLAIRE CREFFIELD June 13, 2013

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Amedi chocolate bar wrapper

Chocolate. The reward of our childhood. The softness of a warm embrace. The energy that makes us want to act, create and discover. The temptation which is so sweet to surrender to. The gift we love to give and wish we'd receive a little more often.

Jimmy Carter

A strong nation, like a strong person, can afford to be gentle, firm, thoughtful, and restrained. It can afford to extend a helping hand to others. It is a weak nation, like a weak person, that must behave with bluster and boasting and rashness and other signs of insecurity.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Eknath Easwaran

It is the concentrated, focused mind that reaches people. All the great changes in the world for good and for ill have come from the impact of men and women with an overriding singleness of purpose and a concentrated mind.

The last hundred years have seen incessant turbulence, change, and danger. Around the world, people are living with a deep anxiety about the future. In such situations it is only natural to ask now and then, "Why was I born into times like these?" The answer I would give is that we have been born to be of help to others. Desperate times are a sign of a more desperate need. To make our full contribution, we need to train the mind to be at peace and then radiate that peace to those around us.

--from Blue Mountain Journal, Summer 2014

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Anna Della Subin

Being in bed is now no excuse for dawdling, and no escape from the guilt that accompanies it. The voice — societal or psychological — urging us away from sloth to the pure, virtuous heights of productivity has become a sort of birdlike shriek as more individuals work from home and set their own schedules, and as the devices we use for work become alluring sirens to our own distraction. We are now able to accomplish tasks at nearly every moment, even if we prefer not to.

From "How to stop time" Anna Della Subin, NYTimes, 9/26/14

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Eknath Easwaran

April 17
If the heart wanders or is distracted, bring it back to the point quite gently and replace it tenderly in its Master’s presence. And even if you did nothing during the whole of your hour but bring your heart back and place it again in Our Lord’s presence, though it went away every time you brought it back, your hour would be very well employed.
The mind does not like to meditate; it wants to wander. When someone is not doing very well in meditation, one explanation is simple: his or her mind is elsewhere. The early stages of meditation are like a primary school for the mind. At first we are simply trying to get the mind to stay on the school grounds until the last bell rings. This is all we can do at first. The mind has been playing truant for years; when we try to concentrate, it simply is not present. All we can do is stand at the doorstep and whistle, trying to call it back in.
Even if all we do in thirty minutes of meditation is to call the mind back thirty times, we have made great progress. We don’t have to wait for the day when the mind is completely still to receive immense benefits from meditation. As the Bhagavad Gita says, even a little of this discipline protects us from great dangers.

-From Words to Live By

Lena Dunham

I can never be who I was. I can simply watch her with sympathy, understanding and some measure of awe. There she goes, backpack on, headed for the subway or the airport. She did her best with her eyeliner. She learned a new word she wants to try out on you. She is ambling along. She is looking for it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Roger Ebert

How can I begin to tell you about Chaz? She fills my horizon, she is the great fact of my life, she has my love, she saved me from the fate of living out my life alone, which is where I seemed to be heading.

--about his wife, Chaz. From his memoir, Life Itself.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

George Bilgere

Just when you'd begun to feel

You could rely on the summer,

That each morning would deliver

The same mourning dove singing

From his station on the phone pole,

The same smell of bacon frying 

Somewhere in the neighborhood,

The same sun burning off

The coastal fog by noon,

When you could reward yourself

For a good morning's work

With lunch at the same little seaside cafe

With its shaded deck and iced tea,

The day's routine finally down

Like an old song with minor variations,

There comes that morning when the light

Tilts ever so slightly on its track,

A cool gust out of nowhere

Whirlwinds a litter of dead grass

Across the sidewalk, the swimsuits

Are piled on the sale table,

And the back of your hand,

Which you thought you knew,

Has begun to look like an old leaf.

Or the back of someone else's hand.

"August" by George Bilgere, from The Good Kiss. © Akron, 2002. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tony La Russa

Trust your gut; don't cover your butt.

Interview. NPR, "Morning Edition," July 25, 2014.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sarah Jio

Sometimes I think of my life as a great big story. Each silly thing I do is a new paragraph. And each morning I turn to the next chapter. It's fun to think of life that way, each day being an adventure of the grandest proportions. . . . . Every time I see my story tinged with unfortunate events, even when such unfortunate events seem to simply happen to me, I remember that I am ultimately the author of my life. My dear friend, in many ways, you've helped me see that I can end a bad chapter early. I can start a new one. I can write myself a fur coat, and a lovely little hotel room in Paris with a view of the Seine.

~ Goodnight June (p 97)

(especially humorous having just read Harold and the Purple Crayon to my nephew.)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Mark Bittman

For every 12 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverage introduced per person per day into a country’s food system, the rate of diabetes goes up 1 percent.

It’s the Sugar, Folks By MARK BITTMAN FEBRUARY 27, 2013 NY Times

Friday, August 1, 2014

Maria Mitchell

[N]o woman should say, "I am but a woman!" But a woman! What more can you ask to be? Born a woman — born with the average brain of humanity — born with more than the average heart — if you are mortal, what higher destiny could you have? No matter where you are nor what you are, you are a power.

--From Maria Mitchell's Life, Letters, and Journals (1896)

Note: Maria Mitchell - what a woman! Read this brief bio from The Writer's Almanac, August 1, 2014:

"Mitchell's list of firsts is impressive: She'd made the first American comet sighting; in 1848, she was the first woman appointed to the American Association for the Advancement of Science; in 1853, she became the first woman to earn an advanced degree; and in 1865, she became the first woman appointed to the faculty of the newly founded Vassar Female College as their astronomy professor and the head of their observatory, making her the first female astronomy professor in American history.

Mitchell also became a devoted anti-slavery activist and suffragette, with friends such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, and helped found the American Association for the Advancement of Women."

Monday, July 28, 2014

Ira Glass

Don't wait for permission to make something that's interesting or amusing to you. Just do it now. Don't wait. Find a story idea, start making it, give yourself a deadline, show it to people who'll give you notes to make it better. Don't wait till you're older, or in some better job than you have now. Don't wait for anything. Don't wait till some magical story idea drops into your lap. That's not where ideas come from. Go looking for an idea and it'll show up. Begin now. Be a fucking soldier about it and be tough.

--His advice for aspiring writers or journalists, but doesn't it apply to anyone trying to do pretty much anything? --Editor.


Ira Glass

[T]he hardest part of my job is simply to shift from one task to the next. The new task is like icy water you have to dive into. The old task is a warm bath. It's especially hard when I know the new task is going to be really difficult, as half of them are. I always have to brace myself.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Amy Wrzesniewski and Barry Schwartz

Whenever a person performs a task well, there are typically both internal and instrumental consequences. A conscientious student learns (internal) and gets good grades (instrumental). A skilled doctor cures patients (internal) and makes a good living (instrumental). But just because activities can have both internal and instrumental consequences does not mean that the people who thrive in these activities have both internal and instrumental motives.

Remarkably, [West Point] cadets with [both] strong internal and strong instrumental motives for attending West Point performed worse on every measure than did those with strong internal motives but weak instrumental ones. They were less likely to graduate, less outstanding as military officers and less committed to staying in the military.
Our study suggests that efforts should be made to structure activities so that instrumental consequences do not become motives. Helping people focus on the meaning and impact of their work, rather than on, say, the financial returns it will bring, may be the best way to improve not only the quality of their work but also — counterintuitive though it may seem — their financial success.

~The Secret of Effective Motivation, July 4th, 2014 NYTimes

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

David Brooks

Netzer’s piece [from an earlier issue] is nicely based on the premise that we are crooked timber. We are, to varying degrees, foolish, weak, and often just plain inexplicable — and always will be. As Kant put it: “Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.”

People with a crooked timber mentality tend to see life as full of ironies. Intellectual life is ironic because really smart people often do the dumbest things precisely because they are carried away by their own brilliance...Marriage is ironic because you are trying to build a pure relationship out of people who are ramshackle and messy. There’s an awesome incongruity between the purity you glimpse in the love and the fact that he leaves used tissues around the house and it drives you crazy.

People with a crooked timber mentality try to find comedy in the mixture of high and low. There’s something fervent in Netzer’s belief in marital loyalty: “You and your spouse are a team of two. It is you against the world. No one else is allowed on the team, and no one else will ever understand the team’s rules.”

People with a crooked timber mentality are anti-perfectionist. When two people are working together there are bound to be different views, and sometimes you can’t find a solution so you have to settle for an arrangement. You have to design structures that have a lot of give, for when people screw up. You have to satisfice, which is Herbert Simon’s term for any option that is not optimal but happens to work well enough.

Great and small enterprises often have two births: first in purity, then in maturity. The idealism of the Declaration of Independence gave way to the cold-eyed balances of the Constitution. Love starts in passion and ends in car pools.

The beauty of the first birth comes from the lofty hopes, but the beauty of the second birth comes when people begin to love frailty. (Have you noticed that people from ugly places love their cities more tenaciously than people from beautiful cities?)

The mature people one meets often have this crooked timber view, having learned from experience the intransigence of imperfection and how to make a friend of every stupid stumble. As Thornton Wilder once put it, “In love’s service only wounded soldiers can serve.”

--"Rhapsody in Realism," New York Times, June 24, 2014

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sally Wadyka

The propensity to laugh has been scientifically linked to positive personality traits, such as likability and creativity. 

Kristin van Ogtrop

Why do humans laugh?
  • Because it activates the same pleasure sensors in the brain that are triggered when we eat chocolate. 
  • Because it seems to stimulate the release of endorphins, which reduces the perception of pain. 
  • Because it reduces the stress hormone cortisol and so enhances our ability to remember.

--from Real Simple, July 2014

Sir John Lubbock

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the blue sky, is by no means a waste of time. 

--from The Use of Life

Monday, May 5, 2014

Duke Ellington

I don't need time. What I need is a deadline.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Robert Herrick

I always read this poem on May 1. Always aloud, sometimes just to myself.

Corinna's Going A-Maying

Get up, get up for shame, the blooming morn
Upon her wings presents the god unshorn.
       See how Aurora throws her fair
       Fresh-quilted colours through the air :
       Get up, sweet slug-a-bed, and see
       The dew bespangling herb and tree.
Each flower has wept and bow'd toward the east
Above an hour since : yet you not dress'd ;
       Nay ! not so much as out of bed?
       When all the birds have matins said
       And sung their thankful hymns, 'tis sin,
       Nay, profanation to keep in,
Whereas a thousand virgins on this day
Spring, sooner than the lark, to fetch in May.

Rise and put on your foliage, and be seen
To come forth, like the spring-time, fresh and green,
       And sweet as Flora.  Take no care
       For jewels for your gown or hair :
       Fear not ; the leaves will strew
       Gems in abundance upon you :
Besides, the childhood of the day has kept,
Against you come, some orient pearls unwept ;
       Come and receive them while the light
       Hangs on the dew-locks of the night :
       And Titan on the eastern hill
       Retires himself, or else stands still
Till you come forth.   Wash, dress, be brief in praying :
Few beads are best when once we go a-Maying.

Come, my Corinna, come ; and, coming, mark
How each field turns a street, each street a park
       Made green and trimm'd with trees : see how
       Devotion gives each house a bough
       Or branch : each porch, each door ere this
       An ark, a tabernacle is,
Made up of white-thorn neatly interwove ;
As if here were those cooler shades of love.
       Can such delights be in the street
       And open fields and we not see't ?
       Come, we'll abroad ; and let's obey
       The proclamation made for May :
And sin no more, as we have done, by staying ;
But, my Corinna, come, let's go a-Maying.

There's not a budding boy or girl this day
But is got up, and gone to bring in May.
       A deal of youth, ere this, is come
       Back, and with white-thorn laden home.
       Some have despatch'd their cakes and cream
       Before that we have left to dream :
And some have wept, and woo'd, and plighted troth,
And chose their priest, ere we can cast off sloth :
       Many a green-gown has been given ;
       Many a kiss, both odd and even :
       Many a glance too has been sent
       From out the eye, love's firmament ;
Many a jest told of the keys betraying
This night, and locks pick'd, yet we're not a-Maying.

Come, let us go while we are in our prime ;
And take the harmless folly of the time.
       We shall grow old apace, and die
       Before we know our liberty.
       Our life is short, and our days run
       As fast away as does the sun ;
And, as a vapour or a drop of rain
Once lost, can ne'er be found again,
       So when or you or I are made
       A fable, song, or fleeting shade,
       All love, all liking, all delight
       Lies drowned with us in endless night.
Then while time serves, and we are but decaying,
Come, my Corinna, come, let's go a-Maying.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Burt Schavitz

A good day is when nobody shows up and you don't have to go anywhere.

(Burt Schavitz is a co-founder of Burt's Bees.)

Roger Cohen

...if you dig into people who are depressed you often find that their distress at some level is linked to a sense of not fitting in, an anxiety about belonging: displacement anguish.
. . . .
James Wood writes [in a recent essay in The London Review of Books, called “On Not Going Home,”]: “Freud has a wonderful word, ‘afterwardness,’ which I need to borrow, even at the cost of kidnapping it from its very different context. To think about home and the departure from home, about not going home and no longer feeling able to go home, is to be filled with a remarkable sense of ‘afterwardness’: It is too late to do anything about it now, and too late to know what should have been done. And that may be all right.”

Yes, being not quite home, acceptance, which may be bountiful, is what is left to us.

~Roger Cohen, The New York Times, April 3, 2014 "In Search of Home"

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Jincy Willett

She'd never been able to figure out what they stood for--the tarantulas, the hands. Oddly for a writer, Amy was bored by symbols. They ruled the night, and they sprouted in her fiction, but she figured they were no business, really, of hers. They were the product and property of her subconscious, which she pictured as a little man in a projection booth whose matinees she preferred not to attend.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Sam Polk

I felt so important. At 25, I could go to any restaurant in Manhattan — Per Se, Le Bernardin — just by picking up the phone and calling one of my brokers, who ingratiate themselves to traders by entertaining with unlimited expense accounts. I could be second row at the Knicks-Lakers game just by hinting to a broker I might be interested in going. The satisfaction wasn't just about the money. It was about the power. Because of how smart and successful I was, it was someone else’s job to make me happy.

"For the Love of Money," New York Times, 1/18/2014

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Neil Gaiman

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're Doing Something.

So that's my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody's ever made before. Don't freeze, don't stop, don't worry that it isn't good enough, or it isn't perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.