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A Loving Illustrated Homage to Virginia Woolf’s Remarkable Life and Legacy

“I will not be ‘famous,’ ‘great.’ I will go on adventuring, changing, opening my mind and my eyes, refusing to be stamped and stereotyped.”<p><i>“Behind the cotton wool is hidden a pattern,”</i> Virginia Woolf wrote in recounting the sublime epiphany in which she knew she was an artist. <i>“The whole world is a</i> …

The Pancake King: A Lovely Vintage Children’s Book About How Success and Prestige Can Hijack Our Sense of Purpose

A sweet, subversive parable about the tradeoffs between creativity and commerce and the treacherous way in which prestige can hijack our sense of purpose.<p>At a dinner some years ago, I had the good fortune of being seated next to the great graphic designer and illustrator <b>Seymour Chwast</b> (b. August …

Books

The Charter of Free Inquiry: The Buddha’s Timeless Toolkit for Critical Thinking and Combating Dogmatism

“Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor…”<p>Two millennia before Carl Sagan penned his famous Baloney Detection Kit for critical thinking, another sage of the ages laid out a similar set of criteria for sound logical reasoning to help navigate the …

Cry, Heart, But Never Break: A Remarkable Illustrated Meditation on Loss and Life

“Who would enjoy the sun if it never rained? Who would yearn for the day if there were no night?”<p><i>“Each day, we wake slightly altered, and the person we were yesterday is dead,”</i> John Updike wrote, <i>“so why … be afraid of death, when death comes all the time?”</i> Half a millennium earlier, Montaigne posed …

Ursula K. Le Guin on How You Make Something Good in Creative Work

“Inexperienced writers tend to seek the recipes for writing well. You buy the cookbook, you take the list of ingredients, you follow the directions, and behold! A masterpiece! The Never-Falling Soufflé!”<p>If you read <i>Brain Pickings</i> regularly, you know that there are few writers I find more …

The Parallels Between Being an Artist and Being a Parent

“…an understanding deeper than my own of what it is to be human, and a mysterious revelation of a radiant order.”<p><i>“Being an artist is not just about what happens when you are in the studio,”</i> Teresita Fernández asserted in her spectacular commencement address on what it means to be an artist. <i>“The way</i> …

An Absorbing Errand: The Psychology of Mastery in Creative Work

“Life is better when you possess a sustaining practice that holds your desire, demands your attention, and requires effort.”<p><i>“It came to me while picking beans, the secret of happiness,”</i> botanist and storyteller Robin Wall Kimmerer wrote in her beautiful meditation on gardening and life’s largest …

Great Writers on the Power of Music

Kurt Vonnegut, Susan Sontag, Aldous Huxley, Oliver Sacks, Walt Whitman, Virginia Woolf, Friedrich Nietzsche, and more.<p><i>“Music is the best means we have of digesting time,”</i> Igor Stravinsky once remarked (a remark often misattributed to W.H. Auden). <i>“Music is the sound wave of the soul,”</i> the wise and …

Literature

The Strange, Familiar, and Forgotten: A Trailblazing Exploration of Consciousness, Memory, and How Our Sense of Self Arises

“This is the very essence of memory: its self-referential base, its self-consciousness, ever evolving and ever changing, intrinsically dynamic and subjective.”<p><i>“One can’t write directly about the soul,”</i> Virginia Woolf lamented. <i>“Looked at, it vanishes.”</i> A century later, we may have rendered the …

Consciousness

Billy Collins Reads His Homage to Aristotle

A wonderful ode to how the great Greek philosopher shaped the paradigm of storytelling.<p>Long, long before Kurt Vonnegut diagramed the shapes of stories and Joseph Campbell outlined the eleven stages of the hero’s journey, Aristotle formulated for the first time the notion that a story must have a …

Steinbeck and the Difficult Art of the Friend Breakup

“I can’t consider you a friend when out of every contact there comes some intentionally wounding thing.”<p><i>“A friend,”</i> wrote the poet and philosopher John O’Donohue in his beautiful meditation on the Ancient Celtic notion of <i>anam cara</i>, <i>“awakens your life in order to free the wild possibilities within</i> …

William James on Attention, Multitasking, and the Habit of Mind That Sets Geniuses Apart

“My experience is what I agree to attend to.”<p><i>“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity,”</i> Simone Weil wrote. Decades later, cognitive scientist Alexandra Horowitz observed in her marvelous inquiry into our everyday blinders: <i>“Attention is an intentional, unapologetic discriminator. It</i> …