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John Cleese on the Five Factors to Make Your Life More Creative

Much has been said about how creativity works, its secrets, its origins, and what we can do to optimize ourselves for it. In this excerpt from his fantastic 1991 lecture, <b>John Cleese</b> (b. October 27, 1939) offers a recipe for creativity, delivered with his signature blend of cultural insight and …

Alfred Hitchcock on the Secret of Happiness

The secret of happiness and purpose endures as our highest aspiration. From its science and psychology to its geography to its empirical application, we go after it with ceaseless zeal.<p>In this brilliantly wise and articulate short excerpt from an archival interview, legendary film director <b>Alfred</b> …

Kurt Vonnegut on the Shapes of Stories and Good News vs. Bad News

This season has been ripe with Kurt Vonnegut releases, from the highly anticipated collection of his letters to his first and last works introduced by his daughter, shedding new light on the beloved author both as a complex character and a masterful storyteller. All the recent excitement reminded …

How Not To Worry: Timeless 1934 Advice on Controlling Anxiety and Mastering Life

As far as vintage finds go, they hardly get more fortuitous than <b>You Can Master Life</b> (<i>public library</i>) — a marvelous 1934 compendium of sort-of-philosophical, sort-of-self-helpy, at times charmingly dated, other times refreshingly timeless advice on cultivating “the power to think, to create, to …

Work Alone: Ernest Hemingway’s 1954 Nobel Acceptance Speech

<i>“One can never be alone enough to write,”</i> Susan Sontag observed. Solitude, in fact, seems central to many great writers’ daily routines — so much so, it appears, that part of the writer’s curse might be the ineffable struggle to submit to the spell of solitude and escape the grip of loneliness at …

Uncommon Genius: Stephen Jay Gould on Why Dot-Connecting Is the Key to Creativity

<i>“Originality often consists in linking up ideas whose connection was not previously suspected,”</i> wrote W. I. B. Beveridge in the fantastic 1957 tome <i>The Art of Scientific Investigation</i>. <i>“The role of the imagination is to create new meanings and to discover connections that, even if obvious, seem to</i> …

The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge: A 1939 Manifesto for the Incalculable Rewards of Curiosity

In an age obsessed with practicality, productivity, and efficiency, I frequently worry that we are leaving little room for abstract knowledge and for the kind of curiosity that invites just enough serendipity to allow for the discovery of ideas we didn’t know we were interested in until we are, …

5½ Timeless Commencement Speeches to Teach You to Define Your Own Success

It’s that time of year again, the time when cultural icons and luminaries of various stripes flock to podiums around the world to impart their wisdom on a fresh crop of graduating seniors hungry to take on the world. After last year’s omnibus of timeless commencement addresses by J. K. Rowling</i> …

Remembering Aaron Swartz: David Foster Wallace on the Meaning of Life

I recently attended the heartbreaking memorial for open-access activist Aaron Swartz, who for the past two years had been relentlessly and unscrupulously prosecuted for making academic journal articles freely available online and who had taken his own life a week prior. A speaker at the service …

Words To Live By: 5 Timeless Commencement Addresses

It’s graduation season, so commencement addresses by actors, politicians, writers, musicians and other luminaries are sweeping the world of higher education across the entire spectrum of mediocrity and profound wisdom. Let’s use this as an invitation to remember some of the most compelling, …

Susan Orlean on Writing

The question of why writers write is one of literature’s most enduring siren calls. <b>George Orwell</b> ascribed it to four universal motives. <b>Joan Didion</b> saw it as access to her own mind. For <b>David Foster Wallace</b>, it was about fun. <b>Joy Williams</b> found in it a gateway from the darkness to the light. For</b> …

How to Worry Less About Money: Financial Planning Lessons from Goethe

The question of how people spend and earn money has been a cultural obsession since the dawn of economic history, but the psychology behind it is sometimes surprising and often riddled with various anxieties. In <b>How to Worry Less about Money</b> (<i>public library</i>) — another great installment in The School …

Alexander Graham Bell on Success, Innovation, and Creativity

Success is one of those grab-bag terms — like happiness — that defies universal definition. Thoreau saw it as a matter of greeting each day with gratitude and for designer Paula Scher, it’s about the capacity for growth; for Jad Abumrad, it comes after some necessary “gut churn”; for Jackson …

Thomas Edison, Power-Napper: The Great Inventor on Sleep and Success

It took <b>Thomas Edison</b> superhuman feats of biology to fuel his astoundingly ambitious to-do list. He reportedly slept a mere three to four hours at night, “regarding sleep as a waste of time, ‘a heritage from our cave days,'” as James Maas tells us in his 1997 productivity bestseller <i>Power Sleep</i></i> …

How to Find Fulfilling Work

<i>“If one wanted to crush and destroy a man entirely, to mete out to him the most terrible punishment,”</i> wrote Dostoevsky, <i>“all one would have to do would be to make him do work that was completely and utterly devoid of usefulness and meaning.”</i> Indeed, the quest to avoid work and make a living of doing …

How to Find Your Purpose and Do What You Love

<i>“Find something more important than you are,”</i> philosopher Dan Dennett once said in discussing the secret of happiness, <i>“and dedicate your life to it.”</i> But how, exactly, do we find that? Surely, it isn’t by luck. I myself am a firm believer in the power of curiosity and choice as the engine of …

Henry David Thoreau on Defining Your Own Success

The great Transcendentalist philosopher and poet <b>Henry David Thoreau</b> (July 12, 1817–May 6, 1862) remains best known for one of humanity’s most important texts on protest and for <b>Walden</b> (<i>public library</i>; <i>public domain</i>), his beautiful 1854 paean to solitude, simplicity, and self-sufficiency, which …

David Foster Wallace on Art vs. TV and the Motivation to be Smart

In early 1996, journalist <b>David Lipsky</b> accompanied 34-year-old <b>David Foster Wallace</b> on the last leg of his tour for his breakout novel, <i>Infinite Jest</i> for an ambitious <i>Rolling Stone</i> interview. The feature was never published, but in 2010, some 14 years after the road trip and two years after Wallace’s …

Calvin and Hobbes at Martijn's - Bill Watterson

<b>H</b>ere's the text of a speech Bill Watterson gave at Kenyon College, Gambier Ohio, to the 1990 graduating class.<p><b>SOME THOUGHTS ON THE REAL WORLD BY ONE</b> …

MIT

This Is Water: David Foster Wallace on Life

On September 12, 2008, David Foster Wallace took his own life, becoming a kind of patron-saint of the “tortured genius” myth of creativity. Just three years prior to his suicide, he stepped onto the podium at Kenyon College and delivered one of the most timeless graduation speeches of all time — …

May 20, 1990: Advice on Life and Creative Integrity from Calvin and Hobbes Creator Bill Watterson

‘Tis the season for glorious life advice dispensed by cap-and-gown-clad elders to cap-and-gown-clad youngsters, emanating a halo effect of timeless wisdom the rest of us can absorb any day, at any stage of life. On May 20, 1990, <b>Bill Watterson</b>, creator of the beloved <b>Calvin and Hobbes</b> comic strip, …

Daily Rituals: A Guided Tour of Writers’ and Artists’ Creative Habits

<i>“We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone,”</i> the William James’s famous words on habit echo. <i>“Every smallest stroke of virtue or of vice leaves its never so little scar.”</i><p>Given this omnibus of the daily routines of famous writers was not only one of my favorite articles to …

William Wordsworth on Pleasure as the Shared Heart of Poetry and Science

<i>“True poetic practice implies a mind so miraculously attuned and illuminated,”</i> wrote Edward Hirsch in his meditation on how to read a poem, <i>“that it can form words, by a chain of more-than coincidences, into a living entity.”</i> <i>“Poetry makes possible the deepest kind of personal possession of the</i> …

How Creativity in Humor, Art, and Science Works: Arthur Koestler’s Theory of Bisociation

At a recent TED salon, <i>New Yorker</i> cartoon editor Bob Mankoff presented his theory of humor as “a conflict of synergies,” which reminded me of a wonderful concept from <b>Arthur Koestler’</b>s seminal 1964 anatomy of creativity, <b>The Act Of Creation</b> (<i>public library</i>). Koestler coins the term <b>bisociation</b> to …

E. B. White on Why Brevity Is Not the Gold Standard for Style

<i>The Elements of Style</i> endures as one of the most important books on writing ever published, a quintessential guide to composition and form. Though Strunk’s stern and directive tone was somewhat softened by White’s penchant for prose, the tome remains a stringent upholder of standards of brevity and …

Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses: 18 Rants by Mark Twain

On the heels of yesterday’s New Year’s resolution to read more and write better channeled through a reading list of 9 essential books on reading and writing comes <b>Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences</b> — an epic, exquisite rant by <b>Mark Twain</b>, listing eighteen rules of fiction violated in popular writer …

Susan Sontag on Writing

The newly released volume of Susan Sontag’s diaries, <b>As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980</b> (<i>public library</i>), from whence Sontag’s thoughtful meditations on censorship and aphorisms came, is an absolute treasure trove of rare insight into one of the greatest minds …

Hemingway on Writing, Knowledge, and the Dangers of Ego

<i>“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life,”</i> <b>Hemingway</b> proclaimed in his short and memorable 1954 Nobel acceptance speech. In <b>Death in the Afternoon</b> (<i>public library</i>) — Hemingway’s exquisite 1932 meditation on the tradition of bullfighting, “the emotional and spiritual intensity and pure classic beauty” …

On Craftsmanship: The Only Surviving Recording of Virginia Woolf’s Voice, 1937

On April 29, 1937, as part of their <i>Words Fail Me</i> series, BBC broadcast a segment that survives as the only recorded voice of <b>Virginia Woolf</b> (January 25, 1882–March 28, 1941) — passionate love-letter writer, dedicated diarist, champion of reading, widely mourned luminary, muse to Patti Smith.<p>The …

H.P. Lovecraft’s Advice to Aspiring Writers: Timeless Counsel from 1920

<i>“If there is a magic in story writing,”</i> Steinbeck admonished, <i>“and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another.”</i> And yet, famous advice on writing abounds.<p>In January of 1920, iconic science fiction and fantasy author <b>H. P.</b> …