Everyone wants his parent’s, or friend’s, or partner’s undivided attention — even if many of us, especially children, are getting used to far less. Simone Weil wrote, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” By this definition, our relationships to the world, and to one another, and to ourselves, are becoming increasingly miserly.
Jane Friedman JaneFriedman
Web editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review (@VQR), based in Charlottesville, VA.
Do all the other things, the ambitious things – travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and... make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.
One of the hardest things to look at in this life is the lives we didn’t lead, the path not taken, potential left unfulfilled. In stories, those who look back — Lot’s wife, Orpheus and Eurydice — are lost. Looking to the side instead, to gauge how our companions are faring, is a way of glancing at a safer reflection of what we cannot directly bear, like Perseus seeing the Gorgon safely mirrored in his shield.
In 20 years, the space of one generation, print books will be as rare as vinyl LPs. You’ll still be able to find them in artsy hipster stores, but that’s about it. So the great advantage of e-books is also their curse; e-books will be the only game in town if you want to read a book. It’s sobering, and a bit sad. That said, e-books can do what print books can’t. They’ll allow you to fit an entire... library into the space of one book. They’ll allow you to search for anything in an instant, save your thoughts forever, share them with the world, and connect with other readers right there, inside the book. The book of the future will live and breathe.
I spent a lot of years trying to turn myself into a brand because they told us self-branding is a way to success. And I kind of believed the hype. It’s just not true. To this day, I see writers publishing their first book or their second book and I can just see them going overboard with the marketing and getting all hyped up about it. You just have to write. If something good happens for you, post... it on Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or wherever you make your social-media home, but don’t overdo it. Enough with the marketing! Enough with the goddamn marketing already! I’m sick of it.
Strictly speaking, yes, the time I spend writing for online publication is time not spent writing my second novel; and yet it is still, for me, time spent nourishing my writing life. There is, it would seem — needs to be for most of us in this publishing environment — more to the writing life than manuscript word counts and book deals. One must be mindful of the stamina, and the supportive... community, required for the long haul of long-form literary writing; which is, even in the case of relative “success,” increasingly divorced from a viable livelihood and voluminous readership. Being able to write and publish short-form work, on a somewhat regular basis, has energized me to keep showing up at my fiction desk (mornings, no internet), which is, more accurately — and perhaps appropriately in light of this notion of complementary activities — not really a desk at all, but a spiral-bound notebook in which I write long-hand.
until the end of the 20th century, the sources of distribution were pretty limited — radio, newspapers, magazines and television. That in turn meant that newsmakers had to go to media outlets in order to share their message and get it amplified and reach those they wanted to reach — call them constituents or the target audience. With the rise of the social web, that has changed. Blogs, Tumblr,... Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other such platforms have made it easy for news makers to go direct to their constituents. So what is the role of today’s media person? In addition to reporting news, I think picking things to amplify is also important. Back in the day, news people made choice by deciding which stories to write. Today, we have to adopt a similar rigor about what we choose to share and amplify. In sharing (on Twitter or even re-blogging) we are sending the same message as doing an original news report. The easy thing is to share or reblog everything, but by being deliberate about it, we are essentially “editing” and telling the world: “this is how I see the world/this particular beat.”
Publishers need to separate their “brand author” business and their “publishing author” business. Brands need a completely different level of care and management, and a vastly different skill-set from their publisher. Authors need individual expertise, passion and 100% belief. If you mix the two up, it becomes predominantly about the bottom line, and both lose out
The traditional functions of a publishing repository – preparation, management and monetization of content – will need to be maintained at a much greater level of detail and supplemented by a new skill that may be available only to those with sufficient scale: market insight. Without it, authors will have much more reason to sell directly. And in one paragraph, O’Leary sums up both the sea-change... in what networking can mean and the anathema this can represent to the establishment: For decades, perhaps centuries, the primary platform for publishers and their supply-chain intermediaries relied on the ability to exclude. Now, we’re starting to see the dominance of a platform that includes everything and excludes nothing. In return, we get access to global communities and the ability to meet latent desires. How convinced do you feel that traditional publishers today understand the critical juncture we’ve reached between Friedman’s “empowered authors” and O’Leary’s historically exclusionary publishers? O’Leary: We can “pre-empt and co-opt”, resist the change, buying time and perhaps some short-term wins. Or we can learn the new rules and prepare for the opportunities inherent in networked publishing. I hope we do the latter, because there are plenty of boneyards we don’t want to end up in.
I wouldn’t be caught reading a women’s magazine, but I wrote for men’s magazines. I gave a lot of speeches in bars about how much better the men’s magazines were than the women’s magazines were, and it’s so lame, because they’re not. You open up the men’s magazines and there’s talking about shoes too. They’re talking about moisturizer. They really are! It’s all in there. I felt that thing too and... that’s a pity, and I don’t know what it will take to undo that, and I don’t know what we can do as writers about it. I think: do I want to take this battle on, in some way? Do I want to have an argument about this, defending the legitimacy of my work? Do I want to reply to any of these people? No. I have a task. I have to write the next book. You have to write the thing you feel is missing from the world, that’s not on the bookshelves, the book that you would want to read if you’d heard about it, the book that you long for. And you have to be really honest about what that is. You can’t necessarily write the book that will earn you the respect of other people who are the guardians of the culture. Because you appointed them to be. That can’t be the motive. You have to write the book your heart wishes existed.
If you are going to create a new business unit to respond to a disruptive threat, then it really needs to be kept at arm’s length from the host or the incumbent part of the organization. The problem is, if you keep them together, all kinds of the historical parts of the organization start to seep into the new disruptive business unit, which can stop it from getting off the ground in the first... place, or potentially, if it does start to gain traction, the original part of the organization can start to see it as a competitive threat. You can have politics play within the organization to try and shut down the new disruptive business unit.
The point is that it’s not just about the content itself; it’s also about the ancillary value the platform can add; it’s about the format/wrapper/technology that supports the objectives of the audience for that content.
We are all going to encounter illness, loss, and aging, and we’re not well prepared for these inevitable events by a culture that directs us to think of externals only, and to measure ourselves in terms of our possessions of externals. What is the remedy of these ills? A kind of self-love that does not shrink from the needy and incomplete parts of the self, but accepts those with interest and... curiosity, and tries to develop a language with which to talk about needs and feelings. Storytelling plays a big role in the process of development. As we tell stories about the lives of others, we learn how to imagine what another creature might feel in response to various events. At the same time, we identify with the other creature and learn something about ourselves. As we grow older, we encounter more and more complex stories — in literature, film, visual art, music — that give us a richer and more subtle grasp of human emotions and of our own inner world. So my second piece of advice, closely related to the first, is: Read a lot of stories, listen to a lot of music, and think about what the stories you encounter mean for your own life and lives of those you love. In that way, you will not be alone with an empty self; you will have a newly rich life with yourself, and enhanced possibilities of real communication with others.
It seems that creativity, whether birdsong, painting, or songwriting, is as adaptive as anything else. Genius — the emergence of a truly remarkable and memorable work — seems to appear when a thing is perfectly suited to its context. When something works, it strikes us as not just being a clever adaptation, but as emotionally resonant as well. When the right thing is in the right place, we are... moved. […] We do express our emotions, our reactions to events, breakups and infatuations, but the way we do that — the art of it — is in putting them into prescribed forms or squeezing them into new forms that perfectly fit some emerging context. That’s part of the creative process, and we do it instinctively; we internalize it, like birds do. And it’s a joy to sing, like the birds do.
Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you... construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about ‘the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.’
Society is adroit at disillusioning newcomers, and many self-assured children grow up to be bitter adults. But bitterness, instead of a form of disillusionment, is really the refusal to give up your childhood illusions of importance. Ignored instead of welcomed by the world, you fault the world as blind and evil in order not to fault yourself as naïve. Bitterness is a child’s coddling narcissism... within the context of an adult’s harsh life. Instead, I know that the world only tramples me as a street crowd does an earthworm — not out of malice or stupidity, but because no one sees it. Thus my pain is not to feel wrongly slighted, but to feel rightly slighted.
The supposition here is how do you know it’s not 30 years in the future now and you’re not one of these simulations? Let me go back a step here. As scientists, we put physical processes into mathematical frameworks, or into an equation. The universe behaves in a very peculiar way because it follows mathematics. Einstein said, “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it’s... comprehensible.” The universe does not have to work that way. It does not have to be so easy to abbreviate that I can basically write down a few pages of equations that contain enough information to simulate it. The other interesting thing is that the natural world behaves exactly the same way as the environment of Grand Theft Auto IV. In the game, you can explore Liberty City seamlessly in phenomenal detail. I made a calculation of how big that city is, and it turns out it’s a million times larger than my PlayStation 3. You see exactly what you need to see of Liberty City when you need to see it, abbreviating the entire game universe into the console. The universe behaves in the exact same way. In quantum mechanics, particles do not have a definite state unless they’re being observed. Many theorists have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how you explain this. One explanation is that we’re living within a simulation, seeing what we need to see when we need to see it.
One involves operating according to deeply held personal values and goals even when pressured to abandon them. A second revolves around handling one's own inner emotional life and dealing with anxiety and emotional bruises without needing to turn to a partner for help. A third focuses on not overreacting to—but still facing—difficult people and situations. The fourth involves forbearance and... perseverance in the face of failure and disappointment to accomplish one's goals. The four groups emphasize resilience, because they also involve the ability to adapt and change direction when need be without losing track of one's overall goals, agendas, or sense of self.
Twitter and Tumblr form the superstructure of today’s literary world. The salons and independent bookstores are disappearing, so this is where we congregate, allowing us to collapse geography at the expense of solitary thinking. This is where links are passed around, recommendations exchanged, news spread, contacts and friendships made. It is also where everyone is selling himself and where debate... and dissent are easily snuffed. As litblogger Mark Athitakis recently tweeted, “Twitter defaults into an affirmation engine. It's easier to enthuse than discuss.” But that affirmation is the habitual gesture of the Internet. We like, favorite, and heart all day; it is a show of support and agreement, as well as a small plea for attention: Look at me, I liked this too. Follow back? On Tumblr, which has become a favorite home for writers and has taken on the role of a literary curator, promoting content and sponsoring events, dissent is engineered out of the product. “We don’t want to allow you to have your feelings hurt on Tumblr,” a company designer recently told the New York Times Magazine. David Karp, Tumblr’s founder, enthused about the site’s heart icon: “Everybody loves everybody, through the chain.” The problem with Liking is that it’s a critical dead-end, a conversation nonstarter. It’s opinion without evidence—or, really, posture without opinion. For every “+1,” “THIS,” or “<3” we offer next to someone’s fawning tweet, a feeling is expressed without saying much at all. And in the next review or essay, it will show.