Is there a formula—some mix of love, work, and psychological adaptation—for a good life? For 72 years, researchers at Harvard have been examining this question, following 268 men who entered college in the late 1930s through war, career, marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, and old age. Here, for the first time, a journalist gains access to the archive of one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history. Its contents, as much literature as science, offer profound insight into the human condition—and into the brilliant, complex mind of the study’s longtime director, George Vaillant.
“Let’s say that you were madly in love with someone. And your mission was to tell the person that you love them. Here are two scenarios. One is you can take a week long train trip with the person, take your time. You’ll be in boring situations, beautiful scenery, everything. That’s a novel. The second scenario is she’s stepping on the train and you have three minutes. So you have to make all that decoration in three minutes. That’s a short story. You just have to shout it as she goes.”—George Saunders (via mttbll)
“People need each other and that actual interaction or relationship or friendship or romantic love affair — all the different ways relationships take form — is one of the hardest things we do in our lives. It’s one of the biggest risks we’ll take in our lives. […] If you say “Yes” to someone, “I will,” you are also saying “I will be hurt by you,” because you can’t have relationships if you’re not willing to be disappointed and hurt by that person. It’s almost impossible. You have to be able to enter into the world and realize that the richness of life is all the good and joy and thrill of it but also all the disappointment and hurt and heartache of it and that all of that is what’s great.”—Philip Seymour Hoffman
“Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek - it must be rejected, altered and exposed. It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language - all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.”—Toni Morrison (via et—cetera)
“Stop worrying about your identity and concern yourself with the people you care about, ideas that matter to you, beliefs you can stand by, tickets you can run on. Intelligent humans make those choices with their brain and hearts and they make them alone. The world does not deliver meaning to you. You have to make it meaningful…and decide what you want and need and must do. It’s a tough, unimaginably lonely and complicated way to be in the world. But that’s the deal: you have to live; you can’t live by slogans, dead ideas, clichés, or national flags. Finding an identity is easy. It’s the easy way out.”—Zadie Smith (via pollgold)
In Los Angeles, Sondra Lowell's apparent mission in life is to fulfill needs no one ever knew existed. She taught the world how to heckle comedians…and demonstrated the best techniques for tap dancing the news. Now, Sondra is at it again….by teaching us how to build a beautiful salad-bar salad bowl.
Ed note: This piece, from February 1984, is hilarious. I have had trouble with salad information overload at the salad bar. This piece apparently solves that problem.
Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring, Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish, Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?) Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d, Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me, Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined, The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
Answer. That you are here—that life exists and identity, That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
Don’t ever use the word ‘soul,’ if possible. Never quote dialogue you can summarize. Avoid describing crowd scenes but especially party scenes.
If you’re doing your job, the reader feels what you felt. You don’t have to tell the reader how to feel. No one likes to be told how to feel about something. And if you doubt that, just go ahead. Try and tell someone how to feel.
You want vivid writing. How do we get vivid writing? Verbs, first. Precise verbs. All of the action on the page, everything that happens, happens in the verbs. The passive voice needs gerunds to make anything happen. But too many gerunds together on the page makes for tinnitus: Running, sitting, speaking, laughing, inginginginging. No. Don’t do it. The verbs tell a reader whether something happened once or continually, what is in motion, what is at rest. Gerunds are lazy, you don’t have to make a decision and soon, everything is happening at the same time, pell-mell, chaos. Don’t do that. Also, bad verb choices mean adverbs. More often than not, you don’t need them. Did he run quickly or did he sprint? Did he walk slowly or did he stroll or saunter?
“For beauty is nothing but
the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains
to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying.”—Rainer Maria Rilke
“What if sometimes there is no choice about what to love? What if the temple comes to Mohammed? What if you just love? without deciding? You just do: you see her and in that instant are lost to sober account-keeping and cannot choose but to love?’”—David Foster Wallace
“That sometimes human beings have to just sit in one place and, like, hurt. That you will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do. That there is such a thing as raw, unalloyed, agendaless kindness. That it is possible to fall asleep during an anxiety attack. That concentrating on anything is very hard work.”—David Foster Wallace
“Short stories demand a certain awareness of one’s own intentions, a certain narrowing of the focus. Let me give you an example. One morning in 1975 I found myself aboard the 8:45 a.m. Pan American from Los Angeles to Honolulu. There were, before take-off from Los Angeles, “mechanical difficulties,” and a half-hour delay. During this delay the stewardess served coffee and orange juice and two children played tag in the aisles and, somewhere behind me, a man began screaming at a woman who seemed to be his wife. I say that the woman seemed to be his wife only because the tone of his invective sounded practiced, although the only words I heard clearly were these: “You are driving me to murder.” After a moment I was aware of the door to the plane being opened a few rows behind me, and of the man rushing off. There were many Pan American employees rushing on and off then, and considerable confusion. I do not know whether the man reboarded the plane before take-off or whether the woman went on to Honolulu alone, but I thought about it all the way across the Pacific. I thought about it while I was drinking a sherry-on-the-rocks and I thought about it during lunch and I was still thinking about it when the first of the Hawaiian Islands appeared off the left wing tip. It was not until we had passed Diamond Head and were coming in low over the reef for landing at Honolulu, however, that I realized what I most disliked about the incident: I disliked it because it had the aspect of a short story, one of those “little epiphany” or “window to the world” stories, one of those stories in which the main character glimpses a crisis in a stranger’s life — a woman weeping in a tea room, quite often, or an accident seen from the window of a train, “tea rooms” and “trains” still being fixtures of short stories although not of real life — and is moved to see his or her own life in a new light. Again, my dislike was a case of needing room in which to play with what I did not understand. I was not going to Honolulu because I wanted to see life reduced to a short story. I was going to Honolulu because I wanted to see life expanded to a novel, and I still do. I wanted not a window on the world but the world itself. I wanted everything in the picture. I wanted room for flowers, and reef fish, and people who might or might not have been driving one another to murder but in any case were not impelled, by the demands of narrative convention, to say so out loud on the 8:45 a.m. Pan American from Los Angeles to Honolulu.”—Joan Didion
George Saunders reflects on writing, ‘infinitely’ revising, and how he finds the voices for his luminous but smudged characters. (Part 1 of 2)
"In our time, I think, capitalism has just won. There’s no question. It’s just an overwhelming victory for capitalism. But I think we’re in an interesting time in that maybe capitalism is trying to decide which capitalism it’s going to be. And it seems to me that just in my lifetime it’s kind of decided or been decided that the form of capitalism we’re going to embrace is the one that says “if you got it, you deserve it. No guilt. Don’t worry about it. And anybody who doesn’t like that is whining.” Whereas the one I like is the sort of Emersonian/Whitmanesque form which says there’s no point in any of this democracy and capitalism if we’re not simply making more citizens, making brighter citizens, making the lives of the least among us better.”
“For me, inspiration comes from a bunch of places: desperation, deadlines… A lot of times ideas will turn up when you’re doing something else. And, most of all, ideas come from confluence — they come from two things flowing together. They come, essentially, from daydreaming.”—Neil Gaiman on creativity (via explore-blog)
If there was no such word as love, our vocabulary would be richer, and we’d have to struggle harder to find the right words. Everyone would be so long winded and Shakespearean in their range of emotional expression. The word love came along and wiped out all sorts of terms in a semantical bloodbath.
Without the word love, people would speak in terms of sensations, like the sensation of standing waist-deep in a tub of warm plum sauce. Or the sensation of being tickled on the back of the knees. Some would say they felt like they had just swallowed a honey-soaked boxing glove, and others might say that they were feeling like their guts had been yanked out and spread across the kitchen floor.
Without the word love, you would get wedding invitations that would say things like, “On July 15, join us at the Five Holy Martyrs Church of Worship to help celebrate Barry Lyscinzy’s feeling of aimless goodwill that he’s decided to direct onto Robin Krupka, who’s receptive to the idea of being with a man she’s fairly certain will never inflict hurt on her.”
Sometimes we call something love because we don’t know what else to call it. When I first started dating Holly, there was one night where I was double-riding her back home from downtown on my bike. And she kissed my neck and rubbed my back through my tee shirt. We were going uphill, and she knew I could use all the encouragement I could get. We had spent the evening with some friends we didn’t especially like, just because we didn’t have the heart to say no to them. “We should go out more often,” she said from behind me. “The way I hate everybody makes me love you more.” Was that a moment of love, or merely an instance of lack of hate?
With Christiane, I thought I couldn’t be in love because her knees were too big. They were the size of grapefruits, and I could not see myself being in love with a woman whose knees were that big. They were ludicrous really. My thinking was that it was a good thing they were so ludicrous because they kept me firmly anchored. If I thought for even a second that I might be falling in love, all I had to do was think of those big, fat knees of hers, and then, one day, I found myself kissing them. I had to leap over a great inner hurdle to get to that, but it wasn’t love that was on the other side. It was just self-congratulatory pats on my own back over how I could move beyond pettiness like that.
When I was 16, there was a summer I spent in Wildwood, New Jersey, where one night while walking down the boardwalk feeling lonely and depressed, a girl a few years older than me came spinning down the boardwalk, her arms spread out. She came right towards me, and then, when we were face to face, she kissed me. Just like that. Because she was drunk or stoned, but she had kissed me. For the rest of the summer, I couldn’t pass a woman on the boardwalk without thinking that we should somehow be meeting in a kiss, that that’s how life should really be.
In that moment, where our lips touched, the way it suddenly brought into alignment the private, unspeakable hopefulness in the heart with the uncontrollableness of the outside world, it felt like as surely as anything else I’ve ever experienced, a moment of love. I say this as an adult who has had serious relationship since, and I can’t think of another word but love to describe what I felt that day on the boardwalk. And that was it. She just walked on.
When I was a little kid, my mother’s favorite things was to crane her head through a door frame or around a corner and bite me or my sister on the ass while explaining, “Boy, is this a tuckus.” I spent much of my childhood walking around our house always on my guard, always feeling like she could strike at any moment. She was never really any good with words, so this was sort of her version of a love sonnet. At least that’s how I’ve chosen to see it. You could also say it was filthy and damaging, but if you want to see something as love, or even need to see it as love, and you call it love, it feels a lot more like love.
There is a country to cross you will
find in the corner of your eye, in
the quick slip of your foot--air far
down, a snap that might have caught.
And maybe for you, for me, a high, passing
voice that finds its way by being
afraid. That country is there, for us,
carried as it is crossed. What you fear
will not go away: it will take you into
yourself and bless you and keep you.
That's the world, and we all live there.
“I love women who are bosses and who don’t constantly worry about what their employees think of them. I love women who don’t ask, “Is that OK?” after everything they say. I love when women are courageous in the face of unthinkable circumstances, like my mother when she was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. Or like Gabrielle Giffords writing editorials for the New York Times about the cowardice of Congress regarding gun laws and using phrases like “mark my words” like she is Clint Eastwood. How many women say stuff like that? I love mothers who teach their children that listening is often better than talking. I love obedient daughters who absorb everything—being perceptive can be more important than being expressive. I love women who love sex and realize that sexual experience doesn’t have to be the source of their art. I love women who love sex and can write about it in thoughtful, creative ways that don’t exploit them, as many other people will use sex to exploit them. I love women who know how to wear menswear.”—
How do we make love last? Helen Fisher, biological anthropologist and professor at the Center for Human Evolution Studies at Rutgers, explains her recent research on the scientific underpinnings of long-lasting romance. The Takeaway also gets relationship advice from one couple, Jack Connelly and Bob Gaither, who began dating 37 years ago, in the late 1970s. At that time, they truly defied the odds as a gay couple and an interracial couple. They share their story, along with the relationship lessons they’ve learned over the past few decades together.