Franz Kafka: Great writer, bad boyfriend

This fact maybe illustrates why so many writers are bad boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, and wives (but let’s face it, mostly bad boyfriends and husbands) — especially from the point of view of their writing to their significant others. Kafka in particular seemed incapable of thinking about his writing, on any topic, as anything but writing, in a literary sense. So his putative love letters are filled with sudden ironies and reversals, meditations on ambiguity, contingency, and the self. The dude couldn’t get out of his own head, or out of his own way.

What a Little-Known Ursula K. Le Guin Essay Taught Me About Being a Woman

“Introducing Myself” changed my life at 16, and it’s only become more resonant in the decades since

Le Guin’s essay “Introducing Myself.” “I am a man,” she begins, and goes on to spin a sardonic fable rich with wordplay, arguing, with dripping sarcasm, that “man” is what she must be — since to be a person, one must, it seems, be a man.

That first sentence shocked me with its daring. I read the whole thing through, my heart beating faster with each new paragraph, and when I got done I walked it straight over to the copy machine and ran off two copies and rushed back to my speech coach as fast as I could go.

“We have been told that there is only one kind of people and they are men,” Le Guin writes. “And I think it is very important that we all believe that. It certainly is important to the men.”

.. First, there was an intake of breath at the thought that this was what writing could be: this sort of knowing, joking wit that was also deeply confessional and intimate. And second, a deeper realization that this is what being a woman could be: someone at once wise and self-questioning, seeking understanding and answers, unfeminine but not masculine, unflinchingly intellectual.

The Journalistic Legacy of David Foster Wallace

I’ve heard a lot of bad things about Wallace’s journalistic ethics – basically misrepresenting the actual story, not the big lines but lots of the details, for stylistic effect. He was not a rigorous searcher of actual truth, just some kind of idealized “emotional truth”, and in an era where “alternative facts” is considered an acceptable way to respond to an outright lie, that’s not something to emulate. It’s been a while so I don’t have the exact links to the articles that mention this. (I think some of it was in the biography of Wallace by DT Max.)

Ezra Klein: Ta-Nehisi Coates is not here to comfort you

“It’s important to remember the inconsequence of one’s talent and hard work and the incredible and unmatched sway of luck and fate,” writes Ta-Nehisi Coates in his new book, We Were Eight Years in Power.

Coates’s view of his career flows from his view of human events: contingent, unguided, and devoid of higher morality or cosmic justice. He is not here to comfort you. He is not here to comfort himself. “Nothing in the record of human history argues for a divine morality, and a great deal argues against it,” he writes. “What we know is that good people very often suffer terribly, while the perpetrators of horrific evil backstroke through all the pleasures of the world.”

It’s this worldview that makes conversations with Coates so bracing. His philosophy leaves room for chaos, for disorder, for things to go terribly wrong and stay that way. In this discussion, I asked him what would make him hopeful, what it would mean for America to live up to its ideals.  Closing the 20-to-1 white-black wealth gap, he replied. But what would that take, he asked? “Maybe something so large that you find yourself in a country that’s not even America anymore.”

Maybe, he mused, it’s something that he couldn’t even support. “It’s very easy for me to see myself being contemporary with processes that might make for an equal world, more equality, and maybe the complete abolition of race as a construct, and being horrified by the process, maybe even attacking the process. I think these things don’t tend to happen peacefully.”

This is a discussion about race, about luck, about history, about politics, but above all, about how the stories we tell ourselves are often designed to carry comfort rather than truth.

“For me, my part in this struggle, my part to make a better world, is not simply to have people pick up my work and say, ‘Well, all the facts seem correct. I think this is right,’ and, then move on with their lives,” says Coates. “My job is to bring across the emotion, to make them feel a certain way, to haunt them, to make it hard to sleep.”

The Secret to My Success? Antidepressants

Many of my favorite authors had suffered from anxiety or depression — Dostoyevsky, Fitzgerald, Plath, Woolf and Emily Dickinson, with whom I felt a special migraine-sufferer kinship. I sought out biographies of these tortured artists and underlined the details of their suffering until the pages were covered in multicolored highlighter. Surely, I told myself, their anguish was linked to their greatness. Instead of fleeing anxiety and depression (although many did douse their emotional instability with alcohol), they dived in and used their misery as inspiration for their creative work. I was convinced that killing the mad part of me with medication would also kill that which made me unique. I memorized a line by Proust: “Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind.”

.. In fact, I am more myself than ever, able to tap veins of creativity and insight I never knew existed, once buried under the clamor of anxiety. My writing, too, was born again. Glimmers of redemption sprang in my dark, and often tragic, stories. I can now see the infinite spectrum of emotion in all its nuanced hues, not just the black and white of despair and joy.

In their last days together, a mother and son clung to what bonded them together

My mom had an approach to parenting, a philosophy. She saw raising kids as a happy endeavor, more adventure than science, and she aimed to show me and my two siblings that the world was an amiable place — that you could wander around in it and see interesting things, and then come home and sleep in your own bed, unscathed.

.. In 1994, when I became a parent myself, she offered me an observation instead of advice: “You expect your children to become clones of yourself,” she wrote in a letter, summing up her own parental journey, “but they don’t, and for that you are secretly glad.”

.. So eventually, in my mom’s final year, I began camping, clandestinely, on the grounds of her retirement home. There was a patch of forest, a grove of pines and maples and oaks, down a wheelchair-friendly path away from the parking lot

.. My mom was a lifelong hiker and cross-country skier. Her advice to anyone suffering angst was simple: “Just go outside and get some fresh air!”

.. My mom, and my mom alone, had read every word that I’d ever published. She had borne witness to my tricks for over 50 years, and she had amassed an infinitude of details on who I was and how I might behave in every scenario.