Commonplace Book

Daniel Lemire:

Highly productive people do not have more time, but they may have more energy, more method and better feedback on their progress.

Jack Cheng:

That’s what most people do. They keep waiting and waiting until they have enough saved up, find the right idea or until they’re in a position with more responsibility. But conditions are never perfect. And when we’re so focused on our plans, we lose sight of the openings in front of us. Instead of plans we need habits. Habits of taking risks. Habits of keeping our eyes open for new opportunities. Habits of putting ourselves in situations that force us to grow and change. We can all introduce a little chaos into our lives.

Maeda’s SIMPLICITY (404):

It’s not for others to recognize the fruits of your work; it’s for yourself. The desire is to complete a thought. So then … you can go on and find a new one to torment yourself with. The intellectual torment … is … fun? Hmmmm. Difficult to say. Perhaps it is a kind of acquired taste for an odd pleasure.

"A reasonable first step"

Scott Aaronson:

I see a world that really did change dramatically over the last century, but where progress on many fronts (like transportation and energy) seems to have slowed down rather than sped up; a world quickly approaching its carrying capacity, exhausting its natural resources, ruining its oceans, and supercharging its climate; a world where technology is often powerless to solve the most basic problems, millions continue to die for trivial reasons, and democracy is't even clearly winning over despotism; a world that finally has a communications network with a decent search engine but that still hasn't emerged from the tribalism and ignorance of the Pleistocene. And I can't help thinking that, before we transcend the human condition and upload our brains to computers, a reasonable first step might be to bring the 18th-century Enlightenment to the 98% of the world that still hasn't gotten the message.

"The most important reward of all"

Judson Jerome:

Like virtue, poetry is its own reward. … The immortality game, like that of getting into the circle of the two hundred, can be wicked and delusionary. … That leaves you with perhaps the most important reward of all: personal satisfaction. … You are more likely to succeed at poetry, as in love, if you get success out of your head. Concentrate on quality. Learn the joy of creating excellence — whether or not anyone else recognizes it.

"A really simple question"

We all know the one about the Emperor walking around with nothing on, while everyone admires the finery of his garments – garments so fine that only really clever and smart people like investment bankers can see them. The rest of us thought that debt, was, well, debt, but the bankers said no, debt is asset. It’s just that we couldn’t see it because we were so stupid…
... Yes, we need to stabilise our present situation, and then, perhaps, we could ask a really simple question – far too simple for the clever people – what is money for? At least that way it stops being an end in itself.

"As barmy as the rest"

The New Adventures of Mr Stephen Fry:

I forebear telling him that the reason I do not find Mormonism especially ridiculous is because I find all pretend invisible friends, Special Books and their rules equally ridiculous. Mormon ideas about realms of crystal rebirthing and special underpants are no weirder than the enforcing of wigs and woollen tights on orthodox Jewish women or laws and dogmas about burkhas and Virgin Births. The religion of the Latter Day Saints is not deserving of especial contempt simply because it is newer. It is as barmy as the rest and I cheerfully treat it as such.

"Reminding him with a tap"

Anton Chekhov:

There ought to be behind the door of every happy, contented man some one standing with a hammer continually reminding him with a tap that there are unhappy people; that however happy he may be, life will show him her claws sooner or later, trouble will come for him -- disease, poverty, losses, and no one will see or hear, just as now he neither sees nor hears others.

"The Midnight Disease" by Alice W. Flaherty

A few years ago, I read and enjoyed Alice W. Flaherty's memoir, The Midnight Disease. Suffering from postpartum depression after the death of her newborn child, she began experiencing hypergraphia -- the uncontrollable urge to write. She filled pages and pages with her writing, and couldn't stop -- the opposite of writer's block. Flaherty is a psychiatrist and her memoir/study grapples with a scientific way to look at creativity, which at times resembles a mental disorder.

When I had the book, I wrote down many passages and thoughts that struck me. Those passages follow. Page numbers refer to the hardcover edition.

(no page #) Far more important, a life chosen to maximize joy may be very different from one chosen to minimize pain.

212 Accounts of the muse's influence are matched by complaints of its fickleness. An example is Donald Justice's poem "The Telephone Number of the Muse":

I call her up sometimes, long distance now. And she still knows my voice, but I can hear, Behind the music of her phonograph, The laughter of the young men with their keys. I have the number written down somewhere.

239 I would argue that these creative states are extreme variants of the inner voice, that constant monologue which fills us from when we first learn language as toddlers until we lose it in nursing homes and intensive care units.

250 When we are thinking abstractly, though, we seem to be doing so prelinguistically, both because the speed of our thoughts seems faster than words and because of the difficulty we often have in putting fleeting thoughts into real words. By contrast, in both the experience of the muse and in psychotic hallucinations, the voice heard has more of a sensory quality as well; it is more like a voice, less like an idea.

This notion fits with our sense that voices, whether spoken or signed, in some way are more primitive than silent thoughts. Just as two-year-olds say aloud much of what goes through their heads, just as six-year-olds subvocalize when they read, so people in the throes of creation, as well as people hallucinating, may be thinking more primitively. Not necessarily more simplistically, but primitively ... more vividly, more concretely, more associatively, less constrained by societal convention.

252 The psychiatrist Mark Epstein has pointed out that keeping respiration in mind as a model for our give-and-take relationship with the external world, and especially with our creative work, would have a very different effect from thinking of the world as something (on the oral, anal, or genital models) to be consumed, expelled, or penetrated.

254 The image is not of the artist enriched by the spirit of art, but ex-hausted by its leaving his body. Finishing a project successfully is, paradoxically, a not uncommon cause of clinical depression.

I think that when you work hard enough on any work, everything of value in you goes into that work. When you finish it, it leaves you, and you are empty.

260 Neurologists and others have attributed the behavior of many famous religious leaders directly to temporal lobe epilepsy.

Moses, for instance, reportedly had convulsive fits starting at age three, speech problems suggestive of aphasia or dysarthria, unusually prolific writing, episodes of sudden rage, and religious visions. One neuropsychologist has even speculated that his epilepsy was caused by his being left in that basket among the bullrushes for several days and sustaining a brain injury from heatstroke.

266 The scientist in me worries that my happiness is nothing more than a symptom of bipolar disease, hypergraphia from a postpartum disorder. The rest of me thinks that artificially splitting off the scientist in me from the writer in me is actually a kind of cultural bipolar disorder, one that too many of us have. The scientist asks how I can call  my writing vocation and not addiction. I no longer see why I should have to make that distinction. I am addicted to breathing in the same way. I write because when I don't, it is suffocating. I write because something much larger than myself comes into me that suffuses the page, the world, with meaning. Although I constantly fear that what I am writing teeters at the edge of being false, this force that drives me cannot be anything but real, or nothing will ever be real for me again.

"Lost is okay"

People use books like law school. They think if they have some piece of paper – a degree, a contract – then people will respect them and then they'll respect themselves. But self-respect comes from having some sort of vision for one's life and heading in that direction. And there is no one who can give you that vision – you have to give it to yourself, and before you can feel like you have direction, you have to feel lost — and lost is okay.