The best advice I ever got about reading came from the critic and scholar Louis Menand. Back in 2005, I spent six months in Boston and, for the fun of it, sat in on a lit seminar he was teaching at Harvard. The week we were to read Gertrude Stein’s notoriously challenging Tender Buttons, one student raised her hand and asked—bravely, I thought—if Menand had any advice about how best to approach it. In response, he offered up the closest thing to a beatific smile I have ever seen on the face of a book critic. “With pleasure,” he replied.

There’s a character in the film who, in passing, mentions that “talent plus persistence equals luck.” Are those your words? And has that been your experience?

Those aren’t my words. I got that from a book that Steven Soderbergh wrote about his experience making sex, lies, and videotape. He may have even been quoting someone else. I don’t know if he came up with it. But I read it in the book, and I’ve always liked it, and I believe in it. I feel like a lot of people who are very talented bow out early. They bow out after the initial wave of obstacles, which will definitely be there. So I think you absolutely need to be tenacious, and diligent to present opportunities for yourself. And sometimes, people will get lucky and the opportunities will present themselves very quickly, but for many others, for the vast majority of us, we have to kind of keep overcoming many, many obstacles before we’re able to take advantage of an opportunity. In retrospect, it will resonate as luck, but the outcome is the result of drive and natural talent, I think.

Tom Waits on habits

“It’s very hard to stop doing things you’re used to doing. You almost have to dismantle yourself and scatter it all around and then put a blindfold on and put it back together so that you avoid old habits.” 

― Tom Waits

Wipe the slate clean every day.

You don’t need to worry about your reading lists. Mark them all as read. Don’t worry about all the social media posts you haven’t read. Don’t worry about all the blogs there are to search through, or all the news sites there are to keep up with. Each day, your slate is clean. Then you can decide how to fill that slate each day, and enjoy whatever you choose to experience.

Then let go, with a new slate each day.

Here’s what I’ve learned from not writing about my life because I was scared you wouldn’t like it: I’ve learned that you don’t care what I do in my life as long as I’m interesting. If I am doing something that’s scary, and I tell you, then you can identify with me when you do something scary. What this community is, really, is people who want to do something scary. Because life is very, very boring if we don’t scare ourselves.

After attending the Green Vale School in Old Brookville, N.Y., where her classmates included Gloria Vanderbilt, and graduating from St. Timothy’s School in Stevenson, Md., she turned down a scholarship to Radcliffe to marry Arthur Twining Hadley II, whom she later described as “handsome, but a cad.” Her mother handed her off with the only bit of intimate advice she ever imparted: “Don’t worry, Dear, sex will only last a year.”