The Problem With Happy Endings

Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard, walking into the future in the 1936 film ‘Modern Times.’ GEORGE RINHART / GETTY From tidy stories of reunited migrant families to #PlaneBae, Americans’ bias toward optimism is a wonderful thing—until it’s not. by MEGAN GARBER Late last week, as the world’s attention was tugged in the typical directions, a 6-year-old girl named Alison Jimena Valencia Madrid was reunited with her mother, Cindy. The two, who had fled El Salvador earlier in the summer, had been separated more than a month before, at the U.S.–Mexico border, in fulfillment of the Trump administration’s policy of breaking up … Continue reading The Problem With Happy Endings

The Mystery and Might of Water

“The most appalling quality of water is its strength. I love its flash and gleam, its music, its pliancy and grace, its slap against my body; but I fear its strength.” BY MARIA POPOVA Rivers, like trees, are irrepressibly themselves and, in being so, more than themselves — sources and symbols of life, impartial witnesses imbued not merely with the elemental but with the existential. “There is a mystery about rivers that draws us to them, for they rise from hidden places and travel by routes that are not always tomorrow where they might be today,” Olivia Laing wrote in her stunning meditation … Continue reading The Mystery and Might of Water

Seneca on Gratitude and What It Means to Be a Generous Human Being

Illustration by Jacqueline Ayer from The Paper-Flower Tree “I am grateful, not in order that my neighbour, provoked by the earlier act of kindness, may be more ready to benefit me, but simply in order that I may perform a most pleasant and beautiful act.” BY MARIA POPOVA “Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes,” Annie Dillard wrote in her beautiful case for why a generosity of spirit is the greatest animating force of creativity. Two millennia earlier, great Roman philosopher Seneca examined this notion and its broader implications for human life in … Continue reading Seneca on Gratitude and What It Means to Be a Generous Human Being

If Words Hurt, It’s Because You Let Them 

Photo: x1klima by Patrick Allan This week’s selection comes from Marcus Aurelius and his Meditations, a collection of personal notes he wrote to himself that were never intended to be published. In book four, Aurelius provides us with an example of the power of our perception on the world and the often terrible, vocal people in it: “Take away thy opinion, and then there is taken away the complaint, “I have been harmed.” Take away the complaint, “I have been harmed,” and the harm is taken away. That which does not make a man worse than he was, also does not make his … Continue reading If Words Hurt, It’s Because You Let Them 

Frankenstein’ Author Mary Shelley on Creativity

Mary Shelley. Art from Literary Witches — an illustrated celebration of trailblazing women writers who have enchanted and transformed the world. “Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos.” BY MARIA POPOVA “Creativity involves not only years of conscious preparation and training but unconscious preparation as well,” Oliver Sacks wrote in outlining the three essential elements of creativity, adding: “This incubation period is essential to allow the subconscious assimilation and incorporation of one’s influences and sources, to reorganize and synthesize them into something of one’s own.” The richer one’s reservoir of these influences and sources, the … Continue reading Frankenstein’ Author Mary Shelley on Creativity

The Unbearable Dudeliness of Quests

Bro Bibles: ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho by Miles Klee Author of the novel IVYLAND and the story collection TRUE FALSE: Greetings and welcome to Bro Bibles, a series in which I ruin my summer by reading the books your worst ex-boyfriend holds dear to his heart. It’s my hope that by engaging with these often problematic and rarely rewarding texts, I will save everybody else the trouble — and perhaps learn why they are so popular among my cursed gender. Facing elimination by the Boston Celtics in this year’s NBA Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron James tried to project an air of serenity by reading … Continue reading The Unbearable Dudeliness of Quests

Rilke on the Lonely Patience of Creative Work

1902 portrait of Rainer Maria Rilke by Helmuth Westhoff, Rilke’s brother-in-law “Works of art are of an infinite loneliness and with nothing so little to be reached as with criticism. Only love can grasp and hold and be just toward them.” BY MARIA POPOVA “The most regretful people on earth,” the poet Mary Oliver wrote in contemplating the artist’s task and the central commitment of the creative life, “are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” That is what Rainer Maria Rilke (December 4, 1875–December 29, 1926), … Continue reading Rilke on the Lonely Patience of Creative Work