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Archive for June, 2012

“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.” – Franz Kafka

You have been trained to believe that if your life is not moving continually along one linear path with a glowing reward at the end of it, then what you are doing is worthless; you’re wasting your time. But is it worthless to travel without buying a souvenir, or to read literature without pursuing an English degree, or to love without the expectation of something in return? Fill your heart with things like this and the path will begin to matter less and less.

Stop asking yourself where your life is going, and instead start asking: “Am I going to allow myself to die before my body does? Do I want to spend my time on Earth accumulating things to be buried with me, or do I want to leave behind a legacy of love so extraordinarily grand that no one can force it to stay inside a coffin?”

(If anyone knows the source of this image, please inform me and credit will be given!)

Your purpose is not to take as much as you can with you into death, but to give as much of yourself as possible before you die, because in that way, you will live forever in the world.

I often hear of death reduced to a moment, to a single last breath. It’s true that we only die one time, but the amount of time it takes a person can vary. Sure, you exist–you eat sushi and drink Coke, you sleep on mattresses and brush your teeth in the morning because you can’t afford a cavity right now, you tell other people out of habit that you love them even if you don’t feel it every time.

These things can be enjoyable and offer satisfaction, a reassurance that your life is all right and has a steady direction, but do they allow your soul to breathe? You must do what makes you feel alive, or you will suffer a death that is longer and more excruciating than any you could imagine.

(If anyone knows the source of this image, please inform me and credit will be given!)

You must read books that are not good for you but that make you laugh in spite of yourself, and write the same kinds of things that you read. Make a list of the things that you wanted to do before someone told you that they couldn’t be done, and then sneak away from your children at night to go and do them. Think of places that beckon you and bribe families that are driving there to take you with them. Do whatever makes you marvel at your own humanity, and do it well and with unprecedented joy.

Before you die, live.

What is your passion? What makes you feel alive?

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“I remember my own childhood vividly. I knew terrible things. But I knew I mustn’t let adults know I knew. It would scare them.” – Maurice Sendak

In my experience, the widely held perception is that it’s easy to write a book for kids, and that less talent is required in doing so than in writing for adults. Why? Because kids are simple things, right? Their most complex emotion is I want ice cream, and their aspirations don’t venture much past I’m gonna try not to wet my Pull-Ups today!

Right. That’s why parenting is so easy. (Note the sarcasm.)

Like the skills we learn from our parents, some books are not left in childhood. Some books mark us for a lifetime, and as adults, we still carry them with us. Books like Margaret Brown’s Goodnight Moon, Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, beloved works by Roald Dahl and Dr. Seuss.

The authors of these books have something in common: they tell the truth. As adults, we want to protect children, and rightly so, but in our quest to preserve their innocence, we sometimes attempt to remove from their consciousness what is real, and this is a mistake.

Maurice Sendak, an award-winning writer and illustrator who died last month, was adamant about this, that whatever we do, we must be honest with our children.

(Watch Stephen Colbert interview Maurice Sendak, and then YouTube more interviews. The man was a genius. Listening to him will change your life. Links to his interviews are provided at the end of this post.)

He once told the story of a little girl who had witnessed the 9/11 attacks. “I knew a little girl who told her parents – because her school was close by the twin towers when it happened – and she told her father that she saw the butterflies coming out of the windows. And only later said: ‘They weren’t butterflies. They were people.’ But she lied, at first, to make him more comfortable. And that’s what kids do – they are immensely courageous. And they sacrifice a lot. And they try to play mute and dumb because – well, it’s kind of the expectation of their parents.”

I remember this very feeling as a child. When I was around the age of seven, I read a quote that was something like this: “Childhood ends the moment you learn you are going to die.” The magnitude of its unapologetic honesty struck me. I repeated the quote to my mother and she reacted with horror. “Elizabeth, that’s terrible! Why are you reading things like that? Where did you find it?!”

Children learn quickly that they are not expected to say what is true; they are expected to say what is cute. They familiarize themselves with what is “right” and what is “wrong,” and I’m not talking in terms of morality. They know to censor themselves, for our sake.

This, in my opinion, is the greatest tragedy we could inflict upon the next generation. Kids shouldn’t have to say anything to put us at ease, or conversely, not say something because it will make us uncomfortable. Children live in the same world you do, and they are not incapable of understanding it. Timeless children’s authors know this. They write honestly about what is real, trusting their small readers to respond with the intellectual fervor that they know those readers are capable of, not because they are children, but because they are human.

Links (watch these! Maurice Sendak will change your life…)

Stephen Colbert interviews Maurice Sendak: Part 1

Stephen Colbert interviews Maurice Sendak: Part 2

Maurice Sendak talks about passion, comic books, and William Blake

Maurice Sendak on Death (and Life)

What were your favorite books as a child? Which ones do you still carry with you?

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(Source of image unknown. If anyone knows it and informs me, credit will be given.)

“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear, which is inherent in a human condition.” – Graham Greene

(Source of image unknown. If anyone knows it and informs me, credit will be given.)

“I’m going to make everything around me beautiful — that will be my life.” – Elsie de Wolfe

(Source of image unknown. If anyone knows it and informs me, credit will be given.)

 

What have you created recently? How do you find your inspiration?

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Traveling is relatively expensive, no matter what your budget. I try whenever I can to save money, wherever I can. The biggest expenses: room and board. That is, food and a place to sleep. Here are some tips on how to avoid paying outrageous prices for either.

If you plan on very short trips to major cities (for example, if you plan on spending two nights in Paris), hostels are a much cheaper option than hotels. You will usually share a room and bathroom with fellow travelers, but you will always have your own bed. Plus you often receive free WiFi connection and breakfast in the mornings. Hostelworld.com is a great, easy to use website for finding good deals on hostels in nearly every country. In my experience, beds typically cost 10 to 30 dollars per night.

Now, a couple of alternatives for the braver of heart…

Ever heard of CourchSurfing.org? Basically, you sign up online and wherever you travel, you stay at the home of a local for free. It’s a great way to meet new people and learn about the culture of the place where you are visiting. You can choose to stay only with people who have had background checks and/or have reviews from other travelers who have stayed with them previously. I haven’t used this website, but I have friends who have had great experiences with it!

Are you willing to work five or six hours a day in return for room and board, probably on a farm outside of a major city, and do this in the same place for at least a week or longer? (It’s a lot more fun than it sounds, trust me.) If yes, there are many opportunities to travel doing this, and to do it very cheaply. Here are some websites I have used that are very helpful. I don’t deny the existence of similar sites that are just as good or better. These are just the ones that I have personally used and liked.

WorkAway

WWOOF

HelpX

Do you know of any other websites like the ones I’ve listed? How do you save money when you travel?

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“If you’re 22, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel – as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them – wherever you go.” – Anthony Bourdain

Where was the last place you traveled? I don’t mean last weekend when you drove the couple of hours it takes to see your parents. I mean traveled, out of your state or even your country, to a place that is fundamentally different from the one you are used to.

I can understand the reservations. Why would I want to leave? I’m comfortable here, and besides, I don’t have the money for it.

I hear you, and both are valid arguments, but I still have a response. Have the courage to be uncomfortable. Have the courage to be poor. Work for your food and a place to sleep if you have to. Travel like your life depends on it, and try to do it while you are still young and impressionable.

I have made two major moves in my life. The first was when I went to college; I moved from Kansas to New York. The second was when I studied abroad my junior year; I went from the United States to Italy. Both were enormous culture shocks, and both made me very uncomfortable. I questioned every experience I’d ever had, everything I had ever learned up until that point. And thank God.

We need to be shoved out of our comfort zones. Or better yet, we must have the guts to leap out of them, overwhelmed with both eagerness and fear. When you travel, you will have the freedom to explore yourself away from everyone who knows you and has certain expectations about your personality. Those people aren’t with you when you travel. You can be whoever you want to be. This is the most liberating feeling I have ever had.

I don’t mean to simplify or dismiss concerns or reasons why you are unable to travel. It can be a significant expense, both in time and money, and while there is no substitute for actually getting out into the world, there is one thing you can do that comes close. You can read. Read everything you can get your hands on about different cultures and countries, especially if the books/articles have been written by someone who is actually from those places. (For tips on Traveling on a Budget, complete with websites for hostels and work exchanges, see my next post.)

All I can tell you is this: if you travel, you will grow as a person. You will be confused and feel out of place, but you will learn more than you can imagine. Do whatever you have to do. Just get out of here.

What was the last trip you took? Where’s your favorite place you’ve ever been? Where do you still want to go in the future? What’s stopping you?

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“In exploring the shared language and poetic sensibilities of all animals, I am working towards rediscovering the common ground that once existed when people lived in harmony with animals. The images depict a world that is without beginning or end, here or there, past or present.” – Gregory Colbert, photographer

Visit his website here.

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