Category Archives: Quotables

Is Rebellion Necessary for True Art?

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“Generally speaking, art is an expression of man’s need for an harmonious and complete life, that is to say, his need for those major benefits of which a society of classes has deprived him. That is why a protest against reality, either conscious or unconscious, active or passive, optimistic or pessimistic, always forms part of a really creative piece of work. Every new tendency in art has begun with rebellion”

Leon Trotsky

Whoa, here I go quoting Leon Trotsky, of all people! Don’t worry, I haven’t turned into a Marxist/Trotskyist/whatever-type-of-communism-is-currently-fashionable. I’ve always resisted the idea that art is always about rebellion, while at the same time always maintaining that an escape from everyday reality is an important part of enjoying good art or good writing.

But what Trotsky is saying is that this act of escape is, in itself, a rebellion against current realities. I don’t like the idea that all art is rebellion because not everything needs to be rebelled against, or is worth rebelling against. Sometimes the good can be celebrated too. But most art does point to something lacking in the human reality, even if it’s just in a tragic way (like The Great Gatsby – I just watched the new movie version, by the way!)

So can art be an expression of what reality is lacking? Definitely. Does that mean art is rebellious, since it is pointing out the flaws in reality? Well then, maybe there is an aspect of rebellion to all art after all.

Here’s what I believe, in the end. Humanity is looking for a harmonious and complete life. But the barrier to gaining that kind of life is not class divisions, as Trotsky says above, but ourselves. All of our individual stupid shortcomings and flaws, repeated on a grand scale throughout the whole human race, resulting in everything we know is wrong with the world – war, hatred, evil.

Sometimes we need an escape from this kind of petty reality. Sometimes we need to use art to point it the bad stuff. Either way, creativity and artistic production is important for humanity.

 

 

What do you think – does art have to have an aspect of rebellion to it? What should art rebel against?
On a related note – ‘Something Like Friendship,’ Chapter 5 of my Why Polly? serialized novel comes out today! Click here to check it out. Or you can read Chapter 1 free here.

 

 

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Creativity is the Residue of Time Wasted

quotables buttonCreativity is the residue of time wasted.

– Albert Einstein*

Sometimes time wasted is just time wasted. And sometimes time wasted ends up being creativity.

Why is this? Well, creativity is a funny thing. You don’t always know where you’re going to end up when you start. You might find yourself in a lot of dead ends before you get somewhere interesting. And so your endless scribbling at your desk, or your doodling, or your songwriting might look a lot like time wasted to everyone else.

This is the difficult thing about creativity, and it’s part of the reason the arts are called both a ‘waste of time and money’ AND essential to humanity. The process for creating art is not standard in the way the scientific method is standard. A lot of what’s produced might looked like garbage, or time wasted. And throwing money at the arts does not necessarily equal creativity (in a neat, positively correlated way, I mean), which frustrates a lot of goal-driven people.

But then, every once in a while, you do get mind-blowing stuff. Which reminds everyone, once again, to give creative people the space they need to create.

For creators, this means learning the balance between wasting time and being productive… gaining an instinct for knowing when to stop doodling and start painting, or stop researching and start writing, or whatever. Sometimes a dead-end is fun and endless entertaining (like writing the missing scenes to Jane Austen’s novels). Which sometimes means you should stick that in your ‘leisure’ time slot instead of your ‘working’ slot.

I, by no means, have figured this out yet. Have you?

 

*The internet attributes this quote to Albert Einstein. We all know how accurate the internet is 🙂

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The Pleasures of Not Writing

by Paul Fischer. {PD}

by Paul Fischer. {PD}

“The pleasures of not writing are so great that if you ever start indulging them you will never write again”

—John Updike.

This quote grabbed me because it is something I’ve been struggling with a lot lately – I’ve managed to keep writing a fair amount, but each step is a momentous struggle of motivation.

This isn’t uncommon for writers, I don’t think. Every once in a while it just seems far easier to quit trying to pour out your soul on paper. And everything else starts to look more attractive than staring at a blank page – going out with friends who called you up at the last moment, reading someone else’s blog, or going outside to lie in the sunshine (now that winter is over). And I firmly resist always giving in to these temptations, because if I let all these attractive things have their way every time they pop up, my time for writing will slowly evaporate.

But what John Updike writes is both true and not true. Not writing is terribly attractive, and entirely possible if you let the demands of life take over your attempts at writing. But so far in my life, I keep coming back to writing, over and over, despite having giving it up in despair many times.

That is why I call myself a writer (or, one of the many reason I do, anyway). Why would I keep coming back to it if there wasn’t something inside me that drove me to writing? Giving it up could be so simple, and yet I have never done it.

Still, this quote drives home the point that writing takes discipline. Many people call themselves ‘writers’ because they have a book in their head, but they’ve never actually put a pen to paper. I could continue to call myself a writer, and let my inner writing drive drive me to throw a paragraph down once in a while.

But to produce actual writing that other people want to read, and find useful or interesting or thought-provoking, takes discipline. The discipline to keep going, word after word, until you have just thewriting quote right amount of words to convey the idea you want to get across. Then the discipline, to re-write, edit, re-think, and struggle until that idea comes through crystal-clear. And then the discipline to keep throwing that chunk of writing to places where other people will see it, and to hunt down publishers and promoters until you reach the audience you wrote it for. And this discipline is what many writers struggle with. Writing is a journey in self-motivation, after all.

So keep up that struggle, writers! There are enough non-writers out there already. And for those of you out there who are readers, I’m sure you’re glad, in the same way I am, that so many great writers didn’t give in to the pleasure of not writing.

Writers – have you ever been tempted towards not writing? Readers – which book are you really glad an author managed to motivate his or herself to churn out?

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The World Is Better On Coffee (But It Won’t Make You Write Better)

Cup o'coffee, wikimedia commons. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Cup o’coffee, wikimedia commons. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

“Many people claim coffee inspires them, but, as everybody knows, coffee only makes boring people even more boring.”

Honore de Balzac, On Modern Stimulants

Coffee won’t make you write better, but it might make you feel better. A large cup of coffee every morning, laced with cream and sugar and carried with me in a leak-proof travel mug, gives me just that extra perk to cross over from sleep to waking. It is the ever-so slow, ever-so steady infusing of euphoria into my veins. At its very peak, everything seems possible, every achievement looks within reach – and so I start my daily work. Yes, it is a drug, but not one I will ever feel bad about taking.

I have weaned myself off coffee for months at a time before, and I function just fine after an initial few days of blurriness. But it is not worth it. There is a spark missing in the world, a spark so close to imperceptible that should not make that much of a difference, but it does. The warm smell of coffee would drift across my nostrils, and I would know what I was missing. The first gulp would reinforce this knowledge even more.

Do I write better on coffee? Aside from performing a double-blind, randomly controlled study, I’m not sure how I could tell. But I know several tens of thousands of words looks like a lot smaller of a mountain to climb, after a cup of coffee. Stringing the perfect set of words into sentences that connect with throngs of people appears to be achievable, someday, if I just keep at it. Coffee brings confidence, and confidence brings out writing. So maybe it affects quantity more than quality, though confidence has been known to improve quality before as well.

Not all writers are coffee-drinkers, though many writers throughout history have been. All the same, coffee obviously does not work the same way on everyone, and not everyone should treat it like a wonder-drug. If you cannot write, coffee won’t make you better at it. If you wire yourself up into a hyper-caffeinated state, you might produce pages and pages of gibberish, but you might not be any better at writing. Balzac, in the midst of his own ode to coffee, realized this, and so do I – being interesting takes more than mere caffeine!

So take up that mug of coffee, especially if it pushes you a little farther outside yourself than you would normally go. Drink it if it makes the world glow in ways it never does uncaffeinated. Let it drive you actually sit down at that table and write. But beware, if you have nothing interesting to write about.

What does coffee do to you?

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Argue Your Way to Knowledge!

John MIlton {PD}

John MIlton {PD}

“Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making.”

– John Milton

According to Milton: the desire to learn -> opinions -> knowledge. In order to arrive at knowing something, you have to make the leap to where you think you should stand on a subject. It seems more logical to get the knowledge first, then decide what your opinion should be. But Milton is right – once you have to defend your position, write it in words, and fight with others about it, you know its strengths and flaws much better. You might even change your opinion and start all over. Either way, you’ll know much more than you did before.

“As iron sharpens iron,
    so one person sharpens another.”

That’s Proverbs 27:17 in the Bible, and sums up how two people can clash and be better as a result of it. Sometimes we can be too afraid of arguing. Too afraid of opening a can of worms. We can go a little too post-modern, and feel we don’t ever have the right to think anyone else is wrong. Or just feel the natural worry that friendships will be hurt if we disagree on something. No one wants to lose friendships. And if it’s a fragile, sensitive sort of friendship, I agree you shouldn’t needless push the boundaries. But a real, robust friendship can handle even long, intense arguments. That is why I love the ability to argue with some of the people closest to me.

 I’ve been frustrated with people who run from discussing important topics, and I’ve been that person who run from arguing. I’ve had opinions and been scared to examine them. I’ve been scared to voice them. But gathering up the courage to air opinions is essential for a writer, unless you want to be the anemic sort who never says anything worthwhile. And it’s equally essential to face the challenges to what you say.  So if I want to be a writer – I’ll have to face that iron. Let’s hope I’ll end up on the “knowledge” side of the equation in the end.

What do you think – can you argue your way to knowledge?

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Making Fun of Readers?

books 2 I would never make fun of anyone who loved to read.

– Juliet Ashton, in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

People who love to read get made fun of, sometimes. This is probably leftover from childhood, when the bookworms were thought of as kids who sat in the corner and had no friends, while the ‘cool kids’ boasted about how much of Animal Farm they didn’t read. So I would never, never make fun of anyone who loved to read. It’s too much of a life pleasure to make someone embarrassed about doing it.

This is probably why I cringe inside when someone tells me, “I never read,” or “I haven’t cracked open a book since junior high!” Because I am afraid they’re subtly trying to prove they’re superior to me. This is probably an entirely unfair way of reading this situation, and it’s highly likely no one is trying to insult me this way. It’s merely a knee-jerk reaction from my schooldays, in the same way I cringe when someone calls me “smart,” and I automatically insist I’m not (while looking over my shoulder in fear of being labelled “teacher’s pet” as well.) In the same way I try not to tell anyone my grades, even though getting a good grade in university has a lot less stigma attached.

But this works the other way too. When someone admits to me that they love books too, I feel a sudden kinship with them, as sharing a love of reading means we have a lot of other things in common too. I’ve discovered this is not always true, of course, but one of the fastest ways to get me to like a person is still for them to not be afraid to talk about the books they read.

I know, people who don’t like reading are sometimes looked down on by readers – the best solution would be for everyone to think twice before laughing at someone else. But since all of you lovely people are clearly readers, I have to ask you – do you ever feel looked down upon because of your reading habits? How do you feel when you meet a fellow reader?

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Advice for an Introvert in Fiction

Darcy proposing to Elizabeth, by Hugh Thomson. {PD}

Darcy proposing to Elizabeth, by Hugh Thomson. {PD}

“I certainly have not the talent which some people possess,” said Darcy, “of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.”

“My fingers,” said Elizabeth, “do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women’s do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault — because I would not take the trouble of practising. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman’s of superior execution.”

 – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

 I did one of those “What Jane Austen Character Are You?” quizzes the other day, and my answer was that I was Elizabeth. Which made me laugh, because I am far more like Mr. Darcy than Elizabeth. Not in the handsome and rich sense, of course – more in the “I don’t always know what to say in social situations” sense. As I wrote about before, that’s part of what makes him such a good romantic protagonist for Pride and Prejudice. I love Elizabeth, and would certainly love to be as witty as her, but my clever remarks tend to occur to me long after the conversation is done. Especially if it’s a conversation with someone I’d like to impress, of course.

But this quote is a good one in another way too. As an introvert, it’s easy just to say, “This is the way I am,” and give up on people. To excuse yourself from making the effort to talk to people you don’t know. To just stare at the floor and back away from all the people, and not even think there might be other people in the room who feel just as awkward as you. I’m not saying every introvert should try to act more like an extrovert, not at all. I know how excruciating that can feel. But to practice – well, I really do get better at socializing the more I socialize. Sometimes I need to break out of my inward-focused bubble and think about other people more. And refusing to always use introversion as an excuse is a good first step in that.

So is advice that’s good enough for Mr. Darcy good enough for me? Why, yes, it is – thank you, Elizabeth!

 

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Concerning Hobbits – Why We Love Them

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“You do not know your danger, Theoden,” interrupted Gandalf. “These hobbits will sit on the edge of ruin and discuss the pleasures of the table, or the small doings of their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers, and remote cousins to the ninth degree, if you encourage them with undue patience. Some other time would be more fitting for the history of smoking!”

The Two Towers, by J.R.R. Tolkien

I just really love how clearly hobbits’ character comes through here.

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The Best Kind of People to Hang Out With

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Anne smiled and said, “My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.”

“You are mistaken,” said he gently, “that is not good company, that is the best.”

Persuasion, Chapter 16, by Jane Austen

Mr. Elliot gets a lot of things wrong in Persuasion, but this is one thing he gets right.

Sometimes I think I am too much like Anne Elliot. Yes, in being too reserved, quiet, and worst of all, far too passive – but also in what I think is ‘fun.’ A evening in a quiet coffee shop with interesting people can be more exciting than the wildest party – not that I ever would draw away from a party, especially one filled with “clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation.” I love people who have opinions and who can tell me stuff I never knew, even if I disagree with them. If I’ve never heard it before, it’s highly exciting to listen to it. If I am at all like Anne Elliot, I am not ashamed of looking for stimulating and thought-provoking people to hang out with, at the very least.

What is good company to you?

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Books, Books, Books!

A logical follow-up to last week’s post about libraries is have one celebrating books. Here is a bit of verse by Elizabeth Barrett Browning – I quoted her once before in ‘From Recluse to Romance,’ which was part of my Real-life Romance series. I haven’t actually read much of her work, because of my somewhat ambivalent attitude to poetry in general, but I do like a lot of her verse than I have read. So here is a chunk so you all can decide what you think too!

Books, books, books!
I had found the secret of a garret room
Piled high with cases in my father’s name;
Piled high, packed large,—where, creeping in and out
Among the giant fossils of my past,
Like some small nimble mouse between the ribs
Of a mastodon, I nibbled here and there
At this or that box, pulling through the gap,
In heats of terror, haste, victorious joy,
The first book first. And how I felt it beat
Under my pillow, in the morning’s dark,
An hour before the sun would let me read!
My books!
At last, because the time was ripe,
I chanced upon the poets.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh (1856), Book I, line 830.

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