Brain Pickings

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11 APRIL, 2012

Seuss-isms: Wise and Witty Prescriptions for Living from the Good Doctor

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“Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!”

As a lover of Dr. Seuss and of children’s books with timeless philosophy for grown-ups, I was delighted to stumble across Seuss-isms: Wise and Witty Prescriptions for Living from the Good Doctor (public library) — a simple, lovely 1997 collection of Seussean gold that transcends the seemingly simple verses to glean wisdom on life that gets more profound with each reading.

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
(Oh, the Places You’ll Go!)

(Because, let’s not forget, personality is fluid and we can rewire our own habit loops.)

All alone!
Whether you like it or not,
alone is something
you’ll be quite a lot!
(Oh, the Places You’ll Go!)

(And you might as well make it a creative advantage.)

Today you are true!
That is truer than true!
There is no one alive
who is you-er than you!
(Happy Birthday to You!)

(Unless, of course, you get into the philosophy of what a “person” is.)

This pool might be bigger
Than you or I know!
(McElligot’s Pool)

(And, as we’ve recently learned, embracing the bounds of our ignorance is fundamental to expanding our knowledge.)

Think left and think right
and think low and think high.
Oh, the thinks you can think up
if only you try!
(Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!)

(The good doctor knew a thing or two about networked knowledge and combinatorial creativity.)

You’ll find many more such timeless prescriptions in Seuss-isms, divided into subjects ranging from the serious (“Equality and Justice,” “Facing up to Adversity”) to the tongue-in-cheek (“The Art of Eating,” “The First Nerd!”).

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10 APRIL, 2012

C. S. Lewis’s Advice to Children on Duty and the Three Kinds of Things Anyone Need Ever Do

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“Most of us need the crutch at times; but of course it’s idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs can do the journey on their own!”

As if one needed another reason to have a soft spot for beloved writer C. S. Lewis: He received many fan letters from children, mostly after the publication of The Chronicles of Narnia, and answered many of them. In fact, he didn’t just answer them; his correspondence with young readers, collected in C. S. Lewis: Letters to Children, was full of tremendous generosity, compassion, and wholeheartedness — and subtle, timeless wisdom.

In a letter to a girl named Sarah, dated April 3, 1949, Lewis writes:

Remember that there are only three kinds of things anyone need ever do. (1) Things we ought to do (2) Things we’ve got to do (3) Things we like doing. I say this because some people seem to spend so much of their time doing things for none of the three reasons, things like reading books they don’t like because other people read them. Things you ought to do are things like doing one’s school work or being nice to people. Things one has got to do are things like dressing and undressing, or household shopping. Things one likes doing — but of course I don’t know what you like. Perhaps you’ll write and tell me one day.

Nearly a decade later, in a letter dated July 18, 1957, Lewis revisit the subject of duty’s false deities with another little girl, Joan:

A perfect man wd. never act from a sense of duty; he’d always want the right thing more than the wrong one. Duty is only a substitute for love (of God and of other people), like a crutch, which is a substitute for a leg. Most of us need the crutch at times; but of course it’s idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs (or own loves, tastes, habits etc) can do the journey on their own!

(It must be the week for sage advice to little girls from cultural icons.)

This caution against duty eclipsing your authentic drives is a fine addition to the discussion of how to find your purpose and do what you love.

Also in C. S. Lewis: Letters to Children you’ll find Lewis’s 5 tips on writing, originally intended for little ones, but surprisingly useful — needed, even — reminders for any grown-up writer.

Letters of Note

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10 APRIL, 2012

500,000 Strangers’ Secrets: PostSecret Founder Frank Warren at TED

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Cracking open the shell of the human condition.

A friend once told me she believed secrets were these beautiful things that “break” when shared. But the breakage itself can be a thing of beauty.

Since January 1, 2005, strangers have been writing, drawing, collaging, doodling, and otherwise revealing their most tightly guarded secrets on anonymous postcards and mailing them to Frank Warren’s PostSecret project. Last month, Warren took the TED stage to share the remarkable story of this collective exercise in compassion and crack open the shell of the human condition.

Secrets can take many forms. They can be shocking or silly or soulful. They can connect us with our deepest humanity, or with people we’ll never meet.”

The project has since been adapted in a series of books, dancing in visceral detail across the entire spectrum of being human.

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