Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘literature’

16 AUGUST, 2012

Maya Angelou on Home, Belonging, and (Not) Growing Up

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“I am convinced that most people do not grow up … our real selves, the children inside, are still innocent and shy as magnolias.”

In 2008, Maya Angelou — one of the greatest voices in American literature — penned Letter to My Daughter (public library), a collection of 28 short meditations on subjects as varied as violence, humility, Morocco, philanthropy, poetry, and older lovers, addressed to the daughter she never had but really a blueprint to the life of meaning for any human being with a beating heart.

In the first essay, simply titled “Home,” Angelou offers this poignant lens on identity, growing up, and belonging.

Thomas Wolfe warned in the title of America’s great novel that ‘You Can’t Go Home Again.’ I enjoyed the book but I never agreed with the title. I believe that one can never leave home. I believe that one carries the shadows, the dreams, the fears and dragons of home under one’s skin, at the extreme corners of one’s eyes and possibly in the gristle of the earlobe.

Home is that youthful region where a child is the only real living inhabitant. Parents, siblings, and neighbors, are mysterious apparitions, who come, go, and do strange unfathomable things in and around the child, the region’s only enfranchised citizen.

[…]

I am convinced that most people do not grow up. We find parking spaces and honor our credit cards. We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. I think what we do is mostly grow old. We carry accumulation of years in our bodies and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are still innocent and shy as magnolias.

We may act sophisticated and worldly but I believe we feel safest when we go inside ourselves and find home, a place where we belong and maybe the only place we really do.

Letter to My Daughter is a superb read in its entirety — highly recommended.

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13 AUGUST, 2012

Anaïs Nin on Life, Hand-Lettered by Artist Lisa Congdon

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“You live out the confusions until they become clear.”

UPDATE: After a flurry of requests, the quotes are now available as prints. Enjoy.

It’s no secret I’m an obsessive reader of famous diaries, most recently those of French-Cuban writer Anaïs Nin (1903-1977), one of the most dedicated diarists in modern literary history. Her sixteen tomes of published journals, spanning more than half a century between the time she began writing at the age of eleven and her death, are a treasure trove of insight on literature, culture, human nature, and the life of meaning.

Earlier this month, I asked the inimitable Wendy MacNaughton to illustrate Susan Sontag’s insights on love, as synthesized from the writer’s diaries. Now, I’ve turned to another extraordinary illustrator, Lisa Congdon ( ), and asked her to bring to life some of my favorite highlights from The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 3: 1939-1944 (public library) in the style of her lovely 365 Days of Hand Lettering project.

The results took my breath away — enjoy:

You can find Lisa’s stunning prints on 20×200 and Etsy, and follow her on Twitter.

The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 3 is sublime in its entirety — highly recommended.

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09 AUGUST, 2012

Introducing Literary Jukebox: Daily Book Quote Matched with a Song

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An experiment in cross-pollinating the arts.

As a lover of both literature and music, I frequently find myself immersed in a passage, with a conceptually related song beginning to play in my mind’s ear. I recently started making such matches more consciously and was quickly drawn into a highly addictive exercise in creative intersections and associations. So I decided to make a little side project out of it. Enter Literary Jukebox, a minimalist site where I match a passage from a favorite book with a thematically related song each day. Sometimes, the connections will be fairly obvious. Other times, they might be more esoteric and require some reflection. Whatever the case, I hope you enjoy — I certainly am.

Many thanks to the talented Josh Boston for designing the identity and to Debbie Millman for in part inspiring the project.

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02 AUGUST, 2012

Is It Dirty: A Love Letter to New York’s Grit from Frank O’Hara, 1964

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“…you don’t refuse to breathe do you…”

After Anaïs Nin’s disenchanted take on New York, here comes a wonderful antidote by way of Frank O’Hara (March 27, 1926–July 25, 1966). Found in the magnificent collection Lunch Poems (public library) and originally published in 1964, “Song (Is it dirty)” is a beautiful homage to Gotham’s grit — the age-old social glue that centuries of visitors and natives have remarked upon and rejoiced in.

Enjoy a reading of “Song (Is it dirty)” by O’Hara himself, an audio excerpt from the TV program USA: Poetry: Frank O’Hara, a 12-part documentary series produced and directed by Richard Moore for National Education Television. This episode was filmed on March 5, 1966, at O’Hara’s New York City home and originally aired on September 1, 1966.

Is it dirty
does it look dirty
that’s what you think of in the city

does it just seem dirty
that’s what you think of in the city
you don’t refuse to breathe do you

someone comes along with a very bad character
he seems attractive. is he really. yes very
he’s attractive as his character is bad. is it. yes

that’s what you think of in the city
run your finger along your no-moss mind
that’s not a thought that’s soot

and you take a lot of dirt off someone
is the character less bad. no. it improves constantly
you don’t refuse to breathe do you

Complement O’Hara’s glorious Lunch Poems with E.B. White’s 1949 love letter to New York and a curious history of the city in 101 objects.

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