Brain Pickings

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The Ocean and the Meaning of Life

“Contemplating the teeming life of the shore, we have an uneasy sense of the communication of some universal truth that lies just beyond our grasp… the ultimate mystery of Life itself.”

This essay is adapted from Figuring.

In June of 1952, the United States Fish & Wildlife Service received a letter of resignation from its most famous marine biologist. On the line requesting the reason for resignation, she had stated plainly: “To devote my time to writing.” But she was also leaving for the freedom to use her public voice as an instrument of change, awakening the world’s ecological conscience with her bold open letters holding the government accountable for its exploitation of nature.

Fifteen years earlier, at age twenty-nine, Rachel Carson (May 27, 1907–April 14, 1964) had gotten her start at the lowest rungs of the government agency as a field aide hired at $6.50 an hour. Wading through tide pools and annual marine census reports as a junior aquatic biologist, she had found her voice as a writer with an uncommon gift for walking the teeming shoreline between the scientific and the poetic. In an unexampled essay that eventually bloomed into The Sea Around Us, which won her the National Book Award, she had invited the human imagination undersea, into a world then more mysterious than the Moon. Now, forty-five and finally free from the day-job by which she had been supporting her mother, her sister, and the young nephew she adopted and raised as her son after her sister’s death, Carson set out to fulfill her childhood dream of living by the ocean.

Rachel Carson

After searching along the New England coast, she fell in love with West Southport — a picturesque island in Maine, nestled among evergreens and oaks in the estuary of the Sheepscot River, where seals frequented the beach and whales billowed by as though torn from the pages of her beloved Melville. With her book royalties, she bought a plot of land on which to build a cottage. In a touching testament to her orientation to the natural world, she felt deeply uncomfortable thinking of herself as its “owner” — a “strange and inappropriate word” — of this “perfectly magnificent piece of Maine shoreline.” There, she would soon meet her soul mate, whose love would bolster Carson’s moral courage in catalyzing the environmental movement; there, she would compose her next book, dedicating it to her beloved Dorothy for having gone down with her “into the low-tide world” and “felt its beauty and its mystery.”

The Edge of the Sea was an ambitious guide to the seashore — the place where Carson found “a sense of the unhurried deliberation of earth processes that move with infinite leisure, with all eternity at their disposal”; the strange and wondrous boundary the ocean-loving Whitman had once extolled as “that suggesting, dividing line, contact, junction… blending the real and ideal, and each made portion of the other.”

The book was also an admonition against what we stand to lose — writing in the early 1950s, Carson noted the systematically documented and “well recognized” fact of global climate change. But was primarily a celebration, for that is always the most effective instrument of admonition — a celebration of what we have and what we are, an ode to “how that marvelous, tough, vital, and adaptable something we know as LIFE has come to occupy one part of the sea world and how it has adjusted itself and survived despite the immense, blind forces acting upon it from every side.”

Spring Moon at Ninomiya Beach, 1931 — one of Hasui Kawase’s stunning vintage Japanese woodblocks. (Available as a print.)

Inevitably, in telling the story of life, the book takes on an existential undertone, rendered symphonic under Carson’s poetic pen. Watching the fog engulf the rocks beneath her study window as the night tide rolls in, she considers the totality of being, which the world’s oceans contour and connect:

Hearing the rising tide, I think how it is pressing also against other shores I know — rising on a southern beach where there is no fog, but a moon edging all the waves with silver and touching the wet sands with lambent sheen, and on a still more distant shore sending its streaming currents against the moonlit pinnacles and the dark caves of the coral rock.

Then in my thoughts these shores, so different in their nature and in the inhabitants they support, are made one by the unifying touch of the sea. For the differences I sense in this particular instant of time that is mine are but the differences of a moment, determined by our place in the stream of time and in the long rhythms of the sea. Once this rocky coast beneath me was a plain of sand; then the sea rose and found a new shore line. And again in some shadowy future the surf will have ground these rocks to sand and will have returned the coast to its earlier state. And so in my mind’s eye these coastal forms merge and blend in a shifting, kaleidoscopic pattern in which there is no finality, no ultimate and fixed reality — earth becoming fluid as the sea itself.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Japanese artist Hokusai, 1831. (Available as a print and as a face mask, benefitting The Nature Conservancy.)

The year of Carson’s death, as Dorothy scattered her ashes into the rocking bay, James Baldwin would echo these existential undertones in his poetic insistence that “nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever… the sea does not cease to grind down rock.” Carson — still alive, still islanded for a mortal moment in the ocean of ongoingness — adds:

On all these shores there are echoes of past and future: of the flow of time, obliterating yet containing all that has gone before; of the sea’s eternal rhythms — the tides, the beat of surf, the pressing rivers of the currents — shaping, changing, dominating; of the stream of life, flowing as inexorably as any ocean current, from past to unknown future.

[…]

Contemplating the teeming life of the shore, we have an uneasy sense of the communication of some universal truth that lies just beyond our grasp. What is the message signaled by the hordes of diatoms, flashing their microscopic lights in the night sea? What truth is expressed by the legions of the barnacles, whitening the rocks with their habitations, each small creature within finding the necessities of its existence in the sweep of the surf? And what is the meaning of so tiny a being as the transparent wisp of protoplasm that is a sea lace, existing for some reason inscrutable to us — a reason that demands its presence by the trillion amid the rocks and weeds of the shore? The meaning haunts and ever eludes us, and in its very pursuit we approach the ultimate mystery of Life itself.

Art from Geographical Portfolio — Comprising Physical, Political, Geological, and Astronomical Geography by Levi Walter Yaggy, 1887. (Available as a print, benefitting The Nature Conservancy.)

As The Edge of the Sea alighted in the world, critical praise and honors came cascading, trailed by invitations for lectures and acceptance speeches. Always uncomfortable with attention and public appearances, Carson became even more selective, prioritizing women’s associations and nonprofit cultural institutions over glamorous commercial stages. When she did speak, her words became almost a consecration, as in a speech she delivered before a convocation of librarians:

When we go down to the lowest of the low tide lines and look down into the shallow waters, there’s all the excitement of discovering a new world. Once you have entered such a world, its fascination grows and somehow you find your mind has gained a new dimension, a new perspective — and always thereafter you find yourself remember[ing] the beauty and strangeness and wonder of that world — a world that is as real, as much a part of the universe, as our own.

Rachel Carson, 1951

Savor more of Carson’s lyrical reverence for the sea and the strange wonder of life in Figuring. Couple this fragment with a stunning illustrated celebration of our water world based on Indian mythology, then revisit Carson’s life-tested wisdom on writing and the loneliness of creative work, the story of how her writing sparked the environmental movement, and Neil Gaiman’s poetic tribute to her legacy.

BP

James Baldwin on Love, the Illusion of Choice, and the Paradox of Freedom

“Nothing is more unbearable, once one has it, than freedom.”

James Baldwin on Love, the Illusion of Choice, and the Paradox of Freedom

We, none of us, choose the century we are born in, or the skin we are born in, or the chromosomes we are born with. We don’t choose the incredibly narrow band of homeostasis within which we can be alive at all — in bodies that die when their temperature rises above 40 degrees Celsius or drops below 20, living on a planet that would be the volcanic inferno of Venus or the frigid desert of Mars if it were just a little closer to or farther from its star.

And yet, within these narrow parameters of being, nothing appeals to us more than the notion of freedom — the feeling that we are free, that intoxicating illusion with which we blunt the hard fact that we are not. The more abstract and ideological the realm, the more vehemently we can insist that moral choice in specific situations within narrow parameters proves a totality of freedom. But the closer the question moves to the core of our being, the more clearly and catastrophically the illusion crumbles — nowhere more helplessly than in the most intimate realm of experience: love. Try to will yourself into — or out of — loving someone, try to will someone into loving you, and you collide with the fundamental fact that we do not choose whom we love. We could not choose, because we do not choose who and what we are, and in any love that is truly love, we love with everything we are.

James Baldwin (August 2, 1924–December 1, 1987) was a young man — young and brilliant and aflame with life, blazing against society’s illusion of stability and control — when he composed his stunning semi-autobiographical novel Giovanni’s Room (public library), making the paradox of freedom its animating theme.

jamesbaldwin
James Baldwin

Baldwin writes:

Nothing is more unbearable, once one has it, than freedom.

To bear the unbearable, Baldwin intimates, we construct and cling to artificial structures of choice, personal and social — habits, routines, the contractual commitment of marriage, the moralistic frameworks that indict one kind of love as good and another as bad. Today, Giovanni’s Room is celebrated as a pioneering liberation and representation of LGBTQ+ love — a term that did not exist in Baldwin’s day, for it speaks to a cultural silence so deep then that there was no adequate language for it. (The language we use today is hardly adequate — but language is always a placeholder for a culture’s evolving understanding of itself, the space in which we work out our concepts as we learn how to think about them in learning how to speak of them.) Baldwin rose against a tidal force of cowardice from publishers at a time when the Bible of psychiatry — the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders — classified love as so many of us know it as a “sociopathic personality disturbance.” At the center of his act of courage and resistance is the recognition that the experience of love is our most primal confrontation with the illusion of freedom.

Art by Dorothy Lathrop, 1922. (Available as a print.)

Exactly half a century after the Spanish-American poet, philosopher, and novelist George Santayana considered why we like what we like and a decade after the Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl made his hard-earned case for saying yes to life in the most unfree of circumstances, Baldwin writes:

People can’t, unhappily, invent their mooring posts, their lovers and their friends, anymore than they can invent their parents. Life gives these and also takes them away and the great difficulty is to say Yes to life.

Art by Margaret C. Cook from a rare 1913 edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. (Available as a print.)

Four years later, Baldwin would develop these ideas in his immensely insightful speech-turned-essay on freedom and how we imprison ourselves.

In the final years of his life, he would look back on the crucible of these ideas, describing Giovanni’s Room as a book not about one kind of love or another but “about what happens to you if you’re afraid to love anybody.” In his most intimate interview, he would recount the best advice he ever received on the transcendent, terrifying choicelessness of love and the implicit, seemingly paradoxical demand for choice within it — advice given him by an old friend:

You have to go the way your blood beats. If you don’t live the only life you have, you won’t live some other life, you won’t live any life at all.

Art by Margaret C. Cook from Leaves of Grass. (Available as a print.)

Complement with Toni Morrison on the deepest meaning of freedom and Simone de Beauvoir on how chance and choice converge to make us who we are, then revisit Baldwin on the doom and glory of knowing who you are.

BP

The Conscience of Color, from Chemistry to Culture

“Colors are not possessions; they are the intimate revelations of an energy field… light waves with mathematically precise lengths… deep, resonant mysteries with boundless subjectivity… Our lives, when we pay attention to light, compel us to empathy with color.”

The Conscience of Color, from Chemistry to Culture

“The deep blue water of the open sea far from land is the color of emptiness and barrenness; the green water of the coastal areas, with all its varying hues, is the color of life,” Rachel Carson wrote as she illuminated the science and splendor of the marine spectrum, enriching the literary canon of history’s most beautiful meditations on the color blue.

The color of life, the actual chromatic hue that makes our rocky planet a living world, is somewhere between the blue of water and the green of land — when Carl Sagan looked at the grainy Voyager photograph of Earth seen from the far reaches of the Solar System for the very first time, he famously eulogized our Pale Blue Dot. But the color of that dot “suspended in a sunbeam” is rather between blue and green: a pixel of turquoise.

That color — its chromatic science and its cultural symbology — is what Ellen Meloy (June 21, 1946–November 4, 2004) explores in The Anthropology of Turquoise: Reflections on Desert, Sea, Stone, and Sky (public library).

Goethe’s color wheel, 1809. (Available as a print.)

Two centuries after Goethe wrote in his poetically beguiling, philosophically promising, but scientifically incorrect theory of color and emotion that “colors are the deeds and sufferings of light” and two generations after Frida Kahlo considered the meaning of the colors, Meloy bridges the metaphysical and the scientific across the undercurrent of the poetic:

Colors are not possessions; they are the intimate revelations of an energy field… They are light waves with mathematically precise lengths, and they are deep, resonant mysteries with boundless subjectivity.

There is no more fertile a region of subjectivity than language — the human effort to contain the uncontainable, the fluid, the nuanced into vessels of concept and category. The chromatic boundlessness of the spectrum therefore has a peculiar relationship to language, exposing the limitations of our primary sensemaking instrument against the limitless vistas of nature. (That might be why Darwin took with him on The Beagle a pioneering nomenclature of color as he set out to classify, categorize, and make sense of the natural world.) In a passage that illustrates just how primordial the link between the body and the mind is, just how inseparable our psychology from our physiology, Meloy writes:

Colors challenge language to encompass them. (It cannot; there are more sensations than words for them. Our eyes are far ahead of our tongues.) Colors bear the metaphors of entire cultures. They convey every sensation from lust to distress. They glow fluorescent on the flanks of a fish out of the water, then flee at its death. They mark the land of a woman deity who controls the soft desert rain. Flowers use colors ruthlessly for sex. Moths steal them from their surroundings and disappear. An octopus communicates by color; an octopus blush is language. Humans imbibe colors as antidotes to emotional monotony. Our lives, when we pay attention to light, compel us to empathy with color.

“Spectra of various light sources, solar, stellar, metallic, gaseous, electric” from Les phénomènes de la physique by Amédée Guillemin, 1882. (Available as a print and as a face mask.)

The very concept of empathy as we know it was born in the early twentieth century to describe the experience of projecting oneself into a work of art — a projection screened by vision, an instrument millions of years in the making. It may be, in fact, that empathy and the eye are the twin triumphs of evolution. Meloy traces the interdependent development of the two:

In primitive life forms the eye began as a light-sensitive depression in the skin; the sense of sight likely evolved from the sense of touch.

The complex human eye harvests light. It perceives seven to ten million colors through a synaptic flash: one-tenth of a second from retina to brain. Homo sapiens gangs up 70 percent of its sense receptors solely for vision, to anticipate danger and recognize reward, but also — more so — for beauty. We have eyes refined by the evolution of predation. We use a predator’s eyes to marvel at the work of Titian or the Grand Canyon bathed in the copper light of a summer sunset.

There was biology, and then there was physics: Three centuries after Newton first unwove the rainbow to launch the dawn of optics and the study of light as a stream of particles, quantum mechanics staggered our elemental grasp of reality by positing that light — which is how and why we see color — might be both particle and wave. At the heart of this dizzying notion, called complementarity, is the idea that “you can recognize a deep truth by the feature that its opposite is also a deep truth,” in the words of the Nobel-winning physicist Frank Wilczek.

Light distribution on soap bubble from Les phénomènes de la physique by Amédée Guillemin, 1882. (Available as a print and as a face mask.)

Sometimes, a truth can be so deep, so elemental, that it requires no explicit recognition, no echo in language. Goethe — who attempted to defy Newton while anticipating quantum physics — considered the purest form of blue a transcendent nothingness, “a stimulating negation.” Meloy writes:

When a name for a color is absent from a language, it is usually blue. When a name for a color is indefinite, it is usually green. Ancient Hebrew, Welsh, Vietnamese, and, until recently, Japanese, lack a word for blue… The Icelandic word for blue and black is the same, one word that fits sea, lava, and raven.

It has been shown that the words for colors enter evolving languages in this order, nearly universally: black, white, and red, then yellow and green (in either order), with green covering blue until blue comes into itself. Once blue is acquired, it eclipses green. Once named, blue pushes green into a less definite version. Green confusion is manifest in turquoise, the is-it-blue-or-is-it-green color. Despite the complexities of color names even in the same language, we somehow make sense of another person’s references. We know color as a perceptual “truth” that we imply and share without its direct experience, like feeling pain in a phantom limb or in another person’s body.

Within every color lies a story, and stories are the binding agent of culture.

Color wheel based on the classification system of the French chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul from Les phénomènes de la physique by Amédée Guillemin, 1882. (Available as a print and as a face mask.)

But the deepest story of color is the most intimate one, the one that lives most closely to the perceptual locus of feeling that defines our entire experience of life. Meloy writes:

It seems as if the right words can come only out of the perfect space of a place you love.

In a sentiment evocative of the Scottish mountaineer and poet Nan Shepherd’s lovely observation that “place and a mind may interpenetrate till the nature of both is altered,” she adds:

Between the senses and reason lies perception. At home or afield, that is where amazement resides, shunning explanation… Intoxication with color, sometimes subliminal, often fierce, may express itself as a profound attachment to landscape. It has been rightly said: Color is the first principle of Place.

We read color the way we read place: through our senses — these probosces of consciousness, increasingly severed by a culture that kidnaps us away from our bodies to hold our consciousness hostage before and behind screens. Echoing poet and science historian Diane Ackerman — who wrote so beautifully in her Natural History of the Senses that “there is no way in which to understand the world without first detecting it through the radar-net of our senses” — Meloy writes with soulful urgency:

Each of us possesses five fundamental, enthralling maps to the natural world: sight, touch, taste, hearing, smell. As we unravel the threads that bind us to nature, as denizens of data and artifice, amid crowds and clutter, we become miserly with these loyal and exquisite guides, we numb our sensory intelligence. This failure of attention will make orphans of us all.

Art from Geographical Portfolio — Comprising Physical, Political, Geological, and Astronomical Geography by Levi Walter Yaggy, 1887. (Available as a print and as a face mask.)

Meloy traces the layered sensorial story of turquoise and its genesis in the body of the world — a testament to the indivisibility of science and culture:

Turquoise is ornament, jewel, talisman, tessera. It is religion. It is pawn. It is not favored for pinkie rings. It did not likely come from Turkey, its namesake, but took the name of the land it crossed on the old trade routes from Persia to Europe.

[…]

The chemistry of turquoise: CuAl6(PO4)4(OH)8•4H2O, a hydrous phosphate of copper and aluminum. The copper and aluminum — along with iron and other mineral traces — join with a phosphate radical, a group of oxygen atoms so clustered around nonmetallic phosphorus that they behave like a single atom.

Phosphates are known for their bright colors. In turquoise, according to some mineralogists, the blue comes from the copper; the green comes from the presence of iron. Dark, spidery veins reveal the matrix in which turquoise participates; the veins are usually limonite, iron-stained quartz, metallic oxides, or other minerals.

Turquoise occurs in limestone, batholithic and feldspathic granites, shale, and trachyte, rocks that are found nearly everywhere. Unless they are in an arid environment, however, they are not likely to bear turquoise. Although turquoise has more than one origin, most types formed million years ago, when groundwater seeped into alumina- and copper-rich mineralized fractures in zones of igneous rock. What has been said about gold can be said about turquoise: turquoise is the burden of waters.

Blues from the Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours: Adapted to Zoology, Botany, Chemistry, Mineralogy, Anatomy, and the Arts, which inspired Darwin. (Available as a print and a face mask.)

Against this cultural-cosmic backdrop, she considers “the dignity of turquoise”:

Ancient southwesterners gave turquoise, the greatest wealth, as offerings to water, the desert’s greatest gift. They left tokens of turquoise at canyon seeps and springs amid emerald mosses, maidenhair ferns, creamy blooms of columbine, crimson monkey flowers, dragonflies the color of flame, and heron-blue damselflies with bodies as thin as a vein. From turquoise they carved tadpoles a quarter-inch long and set raised turquoise eyes in toads of black jet. With turquoise they traded for copper bells, macaw feathers, the skins and plumes of parrots, and pearlescent shells from the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez — the stone of the desert for the glories of sea and forest.

Bridging the human and the scientific with her own being, bridging the creaturely and the geologic with her own ephemeral existence, Meloy paints the psychogeography of color:

As a desert dweller, I believe that water is a truer entry to Place. In the West, aridity defines us. There is abundant water here in the Yucatán — ocean, marsh, lagoon, underground rivers, cenotes (natural wells where freshwater surfaces), a tropical forest swollen with transpiration. Storms bring a hurricane’s eyewall of torrents or nothing at all; even jungles have droughts. By invasion and sheer presence, the sea pushes itself into what is drinkable and what is heard, or what you miss hearing when you are distant from the surf. The sea holds an abundance of comfort and inspiration and danger, all that a person needs in order to rise to the full largesse of beauty. It seems that if you allow this beauty to become a blank, if you turn your back to the blues and deny your dependence on them, you might lose your place in the world, your actions would become small, your soul disengaged.

Art from Geographical Portfolio — Comprising Physical, Political, Geological, and Astronomical Geography by Levi Walter Yaggy, 1887. (Available as a print.)

A gorgeous read in its entirety, The Anthropology of Turquoise (public library), published shortly before Meloy’s sudden and untimely death, earned her a posthumous John Burroughs Medal — the Nobel Prize of nature writing, of which Carson was also a recipient. Complement it with a symphonic illustrated celebration of nature’s rarest color, then revisit Maggie Nelson’s exquisite love letter to blue.

BP

Alain de Botton’s Animated Field Guide to Surviving Heartbreak and Embracing Need as a Central Dignity of Relationships

A resaning antidote to one of the most dangerous and damaging romantic myths in our culture.

Alain de Botton’s Animated Field Guide to Surviving Heartbreak and Embracing Need as a Central Dignity of Relationships

All love is asymmetry. Since love is not a state but a skill to be mastered, not a noun but a verb, all loving is the skillful harmonizing of asymmetries across the scales of personhood and preference between those involved. Asymmetries — of taste and temperament, of habit and sensibility — are not evidence of incompatibility but a natural function of two separate consciousnesses, each with an incomplete knowledge of the other, each half-opaque to itself, trying to find joy and understanding together. Almost all asymmetries, faced with sufficient tenderness and mutual respect, can become complementarities that strengthen rather than weaken the bond.

The one asymmetry deadly to love is the asymmetry of willingnesses — one person willing (to forgive, to undefensively admit error, to do the dishes, to hold gentle space for imperfection) and the other unwilling. An asymmetry of willingnesses at the outset of a potential relationship, before the mutuality of gladness we call love has even begun, is what we term rejection.

Romantic rejection is among the most acute and all-consuming forms of pain we can suffer, for it is an unfortunate feature of our psyche — even the most considered and contemplative psyche — to extrapolate from every experience of unrequited love, in a particular situation by a particular person, the awful postulate that we are not lovable, in the essence of our being.

How to move through the pain of rejection with minimal suffering, without repressing the awful feelings but also without mistaking them for facts about the larger landscape of love and lovability, is what the reliably preceptive and soulful Alain de Botton explores in this animated survival guide to what can feel, at its worst, abjectly unsurvivable:

But the heart-savaging asymmetry of willingnesses is not something reserved for the dawn of love. One of our culture’s most dangerous romantic myths is the idea that rejection and the anxiety about it vanish from the psychic horizon as soon as the two hopeful parallel willingnesses entwine into an actual relationship. That myth, and how to live with the truth behind it, is what De Botton explores in a portion of his altogether wonderful book The School of Life: An Emotional Education (public library) — the source of his revelatory and redemptive take on emotional intelligence and what existential maturity really means. He writes:

One of the odder features of relationships is that, in truth, the fear of rejection never ends. It continues, even in quite sane people, on a daily basis, with frequently difficult consequences — chiefly because we refuse to pay it sufficient attention and aren’t trained to spot its counter-intuitive symptoms in others. We haven’t found a winning way to keep admitting just how much reassurance we need.

Illustration by Margaret C. Cook for a rare 1913 edition of Leaves of Grass. (Available as a print.)

Because it can be unbearably vulnerable-making to admit our own tender need for assurance, because pride is the antipode of vulnerability and therefore the great enemy of meaningful connection, we often find ourselves too proud to ask for what we need openly. Instead, we resort to those sometimes endearing but mostly infuriating childish tactics of scanning for and protecting against rejection — withdrawal as a means of manipulating the beloved into paying more attention, hyperfocus on their every move and every Instagram post as paranoid evidence-gathering to confirm our dread of their diminishing willingness, and the crown jewel of emotional immaturity: the sulk.

Whether we cope with the ongoing threat of rejection by growing avoidant or anxious, our coping strategies are ultimately more likely to damage the relationship than to protect it, to effect rejection rather than to ward it off.

Art by Margaret C. Cook from a rare 1913 edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. (Available as a print)

The only real solution is greater courage of candor and vulnerability. De Botton writes:

If this harsh, graceless behavior could be truly understood for what it is, it would be revealed not as rejection or indifference, but as a strangely distorted, yet very real, plea for tenderness.

A central solution to these patterns is to normalize a new and more accurate picture of emotional functioning: to make it clear just how predictable it is to be in need of reassurance, and at the same time, how understandable it is to be reluctant to reveal one’s dependence. We should create room for regular moments… when we can feel unembarrassed and legitimate about asking for confirmation… We should uncouple the admission of need from any associations with the unfortunate and punitive term “neediness.”

Complement with philosopher-psychiatrist Esther Perel on our greatest misconception about love and De Botton on the psychological paradox of vulnerability, charity of interpretation as a pillar of love, how to be a good communicator, and why we read, then revisit Walt Whitman on overcoming rejection in creative work — which, for those of us wholeheartedly invested in the art we make, can feel as intimate and devastating as rejection in love.

BP

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