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Tarkovsky’s Advice to the Young: Learn to Enjoy Your Own Company

“People who grow bored in their own company seem to me in danger.”

“In proportion as [a person] simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude…,” Thoreau famously wrote. “A writer takes earnest measures to secure his solitude and then finds endless ways to squander it,” Don DeLillo wryly observed. Indeed, in today’s world of constant stimulation and interconnectivity, despite the rise of single living, the art of solitude is in graver danger of squander than ever, more and more susceptible to festering into the toxic sister aberrations of loneliness and boredom.

In this wonderful vintage footage, legendary Russian filmmaker and writer Andrei Tarkovsky offers some timeless advice to the young:

Since the video subtitles convey only a selective portion of what Tarkovsky actually says — quite distractingly so — I asked my friend Julia to help with a proper transcription, which she kindly did:

What would you like to tell people?

I don’t know… I think I’d like to say only that they should learn to be alone and try to spend as much time as possible by themselves. I think one of the faults of young people today is that they try to come together around events that are noisy, almost aggressive at times. This desire to be together in order to not feel alone is an unfortunate symptom, in my opinion. Every person needs to learn from childhood how to be spend time with oneself. That doesn’t mean he should be lonely, but that he shouldn’t grow bored with himself because people who grow bored in their own company seem to me in danger, from a self-esteem point of view.

Complement with Susan Sontag on the creative purpose of boredom and this magnificent read on how to be alone.

Thanks, Sebastian


Three Poems by James Joyce

“Lightly come or lightly go … Lightly, lightly — ever so”

On a recent trip to Austin, I tickled my soft spot for rare vintage literary treasures and indulged my guilty travel pleasure: A trip to the finest local rare-books seller, in this case the lovely South Congress Books, where I discovered a fortunate first edition of James Joyce’s Collected Poems (public library). It was originally published in 1937 by The Viking Press as a limited edition of 1,000 copies and features a signed portrait of Joyce by Welsh painter and etcher Augustus John.

Here are three sublime poems, one from each of the book’s three sections.

From the first section, titled “Chamber Music” and containing 36 untitled, numbered love poems:


Lightly come or lightly go:
Though thy heart presage thee woe,
Vales and many a wasted sun,
Oread let thy laughter run,
Till the irreverent mountain air
Ripple all thy flying hair.

Lightly, lightly — ever so:
Clouds that wrap the vales below
At the hour of evenstar
Lowliest attendants are;
Love and laughter song-confessed
When the heart is heaviest.

From the second section, titled “Pomes Penyeach” — a play on the French words for apples, offered at “a penny each” — and containing 13 short poems written over the course of 20 years between 1904 and 1924:


O bella bionda,
Sei come l’onda!

Of cool sweet dew and radiance mild
The moon a web of silence weaves
In the still garden where a child
Gathers the simple salad leaves.

A moondew stars her hanging hair
And moonlight kisses her young brow
And, gathering, she sings an air:
Fair as the wave is, fair, art thou!

Be mine, I pray, a waxen ear
To shield me from her childish croon
And mine a shielded heart for her
Who gathers simples of the moon.

From the final section, containing a single poem written in 1936 and previously unpublished in America:


Of the dark past
A child is born;
With joy and grief
My heart is torn.

Calm in his cradle
The living lies.
May love and mercy
Unclose his eyes!

Young life is breathed
On the glass;
The world that was not
Comes to pass.

A child is sleeping:
An old man gone.
O, father forsaken,
Forgive your son!

Collected Poems was eventually reissued as a much more affordable mass-market paperback. Complement it with Joyce’s little-known children’s book and this rare 1935 edition of Ulysses featuring exquisite etchings by Henri Matisse.


Susan Orlean on Writing

“You have to simply love writing, and you have to remind yourself often that you love it.”

The question of why writers write is one of literature’s most enduring siren calls. George Orwell ascribed it to four universal motives. Joan Didion saw it as access to her own mind. For David Foster Wallace, it was about fun. Joy Williams found in it a gateway from the darkness to the light. For Charles Bukowski, it sprang from the soul like a rocket. In Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do (public library), which also gave us poignant answers from Mary Karr and Isabel Allende, celebrated journalist and New Yorker staff writer Susan Orlean offers her wisdom on the craft.

She considers the critical difference between fiction and nonfiction, exploring the osmotic balance of escapism and inner stillness:

When it comes to nonfiction, it’s important to note the very significant difference between the two stages of the work. Stage one is reporting. Stage two is writing.

Reporting is like being the new kid in school. You’re scrambling to learn something very quickly, being a detective, figuring out who the people are, dissecting the social structure of the community you’re writing about. Emotionally, it puts you in the place that everybody dreads. You’re the outsider. You can’t give in to your natural impulse to run away from situations and people you don’t know. You can’t retreat to the familiar.

Writing is exactly the opposite. It’s private. The energy of it is so intense and internal, it sometimes makes you feel like you’re going to crumple. A lot of it happens invisibly. When you’re sitting at your desk, it looks like you’re just sitting there, doing nothing.

A necessary antidote to the tortured-genius cultural mythology of the writer, Orlean, like Ray Bradbury, conceives of writing as a source of joy, even when challenging:

Writing gives me great feelings of pleasure. There’s a marvelous sense of mastery that comes with writing a sentence that sounds exactly as you want it to. It’s like trying to write a song, making tiny tweaks, reading it out loud, shifting things to make it sound a certain way. It’s very physical. I get antsy. I jiggle my feet a lot, get up a lot, tap my fingers on the keyboard, check my e-mail. Sometimes it feels like digging out of a hole, but sometimes it feels like flying. When it’s working and the rhythm’s there, it does feel like magic to me.

Echoing E. B. White, who famously admonished that “a writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper,” Orlean prides herself on her situational nonchalance:

I don’t need to be in a perfectly quiet place to write. I don’t need a lot of fussy special conditions. But I do need the material that I work from within reach, and I do need a certain sense that I’m not going to be interrupted for a chunk of time.

Bespeaking the common resistance that people in creative fields tend to have towards being called an “artist,” Orlean nonetheless honors the inherent artistry of her craft:

It makes me cringe to call myself an artist.

Even if it’s true. I’m making art of a kind. At the same time I’m very pragmatic. I don’t treat myself as this precious flower. The fact that writing is a job doesn’t undercut the fact that it’s also an art.

She ends with four pieces of wisdom for writers:

  • You have to simply love writing, and you have to remind yourself often that you love it.
  • You should read as much as possible. That’s the best way to learn how to write.
  • You have to appreciate the spiritual component of having an opportunity to do something as wondrous as writing. You should be practical and smart and you should have a good agent and you should work really, really hard. But you should also be filled with awe and gratitude about this amazing way to be in the world.
  • Don’t be ashamed to use the thesaurus. I could spend all day reading Roget’s! There’s nothing better when you’re in a hurry and you need the right word right now.

The rest of Why We Write features insights and advice on the craft from such contemporary icons as Jennifer Egan, Michael Lewis, and James Frey, among others. Pair it with H. P. Lovecraft’s advice to aspiring writers, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s letter to his daughter, Zadie Smith’s 10 rules of writing, Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 keys to the power of the written word, David Ogilvy’s 10 no-bullshit tips, Henry Miller’s 11 commandments, Jack Kerouac’s 30 beliefs and techniques, John Steinbeck’s 6 pointers, Neil Gaiman’s 8 rules, Margaret Atwood’s 10 practical tips, and Susan Sontag’s synthesized learnings.


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