[FoRK] Fwd: How love rewires the brain, George Orwell on the four universal motives to create, Nora Ephron's most timeless quotes, and more.

geege schuman geege4 at gmail.com
Sun Jul 1 05:09:28 PDT 2012

Thought some of you might want to subscribe.  Easy fun weekly read.
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Date: Jul 1, 2012 8:04 AM
Subject: How love rewires the brain, George Orwell on the four universal
motives to create, Nora Ephron's most timeless quotes, and more.
To: <geege4 at gmail.com>

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How love rewires the brain, George Orwell on the four universal motives to
create, remembering Nora Ephron in her most timeless quotes, and more.
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Hey Geege! If you missed last week's edition – anatomy of boredom, the best
definitions of art from antiquity to today, happiness for people who hate
positive thinking, 18-year-old Sylvia Plath on loving everybody, and more
– you can catch up right
And if you're enjoying this, please consider supporting with a modest
Why I Write: George Orwell's Four Motives for

*"Sheer egoism... Writers share this characteristic with scientists,
artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen – in short,
with the whole top crust of humanity."*

legend *Eric Arthur Blair*, better known as George
would have been 109 this week. Though he remains best remembered for
authoring the cult-classics *Animal
*Nineteen Eighty-Four*<http://brainpickings.us2.list-manage2.com/track/click?u=13eb080d8a315477042e0d5b1&id=beda309974&e=6f1048f89b>,
he was also a formidable, masterful essayist. Among his finest short-form
feats is the 1946 essay *Why I
*public library*<http://brainpickings.us2.list-manage2.com/track/click?u=13eb080d8a315477042e0d5b1&id=550506592f&e=6f1048f89b>)
– a fine addition to other timeless insights on
including *Kurt Vonnegut'*s 8 rules for a great
*David Ogilvy'*s 10 no-bullshit
*Henry Miller'*s 11
*Jack Kerouac'*s 30 beliefs and
*John Steinbeck'*s 6
and various invaluable insight from other great

Orwell begins with some details about his less than idyllic childhood –
complete with absentee father, school mockery and bullying, and a profound
sense of loneliness – and traces how those experiences steered him towards
writing, proposing that such early micro-traumas are essential for any
writer's drive. He then lays out what he believes to be the four main
motives for writing, most of which extrapolate to just about any domain of
creative output.

I give all this background information because I do not think one can
assess a writer's motives without knowing something of his early
development. His subject matter will be determined by the age he lives in –
at least this is true in tumultuous, revolutionary ages like our own – but
before he ever begins to write he will have acquired an emotional attitude
from which he will never completely escape. It is his job, no doubt, to
discipline his temperament and avoid getting stuck at some immature stage,
in some perverse mood; but if he escapes from his early influences
altogether, he will have killed his impulse to write. Putting aside the
need to earn a living, I think there are four great motives for writing, at
any rate for writing prose. They exist in different degrees in every
writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time,
according to the atmosphere in which he is living. They are:

*(i) Sheer egoism.* Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be
remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed
you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive,
and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists,
artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen – in short,
with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are
not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the
sense of being individuals at all – and live chiefly for others, or are
simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted,
willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and
writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the
whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested
in money.

*(ii) Aesthetic enthusiasm.* Perception of beauty in the external world,
or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in
the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the
rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is
valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in
a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have
pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or
he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc. Above the
level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic

*(iii) Historical impulse.* Desire to see things as they are, to find out
true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.

*(iv) Political purpose.* – Using the word 'political' in the widest
possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter
other peoples' idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.
Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that
art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

It can be seen how these various impulses must war against one another, and
how they must fluctuate from person to person and from time to time.

After a further discussion of how these motives permeated his own work at
different times and in different ways, Orwell offers a final and rather
dystopian disclaimer:

Looking back through the last page or two, I see that I have made it appear
as though my motives in writing were wholly public-spirited. I don't want
to leave that as the final impression. All writers are vain, selfish, and
lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing
a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful
illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on
by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows
that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for
attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable
unless one constantly struggles to efface one's own personality. Good prose
is like a windowpane. I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are
the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed. And looking
back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a
POLITICAL purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple
passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug

This, of course is to be taken with a grain of salt – the granularity of
individual disposition, outlook, and existential choice, that is. I myself
subscribe to the Ray Bradbury

Writing is not a serious business. It's a joy and a celebration. You should
be having fun with it. Ignore the authors who say 'Oh, my God, what word?
Oh, Jesus Christ…', you know. Now, to hell with that. It's not work. If
it's work, stop and do something else.

*Why I Write*<http://brainpickings.us2.list-manage1.com/track/click?u=13eb080d8a315477042e0d5b1&id=5c8a2a6a04&e=6f1048f89b>is
part of Penguin's
*Great Ideas* series<http://brainpickings.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=13eb080d8a315477042e0d5b1&id=25713e020f&e=6f1048f89b>,
excellent in its entirety.

*:: SHARE ::*<http://brainpickings.us2.list-manage1.com/track/click?u=13eb080d8a315477042e0d5b1&id=06a446fdfc&e=6f1048f89b>
 Learned Optimism: Seligman on Happiness, Depression, and the Meaningful

*What 25 years of research reveal about the cognitive skills of happiness
and finding life's greater purpose..*

*"The illiterate of the 21st century,"* Alvin Toffler famously
*"will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn,
unlearn, and relearn."* Our outlook on the world and our daily choices of
disposition and behavior are in many ways learned patterns to which
Toffler's insight applies with all the greater urgency – the capacity to
"learn, unlearn, and relearn" emotional behaviors and psychological
patterns is, indeed, a form of existential literacy.

Last week, Oliver Burkeman's provocatively titled new book, *The Antidote:
Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive
prompted me to revisit an old favorite by *Dr. Martin Seligman*, father of
the Positive Psychology<http://brainpickings.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=13eb080d8a315477042e0d5b1&id=466ac12617&e=6f1048f89b>movement,
who was once elected President of the American Psychological
Association by the largest vote in the organization's history and under
whom I studied in my college days. *Learned Optimism: How to Change Your
Mind and Your Life*<http://brainpickings.us2.list-manage1.com/track/click?u=13eb080d8a315477042e0d5b1&id=126ef0c662&e=6f1048f89b>(
*public library*<http://brainpickings.us2.list-manage1.com/track/click?u=13eb080d8a315477042e0d5b1&id=f1700b1dfd&e=6f1048f89b>),
one of these 7 must-read books on
was originally published 20 years ago and remains an indispensable tool for
learning the cognitive skills that decades of research have shown to be
essential to well-being – an unlearning those that hold us back from
authentic happiness.

Seligman begins by identifying the three types of happiness of which our
favorite psychology grab-bag term is composed:

'Happiness' is a scientifically unwieldy notion, but there are three
different forms of it if you can pursue. For the 'Pleasant Life,' you aim
to have as much positive emotion as possible and learn the skills to
amplify positive emotion. For the 'Engaged Life,' you identify your highest
strengths and talents and recraft your life to use them as much as you can
in work, love, friendship, parenting, and leisure. For the 'Meaningful
Life,' you use your highest strengths and talents to belong to and serve
something you believe is larger than the self.

He then defines optimism and pessimism, pointing out the challenge to
self-identify as either, and offers a heartening, heavily researched

The optimists and the pessimists: I have been studying them for the past
twenty-five years. The defining characteristic of pessimists is that they
tend to believe bad events will last a long time, will undermine everything
they do, and are their own fault. The optimists, who are confronted with
the same hard knocks of this world, think about misfortune in the opposite
way. They tend to believe defeat is just a temporary setback, that its
causes are confined to this one case. The optimists believe defeat is not
their fault: Circumstances, bad luck, or other people brought it about.
Such people are unfazed by defeat. Confronted by a bad situation, they
perceive it as a challenge and try harder.


I have seen that, in tests of hundreds of thousands of people, a
surprisingly large number will be found to be deep-dyed pessimists and
another large portion will have serious, debilitating tendencies towards
pessimism. I have learned that it is not always easy to know if you are a
pessimist, and that far more people than realize it are living in this


A pessimistic attitude may seem so deeply rooted as to be permanent. I have
found, however, that pessimism is escapable. Pessimists can in fact learn
to be optimists, and not through mindless devices like whistling a happy
tune or mouthing platitudes...but by learning a new set of cognitive
skills. Far from being the creations of boosters or of the popular media,
these skills were discovered in the laboratories and clinics of leading
psychologists and psychiatrists and then rigorously validated.

Seligman, however, also corroborates what's perhaps Burkeman's most central
that the extreme individualism and ambition our society worships has
created a culture in which the fear of
all. As Seligman puts it:

Depression is a disorder of the 'I,' failing in your own eyes relative to
your goals. In a society in which individualism is becoming rampant, people
more and more believe that they are the center of the world. Such a belief
system makes individual failure almost inconsolable.


Teaching children learned optimism before puberty, but late enough in
childhood so that they are metacognitive (capable of thinking about
thinking), is a fruitful strategy. When the immunized children use these
skills to cope with the first rejections of puberty, they get better and
better at using these skills. Our analysis shows that the change from
pessimism to optimism is at least partly responsible for the prevention of
depressive symptoms.

Ultimately, Seligman points to optimism not only as a means to individual
well-being, but also as a powerful aid in finding your
contributing to the world:

Optimism is invaluable for the meaningful life. With a firm belief in a
positive future you can throw yourself into the service of that which is
larger than you are.

*Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your
followed by
*Authentic Happiness*<http://brainpickings.us2.list-manage1.com/track/click?u=13eb080d8a315477042e0d5b1&id=3a12d0c8ed&e=6f1048f89b>and
which was among best psychology and philosophy books of

*:: SHARE ::*<http://brainpickings.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=13eb080d8a315477042e0d5b1&id=af776d5d2b&e=6f1048f89b>
 Nora Ephron on Women, Love, Happiness, Reading, Life, and

*"Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim."*

What a tragic year it's been for literary and creatives heroes, with losses
as inconsolable as Maurice
Ray Bradbury<http://brainpickings.us2.list-manage1.com/track/click?u=13eb080d8a315477042e0d5b1&id=c770f0ca4e&e=6f1048f89b>,
and Hillman Curtis<http://brainpickings.us2.list-manage1.com/track/click?u=13eb080d8a315477042e0d5b1&id=776a9be0e1&e=6f1048f89b>.
Last night, we lost the great Nora
– prolific and thoughtful filmmaker, novelist, journalist,
playwright, essayist, and blogger, a feminist with fierce wit, whom *The
New York Times*<http://brainpickings.us2.list-manage2.com/track/click?u=13eb080d8a315477042e0d5b1&id=0f6e29dcfc&e=6f1048f89b>describes
as being "in the Dorothy
(only smarter and funnier…)."

Today, let's take a moment and celebrate Ephron with some of her most
memorable insights on women, politics, happiness, love, intellectual life,
and death.

On reading, in *I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a
*public library*<http://brainpickings.us2.list-manage1.com/track/click?u=13eb080d8a315477042e0d5b1&id=622101732f&e=6f1048f89b>

Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I've accomplished
something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me
smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the
unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself.
Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it's a way to make contact
with reality after a day of making things up, and it's a way of making
contact with someone else's imagination after a day that's all too real.
Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.

On money and creative incentive, in *My Life as an

I was extremely lucky not to have ever inherited real money, because I
might not have finished writing 'When Harry Met Sally…,' which changed my

Addressing young women in her 1996 Wellesley commencement
a fine addition to some modern history's

I want to remind you of the undertow, of the specific gravity. American
society has a remarkable ability to resist change, or to take whatever
change has taken place and attempt to make it go away./p>


Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.

On the difference between controversy and political incorrectness, in the
January 1976 issue of *Esquire*:

I am continually fascinated at the difficulty intelligent people have in
distinguishing what is controversial from what is merely offensive.

On the evolving metrics of "happiness" for women, in *Crazy Salad: Some
Things About Women*<http://brainpickings.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=13eb080d8a315477042e0d5b1&id=394db686b3&e=6f1048f89b>(
*public library*<http://brainpickings.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=13eb080d8a315477042e0d5b1&id=7813d2164d&e=6f1048f89b>

We have lived through the era when happiness was a warm puppy, and the era
when happiness was a dry martini, and now we have come to the era when
happiness is 'knowing what your uterus looks like.'

On the joy of being awake to the world, in
*public library*<http://brainpickings.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=13eb080d8a315477042e0d5b1&id=f4e003d5b9&e=6f1048f89b>

I look out the window and I see the lights and the skyline and the people
on the street rushing around looking for action, love, and the world's
greatest chocolate chip cookie, and my heart does a little dance.

On the politics of the public encroaching on the private, in her 1996
Wellesley commencement
remarkably timely, despite the dated references, in light of today's
ongoing debates about publicly-private issues like marriage equality and

One of the things people always say to you if you get upset is, don't take
it personally, but listen hard to what's going on and, please, I beg you,
take it personally. Understand: every attack on Hillary Clinton for not
knowing her place is an attack on you. Underneath almost all those attacks
are the words: get back, get back to where you once belonged. When
Elizabeth Dole pretends that she isn't serious about her career, that is an
attack on you. The acquittal of O.J. Simpson is an attack on you. Any move
to limit abortion rights is an attack on you – whether or not you believe
in abortion. The fact that Clarence Thomas is sitting on the Supreme Court
today is an attack on you.

On love and the capacity for romantic rebirth, in *I Feel Bad About My
Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a

Why hadn't I realized how much of what I thought of as love was simply my
own highly developed gift for making lemonade? What failure of imagination
had caused me to forget that life was full of other possibilities,
including the possibility that eventually I would fall in love again?

On death, in *I Remember Nothing: And Other
*public library*<http://brainpickings.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=13eb080d8a315477042e0d5b1&id=62956c1aad&e=6f1048f89b>),
her final book:

Everybody dies. There's nothing you can do about it. Whether or not you eat
six almonds a day. Whether or not you believe in God.

*:: SHARE ::*<http://brainpickings.us2.list-manage1.com/track/click?u=13eb080d8a315477042e0d5b1&id=6019431be0&e=6f1048f89b>
 Limbic Revision: How Love Rewires the

*On the capacity for transformation and its prerequisite of letting go.*

weekend, at a dear friend's
the groom's sister read an excerpt from one of my favorite books, *A
General Theory of
*public library*<http://brainpickings.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=13eb080d8a315477042e0d5b1&id=286a04e7bb&e=6f1048f89b>),
which you might recall
The passage framed beautifully the remarkable union we had gathered to
witness, but also speaks powerfully to love's greatest, most universal

In a relationship, one mind revises the other; one heart changes its
partner. This astounding legacy of our combined status as mammals and
neural beings is *limbic revision*: the power to remodel the emotional
parts of the people we love, as our Attractors [coteries of ingrained
information patterns] activate certain limbic pathways, and the brain's
inexorable memory mechanism reinforces them.

Who we are and who we become depends, in part, on whom we love.

 The bride'<http://brainpickings.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=13eb080d8a315477042e0d5b1&id=b049a7e044&e=6f1048f89b>s
vows reinforced and complemented this message with the kind of succinct
eloquence that sends shivers of Truth down your spine, then makes your
heart explode with warmth:

Real, honest, complete love requires letting go.

*A General Theory of
one of 5
favorite books on the psychology of
the kind of read you keep coming back to again and again, finding a
layer of insight into a different stage or aspect of your life each time.

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 Happy Birthday, Milton Glaser: The Greatest Graphic Designer Alive on Art,
Purpose, and the Capacity for

*"That's the great benefit of being in the arts, where the possibility for
learning never disappears."*

Today marks the 83rd birthday of Milton
considered by many – myself included – the greatest graphic designer
and frequently celebrated alongside Saul
the most influential graphic designer of all time.

Today also marks 10 weeks since beloved Brooklyn-based designer, author,
and filmmaker Hillman
away after a fiercely fought battle with cancer. Last week, I joined
much of New York's design community in a celebration of Hillman's films,
among which is his extraordinary artist
prominent creators. So, today, let's take a bittersweet moment to
celebrate a great legacy and a great life with Hillman Curtis's beautiful
and affectionate profile of Milton Glaser:


Glaser adds to this omnibus of history's finest definitions of

Art performs this pacifying function in culture… Its practitioners create
commonalities… I always quote a guy named Lewis
who wrote about primitive cultures, where there's an exchange of gifts that
cannot be kept but have to be passed on. And the passing on of gifts is a
device to prevent people from killing one another, because they all become
part of a single experience. And his leap of imagination occurs when he
says, 'And this is what artists do in culture – artists provide that gift
to the culture, so that people have something in common.'

And I think that for all of us who identify with the role of artists in
history have that intuition about things, and want our work to serve that


Glaser echoes other great minds' insights on
articulating something many of us relate to on a deep level:

There's nothing more exciting than seeing someone whose life has been
affected in a positive way by something you've said. There's nothing more
exciting than to see somebody change from a sort of condition of inertness
or inattentiveness into a mind that begins to inquire about meaning.

I think if you don't do something to project into the future that way, the
possibility for total self-absorption and narcissism becomes very much


Finally, he offers some invaluable advice on the progression of the
creative life into old age, wrapped in a broader meditation on the
universal power of art:

If you can sustain your interest in what you're doing, you're an extremely
fortunate person. What you see very frequently in people's professional
lives, and perhaps in their emotional life as well, is that they lose
interest in the third act. You sort of get tired, and indifferent, and,
sometimes, defensive. And you kind of lose your capacity for astonishment –
and that's a great loss, because the world is a very astonishing place.

What I feel fortunate about is that I'm still astonished, that things still
amaze me. And I think that that's the great benefit of being in the arts,
where the possibility for learning never disappears, where you basically
have to admit you never learn it.


For the definitive collection of Glaser's most memorable work, treat
yourself to the 1973 tome *Milton Glaser: Graphic

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Everything you (n)ever wanted to know about the aftermath of partying, and
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A visionary lens on how social, political, and economic power structures
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"Oh, I've had such a curious dream!"
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Simple rules to follow when you're lost in the woods, literally and
  *Isabella Rossellini's Kooky Educational Films about


What Shakespeare and Aristotle got wrong, how bee spit becomes honey, and
why having sex all day makes one totally helpless.
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"'Then it doesn't matter which way you go,' said the Cat."
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A 22-karat creative cross-pollination.

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