“So they stumbled on through the weary end of the night, and until the coming of another day of fear they walked in silence with bowed heads, seeing nothing, and hearing nothing but the wind hissing in their ears. Before the next day dawned their journey to Mordor was over.” — J.R.R. Tolkien, “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”
First he brought Frodo close to the gates of Mordor and then he mowed the lawn. These are excerpts from 1944 letters from Tolkien to his son Christopher, published in Humphrey Carpenter’s J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography.
As someone on Twitter noted, this is a “reminder that great art is made on a normal Tuesday afternoon.”
Happy New Year! May 2020 be a prosperous and creative year for you.
“Discover yourself anew,” an Internet friend wrote in his New Year message to his followers. “Share yourself.” “Will do,” I answered. And I hope I will. Because words matter. Art matters. Dan Rather said it best:
Somewhere, amid the darkness, a painter measures a blank canvas, a poet tests a line aloud, a songwriter brings a melody into tune. Art inspires, provokes thought, reflects beauty and pain. I seek it out even more in these times. And in so doing, I find hope in the human spirit.
On my list of films to re-watch is The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (French original: Le Scaphandre et le Papillon), based on the book by the same name, written by Jean-Dominique Bauby (1952–1997). He was the editor-in-chief of French Elle magazine.
In this book, Bauby reminds us that whatever circumstances, the mind is free like a butterfly, even if the body is locked inside a diving bell. He would know better than most of us, his circumstances being as they were. A massive stroke left him with locked-in syndrome, physically paralyzed and only able to communicate by blinking his left eye. That’s how he dictated his memoirs, his “bedridden travel notes,” blink by blink, four hours a day for ten months. 200,000 blinks, an average of two minutes per word, 29 chapters, 130+ pages. He composed and memorized the text before each writing session: “In my head I churn over every sentence ten times, delete a word, add an adjective, and learn my text by heart, paragraph by paragraph.”
Jean-Dominique Bauby died two days after the book was published in France.
I love this snippet from the prologue:
“My diving bell becomes less oppressive, and my mind takes flight like a butterfly. There is so much to do. You can wander off in space or in time, set out for Tierra del Fuego or for King Midas’s court. You can visit the woman you love, slide down beside her and stroke her still-sleeping face. You can build castles in Spain, steal the Golden Fleece, discover Atlantis, realize your childhood dreams and adult ambitions.”
The creative force inside us is truly amazing. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is on the top 25 list of my favorite movies about writing.
Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.
— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “The Little Prince”
Grown-ups always need explanations, the narrator in The Little Prince says. Once, when he was six, he saw a picture of a boa constrictor swallowing a wild animal. With this picture in mind, he made his first drawing:
The grown-ups thought it was a hat, when in fact it was a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. He then made another drawing to simplify things for them:
They advised him to put away his drawings and become something useful instead. He became a pilot but remained unimpressed by grown-ups. He still showed them his first boa restrictor drawing, and they always said it was a hat.
Later, when the little prince asks him to draw a sheep, he draws a box and explains that the sheep is inside it. Obvious, isn’t it? They both think so.
That feeling when seemingly out of nothing, the words emerge, one after another to form a sentence, a paragraph, a scene, a story… Slowly at first, then the pace quickens until it seems like the story is writing itself, as if you are just a transcriber of events. A city rises in front of you, fills with people and life, it’s the future or the 1960’s or a world war trench. Then the specifics, a yellow dress, red lips, and a gallant lift of the hat as the two meet. Maybe a little varnish on top. If you ever invented a world that didn’t exist until you wrote it into life, then you know what I’m talking about.
Facts will never move the human heart like storytelling can. Highly creative people, especially artists, know this and weave stories into everything they do. It takes longer for them to explain something, explaining isn’t the point. The experience is.
— Kevin Kaiser, 20 Things Only Highly Creative People Would Understand