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robertogreco : toaspireto   5

My Writing Education: A Time Line - The New Yorker
"One day I walk up to campus. I stand outside the door of Doug’s office, ogling his nameplate, thinking: “Man, he sometimes sits in there, the guy who wrote Leaving the Land.” At this point in my life, I’ve never actually set eyes on a person who has published a book. It is somehow mind-blowing, this notion that the people who write books also, you know, *live*: go to the store and walk around campus and sit in a particular office and so on. Doug shows up and invites me in. We chat awhile, as if we are peers, as if I am a real writer too. I suddenly feel like a real writer. I’m talking to a guy who’s been in People magazine. And he’s asking me about my process. Heck, I *must be* a real writer."



"For me, a light goes on: we are supposed to be—are required to be—interesting. We’re not only *allowed* to think about audience, we’d *better*. What we’re doing in writing is not all that different from what we’ve been doing all our lives, i.e., using our personalities as a way of coping with life. Writing is about charm, about finding and accessing and honing ones’ particular charms. To say that “a light goes on” is not quite right—it’s more like: a fixture gets installed. Only many years later (see below) will the light go on."



"Doug gets an unkind review. We are worried. Will one of us dopily bring it up in workshop? We don’t. Doug does. Right off the bat. He wants to talk about it, because he feels there might be something in it for us. The talk he gives us is beautiful, honest, courageous, totally generous. He shows us where the reviewer was wrong—but also where the reviewer might have gotten it right. Doug talks about the importance of being able to extract the useful bits from even a hurtful review: this is important, because it will make the next book better. He talks about the fact that it was hard for him to get up this morning after that review and write, but that he did it anyway. He’s in it for the long haul, we can see. He’s a fighter, and that’s what we must become too: we have to learn to honor our craft by refusing to be beaten, by remaining open, by treating every single thing that happens to us, good or bad, as one more lesson on the longer path.

We liked Doug before this. Now we love him.

Toby has the grad students over to watch A Night at the Opera. Mostly I watch Toby, with his family. He clearly adores them, takes visible pleasure in them, dotes on them. I have always thought great writers had to be dysfunctional and difficult, incapable of truly loving anything, too insane and unpredictable and tortured to cherish anyone, or honor them, or find them beloved.

Wow, I think, huh."



"I notice that Doug has an incredible natural enthusiasm for anything we happen to get right. Even a single good line is worthy of praise. When he comes across a beautiful story in a magazine, he shares it with us. If someone else experiences a success, he celebrates it. He can find, in even the most dismal student story, something to praise. Often, hearing him talk about a story you didn’t like, you start to like it too—you see, as he is seeing, the seed of something good within it. He accepts you and your work just as he finds it, and is willing to work with you wherever you are. This has the effect of emboldening you, and making you more courageous in your work, and less defeatist about it."



"End of our first semester. We flock to hear Toby read at the Syracuse Stage. He has a terrible flu. He reads not his own work but Chekhov’s “About Love” trilogy. The snow falls softly, visible behind us through a huge window. It’s a beautiful, deeply enjoyable, reading. Suddenly we get Chekhov: Chekhov is funny. It is possible to be funny and profound at the same time. The story is not some ossified, cerebral thing: it is entertainment, active entertainment, of the highest variety. All of those things I’ve been learning about in class, those bone-chilling abstractions theme, plot, and symbol are de-abstracted by hearing Toby read Chekhov aloud: they are simply tools with which to make your audience feel more deeply—methods of creating higher-order meaning. The stories and Toby’s reading of them convey a notion new to me, or one which, in the somber cathedral of academia, I’d forgotten: literature is a form of fondness-for-life. It is love for life taking verbal form."



"Toby is a generous reader and a Zen-like teacher. The virtues I feel being modeled—in his in-class comments and demeanor, in his notes, and during our after-workshop meetings—are subtle and profound. A story’s positive virtues are not different from the positive virtues of its writer. A story should be honest, direct, loving, restrained. It can, by being worked and reworked, come to have more power than its length should allow. A story can be a compressed bundle of energy, and, in fact, the more it is thoughtfully compressed, the more power it will have.

His brilliant story “The Other Miller” appears in The Atlantic. I read it, love it. I can’t believe I know the person who wrote it, and that he knows me. I walk over to the Hall of Languages and there he is, the guy who wrote that story. What’s he doing? Talking to a student? Photocopying a story for next day’s class? I don’t remember. But there he is: both writer and citizen. I don’t know why this makes such an impression on me–maybe because I somehow have the idea that a writer walks around in a trance, being rude, moved to misbehavior by the power of his own words. But here is the author of this great story, walking around, being nice. It makes me think of the Flaubert quote, “live like a bourgeoisie and think like a demigod.” At the time, I am not sure what a bourgeoisie is, exactly, or a demigod, but I understand this to mean: “live like a normal person, write like a maniac.” Toby manifests as an example of suppressed power, or, rather: *directed* power. No silliness necessary, no dramatics, all of his considerable personal power directed, at the appropriate time, to a worthy goal."



"What Doug does for me in this meeting is respect me, by declining to hyperbolize my crap thesis. I don’t remember what he said about it, but what he did not say was, you know: “Amazing, you did a great job, this is publishable, you rocked our world with this! Loved the elephant.” There’s this theory that self-esteem has to do with getting confirmation from the outside world that our perceptions are fundamentally accurate. What Doug does at this meeting is increase my self-esteem by confirming that my perception of the work I’d been doing is fundamentally accurate. The work I’ve been doing is bad. Or, worse: it’s blah. This is uplifting–liberating, even—to have my unspoken opinion of my work confirmed. I don’t have to pretend bad is good. This frees me to leave it behind and move on and try to do something better. The main thing I feel: respected. Doug conveys a sense that I am a good-enough writer and person to take this not-great news in stride and move on. One bad set of pages isn’t the end of the world."



"On a visit to Syracuse, I hear Toby saying goodbye to one of his sons. “Goodbye, dear,” he says.

I never forget this powerful man calling his son “dear.”

All kinds of windows fly open in my mind. It is powerful to call your son “dear,” it is powerful to feel that the world is dear, it is powerful to always strive to see everything as dear. Toby is a powerful man: in his physicality, in his experiences, in his charisma. But all that power has culminated in gentleness. It is as if that is the point of power: to allow one to access the higher registers of gentleness."



"I am teaching at Syracuse myself now. Toby, Arthur Flowers, and I are reading that year’s admissions materials. Toby reads every page of every story in every application, even the ones we are almost certainly rejecting, and never fails to find a nice moment, even when it occurs on the last page of the last story of a doomed application. “Remember that beautiful description of a sailboat on around page 29 of the third piece?” he’ll say. And Arthur and I will say: “Uh, yeah … that was … a really cool sailboat.” Toby has a kind of photographic memory re stories, and such a love for the form that goodness, no matter where it’s found or what it’s surrounded by, seems to excite his enthusiasm. Again, that same lesson: good teaching is grounded in generosity of spirit."



"One night I’m sitting on the darkened front porch of our new house. A couple walks by. They don’t see me sitting there in the shadows.

“Oh, Toby,” the woman says. “Such a wonderful man.”

Note to self, I think: Live in such a way that, when neighbors walk by your house months after you’re gone, they can’t help but blurt out something affectionate."



"I do a reading at the university where Doug now teaches. During the after-reading party, I notice one of the grad writers sort of hovering, looking like she wants to say something to me. Finally, as I’m leaving, she comes forward and says she wants to tell me about something that happened to her. What happened is horrible and violent and recent and it’s clear she’s still in shock from it. I don’t know how to respond. As the details mount, I find myself looking to Doug, sort of like: Can you get me out of this? What I see Doug doing gets inside my head and heart and has stayed there ever since, as a lesson and an admonition: what Doug is doing, is staring at his student with complete attention, affection, focus, love—whatever you want to call it. He is, with his attention, making a place for her to tell her story—giving her permission to tell it, blessing her telling of it. What do I do? I do what I have done so many times and so profitably during my writing apprenticeship: I do my best to emulate Doug. I turn to her and try to put aside my discomfort and do my best to listen as intently as Doug is listening. I … [more]
georgesaunders  2015  teaching  teachers  writing  kindness  listening  tobiaswolff  dougunger  audience  voice  criticism  love  attention  family  adoration  howweteach  confidence  howwelearn  pedagogy  praise  self-esteem  literature  chekhov  storytelling  stories  humility  power  understanding  critique  gentleness  affection  toaspireto  aspirations  generosity  focus  education  howelearn 
october 2015 by robertogreco
Lebbeus Woods 1940—2012: Tributes to a fearless creator of worlds - Architecture - Domus
Neil M. Denari: "To know Lebbeus was to know a real human. A person who did nothing more than live, which most of us do not. Essentially he lived for others, even as he perpetuated the myth of the singular figure. He worked to communicate, not to satisfy. He loved the fight, not out of righteousness, but out of principal. He loved pleasure, not out of hedonism, but as a shared experience. In his form of living, the world was a massive, inexhaustible cybernetic organism, and he described it through his drawings, his ideas, his writing, and in his love for humanity. He lived his work and his work lived him. He made you live deeper. While Lebbeus was always obsessed with the metrics of things, the way systems and phenomena could be measured, the one thing that could never be quantified was his own life. Lebbeus Woods lives on."

Christoph A. Kumpusch: "In one of our last conversations, Lebbeus said, "Christoph, the biggest problem you can have in life is not having a problem." …"

Geoff Manaug: "Lebbeus Woods was utterly unique and entirely irreplaceable, a full-scale terrestrial force for rethinking architecture's relationship not only with the earth and with gravity, but also with all of grounded philosophy, with any belief in stability, in calm. Lebbeus dove headlong into war, seismicity, urban collapse and even deep space, where perspective and horizon mean nothing, not to celebrate groundlessness but to help us all think through and discover new ways to belong, to build, to find a plane of reference worth trusting (if there can be such a thing). That is architecture at its very best and most urgent — and the relentless Lebbeus will be dearly and heroically missed."

Thom Mayne: "Lebbeus. A man of huge integrity and an insatiable inquisitiveness to explore what he saw as the potentialities of an architecture — works of his mind untethered, unwilling to succumb to the contingent, the compromises inherent in our discipline. There was an equally powerful and balancing commitment to the political/cultural critique that was essential to his project as an architect, teacher and writer. He was, above all, interested in values: what is architecture for? His ethical understanding of our work gave him a moral authority which affected generations of architects. His search was for an authenticity of the present — to build the unbuildable, characterised by the ambiguities of time, the ephemerality of the durable, weight (gravity), physicality and an emotional content embracing a critical optimism with a sense of melancholy. …"

Eric Owen Moss: ""I will forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race. And I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use: silence, exile and cunning." So said Joyce's Stephen Dedalus. I don't know that Joyce's goal is attainable. But it's the most moving advocacy I know for Dedalus's heroic aspiration. That aspiration also resonates in Lebbeus Woods's voice. That is the Woods archetype. Silence. Exile. Cunning."

Michael Sorkin: "Lebbeus Woods was an authentic genius. His intelligence was radical and his work at once intense and effortless, filled with revolutionary joy. Such is the ineffability of genius: it works in the absence of will. … "

Hans Ulrich Obrist: "…Over almost half a century, Woods offered us portals to other always unexpected dimensions. Woods, for whom architecture was an open gate to possibility, envisioned new and alternative forms of utopian thinking. Ernst Bloch defined utopia as "something that's missing". Similar to the late Édouard Glissant, Woods's utopia was quivering, trembling, because it transcended established systems of thought and subjected itself to the unknown. Glissant has inspired generations of architects with a deep philosophical commitment to architecture. Once he told me that it must be said from the start that trembling is not uncertainty, and it is not fear; that every utopia passes through this kind of thought. Utopia is a reality where one can meet with the other without losing oneself. In a text on utopia, Lebbeus asked, "Have we reached the end of utopia as well as the end of history? Let us listen to, and watch, the more ambitious and idealistic of the coming generation. Only they have the answer."

Anthony Vidler: "…someone… whose ethical compass and staunch resistance to the consumerist spectacle was a guidepost to us all."

Kenneth Frampton: "Lebbeus Woods was an enigma who lived his life in defiance of the society into which he had been thrown and by which he was besieged. It was not an easy passage for someone of his rough ethical sense. "What are poets for in a destitute time?" could have been applied more aptly to him than to many others. Hence the unremitting dystopia of his vision, compulsively laid onto paper in one distressed stroke of his talented mind's eye after another. With him it was Blade Runner all the way; the prophetic mise en scène of a world reduced to meaningless rubble, the crashed spaceships and tubular rail bridges of a doomed escape. Hephaestus mocked by the repelling hubris of his own poetic astral technology that even Lebbeus could be seduced by. Yet through all this he remained the passionate advocate of the creative spirit, and it is this that made him into an inspired teacher and a passionate and articulate nurturer of the tyro architect. He was an anarchic romantic to the core, which made him intolerant of unreconstructed erstwhile "New Deal" critics like myself. As he put to me during a review of student work at the Cooper Union, "You are preaching in the wrong church here." This was about it: a rebel without a cause versus a socialist without a country."
lebbeuswoods  neildenari  architecture  2012  2013  domus  toaspireto  thommayne  geoffmanaugh  christophkumpusch  ericowenmoss  jamesjoyce  stephendedalus  utopia  michaelsorkin  hansulrichobrist  anthonyvidler  values  purpose  life  living  morality  ethics  teaching  kennethframpton  canon 
february 2013 by robertogreco
The prime mover — The Sea of Fog — Medium
"when you move through the world believing the best about people at all times. Jim’s beliefs became self-fulfilling prophecies, because he told people these things he believed about them—great things, improbable things—and they believed him. (You wouldn’t think so, but it requires tremendous courage to tell people great things about themselves, particularly in private. Amplified accolades at retirement dinners are easy; whispered appraisals across the desk divider are not.)

Grace: when you extend an offer of allegiance to everyone around you. Jim’s allegiance was not the allegiance of what can you do for me, nor was it the allegiance of you will bring honor to my house. Instead, it was the allegiance of… we are here together.

We are here together. You could call it a low bar; I call it an open door. And the fact that it was so plentiful made the fierceness and durability of Jim’s support even more remarkable. Basically, it made you feel like you’d won the lottery…"
encouragement  toaspireto  accolades  allegiance  enthusiasm  optimism  trust  grace  jimnaughton  2012  robinsloan 
december 2012 by robertogreco
Journal of W. Ross Ashby
"while a 24 year old medical student…Ross [Ashby] started writing a journal…44 years later, his journal had 7,400 pages, in 25 volumes…

…digitally restored images of all 7,400 pages & 1,600 index cards are available on this web site in various views, with extensive cross-linking that is based on the keywords in Ross's original alphabetical index…

The user interface has been made as intuitive as possible, with links and pop-up information attached to everything that stood still long enough…

To browse Ross's Journal, you can perform any of the following:

1. Select a volume from the Bookshelf.
2. View the 14½ subject categories in the Other Index.
3. Browse through the 678 keywords in the alphabetical Index.
4. Enter a page number between 1 and 7189 here: then press Enter.
5. If you are looking for journal entries around a particular date use the Timeline.
6. You could read the 2,300 transcribed journal entry Summaries.
7. Throw caution to the wind, and jump to a Random page."
information  indexcards  timelines  indexes  cybernetics  systemstheory  systems  staffordbeer  toaspireto  iamnotworthy  journals  notebooks  notetaking  notes  rossashby 
may 2012 by robertogreco
An eightfold path of Sylvianess - Bobulate
"4. Talk to everybody. All the time. About everything.
In the last three years, I have 1,200 emails from Sylvia. And half of those emails are her telling me about some other conversation she’s having – something fascinating she learned, someone she went to lunch with, someone I should look up. She was at the center of this constant circle of communication. And that was not only a very canny business strategy, but it was also a source of personal power: The power to transform people’s lives, and transform not just the lives of people she knew, but the lives of people who experienced the world she made.

I’m really trying hard to figure out: how do you be like Sylvia in that way, really embrace all the people around you?"
lizdanzico  inspiration  love  conversation  listening  understanding  interestedness  communication  email  people  sylviaharris  cv  toaspireto  sharing  learning  2011  life  living  glvo  work  meaningmaking  food  interested 
november 2011 by robertogreco

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