a calling

Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

"Neurosurgery is really hard work, and no one would have faulted me for not going back.  (People often ask if it is a calling, and my answer is always yes.  You can't see it as a job, because if it's a job, it's one of the worst jobs there is.)"

"the physician's duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence."

the most glorious thing

Ragnar Kjartansson, as quoted by Calvin Tomkins in "Play It Again," The New Yorker, 4.11.16

"As a child in Reykjavik, Kjartansson liked girls better than boys.  He got teased a lot in school, not so much because he played Barbie-doll games with the girls but because he was so bad at sports.

The coach would say, 'Let's watch Ragnar kick the ball in the goal,' and I could never do it.  They would all laugh and laugh, and I would go home crying and wish I was dead.  But now I think the most glorious thing that can happen to you is to be bad at sports.  The whole world opens up." 

musing on the difference

Carl DennisThe New Yorker, 4.8.16


Two Lives

In my other life the B-17 my father is piloting

Is shot down over Normandy

And my mother raises her sons alone

On her widow's pension and on what she earns

As a nurse at the local hospital, a sum

That pays for a third-floor walkup

In a neighborhood that's seen better days.

I play stickball after school in the lot

Behind the laundry. I come home bruised 

From fistfights and snowball fights

With boys who live in the tenement on the corner.

Not once do I play with the boy I am

In this life, whose father, too old for the draft,

Starts a paint company in a rented basement

Which almost goes under after a year

And then is saved, as the war continues,

By a steady flow of government contracts

That allows my mother to retire from nursing

And devote herself to work with the poor.

I find our quiet neighborhood of handsome houses

And shady streets crushingly uneventful.

No surprise I spend hours each day turning the pages

Of stories about trolls, wizards, giants,

Wandering knights, and captive princesses.

In my other life, I have to leave high school

To bolster the family income as lab boy

In the building attached to the factory that in this life

My father owns. I clean test tubes and beakers,

With a break for stacking cans on the loading dock

Or driving the truck to make deliveries.

In this life it takes only one summer

Of work at the office, addressing announcements

Of a coating tougher than any made by competitors,

To decide that the real world, so called,

Is overrated, compared to the world of novels,

Where every incident is freighted with implications

For distinguishing apparent success from actual.

No wonder I'm leaning toward a profession

Where people can earn a living by talking

In class about books they love. Meanwhile,

In my other life, after helping to bring the union

To a non-union shop, I rise in the ranks

To become shop steward, and then,

Helped by a union scholarship,

I earn a degree in labor law.

I bring home casebooks on weekends

To the very block where I happen to live

Ensconced in this life, here in a gray-green house

With dark-brown trim. If I don't answer the bell

On weekends in summer, I'm in the garden

Strolling the shady path between the maples,

Musing on the difference between a life

Deficient in incident and a life uncluttered.

Seated at a patio table, I write a letter

Asking a friend what book has he read

In the last few months that has opened his eyes

On a subject that's likely to interest me.

Meanwhile, across the street, in the garden

Of my other life, I can often be found

Hoeing the rutabaga and beans and cabbage

That I plan to share with neighbors in the hope of planting

The seeds of communal feelings more hardy

Than any known to sprout here before.

It won't be long till I knock at the door of the house

Where in this life I'm at my desk preparing a class

On the solitude in the novels of the Romantics.

Do I say to myself it's one more stranger

Eager to sell me something or make a convert,

Or do I go down to see who's there?




a neighbor to worry

Penny Reid, Love Hacked

"In truth, I was nervous.  I reminded myself of something my mother liked to say, which I believe wholeheartedly: nervous is a neighbor to worry—and worry is an emotional state that I abhor.  It tends to be self-adsorbed and short-sighted, and holds no purpose other than to waste energy and distract the mind from what actually matters."

a sated joy


Paul KalanithiWhen Breath Becomes Air

"There is perhaps only one thing to say to this infant, who is all future, overlapping briefly with me, whose life, barring the improbable, is all but past.

That message is simple.

When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you have filled a dying man's days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied.  In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing."


Lucy Kalanithi, Epilogue, When Breath Becomes Air

"What happened to Paul was tragic, but he was not a tragedy.

I expected to feel only empty and heartbroken after Paul died.  It never occurred to me that you could love someone the same way after he was gone, that I would continue to feel such love and gratitude along with such terrible sorrow, the grief so heavy that at times I shiver and moan under the weight of it.  Paul is gone, and I miss him acutely nearly every moment, but I somehow feel I'm still taking part in the life we created together."


good houses and good books

William Morris

"If I were asked to say what is at once the most important production of Art and the thing most to be longed for, I should answer; a beautiful House.  And if I were further asked to name the production next in importance and the thing next to be longed for, I should answer; a beautiful Book.

To enjoy good houses and good books in self-respect and decent comfort seems to me to be the pleasurable end toward which all societies of human beings ought now to struggle."

letting go

Barbara Kingsolver, Flight Behavior

"In one transcendent moment buoyed by about two ounces of Riesling she saw the pointlessness of clinging to that life raft, that hooray-we-are-saved conviction of having already come through the stupid parts, to arrive at the current enlightenment.  The hard part is letting go, she could see that.  There is no life raft; you're just freaking swimming all the time."


"your job is to be on his team"

Lauren Cusick"Serial's big confession," Medium

"When the judge ordered the jury in this case to presume Adnan innocent, this is what the judge was really saying:

You are on Team Adnan. Stay on Team Adnan until you know What Really Happened. If he doesn’t testify, don’t gasp. Don’t be blown away. Don’t try to be open-minded. Your job is not to be open-minded. He is a seventeen-year-old boy fighting the entire State of Maryland, and your job is to be on his team.

The jury in this case heard the judge’s order, they understood it, and they chose not to follow it. That’s What Really Happened, and the juror confessed to it without remorse."

"don't wait for anything"

Ira Glass, "I'm Ira Glass, Host of This American Life, and This Is How I Work," Lifehacker.com, 23 July 2014

"What's your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?

I've got nothing. Reading other people's answers to this question on your website today made me realize I live my life like an ape. I eat the same breakfast and lunch everyday, both at my desk."

"We're also big users of Google Calendar at the radio show. The desktop interface for that is good but the Google Calendar iPhone app is just fucking annoying and really should go to hell. Here are two annoying things it does: 1) Every day (and after every time you close the app) it asks you to log in again with your name and password, which is a pain in the ass. 2) After you log in, a little blue box appears saying "Install this web app on your Phone: tap on the arrow and then 'Add to Home Screen'" which irritates me because the app should know that it already IS on my home screen. It already is on my iPhone. Where does it think it's living? Anyway, after a couple of years of getting mad every time it asked me this, I finally decided this was unnecessary anger to have in my life and switched to the iCal app that comes with the iPhone."

"I also find that somehow, the way I'm built, the hardest part of my job is simply to shift from one task to the next. The new task is like icy water you have to dive into. The old task is a warm bath. It's especially hard when I know the new task is going to be really difficult, as half of them are. I always have to brace myself."

"Is there anything else you'd like to add that might be interesting to readers/fans?

I'd just say to aspiring journalists or writers—who I meet a lot of—do it now. Don't wait for permission to make something that's interesting or amusing to you. Just do it now. Don't wait. Find a story idea, start making it, give yourself a deadline, show it to people who'll give you notes to make it better. Don't wait till you're older, or in some better job than you have now. Don't wait for anything. Don't wait till some magical story idea drops into your lap. That's not where ideas come from. Go looking for an idea and it'll show up. Begin now. Be a fucking soldier about it and be tough."


"i don't want to 'get over' my father's death"

Matthew Parris"I don't want to 'get over' my father's death," The Spectator, 12 August 2009

"It is right that we make an imprint on the minds and lives of others, right that we should be needed while still alive; and therefore right that the imprint remains and the loss hurts, and continues hurting.

So I’ve decided that I don’t want to ‘come to terms’ with Dad’s death. It’s bloody awful that he isn’t here. It still cuts me up, and this is a fact of love."