The Vital Difference Between Work and Labor: Lewis Hyde on Sustaining the Creative Spirit
The Marginalian
by Maria Popova
2d ago
“The gifts of the inner world must be accepted as gifts in the outer world if they are to retain their vitality.” It is a gladness to be able to call one’s daily work a labor of love, and to have that labor put food on the table the way any work does, dishwashing or dentistry. And yet such labors of diligence and devotion — the kind William Blake called “eternal work” — are somehow different, different and more vulnerable, for they enter the world in a singular spirit and are recompensed in a singular spirit, distinct from dentistry or dishwashing. That spirit is the spirit of a gift — not th ..read more
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Ways of Being: Rethinking Intelligence
The Marginalian
by Maria Popova
3d ago
“Intelligence is not something which exists, but something one does.” “Intelligence supposes good will,” Simone de Beauvoir wrote. “Sensitivity is nothing else but the presence which is attentive to the world and to itself.” Yet our efforts to define and measure intelligence have been pocked with insensitivity to nuance, to diversity, to the myriad possible ways of paying attention to the world. Within the human realm, there is the dark cultural history of IQ. Beyond the human realm, there is the growing abashed understanding that other forms of intelligence exist, capable of comprehending an ..read more
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What the Heart Keeps When the Mind Goes: May Sarton on Loving a Loved One Through Dementia
The Marginalian
by Maria Popova
4d ago
On remaining in loving contact with the intangible, immutable part of the self. One of the hardest things in life is watching a loved one’s mind slowly syphoned by cognitive illness — that haunting ambiguous loss of the familiar body remaining, but the person slowly fading into otherness, their very consciousness frayed and reconstituted into that of a stranger. How to go on loving this growing stranger is the supreme challenge of accompanying a precious human being through the most disorienting experience in life — the great open question pocked with guilt but pulsating with possibility. The ..read more
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Turning Loss and Loneliness into Wonder: How the Victorian Visionary Marianne North Revolutionized Art and Science with Her Botanical Paintings
The Marginalian
by Maria Popova
6d ago
A vibrant foray into “a perfect world of wonders” fueled by the bittersweet dimension of life. Marianne North (October 24, 1830–August 30, 1890) was twenty-six and had just lost her mother to a long tortuous illness when her father took her to an oasis of wonder in the heart of London — Kew Gardens, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth: a lush affirmation of life bustling with life-forms beyond the wildest imagination. In the majestic half-acre glass-and-iron palm house full of tropical plants, Marianne found a portal to another world. She fell under the spell of the exotic red Amherstia ..read more
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Rootedness and Reclaiming God
The Marginalian
by Maria Popova
1w ago
“Everything we do matters, and matters wondrously.” There is a peculiar existential loneliness that entombs us whenever we lose our sense of connection to the web of being — the self begins to feel like a twig torn from the tree of life, and something inside us withers with longing. We are left without sanctuary — a word that comes from the Latin sanctorium: a repository for holy things. The word “holy” shares its own Latin root with “whole” and has its Indo-European origins in the notion of the interleaving of all things. When we lose that sense of connection, that sense of belonging to the ..read more
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Against the Cult of Originality: Emerson on the True Nature of Genius
The Marginalian
by Maria Popova
1w ago
“Great genial power… consists… in being altogether receptive.” The best things in life we don’t choose — they choose us. A great love, a great calling, a great illumination — they happen unto us, like light falling upon that which is lit. We have given a name to these unbidden greatnesses — genius, from the Latin for “spirit,” denoting the spirit of a universe we can only submit to but cannot govern. A generation after Wordsworth defined the proof of genius as “the act of doing well what is worthy to be done, and what was never done before,” Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803–April 27, 1882) t ..read more
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The Unphotographable: The Moon, the Tide, and the Living Shore
The Marginalian
by Maria Popova
1w ago
Sometimes, a painting in words is worth a thousand pictures. I think about this more and more, in our compulsively visual culture, which increasingly reduces what we think and feel and see — who and what we are — to what can be photographed. I think of Susan Sontag, who called it “aesthetic consumerism” half a century before Instagram. In a small act of resistance, I offer The Unphotographable — Saturdays, a lovely image in words drawn from centuries of literature: passages transcendent and transportive, depicting landscapes and experiences radiant with beauty and feeling beyond what a vi ..read more
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The Footpath to Yourself: Robert Macfarlane on Landscape as a Lens on Inner Life
The Marginalian
by Maria Popova
1w ago
“Paths run through people as surely as they run through places.” “All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are,” Pablo Neruda observed in his soulful Nobel Prize acceptance speech. But paths are more than metaphors — they do lead places and, along the way, do reveal us to ourselves in ways inconceivable at the outset, unattainable at home. That is what the poetic nature writer (and spell-writer, and songwriter) Robert Macfarlane explores in The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot (public library) — the final book in his trilogy on landscape as a lens on inner life, exploring “the ..read more
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How to Be with Each Other’s Suffering: Elie Wiesel on the Antidote to Our Paralysis in the Face of World-Overwhelm
The Marginalian
by Maria Popova
1w ago
“I believe if people talk, and they talk sincerely, with the same respect that one owes to a close friend or to God, something will come out of that, something good. I would call it presence.” There is a phenomenon in forests known as inosculation — the fusing together of separate trees into a single organism after their branches or roots have been entwined for a long time. Sometimes, one of the former individuals may be cut or broken at the base, but it remains fully alive through its sinewy fusion with the former other. This is no longer symbiosis between two distinct organisms but a hybrid ..read more
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The Symphony of Belonging: Alfred Kazin on Music as Spiritual Homecoming
The Marginalian
by Maria Popova
2w ago
On the emotional machinery that suspends us between rapture and tears. “A person’s identity,” Amin Maalouf wrote, “is like a pattern drawn on a tightly stretched parchment. Touch just one part of it, just one allegiance, and the whole person will react, the whole drum will sound.” It is a wonderful metaphor in part because it dances with the literal: So often, what strums the resonance of our identity most powerfully is music — that most expansive and embodied repository of memory, the memory that strings the narrative of selfhood we call identity. Music as a fundament of identity and a portal ..read more
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