Category Archives: work

Oliver Sacks Working at His Desk

12Bram-master768-v2
Oliver Sacks working at his desk, 2015. Photo by Bill Hayes.

(Via.)

Nat Hentoff at Work

Nat Hentoff at work in The Pleasures of Being Out of Step: Notes on the Life of Nat Hentoff (2013).

nathentoff

Trailer:

Some People Are Cohens, Some People Are Dylans

One of the many amazing tidbits from David Remnick’s New Yorker profile of Leonard Cohen:

In the early eighties, Cohen went to see Dylan perform in Paris, and the next morning in a café they talked about their latest work. Dylan was especially interested in “Hallelujah.” Even before three hundred other performers made “Hallelujah” famous with their cover versions, long before the song was included on the soundtrack for “Shrek” and as a staple on “American Idol,” Dylan recognized the beauty of its marriage of the sacred and the profane. He asked Cohen how long it took him to write.

“Two years,” Cohen lied.

Actually, “Hallelujah” had taken him five years. He drafted dozens of verses and then it was years more before he settled on a final version. In several writing sessions, he found himself in his underwear, banging his head against a hotel-room floor.

Cohen told Dylan, “I really like ‘I and I,’ ” a song that appeared on Dylan’s album “Infidels.” “How long did it take you to write that?”

“About fifteen minutes,” Dylan said.

This resonates with me because I too am a slow worker, often, like Cohen, laboring on and fussing with little things for years, though nothing quite at the level of “Hallelujah,” it’s true. It’s more like some people are Cohens, some people are Dylans. Speed-wise, I wanted to be more like Dylan for years, but now I’m more okay with my Cohen-like process, though the Dylan style has its advantages.

Here’s another great tidbit from the piece:

Cohen lived in a tiny cabin that he outfitted with a coffeemaker, a menorah, a keyboard, and a laptop. Like the other adepts, he cleaned toilets. He had the honor of cooking for Roshi and eventually lived in a cabin that was linked to his teacher’s by a covered walkway. For many hours a day, he sat in half lotus, meditating. If he, or anyone else, nodded off during meditation or lost the proper position, one of the monks would come by and rap him smartly on the shoulder with a wooden stick.

And here’s Cohen’s latest single:

May we all be as cool at 82.

UPDATE: There’s an episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast that covers fast vs. slow creativity and Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Whatever you think of Malcolm Gladwell or podcasts, I think it’s worth listening to.

(Hat tip: @GenerationMeh.)

Early Success Will Spoil You

“When you’re young, and things come super easily to you, and you have success right out of the gate, you’re liable to think that’s how it actually works. You start to think you don’t need to be fully prepared or committed to have these things meet you.”

—actress Sarah Paulson on success later in lifeGQ, October 2016

Keep Going

“Think of Darwin, working for decades on his theory of evolution, refraining from publishing it because it wasn’t yet perfect. Hardly anyone knew what he was working on. No one said, Hey Charles, it’s okay that you’re taking so long, because what you’re working on is just so important. They didn’t know. He couldn’t have known. He just knew that it wasn’t done yet, that it could be better, and that that was enough to keep him going.”

—Ryan Holiday, Ego Is the Enemy

A Writer’s Room: Leonardo Padura Fuentes

Cuban writer Leonardo Padura Fuentes’s workspace as seen on season 6, episode 1 of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. (Click on the images for bigger versions.)

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 10.39.33 AMScreen Shot 2016-06-10 at 10.39.58 AMScreen Shot 2016-06-10 at 10.40.06 AM

Previously.

Quality, Not Quantity

“How many scholars are there whose single book or article has generated more intellectual energy than the collected works of other, quantitatively far more ‘productive,’ scholars? The commensurating device known as the ‘tape measure’ may tell us that a Vermeer interior and a cow plop are both twenty inches across; there, however, the similarity ends.”

—James C. Scott, Two Cheers for Anarchism