Tag Archives: follow your bliss

Quote of the Day

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“The inhabitant or soul of the universe…is never seen; its voice alone is heard. All we know is that it has a gentle voice, like a woman, a voice so fine and gentle that even children cannot become afraid. And what it says is: Sila ersinarsinivdluge, ‘Be not afraid of the universe.'”

Joseph Campbell, Myths to Live by (1972)

In my humble opinion, Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) was one of the most important and influential writers of the 20th century. While there are many scholars who specialize in one religion or mythology, Campbell was really the first person to unify them and realized they shared something in common: they were all variations of one great story, the monomyth (a term he borrowed from Joyce’s Finnegans Wake – a story you should not read without a full vial of Advil beside you).

Joseph Campbell was serious about his reading and his research. I mean, we’re talking about a guy who, from 1929-34, as the Great Depression began ravaging the world, moved to the middle of buttf*** nowhere and spent nine hours a day reading. Imagine how many books you could get through in five years reading at that pace. Epic.

In 1939, Campbell would draw on all of his studies and his vast knowledge of the world when he published The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the book that would not only serve as his coming out party, but what is widely regarded today as his magnum opus. To put it in perspective, this book would not only have immediate and significant academic influence, but it would go on to form the impetus behind now-legendary cultural markers such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones and The Matrix. Luke Skywalker, in fact, was a direct archetype of the very hero Campbell wrote about in that book, and George Lucas has repeatedly credited Campbell’s “hero” for creating a movie character now known the world over.

Something else many people will know of but not know where it came from is perhaps Campbell’s most famous quote, “follow your bliss,” a phrase that has become my friend Maria A.’s life mantra. Campbell came up with this after reading the Upanishads (Hinduism’s Sanskrit texts), and as he’d later explain:

I came to this idea of bliss because in Sanskrit, which is the great spiritual language of the world, there are three terms that represent the brink, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence: Sat-Chit-Ananda. The word “Sat” means being. “Chit” means consciousness. “Ananda” means bliss or rapture. I thought, “I don’t know whether my consciousness is proper consciousness or not; I don’t know whether what I know of my being is my proper being or not; but I do know where my rapture is. So let me hang on to rapture, and that will bring me both my consciousness and my being.” I think it worked.

Joseph Campbell was prolific in his lifetime, but if you want his genius condensed into one sweet package, go and get The Power of Myth. It’s a book published the year after his death, an audio book series and a television PBS series with Bill Moyers. Watch it, listen to it, read it. You will walk away a better person for having done so. Guaranteed.

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To Follow Your Dream or Not?

For all those people who’ve grappled with the question of whether to quit their full-time job (i.e. a steady paycheque) and pursue their dream career (i.e. unsteady income), you might want to read an article in today’s Wall Street Journal. There’s a piece about David Ebershoff, the former Random House editor and executive who quit his posh job two weeks ago to become a full-time writer.

To recap: Mr. Ebershoff quit his position as Random House vice president and executive editor. During his time there, he edited literary giants such as Norman Mailer. He was more recently the American editor for David Mitchell. He also has the distinction of editing several (as in more than two!) Pulitzer Prize-winning books, one of which I really enjoyed about North Korea by Adam Johnson called The Orphan Master’s Son.

So why would someone leave this kind of fame, fortune and respect behind him? Obviously it’s not the stellar royalties authors make these days on physical books. Like Andy Weir, David Ebershoff balanced work (he’s also been teaching writing courses at Columbia and NYU) with his love of writing over the years. At some point, one had to give way to the other. Nobody can balance a full-time job with a writing career and expect to stay sane (or at least moderately engaged socially with other human beings).

I applaud David and his strength/bravery/foolishness/romantic nature to follow his passion. Or, as my friend Maria A. likes to say, Follow your bliss! I’ve gotten to know David a little over the last year or so and he strikes me as a bright, intelligent person who has too many literary-related gifts for one person. I also made this fateful decision in 2004 when I gave up a cush lecturing job at a respectable university to pursue writing as a full-time gig. I know how scary it can be and can only hope that David’s journey is as soul-affirming and eye-opening as my own has proven so far.

Even with his hectic schedule over the last few years, David managed to publish two novels (The 19th Wife and Pasadena) and a collection of short stories (The Rose City). His latest novel, The Danish Girl, has recently been made into a major motion picture. Click here to watch the trailer.

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