Tag Archives: leo tolstoy

Quote of the Day

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“We are all alone, born alone, die alone, and—in spite of True Romance magazines—we shall all someday look back on our lives and see that, in spite of our company, we were alone the whole way. I do not say lonely—at least, not all the time—but essentially, and finally, alone. This is what makes your self-respect so important, and I don’t see how you can respect yourself if you must look in the hearts and minds of others for your happiness.” 

Hunter S. Thompson, The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967

I don’t now why (though I sorta/kinda do), but I woke up (i.e. raised my torso after a sleepless night) and had Hunter S. Thompson on my mind. If you’ve read War and Peace, the above quote might remind you of one of Tolstoy’s most famous passages from his opus (the “Love hinders death” passage).

My first foray into Hunter baby’s world came with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. To this day, it and Philip Roth’s The Great American Novel remain  the two funniest books I’ve ever read. With Thompson, the man had an ability to live in and describe the world he was a part of like nobody else. While some may brush off gonzo journalism as hack writing or immature, drug-addled creativity, I have personally never read anyone like him before or since.

Another quote that came to mind this morning as I ambled around my apartment in the wee morning hours like a decrepit old man with failing bones was from the same book as above:

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

Finally, on a more positive note (I think), I’ll close off Hunter S. Thompson’s Quote of the Day with a simple line that has more value to it than you might think at first. In its quietly pessimistic yet sobering logic, there’s actually something positive to be taken from it:

“Life has become immeasurably better since I have been forced to stop taking it seriously.”


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Happiness Is in the Details (& Get the Hell Off Facebook)

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Robert Cormack (@rbcormack) has certainly given me a lot to think about early this Monday morning through his piece entitled “Happiness Is Boring: The un-glamorized truth about our cheery, merry, joyful and beatific lives.”

He begins by referring to Shel Silverstein’s poem “The Land of Happy.”

Have you been to the land of happy,
Where everyone’s happy all day,
Where they joke and they sing
Of the happiest things,
And everything’s jolly and gay?
There’s no one unhappy in Happy
There’s laughter and smiles galore.
I have been to The Land of Happy-
What a bore

Mr. Cormack then continues his happiness odyssey by taking aim at Facebook. People post on FB, he claims, to make us envious of their travels and accomplishments and la-dee-da life. We scroll through posts looking for happiness or joy or some sort of ejaculation-like release of endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. Sadly, studies show we only end up sadder after spending time on Facebook. And the longer we’re on it, the further down the rabbit hole of depression we fall. Counterproductive? You bet. Counterintuitive? Duh.

Mr. Cormack references a bunch of heavyweights throughout history, including an interesting story behind the etymology of the word “fleeting,” but there’s one particular line from his piece that I really liked:

Maybe that’s why some people never find joy. Like everything in our universe, it’s more or less a mistake. It’s like love. Love is crazy. Trying to figure it out is like trying to understand roughage. We just know it works.

I suppose the lesson here is that happiness is not the goal, it’s the journey. It’s not in the comparisons to other people’s lives or accomplishments but in the day-to-day struggle we all find ourselves in no matter how fantastic! our perfect situation may seem to others. The truth is that we’re all fighting our way through this jungle called existence, and the only people who enjoy a modicum of what can loosely be referred to as happiness are those who realize that “there” is no better than “here,” and that happiness is not the end goal. It’s in the here and now, the trenches of daily life, and the challenges we face on a minute-to-minute basis.

To quote a man far wiser than myself, I’ll refer to one L. Tolstoy, who once said, “If you want to be happy, be.”

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Writing Your First Book

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There was an interesting article in The Guardian a while ago titled “How to finish a novel: tracking a book’s progress from idea to completion.” It’s about a go-getter named Wyl Menmuir and an app he used called WriteTrack (now known as Prolifiko) to keep tabs on his progress/set daily goals over his journey to write – and finish! – his first novel.

The original aim was to complete a 44,242-word book in 124 days.

Before we go on, I have to point out a couple of things. To begin, I first wrote about a similar subject when I created a Page on this site called “Evolution of a Novel.” I described how much changes in the years (plural) it takes most authors to write a novel. I cut and paste a single paragraph, the opening to A Father’s Son, from its inception in 2006 to its completion in 2012 to its published form in 2013, and the differences between drafts is pretty staggering. Why? Because time had passed and I could go in with fresh eyes at each new stage.

The fact that Tolstoy and Ondaatje each only took five years to craft War and Peace and The English Patient, respectively, is insane. Arundhati Roy, who took home the Man Booker Prize in 1997 for her debut novel The God of Small Things, will be releasing her second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, next month. In case you lost count, that’s 20 years for her follow-up work of fiction.

My own second novel is scheduled to be published next spring. I began the first draft of The Immortal Flower in winter 2001. By the time it comes out, the writing/editing/publishing of that single book will represent 39% of my life. Ouch!

Second, since when did a novel fall under 50,000 words? Doesn’t that get tagged as a “novella” anymore? It’s my understanding that most novels – even in today’s age of hyperconnectivity – fall in the word count range of 80,000 to 100,000 words.

Than again, maybe I’m full of **** and **** because Mr. Menmuir ended up completing his novel in one year, 10 months and two days. In the grand scheme of things, I’d say that’s still pretty fast, especially for someone who’d never finished a full-length novel before.

The real icing on this gravy train of literary sweetness, though? Menmuir not only finished The Many, but he got it published. Amazing. But there’s more! He not only got it published, but he was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2016!

I therefore say to all of you out there who’ve been sitting on an idea for a book for years: Go do it! If you need an app, download it. Otherwise, read The Guardian article I linked to above and then tell yourself, I’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain. Set aside a single hour a day at first – even 30 minutes in the beginning – and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you may be able to impress even yourself.

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The Nobel Prize in…Lyrics?

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Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Thanks, Will (wink, wink).

Just because you love a person’s work, doesn’t mean you get to change the rules when categorizing it. While some are ecstatic that the world is becoming less rigid in its definition of people and objects – some choose not to be identified by a male or female pronoun and God only knows what the meaning of an American Republican is anymore, for example – there are benefits to having structure, namely, the ability to form logical thoughts and opinions which can then be communicated to others without detailed explanation.

Which brings us to Mr. Zimmerman and his winning of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature today. I’d heard that his name was being kicked around for years, but never actually thought he’d win the award. Guess I was wrong.

I suppose the conundrum I’m faced with (and don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Bob Dylan’s music just as much as the next person) comes more from a linguistic approach.

The word “literature” is defined as:



writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest, are characteristic or essential features, as poetry, novels, history, biography, and essays.

the entire body of writings of a specific language, period, people, etc.:

the literature of England.

the writings dealing with a particular subject:

the literature of ornithology.

the profession of a writer or author.

literary work or production.

any kind of printed material, as circulars, leaflets, or handbills:

literature describing company products.


In a broader sense, the word “literature” can technically include any type of writing on a particular subject, like the literature of supply-side economics.

Does that mean that Robert Mundell should have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature – and not Economics as he was – in 1999? I mean, Mundell did, after all, write extensively on the subject of supply-side economics.

Speaking of which, at least the “Economics” Nobel has gone through 12 name changes since its introduction in 1969, so it’s already admitting the award is for, roughly translated, someone who talks/writes about things with the word “economy” or “economics” in it.

If the higher-ups at Nobel, Inc. were comfortable introducing a new prize category in 1969, long after the inventor of TNT’s death, then why not just introduce a Nobel Prize for Music? Like soccer, it’s a universally binding force that has a tremendous impact on the world, right?

Now, granted, the Swedish Academy (which awards the Literature Prize) has made some pretty stellar decisions in the past. They’ve overlooked little-known and obscure people in the field of literature before, such as Henrik Ibsen, Henry James, James Joyce, Leo Tolstoy and Mark Twain. In 1974, after discounting writers that included Saul Bellow, Graham Greene and Vladimir Nabokov, they shrewdly gave the award to literary rock stars Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson. Sorry, what’s that? No, no, no. They’re not members of ABBA; they were members of the Swedish Academy that very same year.


If I were a betting man, which I am, then I’d put my money on Bob Dylan being a fine choice for the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, which I won’t.

Do you not see something inherently wrong with that last statement?

As a curling colleague of mine and upstanding man of letters said to me this morning, “I’d rather an obscure Lithuanian rapper have won the award.”

Yes, indeed, something is most definitely awry in the state of Den…err…Sweden.


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Quote of the Day

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Unless they’re out of a novel by writers like Leo Tolstoy or Norman Mailer, or from the herculean efforts of scholars like Barbara Tuchman or Margaret MacMillan, military commanders aren’t often known for their mellifluous oratory skills. Nor, for the most part, are they known for their prose.

That made Dwight D. Eisenhower all the more unique. He remains one of only a handful of five-star American generals and was supreme commander of Allied Forces on D-Day for the largest seaborne invasion in history.

In freaking history!

As if that weren’t enough, he went la de dah into the White House and served two terms as president.

No bigs. Just a walk in the park.

Ike was so much more than just the sum total of his accolades and battlefield victories, though. He was a gifted speaker, respected as much by his servicemen as he was by statesmen around the world.

Now, on the eve of the second presidential debate, I feel that General Eisenhower not only had his finger on the pulse of society at the time, but was far more prescient than perhaps we give him credit for today.

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”

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On Love & Quotes

I like quotes. And, really, who doesn’t ? Bound by a cute pair of rabbit ears, a great quote can serve as a life mantra, a conversation starter, an impetus to change your life, a reason to learn more about a subject…the list is endless!

My friend and old ex-curler buddy, Stephen B., just tagged me in a Facebook Memory (didn’t even know they existed before this) and reminded me of a quote from Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey, a novel we read in our book club aeons ago. Wilder was in his own league when it came to English prose. I mean, here was a guy who really knew how to string together words in a way that hits you hard, not like a nudge on the shoulder, but more a hammer to the cerebral cortex that induces a shot of heaven-borne adrenalin to your organ of fire.

Check out this doozy from The Bridge of San Luis Rey:

Soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.

(ed. note: If you like Wilder, especially The Bridge of San Luis Rey, I strongly encourage you to read David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Aside from The Bridge of San Luis Rey being one of Mitchell’s favourite books, he infused a lot from Wilder’s novel in his own epic, ranging from the character of Luisa Rey to the almost frequent mention of bridges at key moments in the story. )

While reading that Wilder quote again, I find it hauntingly similar to a passage I read years ago that was written by yet another literary giant more than 60 years before Wilder penned his ethereal prose on love. To quote Prince Andrei from War and Peace:

Love hinders death. Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love. Everything is united by it alone. Love is God, and to die means that I, a particle of love, shall return to the general and eternal source.

Now that I’m on the subject, though, I can’t but recall two of my all-time-forever-like-totally-can’t-forget-about-them quotes on this subject.

First, I present Lawrence Durrell from the first book in the Alexandria Quartet novels, Justine:

The loved object is simply one that has shared an experience at the same moment of time, narcissistically; and the desire to be near the beloved object is at first not due to the idea of possessing it, but simply to let the two experiences compare themselves, like reflections in different mirrors. All this may precede the first look, kiss, or touch; precede ambition, pride, or envy; precede the first declarations which mark the turning point—for from here love degenerates into habit, possession, and back to loneliness.

And I end with the man himself, Michael Ondaatje, and his swan song from The English Patient:

We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves. I wish for all this to be marked on by body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography – to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience.

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