It’s three weeks since our daughter was born1 and only now am I exiting the fog of fear, excitement, and sleep deprivation that comes free with every newborn. It’s safe to say my brain is yet to fully unscramble, and I definitely should not be operating heavy machinery2. With that in mind, I’m quite lazily sending you a bunch of letter excerpts, all of which have grabbed me recently for various reasons.
Listen: respect even the bad parts of yourself—respect above all the bad parts of yourself—for the love of God, don’t try to make yourself perfect—don’t copy an ideal, copy yourself—that is the only way to live.
Clarice Lispector to her sister, 6 Jan 1948 | Why This World
Which is the more sordidly corrupt activity — dancing or publishing? [...] In a dance club, if any individual fails to behave properly, you chuck him out; in a publishing house, you take him to lunch.
T. S. Eliot to Geoffrey Faber, 7 Jul 1936 | The Letters of TS Eliot: Vol 8
How the eternal superficialities do intrude themselves upon life. Things like food & sleep & sex and baths & exercise. One is always interrupting some really poignant emotion to go to bed or to lunch.
Virgil Thomson to Leland Poole, 1922 | Selected Letters of Virgil Thomson
There are lots of HUGE dogs in our street, who routinely use our driveway for a dog’s lavatory, with resultant HUGE TURDS every morning. Our next-door neighbour Monique, who is a psychiatrist’s wife hence well-informed on such matters, told Bob that MALE URINE is a certain deterrent to dogs. So Bob’s been doing it . . . The amazing thing is it actually works. Not a single pile of dogshit has been seen since Bob started this routine.
Jessica Mitford to Michael Tigar, 1 Dec 1982 | Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford
Inhabitants of different and largely incommensurable worlds can live happily together—but only on condition that each recognizes the fact that the other’s world is different and has just as much right to exist and be lived in as his own. Once the other’s right to live where he or she is temperamentally and, no doubt, physiologically predestined to live is recognized, there can be something very stimulating and liberating about the experience of being joined in a loving relationship with somebody whose universe is radically unlike one’s own. It becomes possible for each of the partners to enlarge his own private universe by taking his stand vicariously, through empathy and intelligence, within the other’s territory and trying to see what reality looks like from that other vantage point. I remember a very touching passage in one of my grandfather’s letters about his own obtuseness—the obtuseness of an immensely intelligent man of the highest integrity—in relation to his wife’s insights, immediate, non-rational and almost infallible, into human character. Jack Sprat could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean—which is precisely why it is possible for them to constitute a symbiotic organism superior to each of its components. But, alas, what is possible goes all too often unrealized and, instead of federating their two worlds, the temperamental aliens settle down to a cold war.
Aldous Huxley to Humphry Osmond, 6 May 1959 | Psychedelic Prophets The Letters of Aldous Huxley and Humphry Osmond
There is always more surface to a shattered object than a whole.
Djuna Barnes to Emily Coleman, 1960 | The Book of Repulsive Women and Other Poems
If you will trust my scheme of making a mental habit of doing the hard thing first, when you are absolutely fresh, and I mean doing the hardest thing first at the exact moment that you feel yourself fit for doing anything in any particular period, morning, afternoon or evening, you will go a long way toward mastering the principle of concentration.
F. Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter, 18 Apr 1938 | Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald
Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind at least a sense of unease in human beings. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests or the use of force accomplish anything here ‘reasons fall on deaf ears’ facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going one the attack For that reason, greater caution is called for when dealing with a stupid person than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer | Letters and Papers from Prison
I feel entirely dehumanised by the sun now and wish for fog, snow, rain, humanity.
Virginia Woolf to E. Sackville-West, Sep 1926 | Virginia Woolf: The Complete Collection
The world is divided into people who do things and people who get the credit. Try, if you can, to belong to the first class. There’s far less competition.
Dwight Morrow to his son, Dwight Jr., 1925 | The Rotarian
Happiness does not await us all. One needn’t be a prophet to say that there will be more grief and pain than serenity and money. That is why we must hang on to one another.
Anton Chekhov to K. Barantsevich, 3 Mar 1888 | A Life in Letters
Thank you so much for your lovely messages. Our daughter, Zora, is a delight.
To be clear, I am not operating heavy machinery.