Writing, at its best, is a lonely life

Ernest Hemingway at his home in Cuba, the Finca Vigia, 1954

Ernest Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. He told reporters when it was announced that Carl Sandburg, Isak Dinesen and Bernard Berenson were more worthy.

But the cash award was good and he was going through one of his many bouts of depression and recovering from two consecutive plane crashes that had nearly killed him. But he decided not to go to Sweden for the awards ceremony. (He had John C. Cabot, the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden, to read his Nobel acceptance speech.)

Writing is a solitary life and that is one of the good parts. You can work alone. For many of us, we work best alone.

Of course, Hemingway was a very public figure. It seems that he loved it at times, but I think he knew it was also destroying him. Tough place to be.

In his short speech, he does a good job of saying a lot in a few lines. It is what he did best when he was at his best.

Hemingway recorded the speech at a later date himself and I was very surprised to hear his voice for the first time. Not what I expected as the voice of Ernest Hemingway.

The speech:

“Having no facility for speech-making and no command of oratory nor any domination of rhetoric, I wish to thank the administrators of the generosity of Alfred Nobel for this Prize.

No writer who knows the great writers who did not receive the Prize can accept it other than with humility. There is no need to list these writers. Everyone here may make his own list according to his knowledge and his conscience.

It would be impossible for me to ask the Ambassador of my country to read a speech in which a writer said all of the things which are in his heart. Things may not be immediately discernible in what a man writes, and in this sometimes he is fortunate; but eventually they are quite clear and by these and the degree of alchemy that he possesses he will endure or be forgotten.

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.

For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.

How simple the writing of literature would be if it were only necessary to write in another way what has been well written. It is because we have had such great writers in the past that a writer is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him.

I have spoken too long for a writer. A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it. Again I thank you.

Why a Good Night’s Sleep Works


A new study suggests that a good night’s sleep leaves you feeling sharp and refreshed because a newly discovered system that scrubs away neural waste is mostly active when you’re at rest. The discovery of the brain’s unique waste removal system, dubbed the glymphatic system, seems to work like a neural trash truck, clearing away toxic by-products that build up when you’re awake.

see http://www.nbcnews.com/health/good-nights-sleep-scrubs-your-brain-clean-researchers-find-8C11413186

Get some sleep tonight!


The First Blogger

Statue of Marcus Aurelius in the Musei Capitolini in Rome.

Philip Greenspun suggested online that perhaps Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from 160 AD to 180 AD, might have been the first blogger.

Marcus kept a journal during a military campaign in central Europe (171-175).

Do not disturb thyself by thinking of the whole of thy life. Let not thy thoughts at once embrace all the various troubles which thou mayest expect to befall thee: but on every occasion ask thyself, What is there in this which is intolerable and past bearing? For thou wilt be ashamed to confess. In the next place remember that neither the future nor the past pains thee, but only the present. But this is reduced to a very little, if thou only circumscribest it, and chidest thy mind, if it is unable to hold out against even this.

Greenspun conjectures that:

This was preserved because the author had been Emperor. How much ancient wisdom was lost because the common Roman citizen lacked TCP/IP? By 1700 BC, the Minoans were trading with Spain, had big cities with flush toilets, a written language, and moderately sophisticated metalworking technology. Had it not been for the eruption of Thera (on Santorini), it is quite possible that Romans would have watched the assassination of Julius Caesar on television.

I shared that with my colleague, the very erudite Professor Jenkins, who disagreed, as he often does with my ideas.

Marcus Aurelius kept a journal, not a blog. I think, by definition, a blog is an initial journal entry in which it is anticipated and expected that there will be timely reader responses which will cause the discussion of the topic to evolve.

From that perspective, I would say that medieval monastic scribes were the first bloggers. In the production of a manuscript “text”, wide margins were deliberately left on each page so that future users could gloss the text. Once completed, a product of a monastic scriptorium was frequently lent out to other monasteries whose readers would leave glossed comments in the margins. The manuscript often circulated in “round robin” fashion with several requested borrowers (“ye olde listserve”) before returning to its original home.

Yeah, bloggers of the ancient world is probably not a good dissertation thesis topic (or even a good thesis sentence) but it’s a nice conversation starter over coffee.

Professor J. did conclude by saying:

Marcus Aurelius died of some kind of intestinal problems. So maybe you don’t mean “first blogger” but rather “burst flogger”?

Emperor Marcus Aurelius as a boy. ...

I’ll allow Marcus to have the last words:

“Confine yourself to the present. Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”

And Marc on the life of the body:

“The sexual embrace can only be compared with music and with prayer.”

Where’s George?

One of the websites I used way back in 1998 was Where’s George?  The site is still active and it allows users to track the travels of a particular piece of U.S. paper currency.

Users (called “Georgers”) write or stamp “www.wheresgeorge.com” onto their bills and then release them (well, spend them) into circulation. Then you hope that the next user will visit the site and log in your bill’s new location.

Bills receive “hits” each time someone logs a bill they have registered. You can even compete for “George scores” (based on the number of bills and total hits), and play “bingo” by attempting to register hits from every state.

I started using the site with students as a little project and they really got into it. Well, they enjoyed the initial surge, but they lost interest when their bills stalled in a location because the next owner didn’t bother to log in.

There are also sites in Germany (Wo Ist Mein Geld — Where’s My Money?), Japan (Osatsu — bill), and Canada (Where’s Willy?).

Is this “currency defacement” – a crime? The Bureau of Engraving and Printing defines illegal defacement as “mutilation with the intent to render the bill unfit for reissue” – so I guess doing the George thing is acceptable.

The Most Misused Social Security Number

The most misused Social Security number (SSN) of all time was 078-05-1120.

In 1938, wallet manufacturer the E. H. Ferree company in Lockport, New York decided to promote its product by showing how a Social Security card would fit into its wallets. A sample card, used for display purposes, was inserted in each wallet. Company Vice President and Treasurer Douglas Patterson thought it would be a clever idea to use the actual SSN of his secretary, Mrs. Hilda Schrader Whitcher.

The wallet was sold by Woolworth stores and other department stores all over the country. Even though the card was only half the size of a real card, was printed all in red, and had the word “specimen” written across the face, many purchasers of the wallet adopted the SSN as their own.

In the peak year of 1943, 5755 people were using Hilda’s number. The Social Security Administration acted to eliminate the problem by voiding the number and publicizing that it was incorrect to use it. (Mrs. Whitcher was given a new number.) However, the number continued to be used for many years. In all, over 40,000 people reported this as their SSN. As late as 1977, 12 people were found to still be using the SSN “issued by Woolworth.”

Source: http://www.ssa.gov/history/ssn/misused.html