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{ Rethinking Expertise, Part II } Reverse-Engineering with “Yes, And…”

The Doctor is... Insightful

The Doctor is… Insightful


In Part I of this post, I wrote about a habit I’ve recently discovered in myself. When someone makes a suggestion that doesn’t square with my own point of view, I reflexively dismiss it.

I call it the Yes, but… response.

I suppose a lot of people do this internally, but I do it out loud, and it’s strangely impulsive. When I examine the instant of Yes, but…, it seems like a tic, a brief unthinking blip in my otherwise rational state of being.

Becoming aware of this tendency has been eye-opening. As an educator, I take care never to dismiss a student’s idea. Regardless of how off-topic or simply incorrect the remark might be, I know that a dismissive response can lead a student to withdraw, get defensive, or shut down completely. I pay close attention to my students’ affect and body language so that I can track who is flagging and take positive steps to help them re-engage. By extension, perceiving and responding empathetically to others are skills I consider myself pretty good at. So recognizing my Yes, but… habit outside of the classroom — with friends, my daughter, my husband — has been a wake-up call.

Of course the tendency to assert one’s worldview to others — in order to dispute or correct things they have said — is not unique to me. It seems to thrive in people who place a value on knowing lots of things — ie, on expertise.

Though I’ve been somewhat aware of this tendency in myself, it’s seemed pretty innocent and benign until now. But as I’m beginning to understand, it often isn’t. The “expert mindset” can create challenges: missed opportunities and perspectives; broken connections with others; perhaps a narrower existence all around.

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Alan Alda is best known for playing one of the more memorable television roles of the 1970s and 80s: wisecracking surgeon Hawkeye Pierce of M*A*S*H. But in a New York Times interview published this week, Alda discusses a less well-known pursuit of his: a life-long passion for science.

After M*A*S*H ended, he served as the host of PBS’s “Scientific American Frontiers” for twelve years. On the show, he conducted hundreds of interviews with scientists, not as a laureled expert but as an enthusiastic amateur — in the true sense of the word, a lover of the very essence of scientific discovery:

Every experiment is a great story. Every scientist’s life is a heroic story. There’s an attempt to achieve something of value, there’s the thrill of knowing the unknown against obstacles, and the ultimate outcome is a great payoff — if it can be achieved. Now, this is drama!

Alda was consequently frustrated to find that some of science’s most accomplished practitioners were ill-equipped to convey to others — especially non-experts — the significance of their life’s work. And alienating their listeners with jargon had a serious practical downside for these experts: it hurt their ability to secure funding for their work.

Scientists often don’t speak to the rest of us the way they would if we were standing there full of curiosity. They sometimes spray information at us without making that contact that I think is crucial. If a scientist doesn’t have someone next to them, drawing them out, they can easily go into lecture mode.

After years of interviewing scientists by “drawing them out” with non-expert curiosity, Alda had a creative breakthrough bearing the hallmarks of integrative thinking: Thinking back to his roots as actor, he wondered if training in improvisation could make scientists better storytellers?

The answer is yes. Today, at Stonybrook University’s Center for Communicating Science, which Alda helped establish, he and others teach improvisation and other storytelling skills to scientists.

We don’t do comedy improvisation or making things up. The object is to put people through games and exercises that force them to make contact with the other player. You have to observe the other person, anticipate what they are going to do. You almost have to read their minds.

By teaching improv styles that require close attention to others, the Center’s workshops help scientists become more attuned to the people around them. Furthermore, it convinces them so deeply of the value of building connections with their audiences that many have started to incorporate personal anecdotes in their talks, despite previously believing them inappropriate in such an objective and academic context. 

In a related and equally fascinating article in Nature, Rachel Bernstein explains how the growing use of improv in the scientific community stems from the fundamentally collaborative and co-creative structure of improvisation itself. By insisting on a Yes, and… response model, improvisation eliminates the Yes, but… (and No, but…) tendency that is often deeply ingrained in scientists and other experts. 

Discussing the work of improvscience, a consulting group in Boston, Bernstein writes:

Researchers sometimes fall short in their communication with each other, despite the importance of collaboration. [Cell biologist and improvscience founder Racquell] Holmes thinks that improvisation offers a powerful tool to address this problem — through, for example, the ‘yes, and’ rule. This basic tenet of improvisation dictates that participants must say ‘yes’ to any verbal or physical cues that they receive and build on them, rather than trying to shut down a direction that makes them uncomfortable. The rule is important in a research context, in which a ‘no, but’ stance often dominates — such as when discussing a colleague’s results or critiquing a paper in a journal-club meeting.

From a scientific perspective, this critical approach may be appropriate and necessary. But taken too far, Holmes says, it can create a negative group dynamic and make some people hesitant to share ideas for fear of ridicule. And that, in turn, could slow research progress.

To illustrate this problem, in one of her games Holmes asks participants to get into pairs and work together to plan a party. First, members of each pair can respond to each other’s statements only by starting with ‘no, but’; they then repeat the exercise using the ‘yes, and’ rule. The ‘no, but’ approach made it “very difficult to have a meaningful conversation”, says Max Staller, a systems-biology graduate student at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who has participated in several improvscience workshops. In stark contrast, the ‘yes, and’ rule worked so well in planning the fictitious party that he now applies it to his research.

“I try to consciously think about, Is there a way to say ‘yes, and’,” Staller says. “I make a point in journal club of talking about what’s positive about the paper; sometimes we focus too much on the shortcomings, and take for granted the successes.”

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I’ll close by sharing two amazing conversations I had over the past few weeks that not only shed light on the problem of expertise but also strengthened my commitment to replace my constricting, unthinking Yes, but… with a more receptive and constructive Yes, and… 

In the first conversation, I was asking an executive coach and hands-on expert in emotional intelligence whom I deeply admire how best to support people who come to me in emotional tailspins.

“You and I are talkers,” she said. “But when someone is sharing something that is difficult, you have to sit back. You have to fight the impulse to jump in. When I was starting out, I used to remind myself of this with “W.A.I.T.,” as in W – A – I – T — or, Why Am I Talking?

In the second conversation, I was sharing the Yes, but… moment with my daughter, described in Part I of this post, with a child psychologist. She beautifully articulated the pitfalls of Yes, but… for parents.

“Kids need their parents to create safe and comfortable spaces for them to learn in. But adults know far too much. With kids, we actually need to know less. Sometimes it helps to act dumb. If you say you don’t know the answer to something, you won’t be able to tell her her guess is wrong. She won’t be afraid of being corrected. By knowing less, you create that safe and comfortable space for her to try out her ideas.”

So here to less “expertise” and more Yes, and…

Yes, and I’ll get more exercise walking those two-and-a-half blocks.
Yes, and do you have any art galleries you can recommend?
Yes, Amelie, let’s try that!

I’ll report on my progress in a future post.

Thanks for reading, and please share your thoughts.

{ And speaking of improv, check out Elsa Fridman’s post yesterday on Charlie Todd’s TED talk on ImprovEverywhere — another example of improv’s power to instill a child’s [ non-expert ] mindset. }

Charlie Todd: “As adults, we need to learn that there’s no right or wrong way to play”

“You know, as kids, we’re taught to play. And we’re never given a reason why we should play. It’s just acceptable that play is a good thing. And I think that’s sort of the point of Improv Everywhere. It’s that there is no point and that there doesn’t have to be a point. We don’t need a reason. As long as it’s fun and it seems like it’s going to be a funny idea and it seems like the people who witness it will also have a fun time, then that’s enough for us. And I think, as adults, we need to learn that there’s no right or wrong way to play.” – Charlie Todd

Unwind from your day with this delightful TEDx talk from Improv Everywhere creator, Charlie Todd.

Charlie Todd causes bizarre, hilarious, and unexpected public scenes: Seventy synchronized dancers in storefront windows, “ghostbusters” running through the New York Public Library, and the annual no-pants subway ride. In his talk, he shows how his group, Improv Everywhere, uses these scenes to bring people together. 

Charlie Todd: The Shared Experience of Absurdity, published November 2011

{ Rethinking Expertise, Part I } The Dangerous Seduction of “Yes, But…”

Lucy from Peanuts

My sister and I still laugh over something she said in passing, years ago. We were on the phone discussing the fact that our 60-something mom had just completed a long charity walk  — essentially a marathon and a half — over the weekend.

“I can’t believe she walked forty miles!” I marveled.
Thirty-nine,” my sister shot back.

Her retort — as though she couldn’t tolerate such imprecision — was hilarious to me. Through a self-effacing groan, she too laughed at her automatic correction. Ever since, it’s been something I’ve good-naturedly teased her about.

Fast-forward to this month. Three times, I’ve noticed myself doing something similar:

  • Talking to a friend about the possibility of moving to a new place, I say the location is a bit far from a commercial street.
    “Well, there’s Smith Street,” my friend accurately remarks.
    “But it’s two-and-a-half blocks away. Two-and-a-half long blocks.”
  • I’m leaving a birthday party on 21st Street in Manhattan with my five-year-old daughter Amelie. Another parent who is a relatively new acquaintance asks me what we’re planning to do next.
    “Not sure. I kind of want to wander around before we head home.” “You two could go check out some art galleries,” she suggests.
    “With Amelie, no. Maybe a playground.”
  • Amelie wants some help making doll’s shoes out of cardboard. I have traced and cut out a sole.
    “Now cut this and put it like this,” she says, holding up another piece at a perpendicular.
    “I don’t think that’s going to work. It’s not going to stay.”
    “But we’ll tape it!” she insists.
    “OK, but it’s probably not going to hold.”

It wasn’t until the third interaction that I noticed the similarities among them. When I nixed my daughter’s cardboard vision, she didn’t take it lying down. She threw herself down. In hysterics.

Her dramatic dejection, along with some insights from my husband, helped me see that my response to her shoe idea was fundamentally negative. Moreover, all of my responses were:

Yes, but those blocks are long.
Yes, but art galleries aren’t for kids.
Yes, but shoes aren’t made of cardboard.

Yes, but…

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Last night I attended a wonderful talk by someone you might call professionally curious.

Robert Krulwich is a longtime, award-winning science reporter and the co-creator of WNYC’s RadioLab. As I remember it, the last question of the Q&A session that followed his talk was, Where did you get your curiosity?  

Without hesitation, he answered, My mom. She was amazing: she could get anyone to open up about anything. Even a stranger on an escalator.

Though heartfelt and perfectly lovely, his response struck me as an oversimplification. Why? Because to embody profound curiosity throughout one’s life — openly, out loud, and particularly in one’s professional sphere — requires an intellectual humility that I’m not sure our prevailing sociocultural values reward.

Instead, expertise — knowing things, having the answers — is prized. Experts are sought out by business, media, and governments. In the west, expertise is a form of capital, quite literally. Experts are paid to provide answers to important questions. They aren’t paid to say, “Hunh, I don’t know” or “Gosh, I never thought of that.”

Exceptions to the primacy of expertise do of course exist. Several have crept into my consciousness recently. In graduate school, I encountered the view championed by Bruce Mau, Tim Brown, and other designers — and borne out by cognitive psychologists — that being a novice in a particular context can often boost one’s capacity to innovate in that context. At the same time, I was absorbing my now-colleague Elsa Fridman’s rethinked essays on shoshin (the beginner’s mind), and how it plays an important role in integrative thinking. And I was studying Japanese designer Kenya Hara’s concept of “exformation”: making the known unknown for the explicit purpose of seeing and interacting with it anew.

But outside of these specialized contexts, our culture generally views expertise as an unqualified good. And so, for the most part, it’s somewhat unusual to hear such phrases as “Hunh, I don’t know” and “Gosh, I never thought of that” — not to mention somewhat difficult (for many) to say them. 

And yet, Robert Krulwich has revolutionized his career (and some would say mainstream science journalism as a whole) in part by using those very phrases. In his talk yesterday he addressed this observation, comparing Walter Cronkite’s stentorian voice-of-God delivery to his own unmodulated voice, which often conveys sincerely perplexed reactions to Radiolab’s guests. (Check back for a link to the video of Krulwich’s talk, which took place at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan.)

By design, Mr. Krulwich’s approach to Radiolab is not as an expert but instead as an engaged and curious novice. This approach, he said, makes him a faithful and effective proxy for the people he hopes the show will enlighten: his own listeners.

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So why is being an expert a problem?

Of course it’s not, per se.

The problem I think is being the kind of expert who can’t be anything else.

The kind of expert who — consciously or not — avoids saying, Hunh, I don’t know and Gosh, I never thought of that.

The kind of expert who reflexively responds, Yes, but… 

Yes, but those blocks are long.
Yes, but art galleries aren’t for kids.
Yes, but shoes aren’t made of cardboard. 

Here’s the thing. In those moments I didn’t perceive my responses as negative. I sincerely believed my responses were more precise reflections of an objective reality. And in the case of my daughter’s shoemaking, I thought I was being helpful by steering her away from a doomed experiment. I suppose I assumed that each Yes, but… reflected a clear-eyed assessment of the situation.

Now my Yes, but…s seem impulsive and strange. They fill me with questions: What is that chronic hole-poking about? What is that mental blip, that unthinking tic? Is it a short-circuit in my reasoning? Is it the cause of the Yes, but…? Or the effect? Or, somehow, both? Do the Yes, but…s stem from overuse of my critical function? Or from an overinflated value I place on my own sense of expertise?

Hunh, I don’t know. 

But I do know this: Each Yes, but… I’ve described to you very effectively closed me off from an attractive possibility and a fresh point of view.

I didn’t stop to consider that a longer walk to the store would be a boon to my health. I didn’t contemplate the unique perspective I would gain by visiting an art gallery with a five-year-old. I didn’t realize that if I had just allowed that five-year-old to play out her shoe experiment, she would have discovered the cardboard’s deficiencies herself — and experienced deeper learning than my prepackaged “expert knowledge”  could ever instill.

This leads me to wonder: If the impulse to pounce on the holes in others’ ideas is a side-effect of expertise (be it a scientist’s expertise or an educator’s), what can be done to offset it? 

Part II: Yes, and… — How Openness and Receptivity can be Reverse-Engineered 

Carol Dweck On The Power Of Mindset To Help Children (& Adults) Reach Their Potential …*

Carol Dweck On The Power Of Mindset To Help Children (& Adults) Reach Their Potential ...* | rethinked.org


If you haven’t yet had time to read Carol Dweck‘s brilliant book on the power of mindsets to shape students’ motivation and learning, or if you have read it and just can’t get enough–I highly recommend the video below. In a lecture given at the RSA in September 2013, Dweck summarizes the key findings from her work on mindsets and gives some practical tips for translating those insights into impact.

How To Help Every Child Fulfill Their Potential – Carol Dweck via The RSA, published September 18, 2013

Tim Brown On Nurturing Your Creative Capacity Through Relaxed Attention …*

IDEO‘s Tim Brown has just published a great post over on LinkedIn about the importance of relaxed attention to creative problem-solving :

During relaxed attention, a problem or challenge is taking up space in your brain, but it isn’t on the front burner. Relaxed attention lies somewhere between meditation, where you completely clear your mind, and the laser-like focus you apply when tackling a tough math problem. Our brains can make cognitive leaps when we’re not completely obsessed with a challenge, which is why good ideas sometimes come to us when we’re in the shower or talking a walk or on a long drive.

Unfortunately, our education system provides ever shrinking opportunities for students to engage in the types of activities that lead to relaxed attention:

in both the UK and US education systems, since the late 1980s, the trend has been away from unstructured play and time studying the arts—both prime times for switching gears into relaxed cognition—and toward more structured, standardized National Curriculums. According to the report, this focus on finding the single right answer for the test instead of exploring many alternate solutions has resulted in “a significant decline in creative thinking scores in US schools. Using the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT), and a sample of 272,599 pupils (kindergarten to fourth grade), evidence suggests that the decline is steady and persistent [affecting] teachers’ and pupils’ ability to think creatively, imaginatively and flexibly.”

Luckily, Brown offers three suggestions on how to enhance your own and your students’ creative capacity through engaging relaxed attention.

Source: Why Daydreamers Will Save the World, published February 24, 2014.

Jeanette Winterson On Reconnecting With Our Imaginative Selves Through Art …*

Jeanette Winterson On Reconnecting With Our Imaginative Selves Through Art ...* | rethinked.org

I think people are often quite unaware of their inner selves, their other selves, their imaginative selves, the selves that aren’t on show in the world. It’s something you grow out of from childhood onwards, losing possession of yourself, really. I think literature is one of the best ways back into that. You are hypnotized as soon as you get into a book that particularly works for you, whether it’s fiction or a poem. You find that your defenses drop, and as soon as that happens, an imaginative reality can take over because you are no longer censoring your own perceptions, your own awareness of the world. Most of us spend a lot of time censoring everything that we see and hear. Does it fit with our world picture? And if it doesn’t, how can we shut it out, how can we ignore it, how can we challenge it? We are continually threatened in life, it’s true. But once you are alone with a book, and it’s also true with a picture or with music, all those defenses drop and you can enter into a quite different space where you will learn to feel differently about yourself.” – Jeanette Winterson

Source: Jeanette Winterson, The Art of Fiction No. 150 via The Paris Review, published Winter 1997


I’d love to know what books, pictures or music have helped you connect with your imaginative inner self? Let me know in the comments below *

W.H. Auden On Teaching Creative Writing, the Joys Of Constraints & the Transformative Power of Collaboration …*

W.H. Auden On Teaching Creative Writing, the Joys Of Constraints & the Transformative Power of Collaboration ...* | rethinked.org

W. H. Auden at the Poetry Center, 1966. Photo: Diane Dorr-Dorynek, courtesy of 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center via The Paris Review


W.H. Auden, whose birthday is today, had some marvelous views on the impossibility of teaching creative writing, the productive joys of constraints and the transformative power of collaboration, all topics dear to our hearts here at rethinked * I particularly love his views on teaching creative writing by exploring a wide range of other disciplines– creativity, after all, is often found in the in-between, cross-over spaces. Also, apprenticeships!


If I had to “teach poetry,” which, thank God, I don’t, I would concentrate on prosody, rhetoric, philology, and learning poems by heart. I may be quite wrong, but I don’t see what can be learned except purely technical things—what a sonnet is, something about prosody. If you did have a poetic academy, the subjects should be quite different—natural history, history, theology, all kinds of other things. When I’ve been at colleges, I’ve always insisted on giving ordinary academic courses—on the eighteenth century, or Romanticism. True, it’s wonderful what the colleges have done as patrons of the artists. But the artists should agree not to have anything to do with contemporary literature. If they take academic positions, they should do academic work, and the further they get away from the kind of thing that directly affects what they’re writing, the better. They should teach the eighteenth century or something that won’t interfere with their work and yet earn them a living. To teach creative writing—I think that’s dangerous. The only possibility I can conceive of is an apprentice system like those they had in the Renaissance—where a poet who was very busy got students to finish his poems for him. Then you’d really be teaching, and you’d be responsible, of course, since the results would go out under the poet’s name.


But I can’t understand—strictly from a hedonistic point of view—how one can enjoy writing with no form at all. If one plays a game, one needs rules, otherwise there is no fun. The wildest poem has to have a firm basis in common sense, and this, I think, is the advantage of formal verse. Aside from the obvious corrective advantages, formal verse frees one from the fetters of one’s ego. Here I like to quote Valéry, who said a person is a poet if his imagination is stimulated by the difficulties inherent in his art and not if his imagination is dulled by them.


I’ve always enjoyed collaborating very much. It’s exciting. Of course, you can’t collaborate on a particular poem. You can collaborate on a translation, or a libretto, or a drama, and I like working that way, though you can only do it with people whose basic ideas you share—each can then sort of excite the other. When a collaboration works, the two people concerned become a third person, who is different from either of them in isolation. I have observed that when critics attempt to say who wrote what they often get it wrong. Of course, any performed work is bound to be a collaboration, anyway, because you’re going to have performers and producers and God knows what.

Source: W.H. Auden, The Art of Poetry No. 17 via The Paris Review, published Spring 1974.

Mitch Resnick On Creating Opportunities For Children To Learn By Designing, Creating, Experimenting & Exploring …*

Mitch Resnick On Creating Opportunities For Children To Learn By Designing, Creating, Experimenting & Exploring ...*  | rethinked.org

Mitch Resnick, Papert Professor of Learning Research and director of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT Media Lab, shares some valuable insights on the importance of developing creative thinkers and the various tools and processes to build creative learning experiences. Enjoy the highlights below and read the full interview here.


We call the group Lifelong Kindergarten because we’re inspired by the way children learn in kindergarten. In the classic kindergarten, children are constantly designing and creating things in collaboration with one another. They build towers with wooden blocks and make pictures with finger paints—and we think they learn a lot in the process.

What we want to do with our new technology and activities is extend that kindergarten approach to learning, to learners of all ages. So everybody can continue to learn in a kindergarten style, but to learn more advanced and sophisticated ideas over time.


The process of making things in the world—creating things; it provides us with the opportunity to take the ideas that we have in our mind and to represent them out in the world. Once we do that, it sparks new ideas. So there’s this constant back and forth between having new ideas in your mind, creating things in the world, and that process sparking new ideas in the mind which lets you create new things. So it’s this constant spiral of creating and generating new ideas.

We live in a world that is changing more rapidly than ever before. Things that you learn today could be obsolete tomorrow. But one thing is for sure: People will confront unexpected situations and unexpected challenges in the future. So what’s going to be most important is for kids to be able to come up with new and innovative solutions to the new challenges that arise. That’s why it’s so important to develop as a creative thinker. Just knowing a fixed set of facts and skills is not enough. The ability to think and act creatively will be the most important ingredient for success in the future.


Although coding does provide some economic opportunities for jobs and careers, I think the most important reason for learning to code is it lets you organize your ideas and express your ideas. Coding lets you learn many other things. So that’s why I think what’s most important is not just learning to code, but coding to learn. As you’re learning to code, you’re learning many other things.

[ …]

Before you can think about changing living standards, you need to change learning standards. I think computer science provides new opportunities to help people become better learners. I think the thing that’s going to guarantee success in the future is people developing as creative thinkers and creative learners. Doing creative work with technology through learning to code is one pathway to that. It’s not the only pathway. But I think what’s probably the most important thing is having young people grow up with opportunities to think and act creatively. That’s the key.


We should make sure all subjects are taught in a way where kids get a chance to learn through creative expression. And not just computer programming. In a science class or physics class or biology class, teachers should allow students to have creative learning experiences.

We should rethink all school subjects so there are opportunities for children to learn by designing, creating, experimenting and exploring. That’s also true when we use computers. We should use computers to design, create, experiment and explore. But we should apply those ideas to all classes and all media.

Source: Interview: Mitchel Resnick via Maris, West & Baker Advertising, published February 8, 2014.

Maira Kalman on Her Buddhist Bowling Shoes, Curiosity > Knowledge, & How Love & Work Protect Us From Sadness & Loss …*

“To slow down time, that’s something that’s very important to me, and what I did was I bought this pair of shoes which are two sizes too big for me, in a thrift shop in England […] These bowling shoes are two sizes too big so when you wear them, you have to really be careful of what you’re doing and you have to walk quite slowly and quite carefully. So it forces you to be in the moment, so I call them my Buddhist Bowling Shoes.”  – Maira Kalman

Maira Kalman: What I Choose To Illustrate And Why via Ink Talks published February 6, 2014.

Infuse your day with wisdom from the great Maira Kalman. If you don’t have time to view the video yet, catch some highlights below.

think & rethink …* 

“You don’t really have to have knowledge, what you have to have is curiosity. So she [Kalman’s mother] was a woman who loved to read and who took me to the library when we came to the United States–to the opera, to concerts, to museums–all the time, but there was never a test. There was never having to prove yourself. And that kind of freedom–allowing you to absorb all that there is around you without ever having to perform–is an extraordinary level of confidence in somebody and self-confidence building and it’s a very hard thing to do–to step back and let your child just experience what they experience with all the mistakes that they make.”

“And basically the idea is that you really have to stop and look at everything–everything that arrests you, everything that delights you has to be noted.”

“What is important and what is the meaning of life? Why are we here? Which is the question that I ask myself at least a dozen times a day, if not every minute. But when you go outside yourself, of course, and you’re looking at what’s around you, it’s endlessly extraordinary.”

“That sense of humor, that lightness, that irresponsibility about not knowing what’s going to happen and kind of not caring is necessary.”

“The moral of the story is it’s not bad to be bored. And actually, boredom, and fear of boredom, is a great motivator. The sense that you allow yourself to get bored and then you get so frustrated you say, ‘Okay, now I really have to do something.'”

“The question that we ask ourselves is: “What protects you? what protects you in this world from sadness and from the loss of an ability to do something?” And for me, what protects me, of course, is work and love. And I think that those two things cover pretty much every single thing because who you love, what you love, and what you do with your time is really the only question that you have to answer.”

Hat Tip: Maira Kalman On Curiosity, Courage, Happiness, And The Two Keys To A Full Life, via Brain Pickings, published February 11, 2014.

Toni Morrison On Constructing Books As What Ifs …*

Toni Morrison On Constructing Books As What Ifs ...*  | rethinked.org

I always start out with an idea, even a boring idea, that becomes a question I don’t have any answers to.

[ … ] 

No, I know how I feel. My feelings are the result of prejudices and convictions like everybody else’s. But I am interested in the complexity, the vulnerability of an idea. It is not “this is what I believe,” because that would not be a book, just a tract. A book is “this may be what I believe, but suppose I am wrong . . . what could it be?” Or, “I don’t know what it is, but I am interested in finding out what it might mean to me, as well as to other people.” – Toni Morrison

Source: Toni Morrison, The Art of Fiction No. 134 via The Paris Review, published

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