The doom laid upon me, of murdering so many of the brightest hours of the day | Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for March 23rd, 1840

March 23d.–I do think that it is the doom laid upon me, of murdering so many of the brightest hours of the day at the Custom House, that makes such havoc with my wits, for here I am again trying to write worthily, . . . yet with a sense as if all the noblest part of man had been left out of my composition, or had decayed out of it since my nature was given to my own keeping. . . . Never comes any bird of Paradise into that dismal region. A salt or even a coal ship is ten million times preferable; for there the sky is above me, and the fresh breeze around me, and my thoughts, having hardly anything to do with my occupation, are as free as air.

Nevertheless, you are not to fancy that the above paragraph gives a correct idea of my mental and spiritual state. . . . It is only once in a while that the image and desire of a better and happier life makes me feel the iron of my chain; for, after all, a human spirit may find no insufficiency of food fit for it, even in the Custom House. And, with such materials as these, I do think and feel and learn things that are worth knowing, and which I should not know unless I had learned them there, so that the present portion of my life shall not be quite left out of the sum of my real existence. . . . It is good for me, on many accounts, that my life has had this passage in it. I know much more than I did a year ago. I have a stronger sense of power to act as a man among men. I have gained worldly wisdom, and wisdom also that is not altogether of this world. And, when I quit this earthly cavern where I am now buried, nothing will cling to me that ought to be left behind. Men will not perceive, I trust, by my look, or the tenor of my thoughts and feelings, that I have been a custom house officer.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for March 23rd, 1840. From Passages from the American Note-Books.

“Necessity” — Langston Hughes

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Work Work Work / Read Read Read (Barry Moser’s Advice to Artists)

The best advice I could possibly give you, and forgive me if this seems glib, is to work. Work. Work. Work. Every day. At the same time every day. For as long as you can take it every day, work, work, work. Understand? Talent is for shit. I’ve taught school for nearly thirty years and never met a student who did not have some talent. It is as common as house dust or kudzu vine in Alabama and is just about as valuable. Nothing is as valuable as the habit of work, and work has to become a habit. This I learned from Flannery O’Connor. Read her. Read her letters especially, and her essays. You will learn more about what it is you want to do from people like her and Ben Shahn and Eudora Welty than you will ever learn from drawing classes. Read. Read. Read. You are in the business of words more than pictures. You must understand words and the craft and art of putting words together to move men’s souls and minds and hearts. Listen to music. Listen to Bach’s Art of the Fugue and the Goldberg Variations over and over and over. Every day, day after day after day until you begin to sense, if not understand, what he is up to. Then try to implement what you intuit from Bach into your own work. I don’t care if you don’t like classical music. Do it. It is invaluable, but you have to listen, and then don’t listen. Let it fill your mind at one moment and then let it flow over you and into you until you are paying it no attention whatever. Bach will teach you form and structure and rhythm and all sorts of things you never imagined.

Advice Barry Moser gave to The Children’s Literature Symposium at Clemson in 1996. Read the rest of the address here (other advice includes eating green vegetables and not drinking and driving).