A Word to the Wise

I’ve never been one for New Year Resolutions. There’s a natural rebel inside me who kicks against rules of any kind – especially those I try to impose on myself. I mean, really, who wants to be told what (and what not) to do by a finger-wagging fool who can’t even follow his own instructions?
And yet … come the turn of the year I always feel in need of a little gentle encouragement. I’m looking for inspiration from someone who’s been there, done it and bought the T-shirt. And who better than Anton Chekhov, a physician who was also a playwright often compared to Shakespeare and perhaps the most influential short-story writer of all time?
Image result for anton chekhov
First, a few random quotes …
Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.
Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
Love, friendship and respect do not unite people as much as a common hatred for something.
Any idiot can face a crisis – it’s day to day living that wears you out.
We shall find peace. We shall hear the angels, we shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.
People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.
Perhaps the feelings that we experience when we are in love represent a normal state. Being in love shows a person who he should be.
Medicine is my lawful wife and literature my mistress; when I get tired of one, I spend the night with the other.
In a May 10, 1886 letter to his brother Alexander, also a writer, Chekhov noted six principles of a good story.
  • Absence of lengthy verbiage of a political-social-economic nature.
  • Total objectivity.
  • Truthful descriptions of persons and objects.
  • Extreme brevity.
  • Audacity and originality: flee the stereotype.
  • Compassion.

 

Finally, here are a few pieces of encouragement and advice Chekhov wrote in letters to Russian writer Maxim Gorky in the late 1800s.

 

“You ask what is my opinion of your stories. My opinion? The talent is unmistakable and it is a real, great talent. For instance, in the story ‘In the Steppe,’ it is expressed with extraordinary vigour, and I actually felt a pang of envy that it was not I who had written it. You are an artist, a clever man, you feel superbly, you are plastic—that is, when you describe a thing, you see it and you touch it with your hands. That is real art.

There is my opinion for you, and I am very glad I can express it to you. I am, I repeat, very glad, and if we could meet and talk for an hour or two you would be convinced of my high appreciation of you and of the hopes I am building on your gifts.

Shall I speak now of defects? But that is not so easy. To speak of the defects of a talent is like speaking of the defects of a great tree growing in the garden; what is chiefly in question, you see, is not the tree itself but the tastes of the man who is looking at it. Is not that so?

I will begin by saying that to my mind you have not enough restraint. You are like a spectator at the theatre who expresses his transports with so little restraint that he prevents himself and other people from listening. This lack of restraint is particularly felt in the descriptions of nature with which you interrupt your dialogues; when one reads those descriptions one wishes they were more compact, shorter, put into two or three lines.”

 

Like all good teachers he begins by praising achievement before offering a single word of criticism – and even then he is constructive, offering his student a positive way forward.

Don’t know about you but I can’t think of a better way to start 2019!

Let’s hope it’s a good year for us all …

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12 thoughts on “A Word to the Wise

  1. “Medicine is my lawful wife and literature my mistress; when I get tired of one, I spend the night with the other.” Always good to have options, Dave. The practical and the impractical. Even better when you can merge the two. But I have different projects to match my moods. The very best in 2019. I look forward to your continuing observations of the world. –Curt

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