David Bruce: The Funniest People in Books, Volume 3 —Work


• As a young man, Allen Ginsberg was unsure at first about doing what he wanted to do. Fortunately, he had an understanding psychotherapist who asked him what he really wanted to do with his life. Mr. Ginsberg replied that he was afraid that the psychotherapist would not think that what he wanted to do was healthy. So what did he want to do? He wanted to “never work again … and do nothing but write poetry and have leisure to spend the day outdoors and to go to museums and see friends.” He also wanted to have a relationship, even if the relationship were with another man. The psychotherapist listened carefully, then said, “Well, why don’t you? … If that is what you really feel would please you, what in the world is stopping you from doing it?” Mr. Ginsberg quickly met someone — Peter Orlovsky, and they had a marriage ceremony. He also found a way to stop working. He did some research and discovered that his company would save money by letting a computer do his job. The company, of course, laid him off, but they also gave him a letter saying that he had not quit the company but instead had been replaced by a computer. Mr. Ginsberg collected unemployment insurance for six months, and he worked on his poem “Howl,” which made him famous and opened up doors for him to make a living as a poet and creative guru.

• As a child, L.M. Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables, was lonely but imaginative. She named her geranium “Bonny” and even gave trees such names as “Little Syrup.” In addition, she invented imaginary friends who lived behind the two glass doors of a cabinet. Behind one glass door lived Katie Maurice, an imaginary friend of her own age. Behind the other glass door lived an older imaginary friend: Lucy Gray. Of course, as an adult Ms. Montgomery put her imagination to use writing novels and other literary works of art. When she was a teacher, she forced herself to get up and write one hour an day before teaching. She did this even in winter, when it was so cold that she had to wear a heavy coat as she wrote. Later in life, after she had achieved success, she wrote, “When people say to me, as they occasionally do, ‘Oh, how I envy you your gift, how I wish I could write as you do,’ I am inclined to wonder, with some inward amusement, how much they would have envied me on those dark, cold, winter mornings of my apprenticeship.”

• After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1938, playwright Arthur Miller had a choice to make: Either he could go to Hollywood and work for Twentieth-Century Fox for $250 a week, or he could go to New York and work for the Federal Theater Project for $23 a week. Because he wanted to do serious and important writing, he chose to go to New York. Of course, he became very successful both critically and financially, and his financial success bothered him. After all, his plays were about ordinary people and ordinary life, and he wanted to stay connected to ordinary people and ordinary life. Shortly after winning the Drama Critics Circle Award for All My Sons, Mr. Miller worried about staying connected to the lives he wrote about, so he walked into the New York State Employment Service office and said that he wanted to work at the first job they could find. The very next day he was working at minimum wage assembling beer box dividers. Fortunately, he quickly returned to writing plays, including his masterpiece, Death of a Salesman.

• Frank Peterson was a personal friend of librarian Malcolm Glenn Wyer. When Mr. Peterson went to New York City in the 1930s, Mr. Wyer asked him to get some radical literature to be added to the collection of the University of Nebraska Library. Mr. Peterson agreed, and he sent the library several bundles of literature. Eventually, a bundle of literature arrived with a note saying that this would be the last shipment. The police had raided a meeting of one of the radical organizations from which Mr. Peterson had been getting the literature, and he had narrowly escaped being arrested.

• When Robert Frost was a young man, his paternal grandfather offered to pay his expenses for a year as he tried to establish himself as a poet — with the understanding that after the year if he had been unsuccessful he would undertake a more normal occupation. Robert turned down the offer because he realized that it would take much more than a year to establish himself as a poet. Grandfather Frost did, however, leave Robert money in his will — money that Robert lived on until he became successful.

• Children’s book author Joyce Carol Thomas writes a draft, then adds to it and creates another draft, then adds to that draft and creates yet another draft, and so on. One day, she sent a draft of an essay to her editor, and her editor simply said to the assistant editor, “Put that draft in a drawer. There are more coming.” The statement was true. Ms. Thomas sent three more drafts. According to her editor, “This is the way a real writer works.”

• Randy Pausch, professor of Computer Science, Human Computer Interaction, and Design at Carnegie Mellon University, and author of The Last Lecture, got tenure early because he paid attention to what was important. If you ask him how he got tenure so early, he says, “Call me at my office at 10 o’clock on Friday night and I’ll tell you.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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David Bruce:


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