Sunday, December 09, 2018

In a Book

People often ask me if I'm working on a book. That's not how I feel. I feel like I work in a book. It's like putting myself under a spell. And this spell, if you will, is so real to me that if I have to leave my work for a few days, I have to work myself back into the spell when I come back. It's almost like hypnosis.
-Robert McCullough

Next Book:The One I'm Working On


Do you know what your next book will be?


No, I probably won’t know until I finish the present book. It could result from something I’m writing now, or somebody’s chance remark, or something Rosalee and I see while traveling. I’m very interested in the Dome of Santa Maria del Fiora in Florence. I’m fascinated by Brunelleschi and all that was going on in Florence in those years. I love mysteries and the dome is one. It’s still not known how they built it. Yet there it is, built before Columbus sailed.

I’m often asked which is my favorite book and it’s always the same—the one I’m working on. And I feel that now. I really look forward to going out there tomorrow morning and working on chapter three. The time will fly.

Paris Review

David McCullough Interview

A big part of life for me was the Carnegie Museum Library complex, a natural history museum, art museum, library, and concert hall, all under one roof. The building itself conveyed the idea that all these things went together, there were no dividers. You walked from the library into the big hall with a plaster model of the Parthenon and the facades of great buildings from Europe. Around the corner were birds and dinosaurs. Upstairs were the paintings from the permanent collection and visiting exhibitions.

As a kid, twelve years old or so, I could get on the streetcar and go by myself, go see the paintings of Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper, go to the library. The architect Louis Kahn said a great city ought to be a place where a young person gets an idea of what he might like to do with his life. Well, I certainly did in Pittsburgh. Willa Cather wrote her first stories right near where I grew up. Dreiser lived in Pittsburgh. Stephen Foster was a native son. There were the great musical traditions of the Czechs and Germans and Poles of Pittsburgh. Everybody talks about diversity now. If you were a kid riding the streetcars in Pittsburgh in 1945, you knew about diversity. You heard three or four languages being spoken. You smelled the garlic. You saw the foreign newspapers.

The combination of first-rate public schools and the freedom we had to explore the city on our own—unsupervised—well, it was great. I loved growing up there. But I had never seen the ocean and, I think most of all, I wanted to get to New York. Maybe it was seeing so many movies.

-David McCullough Interview Paris Review

Paris Review Interview: David McCullough

Growing up in Pittsburgh I went to a wonderful public school where the arts were given as much attention as standard subjects like math and history. We had art and music every day. We were taken to museums and steel mills. I had excellent teachers both in grade school and high school. Most of us are lucky if we have two or three teachers who change our lives and I had several, especially Vincent Scully, who taught art and architecture at Yale. He taught us to see, to think about spaces, to pay attention to what the buildings were saying, and to think about what the alternatives were, what might have been built that wasn’t. And few men I’ve known have such a great understanding of America. I also took Daily Themes at Yale, Robert Penn Warren’s writing course. Every morning at eight-thirty you had to slide a sheet of original prose under the professor’s door, and if you didn’t, you got a zero. There was no kidding about it. It taught us discipline, to produce.

The hardest thing with writing is to make it look effortless. It’s true of everything that’s done well. People see a performer or an artist or a carpenter and they think, Well, that looks easy. Little do they know.

I get a bit impatient with people who talk about all the trials and the pain and loneliness of being a writer. That’s not been my experience. I love the work. I would pay to do what I do. That’s not to say it’s easy, but I don’t think ease and pleasure are necessarily synonymous. I like it in part because it is hard. And because I don’t know how it’s going to come out.
- David McCullough, Paris Review

Learning to See

The training I had in drawing and painting has been of great benefit. Drawing is learning to see and so is writing. It’s also an exercise in composition, as writing is, though in writing it’s called form.
-David McCullough, Paris Review

Look at Your Fish


Would you tell us about the motto tacked over your desk?


It says, “Look at your fish.” It’s the test that Louis Agassiz, the nineteenth-century Harvard naturalist, gave every new student. He would take an odorous old fish out of a jar, set it in a tin pan in front of the student and say, Look at your fish. Then Agassiz would leave. When he came back, he would ask the student what he’d seen. Not very much, they would most often say, and Agassiz would say it again: Look at your fish. This could go on for days. The student would be encouraged to draw the fish but could use no tools for the examination, just hands and eyes. Samuel Scudder, who later became a famous entomologist and expert on grasshoppers, left us the best account of the “ordeal with the fish.” After several days, he still could not see whatever it was Agassiz wanted him to see. But, he said, I see how little I saw before. Then Scudder had a brainstorm and he announced it to Agassiz the next morning: Paired organs, the same on both sides. Of course! Of course! Agassiz said, very pleased. So Scudder naturally asked what he should do next, and Agassiz said, Look at your fish.

I love that story and have used it often when teaching classes on writing, because seeing is so important in this work. Insight comes, more often than not, from looking at what’s been on the table all along, in front of everybody, rather than from discovering something new. Seeing is as much the job of an historian as it is of a poet or a painter, it seems to me. That’s Dickens’s great admonition to all writers, “Make me see.”

-David McCullough, The Paris Review


“Real success is finding your lifework in the work that you love.”
― David McCullough


“History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are. ”
― David McCullough

Writing is Thinking

“Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That's why it's so hard."

(Interview with NEH chairman Bruce Cole, Humanities, July/Aug. 2002, Vol. 23/No. 4)”
― David McCullough


“To me, history ought to be a source of pleasure. It isn't just part of our civic responsibility. To me, it's an enlargement of the experience of being alive, just the way literature or art or music is."

[The Title Always Comes Last; NEH 2003 Jefferson Lecturer interview profile]”
― David McCullough

David McCullough

“Nothing good was ever written in a large room.”
- David McCullough, Paris Review


“Turning our lives around is the bravest thing we can do.”
― Rose McGowan, Brave

“My life, as you will read, has taken me from one dangerous cult to another, one of the biggest cults of all: Hollywood. I say biggest because short of a nuclear bomb, Hollywood has the farthest reach.”
― Rose McGowan, Brave


“Being a free-spirited, strong-willed, independent young woman (to put it mildly), with a manic-depressive, woman-hating father was exhausting (to put it mildly).”
― Rose McGowan, Brave

Rose McGowan

“When I was about four, I had a wart on my thumb. I was toddling down this long hallway when one of the doors opened...A man with shaggy blond hair picked me up, looked at my hand, and said, “Perfection in all things.” He held up a razor blade and sliced my hand with one swipe, winking at me as he sat me back down. “Perfection in all things,” he said again before shutting the door and leaving me in the hallway.”
― Rose McGowan, Brave


I was driving a green sports car to a liquor store to get a six pack. On my way out a creepy local guy I recognize sideswiped me. I turned the car around and drove towards a very tall policeman standing in the liquor store parking lot. I started driving over a small traffic island near him and my inner voice said I'm going to faint, I'm going to faint. I tilted backwards with the car and fainted. When I came to inside the store I explained the sideswiping to my car.

Saturday, December 08, 2018


I was in Vermont with a bunch of people and we were in a big room resembling my parents former country house kitchen. There was a fireplace in the center. I told my stepfather I could have my whole life in this room; easels fireplace and view. I was in charge of frying breaded eggplant but I accidentally burned it. I can't eat fried food so I didn't make it right. Everyone held hands in a big circle before we ate. Puppets from Bread and Puppet were being carried down the hill. The Statue of Liberty puppet was the first one I saw. I went wild because I loved it. I said to Josh that I wanted to join the fun.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Simple Kale Soup

I just rinsed and chopped four one pound bunches of kale and put the greens in my stock pot with a gallon of water. As they cooked they shrunk down so I had room to add a bunch more ingredients. I added about six chopped onions, eight garlic cloves and a knob of ginger root, a 4 inch piece of smoked sausage from the neighborhood smokehouse leftover from Thanksgiving. Then I added 2 chicken bouillon cubes, olive oil, Adobo and kosher salt. Then I added a pound of frozen corn and some cooked red kidney beans. Delicious, especially on a cold and windy day.

Ray Bradbury

I am a librarian. I discovered me in the library. I went to find me in the library. Before I fell in love with libraries, I was just a six-year-old boy. The library fueled all of my curiosities, from dinosaurs to ancient Egypt. When I graduated from high school in 1938, I began going to the library three nights a week. I did this every week for almost ten years and finally, in 1947, around the time I got married, I figured I was done. So I graduated from the library when I was twenty-seven. I discovered that the library is the real school.


You have said that you don’t believe in going to college to learn to write. Why is that?


You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time. A lot of the people whose work they’ve taught in the schools for the last thirty years, I can’t understand why people read them and why they are taught. The library, on the other hand, has no biases. The information is all there for you to interpret. You don’t have someone telling you what to think. You discover it for yourself.

Paris Review

Paul Bacon

I just read Paul Bacon's book Bad Cop: New York's Least Likely Police Officer Tells All and LOVED IT.

Under the Thinning Fog

“Under the thinning fog the surf curled and creamed, almost without sound, like a thought trying to form itself on the edge of consciousness.”
― Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep


“A good story cannot be devised; it has to be distilled.”
― Raymond Chandler


“He looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food cake.”
― Raymond Chandler

Raymond Chandler Writing Advice

“Throw up into your typewriter every morning. Clean up every noon.”
― Raymond Chandler

The Long Goodbye

“The French have a phrase for it. The bastards have a phrase for everything and they are always right. To say goodbye is to die a little.”
― Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

“To say goodbye is to die a little.”
― Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

Tasha Codero

Should public employee unions be allowed to charge nonmembers fees to help pay for collective bargaining?

April 13, 2018


Tasha Cordero

Teacher, Bristol-Plymouth Regional Technical School; secretary of Bristol-Plymouth Teachers Association