Saturday, September 13, 2014



This week's arts and culture column is a review of a book by Sarah Lewis called The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery.

Here's how it starts:

"As a free-lance creative writer, I can hardly read enough about rejection and failure. So here’s a book that recently caught my eye: “The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure and the Search for Mastery” (Simon & Schuster).

Sarah Lewis rightly points out the danger of falling into a rut of the safe and the familiar. She beautifully articulates our sense that what we long to achieve in our creative endeavors lies forever just beyond our reach.

She emphasizes that even spectacular setbacks can sharpen our resolve. Still, toiling away in my humble room, I couldn’t totally relate, career-wise, to some of the folks she profiles: Sara Blakely, the billionaire founder of “the girdle-refining line” Spanx; Andre Geim, the Nobel-winning physicist who managed the first isolation of a two-dimensional object (it’s graphene).

One of my favorite passages was about Ben Saunders, a Devon-born explorer who became only “the third person in the world to reach the North Pole solo and on foot.” After achieving this staggering feat, wanting to share his joy with someone, he warmed his satellite battery by tucking it under his arm and called his mother.

Standing in line at the grocery store, too overwhelmed to speak, she began crying and asked him to call her back. So he called his girlfriend: the message went to voicemail.

“After 72 days of trudging alone on the pack and pressure ice, at times swimming through the ‘inky black water’ of the Arctic Ocean over three miles deep,” Lewis observes, “he had no cheering squad, no flag to plant.”

Now that I could relate to. Because we are all, in our way, walking to the North Pole"...



  1. I guess I can relate to Mr. Saunders differently. Growing up in a family of 15 and basically loving most all of it, I am formed for community. But recent events in my life force me to be alone more than ever before. A totally new way of living, I love the silence. I love that silence! Took a walk last night all alone and saw ducks in a reservoir on the way to getting dinner, along with sunflowers, grass, a silhouette of the mountains before the sun as it set and cars and streetlights and billboards. But I wasn't really one bit alone. On the way back I sat opposite the reservoir and ate my dinner on a rock. The most amazing thing was noticing beauty in the billboard that reflected on the water's surface -it was a McDonald's ad with warm colors, and I don't remember what it said, only the reflection (I don't much like advertising and much dislike McDonalds for the way their suppliers treat their cattle, and the way fast food can hurt culture and community). But there I was, alone with God and some McDonalds ad.

  2. I think that's very much different though, Paul. Here's Ben, having accomplished the feat of a lifetime, with no one caring enough to congratulate him, or to be proud of his achievements. This story seems to be more about not having community when you most want it than it is about being alone in nature. I think it is a beautiful story - one of real experience and heartache. One of having people in your life to turn to - but who really don't care. It's a tragedy.


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