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Reality shock - Input Junkie
October 3rd, 2013
05:48 am

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Reality shock
http://www.stanford.edu/group/howiwrite/Transcripts/Sapolsky_transcript.html

A cut-and-paste from an interview with Robert Sapolsky:
The only time I’ve ever worked heavily with an editor was this piece I had in The New Yorker, like, five years ago which wound up being on why we get less and less interested in novelty as we get older, we’re less open to certain cultural experience, and it was prompted by this guy that I working as a secretary who just graduated as an English major and needed to make money for a couple years before going off to English grad school and starving, so he hung out for a couple years, and he was irritating the crap out of me because he was great at his work, but he was, like, pathologically open to new experience. He was sitting out in the office out there, and everyday he’s listening to a different style of music each day, like radically, like contemporary rock and then Gregorian chants and these irritating wedding songs and stuff like that. And he would come in, one day—he like a beard and long hair—and one Monday morning he comes in, he’s shaved everything off because he wants to see if people would relate to him differently that way. Like, he would just like spend the whole weekend at, like, a festival of, like, twenty back-to-back Indian movie musicals just because he had never seen one and thought that would be interesting. And he was just like totally depressing me, because I was sitting there having, like, not done anything new in about fifteen years, and this prompted this whole thing. So I started off the piece basically with he had prompted this and how irritating this was, and this editor at the New Yorker who was, like, the most frightening thing I had ever dealt with, because this is the image of the most knowledgeable, scholarly person on earth. In any subject that comes up, he’s read four books on it, including all of my areas of science, which he knows much better than me and we would have these, like two hour phone conversations about, like, three sentences in there, and this was completely, like, novel for me, and I realized at some point, this guy who was working for me—his name was Paul—and at some point I was making some reference back to him at the beginning and something with the tone was wrong and I had this two hour conversation and like three-quarters of the way through, he says, “The trouble is, the thing that’s the core here, is Paul doesn't want to grow up and be you, and you know that and it hurts you.” This is like, I almost burst into tears. It was like I was having these therapy sessions. And he was right. Paul had betrayed me because he didn’t want to grow up and be like me. And I like immediately had to call up Paul and, like, relate this to him, and this was the case, that in fact he had no desire to ever be, like, this narrow. And, it immediately cleared up this one sentence. And this was like the only I've ever had the agonizing over, the editor keeping me from becoming an alcoholic by telling me the unresolved issue. So like that one time, and I’ve been scared of this guy ever since and never have dealt with him again.


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From:ritaxis
Date:October 3rd, 2013 03:20 pm (UTC)
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What are you highlighting with this quote? Because my first reaction is the suggested all-purpose New Yorker cartoon caption "Christ, what an asshole."

I mean, I'm old, I'm open to change, I like new things and I'm always trying to learn things, and I don't think I'm unique. And when young folks are doing new things it doesn't unsettle me. So reading that the point of the thing he was working on was that people stop seeking out new and different things as they get older was just annoying.

And I'm kind of appalled that he could get so shaken by realizing that a young person doesn't want to grow up and be him. I wouldn't want to grow up and be me either. Most of us have taken some hits to our personalities as we develop, and I would certainly hope that a young person's plans for themselves would be to be better than any of the old people they know, even if they admire them.

Well, we've all got our problems. Following the link I see that this guy is a very accomplished writer, so he's probably actually better than I am (I don't mean that sarcastically: I am not the best realization of a person's material, for various reasons). I suspect, on the whole, that he is actually lying about things in this quote. Which is another annoying thing.
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From:nancylebov
Date:October 3rd, 2013 03:50 pm (UTC)
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Without going into detail, I think there are some true things I'm having trouble facing. For me, the point was not so much the specifics, as that Sapolsky found someone who could tell him important truths and completely shies away from going back.

I don't know if you bothered to read the rest of the interview, but Sapolsky (who I rather admire-- good writer, good lecturer, spends part of the year in the bush studying baboons) finds out fascinating things about stress, but isn't good at applying any of them to his life.
From:paulshandy
Date:October 6th, 2013 04:32 am (UTC)
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My gut reaction is that I wouldn't want to grow up to be me either, not exactly. But when I look back on my life and think, if I'd succeeded there instead of failing, wouldn't I just have different kinds of problems and different kinds of stress? Does it really matter to the world if I'd gone to law school instead? If my writing career had taken off sooner, I would have missed out on the experiences I gained moving to China to teach ESL and support my writing habit. Life goes on.
From:llennhoff
Date:October 3rd, 2013 07:27 pm (UTC)
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Interesting how we all get different things out of it. For me the big takeaway is the editor. My wife is running a social media consulting business for authors and other creative people but when she tells me about her day it sounds like spends as much time being a therapist as being a teacher. And I thought this was a really bad thing, and also something that would be unique to her - your typical helping professional, I thought, would restrict their help to matters within their profession. And this anecdote provides at least a limited counter-example.
From:paulshandy
Date:October 6th, 2013 04:34 am (UTC)
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Yeah, us creative types are pretty messed up. It comes from constantly rubbing against the rough edges of society, our curse and our source.
From:paulshandy
Date:October 6th, 2013 04:30 am (UTC)
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The Newness Addict sounds like both a fascinating and exhausting person; the sort of guy I'd like to hang with once a week. I have my core stability and my reaching for newness. I always like reading, but change topics. I always lift weights, but use different programs. I've dressed pretty much the same and listened to pretty much the same music fifteen years, but make little additions from time to time. I write a lot, but write as I wish, since I don't have to make a living off it.
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