Hey, guys — you know how sometimes you lose your car keys, and then you search for them forever until you give up…and then a few days later, you lose your sunglasses, and while you're searching for your sunglasses, you find your car keys? (There should be a name for this phenomenon, right? Probably in German there is — help us, German-speakers!)
So I've been searching for YEARS for a quote from Walt Whitman that I copied out of a book of his journals at the NYU library in 1991. These words seemed incredibly important to me at age 22, and I have been misquoting this paragraph for years, remembering the essence, but longing for the exact sentiment.
This morning at dawn, I went searching through a dusty box of papers, looking for the first draft of an old short story of mine, and instead I found a small notebook which opened right to these lost Whitman words. The car keys of my creative soul! FOUND THEM!
Here it goes, folks — the wisest words ever on why it is every bit as important to develop your personal character as it is to nourish your artistic talents:
"Understand that you can have in your writing no qualities which you do not honestly entertain in yourself. Understand that you cannot keep out of your writing the indication of the shallowness and evil you entertain in yourself. If you love to have a servant stand behind your chair at dinner, it will appear in your writing. Or if you possess a vile opinion of women, or if you grudge anything, or doubt immortality — these will appear by what you leave unsaid, more than by what you say."
Walt Whitman, 1855
We think that there is only artifice in art, but actually it is the reverse: ALL SHALL BE REVEALED. So try to be a good person, not just a good artist. Don't neglect the development of the self on your way to Parnassian heights and imaginative glory.
I cannot even tell you how happy I am to have found this.
My sunglasses, however, are still missing.