Pottery_barn_work_smart“For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way. Something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.” – Alfred Souza

Mr Brilliant sent me an email a few days ago:

"Some of America’s most iconic writers have produced their greatest works in a short period of time. Herman Melville wrote all of his fiction between 1846 and 1856—11 books in all, including the magnificent Moby Dick, a book that would take others of us a whole lifetime (and more). [My note: Makes me dizzy just to think of it.] Melville lives on until 1891, but that 10-year period remains his most profoundly productive.

“In just eight years Faulkner publishes the following six books: Pylon (1935), Absalom, Absalom! (1936), The Unvanquished (1936), The Wild Palms (1939), The Hamlet (1940), and Go Down Moses (1942). [My note: Well, you almost have to hate him for that.]

“In just ten years, Hemingway publishes In Our Time (1925), The Torrents of Spring and The Sun Also Rises (1926), Men Without Women (1927), A Farewell to Arms (1929), Death in the Afternoon (1932), Winner Take Nothing (1933), and Green Hills of Africa (1935).

“In the 13 years leading to 1608 Shakespeare wrote the following 22 plays: Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, Merchant of Venice, Henry IV, The Merry Wives of Windsor, As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, Henry V, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, Hamlet, Troilus & Cressida, Alls Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, and Timon of Athens.

“Einstein has far-and-away his most outstanding and productive period from 1905-1915, all sandwiched by the special and general relativity theories. Darwin publishes five books from 1859-1868: Origin of Species, Orchids, Movements & Habits Climbing Plants, Descent of Man, Variation of Animals and Plants…, plus four other editions of the Origin of Species. Mozart produced almost half of all of his music in the last ten years of his life (Kochel numbers 315-598), 283 compositions in 3650 days.”

Mr Brilliant was intrigued, he said, by the compactness of their creativity, those short, significant bursts of powerful writing and thinking, those consecutive years of a bright burning spark flaming up, then sometimes out, but we won’t focus on that part of the story. The examples abound: JMW Turner, Willa Cather, Herman von Helmholtz (Mr Brilliant’s all-time greatest hero), Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Carl Friedrich Gauss, Charles Dickens—all of them not just prolific but iconically so, their work and sounds shaped and changed the world.

Call me crazy, but I’m thinking that all this significant output wasn’t because they had finally gotten the 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro they’d been waiting for and had at last created an office that looked like a Pottery Barn ad. They hadn’t put it off until things were more convenient or they finally were able to purchase that Aeron chair they had always dreamed of or invested in that Bedford Smart Collection that will “allow me to enhance my home with the modern ease of technology without sacrificing the tradition of comfort and style.”

No, their work was driven from some less convenient place inside them, not necessarily by external comfort, convenience, acceptance, number of blog readers, awards, or sales, but something else.

Have I come into my profoundly productive period yet? Have you? Will we know when we’re in it, or will others look back and see it only in retrospect, as we have with Faulkner and Einstein? Or will they not find it at all because we are waiting until we get that new laptop, until we get our filing system set up, or get the kids all grown up, until we get everything else on our to-do list done, or until we acknowledge what makes us burn from the inside out?

These writers and artists and scientists felt a compelling drive from deep inside to say something. What is it that you and I need to say? And in what form? I wonder, if we started today, what might we be able to write or create or make or achieve in the next…oh, I don’t know…the next 37 days or the next ten years?