What inspires you?

Kurt Andersen: Inspires me. I would say any time I come across, either in person or in reading about, an act of courage. Not an unusual or necessarily physical courage,  sometimes that, but moral courage, intellectual courage. Those always inspire me.

And it doesn’t need to be as dramatic as a journalist in Zimbabwe who, at the risk of his or her life and limb, tells the truth; but that’s an example. But it can be smaller and more banal than that. But those things are what inspire me.

I will see a work of art. I mentioned Bill Viola. Some of Bill Viola’s video work, I wouldn’t say inspires me, but I am left awestruck and full of  questions about existence and perception and all kinds of things as a result of experiencing various works of art.

The same is true of fiction, films, all kinds of things. I am often amazed and inspired by the skill and luck of those creators.

I would say the most common way in which I feel inspired, and I try to remind myself to do the right thing, is when people behave courageously.

My creative process, depends on what I’m doing. To the degree my life now is divided among working alone in a room, essentially, writing fiction or writing essays, it’s a matter of doing whatever research is necessary and then just being at home with all of whatever facts there are, notes, thoughts, stray bits, and letting that marinate until I can figure out a way that it looks interesting, or enlightening, or entertaining to write a page.

It requires, for me, it requires to do what I consider good writing, to be alone in a room for a few hours at a time. And then whatever alchemy happens, happens.

But then the other half of my creative life, which is doing Studio 360, as well as editing magazines in the past, is this entire collaborative process, entirely or significantly and vastly different from the creative process of writing, which is about finding a team of people with whom you’re comfortable, but not identical; and being open to all of the various ideas and approaches that that team brings.

And if you’re a leader of the team, trying to inspire those people to do good work and keep a vision of what it is you’re trying to do collaboratively, so that it’s not just a collection of 10 different people doing 10 different things, but all fits into the large vision.

Those are very different. I get satisfaction out of both. Literally my days are divided between those two forms of creative process. By the time I’m done doing a radio program, and all the meetings, and conversations, and all the back and forth that that requires, I’m very happy, the next morning, to go back in my room and spend five hours alone.

I have never suffered from writer’s block. When I’m working on a book, I’m pretty disciplined – unless I have something else I have to do – about going in a room and working.

Some days the result is crap and I throw that away. I can’t imagine having writer’s block, because I can imagine; I don’t know if this is how it is for other writers; but feeling as though you’re writing the crap as you’re writing it, and then stopping because you can’t bear to commit crap to the page anymore. But so, I never have had it.

I listen to the critic or the editor within me as I’m writing. I think that’s unavoidable. I can turn it off or turn it down enough that I am able to write through the kind of distant criticism in the back of my head.

 

Recorded On: July 5, 2007

Andersen goes into a room, and waits for the alchemy to happen.

Meet the Bajau sea nomads — they can reportedly hold their breath for 13 minutes

The Bajau people's nomadic lifestyle has given them remarkable adaptions, enabling them to stay underwater for unbelievable periods of time. Their lifestyle, however, is quickly disappearing.

Wikimedia Commons
Culture & Religion
  • The Bajau people travel in small flotillas throughout the Phillipines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, hunting fish underwater for food.
  • Over the years, practicing this lifestyle has given the Bajau unique adaptations to swimming underwater. Many find it straightforward to dive up to 13 minutes 200 feet below the surface of the ocean.
  • Unfortunately, many disparate factors are erasing the traditional Bajau way of life.
Keep reading Show less

Golden blood: The rarest blood in the world

We explore the history of blood types and how they are classified to find out what makes the Rh-null type important to science and dangerous for those who live with it.

Abid Katib/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Fewer than 50 people worldwide have 'golden blood' — or Rh-null.
  • Blood is considered Rh-null if it lacks all of the 61 possible antigens in the Rh system.
  • It's also very dangerous to live with this blood type, as so few people have it.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists create a "lifelike" material that has metabolism and can self-reproduce

An innovation may lead to lifelike evolving machines.

Shogo Hamada/Cornell University
Surprising Science
  • Scientists at Cornell University devise a material with 3 key traits of life.
  • The goal for the researchers is not to create life but lifelike machines.
  • The researchers were able to program metabolism into the material's DNA.
Keep reading Show less