George Saunders

In NY Times:

“I admired him so much,” he said about [DF] Wallace. “His on-the-spot capabilities were just incredible. And I thought, Yeah, we’re a lot alike. We’re similar, nervous guys. And then when he died, I thought [of myself], Wait a minute, you’re not like that. You don’t have chronic, killing depression. I’m sad sometimes, but I’m not depressed. And I also have a mawkish, natural enthusiasm for things. I like being alive in a way that’s a little bit cheerleaderish, and I always felt that around Dave. When he died, I saw how unnegotiable it was, that kind of depression. And it led to my being a little more honest about one’s natural disposition. If you have a negative tendency and you deny it, then you’ve doubled it. If you have a negative tendency and you look at it” — which is, in part, what the process of writing allows — “then the possibility exists that you can convert it.

Possible negative tendencies a person could have:

  • reading about famous greats while aggressively hunting for holes and hypocrisies in wicked hope famous great isn’t really much kinder and more thoughtful and generally better, and thus you yourself can’t be expected to improve or be better
  • cynical assumption that you should be very very skeptical about anyone described as a “saint” in a newspaper.
  • suspicion that people promoting “saints” have inevitable tangled agenda of self-promotion or goal of manipulating saints into espousing ideas from which they themselves [the saint-promoters] intend to make some gain.

Brief personal experience:

Met Saunders once (courtesy of Chennai Office). Walked and talked with him for about ten minutes.

During that walk he completely (by accident, just in casual conversation) altered my perception of college.

That afternoon Saunders gave a reading almost nobody came to. A person literally rollerbladed in, midway through.

Then watched him meet a bunch of young strangers.  Many of whom weren’t exactly sure who he was or why he was there, and >50% of them were pretty drunk.

Saunders offered each of these people (and several were legendary messes) some genuine complimentary observation, or more likely, a complimentary question.

Afterwards, had the sense I’d just been given a free demonstration in how to be: considerate.  In the deepest, “put yourself in the other guy’s shoes” way. NY Times:

The last time we met, Saunders waited in the cold with me until the bus for New York came along. We were talking about the idea of abiding, of the way that you can help people flourish just by withholding judgment, if you open yourself up to their possibilities…

(photo from the wikipedia page for Nyingma Buddhism)

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