The Marginalian


This is the midweek edition of The Marginalian (formerly Brain Pickings) by Maria Popova — one piece resurfaced from the fifteen-year archive as timeless uplift for heart, mind, and spirit. If you missed last week’s archival resurrection — cosmic perspective for the New Year with an astronomer-poet’s stunning meditation on the mystery of being — you can catch up right here. If you missed the annual highlights of the year’s best, those are here. And if my labor of love enriches your life in any way, please consider supporting it with a donation — it remains free and ad-free and alive thanks to reader patronage. If you already donate: I appreciate you more than you know.

FROM THE ARCHIVE | Keep Your Hope Machine Running: Young Woody Guthrie’s 1942 New Year’s Resolution List

As a lover and maker of lists, I often agree with Umberto Eco that “the list is the origin of culture.” But, more than that, it can also be a priceless map of personal aspiration, as is the case of the kinds of lists we make this time of year — resolution lists. This particular one, penned by the great Woody Guthrie (July 14, 1912–October 3, 1967) in 1942 at the tender-but-just-wise-enough age of almost thirty, is an absolute gem of humor, earnestness, and pure humanity.

1. Work more and better2. Work by a schedule3. Wash teeth if any4. Shave5. Take bath6. Eat good — fruit — vegetables — milk7. Drink very scant if any8. Write a song a day9. Wear clean clothes — look good10. Shine shoes11. Change socks12. Change bed cloths often13. Read lots good books14. Listen to radio a lot15. Learn people better16. Keep rancho clean17. Dont get lonesome18. Stay glad19. Keep hoping machine running20. Dream good21. Bank all extra money22. Save dough23. Have company but dont waste time24. Send Mary and kids money25. Play and sing good26. Dance better27. Help win war — beat fascism28. Love mama29. Love papa30. Love Pete31. Love everybody32. Make up your mind33. Wake up and fight

What’s interesting is that the list doesn’t map onto the Maslow hierarchy of needs in order, but does contain shuffled elements of its five tiers, perhaps validation for the universality of Maslow’s insight into human psychology and aspiration — there is the physiological (“Wash teeth,” “Shave,” “Eat good”), the safety and security (“Bank all extra money,” “Keep rachno clean”), the love and belonging (“Dont get lonesome”“Love mama,” Love papa,”Love Pete [Seeger]”“Love everybody”), the esteem (“Wear clean clothes — look good”, “Dance better”), and the self-actualization (“Work more and better”“Keep hoping machine running,” “Play and sing good,” “Make up your mind,” “Wake up and fight”).

Thank you, Woody, for a timeless list that still speaks to us all — yes, by all means, let’s read lots of good books, keep hoping and dreaming, make up our minds, and love everybody. And, you know, bathe.

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KINDRED READINGS:

Resolutions for a Life Worth Living: Attainable Aspirations Inspired by Great Humans of the Past

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Bob Dylan on Vulnerability, the Meaning of Integrity, and Music as an Instrument of Truth

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The Creative Urge: John Coltrane on Perseverance Against Rejection, the Innovator’s Mindset, and How Hardship Fuels Art

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How to Lower Your “Worryability”: Italo Calvino’s 1950 New Year’s Resolution