“Violent obsessions sometimes lay hold of a man: he may, for instance, think day and night of nothing but the moon. I have such a moon. Day and night I am held in the grip of one besetting thought, to write, write, write! Hardly have I finished one book than something urges me to write another, and then a third, and then a fourth—I write ceaselessly. I am, as it were, on a treadmill. I hurry for ever from one story to another, and can’t help myself. […]
As soon as I stop working I rush off to the theatre or go fishing, in the hope that I may find oblivion there, but no! Some new subject for a story is sure to come rolling through my brain like an iron cannonball. I hear my desk calling, and have to go back to it and begin to write, write, write, once more. And so it goes for everlasting. I cannot escape myself, though I feel that I am consuming my life.”
Anton Chekhov, The Seagull
See also: The Sorrows of a Young Writer
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In between challenging books, or after a book that had a profound impact on me, I like to pick up something neutral, or something that I already know and enjoy reading, such as Turgenev’s or Chekhov’s short stories. I read the latter last weekend, to cracking freeze, and an inch of snow:
“Science and art, when they are true, are directed not to temporary or private purposes, but to the eternal and the general–they seek the truth and the meaning of life, they seek God, the soul, and when they are harnessed to passing needs and activities, then they only complicate and encumber life. All our intellectual and spiritual energy is wasted on temporary passing needs…. Scientists, writers, painters work and work, and thanks to them the comforts of life grow greater every day, the demands of the body multiply, but we are still a long way from the truth and man still remains the most rapacious and unseemly of animals, and everything tends to make the majority of mankind degenerate and more and more lacking in vitality. Under such conditions the life of an artist has no meaning and the more talented he is, the more strange and incomprehensible his position is, since it only amounts to his working for the amusement of the predatory, disgusting animal, man, and supporting the existing state of things.” Anton Chekhov, in “The House with the Mezzanine.”
The photograph shows Chekhov’s grave.