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Daniel Handler embraces complexity
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Daniel Handler embraces complexity
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Daniel Handler embraces complexity
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“Everybody always says, ‘Oh you wanted darkness.’ But it was more a specific kind of darkness. It wasn’t just terrible things happening. I wanted this underlying tone of ‘is this real?’ And ‘Did this really happen?’”
Conversations
22 February 2017

Daniel Handler embraces complexity

Interview by Daniel Teitelbaum
Photography by Angela Decenzo

Daniel Teitelbaum on Daniel Handler

Daniel Handler isn’t an ordinary children’s book writer. Rather than avoid things that are confusing, uncertain and unnerving about the world, he invites his readers to sit with their discomfort and see that life doesn’t always pan out as a clear, easy-to-interpret story.

Daniel’s writing opens up our imaginations, the part swamped in mystery—or as he calls it, “the befuddled” part—so that we can laugh when things go wrong, and remain inspired and curious when our expectations aren’t met.

Under his own name, Daniel’s written books that explore love, growing up and what life might be like as a classical pirate in the 21st century. As Lemony Snicket, the fictional narrator he created and represents at book signings, he has written two hugely popular children’s book series: A Series of Unfortunate Events and All the Wrong Questions, which have been made into movies, TV shows, all of it. The books have sold more than 65 million copies worldwide.

Throughout our conversation, tangential threads offer themselves up for tugging—including a vision of how the world could be. I found a deep humility in Daniel that is repelled by the idea of preaching or telling anyone how it is. His vision for a kinder, more resilient and fascinating world is understated—and thus not immediately obvious. Despite a short interview time (he was on a whirlwind visit for the Melbourne Writers Festival), Daniel revealed the depth with which he has considered many of life’s bigger questions. He reminded me that we all stand on the shoulders of giants, that we should absorb all we can from the great people who have come before us, and that we should strive for authenticity when we do channel our influences.

Cheeky and irreverent, Daniel is eager to challenge social norms in work and life. He thinks we underestimate each other and appreciates the colour and complexity with which young people see the world. Like his writing, a conversation with Daniel Handler is funny, interesting and leaves me with more questions than when we started.

This story originally ran in issue #45 of Dumbo Feather

Discussed in this Story

DANIEL TEITELBAUM: Do you enjoy doing interviews?

DANIEL HANDLER: I continue to be surprised that anyone’s interested.

Oh really?

Yeah, I don’t think I could do it all the time. But it’s fun to go somewhere and hear what someone wants to know about me, and then it’s fun to go home.

[Laughs] why are you surprised that people are interested?

I just never thought it would happen. I thought if I got to be a writer, if I got to do what I wanted to do, I wouldn’t have the sort of profile that anyone would be interested in. So that continues to surprise me.

When you were starting to write, were you looking for a voice that people would be interested in?

I was. I mean, I wouldn’t have put it that way. I was just trying to do the best I could. I was trying to rip off from the writers I admired without being hopelessly imitative.

This story originally ran in issue #45 of Dumbo Feather

This story originally ran in issue #45 of Dumbo Feather

I was trying to reach a certain level of depth and skill of work certainly beyond me, but that I nevertheless continued to strive for.

I’ve talked with other writers who feel this way too, but it’s almost as if—I mean it’s egotistical of course—but it’s as if you’re driven by an absence that you sense you might fill. Like if you thought, Oh such books have already been written, what do I have to add to it? Then you wouldn’t do anything. But if you think, No one’s ever put it exactly the right way! you charge forward. So I think I have that mindset. I was afraid of being funny when I was starting out. I thought, Oh, that’s not a real book. And so I kept that in my private life—being funny. And it was only when I found other authors who were funny and were also serious that things changed for me. I mean, I read more widely. When I was very young and starting out and in university, I only read outright classics. I probably had read hardly anything by authors who were still living, and a great portion would have been authors who were barely still living!

[Laughs] who were you reading?

In high school I was very taken with Carson McCullers. She was probably my favourite. My mother was cleaning up the house and she just gave me a stack of books that came to be my favourite novels from age 17 to 22. Lawrence Durrell, Graham Greene, Virginia Woolf. And then in college I got really into Nabokov and from him I read the Russians. But you know, all that’s pretty serious stuff. I mean, Nabokov can be funny sometimes.

And were you reading to absorb and develop as a writer? Or just following your interests and curiosities?

Well, both. I think I always had the instinct of reading to crib from for my own writing. I began to think of myself as a writer when I was very young. It was always something that I wanted to be a part of. And to this day it’s difficult for me to read with no connection to what I do. I don’t even know how that would be faked. It wasn’t like I was cribbing notes for every paragraph. But I read with an eye for, “How are they doing it? And how is this being done here?”

Can you identify what you picked up from certain writers?

Sometimes. It’s more that when I’m writing I will say: “You know exactly where you took that from. And even if no one ever got you in trouble, you know. And it’s not you.”

It’s almost as if—I mean it’s egotistical of course—but it’s as if you’re driven by an absence that you sense you might fill.
Daniel Handler

How do you navigate between it being u and it being the author you’re absorbing from?

I think you can just feel it. Among the writers  who are my closest friends, they all speak of it the same way. And they’ll look at what I’m doing or I’ll look at what they’re doing and I’ll say: “I know you’re doing a José Saramago thing! Come on.” I think of it in terms of music. You know when you’re playing a cover song or if you’re playing a song that feels beholden to something—that’s the difference.

Do you think it’s a problem? I mean, plagiarism as an idea and intellectual property as an idea have changed enormously in recent times. And there seems to
be more encouragement for bringing together your creative influences. How do you think about that?

Well, I appreciate people being honest about it. I’ve met many writers who up on stage will say: “It just speaks to me and I don’t know where it comes from,” and then off-stage will say: “Oh I just love this novel and I’ve read it over and over again and I wanted to do what they did.” I don’t like that kind of dishonesty. It seems a little sordid. I also think of myself when I was a young writer and would go hear writers speak. Those who put on a show of “the muse visiting them” frustrated me. ’Cause I thought, Well, that hasn’t happened to me. And so I guess I can’t do this. Then you’ll get to do it and you’ll learn that it’s less glamorous than that, and less of a kind of journey.

I think that dishonesty gives a false impression of the creative process.

It’s why I often look to music and the way musicians regard their own work—it’s much more fluid. You’re never going to meet a jazz saxophonist who says, “I just picked it up and started playing! I’m not beholden to any other jazz saxophonist who’s ever walked the earth! I mean, I guess I listened to John Coltrane but…” Nobody says that!  But writers more or less say that.

Yeah. And you actually make music, which adds to the tapestry of who you are. Do you find similarities between engaging with music and writing?

Well, my engagement as a music player is refreshing because I am not the one in control. So I play the accordion. I mean I always say the great thing about playing the accordion is that you’re probably the best accordion player anybody knows.

Yeah! [Laughs].

And so because it’s a relatively unusual instrument I’m asked to sit in with a couple of bands sometimes, a few musicians, but it’s always their show. I’m not at all the composer or even the arranger or anything like that. So I have a very small place to fill. I’ll just go into the studio and do my bit. And that feels healthy—to be completely the servant. Because the rest of the time I’m at my desk doing absolutely whatever I want in terms of creative output. But in terms of listening to music, I think that’s a similar level of engagement to literature. I find a lot of inspiration from it. And I find that it’s an interesting way of thinking about a book.

Listening to music is a way of thinking about a book?

Yeah. When I wrote We Are Pirates I started listening to a lot of romantic and adventurous classical music that sounded like a pirate score. And then I began to think about that kind of music and how that was written and what that sounded like. It often sounds like the work of very serious composers but it’s been pepped up for the market. So I thought it was interesting, that kind of façade.

Who were you listening to while you were writing A Series of Unfortunate Events?

A lot of Shostakovich. Shostakovich string quartets were a big thing. And Scriabin, who’s this Russian composer, wrote this piece “Preparation for the Final Mystery,” which he believed would bring about the end of the world. And then he died before it was finished. And his student, Nemtin, took over. And he said, “I’m going to finish and now we’ll bring about the end of the world.” And then Nemtin died. So it’s a very dramatic piece of music as you might imagine.

They thought the music would end the world?

This specific piece of music, yeah.

Wow.

And I always think, We’ll never know if it would have brought upon the end of the world! [Laughs] that’s fun to think about!

Yeah! You said earlier that you felt an absence that made you start writing. How would you describe that?

Well, when I was writing The Basic Eight I felt that everyone I knew—not that we were all ripe old age, but it felt ripe old age—were very concerned with adolescence. Hardly an encounter with anyone would go by without them telling some story about what happened in high school. It’s funny to think now because young adult literature has exploded and it feels like: “Who isn’t writing about high school?” But at the time it really felt like no one was. In fact, the novel was rejected forever. They said, “I don’t even remember when there was a novel about high school. Who would want to read about high school?” And people would compare it to The Catcher in the Rye—I don’t think it had anything to do with The Catcher in the Rye. And so that was the only adolescence they could see. Now it would be like saying, “When will they make a zombie movie?”

[Laughs].

And with A Series of Unfortunate Events, people really loved Edward Gorey and I really loved Roald Dahl but I didn’t see that sensibility for children. In that case it was more out of ignorance than actuality. I wasn’t reading children’s literature. It was just when I looked on a shelf at a bookstore I thought, Oh it’s all kind of sweetness and light and there’s nothing of the kind of thing that I would like.

You wanted a dark side?

Just a way of looking askance at the world, with more mystery and not knowing where things came from or what that was. Edward Gorey,  I don’t know how high profile his work is here, but in the States he made these picture books, for lack of a better term, that have illustrations and a few sentences of text. And you couldn’t tell if he was chronicling an actual world or a fictional one. He was very mysterious to me. And that was some of the most profound reading
I remember in my childhood.

So that’s really what I was after. Darkness yes, and everybody always says, “Oh you wanted darkness.” But it was more a specific kind of darkness. It wasn’t just terrible things happening. I wanted this underlying tone of “is this real?” And “Did this really happen?” And then, “Oh, well they mention this thing, that seems crucial, but then that doesn’t seem to be part of the plot.”

So it’s the feeling of being confused? Or being unsure?

I wanted to know more and that’s a hunger you feel in childhood. And then you’re kind of taught that it’s an uncomfortable feeling and you should get out of it somehow.

Or if you’re given a test and confused by it, that’s not a good sign. You’re supposed to know what’s put in front of you. And particularly in the world of literature, if you read a poem and you don’t know what it means, you must be deficient in some way. I think that’s why eventually many people say, “I’m not stupid. I just don’t want to read this crap!” And I certainly see that with adult readers of literature that goes for any kind of ambiguousness. They often say, “Why doesn’t he just tell me?” Or, “The character does this and then they do this—it confuses me.” “On one hand the author seems to be saying this, and on the other hand the author is saying this.”

And they blame the author for being confused. Yeah.

Yeah. [Laughs] they don’t say, “Oh, perhaps I’m meant to be confused and thoughtful and feel two things at once. To regard the world as complicated.” Instead they think, Why doesn’t the author just sort out exactly what they think and tell me! That’s literature!

Do you think that has to do with our fear of vulnerability as well? When you’re confused, you’re kind of vulnerable to those who know. I think that’s something we fear.

I mean I think that’s something I began to think more and more about as I was a parent because when you’re a parent it’s a constant pop quiz on the world. “What is that? Why is he over there?” And you come up with an answer.

And oftentimes you’re not in circumstances where you’d say, “That’s a long philosophical answer and we must sit down and have a drink together, you and I, and reason this out.” You just have to say something in a sentence. And you realise how little you know. When my son was little we were driving some place listening  to Kraftwerk which he really liked, singing, “We are the robots.” And he said, “Are they really robots?” And I said “no.” And he said, “Are they pretending to be robots?”  And I said “yes.” And then the music changed and he said, “Are they really beetles?” And I said “no.” And he said, “Are they pretending to be beetles?” And I said “no,” but I began to think, We live in a world in which musical ensembles are regularly calling themselves things they absolutely aren’t. And then we’re just kind of living with that.

[Laughs].

When you look at old jazz groups called “Louisiana Stompers” or something. And you think, Well, they were kind of stompers, and they were probably from Louisiana, and then somehow it led to “Frankie Goes to Hollywood” or “System of a Down” or things where it’s not even a thing to be. And it’s a small semantic issue. But it really led to a mystery. And then he said, “Are they pretending to be Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band?” And so I was already wrestling with Beatles thinking, They are, I guess! But they’re not pretending in such a way that they hope to fool people.

I just thought it was interesting. He was young, maybe three. And he was trying to figure out when things were pretend and when they were real. And even a very simple issue like: “We’re calling ourselves The Beatles and then we’re singing as if we’re other people” serves to bring this great ambivalence that he then had to turn to a trusted adult to get answers.

You kind of experienced that for yourself—having an identity that extends outside of who you are.

Yeah, for sure.

What’s your relationship to that thing you’ve created that’s not you?

Befuddlement!

Befuddlement! [Laughs] is Lemony Snicket like a pal or a brother?

We don’t sit around talking to each other. I mean, when I speak to children I always say that Lemony Snicket can’t be there. That I’m there instead. And that to me always felt true. Because it’s true he can’t be there. The man who is obsessed with Beatrice and has a connection to the Baudelaire orphans, has been wandering around a lonely landscape with this secret organisation, fragmented, can’t be there. I can be there. And people talk about it being a pseudonym and I would say, “It doesn’t feel like a pseudonym to me because it’s a narrator.” I’m publishing the books under the name of the narrator. That just seems like an interesting thing to do to me. It wasn’t, “No one better know that I wrote these.” That is another one of these soft places I guess. I see people confused, thinking, What are you doing? [Laughs]. And I think, I don’t know. Why would you ask me? Certainly in some ways this seems unfashionable. The most praised serious literature tends to be socially realistic.

I thought if I got to be a writer, if I got to do what I wanted to do, I wouldn’t have the sort of profile that anyone would be interested in. So that continues to surprise me.
Daniel Handler

People would rather hear authors rant on the state of the world?

Yeah. A novel about how we’re all lost in digital communication. And I think, So we’re to put down our digital device and take up this book and sit and read about how we’re all lost in digital communication? Like, is there anything more depressing than that? I think you can just go read something else that’s about something. Stick with that! The literature that lasts—as far as we can tell—tends to be the strange and the fantastic. And that’s what I find so interesting:

When people were first writing things down, when the mere act of writing something down was a huge effort, and not with the two thumbs’ ease with which we can do it today, it wasn’t a record of what people were doing. It was strange stories!

It was Beowulf or something. Which, for however one feels about it, is not a work of social realism about the people of the day. It’s mystery. And it creates these ghosts in the past where you read these ancient texts and wonder, Maybe things were actually like that. Maybe there was a monster. And then you think, No, there couldn’t have been a mon… But maybe there was! We don’t know! And that just seems more fun to me.

I think that it speaks to the profundity of fiction and imaginary stories that when it was such a big effort, you wouldn’t do anything frivolous.

Right. And so you find troubled marriages in ancient texts, but they’re troubled by lightning or serpents or the floating head of the previous wife rising out of the grave. I’ve been reading a lot of old Chinese texts lately—in case that sounds strange to you. And now we’ve reached a point where people are writing novels about what’s actually happened to their parents, what’s happened between them and their spouses. They’re going to change the colour of the automobile maybe, but that’s it. I just don’t get that.

[Laughs] as a parent, do you think about what’s important for children to read?

I guess. I did in the abstract. I often tell people who are expecting their first child, “The distance between what you think about raising a child and what raising a child turns out to be is about as far as when you’re a small child thinking about marriage and what marriage turns out to be.”  You know, when you’re six and say, “I don’t know, maybe she’ll be an archaeologist and we’ll live in a balloon.”

[Laughs].

It’s the same as when you have children, you think, Well, when do I introduce them to poetry? And then you have a child and it’s 24/7. And you introduce poetry because one day you’re in the living room and they say, “What’s that?” And you say, “Oh right! I had a theory about when I was going to show this to you, but this is going to happen now.” In the same way that you introduce death or jalapeño peppers or whatever’s around.

Following the curiosity of the child.

Yeah.

I mean, my child is a person, and thus has a personality of his own, and to the extent that he is shapeable, it’s his own desires that are shaping him.

So I try to be a good parent. But it has not been an opportunity to put my philosophies about children’s literature to use. I don’t know how I would do that. It would have to be some kind of Kaspar Hauser situation.

[Laughs]. I read that you’re also quite politically active. You were involved in supporting Occupy Wall Street.

I found that movement interesting and valuable. And I’ve participated in various fundraisers and things for leftist causes. My wife and I give a lot of money away. I don’t know if that makes me politically active. Some writers really use their platform to make a statement, diving into what’s going on in Egypt. I just say, “Wouldn’t it be great if Barack Obama was president?” But I’m not unengaged. I believe in the toxicity of money, so I’m not interested in hoarding it for myself. I find what in America are labelled as “leftist” or “progressive” causes to be worthwhile. But I wouldn’t put myself in the anthology of politically-engaged writers.

Talk to me more about the toxicity of money. ’Cause I think I’m in your court when it comes to seeing the ills.

Well, I remember, before I was published, I read an interview with a writer who had done quite well. And he said they asked him something about money. And he said, “Once I became comfortable and once I’d be able to make a living off my writing, everything else after that was just extra.” And I was so broke at the time, I remember thinking: Well, then give me the money if it’s so extra to you. [Laughs] I was furious with him! It’s indescribable how the success of the Snicket books removes a financial worry for me. I was raised in comfortable circumstances; I didn’t have much fear that I was going to end up living in a cardboard box or something. But it’s worrisome to get older and not have any money. And to find that removed was so tremendous. And then after that everything was extra. And I thought, Oh. [Laughs]. 

That’s what it feels like!

He was right! Yeah! You just see money doing so much ill. I think certainly it’s corrosive in American politics. I see that. We think of it with our son all the time. We try to raise him in circumstances in which he’s, not starving and unsheltered, but not given the ethic of “anything you want.” And then I see, certainly in America, but overtly abroad, places where money is needed and where money isn’t. And my sister is a fundraiser for noble causes for a living, so I think we’ve both got that ethic. But she brings news of it daily—that you just go out into the world and people say, “Literally, if I had $400 to fix this thing here, we could do this thing there that everybody agrees is good.” And instead you see the excess to which that money is spent or funnelled into things causing what they’re trying to fix if they only had $400. It’s really astonishing.

Yeah. I think money is always a means, but then it’s treated as an ends, and you’re accumulating something that’s ultimately valueless.

Set up capitalism as a game and that’s the goal of it.

About 10 years ago I was part of an article that was like the “40 most influential people under 40” or something like that. And I was maybe 30. And I remember when they interviewed me for the piece thinking, What is influence? And I asked the interviewer who else she’d interviewed. She’d just interviewed Beck, and on the one hand, he was having an enormous influence on the American pop scene. On the other, in Trinidad he was probably not having that much of an impact. And then the article came out and the ranking was purely based on guesses of how much money we each had.

Really?

Yeah, I’d had this philosophical wonderment of “What is influence?” And they just said “money.” And it was so sordid. It was really horrifying to me.

But unfortunately not so inaccurate.

Well, I mean not so in the world of literature, right? If you were to make a list of who you thought the most influential authors were of all time, you’re not going to start with the most financially successful one. You’re not going to say, “Obviously it’s Sidney Sheldon.”

I like this quote of Brian Eno’s about the Velvet Underground—that they didn’t sell a lot of records but everybody who bought one started a band.

And I think that literature is often like that: some books seep into the consciousness of people who write books. But not just the consciousness for a moment where there’s some celebrated book. There’s something that lasts and lasts and lasts and so you have full swathes of literature that were non-existent from Kafka. Not known for being a real financially successful dude.

Is the Brian Eno quote how you’d like to see your influence over young people who read your books?

Well, the first Snicket book came out in 1999. And so I’m just meeting people who are more or less grown-ups who started with my work. And obviously the ones I meet are self-selective. Because there are plenty of people who read my books and forgot about them. Good for them. But I do meet people who say, “Oh, I’m doing this now because I thought of this part in the book.” It’s not, “I run a Victorian clothing store that’s based on the illustrations of Brett Helquist for your book.” It’s: “I found this little bit and it interests me.” “This kept me company when  I was lonely and so now I’m this person.” And that’s the kind of influence that is really meaningful—more meaningful than receiving the royalty cheque in the mail.

You’ve said children’s books are overly moralistic.

Some of them, yeah. Not moralistic in the way that the solution would be to have them have no moral centre. I think they’re moralistic in a way that they’ve been composed for the purpose of teaching a moral, and I think that good stories don’t happen that way. If you sit down and think, Here’s a great lesson which I want to impart, I can sense that in books. I think they’re wrong-footed. I mean, you certainly see that in the trashiest of children’s books where someone who’s not a writer is given an opportunity to write a children’s book, and what they want to do is teach something. “I want to teach that despite your differences you may prevail.” And there’s nothing wrong with the message that “despite your differences you may prevail,” but that’s not a great way to start a book. Start with a talking spoon and get to where it gets.

[Laughs] so that’s not a part of your process then? To think about the lesson you’re teaching?

No. I don’t know what the books teach really, except that they seemed to have resonated with some people and that people take something from them. But I don’t think there’s something tidy that can be served up as a lesson.

What I think the lesson is in your books is that there’s a period of childhood you have in your life and a period of adulthood, and they’re two very distinct periods. And I feel like what Lemony Snicket does is say, “It’s much more of an ongoing spectrum where the things you have in childhood can still be there in your adulthood. And even young children can have adult qualities well before some adults do.”

Yeah. I agree with that philosophy. I think in our Western world there’s definitely a narrative where it’s time to put such things aside, right? But that isn’t what happens. And so, “You’re supposed to put them aside” becomes alienating and upsetting. I was just talking to someone and they said, “Oh my son saw this cartoon about vampires and now he’s really frightened of vampires.” And I thought, Well they are frightening. It’s not some inexplicable thing! Why wouldn’t he find creatures of the night who are here to suck your blood frightening? But I do think that’s encouraged. It’s more: “Oh you shouldn’t be frightened of that.”

That’s right! What have you carried on from your childhood?

Oh, everything! [Laughs] an endless confusion and sense of mystery about the world. I mean, I’m continually bewildered by everything. I’m finishing a young adult novel now that’s about sex. Which is certainly something that is largely absent from the Snicket books. But part of that was actually rereading my favourite novels from late high school through university. Which were all highfalutin novels—and beautiful in most cases. But they were filthy. All of them. And that’s not how I remember them. It’s not like I read them under the covers. But that’s what I thought was interesting. The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, for instance, is a gorgeous novel about a generation of immigrational experiences and America and the lure of pop culture and the fetishisation and exoticisation of other cultures. But it’s also full of blowjobs.

When I was touring for Why We Broke Up, I realised that the readership was largely female. And it was unusual for me ’cause I always had equally gendered rooms when I spoke. And now there was not a male presence bar myself—nothing wrong with that of course. But I realised I had written this very romantic book and among the things that it did was kind of glide over sexuality. There is sex in the book, but it’s not anything that you would read with fervent erotic fixation.

But now you’re exploring that more?

Yeah. It’s a gap that I felt.

Particularly in the wake of the fact that, certainly, in America at least, there’s this great cry that adolescent boys are the ones putting down books.

They’re leaving books behind and there’s all this young adult literature, but very much for women. It’s all in a romantic mode. “I’m in a coma and my boyfriend is a vampire.” So we’re losing boys. And then I read these books that I loved when I was young and I thought, It’s because we’re not speaking about sexuality. I talked to a friend of mine who was a novelist and he said he doesn’t write for young people but he was interested, and that when he was young he and his friends were just on a constant lust for pornographic magazines. But they were so impossible to come across. And then you have them and it’s like the box of fire, you don’t know where to keep it. And he said that he thought about writing about that, but that the ever-presence of pornography online means that he didn’t think any young man would relate to that. And how this quest to go to a barbershop where you heard they stack them for the customers and then try to sneak one away doesn’t really happen any more! And I began to think about that too, to try to write about sexuality at a time when certain kinds of sexuality are so readily available.

So I have a question from a young reader, the nephew of somebody from the Dumbo Feather office.

All right, I’m ready.

You ready? How do you make your stories sound scary?

It’s interesting. I mean, I have scary things in them. How do they sound scary? I like that question a lot. I think the way real life sounds scary, that things happen in the middle of the night and you can’t see what it is. I think that’s how I make them sound scary.

Do you think we underestimate children?

I think we underestimate everybody. I think we’re all capable of far more than we do. I think we’re capable of being a more wondrous species in a more terrific world than we are.

Why aren’t we more wonderful people?

We think we can’t be and so we get upset and we just think about ourselves. Upset because we’re not more wonderful. I mean, you can’t wander around saying, “I shouldn’t be upset. I’d better think of everyone else all the time.” But I think imagination, consideration leads to that kind of thought. With an imagination you’re going to end up having a creative outlet, right? It’s going to go somewhere in your life. You’re going to be a more imaginative parent or girlfriend or woodworker or nurse. And I think that ends up being altruism. You end up thinking of your audience as writers do. You end up thinking about that as a way forward.

Daniel Teitelbaum

Daniel is the head of content at The School of Life Australia, a cultural and educational institution dedicated to developing emotional intelligence. If Daniel had to be stuck on a desert island with a philosopher, he would choose Plato—a cave may come in handy.

Photography by Angela Decenzo

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