Miserable? Good.

Dear Unhappy Students,
You were not promised a rose garden.
Neither, I think, did you expect one.
Nevertheless, you are unhappy.

Why am I unhappy? you ask yourself.
The man in the Chinese restaurant who stands at the register all day to take my money when I eat the buffet lunch, he doesn’t look unhappy.
The woman who takes away the trash each night, that’s her second job of the day and she doesn’t seem unhappy.
Why am I, sitting on a sofa with my feet up on the table, making ink marks in a black book, at a graduate school preparing me to work in an exotic, highly paid field, unhappy?

Greater ones than you and I have felt the same.
Monet, I think, gets to the heart of it best.

No one but myself knows the anxiety I go through and the trouble I give myself to finish paintings which do not satisfy me and seem to please so very few others.
-Claude Monet
As long as I have a want, I have a reason for living. 
Satisfaction is death.
-George Bernard Shaw

Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.
-Ernest Hemingway

I bring this up because if you don’t feel yourself to be the kind of person who willingly enters into the bargain Monet describes, it may be a sign you are not going down the path in life which will most engage the gifts you’ve been given.
There is an anxiety to the making of work from nothing that punishes the person attempting it.
I have not seen anyone I admire find a way to sidestep it or rid themselves of it except by finishing the work.
That’s usually good for 5 minutes of smiling.

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Dear 1st Year Students–but by this how could I mean anything less than everyone–for what are any of us but inquirers into what the heck is going on?

This is a sticker I made up that I’ve handed out in class for a few years.
I’ve run out of them before the need for the message has removed itself.

hard work is a waste of time if your idea sucks

A student wanted to argue the grade I’d given him/her.
Me: What grade do you think you deserve?
Him/Her: I deserve an A.
Me: Why do you deserve an A?
Him/Her: Because I tried hard. I really worked in this class.
Me: I believe you.
But your work was never in the top half on any of the 15 weeks we had class.
Him/Her: But what you said really got to me.
Me: It didn’t get into your work, though, did it?

The talk didn’t end there, but you get the point.

Hard work makes a difference in digging ditches, not in creating advertising.
Not by itself.

The writer of an ad is after magic.
He can’t be after anything else.
Magic is the warm, ripe peach.
An ad without magic is the pit inside.

An ad must call its audience to it at the same time that it delivers its message.
Magic.

Hard work applied to any creative attempt in which magic is missing is like rubbing your boy/girl-friend’s arm over and over and over in the same place with the same motion.
It’s a nuisance, not a turn on.

The Best Thing about Richmond, VA

Dear Students,
It’s midnight in your world.
Tomorrow, Saturday Nov. 4th, is the Brunswick Stew Festival in Richmond, VA.
Right now Peter Coughter’s stomach is preparing itself for greatness.

Do not doubt the brain is told of the stomach’s plans.
Do not doubt the gastric juices are being held in abeyance, waiting for release.
Here is my advice:
Eat breakfast.
Eat breakfast early.
As soon as you are awake go to the kitchen & drink coffee, drink water & eat 2 eggs, scrambled.
Move your bowels.
Only then are you prepared for professional Brunswick Stew eating.
If you do not stretch your stomach with breakfast, forget it, you won’t have energy to eat.
If you don’t move your bowels early and fully in the morning a professional’s portion of BS will cause you, uh, grief, in the middle of the day.
Rosie’s Pub’s bathrooms, while adequate, are wildly over populated during BS fest.
Plus, you do not want to lose valuable time when the lines have not yet caught on to what the best stew is.
Take your wife…or reasonable facsimile.
Having beautiful women with you keeps you from being attacked by the mob when you get in line to buy 8 quarts of the winning stew EACH.
Do not kid yourself.
You are not going to make BS at home.
YOU MUST BUY A YEAR’S SUPPLY of BS tomorrow.
Freeze it.
It does not change.

Last year I brought home 18 quarts.
I was eating BS at home into the new year.
I bought 22 quarts.
I took pity on people who got none.
Plus I served it at school one day.
DO NOT HAVE PITY ON FOOLS WHO DO NOT BUY ENOUGH BS.
They are like people who ignore signs saying Do Not Skate on Thin Ice.
They deserve their fate.

Be strong.
Be mean if necessary.
(all the while remembering that mercy is of God)
I urge you to prepare.
I urge you to fight.
I believe you are strong & you will win.
Godspeed you.

P.S. Please remember to stock your freezers knowing
I intend to be in Richmond in little more than a month.
With a plastic spoon and unfathomable emptiness.