Tagged: Tolstoy

One Sentence Writing Challenge

I’m still in Tolstoy’s short stories. Again, one particular sentence just struck me as perfect. So here’s the challenge: In the below comments, let’s see if we can write with similar excellence. (One sentence.)

The bonfire was extinguished, the forest no longer looked as black as before, but in the sky the stars still shone, though faintly.


Here’s my attempt: The young boy stopped running, the city moved even faster, but he still felt her hand in his, though now she did the squeezing.

Writing So Good You’ll Want To Quit

I’ve been reading Tolstoy’s shorter fiction and almost each story contains writing so good that I want to never make the attempt again. Here’s a few examples.

From The Death of Ivan Ilyich:

Ivan Ilych knows quite well and definitely that all this is nonsense and pure deception, but when the doctor, getting down on his knee, leans over him, putting his ear first higher then lower, and performs various gymnastic movements over him with a significant expression on his face, Ivan Ilych submits to it all as he used to submit to the speeches of the lawyers, though he knew very well that they were all lying and why they were lying.

From The Kreutzer Sonata:

“What is wrong with education?” said the lady, with a scarcely perceptible smile. “Surely it can’t be better to marry as they used to in the old days when the bride and bridegroom did not even see one another before the wedding,” she continued, answering not what her interlocutor had said but what she thought he would say, in the way many ladies have. “Without knowing whether they loved, or whether they could love, they married just anybody, and were wretched all their lives. And you think that was better?” she said, evidently addressing me and the lawyer chiefly and least of all the old man with whom she was talking.

From The Devil:

During coffee, as often happened, a peculiarly feminine kind of conversation went on which had no logical sequence but which evidently was connected in some way for it went on uninterruptedly.

Well done, Count.


As for myself, I had a coffee date with a young lady the other day, something I have not made an effort to do in years. As is often the case in situations like mine, I told myself that I was willing to re-enter the dating world for several clear and distinct reasons. Firstly, it is not good for the man to be alone. Secondly, the idea of sexual congress with a woman has not yet become altogether repulsive. Thirdly, and ever present, there is in me still some remnant of fire, quite incapable of scientific scrutiny, that wants to prove–or fail trying–that I might yet possess some quality desirable to a member of the fairer sex.

As for her, she was highly educated, well-spoken, and cultured. And beautiful. On these points there would be no dispute. Not wholly unlike the much publicized cases of celebrity progeny, however, her parents’ more modest wealth still seemed nearest the root of her inability to properly arrange cause and effect. On this point there may be dispute.

How To Listen

(If you’re short on time, skip to the bottom for numbered instructions.)

“What’d you say?” he asked.  Realizing he couldn’t remember crossing the bridge she created–the bridge over which her words matured into tears–he felt a great shame settle over him.  Leo Tolstoy wrote, “The tears seemed to be the proper lubricant without which the machine of mutual communion between the two sisters could not work successfully.”  Similarly, her tears contained the power to recapture his attention.  The tears also had the effect of making him want to listen.  He briefly wondered how anyone found his way without Tolstoy.

Hours later, he made it a point to determine if he’d always had difficulty listening.  At first, his ego caused him to deny such a charge and pointed out that he was an excellent student.  He also recalled how he excelled in a professional environment.  Both required the ability to listen.  Reluctantly, he opened the door Doubt was moments away from breaking down.  He didn’t have very many close friends.  He certainly hadn’t made any new friends in years.  Swallowing his just-a-bit-too-large-a-bite-of-food-which-chokes-but-doesn’t-kill pride, he finally admitted the truth.  He objectified people.

This was the only way he could make sense of it.  If the person he was with couldn’t help him in some way, his mind found better things to do.  Even before this revelation solidified, he had difficulty believing this was a deficient quality.  That difficulty became an uncommon resolve which he used to summit his problem.  At last he stood atop his terrifying realization.  This never-before-seen perspective decisively gave him the vantage point necessary for change.

Instructions for How To Listen:

Step 1 – Stop talking.

Step 2 – Stop objectifying people.

How To Do The Inconceivable.

(If you’re short on time, skip to the bottom for numbered instructions.)

Because it is time, that’s why.  Someone needs to grab the bull by the horns and reveal the secret to accomplishing anything.  The following few paragraphs are going to give you the tips you need to do anything you can conceive.

In the recent Tom Cruise movie Oblivion, T.C. and his female counterpart are two-weeks away from completing their mission on the ‘remote site’ that is Planet Earth.  After the two weeks, they will return to the new human settlement with those who survived the war.  Granted, the work they were doing was not in itself particularly difficult or boring.  Loneliness seemed to be the biggest negative.  And the dream of how life would be like in two weeks’ time kept them going.

How many of us ever thought we’d spend as much time and energy as we have to accomplish so little?  How did we do it?  Where did we get the strength from?  Were we born with it?  Even if we were born with it, we must fight the desire to victimize ourselves.  Instead, as a group we need to accept total responsibility for our lives.

Where did the strength to put up with a life we never conceived come from?  The strength came from believing a lie.  The lie that there will be more time in the future.  Break down the concept of the future a little and you’ll see why this is a lie.  The future has not happened.  The present is happening.  The future “is not”.  The present “is”.  What do you gain if when you trade what “is” for what “is not”?

The future will never be.  Can you understand this?  The future will never “exist.”  It will never “be.”  That’s it’s definition.  If you believe that the future is something that “will be”, then you’re no longer describing the same abstract idea that’s being discussed here, and is commonly labeled “the future.”  There is no catching-up.  There is no getting ahead.  These are impossibilities.

I have been nearly exclusively reading the classics for almost a decade now, and a common theme is best summed up by Jon J. Muth in his children’s book, “The Three Questions”, based on Leo Tolstoy’s ideas.  “Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now.  The most important one is always the one you are with.  And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side.  For these, my dear boy, are the answers to what is most important in this world.”

The choice is always yours.  If you want to do the inconceivable follow the instructions below.  If you want to exist in reality, stick with living in the present.

Instructions for How to Do The Inconceivable:

Step 1 – Believe that after you’ve accomplished it, you’ll have time to do what you really want.

Step 2 – Understand that there is only one step.