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The Courage & Creativity of Curie, Writing Well, & Hiding Behind the Work (Reading Notes 7.15.18)

Resource: Marie Curie, Ambulance Driver: The Trailblazing Scientist’s Little-Known Humanitarian Heroism and Her Life-Saving Mobile X-Ray Units


Currie’s mobile X-ray service provides a great example of putting your philosophy into action. In addition to speaking out against violence, she used her scientific expertise, creative thinking, and initiative to take charge of a situation that saved thousands of lives.

Marie Currie’s daughter Irene, who also went on to become nobel prize winning scientist (her mother was the first person to win the prize for two different sciences) is a great example of stepping into a role, taking on large responsibilities, and learning along the way during a time of great need.

The initiative, courage, and accomplishments of Marie and Irene are all the more impressive when considering the element of discrimination they dealt with as women.


“‘Her wounds came from the same source as her power,’ Adrienne Rich wrote in her sublime tribute to Marie Curie (November 7, 1867–July 4, 1934). The first woman to receive the Nobel Prize, Curie remains the only person ever awarded a Nobel in two different sciences.”

“Only through peaceful means can we achieve an ideal society. It is hard to think that after so many centuries of development, the human race still doesn’t know how to resolve difficulties in any way except by violence.”

“when World War I broke out, Curie responded not just with generosity but with actionable courage: She set out to mitigate the gruesome effects of the war using the X-ray technology which her own discoveries had made possible…These mobile radiography units, known as “Little Curies,” treated an estimated one million soldiers. They stand as a testament to Curie’s monumental legacy both as a scientist and as an unflinching challenger of oppressive gender norms, her heroism all the more awe-inspiring in its cultural context.”

“Despite the life-saving effectiveness of the small mobile X-ray fleet, Curie’s efforts were frustrated by a dearth of drivers and skilled technicians. Above all else, she needed a collaborator she could trust with sharing the leadership duties. She found one in her seventeen-year-old daughter Irène.”

“Irène, alone and unassisted, X-rayed the wounded, those young men who in another time might have been her dancing partners or given her a first kiss. After completing the X-ray process, primly, deliberately, Irène made a geometric computation that revealed the exact location of bullets and shrapnel. She then directed the surgeons exactly where to probe. The surgeon in charge of the hospital had expected that the X-ray alone would instantly reveal a location and the calculation stymied him, as did the young woman who was telling him his business. He probed the wounded at random and unmercifully until finally he followed Irène’s directions with success.”

“Irène would go on to become a scientist herself and would also win the Nobel Prize. Beyond the power of personal modeling, which is among the greatest gifts a parent can give to a child, Marie Curie’s broader bravery embodies what Susan Sontag celebrated as the transformative moral courage of an example.”

Resource: Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Tips on How to Write a Good Short Story


“Start as close to the end as possible reminds me of Seth Godin’s advice to begin in the middle. I’ve been thinking about this concept of “starting with the punchline” quite a bit lately. Long preambles aren’t necessary. Open strong. Grab attention early. Make an impact as soon as you can. Don’t wait to say what you really want to say. Treat your first sentence as if it’s the only thing you’ll get a chance to stay and work from there.


“Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.”

“Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action.”

“Start as close to the end as possible.”

“Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them–in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”

“Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”

“Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.”

“”The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor,” writes Vonnegut. “She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.””

Resource: “So busy doing my job, I can’t get any work done”


How might be I be hiding behind my job?

What is the core reason my job exists? How are my daily activities supporting/expressing that?

Are there any activities that seem removed from the value-creating essence of my job?


Your job is an historical artifact. It’s a list of tasks, procedures, alliances, responsibilities, to-dos, meetings (mostly meetings) that were layered in, one at a time, day after day, for years.

And your job is a great place to hide.

Because, after all, if you’re doing your job, how can you fail? Get in trouble? Make a giant error?

The work, on the other hand, is the thing you do that creates value. This value you create, the thing you do like no one else can do, is the real reason we need you to be here, with us.

When you discover that the job is in the way of the work, consider changing your job enough that you can go back to creating value.

Anything less is hiding.

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