Ali Barter Is A Conqueror We Need

I can’t explain to you the energy it takes to have to face these feelings every day. You can ignore me but I’m not the only girl who wakes up trying not to feel this way.

Ali Barter, Cigarette

Sometime in early 2016 I was sitting in Wheat Café in Newtown when I heard a catchy tune cascading from the speakers inside. It had everything that initially attracts me to new music: unique vocals, face-melting guitar and a clean structure that builds to an explosive finish. It turned out to be Far Away by Ali Barter and upon repeat listens I began to feel like it was a song written about me; a song that gave definition to a certain kind of listlessness that not infrequently colors my days (“Spent too much time on freeways and internet / I’ve never felt so far away”).

As it turns out, Ali Barter had me right where she wanted me.

In The Myth of Sisyphus, the French-Algerian philosopher and writer Albert Camus examines the nature of what he calls “the absurd man”. In short, an absurd person is one who has accepted that life itself is inherently meaningless (that is: absurd). One example of an absurd life that Camus explores in the essay is that of the actor. To Camus, the actor is an absurd person whose interest in theatrical shows is concerned with the limitless potentialities that it offers them to live other lives. On the stage, the absurd person can live a thousand lives in the span of one actual lifetime, allowing them to “accept the poetry without feeling the sorrow.”

The absurd man begins where [the thoughtless man] leaves off, where… the mind wants to enter in.

Though I am no actor, this notion of “entering in” reflects the way that I interact with art in all forms. When an artist or an artwork seizes my attention, I want to know more about it. I want to understand the motivation behind it. I want to know what made it it. Put simply: my “mind wants to enter in.” Anybody who has ever gone straight to Wikipedia after watching a movie that was “based on a true story” knows the feeling that I’m alluding to here.

So I do “enter in” and immerse myself in these other worlds. Every now and again (though not frequently enough for my tastes) I encounter likeminded people when I arrive there. In the same way that actors meet other actors on a stage, so do I sometimes encounter others who seem to share my reality; others whose minds have likewise “enter[ed] in”.

Having “entered in” to the work of Ali Barter, I found not only Ali herself but also the worlds that she defines through her art. Considered individually or as a total body of work, Barter’s songs define worlds in a way that reveal her as a thinker against Camus’ criteria:

To think is first of all to create a world (or to limit one’s own world, which comes to the same thing).

It would seem that these are indeed Barter’s methods, and she uses the two interchangeably. In any given song she’ll either create a world from scratch (as in songs like Marigold and Run You Down) or – more often – she’ll bring in the boundaries of observable reality (as in Cigarette and Far Away) to create a digestible slice of reality that is representative of all the other slices. In either case, the world that Barter creates ends up feeling like the world in which you live.

By creating these familiar worlds, Ali Barter is hoping to grant you the freedom to live within them. In his essay, Camus examines Dostoevsky’s character of Kirilov as a case study of the existential freedom that comes with embracing absurdity. Camus writes about the possibility of becoming a “tsar” by living with absurdity within a practical life and thusly being “covered in glory”. Kirilov aims to grant others this same freedom by committing suicide (thereby proving that the freedom is absolute) but Barter doesn’t need to make a martyr of herself to accomplish the same end. For her, it is enough to acknowledge the inherent absurdity of modern life – the listlessness, if not exactly meaninglessness – so that we can each take the next step on solid footing.

This listlessness, then, becomes a common theme in her songs (and thus, her worlds). In Far Away she observes that “People walk in a trance / They never listen.” Her character (being a version of herself) in the video for Hypercolour rocks out for a crowd whose disinterest in her performance is painfully obvious to her (“I spent the summer in darkness pining for sun”). Meanwhile, Ode 2 Summa perfectly captures the aimlessness of a sweltering summer day (“Life’s a bitch and then you die / But it’s too hot to fuck, too hot to sing”) and her latest single Cigarette finds Barter’s avatar/character “Tired of standing next to you / With nobody caring what I do.”

Ali knows that each of these characters possesses the freedom that comes with absurdity, yet she is also very aware that this freedom is rarely exercised. If these worlds feel a little familiar, don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s some deceptive trick – these are absolutely the worlds in which you already live. They are the stages of theatres that Barter is inviting you to share with her – stages on which you can both live as tsars covered in glory if you can learn to endure your freedom.

If you see a little of yourself in one or more (or maybe all) of these listless characters, then you are – as I was – right where Ali Barter wants you. Her songs end up sounding like ones that you would write about your own life if you happened to be a musician; they seem as if they’re about your own personal experience. Not in the way that songs with universal appeal sound like they’re “about us” by serving as a mirror in which we can see ourselves, but rather as a painting – rendered by another hand – of something undeniably and unshakably familiar. They are about everybody at once while also being about nobody in particular and yet they feel deeply personal – so much so, in fact, that it’s easy to become quite possessive of them.

If it’s a musical sleight of hand, it’s not one executed to trick you but rather to awaken you to your surroundings. Without putting limits on herself as an artist, Barter invites you to enjoy her songs on any level. Each is insanely catchy, built on an intoxicating sound and constructed with a tried-and-true structure. This is enjoyable enough on a superficial level, but she rewards those who are willing to look deeper and examine the subtext of the worlds she’s invited you to share with her.

Ali accomplishes this in a few different ways, but always with simplistic strokes. In Community she employs melancholy and nostalgia in framing a night out as a quest for inclusion and connection; for belonging.

Community reminds one of the story of Sisyphus, whose struggle Camus examines in his essay. Sisyphus was doomed to push a massive boulder up a mountain only to see it roll back down, requiring him to push it up the mountain again and again in futile and eternal repetition. The character in Community likewise seems to have been pushing a metaphorical boulder (“Drink myself to death on a Saturday night”) up the same mountain over and over again (“Give me everything and more / You know it’s never enough”). It’s a pattern, Ali knows, that we all get stuck in from time to time.

By mining these familiar truths, Barter accomplishes what Camus considers in his essay to be the “good” relationship between the artist’s experience and the work that inevitably reflects it:

That relationship is good when the work is but a piece cut out of experience, a facet of the diamond in which the inner luster is epitomized without being limited.

Whether you consider the character in Community to be you, Barter, your best friend, or some faceless fictional partier matters not. What matters, Camus tells us, is whether or not you think the character is finding pleasure in the face of this repeated struggle.

One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

On the surface Community is a “celebration of the ordinary” that would please Camus – a tribute to good times (perhaps enjoyed in pre-lockout Kings Cross, where the video for the song was filmed) – but there are clearly layers to the worlds Barter has created here and in other songs.

Consider the example of Girlie Bits, one of Barter’s most popular tunes. The song has been popularly described as a “feminist anthem” and it certainly sounds like one (this, of course, being merely the surface layer). While this label isn’t at all inaccurate (or, I imagine, unwelcome by Barter), it doesn’t totally capture the subtly powerful manner in which the song goes about being such an anthem.

Girlie Bits doesn’t yell at you, call anybody out, or tell anybody what to do. The song doesn’t operate on the assumption that any of sexist attitudes referred to in the lyrics (“Give us a smile, Princess / It’s better for business”) will come as a shock to you. In fact, Barter is betting that it will all seem very familiar indeed to male and female listeners alike; that these examples of the ways in which women are frequently marginalized are so prevalent in our society that the unenlightened eye might mistake them as being normal. This world is absolutely your world and the subtext (that is, the “inner luster” layer) becomes immediately and painfully clear: we see (and/or suffer) these injustices with frequency – so what are we going to do about it?

Barter, for her part, isn’t stopping with songs that might make us reconsider the actions of our skeevier acquaintances. For the past few months she’s been using short but moving posts on her Facebook page to highlight the powerful female singers (which she calls History Grrrlsthat have inspired her through the years. In longer form she’s been railing against a musical status quo that has been perpetuated by a historical narrative that often refuses to see female musicians as legitimate artists. It’s easy to see that she’s trying to create and step into a role of an empowerment agent that she had to go largely without in her own developmental years. By taking on this role, she hopes the female artists of tomorrow will grow up in a world where the legitimacy of their work is never questioned.

Importantly, she recognizes that her role as an artist is inextricable from her role as a person. Camus highlights the importance of this relationship in his exploration of absurdist creation. He posits that an absurd artist is not so different from a philosopher:

The idea of an art detached from its creator is not only outmoded; it is false.

For the same reason as the thinker, the artist commits himself and becomes himself in his work.

This much holds true with Barter. As seen in the example of the subtext found in Girlie Bits and how this aligns with her interest in advancing a discourse toward achieving gender equity, Barter is as much thinker as artist and these two modes of her intellect are inextricably linked. Girlie Bits loses its bite if it’s not written by Barter and Barter can’t disrupt the status quo in a manner authentic to her own ideas without writing Girlie Bits.

All of that to say: whatever you think of it otherwise, Girlie Bits is more than “just a song”. It’s a song written by a certain person in a certain way under certain circumstances and for a specific reason. To merely listen to the song (or any of her others) and not consider these circumstances (the art as an extension of the artist) is to miss what she’s freely and nakedly offering you. It’s akin to walking into the cinema late and seeing only the end of the movie.

If Ali Barter the person can’t be removed from the songs of Ali Barter, then those same songs have the effect of making you feel as if you grew up alongside her. Each track becomes an existential comfort zone into which you can settle and allow the rhythm to wash over you or from which – on a different day, having finally seen something that Barter has already mined for “internal luster” – you can launch your revolt against inequity, an aloof romantic partner, a hot summer day, consumerism, or the fear of missing out.

Ali’s songs (and by extension, her worlds) are – in spite of the meaninglessness they acknowledge but refuse to succumb to – ultimately hopeful. In this way her art avoids being absurd in the purest sense, but even Camus recognises “that hope cannot be eluded forever” and this speaks again to the freedom that Ali would like us all to recognise that we possess. Even Sisyphus, bound as he is to his eternal fate, enjoys – within that “world” – absurdist freedom and is thereby capable of happiness. The key, as we have seen, is that he uses his freedom to choose that happiness.

Like those of us caught exactly where Ali wants us, her character in Cigarette is beginning to notice that something about her reality is a bit sterile. Here Ali has tightened the fences of reality on a character who is only just beginning to become fully aware of the form those fences take: in this case, gender normative romantic expectations and the mundanity of merely “being”. She wonders what measures would be necessary to escape these shackles (“If I shaved my head would you / Tell your friends you don’t really care / Really care”) but by the time she’s warning the unidentified “other” in the song to not ask her for a cigarette, it becomes clear that such measures aren’t necessary. She need not replicate the gesture of Kirilov’s suicide in order to obtain her freedom, she need only to embrace that she has always possessed that freedom.

A post shared by ALI BARTER (@alibarter) on

To paraphrase her own words that I quoted at the beginning of this piece: as well as she understands the energy it takes to have to face these feelings every day, she also knows she’s not the only one who wakes up trying not to feel that way. By illustrating that we all possess the freedom of Ali Barter the person, artist and avatar – and that we need only choose happiness, as Camus would like us to believe Sisyphus did – she reveals herself as something vitally important in the present moment: a conqueror.

From Camus:

The conquerors are merely those among [us] who are conscious enough of their strength to be sure of living constantly on those heights and fully aware of that grandeur.

Ali Barter chooses revolt rather than surrender – to live fully and happily as a tsar covered in glory – in the face of inherent meaninglessness. Each of her songs is an invitation for us to do the same and we all possess the freedom to accept that invitation. All that remains is to choose to do so.


Greg Joachim is a writer of fiction and non-fiction when not working as a PhD candidate and academic at the University of Technology Sydney. He resides in Sydney with his wife, Claire.

Reach out on Twitter: @gregjoachim

Lessons I Learned From My 2015 Reading

Lessons learned from books I read in 2015

Those of you keeping score at home know I love trying to find life lessons everywhere (even in movies). Books, of course, are not an unusual source of lessons but reading critically and identifying the thoughts and lessons that truly resonate with you is an enjoyable exercise that adds value to fiction and non-fiction alike. The books that I read in 2015 represent a nice blend of both categories and though the lessons are certainly easier to glean from non-fiction, there were also lessons to be learned from the fictional stories.

Here are some of my favorites.

Harvest by Jim Crace

Harvest will really remind readers of the film The Village as the setting is almost identical. Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2013, Harvest features prose that borders on poetry in terms of both beauty and lyricism. The story is simple but rich – a group of outsiders arrives on the edges of a rural settlement on the same night a large fire consumes the manor house. Accusations are immediately leveled against the unknown visitors and the pursuit of the truth pushes each villager to the edge.

The lane is telling me I should not fear the futures that it holds.

The villagers in Harvest value their uncomplicated lives and go to extremes in their attempts to maintain it. However, as I have often said across many posts, there are no reasons to fear the unknown future. There are good reasons to fix what “ain’t broke”.

I can’t believe he would be parted from his smile, even in death.

This quote is presented out of context but who wouldn’t want to be remembered this way?

It’s certain that you cannot tell from how a person works or how a person strolls behind her hens what kind of life they live in secrecy.

Another common theme explored elsewhere on ToVa: your own concept of another person is not even a shred of the whole truth of their being. This can mean things good or evil are unseen and/or unknown by you but the real takeaway is to remember that though other people appear as extras in the movie of our daily life, their existence could be every bit as rich as yours (if not more rich).

Quiet by Susan Cain

As an introvert, I found Quiet quite fascinating. Cain digs deep into society’s concept of introversion and what she refers to as the “extrovert ideal” that leaves most introverts feeling misunderstood and/or undervalued. Introverts will find it especially interesting but extroverts will also take a lot away from the research and case studies that Cain presents.

That said, the quote that I found the most inspiring applies to introverts and extroverts alike:

Those who live the most fully realized lives – giving back to their families, societies, and ultimately themselves – tend to find meaning in their obstacles.

We would all do well to remember this very true notion in times of struggle.

How to be Alone by Sara Maitland

Doesn’t it seem natural that I would sit down a book about introversion and pick up what is ostensibly a guide to being a loner? Of course, How to be Alone is far from a step-by-step guide to hermitude – rather, it is an exploration of the many benefits of carving out some solitude in a world that increasingly demands either our physical or digital presence at all times.

Hence:

Being solitary is being alone well: being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your own presence rather than of the absence of others. Because solitude is an achievement.

We all want to be “luxuriously immersed in doings of [our] own choice” but this often requires being alone or, at the very least, ‘disconnected’. This, then, is a valuable reminder that to be alone is more about being present with ourselves than it is about removing ourselves from the company of others.

All of us want to be treated as complex and unique human beings, but simultaneously want everybody to be just like ourselves.

I present this quote without context just because it always make me chuckle.

The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton

This book, by the co-founder of The School of Life, uses the philosophy of a great thinker to guide the reader through dealing with existential crises (for example: the philosophy of Socrates is relayed as a consolation for being unpopular). It is a highly readable and thoroughly enjoyable way to expose oneself to the works of great philosophers such as Nietzsche and Epicurus if you’re hesitant to jump right into their respective primary texts.

It was hard to limit the number of quotes I wanted to share and even still I’m left with quite a long list.

If we attend properly to our experiences and learn to consider ourselves plausible candidates for an intellectual life, it is, implied Montaigne, open to all of us to arrive at insights no less profound than those in the great ancient books.

Montaigne was all about the ability of the common man to achieve intellectual heights and this quote underscores the point. We could all afford to take ourselves a little more (but not too) seriously.

Critics are not inclined to bow before the grander pronouncements of those with whom they attended university.

Oh, so true – but we are truly limiting ourselves through such jealousy.

The wise man can lose nothing. He has everything invested in himself.

Courtesy of the stoics, this quote highlights that we must be careful about where (and with whom) we deposit pieces of ourselves. It is possible to toe the line between looking out for your own development and being selfish.

He allowed him to be himself; through his psychological acuity, he enabled him to be so. He offered scope for valuable and yet until then neglected dimensions of Montaigne’s character – which suggests that we pick our friends not only because they are kind and enjoyable company, but also, perhaps more importantly, because they understand us for who we think we are.

There are many dimensions to friendship and our most valuable relationships with others will be both affectionate and actualizing, pushing us ever toward achieving our ideal self. Friends who see us as everything we wish to be are special indeed.

Expensive objects can feel like plausible solutions to needs we don’t understand. Objects mimic in a material dimension what we require in a psychological one. We need to rearrange our minds but are lured toward new shelves. We buy a cashmere cardigan as a substitute for the counsel of friends.

A warning against the dangers of consumerism, ostensibly, but also a reminder that we must tend to the garden of our minds. How to be Alone can help in this cause.

Errors in our thought and way of life can at no point and in no way ever be proven simply by the fact that we have run into opposition.

This really should be common sense but sadly is not altogether common knowledge. The motivations of those who might oppose us are hard to know (see the earlier quote from Harvest about secret lives) and physical objects that get in the way could be present for no greater reason than coincidence. You might be wrong but the mere presence of resistance does not in itself prove this fact.

The Martian by Andy Weir

Most of you have probably seen the movie and I hope many have also read the book. More than just a gripping science-fiction tale of survival, The Martian is hilarious from cover to cover. Thankfully, this humor mostly survived the translation to film but if you haven’t read the book, do!

No plan survives first contact with the enemy.

Remember what we just said about obstacles not being an indicator of correctness?

Since Sol 6 all I’ve wanted to do is get the hell out of here. Now the prospect of leaving the Hab behind scares the shit out of me. I need some encouragement. I need to ask myself, “What would an Apollo astronaut do?”

He’d drink three whiskey sours, drive his corvette to the launchpad, then fly to the moon in a command module smaller than my rover. Man those guys were cool.

Included because we all want to a whiskey drinkin’, moon landin’ Apollo astronaut. Those guys were cool.

Log Entry Sol 11
I wonder how the Cubs are doing.

Mark Watney’s log in the early days of his being stranded on Mars. A little levity never hurt nobody (but Cubs fandom has).

The Fall by Albert Camus

Camus is one of my favorite authors and thinkers. I’ve featured his ideas on ToVa before. His novels do a fantastic job of weaving his philosophy through a compelling but fictional narrative and The Fall is no exception. The book is entirely dialogue but reveals only one side of a conversation between the speaker, Clamence, and a fellow Frenchman he befriends and subsequently shows around Amsterdam. Slowly Clamence reveals elements of his personal history and philosophy toward many subjects – primarily judgement – to the increasing horror of his compatriot and the reader.

One plays at being immortal and after a few weeks one doesn’t even know whether or not one can hang on till the next day.

Anybody making a real go of things has been here before: you’re on top of the world one minute and then you blink and can’t get motivated to get out of bed. Pacing and moderation are critical in all aspects of our lives; actualization is a process, not a task.

What we call basic truths are simply the ones we discover after all the others.

Hindsight, eh? Still, these lessons must be learned.

… We rarely confide in those who are better than we. Rather, we are more inclined to flee their society. Most often, on the other hand, we confess to those who are like us and who share our weaknesses. Hence we don’t want to improve ourselves or be bettered, for we should first have to be judged in default.

Here is a different, more cynical, take on the earlier quote about choosing friends who see us as we want to be seen. This is a trap in which we can easily be ensnared. Those with low expectations are easier to please and less likely to judge but they will also never help you move forward. They are quicksand from which it is difficult to escape. Fear not the judgement of the less-enlightened.

But to be happy it is essential not to be too concerned with others.

I feel like I just said this!

Doubtless they suspected me of living fully, given up completely to happiness; and that cannot be forgiven. The look of success, when it is worn in a certain way, would infuriate a jackass.

Jealousy! People unwilling to pursue their own happiness will never give you credit for achieving happiness of your own. This is not worth your time to consider.

Men are never convinced of your reasons, of your sincerity, of the seriousness of your sufferings, except by your death. So long as you are alive, your case is doubtful; you have a right only to their skepticism.

Again we strike upon a common theme across these books: that others know not what we are going through and can never be made to understand. As the stoics remind us, we must choose to live for and invest in ourselves.

You know what charm is: a way of getting the answer yes without having asked any clear question.

Charisma and charm are facets of human interaction that fascinate me and this quote illustrates their magical powers. It’s a topic I’ll be exploring in future blog posts.

The Twenty-Seventh City by Jonathan Franzen

Until I picked up The Twenty-Seventh City I had not read one word written by Franzen which meant, with the release of Purity toward the end of the year, I had five novels to work my way through. Since I love doing these things in order, I started with his first novel, a sprawling narrative concerning a political and sociological conspiracy in St. Louis that effects all levels of the city’s society. The treat of Franzen’s writing is in the observation and his first effort is no exception, showing flashes of the insight that he refines with each subsequent novel.

Everything seems like it might be important. The side of the bed I sleep on. Working too hard. Not working enough. Do I need to get angry? Or do I need to stay calm? Weekend versus week night. Red wine versus white. You know? Because there’s got to be a reason for this, and any part of my life, anything I do every day — There are so many variables, so many combinations. I can’t pinpoint the important ones by any process of elimination. What if the reasons I can’t sleep are eating sugar, going to bed too early, and watching sports on the weekend? I could never isolate that. But I lie there for hours turning over the variables. I can’t remember when I ever slept well. As if my whole life had been this way.

Case in point: who among us has not had thoughts in this same pattern? There is comfort in knowing we are not alone. The power of fiction is its ability to breed empathy.

Probst doesn’t have the loser’s ethic it takes to believe in conspiracy.

While the notion of a ‘loser’s ethic’ seems harsh, this touches again upon our common thread of feeling like any resistance means we are wrong or that people are out to get us. The winners, meanwhile, are getting on with it.

And he could see how the year had happened , how a man in his prime, the envy of a state, could lose everything without even putting up a fight along the way: he hadn’t believed in what he had.

Here is a very real danger we all face as we strive for actualization. It is possible to reach – sometimes several times – a point when we don’t feel as though the good around us and the things we have accomplished are real or worthwhile or (more cynically still) a product of our efforts. If we don’t value what we have it may slip away while we’re not looking.

Strong Motion by Jonathan Franzen

Strong Motion again weaves a tale of conspiracy but in a tighter manner than Franzen’s first novel. Reneé Seitchek is a seismologist working at Harvard when unprecedented earthquakes rock the Boston area. She meets and begins a romance with Louis Holland, whose grandmother was the sole fatal victim of the first of these minor tremors. Through this romance and her exposure to the Holland family she slowly begins to theorize that the cause of the earthquakes is not natural but her accusations – if true – would have far-reaching implications.

I have no quotes to share from this book as most of my marginalia in this case highlighted bits of prose I particularly liked for stylistic reasons (you can click here to read those passages if you’re interested) but the story itself stands as a good example of determination in the face of opposition. When Reneé completes her theory (which she defends in an academic article) there are ample stakeholders who wish to dismiss her theory for various and shallow reasons as well as those who stand to lose if she is proven right and are a threat to her safety as she proceeds with her research.

She sticks to her guns and (in several ways) looks out for her own interests despite all of the resistance and, in some cases, departures of those who encouraged her to pursue her research in the first place.

What are you reading?

My first novel of 2016 is The Corrections, Franzen’s third and most highly-regarded novel. I’m 150 pages in and can already see why this is the case.

What are you reading? Please share below along with any lessons you’d like to highlight.


All of my writing – including ToVa posts, fiction, and personal essays – is now being gathered at jgregjoachim.com





Camus On Happiness, Experience and Gratitude

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I finished reading The Stranger this week, which has me thinking about Albert Camus. The author of many novels, essays and letters, Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957 and is remembered by many as one of the finest writers – and thinkers – of his generation. That his philosophy often informed his prose served only to make his stories even better. However, it is to his notes and letters that I thought we could turn today in search of inspiration.

Those who prefer their principles over their happiness, they refuse to be happy outside the conditions they seem to have attached to their happiness. If they are happy by surprise, they find themselves disabled, unhappy to be deprived of their unhappiness. (via)

Happiness has a tendency to be fleeting and can sometimes appear when we least expect it. Have you ever set out to achieve one goal but accidentally achieved a different, sometimes cooler result? The natural reaction for many in this situation is to deflect credit for this achievement. Some may even be annoyed by the accidental nature of the success. However, the final result would not have been attained had you not been out there giving things a go in the first place.

Take your happiness where you can get it.

You cannot create experience, you must undergo it. (via)

Once again, you have to be in it to win it. You could read about the Grand Canyon and look at pictures and watch videos and listen to your friends gush about their experiences there. Or, you could go there yourself and watch the sun set slowly over the lip of the canyon until you are alone in a silent darkness found in few other places. One option is undergoing experience, and I don’t think I have to tell you which one.

Get out there and live the life you want to live.

I don’t make too much of this sort of honour. But at least it gives me the opportunity to tell you what you have been and still are for me, and to assure you that your efforts, your work, and the generous heart you put into it still live in one of your little schoolboys who, despite the years, has never stopped being your grateful pupil. I embrace you with all my heart.

This quote is taken from a letter Camus wrote to Louis Germain upon receiving the Nobel Prize. Germain was Camus’ teacher and a father figure who offered invaluable encouragement in Camus’ formative years. It is a testament to the power of that encouragement that the only worth Camus could assign to such a prestigious honor is that it gave him an opportunity to show gratitude to Germain.

As we go through life, it is important to stay humble and remember those who helped us attain our grandest goals – to “embrace [them] with all [your] heart”. If we are fortunate, we may get the opportunity to show our gratitude – as Camus has done – through our work and by encouraging those who follow us.

The Stranger