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Woody Allen: What I've learned (esquire.com)
135 points by npalli 1357 days ago | hide | past | web | 56 comments | favorite

>It's just an accident that we happen to be on earth, enjoying our silly little moments, distracting ourselves as often as possible so we don't have to really face up to the fact that, you know, we're just temporary people with a very short time in a universe that will eventually be completely gone. And everything that you value, whether it's Shakespeare, Beethoven, da Vinci, or whatever, will be gone. The earth will be gone. The sun will be gone. There'll be nothing. The best you can do to get through life is distraction. Love works as a distraction. And work works as a distraction. You can distract yourself a billion different ways. But the key is to distract yourself.

I love this statement; there is so much truth in it. I find it is something that enters the realm of my thought quite often. The fact that at some time in my life the last event will rob me of everything I am, I know, and will render everything I have done useless to my then forgone reality. Between the truths of death of an individual and death of the universe, nihilism seems all too logical.

However, knowing this,I'm in no way a depressed individual. I don't think I could be any happier in my life. Nihilism has given me freedom.

It reminds me a lot of Kurt Vonnegut.

"All persons, living and dead, are purely coincidental."


"We are here on Earth to fart around. Don't let anybody tell you any different."

Me too. I find that facing that fact makes life seem more precious and valuable. And not in an, "omg time is running out!" way, but in a "appreciate this moment" way.

Nihilism has given you a distraction you mean :P

It also perfectly excuses the lazy. And I dont care what stories lazy people tell them selves, until it starts effecting the taxes I pay.

If that's a reference to welfare, I'd say it has a small bearing. Looking at the UK for example (http://wheredoesmymoneygo.org/), seems under 2% of tax goes on unemployment.

My problem isn't with welfare for those born disadvantaged, its with lazy hipsters.

Which would account for a much tinier proportion. Sounds like your problem is more moral than based on any real-world impact on your take-home pay :)

In reality very few people will actually choose to sit around on the dole, particularly as they grow up a bit. I can't prove it of course but it does bring to mind the old theory that the welfare system unwittingly seeded R+D for the UK's creative industry (up through the 80's at least), and which has turned out to become a major UK export.

Me too, but I am secretly hoping Elon Musk or somebody figures out how to let this generation live infinitely via mind transplants or organ re-generation. Come onnn!!!

I'm under the impression that, pardon the sad thought, we'll be the con'd era. The last before major shift in medicine. We'll dream about it, maybe put our fingertips on it, but we'll go before it's there.

You can always freeze your head and wait until they can give you a new body.

Or wait for him to finalize head transplant procedures http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/06/head-transplant-ita...

Granted I can provide a body...

Not only assuming this will be possible, but that in the future capitalism will be somehow suspended and they will start digging heads out of the morgue to resurrect for no reason.

That's not what I meant. Besides does the morgue even keep bodies forever? I don't think so.


I'd be interested to see how many people would actual avail of a service like that. Religious people who believe in an after-life probably wouldn't but I'm sure a lot of others wouldn't either. Steve Jobs quote "Death is very likely to be the single best invention of life because death is life's change agent." appeals to me and people with that perspective probably wouldn't want to live infinitely.

>Religious people who believe in an after-life probably wouldn't

Perhaps not the very devoted, but for the rest, I'm sure they would. Just as they will avail themselves of healthcare services if they get cancer, wear seat belts, avoid flying with dodgy airlines, and a myriad of other ways they seek to avoid death.

>Religious people who believe in an after-life probably wouldn't but I'm sure a lot of others wouldn't either.

Once the certainty of death leaves, people will become a lot less religious. As Woody said, we're looking for distraction, and religion is a good distractor: "don't worry about death, there's this wonderful afterlife."

Life extension is not forever. Eventually, temperature, mass, kinetic energy, lack of sustenance, or chemical reactions will catch up to you in the form of accidental death.

Indeed. Based on current mortality statistics[1], only 2% of us would manage to live 10,000 years without succumbing to accidental death of some kind, and the number that would make it 100,000 years is just vanishingly small.

EDIT: This is more a consideration with respect to "cure for ageing"-type advances, not so much the mind-uploading scenario.

[1] http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/acc-inj.htm

This statement is deep realization and the fact that everything is ephemeral is hard and painful. But there's gotta be more to life than moving from one distraction to the next. I guess it's a religious thing; a greater sense of purpose.

Life is a vapour, and accounting* 9 - 5 is the best distraction you can come up with?

* Insert career choice here.

> But the biggest lesson he imparted is that if you don't have your health, you have nothing. No matter how great things are going for you, if you have a toothache, if you have a sore throat, if you're nauseated, or, God forbid, you have some serious thing wrong with you — everything is ruined.

Even though this sounds like common sense, I only really learned it this year when I started having annoying health issues from working all the time, not working out, and not eating healthy (startup food). Something as simple as enjoying a Sunday in the park would not be possible because of say back pains. And then I realized that it didn't really matter what I did or achieved unless I had my health to enjoy doing it and the rewards from it.

But isn't a big, fat frankfurter, with the mustard, one of life's best rewards?

> "I haven't had a frankfurter in, I would say, forty-five years. I don't eat enjoyable foods. I eat for my health."

I admire woody allen, but reading this comment makes me a little sad.

One common thing you notice among highly creative people is how they completely lock down certain aspects of their life. It is as if they want to conserve all their mental energies for their creative efforts without wasting anything on miscellenous tasks. Hence you find people working with a single type of pens, clothes, walking routines etc.

So, not sure about Woody Allen's diet preferences but it seems to me that just taking out the option of eating unhealthy dramatically cuts down on decisions making and mental energy. A single Frankfurter will not alter your health, but if you open up the possibility of eating them you need to wonder - Is one per day OK? what about one per week? If you eat a hamburger does that mean you can't eat a Frankfurter for two days etc. etc.. If Allen is half as neurotic as he seems you can imagine him spending a lot of time deciding what to eat and what not. Just nukeing the option -- will not eat frankfurters, period. -- seems to be a good mental hack.

One common thing you notice among highly creative people is how they completely lock down certain aspects of their life

Yes. I've mentioned this book on HN before, but Mason Currey's Daily Rituals: How Artists Create discusses this point. I wrote more about the book here: http://jseliger.wordpress.com/2013/07/18/daily-rituals-how-a....

"Willpower" (http://www.amazon.com/Willpower-Rediscovering-Greatest-Human...) calls what you're describing "precommitment", and claims it does work consistently well.

I found taste is very malleable. I have (had) IBS symptoms. I don't eat any processed food, sugar, dairy or nightshades.

I like the food I'm eating more than I used to. Berries now taste as good as ice cream used to. Cranberries taste sweet instead of sour.

Good quality black coffee is better than a latte.

I don't know what woody Allen eats. I expect he enjoys some of it, and is writing for effect.

If he actually doesn't enjoy eating, then that is indeed sad.

But having gone from 'not health' to 'health', at a young age, I'm very, very willing to give up a few modest pleasures to preserve health.

Same here. I quit sugar, and wife put me on a strict "cook it yourself" diet (i.e. everything we eat we make from scratch.) It is amazing. I would eat half a banana for desert and find it too sweet. For comparison, I used to put a whole banana in my frosted flakes cereal, then squirt chocolate topping into the abominable mix.

I gag when I think of what I used to eat. I went back to the U.S. last year and found restaurant fare almost universally gross. Within two nights, I decided to move from a hotel room to a family suite just because it had a kitchenette. When I wasn't cooking in my room, I was eating $40+ meals at "decent" places (compare to Australia where food is a lot less pre-processed.)

I have that restaurant problem now. Only $30-$40 fancy restaurant meals can match what I make at home.

Anything less than that and I feel bad later that day or the next. Usually bad cooking oils I think.

Put it into perspective. If you're a multimillionaire or a famous film persona, which Woody Allen is both, then you have so many greater rewards that life can offer than a frankfurter. Sure he can give into one of these pleasures, but perhaps, at the cost of a shortened life where he can experience so many more rewards. I respect him for watching out for his diet and health because there are so many other people in similar positions that always make me wonder why they don't take better care of themselves (now that they've "made it") so they can better enjoy what they've been blessed with. To many people this is all obvious.

> you have so many greater rewards that life can offer than a frankfurter.

Many of which are unhealthy or dangerous. Also, I can assure you that after not eating something enjoyable for a long time, the experience is incredible. I was a strict vegetarian for 7 years. When I decided to change that, I walked into a McDonald's (of all places) and ate 10 cheeseburgers. Biting into the first one caused a sensation much like when you realize you're shortly going to sleep with that hot new girl you've been seeing for a while.

IOW, I feel sorry for Woody Allen - he must really miss Frankfurters. Unless he's winding us up and doesn't really think they're enjoyable (it's normally pork too, not kosher, I don't know if he cares). Perhaps he's neurotic enough to fear unhealthy food.

> make me wonder why they don't take better care of themselves (now that they've "made it")

"Taking care" could mean living a bland, boring, ascetic life or exercising, investing time and energy in extending one's life. Either seems unfitting for the lifestyle of people who worked hard to live their dreams and know they will die anyway. They can afford the best medical treatment anyway.

especially considering it was him popularizing the famous line that "everything good in life is illegal, immoral, or makes you fat" (from"Annie Hall" iirc).

Just because you drop one enjoyable thing for the sake of health doesn't mean than there is nothing left to enjoy. The world is filled with things to enjoy. Many of them are even healthy.

You mean like sex with his step daughter Soon-Yi? That exercise had to be great for his health!

(And now I'm going to get depressed wondering how many on the website don't know what I am talking about because it happened before they were born.)

More than 20 years later they are still together and married with 2 kids. And she isn't hollywood arm-candy - the vapid kind that gets replaced on regular basis with a newer model. So whatever ickiness there was at the start it would seem it wasn't just a case of horny old man syndrome.

Woody Allen has a history of getting together with women aged 20 or so. I'd take better than even money on the bet that he's had affairs with younger women since he has been together with her.

He goes more in depth about his personal life philosophy here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKLFcpATPjI

Very interesting if you're a fan or if the esquire interview piqued your interest.

> If you're born with a gift, to behave like it's an achievement is not right.

Thinking about this quote made me realize something:

By definition, anything received as a gift is not achieved whether or not it was received at birth. I think this quote could have been more elegantly stated as "A gift is not an achievement."

Putting it this way seems to change the implications slightly.

> My two teenage girls think of me as ancient. But I'm up before them and wake them to go to school.

His daughters are teenagers now. Considering he started his relationship with de facto stepdaughter Soon-Yi Previn when she was in her late teens, I'm not sure that is the most reassuring way to start an interview.

A guy will say, "Well, I make my luck." And the same guy walks down the street and a piano that's been hoisted drops on his head. The truth of the matter is your life is very much out of your control.

Does it have to be one or the other, though? A person can control aspects of their life and make themselves successful with hard work and discipline and still have many aspects of their life out of their control (genetics, random occurrences, etc.). I have huge respect for Woody Allen and think he's a genius but I don't really like this quote because it let's people off the hook for their own circumstances which in many instances they can control.

You can control a few parameters and improve your odds, but that's about it - you certainly can't control circumstances by definition. Becoming successful is never just a matter of hard or smart work (though it often requires at least the appearance of those as well). Otherwise most people would simply become successful - at which point we would redefine success in any case.

"Love works as a distraction. And work works as a distraction. You can distract yourself a billion different ways. But the key is to distract yourself."

I loved this line.

He's learned you can letch on your step-daughter from the age of 12 and fuck her the day she turns 17, and get away with it, if you're rich and famous.

...and continue a meaningful relationship with her for 20 years, fathering two children and generally doing what people in love do.

I'm not sure your rhetoric holds up when the full picture is presented.

Love has its way with people.

He should have left the family, and attempted to create that relationship when the girl was at a reasonable adult age. But by then she would have been uninterested or otherwise engaged.

He is simply a shitty father and husband, broke a covenant and destroyed a family to satisfy his own needs. That is not ameliorated or erased by making films.

Sorry but I still feel like you are playing the man and not the ball.

Forget fame, film and money. Tell me how spending 20 years with the same woman and having two kids together and finding great joy and satisfaction in your family is lechery and not love.

Funny how I submitted the exact same link yesterday and it got zero votes: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6185131

"A guy will say, 'Well, I make my luck.' And the same guy walks down the street and a piano that's been hoisted drops on his head. The truth of the matter is your life is very much out of your control."

-Woody Allen

It's all about timing...

I can't believe a nihilist would not eat enjoyable food.

It seems like he rather enjoy his remaining time working being as healthy as possible. I know if I am unhealthy I cannot focus on anything until I am back to "normal."

"...if I'm on the treadmill and I'm surfing the channels and suddenly Manhattan or some other picture comes on, I go right past it. If I saw Manhattan again, I would only see the worst. I would say: "Oh, God, this is so embarrassing. I could have done this. I should have done that." So I spare myself."

I'd probably say the same thing if, at the age of 44, I made a film starring myself as a guy in a relationship with an underage high-school kid. Of course if it were Mariel Hemingway (who was 18 darnit!) my biggest regret might have been not filming steamier sex-scenes...

I'd probably say the same thing if, at the age of 44, I made a film starring myself as a guy in a relationship with an underage high-school kid.

In his case life imitates / imitated art.

No offense to Soon-Yi Preven, but she's no Muriel Hemmingway!

Amazing portrait - props to Mark Mann.

Mr. Allen has been a student of Marshall McLuhan for quite a while http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wWUc8BZgWE

Thanks for pointing that out, but it's one of the most famous scenes in his most famous movie.

(I only snark on the weekends, sorry.)

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