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How to graciously say no to anyone

“There is no money in answering letters.” 
Groucho Marx

A couple of years ago, I was getting sent this article, “Creative People Say No,” at least twice a day. The idea was that creative geniuses say “no” to a lot of requests (like, a psychology professor researching processes of creative genius) in order to get their work done, so if you want to be a creative genius, you have to say no a lot so you can get your work done.

A bunch of people asked me what I thought about it, and I said, “It’s good advice for the rich and famous. Creative people say yes until they have enough work that they can say no.”

Ian Bogost explains it nicely, here:

[Y]ou have to say ‘yes’ for a long while before you can earn the right to say ‘no.’ Even then, you usually can’t say 'no’ at whim. By the time you can say 'no’ indiscriminately, then you’re already so super-privileged that being able to say 'no’ is not a prerequisite of success, but a result of it.

There was a little index card in the back of Steal Like An Artist that didn’t make it into the book that sums up my own point of view: “Be as generous as you can, but selfish enough to get your work done.”

Of course, sometimes you just have to say no for whatever reason. For that, Alexandra Franzen suggests this format in her piece, “How To Graciously Say No To Anyone”:

Hey [name],

Thanks for your note. I’m so proud of you for ___—and I’m flattered that you’d like to bring my brain into the mix.

I need to say “no,” because ___.

But I would love to support you in a different way. [Offer an alternative form of support here]

Thank you for being such a wonderful ___. I am honored to be part of your world.

[A few closing words of encouragement, if you’d like]

[Your name here]

Images above from The Ransom CenterTim Ferriss, @maudnewton, and my letters archive.

The Element: Water

Water represents emotions, absorption, subconscious, purification, eternal movement, wisdom, the soul, emotional aspects of love and femininity. In rituals, it is represented in the forms of pouring water over objects, brew making, healing spells, ritual bathing, and tossing objects into of water.

Gender: Feminine

Direction: West

Energy: Receptive

Symbols: Ocean, river, shell, spring, lake, well, rain, fog, cup

Placing on Pentagram: Upper right

Time: Twilight, Dusk

Cycle of Life: Maturity

Season: Autumn

Colours: Blue, turquoise, green, grey, indigo, black

Zodiac signs: Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces

Sense: Taste

Stones/Jewels: Aquamarine, amethyst, blue tourmaline, pearl, coral, blue topaz, fluorite

Magick tools: Cup, cauldron, goblet, mirror

Metals: Mercury, Silver, Copper

Herbal: Ferns, lotus, mosses, bushes, water lilies, gardenia

Trees: Apple, Apricot, Birch, Cherry, Elder, Elm, Rose, Willow

Animals: Water snakes, dolphin, fish, cat, frog, turtle, swan, crab

Ritual action: Bathing, dilution, washing, sprinkling, preparing cold herbal infusions

Josephine, your letter is sad. You are wrong if you think that I am indifferent for all that concerns you. Your happiness is part of my own. The feelings you inspire me after all this time only can be altered by you. My good, my tender Josephine only can be erased from my heart by Josephine herself, but only if she turns despondent, bad-tempered and irksome. My life is full of struggles, and only a sweet domestic life, pleasant and free from all pressure makes them bearable for me. The fate of a ruler is full of nuisances, and my destiny is to love you always, until I have forgotten them. I don’t know if this letter will be pleasing to you. My intention is to console you, my wish to please you, my will to love you.

Napoleon to Josephine, 11th November 1803. The letter was written from the champ of Boulogne. Translation is mine. Several biographers talk of this letter as “lost”, although it figures on the “integral” of his letters to Josephine published in 1981 by Chantal de Tourtier-Bonazzi and its stored in the French National Archives.

All my sorrows have disappeared in reading the good and touching letter containing the expression of your feeling for me. How grateful I am to you for devoting so much time to your Josephine. If you knew, you would congratulate yourself on being able to bring such joy to the woman you love. A letter is the portrait of the soul and I press this one close to my heart. It does me so much good! I want to keep it for ever. It will be my consolation while you are away, my guide when I am near you, for I want always to remain in your eyes the good, the tender Josephine, solely concerned with your happiness. If a ray of joy touches your heart, if sadness troubles you for an instant, it will be on the breast of your friend that you will spread your happiness and pains; you will have no feeling I do not share. That is my wish and my desire, only to please you and  to make you happy… Adieu, Bonaparte, I shall not forget the last phrase of your letter. I have kept it in my heart. As if it were engraved there! With what ecstasy my own has replied! Yes, my wish is also to please you, to love you, or rather to adore you.

Her reply (from Saint-Cloud), dated November, 14. You could guess that, in fact, the letter had been pleasing in extreme for Josephine.

The Element: Earth

Earth represents strength, abundance, stability, prosperity, wealth and femininity. In rituals, Earth is represented in the forms of burying objects in the earth, herbalism, and making images out of wood or stone.

Gender: Feminine

Direction: North

Energy: Receptive

Symbols: Rocks, fields, soil, salt, caves, clay

Placing on Pentagram: Lower left

Time: Midnight, night

Cycle of Life: Age

Season: Winter

Colours: Black, green, yellow, brown

Zodiac signs: Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn

Sense: Touch

Stones/Jewels: Rock crystal, emerald, onyx, jasper, salt, azurite, amethyst, quartz

Magickal tools: Pentacle, Pentagram, salt, images, stones, gems, cords

Metals: Iron, lead

Herbal: Ivy, grains, oats, rice, patchouli, lichens

Trees: Cypress, Honeysuckle, Jasmin, Lilac (some say Lilac is Water)

Animals: Cow, bull, dog, horse, ant, bears, wolf

Type of Magick: Gardening, magnet images, stone (jewel divination, work with crystals), knot, Binding, money spells, grounding, finding treasures, runes.

Ritual action: Burying, making effigies, planting trees or herbs

The Element: Fire

Gender: Masculine

Direction: South

Energy: Projective

Placing on Pentagram: Lower right

Symbols: Flame, lightning, heated objects (stones in particular), volcano, rainbow, sun, stars, lava, heat

Time: Noon

Cycle of Life: Youth

Season: Summer

Colours: Red, gold, crimson, orange, white

Zodiacs: Aries, Leo, Sagittarius

Sense: Sight

Stones/Jewels: Ruby, fire opal, volcanic lava, agathe

Magickal Tools: Dagger, sword, athame, censer, lamp, candles, incense, herb burning, paper requests, knife

Herbal: Garlic, hibiscus, red peppers, cinnamon, coffee, beans, seeds, chili peppers

Trees: Alder, Ash, Cashew, Cedar, Chestnut, Fig, Juniper, Mahogany, Oak, Holly, Rowan, Walnut

Animals: Dragon, cat, lion, horse, snake, cricket, mantis, ladybug, bee, scorpion, phoenix, coyote, fox

Type of Magick: Candle, healing, love spells, energy work

Ritual Action: Burning objects, wood, paper, heating, preparing decoctions, cauldron work

Despite my efforts, I have been unable to locate Solas. From the site of your battle with Corypheus, he was last seen headed West, still distraught over the destruction of the orb Corypheus carried. From there he disappeared, evading my people so easily and so completely that I am forced to wonder how much he knew about them.

When Solas initially approached the Inquisition and offered aid, I questioned him extensively about his background and history. He was evasive, but he did give the name of the village where he grew up, noting that it was small, unlikely to appear on any map.

I hate loose ends, so I kept a few of my agents searching, to verify his story. They recently located the village… or what remains of it. It is a ruin, as it has been for centuries, its name preserved only in ancient Tevinter mysteries. Whoever Solas truly is, wherever he came from, he has deceived us from the very start.

I apologize for not investigating this more thoroughly while Solas was here. He was clearly helping us, and other matters were of greater urgency, but it was an oversight nevertheless, given how little he shared with us. It is not clear what his plans are, if any, but I will continue to search.

—  A letter from Leliana to the Inquisitor
The Element: Aether/Spirit

Aether (also called Spirit) is the prime element present in all things, providing space, connection and balance for all Elements to exist. Aether is immaterial unlike the Air, Fire, Water and Earth. Aether is essential to our sense of connectedness with spirit and well-being. Aether represents the sense of joy and union.

Gender: Universal

Direction: Universal

Energy: Universal

Symbols: Cord, rope

Placing on Pentagram: Upper

Goddesses: The Lady

Gods: The Horned God

Cycle of life: Eternity

Season: The wheel of the year

Colours: White

Sense: Higher receptions

Animals: Dove