Stoicon 2022 is coming up online again this year on October 29 (don’t forget to save the date!), and we continue our tradition of publishing interviews with the Stoicon speakers, workshop providers, panelists, and organizers. Our fifth interview is with Karen Duffy, a participant in the Recent Books Authors panel! Her most recent book, which came out earlier this year, is Wise Up: Irreverent Enlightenment from a Mother Who’s Been Through It.
To see the schedule for Stoicon, or to get your ticket for this event – donations for tickets support the continued work of Modern Stoicism, Ltd – click here and you will be taken to the Stoicon 2022 Eventbrite site.
How would you like to introduce yourself to the readers of Stoicism Today, and to people who might be interested in Stoicon?
My name is Karen Duffy, I’m a New York Times bestselling author. My newest book is “Wise Up,” which was written collaboratively with Francis Gasparini. We wrote it in the epistolary format, inspired by Seneca. Each letter is meant to be swallowed whole, like a clam. “Wise Up” weaves together classical wisdom and humor to drive home the unshakeable belief from Epictetus that “If your choices are beautiful, so too will you be”.
What are you most looking forward to about the Stoicon conference?
I’ve been following Stoicon since the beginning and congratulations to Greg, Andi and Phil for organizing such an insightful and illuminating experience. 10 years of Stoicon is wildly impressive. I’m looking forward to Dr. John Sellars’ talk; I had the good fortune to see him recently in Athens at a conference, and he is always so entertaining and informative. I look forward to Brittany Pollat, who is the personification of Stoic compassion. Kathryn Koromilas always inspires me to engage in her writing exercises. Christopher Gill’s work is masterful. With these people and the roster of other panelists, you have curated the greatest human library of Stoic thought.
Stoicism has a wide popular appeal right now. Why do you think that is the case?
Stoic philosophy is a practical philosophy. It was founded 23 centuries ago, yet the ideas read as if the ink were still wet. Stoicism is for everyone, and Stoicon invites everyone to join in.
Are there any Stoic practices that you make use of routinely? What effects have you found they have for you?
I read Stoic philosophy every day. I try to memorize a maxim a day. In addition to writing, I’m a film producer. My production partner and I use lessons from the Stoics in our business practices. Our office has many of the books written by Stoicon speakers to remind us to demand the best from ourselves and our projects.
What was your first encounter with Stoicism? What drew you into it early on?
My first encounter with Stoicism was in my 20’s. I was a VJ on MTV, and I realized that I had a voice in pop culture. I thought the best way to make use of this strength was to return to the Classics. I read “Mediations” and a fire was ignited in me. I read myself a new brain. I tried to weave little bits of Stoicism into my work as a TV host, producer, and author.
What aspects of Stoicism have become more important or interesting to you as your studies deepened over time? Why did those aspects become more important or interesting?
My first Stoic book was Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, but if I had to pick a favorite Stoic, it would be Epictetus. In my early 30s I was diagnosed with an incurable but treatable degenerative neurological disease. I now live in chronic pain and I use books as an ameliorative. They are a part of my life plan as much as the medicine I take. Books are not lifeless lumps of paper, they are “minds alive on the shelves.” When I read Epictetus, his words reverberated through me like a firecracker in a cymbal factory. He was maimed while enslaved and lived in pain, yet he went on to become a great teacher and thinker; surely I could follow a little way in his limping footsteps.
If you had to pick just a few things about Stoicism you think people would find most useful, what would you say those things are?
Stoicism inspires me to keep the cardinal virtues in the forefront of my mind: wisdom, courage, temperance and justice.
Some of us get excited about Stoicon every year, but there are always people
ready to say “Stoics shouldn’t get excited.” What do you think about this?
We can’t confuse small-s stoic—meaning a stiff upper lip–with capital-S Stoic. Stoics aren’t ruled by emotions, but they can enjoy pleasurable ones. I’m deeply grateful to the dedicated team of professionals who organize Stoicon every year. I can’t wait, I look forward to it every year. Every day we have an opportunity to become less daft than we were the day before. Every day we have the choice to be useless or useful. Stoicon is an opportunity to celebrate those choices. I’m stoked to see you all on the 29th .
One of the questions we raise every year is: Have we reached peak Stoicism? What do you think? Has Stoicism reached its peak when it comes to contemporary interest in it?
I don’t believe there is peak Stoicism. Have we reached peak justice, peak courage, peak temperance, or peak wisdom? I don’t believe we can ever attain a state of Stoic perfection, it is a process of striving. The more people who read and practice the Stoic virtues, the better.