We can toil in obscurity for years before we get a lucky break. We can also give up and accept that it isn’t meant to be.
But something happens when we feel like a complete failure. We start to simplify everything — what we own, where what we do — and get back to basics.
Defeat offers its own beneficial limitations. It pushes us to play with what he have and stick to the belief in our art.
When JK Rowling hit her lowest point — divorced as a single mother on child welfare with no published books — the only thing she knew was to keep writing. As she said in her Harvard commencement speech:
“I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless.
Even when the publishers rejected her, she kept on and wrote even more. She leaned in on the process of showing up every day at the cafe and getting to work.
Failure can either be deemed temporary or definitive, depending on how we frame it. But with the right mentality, we can leverage the foundation of rock-bottom to help us limit our choices and persist.
(All cartoons via Tom Chitty for The New Yorker)
The way I figure it, everyone gets a miracle. Like, I will probably never get struck by lightning, or win a Nobel Prize, or become the dictator of a small nation in the Pacific Islands, or contract terminal ear cancer, or spontaneously combust. But if you consider all the unlikely things together, at least one of them will probably happen to each of us.
— John Green, Paper Towns
Each week I like to highlight some the articles written on this blog in a condensed format. It reminds me to take a step back and review why I thought it was worth posting in the first place. If you enjoy these reads, you can sign up here to get the weekly newsletter delivered directly to your inbox.
How taking an afternoon ‘nappuccino’ increases productivity. If you start to zone out around 2 and 3 pm (thank you circadian rhythm), you may benefit from a pre-nap coffee. Remember: “The caffeine won’t fully engage in your bloodstream for about 25 minutes, so drink up right before you lie down.”
Tesla: American Experience. Motivated by wonder and awe, he exploited his imagination to foresee the wireless networking and cell phones we have today. Tesla was an artist working with dreams and visions but “his medium was electricity.” Excellent documentary on the magician on PBS.
This is what happens when you reply to spam email. In a hilarious TED Talk, comedian James Veitch details his emails with one spammer who contacted him about a business deal. Into the second week, James got the spammer to start replying in ridiculous code revolving around candy.
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Thought of the week
‘I’d rather be a lightning rod than a seismograph.’
— Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
Video of the week
Ainslee Henderson takes interesting “stuff” (wood, stick, wire, leaves, broken electronics, etc.) and turns it into stop-motion puppetry.
“Each one of these platforms encourages a different kind of communication and the amount of time we spend on social media has skyrocketed. I challenged myself to create a visualisation of how I could represent each social platform’s user interaction in the most simplistic way that people could relate to and find conceptually amusing at the same time.”
Feel free to laugh and cry while I check my Tweets.
“I’d rather be a lightning rod than a seismograph.”
— Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit.
Ainslee Henderson takes interesting “stuff” (wood, stick, wire, leaves, broken electronics, etc.) and turns it into stop-motion puppetry. Says Henderson on the creative process:
“It’s like making music, you just see where it leads you. I stick and scult and keep scraping, putting things together and shaping things and then suddently what was just stuff becomes this character staring back at you.”
By the end of the video, he’s got all the puppets playing music together.
“They’re like little actors that only ever get to play one role. Everything they do is their swan song. They have a tiny little life and then they go back to being an inanimate object again.”
Upon winning the MacArthur Fellow award for creating unconvential, immersive opera experiences, Yuval Sharon didn’t feel like he was a ‘genius’ in any sense of the word.
The fellowship is also known as “the genius grant” although the organization steers clear of using the term in its to describe MacArthur Fellows ““because it connotes a singular characteristic of intellectual prowess.” Yuval Sharon felt the same way.
In his LA Review op-ed, he elaborates:
The Foundation probably takes pains to say this because so many people find something deeply uncomfortable about the concept of “genius” — its exclusionary implications and air of elitism; a Romanticism that seems out of step with contemporary (let alone everyday) life; the affirmation of canonical standards set by … who exactly? Any person mature enough to strive for self-awareness finds the moniker embarrassing, and only an unstable narcissist could ever self-apply the title without shame.
But no genius is truly original, as Brian Eno alludes to. A genius is merely part of what he calls a ‘scenius,’ a community of fellow artists who share similiar interests and collaborate, helping prop up the most notable. Says Yuval:
Moments, ideas, a single poem in a collection — a work of genius, no matter how individually wrought — is never the product of a single individual. We should stop thinking of genius as an attribute and instead start to think of it as a condition, a circumstance.
Genius is social and participatory
This notion of a sole genius reduces the collective nature of people. The world participates in the process of creation no matter how one artist tries to individuate their craft. Yuval sums it up nicely:
I spent part of the day reading about the other Fellows in my class and found myself feeling so inspired by their dedication and accomplishments in fields far removed from my own. The world seemed bigger. This may be where the “genius” moniker is still useful: by calling out examples of how and where the endlessly searching attendant spirit still visits the world. Because anyone, anywhere, can participate in it.
James Mollison of TOPIC ventured into one of Tokyo’s animal cafes where you can sip your coffee with your animal of choice (cats, dogs, and rabbits). But this coffee shop was a little different.
Tokyo’s Pakuchi Bar is apparently one of eight owl cafes in the big city. The owner, Tomo Nanaka, owns 30 of them which she allows in public on the weekends and on special holidays. Even more, she’s named them after musicians and bands.
Below are a some of my favorite.
From left to right: Kurt Cobain, The Chemical Brothers, Beck, and The Cure.
(All images via James Mollison)
“The mediocrity principle simply states that you aren’t special.”
NASA engineers eat peanuts before every launch as a lucky charm. Picasso held on to his fingernail clippings to maintain his spiritual “essence.”
You can more read about artists and their peculiar amulets in Ellen Weinstein’s new book Recipes for Good Luck: The Superstitions, Rituals, and Practices of Extraordinary People.
Why do some creators hold onto some strange and unique amulets?
The primary reason for holding on to such talismanic devices is to establish an aura of positivity. As artists, the muse sometimes works against you, wanting you to fail or hide. Hanging on to or wearing an object of fortune allays those fears and sets the tone for confident action.
Crafted from found objects—string and bottle caps from Phuket, a cracked mask from Venice, a piece of sea glass from Long Island, New York—the 74-year-old celebrity photographer uses them to ward off bad vibes on his set.
But lucky charms go beyond the workplace and creative endeavors. They also have everyday importance.
Everyone needs some type of pacifier to calm down, whether it’s the lucky necklace, rock, or prayer they cling onto before takeoff. These items act as security blankets, placebos, and in doing so, instill the confidence to proceed.
As they say, let go (or rather hang on) and let God…
We are not only taking too many photographs and spending little time looking at them, but we’re also inhibiting in our memory in the act.
In a recent study done by the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, those who document and Instagram their images are consistently less likely to remember their experience compared to the camera-less participants.
Across three studies, participants without media consistently remembered their experience more precisely than participants who used media. There is no conclusive evidence that media use impacted subjective measures of experience. Together, these findings suggest that using media may prevent people from remembering the very events they are attempting to preserve.
Just as we outsource our memory to Google — knowing it’s all too accessible with just a click — so to do we our experiential minds.
While we know our digital images will be archived in iPhoto or Google Photo libraries for eternity, we’ll be unlikely to recall vivid details of the event when we return to look at them.
Writes Susan Sontag in On Photography:
“A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it—by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir. Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs.”
Externalizing events is not just limited to the camera. We can impair our memories with a notebook in hand. Similarly, if we take down every note the teacher repeated in class we are less likely to remember the most important takeaways. If we want to better remember the things we experience, we have to remember to look up every once in a while.
We must compel ourselves our see in order to notice the interesting things in the world around us. Perhaps our inner eye cameras are all we need to remember what we want.
“To me, a painter, if not the most useful, is the least harmful member of our society.”
— Man Ray, Self-Portrait