Leonardo da Vinci wrote backward (mirror writing) because he didn’t want others stealing his ideas. Writes Da Vinci biographer Rachel A. Koestler-Grack:
“The observations in his notebooks were written in such a way that they could be read only by holding the books up to a mirror.”
But did a genius who combined art and science so brilliantly really need to hide his work? Perhaps it was practical: as a lefty, he didn’t want to smudge the link. As a contrarian, Da Vinci also strived to be different. As blogger Walker’s Chapters writes:
“Do you really think that a man as clever as Leonardo thought it was a good way to prevent people from reading his notes? This man, this genius, if he truly wanted to make his notes readable only to himself, he would’ve invented an entirely new language for this purpose. We’re talking about a dude who conceptualized parachutes even before helicopters were a thing.”
“Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea,” observed novelist Iris Murdoch.
If you think you’re going to write a masterpiece, it’s already too late. It never works out that way. What you imagine in your head rarely translates to the same excitement on paper.
The best bet is to start writing and see where it goes. Writing, like photography and music, is all in the edit. It’s knowing what to keep, what to throw away, and what’s worth tweaking. As Miles Davis declared: “It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play.”
There was a moment when marketers thought words didn’t matter, that the future was speaking through images.
But then everybody’s images started looking the same. The Instagram feed looked like a giant pile of sameness where anyone could be a photographer and upload a beautiful picture.
Snapchat then ushered in the video game and all of a sudden, copycats followed. Facebook’s algorithm started to favor video. Instagram introduced Stories and Live. People could share their thoughts without a keyboard.
But if there’s anything Twitter shows us, words matter more than ever. The US president and the ‘rocket man’ tease nuclear war. While images and video are propaganda, it is words that beget action; they are volatile, easily copy-pasted and bent into echo chambers to paint fraudulent stories of intent.
If we want to awe someone, we choose static and moving images. But if we ‘re going to poke someone, we select text.
Words are game changers. Not only do they provide context to an empty visual, but they also control the inner-narrative that ultimately influences external decisions. Choose them with care.
Everyone waits for the web to come to them. Such passiveness means that humans leave their decision-making up to algorithms. But don’t hide behind the machines; look yourself in the eyes as you would others and pick yourself to succeed.
The internet could save you feeling stuck. It liberates the amateur photographer or writer from holding back on their interests and tastes and instead encourages them to show the world their art. The barrier between consumer and maker is thinner than ever.
Don’t wait for the internet to come to you. Use it proactively to stumble into new worlds that inspire you to recast what you think you already know. Experiment with its distribution and feedback.
The internet is a tool you use to make stuff. Just as code changes, you too can sense patterns and update your skill set through trial and error. There’s no reason to shy away from individual oddities; feel free to trespass your fear by getting some skin in the game too.
“You break experience up into pieces and you put them together in different combinations, and some are real and some are not, some are documentary, and some are imagined…It takes a pedestrian and literal mind to be worried about which is true and which is not true. It’s all of it not true, and it’s all of it true.”
— Author Walter Stegner in an interview with Richard Etulain
Fact or fiction, our lives are but are an amalgamation of experience and imagination, neither of which explains the factual nature of our origins. Context fence-sits to prove no foreseeable answer, one that needs no seeking anyway.
The above quote is lifted from the afterword in Wallace Stegner’s novel Crossing to Safety, a highly recommended read.
I’m a sucker for seeing extraordinary in the ordinary. Last Friday on my walk home from work I stumbled upon a set of loose white paper sheets scattered on the sidewalk. Except it didn’t exactly appear haphazard. The paper zigzagged in a pattern.
After taking the photo, I felt compelled to pick it up. It was some type of packing material or art supplies. About twenty steps away was a shiny shopping bag, which was perfect for storing all the unfettered scraps. It made cleaning up so much easier, perhaps a reward for taking the initiative to clean up someone else’s trash.
What first appeared to be scrap in disarray was actually organized chaos. The disorder was magnetic, beautiful in its ugliness. Most importantly, it felt damn good to get it off the green patches of planet Earth.
If you think very fast, you may have time to think, “Soon it will hit my brain.” You can feel the deadness race up your arm; you can feel the appalling, inhuman speed of your own blood. We saw the wall of shadow coming, and screamed before it hit.
On seeing a partial eclipse:
I had seen a partial eclipse in 1970. A partial eclipse is very interesting. It bears almost no relation to a total eclipse. Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him, or as flying in an airplane does to falling out of an airplane.
Are you excited to see the moon lurch between the sun and the Earth?
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In an interview with Time Magazine, Japanese author Naoki Higashida reveals his favorite number. His answer is both complex and beautiful:
I’ve never really thought about my favorite, but if pushed, my answer would be 3. The number 1 is the most important. It feels like proof that something is there. Then again, zero is the most amazing discovery. The concept of nothingness is proof of human civilization. After 1 comes 2 in order of importance. The number 2 lets us divide things and put numbers in order. These three numbers (0, 1 and 2) would have been sufficient. As a number, 3 is enchanting. It was created even though it wasn’t needed. Perhaps it was born out of creativity?
Digits transcend each other. Like words, each one fits into the fabric of a larger numerical system.
Knowledge can be a hindrance. The more we know, the more likely we’re to hesitate in times of execution.
So the overthinking basketball player misses a wide-open layup, the tennis player misses an easy return, or the painter or writer can’t seem to get their inspiration to convert on a blank canvas.
Stalling is a symptom of facing the resistance. When we try too hard to be perfect, we may do nothing at all.
So how can we stem the tide of excess contemplation?
One of the ways to think less author Flann O’Brien once said was to act “calculatedly stupid” and to enjoy what we’re doing. As Vincent Van Gogh put it: “Just slap anything on when you see a blank canvas staring you in the face like some imbecile.”
We are at our best when we’re relaxed and instinctive, free from the chaos of the monkey mind.
Unthinking is the ability to apply years of learning at the crucial moment by removing your thinking self from the equation. Its power is not confined to sport: actors and musicians know about it too, and are apt to say that their best work happens in a kind of trance.
So do the work and let go, let God. Let inspiration be free-floating perspiration.
“But I got the same painful pleasure out of writing prose that I did out of writing poetry—the pleasure of trying to put the right words in the right order. And I took away from my experience with poetry something else. I understood that the reason people write poems is the reason people write. They have something to say.”
Art translates life. It takes us places. We need stories and memes in order to keep the everyday exciting.