‘You break experience up into pieces…’

“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.

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Essential writing advice from Anne Lamott


TED distilled fourteen writing tips from an interview conducted with novelist Anne Lamott. Her 1995 book Bird by Bird has become an essential guide for aspiring artists of all types.

My favorite snippet from the interview appears when she’s asked to give her younger self some writing advice:

“I’d teach my younger self to stare off into space more often. I would tell her to waste more paper. I would tell her she doesn’t need to stick to a decision; she can change her mind.”

Daydream. Plan unscheduled time. Get messy. There is no such thing as the perfect time to start anything. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “This ‘Wait!’ has almost always meant ‘Never.'”

The vocation chooses you. Do the work in despite the resistance.

Read 14 writing tips, from beloved teacher Anne Lamott

Distracted by organized chaos

Photo by Wells Baum

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.

‘It looked like a Life Saver. It looked like a Life Saver up in the sky.’

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Annie Dillard first published her essay ‘Total Eclipse’ in 1982. It’s since been republished The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New. Below are a couple of my favorite snippets. Read the entire essay on The Atlantic.

On seeing the total solar eclipse, also known as the path of totality:

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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What’s your favorite number? Autistic author Naoki Higashida provides a beautiful answer

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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.

People often recite the number 108 as the most beautiful number because it’s “simultaneously One, emptiness, and infinite.

The whole is a sum of its parts. What’s your favorite number?

 

How to unthink

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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.

Read Non cogito, ergo sum

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The value of making up stuff

Art is what we do with our extra time. It is more leisure than life. “Art is everything you don’t have to do,” as Brian Eno put it.

The starving artist is compelled to have a day job. We can’t make art without the backbone of cash. 

However, the cashless value of writing a poem, painting a picture, or photographing the trees could save your life. 

It is in making up stuff we find meaning. The canvass enhances our lives, inspires us to express ourselves. That freedom can be liberating. 

Writes Louis Menand in his latest New Yorker piece entitled Can Poetry Change Your Life?

“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. 

Against conventional thinking 

Do you prefer labyrinths, racetracks, or straight lines?

In following others and jumping through hoops, we can assure the most predictable of lives.

What if instead we danced with the uncertainty of being lost, gathering string on the way to a slow realization

You can be the tortoise or the hare, desire speed over power. 

There are no shortcuts to keeping it interesting. 

The body is a selector

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gif by Wells Baum

Sometimes we walk ourselves into our best thoughts. Small steps often lead to big revelations.

Other times, we dig into our imagination never knowing what we might find.

Where is the reality in simulation anyway? It is the brain that adds color to the skies, odor to the trees, and taste to the cookie.

The unanswerable drives humans to chase anticipation into what they believe most. In a silent jungle, the body’s machinery can turn the law of nature into a waterfall of sound.

Even the heart jangles if we listen close enough. Objects are eternal both inside and out, waiting to be discovered with the liberty of perception.

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gif via Erick Oh