What’s in a name

A challenge arises when we make something over a long period of time. As we evolve — as we add experiences, impressions, memories, deepening knowledge and self-knowledge to the combinatorial pool from which all creative work springs — what we make evolves accordingly; it must, if we are living widely and wisely enough. Eventually, the name we once chose for it begins to feel not like a choice but like a constraint, an ill-fitting corset ribbed with the ossified sensibility of a former self.

~ Maria Popova from, https://www.themarginalian.org/2021/10/22/brain-pickings-becoming-the-marginalian/

Popova changed the name of her project a while back, and this is a nice unpacking of her thinking. I’ve a lot of projects, and they have various names; Names that are public and names for them in my own mind.

With each project, I continuously struggle to balance the desire for concision and the desire for clarity. I drive myself mercilessly to find the simplest phrase that is something memorable and meaningful. And then I drive myself mercilessly to be ready and able to explain things as iterative layers of unpacking. That name. A few sentences. A few minutes of explanation. And so on, expanding to a fully dynamic conversation about the thing. On one hand, I know that this zooming in, (towards a concise name,) and zooming out, (toward a coherent and thorough explanation,) improves my thinking and understanding. But on the other hand. It’s really exhausting.


Amor fati

Don’t expect anything to happen. Just wait. This waiting is a deep acceptance of the moment as such. Nietzsche called it amor fati — unquestioning love of whatever has fated you to be here. You reach a point where you’re just sitting there, asking, “What is this?” — but with no interest in an answer. The longing for an answer compromises the potency of the question. Can you be satisfied to rest in this puzzlement, this perplexity, in a deeply focused and embodied way? Just waiting without any expectations?

~ Stephen Batchelor


That’s a quote presented by Maria Popova within a much larger post… which you should totally go read. There’s a stillness, and perhaps even tranquility, which I very much hope you’ve experienced. I’ve mastered the walking meditation which is perambulation. But the fully engaged sense of simpy being, when there’s no sense of expectation, is still a surprise when I manage to get far enough out of my own way.



The Victorian love letter and the text message, the memoir and the Instagram selfie — they are all fragments of self-expression frozen in time, expressing a self fragmentary and discontinuous across the sweep of a life, fragments that can never reconstitute for posterity a complete and cohesive portrait of a person, because to be a person is to be perpetually contradictory and incomplete.

~ Maria Popova from, https://www.brainpickings.org/2021/09/09/aldous-huxley-island-universes/

Today was a good day. Any day wherein I stumble upon a word I do not know is a good day. I think it’s just right as rain that Huxley would be the source of the “salutary” which caused me to reach for my dictionary. (If it’s also new to you, I’ll give you a hint: It has nothing to do with “salutation,” as I had presumed.)

In addition to the unexpectedly salutary new word—a second hint—I was pleasantly held up in my light reading by Popova’s sentiment. I’m certainly not going to truly understand someone in one brief conversation. But I am definitely better off for each of those experiences spending time visiting another island universe. (That’s one of Huxley’s metaphors. Click thru already!)


Persistent, but not lonely

To create anything of beauty, daring, and substance that makes the world see itself afresh — be it a revolutionary law of planetary motion or the Starry Night — is the work of lonely persistence against the tides of convention and conformity, often at the cost of the visionary’s aching ostracism from the status quo they are challenging with their vision.

~ Maria Popova from, https://www.brainpickings.org/2021/07/06/john-coltrane-creative-urge/

To be clear, I don’t feel I’m out to make the world see itself afresh. I am out to create better conversations to spread understanding and compassion. And while I understand, now having read a bit more about John Coltrane, how a certain type of genius might need a certain type of loneliness to do their work. That’s not me and my work.

I’m finding that I’m thriving on podcasting. It is a stupid amount of work; Yes, I’ve chosen to set things up, and to set challenges and goals, to create that amount of work. It’s even physically challenging, for example, I’m on a road-trip this week with multiple +4-hour driving days. But I know what I’m in for, and I know what’s going to happen once I press record. Magic. Obviously, a big part of that comes from me, but a critical part of it comes from the other people. I’ve always heard talk of how “creative types” can get lonely. I’ve come around to accepting the label of “creative type.” I recharge in alone time. But I think I thrive when creating in concert with others.



Those of us who visit wild places the way others visit churches and concert halls visit because we return transfigured, recomposed, exalted and humbled at the same time, enlarged and dissolved in something larger at the same time. We visit because there we undergo some essential self-composition in the poetry of existence, though its essence rarely lends itself to words.

~ Maria Popova from, https://www.brainpickings.org/2021/05/25/thoreau-walden-nature/

I’d never thought of it that way. But, maybe it is just that. There’s a definite feeling of dissolution I occasionally experience out climbing. I have been far off the trail, and perhaps the feeling is more common farther off the trail. But I’ve also experienced it standing in a parking lot, say, next to Niagara Falls. It’s a feeling of deep stillness. A feeling that all is right as rain. All of our recorded history is less than a blink in geological time scale… so there’s certainly plenty of time, at my scale, to pause right here—wherever that is, be it a mountain or desk top.


Community creation as art

We make art with everything we are, the doom and the glory of it. We make art to know ourselves, to locate ourselves in the web of being, to make ourselves more alive. We make art that, at its best, helps other people locate themselves and live.

~ Maria Papova from, https://www.brainpickings.org/2021/05/04/keith-haring-on-art/

I think that art is, among other things, a physical something which exists separately from the artist. Art can be ephemeral—chalk work that disappears, a dance performance—but it exists in reality. (As a counterpoint: Art cannot exist solely in one’s imagination.) We even acknowledge that property of art being something-which-exists within the word artifact. (As in art-i-fact, and facts are concrete things which can be known about reality.)

Artists. Art. Artifacts.

Until just reading Popova’s comment, I hadn’t thought of creating a community as art; But now I am wondering.

I’m certainly a creative person, and creativity is required to create—hey, look at that—a community. Clearly a community isn’t summarily disqualified from being art simply because it is ephemeral, both in the sense of its appearance changing over time, and that it will one day cease to exist. But is it art?

Because a community sure looks like something that fits within what Popova is saying up there.



But among all of nature’s beauties, nothing inspired him more than trees — those eternal muses of scientists, artists, philosophers, and poets alike — and what Margaret Fuller so unforgettably called “that best fact, the Moon.”

~ Maria Popova from, https://www.brainpickings.org/2021/03/22/hasui-kawase-prints/

I hesitated to share this. …because the book she’s writing about is out of print and only rather-expensive copies seem obtainable. But obviously I came down on the side of, “it’s trees, I have to share this.”

I was once in random conversation with a professional arborist. I cannot recall for certain even who or where or what we were discussing. (But I’m certain is wasn’t something as obvious as they were at my house trimming a tree. It had to be some social encounter.) He dropped a phrase which has stuck with me ever since. He mentioned, “caring for The Big Plants.” I feel that, somehow, he said it in capitals, just like that.

I’ve seen a couple of trees in my day; in Muir Woods, off the beaten paths in Japan, the Rockies. There are some singularly towering specimens in my neighborhood. I like to snap random photos of trees too. I don’t have a point coming, either.

Way back in “the day,” Carl Sagan made a comment in one of the original Cosmos episodes about DNA. As I recall, he was standing near a Big Plant, as that arborist would say, and he pointed out that we, and the tree, contain identical machinery for processing identically functioning DNA. There’s just a relatively small amount of encoded information making a “me” instead of a tree.


Thousands of summers

Growing up, the notion of becoming a writer never entered Muir’s imagination. Instead, he dreamt of becoming an inventor; then a physician; then a botanist. He took to “the making of books” only late in life, recounting: “When I first left home to go to school, I thought of fortune as an inventor, but the glimpse I got of the Cosmos at the University, put all the cams and wheels and levers out of my head.”

~ Maria Popova, from https://www.brainpickings.org/2020/10/06/john-of-the-mountains-autumn/

Seems like Winter—meteorological winter starts on December 1st in the northern hemisphere, but the winter solstice is also fast approaching—is a perennial favorite for talking blogging about seasons. I’m leading with that quote because it’s always great to hear about someone’s journey. When you see what they accomplished, it’s not at all obvious where they started, and very rare that you get to hear them talk about how non-obvious it was along the way. But in some cases, eventually we get this:

Although the dying time, it is also the color time, the time when faith in the steadfastness of Nature is surest… The seeds all have next summer in them, some of them thousands of summers.

~ John Muir



Yes please

Test ideas by experiment and observation. Build on those ideas that pass the test. Reject the ones that fail. Follow the evidence wherever it leads. And question everything, including authority. Do these things and the cosmos is yours.

~ Ann Druyan from, https://www.brainpickings.org/2020/05/20/ann-druyan-cosmos-possible-worlds/

Triple bank shot! Brain Pickings/Maria Papova, Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan. Brain Pickings is one of the web sites where I have read every single post. Time well spent in my opinion.

Presented for your consideration without further comment. :)