Hello there! Welcome to issue two of Manufacturing Serendipity, a loosely connected, somewhat rambling collection of the unexpected and often delightful things I’ve recently encountered, or rediscovered. Grab yourself a suitable beverage and enjoy…

Part I: Good Things I’ve Encountered Online

“You’ve a lifetime to make your first album, but only a year or two to make your second”

This is often touted as the excuse for that difficult second album, a topic we explored back in 2015 for Concert Hotels. Back then, the data seemed to support the notion that for the most part, if your first album is well-received then your second album probably won’t be.

This piece is one of my personal favourites in terms of the things we made at Distilled. Whilst it gained some great coverage, sadly it didn’t perform quite as well as some of the other pieces we made at the time. I suspect it was probably down to the album becoming an increasingly outmoded format, although like Ann Powers, I’m hopeful that the album is in metamorphosis, as opposed to being dead.

But, why am I sharing this?

Did it just pop in my head because I’m currently compiling the second issue of this newsletter? (Maybe, but that’s a pretty ugly thought which I’m not keen to dwell on.)

Here’s the thing – I think that difficult second album syndrome is not something that’s unique to music artists, it’s something that worries most (if not all) people in creative industries.

Christoph Niemann dubs this “creative self-pity” and cites the following fears:

  • I’m not good enough
  • My work is irrelevant and soon I’ll be broke
  • I’m out of ideas

You’d have thought perhaps, that a little success, or a little recognition might quiet those demons, but sometimes the opposite is true: those demons get more vocal.

As Niemann notes:

“…you think that if you do something that’s okay, that kind of raises your confidence.

But I actually think it’s a burden, because people will, of course, always judge you by your best work.

And then you look at it and feel like, well, now I have to repeat this.”

Does any of that sound familiar? It occurs to me that these fears are universal. Checkout some of Niemann’s work, and his 2015 talk for 99u on creative self pity here.

All of this leads me to think that we need to insulate ourselves not just from our failures, but from our successes too.

For fun check out Kleon’s notes on Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos, and the concept of “reentry”:

[W]hat is not generally recognized is that the successful launch of self into orbit of transcendence is necessarily attended by problems of reentry. What goes up must come down…

What did Faulkner do after writing the last sentence of Light in August? Get drunk for a week.

What did Dostoevsky do after finishing The Idiot? Spend three days and nights at the roulette table.

Then checkout his infinitely more sensible advice (it’s aimed at artists, but great advice for everyone):

…There’s no tomorrow, there’s no chance of success, there’s no chance of failure, there’s just the day, and what you can do with it.

That post later morphed into the first chapter of his book Keep Going.

Moar serendipitous finds:

Artist Jeremy Mayer merges the organic and manufactured with his sculptures comprised of old typewriter parts.

Nina Katchadourian is an American artist whose choice of materials and medium is often the byproduct of chance or self-imposed rules. Check out Sorted Books – an ongoing project in which she rearranges the contents of private and public bookshelves so the books’ spines create a story or statement. Also see Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style a series of selfies taken in airplane bathrooms.

Read poet, essayist, feminist, and civil rights champion Audre Lorde on Turning Fear Into Fire:

“I want to live the rest of my life, however long or short, with as much sweetness as I can decently manage, loving all the people I love, and doing as much as I can of the work I still have to do. I am going to write fire until it comes out my ears, my eyes, my noseholes — everywhere. Until it’s every breath I breathe. I’m going to go out like a fucking meteor!”

Rachel Mans McKenny on motherhood and metamorphosis:

“I do not wish to have not been a parent. But I think it is normal to imagine new existences when the world is crumbling.”

In other news, Baby Shark has been streamed continuously for 30,187 years.

Part II: Books I’m Reading Right Now

Having finished Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy, I devoured Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession. In stark contrast to Mantel’s weighty historic tomes, Hession’s novel is present-day look at the low-key lives of two unremarkable men. As a reader you feel safe in this authors hands, and Hession’s writing is as comforting as tea and biscuits on a rainy day.

As much as I enjoyed Leonard and Hungry Paul, book recommendation of the fortnight goes to Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler. (Incidentally, I discovered Butler’s writing thanks to a link I shared in the last issue of this newsletter – I feel like that’s manufactured serendipity right there.)

Parable of the Sower is a near future dystopia told via the journal entries of its protagonist, a fifteen-year-old girl named Lauren.

“People have changed the climate of the world,” she observes. “Now they’re waiting for the old days to come back.” Rather than waiting or hoping, she equips herself to survive in that future, developing a belief system of her own, a religion she calls Earthseed. 

“All that you touch,

You Change.

All that you Change,

Changes you.”

It’s a book I’ll be buying for everyone I love.

If non-fiction’s more your bag, I’d strongly recommend picking up a copy of Keep Going by Austin Kleon. Last week I found myself in a bit of a slump, so I picked up my copy and started re-reading it. I do this often, and always find something in there that helps.

Part III: Things I’ve Been Watching

Re-reading Keep Going, led me to rewatch Groundhog Day, and it’s as great as I remembered.

Sometimes Netflix’s creepy algorithmic recommendations suck, other times, they’re on point. Thanks to the algo, I watched The Big Short, a dramatisation of how the financial crisis of 2007–2008 was triggered by the United States housing bubble. It’s ace, and I don’t know why I haven’t watched this film before. It reminded me a lot of Lucy Prebble’s play, Enron; in that it does an excellent job of explaining complex financial instruments, and leaves you with the extremely unsettling feeling that we still haven’t learned our lessons.

Another algo recommendation was Okja. Korean director Bong Joon Ho’s film is tricky to categorise – it’s simultaneously a fable, an animal-buddy movie, satire, and contains some pretty horrific scenes… Also, the ending’s not quite happy. Nevertheless it’s a film I’d encourage you to watch.

I’ve also binged The Queen’s Gambit, (which made me want to take up chess) and the Crown; which, now we’re entering into an era of history I remember (albeit vaguely – I was a young child) is strangely nostalgic.

My favourite watch of the past two weeks has been The End of the F***ing World, (Netflix), a darkly comic romance between a would-be psychopath, James, and equally troubled teen Alyssa. It’s surprisingly poignant, beautifully shot, and has an absolutely killer soundtrack.

Writing this, it occurs to me that I’m watching too much TV…

Part IV: Things I’m doing

As I mentioned in the previous issue of this newsletter, this section is here to keep me honest. I’m hoping that by documenting some of the things I’m planning to do, it’ll give me the extra motivation required to actually do them. 

Last time I said “I think I need to go back to spending more time playing,” and made promises about doing blackout poetry, collage and more. So, erm yeah. I did a bit of blackout poetry, but it kind of sucked and I hated it (more on this later).

Dear reader, here’s what I did do:

Spine-Tingers: Making Book Shelf Stories

As I mentioned in the “Books I’m Reading Right Now” section, last week I found myself in a bit of a slump, and so I decided to re-read Keep Going by Austin Kleon. My interest was sparked by Kleon’s notes on Nina Katchadourian and so, I decided to go and find out more about her and her work.

She is an absolute powerhouse, (and I’ve linked to some of her projects in this newsletter). We’re in lockdown in the UK right now, but the constraints she puts on her work make her an ideal artist for our times. Whilst browsing her portfolio I came across her sorted books project: , and decided to see what I could make using the contents on my own bookshelves. Here’s an example:  

The Sisters Brothers karate chop the Invisible Man, the Bad Seed dispatches Beowulf… The lobsters run free

See more examples from me, right here.

Researching Katchdourian’s work, and having a go myself, rescued last Thursday. It turned a bad day into a good one, and completely lifted my mood.

Oh f*ck here we go again and it’s winter now WTF emergency webinar

I signed up for Kirsty Hulse’s emergency webinar last Friday and it was an absolute delight. Much of the webinar was concerned with the importance of play – how it allows us to explore the impossible, refreshes us, rejuvenates us, and increases productivity.

Kirsty also shared a helpful reminder of what play actually is:

“If the purpose is more important than the act, then it’s not play.”

It occurs to me that when I was trying out blackout poetry, I was not really playing – I was trying to make something good. I found that really difficult and it sapped my energy. When I was making book shelf stories I was definitely playing – I wasn’t trying to make anything good, I was just having fun.

(Only somewhat related, but too good not to share), Wolf Brüning is my spirit animal:

A thing I’ve noticed…

Whilst attempting to tidy up my website, I noticed that two of the quotes I’ve published are about the duality of things:

“The spider’s web is a home and a trap.”

~There There, Tommy Orange


“To be a monster is to be a hybrid signal, a lighthouse: both shelter and warning at once.”

~On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong

Can anyone think of more examples like this? Hit me up 🙂

So what’s next?

Definitely more play. I’ve set aside half an hour every day for the next two weeks, to play. Yes, dear reader, I’m now scheduling fun. Not sure if this will work or not, but I’ll let you know how it goes.

I’m also going to submit a proposal for playwriting competition at Chickenshed, a theatre in North London.

Finally, I’ve been sent over some excellent recommendations for online things, books, and podcasts (THANK YOU!) I’m keen to check those out, and will do so.

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