Hello there 🙂
Welcome to issue five of Manufacturing Serendipity, a loosely connected, somewhat rambling collection of the unexpected and often delightful things I’ve recently encountered.
Grab yourself a suitable beverage and enjoy…
Part I: Good Things I’ve Encountered Online
As someone who frequently falls down rabbit holes, (by rabbit holes, I mean bizarre quests to find something out, that frequently lead somewhere other than where I expected to be headed), I was delighted to come across journalist Alex Godfrey’s story of the origins of the painting Martin Scorsese’s mother shows off in Goodfellas:
The painting used in the film was actually by Goodfellas co-writer Nicholas Pileggi’s mother. It’s a painting of this photo from the November 1978 issue of National Geographic:
The man in this photo was called John Weaving. John had retired from a career in banking to become a river nomad, and lived on a 60ft houseboat on the Shannon. John was a navigational consultant and handyman on the river, and something of an eco-crusader, campaigning against the low bridges being built, pushing for proper clearances for family-sized barges. His dogs were called Brocky, and Twiggy.
In his tumblr entry from 2013, Godfrey speaks to various people who knew John Weaving. It’s an absolute delight.
Sadly, John died three years before the release of the film, and so didn’t live to see himself immortalised in a scene where Joe Pesci describes his “nice head of white hair” and Robert De Niro compares him to a dead gangster in their car boot. However, photographer Adam Woolfitt (who shot the original photo featured in National Geographic) said that he thought John would have been entertained by his cinematic incarnation.
But the story doesn’t end there.
A month ago, Godfrey interviewed Martin Scorsese, and at the end of the interview mentioned his 2013 tumblr post about John Weaving. Scorsese read Godfrey’s post, and then wrote him a letter.
We can never know where those rabbit holes we tumble down might lead us, but sometimes, they result in letters from Scorsese, so maybe we should all fall down some more. I’m not a massive fan of New Year’s resolutions, but falling down more rabbits holes feels like something I could actually stick to.
Moar serendipitous finds:
Portraits of Indigenous People Drawn on Repurposed Ledgers. Chicago-based artist Chris Pappan, a citizen of the Kaw (Kanza) Nation and of Osage, Lakota, and mixed European heritage), draws on the tradition of ledger art, a practice that flourished among Native populations throughout the Great Plains from around 1850 to 1920.
Of White Bread and Miracles, (shown below, far right) evokes the illustrations in the manual Here Is Your Hobby: Indian Dancing and Costumes, Pappan says:
“The book is an example of cognitive dissonance as it erases any vestiges of contemporary Native people and homogenizes all Native American cultures while making casual remarks such as: get a local Indian to teach you singing and dancing if you can”
I Thought About That a Lot is a collection of 24 essays by 24 authors. Each author describes one thing they have thought about a lot in 2020. I originally came across this collection via the essay about Foxes:
“The foxes showed me a London that was old and deep enough to live in and be kind about. They negotiated an uneasy peace between me and the East End, and indeed between me and other squalid, wretched, broken human places. It was a great gift.”
I’ve since been slowly reading the rest. Just wonderful.
Check out this glorious twitter thread from the guy who trolled the Metro’s Rush Hour Crush, and Good Deed Feed for years. My favourite is below. I’m sorely tempted to change my twitter bio to: “Bearded man who used discarded burger cartons as castanets” but fear it may negatively impact my ability to earn money this year.
If you like choose-your-own-adventure AND escape rooms, then this for you. Thanks so much for sending me this Gisele 🙂
Sweet dreams, *snip snip*:
I come to the awful realisation that I have an Alexa “voice” and am troubled by my own behaviour.
Part II: Books I’m Reading Right Now
I really enjoyed Charlie Kaufman’s debut novel, Antkind. It’s very, very, very long, delightfully odd, and almost certainly not for everyone.
The novel’s protagonist, B Rosenberger Rosenberg, is a film critic in his late 50s. He’s an odious little man, who thinks of himself as progressive, (largely thanks to his obsessive use of the nonbinary pronoun “thon”), but in actuality he’s offensive in the extreme.
B travels to Florida for work. There he meets, and eventually befriends, Ingo Cutbirth. Cutbirth turns out to be a filmmaker who’s spent his entire life filming an epic (and I mean epic – the film is 3 months long) stop-motion puppet animation in his apartment. He persuades B to watch it, but not before securing a promise that once B has watched the film, he will destroy it, so it can never be seen by anyone else.
Cutbirth subsequently dies. B, meanwhile decides that of course he’s not going to destroy the film, instead he will take it back to New York, and make the film (and, by extension, himself) wildly famous.
See? I told you he was an odious little man.
However, things don’t go to plan for B. The truck he’s hired to transport the film back to New York catches fire, and the film is lost. We then follow B on his quest to try to recall the film he’s seen.
The book is packed with references to movie celebrities and writers (both real and imagined), including a despised “Charlie Kaufman”; it sees President Trump fall in love with his own robot; plus there are various timelines and alternate realities in play. Oh yeah, and there’s a giant ant.
If this sounds like your bag, you should definitely read it. If not, I get it; like I said it’s definitely not a book that will appeal to everyone.
Book recommendation of the fortnight goes to Tales of Two Planets, a collection of short stories, poems, and essays concerning the climate crisis. The collection was edited by John Freeman and includes work from 36 writers from across the world including Margaret Atwood, Edwidge Danticat, Mohammed Hanif, and many more.
My favourite story of the collection comes from Daisy Johnson. Her story, “Everything” is a tale of a young woman who has the power to get anything she wants. However, there is of course a cost. But it’s not her who pays the price, other people bear the burden.
Part III: Things I’ve Been Watching
First up, let’s talk about His Dark Materials on BBC. Overall I feel like it’s pretty solid as adaptations go, although I found daemons being absent from some shots really distracting. Other than that it’s a great looking production.
Acting-wise it’s a bit of a mixed bag: both Dafne Keen (Lyra), and Amir Wilson (Will) are ace, but Andrew Scott (John Parry), and James McEvoy (Lord Asriel) are woeful. Happily neither Scott nor McEvoy get much screen time.
Possibly the most delightful thing I’ve watched is Penguins: Meet the Family on the BBC. In truth, this isn’t the greatest penguin documentary out there. It’s basically just a televisual listicle of the world’s 18 varieties of penguin. However, penguins are adorable, and funny, and I love them, so watching this made me feel really happy. Incidentally, I’m apparently not the only one who finds penguins restorative:
TV recommendation of the fortnight goes to Undone (Amazon Prime). This was actually released in 2019, but just recently popped up on my recommendations. From BoJack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg, this grown-up animated series is about a woman who starts to see visions of her dead father after suffering a serious car accident. It’s about love, grief, and our perceptions of reality. It’s wonderful.
Part IV: Things I’m doing
As mentioned previously, 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. Here’s what I’ve been up to:
2020: 100 Good Things
As we approach the end of the year, I often find myself feeling a little down, and to combat that, I said I would write a post about the good things that happened in 2020. 2020 definitely wasn’t an easy year, but there were wonderful moments and it occurred to me that I was in danger of forgetting the good stuff, and, in my mind at least, writing 2020 off as a bad year.
If you feel like you’re in a similar position, I’d highly recommend writing something like this, regardless of whether or not you decide to make it public.
If you’re curious, you can read my post here.
The “Come the F*ck On Then” Webinar
Kirsty Hulse’s aptly titled webinar on 5th January was an absolute delight. She is the ray of sunshine that I definitely needed.
Kirsty kicked things off with an exercise that illustrated the difference between “push” motivations (i.e. things you want to stop doing) and “pull” motivations (i.e. things you want to start doing).
We were given a couple of minutes to write down a list of things that we wanted to stop, change, or do less of this year. Dear reader, I did not enjoy this couple of minutes at all.
We were then given a couple of minutes to write down a list of things we wanted to do more of, or start doing this year. This was a much happier couple of minutes. It amazed me how much more positive I felt when writing the second list.
Of course everyone’s different, and some people may find that “push” motivations work well for them, but I feel like I respond much better to “pull” motivations.
If you’re thinking about setting goals for 2021 it’s an exercise I’d strongly recommend.
Kirsty also made a further point about setting goals which really resonated with me. She said we should all “allow ourselves some inconsistency”.
I think that the example she used was a goal like: “get up early and do yoga every day”. Sure, it’s great if you can do that, but the *every day* bit might not actually work that well for you. If you miss a day or two, that’s totally fine. You haven’t failed just because you didn’t do yoga every day. You’re still likely doing more yoga than you were.
I think this is really about trying to be a little kinder and more compassionate to ourselves. 2020 was tough. 2021 is going to be tough too. Don’t be beating yourself up on top of everything else.
So what’s next?
I’m currently at my Dad’s helping out while he recovers from his knee-replacement surgery. I have a stack of books to read (yay!), plus Dad gave me a gigantic box of lego to play with for Christmas which I’m chuffed to bits about.
I’m also excited to do some more work on The Sleep Stealers (the piece I submitted to a playwriting competition at Chickenshed, a theatre in North London). I have a call with the Artistic Director this week. He’s promised to provide thoughts, feedback, and guidance, and I’m really looking forward to getting started.
If you enjoyed this newsletter, you can receive direct to your inbox. Sign up here.