Hello there 🙂
Welcome to issue fourteen of Manufacturing Serendipity.
I’m delighted to report that my back is feeling much better, and as such in this edition you can once more expect to find the usual loosely connected, somewhat rambling collection of the unexpected and often delightful things I’ve recently encountered.
Grab yourself a suitable beverage my loves, let’s do this thing…
Part I: Additional Thoughts on Fun & Some Good Things I’ve Encountered Online
First up, a massive, shouty caps lock THANK YOU to all of you who took the time to write to me to let me know your own thoughts on fun.
It appears I’m not alone in terms of struggling with “fun” – a bunch of you shared your own stories (which for obvious reasons I won’t share here, that would be a total dick move) but I thought I’d share a few comments anonymously:
First up, one lovely human shared a personal story, and then very eloquently expressed how our COVID year has provided respite from some of the sorts of fun that not all of us actually find fun:
“COVID helps, no more eyes looking at me, judging my impersonation of a-person-having-fun.”
Yes, yes, yes! I think perhaps this is why I’ve been thinking about fun so much.
Another lovely human wrote to let me know that she’d used the exercise to figure out what type of fun she liked the most. For her, “Type I Fun” (you expected to have fun, had fun at the time, and have fun remembering the experience) is really the only type of fun she’s interested in having.
Reading this made me realise that something I didn’t cover off within the last edition’s ramblings on fun was the relative benefits of each type of fun or experience. Towards the end of the essay (was it an essay? I don’t know what to call it!) I said this:
…In the course of doing this exercise, I realised something: I’m not sure that fun and good are necessarily synonymous for me.
For me, fun is lightweight, and doesn’t take itself too seriously, whereas good is a little weightier somehow.
It’s possible that when I consider whether or not an experience was “good” what I’m really considering was how worthwhile or valuable it was. When I consider whether or not an experience was “fun”, I’m looking at it slightly differently.
An experience could be fun, but not good; and an experience could be good, but not fun. Some experiences could be both fun and good, but I think they’re maybe rarer, or more unusual.
Maybe I’m more interested in “good” than “fun”?
Reading this back I feel like I’m in some ways dismissing the importance of fun. I’m labelling “fun” as lightweight, and “good’ as worthwhile or valuable. But “fun” is actually really important in its own right.
I’m worried that it may sound like I don’t have a lot of time for “Type I Fun”, but that’s not actually a true reflection of how I feel about it.
“Type I Fun” is pure and wonderful, and we could all use a little more of it in our lives.
I also think there’s a lot to be said for being fiercely protective of it – so many of the experiences we have in our lives are not Type I (I’m thinking about the stuff we don’t have much control over – e.g. work and work-related experiences, some family-stuff, some other relationships etc) and so it makes sense, I think, to make sure we’re getting enough Type I stuff in our lives.
I think Type I experiences rejuvenate and recharge us, they put us in a happier frame of mind, and we really need that in order to be able to cope with the hard stuff that’s thrown at us.
Finally, yet another wonderful human sent me this comment:
“The best type of Good Fun is definitely taking & reading a book at a party full of strangers.”
I appreciate the capitalisation of both “good” and “fun” here; and I really hope the person who sent this has actually done this. I fully endorse this action 🙂
The Importance of Language: Languishing versus Dormant
Some of you have likely read: There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing (an article by Adam Grant for the NYTimes).
For those of you who haven’t, here’s a quick quote which does a reasonable job of surmising the piece:
“In psychology, we think about mental health on a spectrum from depression to flourishing.
Flourishing is the peak of well-being: You have a strong sense of meaning, mastery and mattering to others. Depression is the valley of ill-being: You feel despondent, drained and worthless.
Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work. It appears to be more common than major depression — and in some ways it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness.”
Whilst I found Grant’s piece really helpful in terms of understanding some of how I’m feeling right now, and I’m not in any way questioning the psychological frameworks which underlie it, something about it didn’t sit quite right with me.
Am I languishing right now? I’m not sure I like that word.
Happily, Austin Kleon has offered up an alternative – I’m not languishing, I’m dormant.
Here’s an excerpt from Kleon’s post:
“Psychologists,” says Grant, “find that one of the best strategies for managing emotions is to name them.” But one has to remember that naming doesn’t just describe the world, it creates the world, too. As Brian Eno says, “Giving something a name can be just the same as inventing it.”
We tend to see what we’re looking for, so if you hear the name for something, you start seeing it everywhere, and your eyes get trained to see that particular thing, while you miss everything else. (That’s why Paul Valery said that real seeing “is forgetting the name of the thing one sees.”)
There’s also a danger that when you hear a term that sort of describes what you’re feeling, or seems right, you’ll be satisfied, and say, “Good, enough,” accept the term, and move on.
I disliked the term “languishing” the minute I heard it.
I’m not languishing, I’m dormant.
Like a plant. Or a volcano.
I am waiting to be activated.”
I feel that it’s important to note that Kleon’s not seeking to force labels or adjectives on anyone else – instead he’s trying to explain how he’s feeling:
“You may, indeed, be languishing, and I won’t try to take that word away from you. (I also don’t disagree with Adam Grant’s two suggestions for dealing with the feeling: “give yourself some uninterrupted time” and “focus on a small goal.”)
Me, I’m dormant.
I may even look dead, but like Corita Kent once described one of her own dormant periods, “new things are happening very quietly inside of me.”
Waiting to burst forth.”
Kleon’s thoughts on this resonated strongly with me:
Language is powerful – the words we use don’t just describe things, they actually shape how we see and feel about them.
In his post he contrasts the dictionary definitions of the two words:
i) To become weak or feeble, lose strength or vigour.
ii) To exist or continue in miserable or disheartening conditions.
i) Lying asleep, or as if asleep, inactive.
ii) Latent, but capable of being activated.
It occurs to me that there might be a danger in telling myself I’m languishing.
Whilst it might be an accurate descriptor of how I’m feeling, I think it’s a word which robs me of agency – it makes me feel like I’m stuck where I am, and there aren’t any viable options open to me – the only thing I can do is to try to continue to exist.
Telling myself I’m dormant is different. To me, it evokes hope and possibility.
I retain agency in dormancy, because I am capable of being activated once more.
Moar serendipitous finds:
Dear reader I have discovered a new favourite writer. Her name is Ava and she writes a wonderful newsletter. In this edition she explores how some of the people she’s met, and decisions she’s made have brought her closer to her real self, or uncovered a self within a self:
“I often talk to friends about how early adulthood (age 18-24) is an important time because you’re in many ways sloughing off the self that your parents imposed onto you.
Most people either conform to their parents’ values or rebel directly against them—the only way you can break out of this reactive cycle is by becoming self-aware enough to find the part of you that has always been there, the nature buried but not dismantled by the nurture.
The self is not inherited but actively created. Sometimes it needs to be rediscovered. For me, the process of becoming an adult involved returning to the kid I was.”
Rahel Aima provides a fascinating history of the colour palettes of the future, as they were imagined at different times in the past:
“But whereas older futurist imaginaries tended to be more varicolored, over time, there’s a move towards simpler colorways. Purple and white and pink and orange all give way to blue.”
I would love to see a more visual version of this essay so a reader could easily compare and contrast these colour palettes (I have no idea about how, or indeed if this might be possible, but I think it would be amazing).
In an excerpt from her book Turning Pointe, Chloe Angyal highlights how ideas about whiteness and femininity have kept ballet so white for so long.
Brazilian artist Alvaro Naddeo’s watercolors imagine a dystopian world left in ruin by overconsumption and littered with the branding and logos of the past. Store walls, rusted out vehicles, and arcade machines gain new value as building materials and are combined with other objects and parts to form stacked structures.
Behind each one of his paintings is an imagined character:
“I believe they are strong people, resilient, and survivalists. They use creativity to overcome obstacles and adapt to any situation they are put in.So in a way, both of them, characters and discarded objects, are proof that there’s value in everything if you know where to look for it.”
Part II: Books I’m Reading Right Now
It’s a bumper book section, because I’ve four weeks of reading to cover rather than the usual two. Hold on to your hats, friends!
First up, The Color of Water, by James McBride. This book was a recommended to me by Isaline (thanks for suggesting this to me lovely!).
McBride, a professional saxophonist and former staff writer for the Boston Globe and the Washington Post, grew up with 11 siblings in a Brooklyn housing project. As a child, he became aware that his mother, Ruth McBride Jordan, was different from others around him: She was white, and she kept secrets. When asked where she was from, she would say something like “God made me”, and when asked about her ethnicity, she would say, “I’m light-skinned” and change the subject.
Ruth raised her children to be colourblind – she didn’t talk about her own heritage, and encouraged them not to identify with any race or colour. She believed God is the colour of water, and as such, it was best for her children to identify as simply human, since God has no colour.
Within this memoir, McBride uncovers his mother Ruth’s past, as he seeks to better understand his own identity. It’s an incredible read.
Next up, a short story collection, First Person Singular, by Haruki Murakami.
Dear reader, I really wanted to like this, but I’m sorry to say that I didn’t. Murakami has quite the fan base (and I’ve enjoyed previous books of his), but I found this collection pretty banal, and none of the stories have stayed with me.
Skip Murakami’s latest collection, and get your mitts on a copy of Eat the Mouth that Feeds You, by Carribean Fragoza instead.
In this debut collection you’ll find: a baby that eats the flesh of her mother, a girl who steps out of her own corpse on a concrete patio during a family gathering, and a centuries-old virgin saint who befriends a small girl struck by lightning.
The collection asks questions about faith, the violence enacted on women and girls at the hands of men, and about inheritance, roots and belonging. These are not nice little stories. These are angry, dark tales, both lyrical and layered.
In her novel, This One Sky Day, Leone Ross transports us to the fictional archipelago of Popisho, a place where its inhabitants each possesses a special power, or “cors”.
Some can heal, some can walk through walls, some have the ability to detect lies. Popisho itself is strange too. Here, clouds rain down torrents of physalises, houses can morph to accommodate their inhabitants’ whims, and trees bear lines of poetry along with fruit.
It’s a love story. It’s satirical. It’s political. Even if magical realism isn’t your thing I’d highly recommend it.
Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian is another novel which employs a touch of magical realism, but is set very much in our world, rather than another.
At the beginning of the novel we find ourselves in 2005, and Kanye’s “Gold Digger” is playing on repeat. We meet Neil Narayan, our narrator, an Indian American living in Atlanta. Of himself, Neil says:
“I consisted of little but my parents’ ambitions for who I was to become.”
… There was no room to imagine multiple sorts of futures, we’d put all our brainpower toward conjuring up a single one: Harvard.”
In this pressure-cooker of a community, Neil discovers his classmate Anita’s mother is practising ancient alchemy to ensure Anita’s success. She’s stealing gold from their friends, then smelting and mixing it with sugar and lemons to create “lemonade”. When consumed, this concoction instills the kind of maniacal focus that is required to truly “make it”.
At its heart it’s a story about familial expectations, addiction, love, and what it means to be both Indian and American. It’s brilliant.
My recommendation for this edition of the newsletter is Disturbing the Body, edited by Nici West. This book is a collection of body-themed speculative autobiographies from a range of women writers which explore the moments when the body goes wrong, misbehaves, is disrupted, or otherwise disturbed.
Within this collection you’ll find: the hallucinations of a woman after her heart surgery, COVID-19 fears and fever dreams which bleed into reality, and a lifetime of trauma reimagined as an art installation. It’s an incredible collection.
Part III: Things I’ve Been Watching
I, like many others, watched Line of Duty (BBC). I’d not watched any of it previously, so I binged all six seasons. In fairness, the first five seasons were pretty good – not great, but pretty good.
The sixth season? Well, unless you’ve been buried under a rock, you’ll already know that the season finale didn’t so much climax, as disappoint. Ugh.
On a happier note, along with a couple of my friends I have set up an X Files club. (Yes, I’m breaking the first and second rule of X Files club by talking about it.) Each fortnight we’re watching a couple of episodes from the handpicked list here and then discussing them over Zoom.
I’ve also been re-watching Mad Men (Amazon Prime), and something has occurred to me. I know Mad Men concerns advertising which is of course different from the creative work I typically undertake, and of course it’s fiction, not reality, but it’s interesting to me that these creatives spend days or weeks crafting and honing what often amounts to little more than 5-10 words of copy.
How long do we spend crafting the content we create? Probably a similar timeline.
But what about the email subject lines on our pitches? Do we pay as much attention to them as we perhaps should?
I suspect journalists determine which email pitches to open, and which to ignore based largely on email subject lines. If a journalist doesn’t open your email pitch you’ve zero chance of getting coverage.
In this industry we talk a lot about ideation, research, visual execution, and so on, and yet our success or failure still likely largely comes down to copy.
This came up towards the end of the podcast I recorded with Mark (coming soon!) and it’s really stuck with me.
What should I watch next friends? Send me your TV recommendations please 🙂
Part IV: Things I’m Doing
Various people have been in touch to ask me if I’d be open to offering one-on-one coaching, and it occurred to me that I really ought to whack a page on my site and let people know that this is indeed something I can and do offer.
Have you been tasked with developing content-led PR initiatives and growing a team?
Feeling a little lost and don’t know where to begin?
It’s possible that I can help. You can find more details here, or drop me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) to talk more about things like my fees, and what this might look like for you.
I’m doing an in-person thing! On July 7th I’ll be running a training course in Brighton, we’ll be following all the appropriate guidelines to ensure everyone is safe, and it is all very exciting indeed.
Here’s a primer to help you figure out if this course might be right for you:
You’ve been tasked with gaining linked coverage on top tier sites like the BBC, the Guardian, USA Today & more; but how on earth do you do that?
Perhaps you’ve seen the success of others, and are wondering why your campaigns languishing, unlinked to and unloved. Or maybe you’ve seen some success but it all seems to be a bit hit and miss, and now you’re now under pressure to deliver results more consistently.
If you’re struggling to figure out what to do next, this is the course for you.
In this course you’ll learn:
- What makes a good story from a journalists’ perspective
- How to identify compelling topics and gain a deeper understanding of the media landscape
- How to come up with ideas
- How to figure out whether or not an idea is likely to generate coverage
- Whether or not it’s a good idea to remake that campaign that got a bunch of coverage a few years ago
- When and how to go about “saving” a struggling campaign, and when it might be best to just move on& much, much more 🙂
Attendees will leave the course:
- With a renewed confidence in their own skills
- In a happier and more productive mindset
- Feeling rejuvenated and excited about their work
You can find more details on the course, and book your spot here.
There’s still time to book your spot for June 3rd! I’m giving a talk and Q&A on my first love: fiction.
Where do stories come from? And why do we write them at all?
In this session, I’ll be sharing some of my own fiction writing, and the story of how that particular story came to be. I’ll also share why I write, what inspires me, plus some things I’ve learned about writing along the way.
If this sounds like your bag you can sign up here.
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