Hello there 🙂
Welcome to issue sixteen of Manufacturing Serendipity, a loosely connected, somewhat rambling collection of the unexpected and often delightful things I’ve recently encountered.
This newsletter is free to receive, but if you’d like to support me in this in this odd little endeavour you can buy me a coffee 🙂
Speaking of coffee – grab yourself a suitable beverage my loves, let’s do this thing…
Part I: Good Things I’ve Encountered
Dear reader, I love me a list.
I am the sort of person who, in the event that she finds herself having completed a task which wasn’t on her “to do list” will promptly write the task down, just for the pleasure of being able to mark it as done.
I write a lot of lists – work stuff to do, personal stuff to do, books to read (and books I’ve read), TV/Films to watch (and those I’ve watched), lists of good things, lists of story ideas which I might write one day, swipe files of things I’ve seen and that I love. In a sense, I suppose, the various editions of this newsletter are actually an extended network of lists.
I write these sorts of lists because I’m scared of forgetting things. These lists act as life rafts, they help to keep me afloat.
Turns out I’m in great company in terms of lists (and other list-like) things. Rather than keep ideas lists in notebooks, poet Martha Sprackland has an ideas box labelled “Write it, you coward”:
Michelangelo created illustrated grocery lists:
“Because the servant he was sending to market was illiterate,” writes the Oregonian‘s Steve Duin in a review of a Seattle Art Museum show, “Michelangelo illustrated the shopping lists — a herring, tortelli, two fennel soups, four anchovies and ‘a small quarter of a rough wine’ — with rushed (and all the more exquisite for it) caricatures in pen and ink.”
As we can see, the true Renaissance Man didn’t just pursue a variety of interests, but applied his mastery equally to tasks exceptional and mundane. Which, of course, renders the mundane exceptional.
Leonardo da Vinci’s to do list reads more like a list of things he wants to learn (and sounds infinitely more interesting than my current to do list):
Austin Kleon riffs on Leonardo da Vinci’s “things to learn” list here:
These examples reminded of a list making segment within an edition of McKinley Valentine’s newsletter which I received back in May. (Incidentally her newsletter is excellent and you should definitely subscribe). Here she explores list writing as a journaling activity – I’ve copied and pasted the relevant section below:
Unsolicited Advice: Make a List
Make a List by Marilyn McEntyre is a book on how to use lists for journalling / emotional exploration / figuring stuff out, etc. I love this, because if I just do freewriting, I end up ruminating and complaining and spiralling in a not particularly helpful way. Lists limit you as well as getting you to generate thoughts you might not have otherwise got to.
Some of her suggestions for lists to try (the book has hundreds, as well as more broad conceptual themes for what you can get out of writing a list):
- Things I’ve wanted for more than five years
- Concerns about [a particular loved one]
- Things that are no longer useful to me
- Changes I find threatening
- What happens on my best days
- Things I’d like to know about my bioregion
- Words to describe my father
She’s Christian and that comes out in her writing, but it’s very straightforward to adapt to your own beliefs / lack of beliefs, or just ignore those suggestions. Anyway I recommend the book if either you like journalling-type activities, or you don’t but have always wanted to do more of them.
But you don’t really need a book — just next time there’s something that’s worrying you or confusing you and you might normally journal about it, try setting yourself a list. (Or a more fun list, “things to research” for example.)
I love the idea of using lists as journalling prompts; particularly because the act of writing things down helps me to figure out how I really feel about things. In truth, I’m frequently unable to figure out what I’m feeling without spending some time writing it down.
I decided to give the “Things I’ve wanted for more than five years” list a bash.
Dear reader, it was *very* revealing – there was a bunch of stuff on the list which there’s absolutely no reason I can’t have; I’ve actively, (albeit unconsciously), chosen to deny myself things.
I’m both fascinated and troubled by this notion. This list maker is off to make some more lists…
Moar serendipitous finds:
Pang Way’s Marvellous Mantises
Way started taking photos of mantises in 2013, and he has photographed over 100 species.
“I got into wildlife photography out of curiosity, it’s something I have been interested in since I was a child.Mantises are my favourite insects. For me, mantises are the perfect models for macro photography.”
This post was written by my wonderful friend Areej, and it’s definitely worth reading.
“Because there is a deep-rooted belief that asking for money might be perceived as you not being a good person. That if you ask to be paid for your time and energy – you don’t genuinely care about the work you’re doing and you’re only doing it for money.”
The post covers her discomfort over asking for money personally (in terms of negotiating salary increases), and in relation to her experiences with running her community, Women in Tech SEO.
The sharp-eyed among you may have noticed that I have also created a buy me a coffee page; like Areej I’ve been toying with this idea for a while, and it feels good to have finally done it 🙂
Yet more wildlife photography: This PhD student from Kerala wants to show the world that there is more to Indian wildlife than just tigers and elephants
Sandeep Das is currently pursuing his doctoral studies at the Kerala Forest Research Institute. He is also a fellow of Zoological Society of London, and his photos are amazing. I am obsessed with this frog – just look at how smartly turned out he is:
To Find the History of African American Women, Look to Their Handiwork
The study of the history of African American women is particularly challenging because the keepers of records often overlooked us. The historian Jill Lepore has encapsulated the problem in relation to the wide scope of American history, writing that the “archive of the past … is maddeningly uneven, asymmetrical, and unfair.”
So where can historians turn when the archival ground collapses beneath us? To discover the past lives of those for whom the historical record is abysmally thin, I’ve found that we must expand the materials we use as sources of information.
Though early women’s history can be elusive, women need not “conjure a history for ourselves,” the archaeologist Elizabeth Wayland Barber says. “Here among the textiles,” she writes, “we can find some of the hard evidence we need.”
Finally, check out this glorious 2013 talk from Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming…
Part II: Books I’m Reading Right Now
As highlighted in the previous fungi-filled edition of this newsletter, I was extremely excited to read Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake.
Clearly a book about fungi will not be for everyone; but I’d urge anyone who’s even mildly curious to get their hands on a copy. Sheldrake has an exceptional gift for making the complex easy to understand, and this book is beautifully written.
Amongst the many fascinating concepts he explores, one which captured my imagination was that bacteria can trade genes with each other. This horizontal gene trading (as opposed to vertical gene trading – i.e. inherited transfer) was discovered by a biologist called Joshua Lederberg.
Horizontal gene trading means the genes – and the traits they encode – are infectious, and bacteria can trade genes in this way.
To put this in context, Sheldrake notes that if it were possible for humans to engage in horizontal gene transfer it would be akin to us passing someone on the street and acquiring their dimples; swapping our straight hair for their curls; or trading their eye colour for our own. Delightfully, he notes if we were to brush up against a wolfhound we might develop an urge to run very fast for several hours every day.
What an amazing thought, huh?
Recommendation of the fortnight goes to The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel – it is glorious.
I first came across Bechdel, thanks to the Bechdel Test (or, more accurately, the Bechdel-Wallace Test) a measure of the representation of women in film. To pass the test, the film must feature at least two women, who talk to each other about something other than a man.
Bechdel has also written two previous memoirs, Fun Home, and Are you my Mother?
In The Secret to Superhuman Strength, Bechdel’s third memoir, she explores why she has devoted so many hours of her life – “very possibly as many as are actually recommended” – to exercise.
But this is not really a book about exercise. Bechdel is on a physical, mystical, and political journey. As she revisits each decade of her life, she looks back on her tendency to use her exercise regimes as a balm for whatever’s truly ailing her.
As with her previous memoirs, Bechdel has spirit-allies on this journey: Adrienne Rich, the Lake Poets: Coleridge and Wordsworth, and Margaret Fuller. We also get to see Bechdel wrangling with the words of Jack Kerouac. On the Road quite rightly gets thrown across the room and dismissed as: “Macho bullshit.” The Dharma Bums, his account of hiking the High Sierras with Gary Snyder, despite the: “Self-absorbed misogynist prick!” thought-bubbles, is more carefully studied.
This book is a delight, and I highly recommend it.
Part III: Things I’ve Been Watching
My friend Areej recommended that I watch We are Lady Parts, (Channel 4). It’s a sitcom that follows a group of Muslim women who form a riot grrrlband (incidentally, their songs are excellent)and the chaos that ensues in their quest to secure their first gig.
Written, directed and produced by Nida Manzoor, this is a show unlike any other on British TV: a comedy where Muslim women are depicted in all their complex, multi-dimensional glory. These women are funny, caring, loving, sexual, angry, conflicted, and more. As Manzoor said:
“There’s no one cookie-cutter way of being a Muslim woman. There’s such a variety of ways of being.”
It is brilliant, and you should go and watch it immediately.
Part IV: Things I’m Doing
Creating a litter of origami critters
In the last edition of this newsletter I mentioned that I’d bought myself a children’s origami book and have been attempting to make creatures from paper.
Dear reader, I have been continuing with this new pursuit, and my flat is quickly becoming filled with my attempts at origami. I’m not sure whether or not there’s actually a collective noun for a group of origami creatures, so I’ve created my own: behold, my loves, a litter of origami critters:
I’ve capacity to take on one or two new One-on-One Coaching clients
I’ve really been enjoying working with people on a one-on-one basis, and have some capacity over the coming months.
If you’ve been tasked with developing content-led PR initiatives and/or growing a team, and are feeling a little lost and don’t know where to begin, then 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.
There’s still time to book your spot on my BrightonSEO Training Course: Advanced Content Creation for Digital PR
I’m doing an in-person thing! On July 7th I’ll be running a training course in Brighton, and it’s going to be great.
You can find more details on the course, and book your spot here.
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