Hello there 🙂
Welcome to issue seventeen of Manufacturing Serendipity, a loosely connected, somewhat rambling collection of the unexpected and often delightful things I’ve recently encountered.
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Speaking of coffee – grab yourself a suitable beverage my loves, let’s do this thing…
Part I: Good Things I’ve Encountered
Way back in February 2020 I remember this thinger doing the rounds on twitter:
I can’t remember how, or indeed if I responded at the time. If I’m honest, I didn’t really get it. But the reason that I didn’t really get it only became clear to me this week.
The truth, dear reader, is that I’m a 5.
If you ask me to close my eyes and imagine an apple I can *see* nothing.
No picture appears in my mind’s eye.
I can imagine an apple. I could describe the apple I’m imagining in great detail to you. I could conjure a whole story around that damned apple if you wanted.
BUT I CAN’T ACTUALLY SEE IT.
I CAN’T SEE IT BECAUSE YOU TOLD ME TO CLOSE MY EYES AND WHEN MY ARE CLOSED ALL I CAN SEE IS DARKNESS AND NOTHING ELSE*.
*Sometimes it isn’t all completely dark – if there is a bright light shining on my closed eyelids, then, rather than darkness, I see reddy-orangeyness which I think is cool and I really enjoy it.
I have always thought that when people talked about visualising things, or creating mental images, they were talking metaphorically – i.e. they were imagining things, not actually seeing them.
But it turns out that’s not the case.
This week I discovered that when most people are asked to close their eyes and imagine an apple – they can see the apple.
I made this discovery thanks to this NY Times article: Many People Have a Vivid ‘Mind’s Eye,’ While Others Have None at All.
People who can’t conjure mental images have a condition called aphantasia. According to British neurologist Dr. Adam Zeman (who alongside his colleagues has been studying aphantasia for the past 16 years) says:
“This is not a disorder as far as I can see, it’s an intriguing variation in human experience.”
Interestingly, there are also people at the opposite end of the spectrum who have an incredibly strong ability to conjure images; a condition called hyperphantasia.
Based on their surveys, Dr. Zeman and his colleagues estimate that 2.6 percent of people have hyperphantasia and that 0.7 percent have aphantasia.
It feels strange to think that my experience is apparently different to that of so many others.
It’s of course entirely possible that I’m just in denial about this, but I can’t help but wonder if aphantasia isn’t more common than the 0.7% quoted above.
Is it not possible that there are in fact an awful lot more people like me out there than that? People who, like me, assumed everyone was just talking metaphorically the whole time? People like me who have no problem whatsoever imagining things, but who just don’t see them?
When you close your eyes and imagine an apple can you actually see it? Or, like me, is darkness all you see?
Drop me an email to let me know, or leave a comment.
Moar serendipitous finds:
Wanna find out more about this? Read this delightful National Geographic article.
Growing up in the eighties, Anna Rawhiti-Connell assumed that in the future, women in far greater numbers would elect not to change their names when they married:
“[It] seemed to me an obvious choice; a simple thing you could do to make a big statement about women’s equality. It wasn’t what everyone was doing — most of the women I knew when I was young had taken their husband’s name — but I did assume it would become the norm.”
But 30 years on, it appears it hasn’t become the norm at all. In Australia more than 80% of women take their husband’s name, and in Britain, it’s even higher — a 2016 survey found 90% British women adopt their husband’s name.
“[…] When it comes to our surnames, what does it say that so many women willingly choose the same outcome as when they had no say at all?
That this is even still a fraught decision is telling.
It’s also revealing that there is a fourth option that is still seldom used or presented. It is still remarkably rare for a man to adopt his wife’s last name. If your rationale for having the same name as your husband or wife is that you want to present as a team or share a family name with your kids, surely we should be at the point where either person’s surname is a serious contender?”
For decades, the medical community has ignored mountains of evidence to wage a cruel and futile war on fat people, poisoning public perception and ruining millions of lives.
“Years from now, we will look back in horror at the counterproductive ways we addressed the obesity epidemic and the barbaric ways we treated fat people—long after we knew there was a better path.”
Swift explores various narratives tied to Blackness, particularly those that relate to water and ancestral presences.
“I’m interested in taking those things as starting points and imaging a space or happening that involves my sculpture and allows me to think through a hypothetical rooted in that memory or history,” the Virginia-based artist says.
She derives these stories from texts, discussions with friends, and in one instance, a conversation with an older Black woman at a Toni Morrison film screening.
While there are multiple narrative threads in each of her pieces, Swift doesn’t strive to disclose each one, preferring explicit gaps in the connections. “I love knowing that there’s more to what’s being made and imagining other characters or continued happenings around what’s being made,” she says. “That’s not something I’m attempting to convey, rather information that I’m okay not sharing.”
Take a break from the social media hellscape and play with Wayfinder
This is a lovely animated game where you seek out objects to create Haiku-like poems. It was produced by The National Film Board of Canada, and you can find out more about it here.
And finally, this one is for you, Dad:
This is what happens when you use software to automatically rewrite articles from SkySports and publish them with no human intervention. What a time to be alive, huh?
Part II: Books I’m Reading Right Now
Closer in style to a political manifesto than a self-help manual, (and for my money – significantly more engaging and interesting as a result) How to do Nothing, by artist Jenny Odell is a really thought-provoking read.
The first half of How to do Nothing is about disengaging from the attention economy (no arguments from me on that front); and the other half is about reengaging with something else.
“The point of doing nothing, as I define it, isn’t to return to work refreshed and ready to be more productive, but rather to question what we currently perceive as productive.”
This isn’t just about toxic hustle porn culture; it goes way beyond that – Odell’s book has made me realise just how broken our perceptions of productivity are:
“Our very idea of productivity is premised on the idea of producing something new, whereas we do not tend to see maintenance and care as productive in the same way.”
I made a bunch of notes when reading this, and I suspect this is a book I’ll be returning to again, and again.
I attended Papier’s first virtual book club event which featured author of The Other Black Girl, Zakiya Dalila Harris in conversation with Kenya Hunt. It was a brilliant interview and Q&A session, and I’ll definitely be attending future events.
Unfortunately, I found out about this book club too late to have read the book prior to the event itself, but happily both Harris and Hunt were very careful about how much of the plot they revealed, and, as such the event was pretty much spolier-free.
Part office satire, part thriller, Harris’ debut novel is an original take on race and class in the publishing industry. Our protagonist is Nella Rogers, the only Black editorial assistant at Wagner Books, a prestigious American publishing house.
We discover early in the novel that Nella’s hopes of delivering meaningful change from the inside of an industry that has historically excluded people of colour, clearly aren’t shared by her boss:
“I wish you’d put half the effort you put into those extracurricular diversity meetings into working on the core requirements.”
But then Wagner hires a second Black woman called Hazel. Nella hopes things are beginning to change for the better, but all isn’t quite as it seems.
Two-thirds of the way in, The Other Black Girl unexpectedly employs a dash of magical realism. (Other reviews have drawn comparisons to Jordan Peele). Whilst I feel like this element could have been more clearly signposted earlier; regardless, it’s a novel I enjoyed.
Recommendation of the fortnight goes to Deacon King Kong by James McBride. This novel was recommended to me by my friend Isaline (thanks my lovely!) and it’s absolutely incredible.
Set in a fictional Brooklyn housing project in 1969, the novel begins with a bizarre and somewhat comedic attempted murder; and introduces a vast array of characters (from church-goers to mobsters) whose lives intertwine dizzyingly.
Go with it. McBride pulls these characters’ threads together with remarkable skill and delivers a wholly satisfying parable-like tale. You’ll find both warmth and humour here, and throughout the novel McBride delivers killer prose like this:
“And there [the ants] stayed, a sole phenomenon in the Republic of Brooklyn, where cats hollered like people, dogs ate their own faeces, aunties chain-smoked and died at age 102, a kid named Spike Lee saw God, the ghosts of the departed Dodgers soaked up all possibility of new hope, and penniless desperation ruled the life of the suckers too black or too poor to leave, while in Manhattan the buses ran on time, the lights never went out, the death of a single white child in a traffic accident was a page one story, while phony versions of Black and Latino life ruled the Broadway roost, making white writers rich—West Side Story, Porgy & Bess, Purlie Victorious—and on it went, the whole business of the white man’s reality lumping together like a giant, lopsided snowball, the Great American Myth, the Big Apple, the Big Kahuna, the City That Never Sleeps, while the Blacks and Latinos who cleaned the apartments and dragged out the trash and made the music and filled the jails with sorrow slept the sleep of the invisible and functioned as local color.”
Part III: Things I’ve Been Watching
This week I took a trip to the cinema. I’m struggling to recall the last time I did that – possibly it was when I saw Parasite? Even pre-COVID I tended to dodge the cinema – nothing has the potential to ruin a film quite like other people, huh? Happily I’m pleased to report that my friend Molly and I had the cinema almost to ourselves.
We went to see In the Heights, the film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2005 stage musical.
If you loved Hamilton, I think enjoy this too. Miranda wrote this musical first; and I feel like in some areas it shows – whereas Hamilton feels slick, tight and polished; In the Heights feels a little messy in places. There’s a lot going on in terms of the plot (in places I felt like the show wasn’t entirely certain where it was going), and some character’s storylines are left weirdly unresolved.
But messiness aside, there are glorious moments – incredible choreography and set pieces, fantastic work from both the lead actors and the supporting cast, it was a thoroughly joyful thing to watch and I’d definitely recommend it.
That said, it would be remiss of me to not to note that the film has quite rightly received criticism for its failure to cast dark-skinned Latinos in lead roles; Miranda has acknowledged was indeed a failing, and apologised for this.
Back home on my sofa, I also watched Palm Springs, (Amazon Prime).
It’s a Groundhog Day-esque time loop romance which I wasn’t expecting to like at all but actually did.
Whereas Groundhog Day saw Bill Murray negotiate the same day over and over alone; here we have three characters stuck in a time loop, not in a small American town, but at a wedding. Having three characters stuck in the loop makes for some interesting dynamics, and whilst the film is overly silly in places, as the credits rolled I felt surprisingly good about having decided to watch it.
Part IV: Things I’m Doing
I get asked questions like this a lot: “This Digital PR Campaign has been done before – can we do it again?”
I’ve remade & remixed PR campaigns a bunch of times. Sometimes it seems to work; but other times it really doesn’t.
But why is that?
I figured this topic was worth exploring in more detail, and so, when the lovely folks at BuzzStream recently asked if I’d be up for contributing an article as part of their Mastery Series I figured that was the topic I’d write about.
It’s a long read, but I think it’s a good one for both PR and creative folks 🙂
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.
On 26th August I’ll be speaking at The Business of Content, a virtual conference.
The line up looks ace, and includes Alice Chandrasekaran, Nick Eubanks, Rand Fishkin, Kameron Jenkins, Joel Klettke, Daisy-ree Quaker, & more.
The first 1,000 tickets are free, but spots are going fast – register here to attend.
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