Hello there 🙂
Welcome to issue twenty of Manufacturing Serendipity, a loosely connected, somewhat rambling collection of the unexpected 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…
First up, a massive THANK YOU to everyone who messaged me to let me know their thoughts following the last edition of this newsletter. I feel like there’s a lot of management and leadership articles out there which present influence as a desirable trait but I feel like very few talk about the downside. I was a little nervous before hitting publish, but I’m glad that I did.
Somewhat related, I’ve had a half-assed idea for this newsletter which I’d like to try out…
Ask me anything 🙂
Hit reply to this email, and send me a question; and I will answer it in a future edition of this newsletter.
I welcome any and all questions.
You can send me work-related questions about management, creative work, and things of that ilk; or something entirely non work-related like: “Would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses?”* or “What’s the best dream you ever had?”**
*Dear reader, I’d rather not fight anything. I don’t like fighting. I quite like the idea of befriending a horse-sized duck though. In my head the duck can talk, and can fly with me on her back, and together we go on adventures.
**I have had several really great dreams. I had a dream that I had a pet polar bear who lived with me in my flat. He was great. When I woke up and realised it was a dream I felt a bit sad. I have also had excellent dreams about being a really fast runner (not superhero fast, but fast, and I could run for as long as I liked and I never got tired); being really good at parkour; and perhaps best of all was a dream where I was a really great trapeze artist. I’m not sure if this is relevant or not, but in all the dreams I have where I’m really great at stuff I seem to be the only person on the planet. No one sees me be good at things, there’s no one else in these dreams at all. I am not performing to rapturous applause, I’m not performing at all. I’m just doing these things because I like doing them and they make me feel amazing.
Part I: Things I’ve Encountered Online…
I recently subscribed Jami Attenberg’s newsletter, Craft Talk; a weekly newsletter on writing, publishing, and creativity. It’s ace and I’d highly recommend subscribing.
In her latest newsletter she shared something glorious which I wanted to share in turn with you:
In 2018, Attenberg met fellow author Siri Ranva Hjelm Jacobsen, at a literary festival in Pordenone, Italy. They struck up a friendship, and Attenberg had been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the English translation of Jacobsen’s book, Island, ever since.
It recently arrived, and having read it, Attenberg was struck by a line in the book, where the narrator’s grandmother says to her:
“No island is an island.”
She says the line stuck in her head, and so, she wrote to Jacobsen to ask her what she meant by it.
This is how she responded:
“An island is a very human idea; it reflects a very human feeling of disconnectedness.
But nature is not a mirror.
Underneath what we can see, all bodies of land are connected as parts of a whole.
If you were to ask an island if it felt isolated or adrift, it would find the question silly. It would find the whole concept absurd. To an island there’d be no such thing as an island.
Feeling disconnected comes easy to humans, I think. Our brains are wired to define ourselves through what we’re not: to recognise differences and imagine divides, to say I am this because I’m not that.
I can’t reach that blob of land out there, so it must be isolated.
It’s harder to wrap one’s head around the many ways in which we are parts of each other, parts of each other’s histories, parts of the social and natural systems we move through. Always affecting and being affected – always in that sense belonging not just to our families, or groups, or nations, but in the world.”
I’d never considered the extent to which disconnection and isolation is a human construct.
Islands are not islands, and neither are we.
Nighthawks by Edward Hopper – Great Art Explained
I found this video essay about one of my favourite paintings absolutely fascinating. James Payne is a curator, and the creator of a series of these videos. Here he covers Hopper’s background, his influences, and how he planned Nighthawks. Plus he also shows some amazing examples of how Hopper’s work would go on to influence future filmmakers.
Payne has created 15 minute videos like this for a bunch of different artworks. Check out his YouTube channel here.
Marking a Pandemic, One Crane at a Time
“The Japanese legend of senbazuru says that a person who folds 1,000 origami cranes will be granted a wish.”
Grace Loh Prasad and her son took on what seemed like a simple project: fold one origami crane every day during the pandemic…
The Rise of Must-Read TV – How our Netflix habits are changing contemporary fiction
“We compiled a list of about 400 21st-century novels that met certain criteria—inclusion in top-10 best-seller lists, critics’ picks, publishers’ comp titles, and so on. Within this group, a novel that becomes a show will receive about four times as many ratings on Goodreads.com as a novel that has never been adapted to TV or film.
(Film still has a bigger effect, boosting a novel’s Goodreads ratings more than 1000 percent; TV nonetheless dramatically improves the fortunes of a novel.)
More surprising is that TV adaptations also correspond with a rise in a novel’s prestige. Adapted novels in our set have almost twice the citations of unadapted works in academic articles, and appear on about twice as many college syllabi.
TV doesn’t just borrow highbrow status from the novel; it apparently sends some back.”
Absence of certainty, awareness of ignorance…
Austin Kleon shares some wonderful quotes on ignorance and curiosity from physicist Carlo Rovelli:
“I believe that one of the greatest mistakes made by human beings is to want certainties when trying to understand something.The search for knowledge is not nourished by certainty: it is nourished by a radical absence of certainty.Thanks to the acute awareness of our ignorance, we are open to doubt and can continue to learn and to learn better. This has always been the strength of scientific thinking—thinking born of curiosity, revolt, change.”
You might also like this post from Kleon: Ignorant, but curious.
Tatsuya Tanaka’s Miniature Calendar
Since 2011, Tanaka has been creating artworks using everyday items in unusual ways, and uploading the results each day.He says:
“Everyone must have had thoughts like these before: broccoli and parsley may sometimes look like a forest of trees, and tree leaves floating on the surface of water may sometimes look like little boats. Everyday occurrences seen from a miniature perspective can bring us lots of fun thoughts.”
Four heads for breakfast beats three shredded wheat…
Part II: Books I’m Reading Right Now
This fortnight I read two incredible books in translation.
First up, All Men Want to Know by Nina Bouraoui (translated by Aneesa Abbas Higgins).
“France is an outfit I wear: Algeria is my skin, exposed to the sun and storms.”
This work of autofiction traces Bouraoui’s early life which was torn between two countries: in her mother’s France, and her father’s Algeria. Her childhood in Algeria is blissful, a wild, sun-soaked paradise; but it’s also a place of growing violence where Bouraoui’s sexuality must stay hidden.
When her mother is attacked in Algeria they flee to France, and Bouraoui finds herself as a teenager in 1980s Paris. There, whilst she feels more free to explore her sexuality, nevertheless she notes: “I’m a victim of my own homophobia”.
It’s a book about mothers and daughters, shame and sexuality, and existing between two cultures whilst belonging to neither.
I also read The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich (translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky), an oral history of the experiences of some of the one million Russian women who fought in the Second World War.
Alexievich’s project began when she read an article about a farewell party given for a woman who, as a sniper during the war, had killed 75 people and received 11 decorations. War, she realised, is seldom told from the woman’s point of view, (in fact, for the most part, these women had effectively been erased from history), and what interested her were not tales of heroism, but of real humans.
As a result, over seven years in the late 1970s and early 80s, Alexievich interviewed many hundreds of women: the pilots, doctors, partisans, snipers and anti-aircraft gunners who served on the front line, and the legions of laundresses, cooks, telephone operators and engine drivers who backed them up.
It was first published in 1985, but heavily censored; (the authorities told her that she should write not about “filth” but about victory), the version I read is unexpurgated.
Whilst it’s by no means an easy read, I’m really glad to have read it. As one of the women Alexievich interviewed says:
“It’s terrible to remember, but it’s far more terrible to forget.”
In other news, it’s my favourite time of the year, because The Booker Prize longlist has been announced. There are a couple on the list which I’ve already read: Klara and the Sun byKazuo Ishiguro (my notes on the book are here ); and No One is Talking About This byPatricia Lockwood (again, my notes on the book are here). In the coming weeks I’ll be reading the rest of the list, and as usual, I’ll let you know what I think.
Part III: Things I’ve Been Watching
Dear reader, it’s not been a great fortnight for me in terms of stuff I’ve been watching.
I watched season one of The OA, Netflix, which opens with a woman called Prairie Johnson, (played by co-creator Brit Marling), reappearing having been missing for seven years. She won’t explain where she’s been, or the biggest mystery of all: how she came to regain her sight. For me it stretched credulity to limit, and much as I wanted to like it, I didn’t. Not one for me I’m afraid.
I also watched season one of The Expanse, Amazon Prime. A couple of hundred years into the future, humanity is spread out throughout the solar system and divided into three opposing forces who are on the brink of war for political power and resources. The factions consist of the two superpowers: Earth, and Mars; and the belters (the people living on Ceres or other large rocks in the asteroid belt). This has great audience ratings so I had high hopes, but it wasn’t for me either. The world building is impressive, but I found the script so clunky, cringeworthy, and awkward that it was painful to watch. Some reviewers have noted that the show gets better in later seasons, but honestly, I think I’m done.
On a brighter note, I did enjoy Baby Driver, Netflix; Edgar Wright’s car-chase-heist-love-story. Ansel Elgort plays Baby, a getaway driver working for Kevin Spacey (Doc), a man who masterminds well-planned bank robberies with a crew including Jon Hamm, Eiza González, and Jamie Foxx. It has echoes of Tarantino’s True Romance, but honestly, True Romance is a far superior film. Nevertheless, Baby Driver is fun and I enjoyed it way more than I thought I would.
Part IV: Things I’m Doing
Yeah… I bought myself another origami kit. I figured this might be easier to do than my original kit because it’s designed for 6-11 year olds, but it turns out that I am clearly not yet at 6-11 year old origami level, and my folds are still pretty wonky. Nevertheless this set pleases me greatly. Here’s what they’re supposed to be: stegosaur, brachiosaur, a pteranodon, and a tyrannosaur.
Dear reader, I’m going away on holiday and I am beyond excited. My friend Laura (who lives in Berlin) and I are meeting up in Tenerife which means I finally get to see her in real life rather than via a screen. Also we are going on a stargazing trip to Teide National Park which sounds amazing.
I am hoping that I have done all the things that a person needs to do to travel right now, but honestly I’ve found the whole thing so utterly baffling that I’m really not sure. Fingers crossed, huh?
The State of Technical SEO Survey
The first annual State of Technical SEO survey has just launched – yay! It was an absolute joy to collaborate on this with Areej AbuAli (Women in Tech SEO), Paddy Moogan (Aira), and Roxana Stingu (Alamy).
What does technical SEO mean for companies and how is it different between agency-side and client-side? What techniques and tools do people rely on to help with technical SEO? And how are SEOs measuring the impact of technical SEO?
If you work in technical SEO please do fill out the survey, it’ll take you less than 10 minutes, and you can find it right here.
The Business of Content – Podcast
I recently recorded a podcast with Lloyd Silver which has just gone live, you can listen here. We talked about some of the challenges associated with managing creative teams, and it was lots of fun.
Also, tickets are still available for The Business of Content, a virtual conference which I’ll be speaking at on the 26th August. 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 – register here to attend.
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