Hello there 🙂
Welcome to issue forty nine of Manufacturing Serendipity, a loosely connected, somewhat rambling collection of the unexpected 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: Things I’ve Encountered Online…
This fortnight I came across Wendy MacNaughton’s glorious illustrated essay in the NY Times – please go and read it, it’s lovely.
Those of you who’ve been subscribing to this newsletter for a while may remember that I’ve written about fun before, (I’m pretty obsessed with fun, mostly because I fear that I’m not very good at it). Towards the end of that rambling missive, I wrote this:
“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.
Maybe I’m more interested in “good” than “fun”? I’m not sure I like the sound of that, but it could be true.”
On reflection, I think that this might be closer to the truth:
It’s not that I’m more interested in “good” experiences than “fun” experiences – it’s that whilst I can see the value in “good” experiences; I sometimes struggle to see the value in “fun”.
Fun is too frivolous for me.
This quote in McNaughton’s essay struck me like a hammer blow:
“Fun happens when we experience the confluence of three states: playfulness, connectedness, and flow. Fun requires being entirely present in your experience.”
Often, when I am having fun, a little voice in my head will pipe up: “is this a worthwhile use of your time?”
Instantly any sense of playfulness, connectedness, and flow vanish, and I am no longer having fun.
My inner-critic, (or more accurately), I myself, spoil my own fun.
Now there are some varieties of playfulness that my inner-critic is ok with – it’s fine for me to have fun whilst I am doing useful, productive work.
Back in 2020, I gave a talk called Still No Eye Dear (or, things to do when your imaginary friends refuse to talk to you). Essentially it was a talk about creative sticking points, and how to unstick yourself when you get stuck. Towards the end of the talk I said this:
“I’m increasingly of the belief that my best work happens when I’m playing.
For me, “flow” is not so much about work feeling like play; “flow” happens only when I’m able to play.”
Somewhat related, back in February 2021 I wrote an edition of this newsletter about the importance of doing things that make you feel good, and I even went so far as to schedule fun for myself (I know, I’m a horrorshow, but I already told you I was bad at this stuff):
“… I’ve noticed that I find it easier to do hard things when I feel good. So, dear reader, I’m going to do at least one thing that makes me feel good every day for the next two weeks. I scheduled fun before (at the back end of last year), and it worked remarkably well, so I’m going to go back to doing that.”
So clearly at some level, I do recognise the value of fun, albeit in a fairly toxic way – I’m ok with fun as long as it’s serving a useful purpose. Fun is fine when it’s leading to good work. Fun is fine as long as it means that I’m finding things which are hard, easier to do (again, that’s mostly about work, right?).
It seems that somehow I’ve flipped “fun” into a productivity hack. It’s ok for me to have fun as long as it means I’ll be more productive later. But productive in what sense? What is all that productivity for? I don’t even believe in that stuff! Why have I framed fun in this way?
I’d like to be a person who allows herself to have fun, just for the sake of having fun.
In order to do that, I need to unlearn that link between productivity and fun – to try to find a way to uncouple them in my head. If I can do that, then perhaps, I will be able to stop spoiling my own fun.
Moar serendipitous finds:
A gorgeous visual essay by Maya Salam which charts more than fifty years of coming out on-screen:
“Maybe most important, this progression onscreen has opened up to viewers a world in which L.G.B.T.Q. people are not defined by the reactions they elicit in others — mirroring reality in many ways. Because over time, with every coming out, we have the chance to grow more self-assured and steady, less swayed by the precariousness of the moment and its reflection on who we are.”
Using open access cameras and AI, Belgian artist Dries Depoorter captures unsuspecting instagrammers capturing themselves on film. It’s unsettling, creepy, and weird to think about the extent to which we’re surveilled, huh?
This article is a deliciously long read, and well worth your time:
“You were a girl who wanted to choose your own adventures. Which is to say, you were a girl who never had adventures. You always followed the rules. But, when you ate an entire sleeve of graham crackers and sank into the couch with a Choose Your Own Adventure book, you got to imagine that you were getting into trouble in outer space, or in the future, or under the sea. You got to make choices every few pages: Do you ask the ghost about her intentions, or run away? Do you rebel against the alien overlords, or blindly obey them?”
In this essay Charlotte Shane absolutely nails something I’ve amorphously felt, but up until now have been unable to articulate:
“The right to not be pregnant ought to be at the core of reproductive freedom, yet the United States has never legally recognized this right*, and no mass movement of its citizens has ever expressly demanded it. Though Roe v. Wade has long been regarded as a feminist gold standard, it did not establish an individual’s unconditional right to end their pregnancy.
The ruling granted that the decision to abort was protected by the right to privacy implicit in the Constitution, but it placed that decision explicitly in the hands of doctors.
In the words of Justice Harry Blackmun, in the majority opinion, abortion is “inherently, and primarily, a medical decision,” and therefore the “basic responsibility” for its use “must rest with the physician.” The procedure was thus under the purview of a credentialed, impartial authority, referred to in the common masculine possessive:
“The attending physician, in consultation with his patient, is free to determine, without regulation by the State, that, in his medical judgment, the patient’s pregnancy should be terminated.”
The idea that a “woman’s right [to abortion] is absolute” was deemed “unpersuasive” and directly rejected. In closing, Blackmun affirmed the rights of the state—declaring that it maintained the right to regulate “potential life”—and reaffirmed those of the physician. The government held on to the master keys and lent a pair to the medical establishment.
Leaving the adjudication of abortion to doctors was no more just than leaving it to legislators. It was in fact male physicians, in the mid-nineteenth century, who first campaigned to criminalize the procedure across the United States. This movement served at once to legitimize their nascent guild—casting them as uniquely educated, moral actors—and to eliminate their competition: the midwives and folk healers who had provided abortions since the beginning of human society. While Roe was in effect, many hospitals—not only Catholic and Protestant but secular and public as well—denied pregnant women abortions and miscarriage treatments that were permitted under the law. A 2021 Columbia Law School report concluded that such refusals made abortion access “even more severely curtailed than already-restrictive state laws suggest.”
Though the Supreme Court revisited the right to abortion many times in the half-century between Roe and its reversal, the role of doctors remained unchanged, and a pregnant person’s full bodily autonomy was never established. Yet mainstream abortion-rights advocates maintained a myopic, reactive fixation on the language and frameworks employed by the state and by their opponents. The abstract rights “to privacy” and “to choose”—the latter mantle taken up in the late Sixties in direct response to the ascent of “pro-life” propaganda—are the rights most associated with abortion in the broad culture. The right to privacy is vague and easily rejected when balanced against a greater right or potential harm, particularly when positioned against supposed murder. The right to choose, though a valuable recognition of a pregnant person’s agency, is so euphemistic that it has been neatly co-opted by anti-vaccine and anti-mask crusaders, many of whom oppose abortion.
The failure of this rhetoric is all around us—not simply in the fall of Roe but in the persistent degradation of abortion access over decades prior, and in the increasingly cruel criminalization of abortion and other events of pregnancy. From now on, we who fight for reproductive freedom must announce our cause in the clearest terms: every impregnatable person has the right to not be pregnant.”
*For clarity, we operate in the same way here in Great Britain – women do not have the right to an abortion, doctors have to agree that an abortion is warranted.
“That person who looks just like you is not your twin, but if scientists compared your genomes, they might find a lot in common.”
“Jeremy Mayer challenges the notion that typewriters’ creative output is confined to the written word. The artist scours shops and trash bins near his Bay Area studio for analog processors in disrepair that he then disassembles, sorts, and reconstructs into metallic sculptures.”
You might also like:
Part II: Books I’m Reading Right Now
Small Things Like These, by Claire Keegan. Set in Ireland, in 1985, Keegan’s novel concerns the moral dilemma of small-town family man who discovers the truth about one of Ireland’s infamously inhumane Magdalene laundries. (In her note on the text, Keegan explains that an estimated 30,000 Irish women were incarcerated between the 18th and 20th centuries, in these institutions which were “run and financed by the Catholic Church in concert with the Irish state”).
It’s an unsettling read because you get the sense that the people who live in the town don’t just suspect that these women are being treated dreadfully, they know they are, but still they choose to look away. In that sense, the novel packs a punch, and it’s beautifully written, and yet still, I was left not quite satisfied. Possibly this one just wasn’t for me.
Part III: Things I’ve Been Watching
Dopesick, Disney+. This eight-part drama is excellent, albeit really tough to watch (unsurprising given the subject matter). It tells the story of how the “non-addictive painkiller”, OxyContin, created the opioid crisis in the US.
It’s been rightly criticised for jumping back-and-forth in time in an unnecessarily confusing fashion, but nevertheless this one’s well worth your time, unlike the other utter dross I’ve watched this fortnight.
Speaking of which – please send me your TV recommendations!
Part IV: What I’ve been up to…
This fortnight I’ve been working on my deck for MKGO which I’m really excited about, I recorded an episode for the We Earn Media podcast with my friend and fellow Distilled alumna Britt Klontz which was a delight, plus I’ve been having an amazing time running my Speaker Pitch Training course for Women in Tech SEO.
On October 5th I’ll be running a training course in Brighton. It will be lovely. You can find more details about the course, and book your spot here.
Join me and a bunch of wonderful humans at MKGO on 21st October. Get £50 off the ticket price with the code Word50, but be quick, because it’s a limited offer – that code is good for five tickets only, and when they’re gone, they’re gone.
On 3rd March 2023, I’ll be back emceeing this amazing event and I cannot wait. Bag yourself an early bird ticket here.
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