Welcome to issue fifty two of Manufacturing Serendipity friends!
I’ve now been sending out this fortnightly newsletter for two years, and to mark the occasion I’m once again doing a retrospective thinger. (I did the same thing for year one, if you’re interested you can read my thoughts from back then, here and here.)
As before, I’ve gone back and re-read all of this year’s newsletters and picked out the best bits. However, as you might have guessed from the post title that would have made for a hellishly long email, and so I’m sending part one now, and part two will be sent out in a fortnight.
Grab yourself a suitable beverage my loves, and let’s do this thing…
My Favourite Finds of the Year (Part One)
Advice, Articles & Interviews
The Art of Botox – “It presents the kind of bargain one might strike with a nefarious sea witch: She will grant you eternal youth, but at the price of being able to move your face.”
How the Week Organizes and Tyrannizes Our Lives
Max Read’s notes toward a theory of the ’90s Dad Thriller
Learnings from 30 months of building a community – my wonderful friend Areej’s reflections and learnings from building the Women in Tech SEO community.
Author William Gibson is interviewed by Paul Holdengräber, and Gibson explains how he came to coin the phrase “cyberspace”.
Why false information stays stuck in our brains, and we often find it very difficult to process new information. (This provided the seed of an idea for the talk I’d eventually give at MKGO in October.)
“I’ve never really liked my personality, and other people don’t like it either.” Olga Khazan conducted a 3-month experiment to see if she could change who she was.
A decade of diary entries in alphabetical order
Fat Girls on Film. Kate Hagen searches out ﬁlms that best transcend ‘fat girl’ tropes, and suggests how Hollywood can serve an audience neglected by decades of poorly drawn caricatures.
A short, imaginary conversation with a bank
The psychiatrist who believed people could tell the future
Eric Kogan Captures Curious Coincidences
Celestial Beadwork by Margaret Nazon
For his project For What It’s Worth, Dillon Marsh created 1:1 scale visualizations of the minerals extracted from South African mines and placed them in photos of the mines themselves.
Beth Moon is documenting ancient Baobab trees before they disappear
After Russia invaded the country, Ukraine’s post office decided to hold a contest to design a stamp that illustrated Ukrainians’ determination to defend their land.
Real cherry blossoms that look like a still from a Pixar movie
Cutout Portraits by Rudy Willingham.
Why people hate the word moist (according to science)
Dear valentine, I’ve made special yoghurt to celebrate your brand new big heart. Janelle Shane creates some AI generated Valentine’s Cards.
A different font helps me believe in my own words. “Creative output of any kind depends upon a steady stream of tiny self-delusions — guardrails to keep yourself from veering into a pit of self-doubt and despair…”
I learned that “bear” is a euphemism, supposedly, people were scared that if they said the actual noun, they would summon one.
Song lyrics that are just shallow enough.
A rebel without a clause. Clive Thompson’s essay in defence of the em dash is absolutely delightful.
Time got so much weirder: the world needs a new lexicon. “Our days aren’t ruled by the sundial or the pendulum clock anymore. They’re measured in binges and darkmodes.”
A close reading of the lyrics and composition of “Mr Brightside”
Science, Nature, & various studies
How a process once used to build better search engines, might one day be used to read your mind…
All Placebos are not created equal
A Photographer has discovered a group of polar bears living in buildings abandoned in the 1990s…
If Hell’s a glittery rainbow party of terror, you’ll find this guy having post-drinks in the pub at 10am
When an Eel Climbs a Ramp to Eat Squid From a Clamp, That’s a Moray
Dad’s eating the babies, Mum’s shagging the neighbours… Zoologist Lucy Cooke explains how our ideas about males and females in the natural world (and beyond) are wildly out of date.
Tweets & Web thingers
For my friend Steve, and Buffy fans everywhere
George Pointon asks a group of 6-year-olds: “Who should be the next prime minister?”
The exclamation mark looks hysterical
It turns out Earth is just a simulation. Luckily, the creators are looking for feedback.
A journal of literature made to exist on the web
Fiction & Poetry
I Hold a Wolf by the Ears by Laura van den Berg, a short story collection in which you meet a woman who makes a living crying on the phone to men; another who uses makeup, prostheses, and wigs to morph into the dead wives of men who want one last date; and another whose husband spirals into madness after she points out a ghostly figure in a photograph from his childhood.
Matrix by Lauren Groff. The life of Marie de France (a 12th century poet) is reimagined in this novel about female ambition and creativity.
The Electric State, and The Labyrinth by Simon Stalenhag. Two very different stories, but both concern dystopian futures and feature Stalenhag’s incredible artwork (which I’ve previously written about here).
In Nearby Bushes, by Kei Miller. This poetry collection is divided into three sections: “Here” a series of poems about Jamaica; “Sometimes I Consider the Names of Places”, which contains 10 micro essays concerning the meaning of place names and their links to colonialism; and “In Nearby Bushes” where Miller makes use of Jamaican newspaper reports of people who have been attacked, raped and killed – always “in nearby bushes” – reproducing the same piece of text again and again but with different words highlighted each time.
“The Employees: A Workplace Novel of the 22nd Century” by Olga Ravn, translated by Martin Aitken. The crew of the Six-Thousand Ship consists of those who were born, and those who were made. Structured as a series of numbered witness statements compiled by a workplace commission, The Employees explores what it means to be human, and exposes our problematic obsession with work and productivity.
Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith. In a time hopping, non-linear narrative, Kupersmith tells the story of the disappearance of 22-year-old Winnie, a Vietnamese American who arrives in Saigon in 2010 to teach English. Interwoven with Winnie’s story are interconnected, supernatural tales which take place in the days and decades before and after her vanishing. We follow ghost hunters from the Saigon Spirit Eradication Co in 2011, encounter a schoolboy left on a mountain as the Japanese launch their coup in 1945, and meet a trio of childhood friends in the early 90s.
The Sentence by Louise Erdrich. A book that is simultaneously about injustice and oppression; and about love, acceptance, family, and belonging. It’s wonderful.
Good Talk by Mira Jacob. Like many six-year-olds, Jacob’s Jewish Indian American son Z has questions about everything: Are white people scared of us? Is it bad to be a Brown person? Can Indians be racist? With humour and heart, Jacob reflects on her own life experiences in order to try to answer Z’s questions honestly.
Sisters: A Novel by Daisy Johnson, a gothic tale of the dark relationship between two teenage siblings.
A Visit from the Goon Squad, and its sequel (of sorts) The Candy House by Jennifer Egan. Both are brilliant novels about memory, time, interconnectedness, and the ways in which our relationships with others continually shift and recombine.
12 Bytes by Jeanette Winterson. In this collection of twelve essays, which encompass history, religion, myth, literature, the politics of race and gender, and computer science, Winterson explores the implications of artificial intelligence and associated technologies, and how they might change both the way we live, and the way we love.
Rag and Bone: A History of What We’ve Thrown Away by Lisa Woollett. Woollett has spent large portions of her life combing beaches and mudlarking, collecting the many and varied things we’ve thrown away – everything from Roman tiles, to the free toys from boxes of cereal. In this book she takes a series of walks from the Thames to the Kentish estuary, and reveals the story of our changing consumer culture.
Bitch: A Revolutionary Guide to Sex, Evolution and the Female Animal by Lucy Cooke. Here, Cooke dismantles a raft of misconceptions about binary sex roles, many of which can be traced back to Charles Darwin.
The Lost Daughter (Netflix). Directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal, and starring Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, and Jessie Buckley, this is a tense, often difficult film to watch, but one which is incredibly rewarding. It’s a film about the expectations society places on women, and the roles we are supposed to occupy. It confronts one of our most pernicious cultural myths: that motherhood comes naturally to women; and it’s brilliant.
The Power of the Dog, (Netflix), a western gothic psychodrama, written and directed by Jane Campion. Tense, slow-burning, and often difficult to watch, so it won’t be for everyone, but I loved it.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Netflix). Eliza Hittman’s coming-of-age film about a US teenager seeking to terminate her pregnancy.
Windfall, (Netflix). Ignore the IMDb rating, this arty psychological thriller is great.
Seeing Red (Disney+). The latest offering from Pixar about delightfully dorky female friendship, menstruation, and self-acceptance is ace.
Outlaws (BBC). Written by Stephen Merchant, and starring Christopher Walken, this series is a delight.
Finding Vivian Maier (Amazon Prime). Around 2007, John Maloof picked up a box of Vivian Maier’s undeveloped photo negatives at an auction. He was fascinated by her work, and tried to track her down, but was unable to find out anything about her. After her death, he subsequently found out about a storage unit rented in her name, which was filled to the brim with negatives, prints and miscellaneous effects. For a modest payment, the contents of the storage unit became his. This documentary charts Maloof’s mission to develop, catalogue, and publish Maier’s work; and to find out more about the artist herself, an intensely private woman, who spent most of her adult life working as a nanny.
The Tourist (BBC iPlayer). A beautifully shot, violent, darkly comic delight.
Inventing Anna (Netflix). Created and produced by Shonda Rhimes, this miniseries is inspired by the story of Anna Sorokin (who posed as a wealthy heiress and was arrested in 2017 after allegedly defrauding banks, hotels, and acquaintances in the United States for a total of $275,000). I’d acknowledge its inaccuracies, but overall I found it to be slick, compelling, and pretty fun to watch.
Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold (Netflix). A documentary created by Griffin Dunne (Didion’s nephew) which charts her rise and the impact her work has had.
Top Boy (Netflix). Ronan Bennett’s 2011 Channel 4 drama about London drug gangs is back, and it’s brilliant.
The Andy Warhol Diaries (Netflix). This documentary series doesn’t fully delve into the problematic aspects of Warhol’s artistic practice, but nevertheless I found it fascinating.
Season two of Russian Doll (Netflix) is an absolute joy.
Stuff I’ve made, done, or tried out
Four-day work weeks. My friend Laura and I took a trip to Hamburg, and the hotel we were staying in had recently started offering their employees a four-day work week. I said something like “I’d really love to try that out”; to which Laura responded: “You work for yourself, you can do whatever you want!”. At the time I felt like there were a bunch of reasons that I couldn’t, but happily, I later realised those reasons were trash. As a result, I worked four-day work weeks for a reasonable chunk of the year. It worked great until I took on too much work, but I fully plan on resuming the four-day work week again.
A new year’s resolution. In December 2022, rather than planning to make plans, set goals, and declutter my brain ahead of 1st January 2023, I will plan instead to slumber guilt-free on my sofa. I will no longer be tyrannised by the Gregorian calendar, from now on the new year can wait until I’m good and ready for it. (More here).
My first attempt at collage.
100 good things that happened in 2021.
I attended a week-long residential flash fiction course at Lumb Bank, tutored by writers Tania Hershman, and David Gaffney; and it was ace. I wrote this, and some other things.
I will no longer be “tackling writers’ block”; instead I will be “tailwinding writers’ bloodhound”.
I get my first rejection & feel surprisingly fine. I started submitting various stories I’d written for publication, and received my first rejection. I thought perhaps I might feel sad about it, or discouraged, but actually I felt weirdly good.
I get to emcee WTSFest and it is an absolute delight.
I do a six week short story course online with London Lit Lab.
I am invited to speak at MozCon.
I take Austin Kleon’s advice and intentionally spiral out.
I had a lovely day with my friend Kirsty.
I dig into a study from YouGov America about how bad at guessing humans are.
I am beyond thrilled to be told that one of the stories I wrote at Lumb Bank in January, will be published in the National Flash Fiction Day 2022 Anthology later this year. It is a story that had previously been rejected a couple of times, which goes to show (I think) that just because a story isn’t a good fit for one publication, doesn’t mean it won’t be a good fit for another. Also, if I’d given up when it was first rejected, this story wouldn’t now be being published.
I signed up to this workshop which I really enjoyed, and would highly recommend if you are a person who wants to make a thing (or things), but are struggling to figure out exactly what that thing should look like.
I share some thoughts on how to write a compelling speaker pitch, for those who’d like to speak at conferences but don’t know where to start. (Later in the year I would go on to run a four-week, WTS course on this very topic).
It turns out that I am not very good at making pots.
I read this list of modern delights, and then, for no particular reason at all decided to create my own list.
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