Hello there 🙂
Welcome to issue fifty seven 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
I’d not come across Bill Keaggy’s work before, but I really love it. I’d characterise his creative practice as part collection, and part connection: he’s the author of Milk Eggs Vodka: Grocery Lists Lost and Found — a collection of strangers’ grocery lists; and 50 SAD CHAIRS — a collection of captioned photographs of abandoned chairs:
In this talk he tells the story of how these projects came about, and how his own creative practice of walking around, paying attention, and taking pictures has become a kind of “guerrilla wellness program” that provides not only relief from life’s stresses, but a newfound joy and appreciation of the everyday.
“Every second of waking life is one big game of finding the needle in the haystack, although it’s really more like ignoring all the haystacks so we can find the needle that’s really important to us.”
I’d definitely recommend watching this talk — it’s less than 20 minutes long, perfect to watch during a lunch or coffee break:
I discovered this thanks to this post from Austin Kleon which you might also like to check out.
Somewhat related, is this article: How a Bit of Awe Can Improve Your Health.
To be perfectly honest I don’t think I’d have actually read this article if I hadn’t first watched Bill Keaggy’s talk. “Awe” is a big concept wrapped up in a teeny-tiny word, and whilst I’d love to welcome more “awe” into my life, it seems to me like a thing you need money for — i.e. to get that “awe” you’d need to travel to a far-flung vista or similar.
Anyway, it turns out that’s not the case — sure, getting to see the Grand Canyon might inspire awe; but actually, “awe” might also accessible via the everyday too.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. What are the benefits of “awe”?
“… Dr. Keltner writes that awe is critical to our well-being — just like joy, contentment and love. His research suggests it has tremendous health benefits that include calming down our nervous system and triggering the release of oxytocin, the “love” hormone that promotes trust and bonding.
Nice, right? Better still, cultivating “awe” might help quiet our inner critics:
“Many of us have a critical voice in our head, telling us we’re not smart, beautiful or rich enough. Awe seems to quiet this negative self-talk, Dr. Keltner said, by deactivating the default mode network, the part of the cortex involved in how we perceive ourselves.
Sharon Salzberg, a leading mindfulness teacher and author, also sees awe as a vehicle to quiet our inner critic. Awe, she believes, is “the absence of self-preoccupation.”
This, Dr. Keltner said, is especially critical in the age of social media. “We are at this cultural moment of narcissism and self-shame and criticism and entitlement; awe gets us out of that. It does this by helping us get out of our own heads and “realize our place in the larger context, our communities,” he explained.
Given how utterly delightful I found the half an hour or so I spent photographing frozen spiders’ webs a few weeks ago (was that a little everyday awe I was feeling?), I think Bill Keaggy might be on to something with his guerilla wellness program of walking around, paying attention, and taking pictures; so I’m going to try that out.
Moar serendipitous finds:
Yes, really! While other bees feed on nectar and pollen, vulture bees eat meat, carrion, and other animal matter:
“These tropical stingless bees have evolved an extra tooth for cutting meat and in one experiment “reduced two frogs to skeletons in six hours”.
“… the vulture bees have a unique-to-bees gut biome that lets them eat rotting meat without getting sick, with the same bacteria that hyenas have.
But do they make honey out of rotting meat? I’m going to say yes, however:
“It’s not called honey because they make it from the same gland in their head that normal bees use to make royal jelly…
And it’s not sweet, because it’s made out of meat proteins, not pollen sugars. Its flavour is “intense, smokey, and salty“.
This story is from McKinley Valentine’s newsletter, which glorious and you should sign up to receive it.
Tressie McMillan Cottom explores what describing someone as being “blond(e)” might really mean:
“We use “blonde” (and if to a lesser extent “brunette”) to signal that someone is white without using a racialized term like “white.” It may also be more — a signifier of a type of white person.”
“…it’s more likely that our brains weren’t storing that information in the first place. Morgan Barense, a University of Toronto professor and Canada Research Chair in cognitive neuroscience, explains that, to encode new memories and retrieve old ones, our brains use “event boundaries, or changes in context.” Those alert our brains to pay attention to our circumstances. In other words, we’re more likely to remember the events of a day if something out of the ordinary happens.”
I really love this idea. The site is a collection of 500-word reviews of book covers, from a bunch of different people. It is delightful to browse, and I was particularly interested to discover the story behind Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell’s defaced book covers, thanks to Jamie Keenan.
There’s something about those cafes which have the seats fixed to the table (as in the photo below) which really takes me back. If I recall correctly, my local had cream tables with an orange surround and green chairs. Absolutely ace.
In the woods near her home, Lucy Jones discovers the magic of slime molds and becomes entangled in their fluid, nonbinary way of being.
This is an absolutely awesome long read — did you know that scientists now believe that slime molds actually have 720 sexes? Plus it includes a bunch of incredible photos from Barry Webb whose work I’ve included in this newsletter previously:
Part II: Books I’m Reading Right Now
Acting Class by Nick Drnaso – In 2018, Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina was the first graphic novel to be longlisted for the Booker prize; and Acting Class is Drnaso’s first full-length outing since. Here, a group of lonely and vulnerable strangers sign up for an acting class run by a charismatic, controlling, and seemingly unqualified character called John Smith. As the novel progresses, the line between reality and the acting classes themselves becomes increasingly blurred. What’s real and what isn’t? Why are these characters so willing not only to trust this John Smith, but to believe he is going to change their lives for the better? It’s both unsettling, and brilliant.
Part III: Things I’ve Been Watching
Here’s some telly I’ve watched recently and would recommend:
- Can You Ever Forgive Me (Disney+) – Melissa McCarthy, Richard E Grant, and Dolly Wells are fabulous in this fascinating, touching, thoroughly brilliant film about infamous literary letter forger Lee Israel.
- Encanto (Disney+) – this film looks gorgeous and the songs are great, but I’d question the extent to which the final act actually heals this highly dysfunctional family.
- Happy Valley: Season 3 (BBC) – whilst the final episode felt a little rushed to me, overall, I feel like this was great telly.
- Little Miss Sunshine (Disney+) – this one’s been on my watchlist for ages, and I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did.
Part IV: What I’ve been up to…
I got to see my friend Steve’s play; did some stitching; set the world to rights with my friend Surena; drafted my emcee script for WTSEO Fest (so excited for that!); tickets went on sale (and sold out!) for WTSEO Fest USA which I’ll be speaking at later this year (so excited for that too!); and I finally sorted out the top shelf of my wardrobe.
This week I took a trip to Kew Gardens to see the orchid display with my Mum; and I got to see Arianna Lupi (one of the women who was on the first cohort of the WTS Training I ran with Areej last year) do her first webinar gig — she was great!
I plan to do a couple of Bill Keaggy’s 30 minute noticing workouts to try to trigger some everyday awe; I’m excited to meet up with some friends I’ve not seen for ages; and I will also deal with some annoying life admin nonsense which I’ve been putting off for far too long.
Wanna hire me to do some work things?
I have a little availability over the next couple of months, so if you’ve always thought “You know what? It would be lovely to do a thing with Hannah!” then we should definitely talk.
Also there’s this:
On April 19th I’ll be running a training course in Brighton. Here’s a primer to help you figure out if this course might be right for you:
You’ve been tasked with gaining linked coverage on top tier sites like the BBC, the Guardian, USA Today & more; but how on earth do you do that?
Perhaps you’ve seen the success of others, and are wondering why your campaigns languishing, unlinked to and unloved. Or maybe you’ve seen some success but it all seems to be a bit hit and miss, and now you’re now under pressure to deliver results more consistently.
If you’re struggling to figure out what to do next, this is the course for you.
In this course you’ll learn:
- What makes a good story from a journalists’ perspective
- How to identify compelling topics and gain a deeper understanding of the media landscape
- How to come up with ideas
- How to figure out whether or not an idea is likely to generate coverage
- Whether or not it’s a good idea to remake that campaign that got a bunch of coverage a few years ago
- When and how to go about “saving” a struggling campaign, and when it might be best to just move on
- & much, much more…
Attendees will leave the course:
- With a renewed confidence in their own skills
- In a happier and more productive mindset
- Feeling rejuvenated and excited about their work
You can find more details on the course, and book your spot here.
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