Discover stories from strangers on the subway, examples of creativity from constraints, battling imposter syndrome, and the paradox of coffee in Colombia. The long read from Mother Jones is a troubling prediction of where Artificial Intelligence is heading, while the podcast selection takes a more positive perspective on what we can do to make a difference amidst technological trends. Follow that up with a few artsy digs and then tie it all up with an extra long update on my relationship with creativity and the physical body.
◦ selected words
Ever played the people-watching game with a friend, creating stories about random strangers in a public space? In an example of how complex lives intertwine, New York Magazine’s photo/interview/art piece starts with small talk, then goes on to ask deeper questions to twenty subway riders, getting some to open up about their biggest regrets, dreams, and fears.
nymag.com (10min read w/ 3 photos)
Imagine having an accident and losing a major part of your mobility, hearing, vision, or other life-changing loss of ability. What would you do? This is a somber thought, but reading these eight brief descriptions of artists and their physical “shortcomings” that led to their best work exemplifies how creativity can flourish under severe constraints.
austinkleon.com (5min read)
Seth Godin in his frank and convincing manner on why you need to drop the imposter narrative, once and for all. Hint: you’re not alone. Hint #2: get over yourself. It’ll free up your time to do meaningful work.
sethgodin.com (2min read)
The amount of used clothing donated to charities like Diabetes Canada far exceeds the amount that can be resold locally. This excess clothing is sent on container ships and sold overseas, ending up in wagons and sidewalks across Africa. For Diabetes Canada, every year this adds up to 100M million pounds (45,359,237 kg) of discarded clothes and $10M towards their charity. But this could be changing, as the East African Community (EAC), representing Tanzania, Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda are proposing a ban on second-hand clothing imports. A cautionary story of the effects of consumption in a globalized world.
cbc.ca (5min read)
In a dating landscape composed of endless choices, checklists, narcissism, and hookup culture, we’ve been pushed towards a me-first world shaped by marketing messages that are exceeding our ability to filter them out. A sarcastic and unrelenting faux-confession on dating, self-awareness, and needs, or exactly what you’d expect from David Eggers’ McSweeney’s.
mcsweeneys.net (5min read)
In my first trip to Latin America seven years ago, my Colombian friend drove us around the country of 47 million, from Bogotá to Bucaramanga and up the coast to the natural wonders at Tayrona Park. Throughout the month-long journey, we avoided countless potholes, flash floods, and security checkpoints — but the one thing we couldn’t avoid was bad coffee. Sure, the newer upscale malls had Starbucks and Juan Valdez, but if you wanted a good cup, the joke and reality was that you needed to go outside the country. WaPo looks at the paradoxical coffee culture in a country with some of the finest beans, and the recent grassroots push to change it.
washingtonpost.com (6min read)
◦ listen in
Since 2005, Debbie Millman has interviewed the world’s leading designers, authors, and thinkers on the Design Matters podcast. In his second appearance on the show, marketing thought leader Seth Godin gives suggestions on how to navigate our difficult times. “What we have to figure out is how to disconnect ourselves from the circle of fear and from the circle of contempt and even panic and make something that matters instead.” In this hour long interview, Godin laments on our culture’s addiction to data, stating in his straight-forward style, “data gets us the Kardashians”. Godin then goes against common thinking, explaining why he doesn’t pay attention to typical web metrics like page views, and instead of asking “Who saw it? Who clicked? What percentage?”, we need to ask “What’s trending? What’s the yield?”. And then he pushes us to ask ourselves the most significant question, “What difference are you making?”.
debbiemillman.com (57min podcast) – Other sources: SoundCloud – iTunes
◦ eat well
Confession: I’ve never made lasagna because hell, it’s a lot of steps! But cauliflower was cheap and plentiful and I had a pasta craving, so I pulled up this bookmarked NYTimes recipe. It took longer than it should have and I wasn’t confident it would turn out, but it ended up great! Tip: follow the top user comments by soaking the lasagna noodles in warm water, use nutmeg instead of cinnamon, add Italian seasoning, and double the ingredients to fill a regular 13×9″ baking dish.
◦ read slow
Artificial Intelligence seems to be all the rage — with newspaper headlines in companies announcing large investments at a daily rate. If you’re like me and need it explained in layman’s terms, start with the fantastic two-part primer by Wait Buy Why from 2015. Two years later, AI still feels like a faraway concept to most that doesn’t affect daily life, but the pace is accelerating so quickly and few understand the monumental changes we are on the brink of. To illustrate the exponential growth in AI capability, in 1997 IBM’s Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov in chess. Fourteen years later in 2011, AI beat humans at Jeopardy. Expert computer scientists interviewed as recently as last year thought we were years away from an AI that could defeat a human opponent in Go, widely considered one of the most complex games. But earlier this year, AI beat the best player in the world. This was only a few months after AI developed by Carnegie Mellon learned to bluff its way to victory over four professional poker players, a game thought to require skills only humans possessed. An Oxford-Yale survey of 352 A.I. experts estimates that A.I. will outperform humans at translating by 2024, driving a truck by 2027, surgery by 2053, and by 2060, perform all human tasks. But where are the promised job losses and increase in productivity? This article addresses the common doubts raised by skeptics while looking into a near future where wealth is further concentrated to the robot owners, and how we’re heading towards a perfect storm of inequality, unemployment and climate change. The result could be an unprecedented loss of blue-collar work and an uprising more powerful than the recent working-class backlash that elected Trump. And the controversial solution many experts are suggesting for this massive loss of jobs? Universal basic income. A troubling read sure to spark debate.
motherjones.com (30min read)
◦ current read
A friend asked what I was reading and said sarcastically, “So, you’re reading a book about creativity to be more creative? Hmm…”. That hurt a bit, but this is the kind of brutally honest feedback I can really work with. Yes, it’s a form of procrastination, and there is no magic formula — what works for someone else might not work for you. But what I get out of self-improvement books are the bits and pieces taken from others experiences, and then applying those to my life. And what’s helped me this year is a strategic approach to reading where I scan the table of contents, take notes after each chapter, write down what action I can do, and also to review a few weeks later. In Twyla Tharp’s unconventional foray into the self-help genre, the advice that resonated strongest was to “Build a Bridge to the Next Day”. I’ve started to setup my desk the night before, writing down my most important tasks for the day, so when morning comes I can hit the ground running. This book draws upon the famed choreographer 35-year career the book, dispelling myths and misperceptions about creativity through 32 exercises. And like exercise, sustained creativity is something that needs to be nourished and fed with discipline and rituals, in order to turn creativity into a habit. The advice here applies to painters, musicians, business people and scientists alike. Tharp has gifted us with tips on getting out of ruts and stimulating creativity so that you can take out that blank piece of paper and make that first mark.
goodreads.com (Twyla Tharp, 247p book)
◦ dig this
What I’m digging lately:
- Seeing with Sound – Meet Daniel Kish, who has no eyes but rides a bike and teaches blind people to see the way bats do — using echolocation (15min video from GreatBigStory.com).
- Artsy.net – A global platform for art discovery and collection. It’s shaking up the art industry with $50M in venture funding behind it and no commissions on sales.
- The Museum of Capitalism – A new museum in Oakland imagines a world where capitalism is dead (4min read w/ exhibit photos).
◦ humble thought
“Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.” ― Winston S. Churchill
Creativity versus physical movement. Something other “more creative” people did versus activities I enjoyed for fun and exercise. To me, these have always been opposing ideas, but now I’ve decided this perspective doesn’t serve me.
To give a little background, I’ve always been an active person. I can remember growing up in a small town in BC, back when you were allowed to walk yourself home from elementary school, playing hockey on the streets (car!!!), climbing my friend Neil’s giant cherry tree, or exploring our small world by bike, venturing out to the very edges of our safety zone (that would be the western boundary where 196th Street separates Langley from Surrey).
In high school, I’d continue to play sports, mostly soccer and basketball, but I developed slower and got a Nintendo, so I didn’t excel at sports. I was a nerd with the copper rimmed glasses and baggy random T-Shirts that loved Computer Science and Art class. I recall my first memorable creative moment, painting a landscape scene and being elated with the results and basking in the outward praise (I relied a lot on that as a child, and in many ways, still do). I was also was drawn to the lines and perspectives of architectural drawings, but it was the darkroom where I felt at home. My Art teacher favored me, giving me unlimited access to the darkroom and the expensive photo paper. But as with many, I had the art talked out of me. I had no artist role models and my parents would repeat the typical desires — be a professional: a doctor, dentist or engineer. Though they weren’t nearly as traditional as some of my other friends’, I definitely felt the pressure to make money. I didn’t fight it, everything they said made sense, and older people knew more after all.
Then after university, I got a job in Calgary, joining the company’s ice hockey team. We were big enough to have eight full teams of 20. And if you’re asking yourself if I’ve always had maple syrup on hand and say “eh” a lot, then yes, I am your stereotypical Canadian if those are your criteria. But being in a five foot eight (172cm), 147lb (67kg) thin Asian frame playing against ex-farm hands and rig workers who played peewee hockey (some constantly reminding you how they played on the same line as so-and-so in the NHL), I wasn’t just weak, I’d get pushed over with the merest nudge. I could only rely on speed and creativeness to contribute to my team.
Feeling meek, I joined the Talisman Gym with my roommate, no it’s not some new age center, but named after a large oil company — it was Calgary after all — and worked out every other day. We didn’t think of much to do in the cold Alberta winters, always dipping below -50C for a week in January, so at the time many of my friends were drifting through our lives with the narrow focus of climbing the corporate ladder. We’d fill our time with drinking, partying, watching sports, and playing video games — usually all on the same night — multiple times a week.
But when we lifted weights, I look back now and can see we didn’t have much of a plan or any goals other than the very imprecise want to look better, not get pushed around so easily, and to bench-press some arbitrary number, chasing pounds for our egos. There was no 4-Hour Body, 7 Minute Workout, or podcasts interviewing Olympics strength trainers. This is when CrossFit and P90 were in their infant stages and Zumba, Bar, and Spin had yet to become verbs, and though it was social, it wasn’t that fun (not to say I find CrossFit and P90 are fun, but some people love it).
That was ten years ago, and outside of physiotherapy, I haven’t committed to a gym since, and I’m reading and reflecting much more. Cutting out video games and the TV frees up a lot of time for things like that. And I recently picked up renowned ballet choreographer’s Twyla Tharp’s, The Creative Habit. It sounds silly, reading a book to be creative. Last week, I shared a post by Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat Pray Love fame, a poignant post on choosing curiosity and courage over fear, and it resonated with a lot of people. I’ve been in the habit of choosing to read in my leisure time because it feels good, and I feel I’m doing more for myself than putting on Netflix. But I’m starting to think this intellectualizing has kept me from DOING. Yes, we’re human BEings, not human DOings, but there’s a point when one has to say enough is enough, and stop reading for procrastination.
The biggest lesson I learned from these recent reads isn’t a clever quote or a secret formula — it’s discipline through consistent, daily practice. And this is no different than my efforts to improve at AcroYoga, my love affair for the past two and a half years. For the past two months I’ve been moved from practicing casually twice a week to 4-5 times a week, and accompanying it with focused weight training and stretching. I joke that I’ll be the most inflexible yoga teacher you’ll ever see, but seriously, I can barely touch my toes or spread my legs ninety degrees. I’ve even started to record video to spot flaws in alignment and fundamentals — applying deliberate practice — and I’ve felt more improvement in these two months than the past year of Acro.
In the beginnings of an AcroYoga practice, a lot of what you do is copying what others are doing. I think this is no different than with musicians, artists, or writers. Only when you have the fundamentals down and a consistent practice do you start to feel the agency of possibilities, creating your own moves and linking them into flows. And when you start to play with forms, sometimes you accidentally come up wtih something and think “hey, I think we just made something up!”, and it’s a wonderful feeling. It has taken me decades to realize that creativity isn’t something confined within the fine arts — it’s everywhere.
Thinking about my recent 30-days of drawing, it was quite a challenge to keep up with. And in the months since, I’ve only drawn a total of two times. You could argue that, hey, maybe you really don’t enjoy drawing, or at least not as much as you think. Maybe you just like the end product, or the romanticized artist’s life, like Candace Rosedon’s consistently and increasingly beautiful watercolor travel sketches on Moment Sketcher’s. I tried my hand at Sketchnoting too and really enjoyed it — but a lot of that served a practical function — to pass the time while sitting in conferences, and to take notes I’d be more interested in looking back on later. But with AcroYoga, I enjoy the process and the connection. Trust, vulnerability, openness, and play. It makes you stronger AND more flexible, and you have friends all over the world? Hell, yes! (Did I mention there is a LOT of laughter?)
So now I’m thinking, what would it look like if I dedicated my life to movement? Why am I resisting what I enjoy? It’s an incredibly challenging practice, but it often feels easy to me because I enjoy the process so much. And part of me thinks that because I enjoy it so much, it’s an “easy” choice to make. Phrasing it this way, it doesn’t make much sense to me anymore, especially when others point out how difficult it is. Is this how artists feel about their work? There’s definitely a fear of commitment and the unknown bubbling up as well, as I’ve never done a teacher training and there’s that feeling that putting all my eggs in one basket will shut out other options, and there’s always the fear of falling on my face (which is an actual daily possibility with AcroYoga). But for once I feel like I have both the support and the luxury of the space to entertain these thoughts. I could keep writing about my love for AcroYoga and its many metaphors for living a full life, but it’s almost time for bed. Just enough time to squeeze in some shoulder openers and wrist exercises I planned to do today.