Tag voice

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “Minister to the world in a way that can change it. Minister radically in a real, active, practical, get-your-hands-dirty way”

On May 29, 2105, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave the commencement address to Wellesley’s graduating class. With her characteristic insight and power, Adichie asks the class of 2015 to help rethink and redefine feminism and what it means to be in the world as a woman, “Feminism should be an inclusive party. Feminism should be a party full of different feminisms.” I’ve transcribed some highlights below, but highly recommend watching the full speech. 

. . . *

 

Try and create the world you want to live in. Minister to the world in a way that can change it. Minister radically in a real, active, practical, get-your-hands-dirty way.
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Think about what really matters to you. Think about what you want to really matter to you.
. . . *

 

All over the world, girls are raised to make themselves likable; to twist themselves into shapes that suit other people. Please do not twist yourself into shapes to please. Don’t do it. If someone likes that version of you, that version of you that is false and holds back, then they actually just like a twisted shape and not you. And the world is such a gloriously multifaceted, diverse place that there are people in the world who will like you. The real you, as you are.
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I don’t speak to provoke. I speak because I think our time on earth is short and each moment that we are not our truest selves, each moment we pretend to be what we are not, each moment we say what we do not mean because we imagine that it’s what somebody wants us to say, then, we are wasting our time on earth. I don’t mean to sound precious, but please don’t waste your time on earth.
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Never, ever accept, “because you are a woman” as a reason for doing or not doing anything.
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Girls are often raised to see love as only giving. Women are praised for their love, when that love is an act of giving. But to love is to give and to take. Please love by giving and taking. Give and be given. If you’re only giving and not taking, you’ll know; you’ll know from that small and true voice inside you that we females are so often socialized to silence. Don’t silence that voice. Dare to take.
. . . *

Aja Monet – Powerful Women Voices, Nomads & Poetry …*

“Everybody sings, you know. You might not ever share that you sing with anybody, but everybody has a song. My focus has always been on writing good lyrics and things that inspire people but I recognize my voice and I recognize my voice does something to the lyrics and to the words, not that it’s necessarily singing but it’s inflecting a certain emotion.” – Aja Monet

A couple of weeks ago, I shared an arresting image from the amazing non-profit Get Lit. It was a screenshot of the Image results page to a Google search for “famous authors,” all of whom–save for the notable exception of Maya Angelou and Agatha Christie–were male, white, and many of them, dead. Get Lit captioned the image, “We need young female voices because this is what comes up when you google “famous authors.” So I thought today I’d highlight an incredible woman poet with a strong and moving voice, the spendid Aja Monet. I discovered Monet serendipitously last week while looking into the production company, Greatcoat Films, that had made the short film on Kintsugi featured in Friday’s post.

Monet is dedicated to empowering at-risk youths right here in NYC by helping them learn to use, harness and share their own voices. I loved Monet’s take on education, which I found in the bio section of her website:

As a Teaching Artist for Urban Word NYC as well as Urban Arts Partnership in NYC, she uses poetry as a therapeutic tool with at-risk inner city kids, showing how words can empower and encourage holistic healing in youth education. She teaches her students to harness meaning in the world and to transform the world by transforming selves. In an interview, Monet speaks to her passion for education: “Education gave me perspective on my circumstances and it fueled my imagination by providing me with teachers that made the difference where my parenting may have failed. Education was the village that raised me. I care about it because I recognize the difference it makes in my life and the impact it has on fine-tuning my vision.” 

Watch the short interview and her extraordinary “Nomads” below, both films brought to you by Greatcoat films.

“Anything I feel or something I’m inspired by, something compels me to speak. Sometimes I don’t know what it is but I trust that it comes from an authentic place, I trust that it comes from a true place and I just write about it.”

Aja Monet: Poet, Voice, Storyteller from Greatcoat Films on Vimeo.

“POETRY, AT ITS BEST, IS A CRAFT, AN ART THAT TRANSCENDS THE WRTING INTO DOING AND INTO CREATING ALTERNATIVE WAYS OF SEEING THE WORLD.”

– Aja Monet

Aja Monet “Nomads” from Greatcoat Films on Vimeo.

listen, speak, rethink …* 

{ The Power & Potential of Stories } “I Was Seen By Many but Actually Known By Few | Every Single Life Matters Equally & Infinitely”…*

“I’ve learned about the poetry and the wisdom and the grace that can be found in the words of people all around us when we simply take the time to listen.[…] What else have I learned? I’ve learned about the almost unimaginable capacity for the human spirit to forgive. I’ve learned about resilience and I’ve learned about strength. […] And I’ve been reminded countless times of the courage and goodness of people and how the arc of history truly does bend towards justice”

– Dave Isay

This week’s Friday Link Fest theme–the power and potential of stories–was set by my teammate Jenna with her post on Monday about the artistry and potential of storytelling–for learning, for empathy, for social activism, for relevance and self-empowerment. I then received the latest issue of New York Magazine, their fifth annual “Yesteryear Issue,” a collection of vignettes about old New York and delighted in losing myself in stories of a New York I have longed for but never known. Then two TED talks kept repeatedly popping up on my newsfeed, Monica Lewinsky’s talk on the price of shame and StoryCorps founder Dave Isay’s talk where he shares his TED Prize wish:

“that you will help us take everything we’ve learned through StoryCorps and bring it to the world, so that anyone, anywhere can easily record a meaningful interview with another human being, which will then be archived for history.”

I loved the contrast between both talks, one about the risks and dark underside of a digital archive in a culture bent on shaming and public humiliation, the other on the immense potential of the Internet to act as a digital repository of human wisdom, dignity and compassion. Both talks were brilliant and urgent calls for courage, empathy and connection.

In her TED talk, Monica Lewinsky bravely opens up about her experience of being “slut-shamed’ and publicly humiliated in the nascent era of online news and calls for a collective rethink of our contemporary culture of shame and humiliation which enables cyberbullying.

“Public shaming as a bloodsport has to stop. And it’s time for an intervention on the Internet and in our culture. The shift begins with something simple, but it’s not easy. We need to return to a long held value of compassion; compassion and empathy. Online, we’ve got a compassion deficit and empathy crisis. Researcher Brené Brown said, and I quote, “shame can’t survive empathy.” Shame cannot survive empathy. I’ve seem some very dark days in my life. It was the compassion and empathy from my family, friends, professionals and sometimes even strangers that saved me. Even empathy from one person can make a difference.

[ … ] 

“We all want to be heard, but let’s acknowledge the difference between speaking up with intention and speaking up for attention.”

– Monica Lewinsky

“Over the past couple of month, the team at StoryCorps has been working furiously to create an app that will bring StoryCorps out of our booths so that it can be experienced by anyone, anywhere, any time. Remember, StoryCorps has always been two people and a facilitator helping them record their conversation, which is preserved forever. But at this very moment we’re releasing a public beta version of the StoryCorps app. The app is a digital facilitator that walks you through the StoryCorps interview process, helps you pick questions and gives you all the tips you need to record a meaningful StoryCorps interview. And then with one tap, upload it to our archive at the Library of Congress. That’s the easy part–the technology. The real challenge is up to you. To take this tool and figure out how we can use it all across America and around the world.

This is the key point, echoed in both Lewinsky and Isay’s talk, that technology is just a tool, a tremendously powerful tool, but that its power and potential comes entirely from us, the people that use it. Are we going to create a digital archive of shame and humiliation or a repository of empathy, dignity and human wisdom? The choice is ours and both talks remind us of the very tangible weight and responsibilities inherent in this choice.

“At this moment, when so much of how we communicate is fleeting and inconsequential, join us in creating this digital archive of conversations that are enduring, and important. Help us create this gift to our children, this testament to who we are as human beings. I hope you’ll help us make this wish come true. Interview a family member, a friend or even a stranger. Together we can create an archive of the wisdom of humanity. And maybe in doing so, we’ll learn to listen a little more and shout a little less. Maybe these conversations will remind us what’s really important and maybe, just maybe, it will help us recognize that simple truth that every life, every single life, matters equally and infinitely.”

How might we start going about nurturing these types of conversations? Isay shares a few excellent ideas:

“Imagine, for example, a national homework assignment, where every high school student studying U.S. history across the country, records an interview with an elder over Thanksgiving so that in one single weekend an entire generation of American lives and experiences are captured. Or imagine, mothers on opposite sides of a conflict somewhere in the world sitting down, not to talk about that conflict, but to find out who they are as people, and in doing so begin to build bonds of trust. Or that someday it becomes a tradition all over the world that people are honored with a StoryCorps interview on their 75th birthday. Or that people in your community go into retirement homes or hospitals or homeless shelters or even prisons armed with this app to honor the people least heard in our society and ask them who they are, what they’ve learned in life and how they want to be remembered. “

My 81 year-old grandfather is flying in from France next week and I absolutely can’t wait to try out the StoryCorps app with him!

{ 2 Visual Rethinking Prompts } How Might We Empower More Young Female Voices & Create More Meaningful Assessment Rubrics …*

Here are two powerful images that popped up this month on our Facebook and Twitter feeds respectively. Each highlights a critical opportunity to rethink, which I hope will inspire you to iterate some ideas and solutions of your own.

question, empower & rethink …

{ 2 Visual Rethinking Prompts } How Might We Empower More Young Female Voices & Create More Meaningful Assessment Rubrics ...* | rethinked.org

Screen Shot of Get Lit’s Facebook Page

 

{ 2 Visual Rethinking Prompts } How Might We Empower More Young Female Voices & Create More Meaningful Assessment Rubrics ...* | rethinked.org

Screen Shot of a Tweet from Brad Ovenell-Carter

 

 

A Most Delightful Response to Life’s Nagging Questions: “Just slap something on it when you see a blank canvas staring at you with a sort of imbecility”

A Most Delightful Response to Life's Nagging Questions: "Just slap something on it when you see a blank canvas staring at you with a sort of imbecility" | rethinked.org

Artist Unknown

This week, I found myself puzzling about life–puzzling more than usual that is. I lost myself in questions about passion, purpose, action, fear, choices, growing up, courage, art and pain. No need for alarm, this happens every year about a month before my birthday comes around. I find myself undergoing a tiny annual existential crisis, where I question everything, worry that the gap between my actual self (my behaviors, patterns and habits?) and my “ideal” self is widening rather than shrinking and neurotically overthink the connections between thinking, doing and becoming.

The good news about all this mental time travel I undergo each year is that recent studies have found self-projection to be correlated with a greater sense of meaning. What’s a little annual mental anguish over all of one’s life choices in exchange for a meaningful life?

Several lines of work seem to converge on the idea that self-projection is a valuable exercise. Mentally traveling in time, imagining other places, and stepping into other people’s minds can give people a sense of meaning in life. Researchers have found that engaging in nostalgia, the process of sentimentally reflecting on past events, produces reports of greater meaning in life. Projecting oneself forward into the future—whether through hopeful thinking or considering one’s legacy after death—has also been associated with elevated reports of meaning in life.

[ . . . ]

In five additional studies, we found that having people project themselves forward or backward in time or into other geographic locations—compared with having people think about the present—boosted their subsequent reports of meaning in life. The reason for this link turned out to be deceptively simple. When our research participants considered life beyond the present moment, they often conjured up events and places that were more profound, meaningful, and awe-inspiring than the current moment. – Step Outside Yourself: Meditation says to focus on the present. But life may be more meaningful if you don’t.

…*

When I start to become overwhelmed by questions, I generally turn to the artists for insight and guidance. I’ve written a lot about the creative process on rethinked …* and shared countless insights from various artists. That’s because an artist, by definition–at least by my definition–is someone who owns, cultivates and deploys his or her own distinctive voice. At the end of the day, I don’t believe someone without a particular point of view and the ability and desire to express said point of view can be considered an artist. So I was excited to see this short video featuring French high-wire artist and general creative “outlaw,” Philippe Petit on what it means to live as an artist:

“Anyone that embarks into the arts, and even if you’re not an artist or a performer, in the art of living as an extension, will have the most difficult life because it’s the opposite of lethargy and laziness and dragging your feet and dying as you live. So if you want your life to be exciting, if you find the motor necessary for a great life, which is passion, you will have a difficult life and at the same time your life will be very easy in a sense that you will not have to struggle to find ways, it is in you, it devours you, you have to do it–using your intuition and your passion. So, for example, well people sometimes ask me, “how can I be creative?” Or. “I am a young artist and I want to develop my art.” And right there, I build a big wall between two concepts that to me are very opposite: the concept of a career and the concept of life. So, if somebody says, “You know, I am starting a career as an actor, do you have any advice?” I say, “Yes, drop the word career from your vocabulary—LIVE as an actor, you know? Don’t try to do things in a strategic way, do things as your heart tells you. If you feel you are a comic character, do not accept any drama, go into the comic and start developing it. The work of art is a perpetual trampoline; it is ephemeral; it is fragile; it is mysterious. There is no rule to describe what an artistic way of life is. So if you want to go in an artistic way of life and you carry the luggage of money and time and strategy and politics, well you will never be an artist. You know? But it’s fine, many false artists are doing that. But the true artist, in my opinion, should not think of a career, you should think of your life.

 . . . *

When the questions become overwhelming, or when one cannot find an entry way into living one’s life as one wants, Van Gogh has the perfect remedy:

Just slap something on it when you see a blank canvas staring at you with a sort of imbecility.

You don’t know how paralyzing it is, that stare from a blank canvas that says to the painter you can’t do anything. The canvas has an idiotic stare, and mesmerizes some painters so that they turn into idiots themselves.

Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas IS AFRAID of the truly passionate painter who dares—and who has once broken the spell of ‘you can’t.’

Life itself likewise always turns towards one an infinitely meaningless, discouraging, dispiriting blank side on which there is nothing, any more than on a blank canvas.

But however meaningless and vain, however dead life appears, the man of faith, of energy, of warmth, and who knows something, doesn’t let himself be fobbed off like that. He steps in and does something, and hangs on to that, in short, breaks, ‘violates’—they say.

Let them talk, those cold theologians.

Advice from Van Gogh: Just Slap Something on It

. . . *  

Finally, I think I’ve shared this before, but when I am anxious or puzzled or just generally blue I go straight to the bookstore. Earlier this week, while browsing the children’s books–which I love as I truly believe most children understand very deeply and intuitively a lot of things we forget and unlearn and complicate terribly as we grow older–I discovered Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld (who also coauthored the sublime Duck Rabbit book). It’s the charming story of an exclamation mark who feels out of place amongst the other punctuation marks until he meets a question mark who, through her endless questions, helps him discover his voice!! Enjoy …* 

Ernest Hemingway: “As long as you can start, you are all right. The juice will come.”

Ernest Hemingway: "As long as you can start, you are all right. The juice will come." | rethinked.org

From things that have happened and from things as they exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and you make it alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality. That is why you write and for no other reason that you know of. But what about all the reasons that no one knows?” -Ernest Hemingway

Today we are celebrating Ernest Hemingway’s birthday here at rethinked* Other than being a great and completely superfluous excuse for gorging ourselves on cupcakes, it is a splendid time to reflect on some of his insights on the creative process. Here are some of my favorite quotes from his 1958 interview with the Paris Review.

eat [cup]cakes, reflect, create & rethink …* 

– On the Feeling Tones of the Creative Process – 

When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.

 

– On Knowing When to Stop – 

But if you stopped when you knew what would happen next, you can go on. As long as you can start, you are all right. The juice will come.

 

– On Solitude, the Passing of Time & the Creative Act – 

The further you go in writing the more alone you are. Most of your best and oldest friends die. Others move away. You do not see them except rarely, but you write and have much the same contact with them as though you were together at the café in the old days. You exchange comic, sometimes cheerfully obscene and irresponsible letters, and it is almost as good as talking. But you are more alone because that is how you must work and the time to work is shorter all the time and if you waste it you feel you have committed a sin for which there is no forgiveness.

 

– On Enhancing One’s Craft By Learning From Other Fields – 

I put in painters, or started to, because I learn as much from painters about how to write as from writers. You ask how this is done? It would take another day of explaining. I should think what one learns from composers and from the study of harmony and counterpoint would be obvious.

 

– On the Artist – Audience Relationship & the Need For a Work of Art to Stand Alone –  

Read anything I write for the pleasure of reading it. Whatever else you find will be the measure of what you brought to the reading.

A sensible question is neither a delight nor an annoyance. I still believe, though, that it is very bad for a writer to talk about how he writes. He writes to be read by the eye and no explanations or dissertations should be necessary. You can be sure that there is much more there than will be read at any first reading and having made this it is not the writer’s province to explain it or to run guided tours through the more difficult country of his work.

 

– On the Only Constant of the Creative Act Being Change & Movement – 

Sometimes you know the story. Sometimes you make it up as you go along and have no idea how it will come out. Everything changes as it moves. That is what makes the movement which makes the story. Sometimes the movement is so slow it does not seem to be moving. But there is always change and always movement.

 

– On Competition – 

I used to try to write better than certain dead writers of whose value I was certain. For a long time now I have tried simply to write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can.

 

– On Reminding Oneself that Creating Something Out of Nothing Is Always Difficult & Often Involves Some Degree of Despair – 

I read them [his own novels] sometimes to cheer me up when it is hard to write and then I remember that it was always difficult and how nearly impossible it was sometimes.

 

– On the Importance of Observing & Soaking Up Experience – 

If a writer stops observing he is finished. But he does not have to observe consciously nor think how it will be useful. Perhaps that would be true at the beginning. But later everything he sees goes into the great reserve of things he knows or has seen.

 

– On His Principle of the Iceberg – 

If it is any use to know it, I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows. Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg. It is the part that doesn’t show. If a writer omits something because he does not know it then there is a hole in the story. 

[…]

First I have tried to eliminate everything unnecessary to conveying experience to the reader so that after he or she has read something it will become a part of his or her experience and seem actually to have happened. This is very hard to do and I’ve worked at it very hard.

Anyway, to skip how it is done, I had unbelievable luck this time and could convey the experience completely and have it be one that no one had ever conveyed. The luck was that I had a good man and a good boy and lately writers have forgotten there still are such things. Then the ocean is worth writing about just as man is. So I was lucky there. I’ve seen the marlin mate and know about that. So I leave that out. I’ve seen a school (or pod) of more than fifty sperm whales in that same stretch of water and once harpooned one nearly sixty feet in length and lost him. So I left that out. All the stories I know from the fishing village I leave out. But the knowledge is what makes the underwater part of the iceberg.

*

Source: Ernest Hemingway, The Art of Fiction No. 21. The Paris Review, Spring 1958

Reflect on What You Can Put Your Agency Behind, On What You Can Be For, & Through Hard Choices, Become That Person

Far from being sources of agony and dread, hard choices are precious opportunities for us to celebrate what is special about the human condition.That the reasons that govern our choices as correct or incorrect sometimes run out and it is here, in the space of hard choices, that we have the power to create reasons for ourselves to become the distinctive people that we are. And that’s why hard choices are not a curse, but a godsend.” – Ruth Chang

In this splendid TED talk, philosopher Ruth Chang examines the misconceptions and unexamined assumptions that govern our understanding and handling of hard choices. She invites us to rethink how we frame the act of choosing between unequal alternatives, where each option is better in some ways than the other but neither is better overall. Rather than agonizing over trying to uncover the “right” option in such a situation, we should celebrate and enact our agency in creating the right reasons for ourselves. This is a modern take on Giovanni Pico della Mirandola‘s Oration on the Dignity of Man. Way back in 1486, Pico della Mirandola unhinged mankind from the Great Chain of Being, highlighting the agency we each possess in choosing and fashioning our own nature. It is this very agency, this power we have to choose who we shall be[come], that is the defining characteristic of the human condition, he argued. And it is through the hard choices we make, claims Chang, that we enact this great human power we all have to shape our being and embrace the fullness of our humanity.

{ t r u t h s

I think the puzzle arises because of an unreflective assumption we make about value. We unwittingly assume that values like justice, beauty, kindness, are akin to scientific quantities, like length, mass and weight. Take any comparative question not involving value, such as which of two suitcases is heavier? There are only three possibilities. The weight of one is greater, lesser or equal to the weight of the other. Properties like weight can be represented by real numbers — one, two, three and so on — and there are only three possible comparisons between any two real numbers. One number is greater, lesser, or equal to the other. Not so with values. As post-Enlightenment creatures, we tend to assume that scientific thinking holds the key to everything of importance in our world, but the world of value is different from the world of science. The stuff of the one world can be quantified by real numbers. The stuff of the other world can’t. We shouldn’t assume that the world of is, of lengths and weights, has the same structure as the world of ought, of what we should do. So if what matters to us — a child’s delight, the love you have for your partner — can’t be represented by real numbers, then there’s no reason to believe that in choice, there are only three possibilities — that one alternative is better, worse or equal to the other. We need to introduce a new, fourth relation beyond being better, worse or equal, that describes what’s going on in hard choices. I like to say that the alternatives are “on a par.” When alternatives are on a par, it may matter very much which you choose, but one alternative isn’t better than the other. Rather, the alternatives are in the same neighborhood of value, in the same league of value, while at the same time being very different in kind of value. That’s why the choice is hard.

Understanding hard choices in this way uncovers something about ourselves we didn’t know. Each of us has the power to create reasons. Imagine a world in which every choice you face is an easy choice, that is, there’s always a best alternative. If there’s a best alternative, then that’s the one you should choose, because part of being rational is doing the better thing rather than the worse thing, choosing what you have most reason to choose. In such a world, we’d have most reason to wear black socks instead of pink socks, to eat cereal instead of donuts, to live in the city rather than the country, to marry Betty instead of Lolita. A world full of only easy choices would enslave us to reasons. When you think about it, it’s nuts to believe that the reasons given to you dictated that you had most reason to pursue the exact hobbies you do, to live in the exact house you do, to work at the exact job you do. Instead, you faced alternatives that were on a par, hard choices, and you made reasons for yourself to choose that hobby, that house and that job. When alternatives are on a par, the reasons given to us, the ones that determine whether we’re making a mistake, are silent as to what to do. It’s here, in the space of hard choices, that we get to exercise our normative power, the power to create reasons for yourself, to make yourself into the kind of person for whom country living is preferable to the urban life.

When we choose between options that are on a par, we can do something really rather remarkable. We can put our very selves behind an option. Here’s where I stand. Here’s who I am. I am for banking. I am for chocolate donuts. This response in hard choices is a rational response, but it’s not dictated by reasons given to us. Rather, it’s supported by reasons created by us. When we create reasons for ourselves to become this kind of person rather than that, we wholeheartedly become the people that we are. You might say that we become the authors of our own lives.

*

So when we face hard choices, we shouldn’t beat our head against a wall trying to figure out which alternative is better. There is no best alternative. Instead of looking for reasons out there, we should be looking for reasons in here: Who am I to be? You might decide to be a pink sock-wearing, cereal-loving, country-living banker, and I might decide to be a black sock-wearing, urban, donut-loving artist. What we do in hard choices is very much up to each of us.

Neil Gaiman: Make Glorious & Fantastic Mistakes, Break Rules, Leave the World More Interesting For Your Being Here …*

Now go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes, break rules, leave the world more interesting for your being here, make good art.” – Neil Gaiman

I’ve finally had the opportunity to watch Neil Gaiman’s splendid commencement address to the 2012 graduating class of The University of the Arts In Philadelphia. In his speech, Gaiman shares some of the things he wished he had known starting out and the best piece of advice he’s ever received and completely failed to follow. To the extent that [ being | becoming ] an artist is about developing one’s voice (and perhaps, most critically, the courage to share and own that voice) this is an essential talk for any individual invested in living up to their full potential. I’ve transcribed some of my favorite bits below in case you don’t have the time to watch the video just yet, but I highly recommend watching it in its entirety when you get the chance.

watch & rethink …*

Neil Gaiman Addresses the University of the Arts Class of 2012 from The University of the Arts (Phl) on Vimeo.

[ E M B R A C E   S H O S H I N ]

First of all, when you start out on a career in the Arts, you have no idea what you’re doing. This is great. People who know what they’re doing, know the rules and they know what is possible and what is impossible. You do not and you should not. The rules on what is possible and impossible in the Arts, were made by people who had not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them. And you can. If you don’t know it’s impossible, it’s easier to do. And because nobody’s done it before, they haven’t made up rules to stop anyone doing that particular thing again.

[  K E E P   W A L K I N G   T O W A R D S   Y O U R   M O U N T A I N ]

Sometimes the way to do what you hope to do will be clear cut and sometimes it will be almost impossible to decide whether or not you’re doing the correct thing because you’ll have to balance your goals and hopes with feeding yourself, paying debts, finding work, settling for what you can get. Something that worked for me, was imagining that where I wanted to be, which was an author, primarily fiction, making good books, making good comics, making good drama and supporting myself through my words—imagining that was a mountain, a distant mountain. My goal. And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain, I’d be alright. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain. I said no to editorial jobs on magazines, proper jobs that would have paid proper money, because I knew that attractive though they were, for me, they would have been walking away from the mountain. And if those job offers had come earlier, I might have taken them because they still would have been closer to the mountain than I was at that time. I learned to write by writing. I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure and to stop when it felt like work, which meant that life did not feel like work.

[ M A K E   M I S T A K E S ]

Fourthly, I hope you’ll make mistakes. If you make mistakes it means you’re out there doing something. And the mistakes in themselves can be very useful. I once misspelled Caroline in a letter, transposing the A and the O, and I thought, “Coraline,” looks almost like a real name.

[ M A K E   G O O D   A R T ] 

When things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician–make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor—make good art. IRS on your trail—make good art. Cat exploded—make good art. Someone on the Internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before— make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, eventually time will take the sting away, and that doesn’t even matter. Do what only you can do best: Make good art. Make it on the bad days, make it on the good days, too.

[ C R E A T E   &   L I V E   A S   O N L Y   Y O U   C A N ]

And fifthly, while you’re at it, make your art—do the stuff that only you can do. The urge, starting out, is to copy and that’s not a bad thing. Most of us only find our own voices after we’ve sounded like a lot of other people. But the one thing that you have, that nobody else has, is you—your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build, and play and dance and live as only you can. The moment that you feel that just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself, that’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.

[ E M B R A C E   U N C E R T A I N T Y ]

 The things I’ve done that worked the best, were the things I was the least certain about. The stories where I was sure they’d either work or more likely be the kind of embarrassing failures that people would gather together and discuss until the end of time—they always had that in common. Looking back at them, people explained why they were inevitable successes and when I was doing them, I had no idea. I still don’t and where would be the fun in making something you knew was going to work? And sometimes the things I did really didn’t work. There are stories of mine that have never been reprinted, some of them never even left the house. But I learned as much from them as I did from the things that worked.

[ L E T   G O   &   E N J O Y   T H E   R I D E ]

So when I agreed to give this address, I thought, “what is the best piece of advice I was ever given?” And I realized that it was actually a piece of advice that I had failed to follow. And it came from Stephen King. It was twenty years ago, at the height of the initial success of Sandman, the comic I was writing. I was writing a comic people loved and they were taking it seriously. And Stephen King liked Sandman and my novel with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens, and he saw the madness that was going on, the long signing lines, all of that stuff and his advice to me was this: he said, “this is really great, you should enjoy it.” And I didn’t. Best advice I ever got that I ignored. Instead, I worried about it. I worried about the next deadline, the next idea, the next story. There wasn’t a moment for the next fourteen or fifteen years, that I wasn’t writing something in my head or wondering about it. And I didn’t stop and look around and go, “this is really fun.” I wish I’d enjoyed it more. It’s been an amazing ride but there were parts of the ride I missed because I was too worried about things going wrong, about what came next, to enjoy the bit that I was on. That was the hardest lesson for me, I think—to let go and enjoy the ride. Because the ride takes you to some remarkable and unexpected places.

[ F A K E   I T   T O   M A K E    I T,   I F   Y O U   N E E D   T O ]

Someone asked me recently how to do something she thought was going to be difficult–in this case, recording an audio book. And I suggested she pretend that she was someone who could do it. Not pretend to do it, but pretend she was someone who could. She put up a notice to this effect on the studio wall and she said it helped. So be wise because the world needs more wisdom. And if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise and then just behave like they would.

*

Debbie Millman on Finding Inner Courage, Taking Responsibility for Your Own Happiness & Growing Into Your Self …*

“Imagine immensities. Try to pick yourself up from rejection. And, plow ahead. Don’t compromise. Start now. Start now, every single day.” -Debbie Millman on what it means to her to live a good life.

Is It Really Possible To Design Your Life via The Good Life Project, published April 23, 2014.

Here is a wonderful interview with Debbie Millman by Jonathan Fields of The Good Life Project. In this hour long conversation Debbie, with her characteristic honesty, intelligence and elegance, shares how she has designed her life, and attempted to create and own a sense of meaning and purpose in the process. 

– YOU CHANGE CONSTANTLY, WHETHER YOU REALIZE IT OR NOT – 

“I very very recently found diaries–I kept diaries from 1973 until 1992–and I’ve been going through them and reading them all and I realized just how low I felt and how hopeless I felt about life. It’s sort of interesting, I think as you grow as a person, as a human being, you sort of somehow think you’re still the same person, you’re just bringing all of those experiences along and yes, you’ve realized more, but you’re intrinsically the same person. And I guess, I’ve been thinking a lot about that because now that I’m in my fifties, I feel like I’m still fourteen. But then when I went back and read my journals at fourteen, or my diaries, I am definitely not fourteen and I am nothing like that fourteen year old person, nor am I like the thirty-two or forty-two year old person. But going through that is what gives you that clarity–seeing how far you’ve actually come. How there isn’t quite as much self-loathing. How there isn’t quite as much insecurity–it’s still there but it’s not the prevailing emotion.”

– DON’T GIVE UP HOPE OF GROWING INTO YOURSELF – 

“The one common denominator that I can share with anybody that feels self-loathing, or insecurity in their twenties, or thirties, or forties, or fifties, is don’t give up hope that that might not ever go away because I think it does. I’ve done about, now, two-hundred interviews, I’m close to my two-hundredth episode of Design Matters and then there’s been all sorts of live events that I’ve done over the years and then all the interviews that I’ve done for Brand Thinking and How to Think Like A Great Graphic Designer, and the one common denominator that I can share that great brand thinkers, great cultural commentators, great designers have shared with me over the years is that they all feel like they have to get up everyday and do it again. They all feel like they very well may be discovered as phonies, they very well may never ever achieve what they’d hoped. The only two people in all the years that I’ve done this that have been different in that–that have had a different experience in articulating who they are and what they believe–are Milton Glaser and Massimo Vignelli. But I think the common denominator that they share, is that they’re both in their eighties. They’re both in their eighties. I think by the time we’re eighty, we’ll be like, “ok, you know, this is who I am.” Either that or you don’t have any idea who you are. “

– YOUR HAPPINESS IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY – 

“You have to make your own happiness, wherever you are–your job isn’t going to make you happy, your spouse isn’t going to make you happy, the weather isn’t going to make you happy, a restaurant isn’t going to make you happy. I think you have to decide what you want and you have to find that way of doing it, whether or not the outside circumstances are going to participate in your success. And for people that want to create something meaningful, if you’re not getting it at work, then do it at home. If you’re not getting it everyday in the workplace, self-generate your own work. Make what you need to do to be happy. Even if other people think it’s crap, even if other people think it’s terrible. You have to be able to create your own happiness, period.” 

– FINDING INNER COURAGE – 

“That’s why I took Milton [Glaser]’s class, it was touted as a really good class for people mid-career that wanted to shift the focus of what they were doing and sort of find their inner courage. And it changed my life, it absolutely changed my life. Where, suddenly, Milton was very very clear about defending your life, about owning your choices, about making the choices that you hold yourself to as if you had no issue with succeeding. What would you do if you weren’t afraid? What would you do if you didn’t have to worry about being successful? And he has you envision your whole life–your entire life, five years from that moment in time–if you could do anything in the world that you wanted, what would it be? And you have to own it, you have to defend it, you have to declare it. And he talked about the magic in that exercise. And how over the fifty years he’s been teaching, that this particular class was the most important class that he taught and how it transforms lives. He talked about how he’d always heard from people that that exercise, that class, was the defining moment–the before and the after–and that was what it was for me. And suddenly I had this scenario, this vision, and that is what I think has helped propel me to lead a more purposeful life.”

– BUSY IS A DECISION – 

“I’m afraid to give up stuff. I’ll take on new things and still do the old stuff. That’s become a little bit untenable […] I’m a big proponent of “busy is a decision”–you decide what you want to do and the things that are important to you and you don’t find the time to do things, you make the time to do things. And if you aren’t doing them because you are “too busy,” it’s likely it’s not as much of a priority as is what it is you’re actually doing. And that could be watching reruns of Law and Order SVU, you know, I do that all the time, but you have to own that and you have to really say, “Ok, I know that this isn’t as important to me as watching Olivia Benson get the bad guys.” I think knowing it helps.”

– REACHING THE NEXT STEP BY TAKING A LEAP OF FAITH –

“What I’ve done, because I am so afraid of giving something secure up for the unknown, is I’ve kept the secure and then taken on the unknown. You know, there’s that scene in the third installment of Indiana Jones, where Harrison Ford just takes a step–I think you have to do that. I don’t think you can achieve anything meaningful without taking it. […] I think in order to take that next step you literally have to take the step and hope the ground is beneath you.”  

-THE MAGIC OF OWNING YOUR VISION FOR YOUR LIFE –

“In that class with Milton, I made a list–I love lists–I made a list of all the things that I still dreamt that I could do or achieve or experience. And it wasn’t a bucket list, it was like twelve things and I put the list away. I finished Milton’s class and then I started to try ever so sort of elegantly, or inelegantly, to take the steps to try to get a few of those things. And once a year now I reread the essay that I wrote and then I look at the list and it’s mind-boggling because there are things on the list that I actually forgot we’re on the list and it’s scary how so many of them have become something that has manifested. And you know, Milton says it’s magic, maybe it is.”

listen & rethink …

Rethinking…* Homelessness & Artistic Expression ~ Starving Artists Project

There’s now a record 46,000 homeless people in New York City struggling to communicate their very basic need for help, the need for food, the need for shelter, the need to be recognized. They reach out through the only means they have: scraps of cardboard and their own creativity. Sadly, we don’t even look, we’ve been subconsciously trained to ignore even the passionate cries for help of the homeless to go completely unnoticed. But what if there was a way to change this by changing the way we interpret these messages. After observing the creation of these signs, it became clear that these were not just messages, but rather heartfelt, beautiful pieces of handmade human expression. These were in every way individual pieces of art. We made it our mission to redirect these artful cries for help away from the streets to a forum where they could be properly seen and appreciated to inspire change.

Starving Artists Project is a social art initiative giving the NYC homeless community’s artistic cries for help a larger platform to inspire greater action.  Founded by Thompson Harrell & Nick Zafonte, the Starving Artists Project is based on the recognition that the signs for help of homeless people are “not just messages, but rather heartfelt, beautiful pieces of handmade human expression”, which led to their mission: “to redirect their artful cries for help from the streets to a forum where they can be properly appreciated, giving the homeless a more powerful voice, to bring about a more profound change.” Partnering up with world-renowned photographer, Andrew Zuckerman, Starving Artists Project photographed nearly thirty artists and collected their messages. The collection made its debut at the Dumbo Art Center in Brooklyn, NY, with the artists there to be recognized by the public.

Enjoy & rethink…*

(The Starving Artists Project Film from Thompson Harrell on Vimeo.)

 

John John

By John John

Shavar Stora

By Shavar Stora

Head over to StarvingArtistsProject.com for more pictures of the artists and their work.

(images via: starvingartistproject.com)

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