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{ 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



2 Great Women, 2 Great Online Courses –> Debbie Millman on Creating Visual Narratives & Brené Brown on the Power of Vulnerability …*

An Online Skillshare Class by Debbie Millman

Knowmads delight * here are two super exciting courses from some mighty intelligent and inspirational women.

Debbie Millman has a new course on SkillshareThe Art of the Story: Creating Visual Narratives, aimed at anyone with “a love of language, a passion for art, and a desire to bring them together.”

Join one of design’s most beloved advocates for a class exploring visual stories. Debbie Millman is world-renowned as the host of Design Matters, co-founder of SVA’s Masters in Branding program, president of the consultant group Sterling Brands, and an award-winning author and artist.

Learn how to craft a narrative, edit your writing, find inspiration in history, and experiment with materials. Plus, this class features an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at Debbie’s personal collection of favorite visual stories, books, art objects, and more.

This class is ideal for designers, writers, and everyone with a story to tell. 

. . . *

Meanwhile on Udemy, Brené Brown is offering a course on the Power of Vulnerability aimed at “anyone interested in learning more about vulnerability and how to live wholeheartedly.”

By the end of the course, you will be able to 1) Explain how to cultivate shame resilience—the key to developing a sense of worth and belonging, 2) Discuss vulnerability as the origin point for innovation, adaptability, accountability, and visionary leadership, 3) Discuss emotional armory—how to avoid feeling vulnerable; myths of vulnerability—common misconceptions about weakness, trust, and self-sufficiency; and vulnerability triggers—recognizing what makes us shut down, and how we can change, 4) Summarize the 10 guideposts of wholehearted living—essential skills for becoming fully engaged in life.

I think these two courses would complement one another extremely well. The need for courage in creativity, and the ways in which shame and fear of failure harm the creative process are all topics that Debbie has addressed from her perspective as an artist on numerous occasions. In fact just last week, I featured Debbie (and Brené!) talking about wholeheartedness and courage. So why not learn how to harness your vulnerability as you learn to create visual narratives?

I’m enrolling this instant. Join me?

It is the willingness to confront one’s assumptions that counts ~ Dominic Randolph on Creativity & Inspiration

In the Spring of 2009, as part of an oral history project centered on creativity and inspiration, I interviewed artists involved in a wide range of mediums, spanning from film to etching including painting, poetry, writing, music, and photography. I started off each interview with the topic of inspiration or its absence. One of my interviewees was Dominic Randolph–Sketcher, Etcher, Writer, Singer and Educator–on his creative process & sources of inspiration. Here is the interview in full, reprinted with his permission:

I get inspired by words, metaphors, provocative images, also other stories… many from memories. You take an idea and run with it…sort of brainstorming. For example, I remember being invited to a tea with the abbot of a Finnish Orthodox Monastery, I was living and working at the monastery for the summer. He was a Russian–sort of out of a novel living in the Abbott’s house–a Victorian house overlooking a lake. He had one of the old samovars that whistled away. It was odd to be with a number of young students meeting with the Abbott, but unable to speak with him. We had tea and then walked in the orchard. I can still remember that the air was cold, but it was sunny. The apple trees were in bloom. The next day we were again peeling potatoes and raking leaves. I wondered what the Abbott was doing since we never really saw him walk around the rest of the monastery.

There are many things I could mine in this–the apple trees, the cold water of the lake, the odd Russian/Finnish/global thing. I would probably sketch around and doodle and write–see if anything interesting emerges to then move on the next level. The next level is something that is more of its own–a drawing or a story or both–something that is connected to the original inspiration, but has its own integrity or life. Perhaps there is some image of apples and water that I could play off of. “Apples+Water”,  not a bad title. I could link this to other places where apples and water play off of one and another–remember “The Orchard” in Cambridge. That also links the idea to poets that I know–could be some interesting linkage there between British and Russian poets.

Of course sometimes they are just sketches or doodles or failures. I wait for something to catch my imagination. I don’t really think it has much to do with a creative mindset, no I think it is more of a constant thing but I do think that to produce something worthwhile (at the next level) one needs to get into “flow”. Here are the components of “flow” from Wikipedia: Csíkszentmihályi identifies the following nine factors as accompanying an experience of flow:

  1. Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one’s skill set and abilities).
  2. Concentrating and focusing, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
  3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.
  4. Distorted sense of time, one’s subjective experience of time is altered.
  5. Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
  6. Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
  7. A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
  8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
  9. People become absorbed in their activity, and focus of awareness is narrowed down to the activity itself, action awareness merging.

Not all are needed for flow to be experienced…

For me the flow is when you just forget that time exists and become super-involved in a certain task; you are interested in something and your interest takes over completely. I guess it happens naturally. I do think that there are some things that help–getting good sleep and having a space that is conducive to concentration–those things help. I think that it is also helpful if one has experienced flow before in one’s life… I think that it is addictive. The first time I experienced it was probably when I was playing an instrument when young–I think that you also need to attain a level of proficiency doing something so that it can become automatic to some degree, doing sports as well, running…There are periods when I don’t experience flow–when I am tired, distracted by other things, depressed–It makes me more frustrated than anything else. I’m not certain that I fear losing the potential of flow since I find I can get to it pretty easily.

Being around people who are idea generators helps. I think that there are people who are always thinking about different, new things; there are actually loads of people like this–much more common than we are led to believe. There are creative waiters and bus drivers, but we make out that only artists have real creative capacity…bullshit and a really unhelpful myth. Everyone has the potential to create, to experience the flow, absolutely. I think that we could all be more creative in our lives. It is just a matter of acquiring a certain mindset, of assuming that things can always be improved upon whether it is an idea, a drawing or the way that you cross the road…

Any experiences that are different from the routine are possibly an aid to creativity. Creative tension arises when one’s assumptions about something are questioned. So drinking mate from a gourd instead of Earl Grey out of a porcelain cup is going to make me think more creatively about tea. I don’t think that travel is a must, though–some of the most creative people didn’t travel much at all. It is the willingness to confront one’s assumptions that counts.

I just saw a bee outside of the window and remembered going to Corfe Castle in Dorset with my mother, brother and aunt. We were having tea in a garden next to the castle when we were attacked by bees interested in the jam. We were swatting them, running around trying to not get bitten…had to run into the house and let the bees win. Interesting idea of how nature can confound us, we think we are in control and then suddenly, we are no longer in control. I could think of drawing something that played with this conflict.


I have always been fascinated by the idea of the labyrinth–think of the Minotaur, the clammy walls, the fear, the thread. Why do we want to walk in a labyrinth? Do we always want to be on a journey or path to find something? Is it something grotesque, or something enlightening?

I love the idea of punctuation as being something more than a protocol for making sense. I am obsessed with ellipsis right now–the path, the potential, the dots moving our minds along, to what?

They’re cool, image-wise, and then you start thinking about what they can mean…perhaps it is a matter of looking for the extraordinary in the ordinary, like Morandi and his bottles. He just sat in his room and painted bottles again and again.



The Russian Formalists talked about this idea of estrangement. Roman Jakobson described literature as “organized violence committed on ordinary speech.” Literature constitutes a deviation from average speech that intensifies, invigorates, and estranges the mundane speech patterns. In other words, for the Formalists, literature is set apart because it is just that: set apart. The use of devices such as imagery, rhythm, and meter is what separates “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns (Nabokov Lolita 9)”, from “the assignment for next week is on page eighty four.” This estrangement serves literature by forcing the reader to think about what might have been an ordinary piece of writing about a common life experience in a more thoughtful way. A piece of writing in a novel versus a piece of writing in a fishing magazine. At the very least, literature should encourage readers to stop and look closer at scenes and happenings they otherwise might have skimmed through uncaring. The reader is not meant to be able to skim through literature. When addressed in a language of estrangement, speech cannot to be skimmed through. “In the routines of everyday speech, our perceptions of and responses to reality become stale, blunted, and as the Formalists would say ‘automatized’. Literature by forcing us into a dramatic awareness of language, refreshes these habitual responses and renders objects more perceptible (Eagleton ‘What Is Literature’).” In 1917, Russian Formalist scholar Victor Shklovsky coined the term ostranenie to describe the artistic strategy of presenting the well-known as if seen for the first time. The term is translated into German as Verfremdung, which became the cornerstone of Bertolt Brecht’s anti-Aristotelian dramaturgy of estrangement. The traditional means of estrangement in theater are epic devices central to Brecht’s strategy of breaking theatrical…taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary….taking the little girl’s walk through the woods and making it into Little Red Riding Hood…taking advertisements and making them into artistic statements.

The duckrabbit confronts one’s assumptions about things, it challenges one’s perceptions (what you think is a duck is actually a rabbit)–how can you have an image of one thing be an image of something else? The duckrabbit is key…It creates the paradox, creates the tension, read something one way and understand that there is another way of reading. Interpretation and meaning.

Restlessness…Chatwin was right…always seeking…always uneasy…get unhoused…to drive from a house or habitation; to dislodge; hence, to deprive of shelter…it also means to make people feel uncomfortable, to shake up…




Remembering Chris Marker

“That there was a certain relationship between these two films [La Jetée & Sans Soleil] was something I was aware of, but I didn’t think I needed to explain–until I found a small anonymous note published in a program in Tokyo that said, “Soon the voyage will be at an end. It’s only then that we will know if the juxtaposition of images makes any sense. We will understand that we have prayed with film, as one must on a pilgrimage, each time we have been in the presence of death: in the cat cemetery, standing in front of the dead giraffe, with the kamikazes at the moment of takeoff, in front of the guerrillas killed in the war for independence. In La Jetée, the foolhardy experiment to look in the future ends in death. By treating the same subject twenty years later, Marker has overcome death by prayer.” When you read that, written by someone you don’t know, who knows nothing of how the films came to be, you feel a certain emotion. “Something” has happened. Chris Marker March 5, 2003 Interview, first published in Libération.

We were deeply saddened to hear of french filmmaker, Chris Marker’s passing today.

Marker is an exemplary rethinker; a man who sought to break past the confines of linearity and form to rethink not only filmmaking but the storytelling process itself. We are lucky that a small part of his vision and beautiful, unfathomably deep imagination, empathy and understanding of humanity are forever captured in his art. Join us in celebrating his work and life!

View Junktopia ~ 6 minute film by Chris Marker, John Chapman & Frank Simeone (1981)

Enjoy this retrospective image gallery on Criterion


This interview first appeared in the Paris daily Libération, on March 5, 2003, to mark the French DVD release of Sans Soleil and La Jetée. It was translated by Chris Marker for the 2007 Criterion Collection of the La Jetée/ Sans Soleil DVD release. The interview is printed on the booklet that accompanies the La Jetée/ Sans Soleil Criterion Collection DVD and can also be found on Filmlinc.com

Cinema, photo-novels, CD-ROMS, video installations–is there any medium that you haven’t tried? 


Why have you agreed to the release of some of your films on DVD, and how did you make the choice?

Twenty years separate La Jetée [1963] from Sans Soleil [1983]. And another twenty years separate Sans Soleil from the present. If I were to speak in the name of the person who made those movies, that wouldn’t be journalism but rather spiritism. In fact, I don’t think I either chose or accepted: somebody talked about it, and it got done. That there was a certain relationship between these two films was something I was aware of, but I didn’t think I needed to explain–until I found a small anonymous note published in a program in Tokyo that said, “Soon the voyage will be at an end. It’s only then that we will know if the juxtaposition of images makes any sense. We will understand that we have prayed with film, as one must on a pilgrimage, each time we have been in the presence of death: in the cat cemetery, standing in front of the dead giraffe, with the kamikazes at the moment of takeoff, in front of the guerrillas killed in the war for independence. In La Jetée, the foolhardy experiment to look in the future ends in death. By treating the same subject twenty years later, Marker has overcome death by prayer.” When you read that, written by someone you don’t know, who knows nothing of how the films came to be, you feel a certain emotion. “Something” has happened.

When Immemory, your CD-ROM, was released, in 1999, you said that you had found the ideal medium. What do you think of DVD?

With the CD-ROM, it’s not so much the technology that’s important as the architecture, the arborescence, the mood of play. There will continue to be DVD-ROMs. DVD technology is great, but it still isn’t cinema.

Godard nailed it once and for all: at the cinema, you raise your eyes to the screen; in front of the television, you lower them. Then there is the role of the shutter. Out of the two hours you spend in a movie theater, you spend one in the dark. It’s the nocturnal portion that stays with us, that “fixes” our memory of a film (the way you fix color on a canvas) in a different way than the same film seen on television or on a monitor. But having said that, let’s be honest, I’ve just watched the ballet from An American in Paris on the screen of my iBook, and I very nearly rediscovered the exhilaration that we felt in London, in 1952, when I was there with Alain Resnais and Ghislain Cloquet, during the filming of Statues Also Die, when we would start every day by seeing the 10:00 a.m. show of An American in Paris at a theater in Leicester Square. An exhilaration that I feared I had lost forever when watching the film on cassette.

Does the democratization of the means of filmmaking (DV, digital editing, distribution via the Internet) seduce the socially engaged filmmaker that you are?

Here’s a good opportunity to get rid of a label that’s been stuck on me. For many people, “engaged” means “political,” and politics, the art of compromise (which is as it should be–if there is no compromise, there is only brute force, of which we’re seeing an example right now), bores me to death. What fires me is History, and politics interest me only to the extent it represents a slice of History cut in the present. With a recurring curiosity (if I identify with any Kipling character, it’s the Elephant’s Child of Just So Stories, with his “satiable curiosity”), I keep asking myself: how do people manage to live in such a world? Hence my mania to run and see “how things work” here or there…For a long time, those who were the best placed to describe how things work didn’t posses the tools to give shape to their testimonies–and raw testimonies quickly wear out. And now, suddenly, these tools exist. It’s true that for people like me, it’s a closed loop.

A necessary caution: “the democratization of tools” gets rid of many financial and technical constraints but does not save us from the constraints of working. Owning a DV camera does not magically confer talent on someone who doesn’t have any or who is too lazy to even ask himself if he does. You can miniaturize as much as you want, but a film will always require a great, great deal of work–and an incentive. That was the whole story of the Medvedkin groups, those young workers who, in the post-’68 era, tried to make short films about their own lives, and whom we tried to help on the technical level, with the means of the time. Did they moan! “We come back from the grind, and you ask us to work again…” But they stuck with it, and apparently something happened there, too, since thirty years later, we saw them present their films at the Belfort festival in front of an attentive audience. The means of the time was 16mm silent, which meant three-minute camera rolls, a laboratory, an editing table, some way of adding sound–everything that you have now right inside a little case that fits in your hand. A little lesson in modesty for the spoiled children of today, just like the spoiled children of 1970 got their lesson in modesty by putting themselves under the patronage of Alexander Ivanovich Medvedkin and his cine-train. For the benefit of the younger generation, Medvedking was a Russian filmmaker who, in 1936, and with the means that were proper to his time (35mm film, editing table, and film lab installed in the train), essentially invented television: shoot during the day, print and edit at night, show in the next day to the people you filmed (and who often participated in the editing). I think that it’s this fabled and long-forgotten bit of the history (Medvedkin isn’t even mentioned in Georges Sadoul’s book, considered in its day the Soviet cinema bible) that underlies a large part of my work–in the end, perhaps, the only coherent part. To try to give the power of speech to people who don’t have it, and, when it’s possible, to help them find their own means of expression. Such were the workers I filmed in 1967 at Rhodiaceta. Such were the Kosovars I filmed in 2000, who had never been heard on television: everyone was speaking on their behalf, but once you no longer saw them on the road, bloody and sobbing, people lost interest in them. Such were the young aspiring filmmakers in Guinea-Bissau whom I found myself introducing, to my great surprise to the editing of Battleship Potemkin, using an old print on rusty reels, and who have now had their films selected for competitions in Venice (keep an eye out for the next musical by Flora Gomes). I found the Medvedkin syndrome again in a Bosnian refugee camp, in 1993–a bunch of kids who had learned all the tricks of television, with anchorpersons and special effects on the credits, by pirating satellite TV and using equipment supplied by an NGO, but who didn’t ape the dominant idiom: they just used the codes in order to establish credibility, and they fed back the information to other refugees. An exemplary experience. They had the tools, and they had the incentive. Both are indispensable.

Do you prefer television, movies on a big screen, or surfing the Internet?

I have a completely schizophrenic relationship with television. When I assume I’m the only one in world, I adore it, particularly since there’s been cable. It’s curious how cable offers an entire catalog of antidotes to the poisons of standard TV. If one network shows a ridiculous TV movie about Napoléon, you can flip over to the History Channel to hear Henri Guillermin’s brilliantly nasty commentary on him. If a literary program makes us submit to a parade of currently fashionable female monsters, we can change over to Mezzo to contemplate the luminous face of Hélène Grimaud, surrounded by her wolves, and it’s as if the others never existed. Now there are moments when I remember I am not alone in the world, and that’s when I fall apart. The exponential growth of stupidity and vulgarity is something that everyone has noticed, but it’s not just a vague sense of disgust–it’s a concrete, quantifiable fact (you can measure it by the volume of the cheers that greet the talk-show hosts, which have grown by an alarming number of decibels in the last five years) that comes close to a crime against humanity. Not to mention the permanent aggressions on the French language…And since you are exploiting my Russian penchant for confession, I must say the worst: I am allergic to commercials. In the early sixties, that allergy was rather well considered. Today it’s unavowable. I can do nothing about it. This manner of placing the very mechanics of calumny in the service of praise always made me bristle, even if I have to admit that this diabolical patron has occasionally given us some of the most beautiful images you can see on the small screen (have you seen the David Lynch commercial with the blue lips?). A small consolation in the vocabulary: sometimes the cynics spill the beans. Stopping short of calling themselves “creators,” they trade it for “creatives” (in French, créatifs). And there the unconscious functions rather well: imagine what “gladiatives” could be.

And the movies in all this? For the reasons mentioned above, under Jean-Luc’s wing, I’ve said for a long time that films should be seen first in theaters, and that television and video are only there to refresh your memory. Now that I no longer have any time at all to go to the cinema, I’ve started seeing films by lowering my eyes, with an ever increasing sense of sinfulness (this interview is indeed becoming Dostoyevskian). But to tell the truth, I no longer watch many films, only those by friends or curiosities that an American acquaintance tapes for me on TCM. There is too much to see on the news, on the music channels, or on the indispensable Animal Channel. And I feed my hunger for fiction with what is by far the most accomplished source: those terrific American TV series like Deadwood, Firefly, or The WireThere is a knowledge in them, a sense of story and economy, of ellipsis, a science of framing and cutting, a dramaturgy, and an acting style that has no equal anywhere, and certainly not in Hollywood.

La Jetée inspired a video by David Bowie and a film by Terry Gilliam. And there’s also a bar called La Jetée in Japan. How do you feel about this cult? Does Terry Gilliam’s imagination intersect with yours? 

Terry’s imagination is so rich that there’s no need to play with comparisons. Certainly, for me 12 Monkeys [1995] is a magnificent film (there are people who think they are flattering me by saying otherwise, that La Jetée is much better–this world is peculiar…) It’s just one of the happy signs, like Bowie’s video, like the bar in Shinjuku (Hi, Tomoyo! To think that for forty years lots of Japanese have been getting happily plastered every night beneath my images is worth any Academy Award…), that have accompanied the strange destiny of this particular film. Since it was made like a piece of automatic writing, I’d have a hard time taking credit for it. It just happened, that’s all. I was filming Le joli mai, completely immersed in the reality of Paris 1962 and the euphoric discovery of Direct Cinema (you will never make me say “cinema verité”), and on the crew’s day off, I photographed a story I hardly understood. It’s in the cutting room that the pieces of the puzzle came together, and it wasn’t me who designed the puzzle. 

You are a witness of history, are you still interested in world affairs? What makes you jump to your feet, react, shout?

Right now there are some very obvious reasons to jump, and we know them all so well that there’s no need to overreact. What remains are the small personal resentments. I give you two examples. Among our group of friends in the forties, the one we all considered to be a future great writer was François Vernet. He had already published three books, and the fourth was to be a collection of short stories that he had written during the occupation, with a vigor and an insolence that obviously left him little hope with the censors. The book wasn’t published until 1945. Meanwhile, François had died in Dachau. Don’t misread me: I’m not trying to blackmail people in the name of martyrdom. Even if this death puts a kind of symbolic seal on a destiny that was already quite singular, the texts themselves are of such a rare quality that there is no need to seek extraliterary reasons for loving them and introducing them to others. Last year a courageous publisher fell in love with the book and took the risk of reprinting it. I did everything I could to mobilize people I knew, not in order to make it the event of the season but simply to get it talked about. But no, there were already too many books during that season, and there was hardly a word in the press.

Another example: Capriccio Records released a new recording by Viktor Ullman. Under his name alone this time. Previously, he and Gideon Klein had been recorded as “Theresienstadt composers” (for younger readers: Theresienstadt was the model concentration camp designed to be visited by the Red Cross; the Nazis made a film about it called The Führer Gives a City to The Jews). With the best intentions in the world, that name was a way of putting them both back in the camp. If Messiaen had died after he composed the Quartet for the End of Time, would he be the “prison camp composer”?

This record is astounding: it contains lieder based on texts by Hölderlin and Rilke, and one is transfixed by the vertiginous thought that, at that particular time, no one was glorifying the true German culture better than this Jewish musician who was soon to die at Auschwitz. This time, there wasn’t total silence–just a few flattering lines in the arts pages. Wasn’t it worth a bit more? What makes me mad isn’t that what we call “media coverage” is generally reserved for people I personally find rather mediocre–that’s a matter of opinion, and I wish them no ill. It’s that the noise, in the electronic sense, just gest louder and louder and ends up drowning out everything, until it becomes a monopoly just like the way supermarkets force out the corner stores. That the unknown writer and the brilliant musician have the right to the same consideration as the corner storekeeper may be too much to ask.

Have your travels made you suspicious of dogmatism?

I think I was already suspicious when I was born. I must have traveled a lot before then! 


E Haunting Index

Wow! I spent most of this morning trying to think about my own Haunting Index and it was an incredible experience. I was flooded with memories of so many of the things and people that have touched and changed me.

Here are one or two from each category:

Book ~ And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos ~ John Berger

Film ~ Aguirre, The Wrath of God ~ Werner Herzog

Poem ~ Where the Bastard is God ~ Dambudzo Marechera & Musée des Beaux Arts ~ W.H. Auden

Image ~ The Swing ~ Jean-Honoré Fragonard

Place ~ The market in Port Louis, Mauritius

Smell ~ Mix of incense, horse, sweat & wine during Bartabas’ show Loungta in Paris

Sound ~ My grandfather clearing his throat in the room next door to reassure me at night in the summers

Taste ~ My grandmother’s macaroni & cheese and her fillet de boeuf sauce madère

Moment ~ Descending into the Ngorongoro crater in the Serengeti, at dawn

Ritual ~ Sharing a Bounty bar with my mother, sitting in the car while going under the washing rollers

Childhood ~ ladybug cemetery, Arthur, new kid, stars, reading, Marine, playing

Obsession ~ theviolenceofpunctuation & getting lost

Object ~ my grandmother’s ring, a mounted Napoleon III coin

Other~ The life/memory of trees

What haunting means to me: Haunting is eternal. It’s when the external feels immediate inside. It leads to joy, ecstasy even, but also despair and depression. You don’t always know when something will haunt you, or why it does.

What does your Index look like??

Haunting me…? [DAAR]

Constraining myself to one choice…

Book: Tristram Shandy by Laurence Stern

Film: Withnail & I by Bruce Robinson

Poem: “This Be the Verse” by Philip Larkin

Image: Duckrabbit

Place: Budir, Iceland

Smell: Oudh

Sound: “Let it Loose” the Rolling Stones

Taste: Laphroaig whiskey from Islay

Moment: Marriage in Sainte Nathalene, France

Ritual: Annual walk up Red Hill, NH

Childhood: Cornerways, Finchampstead, Berkshire

Obsession: Walking boots (Limmer, White’s, Wolverine…)

Object: Montblanc 149 Diplomat fountain pen

Fear: Losing my umbrella

Food: Blanquette de Veau

Concept: Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle

Wine: Minervois, La Liviniere

Spice: Tellicherry black pepper

Other: 3-speed British roadster bicycle

What haunting means to you: feeling as though it fits or you have already experienced it…*

On the Things that Haunt Us




Who am I? If this once I were to rely on a proverb, then perhaps everything would amount to knowing whom I “haunt.”

So begins André Breton’s Nadja, perhaps the best embodiment of the spirit and attitudes of the Surrealist movement. It’s an interesting question, who am I? So much of how you answer has to do with who you are, and what you understand the question to mean. Is it whom I haunt? Or is it what I’ve accomplished; what I think I am; what I want to be; what others think I am; what haunts me? Who am I? It’s an eternal question and no single response can exist. But it’s worthwhile to think about because your answers mean so much to how you conceive of and interact with others and the world around you.

A few days ago we were writing about the absence of public collective spaces in which to reflect, as a community, on our experiences of self and existence in a deep, meaningful and productive context. Perhaps it is because we lack this sense of having a right, place and time to talk about our meaningful ideas and violent obsessions surrounding existence and humanity that we often resort to surface-level small talk when meeting new people. This is not to say that talking superficially about our education, our professional backgrounds, where were from, what we like to do in our free time, what sports teams won last night and what the weather will be like tomorrow are not interesting conversations, but they reveal so very little about how we truly exist in the everyday. Why don’t we discuss the ideas that matter most to us in those beautiful opportunities we have to engage with strangers? Why don’t we seek to have our models, ideas, beliefs and systems challenged by another’s perspective and collectively re-imagined in the course of these brief impromptu exchanges? Of course these conversations might not be well suited to the fleeting contexts in which they occur but that should not been seen as a barrier. Rather, it is a call to action to rethink ways in which to integrate the exchange of deep, meaningful ideas into short and spontaneous interactions.

It’s important to share how you and others experience the everyday, and we (cultural we) rarely do. How we live, what it means to be us, every day, to be human, to deal with our need for meaning, that is something that every single person on this planet grapples with. From the slums of Calcutta to the skyscrapers of New York, we all deal with being human every day.

Take a second and concentrate on what goes through your mind as you think about the word  PEOPLE.

For most of us, when we think of people, we think either of the individuals in our immediate reality–our friends, family and acquaintances–or we think of people as an abstraction–People, statistics, the billions of others we know share our planet but never see. And that’s very problematic because it reinforces the often perceived binary of humanity as unchangeably divided between we and them.

That imagined dualism is a big part of how we start to dehumanize them, the ‘others’–all those people who aren’t us, and who have problems, beliefs, and systems we want to ignore because they threaten our own model of existence and reality. When there is a we and a them how can humanity move forward? All hierarchies–social, cultural, geographic, economic, etc. are man made, they are systems to deal with reality in ways that fit the dominant definition of it. The need and desire for all to be aware and keep in mind that every single person experiences existence through our shared human condition and that we are all entitled to flourish, feel safe, nurtured and valued is not about institutions. It’s not hippie, communist, utopist, or other -ist propaganda, it’s a core belief that every single human life is equally valuable. It’s an attempt to move past all the institutions that govern our existence and to see other people as they are: so like us. We all have our unique mix of dreams, desires, needs, fears and characteristics but we are all human.

Perhaps by being aware of and remembering our own humanness–all our dreams, obsessions, all those moments, people and things that have haunted us and made us realize that we are part of something much larger, messier, more interwoven, complex and glorious than we are usually aware of in our every day–we will become more aware and focused on the fact that everyone else shares this quality of being human. By accepting the complexity and the similarities we begin to live out our commitment to empathy more authentically.

The connections between haunting and identity provide fertile ground for salient insights about the individual in the everyday. You can learn a lot about a person from looking at their stuff, all those things they possess. What kind of insights could emerge from looking at the things that people possess inside their heads–all those fragments of existence, that have touched them and which they have stored in some part of themselves? Stuff defined as the remnants of life, those moments that tangibly affect us long after the incident in time in which they occur has passed and that have changed, in whatever way, our perception: people, objects, memories, photographs, experiences, knowledge, rituals, sounds, images, places, smells, ideas, passions, beliefs, questions, scars, dreams, obsessions and desires.

We designed a questionnaire which aimed to foreground points of salience in one’s belief system and existence that one might not be consciously aware of in their everyday experiences. Our Index, once answered becomes a collage of the stuff (as defined above) that is meaningful to us. It becomes a reminder of the wonder of small moments and the joys of connecting with others and the world around us. By making us aware of the human qualities of our existence, it reminds us of our shared condition with other people and renews our focus on the role of empathy in living our lives.

Could the questionnaire also become a starting point for redesigning small talk to be more stimulating, productive and empathetic? A list of topics and ideas to choose from when chatting with strangers. Placed side by side these indexes of various individuals’ collections of things that have haunted them will, at the very least, present a beautiful, vibrant and diverse recording of humanity and the human existence.

Without further ado, an experience in self & empathy:


List and describe, in any format you chose-lists, essays, paragraphs, pictures, video, songs, poems, etc.,–the things, people and moments that have been most haunting in your life in the categories below. It is up to you to delineate and define ‘haunting’ in whichever way you choose.




Images (paintings/photographs/mental images)











What haunting means to you

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We’d love to know what your Haunting Index looks like. Share it with us in the comments section or if it’s too big or elaborate for the comments send us a link to your images/video/website/however you chose to represent the things that have haunted you and we will feature it on our blog. And check back for our own Haunting Indexes.

Last but not least, did we mention that the Index is a great memory generator. Let the memories flood as you try to think of what haunts and haunted you. Relive and see, like projections on the wall, old and gold flashes of moments that have really mattered thus far.

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