Tag restlessness

{ Liszt’s Années de Pèlerinage, Blisters & Permethrin } A More Nomadic Iteration of rethinked …*

{ Liszt's Années de Pèlerinage, Blisters & Permethrin } A More Nomadic Iteration of rethinked ...*  |rethinked.org

“My dream is to walk around the world. A smallish backpack, all essentials neatly in place. A camera. A notebook. A traveling paint set. A hat. Good shoes. A nice pleated (green?) skirt for the occasional seaside hotel afternoon dance.” – Maira Kalman

Kaixo (“hello” in Basque), rethinkers *

We’ve gone silent on the blog rather abruptly these past few weeks and an update is long overdue. If it is any excuse, the last two weeks have been a whirlwind of preparations for a long journey and an updated more nomadic version of rethinked * 

A couple weeks ago, as we got together to dream and discuss the next iteration of rethinked * we decided it was time to get hard about living out the * ideals. From its very beginning, rethinked * has been grounded around several core principles–among them: smallness, w[o/a]nder and Δ– which we have aimed to explore and express as both dreams and questions in our work, lives and learning. This year, we decided to really push what it might mean to fully live out these principles. Which brings us to the Basque country, from which I am now writing this post.

I am taking rethinked * on the road and living out, in a very literal way–think rethinked*annex on steroids–many of the things we have been thinking and writing about these past two years (from the fascinating link between action and imagination; the connection between movement and creativitythe human impulse to w[o/a]nder; the function of changing environments in keeping us active thinkers; trusting in the processbeing in the world as a knowmad; traveling lightly and thriving within our individual tensions and contradictionstransformation processesdealing with the fear of change; our innate restlessness and embracing the spiritual aspect of walking). It is time to balance out our intellectual exploration of these ideas with a more emotional understanding of what all these things might mean.

After spending the past two weeks geeking out at REI; saying goodbye to friends in New York; watching YouTube videos on the proper way to apply permethrin to gear; packing my backpack, trying to lift it, stumbling around hunched over, taking stuff out only to put it back in an hour later; downloading four different versions of Liszt’s Années de Pèlerinage (I bought Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage at JFK, devoured it on my flight over and decided last night, in the midst of a bout of jet lag induced insomnia, that I absolutely must have the full set, in multiple versions, to listen to over the next few months) and giving myself a blister from writing down (hoarding) poems and quotes to take with me–all the while seeping in all sorts of existential questions–I am finally ready. Or as ready as I’m likely to ever be. Tomorrow, I will set out on the Camino Francés from Saint-Jean-Pied-De-Port and walk my way across Northern Spain to (hopefully) reach Santiago.

I will not be writing on the blog for the next two months although I will be taking with me a journal and a space pen, which, as its name suggests, allows one to write in every imaginable condition, space included. So the blog won’t be updated daily, but you can look forward to a couple posts from my teammates each week.

Finally, if you’re in Europe and would like to meet up to share ideas, food and moments, get in touch – elsa@rethinked.org –I will have some free time the last two weeks of October and would love to check out the intriguing projects and questions you’re exploring.

get lost & rethink …* 

{ Curiosity, Restlessness & Creativity } The Case for Wandering …*

{ Curiosity, Restlessness & Creativity } The Case for Wandering ...* | rethinked.org

I haven’t got any special religion this morning. My God is the God of Walkers. If you walk hard enough, you probably don’t need any other God. – Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia

May is National Walking Month in the UK (it’s National Biking Month in the US) If you’ve spent any time on the Internet in the past two weeks, chances are you’ve come across some article describing a newly published Stanford study which found that creative thinking improves while a person is walking and shortly thereafter:

Stanford researchers found that walking boosts creative inspiration. They examined creativity levels of people while they walked versus while they sat. A person’s creative output increased by an average of 60 percent when walking.

Walking is experiencing somewhat of a Renaissance as the business world is embracing its value and function in promoting creative thinking and thus enabling innovation while scientists are decrying the health risks of immobility. Standing desks, treadmill desks and walking meetings are all the rage.

But walking isn’t just a fashion or a means to an end, it’s an innate human drive according to Bruce Chatwin, whose birthday is today. Chatwin argues that:

in becoming human, man had acquired, together with his straight legs and striding walk, a migratory ‘drive’ or instinct to walk long distances through the seasons; that this ‘drive’ was inseparable from his central nervous system; and that, when warped in conditions of settlement it found outlets in violence, greed, status-seeking or a mania for the new. This would explain why mobile societies such as the gypsies were egalitarian, thing-free and resistant to change; also why, to re-establish the harmony of the First State, all the great teachers–Buddha, Lao-tse, St. Francis–had set the perpetual pilgrimage at the heart of their message and told their disciples, literally, to follow The Way.” – I Have Always Wanted To Go To Patagonia, 1983

This notion of our migratory drive appears again and again throughout Chatwin’s work, who professed to having, “caught a case of what Baudelaire calls “La Grande Maladie, Horreur du domicile.” Chatwin spent his short life giving in to his restlessness, trying to make sense of it and to harness it as a creative force. To celebrate his birthday and walking month, I’ve gathered some of my favorite quotes of his on restlessness, wandering, journeys and the importance of walking. Enjoy! And while you’re at it, go for a walk. You never know what creative brilliance may strike you on the way as you walk yourself into a state of relaxed attention, better known to scientists as transient hypofrontality.

wander & rethink

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“I stayed at the Estacion de Biologia Marina with a party of scientists who dug enthusiastically for sandworms and squabbled about the Latin names of seaweed. The resident ornithologist, a severe young man, was studying the migration of the Jackass Penguin. We talked late into the night, arguing whether or not we, too, have journeys mapped out in our central nervous systems; it seemed the only way to account for our insane restlessness.” – from In Patagonia, 1977

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“And there are those, like myself, who are paralyzed by ‘home,’ for whom home is synonymous with the proverbial writer’s block, and who believe naively that all would be well if only they were somewhere else.”  – from A Tower In Tuscany, 1987

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“What is this neurotic restlessness, the gadfly that tormented the Greeks? Wandering may settle some of my natural curiosity and my urge to explore, but then I am tugged back by a longing for home. I have a compulsion to wander and a compulsion to return–a homing instinct like a migrating bird. True nomads have no fixed homes as such; they compensate for this by following unalterable paths of migration.” – from The Nomadic Alternative, 1970

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“In one of his gloomier moments Pascal said that all man’s unhappiness stemmed from a single cause, his inability to remain quietly in a room. ‘Notre nature,’ he wrote, ‘est dans le mouvement…la seule chose qui nous console de nos misères est le divertissement.’ Diversion. Distraction. Fantasy. Change of fashion, food, love and landscape. We need them as the air we breathe. Without change our brains and bodies rot. The man who sits quietly in a shuttered room is likely to be mad, tortured by hallucinations and introspection.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

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“Some American brain specialists took encephalograph readings of travelers. They found that changes of scenery and awareness of the passage of seasons through the year stimulated the rhythms of the brain, contributing to a sense of well-being and an active purpose in life. Monotonous surroundings and tedious regular activities wove patterns which produced fatigue, nervous disorders, apathy, self-disgust and violent reactions. Hardly surprising, then, that a generation cushioned from the cold by central heating, from the heat by air-conditioning, carted in aseptic transports from one identical house or hotel to another, should feel the need for journeys of mind or body, for pep pills or tranquilizers, or for the cathartic journeys of sex, music and dance. We spend far too much time in shuttered rooms.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

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“I prefer the cosmopolitan skepticism of Montaigne. He saw travel as a ‘profitable exercise; the mind is constantly stimulated by observing new and unknown things…no propositions astonish me, no belief offends me, however much opposed to my own…The savages who roast and eat the bodies of their dead do not scandalize me so much as those who persecute the living.” Custom, he said, and set attitudes of mind, dulled the sense and hid the true nature of things. Man is naturally curious.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

“He who does not travel does not know the value of men,” said Ib’n Battuta, the indefatigable Arab wanderer who strolled from Tangier to China and back for the sake of it. But travel does not merely broaden the mind. It makes the mind.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

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“Children need paths to explore, to take bearings on the earth in which they live, as a navigator takes bearings on familiar landmarks. If we excavate the memories of childhood, we remember the paths first, things and people second–paths down the garden, the way to school, the way round the house, corridors through the bracken or long grass.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

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“Travel must be adventurous. ‘The great affair is to move,’ wrote Robert Louis Stevenson in Travels with a Donkey, “to feel the needs and hitches of life more nearly; to come down off this feather bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot, and strewn with cutting flints.’ The bumps are vital. They keep the adrenalin pumping round.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

“The best thing is to walk. We should follow the Chinese poet Li Po in ‘the hardships of travel and the many branchings of the way.’ For life is a journey through a wilderness. This concept, universal to the point of banality, could not have survived unless it were biologically true.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

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“All our activities are linked to the idea of journeys. And I like to think that our brains have an information system giving us our orders for the road, and that here lie the mainsprings of our restlessness.” – from It’s A Nomad Nomad World, 1970

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What are some of your favorite Chatwin books and quotes?

{ Traveling Lightly …* } How Might We Thrive & Flourish Within Tensions & Contradictions?

{ Traveling Lightly ...* } How Might We Thrive & Flourish Within Tensions & Contradictions? | rethinked.org

“My dream is to walk around the world. A smallish backpack, all essentials neatly in place. A camera. A notebook. A traveling paint set. A hat. Good shoes. A nice pleated (green?) skirt for the occasional seaside hotel afternoon dance.” – Maira Kalman

Mine too (dream–down to the pleated skirt; definitely green). I have always felt quite strongly l’invitation au voyage, the compulsion to wander and explore, to pack up and walk into the unknown, yielding to restlessness. During my teenage years, I imagined Bruce Chatwin’s essay, The Nomadic Alternative, my personal manifesto. Having grown up in three different countries and across two continents, I have always fancied myself a true nomad. Flying back and forth between the United States and France, three times a year, every year until I turned eighteen, I remember looking at the little GPS monitor on the plane, feeling there must have been an error on my passport: I was not French, I belonged nowhere and everywhere–I was the child from the middle of the Atlantic.

Of course, I fully realize that there is a fair degree of romanticizing in my conception of nomadism in my life. I am well aware that, practically speaking, it would be more difficult than I like to think it, to pack everything up one crisp fall morning and walk into the unknown. There are leases and bills and my unimpressive muscles which would soon tire of a backpack, however neatly arranged, all of which would very much restrain my ability to live on the go. But the idea of nomad, not as daydream, but as value–the idea of treading lightly through life, of being nimble, curious and prone to exploration and unhousing at a moment’s notice–is and has been for as long as I can remember a core value in my worldview and sense of self.

So what happened? How is it that two weeks ago, I found myself drowning in my stuff, trying to cram an endless amount of things into far too few boxes. I was moving out of my apartment and decided that the move would be a good time to shed what I imagined to be my very few bulky possessions — a couch, a large bed, maybe store a few books with my parents. Yet once I started attempting to pack, taking things out of their designated spaces to place them in boxes, I was surrounded by things, my treasures, which taken collectively were suffocating me. Paper cranes, sculptures of matchsticks and clay, poster boards, countless stashes of notebooks and loose torn out pieces of paper covered in paint and words, my grandmother’s broken jewelry, boxes of letters, photographs, markers, books–everywhere–crawling like ants in every corner of every room. So many things, which, individually, delight and reassure me but when taken out of the nooks and closets in which they hide, thrown together, made me sick, literally, dizzy and nauseous. How could there be such a disconnect between how I imagine and desire my life and how I actually live it? And how I might I begin to align the vision and the reality more closely?

I have no answer to this question that I ask, which is a little bit about how to live lightly, but very much about how to exist productively within tensions and contradictions? For me, one of those tensions is how to reconcile the need for comfort and delight that things can provide with my need to feel free and light. We all exist within webs of such interlocking tensions, whatever they may be. I would love to hear your insights on how to flourish in this very human space…*

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…

 

                                                        

 

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