A Fantastic Video on Writer’s Block by Ben Watts and Ivan Kander

 

Writing is always hard. Despite innumerable stories that I have written across the years, I am always facing the terror of first draft every time I write. People who spend their majority of waking hours writing understand the feeling of  being overwhelmed by the whiteness of a blank Microsoft word document ( or a blank of piece of paper if you are a conventional writer). Even when we eventually overcome the terror of first draft, what first comes out of our minds is not the sentence that we have visualized earlier. The first sentence is often times a maimed, messy, incomplete sentence. Then we start questioning our ability as writers and suddenly two hours later or days or months after tirelessly honing our crafts despite the debilitating self-doubt, inspiration arrives elegantly and spoils the story that we have been wanting to write.

Every new writing project always brings me a new sensation of joy and anxiety. However, writing is the only interesting activity that I have found to keep my brain alive. There is no choice of quitting this thing that has made me able to awake my awareness of myself and my relationship with people, places, and time.

Ben Watts (Vimeo) and Ivan Kander (Vimeo)–the two intelligent film makers captured precisely the feeling of writer’s block through the epic short video that they have made from 53 short clips of movies across genres.

Please enjoy!

Some Thoughts on Knowledge Acquisition

 

One of my resolutions that I have in the year of 2017 is being a good reader. It may sound a simple aspiration yet I can not stop pondering these two questions: what makes a good reader? what are the qualities of a good reader? I used to think that speed reading is the quality that everyone needs to acquire if they aspire to be better readers. The cultural motto that most people live by is “The faster the better”. But, does that apply if we want to acquire a set of knowledge, especially through books? Does reading forty pages in an hour can make us smarter or even wiser?

I had been in that position where I would tell myself to rush through the process of digesting a book. I did not understand why I rushed but I thought it was a common style of reading. Whenever a word or a sentence caught my eyes, I paused but then I kept pedaling trying to make it to the last page. A part of my brain wanted to savor words that baffled me yet time selfishly pushed me forward. Letters, words, sentences, and ideas were neglected. The result was a complete confusion. I barely remembered what I had just read. I understood only a small portion of the book but I missed how the topic gradually unfolded into bigger ideas.

Gathered here are some of my favorite reminders on how to be more patient with the process of attaining knowledge:

 

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Ryan Holiday

 

Ryan Holiday, one of the smartest guys I know, a former director of marketing at American Apparel, a writer, a dedicated common place book keeper, shared his thoughts on why reading is not a race and speed reading is eliminating the fruit of reading.

“What are you going to do with this time you “save” speed reading? Work more? Watch more TV? Respond to email? Ugh. By doing this you miss out on all the ancillary benefits of reading: peace, quiet and concentration. Don’t toss that out.”

Then he offers another question that we need to ask ourselves critically.

“If you find yourself wanting to speed up the reading process on a particular book, you may want to ask yourself, “Is this book any good?” Life is too short to read books you do not enjoy reading.”

He believes that the resources that we invest determine the quality of the results.

“I think I know why people focus on speed reading. They want the results without the work. There is and never will be a substitute. Put the time in, you’ll get the results.”

Another genius mind firmly agrees on what Holiday believes. Maria Popova of brainpickings.org–an astute recorder and observer of interestingness, said in a conversation with Krista Tippett on her show On Being .

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Maria Popova. Photo by Amber Gregory. ( Via )

She speaks:

“We seem somehow bored with thinking. We want to instantly know. And there is this epidemic of listicle. Why think about what constitutes the great work of art if we can skim “the 20 most expensive paintings in history”?

Then she continues talking about the root of our tendency to compress complex ideas into small bite-sized pieces and time as the most valuable resource that we can use to attain knowledge.

“. . . and I remember there’s a really beautiful commencement address that Adrienne Rich gave in 1977 in which she said that an education is not something that you get but something that you claim. And I think that’s very much true of knowledge itself. The reason we’re so increasingly intolerant of long articles and why we skim them, why we skip forward even in a short video that reduces a 300-page book into a three-minute animation — even in that we skip forward — is that we’ve been infected with this kind of pathological impatience that makes us want to have the knowledge but not do the work of claiming it. I mean, the true material of knowledge is meaning. And the meaningful is the opposite of the trivial. And the only thing that we should have gleaned by skimming and skipping forward is really trivia. And the only way to glean knowledge is contemplation. And the road to that is time. There’s nothing else. It’s just time. There is no shortcut for the conquest of meaning. And ultimately, it is meaning that we seek to give to our lives. “

 

 

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Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. (via)

 

Long before Popova and Holiday share the same argument on our chronic impatience of gleaning knowledge, a German philosopher named Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel addressed the same issue in his book titled The Phenomenology of the Mind  (Public library).

He poignantly writes:

“The goal to be reached is the mind’s insight into what knowing is. Impatience asks for the impossible, wants to reach the goal without the means of getting there. The length of the journey has to be borne with, for every moment is necessary; and again we must halt at every stage, for each is itself a complete individual form, and is fully and finally considered only so far as its determine character is taken and dealt with as a rounded and concrete whole, or only so far as the whole is looked at in the light of the special and peculiar character which this determination gives it. Because the substance of individual mind, nay, more, because the universal mind at work in the world, has had the patience to go through these forms in the long stretch of time’s extent, and to take upon itself the prodigious labor of the world’s history, where it bodied forth in each form the entire content of itself, as each is capable of presenting it; and because by nothing less could that all-pervading mind ever manage to become conscious of what itself is-for that reason, the individual mind . . . cannot expect by less toil to grasp what its own substance contains.”

More about Hegel’s wisdom on knowledge via (Brainpickings)

 

An Eclectic Cover Letter From Robert Pirosh

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There was something aspirational and heart-warming when I accidently came upon a letter of Robert Pirosh–an American screenwriter whose work for the war movie Battleground won him an Academy Award for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay in 1949. As a someone who is about to exit from higher education and enter into this perplexing uncertain world, I’m reminded by his letter that he too was also scared, anxious about his future yet he persisted.

In 1934, after he decided to quit his well-paid job in a New York advertising agency, he bravely went to Hollywood to fulfill his dreams as a screenwriter without knowing any single person in the movie industry. Once he arrived, he gathered all the names and addresses of movie producers, directors, and studio executives he could think of and sent them a letter that he had written about his interests of being a screenwriter. His letter was engaging, concise, and the arcane words that he chose stunned me, showing his immense creativity and intelligence. Not too long ago I read an article about one of my favorite writers, Elizabeth Gilbert, saying that if our talents want to be discovered, we must not wait for people to come around but we must knock on doors to get to where we aspire to be. What Robert Pirosh did was the true embodiment of what Gilbert said.

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Robert Pirosh. Photograph: Bill Allen/AP (via theguardian )

 

Dear Sir:

I like words. I like fat buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demi-monde. I like suave “V” words, such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve. I like crunchy, brittle, crackly words, such as splinter, grappler, jostle, crusty. I like sullen, crabbed, scowling words, such as skulk, glower, scabby, churl. I like Oh-Heavens, my-gracious, land’s sake words, such as tricksy, tucker, genteel, horrid. I like elegant, flowery words, such as estivate, peregrinate, elysium, halcyon. I like wormy, squirmy, mealy words, such as crawl, blubber, squeal, drip. I like sniggly, chuckling words, such as cowlick, gurgle, bubble and burp.

I like the word screenwriter better than copywriter, so I decided to quit my job in a New York advertising agency and try my luck in Hollywood, but before taking the plunge I went to Europe for a year of study, contemplation and horsing around.

I have just returned and I still like words.

May I have a few with you?

Robert Pirosh

385 Madison Avenue

Room 610

New York

Eldoardo 5-6024

 

As I was doing a research about Pirosh’s life and work, I found a picture of humorous letter typed by Sidney Sheldon congratulating Robert Pirosh for the Academy Award that he won. Here is the letter:

 

 

 

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For more heart-warming collections of forgotten letters, treat yourself by visiting Shaun Usher’s wonderful website Letters of note or if you prefer the physical book, I would recommend to check it out from your nearest (Public Library).

 

Via: (LettersofNote)

 

 

An American Exodus: A record of Human Erosions In the 1930s by Dorothea Lange and Paul Taylor

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Dorothea Lange and her second husband, writer/social scientist Paul Schuster Taylor. Photo 1939, 2014, Imogen Cunningham Trust. via (pbs)

 

only w I perceive a photograph as something beyond a two dimensional art object. It allows us to observe the past without having to escape the present. A photograph exudes stories–stories about people, places, time, and something that happens in those intersection. In a century of staggering human stories, photography becomes a calling to capture stories that humans are incapable to tell. Dorothea Lange, one of the greatest photographers who was known for her vivid investigation during the great depression, is perhaps one of the few people who understood the function of photography for telling our hidden stories.

 

          Educated by the famous photographer Clarence White at Columbia University in New York City and spent her early twenties taking pictures of wealthy people in her successful personal studio in San Francisco, Lange soon realized her studio constrained her relentless curiosity of other layers of human realities. She felt compelled to capture the social crisis of the great depression that occurred at the time. She even said, “I was driven by the fact that I was under personal turmoil to do something.”  

          Sometime in December of 1935 at a small exhibition of her photographs, she met Paul Taylor, an economics professor of UC Berkeley, and soon to be her second husband. He was captivated by the raw human emotions captured on her photographs. It was him that encouraged Lange to continue capturing pictures of the human tragedy of the great depression. He believed that her picture could be used to mobilize the whole nation to help those struggling farmers. Paul Taylor was always behind her work. He was her champion and without him, none of her work would have happened. In the same year, Roy Stryker an economist who happened to be the head of information division of the FSA (Farm Security Administration), saw her work and immediately hired her as a field investigator and a photographer to work for his photography campaign. The aim of the campaign, like Paul Taylor’s perspective on photography, was meant to advocate social issues. Both Paul Taylor and Ray Stryker were trying to show to the entire nation through Lange’s photographs, the untouched reality of the great depression that people missed.

          What makes her work so timeless is because her reports from the field not just photographs, but the words of the people whom she had spoken, quoted directly (the ancient version of Humans of New York, perhaps?) It was not what she thought was their outspoken thoughts. She would always let her subjects to be themselves–to be human beings, making them oblivious to her camera.                                         

“Seeing is more than a physiological phenomenon. We see not only with our eyes but with all that we are and all that our culture is. The artist is a professional see-er”

Here are gathered some of my favorite pictures that I had scanned earlier from a book titled An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion in The Thirties by Dorothea Lange and Paul Taylor (Public Library). This book was born out of creative collaboration between Dorothea Lange and her husband, Paul Taylor. This book was based on a book of the same title by them published by Reynal and Hitchcock in 1939. However, later in 1969, Paul Taylor revised the photography collection, the original text, and donated the collection to The Oakland Museum.

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Thirteen million unemployed fill the cities in the early thirties. P . S. T . San Francisco / 1934

 

 

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“Us people got to stick together to get by these hard time.” bound for Nipomo, California/ February 1936

 

 

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Homeless family, tenant farmers in 1936. Cut from the land by illness, driven to the road by poverty, they walk from county to county in search of the meager security of relief. P.S.T . Oklahoma/ June 1938

 

 

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“The collapse of the plantation system, rendered inevitable by its exploitation of land and labor, leaves in its exploitation of land and labor, leaves in its wake depleted soil, shoddy livestock, inadequate farm equipment, crude agricultural practices, crippled institutions, a defeated and impoverished people.” Arthur F. Raper. Georgia/1937

 

 

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She: “I want to go back to where we can live happy, live decent, and grow what we eat.” He: “I’ve made my mistake and now we can’t go back. I’ve got nothing to farm with.” Brawley, California/February 1939