To build something big, start with small fragments

Building something big from something small. That’s how everything big gets built. 💬

Traditionally, a writer identifies a subject of interest and researches it, then writes about it. In the (my) blogging method, the writer blogs about everything that seems interesting, until a subject gels out of all of those disparate, short pieces.

Blogging isn’t just a way to organize your research — it’s a way to do research for a book or essay or story or speech you don’t even know you want to write yet. It’s a way to discover what your future books and essays and stories and speeches will be about.

💬 “In a society that profits from your self doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act”.

  • A magic spell that protects the user against advertising of all kinds. Use wisely.

💬 “Energy moves in waves…”

A notecard with a handwritten quote from dancer Gabrielle Roth.

We think best when we bring opposites together

“We think best when we bring opposites together, when we realize that all these realities, one inside the other, are somehow connected. That’s how the wonder and amazement that are so necessary to both poetry and philosophy come about.” Charles Simic, Paris Review, quoted by Austin Kleon

I’m constantly amazed that something I just saw or read in one context appears again in another, completely different context. And then it appears again. Synchronicity? The availability bias? Magic? Whatever, it certainly enhances my sense of wonder at the world.

You don’t build art, you grow it

Finished reading: Dancing with the Gods by Kent Nerburn 📚

This book is advice on the artistic life from an experienced sculptor and writer. I found one section particularly striking. It contrasted two approaches to making art: that of the architect and that of the gardener.

“The architect designs and builds; he [sic] knows the desired outcome before he begins. The gardener plants and cultivates, trusting the sun and weather and the vagaries of change to bring forth a bloom. As artists we must learn to be gardeners, not architects. We must seek to cultivate our art, not construct it, giving up our preconceptions and presuppositions to embrace accident and mystery. Let moments of darkness become the seedbed of growth, not occasions of fear.”

I remembered these words while visiting the new exhibition spaces at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney. It’s hard to imagine an artwork that could have more clearly illustrated the cultivation approach to art that Nerburn wrote of.

In a huge, mysterious, and very dark underground space called The Tank, Argentinian sculptor Adrián Villar Rojas was exhibiting a series of extraordinary sculptures entitled The End of Imagination. These pieces, apparently four years in the making, seemed really ancient, but of the deep future, organic, not constructed, more biological than artificial, and they appeared to be growing there in the darkness.

Rojas undertook an exhaustive computer simulation of deep-time environmental processes in imagined extraterrestrial contexts, to shape and weather each piece, prior to creating their physical representation. So the outcome was not so much sculpted as weathered and sedimented into existence - yet not by any kind of earthly processes.

A large sculpture in the Adrian Villar Rojas exhibition entitled The End of Imagination, in the Tank at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The sculpture is partially lit, while the rest of the gallery is dark.

Earlier thoughts on Dancing with the Gods.

What I learned from Austin Kleon about sharing what you know

Learning and sharing, sharing and learning. It’s a virtuous circle. That’s what I learned, and that’s what I’m sharing.

“it’s not about being credentialed or being an expert, it’s about seeing a space open up, starting to do work that needs doing, sharing your ideas, and sticking around long enough so people show up and you can interact with them in a meaningful way and build something lasting.” Austin Kleon

I think there are four levels of expertise, and everyone is potentially standing on one of these four steps:

  • Learn - “Here’s what I’ve learnt.” Curator
  • Share - “Here’s what I’ve found.” Expert
  • Tell - “Here’s what I’ve done.” Mentor
  • Be - “Here’s who I am.” Role model

When someone believes they have no expertise, that doesn’t mean they have nothing useful to say. We often learn best from those who are just one step ahead of us on the learning journey, so telling others, “Here’s what I learned today” may well be really helpful.

photograph of a stone staircase on a forest trail. The steps curve away upwards and are strewn with fallen leaves

You can get a lot done by writing slowly

“People say to me, ‘Oh, you’re so prolific’…God, it doesn’t feel like it—nothing like it.  But, you know, you put an ounce in a bucket each day, you get a quart.”

John McPhee (quoted by Cal Newport)

Journalist John McPhee rarely wrote more than 500 words a day, but his secret was the power of repetition. He did this seemingly small amount of writing nearly every day throughout his long career. By writing a little, a lot, he achieved an enormous amount, including countless articles, 29 books and a Pulitzer Prize.

That's what writing slowly is about. It doesn't mean being lazy. It means cultivating the discipline to keep writing. Five hundred words a day adds up to 182,500 words a year. It's not hard to write a lot. Quantity is not the issue. The only two obstacles are the difficulty of maintaining the habit, and the little voice in your head that tells you your scribbling will never amount to anything.

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