“A leaf a gourd a shell a net a bag a sling a sack a bottle a pot a box a container”

That’s right, they said. What you are is a woman. Possibly not human at all, certainly defective. Now be quiet while we go on telling the Story of the Ascent of Man the Hero.

Go on, say I, wandering off towards the wild oats, with Oo Oo in the sling and little Oom carrying the basket. You just go on telling how the mammoth fell on Boob and how Cain fell on Abel and how the bomb fell on Nagasaki and how the burning jelly fell on the villagers and how the missiles will fall on the Evil Empire, and all the other steps in the Ascent of Man.

If it is a human thing to do to put something you want, because it’s useful, edible or beautiful, into a bag, or a basket, or a bit of rolled bark or leaf, or a net woven of your own hair, or what have you, and then take it home with you, home being another, larger kind of pouch or bag a container for people, and then later on you take it out and eat it or share it or store it up for winter in a solider container or put it in the medicine bundle or the shrine or the museum, the holy place, the area that contains what is sacred, and the next day you probably do much the same again — if to do that is human, if that’s what it takes, then I am a human being after all. Fully, freely, gladly, for the first time.

From Ursula K. Le Guin’s essay The Carrier Bag of Fiction published by Ignota

GC gave me this book the other day, perfectly timed.

It can feel like the path to success, whatever on earth success actually is, takes some sort of aggro-ambition. What if it is gentler, more of a methodical and deliberate accumulation than a conquest?

SB has been playing Death Stranding and I’ve really enjoyed following along. The arc is definitely hero-centric, and of course the story is way out there in sci-fi land, but the main mechanic of accepting and delivering cargo is much more human than so many other supposedly more realistic video games.

I’d like to get and read Elizabeth Fisher’s Women’s Creation from 1975, but it might be tough to find in print. Thankfully the Internet Archive seems to offer it for borrowing. Pretty cool, I didn’t know that they had a lending library for scanned books.

“5:30am — wake up and lie there and think”

  • 5:30am — wake up and lie there and think
  • 6:15am — get up and eat breakfast (lots)
  • 7:15am — get to work writing, writing, writing
  • Noon — lunch
  • 1–3pm — reading, music
  • 3–5pm — correspondence, maybe house cleaning
  • 5–8pm — make dinner and eat it
  • After 8pm — I tend to be very stupid and we won’t talk about this

Ursula K. Le Guin’s daily routine

Via GC who I think may have come across it via this tweet. Can be found in the book Ursula Le Guin: The Last Interview.

Where do you draw the line?

There’s a fine line between changing from within and being complicit.

Dr Kate Darling, MIT Media Lab researcher and expert in robot ethics, said this in her 27 August Guardian opinion piece on Jeffrey Epstein’s influence on the science world. This comment referred to her relationship with the MIT Media Lab and with literary agency Brockman. There was an all-hands Media Lab meeting on 4 September to internally address their part in all this, read more in the MIT Tech Review. Sounds like the meeting was something… hard to tell. Ended on a thoroughly rotten note.

That line from her article has stuck with me, it’s a succinct way of articulating an ever-present worry. If you’re doing good work at an organisation that is being questionably governed or is doing iffy things, you either A) stick with the org and live with that worry every day or B) step away from it entirely and be free from the worry. In scenario A, in order to feel ok with yourself you do everything you can to make a difference. This is exhausting, and you resent colleagues that aren’t working as hard to fix things. In scenario B, you’re free from this worry but you live in a fresh hell of new worries (missed opportunity, financial stability, unfulfilled potential, etc).

Don’t know where the line is, it shifts constantly and is probably different for every person. Just have to keep it on your mind and keep having the hard conversations. Don’t let it build up, talk little and often, with everyone.

Edit 10.09.19: Deleted a sentence mentioning Darling’s plans to drop Brockman and stay with the Media Lab, from her Guardian article. That may still be the case, but more has come to light so I wouldn’t assume anything. It must be incredibly tough thing to navigate.

a dreamy, foggy place

“The way I remember growing up in Venezuela, for instance, it has nothing to do with the reality that is the country right now. I think I’m from a place, but that place doesn’t exist anymore. When you have to integrate into a new place, you are forced to mix so much information that it becomes unclear who you are. You create a new scenario for yourself. I like to think that it’s some sort of utopia, and to see how I can transmit this sort of dreamy, foggy place.”

Sol Calero in a Tate artist interview describing some of the motivation behind her work (source). I’ve felt something similar at times, though certainly not as intense. It’s a “glass half full” description of the feeling, and her work shares that vibe.

Her commission El Autobús 2019 is at the Tate Liverpool until 10 November 2019.

Side note: I think she’s got an old school Indexhibit site. <3

“A chemistry is performed so that a chemical reaction occurs…”

A chemistry is performed so that a chemical reaction occurs and generates a signal from the chemical interaction with the sample, which is translated into a result, which is then reviewed by certified laboratory personnel.

Elizabeth Holmes’s “comically vague” and high-school-esque description of Theranos’s blood testing “technology”.

Just finished Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by Wall Street Journal investigative reporter John Carryrou. Carryrou traces the rise and fall of Theranos and its founder Elizabeth Holmes from the company’s beginnings at Stanford, to Holmes becoming the young female darling of Silicon Valley, to his own exposé and followup articles in the Journal.

Read more

“I learn by going where I have to go”

I just finished The Farthest Shore, the third in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle. It is an ending of sorts, though there are a few more Earthsea books I’ll get to next. Though I enjoyed all of the Earthsea books, I think I like this one the best so far.

In The Farthest Shore, Earthsea is being sucked dry of life. Instead of this manifesting in nature, withering trees and that sort of thing, it is apparent in people’s behaviour towards each other and towards their professions. Though I’m not sure if she purposefully set out to do so, Le Guin paints an extraordinarily accurate picture of depression. She also demonstrates how dangerous and painful it can be to be exist without pride.

Ultimately, the deterioration of Earthsea has a single cause that is identifiable and fixable, with great effort and cost. Wouldn’t it be nice if the big problems we face in real-life were similarly solvable… Maybe they are.

So many passages in this book are worth remembering.

Ged giving counsel to a hypothetical king:

My lord, do nothing because it is righteous or praiseworthy or noble to do so; do nothing because it seems good to do so; do only that which you must do and which you cannot do in any other way.

Which is related somewhat to this part of the afterward, where Le Guin describes how she came to create Earthsea:

The poet Roethke said, “I learn by going where I have to go.” It is a sentence that has meant a great deal to me. Sometimes it tells me that by going where it is necessary for us to go, by following our own path, we learn our way through the world. Sometimes it tells me that we can only learn our way through the world by just starting out and going.

And Ged describing the way that a person’s actions can calcify their life:

When I was young, I had to choose between the life of being and the life of doing. And I leapt at the latter like a trout to a fly. But each deed you do, each act, binds you to itself and to its consequences, and makes you act again and yet again. Then very seldom do you come upon a space, a time like this, between act and act, when you may stop and simply be. Or wonder who, after all, you are.

Reminds me of a very short bit from Bill Callahan in his recent Guardian interview, on how it is easy to forget about the importance of idleness when you are working and trying so very hard: “On your list of things to do, you don’t write: ‘Daydream’.”

“the insistence in any of them will necessarily lead to suffering”

The experience of the Self that is given in the existence of a personality comprises five conditioned attributes, namely, corporeal form (rûpa), sensations (vedanâ), perceptions (saññâ), emotions (sankhâra) and consciousness (viññâna). These five clusters (pañca khandha) determine all the body and mental phenomena of our contingent and finite experience. The North–American Buddhist philosopher Robert Thurman gives us vivid images of each of the mentioned elements:

We begin by looking at the body. We can […] thump our chests and say, ‘I’m me’, but surely we are not just a bunch of ribs. We look in the mirror and say, ‘There I am’, but we say the same thing when we see old snapshots of ourselves […] We can explore cells, axons, and dendrites; molecules, DNA, and RNA; atoms, subatomic quantum particles, unnameable forces and energies. Nowhere we can find anything still, static, independent. […]

We can move on to our minds and begin by sifting through our feelings, sensations, pleasures, pains, or numbnesses. […] I investigate my sensory surfaces and, after some time, give up finding any stable, self–sufficient ‘I’ anywhere along them.

Then we can move into images, words, symbols, ideas, concepts, mental pictures. This at first seems promising. ‘I’ is a word, after all. The names ‘Alice’, ‘Joe’, ‘Carol’, and ‘Shakyamuni’ all are nouns. When I pronounce my own name, ‘Bob’, does an image of myself arise in my mind? Is it a recent snapshot of my face? […] A curriculum vitae? A biography? Is it a favorite logo? A trademark? A symbol? […] None touches the essence of ‘me’. […]

We can move deeper into the motions of the mind, into emotions. When ‘I’ love or am in love, I feel powerfully present, even in the moment of feeling that solidity melting. When ‘I’ hate, I am carried away by destructive impulses […] – all these energies seem to take hold of ‘me’, or seem to emanate from ‘I’. But as I think them through, observe them in actuality or in memory, they seem fully bound in relationships. […]

At last we come to awareness itself, to look at our very consciousness […] But to turn toward my center of awareness, I have to tell my awareness to turn back on itself.

Thurman, Robert, Inner Revolution: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Real Happiness, New York: Riverhead Books, 1998 (pp.74–79)

What we can say is that our personality is but the result of a combination of those five elements – to the point that the belief in its autonomy and permanence ends up being a suffering–causing illusion. In none of the mentioned clusters would we be able to detect the presence of an autonomous and unconditioned subject; therefore, the insistence in any of them will necessarily lead to suffering.

Correia, Carlos João, Personal Identity and Eastern Thought”, Filozofija i Društvo, vol 20 no 3, Belgrade: University of Belgrade, 2009 (pp.74–75)


I came across Prof. Correia’s paper when doing a bit of research on western vs. eastern perspectives on identity and the self. Side note: I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a strong profile photo as the one on Bob Thurman’s site.

“We have no art. We do everything as well as we can.”

“watermelon” by Sister Corita

We watched “Power Up: The Work of Sister Corita” this morning. The talk was given by graphic designer Barbara Glauber (see Heavy Meta and Yale School of Art) at The Cooper Union in November 2018.

It is a superb talk, and I’m beyond pleased that we were able to find and purchase a secondhand copy of the out-of-print book Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent online.

We have no art. We do everything as well as we can.

“daisy” by Sister Corita

Sister Corita was a nun, artist, and educator that worked in LA in the 50s-60s and in Boston later in life. See the ten Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules.

Corita Kent used appropriation without irony or cynicism. She identified, combined, and repurposed the hopeful in the everyday. She was a prolific giver that shared seemingly without expectation of return. She used optimism as activism.

Ignore the persuaders

“r rosey runners” by Sister Corita

It is interesting that her appropriation of advertising copy seemed to wane later in life. Maybe advertising began to feel less optimistic to her, instead more sinister and insidious.

I wonder at how difficult it must have been to leave the order. Not just because it meant a return to the secular after a lifetime of regulation and restrictions, but also because it meant that she had to leave the resources of the art school, the playground she had so carefully cultivated. Her later work is still incredible, but it seems more weary and a little more laboured. “Bogged down” is one way of describing it. Her prints from the 70s almost veer in to motivational poster territory.

Salute your source

How to create or maintain the playground required for work with her sort of radical optimism? A major element is the physical space, both small (the room / studio) and large (the community / city). It is also the mental space.

Both of these spaces come at a premium now, though. I struggle to get enough of either.

It feels like there may be some sort of third space offered by working with the web, but I haven’t figured this out yet. When I try to work digitally, I get bogged down. How to experiment with the web in a way that is as gestural and intuitive as a line drawing?


  1. watermelon, serigraph, Sister Corita Kent (1965) 
  2. daisy, serigraph, Sister Corita Kent (1966) 
  3. r rosey runners, serigraph, Sister Corita Kent (1968) 

The images here are from the Corita Art Center website. See their online Collection for high-quality images and more details about her work, including transcriptions of the text within her prints.

They are currently seeking donations to acquire these pieces. Donate to the Corita Art Center here.

Effie Bradley’s memoranda

Over the holidays, Grandpa showed me Effie Bradley’s daily memoranda. Effie was his grandma on his mother’s side, so my great-great grandmother. I asked if Effie was short for anything, he wasn’t sure. It may have been Euphemia, but maybe Effie wasn’t a nickname.

The relative that typed up the memoranda was June Bradley Piper, Grandpa’s double cousin. Double cousins are related via both parents (two brothers partnering with two sisters). I’d never heard of that before. I think June was named after Grandpa’s paternal grandfather June Piper. I didn’t know June was used as a male name. Via Wikipedia: “As a boy’s name, June reached a peak in 1922 at 697th, but then also declined and left the top 1000 list in 1939.”

Read Effie Bradley’s January 1902 memoranda

(‘Amateur’ – one who loves)

Certain quotes lodge themselves in your head. So many of the ones in my head come from the fourth edition of What is a designer by Norman Potter published by Hyphen Press in 2002.

p.23, on design education

The words by which people describe themselves – architect, graphic designer, interior designer, etc. – become curiously more important than the work they actually do. In one respect this is fair, because under modern conditions it may be very difficult to find one word to identify their work, but such words tend to build up irrelevant overtones of meaning which are more useful as a comfort to personal security than as a basis for co-operative enterprise.

p.30, wrapping up his thoughts on design education

All we can do is make good work possible, and be alert to its coming; never fooling ourselves that all good things come easily. To work well is to work with love.

p.57, on recognising the value in nuance

In raising consciousness of these matters, it should be remembered that our civilization sells itself through sensation, preferably with the volume turned up. This is good reason for designers to learn how to speak quietly, and to understand how it is that conversation becomes possible between people and things.

And nearly every point in chapter 18, “Advice for beginners”, and 19, “Questioning design”.