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Amy Shearn (558 posts)
Just when you think you've seen everything, here comes the spirit bear (conveniently enough, in gorgeous and mind-bendingly close-up photographs). No, this white bear is not a Polar Bear, but rather a denizen of Canada's Great Bear Rainforest, and get this -- she's actually a black bear. Born of a recessive gene similar to the human genes for pale skin and red hair, Kermodism, as it's called, is quite rare in the larger black bear population. But on Gribbell Island, nearly one in three black bears is white. (Read the entire article for theories as to why this is.) The native people of the area, the Gitga'at First Nation, call these creatures spirit bears, and according to Bruce Barcott's fascinating National Geographic article, they have never hunted them.
There is something really special about these Kermode bears, something beautiful and rare. And like with so many creatures, their uniqueness seems to lend them a secret advantage in life: apparently the white bears are more successful at catching salmon than their darker counterparts. Oh, and they are scientifically proven to be more likely to make your heart flutter in your chest. Okay, maybe not that last one. You must check out the full National Geographic story, complete with a stunning slide show of Paul Nicklen's miraculous photos. (via My Modern Met.)
Experience Nature's Beauty
The Health Benefits of Time Outside
I am fond, along with everyone I know, of saying things like, "I don't even have a moment to breathe." But what that means is, "I don't take a moment to breathe." Because there are hidden moments here and there, even in the most hectic life, moments that most of us spend staring off into space, or more often at our phones' glowing informative faces—when we could be breathing, or stretching, or humming a tune, or scribbling down a few choice lines or images on whatever is at hand. The back of a receipt. An envelope.
This was the first thought I had when I heard of a new artist's book that includes facsimiles of Emily Dickinson's "envelope-poems." Now on view at the New York Public Library, this lovely object offers insight into Dickinson's later years and creative process, as well as a celebration of the poet's famous economy: the title comes from Dickinson's manuscript A 821, "the gorgeous | nothings | which | compose | the | sunset | keep." But it also offers a reminder to the rest of us non-Dickinsons in the world. It's not your materials that matter (i.e. "This crappy old laptop is keeping me from writing my memoirs!"), or even your scope. We all have envelopes, and pens, and scattered (and non-grocery-list-related) thoughts. We all have tiny moments we can transform into gorgeous nothings.
Golden moments that everybody gets
Why you need improbable goals
It is, indeed, artwork that makes you wonder such strange things: Birds, fairies, storybook characters, flowers, all manners of figures and shapes, perched in the eye of a needle, or on the tip of a pin, or even on the end of an eyelash. Carved out of, sometimes, a single grain of sand. Created by -- get this -- a regular-sized human.
Willard Wigan's artwork is impossible. I know. I don't believe it either. How? And why? Well, I thought I was going to write here about patience, about how Wigan taught himself to concentrate hard enough to create these astoundingly tiny works. And yes, he spoke at TED about how he has to slow down his nervous system to do his work. He works in between his heart beats, in the middle of the night. He has to hold his breath so that he doesn't inhale the sculptures. (Doesn't just hearing that make you squirm?) Sometimes, as he explains, working on this molecular level means your materials (spider webs, fly hairs, plastic fibers, glass shards) get finicky. Learning his Lilliputian craft -- each eensy sculpture takes up to 7 weeks to create -- has surely been a Brobdingnagian process.
And yet, this very TED talk made me realize that Wigan's story isn't just one of patience and concentration: it's a story of transcendent failure. Wigan is dyslexic, and was routinely humiliated at school. He talks about being 5 years old and smarting from the cruel teacher who labeled him a failure. He would hide away in a shed, where he noticed some ants who, in his magical world, indicated to him that they needed a home. Wigan constructed them a tiny apartment out of wood splinters, and an artistic quest was begun. He found the thing he was good at, the thing no one else could own, the world that was his, and he worked it; as his mother told him, “The smaller your work, the bigger your name." He's since been called (unofficially) the 8th Wonder of the World, so there you go.
You must listen to his TED talk -- he's surprisingly funny, mysteriously inspiring, and his message is an important one for anyone who's ever needed to find their own little corner of the world.
Trading Art for Health Care
Learning to Play Viola at 52
How is it that inanimate objects are so often so eloquent? We know they are just things, but we love our things. I know I like to think of myself as too deep and unsuperficial to really care about material things, and yet, when my home almost burned down (I exaggerate slightly) I spent the remainder of the day wandering around in a daze, loving all those dumb things: the sticks my kids collect and the photograph of my grandmother holding baby-me, yes, but also, the rocking chair, the potted plants, the bathroom sink. Maybe those things aren't me, exactly, but those mute hunks of wood and plastic and stone are my life. And though I don't think of myself as having a lot of things, compared to the Chinese farmers photographed by Huang Qingjun my small home becomes a low-rent-version of the British Museum.
According to the BBC, Huang Qingjun has spent the past decade traveling around China's rural areas, photographing people outside their homes with all of their material possessions. (The BBC has a can't-miss slide show of his photographs.) The photographs are haunting portraits of the simple way people still live in the quickly-changing country. But they tell stories, too -- a story of forced change, in the case of a couple posing in front of their house which has been slated for demolition; a story of intentional change, in the case of families proudly displaying their modern DVD players and satellite dishes.
it's impossible to look at these photographs and not think, "That's IT?" I'd like to think I could live so simply as these families, possessing only what I needed to work and make food and little else, but it takes me about twelve seconds to start wondering, but what do they do in their free time? (The answer is, probably, what free time?) Where are the books and games and photographs and all those other things that we think make our homes our homes? And what would my life be, who would I be, in a yurt on the plain?
Read the entire article for more, including the the wonderful history of the "Four Big Things."
What Are Your Chairs Telling You?
The History of the World in 100 Objects
But what about those who really, really don't have money to plunk down on a gorgeous gown they'll only wear once? One woman, faced with this ridiculousness, decided to give away her wedding dress after her wedding to a bride in need. The bride, who wishes to remain anonymous, is offering her lovely ruffly confection of a Cambodian silk gown through Huffington Post Weddings. Head on over to see photos of the dress and find out more. I can't think of a better way to start off a marriage than by sending some kindness out into the world, can you? After all (as it's easy to forget when you're suffering satin-blindness in the middle of David's Bridal panic attack), this getting married thing, it's not about a day, or even a dress -- it's about starting a new life together. A life, one hopes, of giving, and sharing, and good vibes all around.
Don't Tell the Bride...
The Beginner's Guide to Wedding Planning
As I stuck the list to the fridge, I daydreamed about the different lessons we would have every week, how I would combine documentary clips and projects and field trips in a totally inspiring and life-affirming improvised homeschooling situation. I envisioned the children and I racing through a meadow, peering at clouds through homemade cloud-viewers and shouting, "Cumulus! Nimbus!" at each other like greetings in a newly-learned language.
Right. So as it turns out, I apparently don't know how to learn about anything other than by checking out relevant books at the library. Each Monday I stare at the list, and think, Right. India. We were going to learn about India. Hm, guess I'll check out a book. What's next? Animal groups. Okay, I'll find a book. Now don't get me wrong, the disintegrating, outdated science textbooks at my local library are great and all. But I know there must be more engaging ways to learn about new things. And now I know where to find them: Learnist.
This new social media site is essentially Pinterest with a point. (No offense to Pinterest!) Users share their areas of expertise, compiling, say, helpful grammar infographics, or the best works of filmmaker Werner Herzog, or (my favorite so far) words that can't be translated into English. Learnist draws you in and around (I was not exactly looking for Werner Herzog, but suddenly here I am, obsessed) the way Facebook and Twitter do, but with more useful content -- lots of resources for teachers, home cooks, sports enthusiasts, basically, everyone.
So I can space out online and actually be compiling an unofficial lesson plan for my curious kid. Or, you know, myself.
Check out Learnist and request a (free, easy) beta invite!
Is Learning Ever Just Plain Learning?
The Importance of Curiosity
As Martha Beck writes on this very site, to live a life rich with everyday miracles, all one needs is a " sense of what's probable—and a world filled with moments of grace, strange synchronicities, and perhaps (who knows?) the occasional bedroom full of guardian angels." So where are your everyday miracles today? And when they appear, will you let them in?
The Big Question: An Adventure or a Nap?
The 23-Year-Long Road Trip
Depressing, I know. But the article also shares the story of Namakula, a young woman who was denied schooling but took a catering class. She has since started a catering company called Allied Female Youth Initiative and said that "the training showed her that she had other options besides being dependent on a boyfriend or husband." Namakula now says that people treat her with respect; she is now a woman with a future—all because she's taken the trajectory of her life into her own hands.
Ugandan Skaters Make Their Own Fun
Oprah's School for Girls in Africa
As someone perpetually preparing food in a tiny, under-stocked space, I found this revelation to be quite refreshing: Even Julia Child had to fake it sometimes! Design Research's Jane Thompson describes how they set up the studio kitchen, and why it was so significant: "What [Julia Child] was doing was sort of modern living demonstration of the big symbolic thing, which was [meals going directly] from the stove to the table. We didn’t have servants anymore...we’re not living in the old elegant way."
But we can be living in the new elegant way, thanks to Child -- even if our kitchens are less than perfect. Read the whole post for more, including the unexpected significance of pepper.
Finding Your Inner Julia Child
Julie Powell's Favorite Kitchen Tools
I know it's a luxury of my life that I get to think this, and yet I sometimes find myself wondering what I'm really doing here. Here in my life, I mean. Reading my kid a picture book about the rain forest the other day sent me into a mental tailspin. The rainforests! Are getting destroyed! What am I doing about it? Nothing! I don't volunteer, I don't donate large sums of money, I don't save the children (except my own, of course, when they teeter off the playground equipment). I don't even use cloth diapers! I'm part of the problem! Of course (and here come the excuses of which we all have so many) what could I do that would really make an impact without turning my life upside down, or maybe it needs to be turned upside? (And don't say use cloth diapers.)
So it was like something chimed in my chest when I read this BBC News story about Hernando Guanlao, a 60-something book lover in Manila who turned his private book collection into a lending library for his community. Twelve years ago, his parents died and Guanlao was looking for a way to honor their memory. Since he had shared with them a love of reading, he decided to put his books -- 100 or so -- outside his house, encouraging people to borrow them on an honor system. Over a decade later, his collection has swelled to the thousands, providing reading material to a community in which few people can afford to buy books and there is not a public lending library. Guanlao told the BBC, "It seems to me that the books are speaking to me. That's why it multiplies like that. The books are telling me they want to be read... they want to be passed around."
Books now overtake nearly all of Guanlao's home -- and life, since he quit his job in order to run the library, living off his savings. And this, as you may guess, was what spoke to me so eloquently. Here is a man who has found a way to combine a wish to help others with his personal passion, and it's changed not just his community's life, but his own. There was of course risk here -- he may well have lost all his books, in a place where books are expensive. And yet, as he told the BBC, "You don't do justice to these books if you put them in a cabinet or a box. A book should be used and reused. It has life, it has a message. As a book caretaker, you become a full man." Words which should be inscribed on every overstuffed bookcase everywhere, probably. (Read the full article to learn Guanlao's plans for even more intrepid and creative book-sharing.)
Guanlao offers another gift, too, even to those of us too remote to visit his library: a reminder that sometimes, when you're least expecting it, a need dovetails with your passion, and your life's mission finds you.
Becoming the Person You Were Meant To Be
How to Make Your Life Sparkle