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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.
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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
The creations are based on the iconic GJ chair designed by the late Danish furniture designer Grete Jalk, and they are stunning. I particularly love Kelly’s chair (which features pink Swarovski crystals), Aerin Lauder’s (she covers the chair with braided jute) and Christopher Coleman’s (he interjects bold colors into a graphic black-and-white pattern).
The best part? Eighty percent of each sale will go to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, so you can have a unique work of art and support a worthy cause at the same time. The online auction will run Oct. 1–31 on charitybuzz.com.
Chair designers from top to bottom: Kelly Wearstler, Aerin Lauder, Christopher Coleman
Looks like someone's littering wisdom again!
(Seen this morning on lower Sixth Avenue in New York City)
Each week, we'll be letting you know about the new releases the editors of O and Oprah.com couldn't stop reading. This week, we're enthralled by the page-turning novel:
It's Fine by Me
By Per Petterson
Novels about teenager angst can sometimes sound, well...teenage. Not so in the case of It's Fine by Me by Norwegian writer Per Petterson, who previously wrote the haunting, spare Out Stealing Horses. In this newly translated novel (courtesy of Don Bartlett), he follows the struggles of Audun Sletten, a 13-year-old boy who supports his mother by delivering newspapers. Having recently moved to town, this family of two remains slightly lost. Audun makes one friend (a classmate), as does his mother (a lover). But the majority of their time is spent reflecting on the violence that Audun's father created in their old home, at one point shooting a pistol at the ceiling while 2-year-old Audun crawled around on the floor screaming. Like so many who grow up with chaos, Audun tries to make up all kinds of elaborate, even slightly comic rules to prevent the same thing from happening again. "You must never drink alone," he says, "never drink on Sundays, never drink before seven o'clock and if you do, it has to be on a Saturday. If you're hungover, you go for a walk in the forest, and you must never drink the hair of the dog. Do that, and you are an alcoholic ... you are finished. Then you spend the rest of your days walking through the valley of the shadow of death. ... They give you a wide berth in the street, scurry behind the canned food when you're in the shop to buy beer. ... And then you die."
But his efforts to move on become all the more difficult when his father shows up—awakening not only memories but also new, acutely understandable fears. The tangle of this boy's mind—and the direct, graceful way it's portrayed—creates a tale that's far more adult than adolescent, one that asks the age-old question about how to deal with the past: Stay and pretend it's not happening, or run and pretend you don't care? Or...find some other way (please).
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Short stories for every reader
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.
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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
To participate, go to healthofwomenstudy.org and complete the survey about your health and habits (covering everything from your reproductive history to your personal care products); each year, the site will prompt you to update your profile.
“There’s a tendency in research to look at what we already know over and over again,” says Susan Love, MD, “but we’re clearly missing something.” The data gathered in this study could spark new discoveries.