Bluebird February

"I normally go into my conversations with a set of proven questions to ask, that I find will elicit a wide variety of anecdotes from people’s lives: happiest moment, saddest moment, things like that. But with people fleeing war, it is absolutely impossible to discuss anything beyond the present moment. Their circumstances are so overpowering, there is absolutely zero room in their minds for any other thoughts. The conversation immediately stalls, because any topic of conversation beyond their present despair seems grossly inappropriate. You realize that without physical security, no other layers of the human experience can exist."

Burial Boys of Ebola

A look at the front lines of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, where heroes risk their lives not only saving the sick, but also burying the dead. Read the related article


"Creative pursuits hold an inherent need for choice, whether we consider music, art, literature, dance, or design. Every great story is surrounded by white space of some kind. Blank spaces are powerful. The author and designer choose not to lay out a page with text to every edge. Its white space is part of the story it tells. What we choose to leave out creates the story."

Beautiful essay by Liz Danzico on the art of wise discrimination and choosing what to leave out

As Austin Kleon put it, “creativity is subtraction" – something the 19th-century French polymath Henri Poincare knew when he asserted that “to invent is to choose.”

(Source: explore-blog)

"The only hope or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre —
To be redeemed from fire by fire"
T.S. EliotFour Quartets

My friend Brian Moss was driving me home from a rehearsal a few months ago and told me this story. It’s from Brennan Manning’s book Ruthless Trust, and tells of a time in 1975, when Mother Teresa was running her free hospice for the poor in Calcutta, India.

When the brilliant ethicist John Kavanaugh went to work for three months at the House of the Dying in Calcutta, he was seeking a clear answer as to how best to spend the rest of his life. On the first morning there he met Mother Teresa. She asked, “And what can I do for you?” Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him.

"What do you want me to pray for?" she asked. He voiced the request that he had borne thousands of miles from the United States: "Pray that I have clarity."

She said firmly, “No, I will not do that.” When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”

I do think our truest character shows when we come to the end of what we know. That place where the questions hang and we simply cannot go any further in our usual ways of understanding. 

It is not a comfortable place to be.

It is natural to want to move out of it.

press harder There must be something here —
make up a new story What’s really going on is this —
create distance from the pain of uncertainty That’s crazy —
strain under the pressure There is no hope —

But this is just as strange and difficult and necessary as a nun’s admonishment to trust: the ability first to face the unknown with honesty and surrender. Rare in an age that demands answers and action is the presence to appreciate the mystery when meaning is elusive. 

More on Kavanaugh’s time in India

Art credit: Alice Friedel


I think it’s very important to live in the present. One of the great things that improvising teaches you is the magic of the moment that you’re in… because when you improvise you’re in right now. You’re not in yesterday or tomorrow—you’re right in the moment. Being in that moment really gives you a perspective of life that you never get at any other time as far as learning about your ego… You have to see your unimportance before you can see your importance and your significance to the world.

Charlie Haden, jazz bass player 1937-2014 

Photo credit: Schellekens/Redferns

"The search for reason ends at the known; on the immense expanse beyond it only the sense of the ineffable can glide. It alone knows the route to that which is remote from experience and understanding. Neither of them is amphibious: reason cannot go beyond the shore, and the sense of the ineffable is out of place where we measure, where we weigh. We do not leave the shore of the known in search of adventure or suspense or because of the failure of reason to answer our questions. We sail because our mind is like a fantastic seashell, and when applying our ear to its lips we hear a perpetual murmur from the waves beyond the shore. Citizens of two realms, we all must sustain a dual allegiance: we sense the ineffable in one realm, we name and exploit reality in another. Between the two we set up a system of references, but we can never fill the gap. They are as far and as close to each other as time and calendar, as violin and melody, as life and what lies beyond the last breath."
Abraham Joshua Heschel

(Source: crashinglybeautiful)

A few years ago, my grandmother leaned forward over her cup of tea and said, “Did you know I was married to another man before I met your grandfather?” 

I had not known. 

She continued her story, explaining how she and her popular highschool boyfriend had plotted to elope after graduation. Their parents read about the marriage in the papers. Having made few plans about how they would survive, her husband got temporary work as a field hand on a large farm near Teako, in eastern Washington. But the honeymoon didn’t last. He drank hard and often left my grandmother alone for days in the bunkhouse they shared with the other workers. Needing to support herself, my grandmother found a job in the kitchen of another nearby farm. She said sometimes she would sneak up to the attic, where she’d discovered a pile of old housekeeping magazines. She would look through the pages and dream of having her own home someday.

One afternoon as she was working in the kitchen, one of the cooks approached her and said, “Sue, you don’t belong here. Why don’t you go? Go now. I’ll cover for you.” Then he reached into his pocket and offered her a small wad of bills. 

She knew this was her chance, and she walked out. 

She kept walking for seven miles to the nearest town, and by night, she was on a bus to Spokane. Too proud to go home, she worked for several months as a housekeeper for a wealthy family, then as a nanny. One day running errands in town, she heard a squeal and two women rushed across the road and caught her in an enormous hug, crying and carrying on, right there in the middle of the sidewalk. 

"Oh, Molly, It was the most wonderful feeling in the world, I tell you!" My grandmother paused for a moment, lost in memory. It was her family, and despite her protests, they insisted she come home. They helped her annul her marriage, and her father brought her to tears with an offer to send her to college. And to a second chance. At school she met my grandfather with whom she would eventually share a strong and happy marriage — and a home of her own — for more than 60 years. 

I heard a friend say once that big doors swing on small hinges. It’s true in this story. A conversation in a kitchen, an embrace on a sidewalk, just one more drink. People are powerful, and our humblest decisions can have great effects far beyond what we see. I am also moved by what prompted my grandmother to change: it wasn’t a scolding or a punishment or getting what she deserved, but a simple affirmation of who she was and the reminder that she could still make a choice. Even her own shame wasn’t a match for that kind of love. It never is.

Art credit: Z.Z. Wei

"While I’m extremely aware, and even insistent, that a piece of design can never be judged by functionality alone, I think it’s ultimately inhuman to only see things for their functionality. We want things to be more than that. The desire for beauty is something that’s in us, and it’s not trivial.

I’m completely flabbergasted that almost no one talks about beauty within the world of design. If someone does, it’s often, “Well, this is not what we’re about.” Fuck you! If you made something today that was actually beautiful, you did a lot. I think that’s something to be embraced and be proud of. There is this notion out there of designers being seen as people who only make things pretty as if that’s somehow lesser. Just look at the world right now, be it American strip malls or public housing. How much of it is so extremely ugly and built under the guise of functionality, even though it doesn’t work all that well? You can drive for hours and hours through this country, on highways and byways, without encountering beauty. It’s amazing.”

There’s a lot to love in this interview with design rockstar Stefan Sagmeister by the fab folks at thegreatdiscontent:

New York-based designer and founder of Sagmeister & Walsh shares about his path from Austria to New York City, the lessons he’s learned through running a studio, and why we all need more beauty in our lives.

Read the interview →

In June I was thrilled to attend a dinner and discussion hosted by the New Museum on the intersection of technology, design, and the humanities. The evening included a private tour of current museum exhibitions given by Julia Kaganskiy, director of the accelerator New Inc, as well as a beautiful meal served in the Sky Room overlooking lower Manhattan. Guests came from all corners of the art world and design disciplines, with many also working in emergent research and technology.

Although the night progressed with curated questions to get things going, the prompts were hardly necessary. We had some lively debates about the pace of innovation and the responsibility that comes with it, what it means for technology to become more human, and how creation must be interdisciplinary. And the sparks flew.