The Positive Power of Negative Thinking – NYTimes.com

Though much of this research is new, the essential insight isn’t. Ancient philosophers and spiritual teachers understood the need to balance the positive with the negative, optimism with pessimism, a striving for success and security with an openness to failure and uncertainty. The Stoics recommended “the premeditation of evils,” or deliberately visualizing the worst-case scenario. This tends to reduce anxiety about the future: when you soberly picture how badly things could go in reality, you usually conclude that you could cope. Besides, they noted, imagining that you might lose the relationships and possessions you currently enjoy increases your gratitude for having them now. Positive thinking, by contrast, always leans into the future, ignoring present pleasures.

via The Positive Power of Negative Thinking – NYTimes.com.

(This is how San Jose gets into the New York Times. Just sayin’)

On the Albright Institute at Wellesley

Highly recommended reading:

However, the way Wellesley has chosen to alleviate these anxieties is problematic for its identity as a liberal arts college. Wellesley has chosen to brand itself as an incubator – or a “laboratory,” as the Albright Institute describes itself – for women to develop the skills and confidence to succeed in a “man’s world.” While this goal might appear banal, if not laudable, to the majority of Wellesley students and alumnae, it induces a troubling temporal shift: a Wellesley education isn’t important for what happens while you experience it but for what happens after you graduate.  Our motto – “women who will make a difference in the world” – emphasizes the future, who you will become, and what type of career you will have, all while pushing out of sight the true joy of academia: learning in the moment and for its own sake.

This, this, this. THIS. I wish I could bold and underline it.

I’ve been really appreciating the writing and topics coming out of the Wellesley Underground lately. They’ve all been relevant and necessary ideas, stories, and arguments that aren’t represented in most other Wellesley-related outlets. This one really struck a chord, though, especially as the Albright Institute for Global Affairs was announced and quickly became a sort of darling program while I was there.

I think certain types of people fall through the cracks at Wellesley, which originally and counterintuitively seems like the sort of place that would help those who fall through the cracks. It could be that there just aren’t many of those, but even though that assumption isn’t true, would that make them any less worthy of being there? Or any less interesting as human beings? There is a definite and constant undercurrent of inequality across the spectrum of campus life, culture, and structure. Not just in the more commonly discussed senses of inequality, such as racism or sexism, but also, as well-put in this article, in the matters of providing a thorough liberal arts education. Catering to all camps of students, and maybe also those who aren’t sure of which camp their in – by not pushing them in any one direction, and pressuring them to think in a closed-minded way. To not remove options, choices, and opportunities for questioning. I came there for the experience of an education, but I left disappointed in many ways, though Wellesley gave me an unforgettable and often amazing four years. I remember that I was excited for the idea of possibly applying to the Institute when they first announced it, and then two things happened: I learned what it was operating on and for, and I realized that I would never be accepted because I was not, and never will be, who they’re looking for.

Source: The Problem with the Albright Institute by Hailey Huget

Dan Barber’s Culinary Crusade – WSJ.com

“Butchering and eating animals may not be called kindness, but eating soy burgers that rely on pesticides and fertilizers precipitates destruction too. You don’t have to eat meat, but you should have the good judgment to relinquish the high horse. There is no such thing as guilt-free eating.”

WSJ Soapbox piece on food, sustainability, local diets, and the environment by Dan Barber, chef at Blue Hill at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. He discusses his opinions on what is best for humans to eat – best for us in a way that is healthy, and best for the earth in a way that is sustainable and logical – based on nutrient cycles, tracing the energy flow, and the inputs and outputs unique to different areas and their soils, as well as culture and our biological needs. Interesting ideas on “ecological intelligence” and an argument against vegetarianism (it’s always good to hear the reasoning behind both sides!).

“What I don’t like about sustainable foodies—and I’m considered one of them—is that we carry an air of preachiness about food. (No one wants to be told what to eat, whether it’s by your mother or by a group of holier-than-thou chefs.) But true sustainability is about more than just deciding to cook with local ingredients or not allowing your child to have corn syrup. It’s about cuisine that’s evolved out of what the land is telling you it wants to grow. As one farmer said to me, Food systems don’t last; cuisine does.”

Source: Dan Barber’s Culinary Crusade – WSJ.com

Colors and their names

Aatish Bhatia, a PhD student at Rutgers blogging at the Empirical Zeal, gives us a very fascinating read on how naming colors has affected our perception of colors and our visual worlds. A little bit of linguistics, a little bit of color theory, a little bit of visualization, a lot of interesting science. Think about it: we gave colors discrete boundaries and names, but they are more of continuous, fluid things.

Here’s some of the introduction that gets you started on thinking about how we partition color:

“Blue and green are similar in hue. They sit next to each other in a rainbow, which means that, to our eyes, light can blend smoothly from blue to green or vice-versa, without going past any other color in between. Before the modern period, Japanese had just one word, Ao, for both blue and green. The wall that divides these colors hadn’t been erected as yet. As the language evolved, in the Heian period around the year 1000, something interesting happened. A new word popped into being – midori – and it described a sort of greenish end of blue. Midori was a shade of ao, it wasn’t really a new color in its own right.

“One of the first fences in this color continuum came from an unlikely place – crayons. In 1917, the first crayons were imported into Japan, and they brought with them a way of dividing a seamless visual spread into neat, discrete chunks. There were different crayons for green (midori) and blue (ao), and children started to adopt these names. But the real change came during the Allied occupation of Japan after World War II, when new educational material started to circulate. In 1951, teaching guidelines for first grade teachers distinguished blue from green, and the word midori was shoehorned to fit this new purpose.

“In modern Japanese, midori is the word for green, as distinct from blue. This divorce of blue and green was not without its scars. There are clues that remain in the language, that bear witness to this awkward separation. For example, in many languages the word for vegetable is synonymous with green (sabzi in Urdu literally means green-ness, and in English we say ‘eat your greens’). But in Japanese, vegetables are ao-mono, literally blue things. Green apples? They’re blue too. As are the first leaves of spring, if you go by their Japanese name. In English, the term green is sometimes used to describe a novice, someone inexperienced. In Japanese, they’re ao-kusai, literally they ‘smell of blue’. It’s as if the borders that separate colors follow a slightly different route in Japan.”

Source: The crayola-fication of the world: How we gave colors names, and it messed with our brains (part I)

Read part II here.

On Slowness and the Slow Web

Jack Cheng writes on the idea of a Slow Web, an alternative to the Fast Web, which has taken over much of our internet lives. This is very similar to the Slow Food movement in response to Fast Food. Think for a second about what that might mean, then check out his article — I highly recommend it, and quoted some of my favorite parts below.

For the record, I’ve had a bowl of ramen noodles at Minca in the East Village with a good old friend I hadn’t caught up with in awhile. It’s a calming, slow, and very, very nice experience. And delicious.

Source: The Slow Web

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The Fast Web
What is the Fast Web? It’s the out of control web. The oh my god there’s so much stuff and I can’t possibly keep up web. It’s the spend two dozen times a day checking web. The in one end out the other web. The web designed to appeal to the basest of our intellectual palettes, the salt, sugar and fat of online content web. It’s the scale hard and fast web. The create a destination for billions of people web. The you have two hundred twenty six new updates web. Keep up or be lost. Click me. Like me. Tweet me. Share me. The Fast Web demands that you do things and do them now. The Fast Web is a cruel wonderland of shiny shiny things.

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Rhythm vs. Random
Let’s say I told you there was a new HBO drama that aired for one hour from 9-10pm every Wednesday night. Once you decide it’s a show you’re interested in and can make room for, the act of watching takes over. It becomes about the show. Now let’s say I told you there’s a new HBO drama that’s sometimes times an hour, sometimes half an hour, sometimes two hours, that may or may not air every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday night, between 6 and 11pm. Suddenly it’s no longer just about the show. It’s about whether or not the show will be on. What next? becomes When next?

In the Fast Web, we’re faced with this proposition numerous times a day. The randomness and frequency of the updates in our inboxes and on our dashboards stimulate the reward mechanisms in our brain. While this can give us a boost when we come across something unexpectedly great, dependency leads to withdrawal, resulting in a roller coaster of positive and negative emotions. The danger of unreliable rhythms is too much reward juice.

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Knowledge vs. Information

Timeliness. Rhythm. Moderation. These things dovetail into what I consider the biggest difference between Slow Web and Fast Web. Fast Web is about information. Slow Web is about knowledge. Information passes through you; knowledge dissolves into you. And timeliness, rhythm, and moderation are all essential for memory and learning.

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The Slow Web
Timely not real-time. Rhythm not random. Moderation not excess. Knowledge not information. These are a few of the many characteristics of the Slow Web. It’s not so much a checklist as a feeling, one of being at greater ease for the web-enabled products and services in our lives.

Like Slow Food, Slow Web is concerned as much with production as it is with consumption. We as individuals can always set our own guidelines and curb the effect of the Fast Web, but as I hope I’ve illustrated, there are a number of considerations the creators of web-connected products can make to help us along. And maybe the Slow Web isn’t quite a movement yet. Maybe it’s still simmering. But I do think there is something distinctly different about the feeling that some of these products impart on their users, and that feeling manifests from the intent of their makers.

Fast Web companies want to be our lovers, they want to be by our sides at all times, want us to spend every moment of our waking lives with them, when sometimes that’s not what we really need. Sometimes what we really need are friends we can meet once every few months for a bowl of ramen noodles at a restaurant in the East Village. Friends with whom we can sit and talk and eat and drink and maybe learn a little about ourselves in the process. And at the end of the night get up and go our separate ways, until next time. Until next time.

The Virtues of Daydreaming

“Certainly she was losing consciousness of the outer things. And as she lost consciousness of outer things, her mind kept throwing things up from its depths, scenes and names, sayings, memories and ideas, like a fountain spurting.”

– Virginia Woolf, To The Lighthouse

Studies that show how taking a break from a problem, working on other tasks, daydreaming (and night-dreaming), and letting your mind wander can help you come up with more solutions or more creative approaches.

Read: The Virtues of Daydreaming, by Jonah Lehrer for The New Yorker

The World of Wes Anderson

I didn’t grow up wanting to make movies; what I really wanted to be was an architect. I had this drafting table with all these little instruments I would arrange carefully around the edges. I used to draw everything. When I was in fifth grade, I started to make Super 8 movies, and I liked that very much. I also got interested in George Lucas at about that time, and then, by seventh grade, I became obsessed with Alfred Hitchcock. But I still wanted to be an architect. Sometimes I thought I might also like to be a writer. I didn’t settle on film until I was in college.

There were two reasons I became a filmmaker instead of, say, a novelist. I have always been interested in the visual composition of things. It’s part of why I liked to draw so much. But I also love to put on a show. In fact, I enjoyed that long before I even thought about making movies. I’m not essentially a camera guy; I don’t take very good still photographs and I never have. But I do feel comfortable with the other aspects of filmmaking.

People respond strongly to my work, one way or another. I care about critics in the sense that if you have a good review, it’s nice to hear about it, and if you have a bad review, it’s quite nice not to hear about it. When I am making a movie, I try to put all of that out of my mind and think just about the world I am creating. When people criticize my work, they often seem to say either that my worldview is too specific or, “Who needs your world?” Those are not criticisms that resonate with me, because what fictional world do you actually need?

To write a screenplay and not make the movie, or to make a movie from a screenplay I didn’t write, both seem odd to me; it’s hard for me to divorce the creation and direction processes. For that reason, I have never given up on a script. When I settle in on something, I just work on it until I kind of get it—though that can take a while. But as long as I have an idea in mind, I will pursue it. It just seems to flow: If I made the thing up in the first place, then that is a reason for me to direct it.

I have been asked why I don’t make a big-budget movie or what’s considered a Hollywood movie. I don’t feel particularly compelled to do that sort of thing. The more economical you can be, the more fun you are going to have. I find it all slows down when it gets really big. The process can be so much more light on its feet and inspiring when you are nimble.

I am not sure anybody knows what they are doing when they start out. That is probably true in any creative profession. I wrote my first film, Bottle Rocket, with Owen Wilson when we were still at the University of Texas. It started with the idea that we would make a full-length feature. But we only had enough money for a few minutes, so that was what it ended up being. We showed that short at Sundance, and then on a separate track, through Kit Carson and Polly Platt, to director Jim Brooks. He was immensely supportive and helped us get the movie made at full length. Jim was the person who gave Owen and me our careers.

It took me a long time to get to Moonrise Kingdom. I had lots of material, but after a year I had only a few pages of a script that added up to very little. Then Roman Coppola, whom I work with a lot, helped me figure out the story. A month later the script had gone from the 12 pages I had done in the first year to 100 pages, and it was done.

My writing process is mostly collaborative. I usually like it that way. In some situations, it takes the form mostly of consulting with somebody, and in other situations, it means sitting there all day long with somebody next to me. Right now I am writing a script on my own, but I talk to a collaborator for an hour a day. And then I go write. These discussions are absolutely necessary. At this point I could just finish the thing. But getting it going, getting it figured out—I usually need help.

I don’t write in any one place. Darjeeling we mostly wrote in India—that made it an adventure, and our writing process was affected quite a bit by what we saw. Mr. Fox I wrote with Noah Baumbach in England at Gipsy House, where Roald Dahl lived. This movie was written mostly in Italy, but we filmed it all and edited it in the U.S. And now I’m working on something that takes place in Europe, and will travel around and work on it.

It’s always hard to describe the process. I don’t sit down and plot things out. Not usually. Moonrise Kingdom didn’t come into my head in a conventional way. I had a very conceptual idea; I didn’t have a story. I had an idea of doing something on an island that was a romance between a 12-year-old boy and girl, that it was within the world of children, and I imagined different characters that were in the mix. But it was really much more about the atmosphere. My ideas were mostly of images and dramatic scenes. But I couldn’t tell you why they were up on the roof of a church in a hurricane. Or why the scout troop built a treehouse on the very top of a tree. I just saw it that way.

Once the script is finished, I have always done little storyboards—I have found over the years that I make more mistakes if I don’t plan it out. When we made Mr. Fox, as with all animated movies, we had a “sketch” version of the whole movie set to voices and so on before we shot a frame. On this new live-action movie, I did the same thing for many of the more complicated sequences.

Music is always important. On Moonrise Kingdom I wanted to use Benjamin Britten from before there was a script. There was also a French pop song by Françoise Hardy that I wanted to use. I had the idea of a theme with this song, but the rest of it sort of works its way in over the course of time.

I try not to think of specific people to play characters when I am writing. But it’s a hard trap to avoid. Sometimes an actor just seems perfect for a role. I don’t know who else could have played Steve Zissou in The Life Aquatic except Bill Murray. And that is also true of Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums and Jason Schwartzman in Rushmore. In the end, though, if you just 100 percent cannot have the person you want, you have to figure out somebody else.

The collaborative process doesn’t end for me with writing. If anything, it intensifies when we are on the set. Even if I know exactly what I want when I am filming, I need people to help me figure out how to get that across. Sometimes knowing what you want doesn’t mean you know how to make it happen or how to communicate it to an audience. There are any number of people whom I rely on to different degrees—the cinematographer Bob Yeoman; Roman, in the past; Jeremy Dawson, who produces, is very involved. And of course my editor, Andy Weisblum, is a key person for me. A good part of what I want them all to do is to prevent me from making mistakes.

I don’t really know what I want people to take away from my movies. Nothing specific. People’s experiences of the same picture can be radically different. It would be nice if people like the films I make, and hopefully they have a real life span, but once I am done with a movie, my energy needs to go into the next thing.

I am thrilled that Moonrise Kingdom opened the Cannes film festival. It’s the world’s biggest festival and I care deeply about French cinematic culture. But I was also terrified because it’s a lot of attention. Of course, whenever anybody asks me if I’m excited about anything, I tend to not want to say yes. I don’t know why.

source: The Wall Street Journal