Edmund de Waal and the Strange Alchemy of Porcelain

De Waal does all of his making (he calls it, invariably, ‘‘making’’) on an old, uncomfortable, paint-covered, backless wooden stool that he inherited during his apprenticeship in the 1980s. The stool and the wheel are very low, so he has to fold his long body over, basically in half, as he sits. Shaping a pot is still more or less an ancient activity: wet earth yielding to human pressure. De Waal prefers to be slightly distracted as he does it, by music or conversation, so that his conscious mind can get out of the way of his hands.

De Waal worries that modern humans are beginning to lose our fluency in touch. He thinks that we live in a world impoverished by a lack of attention to tactility. Our culture has a deeply embedded shame of the body, shame of skin, shame of ‘‘mere’’ sensation — a desire to transcend the animal coarseness of nerves, hair, blood flow. To live in clean, noble abstractions: things that we think will last. All of our digital technology, all of these portable virtual worlds, only make it easier to live in touchlessness. If you put on virtual-reality goggles, there will be plenty to look at and pretend to touch, but nothing to actually feel. But touch, de Waal insists, is fundamental to the human experience. If we can’t fully inhabit and value the world of touchable objects, de Waal told me, then we can’t fully value other human beings.

— Sam Anderson, for The New York Times

To Feel Like Art Has Chosen You

In this case, the role of the fan is still to be a participant, and to participate is to grant yourself permission to immerse, to willingly, gladly, efface and subsume yourself for the sake of the larger meaning but also to provide meaning. It’s symbiotic. My favourite kind of musical experience is to feel afterward that your heart is filled up and transformed, like it is pumping a whole new kind of blood into your veins. This is what it is to be a fan: curious, open, desiring for connection, to feel like art has chosen you, claimed you has its witness.

–Carrie Brownstein, Hunger Makes me a Modern Girl (p 5)

To Get A Sense That We Have Already Journeyed Through Something


Nostalgia is so certain: the sense of familiarity it instills makes us feel like we know ourselves, like we’ve lived. To get a sense that we have already journeyed through something — survived it, experienced it –is often so much easier and less messy than the task of currently living through something. Though hard to grasp, nostalgia is elating to bask in — temporarily restoring color to the past. It creates a sense memory that momentarily simulates context. Nostalgia is recall without the criticism of the present day, all the good parts, memory without pain. Finally, nostalgia asks so little of us, just to be noticed and revisited; it doesn’t require the difficult task of negotiation, the heartache and the uncertainty that the present does.

–Carrie Brownstein, Hunger Makes me a Modern Girl (p 4)

Does That Really Speak To Our Deepest Heart?

We look to everything in life to make us happy, not realizing that happiness is actually at our very core. It’s natural to our being. There’s no way to BECOME happy. We simply need to stop doing the things that make us unhappy. One of the ways that we make ourselves tremendously unhappy is through making demands of ourselves and each other. It’s very common in human interaction for us to demand that someone change so that we can be happy, or fulfilled. In this process, we completely disregard what might be in the best interest of the other person, or in the interest of the whole. Is this really an expression of love? Is this ultimately what we want? Do we really want everyone around us to be changing to make us happy? Do we really want to be that kind of tyrant? Does that really speak to our deepest heart, to the love that we all have inside?


The Fine Art Of Doing Nothing In Particular

It’s hard, now, to be with someone else wholly, uninterruptedly, and it’s hard to be truly alone. The fine art of doing nothing in particular, also known as thinking, or musing, or introspection, or simply moments of being, was part of what happened when you walked from here to there, alone, or stared out the train window, or contemplated the road, but the new technologies have flooded those open spaces. Space for free thought is routinely regarded as a void and filled up with sounds and distractions.

–Rebecca Solnit, from We’re Breaking Up: Noncommunication in the Silicon Age; quoted in Brain Pickings

The Torch He Carried Before Him In The Dark

It was that, all her life, she has said no. From the beginning, she had let so few people in. That first night, his young face glowing up at hers in the black light, bodies beating the air around them, and inside her there was the unexpected sharp recognition; oh, this, a sudden peace arriving for her, she who hadn’t been at peace since she was so little. Out of nowhere… He had seen her and made the leap and swum through the crowd and had taken her hand, this bright boy who was giving her a place to rest. He offered her not only his whole laughing self, the past that built him and the warm beating body that moved her with its beauty and the future she felt compressed and waiting, but also the torch he carried before him in the dark, his understanding, dazzling, instant, that there was goodness at her core. With the gift came the bitter seed of regret, the unbridgeable gap between the Mathilde she was and the Mathilde he had seen her to be. A question in the end of vision.

— Lauren Groff, Fates and Furies (pp. 389-390)

The Mother of All Questions

More fundamentally, the question assumed that there was only one proper way for a woman to live.

Questions about happiness generally assume that we know what a happy life looks like. Happiness is understood to be a matter of having a great many ducks lined up in a row — spouse, offspring, private property, erotic experiences — even though a millisecond of reflection will bring to mind countless people who have all those things and are still miserable.

We are constantly given one-size-fits-all recipes, but those recipes fail, often and hard. Nevertheless, we are given them again. And again and again. They become prisons and punishments; the prison of the imagination traps many in the prison of a life that is correctly aligned with the recipes and yet is entirely miserable.

I have done what I set out to do in my life, and what I set out to do was not what the interviewer presumed. I set out to write books, to be surrounded by generous, brilliant people, and to have great adventures. Men — romances, flings, and long-term relationships — have been some of those adventures, and so have remote deserts, arctic seas, mountaintops, uprisings and disasters, and the exploration of ideas, archives, records, and lives.

–Rebecca Solnit, “The Mother of All Questions,”  from Harper’s Magazine

Recommended Podcasts

Reply All:
Today’s The Day
This Proves Everything
The Takeover
Shine On You Crazy Goldman

We Made A Mistake

Mystery Show:
Belt Buckle

Love Hurts Series:

99% Invisible:
Viva La Arquitectura!

Song Exploder:
The Long Winters

The Longest Shortest Time:
Should I have Kids?

Love + Radio:
Greetings from Coney Island
The Living Room

The Rhino Hunter

This American Life:
The Land of Make Believe
Magic Words — Act Two: Rainy Days and Mondays
Petty Tyrant
Amusement Park