brain pickings

Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen. Repent just means to change direction — and NOT to be said by someone who is waggling their forefinger at you. Repentance is a blessing. Pick a new direction, one you wouldn’t mind ending up at, and aim for that. Shoot the moon.
Pick my brain.
  • 1:If you could go back in time to a certain moment, what moment would you go back to and why that moment of all moments?
  • 2:Is there something that you want so badly in life, that you would risk or do anything to get it?
  • 3:If you could choose to bring back someone you've lost, in exchange for someone you've never met, would you?
  • 4:What would you rather? to fall in love once and never experience heart break, or fall in love multiple times and experience heart break?
  • 5:What is the single best memory you have with/of your mother?
  • 6:Can you tell us the most important lesson you've learned by yourself?
  • 7:Do you prefer to ask for help, or figure it out yourself?
  • 8:Tell us the coolest fact you've learned from history class.
  • 9:Let's say your house catches fire. All of your family members and yourself are able to make it out alive & safe. Before you do so, what's the first thing you grab? Do you grab anything at all?
  • 10:If you were to have kids in your future, would want girls, boys, or an even mix?
  • 11:Have you given any thought to potential names for your future children, if you have any?
  • 12:At what age would you like to settle down, get married, have kids, buy a house?
  • 13:Let's be practical. If the internet disappeared and never came back, would you be able to survive?
  • 14:What is your most prized possession and why is it so important to you?
  • 15:If given the opportunity, would you rather stay in school to attain a job in your field of study in the future, or drop out of school to start your dream job?
  • 16:Would you ever chop or shave your hair for cancer research for free, or for a price?
  • 17:To quote the Disney movie Brave; If you had the chance to change your fate, would you?
  • 18:It's 2 am and you're driving 20 over the speed limit and you accidentally hit a pedestrian. Do you stay on the scene, and call for help, or do you flee the scene and try to forget what you've done?
  • 19:Would you rather be paranoid at all times, or feel guilty at all times?
  • 20:What would you rather? To never experience hate, but also never experience love, or never experience loss, but also never experience success?

Celebrate Caturday with this great book for kids on space: Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space written by Dominic Walliman and designed and illustrated by Ben Newman. I spotted it in the window of the Strand Bookstore this morning and looked it up when I got home. It was actually featured on Brain Pickings last fall (which is where I saw these great illustrations). 

Cats + Space is always a winning combination in my book.*

- Summer

(*pun always intended)

The best advice I can offer to those heading into the world of film is not to wait for the system to finance your projects and for others to decide your fate. If you can’t afford to make a million-dollar film, raise $10,000 and produce it yourself. That’s all you need to make a feature film these days. Beware of useless, bottom-rung secretarial jobs in film-production companies. Instead, so long as you are able-bodied, head out to where the real world is. Roll up your sleeves and work as a bouncer in a sex club or a warden in a lunatic asylum or a machine operator in a slaughterhouse. Drive a taxi for six months and you’ll have enough money to make a film. Walk on foot, learn languages and a craft or trade that has nothing to do with cinema. Filmmaking — like great literature — must have experience of life at its foundation. Read Conrad or Hemingway and you can tell how much real life is in those books. A lot of what you see in my films isn’t invention; it’s very much life itself, my own life. If you have an image in your head, hold on to it because — as remote as it might seem — at some point you might be able to use it in a film. I have always sought to transform my own experiences and fantasies into cinema.

We are thrilled to announce that Pen & Ink: Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them made the following Best of 2014 lists:

Flavorwire’s “The Year’s Most Beautiful and Interesting Art Books

Huffington Post’s “Best Art Books of 2014

Brain Pickings’ ”The Best Art, Design, and Photography Books of 2014

And also Brain Pickings’The Definitive Reading List of the 14 Best Books of 2014 Overall“ 

We’re incredibly excited! Heaps of thanks to everyone for helping to support the book!

-Isaac & Wendy

(Still haven’t picked up a copy of Pen & Ink? You can order your copy hereherehere, or here, and learn more about the book here.)

“Leaving love behind is never easy, for it also asks that we leave behind the part of ourselves that did the loving. And yet for all but the very fortunate and the very foolish, this difficult transition is an inevitable part of the human experience, of the ceaseless learning journey that is life — because, after all, anything worth pursuing is worth failing at, and fail we do as we pursue.”

– Maria Popova (Brain Pickings)


Remember Salvador Dali’s illustrations of Don Quixote? Well, apparently he gave Shakespeare’s classic love story the same treatment. Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova – who is all over the literary art beat – writes,

In 1975, the iconic Spanish surrealist illustrated an ultra-limited, presently impossible to find edition of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, published by Rizzoli in a red silk slipcase and featuring 10 lithographs by Dalí. Only 999 copies were published.

For a larger sampling of Dali’s R&J work, head over to Brain Pickings.

“The dismal fact is that self-respect has nothing to do with the approval of others — who are, after all, deceived easily enough; has nothing to do with reputation, which, as Rhett Butler told Scarlett O’Hara, is something people with courage can do without.

To do without self-respect, on the other hand, is to be an unwilling audience of one to an interminable documentary that deals with one’s failings, both real and imagined, with fresh footage spliced in for every screening. There’s the glass you broke in anger, there’s the hurt on X’s face; watch now, this next scene, the night Y came back from Houston, see how you muff this one. To live without self-respect is to lie awake some night, beyond the reach of warm milk, the Phenobarbital, and the sleeping hand on the coverlet, counting up the sins of commissions and omission, the trusts betrayed, the promises subtly broken, the gifts irrevocably wasted through sloth or cowardice, or carelessness. However long we postpone it, we eventually lie down alone in that notoriously uncomfortable bed, the one we make ourselves. Whether or not we sleep in it depends, of course, on whether or not we respect ourselves.


Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs.

Self-respect is something that our grandparents, whether or not they had it, knew all about. They had instilled in them, young, a certain discipline, the sense that one lives by doing things one does not particularly want to do, by putting fears and doubts to one side, by weighing immediate comforts against the possibility of larger, even intangible, comforts.


Self-respect is a discipline, a habit of mind that can never be faked but can be developed, trained, coaxed forth. It was once suggested to me that, as an antidote to crying, I put my head in a paper bag. As it happens, there is a sound physiological reason, something to do with oxygen, for doing exactly that, but the psychological effect alone is incalculable: it is difficult in the extreme to continue fancying oneself Cathy in Wuthering Heights with one’s head in a Food Fair bag. There is a similar case for all the small disciplines, unimportant in themselves; imagine maintaining any kind of swoon, commiserative or carnal, in a cold shower.


To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which constitutes self-respect is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference. If we do not respect ourselves, we are on the one hand forced to despise those who have so few resources as to consort with us, so little perception as to remain blind to our fatal weaknesses. On the other, we are peculiarly in thrall to everyone we see, curiously determined to live out — since our self-image is untenable — their false notion of us. We flatter ourselves by thinking this compulsion to please others an attractive trait: a gist for imaginative empathy, evidence of our willingness to give. Of course I will play Francesca to your Paolo, Helen Keller to anyone’s Annie Sullivan; no expectation is too misplaced, no role too ludicrous. At the mercy of those we cannot but hold in contempt, we play roles doomed to failure before they are begun, each defeat generating fresh despair at the urgency of divining and meting the next demand made upon us.

It is the phenomenon sometimes called ‘alienation from self.’ In its advanced stages, we no longer answer the telephone, because someone might want something; that we could say no without drowning in self-reproach is an idea alien to this game. Every encounter demands too much, tears the nerves, drains the will, and the specter of something as small as an unanswered letter arouses such disproportionate guilt that answering it becomes out of the question. To assign unanswered letters their proper weight, to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves — there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect. Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home.” - Joan Didion on Self-Respect
What Is Science? From Feynman to Sagan to Asimov to Curie, an Omnibus of Definitions

“Being a scientist requires having faith in uncertainty, finding pleasure in mystery, and learning to cultivate doubt. There is no surer way to screw up an experiment than to be certain of its outcome." 

Beautifully articulated definitions of science from the wonderful Maria Popova over at Brain Pickings. 

The World’s First Children’s Book about a Two-Mom Family

by Maria Popova

A pioneering picture-book with an enduring message of equality.

“Many homosexuals live together in stable relationships. The time will come when homosexual marriages are recognized,” two Danish psychologists predicted in theirhonest, controversial, and now-iconic guide to teenage sexuality in 1969. But decades would pass before their prognosis would slowly, painfully begin to come true. In the meantime, those “stable relationships” were denied the dignity of being called a family and forced to conform to the mainstream-normative narratives of what a family actually is.

In the 1980s, writer Lesléa Newman began noticing that same-sex couples were having kids like everybody else, but had no children’s books to read to them portraying non-traditional family units. At that point, women had been“marrying” one another for ages, but true marriage equality in the eyes of the law and the general public was still two decades away, as were children’s books offering alternate narratives on what makes a family. So Newman enacted the idea that the best way to complain is to make things and penned Heather Has Two Mommies (public library) — a sweet, straightforward picture-book illustrated by Diana Souza, telling the story of a warm and accepting playground discussion of little Heather’s life with Mama Kate, a doctor, and Mama Jane, a carpenter.

Heather’s favorite number is two. She has two arms, two legs, two eyes, two ears, two hands, and two feet. She also has two pets: a ginger-colored cat named Gingersnap and a big black dog named Midnight.

Heather also has two mommies: Mama Jane and Mama Kate.

The book, which predated even Maurice Sendak’s controversial children’s story grazing the subject, was unflinchingly pioneering — with the proper social outrage to attest to this status. Not only did it rank number 11 on the American Library Association’s chart of America’s most frequently challenged books in the 1990s, but its impact continued for decades — comedian Bill Hicks, an eloquent champion of free speech, paid homage to it in his final act on Letterman in October of 1993 and it was even parodied in a 2006 episode of The Simpsonstitled “Bart Has Two Mommies.”

Despite that, or perhaps precisely because of it, the book lives on as a bold embodiment of Bertrand Russell’s famous proclamation: “Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.”

Twenty years later, Newman followed up with the board books Mommy, Mama, and Me and Daddy, Papa, and Me, affectionately illustrated by artist Carol Thompson.

Complement Heather Has Two Mommies with Andrew Solomon’s remarkableFar From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity, a moving meditation on how love both changes us and makes us more ourselves, and the impossibly charming And Tango Makes Three, an allegorical marriage equality primer telling the true story of Central Park Zoo’s gay penguin family.