maria popova

Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity.

Maria Popova  from this incredible article reviewing the lessons of her more than ten years blogging <3 

#6. Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity. Ours is a culture that measures our worth as human beings by our efficiency, our earnings, our ability to perform this or that. The cult of productivity has its place, but worshipping at its altar daily robs us of the very capacity for joy and wonder that makes life worth living — for, as Annie Dillard memorably put it, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

The fact that we humans have such a notoriously hard time changing our minds undoubtedly has to do with the notion that “human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished,” which belies the great robbery of the human experience — by calling ourselves beings, we deny our ever-unfolding becomings. Only in childhood are we afforded the luxury of inhabiting our becoming, but once forced to figure out who we want to be in life, most of us are so anxious about planting that stake of being that we bury the alive, active process of our becoming. In our rush to arrive at who we want to be, we flee from the ceaseless mystery of our becoming.

To show up wholeheartedly for our becoming requires doing one of the hardest things in life — allow the possibility of being wrong and incur the anguish of admitting that error. It requires that we grieve every earlier version of ourselves and endure the implicit accusation that if the way we do a certain thing now is better than before, then the way we did it before is not only worse but possibly — and this is invariably crushing — even wrong. The uncomfortable luxury of changing our mind is thus central to the courage of facing our becoming with our whole being.

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
—Maya Angelou

Read more on Maya Angelou over on The Reconstructionists, a collaboration between illustrator Lisa Congdon and writer Maria Popova. The Reconstructionists is a yearlong celebration of remarkable women—beloved artists, writers, and scientists, as well as notable unsung heroes—who have changed the way we define ourselves as a culture and live our lives as individuals of any gender.

Find out more about the project here.

Neil deGrasse Tyson and the Art of the Soundbite

On August 28, the American Museum of Natural History hosted IFLS Live, a panel discussion on the wide, wild world of online science communication from I Fucking Love Science’s Elise Andrew, io9’s Annalee Newitz, Mitch and Greg from ASAPScience, Emily Graslie of The Brain Scoop and Maria Popova of Brain Pickings (and still the most interesting person on the internet). I’m sure my invitation to the panel got lost in the mail :)

A surprise visitor showed up near the end: none other than Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of AMNH’s Hayden Planetarium. Maria asked him how on Earth (or how on any other planet) he manages to craft such information-rich soundbites, polishing away the jagged edges of the science without dulling its shine. It’s a skill that Tyson has mastered perhaps better than any other living science communicator (incidentally, “science communicator” is a term I am growing to dislike, because it’s very clunky and weird). 

Neil’s full answer is over at Brain Pickings in video form (I highly recommend checking it out in full), but this GIF by Maria captures the tasty essence quite well. I mean, isn’t the GIF really just the soundbite of images?

When you’re done, sit down with your beverage of choice, get comfortable, and take in the full IFLS Live panel (video below):

In 1909, millionaire French banker and philanthropist Albert Kahn set out to use the world’s first true color photographic process to produce a color photographic record of human life on Earth.

Over the next two decades, Kahn’s photographers shot over 100 hours of film footage and 72,000 images in what became the most important and influential collection of early color photographs of all time. Yet, for decades, the collection remained virtually unknown, until it was rediscovered in the 1980s.

(via The Dawn of the Color Photograph: How Albert Kahn Cataloged Humanity | Brain Pickings)

One of my very FAVORITE websites is BRAIN PICKINGS which is curated by Maria Popova who describes Brain Pickings “as a human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, culling and curating cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers, and separating the signal from the noise to bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in until you are.” Follow Maria Popova on twitter at

(drawing above by artist and writer Austin Kleon)

Critical thinking without hope is cynicism. Hope without critical thinking is naïveté.


In order to survive — both as individuals and as a civilization — and especially in order to thrive, we need the right balance of critical thinking and hope.

A plant needs water in order to survive, and needs the right amount of water in order to thrive. Overwater it and it rots with excess. Underwater it and it dries up inside.

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.
Yes, people sometimes do horrible things, and we can speculate about why they do them until we run out of words and sanity. But evil only prevails when we mistake it for the norm. There is so much goodness in the world — all we have to do is remind one another of it, show up for it, and refuse to leave.
—  Some necessary thoughts on how to live with hope in a cynical culture.

How a 27 Year-Old Poet Became the World’s First Computer Programmer 

Daughter of a mathematically gifted mother and the Romantic poet Lord Byron, Ada Lovelace’s understanding of computational logic was matched only by her interest in art and poetry. Big Think is proud to partner with the 92Y in bringing you this series on female genius as part of its 7 Days of Genius Festival -


By: Big Think.

Do you think it’s a question of how much you balance that drive to achieve with being present and enjoying the moment?

You know, it’s funny because I frequently get emails from young people starting out and asking, “How do I make a successful website or start my own thing?” And, very often, it’s tied to some measure of success that’s audience-based or reach-based. “How do you build up to seven million readers a month or two million Facebook fans?” But the work is not how to get that size of an audience or those numbers. That’s just the byproduct of what Lewis Hyde calls “creative labor,” which is really our inner drive. The real work is how not to hang your self-worth, your sense of success and merits, the fullness of your heart, and the stability of your soul on those numbers—on that constant positive reinforcement and external validation. That’s the only real work, and the irony is that the more “successful” you get, by either by your own standards or external standards, the harder it is to decouple all of those inner values from your work. I think we often confuse the doing for the being.

Journaling … is a practice that teaches us better than any other the elusive art of solitude — how to be present with our own selves, bear witness to our experience, and fully inhabit our inner lives.
—  Famous writers – Virginia Woolf, Henry David Thoreau, Susan Sontag, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Anaïs Nin, Sylvia Plath, and more – on the creative benefits of keeping a diary.