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Gemma Copeland

Writing

 — Give it all away and compost the rest

We’re working with an organisation called Platform at the moment to refresh their identity and create a new website. They’re a non-hierarchical team of campaigners, researchers and artists who work on creative projects centred in eco-social justice.

They’ve already been running for 40 years which, in a world of short attention spans and daily news cycles, feels unbelievably long. They’ve done so much work already, not all of it fitting within a coherent narrative, and have plans for so much more. The challenge is how to represent all of this, the breadth and diversity, without trying to be a comprehensive archive.

I interviewed most of their members at the end of last year as part of our research process. One of the ideas that emerged from these conversations was the idea of archive as compost. We don’t necessarily want to document every past project in great detail, but we do want to mix together all their past activities, learnings and ideas so that they can sprout new ones.

I like this idea because it’s all about creating unexpected connections and celebrating the overlaps and interdependencies. In the archive-as-compost, everything is entangled and messy. There isn’t a curatorial voice and ideas emerge that you wouldn’t expect. Everything is an experiment.

Of course, the compost heap is a rich and fertile space to play in. So many of the people I admire are already here. Starting with the queen of compost, Donna Haraway:

We require each other in unexpected collaborations and combinations, in hot compost piles. We become-with each other or not at all.

The artist Katrin Bohm, who in 2021 started composting all her past work.

I don’t want to do another project, I want to make a pile.

Vida Rucli of Robida Collective wrote a lovely reflection on her residency at Bibliothek Andreas Zust, On hosting and guesting.

I spoke about reading as finding unexpected things by change, as collecting things that sediment in a fertile humus, reading as composting. Comp(h)osting. Interlacing hosting and composting – it’s about temporality, let encounters, conversations, events sediment, stay, be in contact with other remains, become a meshwork of elements which decompose to create humus to host again. Does this relation about composting and hosting speak only about finding a time for letting things, meetings, conversations deposit – does it only speak of a slower temporality, of a time dedicated to waiting for the transformation of the material. To compost means also to accumulate in a place…

And finally, the most literal composters are Compost Mentis. They’re a co-op that care for the soil, build compost toilets and co-design community growing infrastructure. They have a manifesto-in-progress, we want the soil back, that includes slowness as an inspiration:

The long, hot ferment of a compost pile. Recognising the different temporalities, rhythms and scales that we need to work at, and actively resourcing ourselves to work at a pace that is comfortable for each of us. Our ethic of slowness allows us to build trust and care, making time to gather, & reflect on our work, methods, values and decisions. For us, slowness supports accessibility and the long term sustainability of our work together.

A textural digital collage in cyan, lavender, coral, olive, rust and teal. The background image is a microscopic photo of soil, the foreground is a super high resolution photograph of space from the Hubble telescope.

PS — How & I are moving to a new apartment in March that has a little garden (!) complete with a lemon tree (!!) and compost heap (!!!). Beyond excited.

 — Keep the channel open

I came across this interview with Rick Rubin the other day, which prompted me to fall down a rick-rubin-rabbithole. What an interesting guy.

Reading his new book The Creative Act, one of the things that struck me was the idea that when we’re being creative, we’re not conducting — we’re being conducted. Artists are receivers, translators, antennae. There’s a passiveness to it, a calmness. Looking at the world with soft eyes.

How do we pick up on a signal that can neither be heard nor be defined? The answer is not to look for it. Nor do we attempt to predict or analyse our way into it. Instead, we create an open space that allows it.

This strongly reminds me of Ursula Le Guin too. I was listening to an episode of the Crafting with Ursula podcast series the other day and realised that the intro track had an excerpt where she says exactly that:

I see my job as holding doors open or opening windows. Who comes in or out the doors, what you see out the window… how do I know? My responsibility is just to keep the mind open, not close it off. That’s enough right there.

Zadie Smith wrote something similar in Feel Free too:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.

 — Everything is deeply intertwingled

The structures of ideas are not sequential. They tie together every whichway. And when we write, we are always trying to tie things together in non-sequential ways. The footnote is a break from sequence, but it cannot really be extended. The point is, writers do better if they don’t have to write in sequence (but may create multiple structures, branches and alternatives), and readers do better if they don’t have to read in sequence, but may establish impressions, jump around, and try different pathways until they find the ones they want to study most closely.

▴ From Computer Lib / Dream Machines by Ted Nelson

I’ve recently started using Obsidian as a note-taking tool. It’s so interesting to observe how its affordances shape the way I think. The core app is beautifully minimal — a simple interface for editing local markdown files — which makes it super fast, secure and offline-first. You can extend this core functionality by installing plugins built by the community. I love this approach to software: letting people customise their own experience rather than trying to build the entire spectrum of features into the main product.

The main feature of Obsidian is that you can add backlinks as you write. I love being able to link all my thoughts together so fluidly. It makes the process of writing feel different: more like tending a garden. I think carefully about how I categorise ideas and spend more time revisiting past entries.

A few of the projects we’ve worked on at Common Knowledge lately have been digital gardens or wikis, where the usual hierarchical sitemaps don’t capture the interconnectedness of their structure. This prompted me to suggest that we read Christopher Alexander’s foundational text The City is Not a Tree in Rererereading Group recently. For fun, here’s Readwise’s GPT summary of the essay:

This text looks at the difference between structures (trees and semilattices) which are used to think about how a large and complex system is made up of many small systems. It is argued that the tree structure, which has been adopted by many designers and planners when creating artificial cities, is inadequate and cannot properly reflect the reality of the city’s social structure. It is proposed that the semilattice structure, which allows for overlap between elements, is a better representation of the living city, and should be adopted instead.

I think a digital garden full of bidirectional links is a kind of semilattice. The content can be collected, remixed and resurfaced in many different ways, appearing in lots of different sets according to the context. Working in this way requires a whole different approach to design. It’s complex and nonlinear, which can be challenging to get your head around compared to a tree website. Instead you have to understand it from the bottom-up, thinking in sets or patterns instead of trying to establish a top-down map or plan.

In simplicity of structure the tree is comparable to the compulsive desire for neatness and order that insists the candlesticks on a mantelpiece be perfectly straight and perfectly symmetrical about the centre. The semilattice, by comparison, is the structure of a complex fabric; it is the structure of living things, of great paintings and symphonies. It must be emphasized, lest the orderly mind shrink in horror from anything that is not clearly articulated and categorized in tree form, that the idea of overlap, ambiguity, multiplicity of aspect and the semilattice are not less orderly than the rigid tree, but more so. They represent a thicker, tougher, more subtle and more complex view of structure.

▴ From The City is Not a Tree by Christopher Alexander

A diagram from The City is Not a Tree, showing the difference between a semilattice and a tree.

In Towards Growing Peaches Online, Claire L. Evans writes about Christopher Alexander and what he referred to as “living structure”. She describes how A Pattern Language influenced software development in general and the design of Are.na more specifically.

Living structure is the natural order of life lived at human-scale. A compost heap has living structure. So does a good bus system, or a small public square. You can feel it in the difference between a lovely old building and a sterile new development; one is built by its inhabitants, and the other is designed by architects. “When a place is lifeless or unreal, there is almost always a mastermind behind it,” Alexander writes. “It is so filled with the will of the maker that there is no room for its own nature.” On the other hand, things with living structure feel right; they’re harmonious.

To me, there’s something so exciting about this approach. Instead of designer as author/architect, it’s designer as facilitator: creating the space for unexpected things to happen; for emergence, indeterminancy, ambiguity. (I’ve written a bit more about this here.)

What this means, really, is a rethinking of one’s own position as a creator. You stop thinking of yourself as me, the controller, you the audience, and you start thinking of all of us as the audience, all of us as people enjoying the garden together.

▴ From Composers as Gardeners by Brian Eno

One of the features I love about Are.na is that the sidebar of each block lists all the other channels that it has been connected to in the sidebar. This helps to prompt further exploration and strengthen connections to the rest of the community. Similarly, Obsidian notes have an Unlinked mentions section that surfaces any occurances of the current note’s title in other notes. It’s Ted Nelson’s dream of hypertext in action!

The task of hypertext is not to manufacture connections, but to discover where they have always been. Hypertext researchers before the World Wide Web built systems to support this endless, sacred hunt for entanglement and hidden structure, as inherent to thought as ecosystems are to the natural world.

▴ From Women in Hypertext: On Judy Malloy and Cathy Marshall’s Forward Anywhere by Claire L. Evans

A screenshot of Computer Lib / Dream Machines by Ted Nelson. There are simple hand-drawn diagrams with labels that say "Presentational sequences are arbitrary", "Hierarchies are typically spurious" and "Boundaries of fields are arbitrary".

What’s interesting about this to me is that this allows for discovery via other people’s curation rather than algorithms. As Jenny Odell points out in How To Do Nothing, the algorithms of mainstream tech platforms are always streamlining our taste, reducing our personalities down to smaller and smaller sub-categories of taste and feeding this back to us. This closes down pathways instead of opening them up, removing any opportunity for real serendipity.

But connecting to other people, discovering new things and making unexpected connections makes online spaces so much more interesting and alive! Other people are the best curators. For example: NTS is one of my favourite places on the internet because it’s content-driven and entirely powered by people with very good taste. Each show is curated by hand by people who deeply love music. There’s a strong community that anyone can join, either actively in the chatroom or by supporting them financially. They’re always looking for new ways to curate their content: picking their favourites, making themed collections or creating new infinte mixtapes.

On an even more intimate level, this is why I love reading together with friends. I get so much more out of every text by hearing about it from other people’s perspectives. Each person brings their own experiences and interpretations to the same text, making it richer and more multilayered as a result. Through discussing and untangling the text together you create something new in common, taking it to a whole different place.

It is of the nature of idea to be communicated: written, spoken, done. The idea is like grass. It craves light, likes crowds, thrives on crossbreeding, grows better for being stepped on.

▴ Ursula Le Guin

Even without the community element, Obsidian’s backlinks and outgoing links are interesting because they create a network from your thoughts. Individual ideas become less important that the links between multiple ideas.

One of the suggestions of Giles Turnbull’s Agile Comms Handbook (which I reference at work all the time) is to gradually build a narrative over time. I love this approach because it removes the need for each post to be a perfect, polished thought. This makes publishing less intimidating and more like thinking out loud. It allows for your ideas to change over time too.

In this way a blog, comprising a series of posts, can become a digital hyperlinked narrative of thought. New posts can link back to past posts. Teams can document what changes, and show how it has changed. They can show how their minds have changed, and what evidence or research brought those changes about.

This fits with Jay Springett’s and Matt Webb’s advice for publishing online too, which in turn vibes with Julia Cameron’s morning pages practice that I mentioned previously.

Persistent work, created with rhythm, results in an accumulation of creativity. The demonstration of effort, the work of the body, becomes practice.

▴ Jay Springett


 — Reflections on 2022

This year has been a bit of a weird one because How and I still don’t have a permanent home. We spent the first three months with friends and family in Australia, three months living with friends in Camberwell, six weeks subletting a friends’ place in Hackney, six weeks of visiting friends and holidaying in Europe (Portugal, France, The Netherlands, Germany and Greece), some time at H’s parents place and a few months living in Wales.

A mural of a maroon, blue and gold butterfly that says "Camberwell Beauty".
▴ Camberwell Beauty

A volunteer day at a community garden. People are tending to the garden beds.
▴ Glengall Wharf Gardens in Camberwell

A moored canal boat. The sun is shining and it's mid-summer.
▴ Visiting Leila & Stu and their boat Dirty Penny in Oxford

Parisian apartment blocks at twilight. The lights are on and they look warm and cozy against the evening sky.
▴ The view from Luke & Reba’s place in Paris

This year we did a few more multiday hikes and I hope next year we’ll do many more. I find hiking to be so meditative. I love walking through different landscapes, being completely connected to my body, seeing the stars, waking up again in the middle of it.

Me standing in a field of heather with a hiking pack on. The sky is blue with some scattered clouds.
▴ Hiking near Coed y Brenin

Early evening by a beautiful lake. How is sitting in front of our tent. It looks peaceful and quiet.
▴ Camping next to Llyn Du

How swimming in a bright blue lake beneath a mountain.
▴ Swimming in Llyn y Gader

We also did a lot of camping with friends as it seemed to be everyone’s birthday celebration of choice this year. So much fun. I never did it much as a kid so it’s a bit unfamiliar to me but I’ve found I really love it.

A group of tents at the bottom of a lush green valley at sunset.

A group of people laughing by a campfire. It's a bit blurry.

I’ve really enjoying doing more weaving this year — I’ve made a few of them as gifts for friends and family.

Another big change was beginning therapy. I’ve been finding it transformative to have regular sessions. It’s helped me to reflect on big patterns in my life, pay attention to my body and learn frameworks for dealing with future situations, having difficult conversations and giving clean feedback.

Sunset on the estuary. The foreground is quite dark but you can vaguely see a car driving ahead of us.
▴ Driving along the coast in north Wales

Books

I read 40 books this year! The ones I enjoyed most were:

  • Ways of Being by James Bridle, which explores more-than-human intelligence through the lens of both technology and ecology.
  • Death by Landscape, Elvia Wilk’s collection of fan nonfiction essays on feminist sci-fi, solarpunk, larping, compost and ambiguous utopias.
  • The Actual Star by Monica Byrne, an epic sci-fi that jumps from an ancient Mayan civilisation to the present day to a far future post-apocalyptic utopia.
  • The Living Autobiography series by Deborah Levy.

I’ve also loved reading books together with Paprika, Benjamin, How and others in Rererererereading Group.

Work

To be honest, this was a tough year for Common Knowledge at times. Although we’ve had plenty of interesting and important work on, our finances at points over the year have been rocky. This has been due to a whole range of factors, some of which were out of our control and some which were just lessons we needed to learn the hard way.

Nevertheless, we’re ending it in a much healthier place than where we started and we’ve learned loads. I feel really optimistic about 2023 for us. We’ve made a lot of changes in how we run that I feel will protect us from future risk. In the meantime, if you think our work is important and want to support it, we have an Open Collective for donations.

Despite this turbulence, I think we’ve done some great work. The type of work we’re doing is evolving slightly. We did some much bigger projects (digital transformation projects rather than campaign websites) and more consultancy/coaching work (rather than delivery). I think both of these are a move in the right direction. The downside is that there’s a lot less to show for it at the end of the year, but I think that’s fine.

The good thing about these bigger projects is that we got to do more extensive research and discovery phases, which I deeply enjoyed. (Shout out to Dovetail for being the best research tool out there.) I feel like I learned a lot about interviewing people and I got over some of my insecurities around this. In particular, Will Myddelton’s framework for running discoveries provided us with a lot of useful guidance.

The biggest project we did was a complete redesign and replatform for Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, an international organisation focused on humanitarian action and community-led development through participatory mapping and open data. This was a huge undertaking but we all learned a lot and I’m proud of the result. HOT are still working on the content at the moment but hopefully the new site should be launching early next year.

I really enjoyed working with The Architecture Lobby. I interviewed a bunch of their organisers in the US, which was an interesting look at a different political landscape. We made recommendations for gradually streamlining their entire digital infrastructure alongside redesigning their website, which should also launch next year.

I coached participants of the UnFound Accelerator again this year, which is a program that helps founders turn their ideas into platform co-ops. I also got to (remotely) have a really interesting discussion with John Caserta and the Design & Politics students at Rhode Island School of Design. It was really nice to go back to doing some IRL talks/conversations this year too: at the Weizenbaum Conference in Berlin, with Good Times Bad Times in Rotterdam and at The Forest Multiple symposium in Cambridge.

We also had some internal changes within the team: we hired Anna T to help us manage our projects and the co-op in general, and Jamie joined us for a year-long placement from Kingston College of Art. We also did a lot more work with our associate members Everin and John. It’s so nice to have more people join the co-op and I really hope this continues next year. As ever, I feel so grateful that I get to do what I love with people who love it too.

Looking forward

Although it’s been wonderful to freely move around this year and see people that we haven’t seen in years, How and I are at the point where we really need to put down some roots and stay still for a while.

It’s taken quite a while to decide where we should live. I kept getting into endless cycles of rumination and indecision: weighing up options, worrying if they’re the right one.

One of the things that I’ve learned this year is that at a certain point, any decision is the right one. We just have to try it out and see. If we don’t like it, we can change our minds. It’s funny because this is one of the principles of sociocracy that is so foundational to our work at Common Knowledge: “is it good enough for now and safe enough to try?”

You can only ever choose to take the next most elegant step. The best decisions I’ve ever made have been full of uncertainty at the time: choosing to quit my job in Brisbane and spend six months in Europe (which has now become 10+ years); moving to London which led to getting involved with Evening Class and then Common Knowledge.

Anyway, what we’ve decided is to move to Lisbon early next year. If all goes well and it feels like a good fit, we’ll hopefully look for somewhere just outside one of the cities and start on our housing co-op dream. We’re inspired by people who are doing this already like re:gen, Casa Beatrix and Project Kamp in Portugal, as well as collectives like Robida and Brave New Alps in Italy. Who knows where this step will lead, but I’m very much looking forward to 2023.

A view of Alfama, with colourful houses dotted on the hillside and the river in the distance. It's sunset and the light is beautifully soft.
▲ Lisbon in late summer

Previous years

 — Less like an object and more like the weather

It’s so nice to be in north Wales as the seasons change. The beech trees still have the most amazing orange-yellow-red leaves, but now there’s snow at the top of Cadair Idris. It’s wild to think that just three months ago we camped on top of it. There’s a legend that says anyone who sleeps on Cadair Idris’ summit will wake up as either a madman or poet. Three months on and I’m still no better at poetry so…

A sketch of Cadair Idris from 1819. There are two small houses in the foreground with the mountains rising behind.

I’ve been trying to get better at identifying fungi, trees and birds while we’re here. I saw a bright yellow bird the other day which I think is a siskin. There are so many robins around too — I love listening to them sing. I found a database full of recordings of British birds.

I’m also thinking about water a lot, it’s so incredibly wet here. On the weekends when we go hiking the ground is completely saturated and boggy. The Afon (River) Wnion was the highest I’ve ever seen it a few weeks ago.

Really enjoyed this article What does water want? Most humans seem to have forgotten:

Slow Water mimics or collaborates with natural systems, restoring space for water to slow on land in wetlands, floodplains, mountain meadows, forests, tidal marshes, and mangroves. Slow Water is distributed, not centralised: think of the wet zones scattered throughout a wild watershed instead of a big dam and reservoir. It is also socially just: Slow Water doesn’t take water from some people to give to others, or protect some communities while pushing floods on to another. Slow Water gives communities agency to restore resilience to their local landscapes and revive local cultures. And in taking a systems-oriented approach, it simultaneously supports local water availability, flood control, natural carbon storage, and other-than-human life.

An intricate map of the Mississipi River, with layers and layers of the river superimposed in different pastel colours.
A meander map of the Mississipi river by Harold Fisk, 1944

Just west of here the river feeds into the Afon Mawwdach and enters a huge estuary that feeds into the ocean. Fairbourne, a town at the end of the estuary, is the first place in the UK that the government has announced it won’t defend from sea level rise so it’s due to be abandoned by 2054…

c,o,n,t,i,n,u,o,u,s and c-o-n-n-e-c-t-e-d

In Are you the same person you used to be?, they suggest that some people divide their lives up into discrete chapters, constantly reinventing themselves, and others see their lives or identities as one continuous narrative.

I can’t decide which category I belong to. I mostly divide my memories depending on which city I lived in at the time, but I can also see the broader patterns that continue through all my experiences and interests. I guess it’s both.

The article describes research conducted in Dunedin where they studied over a thousand children from the age of three, meeting with them every two years until they were forty-five. They categorised the kids according to their temperaments and watched how they developed over time. How much of our identity is innate and how much is the product of our environment?

Human beings, they suggest, are like storm systems. Each individual storm has its own particular set of traits and dynamics; meanwhile, its future depends on numerous elements of atmosphere and landscape.

A greyscale satellite image showing swirling clouds. On the top and bottom is grey static.
▲ An image from open-weather, capturing transmissions from a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite

They suggest that although there are some patterns and cycles that are evident from an early age, one way that people can break out of their patterns is through close relationships with others. It reminded me of a bit in The Mushroom at the End of the World, where Anna Tsing talks about indeterminacy:

Fungi are famous for changing shape in relation to their encounters and environments. Many are “potentially immortal”, meaning they die from disease, injury or lack of resources, but not from old age. Even this little fact can alert us to how much our thoughts about knowledge and existence just assume determinate life form and old age. We rarely imagine life without such limits – and when we do we stray into magic. Rayner challenges us to think with mushrooms, otherwise. Some aspects of our lives are more comparable to fungal indeterminacy, he points out. Our daily habits are repetitive, but they are also open-ended, responding to opportunity and encounter. What if our indeterminate life form is not the shape of our bodies but rather the shape of our motions over time? Such indeterminacy expands our concept of human life, showing us how we are transformed by encounter.

A microscopic close-up of a mycelial network.

Building alternatives

Really good article on Noema by one of the co-founders of my instance Social.coop: Mastodon Isn’t Just A Replacement For Twitter. I was reflecting on the Twitter exodus to Mastodon the other day… It feels to me like a really great example of how important it is to be building these alternatives in parallel to the mainstream.

Acts of smashing, while vital for disruption, do not create the kind of resilient, large-scale, long-term bodies needed to replace dominant powers. As we have seen, the direction our world takes in moments of chaos will be defined by the ideas and institutions that are already available. If we want a world of workplaces owned and run cooperatively, of political decision-making power in local community hands, we stand a much better chance if this is already being built in time for social shocks.
— Graham Jones, The Shock Doctrine of the Left

It is so important to be optimistically building, testing, iterating on these institutions alongside the present day, rather than waiting for some perfect utopia to arrive in which we can start building.

It’s just so easy

Speaking of which, I find it so hilarious that in Victoria 3, a political simulation game, it turns out that communism is the most economically efficient government system:

Capitalist playstyles, they suggest, are too inefficient. The bosses at the top of Victoria 3 capitalist societies get high pay, while workers get very low pay. But in a Victoria 3 communist economy, worker cooperatives ensure that all capitalist wealth is turned over to the workers. As a result, their high purchasing power allows them to spend more money in the economy, which increases economic demand. This leads to higher living standards, which attracts more immigration, another big boost. “It’s just so easy,” the player concludes.

Bits and pieces

  • So inspired by Jeff VanderMeer’s experience of rewilding his property in Florida.
  • Lots of really useful tips on writing image descriptions here. I also didn’t realise that hashtags should be written in camel case so that screen readers can read each word separately!
  • Found a new Substack series on Octavia Butler’s Earthseed.
  • It is really relaxing to watch this livestream of waterhole in Namibia. So many critters! (via Matt Webb)
  • Great interview with Mindy Seu about her Cyberfeminism Index. I love the idea of YACK / HACK: “YACK is discourse whereas HACK is practice.”
  • I’ve been using a hot water bottle to keep warm here because my desk is in the attic below a skylight — extremely cold. Kind of hilarious to see photos of early hot water bottles in this piece from Low Tech Magazine… they look so uncomfortable.
  • Love to see some pleasure activism in action: Repair Together are hosting repair raves to help clean up areas of Ukraine.

 — Centre for Alternative Technology

Wales is absolutely beautiful at the moment (and always). The autumn leaves and soft sunlight turn the whole landscape golden and warm.

A photo of the Centre for Alternative Technology taken from the hill above. There are a number of usual building structures poking out from amongst the trees, as well as a windmill and a large wind turbine blade on its side. In the background there are hills covered in forest.

We visited the Centre for Alternative Technology last weekend. It’s an amazing place, built on top of a mountain of waste slate from a nearby disused quarry. The Centre was started by a group of people who moved there in the mid-70s. Their goal was to provide a space where people could test things out and learn how to live more lightly on the earth.

The conservatory of the "Whole House" building. It was constructed in the mid-70s to demonstrate insulation techniques like super thick walls and small windows, which are a bit outdated now.

It has examples of different renewable energy technologies, a collection of buildings demonstrating innovative architectural/construction techniques and a few different gardens. It’s all completely off grid, including running its own water and sewage systems.

It was so inspiring to spend time somewhere like this. You can feel how many different people will have contributed towards building the centre and its vision over the years. It really gave us the sense that most of the ideas we need to transition to a zero carbon economy are already there, tried and tested…

A geodesic dome greenhouse next to a tree-lined pathway. In the background is another windmill.

 — On routines

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my routine. I’ve been trying to introduce a bit more structure into my work day… not as an attempt to be more productive, more so that I create stronger boundaries between work and the rest of the work. I can sometimes start working at 8am, forget to finish early and then feel totally wrung out by the evening. This isn’t how I want to work at all, because I really believe the research that says working longer hours doesn’t mean you’ll get more done. But with remote work, it can be so easy to slip into working longer and longer hours.

I found Overthink’s episode about Productivity really interesting. I like their suggestions at the end: aim for creativity over productivity, focus on the process not the product, and move more slowly and sustainably.

A timetable of the author Ursula Le Guin's daily routine.
▲ Ursula Le Guin’s daily routine

I also really liked this advice from the Doist blog that suggests you should “pay yourself first” each morning. Instead of waking up and diving straight into work (or social media), it’s about setting aside the first hour or so of the day for yourself. This is time to do the important-but-not-urgent things that contribute to your own wellbeing or creative practice, rather than try to squeeze them in around your professional work.

Lately I’ve been writing morning pages… not quite every day yet but I’m getting there. This is one of those practices that is so simple but incredibly effective.

Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages — they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page… and then do three more pages tomorrow.

I’ve found it really useful to have a “shutdown ritual” in the evening, which helps in creating that work-life separation. I like to exercise straight after work as well, to clear out my brain and re-situate myself in my body.

 — Hello better world

I’m @gem@social.coop on Mastodon.

I like it much more than Twitter already! I had gotten to a point where I barely posted anything on Twitter because it was too noisy and overwhelming, and reading the feed mainly made me feel depressed about the world. There sure were some good memes though.

I found a tool called Debirdify that helps you find your Twitter friends on Mastodon.

This article from Wired — How to Get Started on Mastodon — is a really useful introduction.

Strong agree with what Robin Sloan wrote about Twitter ending back in April:

There are so many ways people might relate to one another online, so many ways exchange and conviviality might be organized. Look at these screens, this wash of pixels, the liquid potential! What a colossal bummer that Twitter eked out a local maximum; that its network effect still (!) consumes the fuel for other possibilities, other explorations.

Also Jay Springett’s 10 tips for leaving Twitter.

 — Bits and pieces

I’ve been enjoying listening to Overthink, a podcast about philosophy. Really engaging and accessible. One of the hosts, Ellie Anderson, is an expert in feminist approaches to love and sexual consent, particularly the work of Simone de Beauvoir. I really want to read some of Beauvoir’s journals now.


Wonderful conversation between Elvia Wilk and Claire L Evans on Pioneer Works.

I’m always extremely suspicious, for that reason, of any technology marketed using even remotely utopian language—specifically claims that some new sphere or realm is going to be a fresh start or an unspoiled new beginning. That signals to me immediately that the people who are involved in building the thing have no interest in maintenance.


One of my posts got a mention in a Space10 article Where Ideas Come From, thanks to Linsey. In very good company alongside favourites like Brian Eno, The Bloomsbury Group and Donna Haraway. I didn’t realise that this quote originated from indigenous activists in 1970’s Queensland / Lilla Watson:

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.


Great episode by Maria Somerville on the NTS Early Bird Show. This week she was joined by Róisín Berkeley, who also lives on the west coast of Ireland and has a similarly soothing accent.


Via Right to Roam on Twitter (RIP) I learned that our continued access to Epping Forest was made possible thanks to people protesting its enclosure in the 19th century.

An illustration of Epping Forest in the 19th century. People are walking and sitting in groups, and the trees look enormous. The caption says "A view in EppingForest"


I don’t pay enough attention to interesting websites anymore, but this one for Nosaj Thing by Eric Hu and Bureau Cool really stood out thanks to a combination of Eric’s distinctive typography / art direction and the fact that all the images are generated by Stable Diffusion.


Some highlights from recent books

Our Shared Storm:

Life did not have to be lived in the shadow of onrushing doom, or with a sense of guilt at the damage one did by simply existing, or consumed by anger at the sins of a greedy, foolish past. There were so many ways to live, so many scenarios of human being to explore.

New imaginaries were possible, small things could be part of big plans…

Half Earth Socialism:

The task of unbuilding makes clear that environmentalism isn’t so much the idealisation of ‘pristine’ nature (though it is vital to protect intact ecosystems) but the recognition that it is still possible to repair our broken world.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous:

Some people say history moves in a spiral, not the line we’ve come to expect. We travel through time in a circular trajectory, our distance increasing from an epicenter only to return again, one circle removed.

Walkaway:

I’m suspicious of any plan to fix unfairness that starts with “step one, dismantle the entire system and replace it with a better one”, especially if you can’t do anything else until step one is done. Of all the ways that people kid themselves into doing nothing, that one is the most self-serving.

You got the world you hoped for or the world you feared — your hope or fear made it.

The best way to be superhuman is to do things that you love with people who love them too.

 — A continuous and never ending process

I read three of Emily St John Mandel’s books in quick succession last month: Sea of Tranquility, The Glass Hotel and Station Eleven. Her work often involves parallel universes and time travel, but it’s subtle and bit different to a lot of the science fiction I read. More like narrative where the boundaries between moments in time feel shimmering and fragile.

One of the interesting things about her work is that, although the books aren’t a series, the same characters appear throughout. The main character of one book might be a background character of the next. Sometimes they’ll be more or less the same, other times their storylines will be slightly altered. It really adds depth to her suggestions about the nature of time.

Pandemics and the end of the world are a common theme, but it’s much less bleak than it sounds. There’s something hopeful about it too — an acceptance of living in post-apocalyptic times, a realisation that there is still beauty after the end of the world.

My point is, there’s always something. I think, as a species, we have a desire to believe that we’re living at the climax of the story. It’s a kind of narcissism. We want to believe that we’re uniquely important, that we’re living at the end of history, that now, after all these millennia of false alarms, now is finally the worst that it’s ever been, that finally we have reached the end of the world.

A photo of a comet against a backdrop of stars in space. It looks like it has two split tails: the left one is bright blue and the other is shimmering and white.
▲ The Structured Tails of Comet NEOWISE by Zixuan Lin, from Nasa’s Astronomy Picture of the Day

It was interesting to read Station Eleven the novel after loving the miniseries so much. It was enjoyable to compare Mandel’s original text with Patrick Somerville’s interpretation. Both were incredible in their own way, but also so different. There’s a great (spoiler-ridden) New Yorker article about this: In Station Eleven, all art is adaptation.

HBO’s Station Eleven is obsessed with adaptation, the way that people (many of them actors) reuse and project upon a source. It’s awash in references: Christmas carols, the funk band Parliament, Bob Dylan, King Lear and Hamlet. There’s also the most transcendent cover of rap music that I’ve ever seen on TV, a set piece that somehow crystallizes a character, a situation, and the human situation, all at once. Most of the art featured on the series doesn’t exist in its original form. It comes filtered through individuals, who carry and change it in time—shaping, recontextualizing, extracting what they need. One feels as though Somerville were triangulating between the texts and his characters to locate some mysterious quality that hovers in the middle. When Kirsten, Jeevan, and Frank stage Station Eleven, for example, the play works because the actors and the dynamics among them are so real. Yet the players grow more alive in the performance; their actual dynamics are heightened by it.

Speaking of interpretations and adaptations, we watched the 2007 film I’m Not There last night, which was “inspired by the many lives of Bob Dylan”. There are six characters played by different actors (including a transcendent Cate Blanchett) in separate and nonlinear storylines. Each represents a different facet of Dylan’s persona and life.

I don’t think I’m tangible to myself. I mean, I think one thing today and I think another thing tomorrow. I change during the course of a day. I wake and I’m one person, and when I go to sleep I know for certain I’m somebody else. I don’t know who I am most of the time. It doesn’t even matter to me.