"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." -Vladimir Nobokov

Friday, March 17, 2017

Thinking Out Loud Day Six: Space Dust

I love stories about people doing what they love, despite other people thinking they're crazy. I recently read a New York Times article about Jon Larsen, an citizen scientist who spent years searching for micrometeorites. This episode explores the cosmos, the everyday, and what it means to be an amateur.

Thinking Out Loud Day Five: Farallon Islands

I recently finished reading The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni. It's a wonderful, eerie book about a nature photographer who is sent to a set of remote islands off the coast of California. At first I thought the islands were just a creation of the author's imagination, but a quick google search revealed that they actually exist, and that they are just as creepy in real life as they are in the book. I don't usually believe in comparing an author's description of a place to the actual place itself, but these islands just beg comparison. It's funny how you can go your whole life without knowing something exists, and then, once you do, you can't stop thinking about it. The islands have become a sort of haunting presence in my mind. Maybe it's the atmosphere created by the book, or the pictures of their rocky forms, jutting out of the ocean, but I have a feeling the islands will stay with me for a long time. I hope they do for you, too.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Thinking Out Loud Day Four: Jane Austen

I never thought I could like Jane Austen. When I first read Pride and Prejudice it bothered me that she seemed to "tell" more than she "showed" and my understanding of the plot had been spoiled by the film adaptations. But, when I found out that my favorite professor was teaching a class on Jane Austen, I decided to give her a second chance. I'm so glad I did. Not only have I come to enjoy her writing more, but I have a greater appreciation for the contributions she made to literature as we know it. What's more, she's just a fascinating individual, shrouded in mystery.

Today, I talk about a New York Times article which discusses the possibility that Jane Austen died from arsenic poisoning. I'm not sure I believe this myself, but I find the concept of looking to people's personal belongings (in this case Austen's eyeglasses), in order to find out more about their life fascinating. How much can we really know about a person more than 100 years after their death? And how much would that individual want us to know? This episode is mostly questions, because I certainly don't have many answers.

Until tomorrow.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Thinking Out Loud Day Three: Deep Time

Here we are, back at it again! This episode explores humanity and mortality and geological time and all that good stuff. In it, I talk about the book The Oldest Living Things in the World by Rachel Sussman, and about what is possibly my favorite website on the internet: Brain Pickings.

Because it's such a beautiful book, I had to take some pictures of it:

I hope you'll take some time to look up this beautiful book and support the author, who continues to make fascinating work at the juncture between science and art.

Until tomorrow!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Thinking Out Loud Day Two: Self Help

I'm not gonna lie. I'm a bit of a self improvement junkie. I love motivational quotes, and reading about people's morning routines. When I was a kid, I was a bit obsessed with routine, to the point where I once I asked my parents to alternate the days that they read to me before bed (Dad one night, Mom the next, etc). I'm not quite as obsessed as I was then, but I'm still enamored by productivity tips and new ways of thinking about time, distractions, and getting stuff done.

In today's episode I share quotes from a couple of my favorite self improvement sites (Zen Habits and Raptitude) and talk a little bit about the weird world of self help gurus. This podcast is meant to inspire further reading, so don't hesitate to check out the articles mentioned and read them in full!

As always, thanks for listening, and I'll see you tomorrow!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

30 Days of Thinking Out Loud

Today marks the beginning of a dream I've had for a while, but couldn't bring myself to embark upon until now. I'm making a podcast. Actually, it's more like a 30-day mini-podcast, in which I dive into the things I've been reading, watching, and listening to, in under 5 minutes.

It all started when I was listening to an episode of the Design Matters podcast, in which Debbie Millman interviews Sam Winston. At the end she reads a quote from him about creation over consumption, and it got me thinking about all the stuff I consume in any given day, but never really engage with or talk about. An article or a twitter feed might spark something in me, but how often do I actually take that spark and do something with it?

Thus was born Thinking Out Loud, a podcast about ideas and inspiration, and being intentional with the information we consume. I wanted it to be a 30 day challenge because I want to push myself to learn as much as I can about this new medium, and hopefully, I'll get better as I go along. There's something exhilarating about doing something completely out of my creative comfort zone, and this definitely falls into that category.

So, without further ado, here is the first episode of Thinking Out Loud:

I'll be posting new episodes daily, and you can see the complete list in the Podcast tab above. Links to everything mentioned will be in the episode description.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Some Thoughts on Instagram

Today I finally updated my Instagram app. Goodbye classic logo; hello new, boring one.
Okay, so I know I'm woefully behind on this one. Most people have already updated Instagram (like six months ago) and gotten used to the new features, but switching over today got me thinking about Instagram as a whole, as well as the impact it's had on my life. Here are my thoughts, loosely organized:

Part 0: Meta Ramblings
It feels kind of ridiculous to even be writing about an app. I still have a tendency to see internet culture as something less real, or less "worthy" than culture that has its origins in the "real-world." But of course that's ridiculous because the two are, more than ever, inextricably linked. I also feel hesitant to spend so much time contemplating and interacting with an app which could theoretically go extinct. Think MySpace. Think Vine. Think about your favorite website ten years ago: does it still exist? So much of that time and creativity, obsolete or completely gone. Still, Instagram feels important, and I don't think it's in danger of dying out any time soon. It's been a major source of creativity and inspiration to me since I first got a smart phone my junior year of high school. So I'm going to put aside my initial reservations and give Instagram the thoughtful consideration it deserves. 

Part I: Background
First of all, let me just say, I love Instagram. It's by far my favorite social media platform. I think the reason I fell in love with it is because it's one of the few social sites that feels truly creative. Not only does it satisfy my itch to see the world through other people's eyes, but posting to Instagram feels like an act of creation. You're not just telling people about your day or sharing a funny meme. You're actively noticing the world around you, capturing it in a way that only you can, and sharing it with other people. Instagram feels like an experience in a way that Twitter and Facebook don't. You open the app in the morning and see twelve different sunrises, breakfasts, and cups of coffee. No two photos are the same, and yet we're all experiencing the same morning, the same sunrise. Instagram brings everyday to the level of an art form.

Part II: Criticisms
That's not to say that Instagram is perfect. The plethora of sunrise, breakfast, and coffee photos is both a blessing and a curse. There are entire Instagram accounts devoted to Instagram cliches. Over the years the platform has become less a place where people post photos from their everyday life and more a glossy silkscreen designed to make their life seem more perfect than it is. The act of adding filters to your photos was already an act of enhancement, but look at enough Instagram accounts and you'd think most people were living lives filled with travel, adventure, and gourmet food. Most of the time I see Instagram as a source of creative inspiration, as a way to experience beauty through other people's eyes. But I'd be lying if I said I never fall into the trap of jealousy, based on the false notion that someone's Instagram feed is an accurate representation of their daily life.

Part III: The New Instagram
This leads me to the update. Part of the reason it took me so long to switch over was that I didn't really care about the "story" feature in the first place. For those that don't know, your story is a way to upload photos and videos that are separate from your normal Instagram feed. They disappear after 24 hours, and they play in succession, so if you want you can see moments from someone's entire day at a glance. The feature comes almost directly from Snapchat, complete with a similar option to write captions over the photos and add cute overlays and graphics. 

I wasn't expecting to like Instagram's story feature. I'm still not sure that I do, but it certainly got me thinking. I found myself fascinated by the difference between what people posted on their stories and what showed up in their normal feed. The same thing that bothers me about Instagram, the tendency for it to feel overly perfect and contrived, was suddenly enhanced by the existence of the story feature. Here, the same person who posted a stunning photo of themselves on a beach at sunset to their regular Instagram, could also post a video to their story about running out of gas near that same beach. The Instagram story is anti-filter and anti-perfection. If your Instagram feed were a movie, your story would be the "behind the scenes" featurette. It draws attention to the artistry required to post a beautiful, filtered photo to your feed. 

Part IV: Authenticity and Artifice
This dichotomy has been bothering me all day. With the new update, Instagram has tried to put two opposing forces in the same place. Instagram stories are all about immediacy. You only see photos and videos for a few seconds at a time. You get the sense that they were created quickly, too. It's life in rapid fire. By comparison, regular Instagram forces you to really look at a photo, take it all in. It is a perfectly curated snapshot, something that was composed and edited rather than simply captured. 

What I like about the stories is that they're personal. You're not just seeing this person through their photographs anymore; you're hearing their voice, seeing how they move in the world and interact with others. But if stories are somehow more "authentic" where does that leave your regular feed?
Does seeing "behind the scenes" make your photos more beautiful or more fake?  Does it matter that everything we put online is curated in some way? 

I don't know the answers to these questions. All I know is that seeing a video of someone I'd only ever known through photos was a profoundly strange experience. I immediately revised my original view of that person based on their voice and their mannerisms. It made it harder for me to idealize them, because now I know for sure that they are just a regular person living a regular life. Maybe Instagram stories does the much needed work of breaking the facade. But maybe it also turns the thoughtfulness behind each photo into a display of its curated-ness.

Part V: Conclusions, If I have Any
Basically, Instagram's story feature is weird, but I still like Instagram as a whole. I wrote this post not to bash Instagram or the people who use it, but to think critically about the way we portray our lives online. I'll probably have more thoughts on this in the future, and I'm curious to hear yours. I thought I'd end with a list of my favorite Instagrammers, the people who inspire me daily to see the world through a creative lens. 

@rachelcokerwrites - One of my favorite people on Instagram. Rachel sees a world full of color. She always seems to turn small outings into mini adventures, and she excels at appreciating the little things. Follow for vintage fashion, sisterly love, and thoughtful musings on art.

@hellopoe - This lady has some serious photography skills! She travels constantly for her job as a freelance photographer, but her photos don't feel postcard-perfect in the way that a lot of travel photography does. She has an incredible eye for color and line, and every time I see one of her photos I want to set out on my own adventure.

@ashleymaryart - One of the many artists I follow on Instagram. I love her unique, geometric style, and the best part about her Instagram story is getting an in depth look at her process and watching her work come to life!

@jedediahjenkins - It's hard not to admire someone with such profound curiosity and unbridled joy. I also wish I was half as good a writer as Jedediah. His (long!) captions make me revaluate my reality every. single. time. His most recent posts regarding politics and how to bridge the gaps between people are a balm for the soul. Come for the photos, stay for the words.

@thiswildidea - Okay, I'll be honest, I mostly follow this guy for his dog. (As I think most people do - she's in almost every photo) She is supremely cute and also probably the most well behaved dog on the planet. One resounding pro of Instagram stories: you get to see her in action!

@laurenmarek - Another fantastic photographer who happens to also be based in my hometown. What a cool thing it is to see the city you grew up in through the eyes of another person. She's made me see Houston in a whole new light. 

Phew! I think that's enough for one post. Let me know if you think this hard about social media, too.