Imperfect truths shared around a campfire

A fresh dispatch arrives with thoughts from Lisa on the messiness of creating. We hope your week has moments of delightful surprise ahead.

I don’t usually let a blank page and a blinking cursor intimidate me. I generally think of the empty space as more of a friendly invitation than a challenge. Lately, though, I have been working on a piece that is longer than anything I’ve written in a while, and getting started felt like a massive leap of faith.

A couple of autumns ago, I attended the first meeting of a beginning painting class. I didn’t end up taking the course, but what I learned from that first session still informs the way I work. The teacher demonstrated his process of getting started by setting up his easel and slathering a canvas with what seemed like an indecent amount of blue paint.

“You’ve got to start by making a mess of the thing,” he said. “Get some paint on the canvas first, and then see what you can do about moving it around.” He then proceeded to carve out a bold portrait from amidst the mess. As someone whose exposure to painting had been largely limited to Bob Ross shows on PBS, I found this revolutionary.

Although I’m not a visual artist, I always keep this advice in mind for when I’m feeling stuck—in work or life or just about anything. The first step toward making something beautiful or worthwhile is often just making something. I have to remind the perfectionist in me that possibility has a tendency to emerge from what seems like perfect chaos. — Lisa


Last week's dispatch asked, What have you loved learning?

Lara wrote:

As a naturally curious individual I've loved learning many things. But of late, I've loved learning to enjoy the journey. I think we know this instinctively, but somewhere along the line we seem to be reprogrammed and forget this. The journey, for me, means everything from moments, family, friends, to the process, flux, and evolution.  And learning (again) that the journey is entirely the point has been exhausting, and exhilarating.

Meaghan wrote:

As painful and difficult as it has been, I have loved learning about the value of setting boundaries with people. It is something I have long had a problem with, and more than that I did not know that was my problem. Now I do. And I set them. And it is glorious!

Stephen wrote:

The depth and breadth of philosophy enraptured me in college, and has continued to do so even after I graduated a few years ago. Something about a subject centered on thought (and thought about thought) struck me as deeply intertwined with our nature as thinking things. Philosophy touches every moment of my day. Continually learning and applying it has made me mindful and conscious of the complex richness of life in countless ways.

Adam M. wrote:

Over the last year, I've fallen in love with everything about whiskey. The history is fascinating. The tradition involved in various distilleries and batches spans centuries. The different approaches to whiskey (including bourbons and scotches) around the world would take a lifetime to fully appreciate. It's also great fun to explore whiskey with others. It becomes such a personal experience finding the perfect whiskey, and the conversations I've had about whiskey are some of the most memorable. With all that said, I also know I'm just scratching the surface, and so I'm excited for the future potential to learn more about a drink described by some as "sunlight, held together by water."

Brad wrote:

I have loved learning everything that I have not been able to teach myself. When I was younger, I got a thrill from reading through the workbooks faster than everyone else in my class (except Nicole—she always seemed to keep pace). I took on challenges in school to be better, to prove to myself that I was smart.<br><br>Getting older, though, has been delightful. I have been humbled and impressed by many people in many ways, none of which I could have found for myself in a book or a competition. The beauty of life that seemed so obvious at first—pure, solitary discovery of facts and feats—has been overtaken by a deep sense of warmth and gratitude for the very human relationships and imperfect truths shared around a campfire with some good whisky. I love learning more of those every day.

Lisa wrote:

I have so loved learning languages. It's something I did for the pure joy of it, without worrying about the destination. I can't say I've ever completely mastered any of the languages I've studied, but I learned so much—about myself, about empathy, and about the spaces between languages—along the way. With each new word, I learned to see the world again, differently.

Adam B. wrote:

My favorite class in college was "Brain and Behavior," a 300-level Psychology course. It was so fascinating to learn about how the brain works in all of the intimate details (as best as we knew at the time). The final exam had only one part to it: "You are standing in the middle of a road. You can see that a yellow bus driving toward you. Explain through brain function (including all inputs/outputs) how you know that it is a bus, that the bus is yellow, and that it is moving." Favorite exam of my life. I ended up with a C in the class - but it wasn't lack of trying or comprehension. The brain is just really complex. It was so hard, yet so fulfilling, to wrestle with and understand something so complex and wonderful as the brain.

Danielle wrote:

Learning about coffee has been absolutely amazing. Nothing has taught me such big ideas about the world and the ideas of micro-cultures. Everyday is a 7-hour experiment in psychology, chemistry, physics, and anthropology. There's so much more than what people see. My transition to barista-hood has gone from perfecting a physical action over and over again, to focusing on the obsession of perfect extraction, to a mixture of those with a great interest in helping others discover this unknown world they ingest daily. There is absolutely magic in coffee. I'm not a barista, I'm a novice wizard.

Uncommon reads

Times Haiku, serendipitous poetry from The New York Times:

"It just grew to where we were human beings like everybody else."

Your Phone vs. Your Heart by Barbara Fredrickson:

When you share a smile or laugh with someone face to face, a discernible synchrony emerges between you, as your gestures and biochemistries, even your respective neural firings, come to mirror each other. It’s micro-moments like these, in which a wave of good feeling rolls through two brains and bodies at once, that build your capacity to empathize as well as to improve your health.

Your turn

What's one of your favorite memories of making a mess?