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All I want is for someone
to understand me, but it seems my keenest friends
and I—we’ve scattered. We’ve struggled for peace,
or permanence, and somehow in that struggle,
we’ve ventured far from each other.

Natalie Shapero, Popular Longing, in Stephanie Burt, “On Natalie Shapero”

Mozart concertos! Aged sixteen in my room at One Bank Street, with the door closed. The piano sings alone, and I lay down my books and close my eyes. One phrase in the slow second movement, with gentle fingertips, touches me like a kiss—I had not noticed the double notes, the dancing phrase in thirds, and it is a revelation—just as a kiss is a revelation from one we have known before, but whose kiss is the new unknown. At sixteen, I lay and asked myself could there be anything ever in the world so wonderfully beautiful, so perfect, as this Mozart concerto? And the answer was, no, not really—only someone might somehow be a concerto.

Patricia Highsmith, notebook, 11 February 1942, in Patricia Highsmith: Her Diaries and Notebooks: 1941–1995, edited by Anna von Planta

The nuns taught us there are two ways through life, the way of Nature and the way of Grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow.

Grace doesn’t try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries.

Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things.

Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life

But there’s a falseness to setting innovation as a goal. Newness does not closely correspond to fitness for purpose, and the latter is far more important in mission organizations. Newness in a technical sense may place a government or civic interface out of reach of many of the participants it is required to serve. The assumption that everything requires brand-new thought leads to ignoring many opportunities. Further, if our networks and knowledge of history are weak (and that applies to very many of us in civic tech at present), we may be completely mistaken about whether an idea is actually new.

Cyd Harrell, A Civic Technologist’s Practice Guide

We take so much of the universe on trust. You tell me: “In 1950 I lived on the north side of Beacon Street in Somerville.” You tell me: “She and I were lovers, but for months now we have only been good friends.” You tell me: “It is seventy degrees outside and the sun is shining.” Because I love you, because there is not even a question of lying between us, I take these accounts of the universe on trust: your address twenty-five years ago, your relationship with someone I know only by sight, this weather. I fling unconscious tendrils of belief, like slender green threads, across statements such as these, statements made so unequivocally, which have no tone or shadow of tentativeness. I build them into the mosaic of my world. I allow my universe to change in minute, significant ways, on the basis of things you have said to me, of my trust in you.

Adrienne Rich, “Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying”, in On Lies, Secrets, and Silence

In my visions of fear, there’s a man in profile. I know who he is but I can’t remember him. If I’d forgotten him, why is he still there?

A taxi driver and I speak intensely about the weather; we try to remember the first heat wave that unleashed the subsequent heat waves and we peer backward, searching for the year, and we smile at each other in his rearview mirror because neither of us can find it. This will be a repetition, not a memory.

Tedi López Mills, “On How Time Passes, in Consciousness and Outside”, in The Book of Explanations, translated by Robin Myers

[Alexander] Grothendieck almost never worked with specific examples. It has been said that once, when he was asked to use a prime number to demonstrate something on the blackboard, he said, “You mean an actual number? OK, take fifty-seven.” Fifty-seven is not a prime number—it’s nineteen times three—and it is now known as Grothendieck’s prime.

Rivka Galchen, “The Mysterious Disappearance of a Revolutionary Mathematician”

[I]n 1954, [Yoko Ono] published her first book, “Grapefruit,” a collection of event scores and instruction pieces[.] […] These are like Brecht’s “Word Event,” but with a big difference. “Word Event” was intended to be performed, and artists found various ingenious ways to enact the instruction “Exit”. Ono’s pieces cannot be performed. They are instructions for imaginary acts.

Louis Menand, “Yoko Ono’s Art of Defiance”

The Great Invasion began sometime in the late 1990s but didn’t really take shape until after September 11. That’s when the new people found the East Village. The new people, the emphatically normal, come from someplace else, the Midwest, the South, but that’s not what makes them invaders. Many of us come from someplace else. I come from someplace else. Move anywhere and you’re potentially interloping. So what is it? How can I talk about the new people and their superpower of invasion? I’m forever grappling with this question, reducing, stereotyping and then struggling not to be reductive. What I keep coming back to is their apparent belief that their way of living belongs everywhere, that it should trickle down the ladder of power and fill every lower space, scouring and purifying as it goes. Spaces of queerness. Spaces of color. Spaces of marginalization. Spaces of This is our little scrap of somewhere, can’t you just let us have it, oh you who have everywhere? With good reason, colonization and Manifest Destiny are the enduring metaphors of gentrification.

Jeremiah Moss, “Open House”

[O]ne refrain runs through the series [EastEnders], mostly when things have come to a terrible pass, and that is the idea of normality. How, given the state of the world, can anyone be expected to build, live, maintain anything that can be seen as approaching a “normal” life? It is a common myth—a myth now in its neoliberal incarnation—that hard times are the exception, that perfection is something everyone can and should aim for, and that not being able to manage your life is a sign of individual failure, rather than, say, of structural inequality, or systematic racism. This is a fantasy of attainment—anyone can make it to the top—that is used to keep people in line. When Chelsea Atkins, Gray’s second wife and the mother of his newborn son, discovers the truth about her husband and plays her part in bringing him to justice, she is at first determined to give up her baby for adoption without trace, so that he will grow up with no idea of the past, will never find himself on the “internet searching his dad’s name”. All she wants, she tells her mother, is for him to have a “normal” family. “Just so you know,” her mother responds, “there is no such thing.” Or, as a psychotherapist once said to me, moments of stability where everything seems to fall into place, far from being the “norm” in any life, are more like interruptions.

Jacqueline Rose and Sam Frears, “You Haven’t Got Your Sister Pregnant, Have You?”

There are people who seem to enjoy a life relatively free of self-doubt. But there is no special moral advantage in that. People who have been pushed by circumstance or constitution to question who they are and what their place is in the world, often under really tough conditions, frequently have a richness of vision less apparent in those whose lives have been freer of inner conflict. Such richness of vision may not make their lives easier. On the contrary, it may make those people uncomfortably alert to how much they have in common with other human beings. But my own biases push me to say that such lives can seem more fully lived.

Stephanie Dowrick, Intimacy and Solitude: Balancing Closeness and Independence

Years before today’s slideware, presentations at companies such as IBM and in the military used bullet lists shown by overhead projectors. Then, in 1984, a software house developed a presentation package, “Presenter,” which was eventually acquired by Microsoft and turned into PowerPoint.

This history is revealing, for the metaphor behind the PP cognitive style is the software corporation itself. That is, a big bureaucracy engaged in computer programming (deeply hierarchical, nested, highly structured, relentlessly sequential, one-short-line-at-a-time) and in marketing (fast pace, misdirection, advocacy not analysis, slogan thinking, branding, exaggerated claims, marketplace ethics). To describe a software house is to describe the PowerPoint cognitive style. Why should the structure, activities, and values of a large commercial bureaucracy be a useful metaphor for our presentations? Could any metaphor be worse? Voice-mail menu systems? Billboards? Television? Stalin?

The pushy PP style imposes itself on the audience and, at times, seeks to set up a dominance relationship between speaker and audience. The speaker, after all, is making power points with bullets to followers. Such aggressive, stereotyped, over-managed presentations—the Great Leader up on the pedestal—are characteristic of hegemonic systems[.]

Edward Tufte, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint