The Delights of Distraction No.55

Some days, the expectation of writing a positive, uplifting newsletter to match with the optimistic-whimsy of the brand, can feel crippling. With the devastation that’s being wreaked on the country, it’s hard not to feel that our little corner of the world is… well, frivolous. That we should be engaging more meaningfully, using our anger and information to rattle energies to enact REAL change.

But on closer inspection, we realised we just did what out-dated Indian schools are notoriously prone to do: devalue the role of culture and the arts in our becoming. While the sciences are exalted, the arts are reviled as a time-sucking distraction. When in reality, every article we read, every new person’s narrative that we are drawn into, every poem, every painting, every book, every film, every song — we carry with us, as we do everything that matters. The arts allow us to continue our examination of the contradictions and complexities of human motivation and desire. The arts are the language of our storytelling  - and it’s our ability to tell stories that changes the world, (at least according to Sapiens author, Yuval Noah Harari)

And while providing “distractions” pits us as evil Mark Zuckerberg-esque forces, luring you from your work and doom-scrolling against your will, the reality is, you don’t get dragged away against your will. You surrender willingly. It’s a relief to turn from the unpleasantness of the world, a moment of boredom or maybe an impeding confrontation and joy-scroll through wildlife photography.

And thats the clincher - that we don’t have to engage in grand gestures of change. We can just nudge you towards things of beauty, while all of YOU are making big changes (whether internal or external), engaging in your own causes, whether it’s getting more water into your diet or smashing the patriarchy - and we can just make sure we’re here when you need a little respite from world-building :)

We can only apply ourselves in directions that we are able, and sometimes those directions have no accurate measurement. We just imbue them with the work and love they need, and keep chugging along. 

And maybe… that’s enough.

And now here’s your weekly links, some of our faves from all things internet, art and pop culture

To read: We will likely never part ways from the appearance obsessed ethos that is our cultural normal. Especially as women who have entered our 40s, where trying to maintain a semblance of youth is considered too “vain” and allowing time and gravity’s force to stake claim is considered “letting go” or lazy.  Well, Covid19 has meant NO to bras and makeup and YES to sweatpants and bushy eyebrows. And that’s why we loved this article by Glynnis MacNicol on feeling great about her neck.  “When I think about beauty standards these days — the ones my mother followed, the ones I have — what I mostly consider is all the space the not feeling good took up. It took up most of my mother’s life, and a large portion of my own. I consider all the things that weren’t done, and all the rooms that weren’t walked into because so much of the language of beauty is simply about forcing you to itemize for yourself, over and over, all the ways in which you don’t deserve to be where you are.”

A dear friend of the newsletter, publisher turned artist, Ranjan Kaul has thoughtfully charted various works of art over the ages that were borne from trauma and sorrow, It’s a fascinating essay on how artists have responded to such unprecedented events over the centuries.

One of the tiny positive dregs that have emerged from the pandemic, other than being able to cancel all waxing appointments, is not having to make polite small talk to people we kinda know and kinda don’t like much. But according to this essay in the Walrus“The fact that you can start chit-chatting on autopilot makes it easier to acknowledge those you don’t know very well, if at all, and be acknowledged in return. “That brief acknowledgement is really meaningful,” Methot says. “Not because it’s deep . . . but it makes you feel seen.”

To joy scroll: The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2021, now in its 7th year,  has already received thousands of entries from around the world, catching some of wildlife’s funniest moments on camera. This year, the competition organisers are releasing some of the shots that have already had them howling like hyenas, to inspire some howling of your own. 

Also this twitter thread: Birds, named by people who hate birds, (poor rough-faced shag!) 

To play: Sinuous is a free web-based game where you control a snakey line through a shower of red dots. The goal is to avoid the red dots for as long as possible. There are also special dots that give your temporary powers if you touch them, like slowing down the red dots or creating a deflector shield. It’s weirdly addictive, calming and a kind of throwback to simple tech times. 

To listen: On every weekly episode of the podcast Ologies,  host Alie Wardth interviews a researcher in an obscure field of science, that is, another “ology.” Past 200 episodes include Melittology (bees), Graphology (handwriting), Vulcanology (volcanoes), Horology (clocks). Ward’s witty, smart and playful  questions manage to get us equally obsessed with the same corner of the universe that we didn’t even know existed a few minutes earlier, (watch out Gluteology, ie. Butts!)

To watch: “In 1639 Japan closed its borders and cut itself off from the outside world. Foreigners were expelled, Western culture was forbidden, and entering or leaving Japan was punishable by Death. It would remain that way for over 200 years.

It was under these circumstances that a quintessentially Japanese art developed. Art for the people that was consumed on an unprecedented scale.”

You would have seen this work of art: The Great Wave Off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai, being used frequently in the news lately, as a figurative depiction of the second wave of Covid19. This painting marks one of the episodes of an insightful Youtube series called Great Art Explained. The host, James Payne has created dozens of videos on the great works from Leonard’s Mona Lisa to Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych, and it’s the kind of rabbit hole that’s well worth your time.  

To cook: Okay - this is a quirky quickie  - a little pick me up to your coffee. Don’t knock it till you try it, because we did and it’s…pretty damn good! (pssst, the secret is hot sauce!)

To end: It was Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday this week, and The Guardian asked rockstars to pick their favourite Dylan song, which many claimed was like trying to pick a favourite child (if you had a brood of 600 to choose from.) Their responses and the meaning that Nobel Laureate and musical legend had infused into their lives and musical journeys is stunning. 

David Crosby, another musical legend and his dear friend said, “The first time I saw Bob, I was still a folk singer and Bob was still a folk singer. He was playing at one of the big clubs in the Village. He was playing there and I snuck in. I sat there and I listened to him and I said, “Well, shit, I can sing better than that.” Then it penetrated to me what he was singing. I listened to the words. Then I thought seriously about just quitting the business and taking up another line of work. I knew I couldn’t match that.”

We thought we’d pick two songs from his oeuvre to end our newsletter today. Dylan has churned out such life-changing material over so many different eras of his life that his music and lyrics can serve as our constant companion wherever we may be in our own lives.

I Shall Be Released” is said to be the story of a prisoner longing to be set free. As a spiritual message, it is a simple hymn that strips us of any shoulder to cry on. Surrendering to complete personal transparency, we begin to truly see ourselves. Taking an honest look, we realize that humanity shares a collective mind that makes us all responsible for the how the scales of justice lean at any given moment. The reprieve comes only through true self-reflection -  leading us to personal freedom. 

“Now, yonder stands a man in this lonely crowd

A man who swears he's not to blame

All day long I hear him shouting so loud

Just crying out that he was framed

I see my light come shining

From the west down to the east

Any day now, any day now

I shall be released”

Full lyrics here

The second song is much more intimate, much more close to the bone. Its vignettes capture the feeling of nostalgia and longing, the feeling of forward motion, the way that time and space keep moving, even when it feels painful, even when it feels like you can’t do it anymore. And while it’s a love story, it also couches that ephemeral sense of time and loss -  the way the world keeps changing, the relentless push of change and the disconnection this changing world carries with it. The way the characters keep slipping past each other, never quite feeling happy with their lives.  

And of course, that eternal line: of being tangled up in blue, resounding especially so in the pandemic; it’s really the perfect line, tangled up in blue; painful,beautiful and true.

“She lit a burner on the stove

And offered me a pipe

“I thought you’d never say hello,” she said

“You look like the silent type”

Then she opened up a book of poems

And handed it to me

Written by an Italian poet

From the thirteenth century

And every one of them words rang true

And glowed like burnin’ coal

Pourin’ off of every page

Like it was written in my soul from me to you

Tangled up in blue”

Full lyrics here.

 As “Bobbie” would say: fare the well, our honeys, fare the well,

We’ll be back next week!

Viv and Ami 

P.S. If you are just joining us and would like to explore the Delights of Distraction newsletters No.1-53 you can find them here. As per your requests, we have archived all the previous newsletters on our website.

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