Maria Popova is the founder of Brain Pickings, a website designed to introduce you to a broad variety of subjects that feed one’s mind and inspire creativity. Since founding Brain Pickings, Maria has spent countless hours researching and writing – hours that have taught her many life lessons. In honor of the website’s 7th birthday last fall, she was generous enough to share 7 things she learned from those 7 years of reading, writing, and living.
The 7 Lessons:
- Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind.
- Do nothing out of guilt, or for prestige, status, money or approval alone.
- Be generous with your time and your resources and with giving credit and, especially, with your words.
- Build pockets of stillness into your life.
- Maya Angelou famously said, ‘When people tell you who they are, believe them’. But even more importantly, when people try to tell you who you are, don’t believe them.
- Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity. As Annie Dillard memorably put it, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
- Debbie Millman captures our modern predicament beautifully: “Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time.”
We at Alabama Chanin have long been obsessed with and inspired by Maira Kalman. She has a rich and singular voice – as a visual artist, author, illustrator, and storyteller – that imbues people, objects, and words with knowing wit and humanity.
Maira has written and illustrated 18 children’s books, all of which have been popular nighttime reading with my daughter Maggie. Maira’s illustrated version of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style resides, beautiful and dog-eared, on my desk each day—as it has become part of our company style guide. And for years, I have traded and passed on copies of and links to her columns from the New York Times, The Principles of Uncertainty and The Pursuit of Happiness (both of which are now published exquisitely in book form).
In collaboration with Maxine Payne and contributor Phillip March Jones, Alabama Chanin has invited a number of artists, writers, musicians, chefs, and creatives to offer up their own interpretation of the Massengill photographs in a series of posts for our Journal. The posts give voice to the images of the sometimes anonymous figures that appear in the photographs. On the heels of John T. Edge’s essay, “My Life in Mobile Homes”, and Blair Hobbs’ poems, “Train-Track Hopscotch” and “Sweetheart”, musician Ben Sollee was inspired to compose a song in response to the “Three for a Dime” photographs.
We all have our chosen mentors: people who we look up to that influence us, for better or worse. They are cool-handed and know how to order drinks. From them, we learn things that are often too uncomfortable to learn from our parents. This song is dedicated to the language they speak.
Celebrate America, today and every day.
(You’ll find me at our yearly neighborhood parade with Maggie and friends…)
xoNatalie and all of us @ Alabama Chanin
The act of sharing a meal with others can be a uniting experience, with the potential to create memories and build relationships. Ashley English’s new book, Handmade Gatherings: Recipes and Crafts for Seasonal Celebrations & Potluck Parties, is a celebration of just that sense of community. We previously featured another of Ashley’s books, A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies on our Journal. I was excited to read this, her latest book, as it focuses on something I truly love: entertaining. I appreciate Ashley’s approach to creating an experience through communal, potluck meals. I particularly value her approach to slowing down and appreciating the process of creating, and was honored to contribute a review of Handmade Gatherings (featured on the back cover of the book).
Allison Moorer is a friend, fellow stitcher, and a songbird. While recently visiting with her in New York during Makeshift, she mentioned that “playing DJ” is one of her favorite things to do. So, when I asked if she would create a summer playlist for us, she happily agreed.
“Summertime makes me think of vacation or escaping, so I chose a “getting away” theme,” says Allison. “I hope you enjoy.”
Below you will find her playlist—which includes perfect “road tripping” songs from Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Tracy Chapman, and more. Roll down your windows and sing along.
Photo courtesy of Coleman Saunders.
As part of our ongoing Heirloom series that focuses on the precious things we treasure – even though they might not be considered valuable by the rest of the world – we continue to tell stories of items that have been passed down through families, from one generation to the next.
Today, we hear from Sara Martin, one of our Journal contributors. She shares a story of her great-grandmother’s butcher knife and how a potential family scandal became a source of family pride.
My great-grandmother, Roxie Mae Hurst, doted on my sister and I when we were born. She passed away when I was quite young, so I don’t have many memories of her. But, my family tells stories of her frequently – of her bold actions, her stoic nature, and her toughness.
She was (somewhat scandalously during that time) married twice. In 1907, at the age of 20, she married the Circuit Court Clerk of Lauderdale County, Alabama. His family was financially well off and his brothers were both respected county judges.
My great-grandmother was not particularly well liked or respected by her first husband’s family. They were well-educated and held substantial wealth and community respect; she was bright and literate, but not formally educated. This caused a cultural and social disconnect in the family that lasted beyond her husband’s lifetime. He died unexpectedly of a stroke in April of 1912.
Your hair is clay,
mine is water, and as we smile
into the camera,
cotton flowers—all gray—
Drape still behind us.
Now, there is no color—
only black and white—
so, after the flash,
we play. You bring
the bottle Caps (Nu-Grape and Dr. Nutt),
and I pull teacher’s chalk
from my gingham pocket.
The sun sets on your side
of the track
that leads somewhere, like the tear
that will happen
across our paper faces.
we couldn’t float bag-boats
down the creek.
hear the train whistle
warning us home.
Nothing comes between
us but the moon
beneath a stippled bough.
Dear, that moon
is full, and when our little heads
tilt on the axis of tomorrow,
its light will open–like a pearled
locket—and spill out
our starlit lullabies,
our Luna in a canning jar,
so many shared biscuits.
I have been a fan of the lovely Tift Merritt ever since I first heard her 2002 debut album, Bramble Rose. Since then, I have been lucky enough to meet and work with Tift as part of our MAKESHIFT initiative. One of my heroes, Emmylou Harris, once said that Tift “stood out like a diamond in a coal patch,” and her thoughtful lyrics and melodies prove this to be true time and again.
In 2012, finding herself without a manager or a record deal, the North Carolina native did some soul searching to find out what kind of artist she really wanted to become and came face-to-face with self doubt. I’ve shared before how my own challenges led to moments of real breakthrough and commitment to doing good work – and the admission that no matter how seamless it may seem, the journey is not effortless. Tift told Pop Matters, “Being a good artist is not for the faint of heart…I think you have to ask questions that are scary to ask and you cannot apologize for that and you cannot worry what anyone else thinks about your journey.”