Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘animation’

28 APRIL, 2014

George Saunders on the Power of Kindness, Animated

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“What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.”

In May of 2013, celebrated author and MacArthur “genius” George Saunders took the podium at Syracuse University and delivered a masterpiece of that singular modern package of bequeathable wisdom, the commencement address. A year later, his speech was adapted in Congratulations, by the way: Some Thoughts on Kindness (public library), delicately designed and hand-lettered by Chelsea Cardinal. It follows in the footsteps of other commencement-addresses-turned-books, such as Neil Gaiman on the resilience of the creative spirit, Ann Patchett on storytelling and belonging, David Foster Wallace on the meaning of life, Anna Quindlen on the essentials of a happy life, and the recent compendium of Kurt Vonnegut’s magnificent commencement addresses.

With his gentle wisdom and disarming warmth, Saunders manages to dissolve some of our most deeply engrained culturally conditioned cynicism into a soft and expansive awareness of the greatest gift one human being can give another — those sacred exchanges that take place in a moment of time, often mundane and fleeting, but echo across a lifetime with inextinguishable luminosity.

In this immeasurably wonderful animated teaser for the book, narrated by Saunders himself, illustrator Tim Bierbaum brings to life the author’s words:

I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

In seventh grade, this new kid joined our class. In the interest of confidentiality, her name will be “ELLEN.” ELLEN was small, shy. She wore these blue cat’s-eye glasses that, at the time, only old ladies wore. When nervous, which was pretty much always, she had a habit of taking a strand of hair into her mouth and chewing on it.

So she came to our school and our neighborhood, and was mostly ignored, occasionally teased (“Your hair taste good?” — that sort of thing). I could see this hurt her. I still remember the way she’d look after such an insult: eyes cast down, a little gut-kicked, as if, having just been reminded of her place in things, she was trying, as much as possible, to disappear. After awhile she’d drift away, hair-strand still in her mouth. At home, I imagined, after school, her mother would say, you know: “How was your day, sweetie?” and she’d say, “Oh, fine.” And her mother would say, “Making any friends?” and she’d go, “Sure, lots.”

Sometimes I’d see her hanging around alone in her front yard, as if afraid to leave it.

And then — they moved. That was it. No tragedy, no big final hazing.

One day she was there, next day she wasn’t.

End of story.

Now, why do I regret that? Why, forty-two years later, am I still thinking about it? Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her. I never said an unkind word to her. In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her.

But still. It bothers me.

So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded … sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

But kindness, it turns out, is hard — it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include . . . well, everything.

Congratulations, by the way: Some Thoughts on Kindness is a beautiful read in its entirety. Complement it with Jack Kerouac on kindness, then revisit more of the greatest commencement addresses ever given: Joseph Brodsky on winning the game of life, Bill Watterson on not selling out, Debbie Millman on courage and the creative life, and more gems from , and Kurt Vonnegut.

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25 APRIL, 2014

John Lennon and Yoko Ono on Love, Animated

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“You’ve got to work on it. It is a precious gift, and it’s a plant, and you’ve got to look after it and water it.”

“A dream you dream alone may be a dream, but a dream two people dream together is a reality,” Yoko Ono wrote in her 1964 compendium of illustrated instructions for life. Two years later, and nearly a decade after she had presaged their fateful romance, she met John Lennon and the two became inseparable as they dreamt together one of the most beautiful and tragic love stories of all time. In 1969, the same year that 14-year-old Jerry Levitan taped his now-legendary conversation with Lennon, Village Voice writer Howard Smith sat down with the couple to extract from them the secret of love in a heart-swelling, soul-expanding conversation found in the altogether fantastic The Smith Tapes Box Set — an archive of Smith’s restored interviews with such icons as Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jane Fonda, James Taylor, Jerry Garcia, and other greats whose names don’t begin with J.

Now, the fine folks of multimedia nonprofit Blank on Blank — who also gave us Janis Joplin on creativity and rejection, David Foster Wallace on ambition, and Maurice Sendak on being a kid — have brought Smith’s conversation with John and Yoko to life in their signature style of audiovisual storytelling. Highlights below.

On the secret of love:

You’ve got to work on it. It is a precious gift, and it’s a plant, and you’ve got to look after it and water it. You can’t just sit on your backside and think, “Oh, well, we’re in love, so that’s alright.”

On being together without stifling one another:

We’re both mind people, you know. So to be apart, we don’t have to physically be apart.

On the myth that there can be too much togetherness:

If you love somebody, you can’t be with them enough — there’s no such thing.

For more insight on the dignity of love and sharing a life, see Adrienne Rich on how relationships refine our truths and these essential reads on the psychology of love. For more Lennon gold, revisit Jerry Levitan’s illustrated interview and Lennon’s own illustrated poetry and prose.

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21 MARCH, 2014

We Are Made of Dead Stuff: Amazing Animation Made of Leaves

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“You and most of the matter in your body are just two or three degrees of separation from things like pond scum.”

The notion that we are all stardust, a poetic observation we owe to Carl Sagan, is among the most inspired insights of modern science — an essential reminder that the atoms in our bodies are made of really old stuff, stuff as old as the universe. But while dead stars in our distant past may be poetic, dead stuff in our immediate present is not so much. And yet, it turns out, you and everyone else you know are just two degrees of separation from detritus — the decomposing matter, or dead stuff, that is the secret ingredient of the food chain. That’s exactly what John C. Moore explores in this short film from TED Ed, directed by Biljana Labovic and featuring intricate, impossibly lovely foliage creatures designed by Celeste Lai based on animator Lisa LaBracio’s lifelong leaf collection.

You and most of the matter in your body are just two or three degrees of separation from things like pond scum. All species in an ecosystem — from the creatures in a coral leaf to the fish in a lake to the lions in the savannah — are directly or indirectly nourished by dead stuff.

Complement with Wild Ones, Jon Mooallem’s poignant and poetic account of the ecosystem of which we are a part — sometimes reluctantly, sometimes neglectfully, but always inescapably — then revisit Whale Fall, a lyrical animation about the afterlife of dying whales.

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