Debbie’s enchanting hand-lettered type — sometimes tender, sometimes gritty, always breathtaking in its visceral candor — makes for a moving masterpiece of a singular art form that speaks to our deepest longings for beauty, honesty, and the ineffable magic of what it means to live.
In the introduction, legendary graphic designer Paula Scher captures the book’s singular spell:
Debbie Millman has demonstrated her ability to combine thoughts about design and everyday life with her own obsessive hand-drawn typography, creating a new form of visual poetry. She has invented a 21st century illuminated manuscript.
To celebrate the pre-release, here is an exclusive behind-the-scenes peek at Debbie’s creative process for “Pebbles,” the book’s final and most personal poem, which began as a submission to the New Yorker’s cartoon caption contest:
And here is a sneak peek at a portion of the contact sheet containing the remaining illustrated essays and poems from the book:
In The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well (public library) — a compendium of pragmatic advice on such modern fixations and timeless aspirations as how to create a great company culture (courtesy of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh) to how to be funny (courtesy of Alec Baldwin) to how to fight for justice (courtesy of Constance Rice) — neurologist, neuropsychiatrist, and prolific brain-book authorRichard Restak offers some vital tips on how to optimize your brain, central to which is honing the capacity and performance of your memory:
On a very basic level, you are what you remember — your very identity depends on all of the events, people and places you can recall. Improving your memory will help you develop a quicker, more accurate retrieval of information that will increase your intelligence. Sharpening your short-term or “working” memory requires concentration. For instance, study four unrelated words for 15 seconds, then set an alarm for five minutes. Pay attention to another activity until the alarm sounds. Then try to remember the words. As you get better, change and add to the number of words and increase the amount of time. You can do similar exercises with numbers, visual designs, spoken words or even try to recount the scenes of a television show you just watched.
But this, Restak cautions, can be physically taxing:
When you do these exercises your brain will require extra oxygen, blood and glucose. Just as with physical exercise, this can tire you out. Many “tricks” to sharpen your recall use memory pegs, systems to attach an association or meaning to what you desire to remember. There are visual and story memory systems, some dating back to Ancient Rome. One of these systems is called “the memory palace,” in which you associate the things you want to remember with vivid mental pictures, which you then imaginatively place in a familiar setting such as your living room. Later, you can “tour” in your mind the living room to observe the remembered objects in their familiar places. This technique can be so effective it is often used by memory contest champions.
Another aspect of recall is emotional memory, when we relive how we felt at moments in the past — elated, sad, depressed, or angry. When we lose emotional memory of our own youth, we find that we no longer understand young people. If this forgetting progresses, we begin to lose touch with ourselves. And if we allow our emotional memories to disappear, as happens with Alzheimer’s patients, we will find a stranger staring back at us from the mirror.
Find a picture of yourself in which you are half of your present age. Stare at the picture for a while. Then write a letter to your older self from the perspective of the younger you in the photo, expressing all of the younger self’s hopes and concerns about the future. Follow this with a letter back from the present self to the younger you, telling that younger self about all the things they will do in their future and who they will grow into. Hopefully you will uncover feelings and memories of things you haven’t experienced for years.
The olfactory nerve links directly to the emotional centers of the limbic system, so the scents of your past — such as mowed grass, crayons or perfumes — can also bring back emotionally charged memories. Think of Proust and his madeleine.
I was fortunate enough to track down one of the last surviving signed copies, #101 no less, but unsigned ones — which are also respectably rare — can still be found online for gobsmackingly little — as little, in fact, as $6.99 at the time of this writing.
For our shared delight, here are Dalí’s color folios and black-and-white etchings — sensual, otherworldly, appropriately surrealist, just the right amount of bizarre — from my copy of the book, captioned after the original Montaigne essay they illustrate. (The essays themselves — timeless wisdom on life, morality, and the human condition — are in the public domain, thus available as a free download, and are very much worth a read.)
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