“I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realise I should have been more specific.” Lily Tomlin

Five Useful Phrases

  1. Off One’s Base Meaning: A person that is crazy or behaving in idiotic ways
  2. A Hair’s Breadth Meaning: An tiny margin or amount.
  3. Break The Ice Meaning: Breaking down a social stiffness.
  4. Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch Meaning: Do not rely on something you are not sure of.
  5. My Cup of Tea Meaning: Someone or something that one finds to be agreeable or delightful.


Both the past and the future are beyond our reach, it’s the present you must grasp.
Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment. (Buddha)
It’s when your thoughts, words and actions are in sync that you reach true happiness.
Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony. (Mahatma Gandhi)


Auteuroh-TERPart of speech: nounOrigin: French, 1960s
1A filmmaker whose personal influence and artistic control over a movie are so great that the filmmaker is regarded as the author of the movie.
Examples of Auteur in a sentence “Kathryn’s goal was to become an auteur whose films were instantly recognizable.” “The movie’s distinct elements made the young director an auteur seemingly overnight.”

International MUD day.

Did you know…

… that today is International Mud Day? International Mud Day is for everyone, both young and old. Set aside the video games and smartphones and turn off that TV. The purpose of this day is to help children by bringing them back outdoors to learn about and enjoy nature, along with all it has to offer. Enjoy the day!


Inveterate in-VED-ər-ətPart of speech: adjectiveOrigin: Middle English, 15th century
1Having a particular habit, activity, or interest that is long-established and unlikely to change.
Examples of Inveterate in a sentence “After living in Washington, D.C for decades, Walt had an inveterate set of political beliefs.” “April had an inveterate longing for a lavish wedding.”

30th June 2021 Intl Asteroid day

nternational Asteroid Day – 30 June 

This day aims to educate the public about the hazards of an asteroid impact and what should be done in case of a credible near-object threat. 

Content marketing ideas:     

  • Listicle idea: X Asteroids you can spot in the night sky in June  2021 

  • Infographic idea: How big would an asteroid need to be to wipe out all life on earth? 
  • Video idea: A look at what could possibly happen after a meteor strikes the earth  
  • Podcast idea: Is space colonization the only way to ensure the survival of humans in the future? 

International Day of Parliamentarism – 30 June 

This day aims to shed light on how parliamentary systems help improve the day-to-day lives of ordinary citizens. 

Content marketing ideas:     

  • Listicle idea: What needs to happen for a bill to be passed in India? 
  • Infographic idea: X Ways you can contact your local MP or MLA 
  • Video idea: How does the parliament differ from the government?  
  • Podcast idea: How can we ensure our parliamentary leaders remain fair? 

More content marketing opportunities: 

This is also the Day of Remembrance for me. My father’s Death Anniversary – 56 years ago this day, when I was a school kid readying for my 8th Standard admission in the Model School on 1st July he expired.  

The memories of childhood are mixed – more bitter and painful than sweet.  He was an angry man, pious, religious, straightforward and had faced many harsh situations in his youth and later life.  Life was stabilising after marriage to my Late mother but 3 heart attacks one after the other at age 50 took their toll finally.  

We were shaken.  Uncle a Mason met the CS who was a Mason and got a pension sanctioned for me till I attained 21 years age, let us live for one more year in govt quarters which were allotted to my teacher mother inspite of her lower pay-grade.  And an year later we shifted to hometown Raipur where maternal uncle was our patron. Living in Bhopal had great memories, wonderful close friends, spiritual and religious saints meetings and Learning of Yoga at age 5. 

All of this changed. I was a child labour – a term not popular then but was seen with dignity in society as a contributor to family income. I lacked friends, real, good, long-term friends and the time to have such great friends was lost. I could keep in touch with 4 of best friends and few classmates in later life but it was not the same.  This was my worst loss than compared to the loss of a father.


Five Useful phrases

  1. Read ‘Em and Weep Meaning: Often said by the winner in poker, as the others ‘weep’ over the loss.
  2. On Cloud Nine Meaning: Having strong feelings of happiness or satisfaction.
  3. In a Pickle Meaning: Being in a difficult predicament; a mess; an undesirable situation.
  4. Top Drawer Meaning: High quality, exceptional; something that’s very valuable.
  5. Break The Ice Meaning: Breaking down a social stiffness.


No amount of correction can outweigh the strength of encouragement.
Correction does much, but encouragement does more. (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
It isn’t what happens that matters, but how you respond to it.
Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it. (Lou Holtz)

Meher Baba


” It is like this: If a person wants to take the pearl from the bottom of the ocean, then he should not shout at the pearl to come up while he sits on the beach. If he really wants the pearl, he should try his hardest to plunge to the bottom of the ocean to get it.

Now, say that the water of the ocean is maya and the pearl is God. According to spiritual law, it is then essential that the diver not get wet nor even touch one drop of water while diving! This means it is possible for him to dive and obtain the pearl, but it is impossible for him to not touch even a drop of water in the effort. This impossible aspect of spiritual things really makes the diver worthy of the prize.

In order to not touch water, the diver must put on a full diving suit; and after putting on an air tank, he can dive down. Only then will he be able to follow the rule of bringing up the pearl without getting wet.

To compare the above with spirituality, take the water of the ocean as maya, the pearl as God, the diver as the seeker, the diving suit as love, or the willingness to renounce the world, and the man on the beach or boat in charge of the air compressor as the Sadguru. Without the help of the Sadguru to manipulate the air compressor, it is thus impossible for one to dive down and take the pearl, which means to free oneself from the clutches of maya while remaining in maya.

A man may discharge his worldly duties and maintain a household with a wife and child. But at the same time, he should remain detached from all this, come what may. This does not mean that he should be neglectful of his duties toward his near and dear ones, but that he should have no attachments to it at all. You know that a pen is yours and you use it. But if you lose it, you should not care about it; you should remain detached. “
Meher Baba, LORD MEHER, 1st edition, Vol. 5, p. 1860.
photo of Meher Baba by MN publications or MSI collection.

13 Famous Movie Quotes You Didn’t Know Were Improvised | Inspiring Quotes

13 Famous Movie Quotes You Didn’t Know Were ImprovisedFebruary 18, 2021

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No matter how meticulous the script, many film directors give their actors at least some leeway when it comes to improvisation. As Guy Richie, director of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrelsonce said: “I like to think that we’ve got a plan, so let’s stick to it. That said, once we’ve stuck to it, we’re allowed as much improvisation as anyone cares to indulge themselves in.”

The power of true improvisation reveals itself in some of cinema’s most quoted lines, from Robert De Niro’s “You talkin’ to me?” to Jack Nicholson’s “Heeeere’s Johnny!”

But some famous movie quotes frequently cited as improvised aren’t quite what they seem. When Princess Leia tells Han Solo she loves him, Han responds with the now-iconic line, “I know.” But while Harrison Ford did come up with the line, he had discussed it previously with director Irvin Kershner. The same is true of Rutger Hauer’s “Tears in the rain” monologue in Blade Runner — often said to be improvised — which he wrote the night before the shoot.

The following quotes are all examples of genuine improvisation: famous lines that were never in the script and never discussed with the director, and that went on to become classic moments in movie history.  

Here’s looking at you, kid.
– Humphrey Bogart in “Casablanca,” 1942

Bogart improvised this classic line, although he had used it before in Midnight in 1934.

Mein Fuhrer, I can walk.
– Peter Sellers in “Dr Strangelove,” 1964

Sellers improvised many of his lines in this Stanley Kubrick classic, including the final line (spoiler alert) when Strangelove steps out of his wheelchair.

Hey! I’m walkin’ here!
– Dustin Hoffman in “Midnight Cowboy,” 1969

Hoffman shouts this iconic line when he almost gets hit by a cab. There’s some debate as to whether it was improvised or not, but Hoffman claims it was spontaneous.  

Leave the gun, take the cannoli.
– Richard Castellano in “The Godfather,” 1972

The original script just said “Leave the gun,” but Castellano, who played Clemenza, improvised the rest after a suggestion from his onscreen and real-life wife, Ardell Sheridan.

You’re gonna need a bigger boat!
– Roy Sheider in “Jaws,” 1975

Sheider’s famously improvised line was actually an inside joke among the crew, who had been given a tugboat too small for the shoot and used the line among themselves, totally unaware that it would become part of cinematic history.

You talkin’ to me?
– Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver,” 1976

One of the most iconic lines and scenes of all time was completely improvised by De Niro. Director Martin Scorsese asked the actor “Can you say something to yourself? In the mirror?” and so was born the famous scene.

Heeeere’s Johnny!
– Jack Nicholson in “The Shining,” 1980

Nicholson’s axe scene remains one of the most chilling moments in horror history, and his most famous line was totally improvised.

Game over, man! Game over!
– Bill Paxton in “Aliens,” 1986

Paxton was improvising when his character, Private First Class William Hudson, starts to freak out after his dropship is destroyed. He had no idea at the time that his ad libbed lines would become one of the most famous quotes in sci-fi movie history.

You can’t handle the truth!
– Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men,” 1992

The original script had Col. Nathan Jessup saying, “You already have the truth,” but Nicholson improvised a line that was far more memorable.

I love carpet. I love desk. I love lamp.
– Steve Carell in “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” 2004

Carell’s weatherman Brick Tamland is one of the highlights of Anchorman, and his lamp scene is one of its funniest moments. He improvised the scene because director Adam McKay told him he didn’t have any written lines, so “Just say something.” And that’s exactly what Carell did.

I am Iron Man.
– Robert Downey Jr. in “Iron Man,” 2008

When Tony Stark reveals to the world that he is, in fact, Iron Man, Downey Jr. wasn’t following the script. He improvised the line, which became one of the most iconic quotes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I’ve been impaled.
– Josh Gad in “Frozen,” 2013

Olaf the Snowman is one of the most beloved characters in Frozen, which at the time of its release was the highest-grossing animated film of all time. Actor Josh Gad, who voiced lovable snowman Olaf, was surprised when one of his ad libbed jokes made it into the final cut, perhaps because impaling isn’t typically a subject for a family movie.

I don’t want to go.
– Tom Holland in “Avengers: Infinity War,” 2018

Major spoiler alert: One of the most heartbreaking lines in the superhero movie comes from Holland’s Peter Parker moments before he fades away. Co-director Joe Russo didn’t have any lines for the young actor, simply telling him to act like he doesn’t want to leave. Holland improvised the now-classic line, and delivered it perfectly.

Photo Credit:  Juskteez Vu/ Unsplash

13 Overused Quotes — and Inspiring Alternatives to Use Instead | Inspiring Quotes

13 Overused Quotes — and Inspiring Alternatives to Use InsteadMarch 1, 2021

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Cliché quotes and common sayings are popular for a reason. They tend to be meaningful phrases that ring so true they’re repeated over and over until they become predictable and, well, stale. Tired and overused, clichés lack originality, and the trenchant message they impart can become diluted in the process.

Because these popular quotes are so ubiquitous, we tend to turn to them when looking for inspiration. They may be wise words imparted by luminary writers, artists, politicians, or religious leaders, or anonymous proverbs and common sayings with unknown origins. In any case, there is often a lesser known but equally moving maxim to be found. Here, we’ve compiled some of the most popular overused quotes, along with an alternative that expresses a similar message, but with a touch of originality.


Live every day like it’s your last.
– Unknown


Let us have wine and women, mirth and laughter, sermons and soda water the day after.
– English poet Lord Byron


If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
– Unknown


Freedom is what you do with what has been done to you.
– French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre


Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.
– Motivational speaker Vivian Greene


What matters most is how well you walk through fire.
– American author Charles Bukowski


Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.
– James Dean


Follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.
– Franz Kafka


Keep calm and carry on.
– British propaganda during the Second World War


In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.
– Robert Frost


You can’t please everyone.
– English monk and poet John Lydgate


Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway.
– Eleanor Roosevelt


If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain
– Dolly Parton


You cannot find peace by avoiding life.
– Virginia Woolf


Everything happens for a reason.
– Unknown


Realize that if a door closed, it’s because what was behind it wasn’t meant for you.
– American writer Mandy Hale


That which does not kill us makes us stronger.
– Friedrich Nietzsche


But he, who dares not grasp the thorn should never crave the rose.
– English writer Anne Brontë


It’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.
– Marilyn Monroe


Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow.
– Vincent van Gogh


Dance like nobody is watching.
– American writer William W. Purkey


Those who dance are thought to be insane by those who can’t hear the music.
– Friedrich Nietzsche

Wisdom From the Kitchen of Julia Child | Inspiring Quotes


Always remember: If you’re alone in the kitchen and you drop the lamb, you can always just pick it up. Who’s going to know?


A cookbook is only as good as its poorest recipe.


The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.


The only way you learn how to flip things is just to flip them.


The measure of achievement is not winning awards. It’s doing something that you appreciate, something you believe is worthwhile. I think of my strawberry souffle. I did that at least 28 times before I finally conquered it.


Just speak very loudly and quickly, and state your position with utter conviction, as the French do, and you’ll have a marvelous time!


You must have discipline to have fun.


I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate.


People are uncertain because they don’t have the self-confidence to make decisions.


The more you know, the more you can create. There’s no end to imagination in the kitchen.

India China border news: India shifts 50,000 troops to China border in historic move – The Economic Times

Intl day of the TROPICS 29th June

International Day of the Tropics – 29 June
This day celebrates the extraordinary diversity of the tropics while highlighting the unique challenges and opportunities that tropical nations face. Content marketing ideas:    
  • Listicle idea: Countries you must visit in the tropical belt
  • Infographic idea: X Essentials if you’re vacationing in a tropical paradise
  • Video idea: Will global warming still affect animals in tropical areas?
  • Podcast idea: How do people in tropical areas guard themselves against heatwaves?

10 Rhetorical Figures – Listverse

10 Rhetorical Figures

by Listverse Writersfact checked by Alex Hanton

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion through written, oral, or visual means. The idea of rhetoric has been around since the classical days. One of the greatest works on this subject which still exists from the classical period is The Orators Education, by Quintilian (if you are feeling particularly generous, I give you permission to buy me a copy from my amazon wishlist – it is on page 1 and there are 5 books.) Some of the greatest speakers and speeches from history were written by people with a great knowledge of rhetoric – for example John F Kennedy, Winston Churchill. Some of the famous tropes you have probably heard of are Irony, onomatopoeia, alliteration, and assonance. I like to think of it like this: grammar is the science of good writing; rehetoric the art. That was zeugma (item 6) by the way. This is a list of ten rhetorical tropes (figures of speech) to get you started on the road to mastery of the art.

How a ‘periodic table’ of animal intelligence could help to root out human bias | Aeon Videos

What dream characters reveal about the astonishing dreaming brain | Psyche Ideas


Eustasy YOO-stə-seePart of speech: nounOrigin: Greek, 1940s
1A change of sea level throughout the world, caused typically by movements of parts of the Earth’s crust or melting of glaciers.
Examples of Eustasy in a sentence “Today, we’re learning about eustasy in our marine science class.” “Oceanographers like Jacques Cousteau likely researched eustasy during their careers.”

Enter the Dragon Man

via 1440 Daily Digest

A fossilized skull discovered in rural China almost 90 years ago likely represents a new species of human ancestor, according to scientists. The artifact has been labeled as part of a new species, Homo longi, which suggests a group of ancestors more closely related to modern humans than Neanderthals. Designated as “Dragon Man,” the skull was named after a river by which it was found.

According to reports, a worker discovered the skull while building a bridge in the eastern province of Harbin, but hid it in a well to evade Japanese authorities (the discovery happened in between two major wars between the countries). The fossil was dated to roughly 146,000 years ago.

Scientists say the skull has a brain fluid volume similar to modern humans, while retaining features such as a prominent brow ridge and large eye sockets reminiscent of older species. Explore humans’ evolutionary history here

Five Useful Phrases

  1. Poke Fun AtMeaning: Making fun of something or someone; ridicule.
  2. Goody Two-ShoesMeaning: A smugly virtuous person.
  3. Flea MarketMeaning: A type of bazaar where inexpensive goods are sold or bartered.
  4. A Guinea PigMeaning: Someone who is used in an experiment.
  5. Right Off the BatMeaning: Immediately, done in a hurry; without delay.


Passim PASS-ihmPart of speech: adverbOrigin: Latin, 17th century
1(Of allusions or references in a published work) to be found at various places throughout the text.
Examples of Passim in a sentence “Her grandfather’s observations about the book were found passim, especially scribbled in the margins. ” “The influence of other black artists was found passim her own work.”

Did you know…

Did you know…

… that today is the Seat Belt Law’s Birthday? In 1955, the state of Illinois enacted the first seat belt law in the United States. Trivia buffs: Today 35 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands all have primary seat belt laws.

From Seth Godin: Anectdotes are not science.

Anecdotes are not science [ ]

Phrenology was discredited a long time ago. People who should have known better were sure that by studying the bumps on someone’s head, a trained expert could divine insights about their personality. It ended up being used to advance racist and class-based agendas, and was completely debunked. It faded away for decades. And it’s back.

New technology creates the appearance (and sometimes the actual fact) of new insights, new resolution, new certainty.

We might not know what an oscillation overthruster is, or why single photon imaging is better, but it sounds well studied and precise. A chart from Excel seems a lot more certain than one that’s hand drawn.

In our search for anecdotes, particularly about health, behavior or the economy, this apparent increase in accuracy opens the door for more hope, even if it’s not based on widespread results.

The charts used to describe the behavior of stocks and tokens keep getting more complex and refined, but they’re still unable to accurately predict what will happen next week.

The fancy readouts of horoscopes or biorhythms glow with many insignificant digits, but they still tell us nothing about someone’s future, any more than palm reading does.

And an x-ray can tell us with great certainty if your appendix has burst, but a SPECT scan is useless in determining someone’s personality without the aid of an in-person consultation, which is all we’ve ever needed. In fact, that’s precisely how phrenology used to work: meet with someone first, then find validation in the mysterious reading of their bumps.

The standard worth checking for is easy: From the chart or the bumps or the scan alone, without meeting the patient, tell me what you see and what’s going to happen next.

They put Einstein’s brain in a jar, but learned nothing from it.

The folks who ate green coffee beans or swallowed colloidal silver have plenty of anecdotes to support their placebos. And when they move on from pyramids to magnets, the anecdotes will follow them. But anecdotes aren’t science. Like coincidences, they’re by-products of our story-seeking minds, connections we make as we search for solace in a confusing world. And sometimes marketers use the anecdotes to make a sale and hurt the customer.

Very few interventions that involve humans are simple. We need more than a double-blind study, because humans aren’t double-blind. We know what’s on offer, and the story we tell ourselves changes how we behave.

Science is often not the right answer to every question–it often fails to deliver what we need. But hustles pretending to be science are almost always a bad idea.

In fact, stories are too important and worthwhile to need a babble of pseudoscience that some would like put on them.

Placebos are powerful, and if they’re cheap and benign, I’m all for them. My day is filled with placebos of all kinds, because they work. The problems happen when they stop being benign, when they keep us from appropriate treatment and when they’re used against us…

Somehow, we’ve persuaded ourselves that we need to pretend that our anecdotal interventions are actual scientific breakthroughs instead of embracing the fact that we’re humans, and that stories work on us. By wearing the mantle of science, hypesters are not only able to charge more, but they also degrade the reputation of the very methods they purport to use–when we see firsthand that pretend science doesn’t work, we’re tempted to imagine that the same is true for interventions that are actually studied and tested.

We wouldn’t fly on a plane or cross a bridge that was built with the same doublespeak that many folk medicines and soothsayers use. They have their place, they make us who we are, but anecdotes aren’t science. newsletter I like

This is the weekly email digest of the daily online journal Brain Pickings by Maria Popova. If you missed last week’s edition — Sylvia Plath and the loneliness of love, physicist Alan Lightman on beginnings, endings, and what makes life worth living, and more — you can catch up right here. If my labor of love enriches your life in any way, please consider supporting it with a donation – for a decade and a half, I have spent tens of thousands of hours, made many personal sacrifices, and invested tremendous resources in Brain Pickings, which remains free and ad-free and alive thanks to reader patronage. If you already donate: THANK YOU.

Whom We Love and Who We Are: José Ortega y Gasset on Love, Attention, and the Invisible Architecture of Our Being


“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity,” the great French philosopher Simone Weil wrote shortly before her untimely death. An epoch after her, Mary Oliver eulogized the love of her life with the observation that “attention without feeling… is only a report.” Looking back on centuries of love poems by people of genius who dared to love beyond the cultural narrows of their time, the poet J.D. McClatchy observed that “love is the quality of attention we pay to things.”

Because our attention shapes our entire experience of the world — this, after all, is the foundation of all Eastern traditions of mindfulness, which train the attention in order to anneal our quality of presence — the objects of our attention end up, in a subtle but profound way, shaping who we are.

Because there is hardly a condition of consciousness that focuses the attention more sharply and totally upon its object than love, what and whom we love is the ultimate revelation of what and who we are.

That is what the great Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset (May 9, 1883–October 18, 1955) explores in a series of essays originally written for the Madrid newspaper El Sol and posthumously published in English as On Love: Aspects of a Single Theme (public library) — a singular culmination of Ortega’s philosophic investigation of Western culture’s blind spots, biases, and touching self-delusions about love, that is, about who and what we are.


Illustration from the vintage Danish handbook An ABZ of Love

Defining love as “that sense of spiritual perception with which one seems to touch someone else’s soul, to feel its contours, the harshness or gentleness of its character,” Ortega notes that love reveals “the most intimate and mysterious preferences which form our individual character.” He writes:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngThere are situations, moments in life, in which, unawares, the human being confesses great portions of his ultimate personality, of his true nature. One of these situations is love. In their choice* of lovers [human beings] reveal their essential nature. The type of human being which we prefer reveals the contours of our heart. Love is an impulse which springs from the most profound depths of our beings, and upon reaching the visible surface of life carries with it an alluvium of shells and seaweed from the inner abyss. A skilled naturalist, by filing these materials, can reconstruct the oceanic depths from which they have been uprooted.

Defining attention as “the function charged with giving the mind its structure and cohesion,” Ortega places it at the center of the experience of love:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.png“Falling in love” is a phenomenon of attention.


Our spiritual and mental life is merely that which takes place in the zone of maximum illumination. The rest — the zone of conscious inattention and, beyond that, the subconscious — is only potential life, a preparation, an arsenal or reserve. The attentive consciousness can be regarded as the very space of our personalities. We can just as well say that that thing dislodges a certain space in our personalities.


Art by Dorothy Lathrop, 1922. (Available as a print.)

Half a century after William James — one of Ortega’s greatest influences and philosophical progenitors — laid the groundwork of modern psychology with his statement “My experience is what I agree to attend to,” Ortega adds:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngNothing characterizes us as much as our field of attention… This formula might be accepted: tell me where your attention lies and I will tell you who you are.


“Falling in love,” initially, is no more than this: attention abnormally fastened upon another person. If the latter knows how to utilize his privileged situation and ingeniously nourishes that attention, the rest follows with irremissible mechanism.


Art by Margaret C. Cook from a rare 1913 edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Available as a print.

Paradoxically, the cultural narrative handed down to us by the Romantics postulates that love broadens and consecrates our awareness of life: Suddenly, everything is illuminated; suddenly, everything sings. Anyone who has ridden the intoxicating elation of early love has felt this, and yet Ortega intimates that this is an illusion of consciousness, masking the actual phenomenon at work, which is rather the opposite — everything is tinted with aspects of the beloved, blurring and tuning out the details that give the world its actuality. Ortega writes:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngThe person in love has the impression that the life of his consciousness is very rich. His reduced world is more concentrated. All of his psychic forces converge to act upon one single point, and this gives a false aspect of superlative intensity to his existence.

At the same time, that exclusiveness of attention endows the favored object with portentous qualities… By overwhelming an object with attention and concentrating on it, the consciousness endows it with an incomparable force of reality. It exists for us at every moment; it is ever present, there alongside us, more real than anything else. The remainder of the world must be sought out, by laboriously deflecting our attention from the beloved… The world does not exist for the lover. His beloved has dislodged and replaced it… Without a paralysis of consciousness and a reduction of our habitual world, we could never fall in love.


Art from the 19th-century French physics textbook Les phénomènes de la physique. (Available as a print.)

Long before cognitive scientists came to study what “an intentional, unapologetic discriminator” attention is as it frames our experience of reality by deliberate exclusion, Ortega writes:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngAttention is the supreme instrument of personality; it is the apparatus which regulates our mental lives. When paralyzed, it does not leave us any freedom of movement. In order to save ourselves, we would have to reopen the field of our consciousness, and to achieve that it would be necessary to introduce other objects into its focus to rupture the beloved’s exclusiveness. If in the paroxysm of falling in love we could suddenly see the beloved in the normal perspective of our attention, her magic power would be destroyed. In order, however, to gain this perspective we would have to focus our attention upon other things, that is, we would have to emerge from our own consciousness, which is totally absorbed by the object that we love.

Nothing illustrates this contracting of the lens more clearly than the discomposing experience of emerging from the somnambulant state of in-loveness — an experience familiar to anyone who has ever surfaced from an infatuation or has deepened an infatuation into a clam and steady love. Ortega writes:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngWhen we emerge from a period of falling in love we feel an impression similar to awakening and emerging form a narrow passage crammed with dreams. Then we realize that normal perspective is broader and airier, and we become aware of all the hermeticism and rarefaction from which our impassioned minds suffered. For a time we experience the moments of vacillation, weakness, and melancholy of convalescence.


One of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s original watercolors for The Little Prince.

But despite its potential pitfalls, love remains at once the most interior and the most influential experience of our personhood. In a sentiment evocative of that exquisite line from The Little Prince — “What is essential is invisible to the eye.” — Ortega considers how love, so invisible yet so essential a feature of our humanity, polishes the lens of our entire worldview:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngThe things which are important lie behind the things that are apparent.


Probably, there is only one other theme more inward than love: that which may be called “metaphysical sentiment,” or the essential, ultimate, and basic impression which we have of the universe. This acts as a foundation and support for our other activities, whatever they may be. No one lives without it, although its degree of clarity varies from person to person. It encompasses our primary, decisive attitude toward all of reality, the pleasure which the world and life hold for us. Our other feelings, thoughts, and desires are activated by this primary attitude and are sustained and colored by it. Of necessity, the complexion of our love affairs is one of the most telling symptoms of this primogenital sensation. By observing our neighbor in love we are able to deduce his vision or goal in life. And this is the most interesting thing to ascertain: not anecdotes about his existence, but the card upon which he stakes his life.


Art by Jean-Pierre Weill from The Well of Being

And yet our culture has a peculiar willful blindness to how love shapes life and the particular expression of aliveness that is our creative work — a peculiar denial of the elemental fact that because we love with everything we are, our loves imprint everything we make. (I wrote Figuring in large part as an antidote to this dangerous delusion, exploring how the loves at the center of great lives shaped the way in which those persons of genius in turn shaped our understanding of the world with their scientific and artistic work.) Ortega shares in this distaste for the cultural diminishment of love as a driving force of creative work. Observing that many persons extraordinary creative power have tended to take their loves “more seriously than their work” — the very work for which they are celebrated as geniuses, and a choice for which they have suffered derision by their contemporaries and by posterity — he admonishes against this common cultural judgment:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngIt is curious that only those incapable of producing great work believe that the contrary is the proper conduct: to take science, art, or politics seriously and disdain love affairs as mere frivolities.


Crochet mural by street artist NaomiRAG, Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Photograph by Maria Popova. (Available as a print.)

A century and a half after astronomer Maria Mitchell — a key figure in Figuring — observed that “whatever our degree of friends may be, we come more under their influence than we are aware,” Ortega laments:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngWe do not take into sufficient consideration the enormous influence which our loves exercise upon our lives.

But while love reveals who we are, it also shapes who we are, sculpting our character and tinting our personality. The century of psychology developed since Ortega’s epoch has illuminated just how much “who we are and who we become depends, in part, on whom we love.” Ortega intuits this transformative power of love and, in consonance with Kurt Vonnegut’s theory that you can be in love up to three times in life, he writes:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngA personality experiences in the course of its life two or three great transformations, which are like different stages of the same moral trajectory… Our innermost being seems, in each of these two or three phases, to rotate a few degrees upon its axis, to shift toward another quadrant of the universe and to orient itself toward new constellations.


Art by Dorothy Lathrop, 1922. (Available as a print.)

Complement these fragments from Ortega’s intensely insightful On Love with Adrienne Rich on how relationships refine our truths, James Baldwin on love and the illusion of choice, and Esther Perel on our greatest misconception about love, then revisit what remains my favorite meditation on the subject from centuries of literature and philosophy: Hannah Arendt on love and how to live with the fundamental fear of loss.



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Darling Baby: Artist Maira Kalman’s Painted Serenade to Attention, Aliveness, and the Vibrancy of Seeing the World with Newborn Eyes


“The secret of success,” Jackson Pollock’s father wrote to the teenage artist-to-be in his wonderful letter of life-advice, “is to be fully awake to everything about you.” Few things beckon our attention and awaken us to life more compellingly than color. “Our lives, when we pay attention to light, compel us to empathy with color,” Ellen Meloy wrote in her exquisite meditation on the chemistry, culture, and the conscience of color. And why else live if not to pay attention to the changing light?

In Darling Baby (public library), artist Maira Kalman, a poet of chromatic tenderness, composes an uncommon ode to aliveness, to the vibrant beauty of life, life that is very new and life that is very old.



As she teaches the baby to look at this color, this shape, this quality of light, we see the grownup relearn to see with those baby-eyes that are awake to the luminous everythingness of everything, undulled by the accumulation of filters we call growing up. What emerges is a celebration of attention as affirmation of aliveness, a vibrant testament to Simone Weil’s exquisite observation that “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” Page after painted page, a generous presence unfolds — presence with the new life of this small helpless observer of the world, presence with the ancient life of sky and sea.


There are people dancing and geese swimming in formation and “a thousand tiny silver fish” jumping over the water in an arc and a lightning-sliced night and a full Moon reflected in the gentle blue ripples and “a tree filled with yellow sparkly stars.”






Perfectly, it all takes place on the edge of the ocean — that singular place of existential reckoning, the perfect stage for Kalman’s classic dual serenade to life and death, to the mortal as the precious crucible of wonder.



One day, a summer party celebrates the baby’s birth “and everyone’s birthday with cheery cherry pie,” which a man takes home in his hat. “Everyone is born. That is true.” Another day, the grownup protagonist stumbles upon the still cool body of a “a big mossy-green turtle,” washed up from the ocean of life — a subtle, poignant intimation that everybody dies, too.



She tells the baby:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngThe water carried the turtle out to sea to be buried in the vast ocean. I think that is a good thing. At any rate, it is a thing.
I am telling you this because I know you will understand.

Throughout the story, there are echoes of Kalman’s love of dogs, echoes of her love of walking, echoes of her love of dance and her lovely American Utopia collaboration with David Byrne.



And all throughout, that wondrous overtone of Kalman’s irrepressible love of life.



Complement Darling Baby with an Italian illustrated ode to the science and strange splendors of pregnancy, then revisit Kalman’s tender painted love letter to Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas’s love.


The Other Great Gertrude-and-Alice Love Story: The Life and Legacy of Pioneering Photographer and Bicyclist Alice Austen

She has mounted fifty pounds of photography equipment on her bicycle and is pedaling along the shore to the Staten Island ferry, headed for Manhattan. Photography is only a generation old and Alice Austen (March 17, 1866–June 9, 1952) is twenty-nine. She is about to take photographs of the proper technique for mounting, dismounting, riding, and carrying a bicycle for her friend Maria’s trailblazing manifesto-manual for cycling, inciting Victorian women to embrace the spoked engine of emancipation: “You are at all times independent. This absolute freedom of the cyclist can be known only to the initiated.”


Illustration from Bicycling for Ladies based on Alice Austen’s photographs. Available as a print and as a face mask.

Alice — artist, athlete, banjo player, sailor, founder of the Staten Island Garden Club, the first woman to own a car in the borough — has come as close to absolute freedom as a woman of her era could come, transcending the narrow roadways of her time with her wheels, her lens, and her love.


Alice Austen and her bicycle, circa 1897. (Alice Austen House archive.)

As the ferry traverses the East River, Alice is watching the Statue of Liberty rise imperturbable over Ellis Island, where has just photographed people at New York Harbor’s immigrant quarantine stations — something she did every year for a decade, returning to that crucible of humility and hope to document those tender and terrifying moments when lives are begun afresh with little more than wordless daring and a fragile dream.


Soldiers at the Statue of Liberty docks, August 1887. (Alice Austen House archive.)

As a girl, abandoned by her father before her birth and raised by her mother in a cottage by an enormous sycamore rising strong despite the blackened interior hollowed out by lightning, Alice had watched Lady Liberty being built, part emblem and part promise. The statue was dedicated the year Emily Dickinson died and Alice turned ten — the year her uncle, a sea-captain, gave her a dry-plate camera from England as a birthday present.


Alice Austen. Self-portrait, age nineteen. (Alice Austen House archive.)

Turning a closet into a darkroom, Alice proceeded to teach herself the art of photography, taking meticulous process notes to refine her technique. Not yet out of her teens and already one of the most accomplished photographers in America, she ventured out into world to document its vibrant life, dedicating hers to her art. In an era when almost no women practiced photography — an activity both intensely physical and intensely delicate, given the size, weight, and fragility of early cameras and glass plates — she became the first American woman known to work outside the studio, creating what we now know as street photography.


Young bicycle messenger, part of Alice Austen’s 1896 series Street Types of New York. (Alice Austen House archive.)

Riding the Manhattan-bound ferry that day in her youth, Alice didn’t yet know — for we never know these things — that she was soon to meet the love of her life.


Formal seated portrait of Alice Austen by Dunn Portrait Studios of New Brunswick, New Jersey, June 30, 1887. (Alice Austen House archive.)

In the final months of the nineteenth century, Alice Austen took a summer vacation in the Catskill Mountains, where she met Gertrude Tate, six years her junior — a vivacious dance instructor and kindergarten teacher from Brooklyn, who wore a wig over her buzz-cut hair and with whom Alice would spend the remaining fifty-three years of her life.


Gertrude Tate dancing in the sun in 1899, the summer she and Alice met in the Catskills. (Alice Austen House archive.)


Gertrude Tate. (Alice Austen House archive.)


Gertrude with and without wig, Catskill Mountains, 1899. (Alice Austen House archive.)

So began the other great Gertrude-and-Alice love story — far less fabled than the one of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas a generation later, but also one in which two people, joined together, become themselves.”

Over her long life, Alice Austen took more than 8,000 photographs, turning her sensitive and daring lens toward the lives of immigrants, child laborers, New York “street types,” and people for whom Victorian culture had neither terms nor tenderness and whom we might call LGBT today.


Alice Austen’s friend Maria Ward, who went by Violet, with partner, circa 1890. (Alice Austen House archive.)

Emerging from her photographs is a lovely testament to Frederick Douglass’s faith in early photography as an instrument of social justice, bridging the ideal and the real.


Trude & I, 1890s. (Alice Austen Photograph Collection, Staten Island Historical Society.)


Julia Martin, Julia Bredt and self dressed up, sitting down, 1891. (Alice Austen Photograph Collection, Staten Island Historical Society.)


The Darned Club, 1891. (Alice Austen Photograph Collection, Staten Island Historical Society.)


Group Apparatus, 1893. (Alice Austen Photograph Collection, Staten Island Historical Society.)

A generation before Berenice Abbott, another trailblazing lesbian photographer, created her iconic series Changing New York, Alice Austen captured the changing face of the city — this ever-changing emblem of a city — during its most rapid period of transformation as modernity was finding its sea legs and America was becoming America.


Postman collecting the day’s mail at 56th Street and Madison Avenue, part of Alice Austen’s 1896 series Street Types of New York. (Alice Austen House archive.)


Newsboy at Grand Central Depot, part of Alice Austen’s 1896 series Street Types of New York. (Alice Austen House archive.)


Organ-grinder with wife at 48th Street and Broadway, part of Alice Austen’s 1896 series Street Types of New York. (Alice Austen House archive.)


Street-cleaner at 34th Street, New York City, part of Alice Austen’s 1896 series Street Types of New York. (Alice Austen House archive.)


Two working children at City Hall Park, part of Alice Austen’s 1896 series Street Types of New York. (Alice Austen House archive.)

When the stock market crashed in 1929, Alice was flung into financial struggle. By the end of WWII, she and Gertrude were evicted from the home they had shared for three decades and thrust into the hands of their respective extended families, none of whom approved of their lifelong relationship. Without means and without options, they were separated. Gertrude was taken to Queens. At eighty, Alice ended up at the Staten Island Farm Colony — the euphemistic name for the local poorhouse. Gertrude, who continued teaching dance well into her seventies, visited weekly.


Alice (seated) and Gertrude in their late years. (Alice Austen House archive.)

Like Vivian Maier — another visionary photographer who also captured the street life of the city and who also, by the scant surviving evidence, was very probably queer — Alice Austen lived out her life without artistic recognition. Like Maier’s work, Austen’s was brought to light by a man who chanced upon it and knew he had chanced upon greatness. Unlike Maier, Austen was still alive.

In 1950, while working on his book The Revolt of American Women, Oliver Jensen — a thirty-six-year-old former Life magazine editor and writer — discovered 3,500 of Alice’s glass-plate negatives in the basement of the Staten Island Historical Society and was instantly taken with their uncommon genius. Leafing through phone books, he was staggered to realize that Alice was still alive, then doubly staggered to learn that she was living at a poorhouse.

Drawing on his magazine connections, he secured publication of Alice’s work in Life, which raised enough funds to migrate her to a nursing home. He then built on the initial visibility to organize an exhibition of her work at a local museum in 1951 — the first and only in her lifetime. When the show opened on October 7, now celebrated as Alice Austen Day, Alice was there with Gertrude by her side.


A friend’s young sons in what Alice called her “express wagon,” May 1889. (Alice Austen House archive.)


Six women, Staten Island, 1895. (Alice Austen House archive.)

Shortly after the opening, Alice suffered a stroke. By spring, she was dead. Gertrude survived her by a decade, living to ninety. The couple had expressly wished to be buried together — a wish Gertrude’s family bluntly refused in one final act of assault on their lifelong devotion.


Alice and Gertrude, early 1900s. (Alice Austen House archive.)

Today, the Staten Island home the couple shared for most of their life, the cottage in which Alice grew up and mastered her art, survives as Alice Austen House — part museum and part memorial, celebrating Alice’s trailblazing art and the totality of being from which it sprang, including her lush love for Gertrude. The sycamore tree — one of the sylvan marvels in Benjamin Swett’s wonderful book New York City of Trees (public library), from which I first learned of Alice Austen’s story — still rises by the house, still charred and hollowed, still growing and lush with life.