- Eames quote about home as personal statement
I remember growing up looking for something to collect. Seeing everyone around me have something to call their own—my brother’s keychain collection and my dad’s coin collection and my friends’ collections of rocks and pokemon and yugioh cards—fueled a frenetic search for something of my own. It felt like I needed to collect something to demonstrate my values. I wanted to show that I cared about something so deeply that I looked for it everywhere I went. I wanted something that I could see grow as the result of my own effort, something that spoke to my dedication.
I weighed many contenders: rocks, toys, bugs, and eventually settled on t-shirts (I cringe at this now). Back then, I cared about collecting something that not only had aesthetic value but also something that was useful. So everywhere I went, I would get a souvenir t-shirt with the name of the city to bring home. I wanted something that showed off all the places I had been.
Collecting things is a practice in developing and exercising taste. It’s one of the few things where only your taste in things matter because the whole point is to gather things that you decide fit whatever theme you set.
I’m collecting all the time now. I look for unusual reflections, dances between light and shadow, textures, sites of invitation to play, moments of tenderness in strangers, free furniture, used jackets,
I demonstrate my attention, in large part, via my phone’s camera. It captures what I see—a log of what my eyes sparkle at. I find the ordinary more extraordinary than any story or biography or legacy that can be weaved.
Collecting is a new form of storytelling. As Lev Manovich writes in Database as a Symbolic Form, “If new elements are being added over time, the result is a collection, not a story.”
I don’t quite agree. I think a collection is a story, but a living one. Rather than a linear sequence of events, a collection is a interwoven, multidirectional assemblage of perspectives. Through a collection, you see more than what the creator wanted to show you—you are given the privilege to see a piece of their entire selves through what they pay attention to.
Collecting is a very intimate act. It is the output of our entire revealed preferences into a tangible artifact. Our revealed preferences tell people who we are. They are our taste, and our taste dictates our identities. We are who we are by what we think is important, and collecting is the fundamental way in which we show, enact, and evolve our sense for what is important.
What makes a good collection?
Though taste may appear effortless, you can’t have taste by mistake. It requires intention, focus, and care. Taste is a commitment to a state of attention. It’s a process of peeling back layer after layer, turning over rock after rock.
- Taste is not the same as correctness, though. To do something correctly is not necessarily to do it tastefully. For most things, correctness is good enough, so we skate by on that as the default. And there are many correct paths to take. You’ll be able to cook a yummy meal, enjoy the movie, build a useable product, don a shirt that fits. But taste gets you to the thing that’s more than just correct. Taste hits different. It intrigues. It compels. It moves. It enchants. It fascinates. It seduces.
- Taste requires originality. It invokes an aspirational authenticity. Writer George Saunders calls this “achieving the iconic space,” and it’s what he’s after when he meets his creative writing students. “They arrive already wonderful. What we try to do over the next three years is help them achieve what I call their “iconic space” — the place from which they will write the stories only they could write, using what makes them uniquely themselves…At this level, good writing is assumed; the goal is to help them acquire the technical means to become defiantly and joyfully themselves.”
- So, there’s the trick. The path to taste is really as simple as writing a little plus and minus in the margin more often. If we apply this to digital space, we can turn them from an overwhelming and chaotic bombardment into a steady stream of things we find beautiful, that in turn, can define our tastes. For me, Are.na is a space for this kind of curation. I contribute to it all the time and it remains my-kind-of quiet and pretty there. As a friend recently described it, Are.na is an “internet mind palace of cool stuff.”
collecting things via counting. counters
- fanci-fied https://nanuelectrics.com/products/nudge-counter
At one point in the book, Ruefle recalls the best piece of advice she ever received, from her art class teacher:
… “by bringing her hand a little ways in one direction, she left a mark upon the paper. “That’s all there is to it,” she said, “but it’s a miracle. Once there was nothing, and now there’s a mark.""
We do not have to earn the right to make a mark. We do not have to drive ourselves into the ground to make a difference. We do not have to win a big prize, or become a millionaire, or be a genius to change the world.
We must simply listen when our hearts and minds say something and shout it out into the world so that one other person may hear it and remark to themselves, “ah, now that’s something.”
—- Ursula Le Guin writes about the carrier bag as human’s original tool by giving us the ability to decide what was important enough to not only pick up but keep around. We gained the ability to preserve things, to combine them with other things and make new things. The ability to create is predicated on the ability to gather and forage. We need to be able to find what is out there, to sit with it, to pick and decide which of those things matter and in what ways they matter, in order to imagine what else we think should exist.
Play is a critical part of foraging and curating taste. This is the difference between correctness and taste. Correctness does not like play because there the criteria for what is “correct” is static and decided by someone that is not you. Taste, while also having specific criteria, relies on you deciding what the criteria are, and gives you the power to change that criteria to adapt it to different scenarios. With the fluidity to adapt, taste offers you the ability to play with the criteria, to try on different hats and tastes, and evolve your idea of what is “good” through the interdependent combination of them all.
—- perhaps in the pre-internet days, writing was the best way for people to become creative and have an environment for deciding what is important and playing with that sense. But in the internet days, our taste comes from the vast amounts of information we consume on a daily basis. To keep up with the culture, you must be constantly adjusting your taste. There are no longer gatekeepers on what is considered good because we are the ones who are deciding what the next trends are all the time now.f