to learn, to become ~ a meditation on how, what, when, where, who + why we learn


‘It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go we have come to our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.’ –Wendell Berry

what is it, exactly, that we want out of life, out of living, out of being, out of becoming? it’s hard not to think about and reflect on such things these days as our lives are shifting so dramatically, from being consumed on everything outside of one’s self, which is easy to do… to suddenly spending a lot of time looking inward. At the very core of our sheltering in place ~ the isolation, the loneliness, the deep loss of connectedness to others ~ that experiential sense of learning through living and inhabiting the world around us, seems missing, almost gone.  so how exactly do we respond ~ react, adjust, adapt? with all these seeming constraints and rearrangements, how do we move forward to be continually inspired, constantly cultivating our curiosity? and… what’s the process: emotional, intellectual, experiential AND the product, for those who need it ~ the resulting collection (of fashion), film (of clips or photographs), class (of themes + obsessions), exhibition, essay, series, short stories, or book (of thoughts + ideas)…

wendell berry’s quote above is especially telling ~ in many ways about the nature of knowledge and knowing, the compulsion to learn, what is revealed when suddenly, a pause, an obstacle, a pivot to something new?  if i look at the word learn and define it, contextualize it, wrap my head around something that seems so obvious for many of us, engulfed as we are in educational systems ~ having already gone through them, but now with students at home, attempting to learn virtually, asking ourselves why.  with many of us wondering well, what’s next, what now… and what is it really, truly, that we’re looking for, motivated to do, that gets us up each morning, now that our lives have rearranged themselves ~ just not how we had envisioned them…

learning in doing, learning in being, learning in reflecting, learning in imagining ~ i had asked the question around identity formation recently, a simple question that began from YOU ARE… (fill in the blank)… YOU ARE… what you eat. YOU ARE… what you do. YOU ARE… how you love. YOU ARE…how you make others feel. many people had a lot to say on this basic definition of self, how we juxtapose ourselves to Others, but to what extent are they entwined?

Rudyard Kipling’s opening lines are also poignant, re-contextualized here again in terms of learning ~ to gain or acquire knowledge of or skill in something by study, experience, or being taught:   ~ I keep six honest serving-men / (they taught me all i knew); / their names are What and Why and When / and How and Where and Who…

below is a syllabus of some of my preoccupations since March 17th ~ of taking a series of MasterClasses, and then focusing on films, TV series, documentaries (most of which I documented in my last 4 posts through “100 days”), and onto the nature of learning. From the idea of micro and macro “development” in terms of both personal + societal growth and also corporate culture ~  to self-motivated and introspective, transformative re-invention ~ who do we want to become and how do you get to there ~ in our daily lives, and in our work? For many of us who are in the midst of transition into a what’s next, the role of anthropologist is an ideal lens to look through. Whether the concept of participant observation (in the study of other cultures) or the role of the armchair anthropologist (like in a recent piece i wrote on Manresa’s David Kinch’s A Chef’s Voyage) ~ it is all about perspective, the insider become outsider who is always shifting point of view, critically thinking about the bubble we inhabit, whether it’s geographical or intellectual, the things we take for granted, don’t question ~ the “too obvious.”

in one of my favorite commencement speeches by David Foster Wallace called This is Water (listen to it HERE), he concludes ~ “It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over: “This Is Water.” And so we learn, we layer, we juxtapose, we reconsider. we empathize, put ourselves in the Others’ shoes, understand the intersection of an Us and a Them ~ a constant state of self-awareness and reflexiveness, the point from which we see, which is sometimes multiple and manifold, for context is everything. why do we learn, and what do we do with that knowledge? this is the ultimate question, the quiet contemplation of how we enter into dialogue with all that is around us ~ the creation of a process and a ritual that we engage in day after day, in constant search of purpose and place.

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.” ~ steve jobs




david lynch / tan france / doris kearns goodwin / margaret atwood / mira nair / samuel jackson / jodie foster / will wright / judd apatow / steve martin / paul krugman / martin scorsese / malcolm gladwell / neil gaiman / dan brown / spike lee / danny elfman / sara blakey / neil degrasse tyson / rupaul / werner herzog / chris voss / alice waters / annie leibovitz / billy collins / r.l. stinedavid baldacci / robin roberts / james patterson / bob woodward / david sedaris / ron finley / marc jacobs / judy blume / diane von furstenberg / david mamet / kelly wearstler / jeff goodby + rich silverstein / aaron sorkin / ken burns / shonda rhimes / hans zimmer / frank gehry / joyce carol oates / bob iger / ron howard / anna wintour / howard schultz 



Ralph Nader’s 17 Traditions / Jeff Gordinier’s Hungry / Laura Nader’s Contrarian Anthropology / George Stocking’s Ethnographer’s Magic / Margaret Mead’s Anthropologists and What They Do / Clifford Geertz’s Works and Lives / Twyla Tharp’s The Collaborative Habit / Rachel Carson’s The Sense of Wonder / Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit

An Unreasonable Man, 2006 (on Ralph Nader) /RBG / John Lewis: Good Trouble / Get Me Roger Stone / UNFIT: A Psychological Thriller / Trump: An American Dream

Grant Mccracken’s Chief Culture Officer / Adam Grant’s Originals / Helen Fisher’s Why We Love / Tell It Slant / Priya Parker’s The Art of Gathering / Carol Dweck’s Mindset / Gillian Tett’s The Silo Effect / Ed Catmull’s Creativity, Inc / Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead


Tom + David Kelley’s Creative Confidence / Chade-Meng Tan’s Search Inside Yourself / Angela Duckworth’s Grit / Brian Grazer’s A Curious Mind / Ian Leslie’s Curious / Alberto Manguel’s Curiosity / Ken Robinson’s The Element / Lewis Hyde’s The Gift / Philip Ball’s Curiosity

The Elements of Learning / Maria Montessori / Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of Freedom / Learn Different / Simon Sinek’s Find Your Why / Educating as an Art / Learning as Transformation / John Dewey’s The School and Society / Paulo Freire’s Teachers as Cultural Workers

Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities / Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel / Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost / Stephen King’s On Writing / Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel / Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space / Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida / Ram Dass’s Be Here Now / Martin Buber’s I and Thou 



Faces Places, JR + Agnes Varda/ The Artist is Present / Be Water, on Bruce Lee / Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson / AS IS, on Nick Cave / Ai Weiwei’s Never Sorry 

Unorthodox / Time to Choose / Inequality For All / A Life on Our Planet / The Social Dilemma / I Am Greta / Alice Waters Edible Schoolyard Project / Ron Finley Project 



Chris Salewicz’s Bob Marley: The Untold Story / Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings / Kevin Macdonald’s MARLEY / Smile Orange (1976) / Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea / The Harder They Come 

Basquiat: The Radiant Child / New York: The Secret African City / Basquiat / Mark Kidel’s Road Movie: A Portrait of John Adams / Mark Kidel’s Bill Viola: The Eye of the Heart / A Journey with Peter Sellars 

Ravi Shankar: Between Two Worlds / Pather Panchali / Zakir Hussain / Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories / Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi / Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games 


…and, after just re-seeing Won’t You Be my Neighbor (lead image above of Mr Rogers with Officer Clemmons), as Mr Rogers (and Sesame Street) were two of my great teachers as a child… i think of these:  first… “You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.” and finally, and so importantly ~ “All of us, at some time or other, need help. Whether we’re giving or receiving help, each one of us has something valuable to bring to this world. That’s one of the things that connects us as neighbors–in our own way, each one of us is a giver and a receiver.”


“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” ~ bruce lee

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