Linette van der Merwe

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Box office preview: 'Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2,' 'Krampus'

Katniss Everdeen and Rocky Balboa helped boost Thanksgiving box office totals last week. But the post-holiday weekend is notoriously one of the worst …

Movies

Know Your Clouds: A 1966 Animated Morphology of the Skies

A surprisingly poetic educational film about the ten basic cloud types and their distinct shapes, shades, and altitudes.<p>The grandeur and effortless serenity of clouds never ceases to bowl me over. Their peculiar fusion of levity and shapely definition renders them somehow existentially assuring. …

The Transfiguration of Aloneness: David Whyte on Longing and Silence

“Reality met on its own terms demands … an ability to live on equal terms with the fleeting and the eternal, the hardly touchable and the fully possible…”<p>Longing is one of those acutely reality-warping emotions that magnify their object — be it a person or an outcome — to astonishing proportions …

John Lennon’s Impassioned Letters on the Value of Meditation

“I suggest you try transcendental meditation through which all things are possible.”<p>In February of 1968, a year and a half before their final photo shoot, the Beatles traveled to India in order to meet and study with the famous guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who had pioneered Transcendental …

From Girl on the Train to Girl in the Spider’s Web – a look back on a year that lived up to the hype<p><b>Vote:</b> What was your favourite book of the year?• <b><br>Best of culture in 2015:</b> see this year’s cultural highlights, chosen by the Guardian’s writers and critics<p>Books that arrive on a tide of chatter about …

Books

Immortal Beloved: Beethoven’s Passionate Love Letters

“My heart overflows with a longing to tell you so many things…”<p>A student of both Mozart and Haydn, <b>Ludwig van Beethoven</b> (1770–1827) endures as one of the most influential and beloved composers of all time. Whenever I find myself with a sunken heart, I promptly put his Ninth Symphony on repeat. It’s …

Hannah Arendt on Being vs. Appearing and Our Impulse for Self-Display

“Nothing and nobody exists in this world whose very being does not presuppose a spectator.”<p>“Pay no attention to <i>appearing</i>,” young André Gide wrote in his rules of moral conduct in 1889. “<i>Being</i> is alone important.” But even for the most idealistic among us, real life — the act of moving as an …

Louis I, King of the Sheep: An Illustrated Parable of How Power Changes Us

A subtle reminder that we are separated from those less fortunate than us by little more than unmerited cosmic odds.<p><i>“Never be hard upon people who are in your power,”</i> Charles Dickens counseled in a letter of advice to his young son. And yet power has a way of calling forth the hardest and most …

How Do We Know What We Want: Milan Kundera on the Central Ambivalences of Life and Love

“We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come… We live everything as it comes, without warning.”<p><i>“Live as if you were living already for the second time,”</i> Viktor Frankl wrote in his 1946 …

Patti Smith on Time, Transformation, and How the Radiance of Love Redeems the Rupture of Loss

“The transformation of the heart is a wondrous thing, no matter how you land there.”<p><i>“Is there anything we know more intimately than the fleetingness of time, the transience of each and every moment?”</i> philosopher Rebecca Goldstein asked in contemplating how Einstein and Gödel shaped our experience …

Harry Clarke’s Beautiful and Haunting 1925 Illustrations for Goethe’s Faust

“Part of that power which would do evil constantly and constantly does good.”<p>Great works of literature penetrate our psyche with what Frederick Douglass called “aesthetic force” — the beautiful and sometimes sublime experience they create courses through us, inevitably changing our interior …

Physicist Lisa Randall on the Sublime and the Crucial Differences Between How Art, Science, and Religion Explain the Universe

“The universe is humbling. Nature hides many of its most interesting mysteries.”<p>“To lose the appetite for meaning we call thinking and cease to ask unanswerable questions,” Hannah Arendt asserted in her spectacular meditation on the life of the mind, would be to “lose not only the ability to …

Mary Oliver on Love and Its Necessary Wildness

In praise of the “invisible and powerful and uncontrollable and beautiful and possibly even unsuitable.”<p>For more than half a century, beloved poet <b>Mary Oliver</b> (b. September 10, 1935) has been beckoning us to remember ourselves and forget ourselves at the same time, to contact both our creatureliness …

The Art of Not-Having-to-Ask, from Buddhist Monks to Amanda Palmer by Way of Thoreau

How to unlearn everything our transactionalist culture has taught us about “the market” and relearn our natural open-handed generosity.<p>In the fall of 2014, I sat down with friend, collaborator, and kindred spirit Amanda Palmer for a conversation about what Thoreau can teach us about accepting …

A New and Sweeping Utopia of Life: Gabriel García Márquez’s Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

An ennobled vision for a world “where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible.”<p>On December 8, 1982, decades after his unlikely beginnings as a writer, <b>Gabriel García Márquez</b> (March 6, 1927–April 17, 2014) was awarded the Nobel Prize …

Literature

9 Learnings from 9 Years of Brain Pickings

Reflections on the rewards of seeking out what magnifies your spirit.<p>On October 23, 2006, <i>Brain Pickings</i> was born as an email to my seven colleagues at one of the four jobs I held while paying my way through college. Over the years that followed, the short weekly email became a tiny website updated …

How Sitting Is Harming Your Body and What You Can Do to Counter Its Perils

“Bodies are built for motion — not for stillness.”<p>More than a century after Thoreau’s magnificent manifesto for the rewards of walking and the evils of sitting, we have finally put data around the all too obvious fact that the human body, a marvelous machine animated by motion, is not meant for …

David Hume on Human Nature, the Myth of Selfishness, and Why Vanity Is Proof of Virtue Rather Than Vice

“To love the fame of laudable actions approaches so near the love of laudable actions for their own sake [that] it is almost impossible to have the latter without some degree of the former.”<p>We live in a culture where cynicism has become fashionable, and one favorite myth perpetuated by cynics is …

British Philosophy

Sylvia Plath on Privilege, Free Will, and What Makes Us Who We Are

“I: how firm a letter; how reassuring the three strokes: one vertical, proud and assertive, and then the two short horizontal lines in quick, smug succession.”<p>One of our our basic human biases is the tendency to take credit for our successes as a function of our personal excellence and to attribute …

The Poetics of Smell as a Mode of Knowledge

“The act of smelling something, anything, is remarkably like the act of thinking itself.”<p>On a recent train ride, my travel companion pulled two small clementines out of her bag and began peeling them. Instantly, a flood of associations rushed in uninvited — clementines like the many winter holidays …

Gloria Steinem on the Road as a Medium of Listening in a Culture Deafened by Speaking

“One of the simplest paths to deep change is for the less powerful to speak as much as they listen, and for the more powerful to listen as much as they speak.”<p><i>“When people talk listen completely,”</i> Hemingway counseled in his advice to aspiring writers, adding: <i>“Most people never listen.”</i> Indeed, …

The Tea Party in the Woods: A Tender Modernist Fairy Tale by Japanese Artist Akiko Miyakoshi

A gentle taunt at the line between what is real and what is imagined.<p>To be human is to sometimes slip, then wish for a way to undo our mishaps and magically fix our mistakes. Japanese children’s book author and artist <b>Akiko Miyakoshi</b> explores this profoundly human impulse with uncommon subtlety and …

Patti Smith on the Two Kinds of Masterpieces and Her Fifty Favorite Books

“Everything pours forth. Photographs their history. Books their words. Walls their sounds.”<p><i>“Oh, to be reborn within the pages of a book,”</i> <b>Patti Smith</b> exhales within the pages of <b>M Train</b> (<i>public library</i>) — her astonishingly beautiful meditation on time, transformation, and how the radiance of love …

An inventory of the meaningful life.

<i>“The most regretful people on earth,”</i> the poet Mary Oliver wrote in contemplating the artist’s task and the central commitment of the creative life, <i>“are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”</i><p>That is …

Alice In Wonderland

The Quiet Noisy Book: A Little-Known Vintage Gem by Margaret Wise Brown

A tender celebration of curiosity, presence, and attentiveness to the world in its most delicate and delightful details.<p>During our recent JCCSF conversation about the ethos behind <i>Brain Pickings</i>, Alexis Madrigal — one of the finest writers and finest fathers I know — mentioned a little-known, …

The Yin-Yang of Fortune and Misfortune: Alan Watts on the Art of Learning Not to Think in Terms of Gain and Loss

“The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity, and it’s really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad.”<p><i>“The truth is, we know so little about life, we don’t really know what the good news is and what the bad news is,”</i> Kurt Vonnegut …

Alan Watts

Ursula K. Le Guin on the Sacredness of Public Libraries

“Knowledge sets us free, art sets us free. A great library is freedom.”<p><i>“If librarians were honest,”</i> Joseph Mills wrote in his delightful poem celebrating libraries, <i>“they would say, No one spends time here without being changed…”</i> For Thoreau, books themselves were also changed and fertilized by …

Thunder & Lightning: An Extraordinary Illustrated Celebration of the Weather and Its Role in the Human Experience

Elemental enchantment at the intersection of art, science, and storytelling.<p><i>“Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer,”</i> E.B. White wrote in his elevating letter of assurance to a man who had lost faith in humanity, adding: <i>“I guess the same is true of</i> …

Nicole Krauss’s Beautiful Letter to Van Gogh on Fear, Bravery, and How to Break the Loop of Our Destructive Patterns

“Bravery is always more intelligent than fear, since it is built on the foundation of what one knows about oneself: the knowledge of one’s strength and capacity, of one’s passion.”<p><i>“Feeling helpless and confused in the face of random, unpatterned events, we seek to order them and, in so doing, gain</i> …