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Letter 35. Dream Spaces
Plastic brains, contemporary salons, and an exciting start-up launch (!!)
I’m sure this is true for many of you, but this last week has been the perfect example of how much the weather can affect our mood. It is said that serotonin levels increase with exposure to the sun, so we are prepared to take full advantage of the slightly warmer days ahead.
We hope you enjoy the sun as much as this basking pig does:
One of the recurring themes that comes up in my neuroscience classes is that of neuroplasticity – that in response to new information, changing environments or even damage, our brain’s neurons and neural networks have the ability to reorganize themselves. Though earlier studies only ascribed this property to younger individuals, new research also shows that more mature brains still exhibit levels of plasticity. I’m fascinated by that idea: even at the cellular level, we are born with the capacity to recover and adapt. I’ll reluctantly admit that I’ve already started to forget much of the textbook minutiae over the semesters, but the idea of malleable brains has always struck me.
It came to mind again recently. We’re learning about the navigational system of owls in my Neuroethology class, and one of the experiments looked at the plasticity of the barn owl’s neural circuits. Over the course of a few weeks, barn owls had to wear prims that shifted everything in their normal visual fields to the right.
Though disoriented at first, the owls soon started to exhibit regular flight and tracking abilities. What the researchers found was that this environmental shift was followed by a rewiring of the owl’s navigational neurons. New inputs, new adaptations.
In many ways, adaptation has also been a recurring theme throughout the past week. It’s scary to realize that we’ve been living these adjusted lives for a year now. Of course, there are many parts of the pandemic I hope to never grow used to: fear, selfishness, loss. But I also admire all the small acts of resilience. Even just the simple act of getting up and getting through the day is reflective of the way we’ve all adapted to this staggering change.
Neuroplasticity teaches us that even when deprived of all our normal sources of information, our brain’s networks can still reorganize, still grow. And I see that around me – the ability to find new ways to make and maintain meaningful connections, and an irreplaceable gratitude for it.
Salons and Regret
This week I attended a salon (not the hairdressing kind!) Special thanks to @kas_rara
Salons were a concept developed in Early Modern Revolutionary France where a host, usually a prominent woman, would select and invite people to have intellectual conversations. Public Sphere writes that salons acted as a rehearsal for reality, a space in which participants could test creative projects and ideas in the process of self-cultivation. Salons favored individuals who were genuine in their effort to reach their own potential and help others do so in the process.
I absolutely loved the concept. The idea that you can meet and discuss important life-ideas with people, sometimes strangers, of differing backgrounds and opinions. This particular salon was centered around regret and decision-making.
Do you regret things easily? I deal with it a lot, but I try very hard never to attach shame to it. That’s the important part – regret as a tool for reflection (whether for inaction or action) rather than another angle for self contempt. I wrote a little about this in a previous KC: Letter 26. Creative Recovery.
And I still stick by it. At any given moment we are dealing with limited information, and we have to accept our decisions based on that. We have to give ourselves a little grace, even when the regret wells up within us and makes us wonder what our other options could have been. The only way forward is to accept regret, process it, and adapt for the better.
Sharing two questions that made me think (full credits to K!)
Is the framework of "minimizing future regret" an effective way to make decisions? Are we actually good at anticipating what we will or won't regret in the future?
Are there specific kinds of decisions or specific domains of life that generate the most regret?
Binary decisions versus many options? Options that are similar (but not identical) versus options that are wildly divergent?
Career decisions vs romantic decisions vs education?
Finally, I want to share what Brene Brown has to say about regret because she articulates my thoughts perfectly here:
Like all emotions, regret can be used constructively or destructively, but the wholesale dismissal of regret is wrongheaded and dangerous. “No regrets” doesn’t mean living with courage, it means living without reflection.
To live without regret is to believe you have nothing to learn, no amends to make, and no opportunity to be braver with your life. I’m not suggesting that we have to live with regret, but I do think it’s important to allow ourselves to experience and feel it.
The Malcolm & Marie Soundtrack
Things I’ve Listened To This Week
I remember watching Grace on Youtube way back in high school when she just did vlogs about her time in Oxford Uni, and now she’s building a fitness empire at the age of 24 – I find her drive and conviction incredibly inspirational.
A crossover with a productivity guru and a creative writing icon? I’m immediately a fan.
Music and Ambient Noise: I MISS MY BAR
A modern digital artifact recreating the atmosphere of your favorite local bar
Listen to this Bar/Lounge Music Playlist with it – this would be great for small dinners with friends or family!
Life Within Paintings
Two things I wanted to share from a design class I’m taking this semester!
The space of my dreams: during our last call, my professor mentioned Cafe Aubette. Redesigned by Theo van Doesburg – painter, architect, and one of the founders of the Swiss de Stijl movement – the cafe seems to bring the compressed spaces of van Doesburg’s paintings into the realm of three dimensions. Beyond its physical design, the concept of the building creates the literal space of my dreams: one of the most iconic rooms is a Cine-Dancing Hall that doubles as a movie theatre and cabaret (I know, I’m screaming). The building’s name, Aubette, stems from the French aube, meaning dawn – apparently, this is when orders would begin. If we ever figure out teleportation, I imagine I’d go here.
Matisse and his experimental wallpapers: while doing some research for an upcoming project on pattern design, I came across this MoMA page featuring Matisse’s wallpapers. In the last decade of his career, the artist primarily experimented with paper cut-outs – these would ultimately become some of the most notable works from this oeuvre. As part of his creative process, Matisse would stick the cutouts on the walls of his studio – the artist and his art, inhabiting the same world. Oh, to live in one of these rooms today.
STARTUP ANNOUNCEMENT – Trove Waiting List!
We started Trove because we believe that what we read, write, watch, and listen to online deserves a unique storage system that reflects the importance of annotating and highlighting as we read. Your mind's personal 'treasure trove' of sorts.
On Trove, users can search, discover, and view what people we admire are reading and thinking about.
Here’s what some early users have been saying about our product!
Our access is still invite-only, but if you are interested please add your email to the Waiting List :)
Growth + Generation
“Obsession is repetitive; passion is generative” - (source unknown, via are.na)
“Growing up, we say, as though we were trees, as though altitude was all that there was to be gained, but so much of the process is growing whole as the fragments are gathered, the patterns found.” – Rebecca Solnit, Recollections of My Nonexitance
“Art should comfort the disturbed, and disturb the comfortable” – Banksy
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it” – Aristotle
Things in Bloom
So apparently, I have reached the phase of this pandemic where I’ve started to miss club meetings. Maybe not the work, but the warm and familiar chit-chat at the beginning – mandatory ice-breakers that eventually start to grow on you. In one of my clubs, we began every meeting with our Rose, Bud, Thorn: the lowlights and highlights of the week, followed by any exciting plans ahead.
Perhaps it’s the long-anticipated arrival of spring that also has me thinking in plant-metaphors, but these are some of the buds I want to share: a list of things I’m working on, or looking forward to; a collection of things in bloom.
Time to Read: no travels during Spring Break this year, but looking forward to having time to spend buried in new books! Last weekend, some friends and I stopped by a lovely secondhand bookshop here in West Philly; the entire set-up made me miss school breaks spent in the reading corners of libraries.
(Finally) Setting up an are.na account: throughout Kopi Club’s lifespan, are.na has been one of those sites I’ve used for constant inspiration – like a grown-up, ideas-heavy version of Pinterest. To any other are.na users out there – let me know of channels to check out!
Warmer weather: this past weekend – though still hand-numbingly cold – seemed to be a sneak peek for the spring. I’ve been missing all the little things this change of season brings: longer days, pink trees, satin skirts (I know, sue me).
And lastly – literal flowers in bloom
Nicole’s Inventory of the Week
Diagrams by Reset NYC
Hello - J again: just a block I saved from are.na that seems fitting to share, too:
“To overcome imposter syndrome, have confidence in your depth of curiosity rather than your expertise.” – Joanne K. Cheung
I have a lot of random quotes this week thanks to a two-day-snowstorm, meaning snuggling up in the warm indoors with my Kindle – I’ve read some really strange books this week (some I admit I cannot wholeheartedly recommend,) but here are the best bits of them:
So Sad Today by Melissa Broder:
The Greatest Bluff by Maria Konnikova:
A reminder to reflect on both successes and failures – whether they were intentional, accidental, or chance-driven.
Pulphead by John Sullivan:
My question for you is whether you value being right over being happy, and how do we edge closer to happiness even if it means giving up a bit of ego to do so?
J & N