“Attention is the beginning of devotion.” — Mary Oliver
In 2012, Robin Sloan published a tap essay-app called Fish. It extolled the value of, in the age of a fast-moving internet, returning to the things you love over and over again. Looking at your fish.
In its spirit, here are the fish in my genealogy of influence.
I saw Egon Schiele’s work in Leopold Museum one cold dark winter’s night and the world opened right up. I visited the Setouchi Islands in the off-season and the universe came in through an open window. I went to college for global politics and the best thing I learnt about was Goya. To look, to look again.
If you take craft far enough it can seem like magic: The work of Automato. Kelli Anderson’s motion and paper craft. Nicole He’s weird stuff. Molleindustria’s work, especially this 8-bit museum LikeLike. The smoothest responsive interactive site Nurture. This website showing exactly how wealthy Jeff Bezos is, pixel by pixel. Jon Bois’s Future of Football. Lauren Lee McCarthy’s social experiments. Nelly Ben Hayoun’s entire career.
I love Singaporean theatre: Teater Ekamatra, who staged an amazing transcreation of A Clockwork Orange. Grandmother Tongue by Thomas Lim; GRC by Alfian Saat.
In London, Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibilities and I haven’t shut up about it since. Elsewhere, NYC gave me Hedwig & the Angry Inch’s audacity and Lena Hall’s voice.
Deborah Levy’s Things I Don’t Want to Know, Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing, Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, Maria Turmakin’s Axiomatic.
Fiction by Alice Munro, George Saunders, Aimee Bender, Carmen Maria Machado, Alice Sola Kim, Min Jin Lee, Elena Ferrante, Colette, Sally Rooney, Kazuo Ishiguro, Gogol, Nabokov. This very short story by Rumaam Alam. Ann Ang’s Bang My Car. You Jin, Lu Xun, Yuan Fei. The Great Gatsby.
The poetry of Mary Oliver, Ada Limon, Linda Pastan, Heather Christle, Mary Ruefle, E. E. Cummings, Jorie Graham, Danez Smith, Frank Bidart, Richard Siken.
Sady Doyle on class, Calvin Trillin on his beloved, Alice, John McPhee’s Draft No. 4.
Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Alice Wu’s Saving Face, Mia Love-Hanson’s L’Avenir. Wang Xiao Shuai’s So Long My Son, Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster, Alejandro Landes’s Monos, Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread. Bing Liu’s Minding the Gap. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag.
Tilda Swinton in Only Lovers Left Alive; Carey Mulligan in An Education; Kim Min-hee in On the Beach Alone at Night.
Designers, researchers, Tech-Adjacent Folks on Twitter who led me to my career and life: Adrianna Tan, Craig Mod, Robin Sloan, Tricia Wang, Jan Chipchase, Nicolas Nova.
My favourite illustrators in the world: Eleanor Davis — anything and everything, but especially You & a Bike & a Road, and her work for The Bronx Freedom Fund; Sara Hagale, whose pencil strokes are sublime. Kate Beaton’s hilarious, poignant comics. How to Draw a Horse.
The words of the marvellous Adrienne Rich:
“An honorable human relationship—that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word “love”—is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.
It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation.
It is important to do this because in doing so we do justice to our own complexity.
It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.”
The willingness to, against all odds, try.
To do what you can with what you have.