[FKPXLS] VOL.38 — sobering spring, radiant winter
There are stories to be made at the extremes, but the path forward lies somewhere in between.
|Tina He||Apr 17, 2020|| 2|
Praise crazy. Praise sad.
Praise the path on which we’re led.
Praise the roads on earth and water.
Praise the eater and the eaten.
Praise beginnings; praise the end.
Praise the song and praise the singer.
Praise the rain; it brings more rain.
Praise the rain; it brings more rain.
— Joy Harjo. Praise the Rain
An STM (Scanning Tunnelling Microscope) image of iron atoms on a copper surface. The iron atoms are arranged in a circle, one by one.
We can in the middle of a completed circle of atoms, a ripple is being produced by a wave of electrons emerging inside the quantum corral, which can only be explained by theories of matter that insist that ‘the whole is bigger than the parts’.
Image originally created by IBM Corporation.
Hey beautiful people —
I finish my fourth cup of coffee of the day, as I respond to notes from friends all over the world, flaunting their moist banana bread making, Zoom call costume-wearing, and the rapidly expanding island in Animal Crossing. The abstraction of context for our daily operations makes it impossible to grasp how fast we are moving, in what direction, and if we're moving at all. Like a river, the stream of time flows rapidly at some places and sluggishly at others, or perhaps even stand stagnant. The custom and tradition of camps built in memedom, r/Coronavirus, Valorant are keeping us afloat — proceeding in time with the endless scrolls of war-time camaraderie.
It's a slow afternoon; beams of sunlight warm the bedroom floor, where I find comfort sitting. I've been staring into the screen all day trying to create something to compensate for my fear of uselessness and my unsolicited sense of guilt. Birds are chirping outside. They get louder every passing hour until they finally succeed in getting my attention. I decide to get up and look outside the window. It's snowing. The sun is bright, and the snow, light like dust, refuse to settle, and dances freely to flirt with the wind. The snow gives life to the tiny white buds on the skinny branches. The sun makes the snow glitter.
Like the brightness of spring and the solemnity of winter coexist, the beginning and the end, hope and despair, wisdom and madness also coexist. COVID doesn't come with an intention; it simply exists, like the mystical snow in the spring. The blank spaces, the magical phenomena that lie beyond our reason, are meant to overwhelm us with fear. The hardest walk in life is the pilgrim between extremities, to breathe of both and make a world of both and to be active in their exchange. Few of us choose to partake in this constant motion; we want a safe harbor in sight when waves carry us to unknown territories. Those who navigate in these obscurities in history have been the poets that create vocabularies, philosophers that create thoughts, and scientists that create rules.
Contrary to the image of creation as a disruptive force, creations that stand the test of time serve as a balancing and stabilizing force. There are stories to be made at the extremes, but the path forward lies somewhere in between.
We are disillusioned by the utopian stories promised by the internet, the shortcomings of the past economic model, the danger of mesmerizing narratives. But they are not forces of nature, but human systems built with our own wisdom and shortcomings. The upcoming years will be a defining time that awakes the poet, the philosopher, and the scientist in all of us, who are now armed with tools shinier and more powerful than ever. The English poet David Whyte once describes the journey of a pilgrim:
A pilgrim is someone abroad in a world of impending revelation where something is about to happen, including, most fearfully, and as part of their eventual arrival, their own disappearance
The defining experience at the diamond-hard center of reality is eternal movement as beautiful and fearful invitation; a beckoning dynamic asking us to move from this to that.
The courageous life is the life that is equal to this unceasing tidal and seasonal becoming: and strangely beneath all, stillness being the only proper physical preparation for joining the breathing autonomic exchange of existence.
I don't know how much time has passed. When I turn around and look back inside, the 15-inch laptop screen that contains my whole world has fallen asleep. The silence of one world gives room for another. When I give up my sense-making through manufactured narratives online, the unnamable magic outside the window fills me with awe. When I give up my attachment to physical spaces, the bondage with my roaming consciousness deepens. When I give up the need for certainty, the most important and the hardest task at hand clarifies.
I sit back down on the floor, snow dancing at my periphery. I decide to believe that a thing in motion will always be better than a thing at rest; that change will always be a nobler thing than permanence. This tiny newsletter is one attempt to capture the motion at the juncture of sobering spring and radiant winter.
I'm grateful every day for the friends I'm meeting on this journey.
Love you and Stay hydrated,
Spirits of Nations
McKinsey conducted a survey, asking over the next week, how much more/less time do people expect to spend on a list of activities.
What I find surprising is the difference between the U.S. and China — almost the complete opposite! The U.S. and most of Europe seem to be shifting their attention from learning and working to news and content consumption, while Chinese respondents are increasing their time doing work. India is another country that sees such an increase.
One of my favorite memes describing Chinese work culture. It’s ruthless but true. Dan Wang of The Economist Intelligence Unit expects that 9 million people in China’s cities will lose their jobs this year as a result of the virus’ impact.
There were two perspectives when making decisions about layoffs. The first is the shareholder perspective where reducing costs and protecting cash are what matters most in a recession. The second is the employee perspective where nothing is more important than saving jobs and helping employees as the world heads into unemployment levels the world has not seen since the Great Depression.
Every ceo who is planning a layoff has to address this moral conflict. I chose to manage my conflict by taking the shareholder perspective in deciding who (and how many) should leave and taking the employee perspective on how to help those who leave.
The worst times uncover true leadership. The ceo of Carta demonstrates in this letter the need for a leader to live with “two truths” — the duty to survive hell and the courage to carve a new path. The transparency and empathy in this letter are commendable.
Creativity in Resilience
During the Great Depression, Kellogg doubled its advertising spend, investing heavily in radio and launched a new cereal brand called Rice Krispies in 1928, introducing “Snap,” “Crackle” and “Pop” characters featured on its packaging and in its radio ads. Kellogg’s profits grew by 30% as took market share from category leader the Post, becoming the leader it is today.
Similarly, Procter and Gamble (P&G) also launch its daily radio serials to reach its core audience of homemakers. The 1933 show “Oxydol’s Own Ma Perkins” became an instant hit among stay-at-home moms. They also coined the term “soap opera”.
The time now is a bit different. This is not a time to sell, but a time to solve problems and demonstrate responsibility and leadership. With millions of lives on the line, companies that invest in helping, uniting, and delighting its communities will prosper in the long term. Some of the better COVID case studies:
Sweetgreen’s launched Impact Outpost — a program to deliver free Sweetgreen to hospital workers and medical personnel.
Nike repurposing sneakers to create face shields for health care workers.
MerchAid, an initiative that pairs designers (some of the best in the biz) with beloved local businesses to create original illustrated merchandise in lieu of the goods and services they typically offer.
From desk setup to sitting posture to Zoom best practices and digital etiquette — truly comprehensive.
Fax machines. Co-workers walking. Keyboard smashing. All the sounds we used to hate, but now miss.
📀Virtual Event: Reboot your life on Notion
A good time to do this.
People resting near the Red Castle, Benares, Uttar Pradesh. India. 1972. © Ferdinando Scianna | Magnum Photos
Photographer Ferdinando Scianna points out that he is capturing a portion of our lives that are “essentially motionless, but not stopped.”
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Thank you to those who have reached out wanting to chat. I’m taking the time to get to know each person better, and I believe in the quality of relationships over quantity.
Tina is an NYC-based designer, writer, and investor on a mission to empower purpose-driven ventures built by thoughtful makers.