While We’re Away, Here’s How to See Everything Ever Posted on Improvised Life Over 10 Years

Although we’ll be back after Memorial Day, if you’re in need of illumination NOW, here’s how to scroll through everything ever posted on Improvised Life.

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Taking a Break to Do Nothing That’s Necessary for Doing Something

When ideas and energy feel mired and writing becomes daunting and bogged down, I take the kind of time Jennifer Odell wrote about so incisively in her amazing piece,’how to do nothing’.

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Dept of Astonishment: Listen to The Sound of a ‘Waterfall’ Made By Millions of Butterflies

For the first 3 minutes of this video of a visit to a butterfly reserve in Mexico, naturalist Phill Torres treks and talks while he makes his way to the winter encampment of millions of overwintering monarch butterflies. Then at 3:39, a miracle happens:

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The Secret to Artist Constantino Nivola’s Sublime Painted Floors

We stumbled on this inspiring idea for painted floors while leafing through Artists’ Handmade Houses, which is chock full of ideas. Sculptor- designer Costantino Nivola painted the kitchen in his Long Island home a sublime, deeply saturated yellow available in a singular paint.

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Tacita Dean’s Trees: Ideas Fueled by Openness to Chance, Accident, Poetic Associations

This astonishing tree is one of a group of photographs of ancient trees in the South East of England made by artist Tacita Dean. It is the product of Dean’s unique approach, which is as wonderful as the work itself.

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Running With Wild Horses Redux (Commentary by Virginia Wolfe)

This video of horses galloping in the Camargue gains even great meaning with these words from Virginia Wolfe.

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Vivianne Westwood’s Activist Fashion for Personal Power and Global Change

Martin Parr’s wonderful portrait of the always-inspiring wise-elder activist fashion designer, Vivianne Westwood got us wondering what she was up to. Her ongoing mission is to have people “buy less; dress up”. How you might ask? She tells you here.

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Bucatini with Ramps, Olive Oil and Parmigiano Reggiano to Celebrate the Wildest Food of Spring

Being a truly wild food that seems to defy cultivation of any scale, ramps are truly delicious and root me in the season. I especially love them braised in olive oil with bucatini or spaghetti and Parmigiano Reggiano, THE pasta dish for spring.

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Annals of Anonymous Art: Heart Writ in Cherry Blossoms (with Haiku)

Over the days that the bright pink cherry blossoms fell like snow around Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem, two hearts formed out negative space appeared. We found the perfect Basho haiku to accompaniment them:

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Want to Be a Digital Story Teller or Launch an App or Product? Join Me at Omega Institute’s Digital Age Conference

This coming June, I will be leading a workshop at Omega Institute’s Build Your Audience in the Digital Age Conference which will cover the how-to’s of creating digital products, from blogs to apps to online courses to newsletters, at Omega’s extraordinary, always transformative campus.

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Dominique Nabokov’s As-is, Not-Styled, REAL Paris Living Rooms Are a Joy

Unlike most interior photographers, Dominique Nabokov photographed consciously NOT-styled or lit spaces, each unique because they reflect the very unique lives of the people who created them, whose lives dictated their design.

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Jean Cocteau’s Catalyzing 2-line Psychotherapy Lesson

An insightful quote from legendary poet, film-maker, artist, Jean Cocteau has had a number of people we know thinking hard about it and how much it resonates: a tiny therapeutic bomb that catalyzes change.

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Clouds in Art and Daily Life, ‘Their Contemplation Benefits the Soul’

At designer Pamela Hovland’s instagram, we were stunned by this image of “cloud studies” by J.C. Dahl, Norway’s greatest landscape painter. He reminded us of others who view clouds as Nature’s display of poetry…

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Beth Moon’s Photographs of Ancient Trees Under Night Skies are Magic

Inspired by studies that view trees as receivers of stellar energies, photographer Beth Moon traveled to the world’s “last dark places” to photograph ancient trees at night, in color.

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The Very Best Letter of Love or Apology when Words Won’t Do It (H.C. Westermann)

Recently we stumbled on this astonishingly wonderful letter from artist H.C. Westermann to his wife Joanna Beall Westermann in 1971 that says so much with hardly a word.

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We Edited Our Instagram to Be a Tool of Illumination and Found Wild Poetry

Realizing we disliked Instagram for the “junkfood” feeling it gave us, we embarked upon a rigorous edit. Our criteria: whatever we follow must illuminate.

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Listening to the Spirit of the Tools We Use (Tim McCreight)

In Tim McCreight’s The Complete Metalsmith, I was surprised to find poetic wisdom in his section about hand tools that apply to many kinds of tools we use in creative endeavors, sometimes even smart phones.

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Mister Rogers: What is Essential is Invisible to the Eye

We are continually amazed by the late Fred Rogers ability to illuminate aspects of life using just a few words, in his calm, spacious way. Here are two transformative riffs to take into the week.

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Floating Blossoms in a Tiny Indoor Pond (Su Tung Po)

Photographer Maria Robledo inspired us to copy the lovely pond she improvised for fallen blossoms culled from her garden. A perfect accompaniment to this Spring poem by Su Tung Po.

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Benediction for Living a Creative Life, from John O’ Donohue

A reader wrote that she has poet John O’ Donohue’s benediction tacked on her fridge to remind her to “let my work feed and refresh me”. Which is what it does for us, mightily.

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Cool Private Spaces Where On Kawara’s Date Paintings Reside

We roamed the internet to collected images from photographer Candida Hofer’s ‘On Kawara, Date Paintings in Private Collections’. Often they are displayed in the place where the collector spends much of his or her time, or where they give the most inspiration and meaning. Unstyled and rather plain, they let On Kawara’s work resonate.

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Bring a Little Piece of Nature Into the Home, Heart, Day (Yoko Ono, Max Lamb)

It usually takes just a shift of orientation, or your usual route to work or the store, to work some living trees into your day and heart. Here’s some inspiration from Yoko Ono and Max Lamb…

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This Serene Water Opera Echoes Music Made by Whales

The serene made-underwater music in Breathe, an experimental “water opera”, echoes ancient songs made by whales.

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Solt’s Concrete Poem About Spring Celebrates Its Joyful Essence

In celebration of spring and all its possibilities and openings (and Easter and Passover), this remarkable poem-within-poem in the shape of forsythia by concrete poet Marry Ellen Solt…

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Matisse’s 13 Sketches, 13 Prayers, Before Painting ‘The Dream’

Henri Matisse likened his state of mind when making art “close to that of prayer. So we’re viewing each one of these 13 ravishing sketches in preparation for painting The Dream as a sort of prayer…

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White Sneakers are Your Blank Canvas for Graffiti and Dalmation Spots (DIY)

Like many white things, plain white sneakers are a blank canvas just waiting to be embellished with permanent fabric markers or paint. Here are two favorite iterations for summer.

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Seinfeld on Why Things Make You Happy or Not (and Why He Loves Advertising)

We are knocked out by Jerry Seinfeld’s radically truth-telling, wise, funny —Is he kidding or what?— send up of advertising and his clarifying principle of things and happiness.

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Give it up. Go bare. Go free. Accept Your Shelf Life As Given (Guest Post)

Nobel Prize winner Dr. Jim Allison’s headshot filling the back cover of a recent New Yorker got me thinking. Would that photo fly as a full-page ad if Dr. Jim were a woman?

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A Lesson in ‘Right Now’ From A Tree, Stonehouse and The New Yorker

The convergence of a tree in blossom, a poem by a 13th century Buddhist poet and a New Yorker cartoon provided a stunning lesson in ‘right now’.

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Alice B. Toklas’ Asparagus in Salt & Pepper Whipped Cream “A Thing of Beauty”

In her famous cookbook, Alice B.Toklas called Madame Loubet’s Asparagus Tips “a gastronomic feast. And a thing of beauty.” They are. Here’s how to make them.

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Shoelaces with Messages (Not Logos) and Where to Get ‘Em

The messages on the shoelaces of the guy sitting across from me ready “Do I love you? Do I lust you?” Yeah! Where could I find shoelaces that really said something?

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Don’t Know What You’re Doing and Think Everyone Else Has It All Together?

We’ve lost count of the times we’ve thought “We don’t know what we are doing!” We got some perspective from 4th-century Chinese Taoist philosopher/poet Chuang Tzu…

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Opened at Random: The Book of Joy “Setting an Intention for the Day”

Today we opened at random the Book of Joy, Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. We found this…

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A Magic Pill to Cure Your Stress

When my closest friend was in the hospital with a serious illness, he, the patient, was a mess; I, the caregiver, was possibly even worse for worry and fear. It was then I discovered the magic pill.

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At 85, Madhur Jaffrey Goes Gansta Sexy and Fierce

Zohran Mamdani’s astonishing rap video, “Nani”, featuring 85-year-old food writer Madhur Jaffrey is both hilarious and riveting, NOT your usual old-person-doing-rap thing. Jaffrey is sexy and fierce.

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Running With Wild Horses (W.S. Merwin)

View this video full screen to feel like you are galloping with one of the oldest breed of horses on earth. Then read this astonishing poem.

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Clever Bookcases Made of Stacked Boxes

We love the idea of these NOT built-in bookshelves at a Swedish design store. They are composed of a series of volumes — rectangles and squares of various sizes — into which books are stacked. Then we figured out a way to make them.

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A Secret Balm for Fear and Anxiety

On my cell phone in a cluttered storage room in an old warehouse, I wondered what I could offer my distraught friend to remind her of other ways of seeing things, the opposite of fear and sadness?

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‘When Everything in the World Has Been Lost But Soon We Will Find It Again’ (W.S. Merwin)

In his poetry, W.S. Merwin expressed what lies largely beyond our conscious mind, yet there, waiting to be recognized like this about the inbetween time before spring is fully apparent,

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Cracked Coriander is the New Pepper

For years I’ve kept a small tin of toasted cracked coriander seeds in my spice drawer to use as an emergency flavor enhancer. Its slightly lemony-orangy-herbal flavor and pleasing crackle provides the perfect little alt-note on all sorts of unexpected foods.

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When An Artist Fails as a Person, Is Their Work Invalid?

When I was young, I thought that an artwork reflected the values of the person who made it. Over time, I learned that this was very often not the case…

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Frances McDormand On Aging, Facelifts,and the Roadmap that is our Face

Actress Frances McDormand says so much that is wise about aging in this short interview. As does this poem by Fleur Adcock.

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4-Minute At-Home Workout for When You Can’t Get to the Gym or Need a Lift

For the past two months, I’ve been trying a 4-minute workout routine that promises to give the same benefits as an hour at the gym. It really works.

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Trisha Brown’s Effortless Flow

This beautiful leap (here, in slow motion video) and a series of lithographs made by legendary dancer and choreographer Trisha Brown embody her unique style she once wryly described as the line of least resistance.

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Ada Limon’s Breathtaking Reading of “Instructions for Not Giving Up”

On the tail end of World Poetry Day, we wondered what one poem we could give to our readers that shows how far poetry reaches into our lives and how essential it is. It came to us instantly…

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Yoko Ono’s Cleaning Pieces for the First Day of Spring

Yoko Ono’s potent little book Acorn provides conceptual “instructions” that are often focused on healing and personal change. Her four Cleaning Pieces seem like just spring cleaning we could use right now. We’re especially curious about Cleaning Piece III, wondering what it would be like to NOT say anything negative about anybody. Sue Timmons tried the practice and reported its effect…

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Learning to See Through Their Brushstrokes and Their Paint (Francis Alÿs, Matisse)

In this little gem of a video, artist Francis Alys transforms our view of the harsh, dull, strangely monochrome landscape of Mosul, Iraq, where he was embedded with American soldiers. We had not seen the colors in that landscape until Alys showed us, and the possibility of hidden colors is now reverberating in our daily landscape here. Soon after, we opened the great The Art of Looking Sideways to this excerpt from Patrick Heron’s Painter as Critic: (more…)

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What We Do When We’ve Done Everything We Can and Feel We Should Do More (Chris Eldredge, Pat Steir)

When we’ve worked hard taking care of something and feel there is still more we should do, leaving us restless and worried, we employ this 10-word reality check, learned from a psychotherapist friend.

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In Memory of W.S Merwin: Life as Spontaneous Poetry

W.S. Merwin, one of the great American poets, passed away on Friday. We found some beauties of poems plus a practice of his that we’re going to try ourselves, in his honor.

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Opened at Random: A Field Guide to Getting Lost (How to Be Rich in Loss)

The other day, Lisa Morphew opened A Field Guide to Getting Lost to this (and then she sent it our way):

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Write Messages and Poems Instantly In Katie Holten’s Tree Alphabet

Katie Holten developed her Tree Alphabet to let us “translate our words into something beyond us”. Experience just that at when you type in words to her webportal and/or download her gift of a font.

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Combine Summer Camp Pleasures with Personal Growth (and Digital Empowerment)

One of the most magical places I know of to take stock of life and transform it is Omega Institute, a true catalyst for change and possibility thinking. I’ll be teaching a workshop there this summer…

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The Big Fat, Very Essential Question in Neil Gaiman’s Wise Words

As ever, Neil Gaiman nails it. But there’s a big fat, very essential question buried in his wonderful words…

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How Wigs Changed My Life (Fran Black)

Fran Black resorted to wearing a wig while she was growing her dyed hair out gray. Then she realized how fun and transformative wearing a wig can be, and bought more.

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Maira Kalman On Wandering, Trees, Obituaries, Museums, Not Knowing, and Falling in Love with Small Things

There are so many compelling ideas in On Being’s  Krista Tippett’s long interview with author and illustrator Maira Kalman, that we made a selection, with images from past posts….

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Karl Lagerfeld’s Inspired Ideas

After legendary designer Karl Lagerfeld passed away in February, we looked back into our archive for good ideas any of us might steal and employ…

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Random Wisdom: Let’s Be Like Rivers

Occasionally, random wisdom comes unexpectedly from someone I know or strangers I’ve overheard…like this, synchronously accompanied by Milan Radisics’ remarkable photographs.

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Mallomar, the Seasonal, Interactive, Pop Culture Cookie

Available only in winter months when it’s real chocolate coating won’t melt, Mallomars are a deeply satisfying seasonal cookie that inspires very personal improvisation…(and has MANY cultural references to boot).

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Trees Ordained as Monks, Forest Bathing and A New Lexicon Helps Heal our Connection to the Natural World

Disconnection from nature is being recognized as the cause of widespread psychological trauma in modern life. A new lexicon and age-old practices are being used to heal it.

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