maria popova

she floods us with hope/insight/love.

keri grazie dot

find/follow her here:

swim in her findings/sharings here:

brain pickings site

read about her here:


like jerry’s brain.. maria’s brainpickings as ie to hosting-life-bits

2021 – now called marginalian

Brain Pickings was born 15 years ago today. Today, it is reborn as The Marginalian.
Here is everything there is to say about the change — the most personal piece I have ever published:
Original Tweet:

In the margins of books, in the margins of life as commonly conceived by our culture’s inherited parameters of permission and possibility, I have worked out and continue working out who I am and who I wish to be — a private inquiry irradiated by the ultimate question, the great quickening of thought, feeling, and wonder that binds us all: What is all this?


marias 7 things




1. allow uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind

2. do nothing out of guilt, status, prestige, money….

3. be generous – most of all with your words, there’s a human being behind everything

4. build pockets of stillness into your life

5. don’t believe what others try to show you who you are

6. presence more than productivity

7. expect anything worthwhile to take a long time


Amanda and Maria – nov 2014:

Amanda Palmer on the Art of Asking

36 min – validation/permission to go do your art..

not everyone wants to be looked at but everyone wants to be seen

47 min – talking about doing your art when there’s no title/pay

commons ness – no commodity – so much that matters is invisible/undefinable.. can’t label contributors.. et al. we need to assume everyone is contributing.. there’s never nothing going on.


feb 2015 – copyblogger interviews Maria:

How Maria Popova Writes

Because Brain Pickings is simply a record of my own curiosity, of my personal journey into what matters in the world and why, it’s hard to quantify how much of my life is “research” – in fact, I feel like all of it is.

document everything. commonplace book. ness

I just had tea with someone – a writer whose book I’d written about and who reached out and wanted to connect – and that hour-long conversation gave me a dozen ideas to think about, to learn about, and thus to write about (including two books I already ordered based on our chat). Is that “research” in the sense that one deliberately sets out to find something already of interest? No. Is it “research” in terms of the unguided curiosity that lets one discover something previously unknown and succumb to the intellectual restlessness of wanting to learn everything about it? Absolutely.

trust whimsy.

And I think that’s part of our challenge today, not just semantically but also practically – we tend to conflate “research” with search, which is always driven by looking for something you already know you’re interested in; but I think the richest “research” is driven by discovery, that intersection of curiosity and serendipity that lets you expand your intellectual and creative comfort zone beyond what you already knew you were looking for.

Given I write several thousand words each day, there’s no room for “pre-gaming.”

The “game” IS the ritual.

no prep ness.

Anywhere between three and eight hours. It’s hard to separate the reading and research part of the process from the writing and synthesis one. The osmosis of the two is where the magic happens – that place where you pull existing ideas together into a mesh of insights that germinates your very own point of view, that illuminates the subject in an entirely new way. Is that reading? Writing? Or some other form of sense-making we don’t yet have a word for?

The ability to connect the seemingly unconnected and meld existing knowledge into new insight about some element of how the world works. That’s practical creativity. Then there’s moral creativity: To apply that skill towards some kind of wisdom on how the world ought to work.

What makes a writer great?

The same thing that makes a human great:

Curiosity without ego, and generosity of spirit. No amount of talent is worth anything without kindness.

feb 2015 – on the missing piece

A gentle reminder that the best relationships don’t complete us but let us grow and become more fully ourselves.

The best children’s books, as Tolkien asserted and Sendak agreed, aren’t written for children; they are enjoyed by children, but they speak to our deepest longings and fears, and thus enchant humans of all ages.


sept 2015 – new design for site.. and 9 yr bday. love.


Maria on on being:

we never see world as it actually is…  we see it as.. what we hope/fear it might be. we spend our lives going through modified stages of grief over that. eventually we come to see it not as despairing but as vitalizing.. we never see world as it is because we are how the world is..

5 min –

on writing in the margins as you read.. intellectual dance w/another mind 

dreaming of a dance.. site as that dance..

global do-over – where self-talk as data creates/leapfrogs to equity

footnote.. et al.. is a hyperlink.. but only goes backward.. marginalia.. goes back and forth.. so diff kind of hypertext

7 min – my site is a record of becoming who i am..

today i rarely read the internet.. i spend my days buried in books/letters

8 min – on spiritual re parenting… what i do sort of as 2 way generational re pairing..

9 min – friend – andrew sullivan – culture needs stewardship not disruption..

we need both.. always.. to move forward

we seem somehow bored with thinking.. we want to know.. i’m very guided by this desire to counter that in myself..

adriane rich – ed is not something you get it’s something you claim (commencement address)

12 min – infected with a pathological impatience… the meaningful is the opposite of the trivial.. the only thing we glean from skipping forward.. is trivia … only way to glean knowledge is contemplation and the road to that is time.. there is no short cut for the conquest of meaning.. and ultimately it is meaning that we seek to give to our lives..

i use thoreau’s diaries/journals as a kind of spiritual text… ie: talks about hard work – the person who works hard doesn’t exert himself all day.. but has this leisure around accomplishing the task.. hen lays one egg… rest of time goes around feeding on things that feed next 1861. today.. we use productivity as badge of honor – hallmark of purpose.. thoreau – the more we busy ourselves w/drudgery of work.. the more actual work we accomplish.


Krista – you as intellectual confidence and generosity

Maria – identity on constant for all of us.. it’s as much as throwing out trinkets that no longer serve us as long as bringing in new ones.

irrelvant quote vinay

kind of feeds on itself.. brainpickings is record of that inner philosophy has evolved but also the feel/field for it..

i don’t think you can be deliberate about shaping your course forward.. because then you end up someplace completely stale and expected

16 min – critical thinking without hope is cynicism.. but hope w/o critical thinking is naivete.. i try to live between the two..  in order to survive/thrive.. we need to bridge critical thinking with hope..

18 min – 1945 – as we may think – memex – extraordinarily prophetic – there will be new profession of trail blazers who will make a career of making useful of the common record.. so much of what i do is an attempt to make sense of humanity’s common record..

21 min – i read/write from the moment i wake up to the moment i go to sleep.. i listen to things.. and that feeds into the reading..

22 min – even if factually true… the framing is misleading… framed as a productivity thing.. for me .. it feels very purposeful.. i used to marvel.. why my best ideas/insights… came to me at the gym/bike/shower.. maybe the movement of the body that sparked deeper consciousness..

these are simply the most unburdened spaces in my life.. the moments i have the greatest uninterrupted intimacy w/my own mind/experience…

available to all of us.. if we only make that deliberate choice to let it in.

pascal quiet in room

feedback loop is broken

24 min – we’ve come to conflate journalism with news.. what is urgent right now and not what’s important in the scheme of things.. a presentism..

on twitter/fb feeds, et al.. the most recent floats to top… so we think most recent is most important.. and older matters/exists less

why i have no pages..

internet’s beauty is that its a self-perfecting organism.. but as long as ad supported medium.. the motive will be to perfect commercialism and not to perfect the human spirit

26 min – from maria’s nyt piece: a powerful story transcends the shock value.. to help the reader reconcile the cognitive disonance of controversy and emerge closer to the truth if only just a little bit

to me – so much goodness in world.. we just have to kind of show up for it and refuse to leave.. yes people do horrible.. evil only prevails when we mistake it for the norm…

i don’t think hope is baked in… it’s a conditioned response.. from others we learn.. hope .. is the human experience

30 min – web is such a young medium.. like any territory w/which we bring the pioneer spirit is bound to have the good/evil.. we won’t know till later.. but daily decisions shape it. i think people will come to rebel against things that don’t work for us..

32 min – jimmy wales – people contribute to wikipedia for free because they want to do something useful with their time.. but also… (maria) .. this can’t quite be quantified the way there is with usefulness. i deeply believe people want to be good.. i have hope for this medium with that lens.

34 min – recurring threads through years? – radically diff over years.. i’m radically diff. because brainpickings is so aligned with my life.. things i struggle with.. questions for myself.. that list.. is the list of my year.. what are the things i’ve been pre occupied with..

36 min – we never see the world exactly as it is.. we see it as we hope it will be or fear it might be.. we spend our live’s going through that modified grief.. come to see it .. we don’t see it as it is because we are what it is.. we are what we attend to.. that’s the substance of the spiritual journey..

39 min – on seeking a compass from the past for our nebulous present… there is no true north.. to we seek tangibles.. i really believe all people have capacity to not orient ourselves to what’s been done.. 

40 min – hard to answer a generational question… because most of my friends are dead people… my real life friends are much older than i am…

41 min – on measuring success.. if the day and night are such that you great them with joy.. and life emits a fragrance like flowers.. (thoreau).. waking up exciting and curiously restless with what’s ahead.. and going to bed with.. it actually happened.

42 min – we are a constant pavlovian culture.. and nature of today are tangibles to perpetuate that… easy to hang sanity/sense of worth on them.. it takes a real discipline to not hang the stability of your soul on them…

45 min – not just who we are but who we are in relation.. to past selves.. others.. culture.. i think a lot about this question – what is a person.. am i the same as my past self..?

to me.. this question of what it means to be human is always a question of elasticity of being.. it’s never an arrival..

47 min – virginia woolf writes – one can’t write directly about the soul.. looked at it vanishes. i think the fullest people.. most whole/alive people are always those unafraid/unashamed of the soul.. and the soul is never an assemblage of fragments.. and it always is.


post on moments/still ness

..unable to inhabit the stillness of the middles. – @brainpicker  – I enjoy continuing. – Sarah Manguso



Sontag, 50 years ago, on the trouble with treating art and cultural material as “content”—terrifyingly timely today

Susan Sontag against interpretation

this part in particular:

Interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art. Even more. It is the revenge of the intellect upon the world. To interpret is to impoverish, to deplete the world — in order to set up a shadow world of “meanings.” It is to turn the world into this world. (“This world”! As if there were any other.)

and then this too:

Real art has the capacity to make us nervous. By reducing the work of art to its content and then interpreting that, one tames the work of art. Interpretation makes art manageable, conformable.

and maria’s words here:

In another stroke of prescient and urgently timely insight, Sontag considers this notion of “content” — perhaps the vilest term by which *professional commodifiers refer to cultural material today — and how it defiles art:

after just adding – *professional page

Interpretation, based on the highly dubious theory that a work of art is composed of items of content, violates art. It makes art into an article for use, for arrangement into a mental scheme of categories.

from earlier:

The interpreter, without actually erasing or rewriting the text, is altering it. But he can’t admit to doing this. He claims to be only making it intelligible, by disclosing its true meaning. However far the interpreters alter the text … they must claim to be reading off a sense that is already there.

from Maria:

Even half a century ago, in fact, Sontag was wary of the violence embedded in the act itself:

The contemporary zeal for the project of interpretation is often prompted by an open aggressiveness…


In some cultural contexts, interpretation is a liberating act. It is a means of revising, of transvaluing, of escaping the dead past. In other cultural contexts, it is reactionary, impertinent, cowardly, stifling.

Today is such a time, when the project of interpretation is largely reactionary, stifling.


Cynicism, self-comparison, and what makes for the survival of the soul—my commencement address at@AnnenbergPenn…
My first response was to shame myself into gratitude for how fortunate I’ve been — because I too am an immigrant from a pretty poor country and it’s some miraculous confluence of choice and chance that has kept me from becoming a food delivery person on an electric bike in order to survive in New York City. And perhaps the guy has a more satisfying life than I do — perhaps he had a good mother and goes home to the love of his life and plays the violin at night. I don’t know, and I never will. But the point is that the second I begin comparing my pace to his, my life to his, I’m vacating my own experience of that spring day and ejecting myself into a sort of limbo of life that is neither mine nor his
Cynicism is a poverty of curiosity and imagination and ambition
Among our most universal human longings is to affect the world with our actions somehow, to leave an imprint with our existence. Both construction and destruction leave a mark and give us a sense of agency in the world. Now, destruction is necessary sometimes — damaged and damaging systems need to be demolished to clear the way for more enlivening ones. But destruction alone, without construction to follow it, is hapless and lazy. Construction is far more difficult, because it requires the capacity to imagine something new and better, and the willingness to exert ourselves toward building it, even at the risk of failure. But that is also far more satisfying in the end.

.. But make sure the pace of your pedaling answers only to your own standards of vigor. Remain uncynical and don’t waste any energy on those who pass you by on their electric bikes, because you never know what strife is driving them and, most of all, because the moment you focus on that, you vacate your own soul.


post on self criticism… (off her commencement speech) via George:


I could generally just spend my day RT’ing @brainpicker


Against Self-Criticism – wonderful read on how our internal critics enslave us and how to break free…

But this self-critical part of ourselves, Phillips points out, is “strikingly unimaginative” — a relentless complainer whose repertoire of tirades is so redundant as to become, to any objective observer, risible and tragic at the same time:

Were we to meet this figure socially, as it were, this accusatory character, this internal critic, we would think there was something wrong with him. He would just be boring and cruel. We might think that something terrible had happened to him. That he was living in the aftermath, in the fallout of some catastrophe. And we would be right.


We are continually, if unconsciously, mutilating and deforming our own character. Indeed, so unrelenting is this internal violence that..

 we have no idea what we are like without it.

We know virtually nothing about ourselves because we judge ourselves before we have a chance to see ourselves (as though in panic). Or, to put it differently, we can judge only what we recognize ourselves as able to judge. What can’t be judged can’t be seen. What happens to everything that is not subject to approval or disapproval, to everything that we have not been taught how to judge? … The judged self can only be judged but not known. [We] think that it is complicitous not to stand up to, not to contest, this internal tyranny by what is only one part — a small but loud part — of the self.
no idea what like w/o it…
science of people ness

The tyranny of the superego, Phillips argues, lies in its tendency to reduce the complexity of our conscience to a single, limiting interpretation, and to convincingly sell us on that interpretation as an accurate and complete representation of reality:

Self-criticism is nothing if it is not the defining, and usually the overdefining, of the limits of being. But, ironically, if that’s the right word, the limits of being are announced and enforced before so-called being has had much of a chance to speak for itself.

the defining..over defining… of limits of being

You can only understand anything that matters — dreams, neurotic symptoms, literature — by overinterpreting it; by seeing it from different aspects as the product of multiple impulses. Overinterpretation here means not settling for one interpretation, however apparently compelling it is. Indeed, the implication is — and here is Freud’s ongoing suspicion, or ambivalence, about psychoanalysis — that the more persuasive, the more compelling, the more authoritative, the interpretation is, the less credible it is, or should be. The interpretation might be the violent attempt to presume to set a limit where no limit can be set.


Here, the ideological wink at Sontag becomes apparent. Indeed, the Sontag classic would’ve been better titled “Against an Interpretation,” for the essence of her argument is precisely that a single interpretation invariably warps and flattens any text, any experience, any cultural artifact. (How tragicomical to see, then, that a reviewer who complains that Phillips’s writing is too open to interpretation both misses his point and, in doing so, makes it.)

Susan.. interp


What Phillips is advocating isn’t the wholesale relinquishing of interpretation but the psychological hygiene of inviting multiple interpretations as a way of countering the artificial authority of the superego and loosening its tyrannical grip on our experience of ourselves:

Authority wants to replace the world with itself. Overinterpretation means not being stopped in your tracks by what you are most persuaded by; it means assuming that to believe one interpretation is to radically misunderstand the object one is interpreting, and indeed interpretation itself.

psych hygiene

danger of single story.. et al..

10 yrs of learnings.. 7 min video


great writers (maria) on great beatles songs (yellow submarine)

The familial whistle-call became a given in my childhood, like math homework and Beef Stroganoff Sundays, so it wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that it occurred to me to inquire about how “Yellow Submarine” wove itself into the family fabric. ..Once it has entered the crucible of consciousness, a song becomes subject to a peculiar alchemy — the particularities of the listener’s life at that particular moment transmute its objective meaning, if there ever was one at all, into a subjective impression. That impression is what we encode into memory, what we retrieve to whistle twenty years later. The artist’s original intent is melded with the listener’s personal context into an amorphous mass of inexpressible yet unforgettable unity — a dormant seed whose blossoming depends on the myriad factors fertilizing the surrounding soil. That the seed was planted at all may remain unheralded until the moment of its blossoming.

your own song ness

‘Yellow Submarine’ became a kind of Rorschach test for radical minds.” (We can put aside for a moment the notion that childlike wonder and sensorial delight amount to cultural emptiness — a lamentable bias that warrants a separate essay.)

begging for a nother way to live

It is precisely this uncomfortable open-endedness of meaning that drove generations of critics to fill the abyss with manufactured meanings. Interpretation, of course, always reveals far more about the interpreter than it does about the interpreted. Just two years before the release of “Yellow Submarine,” in her terrific treatise “Against Interpretation,” Susan Sontag bemoaned the reactionary “arrogance of interpretation” and called it “the revenge of the intellect upon art.”

And although I, that future child, never got to meet my intellectual insurrectionist great-grandfather, I am linked to him by DNA and by a song from long ago, embedded in my father’s synapses and worn note-bare by my mother’s lips.


Our only means of upending the conventions and belief systems we resent is by modeling superior alternatives,

ie: hlb via 2 convos that io dance.. as the day..[aka: not part\ial.. for (blank)’s sake…]..  a nother way



feb 2019 – convo w elizabeth on figuring – livestream []

e: one of the miracles about you is that you do (write long sentences) and you’ve gathered thousands of people around you who will read them

m: what gets people to say.. i understand this is the way people are doing it.. but i’m doing it this other way

m: the moment we begin to name things .. we lose

e: thank you for taking these people out of these portraits and putting them in the human heart

m: a lot of this book is about the blind spots of history

e: they made that work will in .. bodies.. lust, desire, .. pain

m: how much it takes to make progress.. and how little it takes to undo .. that’s why it’s so important to speak up when you see it happening

m: on refusing to give up on things that society say is an either/or.. i’m a believer on not giving up because society says just take one path

e: why is it so important to have a life animated by beauty rather than a search for beauty

m: beauty if a kind of foothold that focuses curiosity..magnetizes us toward it..

e: magnetize is the word you use most in the book other than the word the

m: electric affinities.. romantic chemistry.. drawn to one another with no understanding of why .. and no one can break it.. inseparable.. and now we’ve come to separate these things.. an artificial separation

e: we’re magnetized to things that bring us alive

m: stardust – used for coincidence and serendipity.. before the notion of synchronicity was coined.. ‘this is our stardust’

m: i think where a lot of greats slip.. confidence slips into hubris.. people are not all exceptions

e: a lot of people worship you..

m: there’s a line in the book.. worship is counterfeit love

e: ok.. they love you

e: emerson: there’s no terror like being known.. dickerson: wanted to be known and not exposed.. you are known and not known.. how do you do that.. why brainpickings

m: back to notion of being function of time/place.. i started brainpickings for me.. what i wanted to learn.. i just started keeping a record of what i was reading on my own..  and i was also going thru a depression


m: to this day.. i still write for me.. why so many read it.. chance? timing.. i kept doing it everyday.. an accumulation.. but also.. this banality of being human.. same set of joys/heartaches/aspirations.. because i turn to the past.. they also speak to other people.. because we are basically all similar

m: the question of chance and choice is probably the biggest theme in this book.. it’s absolute hubris to say ,.. i’m special.. and baby in bulgaria is less special.. no.. there’s so much chance

e: that is the necessity of humility

e: problem w rational world.. things happen w such magnitude that you find yourself searching for meaning.. and the rational thought doesn’t help..

m: emily lavine – maternal figure to me – died day book was published.. she intro’d me to poetry and made me fall in love w finding transcendence secularly

m: this chair will outlive all of us.. so lucky to be here.. to me that is the real miracle..

puts twist on ‘the shelf life of a shelf’

amanda: when you share info.. you’re in danger.. women who are shamelessly sharing info w one another and it’s infectious – (on necklace from elizabeth during a low time): ‘i will not let people walk thru my mind w their dirty feet’..

then she sang bigger on the inside.. love that song

m: first several years.. phantom form of things unknown.. then one day.. decided.. figuring.. w no subtitles.. no explanation

m: (on turning capital i to lower case i): we read for that.. to humble/embolden.. to cease to be.. to be reminded how insignificant we are and how common the human struggles.. recasting in the human family that you can’t do on your own.. any form of expansion beyond your locus of experience

g: there isn’t anybody that does what you do.. with such grace..i just love the titanium spine of you

imagine if we all had the freedom/bravery to do it.. everyday

facil daily curiosity  ie: cure ios city.. w 2 convers as infra


universe in verse april 23 2019 (not sure where/if i kept notes from the others)

And we’re live!

Original Tweet:

maria: we’re an incredible cornerless globe.. the only alt we have is to care for it and for each other..t

thurman interconnectedness law

mariah mitchell: mingle the starlight w your eyes and you won’t be fretted by trifles..

walt whitman: when i heard the learned astronomers..  (on experts’ mistruths)

amanda reading: it should be the most desired sight of all.. that other walking into the room.. there is something more desirable.. galaxies.. beyond this rage that stirs for air.. every time she walks into the room

maria: on reconciling the uni with our desire to understand it

(poem) responsibility to awe []: theories of everything – where the lecturer’s shirt matches the painting on the wall

on improv and more (?) they know about next note.. more possibility opens up


maria on sanctuary