Brain Pickings by Mario Popova – Newsletter

 This is the Brain Pickings midweek pick-me-up: Once a week, I plunge into my years-deep archive and resurface something worth resavoring as timeless nourishment for heart, mind, and spirit. (If you don’t yet subscribe to the standard Sunday newsletter of new pieces published each week, you can sign up here — it’s free.) If you missed last week’s archival excavation — The Lion and The Bird: a tender illustrated story about loneliness, loyalty, and the gift of friendship — you can catch up right here. And if my labor of love enriches your life in any way, please consider supporting it with a donation – for fourteen years, I have spent tens of thousands of hours, made many personal sacrifices, and invested tremendous resources in Brain Pickings, which remains free and ad-free and alive thanks to reader patronage. If you already donate: THANK YOU.
FROM THE ARCHIVE | Trees at Night: Stunning Rorschach Silhouettes from the 1920s

Walt Whitman considered trees the wisest of teachers. Hermann Hesse found in them sweet consolation for our mortality. Wangari Maathai turned to them as a form of resistance and empowerment that earned her the Nobel Peace Prize. “The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way,” William Blake wrote in his most beautiful letter. “As a man is, so he sees.”
A century after Blake, the artist, writer, and activist Arthur Henry “Art” Young (January 14, 1866–December 29, 1943) originated a sumptuous new way of seeing life, looking at trees.
In his forties, Young had risen to prominence with his political cartoons, criticizing capitalism and war, railing against racism, and advocating for women’s suffrage and the abolition of child labor. During World War I, they had rendered him prosecuted on a charge of conspiracy to obstruct recruiting. With some of Thoreau coursing through his veins, Young made his art both an instrument of civil disobedience and a lens for contemplating nature’s transcendent beauty.
artyoung.jpg?resize=680%2C927Art Young
In his fifties, Young’s imagination fell upon a subject both wholly natural and wholly original — the expressive humanlike shapes, states, and emotions emanating from the silhouettes of trees at night. He began rendering what he half-saw and half-imagined in pen and ink — haunting black-and-white drawings full of feeling, straddling the playful and the poignant. These visual poems, replete with the strangeness and splendor of nature and human nature, become the kind of Rorschach test one intuitively performs while looking at the sky, but drawn from the canopy rather than the clouds. While the sensibility is faintly reminiscent of Arthur Rackham’s unforgettable trees, the concept is entirely Young’s own — no artist had done anything like this before.
artyoung_treesatnight2.jpg?resize=680%2C1072Available as a print
artyoung_treesatnight6.jpg?resize=680%2C1061Available as a print
artyoung_treesatnight7.jpg?resize=680%2C1070Available as a print
First published as a series in the Saturday Evening Post, Young’s tree silhouettes were soon picked up by mainstream magazines like Collier’s and LIFE. They drew impassioned letters from readers — some sharing poems inspired by his art, some enclosing tree photographs they hoped Young would draw, some simply thanking him for these uncommon portals into an unseen world of beauty and emotion.
artyoung_treesatnight9.jpg?resize=680%2C1059Available as a print
artyoung_treesatnight10.jpg?resize=680%2C1058Available as a print
In 1927, Young assembled the best of his arborescent silhouettes in the slim, lovely out-of-print treasure Trees at Night (public library). Upon the book’s publication, Brooklyn’s Daily Eagle exulted that it “places Art Young in a class by himself” and Baltimore’s Evening Sun lauded him as “one of the few real native talents that this country has produced in art.”
artyoung_treesatnight3.jpg?resize=680%2C1056Available as a print
artyoung_treesatnight15.jpg?resize=680%2C1083Available as a print
artyoung_treesatnight5.jpg?resize=680%2C1059Available as a print
Printed on the opening page is an excerpt from an early-autumn entry in Young’s diary:
2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngIn common with most people of artistic perception, I like trees. While looking out of my window toward the wooded hills one summer night, a caravan of camels seemed to be humping along the sky. They were trees of course but enough like camels to key my imagination up to discover other pictures in the formation of foliage. The rest of the summer nights I enjoyed hunting for tree pictures against the light of the sky or thrown into relief by the glare of automobiles, and drawing them next day. It seemed to me that this silhouette handling of trees at night had never before been done by any artist. I felt that I had discovered something.
After the caravan, I saw “a woman and a fan” and other subjects followed. Any night I could walk or ride along the road and see interesting silhouettes made by tree forms, many of them so clearly defined as to need no improvement on my part. But aside from the appearance of a tree by day or night, is it not kin of the human family with its roots in the earth and its arms stretching toward the sky as if to seek and to know the great mystery?
artyoung_treesatnight4.jpg?resize=680%2C1048Available as a print
artyoung_treesatnight16.jpg?resize=680%2C1046Available as a print
artyoung_treesatnight14.jpg?resize=680%2C1081Available as a print
artyoung_treesatnight13.jpg?resize=680%2C1023Available as a print
artyoung_treesatnight12.jpg?resize=680%2C1065Available as a print
artyoung_treesatnight1.jpg?resize=680%2C1074Available as a print
artyoung_treesatnight11.jpg?resize=680%2C1034Available as a print
artyoung_treesatnight8.jpg?resize=680%2C1079Available as a print
artyoung_treesatnight17.jpg?resize=680%2C506Available as a print
Complement Young’s Trees at Night with something he never lived to know but would have cherished knowing — the fascinating science of what trees feel and how they communicate — then revisit The Night Life of Trees, drawn from Indian folklore, and philosopher Martin Buber on what trees teach us about being human.
A portion of the proceeds from these art prints supports the beautiful and necessary work of the Arbor Day Foundation.
In 2020, I spent thousands of hours and thousands of dollars keeping Brain Pickings going. For fourteen years, it has remained free and ad-free and alive thanks to patronage from readers. I have no staff, no interns, not even an assistant — a thoroughly one-woman labor of love that is also my life and my livelihood. If this labor has enlarged and enriched your own life this year, please consider aiding its sustenance with a one-time or loyal donation. Your support makes all the difference.monthly donation
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How an Artist is Like a Tree: Paul Klee on Creativity
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Relationship Lessons from Trees
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The Science of How Alive You Really Are: Alan Turing, Trees, and the Wonder of Life
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Vintage Science Face Masks Benefiting the Nature Conservancy


Newsletter by James Clear

3-2-1 ThursdayNote: You are receiving this email because you subscribed to my weekly 3-2-1 newsletter. Every Thursday, I share 3 ideas from me, 2 quotes from others, and 1 question for you to ponder. Occasionally, I also send out long-form articles on habits and self-improvement.

3 ideas, 2 quotes, 1 question (December 10, 2020)

“Working to deliver the most wisdom per word of any newsletter on the web.”

Read this on

Happy 3-2-1 Thursday,

Here are 3 ideas from me, 2 quotes from others, and 1 question for you to ponder this week.




“The more disciplined your environment is, the less disciplined you need to be. Don’t swim upstream.”

(Share this on Twitter)


“Many people delay taking action because they hope to avoid suffering. They keep searching for a path that won’t involve tradeoffs.

But some form of suffering is always inevitable. The process of taking action is the process of choosing your pain.”

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“Before you begin, think as if you are a lazy person. Imagine the competition will work harder. Your only chance is a better strategy.

After you begin, work as if you are a dumb person. Imagine the competition is smarter and more talented. Your only chance is to outwork them.”



Writer and activist Audre Lorde on how self-acceptance reduces the power others have over you:

“Nothing I accept about myself can be used against me to diminish me.”

Source: Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches


Andrew Carnegie, who would go on to become one of the richest Americans in history, on the importance of seizing the opportunity. In his case, it was the opportunity to become a telegraph messenger boy at age 14:

“The interview was successful. I took care to explain that I did not know Pittsburgh, that perhaps I would not do, would not be strong enough; but all I wanted was a trial. He asked me how soon I could come, and I said that I could stay now if wanted. And, looking back over the circumstance, I think that answer might well be pondered by young people. It is a great mistake not to seize the opportunity. The position was offered to me; something might occur, some other boy might be sent for. Having got myself in, I proposed to stay there if I could…

And that is how, in 1850, I got my first real start in life. From the dark cellar [of my previous job] running a steam-engine at two dollars a week, begrimed with coal dirt, without a trace of elevating influences in life, I was lifted into a paradise, yes, heaven, as it seemed to me, with newspapers, pens, pencils, and sunshine about me. There was scarcely a minute in which I could not learn something or find out how much there was to learn or how little I knew. I felt that my foot was upon the ladder and that I was bound to climb.”

Source: The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie


Imagine the most important goal or project you are working on right now. Fast forward six months. Imagine the project has failed.

Why did you fail?

If you enjoyed that, please share with others.

Share this newsletter on TwitterFacebookLinkedInWhatsApp, or via email.

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Until next week,

James Clear
Author of the million-copy bestseller, Atomic Habits
Creator of the Habit Journal

p.s. If people did everything in a rush.

Past few days I was lazy and didn’t post these “Did you know…”

Did you know…

… that today is First Recorded Aurora Borealis Day? The first recorded sighting of the aurora borealis took place in New England on this day in 1719. This natural light display is brought about by the collision of energetic charged particles from outside the atmosphere with atoms from the upper atmosphere. The Northern Lights, as they’re commonly called, generally occur in bands, curtains, or streamers of red, green, blue, and violet light.


Today’s Inspirational Quote:

“The only way to get what you really want is to know what you really want. And the only way to know what you really want is to know yourself. And the only way to know yourself is to be yourself. And the only way to be yourself is to listen to your heart.”

— Mike Dooley

Did you know…

… that today is Charlie Brown Christmas Premiere Day? This day in 1965 brought us the much-loved animated television special, A Charlie Brown Christmas. It has since been honored with both an Emmy and Peabody Award. It became an annual broadcast in the United States and has been aired during the Christmas season traditionally every year since its premiere. How to celebrate? By watching the show, of course! 😉


Today’s Inspirational Quote:

“In times of great stress or adversity, it’s always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive.”

— Lee Iacocca



Toddlers whine. Most adults figure out how to lose the habit, because it’s toxic. And yet it persists.

Whining is a seductive package deal. When it works, it gets us attention, it lowers expectations, it gains sympathy and it forces people to identify with our pain. And it helps people feel as though they’re not responsibile.

Often, the amount of whining is totally unrelated to the level of discomfort, and it seems to increase with how much privilege people perceive they deserve.

So why avoid it?

Because it changes our outlook on the world. When whining becomes a habit, we need to continue it, so we begin to interpret events as opportunities to prove that our whining is justified.

And because over time, people hate being around a whiner. The selfish desires of the habitual whiner eventually become clear. We realize that our shared reality is the world as it is, and that the whiner isn’t actually being singled out. And through practice, we learn that the best way to make things better is to work to improve them, not to demand special treatment. Reminding myself of the perils of whining is helpful indeed.

Optimists run the risk of being disappointed now and then. Whiners are always disappointing.


Personaliapur-sə-NEY-lee-əPart of speech: nounOrigin: North America, mid 19th century
1Personal allusions, belongings, writings, information, etc.
Examples of Personalia in a sentence “The Edgar Allen Poe House contains many of his personalia.” “Robert had to make many treks back to his childhood home to collect all of his personalia.”

International Universal Health Coverage Day – 12 December

International Universal Health Coverage Day – 12 December

This day is commemorated to drive member nations to adopt universal healthcare by 2030.

Content marketing ideas

  • Listicle idea: Steps Indian government has taken to move towards universal healthcare
  • Infographic idea: How can universal health coverage benefit you?
  • Video idea: What goes into the functioning of the best healthcare systems in the world?
  • Podcast idea: How will universal healthcare change post COVID?

Brand campaign that worked:

This video by the World Bank shows how a universal healthcare system can make a difference to a family, especially if they cannot afford to pay.

International Day of Neutrality – 12 December

International Day of Neutrality – 12 December

International Neutrality Day

This day is celebrated to raise public awareness of the value of neutrality in international relations.

Content marketing ideas

  • Listicle idea:  How to make a career as a diplomat
  • Infographic idea: The most militarized places on Earth
  • Video idea: X Inspiring tales from the lives of frontline peacemakers
  • Podcast idea: What are the benefits of looking at both sides of an argument?