Friday, 29 August 2014

Maria Popova: Brain Pickings

By Camha Pham

Creator of successful blog, 'Brain Pickings', Maria Popova is an interestingness hunter-gatherer and curious mind at large. In conversation with Esther Anatolitis, we discover the workings of the brain behind the blog.

Maria Popova walks out on stage clad in black and yellow - the colour scheme of her immensely popular blog, 'Brain Pickings', and it’s as if she’s physically risen straight out of the blogosphere.

'Brain Pickings' is a platform through which Popova keeps a record of her curiosity and pursuit of knowledge via her uncanny ability to find links between diverse areas of thought and expression. Her skill for applying a humanistic element to these amalgamated ideas means that her pieces are always thought-provoking and stay with the reader well afterwards.

Popova is a compelling and articulate speaker and she immediately reels you in with her vast wealth of knowledge and matter-of-fact idealism. She rapidly darts between ideas and weaves in quotes from numerous philosophers and writers along the way. The way in which she is able to find connections in both the most palpable and obscure of things is all at once, impressive, inspiring and intimidating.

The term "combinatorial creativity" is floated which is essentially the concept of fusing insights, impressions and information from various disciplines to propel the creation of further ideas. We limit our potential to think by constraining ourselves within narrow parameters so it makes sense that we should look beyond our own self-erected barriers in order to expand our minds and broaden our spheres of understanding.

Popova’s breadth of information comes from her library of books—she avoids the internet—and she is particularly attracted to perusing diaries and letters. She labels literature as the original Internet, where footnotes act as hyperlinks leading you down rabbit holes to other books and to the thoughts and insights of authors and thinkers.

Her days are spent reading and writing, digesting interesting tidbits of information, tweeting and fitting in pockets of stillness in between.

Having a routine in place acts as an anchor to reality and allows Popova to sustain herself. She asserts that "creation is forgoing distraction."

One of the truths that Popova strives to live by is showing up and being present. It is easy to fall into the trap of showing up and being absent and mistaking doing for being. She argues that how we spend our days is how we spend our lives so it would make sense that we spend time cultivating our souls, learning, exploring and growing as individuals and connecting with our work, rather than focusing on the mere monotonous tick-the-boxes kind of tasks. She encourages everyone to assess their day when they’re lying in bed at night and ask themselves: If how I spent today is how I spend the rest of my days, would I be happy. If the answer is no for a few consecutive days, then maybe something needs to change.

By feeding her thirst for knowledge with inspiration from a myriad of other sources Popova, in turn, provides fuel for her own readers’ curiosity and subsequently the cycle of ideas, insights and inspiration keeps on perpetuating.

As Popova affirms, "everyone is on the same human journey."

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