A good spaceship for time travel

awesome old ladies in an awesome old car

“I’ll go on till I fall over.”
David Hockney

Two grannies in an ancient Mustang. I flew out to San Francisco this Thursday to be bombarded by the images made by David Hockney hanging at the de Young museum, but it’s this image, snapped on my iPhone, that sticks with me. Two ladies, advanced in years, cruising the future in a time machine from the past. (Someone asked director Paul Thomas Anderson why he shot The Master on 70mm film, and he said, “It just felt like a good spaceship for time travel.”)

Hockney has built his own spaceship for time travel out of his hands, his heart, and his eyeballs, and it’s fueled by his obsession with picture making. He’s up for any medium—watercolor, charcoal, high definition video, the Brushes app on the iPad—anything that helps him make pictures, and you can tell, regardless of the finished product, that you’re looking through those same eyeballs, moved by that same obsession.

You can’t help but be humbled in the de Young show—18,000 square feet of museum filled with the past decade or so of a 76-year-old’s output.

I’m 30. I can barely fathom working for another five years, let alone another 46 years.

The questions that have haunted me since I walked out of the museum: What is my obsession? What is my spaceship for time travel? What machine am I building now that will take me through the rest of my years?

my middle school notebook

Last Sunday I was chatting on Twitter with a bunch of schoolteachers and I happened to mention my middle school English teacher, Mrs. Neff. At the beginning of every class, Mrs. Neff made us walk over to the box, retrieve our composition books, and write. Often she’d give us a prompt, but sometimes she’d just have us copy out a poem from the blackboard:


I pulled out the old journal, and started flipping through entries, tweeting out a few sentences here and there:

11/16/1995: “I think the job of a picture is to help you remember… you supply the thousand words.”

1/16/1996: “It takes time to learn routine… I don’t really like routine, but it is fun to write about.”

2/26/1996: “I used to play on my computer, but then I got into music, and I ran out of money.”

3/10/1996: “Writing is easy, but it takes a lot of time.”

3/17/1996: “I didn’t wear green today, so I’m bound to get pinched.”

4/29/1996: “Sometimes a book can be read by anyone, understood by anyone, and loved by anyone.”

It would be hard, taken out of context and without the datestamps, to tell any of these 18-year-old sentences from sentences pulled from last week’s journal. I’m not sure if that should be heartening or disheartening, but there it is—my spaceship.

Now I just have to keep it fueled.

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