It’s March 15, the Ides of March. Last night my brother-in-law tweeted, “Tbh in my life the Ides of March have historically been excellent days sorry Caesar.” I got to thinking about it, and yeah, historically, for about the past decade this has been a pretty excellent time for me, too. I usually have something going on at SXSW, most of my books came out in the early spring, my youngest son was born March 11, etc.
I checked in with my ol’ pal Thoreau, and on March 15, 1852, he is celebrating the arrival of spring in his journal: “This afternoon I throw off my outside coat.” At this point the year is 20% over, but Thoreau doesn’t seem at all worried about March 15. If he’s thinking about it at all, it’s only in the way the Romans marked it as a deadline for settling debts. Thoreau is 34 years old, same age as me, and he wants to be worthy of this life he’s been given:
I wish to begin this summer well; to do something in it worthy of it and of me… I pray that the life of this spring and summer may lie fair in my memory. May I dare as I have never done! […] I am eager to report the glory of the universe; may I be worthy to do it…. It is reasonable that a man should be something worthier at the end of the year than he was at the beginning.
I feel much like Thoreau. I’m cooking on this new thing, spring has come to Texas, and I want to be worthy of my life and all I’ve been given. I know I don’t deserve it, but I want to work in a way deserving of it.
It’s often hard for me to return home from California, a place of such obvious beauty, still so foreign to me. This past trip, I was obsessed with the smell of eucalyptus driving down Highway 1 and the surprisingly lulling sound of the fog horns on the Golden Gate Bridge. They blew almost every night of our trip, like some great sleeping monster snoring out in the Bay.
But Texas has rolled out the red carpet weather for us — the snapdragons have bloomed in my wife’s garden, and the trees in the front yard are “coming into leaf… like something almost being said.”
A few days ago in San Francisco we were having margaritas near the Presidio Officers’ Club when my son Jules bolted and disappeared around the corner. I found him admiring this Andy Goldsworthy piece, Earth Wall, which I had never seen. Goldsworthy has four pieces in the Presidio—Tree Fall, Wood Line, and Spire:
I was reading about Spire in the brochure about Goldsworthy and the Presidio, and I was struck by this detail: “The sculpture is fated to fade into the forest as young cypress trees planted at its base ultimately grow to obscure the piece – like the old forest welcoming the new.”
It’s Jules’ 3rd birthday today. He’s not a baby anymore. This morning in our hotel room I watched him drawing along to Super Simple Draw, and I felt, most definitely, that if I’m the spire now, he’s the young cypress, and I will be happy for him to obscure me.
Walking around the Mission yesterday, my agent and I saw Anthony Holdsworth painting on the street. We stopped to admire his painting, chatted briefly, and then I said, “Thanks for letting us interrupt your work.”
“Doesn’t feel like work,” he said, cleaning his brush. “Feels more like play.”
Back in December, I wrote about how Jerry Seinfeld maintained perspective by keeping a photo from the Hubble telescope in the Seinfeld writing room. This week I got an email from the spouse of a professional astronomer who said her husband gets through some work days by reminding himself that astronomy doesn’t matter. “He will say, for example: ‘It’s just astronomy. We’re not saving lives here. It’s okay if we finish this tomorrow instead of today.’” I loved that.
Two years ago, Sarah Manguso wrote a letter of recommendation for singing in the choir:
…in a choir, I can make sound, focus the mind, enjoy myself and forget myself, all at once. There is an old choristers’ adage that goes, “When the music is marked forte, sing so you can hear yourself; when it’s marked piano, sing so you can hear the others.” After enough practice, you can learn to feel the vibration in your skull and tell by the sensation whether your pitch is right, your timbre true. It is a kind of listening without hearing. Perhaps this combination of experiences is as common as what psychologists call flow, a state of complete absorption in an activity.
I feel an additional pleasure, though, greater than flow, when I sing in a choir. It’s a mode of singing that strikes a balance between feeling necessary — each voice must participate to achieve the grand unified sound — and feeling invisible, absorbed into the choir, your voice no longer yours. I can work hard, listen hard and disappear, let the ocean of sound close over me. It is comforting to disappear into all that sound and to know that no one else will hear me, either. The performance feels like a secret.
A year before that Oliver Burkeman wrote in The Guardian:
Group singing is a perfect case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. For entirely non-magical reasons – such as the averaging out of flat and sharp voices – a choir can sound far better than its individual members’ talents might suggest. The result is self-transcendence: the thing only works on a level bigger than oneself. “As long as I’m singing,” writes Stacy Horn in Imperfect Harmony, her memoir of singing in a Manhattan amateur choir, “it’s as if I’m inhabiting another reality. I become temporarily suspended in a world where everything bad is bearable, and everything good feels possible.”
And way back in 2008, Brian Eno wrote:
I believe that singing is the key to long life, a good figure, a stable temperament, increased intelligence, new friends, super self-confidence, heightened sexual attractiveness and a better sense of humor….there are physiological benefits, obviously: You use your lungs in a way that you probably don’t for the rest of your day, breathing deeply and openly. And there are psychological benefits, too: Singing aloud leaves you with a sense of levity and contentedness. And then there are what I would call “civilizational benefits.” When you sing with a group of people, you learn how to subsume yourself into a group consciousness because a capella singing is all about the immersion of the self into the community. That’s one of the great feelings — to stop being me for a little while and to become us. That way lies empathy, the great social virtue.
Sing, sing, sing.
My kids and I are big fans of Jon Klassen’s hat trilogy. Our current favorite read is Triangle, his book with Mac Barnett. My 5-year-old was thrilled when I told him there’s going to be a sequel called Square, but when I told him it wasn’t out yet, he got so impatient that he decided he’d write his own sequel, Rectangle.
It reminded me of the Bradford Cox story in Steal Like An Artist:
Bradford Cox, a member of the band Deerhunter, says that when he was a kid he didn’t have the Internet, so he had to wait until the official release day to hear his favorite band’s new album. He had a game he would play: He would sit down and record a “fake” version of what he wanted the new album to sound like. Then, when the album came out, he would compare the songs he’d written with the songs on the real album. And what do you know, many of these songs eventually became Deerhunter songs.
When we love a piece of work, we’re desperate for more. We crave sequels. Why not channel that desire into something productive?
I posted the Cox story on Twitter and novelist Austin Grossman said of his book Soon I Will Be Invincible, “I got tired of waiting for a Watchmen sequel so I wrote one.”
Tired of waiting on a sequel? Write your own and see where it goes.
PS. My 2-year-old hasn’t drawn a sequel yet, but he is working on fan art: