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Here is a peek inside the second diary I’ve completed since we went into lockdown in March. It runs from May 2nd to July 2nd, exactly two months long. (That rarely happens!)
If you follow along with this blog, many of these pages will be familiar, but I think it’s interesting to see pieces in their original context. People often ask me of what use is my diary. If you follow the links I’ve included under many of the posts, you can see just how much of this blog comes directly from my daily diary work.
Here is a closer look at this collage, which I made to set the tone.
I spent a good part of spring obsessed with the blossoming of our cactus plants out back.
Printmaking… with vegetables!
Every time we make a thing, it’s a tiny triumph.
Another house for Meg. (I made two dozen of these in this notebook.)
And yet another, with thoughts on how important keeping a diary is to me.
Above are three “exquisite corpse” drawings my boys and I made this afternoon. (Top: Jules, 5; middle: Owen, 7; bottom: me, 37.) Exquisite Corpse was a game invented by the Surrealists:
Participants play by taking turns drawing sections of a body on a sheet of paper, folded to hide each individual contribution. The first player adds a head—then, without knowing what that head looks like, the next artist adds a torso, and so on. In this way, a strange, comical, often grotesque creature is born.
Today went more smoothly and resulted in more inspiring results than last week’s session, which, if I remember correctly, ended in tears. One problem is that we swapped which body parts each drawer was responsible for each time, which I think was confusing:
I’m trying really hard to get the boys to be more improvisational with their play together, particularly the 7-year-old, who tends to art direct everyone and to fly off the handle when things progress in a way that doesn’t align with his vision. (I’m not a particularly good collaborator myself, come to think of it.)
We got a good tip from this video: draw the neck and the legs slightly over the fold so the next person knows where to begin…
I was delighted that the Corita Art Center asked me to talk about Corita Kent and the impact that her art has had on my work. (She was a kind of guardian spirit for Keep Going: I wrote about her in two separate chapters.) In this video I talk about her unique way of looking at the world, her terrific book with Jan Steward, Learning By Heart, her advice to borrow a kid, and the way she thought creativity has seasons:
I have had that line tacked on my wall for years. Glaser, like many great creative people, got clued into the fact that success can mess your creativity up way more than failure, because if you succeed
people will continue to ask you for what you have already done and succeeded at. This is the way to professional accomplishment–you have to demonstrate that you know something unique that you can repeat over and over and over until ultimately you lose interest in it. The consequence of specialization and success is that it hurts you. It hurts you because it basically doesn’t aid in your development.
In order to have a more meaningful and fruitful creative life, you often have to be ready to walk away from your career successes, or find a balance between what people want from you and what you want to chase after.
“I believe that Picasso as a model is the most useful model you can have in terms of your artistic interests,” Glaser said, “because whenever Picasso learned how to do something he abandoned it, and as a result of that, in terms of his development as an artist, the results were extraordinary.”
I quoted the emphasized part of that line in the last chapter of Show Your Work!
2. “My mother convinced me I could do anything. And my father said, ‘Prove it.’”
In a 2003 interview with Chip Kidd, Glaser described the influence of his parents on his work:
In my parents I had the perfect combination—a resistant father and an encouraging mother. My mother convinced me I could do anything. And my father said, “Prove it.” He didn’t think I could make a living. Resistance produces muscularity. And it was the perfect combination because I could use my mother’s belief to overcome my father’s resistance. My father was a kind of a metaphor for the world, because if you can’t overcome a father’s resistance you’re never going to be able to overcome the world’s resistance. It’s much better than having completely supportive parents or completely resistant parents.
I quoted that story in my SXSW interview with Debbie Millman, a student and friend of Glaser’s.
3. “Can you imagine calling someone a creative?”
An aside from his talk, “10 Things I Have Learned”:
[C]reative – I hate that word because it is misused so often. I also hate the fact that it is used as a noun. Can you imagine calling someone a creative? Anyhow…
I liked that so much I stole it for the “Creative is not a noun” section of Keep Going.
RIP. (For even more, check out this thread of advice to his students.)
Doomscrolling and doomsurfing are new terms referring to the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing. Many people are finding themselves reading continuously bad news about COVID-19 without the ability to stop or step back.
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It’s obvious I won’t be traveling for at least the rest of the year, so I’ve been trying to get creative about how to deliver virtual talks and workshops that are maybe even more interesting and intimate than something I would give in person at a big conference or lecture hall. Since I’m speaking from my studio, virtual talks seem like a perfect opportunity to show the place where so much of what I talk about onstage happens.
I recently figured out that software like Zoom lets you select different cameras and microphones on your computer, so it’s possible without much effort to quickly switch between my MacBook Pro camera, which is pointed at me, and my document camera, which is pointed at my desk, all while continuing to speak into my nice microphone. This makes it easy to talk for a bit, then demonstrate a drawing or collage technique or show off an artifact, and then switch back to speaking. (UPDATE: after publishing this post, it came to my attention that you can use the screen share function in Zoom to share an ADDITIONAL camera! No more switching back and forth! Boom!)
I’m pretty busy with kid wrangling and book writing right now, but if you’re interested in having me do this kind of online event for your organization, drop me a line.
“All good things must begin.”
—Octavia Butler, journal entry
That encouragement was probably essential: Butler faced a lot of challenges. She grew up black and poor in Pasadena, Calif., when legal segregation was dead, but de facto segregation was very much alive… In several interviews Butler said she wrote because she had two choices: write, or die. “If I hadn’t written, I probably would have done something stupid that would have led to my death,” she said cheerfully.
Looking at Butler’s notes I was reminded of the notebooks of another fiction writer, James Salter, who wrote all his novels by hand, but would start his notebooks with advice to himself on the inside flap:
This flap, from his notebook for his 1967 novel A Sport and a Pastime, has advice from André Gide:
Write as if this were your only book, your last book. Into it put everything you were saving—everything precious, every scrap of capital, every penny as it were. Don’t be afraid of being left with nothing.
His notebook from Light Years has the same advice: “SAVE NOTHING.”
“As always, you try to put everything you have in a book,” he said. “That is, don’t save anything for the next one. (The book of his uncollected writings is titled, Don’t Save Anything.)
I always take comfort in the fact that even the great writers needed to pump themselves up to get to work.
Even if you don’t believe it or feel it 100%, it can be of great help to write down the things you want to be true about your life and work. (If you believe otherwise, why write?)
“Creative work is very hard,” wrote Sidney Lumet, in Making Movies, “and some sort of self-deception is necessary simply in order to start.”
These have been needed and welcome distractions but they’ve also been productive procrastinations from the big project I’ve been avoiding: The New Book.
I plan to spend the next 100 days chasing a first draft. I’m saying this out loud for accountability, so I’ll stick to it, and also because it means things might get a little quiet around here and on social media. (Or, a little choppier, a little more fragmented. More bits and bobs and snapshots. I don’t know yet. I’ve been reading Yoshida Kinkō’s Essays in Idleness, which may become an inspiration.)
As always, thanks for reading. I’ll still be sending out my weekly newsletter no matter what, so if you haven’t already, I encourage you to subscribe.
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