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I’ve been making more of tape
quilts patchworks in the morning to clear my mind and keep my hands busy.
“I have to have something to with my hands to keep me satisfied,” says 93-year-old quilt artist Laverne Brackens.
Brackens says her designs often come to her in dreams. She then wakes up in the middle of the night and arranges her vision to be sewn the next morning. “You’d be surprised at what you can do with the material,” she explains. “The quilt takes you where it wants you to go, not where you want to go.”
I find that’s true of all of my work, too. Anni Albers said you have to let the materials lead:
Being creative is not so much the desire to do something as the listening to that which wants to be done. The dictation of the materials.
It’s as true for people who work with words as thread. Here’s an excerpt from Irish poet Ciaran Carson’s obituary:
Mr. Carson — who was also a translator, working in several languages — viewed writing poetry not as an exercise in setting down an idea, but as an exploration.
“The kind of examination question which used to be put, ‘What did the poet have in mind when he said …’ is an assumption that the poet clothes his thought in verse,” he told The Spectator in 2012, “whereas the poet often doesn’t know what he has in mind: He follows the language, and sees where it might lead him, which is usually a very different place from what he thought at the onset.
“If you know exactly what you are going to say in a poem,” he continued, “that poem will be a failure. Besides, there is no interest or fun, in saying what you already know.”
When I came across artist Bisa Butler’s quilts, which are based off of photographs, I wondered if there was still room for this kind of exploration. “I like working from black-and-white photos,” she says, “because it gives me the freedom to put in the colors I feel belong there.”
I’ve been asked a few times how I store my zines, but my solution (I put them in a box) is far less clever than cartoonist and journalist Malaka Gharib’s solution: She uses a binder filled with sheet protectors for trading cards!
Filed under: zines
Here is a collection of posts from artist Amy Meissner — one of my favorite follows on Instagram — advertising a mending and clothes repair workshop she helped run in Anchorage, Alaska, before the pandemic. They all have the same caption: “Mend a thing.”
Here’s something she said about the workshops that has stuck with me:
Once you’ve mended something, if you didn’t have sentimental value attached to it before, then you certainly do once you’ve taken the time to care for it.
“CARE FOR SOMETHING” is the last lesson in my friend Rob Walker’s wonderful book, The Art of Noticing.
He explained in his newsletter:
[O]ne of my favorite responses to a willfully open-ended prompt I give my students — I order them to “practice paying attention” — came from a student who thought he did it wrong. He had made a planter, he explained, for a cactus. He’d done this, he said, on the theory that “by nurturing or caring for something, you pay more attention to it.” And of course he was right! (See also this recent Times Magazine essay making a similar point: “How Taking Care of Houseplants Taught Me to Take Care of Myself.”)
I will try to connect Amy and Rob’s thoughts with a snippet from Keep Going:
“Attention is the most basic form of love,” wrote John Tarrant. When you pay attention to your life, it not only provides you with the material for your art, it also helps you fall in love with your life.
So, while we often think of love as leading to care, care can also lead us to love.
I feel this most deeply with my kids. I’m closest to them when I’m giving them my full, undistracted attention and care. I feel the least love for them when I’m trying to get something else done, or I’m wishing I was elsewhere. (There must be a connection here to John Cage’s formula: If we ignore noise, it disturbs us. When we listen to noise, we find it fascinating.)
In her book, The Gardener and the Carpenter, Alison Gopnik advocates for the abandoning of the word “parenting” as a verb, and encourages readers to think of being a parent as a relationship that runs on love, instead of a job that runs on work. “Love doesn’t have goals or benchmarks of blueprints,” she writes, “but it does have a purpose.” The purpose of loving children is to care for them as a gardener would tend to plants, creating the conditions under which they will thrive.
This caring, she says, changes us, and deepens our love. “We don’t care for children because we love them,” she writes, “we love them because we care for them.”
This sentence has profound implications for parents and caregivers of all kinds. (Including children caring for aging parents.) I’m not even sure if the sentence is true, but I want it to be, and if it isn’t true, it is a useful fiction, because it encourages us to do the verb, first — not to wait on the deep feeling before we care, but to care first, and if the feeling comes it comes, but if it doesn’t, at least we’ve cared.
Gary Snyder once said he didn’t think talking about “doom scenarios” were very effective when it comes to changing people’s behavior. “The first step, I think… is to make us love the world rather than to make us fear for the end of the world. Make us love the world… and then begin to take better care of it.” I’m thinking of this now, and wondering if the first step is to perform an act of care — to mend, to repair, to darn, to sew, to patch, to heal — and then the love will come.
Or maybe it’s not directional at all, but an endless cycle:
“I’ve always been a tinkerer,” he begins, and explains how his father, a jazz musician, cut off his finger and had to modify a clarinet with saxophone keys so he could play. (It just gets better from there.)
A device he invented for holding up his guitar so he could tap double-handed turned into one of the greatest illustrations ever filed for a patent:
For another great look at Van Halen’s tinkering spirit, check out this 1998 MTV interview at 5051 Studios, which he had built (and passed off to city inspectors as a racquetball court to avoid zoning issues) so he could record at home:
The interview touches on many of my favorite subjects: home recording, architecture, design, constraint, fatherhood, etc.
I love what he says about being self-taught:
It’s music theory, not fact. Like lawyers and doctors: “Still practicing.” They ain’t got it down yet. It’s music theory, not fact. There are no rules. I never learned how to read music. Maybe that’s why I’m so twisted and unorthodox. But if I’d have taken guitar lessons, I wouldn’t do all the silly stuff that I do!
And this story about his son, Wolfgang, being in music class at school:
He’s in first grade… so he’s got a music class once a week. And Wolfy asks me, “When you’re doing that high stuff on the guitar… I really like it when you do that.” I said, “That’s called ‘improvising’ — when you stray off the melody.” […] It was Halloween, and they’re singing songs [in music class] and he’s improvising! Straying off the melody a little bit! And the teacher gave him a time out. And Wolfy got pissed off. So he picked up a pumpkin and threw it at the teacher! […] So I get a call from the principal, and I had to go down there. And I said, “There are no rules. I don’t want my son learning that way. His life is surrounded by music all the time, and I don’t want him taught by a book.”
It’s the 70th birthday to Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, one of the greatest works of American art. (The very first strip ran on Oct. 2, 1950.) In celebration, I thought I’d post a batch of my remixed Peanuts strips I make in my diary, which are made from cut-up Page-A-Day calendars I buy every year. Be forewarned: They’re pretty weird.
Links to four zines worth of them:
See also: “Cutting and pasting the comics”
Speaking of bored games, I’m at the point in quarantine where I’ve purchased yet another Rubik’s Cube:
I love this one. Buttery action and stickerless. Only trouble is, I’m a bit red/green colorblind, so the low contrast is a little hard on my eyes in low light. Worth $7 for sure.
I literally do not know how these kids do it. I have the algorithms memorized and I’m down to around a 2 1/2 minute average on my solve time, but I can’t imagine being able to do it any quicker than one minute or even 30 seconds, let alone 7 seconds. Blows my mind.
Here’s the patent and original prototype by the cube’s inventor, Erno Rubik. He has a new book out called Cubed: The Puzzle of Us All, and was profiled by The New York Times. Loved the description of tinkering in his childhood bedroom, which resembled “the inside of a child’s pocket, with crayons, string, sticks, springs and scraps of paper scattered across every surface.”
These days, he spends his time reading sci-fi, playing table tennis, gardening and tending to his cactuses: “They have wonderful flowers and long life spans.” He is not done with the cube. He still reflects on its possibilities — not an improvement to its design, but on its potential applications.
“I am not doing it because I want to become a champion, or because I am expecting new discoveries from playing it. At the same time, I am expecting some new potentials for the basic ideas,” Rubik said. “I see potentials which are not used yet. I’m looking for that.”
I had a breakthrough recently where I was finally able to solve the (longest) algorithm for moving the corner cubes in the top row counterclockwise or clockwise. Turns out the problem was my badly copied notes, which broke the algorithm into two lines and made it seem more complicated than it is:
A dumb mistake with a good lesson: while copying notes by hand is worthwhile for retention, re-copying them might be even more worthwhile for comprehension.
(Is this the nerdiest post I’ve ever written? Quite possibly.)
Today I remembered that the ancients named the seven days after the five planets known to them — plus the sun and moon — but only three of the days correlate in English: Satur(n)-day, Sun-day, and Mo(o)n-day. The other days are derived from Anglo-Saxon names for gods:
Here’s a video explanation:
After watching that video back in January, my son and I tried to map it out for ourselves (I believe strongly in copying out charts to better understand them):
This is the time of year I think a lot about seasons and how we’ve managed to carve up time. It’s amazing how much of this stuff we just take for granted. For example, the word “month” comes from “moon,” as the months roughly correlate to the length of a moon cycle. (This month, wonderfully, begins with a full moon and ends on a full moon.)
“Sunset month of the year” struck me this morning, made me realize the parallel between seasons and days. Spring is like early morning, summer; mid-day, fall; sunset and evening, winter; night. Damn, how nature loves to re-use a pattern.
Filed under: Time
“I am capable of learning nothing from almost any experience, no matter how profound.”
—Tim Kreider, We Learn Nothing
50 days in, I had a pretty great book proposal worked up that just needed a table of contents to be ready to pitch.
64 days in, I decided to stuff the whole book proposal in the drawer and postpone it indefinitely. (Oops!)
Then I recorded the audiobook trilogy.
And for the past 4 weeks, I’ve been keeping busy with reading and writing and taking care of a bunch of behind-the-scenes business stuff.
So where am I now? I don’t know! Not sure I even care.
In the past 200 days, I feel like I haven’t learned a single surprising thing about myself or changed my mind about much of anything.
If the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that it probably isn’t going to teach me anything that I didn’t already know before the pandemic began.
Everything that was true before seems even truer now, and here is what was true before the pandemic:
Anyways, there went those 100 days. I’ll make a note to check in on January 7th and see how these next 100 went…
Here are a few frames from the Gene Deitch’s animated version of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” The original Hans Christian Andersen story is essential reading for understanding our times, but, as I have noted before, you must pay close attention to the ending. I would also point out that in the Nunnally translation, the emperor’s new clothes are invisible to anyone “unfit for his position or inexcusably stupid.” (Show me a fairy tale more on-the-nose!)
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