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Hard to believe, but Keep Going came out one year ago today. Thank you to everyone who has helped the book find its way into the world. (I’m sorry it remains so relevant!)
A few folks did sketchnotes! From @flairflixt:
And from @katydondz:
Thank you to everyone who showed up. (And thanks to Erika Hall for her awesome moderation.) At some point, I’m going to write more here about some of the things we discussed. (Like the “elevator test,” the need for Eyerollers, the benefits of boredom, maybe even our fart zines.) And I’m trying to figure out how I can do something similar in the future.
There are more great authors coming up, too, so check out QBC’s lineup!
The way to get ideas is to do something boring… They fly into one’s head like birds.
Astra Taylor, whose essay Unschooling was one of the very first things that got me interested in unschooling, recently published a piece about unschooling your kids in the time of Coronavirus. I love what she wrote about boredom:
That doesn’t mean unschooling is always easy or that boredom isn’t a challenge, but unschoolers tend to see boredom as something to be passed through, a pit stop on the way to figuring out what fascinates you. (“When you’re bored, you’re boring,” my mom would respond whenever we’d whine.)
I’m reminded of John Berryman’s “Dream Song 14: “ “my mother told me as a boy / (repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored / means you have no / Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no inner resources, because I am heavy bored…”
Taylor’s mom is now unschooling a new generation:
I asked my mother what it was like to suddenly be unschooling her grandchildren. “Right now, it’s more like I’m deschooling them,” she clarified, a term unschoolers often use to describe the period of transition from the structures and expectations of school to something more relaxed and self-directed. The kids love their small elementary school in New Mexico and are accustomed to being in a regimented situation, so my mother suspects they will all need some time to find a rhythm, figure out how they like to spend their time, and establish new guidelines and boundaries. “How much television and how much computer and what is okay in terms of letting them do it, and see if they just get bored or whether we’ll need to switch gears,” she said.
Five years ago, I wrote a post about the benefits of boredom, and since then, I’ve collected all sorts of stories of creative people who’ve talked about how essential boredom is to their work.
Agatha Christie, for example, made an explicit link between her occupation, her lack of formal education, and childhood boredom:
People often ask me what made me take up writing. Many of them, I fancy, wonder whether to take my answer seriously, although it’s a strictly truthful one. You see, I put it all down to the fact that I never had any education. Perhaps I’d better qualify that — by admitting that I did eventually go to school in Paris when I was 16 or thereabouts. But until then, apart from being taught a little arithmetic, I’d had no lessons to speak of at all. Although I was gloriously idle, in those days children had to do a good many things for themselves. They made their own doll’s furniture, and they made Christmas presents to give to their friends. (Nowadays, they’re just given money and told to buy their presents in a big store.) I found myself making up stories and acting the different parts and there’s nothing like boredom to make you write. So by the time I was sixteen or seventeen, I’d written quite a number of short stories and one long dreary novel.
In her autobiography (my wife’s favorite book), she writes about how her idle childhood meant that she was always able to entertain herself:
I have never, all through my life, suffered from the tedium of ‘nothing to do’. An enormous number of women do. They suffer from loneliness and boredom. To have time on their hands is a nightmare and not a delight. If things are constantly being done to amuse you, naturally you expect it. And when nothing is done for you, you are at a loss.
I suppose it is because nearly all children go to school nowadays, and have things arranged for them, that they seem so forlornly unable to produce their own ideas in holiday time. I am always astonished when children come to me and say: ‘Please. I’ve nothing to do.’ With an air of desperation I point out:
‘But you’ve got a lot of toys, haven’t you?’
But you’ve got two trains. And lorries, and a painting set. And blocks. Can’t you play with some of them?’
‘But I can’t play by myself with them.’
‘Why not? I know. Paint a picture of a bird, then cut it out and make a cage with the blocks, and put the bird in the cage.’
The gloom brightens and there is peace for nearly ten minutes.
The Autobiography was published in 1977!
Trent Reznor, the leader of Nine Inch Nails, said this about growing up in Pennsylvania:
There weren’t a lot of things to distract you, so you’d end up turning inward. I can’t help but think about that lack of access. The side effect was that when you could get something, whether it be an album or a magazine that looked like a portal into a new world, you pored over it, because it wasn’t one Google search away all the time. I think I turned out the way I did because I was so bored.
Neil Gaiman’s advice for writers? “Get bored.”
[Ideas] come from day dreaming, from drifting, that moment when you’re just sitting there… The trouble with these days is that it’s really hard to get bored. I have 2.4 million people on Twitter who will entertain me at any moment…it’s really hard to get bored. I’m much better at putting my phone away, going for boring walks, actually trying to find the space to get bored in. That’s what I’ve started saying to people who say ‘I want to be a writer,” I say ‘great, get bored.‘
Clay Shirky on why reading is so valuable in our age:
The reading experience is so much more valuable now than it was ten years ago because it’s rarer. I remember, as a child, being bored. I grew up in a particularly boring place and so I was bored pretty frequently. But when the Internet came along it was like, “That’s it for being bored! Thank God! You’re awake at four in the morning? So are thousands of other people!”
It was only later that I realized the value of being bored was actually pretty high. Being bored is a kind of diagnostic for the gap between what you might be interested in and your current environment. But now it is an act of significant discipline to say, “I’m going to stare out the window. I’m going to schedule some time to stare out the window.” The endless gratification offered up by our devices means that the experience of reading in particular now becomes something we have to choose to do.
And Nicholas Carr, expanding on Shirky’s idea:
We don’t like being bored because boredom is the absence of engaging stimulus, but boredom is valuable because it requires us to fill that absence out of our own resources, which is process of discovery, of doors opening. The pain of boredom is a spur to action, but because it’s pain we’re happy to avoid it. Gadgetry means never having to feel that pain, or that spur. The web expands to fill all boredom. That’s dangerous for everyone, but particularly so for kids, who, without boredom’s spur, may never discover what in themselves or in their surroundings is most deeply engaging to them.
It’s so hard to let our kids — and ourselves! — be bored… but we must! And now’s the time, if any, to let yourself be bored.
My wife, at the very beginning of our self-isolation, said, “I wish the government was as comforting as the HEB website.”
I made this zine a few days ago, and an hour after I posted it, I read this story of how HEB prepared for the pandemic. “Texas. Where a grocery chain responds to crisis better than our top state officials,” somebody tweeted at me. “National officials,” I corrected him.
“Such were my thoughts as I drifted through HEB the other day, lulled into the particular coma that those familiar aisles induce,” wrote Sarah Bird in A Love Letter to Texas Women. “I don’t know why, but HEB is a place of both meditation and epiphany for me.”
One day we’ll wander the aisles again with the luxury of being in such spirits.
“The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.”
“Such homeschooling! No homeschooler I know would voluntarily sign up for a homeschool devoid of libraries, parks, friend meetups, rousing trips to the coffee shop and long days at the museum.
Not to mention we’re all walking around like pale atlases, trying to hold up under the relentlessly grim news.
This isn’t homeschooling, this is HARD.”
“We’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different…. Understanding the stages of grief is a start. But whenever I talk about the stages of grief, I have to remind people that the stages aren’t linear and may not happen in this order. It’s not a map but it provides some scaffolding for this unknown world. There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed. Acceptance, as you might imagine, is where the power lies.”
With all the talk of educational technology in this era of social distancing, I am reminded of Neil Postman, who said, “The act of reading a book is the best example of ‘distance learning’ ever invented.”
He put it this way in Building a Bridge to the 18th Century:
To use the term “distance learning” to refer to students and a teacher sending e-mail messages to each other may have some value, but it obscures the fact that the act of reading a book is the best example of distance learning possible, for reading not only triumphs over the limitations of space and co-presence but of time as well.
Crack open a book and you can not only learn from someone who’s several thousand miles away, you can learn from someone who’s several thousand years away.
(And even though I love the convenience of my Kindle, I try not to forget that paper is a wonderful technology.)
The other day I was listening to an interview with Maria Bamford (one of my favorite comedians) on Bullseye with Jesse Thorn (a great interviewer), and there was a passing mention of Bamford installing a bench in front of her house. This was intended to attract interesting people, and did. (Not always in a good way, apparently.)
This sounded crazy (in a good way) to me, so I looked into it a bit. Here’s a passage from a 2014 New York Times Magazine profile:
A few years ago, after reading in a book that people who feel a strong sense of community have been proven to lead longer and happier lives, Bamford started working to overcome her natural shyness and fear of interaction by saying hello to her neighbors in Eagle Rock, a diverse and partly gentrified area on the northeastern edge of Los Angeles. She bought a park bench and had it installed on the median strip in front of her house. She then spray-stenciled the words “Have a Seat!” on the sidewalk in front of it. To her delight, the bench is often occupied. “It’s like a birdfeeder for humans,” she says.
I read that two weeks ago, just a few days before my kids got sick and we started self-quarantining. It seemed like such a sweet idea! Now, of course, a bird feeder for humans sounds like a potential site of contagion, but it won’t always be that way, and I still like thinking about the bird feeders for humans I’ve seen in my own neighborhood. (This website called Little Free Libraries “bird feeders for readers.”)
My favorite bird feeder for humans in my neighborhood is a house that has a chicken coop in their side yard. (We’ve bought eggs from them — they’re great.) So many people stop to see the chickens that they started putting a bucket out with leafy greens to feed them. A bird feeder for humans feeding chickens! Chicken feeding for the soul…
I know lots of parents are stuck at home with kiddos right now, so I thought I’d put together a big list of my favorite resources for drawing with kids. (If you’re stuck creatively, by the way, nothing helps like drawing with a 4-year-old.) I’ll start with instructional books and videos, and move on to supplies.
My all-time favorite drawing book is Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book: Make a World, which takes a collage-like approach to drawing:
If they like Make A World, there’s a ton of other Emberley books for them to get into.
And here is a short documentary for kids to get to know the wonderful man behind the books.
Think of Super Simple Draw as a kind of animated version of Ed Emberley’s books. My kids love to sit side-by-side and follow the directions. There’s a couple seasons on Amazon Prime, but there’s also a ton of videos on YouTube.
Here’s their video for how to draw a robot:
And here are some drawings from when Owen was 5 and Jules was 3:
Nobody has taught me more about the magic of drawing than the queen, Ms. Lynda Barry. Her latest book, Making Comics, is filled with exercises perfect for kids of all ages, but I love everything she’s done. Most recently, she’s posted some draw along videos to her YouTube channel.
Here’s a video of Lynda talking about how anyone can draw:
Here’s how to draw a chicken:
Art supplies are some of the best gifts you can give kids, but so many art supplies made for kids are straight-up junk. Here’s some stuff my my boys love that isn’t terribly expensive:
Regular crayons are cheap and they don’t make a mess, but they’re hard to hold in tiny hands and kids have to really press hard with them to get any kind of decent result.
These Slick Stix are easy to grip and they lay down a really silky smooth line.
Give some of these to your kids along with some big pieces of paper and pretty soon you’ll have a bunch of Jean-Michel Basquiats to hang around the house.
This tip comes from my wife:
If your kid has a favorite color of marker, instead of buying another 8-color pack from Target or wherever, go online and buy a box of a single color in bulk.
(Our youngest goes through a ton of black.)
My youngest son had trouble making circles early on, so he loved to use these for wheels on cars, faces, etc.
If you print them on top of each other, they mix color, so you can do a little Toddler Color Theory.
If you have a sidewalk, a driveway, or a concrete porch (see above) give them some sidewalk chalk and kick their butts outside.
Worry less about the quality and more about the quantity. We just go to Costco and buy whatever gigantic boxes of cheap copy paper they have and let the kids use as much as they want. (People would probably be shocked if they knew how much paper our 4-year-old goes through. But it’s worth it.) My friend buys paper for next-to-nothing in thrift and re-use stores.
I love, love, love this part of Mary Ruefle’s long conversation with Ron Charles when she talks about A Little White Shadow and how she makes her erasure poems. (Basically the White Out version of blackout poetry.)
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Here’s how she says she gets started:
All the words rise up and they hover a quarter inch above the page. It’s like a field, and they’re hovering. I don’t actually read the page. I read the words, which is different. So I’m looking, and I see all the words. And I go in and I pick a phrase or a word that’s delicious that I really love.
On how much she loves doing them:
I find it meditative and I find it infuriating sometimes and challenging and I like the smell of the White Out — dreadfully toxic! Really toxic…. I love it. Oh, I love it so much. There is nothing like it on Earth. I’m crazy about it.
Despite the haters:
A lot of people hate them… I’ve talked to people who just, “Why do you waste your time doing that?” Because it’s fun and I love it. That’s why.
The whole interview is wonderful and worth watching. Love her:
Back in 2014, director Steven Soderbergh posted a black-and-white version of Raiders of the Lost Ark with The Social Network soundtrack as an exercise in studying staging. It’s since become my favorite way of watching the movie. I’ve seen Raiders probably a 100 times and I can recite the dialogue line-by-line, but when I watch it in black-in-white, it estranges me from it, and it’s like seeing a new movie. (Fresh eyes!)
“I’m not saying I’m like, ALLOWED to do this,” Soderbergh joked. But some directors insist that black-and-white is actually their favorite way to watch their own movies. “The best version of this movie is black-and-white,” said director George Miller on the “Black and Chrome” edition of Mad Max: Fury Road. “But people reserve that for art movies now.”
Director Bong Joon-ho says his mother wouldn’t let him go to the movies because of “bacteria” when he was growing up, so he watched all movies on their old black-and-white TV. A “classic” movie, for him, is a black-and-white one. So he made a black-and-white version of Parasite, which had a limited theatrical release. “The first time [I saw the black and white version], it felt like I was watching an old movie, a story from long ago. But the second time, the movie felt more intense; it felt [more] cruel.”
Last night my wife and I put on Jurassic Park, and a little bit into it I said, “I’ll bet this would look really good in black-and-white.” So I opened the picture settings on the TV, turned the Color to zero, set the Contrast all the way up, then turned down the Brightness down to about 40/100. I couldn’t believe how good it looked — all the rain and the smoke from Samuel L. Jackson’s cigarette in the control room made it feel almost noir-ish. (And it definitely emphasized the horror elements.) An old movie becomes new. Magic!
Update (3/29/2020): You may be surprised what works and what doesn’t! The Big Lebowski was underwhelming, but Nacho Libre in black and white was perfect — parts of it looked like Bergman or Fellini and the parts in the ring looked like Raging Bull!
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