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Today’s newsletter is about finding joy in repetition and the generative power of doing the same thing over and over again. You can read it here.
I tried writing this letter a few weeks ago and couldn’t get anywhere with it. And then I remembered this image of stacked drawings by Kate Bingaman-Burt and everything sort of clicked into place:
When I usually think about an artist’s body of work, I visualize piles of sketchbooks stacked up or diaries taking up a shelf:
The thing I love about Kate’s image is that by layering up all these images a black hole appears that seems to be eating up the drawings. It feels spiritual to me, somehow, like a void or a womb from which something springs forth.
I find this often happens when I’m writing the newsletter — if I can find a good image to put at the top, everything else just sort of flows out. I’ve been asking myself why I don’t write books this way, starting with the illustrations I want to go into them, then writing to the images. At least for first drafts…
Two Fridays ago my friend Steven visited the studio and I showed him how to make zines from a single sheet of paper. We spent a half hour or so catching up and folding, creasing, and tearing paper. At the end I said, “I haven’t made anything with my hands in a while… that’s probably why I’m sad!” (I wrote more about it and linked to a bunch of zines in the newsletter.)
I found myself stuck at a band function with my kiddo for several hours and never was I more happy to carry a pen and a notebook. I think I filled a dozen pages or so of scribbles and drawings.
I’ve been using my notebook a lot lately, not as much as a place to keep things I’ll need later (that’s what I use Apple Notes for these days) as much as a place to doodle and draw and write and work things out.
Inspired by reading Marc Masters’ High Bias: A Distorted History of the Cassette Tape, I’ve been buying sealed, pre-recorded cassettes for cheap at the record store, taping over the protection tabs, taping over the music (using the runtime as a constraint for the mix), then taping over the artwork. January’s mix featured a lot of music that isn’t streaming, but for February’s mix, I was able to duplicate the playlist on Spotify: “Music in the Key of Love.”
As the late David Carr put it, there’s just something about making things “with your own dirty little hands…”
In attempting to practice what I preach with my own “practice and suck less” challenge, I bottomed out so bad last week that I had to do that most embarrassing of things that writers occasionally have to do: I reached out for help from a writing book. (Unfortunately, my own books don’t really work on me.)
The book I reached for was new to me: Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life. I felt comforted after only a few pages. (How much more pleasant it is to read about how to write than to write!)
As I kept reading, a thought popped in my head: Every writing book is good.
Every writing book is good if it gets you to write! It doesn’t even need to be that good. In fact, it could be bad! You could be reading it and think, “Shoot, I could do better than this” or “I’d rather write than read any more of this crap.” Either way, the writing book has done its job if you put it down and head off to write.
Tomorrow is February. Again.
For a few years now, I’ve been pushing February as a month of possibility.
It’s the shortest month, so it should be the easiest for a daily “practice and suck less” challenge.
This year is a leap year and we get an extra day in February, so here’s a 29-day challenge for you to download and print out.
Today’s newsletter is about how I got into snails and includes this bit on magical thinking:
Something I learned a long time ago is that it is a great help to the artist to believe that there are no coincidences. One way to boost your curiosity is to just assume that everything in life is a clue left from the universe for further investigation. Follow the clues the universe drops for you, and you will almost always learn something interesting. Take everything as a sign and you’ll be less stumped about what to do next.
Read the whole thing here.