Click here to subscribe.
Click here to subscribe.
I’ll be asking him about his process, his move from cartooning to essay writing, his reading life, his teaching, and how he’s weathering the pandemic.
The event will stream live on YouTube on Thursday, January 27th at 3pm EST. If you click through, you can set a reminder:
“Your kids… They don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”
My grandma died on Monday night. I wrote these pages in my diary yesterday morning, and reflexively, almost without thinking, posted them on my Instagram. Since then, I have been awash in kind condolences in the comments.
I was surprised by how many people mentioned how well I knew grandma. One sentiment seemed to be something like, “How nice to be known like this!”
I was blessed with grandmas who had things they liked to do and things they liked to do with me. I always took it for granted that they shared who they were with me.
This is not a given thing, having adults in our lives who love us and are willing to let us really see them.
Yesterday I re-read an interview with one of my favorite songwriters, Bill Callahan, and he spoke about his relationship with his mother:
“I never understood her,” he admits. “And I didn’t ever feel like she was being honest or expressing her feelings my whole life. As she was getting older, I begged her: Show your children who you are, because we want to know before you die. She couldn’t do it. So now she’s still just an unfinished person for me.” He rubs his eyes and his spirit seems to lighten, as if suddenly struck with a pleasant memory. “We only have this time, each of us, 70 or 80 years, if we’re lucky. What’s the point of hiding?”
“Show your children who you are.” Or: Love what you do in front of the kids in your life.
It is a great gift to them, and the best way to be remembered.
It is 2022 and I am still frustrated every week that somehow my favorite artists and writers don’t have a simple mailing list I can subscribe to so I can know when they have a new book, article, show, etc.
Here I am, a fan who wants to read/see every single thing you put out… and you don’t have a freaking mailing list!
START A MAILING LIST, Y’ALL.
It doesn’t matter what platform it’s on. You don’t need to commit to a regular newsletter. Just put a box on your website that people who want to hear from you can type their email into. When you have a new thing, send it to your list.
Social media is not enough! The algorithm will screw you, eventually. You need a list of emails.
I cannot believe I’m still having to type this.
This is not complicated. This is basic punk rock show 101 write your address down on this clipboard and we’ll send you a zine stuff.
Stop making it hard for someone to be your fan.
Bare minimum, folks: a website with a box to put an email into.
(You can sign up for my list here.)
For today’s newsletter, I did something I’ve never done before: I filmed a 20-minute walkthrough of my diary.
Tomorrow’s newsletter is something I’ve never done before: a 20-minute video walkthrough of my diary.
Sneak peek below.
— Austin Kleon (@austinkleon) January 17, 2022
Here’s my intro:
Sarah Ruhl is a playwright, a MacArthur genius, and two-time Pulitzer finalist. This book is about what happened after she survived a high-risk pregnancy and woke up with the left half of her face paralyzed by Bell’s palsy, losing her ability to smile. Ruhl transcends the genre of medical memoir: As she did in her wonderful book, 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time To Write, Ruhl weaves a tapestry of wit and wisdom out of her experiences with creative work, motherhood, and her reading life. I love the way this book made me think about beauty, asymmetry, and imperfection.
I’m also delighted to note that Sarah has agreed to chat with me online about the book in late February, so stay tuned for that.
To join our discussion, sign up for the club!
In today’s newsletter: a zine about the creative seasons.
“I could wrap myself in the warm cocoon of a song and go anywhere. I was invincible.”
— Johnny Cash
It was the late singer/songwriter David Berman’s birthday this week. I have been listening to his last record, Purple Mountains, over and over. It seems to me a plague album the way Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is a 9/11 album: both feel like prophesies, when really, like many works of science fiction, they were the products of sensitive souls describing our pre-existing conditions.
Friends in NYC and the northeast were posting photos of snow on Instagram while I was listening to “Snow is Falling on Manhattan”:
Songs build little rooms in time
And housed within the song’s design
Is the ghost the host has left behind
To greet and sweep the guest inside
Stoke the fire and sing his lines
“Songs build little rooms in time” reminded me of John Berger’s “Some Notes about Song,” collected in his last collection, Confabulations. (You can also hear Berger read the essay in this BBC radio feature.)
A song, when being sung and played, acquires a body. And it does this by taking over and briefly possessing existent bodies….
A song, as distinct from the bodies it takes over, is unfixed in time and place. A song narrates a past experience. When it is being sung it fills the present. Stories do the same. But songs have another dimension which is uniquely theirs. A song while filling the present hopes to reach a listening ear in some future somewhere. It leans forward, further and further. Without the persistence of this hope, songs, I believe, would not exist. Songs lean forward.
The tempo, the beat, the loops, the repetitions of a song construct a shelter from the flow of linear time: a shelter in which future, present and past can console, provoke, ironize and inspire one another.
Berger thought of songs as being forms of possession: they are hauntings, in a way. “In every song there is a distance,” he writes, and also an absence. “Absence is what inspired them and it’s what they address.”
Flamenco performers often talk about el duende. Duende is a quality, a resonance which makes a performance unforgettable. It occurs when a performer is possessed, inhabited, by a force or a set of compulsions coming from outside her or his own self. Duende is a ghost from the past. And it’s unforgettable because it visits the present in order to address the future.
(Here I’m reminded of a line from Longfellow: “And at last we hardly distinguish / Between the ghosts and the guests”)
Elsewhere in the essay, Berger wrote, “Much of what happens to us in life is nameless because our vocabulary is too poor.”
Berman had the vocabulary. He wrote us these songs. He built us these temporary shelters to step inside.
In Show Your Work! I wrote about a way of working I call “chain smoking”: lighting the beginning of one project up with the end of another.
“We work because it’s a chain reaction,” Charles Eames said.
Each piece leads to the next.
One thing leads to another.
I wanted to show you four collages I made in sequence to show how my chain smoking actually plays out.
The collage on the above right, “Get Back,” began with the old image of Circleville, my hometown, which was ripped from a box of Wittich’s chocolates my mom brought for Christmas. I made it on New Year’s Eve.
(I don’t usually give my collages titles, but I am in this case, just for clarity.)
This next collage, “Go,” was made in my diary on the page facing “Get Back” a few hours later. It started as scraps of tape I didn’t use in “Get Back, ” then I added the security envelope pattern to match, and found some old onion prints I had made on newsprint that seemed to echo the wheel of Circleville.
I much prefer “Go” to “Get Back” — it’s looser, more visually interesting.
I wasn’t trying too hard.
I made this piece, “10-2-4,” on New Year’s Day, with the label from the box of a 4-pack of Dr. Pepper my son Owen got for Christmas. (10, 2, and 4 are the times of day the Dr. Pepper company research showed that people needed a pick-me-up.) I added even more onion prints from the newsprint I’d pulled out for “Go.”
The afternoon after I made “10-2-4,” I started the piece on the left, “Waves.” What’s interesting is that the beginning of the piece doesn’t actually show up in the finished piece: I had started with Sinclair Lewis’s head from the NYTimes Book Review, and thought it’d be cool to have the onion prints exploding out of his head:
I didn’t think this was very interesting at all, but I liked the way the waves looked — they reminded me of Hokusai — so I simply covered up the head:
I should note that almost none of this was planned out, and I wasn’t conscious of this chain when it was happening. When I make these pieces, I’m in a flow zone, working with mostly just instinct, moving things around on the page.
What’s remarkable to me is that in each pairing, it was the piece made of “leftovers” that led me to the most interesting place.
That’s the beauty of collage and working with real materials: when you don’t have a plan, when you don’t know where you’re going, you end up somewhere you didn’t anticipate.
It’s real discovery.
* * *
If you like behind-the-scenes posts like this, you’ll love my newsletter.
This site participates in the Amazon Affiliates program, the proceeds of which keep it free for anyone to read.