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We took the kids to the Houston Museum of Natural Science this weekend, and afterwards, I tweeted this thread:
The more I’ve gone over it in my mind, the more absurd and funnier it gets. Here is an institution dedicated to what we can learn from seeing physical objects in the fossil record in person… and they’ve gone “paperless” — no paper trail! (I should note, however, that they do print admission tickets so you can prove that you’ve paid to get in.)
I have also been meditating on my own absurdities concerning my life in paper. For example, my diaries are an attempt to make my own paper trail in an increasingly paperless world. My own “paper of the past.” My own fossil record.
But these archives are mostly for the short term, the short past: they’re to trace my own patterns, remember what I did last week, last month, last year, last decade. I am under no delusions that they will last, although they’ll probably last a lot longer than the hard drive I bought last month.
Meanwhile, I’ve stopped carrying a pocket notebook because I am in love with Apple Notes — the simple “notebook” on my phone that syncs across all my devices. I have files going for the newsletter, new books, shopping lists, etc. I am aware that these artifacts will mostly be lost, probably in the close future. They are the equivalent of “scratch” paper that will be tossed in the recycling later.
One final reach: The big news yesterday was that the FBI had searched the former president’s house to retrieve records he’d illegally removed from The White House. (Previously, he’d flushed paper down the toilet.) To a paper junkie like me, it is thrilling that paper can still, potentially, bring you down.
Like a good American, I have my pet conspiracy theories, and I wonder if the move to “paperless” is an attempt to rob us of our paper trails, the proof that things really happened the way we remember them happening.
So, I keep my paper trails going.
Water is always on one’s mind in Texas. We are in a bad drought down here, but luckily, for me, for once, the drought is literal and not metaphorical.
Trying to write something of permanent value is a full-time job even though only a few hours a day are spent on the actual writing. A writer can be compared to a well. There are as many kinds of wells as there are writers. The important thing is to have good water in the well, and it is better to take a regular amount out than to pump the well dry and wait for it to refill.
I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.
Hemingway here is talking about subtraction — John McPhee talks about the addition:
If somebody says to me, You’re a prolific writer—it seems so odd. It’s like the difference between geological time and human time. On a certain scale, it does look like I do a lot. But that’s my day, all day long, sitting there wondering when I’m going to be able to get started. And the routine of doing this six days a week puts a little drop in a bucket each day, and that’s the key. Because if you put a drop in a bucket every day, after three hundred and sixty-five days, the bucket’s going to have some water in it.
(All emphasis mine.)
Plumbing issues are usually matters of input and output.
In last week’s newsletter, I filmed a 15-minute walkthrough of my spring diary.
In last week’s newsletter, I wrote about receiving mail and what I think about happiness. (The comments are fantastic. Best thing on the internet right now.)
RIP William Hart, lead singer of the soul trio The Delfonics.
I told a story about him and his last album in my book Show Your Work!
The music producer Adrian Younge was hanging out on Twitter one day and tweeted, “Who is better: The Dramatics or The Delfonics?” As his followers erupted in a debate over the two soul groups, one follower mentioned that the lead singer of The Delfonics, William Hart, was a friend of his dad’s and that Hart just happened to be a fan of Younge’s music. The follower suggested that the two should collaborate. “To make a long story short,” Younge says, “a day later, I’m on the phone with William Hart and we’re speaking for like two hours … we hit it off in a way that was just cosmic.” Younge then produced a brand-new record with Hart, Adrian Younge Presents The Delfonics.
That story is great for two reasons. One, it’s the only story of an album I know of whose existence can be traced to a single tweet. Two, it shows what happens when a musician interacts with his fans on the level of a fan himself.
If you’d like to see The Delfonics do their thing in a rich context, I recommend this vintage episode of Soul!
Lately I have been thinking a lot about the “hedonic treadmill,” the idea that being the resilient and adaptable creatures that we are, we can get used to almost anything.
To simplify: We chase after the things that we think will make us happy, and once we get those things, we realize we’re not that much happier than we were before, but we see other things that we think will make us happy this time, so we chase after them, etc., etc. (See also: Arbitrary stupid goals.)
One way to deal with this is to just jump off the treadmill and be grateful for what you have.
Another solution might be found in this wisdom from composer Tom Holkenborg I found in Blood, Sweat, and Chrome, the book about making Mad Max: Fury Road.
On the problem of how to “continuously build on that anticipation of what comes next,” Holkenborg brings up a lesson he learned from being an electronic musician doing live shows:
Every time the DJ drops a new track, it feels louder than anything else that you’ve heard before, which is actually not the case! What happens is you drop a new track, and then over the course of three to five minutes, you make it ever so slightly quieter. And then the new track comes in and it’s back at the level where the original one started, and then everything feels so loud.
This seems to me a valuable tip for art and life.
Holkenborg also talks about how much his hobby, cooking, influences his work. He thinks about his soundtracks like building a 10-course meal: putting a taste in one course that begs for another in the next. (Like DJing with food. I suspect Questlove would have much to say about this.)
Juxtapositions from a sequence of experiences are overlooked as a source of creativity.
We tend to think a lot about what we do, but we rarely think about the order in which we do it.
I have found this especially true in one’s self-education: the order in which you come into contact with things is almost as important as the things themselves. (See: Melville not reading Shakespeare until he was 30.)
Adjust the volume, shuffle the sequence…
Here’s a quick birthday drawing of one of my favorite writers, Henry David Thoreau, born July 12, 1817.
Thoreau is one of those writers everybody thinks they know already without actually reading any of his work.
As a great Indoorsman, I stayed away from him for ages until I fell in love with his journal and spent a few years reading the entries every day. (He was a huge influence on my book Keep Going.)
My “Thoreau” tag on this blog is now 35+ posts deep.
If you’ve never read him before, try downloading the “Walking” zine from Keri Smith’s Wander Society pocket library.
Then go for a long walk and come back and write about it.
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