Mike Monteiro, author of Ruined by Design, tells a story about visiting Louisville, Kentucky, home of Muhammad Ali. (A while back, Mike had a podcast called Earn Your Death. See: “You probably don’t deserve it.”)
- Make your smartphone dumb. (Put it in airplane mode.)
- Put in a pair of earplugs.
- Set a timer for 15 minutes.
Watch the whole thing here.
Darryl Hall, of Hall and Oates, once told a story of Michael Jackson confessing to him during the recording session for “We Are The World”:
He sort of clung to Diana Ross pretty much, but at one point I was off to the side and he came over to me and said, “I hope you don’t mind, but I stole ‘Billie Jean’ from you,” and I said, “It’s all right, man, I just ripped the base line off, so can you!”
Here’s “I Can’t Go For That”:
And here’s “Beat It”:
That was 1985. In 2019, copyright lawyers and estates are in a feeding frenzy, with songwriter Ryan Tedder telling the BBC, “The odds of getting sued in this day and age are so high, we’re going to get to a point where nobody can write anything.”
Meanwhile, Carly Rae Jepsen is over here getting Mickie Mouse to sign contracts:
Here is an incredibly Carly Rae Jepsen story about one of the songs on her new album, Dedicated: During a writing session, Jepsen and some of her collaborators (“all musical-theater nerds”) were talking about their love of “He Needs Me,” the breathless little Harry Nilsson–penned reverie that Shelley Duvall sings in Robert Altman’s 1980 musical Popeye. They started riffing on a modern, more full-bodied rendition of Olive Oyl’s love theme, “funked it out,” in Jepsen’s words. She loved what they came up with, but people on her team told her that Disney owned the rights to the Popeye soundtrack—and just try to get Disney to license something. Undeterred, Jepsen “drove to Disneyland with a fake contract for Mickey Mouse, got the mouse to sign it, then sent a photo to her record label who got onto Disney and pushed it through.” And that is Carly Rae Jepsen in a nutshell: So wholesome and nerdy in a very specific way that she is actually kind of a renegade.
Late capitalism, man. Strange times.
Here is architect Louis Sullivan in Kindergarten Chats:
Well, the loon pays attention to what concerns him and you are to do the same, for attention is of the essence of our powers; it is that which draws other things toward us, it is that which, if we have lived with it, brings the experiences of our lives ready to our hand. If things but make impression enough on you, you will not forget them; and thus, as you go through life, your store of experiences becomes greater, richer, more and more available. But to this end you must cultivate attention — the art of seeing, the art of listening. You needn’t trouble about memory, that will take care of itself; but you must learn to live in the true sense. To pay attention is to live, and to live is to pay attention; and, bear in mind most of all, that your spiritual nature is but a higher faculty of seeing and listening — a finer, nobler way of paying attention. Thus must you learn to live in the fullest sense.
Filed under: attention
I don’t exactly remember the high schooler’s question, but it was something about being hesitant to use her traumatic experiences in her writing.
I do remember my answer: “You don’t have to write about the bad stuff.”
Writing does seem help us deal with the bad stuff, but there’s no rule that says we have to pick open our old wounds just so we can squeeze some writing out of them.
There are painful things in my past that I don’t care to think about, let alone write about.
We all have pain.
It isn’t necessarily interesting.
I worry sometimes that young writers think they need to accumulate a bunch of painful experiences in order to exploit them for their writing.
That somehow trauma makes you more interesting or more authentic.
Flannery O’Connor wrote in Mystery and Manners, “The fact is that anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”
I always chuckle when I see the cover of Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life:
“You don’t have to write about the bad stuff,” I said to the high schooler. “You can write about whatever you want. You can write about nothing but unicorns if you want to. It’s your choice.”
And even if we do write about our pain, it doesn’t mean we have to share that writing.
Sometimes you suck out the poison and spit it on the page.
Then you close the notebook so it doesn’t poison anyone else.
A week-long road trip with the kiddos means this is the first minute I’ve taken all week to write in my diary. My wife’s at the wheel and I could be sleeping or gazing out the window, but here I am, writing, and blogging about writing. (On my phone, no less.) It never ends… but soon this tour will.
This week my family visited the studio of artist John T. Unger in Hudson, New York. John is an old friend of mine, and he makes an appearance in my past three books. (The acknowledgements in Steal, and quoted in Show and Keep Going.) This was the first time I got to visit him since he moved upstate about half a decade ago.
John is probably best known for his firebowls, which are featured in fancy places all over the world. Here’s a pile of negative steel scraps from his cuts. (John’s so good even his by-products are works of art.)
But most exciting and illuminating for me was seeing his newest project — his anatomical mosaics — in person. (Featured recently in The Smithsonian and Atlas Obscura.) John told me about his plan to recreate Eustachi’s drawings in stone years ago, and I must admit, I thought it sounded like a quixotic task. These things simply must be seen to believed.
I love a lot of John’s work, but I can’t say enough good things about the mosaics. You can tell that John is firing on all cylinders with this work, pushing his sharp mind and skills to the edge. What was really cool is spending the afternoon in John’s house, looking at his previous work, and realizing that a lot of the DNA of the project is contained in earlier work. For example, take another look at the firebowl scraps and then look closely at the ear in the mosaic above — a very Unger-esque shape!
Another stunning thing about the works is their scale — these suckers are big! They’re almost overwhelming in person, and I can’t wait to see a whole room full of them.
John likes to say, like a lot of artists, he never really grew up. We had lots of fun together: playing his detuned honky-tonk piano, chasing his cats, and visiting his favorite quarry near the house. (He even threw together a mosaic starter kit for my six-year-old.) Here he is, dreaming of trespassing:
If you are a museum curator or gallery owner, trust me: you are going to want to get involved with this work. More here.
At the Chicago Public Library stop of the Keep Going tour, Eddie Shleyner asked me, “Do you ever feel like no matter how much work you do, you can or should be doing more?”
He recorded my answer:
“Yeah, always. If you get into that productivity trap, there’s always going to be more work to do, you know?
“Like, you can always make more. I think that’s why I’m a time-based worker. I try to go at my work like a banker. I just have hours. I show up to the office and whatever gets done gets done.
“And I’ve always been a time-based worker. You know, like, ‘did I sit here for 3 hours and try?’ I don’t have a word count when I sit down to write. It’s all about sitting down and trying to make something happen in that time period — and letting those hours stack up.
Filed under: time