I’m moving studios. On the morning before the movers showed up, the first copy of Keep Going arrived in the mail. In the evening, after the movers had loaded the last box on the truck, this was all that was left on the garage floor: a pencil stub and a vellum doodle of the memento mori I’ve been drawing for the past two years, who make several appearances in the book. Strange. And perfect.
Just held the first print copy of Keep Going in my hands. I love how this book turned out and can’t wait to send it out into the world.
One of my favorite covers that makes even more sense than you’d think: Byrne stole moves from the Staples’ world and then they stole some back:
Byrne’s Gumby-like dance moves for Stop Making Sense had been in part inspired by the way worshippers in Southern sanctified churches responded when filled with the Holy Spirit, their bodies writhing and undulating while speaking in tongues. “David’s inspiration was seeing people in church, and that’s what I connected with,” Mavis Staples says. “My head went off into the Bible.”
I played The Staples doing the song on Soul Train for my six-year-old and he jumped up and shouted, “I GOTTA DANCE!”
The only appropriate reaction.
There’s only one season lately. There used to be an agreement between the seasons, that they would all stay for three months, and then go wherever seasons go when they’re not where we are. Lately there has been no spring, no summer, and no fall. Politically, and philosophically, and psychologically. There has only been the season of ice. It is the season of frozen dreams and frozen nightmares. A scene of frozen progress and frozen ideas. Frozen aspirations and inspirations. They call the season “winter.” We call the song “Winter in America.”
The song is followed by another monologue that’s a little lighter and funnier:
People say to me, “Gil, we cannot find your records.” I say, “Go to your record store. Go down to the left. Take a turn, go to the right. Look on the bottom shelf. You will find a box called ‘Miscellaneous.’ We are miscellaneous. We did not mean to be miscellaneous. Somehow it happened.”
Four Quartets is a great book of poems to read when you’re traveling, or moving from one place to the next (when aren’t we?):
A summary from an episode of The Diane Rehm Show dedicated to the poems:
By the late 1920s, poet T.S. Eliot was regarded as one of the great literary figures of the day. His “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “The Waste Land” were widely read and admired. But Eliot’s personal life was in turmoil. His marriage to a depressed woman was unraveling and he began a spiritual journey that led to religious conversion. As Europe moved toward war, Eliot wrote the first poem of what would later become “Four Quartets.” Inspired by Beethoven, every poem contained imagery of four seasons and four elements. Each was a complex meditation on time, redemption and eternity.
Eliot said he thought they were his best work, and that each one was better than the other. (I like numbers two and four, “East Coker” and “Little Gidding,” the best.) Each poem is named after a place with personal meaning to Eliot:
“Burnt Norton” (1935) was named after a house and garden on the edge of the Cotswold Hills in southwest England that the poet had once visited, the extraordinary beauty of which had left a lasting impression on him; “East Coker” (1940), after a Somerset village in which the poet’s family could trace its lineage to the late 1400s; “The Dry Salvages” (1941), after a group of rocks off the coast of Cape Ann, Mass., that the poet had navigated by as a young sailor summering in the Northeast; and “Little Gidding” (1942), after a humble chapel steeped in history to which the poet, a convert to Anglicanism in 1927, had made a pilgrimage.
Eliot said that the poet’s “direct duty is to his language, first to preserve, and second to extend and improve,” and good portions of the quartets are him writing about writing:
The man who said, “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal” was obsessed with taking old ideas and old thoughts and bringing them alive by saying them in a new way:
Sometimes when the 6-year-old and I get mad at each other we just pass notes back and forth under his bedroom door.
I have a lot of books on my nightstand, but the most valuable is the one I like to read that never fails to put me to sleep within three to five pages. Previously, it was Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. Currently, it’s Charles Simic’s Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell. These are books that have good sentences but structures that knock me out — not in the “wow” sense, but the “ZZZ” sense.
When my wife can’t sleep she reads A Bird in the Hand, a book of chicken recipes.
Whatever works, man…
“There’s nothing about fame that I’ve ever seen that is healthy… it’s very hard to survive.”
When I read Kevin Alexander’s “I Found the Best Burger Place in America. And Then I Killed It,” a story about naming a #1 burger joint only to see it quickly shuttered, I immediately thought of “The Broccoli Tree: A Parable,” described as “some thoughts on what can be lost, and what can’t be, when we share what we love.”
To share something is to risk losing it, especially in a world where sharing occurs at tremendous scale and where everyone seems to want to be noticed, even if only for cutting down a beloved tree. […] And the truth is, if we horde and hide what we love, we can still lose it. Only then, we’re alone in the loss.
I think about The Broccoli Tree all the time, now, especially when it comes to fame. Emily Dickinson wrote some terrific poems asking why anybody would want it:
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
Kay Ryan has a poem called “Lime Light” that goes:
One can’t work
by lime light.
the kitchen table.
The fruit purveyor’s
what daylight did.
Food critic Helen Rosner points out — along with the ethical pitfalls of the burger piece (turns out the owner was already in deep trouble before the list) — that some restaurant owners actively dodge any such list hype to avoid Instagram tourists, etc.:
Kenny Shopsin, the late proprietor of Manhattan’s idiosyncratic Shopsin’s restaurant, was famous for giving false information to guidebooks in order to keep ‘review trotters’ away from his door.
They know what Emily D knew:
Fame is a bee.
It has a song—
It has a sting—
Ah, too, it has a wing.
Detritus explores the leftover scraps and byproducts of the art-making process that artists do not discard for a number of compelling reasons.
Wendy exhibited empty sketchbooks with all the pages torn out. (More at KQED: “ICA’s ‘Detritus’ Looks at What Artists Leave Behind.”)
Einstein supposedly said that creativity is the residue of wasted time, but I think a lot about the residue of creativity. Sometimes that residue is a work of art, but more often than not, it’s a tiny trail of waste —debris, dust, shavings, clippings, trash, etc.
I love it when artists collect and display this residue. (Sometimes they even sell it.) One of my favorite parts of Edward Carey’s show at the Austin Public Library was a bowl of his pencils, used all the way to the stumps.
Years ago, I saw a show of book carver Brian Dettmer, and there was a box of his X-acto blades on a pedestal. (He estimates he goes through “15-50 blades a day, usually switching over to a new blade every ten minutes to half hour.”
In 2013, designer Craighton Berman ran a funny, tongue-in-cheek Kickstarter called “The Campaign for the Accurate Measurement of Creativity.” It included a “Sharpener Jar” — “a product designed to quantify creative output.”
Since I wrote Show Your Work! in 2013, I’ve been interested in how artists share their process, how social media allows you to share when there’s nothing, really, to share, and how sometimes the scraps and ephemera from our process can turn into their own attractions. (Above: Amanda Palmer’s sticky notes posted while working on The Art of Asking: “[I] was trying to find a way to share their colorful beauty without also revealing their content.”)