Personally, I’m more inspired by Zen Buddhism than Stoicism, which is why I was happy Ryan looked a little more to the East for Stillness is the Key. (Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind speaks more to my artistic practice than any Stoic text, but I’ve read Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations several times and I really dig Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life.)
After doing a lot of blind contour drawings I’ve started noticing when I make false lines — lines that seem like they should be there, but aren’t based on actual looking.
This happened last night when I was watching a William Kentridge documentary and found myself filling in features on his face after the screen switched from a shot of him talking.
It’s not about a line not looking right, exactly, a false line does not feel right when you make it.
Once you train yourself to notice false lines and that icky feeling you get from making them, you push yourself to go back to looking harder.
There must be a correlation here with writing. We use the same term — “lines” — to describe units of words across the page.
How do we know when we’ve written a false line?
Because I use the same brand of notebook for my diary, I thought it’d be funny to have a weigh-in. This diary, from December 25, 2019 through March 1st, 2020, gained 103 grams, or approximately 5 human souls. (Kidding.)
I’m reminded of what Italo Calvino wrote in the “Lightness” chapter of Six Memos for the Next Millennium:
[M]y working method has more often than not involved the subtraction of weight. I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structures of stories and from language.
For the rest of the lecture, he attempted to explain why he considered “lightness a value rather than a defect” in art. At some point he became aware of “the weight, the inertia, the opacity of the world… At certain moments I felt that the entire world was turning to stone: a slow petrification, more or less…”
He said if he were to choose “an auspicious image for the new millennium” he would choose:
[T]he sudden agile leap of the poet-philosopher who raises himself above the weight of the world, showing that with all his gravity he has the secret of lightness, and that what many consider to be the vitality of the times—noisy, aggressive, revving and roaring—belongs to the realm of death, like a cemetery for rusty cars.
I don’t pretend to understand everything that Calvino was talking about, but I’ve always loved this idea of lightness. (Bill Murray: “If you can stay light…”)
(I should probably read up on physics before I mix metaphors — does light not have weight? — but I feel that my other job is to be the light or reflect it.)
I laughed out loud yesterday when I read this tweet:
I tweeted this a few days ago as a joke and people took it way more seriously than I thought they would:
Yesterday, @hhavrilesky posted a legitimately helpful thread about working from home, and while reading her tips (“stick to a schedule,” “[take] advantage of early morning hours,” “turn off your wi-fi,” exercise, “create a clear end to your work day”) it occurred to me that my book, Keep Going, because it is partly about overcoming the endlessness and occasional monotony of creative work, doubles as a manual overcoming some of the obstacles of working from home.
Here are 10 tips taken straight from the book, along with excerpts and quotes:
1. Take one day at a time.
“None of us know what will happen. Don’t spend time worrying about it. Make the most beautiful thing you can. Try to do that every day. That’s it.”
2. Establish a daily routine.
A daily routine will get you through the day and help you make the most of it. “A schedule defends from chaos and whim,” writes Annie Dillard. “It is a net for catching days.” When you don’t know what to do next, your routine tells you.
3. Make lists.
“I make lists to keep my anxiety level down. If I write down fifteen things to be done, I lose that vague, nagging sense that there are an overwhelming number of things to be done, all of which are on the brink of being forgotten.”
4. You can be woke without waking to the news.
There’s almost nothing in the news that any of us need to read in the first hour of the day. When you reach for your phone or your laptop upon waking, you’re immediately inviting anxiety and chaos into your life. You’re also bidding adieu to some of the most potentially fertile moments in the life of a creative person.
5. Airplane mode can be a way of life.
You don’t need to be on a plane to practice airplane mode: Pop in some cheap earplugs and switch your phone or tablet to airplane mode, and you can transform any mundane commute or stretch of captive time into an opportunity to reconnect with yourself and your work.
6. Stay light. Play.
“You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty. Then you will be able to DO . . . Try to do some BAD work—the worst you can think of and see what happens but mainly relax and let everything go to hell—you are not responsible for the world—you are only responsible for your work—so DO IT.”
—Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse
7. When in doubt, tidy up.
The best thing about tidying is that it busies my hands and loosens up my mind so that I either a) get unstuck or solve a new problem in my head, or b) come across something in the mess that leads to new work.
8. Naps are a secret weapon.
Me, I like the “caffeine nap”: Drink a cup of coffee or tea, lie down for fifteen minutes, and get back to work when the caffeine has kicked in.
9. Demons hate fresh air.
Walking is good for physical, spiritual, and mental health. “No matter what time you get out of bed, go for a walk,” said director Ingmar Berman to his daughter, Linn Ullmann. “The demons hate it when you get out of bed. Demons hate fresh air.”
10. Finish each day and be done with it.
“Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it well and serenely, and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Read more in the book. Hang in there, y’all!
I don’t sleep much at night. I read in bed, always a number of books at the same time, often six or seven. I find it tiring to concentrate on a single book, to wait for the end… .
While reading, I have the courage to note on the books’ margin the ideas that come to me. Later, before shelving the books, I make up some bibliographic cards. I make signs with different colors so I know what’s most important, less important, what’s complementary, what’s basic, et cetera. And I also write down the thoughts that come to me, impressions absolutely virgin. I reread my notes on the books’ pages and I write them down in notebooks under headings divided by letters A, B, C, D. Then I write ‘human,’ ‘education,’ ‘thievery,’ et cetera. These cards, later on when I need them, will permit me to reconstruct a certain type of person.
The filmmaker claimed he annotated over 9000 books and that his nighttime reading — gathering “an extraordinary amount of information” — gave him the freedom to be improvisational on set during the day.
Rossellini practiced at least 3 of my favorite methods for turning reading into writing:
1. Promiscuous reading, or reading more than one book at a time.
2. Marginalia, or reading with a pencil.
3. Revisiting your notes and copying them for later use.
A collage for my mom on her birthday. Happy birthday, Mom!
Meanwhile, the Russians continue to produce amazing, gigantic hardcover editions:
I was delighted to see that when you remove the dust jacket of the Japanese edition, it reveals one of Owen’s robots from chapter 4:
As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t really have anything to do with foreign editions, so not only am I sometimes surprised by the results, I often don’t even know when a new edition comes out!
Inspired by Malaka Gharib’s zines and Warren Craghead’s drawings for his daughter’s lunches, I’ve been making these tiny little zines for my son Owen’s lunch out of a single sheet of paper. (See more of them below.)
It’s a really simple and old technique. Nothing fancy. Tons of people use it. I first learned about it years and years ago from the great book, Whatcha Mean, What’s A Zine?
Here’s my version in a short video:
Here’s a diagram from Keri Smith’s wandering zines:
And here are some of the results (see more on my Instagram):
Filed under: zines