I wrote this book because I needed to read it. It’s my best one yet. You can get a copy here or anywhere books are sold.
See you on the road.
To promote Keep Going, I spent the past two weeks recording podcasts all afternoon, so here’s a little roundup of the first ones to post.
1. I was totally flattered to be the first male guest invited on the Crafty Ass Female podcast. We talked about a bunch of stuff, but my favorite part of the conversation was when we talked about how feminism is the way out of the nightmare of being a man. (A strong belief of mine!)
2. Had a great time talking to the fellas on the He Shoots, He Draws podcast.
3. Enjoyed chatting again with The Kindle Chronicles. Len excerpted this bit:
“When I first started out, if you had told me that my books were going to be shelved in Self Help, I would never have believed you. And when I first got started I had no idea there was such a thing as an illustrated gift book. I just didn’t know that those genres existed in publishing. The really fun thing for me about doing this kind of book is that it allows me to be as weird as I want to be in a mainstream format. That is the great gift that these books have given to me.”
This is going to be one candid book tour, lemme tell you!
I love these two dinosaur skeletons the six-year-old drew at the museum yesterday…
“I’m not one of those who believe that an artist grows up out of nothing and starts to bloom with no nourishment at all. I believe we’re all part of a great hodgepodge, so we take from each other, and I’ve always been completely uninhibited in that regard. If I see something good, I steal it and make it my own.”
Bergman gets quoted in chapter 9 of Keep Going: “The demons hate fresh air.”
“Long ago we learned to think by using our hands, not the other way around.”
—Gary Rogowski, Handmade: Creative Focus in the Age of Distraction
Lynda Barry is the artist who taught me the real value of glueing one thing to another, so I was delighted she posted some of her “weird collages” on her Instagram account. Here is what she wrote underneath them (emphasis mine):
My weird collages help me in the time when I just don’t feel like drawing or writing. There is a strangeness in them that starts to make me want to write and draw. For me the trick is to see the page as a place rather than a thing. I’m just wandering in this place as a stranger.
This is what I do every morning in my diary: I try to think of the page as a place that I go to explore and discover what’s going on in my head. (Thinking with my hands.)
Lately, I’ve been anxious about this upcoming book tour, so I’ve been making what I call “sad teenager” collages. (Sad teenagers know what’s up!) The point of these is not to be good or clever, just to glue scraps and bits and pieces down to the page quickly and let some kind of meaning accrue.
Here’s one from yesterday:
Here’s one from this morning:
One last thing: you’d be amazed by how autobiographical seemingly random images become when you’re doing this. That’s the magic of collage. Of cut & paste and selection: you can’t help but show your hand (and your heart and your head.)
A few days ago the big box of author copies of Keep Going arrived on my front step. This is one of my favorite points in the book timeline. I’m trying to savor the moment of holding something in my hand that I feel is the very best I can do.
Here’s the beginning of a Robert Frost’s “A Prayer in Spring”:
Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.
It’s spring outside, but the harvest is in, and it is a good one.
Then, during a recording for the Stacking Benjamins podcast, host Joe Saul-Sehy described to me a Camus quote he saw in a piece at the Detroit Institute of Arts. “It was handwritten on this print of a bag of Wonder Bread…”
The quote comes from “Create Dangerously,” a lecture delivered by Camus at the University of Uppsala in December 1957 (collected in the book Resistance, Rebellion, and Death).
Here it is in full:
Great ideas, it has been said, come into the world as gently as doves. Perhaps then, if we listen attentively, we shall hear, amid the uproar of empires and nations, a faint flutter of wings, the gentle stirring of life and hope. Some will say that this hope lies in a nation; others, in a man. I believe rather that it is awakened, revived, nourished by millions of solitary individuals whose deeds and works every day negate frontiers and the crudest implications of history. As a result, there shines forth fleetingly the ever threatened truth that each and every man, on the foundation of his own sufferings and joys, builds for all.
Corita used the Camus quote to emphasize that the artist can’t turn away from the world, but must find their work within it.
“Let us not look for the door, and the way out, anywhere but in the wall against which we are living,” Camus wrote. “Instead, let us seek the respite where it is—in the very thick of the battle.”
PBS’s The Art Assignment also recently shared this great 15-minute video about her work. It has a bunch of stuff I didn’t know, like how all art majors at Immaculate Heart had to be English minors, and Corita’s concept of “Plork,” a combination of play and work, the “one responsible act necessary for human advancement” that represents “the ecstasy we feel when work and play are one.” (I wish I’d remembered that bit of Learning By Heart when I wrote the “Your Work is Play” chapter of Keep Going!)
We lost another Ohio boy: Scott Walker has died. I like a lot of his work, but I absolutely love Scott 4. That record has comforted me on many a sleepless night. Until a few years ago, I’d never owned it on vinyl — the back cover features nothing but this pretentious Camus quote about images. I love it so much.
The quote, by the way, is from a preface to a collection of Camus’ essays published in 1968, the year before Scott 4 was released. The sentence after the quote makes it even more meaningful to me:
A time always comes in an artist’s life when he must take his bearings, draw closer to his own center, and then try to stay there…. A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened. This is why, perhaps, after working and producing for twenty years, I still live with the idea that my work has not even begun.
It’s no surprise that this quote appealed to Walker at the time: he was trying to re-invent himself, to get away from his image as a boyish pop star. The album flopped commercially, but the rest of his career would embody this very idea.
(PS. “It’s Raining Today” is on Scott 3, not Scott 4, but it’s the perfect song for this late March day.)
Steinberg is one of my absolute favorites, and this quote comes from his friend Kurt Vonnegut (another one of my favorites). In A Man Without A Country, Vonnegut called Steinberg “the wisest person I ever met in my entire life”:
I could ask him anything, and six seconds would pass, and then he would give me a perfect answer, gruffly, almost a growl. He was born in Romania, in a house where, according to him, “the geese looked in the windows.”
I said, “Saul, how should I feel about Picasso?”
Six seconds passed, and then he said, “God put him on Earth to show us what it’s like to be really rich.”
I said, “Saul, I am a novelist, and many of my friends are novelists and good ones, but when we talk I keep feeling we are in two very different businesses. What makes me feel that way?”
Six seconds passed, and then he said, “It’s very simple. There are two sorts of artists, one not being in the least superior to the other. But one responds to the history of his or her art so far, and the other responds to life itself.”
I said, “Saul, are you gifted?”
Six seconds passed, and then he growled, “No, but what you respond to in any work of art is the artist’s struggle against his or her limitations.”
Here’s a photo of the two friends, taken by Vonnegut’s wife, the photographer Jill Krementz (from this amazing album):