One gets retired, one gets hired.
One gets retired, one gets hired.
In this week’s mailbag, Nitzan asks: “Have you thought about writing a book for parents? About raising creative kids? I would buy it!”
Yes, and to be 100% honest, I could probably sell that book tomorrow for a bunch of money.
I’ve toyed with writing a book called Parent Like A Librarian, which would have a very simple premise: Most parents conceive of themselves as teachers when they would be much better off thinking of themselves as librarians who provide their children with the time, space, materials, and resources to grow into whatever they want to become.
But, oh, I am so loathe to write about parenting!
For one thing, I’m suspicious of “parent” as a verb and I wonder if it does more harm than good.
I also worry that by writing about parenting, I exclude people without kids, whereas, if I write about what I’ve learned about creative work by being around my kids, people in my audience without kids can learn something, too.
Besides, what I’ve learned about parenting from my boys can be summarized by the late Tibor Kalman in Perverse Optimist: “Your children will smash your understanding, knowledge and reality. You will be better off.” (Although, honestly, I’m not so sure about the second sentence.)
Or, here’s Sarah Ruhl, in 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time To Write:
There were times when it felt as though my children were annihilating me… and finally I came to the thought, All right, then, annihilate me; that other self was a fiction anyhow. And then I could breathe. I could investigate the pauses.
Or Jonathan Coulton:
I compare the process to becoming a vampire, your old self dies in a sad and painful way, but then you come out the other side with immortality, super strength and a taste for human blood. At least that’s how it was for me. At any rate, it’s complicated.
What I’m convinced of: Rather than being “the enemy of art,” your children can inspire you to go new places in your art. Hanging around a four-year-old can get you unstuck. And having to be responsible for the creative atmosphere in which your kids grow up can make you re-think your own creative atmosphere. (After all, the atmosphere you create for them is the one you’re creating for yourself.)
Becoming a parent is an opportunity to think about who you’ve become, who you wanted to be, and, if you need to, course-correct. This is what’s so fucking hard about it: You not only have to take a cold look at yourself in the mirror and become the kind of person you want your kids to be, if you have biological children, you spend all day around little people who are living mirrors. And they don’t necessarily reflect back at you the parts of you want to see! (There have been several nights where I’ve turned to my wife and said, “Do you ever feel like they got our worst parts?”) Lou Reed’s song could be about a child instead of a lover: “I’ll be your mirror / reflect what you / in case you don’t know.”
Becoming a parent is also an opportunity to treat yourself more tenderly, to forgive yourself, to forgive your own parents, and move on: Live your own life, love what you love, care what you genuinely care about, and give yourself the freedom and opportunity to go about your days in a way that unlocks who you really are.
Oh god, I’m writing about parenting.
Got a question? Ask it here.
Here is one of the collages from Serrah Russell’s book tears tears. It’s made with what I call “the simplest cut,” but I especially like the title, which I’ve stolen for this blog post: “I’ve been trying to hold onto last night’s dream.”
I did not sleep well last night, which is funny, because I started a book called Why We Sleep before falling asleep. (For me, it’s the season of going to bed at 9AM and loving it.)
I’ve noticed this bizarre thing about my brain: After a bad night’s sleep or a hangover I feel like I’m actually better at making art. It’s unhealthy and unsustainable, of course, but as bad as I feel, I enjoy the results: I’m slower and dreamier and a lot of ideas come to visit. All I have to do is keep the notebook handy.
When I was trying to fall back asleep last night, I put on Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works, Volume II. It’s an album I’ve listened to over and over this year, mostly on plane rides during book tour. Richard D. James claims he made 70 percent of the album while experimenting with sleep deprivation and lucid dreaming. (A lucid dream is a dream in which the dreamer is aware she is awake and can control some of what happens in the dream.)
That’s what James told David Toop, anyways, who notes that James speaks “in a way which indicates either a serious person who has never been taken seriously or a practical joker who has been taken too seriously for too long.”
From Toop’s book, Ocean of Sound:
“About a year and a half ago… I badly wanted to make dream tracks. Like imagine I’m in the in the studio and write a track in my sleep, wake up and then write it in the real world with real instruments. I couldn’t do it at first. The main problem was just remembering it. Melodies were easy to remember. I’d go to sleep in my studio. I’d go to sleep for ten minutes and write three tracks — only small segments, not 100 percent finished tracks. I’d wake up and I’d only been asleep for ten minutes. That’s quite mental. I vary the way I do it, dreaming either I’m in my studio, entirely the way it is, or all kinds of variations. The hardest thing is getting the sounds the same. It’s never the same. It doesn’t really come close to it.
In his book on the album, Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works, Volume II, Marc Weidenbaum recalled an interview in which James told him why it’s so important that he work in his bedroom:
To me, it’s essential… I mean, I didn’t realize it when I was growing up, until I moved my studio like out of my bedroom into another room—when I came to London I thought that was a really good idea: you know, studio in one room and bedroom in another—got really excited. And I just, for ages, I just wasn’t as happy and I couldn’t work it out, just ’cause I wasn’t sleeping in the same room as my stuff. There’s something magical about having all your equipment in the same room as your bed, and you just get out of bed and like do a track and go back to sleep and then get up and do some more and do tracks in your pants and stuff.
In Keep Going, I wrote about that dream-like state and how much I love napping, and quoted William Gibson: “Naps are essential to my process. Not dreams, but that state adjacent to sleep, the mind on waking.”
An artist could use it as a mission statement: “I’ve been trying to hold onto last night’s dream…”
I believe that there are no good movies, no good books, no good music compositions just great scenes, great passages, great moments.
I do not want this to be true, but I do think there’s something to it.
Whatever you want more of, that’s where your work begins.
I had a very nice conversation with Frank Blake on his podcast, Crazy Good Turns. It began like this:
FRANK BLAKE: I come from the business world and you’re an artist, but what you say and the thought processes you have as an artist are applicable far more universally than I ever would have thought.
I don’t know if other people have said that to you, but it’s extraordinary. I quote you all the time to business leaders.
AUSTIN KLEON: Well, I’m thrilled to hear it…. I’m thrilled to hear whenever my work is used in other fields because I’m someone who has been inspired by things outside of my own field.
Maybe one of the key takeaways from my books is that to be a voracious devourer of things outside of your field of expertise and do what Brian Eno calls import/export, where you export something from one field and import it into your own and sort of make it yours.
It’s a point I’ve tried to make over the years that others often make more successfully: My books aren’t just for “creatives,” but people doing all kinds of work.
The folks at CGT are giving away a bunch of my books and 1o of my favorites here.
Jeanne Marie Laskas once asked her friend Fred Rogers if the show was his church.
He thought a moment. He said it was easier to say what it wasn’t. It was not a show. He used the word “program,” never “show.”
“An atmosphere,” he said. What he was trying to create with “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was “an atmosphere that allows people to be comfortable enough to be who they are.” He continued: “I really don’t want to superimpose anything on anybody. If people are comfortable in that atmosphere, they can grow from there, in their own way.
“A lot of this — all of this — is just tending soil.”
Jesus told a parable about about a farmer who went out to sow seeds.
Some of the seeds fell along his path and got gobbled up by birds. Some of the seeds fell into rocks and sprouted almost immediately, but since they had no soil to take root, they scorched when the sun came out. Some of the seeds fell in deep, fertile soil, and those seeds took root and yielded much fruit.
I think Jesus may have left out at least one potential scenario: Later, the birds shit out the seeds, and by chance, some of them land in good soil elsewhere.
Sometimes I feel like, to quote Dylan, I’m just like that bird!
See also: Beautiful things grow out of shit
“One of the things you’ll hear people say, when they tell me they wish they could draw, is, ‘I see it in my head, but I can’t get it onto the page.’ And then I have to remind them that what they’re seeing in their head is not a drawing. Drawing is something that has to come out of your body.”
See also: Why it’s hard to fake kids’ drawings
The cartoonist Gahan Wilson died two Thursdays ago in Scottsdale, Arizona, USA, at the age of 89.
The poet and critic Clive James died three days later, in Cambridge, England, at the age of 80.
Reading their obituaries, it struck me how neatly their end-of-life care situations split between their two countries.
* * *
Gahan Wilson died of complications from severe dementia. After Wilson’s wife, Nancy Winters — “his guide through the world” — died earlier in the year, his stepson, Paul Winters, had to move him out of the assisted living facility the couple had been living in.
Wilson was profiled by the Arizona Republic in April. He was still drawing.
Gahan lives in a memory care facility not far from their house. The staff is kind. Gahan is safe. But it’s no way to live, Paul said.
“As an old person without money, you are not respected. You are no one,” he said. “It seems our society doesn’t really honor elders as we should.” […]
Paul and [his wife] Patty navigate the health care system for Gahan. The care he needs is expensive.
They have raised $58,000 on a GoFundMe account. Paul knows people donate because his stepfather is famous. He can imagine how other families must struggle.
“Memory care is wildly expensive,” Paul wrote. “If we could cover the cost ourselves, we would. We can’t, and Gahan and my mother did not save for anything like this.”
* * *
Meanwhile, across the pond, Clive James died “peacefully” at home thanks to a team of hospice nurses, “surrounded by his family and his books,” almost a decade after he’d been diagnosed with leukemia, kidney failure, and emphysema.
Now, any rich person in America can die this way, maybe, but thankfully, James had the National Health Service, whose praises he sang just last year:
The result of all this careful attention is that I have lived several years past my predicted time of extinction, and that my credibility as a dying man is in tatters. Lifting a Paper Mate Flexgrip Ultra ballpoint pen takes all my strength, but the resulting prose says I am still alive and full of energy…. So I’m stuck with still sounding healthy when I write, and the impression is only mildly misleading because the NHS has been doing a marvellous job on me.
He addressed the cost of it all:
The NHS will go on for ever being almost broke because there will always be more things it can do. You might profess to be appalled that the NHS has spent millions on a new drug to stop people suddenly turning upside down and falling on their head, but you will be less appalled the first time you yourself suddenly turn upside down and fall on your head.
It wasn’t just Clive James and his friends and family who benefited from the NHS, it was readers all over the world and into the future.
* * *
“I think one way I could be helpful to British voters is they could imagine me as the Ghost of Christmas Future,” says American comedian Rob Delaney.
He recently posted a video about his experiences with the NHS after the death of his son, Henry.
He said his American friends all hear about what a mess the NHS is on Fox News.
On the contrary, he says, “I’m crazy about it.”
May I ask you to watch this short video I made about the NHS?pic.twitter.com/VNzKPYGgq2
— rob delaney (@robdelaney) November 23, 2019
Our American healthcare system is killing us. It’s bankrupting our families, chaining us to jobs we hate, and keeping us from doing the work we’re meant to do.
It is especially hard on artists and other kinds of creative entrepreneurs.
It is why I’m a single issue voter.
“No ghost can inhabit a stickman. No ghost wants to.”
—Lynda Barry, Making Comics
I don’t really believe in ghosts but I feel like they can be a useful fiction. Ideas, images… it’s much easier to work sometimes if you think of them as things outside you trying to get in. Things that just show up on your doorstep. Things that will go knock on somebody else’s door if you don’t answer.
I wonder, sometimes, when artists die, what happens to all the images and ideas they once received.
Are they all flying around more frantically, now, searching for a receiver?
My brush has felt receptive lately. Like there are a lot of ghosts out there ready to slime the page with ink, if I just pick up the brush and let them through…
I was walking in the cemetery the other day and as I read the tombstones, I thought of how we used to put up “away messages” in AOL’s Instant Messenger. (It was basically a proto-Twitter, come to think of it.) You’d walk away from your computer, the one that weighed fifty pounds and stayed on your desk, and everyone could see how funny and clever you were while you were gone.
Is not a tombstone an away message?
Whenever an old poet — an old poet — dies, I can’t get too upset.
This is what they’ve been training for! I think. It’s go time!
The great poets and artists spend so much time checking in on death.
Is not every great poem an away message?
Here is a stanza from James’ “Season To Season”:
The trick, I’m learning, is to stay in doubt,
Season to season, of what time might bring,
And patiently await how things turn out.
Eventually time tells you everything.
If it takes time to do so, no surprise
In that. You fold your arms, you scan the skies,
And tell yourself that life has made you wise…
And here’s one from “Japanese Maple”:
My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.
Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.
What I must do
Is live to see that. That will end the game
For me, though life continues all the same…
When Mary Beard interviewed James last year, she asked how the Japanese Maple was doing.
“It died!” James said.
Oh well. The poem lives.
The poets go, but they leave us so many away messages.
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