These two were spotted in Cleveland. (See more: pansy luchadores)
Filed under: Sunday collage
“The tops of mountains are among the unfinished parts of the globe, whither it is a slight insult to the gods to climb and pry into their secrets, and try their effect on our humanity. Only daring and insolent men, perchance, go there.”
—Henry David Thoreau
Debbie Millman told me she asked Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth what it was like to be the biggest rock star in the world.
He said when you get to the top of the mountain it’s cold and you’re alone and the only way back is down.
(As sage an answer as that is, one of the weakest chapters in DLR’s otherwise excellent Crazy From The Heat is the one about mountain climbing.)
I’m not a mountain climber and I never will be, but yesterday in Edinburgh I climbed up an extinct volcano called Arthur’s Seat. (Robert Louis Stevenson described it as “a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design.”)
There are a bunch of ways to get up up the hill, some more popular than others. The whole time I was hiking, I would stop, turn around, and admire the view. As I got higher and less-winded, I kept thinking, “This seems good enough. Do I really need to get to the top?”
When I got to the top, my suspicion was correct: The view, while majestic and panoramic, wasn’t really any more interesting than many of the other spots going up the hill. And, worse than that, it was crowded. There were people everywhere scrambling up the rocks to get selfies.
I stood there maybe 5 minutes then climbed back down to a more deserted grassy area and had a picnic with a seagull as a companion.
I thought about that photo of climbers waiting in line to get to the top of Mount Everest:
It’s an obvious metaphor, but people kill themselves for the view on the top of the mountain.
(I hate lines and nothing would turn me into an angry ghost more than dying while waiting in one.)
I walked down an easy grassy slope to the east and walked past the Dunsapie Loch, which looked, from the angle on foot, like it continued out to the sea:
A little further, I found a path by a stone wall that took me all the way through a wooded area back to Queens Road. I was alone the whole walk.
I came across these beautiful foxgloves:
And I felt happy.
Later, I walked through town and along the Water of Leith a few miles to the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art. It was even better than climbing up the crags.
No more climbing mountains for me. There are more interesting views in the foothills.
Saw a bunch of pansies when I was walking around Edinburgh, Scotland, so I had to make some more pansy luchadores…
The world keeps ending but new people too dumb to know it keep showing up as if the fun’s just started.”
—John Updike, Rabbit is Rich
“I have to say this in defense of humankind: In no matter what era in history, including the Garden of Eden, everybody just got here.”
—Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without A Country*
* This also happens to be the lecture in which he talks about the “six seasons.”
See also: “I’m New Here.”
Lots of over-the-shoulder art direction from my kindergartener on this one.
It’s funny, when you’re reading Thoreau’s summer journal, how often he tries to capture the sound of the toads and the frogs. They “stutter,” “croak,” “purr,” “peep,” “pipe,” “snore,” “trill,” and even “trump.”
The sound of frogs represented to Thoreau the “mid-summer’s dream.”
May 25, 1851: “I hear the dreaming of the frogs. So it seems to me, and so significantly passes my life away. It is like the dreaming of frogs on a summer evening.”
May 3, 1852: “The dream of the frog sounds best at a distance — most dreamy.”
May 7, 1852: He wonders if uncovering the scientific truth of something takes away its poetry:
I fear the dream of the toads will not sound so musical now that I know whence it proceeds. But I will not fear to know. They will awaken new and more glorious music for me as I advance, still farther in the horizon, not to be traced to toads and frogs in slimy pools.
He writes that perhaps the different seasons are best represented by “the notes of reptiles,” who express “the very feelings of the earth.”
People made fun of him for how much he listened to the frogs and toads.
On March 28, 1853, he writes of overhearing his Aunt Maria complaining about him not taking time to read a book she recommended to him: “Think of it! He stood half an hour to-day to hear the frogs croak, and he wouldn’t read the life of Chalmers.”
In a 1928 book, Memories of a Sculptor’s Wife, a Concord farmer is quoted laughing about “David Henry” (his actual name — he switched the order), “That darned fool had been standin’— the livelong day — a-studyin’ —the habits—of the bull-frog!” (Reminds me of Abraham Lincoln’s cousin, who was quoted as saying, “Lincoln was lazy — a very lazy man. He was always reading — scribbling — writing — ciphering — writing poetry…”)
No matter to David Henry. June 7th, 1858, he goes down to the river just to listen:
There’s a joke I like to tell during Q&As:
People often come up to me and they say, “I feel like I have a book in me!”
And I say, “That sounds painful. You should see a doctor!”
I never feel like I have a book in me. I always feel like there’s a book around me. It’s like I’m a planet and there’s all this space junk orbiting me, and all the junk starts smashing together and forming book chapters. My job is to grab that stuff around me and shape it into something.
Today in The Red Hand Files, Nick Cave had this advice for a “blocked” songwriter:
My advice to you is to change your basic relationship to songwriting. You are not the ‘Great Creator’ of your songs, you are simply their servant, and the songs will come to you when you have adequately prepared yourself to receive them. They are not inside you, unable to get out; rather, they are outside of you, unable to get in. Songs, in my experience, are attracted to an open, playful and motivated mind. Throw my song away – it isn’t that good anyway – sit down, prepare yourself and write your own damn song. You are a songwriter. You have the entire world to save and very little time to do it. The song will find its way to you. If you don’t write it, someone else will. Is that what you want? If not, get to it.
This reminded me of Elizabeth Gilbert’s terrific 2002 GQ profile of Tom Waits:
“Children make up the best songs, anyway,” he says. “Better than grown-ups. Kids are always working on songs and throwing them away, like little origami things or paper airplanes. They don’t care if they lose it; they’ll just make another one.” This openness is what every artist needs. Be ready to receive the inspiration when it comes; be ready to let it go when it vanishes. He believes that if a song “really wants to be written down, it’ll stick in my head. If it wasn’t interesting enough for me to remember it, well, it can just move along and go get in someone else’s song.” “Some songs,” he has learned, “don’t want to be recorded.” You can’t wrestle with them or you’ll only scare them off more. Trying to capture them sometimes “is trying to trap birds.” Fortunately, he says, other songs come easy, like “digging potatoes out of the ground.” Others are sticky and weird, like “gum found under an old table.” Clumsy and uncooperative songs may only be useful “to cut up as bait and use ’em to catch other songs.”
Gilbert writes more about Waits’ process in her book, Big Magic:
If a song is serious about being born, he trusts that it will come to him in the right manner, at the right time. If not, he will send it along its way, with no hard feelings.
“Go bother someone else,” he’ll tell the annoying song-that-doesn’t want to be a song. “Go bother Leonard Cohen.”
I love how both Nick Cave and Tom Waits seem to believe that songs are out there for the taking, and if you don’t grab them, somebody else will.
“You don’t understand,” Michael Jackson once said, “if I’m not there to receive these ideas, God might give them to Prince.”
What if you stopped thinking about your ideas as things you need to let out of you, but things you need to let in to you? Things you need to be ready to receive?
If you start to think about creative work this way, Gilbert says, “it starts to change everything.” You can stop being afraid and daunted and just “do your job. Continue to show up.”
Thoreau: “A man receives what he’s ready to receive.”
The cure for travel anxiety is me saying to myself, “Oh, who cares if I get anywhere?”
Come to think of it, this is also a cure for anxiety when working: “Who cares if I get anywhere?”