A bit of fun with Keep Going and yesterday’s New York Times. (Several people told me they thought this was real at first glance.)
“A lot of bad art is going to come out of this nightmare — including my own — and that’s okay.”
In Neil Gaiman’s Make Good Art, he wrote:
When things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician — make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor — make good art. IRS on your trail — make good art. Cat exploded — make good art. Someone on the Internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before — make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, eventually time will take the sting away, and that doesn’t even matter. Do what only you can do best: Make good art. Make it on the bad days, make it on the good days, too.
A fine message! But I’d also make a plug for something else: when the going gets rough, make bad art, too.
Don’t listen to people who remind you that Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a plague— we’re living in King Lear!
When 9/11 and Katrina hit and she lost a bunch of her close friends, Lynda Barry got really depressed, and all she could do is doodle:
I found myself compelled, like this weird, shameful compulsion to draw cute animals. That was all I could stand to draw. You know, just cry and draw cute animals…dancing dogs with crowns on, you know? And, like, really friendly ducks. But I found this monkey, this meditating monkey, and I found that once – when I drew that monkey, it’s not that it fixed the problem. But it did shift it a little bit, or provide me some kind of relief. And that’s when I started to think, maybe that’s what images do, because I believe in all my – with all my heart they have an absolute biological function…
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.
“Good” can be a stifling word, a word that makes you hesitate and stare at a blank page and second-guess yourself and throw stuff in the trash. What’s important is to get your hands moving and let the images come. Whether it’s good or bad is beside the point. Just make something.
(And when that doesn’t work, sit on the damned couch and watch some stupid television until you pass out.)
I’ve taped this picture of David Hockney back up in the studio. (Underneath these excellent bumper stickers.) It had a prominent spot on my bulletin board when I was writing Keep Going, and Hockney was one of the key figures I was thinking about when I wrote the book. (In the article the photo was clipped from, Hockney said, “I’ll go on until I fall over.” A motto worth stealing.)
And so, it’s been great comfort to me to find out he’s still out there painting, in quarantine up in Normandy, sending “fresh flowers” from his iPad to friends, reminding us “they can’t cancel the spring,” even urging us to do our own drawing:
I would suggest people could draw at this time… Question everything…. I would suggest they really look hard at something and think about what they are really seeing…. We need art, and I do think it can relieve stress. What is stress? It’s worrying about something in the future. Art is now.
Hell yes. Go on until you fall over.
Hard to believe, but Keep Going came out one year ago today. Thank you to everyone who has helped the book find its way into the world. (I’m sorry it remains so relevant!)
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!
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!
Last week I read about Richard F. Shepard, a writer and editor at the New York Times who took interns and new reporters at the paper on epic tours of New York, teaching them how to investigate and navigate the city.
He said you can’t really figure out the city unless you travel on foot. Here’s what he wrote in his book, Going Out In New York: A Guide for the Curious:
There is no one real New York. It is more of a collage of bits and pieces, each with its own character, often absolutely contradictory to all others and yet purely New York… The only way to savor these varied panoramas is to stroll through; you can see them by car but you can only feel them on foot.
He also said you have to look up:
Look up, he said. Look especially at second-floor windows above storefronts. That, he liked to say, is where a lot of absorbing action takes place. Why would a perambulating soul wish to miss any of it?
Filed under: walking.
“I keep thinking that I shall have no more to say,” said philosopher Mary Midgley, “and then finding some wonderfully idiotic doctrine which I can contradict.” She admitted it was “a negative approach, as they say, but one that doesn’t seem to run out.”
She was 81 when she said that. She wrote well into her 90s.
This is what writing often is for me: Making a list of everything stupid and idiotic that someone else is saying and then sitting down and trying to articulate the exact opposite.
There. Now you know my secret!