It’s pretty damned inspiring to wake up in the morning and there’s your six-year-old already at the hotel room desk hard at work.
One of my favorite little art books to show the kids is photographer Inge Morath’s Saul Steinberg Masquerade, a collection of portraits of people wearing Steinberg’s paper-bag masks. (More from the book here.)
Here’s a mask Owen and I made when he was pretty small out of a Trader Joe’s bag:
Steinberg also made these funny little single sheet masks with just a spot for your nose. I’ll make one sometimes if we’re goofing around:
My pal Wendy is a big Steinberg geek, too — here she is entertaining Jules with a napkin a year ago in San Francisco:
The other day I reminded Owen of the book’s existence, and the next morning he surprised me in the bathroom:
Never gets old.
We were having dinner and I was trying to think up ideas for a Keep Going book trailer and I thought, “Why not just have Owen letter it?” (He’s six.) I asked him and he said sure and we shot it right there at the kitchen table and I edited it on my laptop in the bathroom while he took a tub. (I’m not sure if it’s going to be the book trailer, but it’s a book trailer!)
In The Believer, writer Kashana Cauley examines the origins of the term “woke”:
The Oxford English Dictionary credits William Melvin Kelley with the first printed, political use of woke, in a 1962 New York Times article titled “If You’re Woke You Dig It,” about white cooption of black language. But twenty years earlier, in a 1942 edition of Negro Digest, J. Saunders Redding used the term in an article about labor unions. A black, unionized mine worker told him: “Waking up is a damn sight harder than going to sleep, but we’ll stay woke up longer.” Barry Beckham’s 1972 play Garvey Lives! is often cited as another early example of the word’s political meaning. A character exclaims, in reference to Marcus Garvey, “I been sleeping all my life. And now that Mr. Garvey done woke me up, I’m gon stay woke. And I’m gon help him wake up other black folk.” This is the version of woke that I grew up with: a call to study and act against anti-black oppression.
(Sidenote: Kathryn Schulz wrote a really interesting piece in the New Yorker about what happened to William Melvin Kelley, noting that he published his debut novel, A Different Drummer, a few weeks after the “woke” op-ed, at the age of 24. He and his wife moved around, from Paris to Jamaica, converted to Judaism, homeschooled their kids, and eventually moved back to the US to settle in Harlem. He was 32 when his last published book was released. “He wrote constantly for the next forty-seven years, never published another book, and died a year ago, at the age of seventy-nine.”)
“Stay woke” sort of hit the wider pop consciousness in 2008 with Erykah Badu’s “Master Teacher Melody” (Listen closely: Is the refrain, “I stay woke” or “I’d stay woke”?):
You can also hear it in Childish Gambino’s 2016 track, “Redbone”:
“Stay Woke” became the rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement and then hit the mainstream, with (white) people like Jill Stein and, dear lord, Jack Dorsey, using it, causing many to say, “It’s Time To Put ‘Woke’ To Sleep”:
A word meant to imply a constant state of striving, course-correcting and growth has been heard now, for almost a decade, as a static and performative state of being.
In this recent interview with Erykah Badu (who I love, btw), titled, “Erykah Badu Helped Define ‘Wokeness.’ Now She’s a Target,” she talks about her sense of the phrase:
[W]hen we say that it means we just pay attention to what’s going on around us, and are not easily swayed by the media, or by the angry mob, or by the group. You know: Stay focused, pay attention…. Stay woke just means pay attention to everything, don’t lean on your own understanding or anyone else’s, observe, evolve, eliminate things that no longer evolve. That’s what it means. Stay conscious, stay awake. It doesn’t mean judge others. It doesn’t mean gang up on somebody who you feel is not woke. That’s not evolved.
Garageband turned 15 yesterday. It was introduced at Macworld by Steve Jobs in January 2004. It’s so accessible and ubiquitous now, it’s easy to take for granted just how amazing a piece of software it really is.
I’ve spent hundreds of hours in the program — when I lived in England in 2004, I bought a USB MIDI controller so I could record tracks in my tiny little apartment on my new 12 inch Powerbook. I could then export them and put them on my new iPod, which seemed insanely futuristic and cool.
One afternoon a few years ago when we were bored, I showed my son Owen (now 6) how to make simple tracks on his little iPad mini, and ever since then, he’s been completely obsessed with the program. He spends, on average, at least an hour a day in Garageband. (He would spend way more if we didn’t limit his screen time, and we have to, because if we don’t he gets that weird zombie recording glaze in his eyes. [Musicians will know what I’m talking about.])
He has recorded 100s of songs. He started out, like most songwriters, covering songs by bands he likes. First, it was Kraftwerk. He came in one day after quiet time with this totally cool and insane version of “Autobahn.” Then he moved into parody. At my suggestion, he recorded Christmas versions of Kraftwerk songs. (“Christmasbahn,” “Trans Polar Express,” etc.) That was around the time he learned how to sample while looking for sleigh bells.
Eventually, I built us a little plug-and-play studio so we could record together with my good microphones and instruments.
Grandma gave the 5-year-old my old Ghostbusters shirt so I played him the theme song for the first time in the car and he came home and recorded a cover in Garageband ??? pic.twitter.com/suAFqiIAzY
— Austin Kleon (@austinkleon) August 3, 2018
He now records original tracks. Here is a song he recorded for his mom on Mother’s Day last year:
Recording music in Garageband is a gateway to all kinds of other activities. He loves, for example, coming up with album titles and band names and album art. (I’m convinced that this is part of the reason he can write and read so well for his age.) Here’s a hilarious screenshot I took of him spending a couple days in the studio with me, using Garageband on my old iMac:
Oh, he also likes to type out lyrics?
He saw the “Podcasts” preset and started recording his own podcasts. (I haven’t even gotten to tell him Marc Maron recorded Obama in in his garage… with Garageband.)
Garageband does a bunch of crazy stuff I didn’t even know it could do. For example, it will import MIDI files you download from the internet and show you the musical scores. One time Owen wanted to learn to play some of Bach’s cello suites on the keyboard, so I downloaded a midi file, opened it in Garageband, transposed it to the easy C key, and printed it out.
I’m constantly thinking about all the musical education possibilities with the program. Remember when Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails released their tracks as Garageband files and allowed fans to remix them? Imagine if you could download more classic tracks as Garageband projects. (It’d be amazing if the Song Exploder brand branched out into something like this.) Kids could see how recorded music is put together… with their own fingers.
I’m going on book tour this spring, and I’m worried about being away from the kids for two months. One of the things we have planned is that Owen and I will email Garageband tracks back and forth — I’ll start something on the plane and he can finish it during his iPad time (and vice versa.)
Like most parents, I angst about giving the kids too much screen time, but Garageband has taught me: Not all screen time is created equal. The right piece of software matched with a child’s natural proclivities and talents and passion can yield complete gold.
The six-year-old has some advice for everyone. He also drew this picture of me:
“I take the opportunity each day offers.”
I usually feel a tremendous letdown the morning after Christmas — major “What next?” pangs — but this morning the sun came out so we walked our cranky selves down to the beach and made a bunch of driftwood sculptures. (This afternoon we might watch Rivers and Tides.)
6-year-old was getting hangry at the pizza joint so I suggested we draw each other’s portraits. He wins again.
Sometimes when the 6-year-old and I get mad at each other we just pass notes back and forth under his bedroom door.
When you have kids you always find all this weird half-finished stuff lying around the house. (Half-finished drawings, half-finished bananas, etc.) I found this comic on the kitchen table, drawn by Owen at age 5. (“Julese” is his 3-year-old brother, Jules.) Drawn in a comic book notebook by The Unemployed Philsopher’s Guild.