Sometimes I start a collage in my diary but then I just let it sit until it tells me what else it wants. (This one was started around Christmas.)
Sometimes I start a collage in my diary but then I just let it sit until it tells me what else it wants. (This one was started around Christmas.)
I am scheduling this blog entry to post on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020 at 8 a.m. CT.
By the time you read it, I could’ve pressed “schedule” a few hours ago, or a few weeks ago, or even a few months ago. There’s no way of knowing for sure, but whenever you read it, it will be new to you.
In an age of instantaneous messaging, I find this enormously freeing. A nice gap between writing and publishing, sending and receiving.
A bit of technology that has changed my life: Gmail’s “Schedule Send” function. (Yes, I still use Gmail, even though I know better.)
If I answer emails in the afternoon, I schedule them to go out at 8AM the next morning. This means I don’t get a bunch of replies overnight and it often gives me time to add or edit the email before it goes out.
The problem with sending messages is that they’ll get answered with new messages. If I pick a time to write all my messages, but delay sending them, that buys me even more time to be blissfully unmessaged.
I know this sounds selfish, and it is, but Schedule Send also allows me to be courteous to others: I love the world too much to send it email on a weekend. I might write dozens of emails during a weekend, but none of my correspondents will receive an email on a weekend. This is as it should be.
My dream is to never have to answer email at all.
John Waters says real wealth is never having to deal with assholes, but real wealth for me would also mean no email.
“I don’t even have an e-mail address,” Umberto Eco once said. “I have reached an age where my main purpose is not to receive messages.” (This was 25 years ago, by the way.)
“Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things,” Donald Knuth says on his website. “But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things.”
One day I will either have the real wealth or the courage to follow their examples, but for now, Schedule Send makes me feel a little richer.
Related reading: Answering letters
Today I remembered that the ancients named the seven days after the five planets known to them — plus the sun and moon — but only three of the days correlate in English: Satur(n)-day, Sun-day, and Mo(o)n-day. The other days are derived from Anglo-Saxon names for gods:
Here’s a video explanation:
After watching that video back in January, my son and I tried to map it out for ourselves (I believe strongly in copying out charts to better understand them):
This is the time of year I think a lot about seasons and how we’ve managed to carve up time. It’s amazing how much of this stuff we just take for granted. For example, the word “month” comes from “moon,” as the months roughly correlate to the length of a moon cycle. (This month, wonderfully, begins with a full moon and ends on a full moon.)
“Sunset month of the year” struck me this morning, made me realize the parallel between seasons and days. Spring is like early morning, summer; mid-day, fall; sunset and evening, winter; night. Damn, how nature loves to re-use a pattern.
Filed under: Time
On this day 164 years ago, my ol’ pal Henry David Thoreau wrote about finding a tortoise nest with a new hatchling:
Think what is a summer to them! June, July, and August, — the livelong summer, — what are they with their heats and fevers but sufficient to hatch a tortoise in. Be not in haste; mind your private affairs. Consider the turtle. Perchance you have worried yourself, despaired of the world, meditated the end of life, and all things seemed rushing to destruction; but nature has steadily and serenely advanced with a turtle’s pace. Has not the tortoise also learned the true value of time?
I love reading Thoreau in late August. Even though my summer is much longer than his was, he helps me cool down, zoom out, and embrace the season.
Years ago I borrowed this copy of Italo Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler from my father-in-law, and when I opened it up I found Calvino’s 1985 NYTimes obit and stories from a 1983 Harper’s.
I was so surprised and delighted by these unexpected artifacts that I decided to start saving clippings in my own books. Here’s my copy of John Ashbery’s They Knew What They Wanted, in which I stuffed a NYTimes review and a photo of his collage desk.
Here’s my copy of Lonesome Dove with a July 2010 Texas Monthly map of the plot of the book and my copy of Salt Fat Acid Heat with Wendy’s piece about writers’ snacks, “The Raw and the Cooked,” from 2011:
Saving clippings this way turns each book into a time capsule. The next time I open one of these books, a paper treasure will fall out. A little surprise for my future self. (Or whoever else cracks it open.)
“Time capsules are notoriously disappointing,” writes Sam Anderson in Boom Town. “They are supposed to be magic existential wormholes to a lost reality, but instead they are almost always empty, damaged, full of junk — further depressing evidence (as if we needed any) of the absolute tyranny of time.”
These time capsules, however, have never disappointed me. They always delight.
In her latest newsletter, Ann Friedman linked to a twitter thread about how people see the passage of time, an essay about calendar synaesthesia, and this passage from Olga Tokarczuk’s 2018 novel Flights:
Once we’re on the bus, she sets out her theory of time. She says that sedentary peoples, farmers, prefer the pleasures of circular time, in which every object and event must return to its own beginning, curl back up into an embryo and repeat the process of maturation and death. But nomads and merchants, as they set off on journeys, had to think up a different type of time for themselves, one that would better respond to the needs of their travels. That time is linear time, more practical because it was able to measure progress toward a goal or destination, rises in percentages. Every moment is unique, no moment can ever be repeated. This idea favors risk-taking, living life to the fullest, seizing the day. And yet the innovation is a profoundly bitter one: when change over time is irreversible, loss and mourning become daily things.
The creative life is not linear. It’s not a straight line from point A to point B. It’s more like a loop, or a spiral, in which you keep coming back to a new starting point after every project. No matter how successful you get, no matter what level of achievement you reach, you will never really “arrive.”
Back in June, I wrote about writers and stuttering, and how many writers feel that their stutters make them better writers. In the past few weeks, there have been two notable essays written by journalists who stutter:
1. In his essay “Stammer Time, Barry Yeoman writes about how he and other stutterers are starting to feel that fluent speech is not only overrated, but that stuttering can be a gift, both to those who stutter and the people around them.
I’m most interested by the idea that stuttering messes with our notions of mechanical time and efficiency:
“There’s something interesting about stuttering in a world that moves at increasingly breakneck speed,” says [Joshua] St. Pierre, the Alberta professor. For most of human history, we measured time in lunar cycles, menstrual cycles, agricultural cycles. Today we rely on “clock time,” standardized and designed for industrial production. Clock time values efficiency; it has no patience for silences and repeated syllables. “Stuttering highlights that fact: that clock time runs roughshod over all these other ways of creating time, but that they still persist and are still important,” he says.
Elsewhere, Yeoman has written about how he thinks his stuttering makes him better at his job. One, it helps him empathize with marginalized people, and two, he knows how to “shut up and listen.”
2. In The Atlantic, John Hendrickson wrote about “Joe Biden’s Stutter, and Mine:”
Yet even when sharing these old, hard stories, Biden regularly characterizes stuttering as “the best thing that ever happened” to him. “Stuttering gave me an insight I don’t think I ever would have had into other people’s pain,” he says. I admire his empathy, even if I disagree with his strict adherence to a tidy redemption narrative.
One of the frustrations Hendrickson writes about in the piece is how Biden speaks about stuttering as something that’s behind him, something he’s overcome. (“I don’t say I was ‘cured,’” says another stutterer, James Earl Jones. “I just work with it.”) “The underlying message,” Hendrickson writes, “beat it or bust—is out of sync with the normalization movement.”
“I don’t want to hear Biden say ‘I still stutter’ to prove some grand point; I want to hear him say it because doing so as a presidential candidate would mean that stuttering truly doesn’t matter—for him, for me, or for our 10-year-old selves.”
Yesterday, Yeoman tweeted, “With today’s attention on Biden’s stutter, here’s a contrast: @KatarMoreira, a politician in Portugal who embraces how she speaks. ‘I stutter when I speak, not when I think. The danger in parliament is individuals who stutter when they think.’”
Filed under: stuttering
Artists and children both need the right combination of time, space, and materials to do their work.
Here’s how Ursula Kolbe puts it in her book Children’s Imagination: Creativity Under Our Noses (emphasis mine):
The elements of time, space and materials make it possible for children to explore, invent and make their ideas visible. Thinking of these elements as invitations gets to the heart of the matter.
It’s the combination of unhurried and uninterrupted time, inviting spaces and materials that guides mind and hands, that invites creative thinking. Seeing, handling, and thinking are inseparable, as Rudolf Arheim, psychologist and scholar of art and ideas, reminds us.
Together, time, space and materials provide ‘invitations to act’.
Those adjectives are extremely important: unhurried and uninterrupted time, and inviting spaces and materials.
Years ago, my friend John T. Unger turned “time, space, and materials” into an equation for producing work. (Only he uses the word resources instead of “materials” — “Resources meaning materials and tools, or the money to get them.”)
Time + Space + Resources = Work
His insight was that you need all three at the same time, otherwise you fall into idleness. Here, in John’s words, are variations on the equation:
T+R-S=Idle: You have time and resources but no work space. Examples: a rock band with close neighbors, a dancer with a no floor space, any visual artist whose space is improperly ventilated, too small, or is not conducive to the use of their proper tools.
T+S-R=Idle: You have time and space but no resources. Example: you quit your job and moved into your parent’s basement, but ran out of paint & canvas. Or you saved up enough cash to rent a big space and take time off, but your welder just blew out it’s coil and there’s not enough cash left to fix it. Or you took a part time job so you’d have
more time to work, but you can’t afford materials after you pay the rent.
R+S-T=Idle: You have resources and space, but all your time is used to maintain them. Example: You have a great job that pays for a huge loft and you’ve purchased everything you need to do a big project. But every night when you come home, you’re just too burned out to get anywhere with the stuff.
“The trouble is,” he says, “it’s almost impossible to get all three at once.”
Time gets used to make money. Money gets used to pay for space. Space is hard to justify unless you have the time and resources to make it pay for itself. The whole equation can easily turn into a vicious circle in which you constantly have to rob Peter to pay Paul.
We can easily see this play out in the lives of children, too.
S + M – T = You provide a nice space and plenty of materials in the classroom, but the bell rings and it’s time to stop for the day, regardless of where the children are in their work.
T + S – M = You provide the time and space for children to work, but all you’ve given them to draw with is crummy old crayons and scrap paper.
M + T – S = You provide great materials and lots of time, but nowhere to spread out.
My question is whether increasing the quality or amount of a variable in the equation can make up for a lack of one the others.
So, for example, you have very little time, but you have a dedicated space and materials ready to go so you can pop in at any opportune moment and work.
Or, you have no space to work, but you get up early when the kids are in bed, and use the kitchen table.
I’m scratching my head thinking about how space and time can make up for a lack of materials, which might reveal something about their importance. I suppose if you have lots of time, you can scrounge around for materials?
I’ll think about it some more, but until then, remember the equation:
Time + Space + Materials = Work
On the left is a collage I made a year and a half ago, on the right is the view from a folding chair I was sitting in yesterday. Burroughs, in his wonderful Paris Review interview and elsewhere, spoke of how collage and cut-ups were a form of time travel.
…it is a matter of the future and the past being laid out, so that you can see both the future and the past from the present. There is a very interesting book by John Donne called An Experiment With Time, written in 1925. He started writing down his dreams and found that they very often referred to future events. I dream about earthquakes, and he had a very interesting point to make about that. He said that if you dream about an earthquake, you are not foreseeing the actual event. What you are seeing is the moment when you will become aware of it. That is, the moment you will see it in a newspaper or hear about it on the news. In other words, you are moving forward on your own time track to a moment of your own future awareness.
He then spoke about art as a “creative act”:
Paul Klee said that art does not simply render nature, it renders it visible. The artist sees something that others do not see, and by seeing it and putting it on canvas, he makes it visible to others. Recognition art. A particle physicist at the University of Texas named John Wheeler has developed something that he calls “recognition physics.” Wheeler says that nothing exists until it is observed. Well, the artist as observer is like that. The observer creates by observing, and the observer observes by creating. In other words, observation is a creative act. By observing something and putting it onto canvas, the artist makes something visible to others that did not exist until he observed it.
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