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A scrapbook of stuff I'm reading / looking at / listening to / thinking about...



Sep 01, 2014
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"Vintage" selfies, grabbed from Google Image search.

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The Chairs Are Where The People Go

I like it when I can’t tell at a glance if it’s my book or my toddler’s book. (That’s thanks to the great art by Leanne Shapton on the cover.)

This was recommended to me by my friend Nicole Fenton. Here’s the story: Sheila Heti wanted to write a novel about her friend, Misha, but couldn’t really make it work, and besides, what she really liked was listening to him talk. So they made a list of topics together, Misha talked, and Sheila talked. This book is the result.

I wish more writers would go this route — just give us 170 pages of the stuff you’re really trying to say, you know? (I suddenly feel very David Shields-y.)

Some highlights, below.

Against virtuosity for virtuosity’s sake:


  The idea that the point of art is to be impressive is — to me — incredibly distressing. Skill should be a means to an end, or it becomes like watching acrobatics, or being very tall… At a certain level, virtuosity has only one thing to say, and that is: Look at how good I am.


On not-knowing:


  A lot of people are scared to be surprised, I find. And a lot of things I don’t like in prov come down to people’s attempts to avoid that surprise. But a real part of what it means to truly improvise is to really not know where you’re going, to really not know what you’re doing. There’s a feeling I associate with improvising which I think is a really thrilling feeling, which is the feeling of being at once very comfortable and yet having no idea what’s going to happen. That’s thrilling, and it’s a little mysterious, and there’s pleasure in feeling out of control. There’s a real joy in starting a sentence and not knowing how it’s going to finish.


On how experimental music eventually makes its way to pop:


  [Missy Elliott’s] “Work It” is like this insane collage of incredibly abstract electronic noises, some of which would be considered really abrasive in other contexts. At various different moments, the vocal track is played backwards. But a song like “Work It” or any of a gazillion really interesting things happening now in dance music couldn’t have happened without twentieth-century experimental music. It’s as though “Work It” is the useful application of all those useless experiments. “Work It” is like those unbreakable dinner plates that got developed because of the space program.


How to ask a good question during a Q&A session:


  The first thing I tell people that a good question has to be a question. I warn them that if they take a statement and try to raise the pitch of their voices at the end of their sentences, we won’t be tricked. I tell the audience that grammarians will agree that there’s no such thing as a two-part question. I tell people that if they think they have a two-part question, what they really have are two questions, and that they should just pick the better of the two.


On storytelling vs. conversation:


  Being a conversationalist and telling wonderful stories aren’t the same thing. I mean, a story isn’t a conversation. It’s a monologue, a one-way thing. When you’re telling a story, you need to not be interrupted—and the story has to end up where you want it to end up. […] The best conversationalists are people who are hoping to end up somewhere they didn’t expect… It seems to me that the most pleasing thing you can find yourself saying in a conversation is something you haven’t said before.


And a funny take on “impostor syndrome”:


  One possibility I think people often overlook is that there might be people who feel this way because they are impostors. There actually are people who hold impressive jobs or high positions who don’t merit them. […] It’s normal for us to feel insecure about our own real abilities or accomplishments, but it’s also the case that we’re kind of encouraged to lie about our abilities and successes. There is so much pressure on people to achieve, to become ever more accomplished and impressive, and that goes along with this encouragement to be a kind of salesman for yourself in a certain way. So what ends up happening is that a lot of people really are presenting a version of themselves that is false. In this case, the reason they have this unpleasant feeling of being an impostor is because they are one.


The book is front-loaded — I got a little sick of Misha towards the end, but, I have a feeling Misha probably gets a little sick of himself, too. (Don’t we all?) Most bad reviews call this book some form of “hipster navel-gazing,” but hell, that could describe Montaigne, too, you know? There’s some fun stuff in here.

Filed under: my reading year 2014

The Chairs Are Where The People Go

I like it when I can’t tell at a glance if it’s my book or my toddler’s book. (That’s thanks to the great art by Leanne Shapton on the cover.)

This was recommended to me by my friend Nicole Fenton. Here’s the story: Sheila Heti wanted to write a novel about her friend, Misha, but couldn’t really make it work, and besides, what she really liked was listening to him talk. So they made a list of topics together, Misha talked, and Sheila talked. This book is the result.

I wish more writers would go this route — just give us 170 pages of the stuff you’re really trying to say, you know? (I suddenly feel very David Shields-y.)

Some highlights, below.

Against virtuosity for virtuosity’s sake:

The idea that the point of art is to be impressive is — to me — incredibly distressing. Skill should be a means to an end, or it becomes like watching acrobatics, or being very tall… At a certain level, virtuosity has only one thing to say, and that is: Look at how good I am.

On not-knowing:

A lot of people are scared to be surprised, I find. And a lot of things I don’t like in prov come down to people’s attempts to avoid that surprise. But a real part of what it means to truly improvise is to really not know where you’re going, to really not know what you’re doing. There’s a feeling I associate with improvising which I think is a really thrilling feeling, which is the feeling of being at once very comfortable and yet having no idea what’s going to happen. That’s thrilling, and it’s a little mysterious, and there’s pleasure in feeling out of control. There’s a real joy in starting a sentence and not knowing how it’s going to finish.

On how experimental music eventually makes its way to pop:

[Missy Elliott’s] “Work It” is like this insane collage of incredibly abstract electronic noises, some of which would be considered really abrasive in other contexts. At various different moments, the vocal track is played backwards. But a song like “Work It” or any of a gazillion really interesting things happening now in dance music couldn’t have happened without twentieth-century experimental music. It’s as though “Work It” is the useful application of all those useless experiments. “Work It” is like those unbreakable dinner plates that got developed because of the space program.

How to ask a good question during a Q&A session:

The first thing I tell people that a good question has to be a question. I warn them that if they take a statement and try to raise the pitch of their voices at the end of their sentences, we won’t be tricked. I tell the audience that grammarians will agree that there’s no such thing as a two-part question. I tell people that if they think they have a two-part question, what they really have are two questions, and that they should just pick the better of the two.

On storytelling vs. conversation:

Being a conversationalist and telling wonderful stories aren’t the same thing. I mean, a story isn’t a conversation. It’s a monologue, a one-way thing. When you’re telling a story, you need to not be interrupted—and the story has to end up where you want it to end up. […] The best conversationalists are people who are hoping to end up somewhere they didn’t expect… It seems to me that the most pleasing thing you can find yourself saying in a conversation is something you haven’t said before.

And a funny take on “impostor syndrome”:

One possibility I think people often overlook is that there might be people who feel this way because they are impostors. There actually are people who hold impressive jobs or high positions who don’t merit them. […] It’s normal for us to feel insecure about our own real abilities or accomplishments, but it’s also the case that we’re kind of encouraged to lie about our abilities and successes. There is so much pressure on people to achieve, to become ever more accomplished and impressive, and that goes along with this encouragement to be a kind of salesman for yourself in a certain way. So what ends up happening is that a lot of people really are presenting a version of themselves that is false. In this case, the reason they have this unpleasant feeling of being an impostor is because they are one.

The book is front-loaded — I got a little sick of Misha towards the end, but, I have a feeling Misha probably gets a little sick of himself, too. (Don’t we all?) Most bad reviews call this book some form of “hipster navel-gazing,” but hell, that could describe Montaigne, too, you know? There’s some fun stuff in here.

Filed under: my reading year 2014

Aug 31, 2014
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David Lynch painting in his studio

From a nice NYTimes profile, “David Lynch, Who Began as a Visual Artist, Gets a Museum Show.”

Aug 29, 2014
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Paintings by Joan Mitchell

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People want to be wowed. And what’s the best way to wow people? Just give them the hits… After you give them the hits, then you can do whatever.
— Prince, to André 3000

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Jeffrey Tambor’s acting workshop at SXSW 2010 and 2012

My friend @MattThomas tweeted from Jeffrey Tambor’s talk in Iowa last night:

Tambor’s morning routine: - wakes up and drinks a cold cup of coffee that’s next to the bed from the night before - reads for a half hour

Tambor: “You wanna have a good life? Work, love, and thrive with people who get you.”

Tambor: “If you’re any good, you’re going to be fired.”

Tambor talking about how he used to, in his darker moments, destroy his projects with worry.

His notes reminded me how much I liked Tambor’s speaking and that I never scanned my notes from SXSW 2012.

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Neil Gaiman, The Sandman

A young lady at Dragon’s Lair comics here in Austin talked me into buying the first volume, and when I got the whole stack from the library, another young lady at the checkout desk looked at the stack with approval and asked, “First time?”

It took me about two months to get through all ten volumes — read them only before bed, which did, unsurprisingly, have an effect on my dreams.

Sandman was a DC comics character that Gaiman resurrected for the series:

They said: make it your own. So I started thinking more mythic – let’s have someone who’s been around since the beginning of time, because that lets me play around with the whole of time and space. I inherited from mythology the idea that he was Morpheus, king of dreams: it’s a story about stories, and why we need them, all of them revolving in some way around Morpheus: we encounter a frustrated writer with an imprisoned muse; we attend a serial killer convention and the first performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; we even find out what cats dream about (and why we should be afraid).

I have to admit, one thing I find very disorienting about reading the series, especially reading it all in one big gulp, is the rotating cast of artists. I find that when reading comics made by a bunch of different artists (different penciler, inker, colorist, etc.) there’s a kind of lack of visual unity that just puts things off a little. Characters sometimes don’t look like themselves, and it can be hard to track visually what’s going on. (Which makes me appreciate collaborations like Saga and From Hell all the more.)

Dave McKean, who did all the covers, alludes to this:

Since the interior artists changed all the time, I was the only consistent visual element. I wanted the covers to be a filter, a window of slightly surreal, melancholy, thoughtful imagery to pass through… Some covers were painted, some drawn, but many of the first few were 5ft-high collage-type works made by me that we took to a high-res photography studio to shoot – this was all pre-computers.

McKean’s covers are really worth browsing through (here are some of his favorites and a dedicated volume).

I actually wish there was a way (other than owning the original comics) to replicate the serialized experience of reading the individual issues. I’d like a series that was just the original comics, with ads and everything, bound together. These trade paperbacks I read had the covers, but everything was sort of squashed together, and it was hard to tell where one issue began and one ended. I suppose you could download the original scans on bittorrent or something.

It’s fun to swallow it all in one gulp, but I can only imagine how cool it was to read these individually, in their original context, back in the day. Saga is the first comic I’ve read for which I’ve actually gone to the comic book store to get new issues, and it’s a really fun experience.

Filed under: my reading year 2014

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Original pre-Photoshop assemblages Dave McKean made for The Sandman covers

neil-gaiman:

poisonousliasons:

Before Photoshop

I miss them still…

They really were that size: paintings and assemblages that Dave would take to get photographed, and send the transparency to DC Comics to use as a cover.

Here’s McKean:

Some covers were painted, some drawn, but many of the first few were 5ft-high collage-type works made by me that we took to a high-res photography studio to shoot – this was all pre-computers. I ended up wandering around London with Neil trying to find interesting bits and bobs to use as imagery. We liberated a fantastic-looking broken door from a skip, and found odds and ends in antique shops. People started donating things: I did a signing in London and someone gave me a lamb’s heart in a block of resin. It got used a few times.

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