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A scrapbook of stuff I'm reading / looking at / listening to / thinking about. Ask me anything you can't Google.



Posts tagged "notknowing"

Sep 01, 2014
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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

Jul 31, 2014
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I was going on a train from Manchester to London and I was looking out of the window at some cows, I believe, and I just thought: “Boy doesn’t know he’s a wizard - goes off to wizard school.” I have no idea where it came from. I think the idea was floating along the train and looking for someone and my mind was vacant enough so it decided to zoom in there.

Jul 28, 2014
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The only lyrics I’m really interested in are the lyrics I find, not the ones I invent… You just have no idea that’s a thought that you had. It surprises you. It can make me laugh or make me emotional. When it happens and I’m the audience and I react, I have faith in that because I’m already reacting. I don’t have to question it. I’ve already been the audience. But if I make it up, knowing where it’s going, it’s not as much fun. It may be just as good, but it’s more fun to discover it.
Paul Simon, quoted in Songwriters on Songwriting

Jul 23, 2014
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He picked up a pebble
and threw it into the sea.

And another, and another.
He couldn’t stop.

He wasn’t trying to fill the sea.
He wasn’t trying to empty the beach.

He was just throwing…

Jul 18, 2014
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A short film on Maira Kalman

Daydreaming is a function of the brain that’s an uncensored exploration, without controlling it, of ideas and emotions. Often, the best ideas, the smartest ideas, the most amazing ideas come from those moments when you’re not trying.

Filed under: Maira Kalman

Jun 19, 2014
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9 good bits from Adam Phillips’ Paris Review interview

1) “I had never had any desire to be a writer. I wanted to be a reader.”

2) “One thing you discover in psychoanalytic treatment is the limits of what you can change about yourself or your life. We are children for a very long time.”

3) “Fortunately, I never recovered from my education, I’ve just carried on with it. If you happen to like reading, it can have a very powerful effect on you, an evocative effect, at least on me. It’s not as though when I read I’m gathering information, or indeed can remember much of what I read. I know the books that grip me, as everybody does, but their effect is indiscernible. I don’t quite know what it is. The Leavisite position, more or less, is that reading certain sentences makes you more alive and a morally better person, and that those two things go together. It seems to me that that isn’t necessarily so, but what is clear is that there are powerful unconscious evocative effects in reading books that one loves. There’s something about these books that we want to go on thinking about, that matters to us. They’re not just fetishes that we use to fill gaps. They are like recurring dreams we can’t help thinking about.”

4) “You can only recover your appetite, and appetites, if you can allow yourself to be unknown to yourself.”

5) “That’s what a life is, it’s the lives you don’t have.”

6) “I hope you read one of my books because it gives you pleasure or because you hate it—you read it for those sorts of reasons—and then you discover what you find yourself thinking, feeling, in the reading of it.”

7) “You can’t write differently, even if you want to. You just have to be able to notice when you are boring yourself.”

8) “Anybody who writes knows you don’t simply write what you believe. You write to find out what you believe, or what you can afford to believe.”

9) “[I]f you live in a culture which is fascinated by the myth of the artist, and the idea that the vocational artistic life is one of the best lives available, then there’s always going to be a temptation for people who are suffering to believe that to become an artist would be the solution when, in fact, it may be more of the problem. There are a number of people whom you might think of as casualties of the myth of the artist. They really should have done something else. Of course some people get lucky and find that art works for them, but for so many people it doesn’t. I think that needs to be included in the picture. Often one hears or reads accounts in which people will say, Well, he may have treated his children, wives, friends terribly, but look at the novels, the poems, the paintings. I think it’s a terrible equation. Obviously one can’t choose to be, as it were, a good parent or a good artist, but if the art legitimates cruelty, I think the art is not worth having. People should be doing everything they can to be as kind as possible and to enjoy each other’s company. Any art, any anything, that helps us do that is worth having. But if it doesn’t, it isn’t.’

Such a good read.

(Update: my friend Mark Larson has a great AdamPhillips tag.)

May 02, 2014
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I’m an entertainer, first and foremost, but there’s art involved. And an artist has an obligation to be en route — to be going somewhere. There’s a journey involved, and you don’t know where [it’s going] and that’s the fun. So you’re always going to be seeking and looking and going and trying to challenge yourself. So, without sitting around thinking of that a lot, it drives you and it keeps you trying to be fresh, trying to be new, trying to call on yourself a little more.

Apr 25, 2014
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I like to see wet ink. A computer leaves me unable to do what I live for: to find something unexpected.

Apr 20, 2014
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Letter from Sol Lewitt to Eva Hesse, April 14, 1965

Hesse had written to her friend Lewitt about being blocked. My favorite parts from what Lewitt wrote back:

Try and tickle something inside you, your “weird humor.” You belong in the most secret part of you. Don’t worry about cool, make your own uncool. Make your own, your own world… 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.

In other words: MAKE BAD ART.

You can read the whole letter in this PDF.

The letter is also included in Shaun Usher’s great collection Letters Of Note, coming out in the states in May. (Lucky me, I have a dee-lux UK edition.)

Apr 11, 2014
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There’s about a million miles between saying ‘I have no idea what I’m doing,’ and ‘I’m making it up as I go.’
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