From Culture

Little Unpleasant Tasks Can Contribute to a Bigger Creative Picture If You Own Them

It’s a part of most retail jobs that employees have to do certain chores that may be gross or filthy. Cleaning bathrooms and floors, dealing with trash, wiping down fixtures and windows. These can seem demeaning, and I’ve thought so on more than one occasion.

They aren’t, though.

I was thinking about their place in work of all kinds, and it’s not just that you have to do them, I think they contribute, weirdly, to a bigger picture.

They’re small cogs in a larger machine, just like you, if you’re one of those workers. But you have to do the same kind of maintenance at your own house, and there’s no shortage of cleanup in art, either. These tasks relate.

They also interrelate. An attitude of reverence toward your tools and tasks carries over to the important work, the art itself. Working a job is valuable training in maintaining the harmony of everything unseen in the art you make. It supports and frames it. It makes it possible to forget about everything but the art itself.

Sir Paul Still Charms the Pants Off Everyone

I finally got around to seeing the Carpool Karaoke featuring Paul McCartney, and it was typically wonderful. I really can’t get enough of Paul just being his alternately down-to-earth and godlike-famous selves—the latter of which he dubs “Him”—but this was a cut above. It must be terribly hard, sometimes, to reconcile being a person who just wants to walk around in the world as a normal human with a concept people want to worship and get a piece of, everywhere you go. I’m continually amazed by the grace he displays of such relentless recognition. I’m sure it’s hard.

So many of us think we want to be famous, and should think harder and longer about what it might mean. There’s little controlling it if it happens.

Happy Canada Day

Canada, I love you and your many artistic wonders. I always have.

Growing up, I came to rock music late, but it was Gordon Lightfoot (Mom was a big fan), then Joni Mitchell and The Guess Who. I discovered Rush, a permanent fixture on my musical psyche just as I started high school, then Triumph and Saga. SCTV overshadowed every other television show. In rapid succession, I realized most of my favorite media was of Great White North origin.

There were painters like Philip Guston, Agnes Martin, comics like Cerebus, more comedy from Kids in the Hall, and too many bands to name them all here, like Big Wreck, Our Lady Peace, Sam Roberts, Joel Plaskett, The New Pornographers, Tegan and Sara.

Never mind hockey, the only pro sport I follow.

You have my admiration and my heart, neighbors. May it always be so.

Harlan, and Good and Bad Things

He finally went and did it. Died. Deshuffled the most mortal of coils. A fiery, arseaholic ball of emotion and invective with an Edisonian ability to invent new tales burned out and went forever silent. He wrote amazing things, and I considered him a hero for a long, long time.

Then I started hearing about his sexist behavior. Odd, I thought, since he was such a fierce advocate of the ERA and feminist ideals. But sometimes the people we admire do awful, hurtful, damaging things. We can’t shy away from talking about that part of our erstwhile heroes, if we talk about them at all, and sometimes if we don’t want to. Harlan shamefully groped Connie Willis on stage, and was reportedly grabby with a lot of women through the years. This is unacceptable sexual assault, and he should have been called out on it a lot more than he was. He apologized to Willis, who accepted. That’s to the good.

He inspired millions of us to write and to create new worlds and to never give in to the powerful who wanted to crush or steal our dreams. But he hurt people and sparked fear in some innocents he denigrated, and womenthe woman he touched inappropriately, and that will shadow his brilliant work forever, as it should.

Here’s my Ellison story:

I was attending Comic-Con in 1995 or ’96 as an exhibitor for my comics series Greymatter. I saw that Harlan was going to be meeting and greeting at a booth in the middle, somewhere, and even though I was terrified at the thought of confronting such a fierce and forward man, and the real possibility that he’d excoriate me and my work, I had to go get in line.

I waited, I walked up, I handed him a pile of books. He was delighted, and gracious, and welcoming. He said, “Ack! You waited in line to give me comic books?!” with a giant grin and slight head shake. He accepted my fanboying with tolerant good humor and thanked me. And I left, exhilarated I’d met yet another of my favorite creators.

Cory Doctorow wrote a better obit than this one, about HE, and how to think about someone we admire who does bad and good things and it’s here, and it’s worth reading.

Short Link Roundup

A few quick links below that I found intriguing to fascinating:

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign has a really cool design scheme, contemporary and clean, knockout sections and monochromatic, but that makes it versatile, color-wise.

But it does feel crazy that I’m paying Amazon over $100 a year simply to encourage myself to buy more shit on Amazon.”

An amazing Keith Haring mural in Amsterdam that had been obscured by weatherboarding was uncovered 30 years later, and it’s typically stunning.


I wasn’t a fan of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown—more for matters of time and attention than not liking it—but I was definitely an admirer of his enthusiasm and his generous spirit.

This basic humanity shines through in the following link. We could all be better for having such a considered approach to life and other people.

Daily Pome

I’ve enjoyed reading poetry ever since I was little. I very occasionally write it, but wasn’t really doing either thing very often until a few months ago.

But the delight of a new poem every morning has been my privilege ever since I subscribed to Matthew Ogle’s Pome. Here’s yesterday’s:

The water is clear all the way down.
Nothing ever polished it. That is the way it is.

Keizan Jōkin
trans. W. S. Merwin

It comes as a daily email—sometimes longer, sometimes brief, always a delight. And a much better way to start the morning than normal typical email or social media.

Poetry is an often-neglected corner of literature, even though it came before. And I can’t see a reason it can’t outlast it, too.

Subscribe to Pome here.

Five for Frid-ing

I was always a fan of the Friday 5 meme, so here’s a past-blast redux, why not.

1) Austin Kleon gave a wonderful talk at the Bond conference last week, on maintaining your creative momentum and such.

2) Since the beginning of hockey season, I’ve been trying to be less a fan of any particular team and enjoy the game and the players I admire more. Still, there’s beauty in the way fandom wears its collective heart on its sleeve, and if you’re outside it you don’t feel the same impact. And since my former fanning was done in support of the Vancouver Canucks, I couldn’t help but be caught up in the last home game the fabled Sedin twins will ever play. Not only was it touching to see such affection pouring from the fans and other players (on both teams), it was also a thrilling nail-biter of a finish in overtime. It embodied the best of what pro sports can offer.

3) The complete visual timeline of the Paramount Pictures logo

4) This hilarious flaming hot take about how bands should keep their sets to 20 minutes long. It’s as amusing for its no-fucks-given style as for the outraged comments taking it very seriously.

5) The always charming Crimes Against Hugh’s Manatees comic strip

Future Friday lists will probably occur, this was fun.

Being Nice

Still so often seen as a sign of weakness, niceness and kindness can be helpful to your artistic work. The idea that you have to be ruthless in some ways, or visibly tough, or relentlessly claw your way to the top is becoming outdated, too. Being generous of spirit isn’t just for other people, either, it’s potentially helpful for you, too.

Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful; it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you.
— Annie Dillard, The Abundance: Narrative Essays, Old and New

In that vein, I’ve been thinking about my feelings for and of Ready Player One in anticipation of the upcoming film. There’s plenty of hate out there for it, as well as slavering affection, and it’d be easy to take a haughty or dismissive position for the things I found . . . less than ideal. Chris Isaac, writing for Tor offers a thoughtful perspective.

Why So Much Backlash? Ready Player One is Basically Twilight for Nerds

Lindsey Ellis does the same for the Twilight series, and you could do so much worse than viewing all her videos.

So give it away, no hoarding. Not “don’t get paid,” but “share the secrets.” Austin Kleon advocates pretty much this thing on his site and in his books.

Reconsider how much we should trash works that we don’t resonate with, rather than considering why they work—or don’t—for us.

The zeitgeist is telling me the world has been moving in a meaner direction (by which I think I mean the structures of power) for some time, and it seems right to be part of the wave pushing back against it.

Manufacturing the Sacred

Surfing used to be my church. I went more often than once a week, but that’s nothing unusual to many. Muslims would rightly say, “… yeah? And?” But for a non-religious person, I still enjoy and get tangible benefits of viewing some parts of my life as sacred. More often these days, they’re moments, not necessarily entities or institutions.

Today was one of them. I’d had Mark Hollis’s sole solo album (eponymous, 1998) in my collection from about 2004. I was—am—a big fan of Talk Talk, having rediscovered them after I lost track for several years after they released The Colour of Spring. Theirs was one of the most rapid and far-reaching evolutions in all of popular music, going from a synth pop dance band through post rock over the course of five albums. They didn’t do it as fast as The Beatles, but they went much further, stylistically. Mark Hollis really was the driving creative force behind the music, and I wanted the final chapter in his oeuvre to be special. From what I’d read, the album was relatively quiet, so I wanted to experience it alone in a room on a quiet day. As quiet as one could get in the city, of course.

The problem was, I was trying to create a perfect moment, and I don’t think they can be manufactured. What I needed to happen was a sacred moment. An amazing experience can happen more easily with that intention and setting, but you don’t need perfection to experience the sublime. But I made sure I’d be alone for a while, opened the blinds to the sunset, and started the album.

It wasn’t a perfect moment. But it was profound. I’d been putting off a really nice experience so I could try to make it perfect, but really, I’m not sure that’s good for me. For us. It was certainly unfair to put the expectation on the artist to have made the perfect thing, even if that turned out to be true.

We need more of this sacred time, I think. I unreservedly recommend you take 45 minutes, or an hour if it’s long, to just listen to a single album you’ve never heard before in a devotional way—doing nothing else except perhaps look out at the trees and skies nearby.