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The Lessons Jazz Can Teach Other Disciplines, Dead or Not

The Lessons Jazz Can Teach Other Disciplines, Dead or Not

And by “dead,” I’m being flippant. Obviously there’s a vibrant jazz scene worldwide, if it isn’t a prominent form at the moment. And maybe it never will be.

When I was phoneless the last couple days, I listened to the local jazz station, the eminent KKJZ. An ethereal, assured voice sang a Jobim standard called “Meditation,” and that confident singer was Fay Claassen, a Dutch musician. Her interpretation was a languid study in wistful longing, and on the musicianship side, I was captivated by the way she closed the song with a series of beautiful, cascading “to me”s. It’s haunting and affecting. Check it out if you didn’t already play the link above.

But choosing to play—or even listen to—this less popular music is instructive to other types of art, especially work that relies on any kind of spontaneity or iteration or abstraction. Jazz is a form of constant invention, where improvisation around a theme or scheme is essential to it. And musicians who study and perform it don’t care that it isn’t the hot thing of the moment. They revel in its free expression and demand for skill.

Writers and painters can find allegories in their own work from this.

It Takes a Lot of Energy to Resist Checking What Happened in the World in the Last Hour or Two

It Takes a Lot of Energy to Resist Checking What Happened in the World in the Last Hour or Two

Here’s why you, artist person, should expend the effort to avoid checking social media when the urge strikes you. And I’m not excluding myself from this advice, I’m writing to me, first, and hoping it’ll be useful to you as well.

I’m one of those hopeful New Year’s resolutionists. Nothing crazy, nothing that’s part of a never ending list that gets tacked onto every January because the last one didn’t get fully resolved, just one or two things I think I can make happen in my life the next twelve months. I make the plan, and immediately nod and think, “That’s something done, then.”

Naturally, habits are hard to build as well as to break. The two things this year were to read more books—physical, unwieldy, pretentious dead tree editions—and to consume less social media. The former tends to fall prey to my failure at the latter.

But I’ve been able, just the last month or so, to push back successfully against the craving to check Twitter or news feeds (I never took the News app off my iPad and I should have) and get some crispy, potentially-finger-lacerating pages turned.

It sometimes takes a Herculean effort.

But as I have, I’m rewarded with joys like returning to the feeling of being lost in both work and books. Snippets of both just don’t cut it. Anxiety stirred up by news I can do nothing about in the moment overshadows other things.

I do agree we should stay informed. I disagree if that’s presented as a daily or possibly weekly necessity. You have art to make and fuel to consume in order to make it. That takes time, and it requires connection to your soul, however you interpret it.

Some Voices Are a Comfort, and You Should Indulge Them in These Times of Anxious Uncertainty

Some Voices Are a Comfort, and You Should Indulge Them in These Times of Anxious Uncertainty

I have quite a number of creators who I simply enjoy hearing. Their tone, cadence, demeanor, sincerity, all of that I find both comforting and compelling.

These are anxious times, for many of us around the world. Things seem to be moving fast, and like a tornado or hurricane, it feels out of our control.

It is, of course. But voices of assurance and comfort, especially when they aren’t even talking about the thing I’m worrying over, can give me the encouragement to keep working and searching.

Paul Sykes, better known by his internet name, Sjin, is one of those for me. Brb, going to play a few vids while I pack boxes for Portland.

I Could Pick Out a Quotation at Random From Hodgman, but This is a Typically Great One

I Could Pick Out a Quotation at Random From Hodgman, but This is a Typically Great One

When you live in New York or any big city, it is easy to fail at growing up. The city is designed to keep you in a state of perpetual adolescence. You never need to learn to drive if you don’t want to. And even if you do drive you can go back to that bar you went to when you were twenty-one, and it will still be there, and it will still be called Molly’s, and the older waitress there will still remember you and let you sit where you want. And feel be years later, when she is no longer there, when there is just a picture of her above the bar on a place of sad honor, and you know what that means and you don’t want to think about it, guess what: you do not have to. Because no one is driving home, and you’re back again, listening to “Fairytale of New York,” which is still on every jukebox, falling into the same conversations you had with the same friends in the ’90s: about how the internet is going to change culture, and what you are going to do when you grow up.

— John Hodgman, Vacationland

Returning, Briefly, to Digital Hygiene, and a Reason So Many of Us Are So Frustrated, Angry, and Short on Time

Returning, Briefly, to Digital Hygiene, and a Reason So Many of Us Are So Frustrated, Angry, and Short on Time

A recent episode of Note to Self (I highly recommend subscribing) was a repeat, but also a really, really good one. It’s an overview of the ways social media companies are driven to manipulate us, honing algorithms that ever more selectively push our buttons.

Our psyches are exploitable, and even with no malice intended, we’re taken advantage of without even knowing it. It’s more important to take time out for perspective, for reflection, for people face-to-face and hand-to-hand.

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

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.

Losing It

Losing It

I’m despairing a bit over the U.S. executive administration’s immigration scorching the earth with zero tolerance. The piece above is a reaction. A more physical response will happen at the next march. I didn’t know when I started that it would also serve as an early catharsis to a missing post.

I wrote a fair bit on the new Carters (Jay-Z & Beyoncé) video a couple days ago. I was sure I’d hit the “Publish” button, but somehow it’s mostly gone, except for a brief opening in the Drafts folder. I discovered this as I set up for today’s post.

It’s a given that things you do will occasionally disappear or get lost. This is especially true of digital work. We are all at the mercy of the random electron gods.

Whether benevolent or vengeful, if your thing is condemned to oblivion, there is nothing to do but keep moving. This seems a good point to mention putting your feelings into your work. Musicians have an easier time with this, in my opinion. But whatever your medium, work that connects is work that translates and engenders feelings. You can use this.

The next time you create your stuff, you can channel your anger and frustration. This isn’t just the only revenge against the random electron gods, it’s an easy motivator. But even if you haven’t lost a piece, any moment of trauma or high emotion can be applied and channeled into your work. You can gain some relief in making. And then, beyond that, you have another thing coming into being. Another pseudo-child springs forth to comfort you in loss or despair. You can more easily take action afterward.

Only Us

Only Us

I don’t usually share GIFs here, but this one of a gorilla using sign language to talk to zoo visitors is almost relevant.

In the same way that animal societies are rudimentary, even though often complex, while human ones are orders of magnitude more specific and consciously deliberate, creative purpose and execution are likewise.

We sort of have a duty to keep making the (positive) things and putting them out into the world. It reinforces who we should be, who we want to be more than violence and self-aggrandizement.