Commonplace Book

We hear “do what you love” so often from those few people who it did work for, for whom the stars aligned, and from them it sounds like good advice. They’re successful, aren’t they? If we follow their advice, we’ll be successful, too! […] We rarely hear the advice of the person who did what they loved and stayed poor or was horribly injured for it. Professional gamblers, stuntmen, washed up cartoonists like myself: we don’t give speeches at corporate events. We aren’t paid to go to the World Domination Summit and make people feel bad. We don’t land book deals or speak on Good Morning America.

Here’s what I’ve learned from not writing about my life because I was scared you wouldn’t like it: I’ve learned that you don’t care what I do in my life as long as I’m interesting. If I am doing something that’s scary, and I tell you, then you can identify with me when you do something scary. What this community is, really, is people who want to do something scary. Because life is very, very boring if we don’t scare ourselves.

No one can accuse me of pandering or writing purely in the hopes of having a commercial hit. I doubt I could do that if I tried anyway. My friend pointed out that I also have a track record that establishes that I’m not fixated on having commercial hits. I forgot that part.

Robert Hughes (1938-2012)

Like many other Americans, I became aware of Hughes through his "Shock of the New" documentary and considered myself lucky to snag a copy of the hardback from a remainder table at the (long-gone and lamented) Intimate Book Shop in 1983. Most people can name critics of movies, music, and books because we hear those products talked about on NPR or Entertainment Weekly. Art critics -- not so much. The only one I could name with any confidence would have been Hughes. I did not read much of his stuff, but like Gore Vidal or Pauline Kael, I had only to read a few lines and I could hear the cadence of his prose, and the stunning way he could put together a sentence. I always liked his boisterous charisma and certainty.

The following paragraph is from his memoir, "Things I Didn't Know." Thanks to The Daily Beast for bringing it to my attention.

“I am completely an elitist in the cultural but emphatically not the social sense. I prefer the good to the bad, the articulate to the mumbling, the aesthetically developed to the merely primitive, and full to partial consciousness. I love the spectacle of skill, whether it’s an expert gardener at work or a good carpenter chopping dovetails. I don’t think stupid or ill-read people are as good to be with as wise and fully literate ones. I would rather watch a great tennis player than a mediocre one, unless the latter is a friend or a relative. Consequently, most of the human race doesn’t matter much to me, outside the normal and necessary frame of courtesy and the obligation to respect human rights. I see no reason to squirm around apologizing for this. I am, after all, a cultural critic, and my main job is to distinguish the good from the second-rate, pretentious, sentimental, and boring stuff that saturates culture today, more (perhaps) than it ever has. I hate populist [shit], no matter how much the demos love it.”

—Robert Hughes, Things I Didn’t Know

 

"It's no good having one without the other"

In September of 1968, in what he jokingly termed “E. Gorey’s Great Simple Theory About Art,” Gorey wrote these Yodaesque words:

“This is the theory ... that anything that is art ... is presumably about some certain thing, but is really always about something else, and it’s no good having one without the other, because if you just have the something it is boring and if you just have the something else it’s irritating.”

"Books I could get along without"

“We moved today to 415 Central Park West. Enormous business of packing and unpacking my books, which I have been carrying on my back for so many years. Lord, how I would like to get free of all these things sometime. I date my maturity from the day I realized there were books I could get along without.”


Alfred-Kazin/Journals/book

In an essay written last year for the SMiLE tour booklet, Van Dyke professes still not to know what “Over and over … ” means. That’s indeed a respectable position for a poet to take. John Ashbery, whom many readers would consider the greatest living American poet, has said that he has no idea what it is he’s doing when he writes. The work of making and the work of noticing and explaining are two different things. I tend to distrust poets who are willing to explicate their work, and I cringe a little when someone asks “What did you mean by that?” It’s for the reader to make something of what he or she reads, and that’s what I’ve been doing here.

From James Webb Young, The Diary of an Ad Man: The War Years, June 1, 1942-December 31, 1943 (Chicago: Advertising Publications, 1944)—

“Talked with domestic science editor of one of the women’s magazines. She told me that she had tested literally thousands of recipes, covering almost every kind of food. Asked her what, after all this, she considered the best eating. She thought it was pretty hard to beat a good sirloin steak, washed down with straight whiskey. Western gal.” (via The Poetry of Sight: Sirloin Steak and Whiskey)

"No birdsong in the hedgerow"

Coleridge demurred only partly because he was afraid of the enormous outlay of energy it takes to shepherd a young man to intellectual awareness (although that fear alone is usually what stops would-be preceptors in their tracks); the rest of it was the result of his up-close estimation of Charles: underneath the languid ‘Romantic’ pose of philosophical questing, there wasn’t a whole lot going on (“no birdsong in the hedgerow,” as one contemporary put it).

"Boots and hats and pocketknives"

“How do you and your wife split songwriting chores?“

It’s an adventure. You’ve got a flashlight, I’ve got the map. You hold the nail, I’ll swing the hammer. You wash, I’ll dry. If two people know the same thing, one of you is unnecessary. My wife has dreams and is telepathic and clairvoyant and female. I write from the news or what I see in my field of vision. I’m boots and hats and pocketknives. She’s filled with musical and lyrical surprises. She’s a joy to work with.”

From Tom Wait’s Library

Seth Godin: "A great way to give thanks"

A great way to give thanks…

for the privileges we’ve got is to do important work.

Your job, your internet access, your education, your role in a civilized society… all of them are a platform, a chance to do art, a way for you to give back and to honor those that enabled you to get to this point.

For every person reading this there are a thousand people (literally a thousand) in underprivileged nations and situations that would love to have your slot. Don’t waste it.

A good magazine article doesn’t need an introduction, so don’t begin with the background of your subject, how you happened to get interested in it, why the reader should read it, or how you obtained the information for it. Begin your article with conflict that produces tension, often revealed by including a brief example or anecdote and problem that will be resolved at the end. It’s a good rule to start as near the end as possible and then plunge your reader into the central tension. When you’ve involved your reader in this way, weave in background facts or information as you think the reader needs it to understand the purpose and point of your piece.

DONALD M. MURRAY

"Balance is boring"

Before the crisis years of the AIDS epidemic I had that sense that one does of a long, expansive living ahead of me. When my friends and my partner began to sicken and die around me, that shifted everything in a sense that you just don’t know what prospect is ahead of you. For me, that exacerbates desire. On the other hand you have to negotiate because desire enflamed can become a blinder. It’s a balancing act I have never felt especially good at.

Secretly, I believe balance is boring. I used to take yoga classes and there’s these exercises where you’re supposed to be standing on one leg in this position as a stork, and I was terrible at them! I would get annoyed because they would always turn it into metaphor: “If you don’t have physical balance it means you need to seek balance”; No I don’t!

7 Rules for Dialogue

1. Dialogue should be brief.

2. It should add to the reader’s present knowledge.

3. It should eliminate the routine exchanges of ordinary conversation.

4. It should convey a sense of spontaneity but eliminate the repetitiveness of real talk.

5. It should keep the story moving forward.

6. It should be revelatory of the speaker’s character, both directly and indirectly.

7. It should show the relationships among people.

ELIZABETH BOWEN 


7 Rules for Dialogue