Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

As I sit alone with these words, I think about how brave he was in so many ways, and how brave he was to go into that studio every day with his demons and his angels, and labor to put them on canvas. Nulla dia sine linea, No day without a line, is the motto at the Art Students League, from Pliny the Elder, derived from the Greek painter Apelles. The devotions.

— Elizabeth Alexander, “The Light of the World: A Memoir.


Elizabeth Alexander was married to Ficre Ghebreyesus from 1997 until he died unexpectedly in 2012 days after his 50th birthday. Her memoir, “The Light of the World” is a story of her loss and her love.  The painting above was Ficre Ghebreyesus’ Middle Passage Figures with Solitary Boats (c. 2002–2007) (detail). Acrylic on canvas. 24 x 30 inches; 26.5 x 32.5 x 2 inches.

Oh, I get it.

A superb painter let me take a brush to a canvas that she said she was abandoning. I tried to continue a simple black stroke that she had started. The contrast between the controlled pressure of her touch and my flaccid smear shocked me, physically. It was like shaking hands with a small person who flips you across a room.

~ Peter Schjeldahl, The Art of Dying (The New Yorker, December 16, 2019)


Notes:

Imagine having no talent. Imagine being no good at all at something and doing it anyway.

Imagine having no talent. Imagine being no good at all at something and doing it anyway. Then, after nine years, failing at it and giving it up in disgust and moving to Englewood, N.J., and selling aluminum siding. And then, years later, trying the thing again, though it wrecks your marriage, and failing again. And eventually making a meticulous study of the thing and figuring out that, by eliminating every extraneous element, you could isolate what makes it work and just do that. And then, after becoming better at it than anyone who had ever done it, realizing that maybe you didn’t need the talent. That maybe its absence was a gift.

These were the stations on the via dolorosa of Jacob Cohen, a.k.a. Rodney Dangerfield, whose comedy I hold above all others’. At his peak — look on YouTube for any set he did between 1976 and 1990 — he was the funniest entertainer ever. That peak was long in coming; by the time he perfected his act, he was nearly 60. But everything about Dangerfield was weird. While other comedians of that era made their names in television and film, Dangerfield made his with stand-up. It was a stand-up as dated as he was: He stood on stage stock-still in a rumpled black suit and shiny red tie and told a succession of diamond-hard one-liners.

The one-liners were impeccable, unimprovable. Dangerfield spent years on them; he once told an interviewer that it took him three months to work up six minutes of material for a talk-show appearance. If there’s art about life and art about art, Dangerfield’s comedy was the latter — he was the supreme formalist. Lacking inborn ability, he studied the moving parts of a joke with an engineer’s rigor. And so Dangerfield, who told audiences that as a child he was so ugly that his mother fed him with a slingshot, became the leading semiotician of postwar American comedy. How someone can watch him with anything short of wonder is beyond me.

~ Alex Halberstadt, from “Letter of Recommendation: Rodney Dangerfield” (The New York Times, January 26 2018)

Lower your standards. Now!

Carl Richards, from Free Yourself of Your Harshest Critic, and Plow Ahead:

You’re fired. No, seriously. Pack up your stuff, and get out. But let me be clear: The job you’re fired from is one you never should have had in the first place — being a critic of your own work. Done, finished, not your job anymore. When you finish creating something and you start to wonder if it’s any good … nope! Don’t try to answer. You no longer get to decide. If you need me to fire you, awesome, consider it done. But in fact, what would be even better is if you fire yourself. Let me tell you why.

Five or six years ago, when I first started writing the weekly Sketch Guy column, I would have pieces I was certain would go viral. I said to myself, “I nailed it, everyone’s going to love it, a million people are going to share it!” And then, I would hear nothing. For some reason, it just didn’t get the play — no comments, no feedback, nothing. Then there were times when I was completely surprised in the opposite way…I had this experience enough times to realize that I was simply terrible at judging whether my work was good or not. And guess what? So are you. You’re just too close to it.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to matter, as your job now officially has nothing to do with deciding if the work is good. Your job is to do the work, put it out there and let the world decide.  Now, I know that sounds scary. But let’s be dead clear about something: You’re not John Steinbeck (and neither was he, at the start). You have to get there first. And the only way to do that is through practice and criticism. But the only way to get practice and criticism is to make and share your work. This isn’t just about writing. It’s about anything meaningful you do. Singing, painting, entrepreneurship, giving financial advice, museum curating, boat building, skiing, whatever. Whatever it is, your job is to do the work, to become the best you can be. [Read more…]

It’s just doubt, that’s the biggest thing.

You’ve been doing stand-up since the late ‘80s. Do you remember your worst night?

Oh, there are so many of them. In the beginning, there are endless amounts of worst nights. But there was one, after “Everybody Loves Raymond” had been on for a year, out at the University of Florida’s Gator Growl. It’s in the stadium, like, 30,000 people, Dave Chappelle, Larry the Cable Guy and me. Five minutes in, I heard a woman yell out, “You better start getting funny.”

Anything you miss about those early days?

There was something gratifying about going up onstage in front of a room full of total strangers. They’ve never seen you in their life, and they’re kind of like, who is this guy? And then you win that crowd over. That will never happen again, only because somebody in the audience has seen me. Seinfeld said, they give you the first 10 minutes if you’re well known. But you still gotta be funny.

When you first started taking on dramatic roles, what was your biggest worry?

You wonder, are you any good? It’s just doubt, that’s the biggest thing. The desire is there. But then I also want to be a pro golfer, and that’s never gonna happen.

You still have worries like that?

Oh yeah. No matter how successful you are. I hear that from other comedians all the time. You’re just waiting for the funny police to come and arrest you as an impostor.

~ Robert Ito, excerpts from his interview with Ray Romano in “Ray Romano Still Fears the ‘Funny Police’” (NY Times, June 30, 2017)


Photo of Ray Romano: Aces Comedy

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

Why not just retire?

“Reinhold doesn’t really relax,” Hansjörg said.

“Do you know this saying he has on his website? ‘I am what I do.’ But I think he may also believe the opposite: ‘If I cease to do, I will not be.’

~ Caroline Alexander, on Reinhold Messner, “Murdering the Impossible. Superhumanly determined.” (National Geographic Magazine, November, 2006)


Reinhold Messner, 72is an Italian mountaineer, adventurer, explorer, and author. He made the first ascent of Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen and was the first climber to ascend all fourteen peaks over 8,000 metres (26,000 ft) above sea level. He was also the first person to cross Antarctica and Greenland with neither snowmobiles nor dog sleds. He crossed the Gobi Desert alone.


Photo: gripped.com

Costanza: “Jerry, just remember, it’s not a lie if you believe it.”

jerry-seinfeld

 

Q: You and Larry David wrote Seinfeld together, without a traditional writers’ room, and burnout was one reason you stopped. Was there a more sustainable way to do it? Could McKinsey or someone have helped you find a better model?

JS: Who’s McKinsey?

Q: It’s a consulting firm.

JS: Are they funny?

Q: No.

JS: Then I don’t need them. If you’re efficient, you’re doing it the wrong way. The right way is the hard way. The show was successful because I micromanaged it—every word, every line, every take, every edit, every casting. That’s my way of life.

~ Daniel McGinn, Life’s Work: An Interview with Jerry Seinfeld (HBR, Jan-Feb 2017)


Blog Post Title Credit: The Independent – Seinfeld at 25: The Show’s Best Quotes

Bonus Quote: Jerry Seinfeld: “You know the message you’re sending out to the world with these sweatpants? You’re telling the world, ‘I give up. I can’t compete in normal society. I’m miserable, so I might as well be comfortable.’

Tuesday Morning Wake-Up Call

hair-back-black-and-white

The invented person, borrowed from the real—abstracted, isolated—is the person we finally know, or feel we know.  I make myself up from everything I am, or could be.

For many years I was more desire than fact.

When I stop becoming, that’s when I worry.”

Stephen Dunn, from “Notes” in Walking Light: Essays and Memoirs

 


Notes: Photo – Eric Rose Photography. Quote: – W.W. Norton

Oh, of course we are.

above-average


Source: The New York Times Magazine

Satisfaction: You take it on the road for 50 years and get the hang of it (50 sec)

Q:   This never gets old to you?

Keith Richards: No. No. It gets more interesting actually. The weird thing is that every time I play “Satisfaction”, I’m finding new ways, just a little lick here and a little lick there, and I wish we would have put that on the record, but the fact is that the way things go, you wrote songs and five days later you’ve recorded it. You barely know the thing. And then you take it on the road for 50 years and I’m starting to get the hang of it now.


Need a fix, find The Rolling Stones music video here:  “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

Truth

books-reading-read

There’s only one thing, one constant thing that I believe keeps me moving closer to my goals, and keeps me fixed on what I want to do. It’s got nothing to do with being close to the universe or attracting things to me with positive energy.

My secret weapon is that I read.

Running a business, being a writer, living a full life — these things depend on the knowledge that we can gain and use. What we call following our gut, is really us being subconsciously guided by every piece of information we’ve ever consumed, shaping our instincts and ideas and forming us.

I read constantly, throughout every single day. I read obsessively, consuming new books and revisiting old at an alarming rate…I read books on my iPhone when I’m on the treadmill at the gym, every morning…I read books about business, and startups, and entrepreneurship …I read books about dragons and wizards and ancient spells, and I read books where there are worlds full of fantastic creatures and heroes, and I read books where there are sacrifices and victories and where good people mourn their lovers…I read books about musketeers, and lamp posts in the woods, and the dangerous business of going out your front door. I read books about boarding schools and battlefields and a bridge to Terabithia…I read about economic theory…I read new books, to find new characters and ideas, and old books because there’s always a detail I missed or a theme that I’ve forgotten, no matter how many times I’ve gone over them. […]

So here’s my advice. If you want to accomplish anything of value, challenge yourself to read…If you don’t read, you won’t gain the information and the insight and the inspiration that you need to make the right calls, at the right time. You won’t learn to see beyond the shit that you have to deal with, every day.

I think people want to believe that there’s a secret, to what I do. When they ask me for advice, it’s as if they think I’ve hidden away a key, that can unlock writing and business and make everything happen the way I want it. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. I believe that my habit of reading is what’s made the difference in my life, and I think it’s incredibly important.

Make reading a good book a part of what you do. If you’re the busiest person on earth, just give yourself 15 minutes a day.

Jon Westenberg, excerpts from Here’s My Secret Weapon

 


Photo: Your Eyes Blaze Out

Deep shame, maximum self-consciousness.

walk-through-walls-marina-abramovic

Deep shame, maximum self-consciousness. When I was young it was impossible for me to talk to people. Now I can stand in front of three thousand people without any notes, any preconception of what I’m going to say, even without visual material, and I can look at everyone in the audience and talk for two hours easily.

What happened?

Art happened.

When I was fourteen, I asked my father for a set of oil paints. He bought them for me, and also arranged for a painting lesson from an old partisan friend of his, an artist named Filo Filipović. Filipović, who was part of a group called Informel, painted what he called abstract landscapes. He arrived in my little studio carrying paints, canvas, and some other materials, and he gave me my first painting lesson.

He cut out a piece of canvas and put it on the floor. He opened a can of glue and threw the liquid on the canvas; he added a little bit of sand, some yellow pigment, some red pigment, and some black. Then he poured about half a liter of gasoline on it, lit a match, and everything exploded. “This is a sunset,” he told me. And then he left.

This made a big impression on me. I waited until the charred mess had dried, and then very carefully pinned it to the wall. Then my family and I left for vacation. When I came back, the August sun had dried everything up. The color was gone and the sand had fallen off. There was nothing left but a pile of ashes and sand on the floor. The sunset didn’t exist anymore.

Later on, I understood why this experience was so important. It taught me that the process was more important than the result, just as the performance means more to me than the object.

~ Marina Abramovic, Walk Through Walls: A Memoir (October 25, 2016)


Marina Abramović, 69, is a Serbian performance artist based in New York. Her work explores the relationship between performer and audience, the limits of the body, and the possibilities of the mind. Active for over three decades, Abramović has been described as the “grandmother of performance art.” She pioneered a new notion of identity by bringing in the participation of observers, focusing on “confronting pain, blood, and physical limits of the body.” The passage above is from her recently recently memoir.

Over 30,000,000 viewers have watched her performance on this Youtube video: Don’t miss it here.


Monday Morning: Echo, echo, echo…

mem52

I want to write a poem
as simple as a glass of water
or as a piece of bread abandoned
on the table by a child
A poem transparent like a window
light like a winged ingot of lead and
yet heavy like butterflies among city lorries
A poem wrought of invisible words
Whose echo is heard for some hundreds of years
Murmuring like a river, forever.

Stefan Baciu, “Stylus,” trans. Robert Austerlitz, Poetry Northwest


Notes: Poem Source: Memory’s Landscape.  Photo: philippe conquet with mem 52

 

Running. Some Rain Must Fall.

powder-blue-head-explode

“Fragment Palooza.”
“Repetition” in words and in theme. “Tiresome.”
“Lacks flow and rhythm.”
“Lacking depth.” (This one cut.)
“Can’t produce more than 500 words?”
“Have you thought of a creative writing class?”

I’m two miles into my morning run. The unsolicited feedback is swamping Audible’s narration of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle: Book 5: Some Rain Must Fall. And chirping in, is Brian Blanchfield’s new book of essays written without the internet and any reference sources.

I twist the earbuds deeper into each drum, turn up the volume and hope to drown the sh*t out.

The words from Book 5 continue to pump. Knausgaard’s autobiographic detail and flow is hypnotic. There are five published books in his series, with each averaging more than 500 pages. He goes back more than 40 years and walks us forward stone, by stone, by stone. (There you go again, with the repetition.) [Read more…]

Permitting shame, error and guilt…

brian-blanchfield

Brian Blanchfield, 43, was born in Winston-Salem, NC and now resides in Tucson, AZ where he teaches at the University of Arizona. He is an award winning poet and recently published his second book of essays.  The essays from his new book “Proxies: Essays Near Knowing were written from memory, no referring to the internet or other “authoritative” sources. To give you a taste of his talent and his authenticity, here’s an excerpt from his opening “Note”. I shake my head in awe…

At the end of this book there is a rolling endnote called “Correction.” It sets right much— almost certainly not all— of what between here and there I get wrong. It runs to twenty-one pages. It may still be running. Susceptibility to error is a hazard inherent to Proxies. From the beginning…I decided on a total suppression of recourse to other authoritative sources. I wrote these essays with the internet off. I determined not to review again the books and other works I consulted in memory, and I did not stop thinking through the subject at hand to verify assertions or ground speculation or firm up approximations. Que sais-je?, Montaigne asked his library shelves one day late in the sixteenth century, and increasingly that seems a good start. Having determined that this would be unresearched essaying, analytic but nonacademic, I was almost immediately drawn to a second constraint— or, better, invitation: to stay with the subject until it gives onto an area of personal uneasiness, a site of vulnerability, and keep unpacking from there. The formula I found for titling the individual essays was generated very early on, to operate this request of self. Clumsy as it may be, I claim as part of a personal sortilege a devotion to the words I had bannered across the top of each new developing piece, an invocation of sorts, a ritual.

Permitting shame, error and guilt…

~ Brian Blanchfield, excerpt from his opening “Note” from Proxies, Essays Near Knowing (June, 2016)


Note: Find “Proxies” Book Reviews here – Goodreads.  Portrait from Poetry Foundation.

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

colette.jpg

My goal has not been reached; but I am practicing. I don’t yet know when I shall succeed in learning not to write; the obsession, the obligation are half a century old. My right little finger is slightly bent; that is because the weight of my hand always rested on it as I wrote, like a kangaroo leaning back on its tail. There is a tired spirit deep inside of me that still continues its gourmet’s quest for a better word, and then for a better one still.

~ Gabrielle Colette (1873-1954), shortly before her death at the age of 81 from “Earthly Paradise: An Autobiography of Colette Drawn from Her Lifetime Writings”


Notes: Quotes: Brain Pickings. Portrait: ecritsdefemmes.fr

Meryl Streep: A League of Her Own

meryl-streep

While Streep, 67, who has racked up a record 19 Academy Award acting nominations, receives such praise with grace, when she says she is merely happy to be acting she is not simply being modest. “On a certain level you don’t have any choice—you’re unhappy if you’re not doing it, so you’re compelled in a certain way. And if you’re lucky you can keep working,” she says. “But everybody has troughs and dismal times—every single person…Those anxieties help explain why Streep is pleased to be as prolific as at any time in her nearly 40-year film career.

[…]

Streep eventually realized that, despite having a lovely voice, she wasn’t good enough to be a professional diva. And though she sang plenty, Streep left her dreams of singing opera behind. Until Florence Foster Jenkins. “Yeah, there were moments when you’d say, ‘Sing worse,’ ” Streep says to Frears. “You were quite close,” Frears responds, referring to Jenkins’s idiosyncratic intonation.

As Streep pauses in appreciation, I’m reminded of a moment late in the film. Stripped of her wildly outlandish attire, Jenkins delivers a line that resounds like a credo: “They may say I can’t sing, but they can never say I didn’t sing.” This may be true for Streep, who like Jenkins is striving with all her heart, though she holds herself to a higher standard: her own.

“At the end, I sort of thought, Well, that was good,” Streep says, nodding. “I thought I’d done well, sounded good.” She pauses and adds with a laugh: “I also thought I looked good. Someone should have told me!”

~ Alex Bhattacharji, Meryl Streep: A League of Her Own


Notes:

 

I said, I like my life.

jump-to-touch-the-sky

I said, I like my life. If I
have to give it back, if they
take it from me, let me
not feel I wasted any, let me
not feel…that I forgot
to give what I held in my hands,
that I forgot to do some little
piece of the work that wanted
to come through…

~ Marge Piercy,  excerpt from “If They Come in the Night”, Circles on the Water: Selected Poems


Notes: Poem – Thank you Beth at Alive on all Channels, Photo: Adeline Spengler, The Jump Touch the Sky, 2013 (via newthom)

 

but is wary of becoming sated, like one of Aristotle’s dumb grazing animals.

martha-nussbaum

A sixty-nine-year-old professor of law and philosophy at the University of Chicago (with appointments in classics, political science, Southern Asian studies, and the divinity school), Nussbaum has published twenty-four books and five hundred and nine papers and received fifty-seven honorary degrees. In 2014, she became the second woman to give the John Locke Lectures, at Oxford, the most eminent lecture series in philosophy. Last year, she received the Inamori Ethics Prize, an award for ethical leaders who improve the condition of mankind. A few weeks ago, she won five hundred thousand dollars as the recipient of the Kyoto Prize, the most prestigious award offered in fields not eligible for a Nobel, joining a small group of philosophers that includes Karl Popper and Jürgen Habermas. Honors and prizes remind her of potato chips; she enjoys them but is wary of becoming sated, like one of Aristotle’s “dumb grazing animals.” Her conception of a good life requires striving for a difficult goal, and, if she notices herself feeling too satisfied, she begins to feel discontent.

~ Rachel Aviv, The Philosopher of Feelings, Martha Nussbaum’s far-reaching ideas illuminate the often ignored elements of human life—aging, inequality, and emotion. (The New Yorker, July 25, 2016)


Notes:

1) Don’t miss full fascinating profile of Martha Nussbaum in The New Yorker, July 25, 2016

2) If you liked this excerpt, here’s another passage:

Nussbaum left Harvard in 1983, after she was denied tenure, a decision she attributes, in part, to a “venomous dislike of me as a very outspoken woman” and the machinations of a colleague who could “show a good actor how the role of Iago ought to be played.” Glen Bowersock, who was the head of the classics department when Nussbaum was a student, said, “I think she scared people. They couldn’t wrap their minds around this formidably good, extraordinarily articulate woman who was very tall and attractive, openly feminine and stylish, and walked very erect and wore miniskirts—all in one package. They were just frightened.”

3) Martha Nussbaum bio,

4) Photo credit

Lightly child, lightly.

small-bird

I would like to paint the way a bird sings.

~ Claude Monet

 


Notes:

  • Photo: Iva with enjoying the winter sun (via Your Eyes Blaze Out). Quote: Thank you Rob @ Hammock Papers
  • Prior “Lightly child, lightly” Posts? Connect here.
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

 

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