I read this great Paris Review interview with the poet Jack Gilbert earlier this afternoon and I can’t seem to get this quote out of my head:
The poem is about the heart. Not the heart as in “I’m in love” or “my girl cheated on me”—I mean the conscious heart, the fact that we are the only things in the entire universe that know true consciousness. We’re the only things—leaving religion out of it—we’re the only things in the world that know spring is coming.
We’re the only things in the world that know spring is coming. I love the imagery there. I love the idea of knowing there is life on the other side of winter. No matter where you are, what you’re going through, what you are feeling, etc, etc, there is life on the other side of it. Spring is coming.
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is closing in two weeks for a few years for renovations and expansions so I had to visit while I had the chance. It’s small compared to New York’s MoMA but the experience is strangely similar.
I think realized it somewhere in the middle of the Gary Winogold exhibition, looking at photographs of 1960s Los Angeles. Or maybe it was when I came around the corner and the sight of one of Damien Hirst’s Dots paintings took my breath away. Or it could have been when I was standing in a small room surrounded by Robert Rauschenbergs, an old favorite.
I can’t go through a museum slowly. I always start that way; I’m one of those people that begins with a slow pace, pausing in front of each piece, studying it for a deeper meaning, observing form and technique, hoping some of the artist’s feeling rubs off on me. But as I go, I start to move faster and faster. The museum gives me a feeling I can only describe as a sense of wonder. Being surrounded by art that spans human history overwhelms me. So I have to move faster. The wonder is a motivation to pick up my dusty sketchbook, or pull out my old paint set, or grab my camera. There’s an urgency to create.
Museums are transient spaces—like airports and cathedrals—you enter one way, but you exit another. You exit with wonder and awe and inspiration.
My friend Andy introduced me to The Office. I came home from my first semester of college and we spent our winter break watching the first three seasons, one after another, over bowls of won-ton soup and plates of homemade sushi.
And though my interest in the show waned in recent years, whenever I hear the theme music—even now, watching the series finale almost six years later in San Francisco, on the other side of the county—I’m taken back to that winter, to those memories, to the fun we had.
I think it’s a sign of a good work of art when it becomes forever tied to a moment in your life—a memory of good fun, good food, and good friends.
Matt Gemmell, in an excellent piece on Apple, interface design, skeuomorphism versus flat, and truth in interface design:
There’s a question I try to ask myself when I’m creating something: “Is this true?”
I define truth here not as factual accuracy, but as fidelity to both intent and embodiment. A design is true if it fulfils its requirements judiciously, and yet surprises and delights its intended audience. An app is true if it has a purity of vision and focus, and serves its intended customers on their terms. A piece of writing is true if it resonates with the people who read it – even if the details must be changed in order to better do that.
Truth, in this sense, is the opposite of betrayal, or carelessness. It’s the antithesis of compromise, for any reason except making something as good as possible.
I’m also using “true” to mean essential; not in the “required or indispensable” sense, but rather fundamental and elemental. Containing everything that should be, and nothing else.
“Once a job transcends into craft and from there into art, a door opens. Our craft becomes a canvas for something new and exciting. It never leaves, never fades into the background, but becomes the strong scaffold upon which new things are built.”
I loved every bit of this GQ profile on Robert Downey Jr. and his career turn-around following the success of Iron Man. His confidence and insistence on playing the role of Tony Stark is inspiring:
But Downey was obsessed with the notion that the part should be his. “I don’t know why,” he says. “I do like a bit of Jung, and it was just this kind of numinous thing.” Even after the film’s director, Jon Favreau, passed on the word from Marvel that it wasn’t going to happen, Downey refused to listen. (Favreau later explained that Marvel had actually been even more definite: “Under no circumstances are we prepared to hire him for any price.”) Downey persisted nonetheless, and eventually he was told he’d at least get a screen test.
He had three weeks to ready himself. The way Downey describes what happened in that period seems itself like an origin montage from a superhero story: a time of focused preparation and of “spiritual/ ritualistic processes” that he still considers private and prefers not to detail. He worked on the scenes over and over: “The missus says she could’ve woken me up in the middle of the night and I’d have recited the audition dialogue in double time.”
There’s something very powerful about (a) the confident identification of a thing you want to do — a thing you must do — paired with (b) the professional skill to pull it off. That second part is crucial; we aren’t Green Lanterns and willpower alone does not suffice. But put them together and the combo never fails to impress, to a degree that is often surprising to everyone involved.
Honestly I just think relatively few people, even very skilled and/or successful people, have that kind of specific plausible vision for themselves. If you can muster it — or if perhaps it grabs you by the throat — it becomes a significant competitive advantage.
Something I hear over and over about successful businessmen and artists—Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Stanley Kubrick—is that that have an impossibly clear vision for the work they want to do and the things they want to make. And then on top of that, the ability to execute on that vision. It’s a kind of focus I hope to have.
“I don’t believe in process. In fact, when I interview a potential employee and he or she says that “it’s all about the process,” I see that as a bad sign. The problem is that at a lot of big companies, process becomes a substitute for thinking. You’re encouraged to behave like a little gear in a complex machine. Frankly, it allows you to keep people who aren’t that smart, who aren’t that creative.”
I really enjoyed this interview with Vampire Weekend from NPR’s All Songs Considered. There are a lot of interesting bits on their creative process, their approach to their new album, Modern Vampires of the City that releases this month and some stories behind the songs.
My favorite story is the genesis to a song called “Step” that turns out to be a response to one of their favorite songs, Souls of Mischief’s “Step to my Girl”:
Souls Of Mischief I’ve always loved. I kind of associate them with the first time that I really started become a music fan as a young teenager. This song apparently was recorded around the time of their first album, which was called 93 ‘til Infinity, but it never made the record and it floated around as a bootleg for awhile. I only discovered it five or six years ago but it always really stuck with me, especially the chorus. I didn’t know where it came from but they’re kind of like scratching somebody saying, “Every time I see you in the world, you always step to my girl.” Slowly as I listened to this song, I found myself kind of writing this alternate song based on that phrase. Later we found out that that in of itself is a sample from a rapper called YZ. We didn’t know that at the time. This was kind of the inspiration to write this other song that became “Step.”
Not only did it serve as inspiration, the band decided to research where Souls of Mischief gathered the samples for their song and layered those same samples into their own song, making for a kind of musical history hidden in the music:
You can also hear how the vocal melody of our chorus kind of riffs on that saxophone sample that you hear on the Souls of Mischief song. We had to go clear the samples, and we had to find out where Souls of Mischief gathered all their pieces from. Like I said, that line, “every time I see you in the world, you always step to my girl,” comes from this rapper YZ. But that saxophone melody is actually a cover by Grover Washington Jr. of a song by Bread called “Aubrey,” which I had never heard before. So in the end, if you compare “Step” to “Aubrey,” you can see the connection. They’re pretty different, but you can see how the melody kind of changed and morphed through these different versions.
“So what I finally decided was, art is simply inevitable. It was on the wall of a cave in France 30,000 years ago, and it’s because we are a species that’s driven by narrative. Art is storytelling, and we need to tell stories to pass along ideas and information, and to try and make sense out of all this chaos. And sometimes when you get a really good artist and a compelling story, you can almost achieve that thing that’s impossible which is entering the consciousness of another human being—literally seeing the world the way they see it. Then, if you have a really good piece of art and a really good artist, you are altered in some way, and so the experience is transformative and in the minute you’re experiencing that piece of art, you’re not alone. You’re connected to the arts. So I feel like that can’t be too bad.”
I wore shorts for the first time this year yesterday. This California air has inspired me since my plane landed almost a month ago welcoming me as it welcomes a new season. I made a little mix celebrating Spring, but also celebrating California, being outside, wearing shorts, and new life. It’s called Like Change in the Daylight. I hope you like it.
Adding to my collection of commencement speeches, I recently came across Bill Watterson’s speech at Kenyon University from 1990. This part especially stuck out for me:
Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.
You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.
To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.