“He was a poet, and he exhibited me many of his poems. I remember many of them. They were silly, you could say, and about love. He was always in his room writing those things, and never with people. I used to tell him, What good is all of that love doing on paper? I said, Let love write on you for a little. But he was so stubborn. Or perhaps he was only timid.”—From Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
My friend Sarah Handelman publishes an interesting zine called Not French Cooking. In her words, Not French Cooking is:
[A] zine published by Sarah Handelman that explores relationships with and through food. Inspired by Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the series addresses ideas surrounding health, nourishment and culinary-based relationships. Each themed issue explores and shares many diverse experiences with cuisine. Everyone is welcome at the table.
In celebration of the holidays, Sarah put together a special issue called Serving Forth which centers around the idea of gift-giving (a favorite subject of mine) and I was fortunate enough to be asked to contribute an essay. The idea behind the issue is that each contributor would submit a recipe that would be “given” to someone else. Once the issue is assembled, each contributor has a full cookbook to give to that loved-one.
I wrote a little piece about drinking whiskey sours with my college roommates that turned into a metaphor for craving deeper relationships. Here’s a part of it:
The table brings people together. There is an open chair pulled out for you to sit and take a break from the world you carry on your shoulders. Share a meal, split a drink, break some bread. Share your life with those around you. Share your joys and your sorrows. The world is falling apart faster than we can fix it. Maybe if we all gather around the table together, the world won’t feel so heavy.
I wrote it in honor of good friends but feel like it was actually a gift to myself. It feels like something I needed to write. We have friends on Facebook, followers on Twitter, and contacts on Google+, but these things don’t make me feel any less alone. We need deeper, more meaningful relationships in our lives. Some of my happiest moments were spent with good friends, good conversations, and good drinks. This essay is about that.
So, thanks to Sarah for asking me to participate and I hope you go read my entire piece and check out the entire issue (even if it’s just to try the amazing digital unwrapping). There are some great holiday recipes.
Sure, you can be content, happy, possibly even delirious. But merriment requires a group, and that group is almost always a group you can see and touch, one that’s sharing the same molecules of air, face to face.
The digital revolution continues to get deeper, wider and more important. But it has made no progress at all at increasing merriment. That’s up to us.
Merry Christmas, everyone. I’m disconnecting for a few days to spend time with the people I love. I wish the same for you and hope you find merriment this season.
“Good art is a kind of magic. It does magical things for both artist and audience. We can have long polysyllabic arguments about how to describe the way this magic works, but the plain fact is that good art is magical and precious and cool. It’s hard to try and make good art, and it seems to me wholly reasonable that good artists should be concerned with their work’s cultural reception.”—David Foster Wallace (via)
I absolutely devoured this profile of Teller (of Penn and Teller fame) from 2008 that John Gruber posted on Daring Fireball earlier this week. There is so much to glean about craftsmanship, the creative process, collaboration, and respecting your audience—just the things I think about most!
The profile centers around Teller’s exploration of a 100 year old trick called involving a simple red ball and they actually reveal how it’s done, yet still surprise people. I love how hard and how long Teller worked to perfect it; he’ll spend hours on an empty stage after a show getting it just right. He says:
When the theater is empty I like to go out on stage. It’s lonely and beautiful. I look at your empty seat and think about you being in it. … Then I practice. I often practice stuff you’ll never see. For the past few weeks I’ve been working on a hundred-year-old trick called the David P. Abbott Ball. It is a very, very hard trick, almost like juggling. I put in an hour almost every day. I try to get the tricky moves so deeply into my muscles and brain that I can forget I’m doing a trick. Soon I’ll know whether the ideas I have for this trick are possible. But I won’t know that till I learn all the moves and invent my own. If the trick doesn’t work out, you’ll never see it, and I won’t be sad. I had fun every second I was working. I love the stuff you never see.
This obsession with his craft makes it obvious how he became one of the masters in the field, yet he is never satisfied and is always thinking about how to improve, perfect, and add to:
[R]ather such total dedication to craft and art in a Las Vegas show causes me to admire the incredible focus Teller still has on improving, revising, thinking over this one brief trick. More than two years since he first began playing with the Abbott ball, he is still professionally obsessed with it and he loves every moment spent practicing and pondering improvements. How long will this last? Near the end of his lecture he says, “In six months or a year, it will start to settle into my bones. … In 10 years it’ll be perfect.”
And then the piece ends with a great quote from Teller that made me want to jump right out of me seat:
I am never bored. I never understand people who say they are bored. I wish they could just wrap up those hours and give them to me.
“In 2011 I learned that emotion is at the heart of every decision we make. From fashion to web forms, and spouses to site sign ups, emotion shapes our behavior by casting the tie-breaking vote when logic determines appropriate options for our consideration. We do what feels right, we go with our gut. By understanding emotion we can gain insight into user behavior, and design better user interfaces.”—Aaron Walter, from A List Apart’s What I Learned About the Web in 2011
Khoi Vinh looks back at the design studio he co-founded ten years ago and the lessons he learned in the process. These are valuable insights for any designer looking to strike out on their own, but I especially enjoyed this last bit of wisdom:
Even then, what I had already learned running that business was that saying “no,” was incredibly important, that turning down bad clients and bad projects — the ones that were outside of our expertise, outside of our budget, outside of the kind of work that would make us happy — was the only way to avoid the trap of working long and hard on miserable projects. This doesn’t just go for ‘established’ studios; due to the time, effort and opportunity cost of saying yes to bad projects, I believe it’s also a surefire way to make sure young studios never get to say yes to good projects. In the services business, sometimes “no” is the most powerful, effective and beneficial tool that you have.
Terrific essay from Liz Danzico using salt as a metaphor to give some insight into work and life:
Today, I still think of salt as enormously instructive. Think about the classic white shaker on every restaurant table. Most of the time we look right past it or ignore the invisible flavor in the small packets stacked next to the pepper. But stop for a moment, and consider salt’s history and presence — how far it traveled, what form it originally started in, how many people were involved just to get it to your table. It gets more interesting. Salt has inspired wars, funded the Great Wall of China, its been considered divine, its the name of cities, it has been used as currency. Today, it has over 14,000 uses and is considered a luxury in some parts of the world, while Americans just consume about a teaspoon and a half a day.
And then there is, of course, always, and inevitably, this spume of poetry that’s just blowing out of the sulphurous flue-holes of the earth. Just masses of poetry. It’s unstoppable, it’s uncorkable. There’s no way to make it end.
If we could just—just stop. For one year. If everybody could stop publishing their poems. No more. Stop it. Just— everyone. Every poet. Just stop.
The consumption beast is hard to feed. It’s always hungry and there is never a shortage of food it can devour.
Sometimes I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle. The lists of books I want to read grows faster than the list of books I have read. The list of movies I want to see seems to never get shorter. Or all those television shows I said I wanted to start. Without even including my Instapaper articles or my daily blogs, I sometimes feel like I keep climbing and climbing but I’ll never make it to the top of this mountain. I’m weary.
It’s for the inspiration, right? That’s how I convince myself it is okay to watch one more episode or read one more chapter. We approach great works of art—whether that be books, movies, poetry, or even television—because we hope to find a little of ourselves in those stories, and in that, we can become better versions of ourselves. We sound more interesting at parties, we produce smarter work.
And maybe that’s the paradox of in it all: all this consuming, this quest for knowledge, to be smarter, better, more cultured actually takes us away from producing our own work. Isn’t that why we do it? Why read that book that will make me sound interesting at a party, if I’m not going to the party anyway?
But wouldn’t it be great? To have a moment to regroup and understand? Everybody would ask, Okie doke, what new poems am I going to read today? Sorry: none. There are no new poems. And so you’re thrown back onto what’s already there, and you look at what’s on your own shelves, that you bought maybe eight years ago, and you think, Have I really looked at this book? This book might have something to it. And it’s there, it’s been waiting and waiting. Without any demonstration or clamor. No squeaky wheel. It’s just been waiting.
If everybody was silent for a year—if we could just stop this endless forward stumbling progress—wouldn’t we all be better people? I think probably so. I think that the lack of poetry, the absence of poetry, the yearning to have something new, would be the best thing that could happen to our art. No poems for a solid year. Maybe two.If everybody was silent for a year—if we could just stop this endless forward stumbling progress—wouldn’t we all be better people? I think probably so. I think that the lack of poetry, the absence of poetry, the yearning to have something new, would be the best thing that could happen to our art. No poems for a solid year. Maybe two.
I’m still trying to figure out that balance. I tell myself I have a lifetime to acquire that knowledge I desire, to read those books and see those movies. What’s the rush, Jarrett? Why not spend some time creating something of your own, or returning to those stories that helped make you who you are?
Good art requires repeated visits. So even though there is a stack of books next to me waiting to be read and a long Netflix queue, tonight I just want to settle in with an old favorite.
“I almost believe there is no New York; there is only a set of projections, and it can be anything you want. You hear it every day, so it must be true! It has the worst people, it has the best; it’s the worst, it’s the best. After all of these contradicting visions, you have to say there is no place like New York. It is the acceptance of the contradictions and illusions.”—
The thing about New York is, it’s based on the idea of change. It is the most mutable of places; its strength comes out of that. It doesn’t cling to its own history and has been free to invent new ones. Some changes are horrible, others lead us somewhere. They’re discomfiting because no one likes change, but eventually, you end up somewhere else, and you discover you like that place.
As I look back on my life here, the city seems to have changed and grown and improved and challenged, this pattern of adaptation leading to a new moment, a new population. Look at the nature of the population, enormously affirmative and enhancing of life. You may hate Starbucks, but it’s done something, and eventually it, too, will disappear.
Chapter One. He adored New York City. He idolized it all out of proportion. Eh uh, no, make that he, he romanticized it all out of proportion. Better. To him, no matter what the season was, this was still a town that existed in black and white and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin. Uh, no, let me start this over.
The forgoing of his traditional white-Windsor-set opening credits on a black screen, Woody Allen’s Manhattan opens with a voiceover read by Allen’s character Isaac Davis, while black and white images of city slowly cycle through sets the film up as not just a love story, but as Allen’s love letter to New York.
Since 2006, I’ve been making little Christmas mixes and sharing them on my blog. Continuing that tradition, this year’s mix is called I’ll be Home for Christmas and is now available for download. It’s a diverse mix of old and new songs from a variety of artists and is perfect to listen to while decorating the tree, sipping eggnog, and wrapping gifts.
“We could accumulate hundreds of thousands of images throughout our lives but they will never taste like anything. An image represents and verifies a memory but the rest is left to imagination. Every essential moment of a child’s life is documented if he was born in the West. With digital album after album for every birthday, every Christmas, he will never struggle to remember what his childhood home looked like. That reaching, that vague warm feeling for a place one remembers but cannot see; that is a sense now growing extinct. A child today grows up in a never forgotten house.”—The Never Forgotten House by Joanne McNeil, on memory, nostalgia, and childhood.
This is the thread that has animated and connected his documentaries, which have specialized in both upending received wisdom and finding the humanity behind it. And it’s the question that has connected Morris, the investigator, to his sources. “What were they thinking?”
Answering that question requires, above all, “a willingness to listen,” Morris said. Obvious, yes, but also often forgotten — particularly in the documentary context, where directors are often, implicitly, actors in the work they produce. Though interviewers often ask their sources questions to which they already know the answers, he noted, it’s far more productive that they be guided by true curiosity, by a true desire to learn something new.