Layman’s Report

I wrote another book report. Maybe this will be my last. Something made me respond to the publicist’s pitch. I ignore or politely decline most, and, as I wrote here a couple weeks ago, I’m trying to quit the whole racket. Something about this book makes me say yes. I start read and can’t stop. Now I want to read everything else the guy wrote.

I work most of a day on the stencil for my book-release posters. Then dug through the flatfile for old drawings to use as background/setting. Not sure how many I’ll make. There’s still lots of time left. Working on little jobs like this is a lot more satisfying than the hand-off and wait and wait and wait of mass-production situations like book-publication.

I’m in this transition-point frame of mind. Trying to figure out what I want to give my remaining energy to the next few years. No more book reports, maybe no more books. Definitely more one-off projects like posters, paintings, zines, etc. I think smaller and smaller is where I’m headed. It’s the opposite of the expected trajectory but it feels like where I need to be going.

Mallory made me watch Practical Magic, then we talked about it. I’m reading some stuff from the last book in The Frunchroom this Thursday, which means a trip back to Beverly. Come listen if you’re around.

Uncle Dmitry

My kid brother had a kid last week. More accurately, his wife, Lauren, did. I was an uncle once before for a brief time twenty years ago, but that was by marriage. This is the first child any of my brothers can claim credit for so far as I know.

Raya wasn’t supposed to arrive for another week but couldn’t wait. That’s a thing we have in common. I’m perpetually early too. I like to get on with it rather than procrastinating or waiting around.

When her father, Max, was born, I was halfway through senior year of high school. I made a couple sketches of him when he came home from the hospital. I’m old enough to be his father, though that’s not the type of relationship we’ve ever had.

There’s a flood of texts after the first announcement. Many from numbers I don’t recognize. Must be Lauren’s family. All reacting to photos I can’t see on my dumbphone. I turn the ringer off after awhile. Max emails me a couple pictures so I can share in their moment.

Baby pictures are strange. They mostly resemble other baby pictures except for when the baby is yours. I’ve never once recognized much in common between a newborn and either parent or grandparent. Only they themselves can see this. It’s okay. I have no feeling about it one way or the other. It’s not a life experience I will ever have so I have to believe those who are going through it.

After hearing the news, I made some breakfast, then went out into the alley behind the house and made a painting. I plan to send it to Max and Lauren in honor of Raya’s arrival once it dries. I don’t know if this is an appropriate present or whether it will mean anything to them, but this is how I react to and process just about everything that happens. I smear paint or pen marks across a flat surface about it.

I went through a bunch of old sketchbooks looking for those Max infant sketches and wound up throwing away a lot of shitty drawings. Throwing things away always makes me feel better. Maybe that’s in honor of my niece’s arrival as well.

I made a new page of old drawings from the ancient sketchbooks that I didn’t cull. These are available. Let me know if you’d like one.

I hope to meet Raya in person sometime later this summer. Maybe she’ll pose for a drawing.

I read a couple pages from Eugene Marten’s remarkable Layman’s Report into a microphone.

Listening to Myriam Gendron’s Ma Délire on repeat.

No more book reports.

The play starts and so does the familiar dread. Whether I enjoy the play or not, no matter if I have any reaction to it or none at all, I will go home and have to write a review. I’ve done this to myself. Sometime after the first book came out in 2011, I started to get paid for my written opinions. Haven’t been able to stop since.

It’s not just the money, though that’s helpful. Somewhere along the line I convinced myself that sharing my takes with strangers was worthwhile and a valid use of my time. The timeline coincides with the rise of social media, which practically dictates that we all must hold forth on everything and everyone that crosses our eyes, ears, and noses. It’s built in. Hot takes, cold takes, but takes, one way or another. Silence is not an option.

When I was in elementary school the teacher would assign a book to read, then make us write a book report. I resented this beyond all reason. My gut reaction was: Fuck you, read it yourself. These decades later, it feels like that impulse was the right one all along.

In the past fourteen years I’ve amassed enough reviews, essays, etc to fill an entire book but they will likely never be collected or published that way. It’s not that they’re so worthless. There’s the occasional insight, the odd memorable turn of phrase. It’s that there’s no reason to reread one guy’s judgment on a thing that itself is likely long forgotten.

There are a few writers, very few, who make criticism into an actual art. I’m just not one of them. So I will try, not for the first time, to quit. There’s enough money between the bookstore, art sales, the odd bar shift, and the kindness of friends and family, for me to get by okay without rendering my opinion on the latest play, book, or movie. The world will be no less rich without that puff of hot air.

This newsletter, which has been going about fifteen years, won’t last forever either. Some weeks it’s like pulling teeth. I still think there’s some value in keeping it going for now.

I want whatever energy I have left for art rather than opinionating. Doesn’t mean I’ll stop spouting my dumb takes to anyone who asks; only that it won’t be in print.

We’ll see how long I can hold out.

Rainbo show continues through July 27th. Eight pieces sold; eleven still available.