Since my book came out I’ve been consumed with/bogged down in/diverted by a number of time-intensive but not especially creative activities. Some of these are self-generated, done out of internal compulsions utterly meaningless to anyone else; others are jobs for friends. The thing both kinds have in common is a palate-cleansing effect.
These are the in-between things before “real” work can begin again.
After cut-and-pasting five hundred newsletters from Ghost to WordPress, I open the new site on a tablet rather than the laptop I’d been working on and see that most of the images are broken or won’t load. This means that much of what has taken me nearly two weeks to accomplish will have to be done again. It’s an awful feeling but there’s also a kind of comfort in knowing that now I can put off diving into the next thing while cleaning up this mess I’ve made. Did I fuck it up on purpose to extend this time-out time? I can’t credit myself with that kind of forethought. Still, a chance to check out is a chance to check out.
What often happens while I’m mindlessly moving sections of text and pictures from one virtual box to another is that I’ll have stray thoughts about the next project. I can’t do anything about it but it’s a comfort to know that there’s something waiting to be worked on after I dig myself out of this clerical dumpster.
These thoughts come while I’m also listening an audiobook of Tree of Smoke. So, not only am I up to my gills words and art but the machinations of CIA operatives running around Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, and the US are also in my head. When art and writing ideas invade the bad actors fade to the background for a time. Then, when I tune back into their story I’ve lost track a bit. Good thing they’re never up to anything good. It’s a workmanlike descent into hell for all involved.
Sometimes I pause and look at the art wall or out the window and wonder whether I could just stop the task mid-way through and get going on something more worthwhile. But unless I destroy the thing completely, rip it up, burn it, take it out to the alley, there’s no quitting it. In the case of the newsletter I’m way too deep in to throw it away. This latest format/platform change is a way to reedit an archive that has fed five of my seven books and countless paintings and drawings. So perhaps the maddening task I’ve set myself is not entirely uncreative. Each time I put these illustrated paragraphs into a new environment I can see them anew.
The design jobs for others scratches a different itch. For most of my life the creative projects I’ve done have been one-man-band affairs. This is a chance to collaborate. Though, of course, designing a record cover or laying out a book is not true collaboration. It’s craft rather than art. I’ve always been envious and a little baffled by musicians and filmmakers because they cede control to others for the greater good. They know that insisting on getting their way will often make the thing worse in the end even as it satisfies their ego.
I don’t know that I’d be able to share like that.
When I get hired for one of these jobs I insist on nothing. I do the best I can then send the thing to whoever’s in charge. When they come back with criticism I just change what they want changed and move on. It’s a kind of relief to be just a cog in someone else’s machine.
Maybe that’s the real value and purpose of the side or in-between gig. To relinquish control, take my hands off the wheel and allow myself to be steered toward someone else’s destination. Strangely, the newsletter migration, though initiated by me, feels similar to the design jobs in this way that I’m not in charge.
It dictates the terms and I follow.
—I made you a playlist called “Facts Sound Like Myths”.
—Listen to my talk with Jake Austen, then tune in Wednesday for one with musician/soundman extraordinaire Elliot Dicks. Mallory and I covered Suspiria for Halloween.