Reset

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.

barking up the wrong tree

I had a friend who would only make plans if I agreed to meet at their house. We’d known one another for decades but I only noticed this during plague-time. When I suggested they come to my place, they’d nod and promise to, but next time they texted, weeks, months later, the plan was always for me to go to theirs.

I explained this to myself by saying they were more worried about catching the virus, were being careful. In any case, it was nice to be invited. But as years went by I started to resent this setup. It was clear that our interactions were conditional on my accepting their terms. I had no one to blame but myself for letting this happen.

What kind of friend are you? What are your friends like? At this late date I find I need them less and less. The terms of engagement are often too much. We all get so set in our ways. It’s easier and usually better time not to even bother and just stay home.

The plague crystallized a lot of these realizations. Taking a step away from relationships that had become rote and habitual it was easier to see the defects and flaws that had been there all along. Now I find I will put up with a lot less than I did before from people I thought cared about me.

I have no doubt that some of these friends I’m thinking of came to similar conclusions about me. That the frustrations and annoyances of having me in their lives weren’t worth whatever positive there might have been. I don’t hold it against them. But I probably won’t be calling them anytime soon either.

Aging is part of it too. When it becomes clear that the time left is no longer endless you take more care in how you spend it. I have a few things left I’d like to do before I’m done and sitting bored sipping a drink I don’t even want on somebody else’s couch takes away from that.

It’s all the more special when I meet up with someone I care about and we have a good talk or a meal. That feeling of being met, if not halfway, then at least part-way, is rare and precious. It means a lot to be valued on my own terms. It doesn’t happen much.

I’m no hero or martyr but I’m also not that thirsty a flower. I don’t need much from others. I’ve lost friends over a single unresponded-to text. The same ones who ignore messages for weeks at a time. I don’t believe there’s such a thing as equality in any relationship, there’s always an imbalance of affection and of power, but if one side of the seesaw is always up, the one holding it down will grow tired and will get up and leave.

If they have any self-respect.

Don’t worry, I wasn’t talking about you.

—Listen to my talk with Mat Daly then tune in Wednesday for one with Jake Austen, of Rocktober and Chic-a-Go-Go fame. Mallory and I discuss a really shitty zombie movie she made me watch.

—I made you a playlist called “The Worst Thing You Can Do For Your Health“.

Stars at Noon

Claire Denis’s Stars at Noon won the Palm D’Or at Cannes but isn’t playing at a single theater in Chicago. The reason is that the studio has decided to release it VOD same day. The big movie chains don’t like that so they fight back by not booking films for theatrical runs. The whole business seems like it’s in death throes, trying to cause as much collateral damage as it can before disappearing for good.

But I wanna see the movie in a theater so I get on my bike and pedal to Wilmette.

I listen to a podcast interview on the way. It’s fifteen miles or so. I’m into Evanston before they finish talking. I put on something else. There’s still a way’s to go.

Then I’m passing the Ba’hai Temple so I know I must be close. It’s an uncanny edifice. Sort of like aliens plopped the thing among this quiet place of trees and houses like an outpost to be visible from far away. The daylight’s fading as I leave it behind me.

I’m over an hour early so I walk around the quaint commercial strip where the theater sits, then choose an Italian place next door for dinner. It’s busy so the hostess hesitates to give me a table. But I promise I’ll be out of there by 6:45 so she relents.

Every other table includes screaming infants. The family seated to my right has three. The mom keeps taking the smallest one outside. I watch her pace up and down the sidewalk as the dad tries to control the two left inside. Their oldest knocks a full sippy cup off the table. It sprays soda in a big puddle inches from my feet. It takes several employees to clean it up.

To my left, by the window, a couple is on an early date. They’re not young but I can’t tell their ages. Younger than me for sure. He looks like maybe he was athletic once but has settled into something like insurance or maybe he sells cars. She has an accent I can’t make out over the competing squalls of children. Eastern-European, maybe? He reaches to hold her hand awkwardly across the table. Doesn’t feel like they’ve done even that much before. He keeps checking movie showtimes on his phone, then reading her the descriptions of the movies. She suggests they skip the movie and go to his house after they get what’s left of their pizza wrapped to go. He doesn’t get the hint. “Do you understand what I’m trying to say?” she keeps asking, obviously frustrated.

There’s no one inside the lobby when I go in, then a young woman, possibly a high-schooler, comes out of a messy office to the side of a makeshift concession stand. I show her the ticket I printed out at home and she points me to the auditorium door. Inside there are a bunch of mismatched loveseats and armchairs arranged in approximate rows. There’s a stage with amps and music stands below a movie screen at the far end of the room. Judging by the position of the left wall and the incline of the floor, I’d guess this is the right side of a single-screen theater that was chopped back when multiplexes were first coming in in the 80s and the home-video market began the gradual murder of movie-going that is nearly complete today.

Despite the theater losing power at one point, causing a five-minute stop in the screening and the young woman frantically running about trying to unplug the lights after, the movie’s amazing. Maybe my favorite this year. The tindersticks soundtrack and Denis Johnson source-material doesn’t hurt.

Claire Denis is one of the great filmmakers going. Too bad the age of movies is just about done. I’ll keep going to whatever rec center or forgotten hall I have to to see movies on a screen, but the audiences will keep shrinking. There’s no use crying about it. This is the way of things. Every art medium has its day in the sun before it fades. Then it’s the job of outcasts and obsessives to keep it flickering rather than being snuffed out for good.

—Just in time for the playoffs, here’s my Jean-Paul Sartre, Sox fan t-shirt.

—Listen to my talk with Westley Heine, then tune in Wednesday for one with musician/printmaker/craft fair impresario Mat Daly.

—Read my review of an epic new play.