Fallen Leaves

I joined Letterboxd a month or so ago. Though it’s nominally a social network—you follow and are followed, you like and rate and comment, you silently stalk those more famous and popular than you—the main feature and utility of the site is to log seen movies.

To say I have a movie-going/watching habit is to vastly undersell; it’s pretty much a daily thing. A few years ago I attempted to keep a rolling list on some blog platform but gave up. Unlike so many other creative outlets, functioning without an external, established structure wasn’t working in this case. It wasn’t that I was missing external validation or even notice for that diaristic exercise—I long ago stopped awaiting or expecting approval or even reaction to much of anything I do—the problem was more structural.

When I’m working on a drawing there’s the built-in frame of the sketchbook or paper, when it’s a book, there’s a jacket and pages inside, but with an ongoing tally of watched films the horizon and borders feel infinite. There’s also the problem of memory. I’ve forgotten so much of what I’ve seen. I’ve been an avid movie-watcher since my early teens. That’s forty years. Even someone with a photographic memory might keel over and crash from the strain to recall. My memory is much more primitive technology than lenses and silver. There’s mostly sawdust in there and roiling it up blinds me more often than elucidating much of anything.

Still, I keep trying. During my first couple weeks on the site, I came up with over two thousand movies I had at least a trace memory of. I dumped all my Reader and other published reviews into my profile as well. It was one of those tedious, days’ long undertakings I tackle when I’m in between actually making something. It accesses a different part of my brain. The book-shelving I’ve been doing is kind of the same. It’s good for me to stop sometimes and not just keep cranking out art, which is my default setting.

The question of what all these filmed stories taking room in my consciousness are doing to me is a complicated one. Is it just escape? A way not to have interactions with other living humans? Can I really incorporate even a tiny fraction of what I take in through my eyes and ears from the screen? Is it okay to sometimes just passively take it?

I don’t know.

All the award-bait has been rolling out the last couple months. I watched Killers of the Flower Moon three times and it didn’t lose anything from the repetition. I loved Aki Kaurismäki’s new one. It feels a lot closer to my own limited emotional range than the average Hollywood effort. The new Frederick Wiseman doc made me really hungry. But the movie that has stayed with me the longest and keeps pulling on my coat is Kelly Reichardt’s Showing Up. Few films have shown what it’s like to be an artist day-to-day more accurately.

There’s a fair chance I’ll wake up some morning and delete my Letterboxd account. Throwing things in the trash—especially things I’ve sunk a lot of time and effort on—is a special pleasure. But for the time being the exercise in cataloguing has been rewarding. The list of films is up over three thousand now and I know it isn’t complete.

There’s no way it ever will be considering the flawed resources at my disposal.

Reviewed a play about cave-people.

Sketched an epic Bill Callahan show at Constellation.

Christmas came early this year: the printer finally delivered the four hundred copies of my new book he’s held hostage for three-plus months. I’ve now signed and numbered every last one.


I used to love the messiness of Wite-Out. The way it created gloppy uneven ridges on previously pristine paper. I would never have thought to go back and retype papers when all you had to do was brush over the mistakes and wait for it to dry. The results were usually kind of a mess but I always believed it added character and personality to my half-assed homework.

I never graduated to electric typewriters or word-processors with more sophisticated technology to attack typos. I leapt straight from manual machines to the laptop age. But the collage thing I started doing during lockdown has brought a version of Wite-Out back into my life.

I slather acrylic gesso over sections of old pictures that I think need correcting. These marks leave unique impressions and textures on the canvas. It’s a record of a decision to pivot or change what’s beneath it. A new layer that obscures but doesn’t completely nullify what was there before. I like there to be evidence of process and struggle in a picture. It indicates a history rather than the idea that an image was hatched all at once out of nothing and nowhere.

When I visited my parents a few weeks ago, my brother Max gave me an envelope of saved concert tickets. He asked me to make a collage with them.

Up to now, most of the collages have been made of bits of my own history. To use someone else’s was a challenge. But a concert ticket is a very familiar thing to me so I agree to try.

At first I rip off the perforated ends that usually feature seat numbers, prices, and undecipherable codes. But then I start leaving them in because they serve as a kind of rhyming refrain. I have fun blacking out select words or phrases to leave a kind of gibberish poetry. This collection of Max’s tickets is an informal diary going back over a decade. I hope what I made resonates for him and honors the many hours he spent in all those theaters, clubs, and trashed fields full of heavy metal maniacs.

At the Art Institute there’s a show of Picasso’s work on paper. The show is crowded and cramped the day I visit. The best thing included is a Cubist era collage by Georges Braque. I don’t stay long.

I spend a lot longer with a show of Canova sketches. It isn’t so packed with iPhone photographers and the rooms are sparsely filled with this minor half-realized work.

I have little familiarity with Antonio Canova and this exhibition doesn’t inspire me to learn more. The more finished busts and figures look like things that would look good in an affluent gangster’s palazzo or maybe an extra-decadent Italian restaurant. But I’m a sucker for grubby things made by hand and there are plenty of those.

By the time all the messy parts have been buffed away to leave a reflective sheen I’ve long ago lost interest.

I’m reading at Mallory’s book-launch Friday at Tangible. Join us.

I read the first few pages of Renata Adler’s Speedboat into a microphone.

I designed a t-shirt for Maudlin House.


I’ve found the perfect job for me: shelving books in a used-book store.

It doesn’t pay much and there’s no end to it but while I’m at it the world is a much more manageable place. There are achievable goals in short increments. There’s a satisfaction from completing tasks but enough variation and creativity to keep the work from becoming a monotonous bore. I can see myself doing it as long as I can still bend down and get back up.

I’m at Tangible one day and Joe complains it’s hard to get anyone to help him put books away. Boxes, crates, and paper bags of them come in every day. Donations and gifts from neighborhood people clearing out the homes of recently-deceased relatives or elderly hoarders trying to get a handle on their condition. Whatever the provenance, in Bridgeport, Joe is the beneficiary.

After sorting the books he thinks he can sell from ones to be taken to the thrift-store donation box, Joe makes stacks and towers divided by category. They wait on the big table by the door until he has the time or help to shelve them in History, Women’s Studies, Young Adult, Mystery, or an ever-expanding number of other categorized areas.

My first day I stick to Fiction. I alphabetize the books in New Arrivals, then take them three or four or six at a time to their proper shelf and wedge them in where they belong. Some shelves won’t take another paperback, so I have to move three or four books down or up to make room. Because they were printed anywhere from the late nineteenth century to this year, there’s no consistency in width, height, or style of tome. It’s a hodge-podge organized by alphabet and theme rather than aesthetic or chronological criteria.

There are personal choices at play as well. Joe has Chuck Klosterman’s books in Fiction, for instance. I question this—thinking of Klosterman more as a pop culture essay writer—but Joe just says to put it in Fiction. It’s his store. Not unlike the decor and organization of a home, a bookstore—or any kind of store that isn’t algorithmically assembled—is a kind of illustration of the owner’s mind.

Four hours pass before I empty the New Arrivals but I barely notice. Doing this scratches an itch. It’s satisfying in ways very few things I do ever are. Painting and writing are open-ended and ever-changing. There’s rarely a time when I feel a true feeling of completion. But when I pick up Volume III of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey slot it between Volume I and Volume IV, that’s all there is to it.

Can’t wait to go back and see what goes where next time.

Mallory and I talk 28 Days Later.