I’m washing my eyes with words and hoping something turns up that works as I’m moving forward.
Robert Eggers, on writing dialect for The Lighthouse
7. People pretend there are readers and non-readers. But there are just people willing to practice the patience necessary to get hypnotized, and those who quit before their eyes turn into spirals. To read is to welcome this hypnosis, await its arrival, then trust its direction.
The Terra Nova Expedition is the Millennials’ polar expedition. We’ve worked really hard, we’ve done everything we were supposed to, we made what appeared to be the right decisions at the time, and we’re still losing. Nothing in the mythology we’ve been fed has prepared us for this. No amount of positive attitude is going to change it. We have all the aphorisms in the world, but what we need is an example of how to behave when the chips are down, when the Boss is not sailing into the tempest to rescue us, when the Yelcho is not on the horizon. When circumstances are beyond your power to change, how do you make the best of your bad situation? What does that look like? Even if you can’t fix anything, how do you make it better for the people around you – or at the very least, not worse? Scott tells us: you can be patient, supportive, and humble; see who needs help and offer it; be realistic but don’t give in to despair; and if you’re up against a wall with no hope of rescue, go out in a blaze of kindness. We learn by imitation: it’s easy to say these things, but to see them in action, in much harder circumstances than we will ever face, is a far greater help. And to see them exemplified by real, flawed, complicated people like us is better still; they are not fairly-tale ideals, they are achievable. Real people achieved them.
I am leaping out of my chair and whooping and cheering and hollering about this passage from Sarah Airriess’s latest Patreon post. (The whole essay was released early for Patrons, so you can either become a supporter to read the whole thing today or just wait it out until it becomes more widely available in a month. Personally I’d recommend the former, because Sarah’s Patreon is one of the best around, but I’m biased.)
This talk originally accompanied the launch of The Worst Journey in the World, Vol. 1, Sarah’s graphic novel adaptation of Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s account of the Terra Nova Expedition. I’m holding my copy right now, and it’s one of the most beautiful comics I’ve ever seen. Again: my appreciation is probably heightened by the fact that I’ve been following along on Patreon for years as she’s shared the process behind every page, but even without that context it’s a beautiful, beautiful book.
In the microcosm of caregiving, I’m learning this lesson over and over again: it isn’t the systems that make it bearable; it’s the people. It’s Gabriela texting to say she’s bringing over a rotisserie chicken. It’s Jim coming by in an hour to take my dad out for a visit to his favorite coffee shop. It’s Jen holding space for our cohort of young caregivers to show up and commiserate with each other over Zoom because she went through what we’re going through and wants to pay it forward. It’s Hayley texting a loving thought from across the country when I somehow need it most. It’s Sarah picking up my watch from the place in Ventura that I keep forgetting to stop at and then coming to help me build a bed frame. It’s also whoever left a free mattress in the parking lot behind Vons.
I think back on the way I lived through the first ten years of my career and it feels so different. I was bolstered and supported by community, it’s true. I was even asking them for help at every turn to make my books and my work possible! But somehow the ways I’m relying on others right now feel so different. I’m humbled so much more thoroughly by letting people in during this season of my life because it’s not just creative anxiety anymore. That’s peanuts. That’s easy.
This is the real shit.
It’s not freezing to death in Antarctica shit, but some days it feels real close. I’ve feared and loathed the thought of anyone seeing me like this for so long, but time and time again I see that people want to help each other. Or, at the very least, my people want to help me. And my dad’s people want to help me. And my hometown wants to help me.
I’ve been reading J.B. Priestley’s book Delight during my morning excursions to the lavatory for the last couple months. Maybe this is a sign I’m turning into my father as I age, but I’ve really embraced the art of reading in the loo. I have yet to achieve his ability to stay in there for a half hour every morning, but I’m learning the ins and outs of the practice. You can’t, for example, just pick any old book! You need something with short enough chapters to remain enjoyable and engaging even if you’re only reading a page or two a day.
When I look back at 2022 in reading I realize a lot of my favorite books from this year happened to be Loo Reads. 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write, The Timeless Way of Building, A Primer for Forgetting, Notes from Walnut Tree Farm, Delight, 300 Arguments…I’m sure I enjoyed them for their own merits, but I also wonder if the pace of consumption didn’t have something to do with it as well. They kept me company for far longer than books typically do, and with far more consistency.
Anyway, Priestley is marvelous. So many of these entries feel like they could’ve been written yesterday; I’ve been resisting the temptation to write about them all. (It does, however, give me great pleasure to see Robin blogging about bits from the copy I sent him. I love it when a gift finds its mark.)
It felt as if everyone else had already read Priestdaddy and I was last person to arrive at the Priestdaddy Party and yet when I scream at anyone in earshot about how this is the funniest book I’ve read in years, many of them haven’t heard of it at all. A reminder, then, to holler about the things we love, never assuming they’re old hat to those around us. We can always be the catalyst for someone’s next foray into joy.
A zero-to-sixty obsession with Katherine Angel this past week, having never encountered her work before. Just finished Unmastered and a cursory Google reveals that of course it was Olivia Laing who reviewed it in The Guardian when it came out, referring to it as “a giddily joyful book, thicketed with exclamation marks.”
I love her. I love that they are peers. I love this game of finding out that people I admire know other people I admire. (See also: endnotes in Unmastered referencing Hélène Cixous.)
This is probably the sign I’ve been waiting for, wondering what book to take when I flee to an island with no internet or cell reception next week. I’ve had Laing’s Everybody, A Book About Freedom sitting on my shelf since it came out, but for some ungodly reason haven’t cracked it. Everything else on my list is a library eBook accessible only via an iPad app and it feels deeply wrong to be reading on an iPad in the wilderness. BRING ME PAPER.
I haven’t historically been someone who reads a lot of books simultaneously, but I won’t lie: it’s doing a lot for me right now. My brain is scattered and anxious and burnt out and overwhelmed and uncertain, but allowing pattern recognition to come into play as I’m reading across genres and timescales…that I can manage. It helps things feel as if they make sense.
Of course, sometimes the patterns I recognize are massively uncomfortable. Here’s three about habit, practice, belief, and enthusiasm:
Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way:
Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods:
Fenton Johnson’s At the Center of All Beauty:
I think I’ve listed these in the order I encountered them, but I can’t be sure. I just know I read the Cameron passage and felt personally attacked in that good, awful way that means something true is surfacing. I love daily drawing challenges. Arguably I’ve built a whole career on them. But I also, deep down, know that they can become a kind of ego trap. Fortunately there are all these other rhyming passages that offer alternative paths and approaches. Johnson underlines a truth I’ve already folded into large parts of my brain: that there’s a fundamental difference between a habit and a practice.
Bonus Kicker: I read Zina that passage from Cameron and she immediately latched onto the etymology of enthusiasm. “Did you know?” she asked. And I had to reply that I did, because there’s a phrase rattling around in my brain:
“The Greeks said that to be enthusiastic was to be filled with God.”
Why do I know this? Why do I know it with this specific wording? It feels like something I know through repetition, like I’ve heard it read aloud many times or included in a talk. I dig around in the filing cabinets of surface memory and find nothing.
At 11:30 that night I finally find it: a single quote pulled from a series of small stories written by Frank Chimero in, as far as I can tell, 2010. I’d written it down in 2016 in an old notes document where I kept links and things to include in my newsletter. A quick spin through the archives suggests that I never actually wove it into an update, but every time I went to write one I’d skim through that list of quotes and links and there it would be: a phrase.
Trying not to be precious about year-end stuff right now because I’m feeling stuck, but here’s a big list of things I read in 2021! Reading was hard this year for…well, you know. All the reasons. I needed a lot of comfort food to get through the upheaval of moving home, and for huge swaths of time I felt as if I’d lost access to the part of my brain that thrilled to Alberto Manguel or Le Guin in the first part of the year. I’m still sort of there.
Read a lot of comics (thanks, Danielle’s studio library and also The Actual Library) because I started drawing a graphic novel and it turns out reading more comics helps your brain think in comics??? Who knew. I still feel like I’m scratching my way towards figuring out what really makes a comic work for me. It takes a lot to get me excited about them, which feels somewhat icky as a person who knows first-hand how much fucking time they take. But there it is!
Started trying to track rough start/end dates towards the second half of the year because I got curious. I’ll probably stick with that into 2022.
Bubble and The Liar’s Dictionary both made me laugh out loud. The Creative Habit and Always Coming Home reminded me how I got to be the way I am. I’m sure there are other books I felt feelings about but I’m just going to HIT PUBLISH.