I’ve had a bunch of ideas and projects simmering on the stovetop of my mind and, because most or all of them may never get out of the kitchen, I thought I’d serve them up here and see what you think.
Mike Lowery just sent me a little book he made and had printed (How to Keep a Travel Sketchbook ). I loved the book but was also curious about how he’d had it made which turned out to be a company called Scout https://scoutbooks.com/ that makes little books of a certain size and length, and the cuteness of these little books, essentially pocket-sized pamphlets with kraftboard covers, reminded me of the books I used to love to make as a kid and I badly wanted to make one again. A similar impulse happened when I came across the Newspaper Club, a company that prints small-run newspapers, and I was obsessed with the idea of making an issue or two, but which, like my fantasies of letterpressing and screenprinting, died under a bleak vision of exhausted cardboard boxfuls of unwanted printed matter stacked to the ceiling of Jack’s former bedroom, sort of like the warehouse scene at the end of Citizen Kane but more ramshackle and sad. Anyway, the idea of making my own little books has haunted me since I was six and the fact that you can make them more easily and more professionally than ever keeps that flame alive.
I was reading the recent issue about podcasting in New York magazine and it made me think yet again about reviving my podcasting efforts which initially began more than ten years ago with a podcast and then a video podcast that no one ever knew about. Then I made the Shut Your Monkey podcast and then the Art for All podcast and I did what I so often do with so many creative projects which is to start with a flicker of an idea and then keep researching additional ways to make the production more and more elaborate until it collapses under the weight of my own unreachable expectations. What starts out as whim develops all these rules and procedures and expectation until eventually the mere thought of working on it further seems a frightful chore and bore and I wander off to the next. This blog has occasionally undergone this sort of metastasis as I have inflated the ambitions of my soapbox to unwieldy heights, like writing a long essay every single day or not at all, and it is not a pretty sight as I’m sure you as a long-time reader will recognize. But somehow I keep coming back to this particular oasis to drink, perhaps because at its core, blogging just requires typing on the keyboard and hitting “Post.” I am currently laboring under a self-imposed requirement that each post be titled “How to ___ ” which is liberating, in that the first two words of the post have been written for me and I can generally take off from that ruining start, and confining, in that I am always wrestling with that part of me that insists I must be a hard-blowing expert while I generally feel like my nature is to be a distracted incompetent and so having the title be necessarily proscriptive can be a challenge. I console myself with the fact that most of my self-help advice is not in fact terribly helpful.
An extension of this desire to self-publish — given fresh urgency of late because of my involvements with one publisher that unceremoniously remaindered one of my books that meant the most the most to me and another that declared bankruptcy just as we are in the last stage of prepress and may or may not come through with the goods in October — is to self-publish a book or two through Amazon in the hope that at least those people who already know and can stomach my books might buy enough copies without the encouragement of the Media Industrial Complex to make up for the loss of piddling royalties I get from my various legitimate publishers to be worth the trouble. The fact is that I write, illustrate, design, and endlessly promote most of my books which means that the publishers just need to ship them to China to be printed, have a few lunches with the guys at Barnes & Noble, spend a week in Frankfurt at the book fair, and in return pocket 92% of every buck you spend on my books. So, the discontented voice in my head repeats, if we cut them the hell out, we can survive on far fewer sales and still spend the summers on the French Riviera and the winters in Gstaad. All I need to do is upload my InDesign files to some website and I’ll be golden. My fear that my readers won’t come through without the requisite serving of NPR interviews and guest podcasting and I’ll be left in a dark corner behind the stacks of boxes in Jack’s room licking my bedsores with the rough tongue of regret keep me springing to attention when my editor emails.
Where was I? Oh, yes, so I had this vague idea that it might be nice to revisit all of the best of the blogposts I’ve written here and polish them into a book of essays with black and white spot illustrations, the sort of thing that Seth Godin and David Sedaris and Montaigne have churned out to great effect, and issue it as an ebook and a paperback available through Amazon. Or maybe a small boxed sets of Scout booklets like Maurice Sendak’s Nutshell Library (God, I love those) which I could truck to the mail center across the street and ship to you with handwritten notes and custom rubber stamps and calligraphied addresses with grosgrain ribbon bookmarks and marbleized slip cases… there we go again, making things complicated.
Yeah, so back to the podcast. I thought could I make things bone-simple, just open the mic and cogitate on various creative issues like I do in this blog and then just post them and see what happens. But of course the problem is that they could quickly grow tedious and littered with digressions and uhs & ums which would require a lot of painful editing and post-production and so I should probably hire a podcast editor which means opening the old browser and looking for a freelance producer and then counting on this unknown person to get it and make something good and having one more distant person to manage and then what if it doesn’t work out and the whole thing becomes one more over-inflated project and I skulk away from it too.
This week I did the first of what could become an ongoing series if I don’t get too cute with it, a live thing on YouTube called “Draw With Me” in which I just drink a cup of tea and do a drawing while chatting with people over the comments section. It was lots of fun to do this first time and hopefully seemed a little more effortless than it actually was (I managed to come up with a litany of ways to complicate the procedure, including a four camera set up, a lavaliere mic through a digital recorder, a newly-purchased folding card table, and several other bits of tech I won’t bore you with); people showed up, we had a nice conversation, I did a not-awful drawing, and I am looking forward to doing it again. It has begun in the same spirit as another of my YouTube series, SketchBook Club, which involved my simply flipping through a selection from my library of great sketchbook artists, but then became contaminated with commercial intrusions like promoting SketchBook Skool agenda or responding to the not-great published sketchbooks other people thrust on me to talk about and, after 25 episodes or so, has lost some of its appeal, at least to me, or my podcast Shut Your Monkey which began with my fantasy that I could record an audio version of my book (for some reason the publisher left me with the audio rights) but then became a new career in booking guests and arranging good times to talk and wrestling with remote recording snafus and then spending insane amounts of time in post production including editing dozens of interviews down to bite-sizes and creating my own musical tracks and all sorts of things way beyond the pale, and the book excerpts became more and more fifth wheels until the whole thing petered out like this sentence. I hope that Draw with Me remains a fun thing to do, not a burden — but that remains to be seen.
People I know, like my wife and my business partner and a few old friends, have grown used to the fireworks display of my enthusiasms, soaring and careening and lighting up the sky then fading away with a whimper, only to be eclipsed by the next fusillade. I can no longer count on anyone I know to sustain much interest in my pet projects, perhaps because they know they’re bound to be short-lived or perhaps because they just can’t keep up, so I labor on, clattering pots, lighting fuses, my over-caffeinated imagination busting for some unknown response. My wife thinks that since my cancer diagnosis my volume of production has increased exponentially but I dunno, I feel like I’ve always been like this. I don’t labor under some impending sense of the end, the curtains inching closed and prompting a mad dash to take my final creaky stand upon the boards.
I am destined for less-than-greatness. A long time ago, my first roommate told me he thought I would one day be minorly well-known for some niche thing, and I was terribly offended at the verdict but it’s true, that is my fate, to be a vaguely familiar face in an old movie, a character actor whose name is just on the tip of your tongue, and honestly that’s fine and not at all the point. I make things because I like to and I must, but most of the fun is in the first 70 yards of the the 100, the burst from the blocks, the frying of the onions, the breaking of the ground with golden shovels. There are people who spend years polishing, who have a single-life’s work, who reach for the stars, who create for the ages. I’m more of a sandwich man, satisfying today’s hunger with something palatable but not fancy, something you might walk an extra block or two for but not necessarily make a reservation for. Alright, here we go, down the familiar rabbit hole that approaches self-pity and derision, a reflexive journey to blunderland, and not all what I intended or even what I feel this morning as I type here in my nook, snug in my dressing gown, a cooling cup of tea at my elbow.
This post began as a way of sharing some half-baked ideas with you, but it has turned into a eulogy instead. Well, I’m not dead yet and so I must get back to work.