Diving for news.

I live with a person (who shall remain nameless) who doesn’t want to hear it. Doesn’t want to discuss politics, to fulminate over the latest outrage, to join in prognostications or stew in venom. So, each morning, when I read the paper, I have to find other things to tell her about. I read the headlines in silence, then turn to back pages and read aloud from the book review or the food section.

Today, I plumbed the depths.

I told her about the new Damien Hirst show, his first in quite a while, which is all quite mysterious, apparently containing “jeweled buried treasure covered with coral as if just pulled out of the ocean.” I do love his twisted mind.

And then, huge news! Scientists have identified a new continent. Whaa? Yes! “an underwater continent two-thirds the size of Australia — and they are calling it Zealandia.” New Zealand is the bit that protrudes above the water but the rest fit the definition of a continent. So cool!

And I shared an article detailing all of the unusual animals that have escaped into the  streets of my city in recent years: a goat, a zebra, a kangaroo, several cows, and, gulp, a cobra.  Most were sent to animal refuge centers, thank God. They omitted mention of any deep sea creatures, but we have been following one with interest since last summer: several whales that have been seen breaching in the East and Hudson Rivers, right off the shore of our island.

Each of these stories seem more directly relevant to our lives than a lot of the stuff I skim over. And they keep our mornings calm and sunny. Try it.

On not drawing

It happens. You ought to write something, draw something, not eat something, but ya just aren’t feeling it. Your New Year resolutions have petered out — less than two weeks into January.  Are you a bad person? Worthless? Is the monkey 100% right?

‘Course not. Ronnie Lawlor (who is drawing monster, by the by) and I talk about why not.

(Happy Friday 13th! It’s your luck day.)

How to draw when it’s ccccold.

Cripes, but it was cold here this week.  To boot, we were all coming down with some sort of flu, but the cold even had our dogs snuggling into the same bed, deep under their blankets. Then there was snow and salt and muck and, ugh. It finally eased up today, bit still, what the hell, where’s global warming when you need it?

Anyway, I was fortunate to have chatted about how to cope with all this mess earlier with my Ronnie Lawlor.  Here ya go:

How to get over a creative block

My SBS co-founder, Koosje Koene, has been experiencing a bit of a creative block of late so she has been asking for strategies on how to get past it. We did a Skype chat in which I gave her a few ideas to help her reshuffle the deck and get back to work.

This chat is part of a series for the Sketchbook Skool blog which has lots of other ideas for improving your creative life. If you sign up for the SBS newsletter, this sort of advice will find you and kick your monkey’s butt.
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P.S. Please excuse my unshaven, pimply appearance. I am going through a second adolescence and my usual hair and makeup person is on sabbatical.

Patti and the monkey

Tim sent me the following email last week:

Hi Danny,

Thanks for Shut Your Monkey. I’ve been working on quieting my inner voice for 40 years mostly through meditation. I’ve added Shut Your Monkey to the list of books that have helped me over the years including Be Here Now, Ram Dass; The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle; Experience of Insight, Joseph Goldstein; The Art of Living, William Hart; and Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche.

Where your book has been extremely helpful is in discovering those nooks and crannies where my Monkey has been hiding and impersonating my voice with subtle little comments that I didn’t recognize as coming from him. So thank you.

I do have a question for you. I’ve been following you for a number of years and was especially touched by your willingness to be so open about your wife’s illness and death. I’m wondering how that inner voice was part of that experience?

Tim


Here’s what I wrote in response:

Tim:

I’m so glad my new book is helpful.  Thanks for letting me know.  I am flattered to be in such august company.

As to the inner voice and my wife….

When Patti was first injured, we spent a lot of time looking for information. We were in a fairly narrow niche among people dealing with spinal cord injuries: 1) my wife was a woman (obviously), 2) we had a 9 month-old-child and 3) we lived in a big city and 4) she was over 30. There just weren’t many people like her (one more way Patti was special).  We were in a constant quest for information about our particular situation and it was hard to come by in those early days of the Internet. So I started a bulletin board called curbcut.com and it soon became a vibrant community for sharing information and support. You can see part of an archive of it here. The discussion we had there had to be frank to be useful and it became increasingly normal and comfortable for us to tell total strangers some pretty intimate stuff in order to get useful feedback.

Similarly, when I started drawing, there was very little information and inspiration about illustrated journaling. Hannah Hinchman had a book, d.price had a zine, but otherwise not much. So I formed a community on Yahoo! that quickly grew to 4,000 members. 

In both cases, I found that sharing what I was going through with other people helped me and help them. That’s why I wrote Everyday Matters and eventually A Kiss Before You Go and Shut Your Monkey too. And that’s why I have been blogging for all the years: because turning the things of my life into words and pictures helps me understand them better and sharing them with people, even strangers, makes even the worst moments seems worthwhile.

The monkey doesn’t always agree. He told me many time that my sharing was actually exploitation, that I was turning my family into fodder for my bottomless need for attention. That may be true. But so is my other point: when I turn my experiences into some sort of art, it makes my life richer and clearer to me. And when I make art, it seems natural to share it. That’s what artists and writers do.

Sharing stuff publicly hasn’t had many negative consequences beyond the whining of the monkey in my head. And it seems to help other people too.They write to tell me that I am not alone in my feelings or that my description of an experience has helped clarify it for them too.

The monkey has a lot to say about every one of my projects. He has been particularly vocal about my book/podcast/newsletter.  Nonetheless, creating them has been helpful to me and hopefully to others too so I persevere over the cries of outrage in my head.

I hope that’s helpful. Thanks for asking,

Danny

Inspirianapolis.

Over the years, I have narrowed my bag of tricks to a select few: watercolors, ink, a dip pen to write with. Sure, I vary it a bit with some gouache and an occasional brush pen — but my arsenal is limited and comfortable as old, very scuffed shoes.

Last week, when I hung out with my pal Penny Dullaghan in Indianapolis, I realized the price I pay with this lack of imagination. She opened drawers and pulled out screen prints, monoprints, pages of pattern blocks, , then drawings she had collaborated on with her 7-year-old daughter. I watched her create stencils to define shapes and then pound color through them with ink pads. I marveled as she created carbon paper with oil paint and scribed spasmodic, fractured lines with a special transfer techniques. She whittled a stamp out of soft linoleum and created graceful repeating patterns. She layered ink, watercolor, gouache and colored pencil over the textures she’d made and turned simple drawings and designs into rich, organic textures that made her images come alive.

I left town with my head full of ideas and a long list of things I wanted to try. Then I caught up with my pal Tommy Kane and he showed me new techniques he’s doing by layering drawings on top of each other, by drawing on marbleized paper, and by painting and drawing on ceramics.

My friends fired me up to get radical, to experiment in a way I haven’t in ages, to learn new techniques, and to build myself a proper studio once again so I can spread out and play.

How set are you in your ways?

 

 

Cool.

I’m spending this week in school. Surrounded by teenagers, I am transported back to my own school days, back to a time when cool was the rule. I came into high school decidedly uncool, with my charcoal smear mustache, fresh off the boat from three years in a small Israel town. I knew nothing about pop culture, sports, music, how to dress or swear. My mother still cut my hair.

By the time I graduated, I was cool—ish. By day I was a good student. I starred in the school play, I edited the paper, I illustrated the yearbook. At night, my friends and I were automatically waved past the velvet rope at Studio 54. We were regulars at CB’s, Mudd Club, Area, Heat, Danceteria, and the Roxy. We hung out with junkies in Alphabet City and smoked dope in the theatre balconies of Time Square. We went to outlaw parties on the High Line, thirty years before it became a tourist attraction, climbing the rusty pylons to drink from brown bags on the crumbled tracks. New York in the ’70’s, it turned out, was cool as hell and some of it rubbed off on me.

When I graduated from college and came back to New York to enter the work world, I was the new kid all over again. I soon discovered there was hierarchy of cool among ad agencies. Ally, Scalli, Della Femina, Lord Geller and Ammirati ruled the early ’80’s only to be eclipsed by newcomers like Riney, Hill Holiday, Kirshenbaum, Deutsch, and the coolest of the cool, Chiat Day and Weiden & Kennedy.

I just assumed I wasn’t cool enough for any of these top shops and worked for the intellectual agency instead, Ogilvy & Mather. Still, I always looked with dorkish yearning at the cool guys. It seems that to work on Apple or Nike required some chromosome I was missing. I didn’t call people ‘bruh’, didn’t have any tattoos or a soul patch or a pony tail, hadn’t backpacked through Morocco or Burma, didn’t own a black lab with a bandana or a Harley. Some magic was working these super-cool places, magic I wasn’t privy too.

Recently I met a bunch of people who worked at Weiden in that period, thanks to my girlfriend, Jenny — who’s one of them. Nice guys, smart enough, but not another species. They may have felt little more empowered to take risks, more likely to see off-center ideas, more free in some ways, but they put their black Levi’s on one leg at a time, same as me.

I’ve had the same experience with artists I admire. People who I thought had drunk some magic elixir, or carved their own pens out of logs of Brazilian Zebra wood which they’d felled themselves, people who seemed to be gods but were just marginally cooler and freer and looser and are confident than I was. With a little effort, a little willpower, I could see that I could be as cool as Robert Crumb or James Jean or Lapin or Tommy Kane.

I look at the high schools kids I worked with this morning. The coolest ones aren’t the ones with silly haircuts or eyeliner or extreme clothing or the outline of cigarette packs in their pockets. They’re the one who are open, confident, curious … themselves. Assuming you are style handicapped, ungifted, uncoordinated, hopeless, backward, well, that’s just your monkey being uncool.

Grace and aplomb can be yours. Just take a deep breath and walk into the room like everyone’s your pal. Draw that same way. With clear eyes and an open mind. With confident strokes, no matter how wonky. With a willingness to fail and an eagerness to learn. Laugh at yourself, take a chance, keep coming back, and, lo and behold, you’ll be super-cool.