How to shake things up.

We just got back to New York after a month in California. We went west because November had been so awful and cold in NY and we couldn’t bear the idea of an unbroken stretch of winter reaching long over the horizon. So we borrowed a friend’s house near the beach in Venice, then moved inland to a Spanish revival house (above) on a big piece of land in Echo Park.

It was admittedly quite a luxury to flee and cross the country but it wasn’t a vacation. JJ and I spent much of each day sitting across from each other at the kitchen table, working away at our laptops, while the rain beat against the windows and the wind howled through the palm trees. It’s great to have job you can do from anywhere on earth with access to wifi!

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How to become a professional.

When I was a sophomore at Princeton, I had to pick a major. It seemed like the one crucial decision that would determine my life’s path. I sweated over it for months.

There were certain disciplines it was easy to eliminate, the ones that had always seemed like Greek to me. Math. Physics. Chemistry. Greek. History was sorta interesting but I couldn’t stand memorizing dates. Economics? Of course not, I wasn’t going to become a businessman. Art? Give me a break. Who majors in art at Princeton?

English? Well, I loved and devoured books but I wasn’t sure what an English degree would give me. I didn’t want to be an English teacher. Or an academic writing books about other people’s books.

But I’d always loved to write. Stories. Essays. Articles for the school paper. If I could write for a living, I knew I surely would be happy.

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How to not give a damn.

When you make something with no consideration of the outside world, no interest in other people’s opinions, no desire to find a market for your product, but just simply because it expresses how you feel, because you find it interesting, because it something you want to do — your creation is authentic.

Being authentic does have a price. You may not be compensated as handsomely as if you created something designed just to satisfy others (but then again, you might).  But it’ll compensate you in other ways that are much more meaningful and lasting  —like insight, community, credibility, beauty, value and truth.

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How to make anything.

I spent a lot of time in school learning to conjugate latin verbs.  I ground my way through trigonometry. The dates of medieval wars. I memorized the key exports of African countries, the table of elements, and the names of all the US vice presidents.

But I never, ever studied the very thing I’ve made a living from my entire adult life. 

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How to get naked.

A few nights ago, my boy Jack and I went for a drink at a dive bar near our life-drawing class. We’d spent three hours in a warm room drawing a naked lady and it was time for a beer and further discussion of a central question: why were we doing it?

What was the point of filling up paper (or my case, an iPad screen) with lots of drawings of a stranger? Was it art? Was it exercise? What should we think about the drawings we’d made. Should we share them with other people? Should we hold on to them? What had those three hours been for?

The central question is one that Jack has been asking himself a lot since graduating from art school: why continue to make art?

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How to make your imagination work harder.

I love New York but it can be way too much — and the last few months have pushed me to the limit. The streets have been too damned jammed with holiday tourists and texting millennials.  The pre-dawn construction project down the block had been going on for too damned long. And winter came too damned early and frigid this year. 

JJ and I concluded we had to get out of Dodge, sit in the sun and eat clementines. Now we’re in LA for a month and my sluggish brain is starting to thaw.

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Portrait of the artist as a young librarian.

When I was eight, the librarian pulled my mother aside and said she was worried because I had read every children’s book on their shelves. That seems like a hyperbolic and inaccurate memory but it nonetheless smacks of the truth.

I’ve been an unrepentant book fiend from an early age.

I’d opened my own library that year. I made a card for each book I owned and slipped it into an envelope I’d pasted on the inside cover. I taped handwritten tags onto each spine Identifying the book’s category and author. And I started to lend them to the other children in the neighborhood.

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