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Quite a few writers I like seem to be characters in their own right. Alan Moore is a curmudgeonly wizard. Hunter S. Thompson was a wild, untamable mutant. Grant Morrison, another comic writer, is a bald psychedelic adventurer because he wrote about a bald psychedelic adventurer.

William S. Burroughs, Anais Nin, Anne Rice; it goes on and on and on. These writers are all eccentrics. Many got weirder after they got famous, but there exists in all these people I mentioned a spark of the bizarre.

Stephen King (and plenty of others) write about how all writers need a place of their own, assembled just so. Maybe you need a costume, too, assembled just so.

A few weeks ago in New Orleans, I was talking about changing up my look with a friend of mine who happens to have a good one. I have slipped into unkemptness, and considered just getting a haircut and a new wardrobe from J. Crew, something to blend in. He told me I’d always look like I was wearing a costume, no matter what I had on. This is probably true.

So what sort of costume? Can this be a magical act of intention? Will it spur creativity? I know that looking a certain way can open and shut doors, which can open and shut experiences. Maybe I’ll just start with white t-shirts instead of black. Kind of like a Gandalf costume change.

 

 

 

 

 


Last night I finished up The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing. I powered through 200 pages in one sitting. It wasn’t a true page turner, though. 

Laing has a real talent for stitiching all the different examples of city induced loneliness together, but there’s something stiff about this book. When she’s writing about Andy Warhol, Valerie Solanis, and Henry Darger, the book is interesting. Their lives are interesting. She is also a character in the book, but you never really know her. 

Or at least you don’t know her as well as you get to know Cat Marnell in her first book. Marnell describes her outfits down to the label. You know what she smells like. You know what she probably tastes like (cigarettes and candy lip gloss). Laing describes herself headed to a party as anonymously as possible. Without the picture on the back cover I know nothing about her except that she writes academically, with proper citations and well considered paragraph transitions. That doesn’t seem enough to me. I’m an addict for more personal information. I want more sensory descriptions. I want more visceral hooks. 

Laing’s subjects all seem to have in common a tendency to hoard things and make creative nests. Their environments  become worlds of art. Not just works of art. 

Laing’s book seems related. It is loaded with biographical facts about her chosen loners, assembled with precision. She tells us about Darger’s packed apartment. Warhol’s time capsules are carefully considered. What does Laing’s house look like? She describes the decor of various sublets and uses those details to flow her story into descriptions of art installations. A cloak in her friend’s apartment becomes a meditation of Strange Fruit (for David), an instillation made out of rotting fruit skins sewn together. 

This stitiching seems to be what artists really do. They sew together realities. Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman do this with borrowed myth. Maybe being a good writer is really just an axe of hoarding stories and assembling them just so. 

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I just slammed my way through Cat  Marnell’s memoir, How to Murder Your Life. It’s written in a party girl patois that I think is cracklingly well done. The book is probably getting an enormous amount of  hate from MFA debt riddled cat lady bloggers because it’s too much fun.

Her voice is a bunny rabbit Hunter S. Thompson possessed by the spirit of Clueless’s Cher Horowitz. If someone wrote this as fiction, people would study it for it’s post*media/post*punk feel and use dreary special character enhanced neologisms like the one I just cynically deployed to describe it. It would be rendered no fun. Fortunately this is a pop-bio of a highly visible social artist with little concern for academic finger wagging.

Marnell is real and by all accounts as manic as she make herself out to be. Her obsessive outfit and beauty product descriptions are beauty mag writing perfection, but there are veins of Bret Easton Ellis running through it, letting you know it’s going to all come down.

She makes repeated statements about how alone she feels, how isolated she became, and she has the hoarding tendencies of a loner, which is a thing. I learned about it recently in Olivia Lang’s book The Lonely City. While reading this latter book I realized I hadn’t connected with the writer nearly as quickly as I did reading How to Murder Your Life. Now, obviously I have a thing for beautiful wild girls who stay up till dawn (how do you think I met Mrs. Lott?), but there was something in the writing that compelled me.

I realized Marnell’s constant description of every detail of her body, her smells, her clothes, everything, makes her character come alive in the book. This seems like a clever and useful trick to get a reader to absorb you. You risk putting the reader off with your narcissism, but what Marnell does to overcome that is lay it all out immediately. From the earliest chapters you know she is selfish and self centered. She spends a day looking at herself in a mirror on her desk. She warns that her boarding school story is privileged in all the ways Gawker hates.

The reader knows what they’re getting into. You’re charmed by her easy, unexpected optimism. No matter how mistreated she is or no matter how she might’ve opened herself up to that mistreatment, she does not complain. She does not blame. She marches into it with her heels on.

Blogging at its best is essentially amateur memoir and I wonder how much self description could enhance reader connection to an unknown writer. If I told you I was wearing bald eagle Vans slip-ons, paint splattered no-name camo sweatpants, and a mistreated $200 wool hoodie from a boutique tactical mountain warfare company, would it matter?

How about  if I described my hair as having been last cut by a very expensive stylist two years ago, and it was long then? I can’t remember if I own a razor. My face is becoming wizardly thanks to a grey streaked beard and laugh lines around my eyes. I don’t wear deodorant, but have a mostly plant-oriented diet, so I don’t have much of a smell. I get a little sweaty riding my bike to work and that mixes in with a sandalwood oil I sometimes put in my hair. My teeth, however, are very well kept. I floss everyday and had braces.

The last time I bought any clothes was over a year ago when I needed dark jeans and a button down shirt for a wedding (which I wore my eagle Vans to). I don’t know where the shirt is and I left the jeans somewhere. I have a uniform: black American Apparel t-shirts Levi’s 511s, and converse/Vans. I’ve worn this same outfit since I was a teenager. Everything I have is worn out, except my books, which I’m careful with, though not careful enough to keep them collectible.

There was a time around when I met my wife I actually looked cool. I had a shaggy Beck haircut and some nice vintage suits and a lot of Fred Perry gear. I blasted around San Francisco on a beat up 1970s vespa. The bar I worked at had an Indie/Britpop night and that look put a lot of ladies in my bed.

A few years ago I began completely disintegrating sartorially. In my mind I was going to end up looking like a hot and muscly Southern version of Alan Moore. Now I look borderline homeless. This is something I think needs to change. A new look would probably be a solid investment right now. A costume change can be a magickal act.

Something else Marnell does effectively is write a love letter to the pre-social media, ubiquitous Blackeberry era,  New York. It’s a good thing for a writer to love a city. Even if it doesn’t love them back. I always felt like San Francisco hated me and wanted me to leave, so I did. My heart will always belong to the proximate cities Metairie and New Orleans, but I’ve got a thing going with a few blocks of Oakland and I should probably work more on that relationship.

So. Memoir reading. Solipsistic writing. Clothes shopping. City exploring. That’s all fertile material for some Artist’s Way Artist’s Dates.

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I believe we all have the same ailment: acute awareness of our impending death. No one gets out alive, no matter how rich or special they are. It doesn’t matter if you’re Ozymandias or Ozzy Osbourne. You are going to be dust.

There are only two things that carry us into eternity. The first, children, is something I’ve opted out of. The second, creative work, is something so unbelievably transient in a historical sense that it will drive you mad. Even if you make it for a time, chances are you’ll be forgotten. What a buzzkill, right?

There was a performer in Paris in the 1890s named Le Pétomane. He was a flautist. A professional farter. He would perform spectacular feats with his butt, like imitating thunderstorms and sounding out popular tunes. This was an act her worked on in the army and later to the delight of his customers while working in a bakery. He took the act to the stage shortly after and was the toast of the town for quite some time. Few people even know about him these days. Farts have pretty much always been funny. Even in ancient plays by Aristophanes you’ll find the occasional low-brow toot humor. Everyone remembers that scene in Eddie Murphy’s version of The Nutty Professor.

What am I advocating here? It’s tough to tell. I don’t even know exactly. Maybe it’s that even if all you have is a strong fart and a sense of humor, it’s better than nothing.


I’m pretty late to the party on Cat Marnell. Until yesterday I had never read her columns and had only heard her name ring out within the last month. 

And that’s not because she’s unimportant. This is simply the disconnect from culture that seems to happen naturally as you edge to middle age. Marnell is a bridge between the Gen X nihilism I grew up with and whatever the kids are into these days. 

Her writing style seems like critics would get the knives out on it, and it might grate on some people, but I think it’s original and well done. Critics seem impressed. She captures the patois of the party girl and it’s unexpected oscialltions between high literature, riot grrl politics, club drug culture, and celebrity obsession. 

The last of that list is somethign Marnell handles interestingly. For her, this TMZ INTRRZONE we sleepwalk through is another mood altering substance. Another way to mainline excess. Crank your neurosystem up to the max, then pump it full of digital decadence. This is a powerful form of ephemeral dope and she nails it. 

I wonder what the person, not the character, Cat Marnell thinks about all this. I wonder if what Hunter S. Thompson said about the pressure of being Hunter S. Thompson is true for her. 

If she follows the memoir formula laid out by Mary Karr, her next book is going to probably track some sort of redemptive tale. How dreary. 

I hope she finds something new.


I know better than to believe in magic, but I find twinkling coincidence seductive. The above image is one Zdenek Burian did for a 1937 edition of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I own a very expensive leather bound version of this book. It is unread for now. 

The year of this illustration’s creation is the one where Amelia Earhart and her navigator disappeared over the Pacific Ocean. This connection is interesting today because last night, out of nowhere, a story idea tapped on my window and I was able to make it come inside, if only briefly. 

The tale is a simple “what if?” kind of thing. What if Amelia Earhart survived a crash landing on an island, was discovered by Captain Nemo, and then teamed up with him to fight Nazi submarines in the Nautilus? 

This story kind of came to me out of nowhere, but it’s probably related to reading another shipwreck tale, Heart of a Samurai, earlier this week. The stories have little else in common. 

This is the kind of fun synchronicity that always seems to occur when I’m working my way through The Artists’s Way exercised. That book is firmly rooted in the idea there is magic in creativity and pursuing art is a blessed activity, especially if done with devotion. 

I maintain a cautious agnosticism regarding these asserted metaphysics. Yet the idea becomes more alluring the more I observe and do on this path. 

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When I was fifteen, my dad hired me to bartend private events at the hotel he worked at. Louisiana had some weird child labor laws and since the liquor license was in his name, I was allowed to pour booze. Or at least that’s what I was told at the time.

His bar was inside a Holiday Inn out near the New Orleans airport, which is actually in the neighboring city, Kenner.

Before I could work for him, I had to get hired by the hotel itself. I was excused from the drug test, but I had to take a long personality test. I have always prided myself on being honest, even when it wasn’t a good idea, so I answered the question as one might if he were not planning to be hired.

Is it sometimes necessary to cut corners to get the job done? Yes.

Would you keep a secret from management to protect someone’s job? Of course.

Is it sometimes necessary to lie to customers? Isn’t that what advertising is all about?

The general manager of the hotel looked at my answers and excused himself. I remember feeling extremely proud. Surely, he was off to tell my dad how unbelievably happy he was to have someone like me there. My dad walked back in with a new questionnaire.

“Less honest this time.” He was clearly amused.

“Why? Don’t you want to know the truth?”

“No one wants to know the truth. Just fill it out like you would if you were trying to get away with something.”

“Ok.”

My second go around I imagined what a real square would write. The general manager came back in, shook my hand and invited me to join the team. Later he told me that they looked for lower scores when hiring management and that I had the lowest score of all time, but since I was just working as a banquet bartender, the rebellious attitude was unwanted.