Cory Doctorow was an early adopter of the lifehacking lifestyle and toolkit, including David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done.
Allen’s book is a fantastic and inspiring read. The core of his philosophy is to recognize that there are more things in the world that you want to do than you could do, and that, in the absence of a deliberate approach to this conundrum, you are likely to default to doing things that are easy to scratch off your to-do list, which are also the most trivial. After a lifetime of this, you’ll have accomplished a lot of very little.
Allen counsels deliberate, mindful prioritization of this list, jettisoning things on the basis that they are less satisfying or important than the other things you’d like to do - even if those other things are harder, more time consuming and less likely to result in a satisfying chance to scratch an item off the list.
After living and working this way for more than a decade, Doctorow reports that there’s a conflict between the optimization of your time via getting things done and the sort of experimental playtime you often need to do creative work.
The corollary of this is that it gets much, much harder to winnow out activities over time. Anything I remove from the Jenga stack of my day disturbs the whole tower.
And that means that undertaking new things, speculative things that have no proven value to any of the domains where I work (let alone all of them) has gotten progressively harder, even as I’ve grown more productive. Optimization is a form of calcification.
Quinn Norton wrote an essay called Against Productivity in which she moves to Puerto Rico to focus on working productively but ends up goofing off and discovering a new career & life path in the process.
I visited with new friends, and tooled around on the net (albeit always at 2G speeds). I watched rain fall. I cooked. I considered the shape of the buildings a lot, and looked after cats periodically. I walked to old forts and lookouts. At one point I took pictures of doors for no reason I could discern. I berated myself for being unproductive, for wasting this precious time I’d set aside to put my professional life together. I spent hours anxious to craft my time to be quantitatively better for writing. Then it all collapsed, and the only habit I fell into was depressive empty afternoons when I was alone with the cats and the rain. But I also, and wholly by accident, thought the thoughts that would take my career and life in a new and unimagined direction.
I was chatting with a friend on the phone today about a talk we’re doing together in a couple weeks and she brought up the same issue, unprompted. She’s a naturally productive person who finds herself with some free time, yet she’s finding it difficult to not stay busy, even though she knows she needs the mind-wandering time to replenish her creative reserves. I struggle with the same thing. I get more done in less time than I ever have, but sometimes I feel like there’s nothing creative about my work anymore. Sure, I make the doughnuts every day but am not inventing the cronut. How do you accomplish your work but also leave ample time for letting your creative mind off the leash?
Twitter account Tabloid Art History shares pop culture images paired with art history references because, in their words, “for every pic of Lindsay Lohan falling, there’s a Bernini sculpture begging to be referenced”. A TAH art journal is also available (in online and paper versions).
I'm just sharing this so I can watch Kids in the Hall
I consider the late 1980s and the 1990s the Golden Age of sketch and improvisational comedy. Cable helped, but even Saturday Night Live was good, particularly in the Phil Hartman years. Generation X comedians had digested the lessons of Peter Sellers and the Goons, Monty Python, The Richard Pryor Show, early SNL, SCTV, and more. HBO, Comedy Central, MTV, the BBC and CBC all needing inexpensive, entertaining programming that didn’t necessarily conform to older network standards meant there were a lot of shows looking for talent and willing to experiment.
For me, the Big Five from that era are A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Kids in the Hall, The State, The Chris Rock Show, and Mr. Show with Bob and David. Chappelle’s Show is a sixth one if we hold over to the ’00s. It’s a generational accident, but I was in the right place and right time for all of these shows at their apex. They’re the episodes I remember, and the ones I rewatch. People younger or older than me have a different list, and that’s just fine. I feel lucky that for fifteen years, I was able to make these shows mine.
One of the great things about these shows is that they were completely of their moment, but (with the exception of Chris Rock) they weren’t topical. It’s not like SNL or The Daily Show where you have to respond to whatever was happening that week, and as a viewer, you sort of have to know what was happening that week in order for it to make sense. Mr. Show might indirectly reference the OJ car chase, or Chappelle’s Show Kobe Bryant’s rape charges, but you can take the allusions or leave them. Most of them feel like they reference history rather than trivia.
You don’t need a time machine to try to imagine how you would have understood the comedy in 1994; the shows are their own time machine, bridging the present and the past.
This, at least, was true for a long time. What you notice, though, when you recommend these shows to a precocious 14 year old, is that some of the media conventions don’t really exist any more. Or, at any rate, they’ve shifted from dominant to residual phenomena. Mr. Show’s “Underground Tape Railroad” uncannily predicts viral social media, but the fact that these tapes were really bought and sold and pirated and passed around almost seems like something the writers of the show are making up. You don’t need to know about Tommy and Pamela, but you kind of need to know the kinds of things the media was satirizing.
Infomercials, televangelists, musical box sets, daytime (and nighttime) television talk shows — the bread and butter of 80s-90s parody just doesn’t have the same reach and relevance now as it did then. The same thing happened to Python and SCTV, which are now almost archeological in how they captured the dominant media genres and personalities of their time.
This is why, while I would not say that Kids in the Hall is better than Fry and Laurie or Mr. Show, I would argue it is aging better than any of the other shows in its generation. It’s less dependent on lampooning particular media forms or figures and better at loving, withering, character-driven weirdness, whether everyday or abstract. It’s simply less like television.
Instead, it leans on dramatic monologues.
Surreal office humor:
Black and white newsreels:
Office humor, plus history:
And sketches that reference media genres that don’t actually exist, but should:
The one exception I’ll grant is the classic “Citizen Kane.” Everything about it screams dated. Old movies on broadcast television on just a few channels, advertised in newspapers. Some of the films mentioned are twice as old now as they were when the sketch was written. But I contend that this sketch remains perfect, and would work just as well (if not better) if Dave Foley’s character refused to consult his smartphone.
Not everything about Kids in the Hall still works. It offers an almost all-white version of Canada. The drag characters and humor are better than most of their predecessors’, but often still not good enough. Some of the gay jokes, even Buddy Cole’s, fall very flat. There are way too many ethnic stereotypes. Mark McKinney wears fucking blackface as a character called “the Blues Man.” This was totally fucked-up then and is fatal now.
But when the show is good, it is unbound from time. And especially in comedy, that is a very rare thing.
Earlier this year, I was invited by my friend Lisa to bring an installation work to a gallery in Columbus she worked with, 934 Gallery. I immediately agreed, and we spent the next couple months talking about ideas that would be possible to install in a fairly short period of time.
My decision to embark on this as a solo project had several factors – I would not have the time to fundraise enough money to bring a crew in, even on a volunteer basis(I still feed and house my volunteers), I did not feel like I would have the mental and emotional capacity to run a crew given my tight schedule…and life, and I wanted to see if I could do it. In addition, the amount of build would be significantly limited by time and transport options, so it would have to be a “small” installation(by my usual standards).
My interest in divination, and especially at the intersection of science fiction and new human rituals, comes from a lifetime of passing through or being adjacent to religious spaces(Buddhist, Catholic, Taoist, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu…there have been quite a lot!), but also from more recent influences like my friends Pam Wishbow and Stasia Burrington, who have built compelling new divination concepts, and/or evolved older ones in new and interesting ways. The specific cultural tradition that I feel the Gentle Oraclebird board draws a direct lineage to is the Chinese tradition of kau cim, something that I’ve been lucky to have experienced since I was a child.
I knew I wanted to build a project that explored new human rituals, and I was leaning towards doing something gentle, and kind and …soft. A lot of my previous work is meant to be a bit unsettling, even if there have been recurring themes like human tenacity and generosity.
A lot of the initial ideas that grew into the specific aesthetic and concept of this installation came during a retreat that I help run on Quadra Island, Wayward. During the first week, I built this small oracleboard, that is read by tossing stones. I picked up that piece of red-brown driftwood from the beach, and basically planned the entire aesthetic of the piece around that. During the second week, I began work on an Oraclebird deck of cards that I already knew I would try to integrate into an installation.
When I got home, I began thinking of how I might want to expand that small wooden oracleboard into something larger and invitingly interactive.
Ultimately, I went for a fairly literal interpretation, and essentially enlarging it. I spent a lot of this time thinking of how to break people out of the art-audience model and into art-participant mode. There is basically no barrier at all at events like Burning Man(which is why it was actually a huge relief here to build art that wouldn’t have to account for assholes climbing on, and trying to actively destroy, your art), but in a gallery setting, visitors have simply been trained to not touch the art. In this case, I WANT visitors to interact with the divination pit, by throwing the ball into the bowls and matching them up with their fortunes.
Here are my first working sketches of the Gentle Oraclebird “divination pit”. I made these in early August. At this point, I was already quite certain that it would be a floor installation, and that I would build a “pit” inset into a raised wooden floor. I had also decided that I would be using the Oraclebird fortune cards, and that they would be mounted in wall boxes.
Most of my work from this point forward was finishing the card deck, which would be the fortunes, which is probably the most integral part of the installation. I wrote all of the fortunes while thinking of what I wanted this installation to be, which was a kind and supportive sort of new divination system. Like I was joking about on Twitter – therapists tend to say that I am emotionally closed off, but I’m trying to build a love letter to my friends with 400 linear feet of lumber over here.
I also wanted to include some people that would not be able to make it to the show, so I built an Oraclebird twitter bot! The build process for that bot, as well as a list of all the card fortunes, are in an earlier blog post. If you were a person that followed a lot of my work(and has a good memory), you might have noticed a small glimmer of the Oraclebird(Gentle the Oracle evolves into becoming the Gentle Oraclebird once her story passes through time and becomes a bit more mythologized) as well – she appears here and here.
The work that I did before heading to Columbus was mostly the interior of the divination pit, which would break apart for easy shipping. These boxes are constructed pretty simply, with bought bamboo wooden food bowls as the “divination bowls” and then mounted in 1’x1′ boxes I built myself. As a side note, Rustoleum’s gold spray paint is very nice and reflective.
All of the things you see above were shipped to Columbus, costing about $200+ via regular USPS. It costs more to do so via gallery shipping services. Below are smaller saleable art pieces that I also made for the installation. Since I didn’t have the time to fundraise or do any grantwriting for this installation, I knew I would have to try and recoup some of my costs by making some affordable art pieces and merchandise.
When I arrived at Columbus, I was met with a surprise! I had thought that I would be building in the gallery’s “installation room” and was told that I would actually have the entire gallery! This was both nervewracking and exciting but I was definitely not going to turn down the chance to build a second installation! But, of course, I had to build the work I was already there to do. That was at least, going exactly as expected, which is to say that I loaded 400 linear feet of lumber into a rented Toyota Camry and the room that I was building in was definitely not built with consistent dimensions(this was expected, and totally fine). As you can see, I decided on a simpler “boardwalk” style for the platform surrounding the divination pit. The structure itself is very minimal, although if I was building somewhere that was not a gallery setting, I would reinforce it all a bit more.
Meanwhile, I spent a couple hours mulling over ideas for the other installation in my head. It went in many ridiculous directions, which I will not bore you with. Instead of putting things down on paper, which makes me commit to them in some regard, I actually just…think…and I only start planning on paper once I’m pretty sure I’m going to go forward with an idea. In this case, I’d been thinking about labyrinths for a bit.
The last time I was in New York, I walked a labyrinth in Battery Park with a friend, and they explained the whole concept of labyrinths – which are not mazes, but rather a unicursal pattern often used for private meditation. Since the Oraclebird show is about adaptation of ritual, I decided that I wanted to build a labyrinth, of sorts, on a large wall of the gallery. Instead of walking, because we are constrained by gravity, it is meant to be followed with…eyes. The path will be mostly unambiguous, although there would be small alcoves that contain fortune cards that reflect the ones in the primary Oraclebird installation, as well as vintage fortune cards.
The Oraclebird’s Labyrinth would be meant as a personal space built to store her most treasured moments to meditate on. In this way, the entire installation would explore both outward ritual meant to serve a community(the divination pit) and inward ritual, to serve self. I wasn’t expecting to do this, but it very much corresponds with the belief that you simply have to take care of yourself in order to take care of others. Thus, I decided to live this by ordering whatever fancy delivery food I wanted to to keep my mood up over three long solo build days.
From this point onwards, I’m working on both installations simultaneously, which is actually how I enjoy working. I also meet a great cat named Bepis.
The rest of the build is fairly uneventful. I realize that the heavy croquet ball I bought for the divination pit was far too cringingly loud, so I replaced it with a weird little twig ball I got at Target, which is actually more aesthetically perfect. I’m not sure you can see the blue grid lines in the picture, but the labyrinth installation was built by painstakingly drawing a grid on the wall first…but after that, things got easier(lots of fiddly little cuts of wood getting measured to fit, but that is something I’m not bad at).
I had brought vintage postcards, pictures, and fortunes to create a collage of the Oraclebird’s life on one wall of the divination pit installation, but I moved them to the labyrinth instead. The labyrinth became a way to plot out and store the Oraclebird’s life and fondest memories, which felt really perfect for the tone of this work. All paths lead home.
On the last day, it rained. I still had a lot of wood to cut, and the shop was next door and…that sucked. It was fine, though!
Overall, the build went very well! I am very grateful for Lisa and Abby and the gallery for giving me space to explore and build. I finished the installation on the day before opening, which was earlier than I expected.
Here are some pictures of the Oraclebird’s Divination Pit and the Oraclebird’s Labyrinth.
I made a hand drawn paper map for visitors to the installation, to give them directions for the installations, and for the practical need to include prices somewhere! Once a zinester, always a zinester. Here are some pictures of that map, as well as the other parts of the installation. I basically expanded out the work I meant to have in just the installation room to some other walls. It was actually really nice to give my art so much room to be experienced, even if I do like my usual sort of cramped style.
Throughout opening night, I watched as people played with the divination pit and walked away with their own fortunes. Many people told me that their fortunes were “surprisingly accurate” which was really wonderful to hear! Several people told me that the fortune they received was exactly what they needed to hear. In one delightful incident, a man wanted to roll the twig ball twice to see if he would get a different fortune, but got the same one twice.
I am very pleased with how this installation turned out, although I will admit that I really love my labyrinth the most…because designing and building it in less than three days feels like a really good accomplishment. But overall, I set out to tell a story about new rituals and kind fortunes, and I did it. I am forever grateful to Lisa and Abby at 934 Gallery, especially Lisa, my longtime friend and host, who gave me a ridiculously comfortable bed to sleep in and a very nice cat to cuddle. I am also endlessly grateful to all my Patreon subscribers who give me a financial cushion to be able to experiment with work like this.
My thoughts immediately went to fancy wedding stationery, and I had a lot of fun both writing and designing these fake anti-invitations. I tried to poke fun at some of the current trends in wedding stationery design, which meant I got to have fun playing with watercolors!
It is 2017 and friends, since I first learned of and became obsessed with their existence three years ago, I have tried a lot of subscription boxes. Candles, jewelry, clothing, food and wine, makeup, perfume, sleep or bath-related–if it exists, I have probably subscribed to it for at least a month before canceling in a snit, disappointed and frustrated. (Except the wine, if I am being honest here.) I am looking for a certain subscription box experience, you see, and these purveyors of purported monthly gratification were not even coming close to satisfying the needs of my dark heart.
A Subscription Box for fans of Horror, Sci-Fi, Fantasy Books and Psychological Thrillers, The Nocturnal Reader’s Box is a monthly subscription service that specializes in bringing to their customers new and exciting books from authors, both well-established and lesser known. Each box includes one newly released book, one previously released book, custom artwork, one wearable, and various expertly curated fandom merchandise.. Having subscribed back in May, I have since received three boxes and not a one of them was a dud–which is no mean feat, considering that in the past, my experience has been that I will usually like one thing in a box and everything else is sort of “meh”. Or another criticism I have of “dark” or “horror” genre boxes like this is that the quality of the items is very poor, and most of it is cheap, crappy nonsense. Every item in every Nocturnal Reader’s Box I have received thus far–from bookmarks to coffee mugs, from tote bags to trucker caps, is something I took out of the box, exclaimed at how awesome it was, and actually use. Even the snap back trucker cap. It says Captain Trips on it! How can I not?
And of course, there are the books themselves–all of which I have devoured within days of receiving each box.
If it sounds like I am really hyping them up, that’s because I am. I can’t help it. As a lifelong lover of all things horror and haunted, I could not be more thrilled with the excellence of The Nocturnal Reader’s Box, and I only wish I had discovered them sooner.
I recently had the opportunity to catch up with founders Vincent and Jessica Guerrero about their dark offerings; see below for our Q&A and be sure to leave a comment to be eligible for a giveaway of their now sold out October Nocturnal Reader’s Anniversary Box!
Haute Macabre: You note yourselves “lovers of everything dark”–let’s drill a little further down into that, shall we? I’d love to hear of your various dark interests, however they developed and whatever they may be, but books in particular, of course!
Vincent Guererro: So I was exposed to horror at a very young age in the form of film and comics. My mother was a horror junkie back in the 80s (and still is today) and we would watch every horror movie that came out. I was about 4 the first time I actually asked my mom to read horror to me, and I was hooked.
I remember horror always being a part of my life growing up. My father used to work as a distributor in grocery stores and would bring home Tales from the Crypt comics that were extras from the month before. Its great to have a community like the one we are building that can get together online in our forum and discuss these types of things. Its amazing how many of our subscribers started adult speculative fiction at the same age as me.
Jessica Guerrero: Growing up I wasn’t exposed to horror as much as Vincent. The only horror that I got was through the films that my older cousin would make me watch. After we were married and our book collections were merged I was introduced to a whole new genre and I haven’t looked back. This was only about 8 years ago, but we read so much (especially now) that I’m pretty far down the literary horror wormhole.
I think what’s really exciting about reading horror is that you can genuinely be frightened, but having my husband next to me at night helps to calm that fear once the lights are out.
Why the subscription box route, and can you tie that into the genesis of the Nocturnal Reader’s Box? How do you feel you differ from other horror-themed subscription boxes?
J.G: When researching a box for ourselves, everything that came up was 90% young adult, and no one was dealing in horror fiction. So, we made a box to which we would subscribe, thus, The Nocturnal Reader’s Box.
V.G.: Like Jessica said, we never really set out to start a business. I was in school finishing my MBA, and we figured, what the hell, I don’t want to be stuck in an office forever haha. I used to be subscribed to other horror themed boxes, but those only dealt in film horror, and there was so much out there that wasn’t being represented. Stuff that hadn’t been adapted into film that needed exposure, so it just naturally fell together.
We knew we didn’t want a storefront, and an online marketplace could be fun, but we also felt that we wanted to add something to the subscription industry that felt lacking.
How do you choose the books and corresponding items that you include with each box? What have been some of your favorite boxes to curate for Nocturnal Readers thus far?
J.G: We typically choose the books for each month first. Once those are set, then we can start brainstorming items that go with a central theme. Now that we’re no longer theming our boxes, I’d say the process is a little more natural and we can choose the items based on our subscribers preferences. As far as favorites its a hard choice, but I’d have to say the All Hail the King box, and The Feast.
V.G.: The publishers that we have worked with have all been amazing. They send us titles and we get to spend most of our time reading and creating designs. We have been able to work with some great authors, including Stephen King.
With the All Hail the King box, we were able to literally talk to him and his agents about creating an exclusive cover for our subscribers. I have loved every box that we put out, minus our first one. It wasn’t bad, it just didn’t live up to what I thought it would.
I myself have thought to curate quality niche boxes but found it a really daunting prospect. What have been some of the challenges you’ve run into, whether anticipated or thoroughly unexpected? Conversely, I’d as someone who desperately wants to see endeavors like this succeed, please share with me some of the more rewarding aspects of this undertaking.
J.G.– There have been months where we’ve had to completely throw out a theme and start from scratch because of one reason or another. Of course, we have a deadline to meet each month and the closer we get to that deadline, the more creative we have to be.
V.G.— For me personally I think my only issue is learning to work with customers. I absolutely love creating this box with my family each month. We honestly get more excited than the subscribers do waiting for them to receive their boxes. When something goes wrong, like with shipping, its not something we can control, but we get a dissatisfied customer, and that’s a bummer. So as far as negatives, that’s a big one.
J.G. & V.G.—The positives are too long to list, and though that seems like a cop-out, its very true. So I will just say that we get to stay home with our daughter, reading and creating every day. Our community is engaging and fun. We have made a bunch of real friends that we’ve been able to actually hang out and get drinks with.
The amazing community keeps us going, we are constantly trying to figure out new ways to connect and to give back, and we are having a blast!
The Nocturnal Reader’s Box has generously offered an October Box to one reader!
What horror novels have haunted you recently? What are your all-time beloved spooky reads? Tell us all about your frightful favorites in the comments, and be sure to follow both Haute Macabre and The Nocturnal Reader’s Box on instagram to be eligible for the giveaway. A winner will be chosen one week from today.
Good morning! In less than one month (28 days, not that I’m nervously counting or anything), my second cookbook, Smitten Kitchen Every Day, will be ready to leave warehouses and head to you or your favorite bookstore. A book tour will be quickly under way (I hope we get to meet!). And all of this means that today, I get to share two more awesome things:
Pumpkin has become a divisive topic. I can only blame its popularity for the pumpkin backlash. Anything beloved enough to be a craze is going to make some haters. And for cider purists, the idea of a pumpkin cider is blasphemy. But I refuse to participate. I like pumpkin and I love cider, so I try new pumpkin ciders every year. Some formulas work beautifully. Others don't.
Today, I'm sharing my thoughts on Harpoon Pumpkin Cider. This is my first review of a cider by Boston-based Harpoon Brewery. They've made cider since 2007 and beer since opening 1986. They are primarily a brewery, but I can see five different ciders on the website, though I've only seen two available for sale in my travels. (Full disclosure, I did receive this review sample from Harpoon.)
Aroma: Freshly pressed Northeastern Apples, traditional pumpkin pie spices and a hint of pumpkin.
Mouth feel: Light, crisp, tart, cleansing. Sprightly.
Taste: Apple forward with all the traditional Autumn flavors of pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, clove and nutmeg, and a touch of sweetness for balance.
Finish: Dry, light, refreshing.
Reading elsewhere on the website, I learned that some selective mixing of their Winter Warmer beer and their signature cider inspired making this spiced cider. It has a very low alcohol content with an ABV of 4.8%. That's really not typical.
Appearance: barely hazy, saffron, a few clinging bubbles
There's no mistaking this cider for beer as its poured! It doesn't form a head and instead just shows off a few clinging bubbles in a gentle barely hazy sea of saffron liquid.
Aromas: beer yeast, apples, spice
The smells of this cider aren't super potent, but what's there is yeasty, spicy, clean, and appley. All of these relatively low intensity aromas are pleasing and subtle. Reading about their ciders, My perception of a beer yeast is borne out. They use a proprietary ale yeast in all of the ciders.
This is a straightforward semi-dry, but if folks are not used to to flavors brought by a less fruit beer yeast, this might taste a bit less sweet (even if not exactly drier).
Flavors and drinking experience: Nutmeg, balance, yeast character
The spice blend makes up a significant part of the cider's flavor; it favors nutmeg, but includes enough cinnamon, ginger, and clove to really bring out that mulled cider, pumpkin pie, autumn feeling that any pumpkin item promises. Here's what I love about it though. This cider is really pleasantly balanced. That doesn't sound like a giant high point, but trust me it is. The beer yeast is the absolute perfect way to counter the sharpness of baking spices. We get all the notes, apple, spice, bread, and pumpkin.
This is an exceptional cider both for the format and for style. Its light bodied with medium acid and no tannins. This cider is the classic autumnal flavor experience that so many things promise.
I enjoyed mine with fresh homemade salsa, black bean and corn salad, tortilla chips and the two-part finale of Twin Peaks The Return. The show may not have offered answers(to do so would have betrayed the show entirely), but the cider and snacks certainly did.
“Read 15-year old art magazines,” she advised, because the life-cycle of a trend is 30 years, so at 15 years past the work will be in its worst light. I can’t remember the source, but anyway here are some nearly 30-year old editorial pages from a Sassy spread called “Big Bottoms” in Sept. 1988.
Gauguin was such a dick, but this account is worthwhile
“Between two such beings as he and I, the one a perfect volcano, the other boiling too, inwardly, a sort of struggle was preparing.”
Certain relationships are charged with an intensity of feeling that incinerates the walls we habitually erect between platonic friendship, romantic attraction, and intellectual-creative infatuation. One of the most dramatic of those superfriendships unfolded between the artists Paul Gauguin (June 7, 1848–May 8, 1903) and Vincent van Gogh (March 30, 1853–July 29, 1890), whose relationship was animated by an acuity of emotion so lacerating that it led to the famous and infamously mythologized incident in which Van Gogh cut off his own ear — an incident that marks the extreme end of what Sir Thomas Browne contemplated, two centuries earlier, as the divine heartbreak of romantic friendship.
In February of 1888, a decade after Van Gogh found his purpose, he moved to the town of Arles in the South of France. There, he exploded into a period of immense creative fertility, completing more than two hundred paintings, one hundred watercolors and sketches, and his famous Sunflowers series. But he also lived in extreme poverty and endured incessant inner turmoil, much of which related to his preoccupation with enticing Gauguin — whom he admired with unparalleled ardor (“I find my artistic ideas extremely commonplace in comparison with yours,” Van Gogh wrote) and who at the time was living and working in Brittany — to come live and paint with him. This coveted cohabitation, Van Gogh hoped, would be the beginning of a larger art colony that would serve as “a shelter and a refuge” for Post-Impressionist painters as they pioneered an entirely novel, and therefore subject to spirited criticism, aesthetic of art. Van Gogh wrote to Gauguin in early October of 1888:
I’d like to see you taking a very large share in this belief that we’ll be relatively successful in founding something lasting.
Despite his destitution, Van Gogh spent whatever money he had on two beds, which he set up in the same small bedroom. Seeking to make his modest sleeping quarters “as nice as possible, like a woman’s boudoir, really artistic,” he resolved to paint a set of giant yellow sunflowers onto its white walls. He wrote beseeching letters to Gauguin, and when the French artist sent him a self-portrait as part of their exchange of canvases, Van Gogh excitedly showed it around town as the likeness of a beloved friend who was about to come visit.
Gauguin finally agreed and arrived in Arles in mid-October, where he was to spend about two months, culminating with the dramatic ear incident.
In Paul Gauguin’s Intimate Journals (public library), the French painter provides the only first-hand account of the strange, almost surreal circumstances that led to Van Gogh’s legendary self-mutilation — circumstances chronically mis-reported by most biographers and the many lay myth-weavers of popular culture, all removed from the facts of the incident by space, time, and many degrees of intimacy.
Gauguin recalls that he resisted Van Gogh’s insistent invitations for quite some time. “A vague instinct forewarned me of something abnormal,” he writes. But he was “finally overborne by Vincent’s sincere, friendly enthusiasm.” He arrived late into the night and, not wanting to wake Van Gogh, awaited dawn in a town café. The owner instantly recognized him as the friend whose likeness Van Gogh had been proudly introducing as the anticipated friend.
After Gauguin settled in, Van Gogh set out to show him the beauty and beauties of Arles, though Gauguin found that he “could not get up much enthusiasm” for the local women. By the following day, they had begun work. Gauguin marveled at Van Gogh’s clarity of purpose. “I don’t admire the painting but I admire the man,” he wrote. “He so confident, so calm. I so uncertain, so uneasy.” Gauguin foreshadows the tumult to come:
Between two such beings as he and I, the one a perfect volcano, the other boiling too, inwardly, a sort of struggle was preparing. In the first place, everywhere and in everything I found a disorder that shocked me. His colour-box could hardly contain all those tubes, crowded together and never closed. In spite of all this disorder, this mess, something shone out of his canvases and out of his talk, too…. He possessed the greatest tenderness, or rather the altruism of the Gospel.
Soon, the two men merged their finances, which succumbed to the same sort of disorder. They began sharing household duties — Van Gogh secured their provisions and Gauguin cooked — and lived together for what Gauguin would later recall as an eternity. (In reality, it was nine weeks.) From the distance of years, he reflects on the experience in his journal:
In spite of the swiftness with which the catastrophe approached, in spite of the fever of work that had seized me, the time seemed to me a century.
Though the public had no suspicion of it, two men were performing there a colossal work that was useful to them both. Perhaps to others? There are some things that bear fruit.
Despite the frenzied enthusiasm and work ethic with which Van Gogh approached his paintings, Gauguin saw them as “nothing but the mildest of incomplete and monotonous harmonies.” So he set out to do what Van Gogh had invited him there to do — serve as mentor and master. (Gauguin was the only person whom Van Gogh ever addressed as “Master.”) He found the younger artist hearteningly receptive to criticism:
Like all original natures that are marked with the stamp of personality, Vincent had no fear of the other man and was not stubborn.
From that day on, Gauguin recounts, Van Gogh — “my Van Gogh” — began making “astonishing progress,” found his voice as an artist and came into his own style, cultivating the singular sense of color and light for which he is now remembered. But then something shifted — having found his angels, Van Gogh had also uncovered his demons. Gauguin recounts the tempestuous emotional climates that seemed to sweep over Van Gogh unpredictably — the beginning of his descent into the mental illness that would be termed bipolar disorder a century later:
During the latter days of my stay, Vincent would become excessively rough and noisy, and then silent. On several nights I surprised him in the act of getting up and coming over to my bed. To what can I attribute my awakening just at that moment?
At all events, it was enough for me to say to him, quite sternly, “What’s the matter with you, Vincent?” for him to go back to bed without a word and fall into a heavy sleep.
Van Gogh soon completed a self-portrait he considered to be a painting of himself “gone mad.” That evening, the two men headed to the local café. Gauguin recounts the astounding scene that followed, equal parts theatrical and full of sincere human tragedy:
[Vincent] took a light absinthe. Suddenly he flung the glass and its contents at my head. I avoided the blow and, taking him boldly in my arms, went out of the café, across the Place Victor Hugo. Not many minutes later, Vincent found himself in his bed where, in a few seconds, he was asleep, not to awaken again till morning.
When he awoke, he said to me very calmly, “My dear Gauguin, I have a vague memory that I offended you last evening.”
Answer: “I forgive you gladly and with all my heart, but yesterday’s scene might occur again and if I were struck I might lose control of myself and give you a choking. So permit me to write to your brother and tell him that I am coming back.
But the previous day’s drama was only a tremor of the earthquake to come that fateful evening, two days before Christmas 1888. “My God, what a day!” Gauguin exclaims as he chronicles what happened when he decided to take a solitary walk after dinner to clear his head:
I had almost crossed the Place Victor Hugo when I heard behind me a well-known step, short, quick, irregular. I turned about on the instant as Vincent rushed toward me, an open razor in his hand. My look at the moment must have had great power in it, for he stopped and, lowering his head, set off running towards home.
Gauguin laments that in the years since, he has been frequently bedeviled by the regret that he didn’t chase Van Gogh down and disarm him. Instead, he checked into a local hotel and went to bed, but he found himself so agitated that he couldn’t fall asleep until the small hours of the morning. Upon rising at half past seven, he headed into town, where he was met with an improbable scene:
Reaching the square, I saw a great crowd collected. Near our house there were some gendarmes and a little gentleman in a melon-shaped hat who was the superintendent of police.
This is what had happened.
Van Gogh had gone back to the house and had immediately cut off his ear close to the head. He must have taken some time to stop the flow of blood, for the day after there were a lot of wet towels lying about on the flag-stones in the two lower rooms. The blood had stained the two rooms and the little stairway that led up to our bedroom.
When he was in a condition to go out, with his head enveloped in a Basque beret which he had pulled far down, he went straight to a certain house where for want of a fellow-countrywoman one can pick up an acquaintance, and gave the manager his ear, carefully washed and placed in an envelope. “Here is a souvenir of me,” he said.
That “certain house” was, of course, the brothel Van Gogh frequented, where he had found some of his models. After handing the madam his ear, he ran back home and went straight to sleep, shutting the blinds and setting a lamp on the table by the window. A crowd of townspeople gathered below within minutes, discomfited and abuzz with speculation about what had happened. Gauguin writes:
I had no faintest suspicion of all this when I presented myself at the door of our house and the gentleman in the melon-shaped hat said to me abruptly and in a tone that was more than severe, “What have you done to your comrade, Monsieur?”
“I don’t know…”
“Oh, yes… you know very well… he is dead.”
I could never wish anyone such a moment, and it took me a long time to get my wits together and control the beating of my heart.
Anger, indignation, grief, as well as shame at all these glances that were tearing my person to pieces, suffocated me, and I answered, stammeringly: “All right, Monsieur, let me go upstairs. We can explain ourselves there.”
Then in a low voice I said to the police superintendent: “Be kind enough, Monsieur, to awaken this man with great care, and if he asks for me tell him I have left for Paris; the sight of me might prove fatal to him.”
I must own that from this moment the police superintendent was as reasonable as possible and intelligently sent for a doctor and a cab.
Once awake, Vincent asked for his comrade, his pipe and his tobacco; he even thought of asking for the box that was downstairs and contained our money, — a suspicion, I dare say! But I had already been through too much suffering to be troubled by that.
Vincent was taken to a hospital where, as soon as he had arrived, his brain began to rave again.
All the rest everyone knows who has any interest in knowing it, and it would be useless to talk about it were it not for that great suffering of a man who, confined in a madhouse, at monthly intervals recovered his reason enough to understand his condition and furiously paint the admirable pictures we know.
With pressure from alarmed neighbors and local police, Van Gogh was soon committed into an insane asylum. From there, he wrote to Gauguin about the sundering tension between his desire to return to painting and his sense that his mental illness was incurable, but then added: “Aren’t we all mad?”
Seventeen months later, he took his own life — a tragedy Gauguin recounts with the tenderness of one who has loved the lost:
He sent a revolved shot into his stomach, and it was only a few hours later that he died, lying in his bed and smoking his pipe, having complete possession of his mind, full of the love of his art and without hatred for others.
Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes me hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.
Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s most unmissable reads. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.
Next week, the entire Haute Macabre team will be visiting Salem, MA, and will be vending at the BloodMilk Night Market at Black Veil Tattoo on Friday, September 1 from 7-10PM.
We will be offering our printed shirts and tote bags designed by Courtney Riot and full range of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab fragrances and Black Phoenix Trading Post Hair Glosses, including two new items to be introduced at the market: “The Mummies of Mexico City”, a brand new addition to the Cemetery Collection featuring notes of church incense, ornate gold, old lace, dust, and the debut of the Burying Point Hair Gloss.
These two new additions will be available exclusively next weekend at the Night Market and will be be available for pre-order later in September for those of you unable to attend.
Haute Macabre will be sharing booth space with our very own staff writer Sonya Vatomsky, who will have copies of their liminal collection of poetry, Salt is for Curing, available for purchase and inscription. Sonya will also be reading from Salt is for Curing at The Satanic Temple on Sunday, September 3.
We hope to meet you at this market, if you are able to attend please do stop by our table and introduce yourself!
New Drag Crush: Hungry. Hailing from Berlin (is everyone amazing in Berlin these days?), Hungry bills herself as “The original ethereal slag, descended from the heavens to make you question your sexuality and force progress upon tragic oldschool drag”. Well, at the very least I’m questioning my lack of skill with an airbrush.
Hungry’s looks are otherworldly and intense. She integrates subdermal implants and colored contacts as easily as lipstick, making herself something bionic and high-tech. Yet much of her inspiration is drawn from the natural world. The end result is skeletal structures and circuit boards, eerily lit creatures from the ocean depths consorting with killer robots. Hungry is the future, terrifying and beautiful and inhuman.
If you’re in or near Berlin, catch her artist workshop next month at MUD Studio Berlin.
78s were mostly made from shellac, i.e., beetle resin, and were the brittle predecessors to the LP (microgroove) era. The format is obsolete, and just picking them up can cause them to break apart in your hands. There’s no way to predict if the digital versions of these 78s will outlast the physical items, so we are preserving both to ensure the survival of these cultural materials for future generations to study and enjoy.
“I'm wearing custom made shirt and shorts of a Marimekko fabric, Marni sandals, sunglasses by a small old Milanese brand Marchesi and a Bottega Veneta leather bracelet. I like to keep it comfortable. Clean, simple lines, interesting cuts, classics. Some days I like strong colours and prints.”
“I’m wearing Vainio.seitsonen, from our own collection, the pants are made of tencel and the top is something I have been working on for the summer collection. Shoes are Finsk by Julia Lundsten. Together with other designers I run a shop for Finnish fashion designers in Helsinki. and we often swap clothes. I like to wear my colleagues’ designs, for example Finsk or Dusty by Marjut Uotila and Marita Huurinainen. I like the combination of the outdoor materials & techniques and urban look, it is something I would like to achieve, too.”
Actually really like a bunch of the vibe here? Some slightly different ways of layering.
The reasons we love some designers more than others are many and varied. But I'm coming to the conclusion that one of the reasons I love Raf Simons so much, is that maybe he is every bit as contrary as Queen Michelle and I.
I love his attitude as much as his clothes
On a humid Tuesday night earlier this week he unveiled his spring 2018 collection under a bridge in Chinatown. I remember being in New York in July with temps soaring to well over 100 degrees every day, so that he has wellington boots and umbrellas striding through an underpass in the height of summer makes me chuckle, although the poor models must have been struggling.
The open-air venue was decorated with neon signs and symbols, as well as red and white lanterns that looked like they were hanging at the space long before Simons moved to New York City in 2016. The white lanterns, in particular, were original for the show and featured references to the band New Order.
Peter Saville, the English art director and graphic designer who designed album covers, inspired part of the collection and the show's experience, but the central theme for the spring 2018 collection and venue is the film Blade Runner. The venue referenced scenes from the film and decorations like the neon signs.
The models carried umbrellas with ripped canopies. Plaid ponchos and coats and oversized button down shirts were worn with off-shoulder knitwear and topcoats. Shirts that featured the word ‘replicant,’ a nod to Blade Runner while New Order graphics that were layered over outerwear, two-tone coats, sleeveless shirts and long high-waisted skirts on the few females in the show...
Good grief, I can feel myself overheating just looking at these shots...
David Taylor analyzed a corpus of English words to see where each letter of the alphabet fell and graphed the results.
No surprise that “q” and “j” are found mostly at the beginnings of words and “y” and “d” at the ends. More interesting are the few letters with more even distribution throughout words, like “l”, “r”, and even “o”. Note that this analysis is based on a corpus of words in use, not on a dictionary:
I used a corpus rather than a dictionary so that the visualization would be weighted towards true usage. In other words, the most common word in English, “the” influences the graphs far more than, for example, “theocratic”.
Zines are the most personal way to experience magic the way another sees it. A zine is like a journal put to print, filled with feelings and intentions other than your own but also relevant. Painstakingly illustrated, printed, and bound, here are twelve zines that will bring a bit more clarity to your life.
How to Live the Everyday Life of the Modern Witch
We don’t know about you, but sometimes it can be hard to find space for magic in our busy lives. This zine contains sweet illustrated guides on anything from tracking the moon with your cell phone to brewing potion (tea) based on herbal properties. Laurdione Designs//$7.94
Sad Girls from the Internet
You’ll identify with the girls in this zine if you’ve ever had a cool internet friend (ahem, your beloved Dear Darkling writers). They’re all bad ass and none of them are messing around. Gemma Flack//$6.36
Can I Ask You a Question?
Do you turn to your computer for answers? Your reflection in the mirror? Filled with gorgeous tri-toned illustrations, this wordless zine opens the door to a modern mystic world and dares that you step inside. Charles Bloom//$8
A Very Femme Tour of the Zodiacs for Those Who are Bitter
Are you an angry gemini? A pissed off taurus? Whatever your sign, this zine may not tell you what you want to hear but it will tell you should you need to know. And this gift set comes with a corresponding pin! WE’RE OBSESSED. Graveface//$6
Brave to the Grave
Crystal ball says: “You can’t live without this coloring book zine filled with self affirmations!” Heart and Hands Store//$6.36
This fun collaborative zine is filled with spooky ghosts and haunted houses. The 28 pages of artwork are definitely killer. Mummys Hand//$10
Superstitions, Omens, and Signs for the Modern Witch
Who knew a dropped call could hold so much meaning, that a cigarette butt could predict your future? We just couldn’t grab this zine without the deck of cards it’s focused on. resubee//$10+
Crystal Witch and Love Spells
We’re bewitched by this detail oriented set of zines. It’s filled with everything you need to wield magic as a self-love tool. Lillian Cuda//$10
All of Them Brujas
Filled with whimsical illustrations, this zine is the guide everyone needs to identify the brujas they’ll come across in the wild (or hanging out in town). Don’t forget to check out Rebecca Artemisa’s cootie catcher zines while you’re taking a peak at her world! Rebecca Artemisa//$5
This zine is the soft goth diary of your teen witch dreams. It’s filled with Victorian-style drawings and playlists for ghost girls that will make you yearn for your adolescent spell-casting days. Alice Roses//$6.72
A Self Care Spell
Short and sweet, this zine is just one self-care spell that you’ll find yourself coming back to again and again. Coupled with a straightforward guide and lovely illustrations, this is a must have for any modern darkling’s zine collection. Rayne Klar//$4
This inclusive, collaborative zine is a personal collection of essays on radical feminism, hysterectomies, and the experience of being queer, a person of color, or both. It includes media recommendations and herbal remedies making this the resource for the modern femme’s library. Dani Burlison// $10
Liah Paterson is a Queens-based freelance illustrator. She spends her days polishing up her knowledge of occult objects, destroying canvases, and trying to coax her cats into liking her. Her apartment is filled with piles of books, sculptures, and paintings of disembodied hands, and a partner who plays scary video games for her so she can watch them like movies. Find her on Instagram (@atenderwitch) or on her website (liahpaterson.com).
My new audial obsession is the podcast How I Built This, in which Guy Raz interviews entrepreneurs who built notable companies. The podcast offers incredible stories behind the making of businesses like Chuck E Cheese, Southwest Airlines, and Zuumba. I've also been reading more about social impact nonprofits that went big, like Goodwill, CASA, and YMCA.
One of the biggest questions on my mind as I listen is: why isn’t my industry scaling up the way these organizations do? I can think of many extraordinary innovators in the nonprofit cultural sector--people and organizations creating brilliant programs, site-based experiences, and products. Many of these projects seem replicable. But I can think of only a few who have scaled up and out in a meaningful way.
Why aren’t our collective best ideas growing and spreading all over the world? Why aren’t more cultural organizations franchising, scaling, and replicating like comparable businesses?
Here are a few of my hypotheses (and I’d love to hear yours in the comments). I am not suggesting that any of these factors are bad or immutable. I'm suggesting they may be reasons we aren't scaling.
Precarious business model. Even if an institution or a project is fabulous, it may not have a solid, replicable business model behind it. If the work is financially dicey on the scale of one building, it can be disastrous to scale up.
Too much emphasis on innovation. The more we tinker with and change our products, the less time we spend scaling those products. Arts institutions have beat the innovation drum for decades now. Change may be necessary... or it may distract us from opportunities to grow.
Too complex and diversified a business. Cultural organizations tend to have many programs, projects, audiences, and goals. Businesses that scale are simpler and more focused. If it would take a thousand-page manual to replicate your programs (which are always changing!), it's too hard to reproduce.
Friendly industry that encourages sharing and copying. There are no NDAs in the nonprofit culture sector. Professionals share program models, exhibitions, and design techniques across organizations, often for free. This intermixing means there's less distinctive value to scaling any one entity's offerings.
Too much emphasis on unique experience and local idiosyncrasy. Many cultural organizations put the singular, authentic experience first. Many of us are proud of how our cultural organizations reflect and respond to our local communities. This can lead to assumptions--not always true--that what works here can't be copied and won’t work somewhere else.
Skills mismatch. The skills needed to create an incredible program are different from those needed to spread that program around the world. Our industry cultivates and rewards creative dilettantes who make beautiful things. We often look with suspicion on MBAs and people who want to commodify our work.
Mission mismatch. What's the upside for cultural organizations to scale? Most don't see any benefit to spreading that program around the world. It might be nice if it happened, but it's not the goal. The goal is local engagement, authenticity, scholarship, prestige, or keeping the lights on and the art pumping. I suspect most of us would be loathe to cut programs or make hard tradeoffs in favor of scale. The argument for it isn't worth the pain.
What's missing on this list? What counter-examples have you seen? Please share your questions or comments! If you are reading this via email, you can join the conversation here.