Monday, January 29

getting so far

it isn't what you know, it's who you know. yes. nepotism on a grand, global, inexplicably interwoven scale. it is that way because people are more important than information. relationships. blah blah blah. this seems to me so weirdly fundamental and transcendant at the same time because i am an ignorant young person. right? all those wise old elders in the world out there, living--they know people are more important, don't they?
i'm reading The Picture of Dorian Gray. a book about life and art and their indistinguishableness. their subtle mingling. we're all making it up as we go along. "Being natural is simply a pose." all the world is a stage.

and nobody notices. i mean they all play along. they are perhaps ignorant young people themselves. or too caught up in themselves to discern the great inadequacies filling my mind. likewise i'm overthrown with wonder at the things i do not yet understand. the glamour of graphic design. the excitement of all those small, stylish internet startups. the passion of being well known for creative power. it's all so exotic. it seems to me this way because i stand outside of it.

it's easy to admire things from far away. without scrutiny the flaws aren't there. the scratches on the glass can't be seen. the dirt on your carpet is less than a shadow. being admired from up close is harder. the tremor in your voice is more obvious. the fraying of your sleeve is so noticeable.
"It is dangerous to press upon a man the duty of getting beyond earthly love when his real difficulty lies in getting so far." C. S. Lewis
so what is there to know? what is there to love? being an ignorant young person i don't quite know how to answer these questions. in what meager experience i've had, you think you know a person. you fall into a muddy sort of love. but nothing is very solid. nothing to put your fingers on. maybe all there is is the give and take between you and me. the uncertainty principle. the flexibly constructed soup of sensations and emotions we climb around in every day. looking up, looking down. at. through. along.

Saturday, January 27

surface and symbol

"All art is quite useless," said Oscar Wilde.

really he wrote it, but all the same.

so to make use of art is to rob art of its grand purposelessness.

"Our revenue does come from ads," she told me. "And so, we're looking for someone with more sales experience."

i nodded. i understand. something has to get sold, somehow. whether that something is worth paying for is another question. on my drive home i pondered the arrangement of publisher and advertiser and consumer. a magazine takes your money. it sends you a flimsy little stack of glossy nonsense, and then it turns around and sells your attention to advertisors. is that fair? yeah, okay, it makes you money. maybe a few of those ads make me laugh or smile or think. it seems so backwards a way of creating. a quote from the publishers of JPG magazine:
...the result of these economics is that you, as a subscriber, are the least important person in the equation. The only part of you that's valuable is is your eyeballs, and only when you're looking at ads.
blah to that.
but one way or another you have to sell out, right? we all have to eat.

  • create something worth paying for; charge as much as you need to
  • marry a millionaire(i.e. find a generous patron); never worry about money again
hm. perhaps those are the two sides of the coin. sell your product or sell your soul. interesting.

of course it's more complicated than that. all i know is i don't want to have to sell things. especially not a thing so abstract as somebody's attention.

Leonardo da Vinci painted his mona lisa in his spare time. the rest of the time he had one of those millionaire patrons pay him to invent things. so the solution to keeping your useless art useless and keeping yourself fed must be the sex and cash theory. that or living with your parents.

edit: this is what i'm talking about... woah.

Thursday, January 25


i have a job interview tomorrow. the foundation my nervousness rests upon is a question: do i really want this job? can i really do this job? will this job make me a happy person?

okay, that's three questions. i might say the last two are implicit in the first. it all comes down to what i really want, ultimately.

the things you most want are things you work hardest for. if they were easy to take you'd take them and your wanting for them would be crushed by your having of them.

and sometimes you have to take things you aren't so sure you want. like medicine. but you want to be healthy and functioning, don't you? so you pinch your nose and take the stuff. or like insults. but you want to be a kind and forgiving sort of person, don't you? so you stand there calmly and take it. or like the busiest highway into the city. you want to get to that job interview on time and not get lost, don't you? so you suffer the dreadful traffic and take it.

of course, knowing what you want isn't always so simple. especially when you bring in such a fleeting uncontrollable emotion like happiness.

and sometimes you want things you cannot have. perversely. like to fly away. or to not pay taxes. or to be taller.

of course nothing is impossible, they say. but i still hunger.

Tuesday, January 23


I just read On being crazy, which I dug out of the blogs of note today.

it makes me wonder: hm. I don't suffer like that from any crushing depression. does that mean i'll never change the world? do you have to be really crazy and in pain to make a difference to humanity?

perhaps that's silly of me.

someone told me last week, "The whole world and everything in it is just trying to return to a state of chaos." so I wrote down, on the back of a folded sheet of paper, chaos/nature. "And what's the opposite of chaos?" the someone continued. "Order. And order must be maintained." and I wrote down, order must be maintained, and proceeded to scribble synonyms around my two poles as the instructor elaborated.
calm, peace, sense, plans, construct, science, rules, conformity, control, learning, progress, sameness, mainstream... 
wild, madness, pain, unruly, death, darkness, carnal, filth, dissolusion, barbarism, falling apart... sickness... gravity...
on my white halfsheet of paper the words aren't listed so nicely. they're all over the place and there's a large gap inbetween the mess of orderly synonyms and the mess of chaotic ones. in that gap I thoughtfully put down a little vs. in heavy black strokes.
competition, give & take, flexibility, experiments, between, cyclical, balance...
order must be maintained. nothing stays clean by itself. in fact, nothing stays clean.

so we have our brooms and dishclothes and soap and water. we work. we struggle to maintain the order of our lives. without the chaos what would we have to struggle against? you can't avoid it. embrace the chaos. it is rather beautiful stuff, isn't it?

neglect the order?

but you can't. why can't you?

that would be like giving in. giving up. but... so is conforming to this 'order' you keep talking about.

well, then, considering you have to give in to one of the two, why not make it something worthwhile? chaos happens by itself. you can't take any credit for that. your mum will shout at you for having a floor covered with laundry anyway. but people will at least take notice if all your books are obsessively arranged by color and size along the shelves in your den. maybe.

there are all kinds of order. not all of them are mainstream, but all of them have rules. everything has rules. maybe even chaos has rules. without boundaries, how does anything exist at all?

Friday, January 19

undeserving brats

I accompanied my mother to the school yesterday. The school which needs me for its little webdesign class. The strung-out description of said class was posted up on the whiteboard in the office with a chart beneath it, and three scribbled names were listed as willing students. There is a minimum of five. There are ten days before the start of the new semester.

Without falling into more description than is necessary, let me say this small educational center, housed as it is in a handful of portable buildings off to the side of the main junior high, is a quaint in that full-of-fingerpainted-butcher-paper way, but also full of an almost invisible sort of dingy hopelessness. I know 'hopelessness' sounds overly poetic, more concerned with drama than the real business of what a school is. I can't help it.

What strikes me so directly, so disturbingly, is the subtle sort of struggle I see between what these students ought to have and what they don't even know they lack. I might be imagining it, it's so subtle. Education is important. Learning is the greatest path anyone can follow (perhaps the only true path to anywhere). Teaching is an overly sentimentalized profession. (most things involving children are, i suppose.) The children are the future, etcetera.

They are indeed. And yet there is such sense of abandonment in this little collection of classrooms. The dirt and grime of twenty years is settled on the eight computers of the lab where I will teach. The shelves in the library are few.

And yet they learn just the same. They are bright students. They'll be fine. Indeed, if they had brand new computers, all the newest and best software they could imagine, and miles of book-crammed shelves, they'd learn just the same. If they had all that, it would make almost no difference at all. Ignorance is such bliss: such grand scope for improvement.

Perhaps it only bothers me because I am expected to teach webdesign using a who-knows-how-old liscence of Microsoft FrontPage, as outdated a piece of software you'd fine anyplace on earth. Discontinued last year. Abounding in hideously substandard mark-up. Painfully obsolete. With this I am expected to prepare these children for the future? With this I am to open their minds to the wonders of HTML?

I wish there was something I could do.

Saturday, January 13

who am i talking to?

this blog began 2 years ago as a record of my academic evolution: a trail of words echoing the bits and pieces I was learning from books and professors. the topics have changed since then, my goals have shifted. I've done a bunch more stuff. I've been a few more places. I'm a different person, right?

me, april 2005:
I don't know if I've found my place yet, but I'm feeling more confident every day. That's life I guess. You learn enough to get you through what you're going through, and then you always have to keep learning more. It never ends. And really, who would want it to?

I decided the other day that ignorance is bliss not because it keeps you safe from the horrible truths of the world, but because it allows you room to discover them. Even the horrible ones are beautiful (just ask Keats.)
change is the one constant. get used to the fear and the doubt. get used to being faced with new facets of your own ignorance. get used to the pain. embrace humility. you can't always feel in control.

but really, how comforting is that?

I don't know. I'd take humility over false confidence anyday. but then the humble rarely get much respect. why is that?

well, if anyone asks, this blog is about living with paradoxes: being free in a world full of rules. being yourself in a world full of other people. that kind of thing.

Thursday, January 11

a tribe of misfits

this little blogspot is nearing its second birthday. perhaps on saturday, the day itself, i will eat some cake in honor of its glowing pointlessness.

over a year ago i wrote this in response to the ever-evolving state of web-standardization and development practices:
"Maybe I call myself a designer. Maybe I'm getting better at the technology side of it. The web is definitely a part of my little life. So what?
I'm not committed to taking the web anywhere. I'm not nearly advanced enough to be a part of that kind of development. I think the most I can hope for is that I'll someday be competent enough to contribute beauty and meaning to the world via this insanely everchanging medium. At base I am just an english major. just a writer given a tiny bit of dangerous knowledge. I don't know where that will take me."
since then i've really quit capitalizing things. i've learned that 'designer' is a word with a multitude of meanings. i've gone swimming with print media. photography. my own website has gone on a little vacation and it's been months since i've touched anyone else's. but now... now i have been given a chance to make a difference in the future of this. to shape the minds of a bunch of kids who (you never know) may grow up and be famous designers in their own way.

i shouldn't perhaps take this so seriously. a bunch of kids? famous designers? when they have so much distraction and selfishness and conflict to still to fight themselves through?

what if they hate me? (fear, anger, doubt)

patience, self. they don't all know what you know. how can they? they are not you.

at any rate i suppose i will pass on what geekism i've picked up on my way. if i'm lucky they'll all act interested or something. dad says teaching is just a higher level of learning stuff. it won't be easy.

but i'm all about learning stuff.

Monday, January 8

the myth of pure art

it's a typography book. Typographics 2. oldish--1996, but worthwhile background reading. except you aren't really supposed to read the thing... it's a showcase of all this brilliant design. you look at it. you say 'oh wow. how cool.' flip the pages. and if it's really really cool you read the unobtrusive text at the bottom which notes the creator(s) of this reproduced piece of art. and you say 'how cool of them, to have done this with type.' quite a lot of it is unreadable anyway. cutting-edge. blurred and faded and transpositioned to death.

but on page 147 there is a spread from a magazine called 'creator: culture without compromise.' half of an article by someone called Paul van Dijk. an article about the myth of pure art.

devastatingly, i find no satisfying answers upon googling any of these phrases. my book of Typographics cites the magazine's editor as one Nick Crowe and its origin in the Netherlands slash UK. perhaps it was too short-lived to warrant a wikipedia entry, too foreign or small to need a website. i'm not sure what to make of its lack of existence in this ten-years-later digital future, but i find it a sad event. i wanted to know more. i have a thing for magazines. i took a picture of the cute logo (sorry it's fuzzy):

if i may, i will quote bits of the article. i have no idea when it was originally published.
"I have declared pure art dead. But I also think, and this is an opinion that I have held for some years no, that pure art as such has never really existed, because people have always been dependent on patrons and customers.
I think that every designer or photographer is in principle, also a pure artist. And vice versa. The pure artist is strongly affected by the market, and the artist's own approach, own aesthetic, and own integrity, determine whether it goes any further than what the market expects. "
Paul van Dijk. director of the academy of visual arts, maastricht. that's all i know about him. so why do i care what he has to say about pure art?

purity seems such an imagined abstract. obviously there is influence. obviously there is connection. obviously nobody stands alone on this planet. that pure art is dead, or never existed isn't such a huge statement, really. yet mr. van Dijk senses a balance somewhere... a place within us where purity can exist. integrity. ownness. self.

recognizing self-ness is not so radical either. but it resonates. here i am, some jobless artist reading the chopped up typography examples in a decade old book. growing up, wondering. consuming. being consumed. and i really want to give something to the world. create. expand. redefine.

i don't suppose i need a job to do that. i'm littering the internet with sentence fragments without much help from anyone. i'm scribbling in notebooks and cutting up cornflakes boxes. cornflakes aren't very expensive. but through that cheap typing paper you can still see the orange and yellow of that cereal's logo. a reminder that starving artists still have to eat.

Friday, January 5

paint your ceiling

the summer my dad took half the house to scout camp and my mum and I were left at home... that's when it all started.

somebody said, 'hm, this kitchen would look so much nicer if the cabinets were white.'

and so we painted them. we took every door off its hinges, unscrewed the metal handles, threw tarps over the rest, and flung white paint all over. we even spray-painted the metalwork blue--every hinge and screw. when dad came back, all bearded and worn out, he was shocked.

I still have the pink shirt with white splatters all over it that I wore that week.

the next summer, I got home from england and we lived in a new house. we had five bathrooms. 'mum,' I said, relishing my transatlantic vocabulary, 'let's decorate them.'

five is a lot, so I settled for one to start with, and, after a small shopping trip and three days on an old four-foot ladder, it was decorated. littlest brother even helped.
last christmas I got to attack bathroom number two: the downstairs girls'. my sister and I tore and tore and tore at the ugly wallpaper, armed with putty knives and a spraybottle. and then, despite our father's insistence that the wall was too ugly for paint, we textured it, slathered in a lovely white, and stenciled blue curly bits above the light switches and mirrors.

this christmas is over and nothing has been painted or redecorated. but today I cleaned out my brother's old room and moved in. its two unwindowed walls are plain, its ceiling begging to be a more interesting color. it'll take some negotiating... but maybe, just maybe, I can convince dad to let me add a little color. a nice blue? pastel-ish green?

if not, perhaps I'll just plaster the space above the dresser with postcards or photographs or ... old belts. maybe I'll make curtains out of all the fabric in that dresser. I've got time.

Monday, January 1

artificial colouring

when they taught us about light and color in elementary school I wondered very seriously what color everything was underneath the bits you can see. if you could peel away the surface and peel the light with it--and peel the dependency on light away from your eyes at the same time--then what would there be?

I suppose it would all be grayscale. like an old film. or like in the book The Giver.

there is a two-pound package of jelly beans. thirty-four flavors. peach and popcorn and cinnamon and vanilla. I hate the root beer flavored ones. but they look almost just like the black licorice ones, and I love the black licorice ones. when you're sitting in the dark watching star trek with your brothers, it's hard to tell.

who decides which color to make the tangerine-flavored beans? do they do tests to determine what shade of red says to people 'raspberry' and which says 'fruit punch'? how do they make the peach ones so beautifully mottled?

peeling away the surface of jelly beans just leaves the sticky little insides. and peeling away your tastebuds doesn't sound like a good idea. maybe surfaces are more interesting than underneathness, and that's why the profound is so hard to find.

then again, it wouldn't be profound if it were all laid out for you, would it?