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Public Service Announcement

I’m not sure who all needs to hear this—apart from those within my own industry, it seems—but, despite what Merriam-Webster says, creative is not a noun. (Their whole argument is based on previous usage, of course—the problem with which is that people can be, and often are, wrong.)

So. You may be a creative person, but you are not a creative.

Side note: If you are creative, you’re probably under the assumption that you’re right-brained. But brain laterality is a myth: “People use both halves of their brain equally, and even within an individual person, creative and analytical thinking require both the left and right brain.”

Just thought y’all ought to know.

Miscellany: Pull-Quote Edition!

“International Drive has developed into a tacky gauntlet whereby families are stripped of armloads of cash on their way to and from Disney parks. It, like Greater Orlando, is premised upon one thing: Uncle Walt’s sloppy seconds.”

“Ugly as homemade sin.”

“On July 9, 1844, a letter from a dead man arrived at the post office in Burlington, Wisconsin, forty miles southwest of Milwaukee. Addressed to ‘Mr. James J. Strang,’ it had been postmarked three weeks earlier in the Mormon city of Nauvoo, Illinois. The dead man was Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

“’What the f—, I’m not worried,’ he said. ‘I’m sure I already have it. What do I care?‘”

“If you’ve been wondering about the risk of contracting Covid-19 while performing common activities vs. the risk of doing stupid shit, XKCD has you covered.”

“…from acrobatic Ospreys to hungry hummingbirds to busy woodpeckers.”

From the “Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover” Files

This post will appeal only to a very narrow subset of our vast and wide-ranging audience, but what the hell. It’s important.

Remember that “oiled up, chiseled bodied, pelvis thrusting, saxophone playing wonder who belts out an anthemic rendition of The Call’s ‘I Still Believe'” in the 1987 film The Lost Boys? His name’s Timmy Cappello, and he’s legit. He attended New England Conservatory, studied with Lennie Tristano, recorded with Peter Gabriel, and toured with Tina Turner for 15 years.

Yet he comes across as surprisingly—and endearingly—humble. Talking about his first-ever solo tour in a more recent interview, Cappello describes driving across the country in his Corolla as “the most fun I’ve ever had with music.” And this from a guy who regularly performed in a leather g-string.

(Right now seems as good a time as any to remind y’all that, like Mr. Cappello, I too am more than just another piece of beefcake. I’m an artist. Hey—eyes up here, ladies. I’m talking.)

Today in History

In his diary entry of July 14, 1911, A. C. Benson recounts a college dinner at Cambridge for old members—and shows that, even before social media, people were self-centered bores:

Many of them were obviously drunk, and the awful stupidity of the talk! I really felt myself to be cleverer than some of the guests. Several people asked to be introduced to me, said they wished to make my acquaintance, and then talked continuously. One man asked me for a photograph, for his wife—said he didn’t himself care about such things. But it seemed to me a vile thing to see the kind of mess people make of their lives—the inevitable mess—and then becoming pursy and short-winded and red-nosed and stupid beyond words. None of them…could talk; they could only go on with endless repetitions. And then they could do little but tell tales of their desperate deeds….

Monumental Resistance and Monumental Art

“As the former conservator of Central Park, I wholeheartedly support Commissioner Gordon Davis’s refusal to permit the installation of the artist Christo’s ‘Gates’ in Central Park.” James Marston Fitch, D. Arts, D.H.L., professor of architecture emeritus

“On behalf of the Board of Directors of the New York City Audubon Society, I would like to express our approval and enthusiastic support of your decision to deny a permit to Christo for the building of the ‘Gates’ project in Central Park.” Emily S. Jones, president of the board of directors, New York City Audubon Society, Inc. 

I stumbled across these words while visiting the Museum of the City of New York. The exhibit—a history of New York’s public art—included a small tribute to Christo and his wife and collaborator Jeanne-Claude, whose installation The Gates comprised 7,503 gates draped in saffron-colored fabric placed across Central Park.

Like so many of their monumental art works around the world, the project required decades of navigating red tape before receiving final approval. Their critics were many and relentless. The Gates was first proposed in 1979; the quotes above appeared in 1981; the installation was finally completed in 2005.

While The Gates appeared for only a few weeks, it attracted an estimated four million visitors, an astonishing number considering that it appeared during the winter months. As with all of their public installations, the entire cost—including restoring the park to its previous condition—was paid for by the artists. While I have only seen photos of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s imaginations, they are as remarkable and beautiful as anything I’ve seen.

The persistent and courageous Christo died May 31 at the age of 84.

A Much-Needed Corrective

We live in stupid times. On this there can be no debate. And while it’s certainly tempting to give up in despair over the festering shitshow that haunts seemingly every waking moment of every single day, let’s instead take a moment to celebrate a couple of milestones in human artistic achievement.

Last month marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of the publication of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, “one of those quintessentially iconic stories that encapsulates…our communal yearning for something glorious yet unattainable”; today is the eighty-fifth birthday of the great Julian Priester, who’s worked with everyone from Herbie Hancock to Sun Ra to Woody Herman to the experimental metal/drone band Sunn O))).

Feel better now? I know I do.

A Capital Idea

Kwame Anthony Appiah has an interesting piece over at the Atlantic on language and usage, racial designation as social identity, and the linguistic arguments that (hopefully) lead to consensus. In short, it’s a philosopher’s take on whether we should capitalize the B in black as a designation for those of African descent.

My two cents? I don’t really care which—capitalized or not—ultimately wins out. But opinions to the contrary notwithstanding, there simply is no case to be made for applying one rule to black and another to white. Just doesn’t make sense.

But in this crazy, upside-down world in which we now find ourselves, sense is in rather short supply.

Poetry Break

from ATTICS OF MY LIFE
Robert Hunter*

In the attics of my life
Full of cloudy dreams unreal
Full of tastes no tongue can know
And lights no eye can see
When there was no ear to hear
You sang to me

*The poet, lyricist, and singer-songwriter would have turned 79 today.

Miscellany

Evangeline Garreau, from the latest issue of her never-boring email newsletter, on the occasion of her thirtieth birthday:

One thing that becomes more clear to me every year is the absolutely absurd improbability of existence. You’re telling me not only did intelligent life form on earth and then persist for MILLIONS of years despite fundamental design flaws in the species that continually attempts to self-destruct, BUT THEN two people amidst billions found each other and fell in love and created BRAND NEW LIFE, and THEN I made it all the way around the sun THIRTY TIMES despite the fact that a) I barely made it out of infanthood and b) the planet is chockablock full of life-threatening dangers?? Who doesn’t want to have a party about that??

A question every Saturday Costco shopper is bound to ask sooner or later.

It was pandemics that brought down the Roman Empire, argues John Gray. And while it’s unlikely we’re on a similar trajectory, he does have some questions. “Human knowledge has increased tremendously,” he writes, “but are we so much more reasonable than the Romans were at their peak? Or are we descending into a state of collective derangement, far more rapidly than they did? The answer may begin to be clear over the coming months. ” Actually, Mr. Gray, we have our answer now. I’m afraid it’s…derangement.

“There is no such thing,” writes Jason Wilson, “as bad birdsong.”

This is extraordinary:

[T]he larger the human economy has become—the more people and the more goods and services they produce—the faster it has grown on average. Now, especially if you’re reading quickly, you might think you know what I mean. And you might be wrong, because I’m not referring to exponential growth. That happens when, for example, the number of people carrying a virus doubles every week. Then the growth rate (100% increase per week) holds fixed. The human economy has grown super-exponentially. The bigger it has gotten, the faster it has doubled, on average. The global economy churned out $74 trillion in goods and services in 2019, twice as much as in 2000. Such a quick doubling was unthinkable in the Middle Ages and ancient times. Perhaps our earliest doublings took millennia.

How did Darwin establish that earthworms are deaf? “He blew whistles at the ground, shouted into their burrows, played them the bassoon and placed them on a table next to a piano….”

You Win, 2020

In these unprecedented times (as nearly every TV commercial now begins), I guess it’s nice to know that Australia is still…Australia: “Two men snuck into a bedroom with machetes after being hired to carry out a stranger’s sexual fantasy of being tied up in his underwear and stroked with a broom, only to discover they had got the wrong address.”

If you’re like me, you’re wondering what a gig like that pays. Five grand, it turns out—but only if it’s “really good.”

Meanwhile, the animal kingdom must be sensing that we’re on the ropes: bears are walking on roofs, people are getting in fist fights with alligators, and there’s a “mystery pig” rooting around a Pennsylvania neighborhood.

Time is money. Or something.

“People who don’t write think that writing is just the physical act,” says author Edward P. Jones, “but first come all the steps of thinking it out before.”

It’s hard to convince non-writers of this truth—and still harder to account for when you’re putting together an estimate for a client.

Something I learned early on in this business is that you don’t simply charge for the time you spend at the keyboard; you charge for your experience, your know-how, your insights. In other words, you charge for all the unique ways in which you approach—and ultimately solve—a particular creative problem.

Think about the way your mechanic makes a living: Parts plus labor equals an invoice. Pretty simple and straightforward, right? The problem is, my labor includes an awful lot of internal, off-the-clock mental noodling—whether I’m actually conscious of it or not. Yet I can’t exactly bill for the time an idea popped into my head when I was mowing the lawn, or when the perfect ending to a 30-second TV spot revealed itself to me when I was on a hike.

It’s just part of that nebulous, ill-defined thing we call the “writing” process, I reckon.

For Your Next Meeting of The Finer Things Club

To all you “traumatised Brits” triggered by an American woman’s TikTok video describing how to make a cup of “British tea,” I hear you. This is an outrage, and I, for one, roundly condemn her actions.

Several years ago I found myself in the company of a British couple who, after some gentle prodding, kindly explained how to make tea the English way. I’ve been following their instructions ever since. Here’s what they told me, for what it’s worth:

• always start with fresh, cold water

• pre-heat your pot or mug

• loose tea is preferred if you’re posh, but bagged is fine

• wait for the water to reach a rolling boil before you pour it over the tea

• steep for anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes, depending on your taste (but never more than 5)

• add a bit of whole milk to taste (not cream, not half and half; whole milk)

As for the type of tea, spring for the real thing. My preference is for Yorkshire—it’s about $5 for a box of 100 bags—though PG Tips and Typhoo are also good. Stay away from Lipton (it’s too astringent). And for the love of God, don’t drink a mug of tea with the tag hanging over the side. We’re not barbarians, after all.

On My Mind

Seems appropriate right now to share this, the first known television interview with Nelson Mandela:

Only twenty-four seconds long, the footage is believed to have been filmed during a break in the 1956 Treason Trial.

While we’re at it, here’s Paul Simon covering Peter Gabriel’s “Biko,” about the anti-apartheid activist who was murdered in 1977:

 

That pretty much sums it up for me.

Weekend Miscellany

Matthew Walther thinks John Lennon’s “Imagine” is the worst song ever recorded. (He’s right, of course.)

“Dark heritage” in context.

New music recommendation: Flamagra Instrumentals by Flying Lotus, which, as its name implies, is an all-instrumental version of last year’s “cosmic jazz-funk saga.”

Does T.S. Eliot still matter? Yes. Yes, he does. Perhaps even more than ever.

Have a good weekend, everyone. Stay safe and healthy.

Our Glorious Mosaic

After moving to Argentina three years ago, Dominic Hilton remains frustrated with his inability to learn the language—and bemused at the locals’ misuse of English:

You see a lot of that in Buenos Aires. English swearwords, I mean. It’s as if swearing in a foreign language doesn’t count. Oh, those? I imagine people saying. Forget about those. They’re just some random four-letter words. No one understands, or bothers with translating them. Let’s go eat some more beef!

Meanwhile over at the Guardian, correspondents contributed to a list of 10 of the best words in the world (that don’t translate into English). Here’s my favorite:

Dating back to the 16th century, the term Feierabend, or “celebration evening,” used to denote the evening before a public holiday, but has come to refer to the free time between leaving the office and bedtime on any working day.

The key to understanding Feierabend is that it isn’t time for going to the cinema or gym, but time for doing nothing. In 1880, the cultural historian Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl described the concept as “an atmosphere of carefree wellbeing, of deep inner reconciliation, of the pure and clear quiet of the evening.”

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