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Accept the Mystery
New podcast w/Thomas Woodruff, anxious poems and apotropaic acts, lots of links, a moment of art, & more
“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off . . .”
. . . then it’s time for me to record a new podcast with someone.
It’s “funny” how the podcast is both the cause and the release valve of so much anxiety, while also serving as the process through which I transfigure that anxiety into art (yes, yes, such as it is). I mean, I’ve been incapable of getting in the car and going out to take care of a pretty simple errand for ~3 days now, and yet I think nothing of driving into NYC this Saturday to record with a guest, while at the same time I’m filled with dread & trepidation over how that session will go.
But a past guest & listener sent me a lovely gift yesterday: a postcard & two poetry chapbooks. They were responding to my self-deprecating “I’m a poetry-moron” comments, and I was awfully touched by their gesture & the notion that they were listening. (I’d tell you who it was, but don’t want to embarrass them . . . or the rest of you who can’t be bothered to mail me nice books! SOB!).
We’ve only talked once, and that was for a remote pod-session, so we didn’t even get to do the thing I really enjoy, which is looking at another person’s face for an hour or so while we talk. But we’ve stayed in touch through my postcard-habit/addiction & the occasional e-mail/DM, and I always dig their observations & ruminations on art, while grooving on their latest creative achievements & career milestones.
And yet I describe them as “past guest & listener” instead of “friend,” which says more about me than about them (or you). I get too worked up on defining terms, on properly categorizing myself & others, on trying to maintain boundaries or propriety — I do tie myself up in knots sometimes — instead of just taking it easy and accepting the mystery.
All of which is to say, the podcast continues to be a reward and torment, an ongoing implicit exploration of myself as reflected in vampiric conversation with others about their art & lives. At least, that’s 4 a.m. Gil’s fragmented take on things. I’m already a day late with this one (day job, other stuff), so let’s hit Publish.
This week, I posted Episode 524 of The Virtual Memories Show, featuring artist and illustrator Thomas Woodruff as we celebrate his amazing new graphic opera, Francis Rothbart! The Tale of a Fastidious Feral (Fantagraphics). We get into how Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan floored him and inspired him to make this 300-page extravaganza, what it was like to finally make a comic after decades of critiquing them in his role at the School of Visual Arts, and how living through the AIDS crisis forced an emotionalism into his art. We talk about the terrible glamour of his art, his predilection for making series of works (like his 365 paintings of apples and his ongoing series of apocalyptic, graceful dinosaur paintings), the virtues of carbon pencil and his hunt for the last supply of his favorite paper, and why he treats teaching drawing is like a religious rite. We also discuss his legacy vis-a-vis the students he taught and the programs he built, the story of his first tattoo and the apotropaic act, the difference between having a sensibility vs. a style, why he retired from SVA after 20 years of chairing the Illustration and Cartooning departments, the mind-melting experience of watching Diver Dan as a child, and more! Give it a listen! And go read Francis Rothbart! The Tale of a Fastidious Feral!
Last week, I posted Episode 523 of The Virtual Memories Show, featuring Dawn Raffel, who rejoined the show to celebrate her wonderful new book, Boundless As The Sky (Sagging Meniscus Press), a gorgeous series of stories & a novella. We talked about how Dawn’s previous nonfiction book, The Strange Case of Dr. Couney, led into this new book, how she became obsessed with the Chicago’s Century of Progress World’s Fair, and why Chicago was always her Emerald City. We also got into the strong influence of Invisible Cities on her book and how she felt about writing a feminine/feminist response to Calvino, the twin writing-joys of unexpected resonances and sentence-building, her recent trip to Kenya for International Literary Seminars, and plenty more. Give it a listen! And go read Boundless As The Sky! (& go check out our 2019 conversation)
Links & Such
This is an epic and wonderful piece by Errol Morris about the postmodern hole at the center of Janet Malcolm. (You really oughtta subscribe to Air Mail, btw.) (I really oughtta follow up w/Morris and try to finally get a podcast scheduled, maybe when I’m up in Boston in early March for a workshop.)
I don’t think my possessions will lead to the same sort of scene & meditations as those at André Leon Talley’s estate auction
Why is the floor of the Oculus crumbling?
Someone used all AI-generated visuals for a comic book. I mean Dave McKean did that last year and we had a great conversation about the implications of this stuff, but now there are all sorts of copyright questions and other stuff.
All this AI wackiness — images, text — reminds me of the time a work-pal called to congratulate me when I turned 50, but I didn't have his contact in my phone & I happened to be putting in my AirPods just in the moment he introduced himself, so I missed it.
But he talked for another minute, & I thought it would be rude to ask, "Who is this, again?", so instead I FAKED IT. I made innocuous, witty conversation w/ someone FOR THIRTY MINUTES without letting on that I didn't know who I was talking to, even though he knew me personally.
The area code meant he was from Toronto, and he knew me from my day job, so I took it from there. Around that 30-min. mark, I finally figured out who it was (his phone # was in my secondary Gmail), & mentioned his name once, in case he DID suspect I didn't know who I was talking to.
When the call ended, I felt like I'd passed a reverse-Turing test, and that I'm going to be The Worst when dementia starts setting in, because I will ride this fake persona over a cliff before I let on that I'm falling apart.
What I'm saying is, ChatGPT has a long way to go before it can fake humanity as well as I can.
Septology, book VI - by Jon Fosse
I Always Think It’s Forever - by Timothy Goodman
The Critic’s Daughter - Priscilla Gilman
Monday was the 2nd anniversary of the day I picked up a pencil & sketchpad and tried to draw some trees in my backyard, so I celebrated by doing that again. It was instructive to look at the Three Fates-Graces-Norns again, to draw with a hand/eye that learned a little something in the past 2 years. But it was a few days earlier, on the train back from Washington, that something real happened. I took some some art supplies & two pads with me, Just In Case. On the evening Acela to Newark, utterly zonked from a bad night’s sleep, I started flipping through my Photos library to see if there was anything I’d like to try to draw. I couldn’t do a bird or anything too detailed, since the train was so bumpy, but I came across a photo I’d saved of a burlesque dancer modeling a black vinyl glove. I opened my sketchpad, and picked up my brush-pen, and I felt this sudden rush at the weight of it. Resting in the crook of my thumb, it felt natural, an extension of me, maybe a phantom limb since it’d been so long since I just drew. I quickly dashed the index finger and the bulk/slack of the middle finger of the glove, then the back of the hand, the other fingers and a hint of a thumb, trailing down into the wrist & forearm, leaving negative space for the light gleaming off the black vinyl, then a feather-like flourish for the poof or whatever-it’s-called. Touched it up slightly, and in less than a minute it was done and I felt like I’d managed a little bit of magic. You should go to the Flickr album of all the art I’ve made & find something you like.
Sound Body, Fractured Mind
Tuesday was a scheduling struggle, but I once again managed the full 5-day circuit of alternating weights & yoga from Friday-Tuesday. My weight’s up because I haven’t been eating too well. Next month will mark a year since I basically gave up running and focused on the strength & flexibility stuff (hip, knee, etc. problems); maybe I’ll link to my Accountability pics from that first week vs. where I am now, so you can laugh or cry.
Until Next Week
Thanks for reading this far! I’ll be back next with a new podcast, fun links, some art (I promise!), & maybe a little profundity or something.
Suburban robots that monitor reality,