Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be messy, and painful, and almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die.
The painful and inevitable struggle remains to create in a childlike and openhearted manner, but to be un-wistful and cruel when judging one’s creation.
…life does not consist mainly—or even largely—of facts and happenings. It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever blowing through one’s head.
The most valuable thing my parents instilled in my brother and me is that if we’re passionate about something, or even interested in it, we should just do it and let it run its course and if it’s something we learn more about and decide we’re not interested in, that’s fine, but we didn’t decide that prematurely. Instead of one big moment, there were a series of moments, and those continue. That’s an ongoing thing with me. I probably chase those moments, to be honest.
I spent a good chunk of today leafing through Tibor Kalman: Perverse Optimist at the San Francisco Public Library, Main Branch. The book is a retrospective on Kalman, a very clever designer-generalist-messenger who you may or may not know from his studio, M&Co, or the magazine he edited, Colors.
The book is out of print, and SFPL only has it at the reference desk, meaning you can’t take it home. Kalman himself passed away in 1999 after fighting cancer. I can walk to this library, but this was the first time I actually did in the three years I’ve lived in this apartment.
All of this lent the book a sense of totemic specialness. In this age of easy, instant information, here was something I had to hunt down, full of images and words I couldn’t find online. I haven’t had that feeling of guessing, anticipating what something might contain in a while. It was kind of refreshing.
The image above is the first one in the book, and it sums up a lot of what I love about Tibor Kalman’s work, and the work of his wife, Maira Kalman. I’ve become a big fan of Maira’s illustrated writings and designs over the last couple years, and she’s quickly become a very bright star in my personal universe of heroes. Their work is different, and I know hers better than his, but the things I love about this image and the statement it’s paired with can be found in both. It’s beautiful, bright, disorienting. And it’s confused. Confused in all the positive (excited, free, wild) and negative (lost, unmoored, anxious) senses of that word.
In this wonderful TED talk, Maira Kalman talks about how M&Co started with the idea that “We don’t know anything, but that’s alright.” It’s a liberating stance, and a scary one — and it’s about a lot more than design. It’s punk, in the best sense of that word. The way kids are punk, and this 91-year-old woman is punk. It’s about feeling free to rip it up and start again, even if — maybe especially if — you’re not sure you ever really had it in the first place.
I have no tricks beyond embracing the power of utter panic.
You can be open, and vulnerable, and ignorant, and admit to your ignorance, and try to understand your own wiring and ignorance, and come to terms with the fact that you are one complex motherfucker with complex and not exactly logical or objective reasons for liking and loving what you do, but nevertheless still liking and loving the things that you do, or you can be the person who points out that everyone is pretty fucking ignorant, nobody ever has a clue what they’re really doing on this earth, everybody’s reasons are all so screwy, and do so on a daily basis, as a way of masking your own ignorance and insignificance and vulnerability. You can try to know, and own the fact that there are things you do not know, or you can be knowing, and hide your own ignorance with sideways shots of been-there done-that familiarity.
Just finished reading this long post by Nick Sylvester over at Riff Market. It’s really good. The above chunk particularly grabbed me, mostly because (a) I think it’s probably true and (b) I have a distinct memory of sitting with my weed buddy after high school one day in my senior year and voicing pretty much this exact same thought, and I remember how we both thought I had totally nailed it, and how I felt like I had figured something really big out at a very young age. And you know, I think I did. I’ve gone back on that thinking many times since then, mostly by trying too hard to be cool, but these days it’s still sounding very wise. Getting older only reinforces it; time really does pass, you only have so long to make some peace with yourself and the world, and fucking with people (and yourself) doesn’t get you there. Thanks for the reminder, Nick.