Latest Notes

San Francisco, California

It’s a beautiful day to stay inside

I need a new project; something enormous and scary, something to sweep my evenings up and away. Because now, looking back on everything I’ve made over the last decade, I realize just how much these side projects have helped me during tough situations:

  • Adventures helped put a shape to weekends that would otherwise have left me in despair.
  • Newsletters helped me repair the damage of intense social isolation during the pandemic. It also gave me an excuse to reach out to people I admire and say “oi!”
  • Futures helped me get out of a hospital bed in England and recover from my family tearing itself into a million pieces.
  • Mistakes helped soothe me during a toxic work relationship that was so awful that I scurried away to LA to have a small breakdown at a friend’s house.
  • A book project that never worked out helped me get through a summer with no pals in a new city.

Those sorts of projects—those that completely consume my time/attention/energy—really are therapy for me. And although this might sound like my life is a train wreck, that’s not really the point I’m trying to make here. It’s just that when things are tough I know I can lean into a side project and it’ll realign my focus and give me something productive to do with so much unstructured time.

I’ve only recently started to see projects as therapy though, because I’m still fighting the overwhelming amount of nonsense that was hammered into my head when I was a kid when it comes to art and work.

Here’s the nonsense: there’s this notion that’s pervasive in our culture that great artistic achievements are really just an act of self harm. Writers, musicians, and artists describe their work in this way all the time; how their pain or sadness—their mythical origin story—is necessary for great work to be done. They fetishize pain and loneliness and sadness to such an extent that the work becomes a way for their pain to be excused, for their self-abuse to be acceptable, just because this one song or painting or joke is perfect.

And so I used to believe that happiness wasn’t productive for making good work. And I hoped beyond hope that my work would outlive me—so I hoped for a sad and isolated life. If only I could write that one immortal sentence or phrase, do some heroic literary deed, that would make the sadness worthwhile but subsequently it would make my entire life worthwhile. So to write that very special thing, I imagined immense pain and loneliness stretched over a vast period of time. I believed that's what made great work, great art. Grit. Waking up at 5am. No friends. No family. No nothing. Type until it hurts and then keep typing because it hurts.

All this nonsense is present everywhere; literature, self-help marketing Tik Toks, blog posts about how to become a good designer. And yet despite it being obvious nonsense, it’s really hard to let go of the idea that your life is worthwhile despite the work. It’s hard to say “if I never write another word again it doesn’t make me a bad person, unworthy of love or respect. I am worthy of love regardless of how much I write/act/paint/blog.” Just typing that out right now—well, boy howdy!—is that a terrible way to structure your life. It sets up this extremely fucked up relationship with your work.

It also sets up a toxic relationship between you and other people’s work, too. Like, damn, Miller really wrote the living shit out of The Song of Achilles and so I despise her now—how dare she write something astronomically good whilst I sit here blogging my life away.

This way of thinking about work is poison and it reduces life to nothing less than a cruel and vindictive competition.

But our work doesn’t have to be like this. It can be this restorative act, this meditative thing that we do each day. The work doesn’t have to be grueling for it to be great. And the work does not have to kill us to make us worthy. We don’t have to treat other people’s work as if it’s a competition, but rather a benefit to our own work because now we can leap frog off of it.

So I tell myself that I can treat my work with as much care as I treat myself. And that I don’t have to sacrifice one for the other. We don’t have to fetishize our grief to make great things. We can be kind and open and happy and the work can still be good.

Or the work doesn’t have to be there at all. And that’s okay, too.

San Francisco, California

The Secret (and Very Important) History of the U.S. Solar Industry

Robinson Meyer on what folks get wrong about technology:

Zoom out a bit, and you can see a deeper problem with how Americans think about technology. We tend, perhaps counterintuitively, to overintellectualize it. Here’s an example: You have probably lived with a leaky faucet in your home at some point, a sink or shower in which you had to get the cold knob just right to actually shut off the flow of water. How did you learn to turn the knob in just the right way—did you find and read a college textbook on Advanced Leaky-Faucet Studies, or did you just fiddle with the knob until you learned how to make it work? If you had to write down instructions for turning the knob so it didn’t leak, would you be able to do it?

[…] R&D is useful, but ultimately only organizations deploying technology at a mass scale can actually advance the technological frontier. We don’t need the government to fund more science alone; we need the government to support a thriving industrial sector and incentivize companies to deploy new technology, as Japan’s government does.

San Francisco, California

Old Place, New Place, Reef

You know those documentaries where you see a tiny octopus on a reef and they’re getting completely annihilated by the crushing waves above and all around? They’ll clutch onto that tiny rock with all their tiny might and won’t ever let go, no matter how much their world rocks from side to side.

Well, that’s how it felt in San Francisco today as the trees crashed into one another and whipped the air up into a frenzy. And the sound! It felt as if the bay had rushed in from both sides of the peninsula—crept towards me in the night—and then bang! This morning a roaring green surf woke up, leaves lapping at the window, pummeling my apartment.

Well, my old apartment.

Now I’m writing this from the top of the park near my old place and I’m watching all these leaves slap together senselessly. Tomorrow I get the keys to my—our—new place and it's just on the other side of this park in the opposite direction over there. And so although I might currently feel like a tiny octupus on a reef as I huddle on this bench and type into my phone whilst the gods throw every gale my way, I’m still smiling.

In the past I’ve only had temporary homes—places where I feel like I’m pitching my tent for a few months or years at a time. My old place feels like that; a temporary shelter from the ravages of the pandemic. It’s a cute place, but I knew I wouldn’t live there long.

But this new place, just over there? I think it's going to be my first home. Our first home, I should say. I just hope it survives the night in these gales. Be gone, wind! Let me cling to my tiny reef in peace.

Our reef. Dammit.

San Francisco, California

Invincible

Okay, so I finally got around to watching Invincible—a new show on Amazon Prime based on a comic book I’d never heard of—and holy shit did it wreck an evening for me the other day.

If you like great shows, go watch it. But if you like great shows that dive into the subject matter of abusive parents and extreme dad stuff then I cannot possibly recommend it more highly.

After the first season concluded I sat up in bed crying for half an hour afterwards, even though the show is mostly about stupid aliens and violent super heroes. Sure, yes, it has a ton of intergalactic monsters and violent flying men in it but that’s just the stuff thrown in to mask the tough question at the center of all the anime nonsense.

I think at the very core of the show, Invincible asks a single question of us: how can we love the people who hurt us the most?

How can we love our parents?

San Francisco, California

Everything that books ought to be

I do not hate many things in this world but I will make one exception. Each day I pour all my vitriol and hatred into this thing and hour by hour my hatred increases steadily. So I ask you to please bear with me whilst I throw off this veil of enthusiasm and show you how utterly spiteful I can be at my very worst: hardcover books are the single worst thing in the entire galaxy.

There, I said it.

They're heavy, they’re clunky to hold, the jacket is tacky and sticky and awful. It’s difficult to read the dang things because they require so much energy to wrench open. Not only that but they have sharp edges that dig into my belly when I read in bed and for this punishment I have to pay a mysteriously expensive price because they’re often cheaper than the paperback edition (I'm sure there's some shady market stuff or economics going on there that I don’t know about). And not only all that but then you can only buy the hardcover edition—you must wait months for the soft, painless, no belly-jabbing paperback.

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. I remember reading the physical edition of Art Space Tokyo a decade ago and coming to the conclusion that I despise Craig Mod for making me not only enjoy a hardcover book but admire it, too. Except this hardcover was different. The edges didn’t prod me. And it didn’t take much effort to crack open. It was as light as a paperback and I never thought once about owning an alternative version instead.

But these types of hardcovers are one-in-a-million. They’re so uncommon that I think most people have never truly held a beautifully made book before. I think in total I own dozens and dozens of books that are well written, funny, and insightful but only 3 or 4 of them are perfectly made Books with a capital B.

In short; never buy a hardcover book.

But can we talk about how much lovelier paperbacks are for a moment? They’re better in every way: lighter, smaller, easier to hold and carry. There’s often no sticky plastic jacket to misplace, and there’s no need to crack it open at the midpoint to read the text. You can fold them up, scrunch them into a ball, and throw them into the depths of your bag without worrying about anything.

Paperbacks are everything that books ought to be.

Colophon

Aa Aa

Contact

Essays

Every year I try to write a small bookish thing which is usually a collection of thoughts from /notes:

Folks I admire

Here’s some of the folks that have inspired the design or writing of this here website:

Oh, and one last thing

Rr Rr