Interview with Philip Glass

Via Kottke, The Atlantic has a nice interview with Philip Glass. It’s interesting, sort of a quick snapshot into his life growing up and the early days of his career. There are bits that feel a little melancholy to me, talking about his brother who passed on, or his father, while you can sort of imagine him lighting up talking about his time in Chicago or driving cab.

Something in particular I really liked:

To this day, among my earliest memories was someone would give my father $5 and he’d hand them a record. So the exchange of money for art, I thought that was normal. I thought that’s what everybody did. I never thought there was anything wrong about making money.

That’s kind of important, and I can relate (my parents ran a photography studio when I was growing up, and I also grew up in a worldview where people were paid for art). If you spend even an hour browsing various artists’ tumblrs and twitter feeds, you’ll inevitably run into stories of rude people at cons or in commission requests simply expecting art to happen for nothing. It’s dumb if you take even 30 seconds to think about it, but it’s prevalent. It’s nice to see it get called out that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Neil and Kazuo Talk Genre

Not sure why it resurfaced now, but from 2015 over at the New Statesman, there’s a delightful interview between Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro, discussing genre and class and escapism and all sorts of interesting things. Well worth the read, and feels pretty topical even now.

KI I don’t have a problem, necessarily, about reading for improvement. I often choose a book because I think I’m going to enjoy it, but I think also it’s going to improve me in some sense. But when you ask yourself, “Is this going to improve me?” what are you really asking? I think I probably do turn to books for some sort of spiritual and intellectual nourishment: I think I’m going to learn something about the world, about people. But if by “improving”, we mean it would help me go up the class ladder, then it’s not what reading and writing should be about. Books are serving the same function as certain brands of cars or jewellery, in just denoting social position. That kind of motivation attaches itself to reading in a way that probably doesn’t attach itself to film.

Many of the great classics that are studied by film scholars are sci-fi: Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Tarkovsky’s Solaris, Kubrick’s 2001. They don’t seem to have suffered from the kind of genre stigmatisation their equivalents would have done in book form.

NG I remember as a boy reading an essay by C S Lewis in which he writes about the way that people use the term “escapism” – the way literature is looked down on when it’s being used as escapism – and Lewis says that this is very strange, because actually there’s only one class of people who don’t like escape, and that’s jailers: people who want to keep you where you are. I’ve never had anything against escapist literature, because I figure that escape is a good thing: going to a different place, learning things, and coming back with tools you might not have known.

Orbital Operations and other thoughts

So, if you’re not already subscribed to Orbital Operations yet, you really should sign up. Warren Ellis finds some pretty interesting stuff to share on a pretty regular basis, and it gives you something to read in your inbox that isn’t just more marketing spam.

In this past week’s edition, someone asked about his daily routine (and how he manages to keep up with current affairs while still making deadlines). The advice is pretty solid, but I particularly liked this:

You can see my considerable advantages here. I spend a lot of time on my own, and mostly in my office. You can emulate these obvious role-model traits by excavating yourself a cave in your back garden or taking over a room in your apartment, fitting it with uncomfortably bright lights and way too many screens, filling all the spaces with books and skulls, playing nothing but music that sounds like it’s emanating from a dead moon, and waiting for everyone to leave you alone forever, and then dying in seclusion and being eaten by cats.

I hope that helped.

Living the dream, sir.

In a similar vein, in the same missive, there’s something I think is worth calling out:

You don’t have to live in public on the internet if you don’t want to. Even if you’re a public figure, or micro-famous like me. I don’t follow anyone on my public Instagram account. No shade on those who follow me there, I’m glad you give me your time – but I need to be in my own space to get my shit done. You want a “hack” for handling the internet? Create private social media accounts, follow who you want and sit back and let your bespoke media channels flow to you.

These are tools, not requirements. Don’t let them make you miserable. Tune them until they bring you pleasure.

I think that’s something we often miss: we’re so stuck into the “social media” groove, where everything is performative and virtue signaling and signal boosting and broadcasting to your readers, that we forget that it’s still a choice. We can opt out, or use the services how we want to use them (and discard them when that is no longer viable). Even if presence feels mandatory nowadays, participation is not.

I don’t think I personally need a series of private accounts — I’m not even “micro-famous” (though I’m still tickled when something I say or do pops up in a larger space). It does give some food for thought about how I have and use the accounts I do have, though. It’s sort of where I’ve already been heading — giving less of a shit about building a readership and more about sharing brief thoughts and things I think are interesting. Paring down or tuning out the rage machine (that’s not to say ignoring current affairs, but I really don’t need 57 hot takes on the same situation), and filling my time with stuff that feeds me in some way. Something to work towards, I’d say.

Link: Art and Entertainment

Over at Whatever, John Scalzi writes about Art and Entertainment in response to a tweet from Neil deGrasse Tyson.

To begin, “art” is not a rarified thing, or at least I don’t think it is. It is, simply, the product of the creative exercise. When you write a story or play a song or draw a picture or act on a stage, you are making “art.” Whether it is good art or bad art is another thing entirely — when I write, I can say I am (generally) creating good art, but when I draw, I am mostly creating bad art. But it’s still art, good, bad or indifferent. What makes it art is the act of creative production, not its quality.

Likewise “entertainment” is also not particularly rarified. It’s that which aims to amuse and engage people (or more widely, that which amuses and engages people, whether intentional or not). In a basic sense, if you are writing or composing or drawing or whatever with the intention or hope that other people will apprehend and appreciate what you are doing, that’s entertainment. And again, you can succeed or not succeed, depending on your skill and also the interest and taste of the audience. What makes it entertainment is the intention, not the quality.

I (by and large) agree with John: neither art nor entertainment should be considered rarified or elevated (though definitely appreciated), and his definitions I think are fairly apt. I also agree with his later extension, in that I feel another component to art comes from intention: the desire to express yourself in a creative way (whether others pick up on what you’re trying to express is another matter). Entertainment also can have creative intent, but as the whole essay calls out, there’s a lot of overlap and interrelation between the two concepts.

I think John (and presumably, Neil) hit the nail on the head, though, in this:

Now, what I think Tyson may have been trying to say, and if so is a thing I would agree with him on, is that one’s entertainment and/or artistic diet shouldn’t be only what you already know that you like — it’s worthwhile to make a stretch here and there and try things that you don’t know if you like, and on occasion to learn more about art (of whatever sort) so that when you approach new and unfamiliar art, you have tools to better understand and apprehend what you’ve got in front of you. Always be reaching for the new and always be learning — and as a result, what art speaks to you, and entertains you, will be a larger set than what’s come before. And sometimes you won’t like the art, and won’t be entertained, but that’s all right, too. You’ll know more about yourself through the process.

Link: Life Lessons from a Lifestyle Business

Over at IndieVC, A Lifestyle Business Can Kill You Life Lessons from a Lifestyle Business: A really honest, worthwhile interview with Matt Haughey, the creator of MetaFilter.

I crave simplicity and I don’t want complications. I’ve counseled my friends many times to just make things that make a little bit of money and make you happy. Why isn’t that good enough?

Matt Haughey

It should be good enough. You don’t have to build an empire to make people’s lives better and to do things you love. I’d even go so far that digital empires are in direct opposition to making people’s lives better. But that’s a rant for another time.

Update: So, the title felt kind of incongruous, and doesn’t really have a lot to do with the post. Apparently Matt felt the same, so it’s been changed:

Elizabeth Bear on Committing

Here is thing I learned when I was 29, which I now give away for free:

If you want to do a thing, do it now, or as soon as feasible. Because there might not be a later.

[…]

But to succeed at a thing–a job, a relationship–in the long term, the thing is: You Must Commit, even though commitment is scary. And commitment is scary because once you’re in you’re in. It’s not bobbing around close to the shore, paddling with your feet. It’s both feet and swimming as hard as you can out where the rip currents and the sharks are, where the water turns blue.
Elizabeth Bear, everybody’s scared of things that they don’t understand and all the living they don’t do.

Being Who You Are

And sometimes that’s hugely painful or difficult, especially when we’ve been socialized to believe that who we are, deep down, is somehow immoral and incorrect. Because the first thing you have to figure out is who you are. And what you want. And that it’s all right for you to want and be those things, even if somebody else told you it was wrong. Even if it’s risky. Even if your family might not understand. (Of course, it’s also risky because it might involve important relationships changing drastically, giving up things that are precious to you, and re-assessing your investments or renegotiating your life path.)

That can be a tremendously painful process, this letting go of what you thought you ought to be, what you were invested in being–and just being what you are. Feeling your feelings, Writing your words. Making your art, which involves telling your truths.

Elizabeth Bear

Read the rest of the post (and really, a lot of her posts lately). Worth it.