“inviting in”

In a recent piece for Variety, Seth Rogen writes how Mills’ most recent film, C’mon C’mon made him rethink the old adage that good artists borrow and great artists steal.

“[Mills] made me realize the best artists include,” Rogen writes. “Mike is the first filmmaker I’ve seen to actually credit other artists for their work in the body of his. He’s neither borrowing nor stealing. He’s inviting them in.”

Mills echoes this sentiment in a discussion about Christopher Plummer’s performance his the 2010 film, Beginners: “My dad is not Christopher Plummer at all. Christopher made that character. It’s Christopher’s instincts, blood, brain, soul, history that’s making what you see. Christopher got stuff from me and my dad, but it’s Christopher.”

Of all the things we summon in our work, perhaps one of the most important is the spirit of our collaborators.

summoning something

Here’s a great interview Mike Mills gave on Bullseye with Jesse Thorn, in which Mills discusses how working on his most recent film, C’mon C’mon, was almost an act of summoning something otherworldly.

“I don’t think I’m in any control of what I make or what I do. I feel like you summon things, but you summon…whole beings. The film, the script, the cosmos of [C’mon C’mon], it kinda came from me and my kid, but it’s like its own weird entity…I think Mr. Fellini would say this too.”

In the book, Fellini on Fellini, the renowned Italian filmmaker does, in fact, agree with Mills. He writes, “a film is a living reality: sometimes its orders must be obeyed, sometimes one must recall it to its own internal rhythm…I go to a story to discover what it has to tell me.”

“It’s learning how to ride that wave,” Mills continues. “Or understanding that it’s not totally under your control and that it is this kind of from-the-cosmos, spiritual entity blob that you’re helping fertilize and bring forth. And it’s part you, but equally not you.”

Perhaps ideas do come somewhere else. Or perhaps that come from deep within consciousness (as David Lynch claims). Either way, surrendering to an idea when it wants to take charge seems to yield the best result.

the 2021 playlist project

I just finished compiling my 2021 playlist for The Infinite Playlist Project.

This collection of songs was the soundtrack for:

  • blogging for 100 days in a row
  • sending my best friend and his wife flowers to celebrate the birth of their kids
  • getting drunk and praying during an assault on the US Capitol
  • finishing a draft of a new play, hosting a table read, and deciding to scrap the project
  • kissing a girl I’ve had a crush on for half my life
  • laying low at my parent’s house
  • leaving my childhood home for the last time
  • moving into a one bedroom apartment to live alone for the first time in my life
  • recording another Christmas card album
  • starting therapy (yet again…)
  • getting stoned at a Bayside concert and knowing exactly who I was
  • receiving fashion advice from the drummer of The Strokes
  • getting the Covid vaccine
  • starting preproduction on a short film I wrote
  • watching my little sister get engaged
  • taking photos atop the ferris wheel on Navy Pier
  • taking a boat ride on the Chicago river
  • seeing Green Day, Fall Out Boy, and Weezer play Dodger Stadium
  • dancing at a Patti Smith concert
  • buying my parents dinner at Jon & Vinny’s
  • starting work for an indie book publisher
  • teaching ten-year-olds about World War I, biomes, and the government
  • applied for a grant for my first play
  • getting rejected fro Ivy League graduate schools
  • starting to go to a new church
  • finally giving up writing a book I’d spent six years on
  • buying a first edition copy of On The Road
  • making brunch to celebrate a Presidential Inauguration
  • drawing pictures at the Cincinnati Art Museum
  • packing meal kits with chefs in a professional kitchen
  • hanging out in the Sheats-Goldstein House in Beverly Hills
  • listening to a panel of art critics talk about Basquiat and Warhol
  • overhearing Hollywood execs and agents talk shop about “the business”
  • hanging out with a rocket scientist from SpaceX
  • going on a walking murder tour of downtown Los Angeles
  • getting an American Idiot tattoo
  • taking up painting
  • seeing Andrew McMahon play the Chicago Theater
  • mourning the first wave of my peers to die
  • turning thirty

Cheers, 2021. It’s been a ride.

Show me whatcha got, 2022…

Kleon on collage and discovery

Austin Kleon on how one creative effort leads to the next:

“That’s the beauty of collage and working with real materials: when you don’t have a plan, when you don’t know where you’re going, you end up somewhere you didn’t anticipate. It’s real discovery.”

As my dad is so fond of saying, “a plan is just something from which we deviate.”

lessons learned in 2021

It’s become my practice to spend the last day of the year reflecting on what I’ve learned over the last twelve months.

Here are a few of my favorites lessons:

  1. Create from the heart, never the head. You get to the best parts of yourself on accident. The job of an artist is to orchestrate these accidents.
  2. Failure is the greatest way to propel yourself forwards.
  3. The work is always better when you’re having fun while doing it.
  4. Process > product (Easy to comprehend, but difficult to implement. This is a lesson to be learned again and again, as it’s both true of living a life and learning a craft.)
  5. “It is very dangerous to try to be a farmer when you’re really a pirate.”
  6. “Being a writer is an act of perpetual self-authorization. No matter who you are. Only you can authorize yourself….No one else can authorize you. No one.” — Verlyn Klinkenborg
  7. Sometimes, the miracles happen because we’re not paying attention.
  8. “At some point, when you create yourself to make it, you’re either going to have to let that creation go and take a chance on being loved or hated for who you really are ~or~ you’re going to have to kill who you really are and fall into your grave grasping onto a character that you never were.” — Jim Carey
  9. You have to let yourself be awful to wander, to play, to explore.
  10. “…things that start out poorly don’t always end poorly.” — Mike Nichols

Here’s to another empty page where we begin…

a christmas card for you

Every year, I send out Christmas cards.

It’s become a tradition to record a few songs on my guitar and share them with my loved ones. The album I make becomes not only a way to reflect on my year, but also the means to practice making art as a gift, prioritizing the process over the product.

my 2021 Christmas card (some assembly required)

This year, instead of doing printed holiday cards, I opted to assemble a zine of my artwork, which includes some quotes that have helped sustain me through the last few years. This zine is feature above for you to download, print, and assemble (instructions on how to do so feature here).

Austin Kleon’s Tutorial on making zines from a single sheet of paper

And if you’d like to skip the card and go straight to the music, here’s the music I’ve opted to share. It’s a collection of other people’s songs the helped me hope on the darkest days. Feel free to listen and sing along.

Wishing you and yours a wondrous holiday season.

two kinds of people

There are two kinds of people in this world.

There are people who say what they’re going to do.

And there are people who do the things they say.

The most difficult choice we face is deciding which one we want to be.

the work

A few years back, I joined a men’s group hosted at a church in Los Angeles. We meet weekly to discuss our lives, our faith, and our understanding of the world. We often read poetry as a means to get the conversation moving. This group has become precious to me.

Every so often, we’ll trade emails with poems or paintings or little samples of whatever we’re reading. These two passages from Saul Bellow’s The Adventure of Augie March arrived today, sent by one of the senior members of the group. They’re both so rich, I felt I should share them.

You must take a chance on who you are. And you can’t sit still. I know this double poser, that if you make a move you may lose but if you sit still you will decay. But what will you lose? You will not invent better than God or nature or turn yourself into the man who lacks no gift or development before you make the move. This is not given to us…It is better to die what you are than to live a stranger forever.

[…]

I felt settled and easy, my chest free and my fingers comfortable and open. And now here’s the thing. It takes a time like this for you to find out how sore your heart has been, and, moreover, all the while you thought you were going around idle terribly hard work was taking place. Hard, hard work, excavation and digging, mining, moling through tunnels, heaving, pushing, moving rock, working, working, working, working, working, panting, hauling, hoisting. And none of this work is seen from the outside. It’s internally done. It happens because you are powerless and unable to get anywhere, to obtain justice or have requital, and therefore in yourself you labor, you wage and combat, settle scores, remember insults, fight, reply, deny, blab, denounce, triumph, outwit, overcome, vindicate, cry, persist, absolve, die and rise again. All by yourself! Where is everybody? Inside your breast and skin, the entire cast.

This is the real work.

the job of an artist

In a discussion with Paul Holdengraber on the Library Talks podcast, Junot Diaz dives into how he defines his role as an artist in society:

I feel like my job as an artist is to make people more critical minded about even the thing I’m asking them to be in conversation with…If someone resists my work, then I’ve done my job.

Diaz goes on to describe the way so many of us are so quick to give authority to those who try to assume power. “It’d be nice if we were a little hard to seduce,” he says.