Cool Internet Stuff (Dana Gioia Writing Advice, Harvest Moon, etc.)

  • I really enjoyed Dana Gioia’s Studying with Miss Bishop when I read it earlier this year. My only complaint was that I wanted more: specifically more about how Gioia sustained his writing practice as he grew older and worked a demanding job as an executive, became a father etc. I’m still hoping that Gioia will write more memoirs at some point, but in the meantime, he’s posted a short “Becoming a Writer (when you have a full-time job)” playlist on YouTube. Nothing earth-shattering (small goals, consistent effort, setting aside a particular time and space), but Gioia has the power of conviction (and a CV which supports the validity of his advice).
  • Craig Mod is doing a new walk and pop-up newsletter: Tiny Barber, Post Office. I find the model of the constrained, focused, pop-up online writing project attractive/intriguing.
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Cool Internet Stuff (Craig Mod, Stephen Gill and more)

  • I can’t remember how I discovered Craig Mod’s work earlier this year (a video of a Japanese coffee shop was involved somehow), but I am glad I did. I signed up for his recent pop-up newsletter, Where Are All the Nightingales, and became hooked. Lots of walking, photography, Japan, and a nice dose of off-the-beaten-pathness:
From Season 01 of Craig Mod’s Huh newsletter
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Writing in the Real World: Four Quotes

As embarrassment has both private and public functions, so, too, do writers’ self-criticisms have several purposes, which are more complex and performative than an outright condemnation of their writing. Though, to some extent, it comes from a real and desperate need to admit how awful it is to have to live with the things one has made, it is also a way of controlling the narrative around one’s work: pre-empting the failings others might find, and therefore mitigating them.

Considering First Books – Lamorna Ash
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Cool Internet Stuff (Gessen on fatherhood, Niemann on learning the piano, and more)

What I think I’m doing here: time for a links post.

  • Artist/illustrator Christoph Niemann describes trying to learn classical piano during the pandemic (“I know I will never produce anything at the level of a talented 8-year old on YouTube”). His Instagram is one of my favorite feeds. I have not learned the piano in the past year, but I did pick up the guitar with more discipline than I have in many years and found some of the same benefits (note: not too much discipline – basically I’m just happy to have some calluses again).

Still there was something in sports that I had not found anywhere else. The summer that Raffi was born, I was trying to finish a draft of my second novel, worrying about money and trying to manage my literary career, such as it was. But I was also on two excellent beer-league hockey teams. Each team was headed for the playoffs. The email messages celebrating our victories flew back and forth. I wanted Raffi to have this too — this life outside his life, this group of friends dedicated to a common cause. In short, of all the things that I felt I could give my son, the one I most wanted to give him was sports.

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Purposeful Public Foolishness

Austin Kleon recently posted on the need to “learn to play the fool” (included in the most recent edition of his excellent newsletter – I also liked the “searching outside the algorithm” and “nobody should have to hustle” links this week). In the post Austin reminds the reader that learning anything new generally involves being willing to risk embarrassment and failure.

This reminded me of a J.M. Coetzee quote from Youth that I had posted a while ago and came across again the other day while working on my little Knausgaard essay project (no one is waiting for them, but #2 and #3 are on their way). Coetzee describes the dawning realization (and accompanying frustration) that fundamental to learning to write (and to live) is a willingness to fail:

What more is required than a kind of stupid, insensitive doggedness, as lover, as writer, together with a readiness to fail and fail again? What is wrong with him is that he is not prepared to fail. He wants an A or an alpha or one hundred per cent for his every attempt, and a big Excellent! in the margin. Ludicrous! Childish! He does not have to be told so: he can see it for himself. Nevertheless. Nevertheless he cannot do it. Not today. Perhaps tomorrow. Perhaps tomorrow he will be in the mood, have the courage.

I, like Coetzee’s protagonist, even though I am old enough to know better, often still want an “Excellent!” in the margin on first try, at least in the things that matter to me. Being willing to risk a little failure, a little foolishness can be hard.

I frequently start a post with a “what I think I’m doing here” statement just to give a little signpost to the reader. And, I have been doing some big picture “what do I think I’m doing here” reflecting on this blogging project as a whole (the reflection isn’t happening in public, thank goodness, that sort of navel-gazing is for my journal, to be burned after writing). But, “an attempt at a little purposeful public foolishness” isn’t the worst description in the world of what’s happening here.

Cool Internet Stuff (NBA bubble life with Ben Golliver, Oliver Burkeman newsletter wisdom, and more)

What I think I’m doing here: It’s another links post.

  • The news your life.” Oliver Burkeman is now delivering wisdom in newsletter form. I have definitely been a bit derailed by distraction these past two weeks. I mean, this about sums it up.
  • On a related note, I find myself hungry for competence and am thinking back to the NBA’s “bubble” – which looks like more of a success with each passing day. Ben Golliver wrote up one of the best reflections on NBA bubble life. Not sure what the next season is going to look like – but hoping they can pull something off.

The most damning thing about Substack is not any of these theoretical structural mechanics, it’s the easier more intuitive understanding that nothing great will be written here. Each piece we read and publish is a bite sized dose of momentary stimulation. It follows an unwritten contract between each party–I will not try too hard to writing anything serious, you will not try too hard to understand my writing, and both of us will be happier for it–that feels less like patronage, and more like a cheap imitation of actual craft, something that fulfils its surface level goals but goes no further.

On the whole, I find the shift towards so much internet writing being distributed as email newsletters extremely irritating. Even the newsletters I like end up over time feeling like some sort of spam. RSS readers exist! They provide a significantly better reading experience!

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Cool Internet Stuff (Ross Gay on basketball, Alan Jacobs leaves me teary-eyed, and more)

What I think I’m doing here: It’s a links post. Because every blog needs a links post once in a while.

  • Oliver Burkeman closes up shop on his wry and generous This Column Will Change your Life. I’m going to miss it. He ends with a summary of the main insights from his years writing the column, including: “The advice you don’t want to hear is usually the advice you need” and “When stumped by a life choice, choose ‘enlargement’ over happiness.”

The last time I played here I didn’t want to leave. I kind of couldn’t bring myself to. In my head I was kind of begging my friend, my partner in ball, who is no longer here, (don’t worry, he’s alive), to stick around, to stretch the game out. C’mon man. Five more points combined and we’re done. Now five more. Ok, two more possessions a piece. Two more. C’mon. Let’s stay a little longer, don’t you think? Let’s just keep going. Up and back. Your knees ok? The hammy’s good? Ankle? C’mon, let’s hang around. A couple more shots. Your ball.

  • Alan Jacobs’ newsletter always has something good (you can subscribe here), but this one, which told a story I had never heard before, about a teenager named Suzanne Big Crow, is one I’m still thinking about weeks later (he also has a new book out, which I haven’t gotten to yet, but looks great).
  • If your interest has been awakened at all by some of my recent Knausgaard content (and there’s more on its way … I have a problem) but you’re not sure you want to launch into the thousands of pages of My Struggle, you can get a taste of what his work is like by watching his 2017 Windham-Campbell Lecture (published as a short book in English titled, Inadvertent).

But rarely, something even better happens: A painting made by someone in a distant country hundreds of years ago, an artist’s careful attention and turbulent experience sedimented onto a stretched canvas, leaps out of the past to call you — to call you — to attention in the present, to drive you to confusion by drawing from you both a sense of alarm and a feeling of consolation, to bring you to an awareness of your own self in the act of experiencing something that is well beyond the grasp of language, something that you wouldn’t wish to live without.

And later, towards the end of the essay:

He was a murderer, a slaveholder, a terror and a pest. But I don’t go to Caravaggio to be reminded of how good people are and certainly not because of how good he was. To the contrary: I seek him out for a certain kind of otherwise unbearable knowledge. Here was an artist who depicted fruit in its ripeness and at the moment it had begun to rot, an artist who painted flesh at its most delicately seductive and most grievously injured. When he showed suffering, he showed it so startlingly well because he was on both sides of it: He meted it out to others and received it in his own body. Caravaggio is long dead, as are his victims. What remains is the work, and I don’t have to love him to know that I need to know what he knows, the knowledge that hums, centuries later, on the surface of his paintings, knowledge of all the pain, loneliness, beauty, fear and awful vulnerability our bodies have in common.

  • And finally, I’m not sure whether this qualifies as “cool internet stuff” but wasn’t sure where else to put this. I have never figured out a great flow between my blog and my Goodreads account. Goodreads is generally the place for short notes, and I’ll tackle longer, more ambitious things here, but I post pretty much every book I finish there (not the ones I abandon), so if you want to follow along at a faster pace in a more “rough draft” form, that’s the place to go.


Following up on my recent post on Knausgaard’s Home and Away, if you’re on the hunt for a little shot of “elsewhere” from the confines of your desk, I recently discovered WindowSwap. You can read a little bit about the project here. Basically people submit short (ten minutes or so) videos of a window in their house which you can then view (and they have submissions from all over the world). This is more or less how I use Instagram – a little window into other worlds – but I really like the simplicity of this project. A couple of sample frames below, just to give you a taste of some “away” while at home: