A Man is Outside Again

Yesterday, Birmingham asked residents to “shelter in place,” which means only leaving the house for essentials. I think the city gov does count exercise as an essential, but in any case, I’m glad we went to Sicard Hollow before the announcement was made.

Fat clouds, strong breeze, open space. Apart from the humidity, I could have almost believed I was back in Idaho.

A Man is Back, With Updates

Ah, fall. School starts, routines begin, school continues, routines falter, school continues to continue, routines somehow straggle on. Few updates of late because I’ve been busy. My drafts folder has gotten full, however, so here’s everything in one big post. Think of it as a newsletter.

One. During Art Walk the other weekend, we wandered through downtown Birmingham, mostly 1st and 2nd Avenues (North) between 23rd and 25th, with a short, bouncy jaunt down the cobblestones on Morris. Birmingham isn’t a big city, which we like very much. We get a bit of city culture and architecture (see photos) but it feels comprehensible in a way that Philadelphia never did. We didn’t run into anyone that we knew at Art Walk, but if we had, I wouldn’t have been too surprised.

Two. Jesse Thorn’s Put This On web series is pretty good. Thanks to limits of budget and subject (men’s clothing) it doesn’t have the scope of, say, Chef’s Table, but it’s informative and entertaining. What more could you ask of a web series? More than the content, I was interested in watching Adam Lisagor develop his style. Lisagor is the creator and director (creative director?) of my favorite explainer video company, the unique — though much-imitated — Sandwich Video. There’s one moment in the first Put This On video when the video cuts to Adam’s face a little “too” early and he stares at the camera for a few awkward seconds before he starts talking. I think Lisagor finds awkwardness funny, which makes his commercials really interesting. You feel like he’s on your side, sharing a joke, almost poking fun at the products he’s selling. Irony as a marketing tactic.

Three. This brings up something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: does faithful living mean cutting with or against the grain of “how the world works?” Ought Christians have the best websites on the web, or ought we spend our energies on more important things?

Four. I somehow landed a job at the local baptist university, teaching two sections of something called Communication Arts. My beat-up standard-issue metal adjunct desk is three decades old and contained one thing when it was delivered to my office: a rusty razor blade. Hint, hint?

Jokes aside, Samford has a beautiful campus (see photo) and has been a great place to work so far. My one-year-old daughter and I spend lots of time sweating our way past the buildings on our daily walks.

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Five. The problem with stuff like this is that debunking is the easiest form of argument. You can always say, “My opponent hasn’t read thus and such,” and pretend that you’ve excoriated him when all you’ve really done is list book titles. I haven’t read anything by Jordan Peterson, but I doubt I’d find him as maddening as this dude seems to.

A Man Goes Where Creative Work is Happening

On David K’s recommendation, I’m reading Jeff Goins’ book Real Artists Don’t Starve. Goins is attacking some common myths that hang around artistic types, like the idea that making money means you sold out, or the notion that success is all a matter of blind luck. Believe it or not, you can work things to your advantage in your pursuit of art. Goins distills his advice into a dozen principles, which he doesn’t call The Twelve Rules of Goins, but I’m going to.

Behold, the Twelve Rules of Goins.

1. The Starving Artist believes you must be born an artist. The Thriving Artist knows you must become one.
2. The Starving Artist strives to be original. The Thriving Artist steals from his influences.
3. The Starving Artist believes he has enough talent. The Thriving Artist apprentices under a master.
4. The Starving Artist is stubborn about everything. The Thriving Artist is stubborn about the right things.
5. The Starving Artist waits to be noticed. The Thriving Artist cultivates patrons.
6. The Starving Artist believes he can be creative anywhere. The Thriving Artist goes where creative work is already happening.
7. The Starving Artist always works alone. The Thriving Artist collaborates with others.
8. The Starving Artist does his work in private. The Thriving Artist practices in public.
9. The Starving Artist works for free. The Thriving Artist always works for something.
10. The Starving Artist sells out too soon. The Thriving Artist owns his work.
11. The Starving Artist masters one craft. The Thriving Artist masters many.
12. The Starving Artist despises the need for money. The Thriving Artist makes money to make art.

Some solid advice there. Take a closer look at #6: The Thriving Artist goes where creative work is already happening. In that chapter, Goins quotes a little detail from Patti Smith on why so many creative types moved to New York in the 1970s: “It was cheap to live here, really cheap.” Obviously NYC is the furthest thing from cheap nowadays. But the art scene of the 1970s is a big reason why the city still holds a flavor that so many hip youngsters find irresistible. Apparently the cycle goes something like this: a bunch of creative people move to a cheap town, meet each other, do their creative thing, and attract lots of other people who want to live in a happenin’ place.

That right there is seventy percent of the reason T and I moved to Birmingham. It’s cheap to live here, really cheap. When don’t have to worry so much about stacking the wampum, you have the luxury to spend your time on other, more creative pursuits. And when those creative pursuits do start to turn a profit, the profit doesn’t have to be enormous for you to make ends meet.

One final thought: my friend Daniel pointed out that there’s this assumption underneath these twelve principles that Thriving Artists are the real artists, whereas Starving Artists are poseurs. Goins makes that assumption explicit in the title of the book: real artists don’t starve. The implication is that, if you aren’t making money on your art, you’re not a real artist. When you get right down to it, is that any more helpful that the reverse? There’s nothing wrong with an electrician who writes music in his spare time and never makes a nickel from it.