There are still days…

Wayne Thiebaud began painting pies in 1962, and he built his career on these works. Every once in a while these days, the New Yorker or Times catches up with him. I always feel the urge to blog them, not because I know much about Thiebaud but because I love pie and feel a kinship.

In 2009, he did a mouth-watering cover for the former called “Pumpkin Cloud,” which introduced me to his work and made me blog all about him. In 2010, I loved a quote he gave the latter about working quite naturally through painting “misalignment,” part of a longer, interesting profile.

This fall, the New Yorker visited him at a dessert shop.

He subsequently found other subjects—city streets, melons—but his current show, at Acquavella Galleries, includes new work on the old theme. As Thiebaud put it, there are still days that start with the thought: This morning, I’d like to paint a pie.

The most mysterious/amusing New Yorker cartoon in a while


I had to take a picture of it. Why? Because I can’t find the cartoon in the Cartoon Bank. All of the other cartoons from its issue are in the Bank. But not this one. Not this strange little cartoon of a big smiling tree losing to small trees. What was this competition? How did the big tree lose? Why is the big tree so happy about this? So mysteriously, wonderfully weird.

BANG as story

James Wood’s story about the style of Scottish author James Kelman is good, but Kelman’s writing (which I’ve never read) is hard to describe. So many of his scenes appear to exist so deeply in the worlds he creates. But this summary and quote from one of Kelman’s stories work awfully well.

In “Bangs & a Full Moon,” which is only a page in length, the narrator looks at the full moon from his window:

A fine Full Moon from the third storey through the red reflection from the city lights: this was the view. I gazed at it, lying outstretched on the bed-settee. I was thinking arrogant thoughts of that, Full Moons, and all those fucking writers who present nice images in the presupposition of universal fellowship under the western Stars when all of a sudden: BANG, an object hurtling out through the window facing mine across the street.

The “story,” the event, is the BANG, though we never find out what it is. And its function is to undermine stories that go on too long, or wallow in epiphany (“nice images”). The piece ends, “I got back up again and closed the curtains. I was writing in pen & ink so not to waken the kids and wife with the banging of this machine I am now using.”

More NoMa graffiti poems

After I posted about the Robert Frost graffiti on the sidewalk a block from NPR HQ, friends alerted me to sibling graffiti nearby at NoMa Metro.


“With out you, today’s emotions are just the scurf of yesterdays” is a line from Amelie. Which was a terrific movie and poetic in many ways. But the source adds new mystery. Is the graffiti artist trying to broaden our poetic definitions? Or random grabbing from a quote site? The theme certainly fits with that of the Frost quote: sadness at loss of someone close.

And — Jess pointed me toward the New Yorker blog post about mysterious poetry turning up in Central Park. (In the last month, I’ve fallen so behind on my reading. It’s the worst.) About the placard found: “I was enchanted to find a park sign filled with poetry rather than the usual mishmash of information, rules, and thinly veiled threats. And such doting poetry: the park, the sign implied, had not been entirely beautiful without me….”

There’s apparently one more poem near the Metro. I think I’ve seen it but only too quickly in passing. Need to photograph and look it up.

I don’t know how you measure it, but it seems like one should

Jill Lepore’s criticism of disruptive-innovation theory in a recent issue of The New Yorker is terrific, well-argued and overdue. Disruption tries for disruption’s sake have taken too many stories, cash and wins from more legitimate companies and ideas and has distracted too many executives and managers from making good, balanced, informed decisions. But the theory is good in that it brings attention to new ways of thinking about problems and brings fear to those inclined to sit on their laurels/profits.

So, I like this letter to the editor in a subsequent issue of the magazine very much. David B. Sicilia, a professor at the University of Maryland, points to the research of business historian Alfred D. Chandler, Jr.

Chandler argued that firms succeeded by building “organizational capabilities”—managerial systems, worker skills, plants, and distribution systems dedicated to making and selling products more efficiently than competitors do. These abilities take decades to develop but, Chandler cautioned, can be destroyed quickly when managers lose strategic focus. History shows that many executives too readily embrace radical (“disruptive”) change in order to leave their mark, and Christensen’s approach encourages the trend. The successful firms that Chandler studied evolved a great deal, but without self-cannibalizing their hard-won know-how for the sake of change.

Too many companies (executive, managers, staff, no one is immune) fail to embrace innovation, but just as many fail to understand what their know-how offers evolving contexts. Sometimes these orgs are one and the same.

The power of background music (to do some things, stop others)

In the new New Yorker. I don’t know much about Brian Eno and haven’t heard a ton of his music, but this paragraph makes my morning. Started an experiment today to read a little before going to work, and I’m glad I did.

Eno told me that he heard from a fan who manages a supermarket in London and decided to play “Discreet Music” there. A week later, Eno went to visit him. “He said, ‘It was lovely—people stayed much longer in the shop and bought far less.’ I thought that was a very nice thing to say about the music.”

Celebrating Conde Zero with a couple favorite recent lines

I don’t get Conde Zero often. Similar to Inbox Zero, Conde Zero is what I’ve dubbed the state of life when I have no issues of The New Yorker or Wired waiting for me to read. In a magazine-reading way, it’s glorious.

This time around, I hadn’t been there since Christmas. Moving apartments in early spring put me seven issues behind (five New Yorkers, two Wireds). But reading was the one upside of the later spring’s sleep-troubled nights.

So, here’s to silver linings. And in mini-celebration, here are two quotes in the most recent New Yorker that made me even more glad to catch up:

In the back of the book, Sasha Frere -Jones covers new music from Arto Lindsay (nothing of the story is online… yet?): “The distinct melody has been smudged, and though he is enunciating clearly, there are tiny shouts and swallows that suggest a DNA song. He chucks and slashes his guitar strings, letting them puncture the air while he sings. The breaks between words are swallowed up as the sound billows, stutters, and cracks apart.”

Then Dan Chaisson quotes new Rachel Zucker (brief): “Sometimes she sat there thinking about what it meant to be alive in one physical location instead of another, at one moment of time instead of another, to be one kind of animal rather than another. Other times she would pull the pocket door over that kind of thinking and sit and listen to the muffled sound of that kind of thinking while she made a clicking noise on her keyboard.”

Too late at night, well-written magazines are a wonderful pocket door.

‘Nobody was freezing the world in a sequence, as it unfolded’

New Yorker‘s Alec Wilkinson on Carl Haber, sound scientist (article brief):

He put the drawing aside. He said that what intrigued him about recovering relic sounds was the period and the figures who inhabited it. “Roughly toward the end of the nineteenth century, there were those early guys — I like to call them the heroic inventors.” he said. “Edison, Bell, Muybridge with his time studies, Marconi. They were not particularly well established academically; they were not trained as engineers, mathematicians, or scientists; they were very creative; and they did intuitive, seat-of-the-pants, trial-and-error experiments, whereas once you get into the twentieth century, and you have an understanding of the physics and chemistry involved in these original scientific gestures, you get engineers and academics doing this kind of work. They’re more cautious. No scientist would have thought you could hear Jesus. It violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics.”

He shook his head.

“Anyway, they were the first to record the world as it was actually happening.” he continued. Before [early sound pioneer] Scott, people wrote things down. They took photographs, they captured moments, but nobody was freezing the world in a sequence, as it unfolded. Sound, for example, is a phenomenon that changes as a function of time. Electrical signals, the brightness of stars — they’re changing as a function of time. Anything we measure today in a laboratory — radio signals, meteorological equipment, subatomic particles, the ability to divide time into smaller and smaller increments — it all comes from the outline of this work.”

Breaking the block before it…

From a terrific Kathryn Schulz New Yorker story about death certificates:

In Bernard Malamud’s short story “Take Pity,” a census-taker named Davidov asks a man named Rosen how an acquaintance of his died. When Rosen shrugs off the questions, the census taker grows irritable:

“How did he die?” Davidov spoke impatiently. “Say in one word.”
“From what he died? — he died, that’s all.”
“Answer, please, this question.”
“Broke in him something. That’s how.”
“Broke what?”
“Broke what breaks.”

Not only is the above your answer on whether HTML allows blockquote within a blockquote, but above is also your answer for why I couldn’t let this blog die after its relative silence this winter.  When I started packing for my move, I stopped writing anything and stopped reading anything longer than a Web page. Around the same time, maybe a little earlier, I’d let my work take control of my interior monologue. I didn’t realize this, of course. I knew only that when I sat at my laptop I had nothing to offer.

So, in recent weeks, I paused unpacking. I spent a weekend afternoon reading and then did more while falling asleep on subsequent nights. I assembled my new dining table and hoped it might replace my old desk outside of mealtime. I started trying hard, come Saturday mornings, to take my mind off my job. Last week, when three formal projects and countless unofficial ones sat on my plate at work this cycle, I realized I need to fight my tendencies and carve room upstairs for myself again.