Good morning, friends!
I’m writing this on a Monday, the beginning of a new work week. I’ve been up for a few hours now. All summer I’ve had this reliable routine: I wake up around six, I go for a walk on a nearby trail, and then I come back home, have some breakfast, read a book, journal, work a bit on my novel—and then, after I’ve done all those things for myself, I start my workday. But the sun’s rising a bit later now, so I’ve changed up the order. I wrote a page or two in my journal before striking out. As I walked outside, I caught the sun coming up over the horizon. It illuminated a striped sky. Eight or nine sharp horizontal trails across the dawn light. Contrails, maybe? Precise clouds? I couldn’t quite tell, but it was a nice sight.
The trail was more or less empty this morning. Generally I walk while listening to podcasts or music, but today I began an audiobook. (Ruth Ware’s The Turn of the Key.) I caught myself walking without looking where I was going, just staring up at the stripes. While I did, a jet passed by at a very high altitude, and I noted that its contrail was wispy thin compared to the broader stripes already there, and that the trail dissipated quickly, thinning out before vanishing altogether. So the stripes couldn’t have been contrails; they’d been there for fifteen, twenty minutes by that point. I guess they were clouds. The sharpest, straightest clouds I’d ever seen, maybe. I wish I’d snapped a photo.
Of course, they were just clouds, and cloud-gazing isn’t what this newsletter is for, is it?
Two things from the past week that I found interesting:
A BBC interview from 1977, in which Barry Norman talks with Sylvester Stallone about the improbability of Rocky
An interview with David Bowie in which he discusses the importance of making art for yourself
Felicia shared the Bowie segment with me. Bowie’s talking about how necessary it is for the artist to avoid “playing to the gallery”:
But you never learn that until much later on, I think. But never work for other people at what you do. Always remember that the reason that you initially started working was that there was something inside yourself that you felt that, if you could manifest it in some way, you would understand more about yourself and how you coexist with the rest of society. I think it’s terribly dangerous for an artist to fulfill other people’s expectations. I think…they’ll generally produce their worst work when they do that.
I think we all probably struggle with this. And there’s some nuance here, too. Is Bowie talking about creating art to please an audience? Or about taking art-for-hire jobs rather than creating your own work? I think it’s likely he’s talking about both.
Bowie goes on to add this useful advice for artists who are creating for themselves:
The other thing I would say is that if you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.
There’s more to this piece, too. A quick bit of research shows it’s excerpted from Inspirations, a documentary by Michael Apted. This video contains all of Bowie’s scenes from the film.
The Stallone interview touches on the classic Rocky obscurity-to-fame story we’ve all heard by now. Stallone, who was a virtual nobody (and broke) at the time, wrote the script in just three days, then rejected a six-figure offer for the rights because United Artists didn’t want him to play the lead. Of course, he eventually won this battle, and Rocky was a sleeper hit, and the highest-grossing movie of 1976.
In the interview, Barry Norman notes that it was “fairly presumptuous” of Stallone to expect he could play the lead, given his career was little more than “small parts” at the time. Stallone agreed, acknowledging he’d mostly played bums and drunks to that point, but he added this:
I felt that, geez, if I was gonna go down, at least into professional obscurity, I wanted to at least have the opportunity to say to myself, “Well, you tried. You put your best foot forward and you didn’t make it.”
I turned forty-four recently, and my gift to myself was a subscription to the Criterion Channel. I just felt like watching movies, you know. “No, you feel like watching films,” Felicia corrected when I told her that.
In addition to films, Criterion has all these fascinating interviews with actors and directors and writers about movies. Among those, I found this conversation with Ethan Hawke, who always talks about movies and art in such an interesting, grand way. (Possibly insufferable sometimes?) Hawke’s talking about the lasting impact a movie has on a person:
Hawke: Paul Schrader has this thing that he used to say, I got when we were doing First Reformed and people would ask him about the ending of that movie and how weird it was. And he said that a good movie starts when the end credits roll. … The movie itself is ringing a bell, but the vibration of the bell…
Interviewer: You take it away with you.
And the conversation turns to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest:
Hawke: ‘Cause there’s that moment where Nicholson says he bets everybody whether he can throw the sink out the window, and he can’t do it. And then he turns to them all and says, “At least I tried.” I put that quote over my typewriter when I was a kid. “At least I tried.” You know, just to say, “Fuck it, all right, I suck.” But I’m gonna go down like Nicholson.
Interviewer: Risk failure, but by trying.
This whole exchange was still knocking around in my head when I saw both the Bowie and Stallone interviews. I like the way they all sort of echo together.
It’s difficult sometimes to imagine making art purely for the love of doing it, and to be bold enough to take risks with your art, but I think we can all agree that art which does both of these things is often memorable at the very least. That’s why I love listening to artists talk about how they work. Sometimes what they say rings a bell, as Hawke or Schrader might have said, and we can carry that vibration into our own work.
✏️Until next time,
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