For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by the artistic process as much as by an artist’s completed work. Whether it’s interviewing a musician about her craft or reading an essay about the writing life, I’m consistently drawn into the thought process, the equipment used, the joys and frustrations. When I recently came across a Dave Eggers column (which is not recent) about his own writing process, I knew I was in for something worthwhile.
I first read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius back in 2000. His memoir is tragic, manic, hilarious, disconcerting, and emotional. It’s also my favorite book. I’ll never forget the impact of that first time through an Eggers novel, and it’s a journey I’ve taken several times since.
A Heartbreaking Work, winner of the Pulitzer for non-fiction in 2000, was the first of several celebrated releases by Eggers. What is the What won the Prix Médicis, Zeitoun won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and his latest, A Hologram for the King, was a finalist for the National Book Award. He wrote the screenplays for Away We Go and Where the Wild Things Are, and he also founded McSweeney’s, which if you don’t know, is a source for wonderful literary things of all shades.
I write all of this not only because I greatly admire Eggers, but because he’s a remarkable writer. This is important because to read his take on “the writing life” is to get a glimpse into something rather unremarkable. Despite the awards on the bio, a peek behind the curtain reveals an ordinary man with an ordinary routine sitting at an ordinary work space dealing with ordinary struggles. In short, Dave Eggers is human. Here’s the article. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
And here is where I spend seven or eight hours at a stretch. Seven or eight hours each time I try to write. Most of that time is spent stalling, which means that for every seven or eight hours I spend pretending to write—sitting in the writing position, looking at a screen—I get, on average, one hour of actual work done. It’s a terrible, unconscionable ratio.
This week, we’re giving away a copy of So Brave, Young and Handsome, the second novel by this year’s Hutchmoot special guest, Leif Enger. The Rabbit Room community recently read through the book and held a discussion of it in six parts, so if you win be sure to go back and follow along as you read. It’s never too late to join the conversation.
How do I win? you ask? Take to the Twittersphere and share a link to the book’s discussion post using the hashtag #leifmoot. That’s it.
The link to use: www.rabbitroom.com/2013/04/discussion-so-brave-young-and-handsome
The hashtag to use: #leifmoot
The winner will be selected at random and announced next Monday.
Fine Print: Neither Leif Enger nor Charlie Siringo are allowed to win this contest. Neither is Pete Peterson.
My mom always told me that winning isn’t everything. Or maybe it was winners can’t be choosers…or losers. Either way, there was something about winning in there that I was supposed to learn. However the one thing I’ve learned about winning is that it’s fun, so to that end we’re excited about a new weekly feature that we’ve creatively named The Rabbit Room Contest.
Every Monday, you’ll find a brand new contest post detailing the prize(s) available. The goals will change from time to time, but the ultimate goal is to give you that exhilarating feeling of having bested everyone else. Pride. Glory. You know, the fruits of the Spirit.
For our first Rabbit Room Contest, it’s appropriate to give a nod to the man who provided an inspiration to us all: Clive Staples Lewis. This week’s prize will be a brand new set of Lewis’s celebrated space trilogy, which includes Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength.
So what does it take to win? This week, we’re asking you, dear reader, to add a review to the Rabbit Room store. Whether you are purchasing a new product or remembering something you’ve owned for a long time, we’d love to give other art lovers a better idea of what they might enjoy in the store. Have an opinion on your favorite Andy Gullahorn album? Want to weigh in with your take on a Jonathan Rogers novel? Let us know in the Rabbit Room store (every item in the store has space for user reviews) sometime between today and Thursday evening at 5 p.m. (CT) and you’ll be automatically entered to win. Winners will be randomly selected. At random.
Winners will be notified personally and we’ll announce the winner each Friday morning.
Fine print: Original members of the Inklings are not eligible to win. Neither is Pete Peterson.
[In the summer of 2007, I launched a music site called Stereo Subversion for the sole purpose of helping to promote and explore what I termed "Meaningful Music." The goal was to highlight artists crafting substantive content and/or imaginative concepts. Six years later, the same is true. Here's a recent interview that illustrates just that.]
For those who tried to read between the lines on Hem’s latest album, Departure and Farewell, you likely hit the nail on the head. Over the last decade-plus, the Brooklyn-based band has released several beautiful folk albums to great acclaim. But everything has a life cycle, and Hem nearly completed their own.
Death, it seems, was a necessary consideration to bring new life, and Departure and Farewell is a goodbye in name only. Hem’s Gary Maurer and Dan Messe recently sat down with Stereo Subversion to discuss the latest album and how they nearly walked away from it all.
SSv: It’s been a long time between records, what has happened in that time?
Dan: Well, I think what happened was, we were thinking Hem had run its course after Twelfth Night(2009’s record of instrumental accompaniment to a Shakespearean production) and were just interested in wrapping things up in a big bow. And so we decided to call the recordDeparture and Farewell. Really making something that was a good summation of our career. And in the course of making this “ending,” I actually started using pills, I actually got addicted to them. And the band completely exploded. I basically poisoned the entire well where we couldn’t even finish the final record. We were just going to walk away at one point. That’s true right Gary?
Gary: Yes, clearly for several months [the record] was not going to get done.
Dan: And it languished like that until I hit bottom and asked for help, then the band started to heal. And all of the sudden there was a rebirth, not just in terms of my own health but also in terms of the love we have for each other and the love we have for the music we make together and how grateful we are. It started out as a swan song and became a rebirth.
SSv: Is it strange or painful to make this a part of the new record’s story, or are you comfortable talking about it?
Dan: I’m not comfortable talking about it at all, but it’s such a part of the album. We write songs that are not confessional but they are autobiographical. So we tend to write in metaphor about experiences that we go through in our life. We could have taken this part out and just been vague about it: ‘We had troubles and we got over it.’[Laughs]
Gary: It would have been easy to make up a whole other story because there actually have been a lot of other changes since (2006’s) Funnel Cloud. We could have just pretended, like Dan said.
Dan: I think in the spirit of this second chance, it really is a miracle, and I wanted to honor that. And also, you are able to recover—or find recovery at all—when you are at a point when you’re completely hopeless and lost everything. And you want to share the story so that someone else might hear it and find their own way back. You feel responsible for other people going through it. So we just decided, as a band, it would be ok to talk about.
You can read the rest of the interview over at Stereo Subversion.
On a recent afternoon, I had the chance to break bread with several friends here in Nashville. (Actually, we broke chicken tenders.) The conversation was lively, but it was the lingering moments outside, after nearly everyone had left, that stirred me most.
Russ Ramsey asked me what I was writing lately, and instead of answering the question, I updated him on the latest freelance assignments I’d been given. He politely listened to my answer and then asked me again, “What have you been writing lately?” I told him about the essays and ideas I’d been planning to write as soon as I cleared my slate. Simply put, I gave him an embarrassingly short progress report.
After lunch, I went back to the Rabbit Room office and sat down with Pete Peterson to discuss some future ventures for the site. The conversation turned again to my own writing and the exact same thing happened, another gentle nudge reminding me to dig for what is meaningful. Twice in the same day, I’d had someone push me to move beyond immediate tasks for the sake of something meaningful.
Ever since my wife and I set our sights on moving to Nashville several months ago, I couldn’t wait to get here. Expectations of new friendships and opportunities brought hope after a frustrating and lonely year of wading through vocational changes wondering where the next steps would lead us. I knew a change in location was not a cure-all, but still, I couldn’t wait. I was ready to go.
Yet after several weeks in Nashville, life is beginning to become routine. We’re finding a new rhythm. We love our new house, our new life, our new schedule, but we also find a lot of it is familiar. We’re still the same people with the same habits, the same pressures, the same likes and dislikes. The new scenery is lovely, but the sheen on our new environment is beginning to fade. The experience was really about the expectation more than the lived-out reality.
I’m convinced that we live more through our expectations than we do through our actual lives. It’s the expectation of what is to come that gives us hope in the current moment, and it’s the dashed expectation that ruins long stretches of our existence. Think about this for a second.
How many days do we spend simply holding out for the upcoming vacation? How many weeks are spent working for the weekend? How many months are simply the precursor to the birth, to the wedding, to the holidays? I find this happening all the time in my own life, whether it’s an upcoming concert, a reunion with friends, an opportunity to travel abroad, or even the chance to get back inside a really compelling book. We lose the current moment in anticipation of moments to come.
For most of the last decade, Josh Garrels has created his intriguing blend of folk and hip-hop in strict isolation—whether holed up at John Dillinger’s former home in central Indiana or sequestered away in a bedroom of his own. The results speak for themselves: a beautiful discography that has cemented Garrels as a truly independent artist.
On his most recent full-length album, Love & War & the Sea In Between, Garrels opened up the creative process to include some friends in a collective known as Mason Jar Music. A group of NYU and Julliard alumni, Mason Jar Music previously backed Garrels on a takeaway show featuring his song “Words Remain.” It was the beginning of a relationship that continued with Mason Jar’s production of a few of the tracks on Love & War and eventually blossomed to include tour dates and a brand new documentary, The Sea In Between.
Not all men are created equal.
The phrase sounds odd, but for me it rings true. I’ve been turning it over in my head in recent days and weeks as I’ve reflected upon my own story and absorbed the journeys of close friends. Together they reveal the truth about the statement oft cited that tells us that the opposite is true.
Of course, we all value the belief that we are all on a level playing field, and I will admit the lens through which you view that phrase will change the way you measure it. But in the real world in which we live and move, work and play, step up and back down, we are definitely anything but equal.
This entire last year has informed the lesson I’ve learned about (in)equality. A few months ago, some of our closest friends gave birth to a beautiful baby girl troubled by multiple medical issues. Their lives since this moment have been a rollercoaster both inside and out with a whirlwind of emotions accompanying a constant rotation of appointments, tests, and results. Even now there are more questions than answers.
For many of us, Madeleine L’Engle has been a foundational author and speaker in our understanding of truth and culture. Five years after her death, her works still speak profoundly to me, and I recently took in Walking On Water yet again for, I believe, the fifth time. Whether you’re a fan of her masterwork A Wrinkle in Time or love her poetry (a personal fave is A Cry Like A Bell), L’Engle’s impact spans the globe and several generations.
Here’s a great hour-long talk from The Veritas Forum in ’98, in which she discusses the relationship between truth and fantasy:
Every year, there was a slight exodus from the church that I pastored. Typically around the beginning of summer, a few members of our community, largely comprised of 18- to 35-year-olds, would venture out for the Great Plan that lay before them. It was a sad yet expected time and the transient nature of our community became a part of the ethos of our church.
While that segment of the population is bent toward mobility across the board, there was always a cross-section of our congregation in search of an easier time of things. Our part of the country (a post-industrial Midwestern small town) is notoriously difficult to find jobs within. The city itself lacks any real cultural options, the educational system is a complete disaster, and local bureaucracy features the same small-town politicans trading the mayoral seat every other election.
In short, there’s a lot of environmental friction here.