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Forward: Matryashka Introduction

January 9, 2012

In the upper right (Edit: Alas, with time comes change.  He is now on the left) corner of the page header is a little man. This is me, sort of. Specifically this is me last year, when I had to self-illustrate a short autobiographical comic. I’m not much with a pen. The box enclosing this little me is made out of the straightest free hand lines I could manage. I drew the table using a straightedge, and somehow it’s still lumpy. This happens because I don’t really draw. Instead I offer suggestions as to what might be drawn, which my hand takes into consideration before drawing what it pleases. The result here looks like a child’s drawing, but it captures something, no? I think it’s in the mouth that sells it. Somehow, a year later, the picture still strikes me as funny in a spontaneous kind of way. Something about the bulging right eye tells me that whatever just surprised this guy, it’s both traumatic and hilarious.

There’s a trick to all this spontaneity. That picture is actually an amalgam of at least four other drawings. Bits and pieces were cut from these drawings and pasted together. These pieces came from the four best sketches out of dozens. There were pages of scrap material, the bulk of which were unceremoniously thrown away. This process of bulk production and selection is exaggerated when I draw, but it’s generally how it goes when people make stuff. It’s certainly the way I work. For every finished product, there are more pages in the garbage than I can remember. Practice is important, but practice doesn’t make perfect. It makes ‘slightly better’. The trick is to make so much of the ‘slightly better’ that you can search through it and find those times where human error led to something just a little bit better than what you could have done on purpose.

That’s pretty much my take on where good stuff comes from. I’m not trying to start any kind of what-is-art debate here. Let’s just pretend we’re in ancient Greece. We’re not talking about art, we’re talking about techne, skilled craft. All those good things that some person spent a lot of time and energy learning how to make, and refining to accidental perfection.

Amateur Hour.

The plan for this site is to post something fresh every Monday morning (read: late Sunday). These will be academic writings, short fiction, or maybe something else entirely. Traditional blog-style opinion stuff (like this) will be rare. I’ll probably write up a forward most weeks, but I don’t know for sure. I know what I won’t be doing. God knows I don’t want to create another “the world through the eyes of me” blog where I share my opinions about stuff, because I am an interesting person. There are plenty of those already. When people think they are so interesting that the world at large fades into the background, they start writing the banal horrors that make up so much of the internet. Every time you read a blog post about someone’s trip to the supermarket, and that little old lady that just would not get out of the way, it’s another writer missing the point. They felt that, somehow, a completely mundane story became interesting solely by virtue of their involvement. When this kind of thing attracts an audience it’s only because the authors self-involvement has become a spectacle.

I’ve been writing a lot for a long time. I don’t want to pretend that something is good when it’s not, whether I wrote it or someone else did. The really harsh words are saved for cases when someone is not only writing badly, but selfishly. The idea of ‘authentic’ art, where the author just creates an authentic work, and it’s up to the audience to figure out how to appreciate it, is bullshit. Like the little man at the top of the page, most techne is the result of a lot of time, and a very deliberate attempt to figure out how the audience will respond. Whether it’s a book, a car, a pint of stout, or a comfy chair, pretty much any manufactured thing you’ve ever liked was made by someone who wanted to make something that you would like. Catering to your audience isn’t selling out. Everyone caters to their audience, even though it’s not cool to admit it. It’s every writers dirty little secret. Go to any book reading, and two questions will be asked. “Where do you get your ideas?” and “Whats your secret?” Honest authors respond with something like, “Hell if I know, I just keep working till I think people will like it”.

Another thing I won’t be doing is discussing the quality of the work before people have a chance to read it. Anyone who’s done a workshop has seen it. That person who stands up to read their piece, and leads off telling everyone how bad it is, how they didn’t have time to do it right, and how it really is the worst thing ever. Their voice shakes, and everything in their body language tells you they really, really, want you to like their story. People do this, intentionally or not, because it always leads to compliments. They’ve lowered the bar, and the worst thing the audience can tell them is “it really wasn’t that bad.” I know I’ve pulled this routine in the past. I still don’t know much, but at least I’ve learned better than that. It doesn’t matter how good or bad your writing is, if you sound suicidal when you talk about it people are going to give you compliments. It’s a waste of everyone’s time. When you let other people read your stuff, especially the work in progress, it’s not a time to fish for compliments. It’s a chance to get some nice, fresh, insults. I don’t want to know how good it is, I want to know what’s wrong with it. No matter how off base the response is,it’s still important. Every response is another thing that can be learned about how people respond to different things put on paper.

Sometime I write stuff that’s bad.

Back to the drawing of a horrified little scribble person. That drawing, whatever it looked like in the end, was a fully engineered creation. The result of time and patience. Not everything I post here will be like that. I’m on a deadline. Some weeks I’ll post something I’ve worked on for months, received feedback on, edited, and re-edited. Other time’s I’ll write something the day before, proofread it once, and throw it up (online, that is). I have no intention of telling anyone which is which. I don’t want to mess it up for you or me. For those willing to offer feedback, I don’t want to taint it. I want to know exactly what caught your attention, not what comments I fished out of you with leading questions. For those who don’t want to comment, I still don’t want to spoil it. Half the fun of reading amateur work (which is absolutely what I do) is the way it can surprise you. There are no ad’s to sell, or sales number to meet. Amateur’s have the freedom to kill their cash cows, because the cow doesn’t actually have any money.

I’ll be back next week with a real posting. Also, some updates to art/layout on the site. I  made these in MS Paint and never meant them to go live. Don’t worry, the terrified man in the corner will be staying.

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