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Tag: Inspiration (page 2 of 3)

A Bunch of Things I Want but Absolutely Do Not Need, a Bunch of Things I Probably Should Get but Don’t Feel like Dealing With, and a Bunch of Things I Need.

I am a man of few wants and fewer needs. I am low maintenance and easy to clean up after (which is nice because I’m the one cleaning up after myself). I do not typically spend a bunch of money on random things or things that have limited potential usefulness. I always prefer to purchase things that are useful and creative and inspiring, but the problem is that when I look at this sort of purchase I’m a “spend the money once and get the right thing” sort of dude rather than the “I’ll get the inexpensive thing now and upgrade later” sort of dude. This is a double edged sword in that the things I want are awesome and will work well and last, but they are costly. Sometimes embarrassingly costly. What can I say? I have expensive taste.

Ironically this post comes at a time when I am in the worst financial shape since I lost my job last summer. After taking most of the summer off, traveling, playing way too much, not working a minute, visiting with friends, concerts, drinks, dinners, bottles of wine on the river, tacos, and whatever the hell else, my poor bank account is left ravaged and my credit cards are left swollen, bloated, corpulent things demanding my blood and tears. I have just enough cash for rent, which is nice, but I won’t be playing for a few weeks until I get paid again.

Thank Jesus for work. Oy.

But when I do have some reserves again, there are a few things I want, a few things I should deal with but can’t be hassled, and a smaller list of things I absolutely need.

Let’s start are the most ridiculous shall we?

• Leica M7

If you follow me on Twitter or if you are a fan of mine on Facebook (why are you not doing both????), then you’ll know that yesterday I posted a link to an eBay auction for a used Leica M7 in excellent condition with the box. The photo above was stolen shamelessly from the auction.

The question was asked why I needed another camera body. Indeed, why did I need a used 35mm film camera body sans lens that eventually sold for 1681.00 +16.00 shipping? I reply that to ask the question is to display an essential lack of understanding of the issue at hand. I look at it as concerning two things: quality and simplicity. As you know from reading my photography posts, I’ve been shifting toward a prime-lens-only style of shooting over the last couple of years. Again, simplicity and quality. Prime lenses allow me greater image quality while being simpler and not getting in the way of me getting the shot. My trio of 28mm, 50mm, and 85mm primes cover 98% of the shooting I do. I have (and rarely use) a bunch of other lenses, but the three mentioned are my go to guys all the time.

Can I not achieve good quality with a regular camera? Probably, yes. Must I use a film-based, Leica rangefinder? No, I don’t, but where’s the fun in that? The advantage of a film Leica over, say, my current Canon 5D II, is that the Leica, properly cared for, will never stop working. Eventually the 5D II will be superseded by the next cool ass thing that comes out and that by the next and so on and so on. But with the Leica, as film technology advances, all you have to do is buy new rolls. Done and done. And, no, film’s not going anywhere, people.

Another thing you probably don’t realize about the photos I’ve posted for you is the sheer amount of monkeying around that goes on between capture and output. I shoot everything as RAW files and process every single photo on my computer before you ever see them. With a lot of photos it can become a serious amount of time we’re talking about just to get the photos to a place where I am happy with how they look. Of course, I enjoy this process, but it’s also distracting in the same way that zoom lenses are distracting: too much noodling, not enough decision making. I can change anything and everything as long as I exposed the photo appropriately. There’s no point at which the photo is finished. I can tweak and tweak and tweak until my brain explodes. That is a hindrance. It slows me down. I could shoot JPEG like a fool, but that’s stupid. Never.

Film provides proven, unerring quality, but with most of the salient decisions already baked into the negative. Yeah, sure, I could scan the neg with a drum scanner and tweak in Photoshop or whatever until I’m blue in the face, but that’s not my intent. If I want to do that sort of shooting, I’ll use the 5DII. What I want from the Leica is simplicity but quality and enough control to make it do what I think it should. Sure, I could use some shitty little digicam (more on that later) and it would be simple, but the photos would be of poor quality. Inferior. I could carry around a view camera and achieve startling quality, but that’s not simple at all. I’m going to extremes here, but you get my point.

Of less importance, but still part of my decision making, the Leica is inconspicuous. If you were some shlub on the street and you saw a dude wandering around with his Leica around his neck, you probably wouldn’t identify it as a surprisingly pricey camera. (Note to thieves: find the Leica M9, those go for like 9 grand) You can point it at people in the street and because it’s not much larger than your average point and shoot, people won’t be put off by you pointing a lens in their direction. Conversely, if I’m wandering around with my 5D II and giant, white 70-200 f/2.8, people notice. You can’t point that thing at anyone without them noticing. It’s like pointing a huge, white, glass and metal hard-on at someone: obvious.

Nevertheless, the next time I have 4500 bucks to spend on a Leica and 50mm f/2 combo, I’m going to. It just doesn’t make a whole mess of sense at this point. The good thing is, if I ever want to sell it down the road, I should be able to sell it for about what I paid. Killer.

Price: $1600-2500 (body only)

• Fujifilm FinePix X100

Oh god, what, another camera? For serious? Another rangefinder, this one digital, with a fixed focal length 35mm equivalent non-interchangeable lens?

Yes. For serious. Hear me out.

I’m not usually excited about product announcements during tradeshows. They’re often just updates of last year’s myriad consumer-grade, multicolor piece of shit models or they’re middling updates of last year’s low-end DSLRs or they’re significant upgrades to camera systems in which I’ve not invested or they’re some ludicrously expensive medium-format niche drool-worthy piece of kit. None of those things are my usual purchase areas. But recently I’ve been thinking about picking up a pocketable camera to take out with me so that Michael and I can continue to create Yeah Du’s.

And then they announced this little guy, supposedly available early next year. It features an APS-C sized sensor (awesome for a small camera) and a fixed-focal length lens. You read that right. Not a zoom in sight here. And who needs one? Distractions! So I’m considering this thing seriously next year when it comes out and I’ve been able to read the reviews. Of course, it will cost me about 3 or 4 times what some piece of shit Point & Shoot would, but you pay for goodness. And I bet it shoots RAW. God, I hate JPEGs.

Price: $1000 (estimated)

• The full printed version of the Oxford English Dictionary

Does anyone besides maybe a library actually need a 20-volume version of the dictionary comprising of some 21,768 pages? Of course I do. Don’t be silly. Don’t forget the 3 volumes of additions since the main version was printed.

English is a dynamic and interesting language. Constantly changing, evolving, picking up pieces from other places, and discarding parts it no longer needs, it has become a vibrant tapestry of history and human culture. The OED doesn’t just define words. It also explores their etymologies, which, for a great big word dork like me, is exciting as fuck. I bet no one has ever described a dictionary as exciting as fuck before. You saw it here.

I would love to have this mammoth stack of books just sitting around my house. Relative volume to me Brooklyn apartment be damned.

Price: 995.00 (main edition) + 215.00 (additions) = 1210.00

• A new laptop

I was going to put this in the above section because it is going to end up being so expensive, but it’s actually more appropriate here. My current laptop, a late-2006 MacBook Pro, is showing its age. I’ve replaced basically everything on it: the screen, the hard drive, the ram, the optical drive. It’s been carried all over the place for years. It’s been dropped out of the back of a car resulting in screen and case damage, the latter of which I ended up bending back out with pliers. It’s funky, it’s dirty, the screen has dark patches. It’s been well used.

But none of these are compelling reasons to replace the thing. The only reason this is a “probably should get” and not a “want” is that I really do use it for work all the time and the poor little guy just isn’t up to the task of editing high quality, high definition material. It kicked ass when all I had to throw at it was standard def NTSC. But throw some 1080p/24 ProRes HQ shit at it and it explodes. This summer when I was in California I spent some time finishing up the Atmospheres videos for Arian. On my computer at home, they were handled with ease, but on the road on this laptop things quickly spiraled into darkness. Every time I made a tweak, I’d have to re-render. Each render took over an hour. Little things that would have taken me an hour or two in my apartment took me over 18 on my mom’s kitchen table. That’s just not ok. If I use the thing for work, it needs to be able perform up to the task.

Then there’s the issue of the photos. This guy used to handle my old 20D files with zest and flair, but when I got my 5D II and this was still my main computer, I started to see that it was getting long in the tooth. It chokes on those 5D II raws. Just chokes. That’s not work, but it’s a drag. Not compelling, but it adds to my reasons to replace it.

And I think I might go 17″ this time. I’ve always thought it was too big to carry around, but I don’t carry mine around that much anymore. Typically when working somewhere, I bring it on the first day and leave it there until I’m done. So the added weight of the 17″ won’t be a huge factor. Besides, I’m a big enough sort of dude, so fuck it, right? I also like the greater screen real estate and that it was an ExpressCard slot.

Price: $2599.00

• Bicycle

Remember all my blah blah blahing about how I wanted to get a bicycle earlier this summer? About how I was going to ride it around Brooklyn and overcome my fear of getting brained on the sidewalk after being sideswiped by a bus? Well, I am still utterly bike-less. Dumb, right? I even have space in my building’s backyard to store it safely. Yet I am unable just to pull the trigger and get one. Come on, Joe. Just do it.

Price: ~$150-250

• Coffee table

A few months ago I moved into this apartment and furnished it partially with the things I felt most important: sofa, kitchen table, kitchen island, tv stand, bed frame. Some things we neglected, or, rather, were low priority so I felt I could wait on them. That was April. It’s now nearly October and I’ve not purchased any of them. One of the things I most need is a coffee table. I’d like one that is not too expensive, solid, between 48 and 60 inches long, and about 18 inches deep. It is surprisingly hard to find nice, skinny, inexpensive tables like that. I’ve seen some on the street but with the bed bug epidemic going around New York City, you need to be cautious when pulling in sidewalk furniture.

The picture I used above for illustrative purposes is actually pretty nice and quite close to what I’m looking for, but that one is 1200 bucks and way too many dollars. I saw one last week that was the right size and 117 bucks, but the top was made of this awful crushed pottery shit inlaid in cement or something. It would have been very uncomfortable to rest bare feet on. Close, but no dice. I mean, it doesn’t have to be SUPER cheap. I’m willing to spend up to 300~350 bucks if the table is fucking amazing. I’m not a cheap ass here, but my standards are also not very low.

The search continues. One day I’ll find the right one. One day when I have more than 10 dollars left in my pocket until the check that I’ve been waiting for since late August arrives in the mail.

Price: ≤ $350

• End tables/bedside table

See above. It would be nice to have a couple of these. You can never have too many places to put down your beer or remote or book or socks or keys or pencils or knives or really just another surface to collect dust.

Price: ≤ $50~75 ea.

• Lamps

Because overhead lighting is a drag, but so is sitting in the dark. I’ve been using a combo of overhead light from the other room, sunlight (when available), and lamp on the floor to light my house. It’s not ideal. Yet, I don’t want to just plunk down on any old cheap shit, tacky lamps. I want nice lamps that don’t look like they’re going to fall apart. I need a mix of floor lamps and table lamps, but I’ve just not yet found anything I wanted to spend money on.

For 6 months.

There’ve been a lot of dark ass nights in my place.

Price: who knows?!

• More pants

I’ve purchased pants twice in the last two years. The first time the lady at the store busted my balls for buying 34″ x 34″s because she said they were too long for me. But when I got the 34″ x 32″s home and washed them—KAPOW!—they became too short. But I liked the pants so much that I bought a few more pairs online at the correct size.

This summer, not needing a bunch of slightly too short pants, I turned them into shorts. Now it doesn’t matter that the original length was not satisfactory because the offending parts of the pants have been removed. But, it also means that I am down half my pants. With autumn setting in and winter coming, my “new” shorts, comfortable as they are, will no longer be appropriate clothing.

Luckily, I already know the kind of pants I want. If something works, why mess with success? These are easily the best pants I’ve ever owned and the only ones whose pockets don’t rip. I hate ripped pockets. The worst.

Now I just need to plunk down the cash and have some sent to me, but I’m lagging. Low priority, I guess.

Price: $40/pair

• A convenient mix of oxygen and nitrogen

Breathing is awesome.

• Something to eat

It doesn’t even have to be particularly good or fancy, just something that will satisfying my nutritional needs.

• Water

It’s good and good for you. You have to replenish the internal ocean.

• Shelter

Being rained and snowed on while trying to sleep is not a good recipe for staying alive.

• Sleep

Because it’s fucking weird when you’re no longer able to tell dreams from reality and you start to lose your mind.

Vonnegut on Short Stories.

Good advice. Fits nicely with his How to Write With Style, which I posted back in the old days of The Black Laser.

Palahniuk on Ideas.

It’s true what he’s saying, and part of why you haven’t seen a word of fiction out of me in months. Where’s my head been at? Real talk.

Inspiration, The Impending Summer, and Change.

Here I am on the tail end of some major life changes and I feel like something is missing. I’m settled in my new apartment, my finances have leveled out after the move, I’ve been working regularly, and playing a lot. The transition into this new phase is basically over and I’m starting to feel a little antsy about it. Not antsy about the transition, but antsy about what’s next. That familiar tightness in the chest is back, that feeling that I’m not doing enough, that I’m not creating enough, that I’m wasting such valuable time as I’ll never have again. Hedonism has become dull, a chore, a worn out play-thing destined for the bottom of the toy chest. All the playing is a nice distraction from life when I’m stressed and stupid and trying to avoid my feelings (as I’ve been doing since the beginning of February), but when I’m not really avoiding anything all the hedonism does is inspire feelings of guilt and shame. Loss? I don’t know. Maybe that’s too strong a word. It makes me feel bad and dumb.

After cranking out the piece for Hunter earlier this year and my subsequent rejection, there has been this tiny little whisper in my brain chanting its disheartening mantra of “Fuck it,” which is a terrible attitude to seeping through your subconscious. Astute Black Laserites will notice that I’ve posted nary a single photo all year. It’s May. You’ll also notice that I’ve not posted any other writing besides the Hunter piece. And that I’ve made ZERO progress on the three music videos I’ve assigned myself for this year. Pathetic. This year’s theme is flailing around, begging for attention, and I can’t seem to muster it. What is my deal? I’m trading my work time for play time as a way to rebound, but it’s not having the affect it should. Quite the opposite, I think.

With this warm weather anxiety firmly gripping my chest, I’ve been thinking of a few simple ways to change things up, to put my brain into a different place. Let’s explore, shall we?

  • Buy a bicycle – I really want one. I think it would be nice to have one to ride around on in the summer time. On the other hand, it’s been 15 years since I’ve ridden a bicycle regularly and riding one around NY scares me more than a little. It’s something I need to overcome.
  • Lose a little weight – Nothing drastic. Just a little. I could stand a little definition. It will help me feel better, no doubt. I don’t really know how to do this, but maybe the bike will help.
  • Read more – This is another weird thing. I think I’ve read maybe 2 or 3 books this year? Again, it’s May. That is a surprisingly low number for me. I like reading a lot. It makes my brain function better and helps me write.
  • Work less – I’ve been working nonstop since October and I’m ready not to work for a little. I can afford it. Thankfully, most of June and parts of July and August I’ll not be working. Super.
  • Pick up the guitar again – It’s been a million years since I owned and played a guitar regularly. I’d like to get one again and flex that part of my brain so long dormant.

All in all, not an insurmountable list. With any measure of diligence I should be able to accomplish these things and they will open the flood gates of my brain so that I might be able to get some damned work done when I’m not working. What is this crazy work compulsion I feel about? Weird. Anyway, I’d like to work more.

And lest this come off as some whiny bitch and moan session (it’s not intended to be), here’s something I find inspirational.

A Life In Art – John Camp

I think this is an interesting article: “A Life in Art” By John Camp

This is a particularly inspired idea.

Of the successful artists I’ve known, I’d say that the two things that led to their success were compulsion (virtually to the extent of mental illness) to do the work, and the eventual ability to monetize the effort. Most of them never get that success—they’re finally ground down and give it up….

Both suggest that while inborn talent is of some utility, the thing that really determines success in the arts (or any other field) is simply doing it. Gladwell even suggests a standard: ten thousand hours. He suggests that if you work very hard a particular art form—art in the widest sense, including sports, music, law, medicine and so on—that you will begin to reach a mastery of it after 10,000 hours of hard work. That’s 40 hours a week (no cheating!) for five years, or 20 hours a week for ten.

Check it out. Camp has some interesting ideas about what makes an artist and what it takes to excel at your chosen craft, writing or photography or editing or whatever. It boils down, as he notes above, to being a little crazy about it. Food for thought.

But most artists tend to be somewhat reclusive, because of the “compulsion” and “10,000 hours of work” aspects of their lives. They’re not back-slappers, drink-buyers, hale-fellow types.

So selling can be one of the toughest hurdles for a real artist to clear, even those who put in their time, who are doing excellent work.

Hah! I am definitely a “back-slapper, drink-buyer, hale-fellow type”, often to the detriment of my creative pursuits. I guess I have that working for me…and against me.

Microsound Composition with Curtis Roads

I am fascinated by the composition of electronic music. There’s something about creating something that can move people from nothing at all. And I really mean nothing. That is, music created from instructions sent by electricity to a piece of metal and plastic that performs calculations and then stored as chunks of magnetically charged bits on a circular piece of plastic. It’s like magic, man.

But, I think it’s important to make a differentiation here. There’s electronic music and then there’s electronic music. The former type is the type you hear on a daily basis, that is regular old music made with electronic instruments and hardware and software synthesizers. That stuff is fine, and I listen to a lot of it. However, that music tends to just be music we’re used to (disco, pop, whatever) made with electronic instrumentation. Nothing wrong with it, but not all that fascinating. There are parts of it that are interesting, little bits of electronic music leaking in, but overall it’s very normal, in the way that Rock and Roll is normal, in the way that Jazz or the Blues or Reggae is normal.

The latter, electronic music, is typically much less listenable fare, but much more artful in its deconstruction of what makes music music. Here the composer plays with a variety of different sounds, sometimes purely synthetic, sometimes real sounds culled from the everyday world. The emphasis is always on pushing what can be done with this relatively new medium of electronically created music, on exploring the boundaries of what can be created. And the technology is here so that the artist is not limited in his ability to create lush, unheard of synthetic soundscapes or sparse, technical droning. That said, these aren’t the types of records you’re putting on your iPod when you go to the gym to do 30 minutes on the elliptical. No one is jamming out in their cars to this stuff. I can think of a few crossover records—Art is a Technology by Anthony Rother, Foley Room by Amon Tobin, some others—and those stand out as prime examples of art-electro, yet still totally jam-out-able.

Curtis Roads is a pioneer in granular synthesis, a type of synthesis involving incredibly tiny chunks of sound. In the videos below, he discusses the current Golden Age of electronic music production, microsound composition, and a bunch of other pretty heady, pretty geeky things that you might or might not enjoy, but that I think is excellent. You don’t have to be a synthesis geek to get something out of what Curtis is saying here. I think there’s plenty of inspiration—musician, painter, writer, whatever—to go around.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

“Transform”, a gift from Zack Arias

If you read photoblogs (you mean you don’t?!), you’ve seen this. But, I’m willing to bet you don’t and I think Zack here has some really valuable insight on what it means to be a creative person and the constant struggle with your identity as a maker-of-things. He hits on somethings I’ve definitely griped about here before, so it’s nice to hear that my (yours too) struggle isn’t alone or in vain.

You can check out his site here: Zack Arias.

Ira Glass on Perseverance

Ira Glass on Storytelling #3

Thank you, Ira, for telling me what I already knew somewhere deep down and what I wrestle with all the time. I love that you’ve provided a self-effacing example to help illustrate your point. Keep work, people! Eventually what you make will be good.

I really like his point that creating for someone who expects you to produce, even if you’re not being paid, is critical. It totally supports my philosophy about work which led to the creation (and recreation and rerecreation) of the Great Williamsburg Writing Circle (GWWC). I know I work better, more regularly when I am beholden to someone, when someone is expecting the work out of me. Whether that is the GWWC, a film or something I am editing at work, or now my friends at Uncle Magazine, it is a huge motivator for me and impetus not to just get all lazy and complacent and stupid about it. It’s also the driving force behind the Year of 5000 Photos and 50 Short Stories; if I am expected by you, my fair readers, to produce work and share it on this site, then, by gum, I am going to produce. I am going to produce even if the work is trash.

If you’re interested, here are the other videos on Storytelling.

Ira Glass on Storytelling #1

Ira Glass on Storytelling #2

Ira Glass on Storytelling #4

Also: [audio:PrisonEnsemble.mp3]