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№ 4: Eyeless, Warm and Vaporous, Relentlessly Artistic

Alex Payne
Alex Payne
4 min read

Table of Contents

Eyeless and loving it

for your mind

The critic loves his work. Loves it.

"I'd do this even if I didn't get paid for it," he says.

(He isn't getting paid for it, actually. Ssh.)

The critic stays at it non-stop. They say he keeps a sleeping bag under his desk but nobody's ever seen him sleep.

To say he's "grinding" would be inaccurate, implying as it does resistance or friction in the course of his labors. The critic is a flywheel of judgement. Corrections, deletions, reproachful shakes of the head, disappointed sighs—all these flow from him unimpeded.

You don't put the critic on his back by asking nicely. Vacation days are really piling up, buddy! He'll snort, wave you off. No, you've got to borrow a strat from Greek tragedy.

You've got to gouge the critic's eyes out.

Enter ilys (say it eyeless). Assessing his creative process, creator Michael Gurevich asked himself, "[W]hat if I didn't see what I was writing at all? What if I couldn't erase or change anything until I've reached some goal I've set for myself?" ilys, a web app, is his answer. Viciously simple, it leaves the critic blind.

When writing with ilys, only the last character typed is visible, one big white letter on a black background. If even that provides too much of a toehold for your critic, flip on "Ninja Mode" and type into the void. (Ninja Mode aside, it do be feeling like that some days.) When you've hit your desired word count or otherwise reached the end of your writing session, hop over to editing mode to see the text you've accumulated.

You might journal with ilys. For my current fiction project, I'm using it to conduct character interviews. With no distracting transcript to review and/or edit, conversation between my subject and I courses right along.

It may come to pass that ilys finds its way to mobile devices. For the time being, it's a reasonable lil' web app that doesn't try to take the place of a full-fledged native writing tool.

For a similar critic-resistant writing approach in hardware form, check out the Freewrite family of devices. Or there's The Most Dangerous Writing App, which keeps you typing lest you lose your session—not a good fit if your process, like mine, necessitates frequent bewildered gazes at the horizon.

Oh, and don't worry about the critic. His eyes grow back every time.

Warm and humid in the New York winter

for your body

It may not look it on the map, but New York is a big state, big enough to have distinct climate regions. While consistently colder than NYC, our home in the Hudson Valley is usually spared the blizzards that hit further upstate. Still, we get proper winter days—far colder than our previous perch in Portland ever got. My wardrobe is still adapting.

Warm coats aren't hard to find. Warm coats free of animal products are a little trickier, since much of the fashion industry still uses problematic materials like wool and leather to signal durability and luxury. Really warm vegan coats—on some shit that would've kept Scott toasty—are limited, particularly ones with more traditionally masculine or unisex styling.

Leave it to Canada to sort this out. The parka I got from Toronto's Wuxly is almost too warm—overkill above 30℉. Their coats aren't cheap, but they offer a solid warranty and are about as sustainable as they come. If you want to meet a forecast of "arctic blast" with a shrug, Wuxly has got you, sans animal cruelty.

Proper winter cold means constant indoor heat, and that means it's dryyyyyy. I'm talking waking up with sinuses like soup crackers, your lips and knuckles peeling like plaster in an abandoned Victorian. Unpleasant for anyone, doubly so for eczema sufferers like our kiddo.

A humidifier is the obvious solution. Look around a bit, though, and you'll see concerning warnings about portable home humidifiers, especially the newer ultrasonic kind. Most are hard to keep clean, and when they get dirty, they blast bacterial grossness into your airways and lungs.

The best solution I've found is by Carepod, who designs their humidifiers to be easily and regularly sterilized. Their X50 model looks like the lovechild of a Power Mac G4 Cube and an electric kettle. On its lowest setting, it'll keep a bedroom comfortably vaporous all night. Turn it up and flip on the warm mist to get positively tropical—nice for fighting off a cold.

An editorial aside: I don't intend recommend gear in issue after issue. Per Gang of Four, I do love a new purchase, and while I can't pretend otherwise, I'll try my darnedest to suggest products that are sustainable, maintainable, and ideally self-repairable.

They grateful for this one, Rick!

for your soul

I never cared a whit for credentialing during my tech career. For whatever reason(s), I haven't carried the same confidence into writing. Hence this and previous items on self-help books for artists. I'm a sucker for the stuff, a brittle Imposter Syndrome-afflicted mark.

The latest entry comes from music producer Rick Rubin (aka the guy Jay-Z shouts out at the beginning of "99 Problems"), entitled The Creative Act: A Way of Being. I went for the audiobook, read by Rubin himself in the steady, reassuring cadence of a meditation teacher. Chapter breaks are marked by taps on a singing bowl.

The guru vibes are strong, and arguably earned. The Creative Act might not break ground, but the advice on offer is thoughtfully articulated. Its confident tone recalls the sutras: here's wisdom, take or leave.

The book stands apart by focusing relentlessly on the work, both in  content and structure. Rubin practices what he preaches. Where other artist self-help manuals bare every flap of their author's personal narrative, Rubin remains tastefully cloaked in monk's robes throughout.

One reviewer was chagrined that The Creative Act isn't studded with pop star anecdotes. The absence thereof, I feel, is a mark of Rubin's humility and discipline. He says as much about his professional artistic experience as is required: I was in the studio with someone, she ran into this issue, and here's the oblique strategy that got her unblocked. No names, no ego, just the work.

Heads-down writers may feel less at home with this one than Bird by Bird or Writing Down the Bones. Like The Artist's Way, it's unabashedly spiritual. Like The War of Art, it aspires to fearlessness. Distilled and clearer than the signal off a mastering desk, I'd sooner recommend The Creative Act to most any burgeoning (or floundering) artist than those predecessors/competitors.

That's all for February! I'd love to hear from you about anything in this newsletter, or damn near any other topic. (Maybe not eczema. I mean, unless you've got a miracle cure suitable for toddlers, one that doesn't involve moving to less dry climate.)