“I had a beautiful childhood and a lovely childhood. I just didn't like being a child. I didn't like the rank injustice of not being listened to. I didn't like the lack of autonomy. I didn't like my chubby little hands that couldn't manipulate the world of objects in the way that I wanted them to. Being a child, for me, was an exercise in impotent powerlessness. I was never terribly good at that kind of no-holds-barred fun. ... I've essentially made a career on not being good at no-holds-barred fun. But, you know, I [was] just never sort of like, hey, yes, let's go play. I was always more sort of like, does everybody know where the fire exit is? And let's make sure there's enough oxygen in this elevator. ... As a grownup it's much easier to work — to navigate the world with that, because then you can just go home to your own apartment.”—David Rakoff on his childhood
“I didn't always write for a living, and even back when it was my most fondly held dream to one day be able to do so, writing was always difficult. Writing is like pulling teeth. From my dick.”—writer David Rakoff, who died yesterday at 47, in his essay collection “Don’t Get Too Comfortable,” via Stuever.
“Most things in the world are sort of hilarious and sad. Everything houses that kind of Manichean duality, which is usually light and dark. But I think hilarious and sad is a nicer way of looking at the world.”—David Rakoff, from a 2010 Powells.com interview
Writing: it doesn't get any easier.
In his book, Don’t Get Too Comfortable, Rakoff admits:
Writing is like pulling teeth.
From my dick.
In Half Empty, he talks about the necessary pain-in-the-ass of the first draft:
Writing—I can really only speak to writing here—always, always only starts out as shit: an infant of monstrous aspect; bawling, ugly, terrible, and it stays terrible for a long, long time (sometimes forever). Unlike cooking, for example, where largely edible, if raw, ingredients are assembled, cut, heated, and otherwise manipulated into something both digestible and palatable, writing is closer to having to reverse-engineer a meal out of rotten food.
He goes on to talk about the writer feeling a “constant beginner-hood” and how “mastery” in writing is elusive, as opposed to all other grownup tasks:
As a child, the distance between desire and execution was a maddeningly unbridgeable chasm. What the mind’s eye pictured and what the body could achieve were altogether different… but then hands grow from smudging little mitts into useful instruments… One progresses from novice to adept with a soothing reliability. Except for writing. Well into adulthood, writing has never gotten easier. It still only ever begins badly, and there are no guarantees that this is not the day when the jig is finally up.
Starting work on my third book, I’ve certainly felt this pang — isn’t this supposed to be easier than last time? Shouldn’t I fucking know how to do this by now?
I don’t know how to write. Which is unfortunate, as I do it for a living… I’ve written six books now, but instead of making it easier, it has complicated matters to the point of absurdity. I have no idea what I’m doing.
Filed under: not-knowing.
“Rakoff was a practitioner of a kind of writing that can sometimes seem to have become ubiquitous somewhere between Usenet and Twitter, because everyone thinks they can do it: blistering, unforgiving, yes-I-said-it cultural criticism, dark and mad. But with Rakoff, everything bounced off a deeply human way of looking at other people — after all, it's only that humanity that makes your anger and your melancholy mean anything. ”—On Already Missing The Angry, Passionate Writing Of David Rakoff
“New York was becoming far too expensive and criminally inhospitable to young people who tried to come here with dreams of making art, and how regrettable that the town's vibrancy and authenticity were being replaced by a culture-free, high-end-retail cluster-fuck of luxury condo buildings whose all-glass walls essentially require a populace that doesn't own bookshelves or, consequently, books. A metropolis of streets once thriving with local businesses and services now consisting of nothing but Marc Jacobs store after Marc Jacobs store and cupcake purveyors (is there anything more blandly sweet, less evocative of this great city, and more goyish than any other baked good with the possible exception of Eucharist wafers than the cupcake?).”—David Rakoff
Summer ShortsFOUR FAST REVIEWS:
Sesshu Foster on Gronk’s emotional special effects.
Shelley Salamensky on Marcy Dermansky’s stealth experimentalism.
Vanessa Hua on The Visiting Suit, a memoir by Xiaoda Xiao.
Charles Whitney on the incompleat cynic, David Rakoff.
Seeds of Secrecy
Monoprint 2006 Courtesy of Tobey Moss Gallery
DROLL ONTOLOGY Sesshu Foster
A Giant Claw
What Books Press, 2010. 83 pp.
Must’ve been around winter 1985 that I first saw an exhibit of Gronk’s notebooks and sketchbooks at MOCA’s Geffen Temporary Contemporary gallery in back of Union Church in Little Tokyo, by the parking structure for LAPD’s Parker Center — the second ugliest war veteran monument in the world, dedicated to the “Go for Broke” 442nd Japanese American Regiment — and a great big ficus planted by Buddhist Reverend Aoyama in 1920, gnarly roots cracking the pavement apart. I thought then that the exhibit was one of the best that the Museum of Contemporary Art ever mounted, and still think so, 25 years later. Not because MOCA almost never exhibits Chicano artists, and not because MOCA almost never exhibits cutting edge local artists, but simply because MOCA always “goes for the okey doke,” the easy call, safe famous dead artists like Rauschenberg, Warhol, etc., leaving it to UCLA’s Hammer or galleries like Tropico de Nopal to present fresh work. In 1985 I was shocked to see Gronk, clearly one of the most adept of the artists I considered vitally important growing up on the Eastside, and to see him intelligently displayed, with his exciting, terrific sketchbooks and journals open inside of glass cabinets — underneath, if memory serves, banners of images by Willie Herron. It was interesting that MOCA presented these idiosyncratic personal visions in ink and paper instead of some big rectangular paintings that could be labeled “real art [saleable product].”
Twenty years later, Gronk included sketches, drawings and similar artifacts in his 2005 Urban Narrative show at the Gallery 727 downtown, reminding me that, although many artists produce improvisatory drawings and sketches, Gronk’s have a particular quality, one that casually manifests the artist’s abiding interest in the temporal, the momentary, the ephemeral. Once on MOCA’s plaza, teens (my daughter among them) painted on a piece of Gronk’s sculpture, and he later applied the finishing touches himself — having stipulated, as with most of his installations, that the work be demolished or painted over afterwards. I talked with Gronk about the ephemeral aspect of his work while he waited for the kids to take their turns applying paint to his piece. As he put it in a 2007 interview with Marisela Norte in Bomb Magazine:
A Giant Claw obviates that concept of temporality by impressing these sketches into the black and white semi-permanence of print. What of it?
People like to hold onto life in many ways, but everything is transitory. This is it, right now. Youth doesn’t last forever; beauty doesn’t last forever; so appreciate it for the moment… Take your memory with you. You own memory by taking it inside you at a particular moment in time.