The Moleskine Artist – great 

Meet Henry, a Belgian expat whose passion for Moleskine notebooks has inspired him to become a full-time artist.

Source: The Moleskine Artist

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Māori ‘tattoo writing’

February 6th was Waitangi Day in New Zealand.  It is both a celebrated national holiday and day of protest, a way to discuss old issues … and possibly raise new ones:

But that’s why it is a source of pride for kiwis (New Zealanders).  As one news commentator said this year – many other national days are bland and boring – at least ours is a chance for a real, up-front (and non-violent) look at our national identity!

And the most important forum of the day is a verbal one.  The Māori culture is an ‘oral’ culture, and also one that puts as much energy into protocol as the average Victorian-era dinner party host.  While the surface conversations may seem silly to an outsider – who will/won’t or can/can’t stand and talk where, or at which stage of which meeting on which specific day – there is a huge undercurrent about what these arrangements say about the relationship, and the attitude between those involved.  Sense and Sensibility Antipodean style.

This post is not about that type of detail.  Needless to say, the reason for Waitangi Day is to celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between the British Crown and most (not all) Maori tribes in New Zealand in 1840.  The common, modern, description of the Treaty is about ‘partnership’ between the Crown and Māori in decision-making, ‘participation’ to empower Māori communities, and ‘protection’ by giving Māori the rights of British people and giving them the right to practice their own culture.  The way that (again… most, not all!) Māori tribes agreed to this Treaty was by signing one of nine documents that were sent around the country.

This type of signature was clearly fairly new to many of the Maori chiefs.  While many of them had by then begun to learn English, many ‘signed’ the Treaty with a drawing of their ‘moko’, their facial tattoo.

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From http://www.teara.govt.nz – signatures gathered from Ngāti Porou chiefs in the East Coast of New Zealand.

It is normal to talk about Māori culture being an “oral” one.  True enough, but it begs the question about what is a “language”?  The Maori moko was a written language, one that others could use to identify the ‘whakapapa’ (lineage) of the bearer, and one that was good enough to translate to a signature. You could say the same about the elaborate carvings of the marae (meeting house).

Here is a famous signature, the unfinished moko of the Ngāti Toa chief Te Rauparaha.  So much more than a simple English scrawl, the drawing shows the care and importance the man placed in the act of transferring a part of himself onto a page.

Below is a link to an interesting paper about the use of moko as signature.  It’s well worth a flick through.

Quote from the paper (cited as Henare 2007 – see references): “The moko mark was consideholy and binding, because it was taken from the skin of the head, believed to be the most sacred part of a leader’s body.  The ‘tohu’ or sign, was the recognised signature of the leader… Subsequent generations of descendants of the signatories would refer to such moko marks as ‘taonga tapu’, a most sacred treasure and commitment.”

That quote says so much about the intersection between the British and the Maori, coming from very different worldviews but arriving at basically the same result.  It’s a shame some people on both sides still refuse to see each others’ perspectives, but as long as we can really “get it all out in the open” in a forum like Waitangi Day, there’s hope for the country yet.

Ki tō ringa ki ngā rākau ā te Pākeha? – Drawings and signatures of moko by Māori in the early 19th Century – Ngārino Ellis, University of Auckland: http://www.jps.auckland.ac.nz/docs/Volume123/JPS_123_1_02.pdf 

 

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Quote – Thoreau on journals and life

I have been thinking a lot about this Thoreau quote.  I seem to get something new from it every time I read it…

“My Journal is that of me which would else spill over and run to waste, gleanings from the field which in action I reap.  I must not live for it but in it for the gods.

“They are my correspondents, to whom daily I send off this sheet post-paid.  I am clerk in their counting-room, and at evenings transfer the account from day-book to ledger.  It is as a leaf which hangs over my head in the path.  I bend the twig and write my prayers on it; then letting it go, the bough springs up and shows the scrawl to heaven.  As if it were not kept shut in my side; it is vellum in the pastures; it is parchment on the hills.  I find it every-where as free as the leaves which troop along the lanes in autumn.  The crow, the goose, the eagle carry my quill, and the wind blows the leaves as far as I go.  Or; if my imagination does not soar, but gropes in slime and mud, then I write with a reed.”

H.D. Thoreau – 8th February 1841

It’s funny.  Someone who could not write so elegant a quote is someone who could not claim to truly feel the sensation he describes, since the kind of personality that dictates a lifetime of compulsive journaling is a pre-requisite for having that type of feeling.

That’s why I read it with awe and not a little hidden envy, since I know I could never have that pure a feeling about the art of writing.

It is a great example of the commonly read but not-often followed refrain of “if you want to become a good writer, write a lot, every day.”

… because famous people do it

The website (and great podcast) the Art of Manliness has a great article from 2010 about the pocket notebooks of famous people.

Some of the worst advice you could get would probably be “you should do this because it’s what famous people do”, but let’s look into this.  What do famous people all have in common – apart from a heavy dose of ego?

I’d say it’s clarity of purpose in at least one area of their life.  For good or bad, what defines someone famous is that they have confidence in themselves to pursue something nobody has done before, or to pursue the same thing but with a dedication and purpose that most other people do not have.

To have purpose you have to understand and motivate yourself.  Someone else can drive you but then your limit will be that person’s motivation.  Unless you are being mentored by Kanye West or Richard Branson, that won’t be enough to become famous.

You need to understand yourself, to soak in the world and re-combine what you see and hear.  You do that to understand the topic but also to understand yourself, to discover what angles you are using to look at and to explore new ones.

It is what Steven Johnson calls “in a very real sense textual play”, something earnest university students do under prompting from their lecturers, and which Google replicates in algorithm format whenever you type in a search result.

The difference in having a notebook you can hold is that it is an external construction that has become a part of you, you intellectual beaver.  It is something you can put down and forget, then pick up after months, years, and look at with fresh eyes and fresh insight.

Blogs, Google searches, they are useful but they are intentional.  Evernote and computer folders can become breeding grounds for inspiration, but they are hard to navigate and could never compare to simply skimming and flicking through the pages of a worn notebook.  Well, at least not until I figure out how to use Tags in Evernote the right way.

Re-living the past at one minute per minute

I have an embarrassing secret.

I listen to podcasts on one-and-a-half speed.

To be honest, you don’t notice it after a while – your brain just switches into gear and it becomes the new normal.  You only recognise how strange it all sounds when you accidentally leave the earphone plug halfway out and the tinny voices start jabbering into the no-mans-land of social etiquette that is the supermarket aisle.

Startled heads turn and you frantically paw at your coat pocket to put your thumb over the offending speaker which you know is 50% faster and more efficient at reaching something truly embarrassing and potentially reportable when heard out of context.  Like the end of a Moth story, or an investigative news interview about ISIS practices, or – worst of all – a Joe Rogan rant.

It’s about efficiency.  The 1 1/2 speed.  Considering most of my podcasts of interest are about information transfer, it means I can be 1 1/2 times more informed and knowledgeable than I otherwise would.  Or so the theory goes….

… which falls to pieces when I stumble across a good version of one of the ‘other’ types of podcasts, which I guiltily listen to for no other reason than because it is fun (“what a waste of time huh?” my frontal cortex says in a mock-ironic tone to my lizard brain, which doesn’t get the joke).

Listen to an emotional Moth podcast at 1.5 speed and you’ll get the info alright, and you’ll get the gist of the emotion.  But try listening to 1.5 speed podcasts for weeks and then one memorable Moth at normal speed.  What comes back?  Inflection.  Tone.  The sound of the speaker’s breathing changing as their throat tightens.  What you get back most of all is the understanding that the gaps between the words is the most important part, or the sound of a hesitation mid-sentence.  Or the chill you share with the invisible audience when the ambient noise you had all but tuned out reduces and you take a collective breath to give the person at the microphone space to say that one… small…. comment, that you knew was coming but which hits you like an electric current.  Because at that moment it was not about transfer of a packet of information from the speaker to the hearer.  They were just being the moment, the moment crystalised again in front of you, lived again through that channel of an individual,  and you all – speaker, audience, podcast listener, were all just along for the ride.

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Taking the Steinbeck, hold the Starbucks

So in less than a month I am taking my first ever trip to the US.  Part work and part holiday, my wife and I are making the most of the time by “road tripping” to see the real America behind the typical tourist routes.

This trip is only a little longer than two weeks, but it is something I have wanted to do for years.  You see, even before restoration, storage container auction and renovation shows became popular, my wife and I have talked about antiquing and just shopping around for Americana (or Europana(sp!)) and taking it back to little old New Zealand.

I love New Zealand, but one can never get over the feeling you are right at the edge of the world.  For all the culture you can siphon from an internet connection, sitting and looking at famous art, historical locations and youtube videos of famous writers only adds to the feeling of disconnect from history.  Nothing compares with the visceral experience of being in a world-class city, where even if you’re a cab driver or a waiter, at least you’re a cab driver or waiter in a place where the world, where history is “happening”.  You either get it or you don’t.

But the older I get the more I realise it’s either move overseas, or bring what I want from that world to me.  For the latter, there’s nothing better, I think, than the written word.  Compact, portable, I have a vision of sifting through car boot sales and collectors fairs in the Deep South, filling box-loads of books into a container, one that grows with out-of-print texts, musty tomes rescued from the bottom of a second-hand store shelf.  Some even have yellowing scraps of local newspapers between the leaves, to serve as bookmarks.  Neatly hand-written dedications on the inside cover, or, most prized of all, marginalia in tight script, a running commentary on the book itself, straight from the mind of someone from that period.

Interspersed in the container is other Americana.  Dented and worn nineteenth century furniture, tarnished metal fittings, mountains of old relics crying out for some repairs and a coat of lacquer.  And on top, boxes with the latest artists from whichever pocket of Manhatten or San Francisco is the most teeth-achingly “cool” at this moment.  One off prints, new t-shirt designs, hand-crafted and 3D printed jewellery, sculptures, carefully hand-made notebooks and stacks of original stencil and multimedia art.

Not this trip, but someday.

Exporting US culture to the world has become a cliche since the 90s, but I think there’s still a huge opportunity.  And who says US cultural exports need to be synonymous with Starbucks, Coke or Michael Bay films?  That’s not the real America, is it?  I’ve never been there so I wouldn’t know, but I’m going there to begin to scratch below that glossy surface.

I can’t wait.

Basquiat notebooks – Brooklyn Museum exhibition

The NY Times has just published an article about an exhibition of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s ‘unknown’ notebooks.  I’ll be in Brooklyn in April and can’t wait to see these up close.

I admit I don’t know much about Basquiat.  I was impressed by the 1996 movie while I was at university, but I have had little reason to find out more.

But all it takes is a quick Google to see there’s probably no other artist who so visibly fuses the concept of note-taking with stream-of-consciousness art.  His artwork isn’t for everyone, but it is worth a good look, if only to get inspiration about notetaking itself, and the movement from “concept” to presentation.

From New York Times article

From New York Times article

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled piece (1983) from MoMA Collection

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled piece (1983) from MoMA Collection

Hollywood Africans (1983) - from Whitney Museum of American Art collection

Hollywood Africans (1983) – from Whitney Museum of American Art collection