Day 201: Take the fucking donuts

In a bit more than a month's time, I will publish The Man Who Signed the City—self-publish. Figuring out how to produce it has been fun, studying book design and publishing platforms and promotion and distribution and finances and all the rest. I am confident about the contents—there are 21 pieces slated for the book and they're all good. But I have not been confident about desiging the cover. I don't own design software and I'm not a designer, and that last one has been quite the hindrance.

I have two dear friends who are also fine graphic designers, and I've been sending them prototypes, asking only that they keep me from embarrassing myself. The other day, one of them looked over my latest ideas and said, "Would you let me help you with this?"

I never would have asked for her help beyond glancing at some PDFs and saying, "What you're doing there? Stop that." When she offered to take over, I had a hard time saying yes, despite knowing that she wants to help because she's a friend, she'll do a wonderful job, and the book will look really, really good. So why did I have to nudge myself into acceptance? Why did I have to tell myself to take the fucking donuts?

Regarding the latter: Musician Amanda Palmer is known for at least four things: her music, her marriage to Neal Gaiman, her prowess at funding her art, and her fondness for the word fuck and its many useful variants. She's also the author of The Art of Asking. In that book, she observes how so many people deride Henry David Thoreau for all the times he enjoyed weekly delivery of donuts from his mother or sister during his time roughing it at Walden Pond. Then she delivers this pungent bit of advice, derived from thinking about Henry in his cabin with some fried dough:

Taking the donuts is hard for a lot of people.

It’s not the act of taking that’s so difficult, it’s more the fear of what other people are going to think when they see us slaving away at our manuscript about the pure transcendence of nature and the importance of self-reliance and simplicity. While munching on someone else’s donut.

Maybe it comes back to that same old issue: we just can’t see what we do as important enough to merit the help, the love.

Try to picture getting angry at Einstein devouring a donut brought to him by his assistant, while he sat slaving on the theory of relativity. Try to picture getting angry at Florence Nightingale for snacking on a donut while taking a break from tirelessly helping the sick.

To the artists, creators, scientists, non-profit-runners, librarians, strange-thinkers, start-uppers and inventors, to all people everywhere who are afraid to accept the help, in whatever form it’s appearing,

Please, take the donuts.

To the guy in my opening band who was too ashamed to go out into the crowd and accept money for his band,

Take the donuts.

To the girl who spent her twenties as a street performer and stripper living on less than $700 a month who went on to marry a best-selling author who she loves, unquestioningly, but even that massive love can’t break her unwillingness to accept his financial help, please….



Just take the fucking donuts.

Day 192: The Way, and another way

Colin Marshall, essayist, wrote a list that could be labeled The Way, if one were in a Taoist sort of mood:

  • Each day, learn a new skill or hone an existing one.
  • Don’t reflexively say no to something new.
  • Know who you admire.
  • Be able to entertain ideas without accepting them.
  • Be autodidactic.
  • Improve learning ability.
  • The more sources of fulfillment, the better.
  • Know what you want to be, but let the world decide if you are.
  • Collect experiences.
  • Make slow progress rather than no progress.
  • Approach trouble as opportunities.
  • Always have goals.
  • Keep a notebook.
  • Think.

Not to be outdone, I wrote my own:

  • Be an artist monk.
  • Always explore, always question, always pursue.
  • Walk a path. When you must, make the path.
  • No act without intent.
  • Practice connoisseurship.
  • Pay attention.
  • Make notes.
  • Love somebody.
  • Keep a cat, perhaps two.
  • Enjoy liquor, in moderation, preferably gin.

Day 182: Excavation

How strange to see that I don't want to be the person that I want to be.

— Amanda Palmer

That stark moment when you realize there is no making art until you square up to who you are, and square up to not knowing who you are, and then square up to the task of excavating—from layer after layer of pretense, anxiety, distaste, outright fear, education, indoctrination, expectations of family and society and management and tribe, market pressures and the lure of cashing in and then cashing out, politeness, niceness, laziness, and useless advice—your true self. And that stark moment when you understand that you will have to accept whatever you find to be your true self. And that stark moment when you take a step and start something that will be hard to quit. And then that stark moment when you see clearly that you are so in over your head. And finally, that stark moment when you say, Fuck it, I'm making this thing anyway because while you can't see what I'm about to do or how I'm going to do it, I can.