John Waters delivers a commencement speech

John Waters delivers a commencement speech1:

You’re lucky. When I went to school, my teachers discouraged every dream I ever had. I wanted to be the filthiest person alive, but no school would let me. I bet RISD would’ve. You could possibly even make a snuff movie here and get an A+. Hopefully you have been taught never to fear rejection in the workplace. Remember, a no is free. Ask for the world and pay no mind if you are initially turned down. A career in the arts is like a hitchhiking trip: All you need is one person to say “Get in” and off you go. And then the confidence begins. […]

Today may be the end of your juvenile delinquency, but it should also be the first day of your new adult disobedience. These days, everybody wants to be an outsider, politically correct to a fault. That’s good. I hope you are working to end racism, sexism, ageism, fatism. But is that enough? Isn’t being an outsider sooo 2014? I mean, maybe it’s time to throw caution to the wind, really shake things up, and reinvent yourself as a new version of your most dreaded enemy – the insider. Like I am. […]

Listen to your political enemies, especially the smart ones, and then figure out a way to make them laugh. Nobody likes a bore on a soapbox. Humour is always the best defence and weapon. If you can make an idiot laugh, they’ll at least pause and listen before they do something stupid – to you.

Refuse to isolate yourself. Separatism is for losers. Gay is not enough anymore. It’s a good start, but I don’t want my memoirs to be in the gay section near true crime at the back of the bookstore next to the bathrooms. No! I want it up front with the best-sellers. And don’t heterosexual kids actually receive more prejudice in art schools today than the gay ones? Things are a-changing. It’s a confusing time. […]

My parents made me feel safe, and that’s why I’m up here today. That’s what you should try to do to your children too – no matter where you get your children these days.

Contemporary art’s job is to wreck what came before. Is there a better job description than that to aspire to? Here’s another trigger warning, and pardon [me] for [swearing]: Go out in the world and fuck it up beautifully.

  1. Helpfully transcribed by Joe Clark.

Not a bittersweet time machine

Kevin Conboy on the power that some places have over us:

[I] store certain memories in physical locations and can recall them when I find myself revisiting. Commonly-trod ground gets overwritten often and complexly, in a tapestry of emotions’ colors overlapping like brushstrokes. […]

This beach is where I kissed my girlfriend. That one: my former wife, wedding ring tattoo notwithstanding. Fewer overlaps and clearer memories, relived and lived anew as time marches forward, the only direction it actually can. Given this much power, these places can seem a sort of bittersweet time machine but they’re not.

A dead friend’s former home always burning unseen a block away, red-tinged, geo-located in my mind as I take my daughter to school every day. Every fucking day. The Burger King where we waited for my son to escape his school alive. The heartbreakingly-named monument to the student murdered there directly across the street.

The origin and fragility of ideas

Publikwork on the origin of ideas:

No one knows. Their origins are as inscrutable as crop circles and Stonehenge.

Oh, plenty of people claim to know the secret; plenty more have a sure-fire, foolproof method for sparking brilliant new thoughts. On demand. At the snap of your fingers. Well, I’m here to tell you, ideas can’t be trained. They don’t come when they’re called; they won’t fetch or roll over, either. They’ll play dead, though. They’re doing it now. At this very moment.

I thought I had one, but when I looked closely, it wasn’t moving. No signs of life. I nudged it with my foot, I poked it with a stick, nothing, no response. Great, now what? Well, once in a while I’ll find a stray idea in the shower or under the covers, so I checked there, but nope. Not this time. The cupboards are bare.

Virginia Woolf on thoughts1:

Thought — to call it by a prouder name than it deserved — had let its line down into the stream. It swayed, minute after minute, hither and thither among the reflections and the weeds, letting the water lift it and sink it until — you know the little tug — the sudden conglomeration of an idea at the end of one’s line: and then the cautious hauling of it in, and the careful laying of it out? Alas, laid on the grass how small, how insignificant this thought of mine looked; the sort of fish that a good fisherman puts back into the water so that it may grow fatter and be one day worth cooking and eating. […]

Instantly a man’s figure rose to intercept me. Nor did I at first understand that the gesticulations of a curious-looking object, in a cut-away coat and evening shirt, were aimed at me. His face expressed horror and indignation. Instinct rather than reason came to my help, he was a Beadle; I was a woman. This was the turf; there was the path. Only the Fellows and Scholars are allowed here; the gravel is the place for me. Such thoughts were the work of a moment. As I regained the path the arms of the Beadle sank, his face assumed its usual repose, and though turf is better walking than gravel, no very great harm was done. The only charge I could bring against the Fellows and Scholars of whatever the college might happen to be was that in protection of their turf, which has been rolled for 300 years in succession they had sent my little fish into hiding.

  1. From A Room of One’s Own, 1929.

Finding oneself

Ben Hewitt on urgency, control, and finding oneself:

There’s something addictive about the urgency of the season. I feel it year after year after year, though perhaps it holds a somewhat finer edge this spring, simply for everything that must be done to ensure our well-being come the return of cold and snow. But still. Even the force of a typical spring and all that depends on it is enough to hold me in its sway. It is times like these that my gratitude for this life runs deepest. I am grateful for the wood to be split, for ache in my shoulders after splitting, for the fencing to be strung, for the soil to be turned, for the protective husks reforming over decades-old callouses, for the cows fat with May calves, even for the snarl of the sawmill, each board I lift from its bed another piece of the puzzle that will, when finally assembled, result in my family’s shelter.

I know it’s somewhat illusory to believe we have control over our destiny; there are simply too many forces above and beyond our control, and there are many ways in which we are reliant on these forces, sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse.

But that’s ok. I don’t need to be in control. It’s enough to be participating. It’s enough to help fit the pieces of the puzzle together, to see how the whole is formed, and within it, how we come to know our place.

I admit that the phrase, “know our place”, makes me feel a little uneasy. It just seems too close to the command, “know your place”, which is often used to bludgeon people into suppressing themselves or their beliefs (opposite to its literal meaning).

That being said, it’s naturally important to discover where we fit in the scheme of things. After all, “know your place” can also be understood as related to the old dictum, “know thyself”. Learning where you fit in can inform your understanding of who you really are, and learning who you really are can suggest how you might fit in.

But over the years, I’ve come to believe that the first of the two is more effective. Simply asserting your identity can be gratifying, but it’s also very prone to error and fluctuations in mood and environment. To try things, to try a lot of things, and to try a lot of things some more — this seems a surer way to discover who you really are and where you fit in.

The Herd of Independent Minds

From Harold Rosenberg’s essay, The Herd of Independent Minds (1948):

The mass-culture maker, who takes his start from the experience of others, is essentially a reflector of myths, and is without experience to communicate. To him man is an object seen from the outside. Indeed it could be demonstrated that the modern mass-culture élite […] actually has less experience than the rest of humanity, less even than the consumers of its products.

To the professional of mass culture, knowledge is the knowledge of what is going on in other people; he alone trades his experience for the experience of experience. Everyone has met those culture-conscious “responsibles” who think a book or movie or magazine wonderful not because it illuminates or pleases them but because it tells “the people” what they “ought to know.”

I think the principle here extends beyond the mass-culture maker to include many mass-culture consumers. It’s a common sport to talk about what “the masses” think, feel, or do — often to the exclusion of what one’s self thinks, feels, or does.