Hey there. I did something a little unusual (for me) this weekend: I spent most of Saturday learning how to etch on copper. When my friend Amy suggested we take Etching for Broadsides at the Virginia Arts of the Book Center, I readily agreed. I like broadsides. I have many of them; some are framed and hung on the walls of my office and my home. I was at the VABC when the VQR broadsides for Natasha Trethewey's "Enlightenment" were printed. So I focused more on the "broadside" part of the title, thinking I could learn the ins and outs of that process. (Maybe you can see where this is headed.) Turns out I should've focused more on the "etching" part.
Toward the end of class, when I said I didn't want to take my plate home, that I was just learning and wasn't necessarily satisfied with the results, the instructor told me, "You're too critical. I can tell this has been a problem your whole life." And she's right: I am critical, and I always have been. A few days ago I was telling someone about this class—complaining, really—saying that it was bad timing because of my work schedule, that I couldn't really afford to spend an entire Saturday taking an art class right now (typical bullshit). He said that diversifying your work during peak times increases productivity and reduces burnout. And damn it if he wasn't right. I went to the office when class ended and knocked out a bunch of work—in a very efficient manner.
Today I saw Kieslowski's Three Colors: Blue and then had brunch (I used to be all-pro brunch, but my brunch game has slipped in recent months) before heading to the office. It's been a busy fall. I'm working toward some semblance of that elusive thing called "balance." I'm still working seventy to eighty hours a week (when this hits your inbox, on Sunday afternoon, I'll be at the office), but I'm trying to schedule in some breaks, something my brain doesn't anticipate, like art or exercise.
While walking to our cars post-brunch, Amy and I commented on the cold, how December had truly come to Charlottesville. The whole world was blue.
1. I'm helping judge the National Book Critics Circle 2016 John Leonard Prize, for a first book in any genre. Here are the finalists:
The Mothers, by Brit Bennett
The Girls, by Emma Cline
Here Comes the Sun, by Nicole Dennis-Benn
Homegoing, byYaa Gyasi
The Nix, by Nathan Hill
Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, by Max Porter
I've read some of these books already; I'll be reading the others over the next month, and I invite you to join me. They are all worth your time. Maybe you're compiling a holiday wish list, or a gift list. Consider adding these extraordinary debuts.
2. My first recommendation was actually six, so that's it for books this time. My friend Justin Capps just released his debut EP, Before We're Ghosts. He says it's about "melancholy, uplift, love, loss, and Texas." Here is the chorus to "Shine" (the Texas part of that equation):
The eyes of Texas have nothing on yours
A smile in El Paso could light the Corpus shore
The Austin city limits are almost San Antone
We're a thousand miles from anywhere, but this sure feels like home
You're the lone star in the Amarillo sky
And you shine
Oh, you shine
Justin is one of the kindest, most supportive people I know. We both went to the University of Texas for grad school (hook 'em!), though we were not in the same program, and we would sometimes meet for lunch to commiserate with and encourage each other. He lives in the UK now, but he still managed to have coffee—and pancakes!—delivered to my office the last time I was on deadline and struggling to keep my sleep-deprived self going. I bought his EP the instant it was available. Justin is such a driven, talented artist who has been committed to this project for years, so I'm thrilled to be able to share it with you now.
3. There is a bourbon advent calendar and mostly I just want to know why no one has given me one yet. There is also, apparently, a wine advent calendar, but you only get 100 ml of wine each day and it's kind of expensive so I'd rather just have 12 bottles of red. Thanks.