5CT October 2014



Greetings from the north coast of California where they are literally running out of water. Day after day — the sun shines on. There are cruel intermissions, clouds gather, fog rolls in, a shower floats by. But the real thing is hard to come by. In this issue, Zadie Smith unpacks a beer ad, tools for writers and creatives, a trip around the literary Northwest and…a quirky tour of England. Enjoy, and pray for rain.

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5CT september 2014

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Well that was fascinating, Scotland. A great drama was made all the better by my friend, novelist-blogger-archangel-copywriter-musician and lover of independence, Jamie Jauncey. Jamie blogs over at A Few Kind Words. He’s a founder at Dark Angels Writers and is a writer of the first rank. His passionate yes dispatches and thoughtful posts are beautiful. Sign up, you’ll be better for it. This issue is packed…

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5 Cool Things for 12.9.2012

To you and to yours I send heartfelt tidings. May your heart (and glass) be full, your children close, your season chipper and your tree tall and straight. As a lover of irony, I did a double take when I read that we ought live without. Speedboat is a fine (if ironic) book from the 70s by a great writer and rebel and it’s coming back round. Two powerful and beautiful women laugh, shoot and play with technology. A website offers an irresistible visual and virtual tour of reading underground. What if a search engine took us to all the cool places, people and things we find in books? Oh, you would like the perfect gift? Check. I had coffee with Voltaire the other day. After I told him my story he looked into my eyes and said, “‎Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.” I could only agree. Thanks for being here. Build yourself a great big fire, light up the tree and have yourself a warm and lovely holiday.

 1. Spanking the Monk Hipster | Christy Wampole Speaks  

Hipster culture is nothing without irony. And irony, fun and delicious, is after all, posturing. So it was only a matter of time before someone issued a course correction to try and make things right. Here is the first sentence from Christy Wampole’s recent screed article in the New York Times, How to Live Without Irony:

“If irony is the ethos of our age — and it is — then the hipster is our archetype of ironic living.”

Well. Tell us how you really feel. But what follows is important, I think. It calls on us to be better humans, more genuine and true. Sincere. And no surprise, David Foster Wallace smartly elbows his way into the conversation.

The long haul of irony

From Christy Wampole: “….the ironic clique appears simply too comfortable, too brainlessly compliant. Ironic living is a first-world problem. For the relatively well educated and financially secure, irony functions as a kind of credit card you never have to pay back. In other words, the hipster can frivolously invest in sham social capital without ever paying back one sincere dime. He doesn’t own anything he possesses.” (Not sure how financially secure most hipsters are, but that’s off point.)

Deep into this piece comes mention of something new, at least for me — The New Sincerity. Here’s a slice of the New Sincerity articulated by the late David Foster Wallace. From 1993 —


“The next real literary “rebels” in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point. Maybe that’s why they’ll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today’s risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the “Oh how banal.” To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness. Of willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law. Who knows.”

Whether or not DFWs argument for art with reverence and conviction, real feeling and sentiment was rooted in his own suffering, who can say? But reading his words only reminds us of how much we lost when David Foster Wallace took his leave. Snark and ironic detachment are difficult to hold onto when you’re so truly and seriously attached to making great art and you are so unwell that you can no longer live.

But what if Christy Wampole is all wrong? 

All in all a provocative, necessary discussion. Here is How to Live Without Irony. And here, via hipster Jonathan Fitzgerald writing in The Atlantic, is the perfect rebuttal to Christy Wampole and a deeper look at the New Sincerity >>


2. Through Adler’s Telling | Speedboat, by Renata Adler Returns

Speedboat, by Renata Adler

You heard it here first. Speedboat, a 1976 award-winning novel by former New Yorker writer and bomb thrower, Renata Adler, will be reissued by the New York Review of Books. Mark your calendar for March 19, 2013, the same date that the sequel, Pitch Dark, will also be published by the NYRB.

Paris Review writer Anna Wiener fell in love with this book. “To fall head over heels for Speedboat is a fitting reaction to this particular novel, I think. Language—not character, not culture, not love or money or society or truth or journalism or sex or politics or technology or connection, although all of these things are essential, are crucial satellites—pins the center of this book down. Language is the thing. Upon the first reading, during that gray and yawning time, I no longer wanted to see the world for another person; I wanted to see it refracted through Adler’s telling.”

Buy Speedboat here >>


 3. Two Hot Broads | iPhone Photo of the Month

Two hot broads being true to themselves.

If Helen Mirren had been there, the universe would have imploded. Of the many memorable quotes uttered by Hilary Clinton, I dig this, “You have to be true to yourself.” If Hilary becomes more beloved than she already is the sun will fall out of the sky. Fair warning.


Song for Sunday :: Canto De Ossanha :: Jurassic 5


4. Reader, Reader, New York, New York | The Underground Library

Is this hipster ironic or sincere as he reads John Berger on the subway? I say both. (This is for the other John Berger. You know who you are. )

Utterly irresistible photographs of New York Subway riders deep into books. What are they reading? The Financial Lives of the Poets, Don Quixote, Atlas Shrugged, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Ways of Seeing (shown above), The Broom of the System, A Short History of Women, Night, etc. Go look >>

Note the “Borrow’ and ‘Read’ buttons.

(Not affiliated with the NYC public library.)


5. A Very Cool Thing | Small Demons Literary Search Engine

Absolutely brilliant idea. Think of all the places that a good book takes you. Then think about the people, real and not, that a good book brings you. And then imagine a search engine that can connect all those dots and you have Small Demons. Whatever you might find in a story — a cocktail, a cockatoo, a cockpit, a cockroach, a pianist named Ryder, a count named Vronsky — it’s all here. Hard to tell how many books are listed, but there are many. Check it out >>

The screenshot below is from Small Demons.

The Modern Library of the 100 greatest novels. How many have you read?


A Gift Idea for You | Book Book from twelve south   

You so need this. I so need this. An iPhone case that thinks it’s a book.


The company is called twelve south.

twelve south makes cases for iPads and laptops too. Apple products only, so you Android users can just move along, there’s nothing to see here.

Dear twelve south, contact me and I’ll help with the copy.

Here’s a snippet of the copy for all my copywriting friends. It’s workmanlike, but uninspired. For such an uber cool product I want more than phrases like, “convenient ID window” and “slots for your debit/credit cards.” Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz. What say you?

Thank you.

Five Cool Things :: June 10, 2012

FCT Cafe

Just when you thought it was safe to go back outside here comes a summer issue of FCT. Apologies for the long absence. In this issue, Laetitia, Wislawa, Gill, Ida and Orhan. Speaking of Orhan Pamuk, this is what he wrote in Snow, “How much can we hope to understand those who have suffered deeper anguish, greater deprivation, and more crushing disappointments than we ourselves have known?” Not nearly enough, Orhan.


1. Laetitia Sadier | Find Me the Pulse of the Universe

laetitia sadier ~ she is french.


iPad / iPhone users listen here>>

I found this music — 10 mp3s you need to download for free this week — here>>


2. Wislawa Szymborska | The End and the Beginning

scorched earth | richard pelletier

The End and the Beginning

Wislawa Szymborska

After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won’t
straighten themselves up, after all.

Someone has to push the rubble
to the side of the road,
so the corpse-filled wagons
can pass.

Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.

Someone has to drag in a girder
to prop up a wall,
Someone has to glaze a window,
rehang a door.

Photogenic it’s not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.

We’ll need the bridges back,
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.

Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls the way it was.
Someone else listens
and nods with unsevered head.
But already there are those nearby
starting to mill about
who will find it dull.

From out of the bushes
sometimes someone still unearths
rusted-out arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile.

Those who knew
what was going on here
must make way for
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.

In the grass that has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.

Wislawa Szymborska Do you not love her face?

The fct guy reads The End and the Beginning


3. Not Drawing a Blank | Gil Blank Photographer

photograph by gil blank

Meet New York City based Gil Blank — such an interesting photographer. This is as good place as any to start>>

Have a look at his photographic series based in Portland, Maine>>

Read into the wee hours — look at all these essays>>

From an interview with the photographer Wolfgang Tillmans:

WT: “I like the idea of the photograph as something that joins me to the world, that connects me to others, that I can share. I can get in touch with somebody when they recognize a feeling: “Oh, I felt like that before. I remember jeans hanging on the banister, even though I’ve never seen that exact pair. I’ve seen my oranges on a windowsill.” It’s the sense that “I’m not alone.” That’s the driving force behind sharing these things—that I want to find connections in people. I believe that every thought and idea has to be somehow rendered through personal experience, and then generalized.”


4. Orhan Pamuk | Paris Review

“We could die here and nobody would ever know.” That’s Orhan Pamuk in a lively Paris Review interview. Well worth your time.

Choice excerpt: Although I was raised in a crowded family and taught to cherish the community, I later acquired an impulse to break away. There is a self-
destructive side to me, and in bouts of fury and moments of anger I do things that cut me off from the pleasant company of the community. Early in life I realized that the community kills my imagination. I need the pain of loneliness to make my imagination work. And then I’m happy. But being a Turk, after a while I need the consoling tenderness of the community, which I may have destroyed. Istanbul destroyed my relationship with my mother—we don’t see each other anymore. And of course I hardly ever see my brother. My relationship with the Turkish public, because of my recent comments, is also difficult.

Read the entire interview here>>


5. Power & Imagination | Ida Applebroog

copyright ida applebroog

copyright ida applebroog

I want those shoes, that’s all I can say. Ms. Ida is a bit of a national treasure. Now please watch this. (This video won’t work on iPad/iPhone. Desktop only.)



This week’s issue of Five Cool Things comes to you from an undisclosed location in the great metropolis of Seattle, my old hometown. Language and human nature could fill a book, but for now here’s an animated video. Have you ever wondered where Woody Allen sits down to write? Imagine all the fun you could have cooking up wacky alternative titles for Malcom Gladwell. A fine, Seattle based artist turns out to be an old colleague. A young photographer, a big talent, a not so happy ending. “Every part of all this soil is sacred to my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove has been hollowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished. The very dust you now stand on responds more willingly to their footsteps than to yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch.” Chief Seattle


1. Man and Language | A Window into Human Nature

Language and Human Culture (click image)

This video animation is essential if you are fascinated by and love language. Here are a few snippets: “Language is a window into social relations.” “This is what we would call an indirect speech act.” “We veil our intentions in innuendo, hoping for our listener to read between the lines to infer our real intent.”  “There are only three major relationship types across the world’s cultures: Dominance, Commonality, Reciprocity.”

From the RSA website: “For over 250 years the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) has been a cradle of enlightenment thinking and a force for social progress.  Our approach is multidisciplinary, politically independent and combines cutting edge research and policy development with practical action.” Watch those multidisciplinary, cutting edge cliches.


2. The Woodman at Work | Woody Allen’s Desk

This is the Desk Where Woody Writes

“You know what my philosophy of life is? That it’s important to have some laughs, but you gotta suffer a little too, because otherwise you miss the whole point to life.” – “My hand to God, she’s gonna be at Carnegie Hall. But you – I’ll let you have her now at the old price, OK? Which is, which is anything you wanna give me. Anything at all.” Danny Rose

3. Bestseller Hijinks | Malcom Gladwell Headline Generator

Fake Malcom Gladwell Bestsellers

How many bestsellers has Malcom crafted? Many! Have more fun at Malcom Gladwell’s expense, here:


4. Larry Calkins | Art at the Gail Gibson Gallery in Seattle

Larry Calkins, laughing matter, 2010 ink on folded paper, 30 x 22 inches

Larry Calkins, lovely nancy, 2010 cloth, wax, paper, metal and ashes, 50 x 19 inches

The biggest surprise of this weekend in Seattle, was not discovering the work of Larry Calkins. It was discovering that I actually know Larry Calkins – from a long ago job in Seattle. I was, and am, floored by the work. Larry, hardly knew ye. From Larry’s website:

Sculptures – are usually made of metal and cloth. Larry creates his signature dresses out of cotton fabric and then treats the sewn shapes with any pigment available and/or suitable, from dirt to clay to ashes. The shapes are coated with beeswax and the surface is then worked until a satisfactory result is achieved, both in color and texture: a look and feel of aged leather.

The surface may or may not be the base for additional clues: crude metal buttons sewn on, or photographs; sometimes transfer prints of drawings, or maybe woodcut prints directly onto the surface.

Stands are made of rusted metal, welded together, each one unique and adding character to the appearance of the sculpture. Some of the dress sculptures are free standing, others are made to hang on metal hangers on the wall.


5. Photographer Jessica Woodman | The Woodmans

photo by francesca woodman

The parents are full time artists with big ambitions. Their daughter grows up, has a big talent as a photographer, makes a splash, can’t seem to get past the initial splash to move into a longer term fulfilling career, and during a period of despair, kills herself. She becomes famous in absentia, eclipsing the notoriety of her parents, one of whom is not terribly happy that the daughter has taken the spotlight. This is a touching, heartbreaking, affecting film directed with a deft touch by C. Scott Willis. The costs of making art, the challenges of parenthood, the price of big ambitions. The score is beautiful and was written by the Pulitzer Prize winning composer, David Lang. Watch the trailer.