No. 17 >> The Copy Issue: Copy like a cool cat.

MAKING THE WORK // Copy Like a Cool Cat

Okay, it’s confession time. Rest assured, I’m the person who blocked a Facebook friend for incessantly posting about their cold sores, so no bodily functions are involved in this confession. Nor is it particularly embarrassing—like, the time I learned that Desmond Tutu is not actually a famous drag queen. But I digress. Really, the confession is just this: I haven’t been writing—not for the book anyway (thus the emotive italics). 

The fact that I’ve framed this as a confession, not a simple admission, means that I’m feeling guilty. Sure, the book hasn’t lost the roof over its head, but it still feels like a child I’ve left alone, standing on a wobbly stool at the stove to cook her own Annie’s Homegrown Bunny Pasta long past dinnertime because mama had to go out and make some money. So what’s mama to do except... 

stop calling herself mama, because ew, I just creeped myself out with the third person mama talk. Also, I think I may have accidentally suggested that mama is a lady of the night aaannd... I’m on a tangent... stopping now. 

What I am writing is copy. Website copy. Because I have a few things to offer via the interwebs that can land me some dough. So I’ve been up to my earballs learning how to put together an online micro-business. I’ll save the details about the biz for another time, but for now, it will have to suffice to say it’s writing related and I’m not selling my panties. 

Because of my business-in-progress (known affectionately as Liger Emp.), I belong to a private Facebook group of 13,000 entrepreneurs who talk a lot about copy—and copying. There are horror stories about painstakingly crafted copy being ripped off, almost word for word, by lazy assholes who succumbed to the two-right-clicks school of copypasting instead of copywriting. On the flip side, I’ve also noticed that there are good people who are worried that they’re going to be unconscious copycats, which paralyzes them with fear when it comes to writing their own copy (and designing their own websites, for that matter). 

In the words of Picasso, “art is theft.” I lift things all the time and feel like I should be spreading the word to my entrepreneur friends that there is a way to copy like a cool cat—it’s just that there’s a trick to it. 

Austin Kleon, who I reference often because he’s awesome, covers this in his book Steal Like an Artist. Here’s my interpretation: stealing like a thief means shoplifting a head-to-toe outfit off a big box store mannequin and strutting around in it, looking like, well, a mannequin (itself a copy). Stealing like a boss means pocketing items you really love from nineteen different stores to put together your outfit—which also includes legwarmers you’ve  hand-knitted yourself—and which you will embody, along with the rest of the outfit, like you are—you are!—your own special snowflake.

If that doesn’t drive the point home enough (I’ve decided to proselytize this week), I want to leave you with this bang-on Jim Jarmusch quote my friend Powder Puff sent me (yes, I have friends with super-cool nicknames like Powder Puff):

Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul.  If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery—celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from— it’s where you take them to.”

WATCHING // Tim’s Vermeer

A rich inventor from Texas decided he wanted to understand the painting techniques used by Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer. Informed conjecture had already been put forth by British painter David Hockney (for one) that Vermeer had painted his luminous and uncannily realistic paintings with the help of mirrors and lenses. So, aided by his buckets of money, and driven by his obsession, Tim Jenison spent roughly 2,000 days proving this theory through research, (re-)invention, and by building an exact-scale replica of one of the rooms that Vermeer painted. Jenison—who’d never operated a paintbrush before—spent the last 180 of those 2,000 days painting an extremely convincing copy (David Hockney approved) of The Music Lesson. The journey is documented in A Penn & Teller film called Tim’s Vermeer. And guess what? I’ve just solved your what-to-watch-on-Netflix problem because you can see it there.

This film made a few people’s fur stand up, among them Guardian art critic Jonathon Jones who can’t stand the idea that Vermeer’s unfathomable genius was actually fathomable and called Tim’s Vermeer a “pedantic imitation”. He missed the point entirely that Tim’s experiment didn’t undermine Vermeer’s artistic genius, rather it proved that Vermeer was, in all probability, as much an inventor as an artist. In my books that makes him twice the genius.


LISTENING // Lake Street Dive’s “I Want You Back”

New favourite song alert! 

My friend Peter, who looks like Steve Martin's handsome brother and works as a piano player at a fancy steakhouse, just turned me onto Lake Street Dive’s cover of the 1969 Jackson Five hit “I Want You Back”. (The original was recently featured in the closing credits of Guardians of the Galaxy, which A. lured me to by telling me there was a talking raccoon.) You may already know it—there’s a famous YouTube video of the song, which was recorded on a sidewalk in Boston. It’s to the ears what smores with really good chocolate and smoky marshmallows are to the mouth. 

Also, Rolling Stone has named Lake Street Dive—who self-describe as “two girls, two guys, and a whole lotta feelings”— the Best New Band of the Year. Of the band, drummer Mike Calabrese says, “We want to sound like the Beatles and Motown had a party together.”