In Praise of Chairs

I’m writing you from a chair. A large chair. A very large chair, all my own, taking up the corner of my room nearest the window. My feet are up, as it is a recliner. A very large, brown leather recliner that I bought from a woman named Heather on the internet. She was kind enough to help me lug it to my car, which had trouble stomaching the entire mass of my new, very large chair. But we eventually maneuvered the thing through the hatch in the back, where it sat neglected for several days and nights until I worked up the nerve to ask my new housemate to help me lug it out of the car. Then, up two flights of stairs and through my narrow door into a room that simply shouldn’t be asked to hold so many things.

But now, I’m writing you from my chair. And it is delightful. Upright and comfortable, I sit twiddling on my keyboards and computers, grateful to have left the days when I’d come home from work, collapse on my bed for lack of a chair, and promptly fall asleep far too early.

My chair is not just a chair, though, it is a place to work. A place to be. To be awake and comfortable. Because beds are not for sitting and typing, they are for sleeping. Chairs are for working and living. For being awake and alive. Chairs are where things get done.

And I’m not the only one with an affinity for armchairs.

Image

Above is Eve Sedgwick, an American scholar in the fields of gender studies, queer theory, and critical theory, working from home in a recliner of her own.

And below is Willem de Kooning, an abstract expressionist painter, in his large wooden studio chair.

My Dinner with Willem de Kooning, Painter Hero | by Bradley Wester | The  Creative Cafe

Writer Virginia Woolf supposedly had a favorite chair as well.

“Every morning she would walk down to the basement and into a storage room with a cozy old armchair that she loved. She would write away sitting in the armchair in her peace and quiet.”

Word Counter Blog

And the novelist May Sarton said:

“A house that does not have one warm, comfy chair in it is soulless.”

A sentiment with which I whole-heartedly conquer. Writer Alan Garner said:

“Everything I have ever written has been in the same chair, in the same room.”

But the setup of famed children’s author Roald Dahl may be my favorite of them all.

Ten Things You Might Not Know About Roald Dahl | AnOther
Past simple | Baamboozle

With his blanket and writing board, lamp, pinned up papers, and cluttered desk. His writing shed seems the ideal place to be.

Chairs are one of those things for everyone. They’re all around us, in every shape and color and pattern and texture.

In the wonderful documentary, Rams, product designer Dieter Rams tours a collection of whimsical chairs giving his opinions on some of the outrageous maximalist designs.

And chairs have come to mean so many things. They can be symbols of status and life circumstance. Our actions around chairs communicate much. And chairs are often used in movies and media as pieces of the story, as analyzed in this wonderful video essay from 2015. One of my all time favorites.

Of course, how can you write about chairs without mentioning those highest of all?

Though thrones are quite regal, they often seem to be rather uncomfortable, and occupied by cruel folk. Like the angular throne cut of black marble in Eragon, or the Iron Throne made of the swords of past enemies in Game of Thrones.

Game of Thrones symbology: What is the significance of the Iron Throne?
The Iron Throne, Game of Thrones

“It was not a comfortable Throne, this seat made of stone. But power was not supposed to be comfortable.”

– Elizabeth D. Marie, Chasing Cinders

Other times, thrones are full of pomp, showing plainly the disparity between the rulers sitting on the throne, and the ruled kneeling before it.

852 Throne Room Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

Neither holds much sway on me. I myself prefer a soft, plain chair. To recline and work away on this and that.

“Every chair should be a throne and hold a king.”

– Ralph Waldo Emmerson

So this old leather recliner I shall make my throne.

Nike Workwear

Today, a video from one of my favorite internet filmmakers, Van Neistat, led me to this wonderful brand, William Ellery Technical Apparel.

A maker out of New York City producing “outdoor and workwear apparel from vintage wears, envisioning each garment’s unique story.” With “boyhood sentimentality” shaping the clothing and the company.

I, of course, fell in love with it all straight away.

And the wonderful images and pieces sparked an idea in me. A collection of Nike workwear.

I love it when a juxtaposition strikes me. A juxtaposition that seems to fit itself so nicely into an illustration. And I love it when an idea comes from a specific trail of things like today.

The work of William Ellery’s founder, Trevor Davis, reminds me in ways of the work of Tom Sachs.

Tactile, custom, and hand-made. It makes me want to sew something. To make the things I use and wear even more my-own, outfitted to do and look exactly the way I would like.

Maybe I’ll get a sewing kit.

Meeting Tom

I sat alone in my office for the day. Everyone else was out for this or that. The hours passed as I clicked and typed away, and finally I decided to get a breath of fresh air as midday dragged into afternoon.

On my way out, I noticed the door of that small studio near the entrance ajar, and I heard jazz music playing merrily into the hall. Glancing in as I passed, I saw the back of an older gentleman hunched over a work table, and canvases and papers hung all over the walls. I knew he used it as his paint studio, I’d often caught snatches of his work as I strode past, but I’d never met the man sitting at the table.

A couple people in my office had mentioned him. “He seems awesome,” my boss had said a month or two before. “I’ve never met him, but he seems like the coolest guy. He just sits and paints and listens to music and sometimes smokes weed.”

Walking back in, I didn’t smell any weed, but I did hear the music still playing, so I peered in. The man was painting something that lay flat on the table. When he set his brush down, I knocked lightly on the door.

He turned around and smiled questioningly when he saw me.

“Hi,” I said, pushing the door open slightly as he stood up. “My name’s Chris, I work down the hall. I just wanted to introduce myself – I’ve seen your paintings as I pass by and they’re just beautiful.”

“Hi, my name is Tom,” he said warmly. He took a step forward, and swung the door all the way open with a lean. “C’mon on in, please!”

I stepped into the small room, and looked around at all the work on the walls. Modern, and colorful, and expressive. Beautiful, the type of studio I’d like to have if I were a painter. Tom was wearing a brown apron covering a button up shirt, the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He looked to be in his 60s, with a white trimmed beard, and kind, bright eyes. He stood a few inches shorter than me, and his hands held loosely behind his back as he looked at me looking at his work.

“How long have you been painting?” I asked, turning all the way around and back to face him.

“A year,” Tom said, with the faintest hint of a smile.

“A year?” I responded with a tone of fane-disbelief, picking up on the joke.

“A year,” he said. Glancing around. “Some things take a lifetime to get to.”

This confused me, and it took a beat to respond. “You mean you really have only been painting for a year?”

“Yeah, I started about a year ago. I was in my first show last month,” he said, a boyish pride shining through the words.

I stared back at him for a moment, stunned. Then again turned around to look at the work on the walls.

“I worked in real estate my whole life – and I think I dreamt of painting that whole time, but never did it. So now – I’m painting.” He said, and smiled softly again.

I told him how surprised I was. Then I told him I’d just moved, and had been studying illustration. He asked where from, and I said Chicago. “I grew up in New York City,” he said. “In Queens. I think growing up with real winters makes you a little tougher. The people here don’t know how to handle anything!”

I agreed whole-heartedly, and we chatted a little more. The conversation rolled smoothly to a stop, and I said “thank you for letting me come in, it was so nice to meet you. I’m so glad I knocked on your door.”

“I’m glad you knocked too!” said Tom. “I don’t get many visitors here. If you ever want to talk about snow, or advice on LA living, feel free to knock again.”

“Thank you, I would love to knock again,” I said with a smile. “It was so nice to meet you, Tom!” Then, putting my hand to my chest, I said “Chris,” again.

Tom, doing the same, said “Tom.” We both chuckled.

“We did it,” I said with another laugh. “Hope you have a lovely rest of your day!”

A few moments later, I sat back down at my desk in my office, and exhaled. I felt a little dazed. I don’t know why – why I’d been so surprised when he said he’d only painted for a year. Why it felt like his eyes had been peering right into me. Why I felt like I just met someone important to me. But I was and they had and I did.

And now I wonder when I’ll knock on Tom’s door again. And what we’ll talk about then.

Energy Out, Energy In

A few days ago, I posted about a painting of a hand I’d done. It had been a few days since I’d worked on the painting at all, and the initial surge of energy had long passed, so I decided to send it off into cyber-space unfinished.

Just sitting myself down to write those few sentences took quite some effort. And yet, as soon as I finished writing and pressed publish, I looked at the piece again and pulled it up on my iPad. Just to change one tiny thing. Then, an hour or so later, I exported the final piece and put it on Instagram.

This series of events confirmed something I’ve been thinking about for a couple weeks. That my own creative energy doesn’t work the way my brain thinks it should:

Energy out leads to energy in. Creativity leads to creativity. And work leads to work.

Put another way: An object in motion stays in motion, and an object at rest stays at rest.

I often find myself having to fight with the heat of a thousand suns to sit myself down into a creative posture and actually do the work. The hardest part is moving the object (me) from rest (sitting on my bed twiddling on my phone, not enjoying my rest, or actually resting, but simply squandering time scrolling) into motion (doing something creative that I’ve deemed valuable). Once I’m in (creative) motion, I usually stay in (creative) motion. But getting in motion can be a bear. (This rule also applies to physical activity for me, too)

And I believe this “law of creative physics” can be true in micro and macro settings. That creativity spawns creativity. In spare evening hours, yes. But also in months of shifting seasons. And across long years. And through entire lifetimes. Because, how we spend our days is how we spend our lives.

I want to spend my life creating beautiful things and enjoying my time. And to do that, I must dislodge myself from (unhealthy) rest, and force myself into the rush of (creative) motion.

And to do that, I must get a chair. (I will talk about this chair in my next post)

This is imperfect, and I already have many qualms and qualifiers with these thoughts, but I will leave it there, because it is better to have something finished, not perfect.

A Painted Hand

Hooray! Hooray! For those moments of sudden inspiration. And energy to boot! To stay up many hours past my bedtime to create a thing.

This time, to (digitally) paint a hand, on a Friday night after dinner with new friends. Where, at one point, one of them scrolled back through old artwork of mine, and I became fixated on the (digital) oil paintings of figures I did a couple years back. My how the time goes.

Here, the piece, a couple days later. I can’t tell if I’ll do more to it, the spark of inspiration has passed. It is quite a fickle thing, inspiration. And pushing forward regardless is a skill I must work to improve. Must, must, must.

But here is something. Something I made.

And above is a screenshot from the process, as well as the original image I used as reference. A portrait of the great artist, David Hockney.

Your Conjugation Must Be Perfect

The other day I met a new acquaintance who is in the long and arduous process of learning English as their second language. And while talking with them, I had the uncomfortable realization that I had to keep reminding myself no, this person is not less intelligent than me. This person is not a child to be talked down to. This person is a person, exactly like me, just older and surely wiser, who happened to grow up in a different place.

Because language is so closely linked with age and experience and wisdom. Vocabulary comes only with time. Language is humanhood. And to be an adult in a new land with a new language that you don’t speak perfectly is to be treated as a child trapped in an adult’s body.

The wisdom is there. The age and the experience is all there. The brilliance, the humanity. But all that is seemingly locked behind bars of pronouns and conjugation and cultural bias. Bars that erode with time, dedication, and practice, yes. But time spent being treated as a child in a foreign land. Pointing out the weather and how good the food was. Trapped by the words that won’t come.

Looked down upon for having the courage, tenacity, and smarts to leave a home behind, travel far, and learn a language. That’s more than I’ve ever done, but still I snear.

Living Takes Practice

The world is so unbelievably large. And the nuances of living life are so wildly small. The mundanity of the every day to one can be the pinnacle of adventure to another. The smallest things can hold wonder. And the basic rules can bring anxiety. Like the sand crabs bubbling under the surface as the surf rolls out, or learning how to drive in the snow.

To an Iowa farmer, every piece of a sandy beach town can seem foreign. And so too, the cold and snow of winter in rural Montana can feel like a horrible, freezing hell world to a boy from Miami.

Hank Green shows this in his video giving his best advice at living in a cold climate after 22 years in the heat:

The passage of time is implied by the basic ‘secrets’ learned in a new home. Like never letting your gas meter get too low in the winter. Or knowing what time rush hour hits on a Thursday afternoon. Because living in a new place, just like playing the piano or gutting a fish, takes practice.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Ono stands in the center, with his eldest son, Yoshikazu, to his right.

The other night, I watched a documentary called Jiro Dreams of Sushi (you can watch it on Prime). It had been on my list for a long while, and I stumbled across again while in just the right mood, alone in the living room early on a Wednesday evening. I love it when the happens.

One of Jiro’s minimalist sushi.

It was quite beautiful, and Jiro, like many other masters of their craft, is quite an interesting fellow to follow around. The first half is wonderful, and there’s so much good wisdom and information to pull out. But I’d say as you get to about two-thirds of the way through – if you start to get bored, just turn it off. Because odds are, you will continue to be bored.

Here are some of the quotes I pulled as I was watching:


“A great chef has the five following attributes:

1. They take their work very seriously and consistently perform on the highest level.
2. They aspire to improve their skills.
3. Cleanliness. If the restaurant doesn’t feel clean, the food isn’t going to taste good.
4. Impatience. They are better leaders than collaborators. They are stubborn and insist on having it their way. 
5.  A great chef is passionate.”

– Food critic


“The difference between Jiro today and Hiro 40 years ago is that eh stopped smoking. Besides that, nothing has changed.”

– Food critic


“I hated it at first [when I first started training at 19]. I wanted to run away for two years.”

– Jiro’s eldest son


“I fell in love with my work and gave my life to it.”

– Jiro


“Always strive to elevate your craft. That’s what [Jiro] taught me.”

– Jiro’s son

Jiro Ono and his eldest son, Yoshikazu, working side by side.

Stuck in the stream

But unfortunately, those sudden strikes of inspiration feel rarer these days than they have these last few years.

Hours spent creating things seem dreadfully lacking these last four months. Four months… Goodness me how the time shifts around us.

I feel as though, moving quickly down stream, I suddenly found myself stuck up against a large rock. Unmoving, yet being rushed past. I’m not sure if the water is time or the desire to do more, but either way it’s there and moving quickly. I just can’t seem to get myself unstuck from this boulder I’m caught on.

So some days I close my eyes and let the water run and forget all about the movement. I sit contentedly in the stillness. The rush creating a lovely blanket of noise around me. But most days, my eyes are wide open. And I am dreadfully aware of the water running past. I don’t know which is better. To keep my eyes open, or keep them closed? What different lives the two options hold.

Sometime soon, I am sure, a particularly shaped branch, or a beautiful fish will come along and knock me from my perch. And until then, I’ll try to enjoy the view I’ve got.

A One Inch Picture Frame

In her brilliant book, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott describes a piece of her writing routine that has had a great impact on me. She outlines, for the reader, a day of languishing at her desk, thinking about anything and everything but the book she is trying to write. “I start to think about learning to use makeup and how maybe I could find some boyfriend who is not a total and complete fixer-upper and then my life would be totally great… Then I think about someone I’m really annoyed with, or some financial problem that is driving me crazy, and decide that I must resolve this before I get down to today’s work.” This rambling goes on for quite a while, but then she breathes, “slowly and calmly, and I finally notice the one-inch picture frame that I put on my desk to remind me of short assignments. It reminds me that all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being.”

And so, a couple days ago, in a sudden strike of inspiration, I drew myself a one inch picture frame, and put it on my desk. Ironically in a much larger, much less ornate frame. As a reminder. That will hopefully work.

All I have to do today is describe what I can see in that one-inch picture frame. That’s not so bad, right?