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Posts Tagged ‘diary’

Night Shift: An Interview with Leslie Stein

November 4, 2015 | by


“Life is nonlinear and that takes a lot of courage to cope with,” writes Leslie Stein in her new book, Bright-Eyed at Midnight. Stein coped, in part, by sitting down at a blank page each night for a year to draw comics. Fueled by insomnia and prompted by characters she encountered while tending bar or traveling the city or by bittersweet childhood memories (her insomnia stretches back to juvenile night terrors), she produced twelve months’ worth of microstories that build a larger narrative through accumulation. In addition to diaristic recollections of everyday events, she meditates on collaged aphorisms and observations snipped from Jules Renard’s Journal, offers up doodled portraits of teen crushes, and returns again and again to the moment just before dawn, when she is alone, awake, and contemplating her art and her existential questions.

In Bright-Eyed, Stein has foregone traditional comics panels, leaving her dreamlike watercolor scenes surrounded by white space. Dialogue between the book’s impish figures is handwritten in colored pencil and linked to its speakers not by conventional word balloons but by small, unobtrusive squiggles. Some nights seem to get the best of her: a handful of pages are dense, wildly rendered paintings with anxiously scratched self-portraits and recriminations peering out from between brush marks. The Globe and Mail described these as “Kandinsky illustrating Virginia Woolf.”

Seasonal headers are the only organizing devices in the book, which has been edited down to 224 drawings. According to Stein, her publisher wanted page numbers, but she resisted, not wanting to interrupt Bright-Eyed at Midnight’s magical quality. “How does this book even exist?” she told me. “It’s unique—it’s a comic book and an art book, it’s a diary. You could open it to any page to begin.”

Stein and I met at a bar in Brooklyn early one evening in late August to discuss her nightlife. It was hot, so we sat under a tree to talk.

When you decided to draw every day for a year, were you making the work for yourself instead of readers?

I didn’t actually anticipate having any readers. I started drawing the series on New Year’s Eve—it sounds so gimmicky, but it really wasn’t on purpose. I had had a difficult year. I was either bartending or alone all night. I wanted something new and different to play with, to get color in my life. New Year’s is symbolic. I wanted to think about what a new year meant in my own life rather than people’s expectations of it. I didn’t want to go out to a party. I did a bunch of terrible drawings that evening and then went out drinking anyway, because I felt discouraged. When I got back to my apartment, I did a scratchy comic about my night and threw it up on Tumblr. The next day I woke up and there it was. I took it down, because posting it was kind of an accident, but then started the next in the series right away. Since I was playing around with materials, the style changed often but turned into something concrete. By the end of the year, I was laying down my lines in a specific way before coloring, and the spatial relationships between images and the design of the characters had solidified. Read More »

A Life in Matches

September 19, 2013 | by


A Life in Matches: Marineland Restaurant, Marineland, California. Photograph by Ben Stott.

How does one document his or her life? Do you track the minute details of each and every day in a diary, like Ned Rorem, or measure it out with coffee spoons, as J. Alfred Prufrock declared? When digging through the last boxes and cases from his grandfather’s home, Justin Bairamian found an old suitcase, full to the brim with thousands of matchbooks. They were from the Savoy in London to the Marineland Restaurant in California, and many had his grandfather’s own scribbles noting the location and year on the inside cover. Bairamian had discovered a beautiful record of a life well lived.

Bairamian has allowed designer Ben Stott to catalogue a sample of the collection, one day at a time, on the blog A Life in Matches. It is a brilliant tribute to one man’s life, as well as insight into the evolution of graphic design.



On Keeping a Notebook, Part 2

August 29, 2013 | by


Read part 1 here.

People often ask me whether, as a writer, I prefer to write by hand or on a computer. Realistically, it depends on the kind of writing I’m doing, but for a long time I responded that I preferred writing on a computer because it’s more difficult to write by hand and because writing on a computer is faster. “My thoughts move faster than my hand,” I would say, as if one part of my body was smarter than the other. Of course, this was just an excuse. The first entry of my latest notebook includes the following passage:

How much time every day will I have to spend getting all of my thoughts down on paper? But they don’t have to be all of my thoughts. But some may be left behind. Are they really that important? How important are my thoughts? That is the real question here.

The question of how much time every day is required for keeping a notebook is—like the question of the difficulty of writing by hand, or that of whether or not someone will read my notebooks, or the question of accuracy or inaccuracy—just a way to keep myself from making work that is “unpresentable.” I don’t mean unfinished—I mean not good. Over the last two years, I’ve managed to scare myself out of treating my notebook as a private space, and trick myself into using it only as a place to reflect on other peoples’ public thoughts under the guise of intellectualism. It is the same fear that beset me three and a half years ago when I took my high school notebooks outside and burned them. What was I afraid of? Of someone I respect seeing work that I found embarrassing, maybe. Of being exposed as a fraud, as if, because I once filled entire notebooks with “free verse” poems about underage sex and drinking, I could never be considered a serious writer. Of someone thinking—proving—that I’m not good enough. Read More »


On Keeping a Notebook, Part 1

August 28, 2013 | by


Photograph courtesy of the author.

When I decided to move to New York to pursue writing, I took all of the notebooks I’d kept in high school out back of my apartment and burned them on the sidewalk separating my building from my neighbor’s. I didn’t use an accelerant because I expected the paper to burn easily, for the whole pile to go up in flames at the toss of a single match. Instead, I sat on the sidewalk with book after book of matches, tearing the notebooks apart and crumpling them, holding individual pages over the flames so they would catch, watching the spiral bindings blacken but persevere into the eventual pile of ashes and scraps of brown paper left behind an hour later. When my roommate came home, she told me what I’d done was stupid.

I’ve kept a notebook since elementary school. Back then, I called it a diary because that’s what my friend Christina called hers. I remember her reading me accounts of eating hot dogs, meeting a cute boy, doing homework: “factual” records of events that were, whether or not important, beats on which to hang memories. I fashioned my diary after Christina’s but eventually grew bored and abandoned it. I didn’t see the point; I didn’t yet know what it meant to record the story of my inner life. I had a completely different relationship with my inner life then. There wasn’t a sense of anxiety around the need to find words for those things I was thinking and feeling. That anxiety came a few years later, in middle school, when my social life took a downturn and I started to keep a notebook again. The first thing I wrote was a song, the lyrics and melody for which are lost forever, as is the notebook. Read More »


Maji Moto

June 27, 2012 | by


May 2011, Durham, North Carolina. It is late spring and the rain comes heavy in this old tobacco town. Rivulets carve tiny tributaries into the Durham Triassic Basin. Soaking up the water, the red clay swells, and then offers up an overture of honeysuckle blossoms and sugar snap peas for the upcoming symphony of tomatoes and sweet corn.

In October of 2008, I traveled to another basin, a former Pleistocene lake in Kenya. In Amboseli, my intention was to study the evolution of mate choice and fertility signals in a population of wild baboons for my dissertation research. I was working with the Amboseli Baboon Research Project, an ongoing project that began more than four decades ago. Since the time that Kenya became free of British colonial rule, when the Amboseli basin was thick with rhinoceros, researchers from the United States have been following the daily lives of the baboons in Amboseli. The births of infant male Suede, born in November of 2008, and his younger brother Saa, born in August of 2010, were like bookends on my time in Amboseli. Sorghum, their lean and lanky mother, has a coat that seems dusted with ochre undertones like the deep red soil of Amboseli, and the clay from the Triassic basin. She is high-ranking and she certainly knows it. Born into a lineage of great fortune, she is the daughter of Sera, who was the daughter of Sana, who was the daughter of Safi, who was the daughter of Spot, who was the daughter of Alto, who was one of the first adult females to be identified in Amboseli by Jeanne and Stuart Altmann in 1969.

Read More »


Friday: Me

June 15, 2012 | by

Gombrowicz in 1965.

We told each other our dreams. Nothing in art, even the most inspired mysteries of music, can equal dreams. The artistic perfection of dreams! How many lessons this nocturnal archmaster gives to us, the daily fabricators of dreams, the artists! In a dream everything is pregnant with a dreadful and unfinished meaning, nothing is indifferent, everything reaches us more deeply, more intimately than the most heated passion of the day. This is the lesson: an artist cannot be restricted to day, he has to reach the night life of humanity and seek its myths and symbols. Also: the dream upsets the reality of the experienced day and extracts certain fragments from it, strange fragments, and arranges them illogically in an arbitrary pattern. Read More »