Tag Archives: writer

Amanda Palmer on the Art of Giving Giraffe Drawings

Amanda Palmer Drawing An Awful Giraffe

Amanda Palmer Demonstrating the Art of Giving, September 2012.

Amanda Palmer (Web|Twitter) is a musician and writer. She is one-half of the “Brechtian punk cabaret” group The Dresden Dolls and the frontwoman of Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra. Recently she published a book titled The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help (2014) based on her popular TED Talk on the same subject. Even if some of her ideas are tone deaf there’s no denying she’s an immensely talented artist (her album Theater is Evil is brilliant and rarely leaves my CD player).

Palmer passed through Houston the other night (two years ago), which was my first introduction to both her and her work. Drunk and amazed, the only trouble I had was trying to make small-talk with the fans who only wanted to talk about Neil Gaiman. Still, everyone was a friendly bunch — and when I asked Palmer to draw a giraffe she did so with only modest hesitation (the guitarist — whose name I’m excluding here on principle — thought I was a joke).

Please note that I take this project very seriously. And how could I not? Look at this:

Amanda Palmer Giraffe DrawingThis is the gold-standard of Brechtian Punk Cabaret giraffes (?).

Drawing a giraffe is the least bizarre thing David Sedaris’ done

David Sedaris

Writer David Sedaris

David Sedaris (web | wiki) is a comedian and essayist known for his numerous memoirs including Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000) and When You Are Engulfed in Flames (2008). His latest book is Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls (2013). Even if you don’t know him by name, I can guarantee you’ve heard him on National Public Radio and This American Life.

I first read Sedaris’ work years ago when, traveling through Denver, I bought When You Are Engulfed in Flames. Passing through for a wedding and not feeling particularly social, I’d escape to my hotel room or an abandoned broom closet to read. Family hunted me down, telling me to put it away, but this only led me to smuggle the book around as illegal contraband. I’d hold it beneath tables and spend more time in the bathroom than was necessary.

Like everyone’s first time, though: The experience was shorter than I’d wished (and laughter was involved). C’est la vie.

Since then, I’ve read most of his books and to this day regard him as the master of the personal essay. In fact, when feeling literary, I’ve written my most memorable GDBPWSNBDG articles with him in mind. I hope it shows.

On November 8, 2014, Sedaris was in Houston as part of a 39-city tour. As his visit coincided with my twenty-fourth birthday, I thought it’d be a nice treat. So my partner K. and I bought a pair of cheap tickets that placed us a few feet from the back wall, three stories up, in a theater that could seat nearly 3,000 people. When he came out to speak, he was merely a white beam of light in the distance — a little, soft-spoken angel telling us vagina jokes:

A woman goes to her gynecologist, and after getting in the chair, the doctor takes a look. “You have the largest vagina I’ve ever seen,” he says. “You have the largest vagina I’ve ever seen!”

“You don’t need to say it twice,” the woman answers.

“I didn’t.”

When not telling jokes, Sedaris read a few unpublished essays and told off-the-cuff stories about his experience on tour. What I’m relaying can only be described as “Herculean” (and a little gross). So bear with me.

“At one of the early signings, a man approached me,” Sedaris began, “and he had holes in his head. Seeing some spots on the side of my face, he told me, ‘I know what that is — it looks like melanoma. You should really go to a doctor.’” This Sedaris did, being told they were just liver spots and nothing to worry about. Still, the doctor burned them off, leaving two blisters that –- the next day –- popped on the airplane.”

That’s medical injury number one.

For a while now, Sedaris has had a benign tumor near his ribs (“The size of an egg”) and chose not to get it removed because no doctor would let him keep it (“I mean, it’s mine. I made it.”). The reason for this, dear reader, is because he wanted to feed it to snapping turtles (that’s another story). When he mentioned this fact at a reading, a Mexican woman approached him saying she worked at a clinic for low-income families and could have it cut out in forty minutes. When the book signing ended around 1:00 a.m., the pair crossed the border (“The border to New Mexico, I mean”), did the deed, and then went to find the woman’s partner to “borrow” painkillers. Eight stitches.

Lastly, mere hours before his Houston reading, he had a root canal. Houston was his fifth stop.

“And I’m still going,” he concluded, “Can you say ‘Entertainment Industry champ’?”

What I’m trying to convey with this story is that Sedaris is an insane son-of-a-bitch and asking him to draw a silly picture is pretty low on his absurdity scale.

Unlike other signings I’ve attended, Sedaris is a conversationalist, often asking questions, bantering. Other writers I’ve met merely scribble their name, say “thanks” and push you along. This is why his events carry into the early-a.m. as he refuses to leave until everyone’s had their book signed.

When it was our turn, K. and I saw he was trying to eat his dinner set in front of him. “How are you feeling right now?” K. asked, handing over her copy of Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk (2010). Before the night was over, he was probably asked that question no less than two thousand times.

David Sedaris Knife Art Drawing

The first in my spin-off website: Knives Drawn By People Who Draw Knives Unprovoked.

“Let’s see,” Sedaris mused, taking a bite of chicken. As he chews he lists everything he’s been through: “I have a hole in my face, eight stitches, and had a root canal today. I’m pretty fucked up.” While speaking, he draws in the book an outline of a knife, which he proceeds to color with the markers he keeps in a flannel pencil bag. Though doped up, he moves in spurts — tucking his arms into his body and poking around the bag. He reminds me of a hen pecking for seed.

“Did you really run off with a stranger to have them cut a tumor out of you?” I asked, incredulous that such a thing even happens.

He looked up from his drawing, nodded, and returned to his art, adding a drop of blood to the silver blade. As he does so, I’m awed by his presence. Of every professional writer I’ve met, Sedaris is no doubt the most entertaining. Though my instinct is to dismiss his demeanor as an act, as if he was playing the part of the character he writes about — nope: He really is the character. When he tells stories of odd exchanges he’s had at book signings, polls he’s conducted, and so on, he’s serious.

Finally, I asked him to draw a giraffe, making the standard pitch, while he patiently looked up with another piece of chicken in his mouth. Before I finished he reached out to grab my notebook (my diary) from my hand and flatten it in front of him. Holding his sharpie like a knife, he stabbed the page and drew lines so thick they bled through. Handing it back, he shoved another piece of chicken in his mouth as we moved along.

Before leaving, I turned to look back at the hundreds of people snaking up several flights stairs. They were just as excited as we were. No doubt they’d ask for wilder things than a giraffe drawing.

In that moment, I wondered which story he’ll tell next that begins here.

David Sedaris Giraffe DrawingHe was clearly on drugs.

Author David Mitchell

David Mitchell Drawing a Giraffe

Author David Mitchell illustrating his cosmology.

David Mitchell (Web | Twitter) is an English author of six books of fiction including the international bestseller Cloud Atlas (2004), which you may recall was made into a film starring Tom Hanks. Recently, our paths crossed when Mitchell was in Houston reading from his latest work, The Bone Clocks (2014). If you aren’t familiar with his work, both I and the literati highly recommend it.

Following his reading, Mitchell spoke with author Mat Johnson, observing that at age 45 he’s had an epiphany: He’s not a novelist but rather a novella-ist. As with Cloud AtlasThe Bones Clock is a series of novellas that reference and situate one another to tell a larger narrative – in this case, a woman’s life from birth to death. Even though “people don’t buy novellas,” he prefers the format as it allows him the privileges of the short story without carrying on past its “natural” conclusion. (I think we can all name a few works that, like some dying animal, resists the end).

When Johnson asked if he noticed certain themes or tropes appearing throughout his work, Mitchell answered that there were two: The first was predatory and the other miscommunication. As he identified instances of these in his work, he added that every author is merely a handful of archetypes. As these stem from the author’s experiences, this limitation is not a bad thing. All it means is that one has to keep finding novel ways to orient them – through new environments, characters, and so on.

After his reading I waited around to get him to sign my copy of Cloud Atlas — and that was when I made the ask. Even though the woman behind me (rudely) groaned and, under her breath, kept telling me to “hurry up,” Mitchell drew what I regard as The Little Prince fan-fiction. I present to you: The Planet of The Giraffe.

David Mitchell Awful GiraffeAs I said to him afterward, “If your writing career ever sours, I don’t think illustrating is an option.”

Author and Essayist Sarah Vowell

Author Sarah Vowell

Sarah Vowell (Wiki| Web) is an American essayist. She is the author of six books whose covers you definitely recognize, including The Partly Clouded Patriot (2003) and The Wordy Shipmates (2009). She’s a brilliantly talented writer and for many years was an editor for This American Life. Check out her TAL stories here.

This giraffe comes from Mr. Will Moore who met Vowell when, in spring 2013, she spoke at St. John’s College in St. Peter, MN. As he put it:

Sarah was hesitant, looking nervous and unsure the whole time, self-depricating in her normal fashion — but she went with it.

Sarah Vowell Giraffe

Science-Fiction Writer Kevin J. Anderson

Strange Man with author Kevin J. Anderson

Strange Man with author Kevin J. Anderson

Kevin J. Anderson (Web|Twitter) is the author of the only set of books I read in middle school: The Young Jedi Knights series. He’s also the co-author of, like, a thousand Dune books, and among his 40+ bestsellers he has over 23 million books in print. If you’re interested in science-fiction, you’ve probably read his work.

From my diary (May 28, 2014):

Over the course of the weekend [at Houston’s ComicPalooza] we saw a lot of the writer Kevin J. Anderson whose Young Jedi Knight series I gobbled up in Middle School. In our few exchanges I asked how he managed to be so prolific and he answered simply, “I’m always writing.” He then proceeded to tell me about how he dictated a chapter on his drive to the Denver airport, which he immediately sent out to be transcribed, and then spent the flight editing two other chapters. He says he averages 2-3 chapters a day. …

My biggest takeaway from my time with him came hen I inquired about his method. Before doing any writing he carefully outlines and summarizes each chapter. He compared his craft to architecture stating, “It’s like a blueprint. I’m not going to start putting up walls and a ceiling saying, ‘Oh, let’s see what happens.”

I suppose this is why I spend so much time digging parts of me out of the rubble.

Kevin J. Anderson's Awful Giraffe

This was actually dictated. And then edited on the spot. He averages 2-3 giraffes a day.

 

Ben Greenman's Pretty Awful Giraffe

Writer and Editor Ben Greenman

Ben Greeman (web; wiki) is a staff journalist whose writings have appeared in Rolling Stone, Mother Jones and The New Yorker (the last of which he actually serves on the staff of). Besides publishing several books of his own fiction he is the ghostwriter of both Gene Simmons and Simon Cowell’s memoirs. Lastly, he really really really wanted his giraffe posted and was willing to tolerate my general procrastination.

On May 9, 2011, during the great Golden Age of GDBPWSNBDG I received a pleasant surprise in my inbox shortly after I invited him to contribute via Twitter (because, like many reasonable people, he was confused by the blog’s thesis). He wrote,

Hi. I found your site and am now submitting a giraffe. I was going to
use pencil and paper, or chalk and chalkboard, or pen and ink and
paper, but instead i used a cheap program I have on my iPhone called
SimpleDraw. Let me know if it doesn’t pass muster or if there’s
something else you need me to do with it. Once I was in Africa,
because my brother used to work there, and I saw a real giraffe. It
was pretty impressive and bizarre. They probably look at us and think
the same thing, that we have impossibly short necks and completely
un-alien ears and eyes.

He’s an artist, I thought, aware of the Conceptual Art Registry he invented to license out conceptual art pieces to young artists, and he’s breaking the mold! Revolutionary!

And then I saw it.

Ok.

Of course I know very little about art and, without judging, move forward with every intent to post it. Tomorrow.

Next thing I know it’s August 29, 2011, and as I sift through my email I realize something must have slipped my mind.

HI — just wanted to see if you ever posted this giraffe…

It’s really the ellipses that cause the guilt to flow over me. Feeling terribly rude, I try my best to make amends:

Hey Ben,

I would like to begin by apologizing for the four month delay in posting your giraffe. Though in my defense, like a fine wine such work knows only how to age with the utmost grace and beauty – why settle for a $3 bottle of Tisdale when one can have something that I, being an impoverished college student, cannot even name? Upon reviewing your piece again I can see that the experts do not lie: magnificent!
Being in charge of this blog I kind of feel like it’s expected of me even if the humor is stale, stilted and just generally lame. But I try not to be too self-conscious of it and accept it for what it is – it’s just the opener: the beginning foreplay to a great consummation of comedy, if you will.
But in all seriousness: my bad. Most of the summer saw me whisked away and lately I’ve found myself busy with both school and working with a group to plan a conference around Richard Dawkins, which will be taking place in a small, white Lutheran town and thus will likely inflame the region. (Throwing shit at the fan actually requires a fair amount of planning, oddly enough). Unfortunately, this means I’ve had to slow down a bit with the website. Regardless, I’ll make sure your giraffe gets up very soon.
See? I’m not that big of a procrastinator; I have an excuse.
Is there anything else you would like to say about your contribution? Right now I expect I’ll just be writing up a brief blurb about who you are, what you do and include parts of this brief email exchange for humorous effect (hopefully; if that’s all right with you). I should also inform you that this is published in our campus newspaper and if The New Yorker wants to get in on this now is the time.
Josh
Another joke! Ha! A real knee slapper. Clearly I’m forcing myself to be silly since I’ve already explained that I’ll include our email exchange as part of the article and since it’s a humor site surely he’s going to say something equally silly and zany. Jest, Ben, jest with me! Together let us dance like monkeys for the masses!
cool.
here’s what I have to say about my contribution:I have a friend who recently had a baby. I want this crappy giraffe I draw to take over the world so that he and ever other baby thinks this is what giraffes really look like. That’s not too much to ask, is it?
Today is September 23, 2011, and Ben writes:
did the giraffe ever run?
Writer and Comedian Paul Provenzas Pretty Awful Giraffe 4 22 11

Comedian and Filmmaker Paul Provenza

Paul Provenza is a comedian, filmmaker and writer perhaps best known for his long list of acting roles and 2005 documentary The Aristocrats, which is about the infamous joke of the same name. For those who may be not familiar with it,

Comedian and Filmmaker Paul Provenza

“The Aristocrats” is a longstanding transgressive joke amongst comedians, in which the setup and punchline are almost always the same (or similar). It is the joke’s midsection – which may be as long as the one telling it prefers and is often completely improvised – that makes or breaks a particular rendition [Wikipedia].

For those in the audience comfortable with vulgarity in its many films, it’s something that I would recommend; for the queasy, you should probably refrain. Here’s the trailer [SFW]:

So following my traumatic experience with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder, I have actually become a little nervous when soliciting giraffes (and yes, I am not blind to the irony of this). Thus I have been working to develop new approaches that will (hopefully) make me feel like less of a tool in my quest to Catch ‘Em All. Obviously it’s a work in progress, but my experience with Provenza may have led me on to the slyest approach yet ….

One of the guests at the 2011 America Atheists Convention, Provenza did a brief reading from his book ¡Satiristas! (2010). Catching him as he was leaving the room, I pulled him aside to ask a few questions about his work (his documentary was a Holy Grail of Naughty in my neighborhood). Slowly edging himself away to make a book signing, I seized the opportunity and asked him if I could have his autograph. Happy to do so, he wrote a nice note (“Fight the Imaginary Power!”) punctuated with what I can only assume to be his name. While he still had the pen in hand, I decided to strike:

“… And draw me a giraffe?”

He looked up from the paper, “what?”

“A giraffe. It’s for the internet.”

He just looked at me. What else was there to say?

I’ve never tried to do the Aristocrats joke myself, but I’m sure it would go something like this: “A family of giraffes walk into a talent agency hoping to be a part of the best agency in the country, capable of scheduling a meeting without much delay (they’re fucking giraffes i.e. hard to miss) one agent asks to see their act … [UPON REFLECTION – DELETED] … And that’s why this giraffe’s neck hurts.”