Now: October 2020

It’s Not Perfect, But It’s What We’ve Got

I’ve been spared most of 2020’s calamities and complexities. My health is fine; nerves are intact as there are no shut-in children to tolerate and educate. Work continues, and the leap to remote work was mundane. Eight hours at a laptop screen is the same, whether it is at the office or at home. It’s difficult, but not hard. There are people out there doing really hard stuff right now.

I shook up a few things for myself: my living room is now my bedroom and the bedroom is now an office. Surprise! I actually like this new layout. There’s something hotel-suite chic about it. It is the sensation of change, and I will take it gladly.

Winter will bring a new challenge. I am making plans. My flu shot is scheduled. I have splurged on new slippers. There are a few weeks worth of shelf-stable, carbohydrate-rich comfort food that will be deployed in emotional emergencies. I stopped baking a solitary cookie for myself each night. The cookie was initially meant to be a reward for making it through another day of lockdown. It was delightful in April; by June it was just too sad.

Italian prepper story: I have zeroed in on my preferred canned tomato. Nothing surprising—Bianco is my froufrou choice, Centro is my preferred Italian import, Muir Glen whole, peeled for the standard grocery store option. Any tomato canned with a whole basil leaf gets a wink and a nod from me. I may buy some flour to try making pasta at home. I hope to be an honorary Nonna by April 2021.

I made two rules for this pandemic. First: you can eat as much as you want if you make it from scratch. This rule has been key to enjoying all the focaccia I’ve baked in the last 4 months. My metabolism, frustratingly, did not get the memo. Work from home’s looser schedule is nice, though: you can get the first rise on a dough or start up a stock at 1pm on a Tuesday because you’re not going anywhere any way.

I may need to buy another pair of cold weather tights. Long walks have been my anxiety vent since May, and my optimistic delusion is that I will still be up for these walks in December and January with the right gear. The other pandemic year rule is “sleep as much as you want.” Eight weeks of sleep is my backup plan if the tights don’t work out.

The Big Apple

I drew an apple. I liked it. I posted it on Instagram, a regrettable place, because that’s where pictures go now. It looks like this:

My apologies to Enzo Mari, who is probably howling, “Ladro!” from his grave. I also made some dumb mockups. The big apple should always be the biggest big it can be.

It’s so interesting that we designers are all using these mockup templates to sell work through. Big agencies do it. Individual practices (like me) use the same files. Yet nothing ever gets physically produced. The work stays digital, but we need the mystique of physical production to get the kind of alignment necessary for clients to say yes. Nobody ever fell in love with a logo by seeing it mocked up in an email signature. We still emotionally favor the material world even if our branding strategies and marketing budgets shit-canned it ages ago. I spent $12 on a jet ski Photoshop template to use in a logo presentation. I don’t remember if it helped.

Here is the apple on a drum kit and a shoe. These are good places for logos.

Another part of the apple is related to my home, New York City. Covid hit us hard in the spring. We didn’t learn from Europe and delayed taking precautions. And the rest of America did not learn from us, and many places took no precautions. Shameful. People died, and are still. New York City’s quarantine started in late March, and by mid-May, we were past peak. The city’s residents responded admirably (mostly) and we were able to enjoy a few months of hard-earned, awkward safety this summer and fall. Winter will bring new challenges.

Some fled the city in the spring as things were getting bad. No judgement from me—people do what they need to do. But I can judge the media cycle that speculated about how New York was dying and urban density was a thing of the past because of Covid. What a turgid, sorry, prolapsed fart sound of an opinion. It is exhausting when every occurence is spun into a bellweather of society’s doom by some chucklefuck, especially when there are so many immediate emergencies that require attention, and the subject of said chucklefuck’s musing is your home. There have been several moments over the last year where I’ve wanted to interrupt an opinion writer or, ahem, “thought leader” mid-diatribe and scream, “Don’t you know people live here?!”

New York is not some abstract idea to position in your eggheaded Medium post prophecies—it is home to millions of us. (More people live in New York City than in 40 of the 50 states.) I love my weird, conflicted, difficult, little island of immigrants off the coast of America. So does everyone who stayed, and all those who left but kept a constant eye on when it’d be safe for them to return. My great grandparents washed up on Ellis Island from the fascist backlands of Italy, and while the financial odds are against me being buried in New York, I know that if I leave, I will be leaving home.

Life in New York is hobbled right now. But so’s the whole damn world. I got sick of small people pecking away at my home, just to score clicks from other smug assholes trying to predict how the world will turn out on the other side of catastrophe. I wanted to make the apple bigger. The big apple is a foolish idea, but it has spirit. If I could, I’d put this dumb thing on every billboard in an empty Times Square. Let’s make a float for the Thanksgiving Day parade. We will blow it up so big it won’t fit down Sixth Avenue.

Reading and Watching

The late summer/fall has me re-reading all of James Baldwin’s fiction. One is always struck by Baldwin’s ferocious intelligence, but I love how his fiction exposes the depth of his tenderness. I’ve finished everything but his last novel, Just Above My Head. My recommendation, if you’re interested, is to start with his classics: Giovanni’s Room, Go Tell It on the Mountain, and the short story Sonny’s Blues (my new favorite of his on re-read).

Speaking of short stories, another new favorite is A Portrait of Shunkin by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, ranking up there with some of my favorite short fiction from Chekhov (A Joke), George Saunders (Victory Lap), and Grace Paley (Wants). Tanizaki uses this lovely, second-hand heresay tone which infuses the story with mystery and a creepy wistfulness that seems especially Japanese. If you’re looking for more, I also loved Tanizaki’s The Makioka Sisters. You can think of it as a Japanese Downton Abbey (charting the decline of an upper-class family struggling to adapt during a period of rapid modernization and a looming world war) by way of a Yasujirō Ozu film (subtle intrafamily conflict amid arranging a marriage for a reluctant and aging daughter). It’s a really beautiful novel, and I’m looking forward to reading more of Tanizaki’s work.

Very much on the other side of the entertainment spectrum, I am watching Jackie Chan again. The Criterion Channel created a nice collection of his early Hong Kong films, including my favorite, Police Story. These are the antedote to the bombastic Marvel films that have saturated modern action cinema. Jackie is lithe, skilled, and damn, fun! I forgot action films can be fun! Jackie Chan, saint of cinema, on the Mount Rushmore of physical comedy with Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. God bless him.

Two weeks until Election Day in the US. Everyone is holding their breath. I’ve mailed my ballot.

Frank Chimero illustrated portrait

Frank Chimero is a designer and writer based in New York City. For the past 15 years, he’s worked at his tiny design studio, Frank, with a few years away to co-found Abstract.

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