“When you hit a wall, just kick it in.”
A friend recently found out I never read Just Kids.
Three days later a copy arrived in the mail, Patti Smith’s 2010 memoir about her long relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. I started it Sunday morning. I was two-thirds done by Sunday afternoon.
It’s almost exceedingly romantic about the lives of artists and the artist’s life, to a point of seeming almost mawkish. She visits Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris. She visits Arthur Rimbaud’s grave in Charleville-Mézières. It’s the kind of book I would’ve loved in my teens, and despised in my twenties and thirties. Apparently, it’s also the sort of book I love in my forties.
In younger years, working hard to be an artist, I found descriptions of “the artist’s life” pretty sickly. After all, romance isn’t love, talking about art isn’t art. I thought of it as the stuff that appealed to people who didn’t make art so much as dream about it, sentimental and dazy-fantasy, the equivalent of wearing a beret to the theater. It definitely felt divorced from the material world I knew: credit card debt, rejection notices, more rejection notices, and long hours of things not working out. Also, how to be an adult, a married person, an anxious person. And do all of that without resorting to drug addiction.
Trying to create a life as an artist, I was more interested in the lives of scientists and mountain climbers. Though if I’d run into this line, from Smith’s book, it probably would’ve snuck through the shell: “Everything distracted me, but most of all myself.”
I finished Just Kids Wednesday night. “There’s a vibration in the air, a sense of hastening.” I read that and thought, I know that feeling. “I had no proof that I had the stuff to be an artist, though I hungered to be one.” Man, I remember that feeling and I know it still. Maybe it’s a post-pandemic thing, a shift in vibe, in context, but I’m all in for romantic thinking now. Just what a lovely book. I closed it and felt like I could envision Smith at a rally, making the case from a podium, and outside the auditorium would be a folding table of bumper stickers for sale: Vote for embroidery. Vote for drag queens. Marshall your energies for deviance, for rejection of buy, buy, buy.
From the book:
“We were walking toward the fountain, the epicenter of activity, when an older couple stopped and openly observed us. Robert enjoyed being noticed, and he affectionately squeezed my hand. “Oh, take their picture,” said the woman to her bemused husband, “I think they're artists.” “Oh, go on,” he shrugged. “They're just kids.”
Vote for the kids.
In memory of Sarah Clark Miller
Housekeeping: I’m taking next weekend off for a bit of travel and mind-clearance. Many good summer wishes to everybody.
Also, as mentioned last week, my latest book, Everything Now, just came out in paperback, and I recently received a bunch of author copies in the mail. The book’s been back on the bestseller lists, which is mind-blowing. If you want one, there are still a couple left, just reply to this newsletter or email me through my site. For $20/copy, I’ll sign and ship to whomever you like, presuming it’s a U.S. address (foreign costs a bit more.)
Thank you, everyone, for all of the support. It is tremendous.
In tomorrow’s supplement: An embrace of romanticism through some wild stories from a Hollywood motel; John Ashbery’s favorite objects around the house; and some favorite music and travel finds to prep for a trip.
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What the what
Meditations in an Emergency is published Saturdays by novelist Rosecrans Baldwin, about things he finds beautiful, with a longer piece once a month for paying subscribers, written in the woods.
Also for paying subscribers, a Sunday supplement, three weeks a month, with three-plus ideas of things to love, no paid placements 💀
Rosecrans is the author most recently of Everything Now: Lessons From the City-State of Los Angeles, winner of the 2022 California Book Award, now available in paperback from Bookshop, Bezos Farms, or (preferably) your local store. Other books include The Last Kid Left and Paris, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down. His debut novel, You Lost Me There, was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice.
Books mentioned in this newsletter are featured on a Bookshop list.