When laid out this way, it would appear that the art of the sample, in the mind of Q-Tip, was science. He began by laying out pause tapes in his home until 1989, when he had the opportunity to be present for the recording of De La Soul’s iconic album Three Feet High and Rising. It was in those moments when he was shown around the studio by the in-house recording engineers and afterward was allowed to tinker with all the sampling devices. Seeing his potential and interest, the rapper and producer Large Professor taught him how to use other studio equipment to most effectively hone his sound. Not all young producers have a group of welcoming mentors like Q-Tip had, but not all young producers were as uniquely skilled from their teenage years as Q-tip was, and not all were as willing as Q-Tip to “dig deep in the crates” to search for sounds. Q-Tip was, in many ways, an extension of rap’s early DJs, chipping away at a massive block of music and peeling off only what he needed.
Paglia: Like a medieval monk, I laboriously copied out passages that I admired from books and articles — I filled notebooks like that in college. And I made word lists to study later. Old-style bound dictionaries contained intricate etymologies that proved crucial to my mastery of English, one of the world’s richest languages.
I feel that the basis of my work is not only the care I take with writing, with my quality controls, my prose, but also my observation. It’s 24/7. I’m always observing. I don’t sit in a university. I never go to conferences. That is a terrible mistake. A conference is like overlaying the same insular ideology on top of it. I am always listening to conversations at the shopping mall.
COWEN: My last question before they get to ask you, but I know there are many people in this audience, or at least some, who are considering some kind of life or career in the world of ideas. If you were to offer them a piece of advice based on your years struggling with the infrastructure, and the number of chairs, and whatever else, what would that be?
PAGLIA: Get a job. Have a job. Again, that’s the real job. Every time you have frustrations with the real job, you say, “This is good.” This is good, because this is reality. This is reality as everybody lives it. This thing of withdrawing from the world to be a writer, I think, is a terrible mistake.
Number one thing is constantly observing. My whole life, I’m constantly jotting things down. Constantly. Just jot, jot, jot, jot. I’ll have an idea. I’m cooking, and I have an idea, “Whoa, whoa.” I have a lot of pieces of paper with tomato sauce on them or whatever. I transfer these to cards or I transfer them to notes.
I’m just constantly open. Everything’s on all the time. I never say, “This is important. This is not important.” That’s why I got into popular culture at a time when popular culture was — .
In fact, there’s absolutely no doubt that at Yale Graduate School, I lost huge credibility with the professors because of my endorsement of not only film but Hollywood. When Hollywood was considered crass entertainment and so on. Now, the media studies came in very strongly after that, although highly theoretical. Not the way I teach media studies.
I also believe in following your own instincts and intuition, like there’s something meaningful here. You don’t know what it is, but you just keep it on the back burner. That’s basically how I work is this, the constant observation. Also, I try to tell my students, they never get the message really, but what I try to say to them is nothing is boring. Nothing is boring. If you’re bored, you’re boring.
Another Christmas window story. Almost every morning, I eat breakfast in the same diner, and this morning a man was painting the windows with Christmas designs. Snowmen. Snowflakes. Bells. Santa Claus. He stood outside on the sidewalk, painting in the freezing cold, his breath steaming, alternating brushes and rollers with different colors of paint. Inside the diner, the customers and servers watched as he layered red and white and blue paint on the outside of the big windows. Behind him the rain changed to snow, falling sideways in the wind.
The painter’s hair was all different colors of gray, and his face was slack and wrinkled as the empty ass of his jeans. Between colors, he’d stop to drink something out of a paper cup.
Watching him from inside, eating eggs and toast, somebody said it was sad. This customer said the man was probably a failed artist. It was probably whiskey in the cup. He probably had a studio full of failed paintings and now made his living decorating cheesy restaurant and grocery store windows. Just sad, sad, sad.
This painter guy kept putting up the colors. All the white “snow,” first. Then some fields of red and green. Then some black outlines that made the color shapes into Xmas stockings and trees.
A server walked around, pouring coffee for people, and said, “That’s so neat. I wish I could do that…”
And whether we envied or pitied this guy in the cold, he kept painting. Adding details and layers of color. And I’m not sure when it happened, but at some moment he wasn’t there. The pictures themselves were so rich, they filled the windows so well, the colors so bright, that the painter had left. Whether he was a failure or a hero. He’d disappeared, gone off to wherever, and all we were seeing was his work.
For homework, ask your family and friends what you were like as a child. Better yet, ask them what they were like as children. Then, just listen.
Merry Christmas, and thank you for reading my work.
The night is like warm velvet around them. The stars, burning diamond in the cloudless sky, turn the road beneath their feet a silver grey. The University and Imre are the hearts of understanding and art, the strongest of the four corners of civilization. Here on the road between the two there is nothing but old trees and long grass bending to the wind. The night is perfect in a wild way, almost terrifyingly beautiful.
The three boys, one dark, one light, and one-for lack of a better word-fiery, do not notice the night. Perhaps some part of them does, but they are young and drunk, and busy knowing deep in their hearts that they will ever grow old or die. They also know that they are friends, and they share a certain love that will never leave them. The boys know many other things, but none of them seem as important as this. Perhaps they are right.
A comic tends to be a small enough, personal enough, medium that a creator can just make art, tell stories, and see if anyone wants to read them. Not having to be liked is enormously liberating. The comic is, joyfully, a bastard medium that has borrowed its vocabulary and ideas from literature, science fiction, poetry, fine art, diaries, film, and illustration. It would be nice to think that comics, and those of us who come from a comics background, bring something special to film. An insouciance, perhaps, or a willingness to do our learning and experimenting in public.
I start with very short pieces, usually no more than a handwritten page. I try to focus on something specific: a person, a moment, a place. I do what I ask my students to do when I teach creative writing. I explain to them that such fragments are the first steps to take before constructing a story. I think a writer should observe the real world before imagining a nonexistent one.
Sheila’s original ambition was to become a playwright. She started writing stories after being kicked out/quitting theater school.
To master the writing process, Sheila would sit and write 6 or 7 stories in a row, as fast as she could type. Her thought was if she wrote hundreds of stories, then 20 or 30 would be good, exactly how they were written.
Sheila is all about lists.
She’d write down lists of titles of all the fables she could find. For the title of her first book, she wrote down hundres of titles to generate ideas.
She’d also sketch out book covers with the titles in them, to help visualize the finished book.
I have to work harder than any other writer in the world. I just wanted so badly to figure this out. To figure out how to write.