Greetings from above the Pacific Ocean! I’m on my way to Hong Kong to visit the factory where the Machine of Death games are being produced. I’m very excited to visit a new continent…see many new things…experience a new culture…But so far I have seen the inside of an airplane. For a really long time.
This does, however, remind me of one of my favorite things ever: Nina Katchadourian’s photo series “Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style”:
While in the lavatory on a domestic flight in March 2010, I spontaneously put a tissue paper toilet cover seat cover over my head and took a picture in the mirror using my cellphone. The image evoked 15th-century Flemish portraiture. I decided to add more images made in this mode and planned to take advantage of a long-haul flight from San Francisco to Auckland, guessing that there were likely to be long periods of time when no one was using the lavatory on the 14-hour flight. I made several forays to the bathroom from my aisle seat, and by the time we landed I had a large group of new photographs entitled Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style.
I cannot express how much I love these pictures. Here’s the full gallery.
I also think it’s interesting to explore what makes them so great (in my opinion):
• It’s a funny concept at heart
• It’s well-executed — the limitations (cell phone camera, bad lighting) are part of the charm, and in fact, contribute to the aesthetic. They are germane to the central idea.
• It’s a novel concept. I don’t know if anyone did this before Ms. Katchadourian, but even if they had, I think it’s fair to assume that her unique body of experience, throughout the course of her life leading up to this moment, led her to have this idea in a way that nobody else in the world did.
I think that, as a concept, is really interesting. I talked about this and related topics in podcast interview with Glenn Fleishman for his show The New Disruptors. You can listen to it here.
I think this it was a pretty good interview — it goes into a lot of detail about my background and education and things I did before I got into comics (if you’re interested in that). I don’t know that I have a lot of Big. Profound. Ideas. about art or entrepreneurship or the Internet or whatever, but I do have anecdotal evidence just from doing this for a decade now, and I do have guiding principles that have become so simply by being consistent elements in the things I end up finding myself doing. I guess I’ve backed into having a set of principles by holding up all the things I do anyway and seeing where they overlap. That, I suppose, is the core stuff I believe in.
One example is the idea that everyone, every single person, has a unique suite of skills and experiences. We’ve all had different jobs, different types of education, different upbringing, different interests, different media consumption. You and I may overlap in some of those areas, but not in all.
So you will naturally be led to do certain types of things. Your skills will alchemize in ways unique to you. You are thus qualified to do certain things — new things, unique things — that other people are not.
Similarly, you may have trouble trying to do exactly what someone else is doing…because their experiences, the variables they plugged into the equation of life, produced a certain answer, and your variables may be different.
I find this is a helpful way to think when I look at my friends and colleagues, or people I admire, and marvel at something they do well. I’m blessed to have a lot of talented, funny friends, and sometimes I wish I could do some of the things that they do — and sometimes I try, and I stretch myself, and I experiment. Which is great.
But I also find myself drawn, enthusiastically, magnetically, to the things that only I could come up with. And those are the things I will execute best, because they are made for my set of skills. This is not a coincidence: I only even considered them, invented them, conceived of them, realized they were possible, because that thing clicks in my head. I have built, over the course of my life, a receptor for that specific idea to land in. We are all radio dials, and over time, we learn to tune into the stations, the ideas, that are transmitting to us specifically.
We can try to tune in other stations too — by imitating other people, who are doing things suited to their set of experiences — but those signals may not come in as clearly, and the result will have less fidelity. I’d never, ever have thought of Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style, but I’m super glad that Ms. Katchadourian did, because I got to see it, and got to add “seeing that” to my own set of experiences. It will jumble together with my experience in Hong Kong and my experience making a game and my experience doing comics and my experience writing this post, and something new may come of it all, later.
When it does, it will be a thing of my own, just as your things will be things of your own, speaking specifically to you. And we will share them with one another, weaving a web of our creations back and forth, and in this way, we will break down and rebuild and create that ghostly thing called “culture.”