George Cochrane

Like a Creative Octopus, with a Few Fewer Arms

Very Old Slang

I’ve just spent at least an hour flipping through this fabulous old book (offered for free by The Slang Dictionary - Etymological, Historical, and Anecdotal (London, 1913) touches on the patois employed by various classes of ruffians, outlaws, and untouchables in British history. It bears such useful, forgotten terms as:

Gullynuff: The waste coagulated dust, crumbs, and hair which accumulates imperceptibly in the pockets of schoolboys.

Rhinoceral: Rich, wealthy, abounding in RHINO. At first sound it would seem as though it meant a man abounding in rhinoceroses.

Horse Chaunter: A dealer who takes worthless horses to country fairs and disposes of them by artifice. He is generally an unprincipled fellow, and will put in a glass eye, fill a beast with shot, plug him with ginger, or in fact do anything so that he sells to advantage. See COPER.

If you find this sort of thing as fascinating as I do, I apologize in advance for the consumption of your evening.

Working Off-Medium as a Visit to Other Selves

I come from a family of artists. I don't mean an "artsy" family— I mean, my dad, my mom, and both siblings were artists. Very talented artists. For years, I filled sketchbooks with ill-executed doodles. I drew musclebound action heroes with giant guns, and 80's-futuristic sports cars drawn in 3/4 view, which my lack of knowledge of perspective turned into formless, shiny blobs.

All my life, until I turned 14, I thought I'd been handed the inopportune end of the family talent stick. At 14, I picked up my first musical instrument— a Hohner PJ bass guitar. I'd found my first calling, and I've been at it ever since. Look at the smile on this kid:

The fact that I found something creative to be good at didn't totally quell the sting I felt from my profound lack of visual art skills. I remain resolute in my commitment to eventually developing the latent visual arts genius that is my birthright. OK, not really, but DO often wonder how my life would be different if I'd started spitting out visceral, kaleidoscopic canvases, instead of albums.

When I was 18, and had already been a musician for a few solid years, I was following my dad around the local art supply store as he picked up supplies. A set of brightly-colored watercolor crayons caught my eye, and penniless though that I was, I managed to get a set, along with a watercolor sketchbook with a black, crinkly cover. I got these new tools home, sat down with a little dish of water, and started mucking around.

I laid down some dark lines of crayon and began pushing the color around the page with wet fingers. I really took to the feeling. I was left with some sort of psychedelic octopus-like blob. I loved the little traces of color I could see, where faint amounts of paint had lingered on my fingers as I moved them across the thick, toothy paper. I wanted to accentuate them.

I took an india ink pen and began to draw outlines around the colorful forms. The generous, even lines seemed to make something more tangible out of these semi-random smooshings. I was very much in love with this process. I repeated it regularly over the course of a week, filling up the sketchbook. Then, all of a sudden my super-compressed teen attention span tripped closed, I put the crayons and the nice black watercolor book in the closet and forgot about them. I lost them in the bustle when I moved away from home, and I remember feeling a little pang of missed opportunity.

Since then, every 5-7 years, I find myself walking through an art supply store, and I buy another set of Caran D'Ache crayons and another watercolor book. I knock out a few ephemeral abstracts, and then my super-compressed adult attention span slams shut, I shelve the tools, and I tend to move soon after, and again lose the tools in the hustle and bustle of a quick city move.

Recently, I felt drawn to doing this again. My first sketch looked like this:

Now, I hold no pretense that this is good art, or even art at all, but there is something about the process of taking these tools and doing this thing seems to scratch some sort of periodic itch for me. I tend to think that what this action satisfies is a need to explore my mind from alternative angles in times of stress and transition. When I'm facing flux and not feeling so tough, what I want is proof that there's more to me than what I perceive— that I have an ally in myself that exists below the surface of the person that I walk around as every day.

When I buy this little art kit and I smoosh the colors around, I'm doing something wholly disconnected from my normal processes, and something with a reverently uncomfortable history for me. There is no screen, there are no notes, and no words, only tenuously held alien tools, and instinctual movements. I feel a tie form, fleetingly, between all the mileposts of my life as I do this, nonverbally and without thought. I smoosh and outline, smoosh and outline, and I'm always surprised with the outcome, like a bowl of tea leaves I can almost read.

GC in Cool Tools, Professing Love for Kiwi Knives

Kevin Kelly's outstanding gadget blog Cool Tools has published another of my reviews! SCORE! I love those guys. As I got more serious about cooking, I splurged and bought myself a very nice Kai Shun santoku  - like the Tosagata Hocho, previously reviewed on Cool Tools. I used its preternaturally sharp edge with joyous dispatch for about 6 months, until I woefully cut some citrus with it and left it dirty overnight, eroding that wonderful edge. I've never been able to get that magic edge back, even with pro sharpening.

On a visit to a local Asian market, I found a series of Thai-made Kiwi brand knives. In the store, they were nearly free: The large tapered chef's knife (model #21) that soon stole my heart cost around $4, and the paring knife was $1.50.

These knives are very sharp and schuss through veggies and meats like it's nothing. Don't go hacking at bones with the thinner models, but Kiwi also makes quite usable cleavers (for around $8). The miraculous part is, the knives hold an incredible edge for months with proper use of your steel, and they take a new edge with aplomb after a few strokes on a stone.

I have owned knives by Wusthof, Kyocera, Calphalon, and Ikea (shudder) and the Kiwis are the most consistently sharp, most durable, and have the most effective shapes. I've bought or suggested them for all of my foodie friends, and people can't get over how wonderful they are. They don't look like much, but they're well-balanced, very sharp. It doesn't hurt that I could have picked up a full set for less than my crappy block-o-food-manglers cost 10 years ago.

As far as longevity goes, I've had my main chef's knife for about four years, have steeled it every time I used it and given it a few good hones on my Spyderco Sharpmaker. It's still wicked sharp, and while I haven't babied it, it looks none the worse for wear. I used my paring knife to whack the lid off a persnickety glued-shut can of Lyle's Golden Syrup, and in my zeal, the tip bent over almost double. I thought, Oh no! but then I bent it back in place with a pair of pliers, and it's basically good as new.

They're definitely the Jeep Wranglers of the kitchen. I suggest buying them locally if you live in an area with Asian markets; if not, they can be picked up online at generally higher prices.

Kiwi Knives $2– $15

Available from The Wok Shop

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

These are a few of the things I use the most. They represent the current optimum, each one sitting (perhaps uneasily) on top of a metaphorical stack of tools much like it, having bested the previous iteration through some feat of function, form, feel, or all three. Here goes: #1 - Topre Realforce keyboard This 'board feels so, so, damn nice to type on. Each key's press-force is graded to fit the relative strength of the finger that will hit it, so touch typing on it is like typing on a nicely tactile cloud. It's super-solid, stays put on the table, and is missing the vexing numeric keypad, so you can move your pointing device, and the central alphanumeric area of the keyboard, closer to the center of your workspace. This pays surprising dividends in comfort, especially if you type all day, like I do. The satisfying clack-clack-clack of its keys makes me look for excuses (like writing) to type. *Notice* This thing is stupidly expensive, so I bought mine used and cheap. There are others like it, such as the Filco Tenkeyless, that are far less egregiously priced.

#2 - Logitech Marble Mouse trackball I've written about this puppy before, but I've got to give it further props. All other mousing devices feel so clunky and horrible to me now, that I've been forced to buy one for home, work, and studio. At $15-17, you might find you can afford to do so, too. Smooth mousing, ergo hand placement, little maintenance. Lovely.

#3 - Belkin Flip KVM switch (this is just the remote, of course) The Flip is one of the cheapest and most basic KVM (keyboard/video/mouse) switchers around. It, like all KVMs, allows you to use one keyboard, mouse, and monitor to control more than one machine, switchable on the fly. Particularly nice is its ability to auto-route audio from each computer to your speakers or headphones as you switch. Also, it's got a natty little remote button, freeing you from having to assign a keystroke to switch machines- nice when using software that grabs most of the keyboard.  The remote is also rather satisfying to smash with a frustrated fist when a box crashes.

#4 - Laken Classic Bottle Simply put, it's a really, really solid aluminum water bottle with a BPA-free, thick coating inside and an opening large enough for ice. It never adds a taste to water, it takes a beating, and I love the textured finish of this model. It's like a Sigg on juice.

#5 - Composition Book I've touched on these before, too, but they still rule. Like a poor man's (very poor man's) Moleskine, only larger, a good Composition Book is a fine place to jot ideas, keep your tasks on task, and, especially, take notes at meetings. Screw a laptop. Relish in the eye contact. Each one I fill becomes a nice, encapsulated document of a bracketed period of my work- and they'll certainly burn longer than a Moleskine if you fall on hard times.

#6 - Adolfo Dominguez sling bag It's doubtful you'll find this particular bag. It was a lucky find in a Barcelona boutique last year. It goes virtually everywhere with me. It sits on my back while I bike to work, carrying lunch, a book, and everything else- work badge, pens, a comp book, a snack, phone charger, pepper spray (my neighborhood can get a little hectic), earbuds, the Laken bottle, BART tickets, keys to my studio, and so on. It also fits a MacBook just so. Say what you will about man-purses, messenger bags, and such. I don't know how the hell I'd get along without one. Modern life demands too much crap not to employ a little help.

Not called out:

Sanford Onyx pen - Great ink, smooth writing, and a solid, sure line. For some reason, I appreciate that they're made in Japan. Textured Clear Glass Marble (fished out of a Ramune drink bottle) - Something nice to roll around the desk.

The Littlest Gadget Review: CountyComm Cable Keyring

The awesome folks at Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools blog have published another of my gadget reviews. It may not look like much, but this keyring FINALLY solves one of life's most vexing problems- How to carry a bunch of keys comfortably and without screwing up the lines of your high-zoot jeans. CT's editor slimmed my review down somewhat to fit it in with another keyring review.  Here's my original version, with a little more personal context and filigree. A&P Mechanic's Cable Key Ring

I ride a bike, drive a car, live in an apartment complex, and work in two offices, so I carry a ton of keys. I've tried standard metal key rings in a few sizes and mini-carabiners of various types, and they all have problems. Some are too big, some are too heavy, some are hard to add and subtract items from, and all of them are rigid. This rigidity means that all those keys end up sticking out like a swiss army knife, creating an unsightly, uncomfortable bulge in the pants pocket.

This key ring, made of strong stainless steel cable with a screw ferrule closure, solves all of these issues. It's very light, the screw-apart nature makes adding new keys a snap, and the give in the cable allows each key to flex in place a bit when under tension, finally winning the battle of the (pocket) bulge. That flexibility also makes it easier to get out of a tight or overfull pocket- just hook your finger on the wire, pull, and out it comes. The fact that it's both handsome and "nearly free" doesn't hurt, either.

I've always had a pipe dream to create the perfect lay-flat solution for key-laden obsessives like me. Now I'm happy to lay that dream to rest.

Available here (so long as you grab another couple of inexpensive things to make the shipping a good deal.

Digging: The Importance of Creative Throughput

If you asked a group of people who know me what my average week was like, they'd probably list:

40+ hours at the writing job 25+ hours at the recording studio Up to 20 hours on other creative projects A couple of nights of going out An afternoon or two in the sun (or rain) Lots of cooking

This schedule doesn't afford me the kind of hit-the-bars-every-night-with-friends luxuries that I sometimes wish I had time for. It makes spontaneity in things such as travel, concerts, and even dinner a challenge, both because there is often something scheduled in the way, or simply due to the overarching feeling that there must be something scheduled in the way, and if it's not on the schedule, I must have forgotten.

What it does afford me is a LOT of creative throughput. Most days from 9:30am to midnight or later, I'm working on *something*. Some days the work is really engaging, some days it can be boring and pedestrian, but it keeps the habit of always pushing out ideas, always thinking and creating and shaping, in motion.

I've previously mentioned Anne Lamont's Bird By Bird, a book on writing and creating in general that I've found inspiring lately. There's a section in there that talks about the cruciality of writing "Shi**y first drafts". Everyone's scared to put pen to paper, because what if it sucks? Well, she poses that it has to. If you write 6 pages of trash but find a glimmer of something you love in a paragraph on page 4, then you've got things started. You've got the seed of something good, and you wouldn't have created it if you hadn't given yourself the chance to start up the ol' motor and get creating. The crappy stuff that acted as a ramp to the good? Toss it without guilt. It was a tool, and nobody ever had to see it.

Creativity seems to be seen as some intangible thing that some people have, and others don't. Genetic, finite, something that is born, not made. I've had many friends tell me "I'm not creative like that", and been compelled to shoot sparks out of my nose and drone in monotone "DOES NOT COMPUTE". The difference between you, the "not-creative" and people who seem to always have something new springing forth from them? They do their thing. It might be painful, especially at first. It might be frustrating. You might throw out the first 20 things you make, hate them, hate yourself, and curse the day anybody encouraged you to try.

But at least you're starting. Part of my creative life is really structured (the writing job). There are defined tasks and requirements, deadlines and peer reviews. This, as it turns out, is a big boon. My productivity has gained in leaps and bounds, and my tendency to surround ideas in wreaths of ungainly decoration has been tempered, somewhat. Conversely, in my music life, while I keep a weekly schedule and often have tasks to complete, there are few guidelines for what, exactly, I need to be creating.

My best music happens when I don't think- when caution is thrown to the wind and the whirlwind starts and I feel like I wake up at the end with a song. When one of those songs is good, it can feel like some kind of benevolent spirit showed up in the studio and threw some real art onto my flash drive. Of course, when there's little control exercised on process (and that's the point), the chaff to wheat ratio can be higher, especially when outside influences (lack of sleep, long hours at work, stress) kick in.

For a long while, I was very protective of my creative outputs. Each one, from an album down to a sketch, felt sacrosanct. When time or focus wasn't available to finish one, or ten, or a hundred unpolished ideas, I began to feel like a deadbeat dad. How DARE I loose these new things on the world without so much as the courtesy to give them all of their limbs, and never call, on top of that? The weight of work left behind began to really get oppressive.

Reading Bird By Bird, just that page or two, has given me a new outlook on that chaff. I still love many of these little failed jalopies, but I no longer linger with them or allow their bulk to get in the way of more throughput. They were tools, and some of them are a fun listen now and then, but diamonds they aren't.

So, we must persevere, onward and upward, hand in hand with the fittest ideas- and a tip of the hat to the brave but lesser ones that were selected out of the pool. Regular creative throughput tips the scales in your advantage, keeps the bearings smooth, and quells fear, letting you, once again, surprise yourself. Breathe.