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In which John discusses his all-time favorite five-star review, endurance as art, the peculiarly modernist hell of repetition, and purple Sharpies. Signing livestream:

You can preorder a signed copy of The Anthropocene Reviewed book here: (or wherever books are sold)

Kurtjmac's Far Lands or Bust:

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Good morning Hank it’s Tuesday.

What’s a five-star review that lives in your head rent-free? For me, it’s a review I read many years ago of the 12-pack of Purple Sharpies.

The reviewer gave the pack five stars and wrote in their review that in their monotonous work, they often had to use Sharpies, and they found that using purple ones brought a little joy and color to an otherwise unbearably bland life. I’m really bad at remembering exact phrases, and I’ve never been able to find this review since I read it the first time, but that’s the phrase as I remember it: a little bit of joy and color in an otherwise unbearably bland life.

Anyway I’ve been thinking about this because today I’ve been signing with purple Sharpie in my quest to sign all 250,000 copies of the first printing of the US edition of The Anthropocene Reviewed book, and it actually has brought a bit of joy and color into my life.

There’s something about the richness of the purple that really does makes repetition somehow less repetitious. The first 100,000 or so signatures were actually quite easy because it felt like a break from the work of writing the book, which I found exhausting at times and emotionally draining in part because despite its grandiose title, The Anthropocene Reviewed is a very personal book--it’s my first attempt to write about my actual self.

I want to be careful not to imply that writing is difficult work--I have done difficult work, and writing is not it--but for me anyway writing requires an intense level of focus and concentration, which can be a little emotionally exhausting. And this time around, because it was about me, It felt at times, for better or worse like my whole self was getting poured into the book, which is a little terrifying, so anyway signing was a break from that.

Also, anyone who’s been around here a while knows how I love a beautiful foolish endeavor. Like, I am completely enamored with DoubleAgent, the World of Warcraft player who plays the game as a pacifist panda, acquiring experience points primarily via picking flowers, which he has done literally millions of times to achieve the highest rank in the game. I’m also a fan of KurtJMac, who has been walking in one direction in Minecraft for the last ten years in search of the Far Lands.

I also love artwork that involves a lot of repetition and careful mark making, like this piece by Hiroyuki Doi or this one by Robyn O’Neill. When I make drawings, I tend to do so in an obsessive way, like this drawing of 17,000 circles. Or actually, no circles 17 thousand failed attempts at circles.

I don’t know why I’m drawn to art as endurance efforts, but whatever. I like them. They bring me joy.

But I can’t let it go with that because I have to hyper analyze because that is my nature. Like the art critic Robert Hughes wrote of the peculiarly modernist hell of repetition, and I like work that turns that on  its head and instead find  joy and color in repetition. Slightly off-topic, but Hughes thinking repetition is a modern phenomenon strongly implies to me that he never attempted agriculture.

Because like, if you think that picking flowers in World of Warcraft is repetitious, try thinning row after row after row of carrot seedlings. Anyway the point here is that the first 100,000ish signatures were easy, and now it has become harder, and I still have to sign for 300 more hours, and my hand hurts a little and this is the part where a test of endurance-- even an exceptionally silly test of endurance-- actually becomes a test. Like the book comes out in three months, and obviously it has to be printed before then.

There is not much time left in which to sign, and there are a lot of marks left to make. I remember when I signed 150,000 times for The Fault in Our Stars, at the end I was signing twelve or fourteen hours a day, and I would be thinking “ugh I don’t know if I can do this” and “oh this is a lot,” and then, along would come the purple sharpie to remind me that I made this promise and I will keep it. Sometimes a bit of color and joy is enough.

Hank, I’ll be signing live on Youtube for an hour this afternoon, I promise it will be very boring, but it will be purple the whole way. Link in the dooblydoo, I’ll see you on Friday. p.s. As it says on my 2021 vision board, here’s to Perseverance!

Both the rover and the value. Hank, thank you for making me a fan of Mars so I could openly weep when the rover landed on the red planet. By the way, remember when not scheduling hair cuts was my biggest problem?

Remember when I thought hair-mergencies were emergencies? I want to go back in time and just pinch that little boy on his cheeks. Alright now I’m really gonna go because I’ve gotta sign.