That's not just because books are a terrible way to get rich. It's because I'm Nathan and I can't help myself, in that the focus from day one has never been profit. When you leave the artists in charge of everything, it's never about the money, for better or worse... This was always about making the best possible item we could for you, the reader.
This book is about that level of quality but also about something else, something deeper. I used to scoff at material objects– especially the buying of material objects– in a way that I've cooled down on in recent years.
Because objects outlast loved ones.
They live longer than people, and carry with them the bodied memories of a thousand ordinary days, the days when that person still wandered about the house, called you, whisper-chuckled in your ears. Objects stick around, long after your friend, grandparent, whomever– has drifted out of your life, whether by death or something smaller, heartbreak maybe, or just moving away.
A friend once mailed me a letter (yes, young people still do that!) that included a handwritten copy of Pablo Neruda's poem, "Things." It's a celebration of physical objects, and at the time I thusly disregarded it. Who needs objects when you've got people, human souls to connect with?
I've been learning what my older friends already know. Humans don't always stick around, even when they desperately want to. We feel the unsolvable gnawing questions of God and Death and Time, and we, all of us, act accordingly.
Some will tell you the organizing principle behind everything humans do is sex. Or love. Or loneliness. But all of those sit broadly at the root of something larger.
Death, Don Delillo wrote, is the motivating factor for all human action. Meaning the act of life, and specifically the recognition of its fragile preciousness. The urgency of it, of our being here.
Why did I begin creating with such urgency in the last five years? The blooming of the blog, the mad rush of photography, the large-scale darkroom printing, the book and everything it entailed, my upcoming film and everything that involved, the various radio, print and television placements, the awards at work and at large...
What else would you do, friend, if you were in a terrorist attack, and then survived?
"Tell us about Paris," a friend in the audience asked during my Elliot Bay author Q&A. I'll be giving incomplete answers to the fallout of that event for the rest of my life. I'll post the video of that talk soon as well, and you'll notice how uncertain I am as I fumble about for an answer, something succinct.
This is how I might answer now:
Life has urgency for me now, and I fight its fragility by creating. This fight will always be a losing fight, Sisyphean in a way, pathetic from a certain angle; but I welcome that futility, and all the growth that comes with it. It means I will never tire of making art, trying to be good, kind, loving– the ultimate art act of existence is how we live life. In the face of death, I create. I infuse my art with everything I've got, everything I've learned and gathered, such that I might be able to throw a beam of light into the void, for a flicker of a moment.
As I say above, this book was never about the money. Debut authors don't always find it strangely necessary to have their books printed on photo-quality paper, with offset-printed covers, blurbs from major local luminaries, or come graphic-designed to within an inch of their lives, until you have what is basically a non-fiction coffee-table conversation art piece masquerading in the shape of a novel... But our book is all of these things, because we pulled out all the stops for you. The generosity of spirit that's come my way via the blog all these years demands it.
But more deeply, more profoundly even than that, is the Urgency. To pour my absolute best, every single solitary thing I've got, into something I can gift to you, something that will live on your shelf or someone else's, in your mind, maybe your heart, for longer than I will be able to live on this earth.
Objects. They carry secrets like I never knew.
Buy the book here.
More on the book here.
Nathan on the Elliott Bay author event: Parts I, II, and III.