Tag: design

How to Find a Home: 5 Lessons from Finding a Place to Live

house blog-02 This weekend I drove down to San Diego to start looking for a place to live, and I thought about how every city I’ve ever moved to has its own renting culture. Los Angeles apartments usually don’t come with a refrigerator; Boston you sometimes have to pay an extra moth of rent to the realtor; South Beach you can move into a place the day you start looking; and Long Beach you better not have a Pit Bull. Each city has its own way of navigating the renting process, so when we drove down to San Diego, I expected there to be a learning curve. I also didn’t expect to find a place on the first day. I remember when I moved to Long Beach  my wife and I were looking for a month, and we were driving up and down the streets, trying to locate “For Rent” signs in front yards, and it felt like we would never find a place. I understood the struggle of finding the right place, and I expected to have to haggle with landlords. I expected to be forced to choose between our budget and what we wanted. And I expected to have enough tension and controversy to write an interesting blog post. But after looking at four places, Heron and I found a place we loved. We told the landlord how much we wanted to live there, sent over the credit check, paid the deposit, and we now have a rental. King of killed my blog idea. It was incredibly easy, this time, to find a place to live, and we’re actually thrilled with the results. So this started me thinking about all the times that I’ve moved across the country, and I thought about what it’s been like to look for a home, for a place to belong. I thought about all that I’ve learned by just looking for places to live. Here are five lessons I’ve learned over the years.

Design by Joseph Lapin
Design by Joseph Lapin

5. Watch Out for Desperation

When we were looking for places to live over the weekend, we came across a home close to North Park, San Diego. It was a single family home, but another tenant was living in the basement. The front yard had mulch instead of grass. There would have been plenty of room for my dog, but as soon as I knocked on the door and met the people living there, I was instantly suspicious. In turned out the current tenants were looking for someone to take over their lease. They had their three dogs locked in cages, and the dogs looked like they were trying to be on their best behavior, but if someone had opened their cages, then I would have regretted stepping foot in that home. The current tenants told us that they were moving out because they wanted to live closer to the beach. They had just moved from Kansas city. Four months were left on the lease. Now I couldn’t figure out why they would be in such a rush to get out of their apartment if they had four months left on their lease, and I could understand this idea if they were buying a home instead of renting — perhaps they landed a great deal — but breaking a lease or trying to sublet an apartment to live near the water, which is only ten minutes, sounded suspicious. I could smell the desperation to find a way out of a situation, and I didn’t want to be stuck in someone else’s trap. When I’m looking at places to live, I realize I’m being sold on a product, on a life, on a home, and like Odysseus on his way back to his wife, there are many detours and islands along the journey that are illusory when trying to find the place you belong, but you have to learn to separate false homes, false journeys, from the authentic ones. Continue reading “How to Find a Home: 5 Lessons from Finding a Place to Live”

How Painters Can Become Writing Inspiration: Neo Rauch, Van Gogh, and Norman Rockwell

I’ve been fooling around with Adobe Illustrator lately, trying to become better at my job as a creative director and learn to add more interesting content to my blog and journalism. It’s clear that if you’re going to be a writer in the digital age, then you should have an understanding of creative software like Photoshop, Adobe Premier, Final Cut, Illustrator, etc. (just look at BuzzFeed), and I want to improve my skills so I can create endlessly across multiple platforms. I’ve come across some great designers recently that have inspired me to work on the craft even more. I have a way to go, but that’s fine. My creative life is taking new shapes and forms, and I’ll follow this where it leads. Of course, my first love will always be the written word, but I have been finding design inspiration everywhere I look. The designers that have really inspired me recently are David Plunkert, James Yang, and Whitney Sherman.

Design by Joseph Lapin Design by Joseph Lapin

As I begin to experiment in this new medium and look to other designers for inspiration, I understand that this is only going to take my writing to the next level because it will add a visual element to correspond with the text. (Of course, illustrations will not make the actual writing better.) But this train of thought brought me to a new idea for a blog post. I started to think about how painters have influenced my actual writing. When I was teaching freshmen composition, I would always bring in paintings to help my students understand how to create detailed and vivid scenes in their personal essays, and I would point to painters to illustrate the way that details can powerfully convey meaning. I started to “sketch” scenes in my journal, after reading Vincent Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo, and I kept them in my journals. In some ways, painters have actually inspired me to create stories and poetry more than some authors. So I wanted to blog, today, about three painters who have influenced my writing.

3. Vincent Van Gogh

Design by Joseph Lapin Design by Joseph Lapin

I didn’t think much about Vincent Van Gogh when I was younger, but then my father and I went on a trip to Amsterdam and stopped at the Van Gogh Museum. I stepped into that museum without expecting anything other than a cultural experience, and I walked out completely changed. What I loved about the museum was that his paintings were curated in a chronological fashion, so as you moved throughout the museum, you would begin to see Vincent’s story take shape. It hit me hard, because like Theo, Vincent brother, I have also had loved ones who have been touched by mental illness. I won’t delve into too many personal details, but for the longest time, mental illness brought my family pain, and it was reassuring to be able to witness the same pain and suffering yet beautiful moments that Vincent and Theo shared in their letters and in Vincent’s paintings. From this experience, I was able to see that beauty and profundity could come from so much confusion and struggle. It put me on the path to start beginning to write about some of the incidents I’ve witnessed in my life. It put me on a path to defend the mentally ill. It put me on a path to tell stories.

2. Neo Rauch

Design By Joseph Lapin Design By Joseph Lapin

I first came across Neo Rauch when I was studying at the Prague Summer Writing Program sponsored by Western Michigan University, and a local museum was featuring some of his work. I had never heard of Neo Rauch, but when I walked into the artistic space I had a similar experience as in the Van Gogh Museum. He was blending elements from comic books and suburban life from the 1950s with elements of science fiction and the surreal. What I admired most about Neo Rauch was that he was able to create universes in his paintings, somewhat like Kurt Vonnegut or Ray Bradbury in their fiction, that seemed fantastic and surreal but were governed by clear rules. The characters in his paintings are able to move back and forth between separate worlds (in the physical and mental sense), and this forces his work to exist in that weird space between the realistic and the absurd, because his images are rendered with an almost hyperbolic tangibility that can only be compared to having a dream where you know that you’re in a dream but everything is so clear, sensual, and defined that it feels like you’re awake. Ah, that was a long thought.

Neo Rauch Neo Rauch

There is one painting that always startled me by Neo Rauch. It’s above. It seems to suggest that someone is sleeping, and I can’t help but feel the characters in their white coats are nothing but figures from a dream. They seem from another time. I want to be able to create stories where dream worlds and physical universes almost fold into each other. I want to find a way to write between the dream and the real world. Two writers that I admire who pull this off exceptionally well are Denis Johnson and Marcel Ayme. I want to find a way to capture this quality. I’m far off, but it’s a goal.

3. Norman Rockwell

Design by Joseph Lapin Design by Joseph Lapin

Well, if you’ve been following my blog or my writing, then you might be aware of the project I created called “Rockwell’s Camera Phone.” Basically, it was trying to imagine how Norman Rockwell would have seen the world today. What really fascinates me about Norman Rockwell is that he was able to take the most ordinary moments of American life and make them universal. He was able to take a young boy sitting at a diner next to a cop and transform that image into one of the most iconic images in American history. He was able to make art and illustration speak directly to as many people as possible. But most importantly, he was able to find the poetry in the everyday. In a lot of ways, he reminds me of a poet like Frank O’Hara. Of course, they’re different realms and styles, but they were able to find the sublime in the old man sitting on the crate begging for change or just the general activity of a Main Street in New England. They were artists who were able to find the sublime in running to finish errand. They were the artists who found the sublime in walking down the street or on their way to pick up a sandwich for lunch. They were the artists who found that life, ordinary,everyday ritualistic life, was the sublime. I’m from a small town in New England. Art still exists in those streets. There is still poetry. There is still beauty, even if it feels ordinary. I would love to tap into that, and I’m trying.

So I’m not sure if this at all wraps up to a cohesive whole. But these are painters that I admire tremendously, and they’ve made me want to write. Okay, I’m tired and want to watch Boardwalk Empire. Leave a comment below and let me know some of the painters who have inspired you in your creative life.

Judge These Book Covers: My 10 favorite book covers in my house

Heron’s sister and her friend came over this weekend and rearranged our house as a wedding gift. They put my books all around the house, and it provided a great opportunity to look at some of them I haven’t paid attention to in a while. So I decided to put together a list of my favorite book covers I currently have in my house. Now, I didn’t include art books, because I thought that would be unfair, and some of my books I gave away. But these are the books I find myself just admiring for the cover sometimes long after I had finished it.

10. Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time — Trains and War and Masculinity 


9. Friedrich Nietzsche’s Basic Writings — The “superman” on the cover looks like he’s actually the cause of earthquakes.


8. Tom Wolfe’s The New Journalism — I found this rare book in a used bookstore in Ann Arbor, MI. Love the hand drawing the hand imagery.


7. Jack O’Connell’s Word Made Flesh — A futuristic and twisted version of my home, Worcester, MA. 


6. Henri Matisse’s Jazz — No, I’m not cheating. Matisse does write in this book, and it’s one of my favorite book covers — and books — of all time.


5. Osip Mandelstam’s Stolen Air — This is a simple cover with a simple swirl, but it speaks so loudly, somehow, to Mandelstam’s poetry. 


4. Raymond Carver’s Cathedral — If you’ve read the story, Cathedral, then you understand why this cover is so beautiful.  


3. Charles Bukowski’s Ham on RyeImagining a young Bukowski always makes me laugh.  


2. Philip Levine’s What Work Is — This photograph of the girl at work in a textile plant is haunting and glorious, just like this book.


1. Mike Davis’ The Ecology of Fear — Los Angeles poking through the clouds.