At the dawn of 1995, musician/artist/producer Brian Eno decided to start scheduling family outings in advance with the aid of an A5 page-a-day diary. Though his resolve to preplan on the pages rapidly dissolved, he stuck with the opposite use, writing up his days after they'd finished. Ten months in, he realized that publishing this diary and a set of associated essays might be the ideal way to deliver on a book contract for which he'd long since been paid the advance.
"I have a wonderful life," writes Brian Eno at the beginning of his book's second, explanatory introduction. No argument here. It consists, essentially, of the following:
- Cooking delectable-sounding meals
- Giving speeches
- Producing David Bowie's Outside and the U2 collaboration Passengers
- "Enlarging bums" in Photoshop
- Jetting between London, New York, Egypt and Bosnia (remember Bosnia?)
- E-mailing Stewart Brand
- Playing with his daughters
- Messing around with generative visual and music computer applications
- Organizing large-scale art shows and charity events
Much content is quotidian, but quotidian through the Eno filter:
Right ribs hurt from bunk-climbing accident. Cooked two poussins for dinner.
Sludgy days at work, these last few. I can't get into it properly. I need someone to boss me about.
Up to get Herald Tribune and croissants. Lovely mild, sparkling morning sitting outside eating croissants and honey with Irial and Darla — delightful.
So much to sort out. Paper pouring in through every hole — requests, invitations, reminders, theses, suggestions, ideas, demands. Piles everywhere.
Evening: Die Hard with a Vengeance at the Electric — I really enjoyed it.
The nostalgia of gooseberry jam on white bread — fruit-picking as a child.
Customs confiscated a video I ordered America (Muscle Up — female body-builders) on grounds of 'indecency'.
I've noticed I'll eat anything black. Tonight ink risotto.
However, it's also peppered with thoughts that are, for lack of a better term, straight money:
Self-confidence — the last definable sine-qua-non artistic talent.
It's so easy to make 'sonic landscapes' now — and there just millions of people at it. A whole technology exists for it, leading to the thought that by the time a whole technology exists for something it probably isn't the most interesting thing to be doing.
Repair is what beautifies.
Do very hard things, just for the sake of it.
Why are Wildean wits so miserable in real life? Perhaps cynicism is not a containable talent — and ends up extending to oneself.
The only value of ideology is to stop things from becoming showbiz.
Try to make things that can become better in other people's minds than they were in yours.
Perhaps people who are unfulfilled are inclined to lavish more time on their children's.
Book proposal: The Bumper Book of Penis Torture. Coffee-table.
Lately getting a sense of how at art aristocracy evolves and coheres. Mutual attendances, good causes, 'We've stayed the course' and suddenly a certain group are being invited everywhere together. Interesting to plot this constellation.
Cooking is a way of listening to the radio.
I first picked up the book in my senior year of high school. Up to that point, I knew Eno only as a onetime member of Roxy Music, a creator of several spacey records and an occasional dropper of cool quotes — example: "I hate the sort of photography in Penthouse and Playboy which is such a compromise between something to give you a hard-on and something which pretends to be artistic. The straight pornographers aim right there where it's at." — and a bit of an eccentric. A few pages into his diary, however, I realized that he's so much more, and that his is a life that will always serve as a model for me.
Given how I stood on the brink of leaving home, there wasn't a moment in life — and there may not be one again — where I was as receptive to examples of lives well lived, or at least lives unusually lived. Eno's diary both gave me plenty new to think about in terms of the tracks onto which I wanted to guide this Colin train, and galvanized a bunch of inchoate visions that had already been floating around my mind. If works should be judged one's favorite by how much they inspire, then A Year with Swollen Appendices is my favorite book.
Having read it again at this postcollegiate age, I feel as if that late-high-school Colin is getting the old Lazarus treatment, rising after a four-year lacuna. The classes are over, the papers are written, the tests are taken; now, where was I? Wasn't I trying to do something different? There are ways in which the Colin Age 23 is disappointing Colin Age 18 — where, for one, is my t-topped car? Or my racks and racks of vintage synthesizers? — but now, I suppose, is my chance to rectify that.
Values I derived from Brian Eno's 1995:
Life doesn't really require every day to be spent in the same place, doing the same thing. I hadn't yet realized that the necessity of the 9-to-5 grind is a lie fabricated by society. And maybe the media. And maybe whichever politicians I dislike today. (Lousy politicians.) Turns out some people don't spend every day in the same building: one can instead work on a rich variety of projects, some lucrative, some less than lucrative, some personal, some collaborative, some long-term, some short and one-off, some with David Bowie, some with Bono. Put more simply, life can comprise jobs rather than a job.
One should be open about one's preferences. For instance, Eno refuses to hide — hell, he refuses not to broadcast — his appreciation for the human female posterior. I've similarly adopted the be-an-open-book-about-what-you-like ethos, whether the taste in question is musical, culinary, aesthetic, architectural, technological, educational, literary, philosophical, sexual, or what have you. (But is that just because it makes it that much easier for others to argue, and thus makes my own preferences more subject to alteration?)
Ideas can come from anywhere, and variety of experience is their fertilizer. It hadn't occurred to me that any new or unusual experience carries benefits not directly related to that experience, benefits in the form of randomness, in the form of unpredictable connections, in the form of shaking up one's routine thought processes. In the book, Eno gets it from working and interacting with people he wouldn't normally or, at the suggestion of his wife, going to areas more war-torn than those he'd usually visit. (Subvalue: the junk that just pops into your head can, in fact, be valuable; the subconscious is a harder worker than you'd think.)
Conversation is valuable, especially with fascinating people who do stuff. In 1995 alone, Eno records stimulating and informative conversations with not just his family members, his musical associates and his Stewart Brands, but Tom Stoppard, Jeff Koons, Lou Reed, Bryan Ferry, Julian Schnabel, Richard Dawkins, Rem Koolhaas, Björk, Kevin Kelly — the list goes on. I've very much taken to heart the notion that conversation, not least with those who percolate with ideas themselves, is sustenance. And not just intellectual sustenance
Writing a diary need not be a verbose, self-indulgent exercise in navel-gazery. As evidenced by the above excerpts, Eno's diary style is, for the most part, clipped and succinct. That makes the form easier to read, but it also makes the form more effective for the writer. His prose is an ideal example of how to get one's thoughts about the day down on the page quickly and cleanly when you're worn-out at the end of it. Too many hang-ups about style, after all, and the diarist is unlikely to give the day's happenings the thought they deserve, and that can only come from setting them in words.