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Mission Statement

Someone asked me yesterday why I make the Virtual Memories Show, and I gave my pat answer, “To get me out of the house.”

I thought about it a bit, and if there’s any guiding principle, it comes from Italo Calvino’s novel, Invisible Cities, a book given to me by That Really Important High School English Teacher.

“The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”

But also, to get me out of the house.

Podcast – A Sense of Someplace To Go

Virtual Memories Show: Dmitry Samarov –
A Sense of Someplace To Go

“The great [storytelling] advantage to driving a cab is that you have the back of your head to the person. It makes them open up in a way that, if they saw my face, I don’t think they could have. Then they would have had to reckon with me as a person, and I really wasn’t a person to most of them.”

This podcast often hangs out at the intersection of art and commerce, so I was happy when Dmitry Samarov drove up in a cab with his sketchbook!* Dmitry recently published Where To?: A Hack Memoir (Curbside Splendor Press), his second book of essays and art about his experiences behind the wheel of a taxi in Chicago and Boston. We talk about that job vis-a-vis his fine arts background, his compulsion to chronicle his working life in words and images, how he made the transition from ‘zine to blog to book deal, how John Hodgman helped him get his break into publishing, what it’s like to run a website built in 2004, why he fled Parsons School of Design after one semester, and how it felt to leave the cab-driving world behind.

Dmitry Samarov Taxis in to The Virtual Memories Show

We also talk about his family’s emigration from the Soviet Union when he was a child (and his affinity for The Americans), what it was like to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with Chris Ware, and why he hates Boston with the passion of a thousand burning suns. Most importantly, we find out what an appropriate tip is for a cab-ride! That’s worth the price of admission by itself!

* Actually, I drove out to Newark Airport to pick up Dmitry on his book tour

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! Related conversations:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Dmitry Samarov was born in Moscow, USSR, in 1970. He emigrated to the United States with his family in 1978. He got in trouble in first grade for doodling on his Lenin Red Star pin and hasn’t stopped doodling since. After a false start at Parsons School of Design in New York, he graduated with a BFA in painting at printmaking from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1993. Upon graduation he promptly began driving a cab — first in Boston, then after a time, in Chicago. He is the author of two books, Hack: Stories from a Chicago Cab, and Where To?: A Hack Memoir. You should go watch five teaser clips of the Chicago Hack series (dir. John McNaughton), which use Dmitry’s art and writing for a half-hour scripted TV series. You should also check out his paintings, and maybe buy some.

Credits: This episode’s music is A Nice Piece For Orchestra by Bernard Herrmann (from the Taxi Driver soundtrack, duh). The conversation was recorded at Chez Virtual Memories on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Mr. Samarov by me.

My morning walk

Most every morning around 6 a.m., I take my two greyhounds, Rufus & Otis (a.k.a. Rutabaga and Oatgorilla), on a mile-long walk on the loop of our neighborhood. This morning,

1) A neighbor parked a car in his front yard and, as we passed, I noticed the headlights were on. I thought I’d check to see if the door was unlocked so I could turn off the lights and save the battery. As I walked around that side of the car, a rabbit who was hiding in their grass revealed himself by bolting away. Rufus & Otis did their best to dislocate my shoulder by leaping through the air after him. Caught in mid-arc, they snarled and snapped at each other. No injuries, but I unleashed a loud, reflexive “HEY HEY STOP!”, which I’m sure the neighbors didn’t appreciate. (The keys were in the ignition, so I took those out and left them on the driver’s seat.)

2) I could hear a neighbor’s dog’s distinct yowl-bark from way down the street. I was resigned to Missy barking at the boys as we passed by, which the neighbors also wouldn’t appreciate. As we got closer to their house, it turned out that Missy was barking because a decent-sized bear was in the yard across the street. Ru & Otis again leaped up to snarl, albeit with a lot less, “Let’s go get him!” action than with the bunny. The bear quickly ambled across the yard on all fours, then got up on its hind legs and placed its front paws on a tree. It was looking at us, and I imagined it was thinking, “C’mon, man, it’s 6 o’clock in the goddamned morning; don’t make me climb a freakin’ tree at this hour. . . .” I walked backwards about 50 feet with the dogs and kept an eye on the bear. The boys snarled a little, but didn’t seem all too eager to go meet the bear. Last I could see of him, he didn’t climb the tree. Missy was still barking her head off.

The bear was smaller than this guy, whose pic I took earlier this summer when he was walking through another neighbor’s yard.

beary nice dayAnd this, dear reader, is life in Ringwood, NJ.

 

Podcast: Haste Ye Back

Seth on The Virtual Memories Show

Virtual Memories: Seth – Haste Ye Back

The great cartoonist (and designer and illustrator) Seth joins the Virtual Memories Show to talk about memory and time, his love of digression, being “Mr. Old-Timey”, what it means to be a Canadian cartoonist, and learning to let go of the finish and polish that used to characterize his work.

“When I was young, I thought there were an infinite possibility of stories you could do. As you get older, you realize you’re following a thread, and that you don’t have as much choice about what you’re writing about as you thought.”

“Style’s a funny thing. I think it’s important, but I think it’s a matter of the choices the artist makes that lead to the finished product. It is chosen, bit by bit over time, with each decision you make.”

rhythm-sprott“People only have a limited patience for listening to you go on and on about your own ideas, your own mind, your own memories. Art allows you to have that perfect experience of putting that down on paper without anyone growing tired and making you stop.”

“You add things onto yourself bit by bit through life to create the kind of person you want to be. Eventually, to some degree, it IS you. You picked these things deliberately.”

Seth: The Virtual Memories Conversation. Go listen!

“There’s some little thing that makes it hard to let it go of trying to create that fetish object you always wanted, that comic strip that looks like the best you can make it.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! Related conversations:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Seth is the pen name of Gregory Gallant, a Canadian comic book artist and writer. He is best known for comics such as his ongoing anthology Palookaville, George Sprott: (1894-1975), Wimbledon Green, The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists, and It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken, all published by Drawn and Quarterly. His illustrations have appeared in The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Details, Spin, The New York Times, and Saturday Night, and he has designed books and DVDs for a variety of publishers, including Fantagraphics (The Complete Peanuts), Random House (The Portable Dorothy Parker), and Criterion (Make Way for Tomorrow). Here are his favorite Criterion releases.

Credits: This episode’s music is Time Stand Still by Rush (because Seth’s Canadian, see, and his work revolves around memory and — oh, never mind). The conversation was recorded in Seth’s hotel room during the Toronto Comic Arts Festival on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Seth by me.

Podcast: A Place To Rest

Emily Raboteau tours the Promised Land on the Virtual Memories Show

Virtual Memories – season 4 episode 2 – A Place To Rest

“We reach for stories to be able to take risks.”

Emily Raboteau, author of Searching for Zion: The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora (Atlantic Monthly Press), joins the Virtual Memories Show to show to talk about the many notions of “home” for black people. Along the way, we talk about the many notions of what constitutes a black person. As Ms. Raboteau discovered in the travels chronicled in her book — encompassing Israel, Jamaica, Ethiopia, Ghana and America’s deep south — there are a lot of ideas about who’s black and what blackness means.

“As my husband told me, ‘You can’t valorize the oppressed just because they were oppressed. It doesn’t make them saintly; more often than not, it makes them want to step on someone else to elevate themselves.'”

We also talk about churchgoing in New York City, what it’s like to travel to Antarctica, why the story of Exodus is so pivotal in the black American experience, why Jewish book reviewers thought she was pulling a bait-and-switch, why she chose to explore her black roots instead of her white ones for this book, what motherhood means, and what it was like to give a talk about faith on behalf of Bobby McFerrin.

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! Related conversations:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Emily Raboteau is the author of a novel, The Professor’s Daughter (Henry Holt, Picador), and a work of creative nonfiction, Searching for Zion: The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora (Grove/Atlantic), named one of the “Best Books of 2013” by The Huffington Post and the grand prize winner of the New York Book Festival. She recently visited Antarctica and Cuba to research her next novel, Endurance, about a shipbuilder and his autistic son. Her fiction and essays have been widely published and anthologized in Best American Short Stories, Best American Non-required Reading, Tin House, The Oxford American, The Guardian, Guernica, The Believer and elsewhere. Honors include a Pushcart Prize, The Chicago Tribune’s Nelson Algren Award, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Christopher Isherwood Foundation and the Howard Foundation. An avid world traveler, she resides in New York City and teaches creative writing in Harlem at City College, once known as “the poor man’s Harvard.”

Credits: This episode’s music is Promised Land by Johnnie Allan. The conversation was recorded at the home of a friend of Emily’s on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded at home on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Emily Raboteau by me.

Sundown

One addendum to my previous post about the limitations of AI: I don’t think they’ve made one that stops what it’s doing and marvels over sunsets.

The view from my backyard

Unrequired Reading: Nov. 12, 2010

Sorry I haven’t done much non-Unrequired Reading posting lately. I’ve been kinda busy with work, but also back to thinking about writing and other projects. Anyway, enjoy this week’s links. I’m off to New Orleans for a conference tomorrow, but maybe I’ll come back with a crazy travelogue or something!

Take a hike

We had cool weather today, so I busted out the camera and my new GPS app, MotionX, and hiked Monks Trail. Where I found this:

Thanks to that app, you can check out the trail and my stats on Google Maps. Or, if you want, you can download the Google Earth file for the hike here and enjoy the scenery. (You might need to rename it “.zip” to expand it correctly.)

Or just groove on my pictures, like you always do.

What It Is: 5/31/10

What I’m reading: Comics weekend! The Search for Smilin’ Ed, Low Moon, Black Blizzard, Pim & Francie, and (the opening of) BodyWorld!

What I’m listening to: High Violet, Squeeze: Singles, 45s and Under, and Heligoland

What I’m watching: Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Commitments

What I’m drinking: D.H. Krahn’s & Q-tonic.

What Rufus & Otis are up to: Skipping Sunday’s greyhound hike in favor of a party hosted by their grey-girlfriends Ruby & Willow. Otis tried to impress everyone by eating vegetation until he puked, while Rufus cooled down by lying in a kiddie pool.

rupool.jpeg

Where I’m going: Louisiana for Amy’s godson’s birthday!

What I’m happy about: Finding a new linen suit, a watch, some slip-ons, and a few other articles of clothing in the last week-plus.

What I’m sad about: That my credit card company thought those purchases were so out of keeping with my regular spending patterns that they froze my card until they could call to confirm that a 39-year-old man was indeed buying Vans.

What I’m worried about: Getting the July/August Top 20 Pharma / Top 10 Biopharma Companies issue written; the month of June tends to be pretty exhausting for me.

What I’m pondering: How a bat got into our house on Saturday night. We took the dogs out downstairs for their pre-bed bathroom break, but I always close the door right after we get outside, to keep bugs from getting in. After we got ‘em upstairs, I noticed a fluttering wing reflected in the window of the kitchen. I thought a bird had gotten in and was bashing into the walls, but once I turned the kitchen light on, I realized that it was a bat. I hurried the dogs down the hall into the bedroom, since they would’ve gone bananas trying to catch it (and maybe rabies). Since the kitchen only has a half-wall to the dining room, and there’s no partition between the dining room and the living room, the bat zoomed around among the three rooms for quite a while, hitting corners and not necessarily dive-bombing me. I started out trying to swat it with an old issue of SI, then graduated to trying to smother it in Amy’s cooking apron so I could get it out. The area’s cluttered, so a tennis racket would’ve led to my demollishing half the space. After 5 to 10 dizzying (literally, in both cases) minutes of chasing it around, ducking when it came at me, and spinning repeatedly to keep an eye on it, I got the idea to hang a bunch of dog-blankets from the ceiling beam of the dining room, where it connects with the living room. This managed to confine the bat to the dining room and the kitchen, giving me a slight advantage. Then I grabbed an old curtain I was getting ready to throw out, and after a dozen more failed attempts, managed to get the bat tangled up in it. It was heading straight at my face when I got the curtain up. I’ll carry its harrowing squeaks to my . . . well, not my grave. I mean, it wasn’t so scary, but I saw where Bruce Wayne was coming from when he got the idea. Anyway, it was a good thing for me that we were directly in front of the Sliding Glass Door To Nowhere (which once led to our deck). I tossed the curtain, bat and all, out the door, and heard it land in the back yard. The bat was caught inside, still squeaking panickedly. I hurried downstairs, shook up the curtain, and freed the poor creature. I like to think its last squeak before it flew off was one of, “Thanks! Sorry about the misunderstanding!”

Wayne_origin.jpeg

What It Is: 4/26/10

What I’m reading: Baby, I Don’t Care, Weathercraft, and the new Esquire.

What I’m listening to: Songs from Venice Beach, Songs You Know by Heart, Special Beat Service, A Friend of a Friend, and Signals.

What I’m watching: Animal House (which I haven’t watched in a million years and remains one of my all-time faves), Deadliest Catch, and the current HBO triumvirate of Treme, The Ricky Gervais Show, and The Life & Times of Tim.

What I’m drinking: Citadelle & Q-Tonic.

What Rufus & Otis are up to: Spending a few days with my dogless pals Sharon & Doug. They didn’t embarrass themselves or us too badly. That said, Ru climbed up on their sofa once, and Otis was obsessed with their parakeets, forcing my pals to relocate the birds to the garage. Sigh.

Where I’m going: One-day jaunt to Philadelphia this week, then Chicago & Toronto next week.

What I’m happy about: Having such a nice time wandering around NYC last Saturday.

What I’m sad about: That so many neighborhoods in NYC remind me being in a mall back in NJ.

What I’m worried about: Not much in specific. I’d been pretty worried about getting the May issue done in time, but got a lot of work done on Sunday to put that goal in reach.

What I’m pondering: Whether I’ll have time & motivation to write a series of short- or medium-length posts this week on a variety of subjects.

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