175. Islands of Life
looking for bubbles of privacy in public spaces
I was at the City Square Shopping Center, across from Vancouver City Hall. It has a Canada Post office that I like, from where I sent a couple of books to the distant city of Seongnam. It is my first time sending my work to South Korea!
In today’s SneakyArt Drop, scenes of life from the mall. The SneakyArt Post is a bestselling Substack publication about my art, ideas from the SneakyArt Podcast, and insights from my journey of self-education to be an artist, writer, and podcaster.
Last week, I explained to Insiders why I am not setting any goals in 2023, even though it is my most ambitious year. If you like having SneakyArt in your inbox, share this post with someone else who would enjoy it too!
🏝️ Let’s (not) go to the Mall
The mall is no longer what it used to be.
Listen to this 99% Invisible episode about the rise and fall of American mall culture. My most interesting takeaway is that malls were developed in America by an Austrian immigrant, who was trying to recreate the public life and cafe culture of pre-WW1 Vienna.
Malls began out of a desire for public life. And under the winds of free market capitalism, they grew into hubs of social and economic activity. Then came the internet, and online shopping killed the retail store.
In the 99PI episode, they speak about the prime real estate that ‘dead malls’ sit upon, and how some are reinventing themselves to provide government and other essential services. And it’s working!
After mailing the books, I strolled through the busy food court with a cup of chai, struck by the diversity of human activity around me.
Malls no longer mean as many things to as many people. But they still mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
Evenly distributed throughout the floor of the food court, every table appeared to be its own private island. There was enough space for lunch bags and backpacks, and coffees and spare napkins. And there was just enough space left to rest your elbows.
But this was not all. Every table also held up countless conversations, and phones buzzing with texts, and knitting yarn, and laughter, and secret stories.
All the stuff of life.
Observing the page, I was reminded of the famous poem by John Donne -
No man is an island entire of itself;
Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
While every ‘island-table’ may seem independent of the others, it is only able to exist because of the others. The mall would not be open if no one else came here. The food court would not function without the business of all vendors.
One’s independence, it seems, depends on the independence of others. This is a beautiful thing that cities teach us.
The poem by John Donne goes on to say -
Any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
In the early weeks of the pandemic, this passage struck me as particularly relevant. Every day we would hear the sounds of ambulances. Like church bells tolling in the centres of ancient towns, they reminded us of our imminent mortality. The spirit of this poem is also in my book proposal to literary agents.
This Sunday, I am sharing a short excerpt from the proposal. Something like an elevator pitch for the book I want to make this year.
To read it and become part of the feedback loop I am developing with SneakyArt Insiders, upgrade to the paid subscription today!
Elsewhere, this tweet happened, featuring songwriter Nick Cave’s response to ChatGPT writing a song in his style.
👋🏼 If you are new to my work, read this post from last summer where I re-introduce myself. Also, hello!
💻 This Friday, I am running a FREE draw-along session. No instructions, no review, but plenty of reference images and some Q&A.
💻 This Saturday, I am doing a Zoom workshop to show how I draw tiny people. Lots of advice on sketching outdoors from observation, and hacks to build confidence and develop your style.
📲 On Instagram, I inch closer to 200k followers.
🔐 To get a free seat in the Saturday workshop, become an Insider using the annual plan. This also gives you access to free seats in all future Zoom workshops, draw-alongs, and sketchbook tours. (An excellent deal, if I may say so.)
👓 Fans of historical fiction, check out Amy Stewart’s recent post on doing research for her 7-part series of novels. I read Book #1 before recording our episode for the SneakyArt Podcast, and have been curious about her research techniques ever since!
Next week, I am travelling to India for a 4-week stay. I will be meeting friends and family in Kolkata, Delhi and Mumbai, and attending a wedding in Jaipur. Stay tuned for the sneaky art!
Thank you, dear reader, for your time and attention.