Ross Simonini is an artist, writer, and musician who splits his time between New York and Northern California. Simonini has shown work at the 23th Sharjah Biennial, Jack Hanley Gallery, Martos Gallery, and Shoot the Lobster, among other venues. He is the interviews editor at The Believer magazine, and his first novel, The Book of Formation, was published last year by Melville House. As a musician, he has played in the bands NewVillager and Trespassers William.
A particular week with Simonini starts in New York before moving to California, where the artist is spending the summer among the redwoods. Within the bucolic setting, media is consumed. We are talking books (in both written and audio form), panel discussions, rap music, and, perhaps most importantly, the trailer for a new Tyler Perry film in which Whoopi Goldberg may or may not be playing a marijuana farmer. Simonini also takes part in a reading at Alley Cat Books in San Francisco and works on new art. Plus a ton of other stuff. A nice summer read. — John Chiaverina
Tuesday, June 19
Read an email from John about writing a Consumer Report. Decide to start immediately. Seems like the only honest way.
Flip through a monograph by Louise Bourgeois: “How am I going to be self-operating all by myself?” She says “I can invent something that keeps me going.”
Head to JFK with Katie. Blues on the radio.
The airport plays Post Malone.
Listening to a Dreezy track. It’s off a playlist I made of songs written by Starrah, a great hook writer. Turn it off when I reach the security guards. I request an “opt out” of the millimeter wave scanner. I recently read a paper on PubMed that described the safety of these machines as “difficult-to-impossible to prove.” The hell with that. Instead, I go for a rough rubdown by a stone-faced TSA officer.
Look at images from millimeter wave scans on my phone.
Board the plane while listening—but not watching—a video called “The Koons Effect.” It’s Jordan Wolfson, Laura Owens, Carol Bove, and Stephen Prina talking about Jeff Koons. I started this yesterday on the ferry back from Fire Island, but didn’t finish. It’s spicy, which is surprising, since most panel talks are bland and polite and sleepy. Owens hates Koons, Wolfson hates his new work, and Bove calls him a mystic. Exciting.
Watch part of Hostiles on the plane but turn it off. Way too grim. One of those movies where nobody smiles. I try Red Sparrow. Same deal. Finally, I give A Wrinkle in Time a shot, but the little actor boy is driving me nuts. I give up on movies. Dim the screen.
Make ten quick drawings while glancing at screens around me: basketball, MSNBC, Two Dope Queens, Trolls, Atlanta. Working on a method of language-based mark marking. Not there yet.
Read part of a draft of a Katherine’s football novel. She asked for edits so I write down a few knee-jerk reactions. The little girl next to me is watching Coco for the second time in a row.
Read a few articles about the vagus nerve which controls the “gut-brain axis.” You can stimulate it by taking cold showers every day, which I love to do. Another method is laughter. Another is gargling.
Read a piece on neurological gargling by Datis Kharrazian.
Watch a documentary about Warren Buffett. He’s lived most of his life in the same house in Omaha, Nebraska, which he bought in the 1950s for $31,500. He eats McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches every morning and only gets a salary of $100k. I write down some of his ideas about money—“never lose it”—but turn it off before the end. Endings usually disappoint me.
Get an idea for an essay on generalization while washing my hands in the airplane bathroom. Head back to my seat and write down some ideas.
Read part of the screenplay for Get Out. Working on my first screenplay so I’ve been trying to read more scripts, especially satires.
Open up my script. Try to write. Nope.
Land at SFO. Burnt on media for the day. Stare out the window on the bus ride home.
Dad picks us up at the depot. He has the ’90s station on, almost inaudibly: “Bittersweet Symphony” by The Verve. I’m not sure he realizes it’s even playing.
Sleep at Dad’s.
Wednesday, June 20
Cold shower then gargle with salt water while listening to a talk with Arthur Jafa and bell hooks. Jafa calls 12 Years a Slave an “abomination” and says “Instagram is deep.”
Debate the immigration bill with Dad and Katie over coffee. He makes a strong cup and we’re all jacked up on it. He shows us old newspapers from the day he was born, almost 71 years ago. They’re yellow and brittle. You can’t really open them, but we read a few headlines. I look up his birthday online. Same day as the first alien-related events in Roswell, New Mexico.
Open up my daily “word of the day” email. “Backstairs: secret, underhanded, or scandalous.”
Katie and I drive north and listen to XXXtentatcion after learning that he was shot to death yesterday during a robbery in Florida. He was 20. We go back and forth on how to pronounce his name.
Stop by an open house. There’s a koi pond. I take in the smells of the house and photograph some books and wrap-around reading glasses on the nightstand. At one point, we hear birds chirping in the chimney. The realtor says it’s good luck.
Sit outside at a cafe in downtown Sebastopol to make a phone call. Kids dance to Rihanna on the sidewalk. It’s beautiful out.
Listen to the radio on the way back. Can’t write anything down because I’m driving, but I want to remember the playlist for this report. Decide to make a mnemonic sentence: In the summer, orb-headed boys are tenderly whipped by Big Nick for confessing to Jeremiah. Don Henley, Roy Orbison, Talking Heads, TLC, Devo, Biggie, Stevie Nicks, Usher, Jim Croce.
Arrive at the house we’re staying at for the summer. It’s on the Russian River in the redwoods. I hear James Brown coming from the neighbors.
Sort through mail that accumulated while back east. Find a review copy of Ottessa Moshfegh’s A Year of Rest and Relaxation, which I already read a few months back. One of my great art experiences this year. I open it up and re-read a little. Damn. So good.
Also got a copy of the second issue of Temps De Vacances, a gorgeous new art mag. I have a talk with Julia Wachtel in it, mostly about how parenthood has changed her art.
Hit Instagram. Scroll through nemiepeba’s brilliant account.
Open up some spam on horse chestnut. Take a moment to feel grateful I’ve never had hemorrhoids.
Walk through the redwoods while listening to a talk by Camille Paglia. She speaks quickly so I set it at half-speed. She says postmodernist theory destroys art and that the revolutions of the 1960s were all about Jung. I turn it off. Not the right vibe for a forest walk. Listen to the sounds of birds. That’s better.
Take a picture of a shovel.
Sit on the deck in the sun. Emails.
Read an article on blind artists and then look at images by the blind and deaf artist Jessie Dunahoo, who makes work entirely through his sense of touch—the full-on haptic approach.
Sit in the studio drinking tea. Stare at unfinished work. Do nothing.
Read the Wiki page on Litotes.
Read about the time Kerry Washington was accused of cultural appropriation when she tweeted “Kate Winslet is my spirit animal.”
Make dinner for Katie and I while listening to Laaraji’s Vision Songs.
Read Jim Woodring’s Poochyland from cover to cover. A nice dip into the subconscious.
Read a few pages from Live Blog by Meghan Boyle. The book is Boyle’s actual life blog from 2013. It’s 900 pages. Realize I’m life blogging right now.
Watch In a Lonely Place, a noir with Humphrey Bogart, about an innocent (?) man accused of murder. Noir films put me in a nice dreamy space for sleep.
Thursday, June 21
Been trying to make myself laugh first thing in the morning. Good for both the vagus nerve and the mood. It’s not easy to do, though, so I’m always trying new things. Today it’s Joan Rivers. Wow. She’s pretty racist. Doesn’t work.
Brian sends me bootleg recordings he made of a Chucho Valdes concert last week. Listen to those while I make breakfast.
Read a chapter from Peter Bebergal’s Strange Frequencies on EVP [Electronic Voice Phenomenon] about people who hear the voices of spirits on recorded audio.
Read an interview with Cosima von Bonin. She says she makes all art while sitting in bed, either by talking on the phone or emailing. Like Proust. Makes me like her work more.
Watch BROCKHAMPTON play a new song on The Tonight Show, and then The Carters’ “Apeshit” video. Can’t tell if Beyoncé is parodying trap.
Read an article about pagans, summer solstice, and Stonehenge. Is paganism the closest thing Europeans have to an indigenous religion?
Caught up in a text chain about nothing.
Take a walk. Record an idea for a song on my phone.
Read an Anne Carson quote on LitHub: “Set yourself a problem which, in addressing it, will lead you to problems you didn’t set and couldn’t have dreamed up.”
Listen to a track I’m working on five times in row. The trick is to make music that you can listen to thousands of times without tiring of it.
Listen to an audiobook about macro-economics while working in the studio. Learn about how investors were considered like astrologers a century ago. I’m trying to think about money in new ways these days. I’ve spent most of my life in some kind of ridiculous relationship with it: fetishizing it, politely avoiding discussions of it, damning it as the root of all evil. Seems foolish to give it such power, especially now.
Try one of Tim and Eric’s Bedtime Stories. It’s like campy dumb Lynch. They call this show horror but it’s not. I usually can’t watch gory stuff. This episode’s offensive, but I like a good, bracing affrontation, especially if it’s funny. It cuts the tension of suffering. People won’t laugh at a tasteless joke but they’ll happily watch people get murdered by a serial killer. I don’t get it. I often try to make myself laugh at the worst tragedies in my life.
The episode ends with Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s song “You’re Doomed.” Sticks in my head. Love the melody.
Draw on the deck. Take a picture of one of the drawings. Feeling bold so I post it.
Google “stretching hips.” Lots of yoga ladies pop up. I try to locate where I’m feeling tight. The acetabulum? I try out some moves.
Look up a few recipes for cauliflower rice. Make it for dinner.
Finish In a Lonely Place. Solid ending.
Friday, June 22
Decide, immediately on waking, to take a urine test. I ordered the kit months ago and it’s just been sitting in the corner. For some reason, today I feel curious. I read the instructions. This test is supposed to tell me about oxalates, calcium, and kidney function. Never done one of these. Sounds fun.
Listen to Alice Coltrane and Nils Frahm while making breakfast for K and I.
Read articles about different forms of magnesium—citrate, glycinate, oxide, malate, chelated, buffered. Supposedly all modern humans are magnesium-deficient.
Read part of a draft of Daniel’s new book on hip-hop. This chapter’s on a verse from “Exhibit C” by Jay Electronica, which I listen to on YouTube.
Call up the Sonoma County Court House about jury duty. Listen to modulating ECM-style jazzy hold music for 24 minutes. I’m actually enjoying it.
Overhear a lecture by Ram Dass that Katie is playing on her phone. It’s on “dualism.” He says you have to die before you die or else you’ll be reincarnated. Katie says, “What if you want to go around again?”
Rachelle comes over. She brings some kind of special seat with her. She says it helps with her back pain. I take a pic.
Looking at flagpole holders online. Been making art with them. Have ordered a dozen of these things over the last few months and I seem to enjoy looking at them. I’m hooked.
Listen to SOPHIE’s new album Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-sides on headphones while in the studio: pouring glue, sprinkling rice, making mud, squeezing paint. Feels like my ears are being recalibrated.
Work on music for an hour. It’s crazy hot. I can’t do much. My hands are sweaty and my laptop’s overheating. Gotta stop.
Listen to a message from Temple Grandin on my phone. Call her back. She’s sitting on a plane in Chicago waiting to take off. She says she was a little put off by my outgoing message, which, I admit, is off-putting.
Listen to Kronos Quartet’s Pieces of Africa while making dinner. Google “steaming corn” and then try it out. Comes out on the soft side.
The three of us take an evening hike. Listen to Malek Berry on the drive home.
Stop by the market and examine a new peanut butter snack food. Firmly decide against buying it.
Google “average daily urine volume” and learn that it’s 800-2,000 ml, which seems low.
Watch some trailers. I love trailers. Try one for the new Tyler Perry film. Looks like Whoopi Goldberg is playing a pot farmer.
Watch Dark Passage. We’re on a Bogart kick. Seen this one before, but it’s worth a rewatch. Bogart plays an escaped convict from San Quentin Prison and it’s shot from his perspective, like a first-person video game, but Lauren Bacall is the the real star.
Finish collecting urine.
Read Temple’s new book about inventors. Learn that the word “nerd” was invented by Dr. Seuss. “A Nerkle, a Nerd, a SeerSucker, too!” I tell Katie and she says, “Humans are addicted to knowledge.”
Drop by Instagram. Highlights include a new drawing by Ebecho Muslimova and shots from Susan Cianciolo’s new show. Susan told me it would be a departure from her old work, even if it doesn’t look like one. I like that idea.
Read an email called “4 Secrets to Living a Longer Life.” Movement, positivity, social life, and spiritual life. Those don’t seem like secrets. I once read that the oldest living woman ate sweets after every meal.
Rachelle makes us breakfast. We talk about feeding Christians to lions, but are unsure when this happened, exactly. I read the Wiki page on “Damnatio Ad Bestia” to get our facts straight.
Watch a Key and Peele script called Sex Detective. Peele’s expressions are the best. Gets a laugh.
Unpack a wonderful little drawing Gerasimos gave me in New York. Place it on the bookshelf to enjoy.
Head to Mahea’s party. Stop for melons on the way. Remember that I should probably post something about my reading tonight, to be a responsible self-promoter, so I do.
At the party, some of us talk about the Forestiere Underground Gardens. It’s a underground maze in Fresno built by an Italian immigrant. We look at images online.
Leave the party and drive to the city. Car thermostat says 105 degrees. Listen to the radio. “U Can’t Touch This” by MC Hammer comes on. Some of the first music I remember loving. The organ samples still sound hot.
Reach the city and traffic slows. People are everywhere, cavorting in the street, getting ready for the pride parade tomorrow. I’m listening to an interview with Mohnish Pabrai about “commitment bias.” He believes the more we time we spending thinking about a viewpoint the more likely we are to favor it.
Arrive at Alley Cat books. Look at a catalogue for “Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon.”
Read a page of Myriam Gurba’s Mean while standing at the bookstore. Her bio says she makes “art.” She puts it in quotations like that, as if she wants us to know that she knows this whole art thing is a fictional construction.
Do a reading with Dodie Bellamy and Rodney Koeneke. Dodie reads a hot, grimy part of her erotic novel, and Rodney reads his new poems, which sound like music to me. I read an essay called Better Than Satisfaction about an experiment I conducted on my taste in my twenties.
Eat dinner at a Thai spot. Ginger Salmon. Leslie and I talk about a book on plant intelligence by Stephen Harrod Buhner and Eva Wong’s translations of ancient Taoist stories of the immortals.
Kevin tells a story about the artist Jess. I make a note to learn more about him. Seems like one of those singular Northern California artists—David Ireland, Lutz Bacher, Bruce Conner, etc.
Drive home. Listen to a talk with Rupert Sheldrake who thinks science is just another belief system. He thinks the idea of nature having laws is ridiculous.
Blast SOPHIE’s “Immaterial” on repeat to stay awake while driving.
Return to the party. Katie and Iman are sitting on the grass. It’s still warm out. People are sleeping or wandering around on psychedelics. Eric looks paralyzed on the hammock. I offer Joe a mint, but he declines. I can hear faint music coming from the house but I couldn’t tell you what it is.