Rock Star Creative Seeks…

Rock Star Creative Seeks LinkedIn Job Post Seeking Graphic Design Guru

“Wanted: Special Graphic Design Guru
Poster: Spint Creative

You’re a wizard of sorts. As our Guru, you’ll be responsible for designing for multiple mediums including web, advertising, books, packaging, marketing campaigns and many others. Our special graphic designer position isn’t for a warlock per se, but you do have to be somewhat magical with your skills.”

–LinkedIn job posting

Dear Spint:

Welcome to my cover letter. Or is it your cover letter? One thing’s certain, I sure as hell wouldn’t be writing it if I weren’t tired of my current McJob and “wanted” to work for Spint. Anyway, not sure if there’s a particular opening I’m applying for—perhaps Graphic Design Specialist Guru or whatever it’s being called? It’s not clear what a design guru might be, hopefully it’s not a hip way of saying “design rock star” because I avoid job openings that ask for a “rock star”—only a d-bag would self-describe thus, right? Guru? That at least connotes someone who quasi-religiously pursues their task to the point of excellence. That’s me, over there under that rock, on the path up the mountain to the Path, pursuing excellence but taking a quick Clif™ bar break.

I have years of experience, awards, bodies of work, books, packaging, record albums, handmade birthday cards, doodles, reposts, etc., and other artifacts borne of toil that prove that I tread the path toward guruhood. For example, a few years ago I made a giant alphabetical list of jazz band names in an Excel spreadsheet and parlayed it into being published and then it graced many a bathroom and coffee table and got on a bunch of top 10 lists. (Excerpt: Herbert Petersen Allstars, Oscar Peterson, Oscar Peterson and Earl Hamlin, The Oscar Peterson Quartet, The Oscar Peterson Trio, Franz Pettersen Octet, etc.) I’ll send you a copy if you’d like, though you’ll have to ask nicely because I’m not running a charity here.

So have I arrived at the requisite guruhood? A real guru would never admit to arriving (so beware other applicants who say “I am the guru you seek”—they are impostors and probably rock stars, but of the Dave Matthews type, not the John Bonham type.) Thinking differently and being bored by most advertising (but thrilled at good work) are two notches in the gnarled staff of my apprenticeship. Sometimes asking my colleagues questions causes them to have great ideas, which is great, it doesn’t matter who has it as long as it’s somebody and not just another Abilene paradox of mediocrity. Once I have a vision of something great, obsession takes hold until it is finished, gleaming like a heterodiamond (look it up on Wikipedia, it’s wild!), and neither time nor effort is of any concern. This is sounding pretty guru-like, no? Plus I’ve been learning transcendental meditation, so that at least proves I’m not just on the twitternets all day. Witness the beard of my apprenticeship.

So much for what I bring to you. What I require from you is an active role in seeing my strengths, and developing the skills to support those strengths so I can contribute the best work possible to Spint. If you want someone who is absolutely 100% perfect out of the box, and can live on subway tokens, Clif bars, and promises as compensation, that’s not me. I decided a couple of years ago to merge my artistic and professional disciplines (since one can’t make a dime as an artist.) In exchange for getting cool ideas, a guano mineworker-grade work ethic, outside-of-the-box thinking, and all the other creative skills and intangibles that most marketing people wouldn’t know if it gave their PC a virus, you have an obligation to not let them go to waste. (“Wait, what did he say? I didn’t hear a single mention of ‘assets,’ ‘deliverables’ or ‘collateral!’”) Besides, if I’m not challenged or utilized to full capacity I will likely run around on top of the desks instead of paying attention, like I did in second grade.

The biggest source of fear in writing a cover letter is that one will say something that’s a turn-off to the (completely unknown to you) person who is reading it. I decided in the last 96 hours that I’m not going to let fear dictate what I do or say unless I’m getting mugged. It’s especially important not to let fear call the shots in applying for jobs, which is like trying to seduce a cardboard cutout. (And the cardboard cutout probably has low blood sugar and corns and some very important texts coming in on their smart phone.) Kissing the cardboard, it’s sorta like marketing itself. Realizations! Guru thinking.

Actually my biggest fear is that a job will develop the sour taste of a bad relationship. I want the Romeo and Juliet version of work, not the one-day-at-a-time, see the kids on weekends, home alone with Ben and Jerry’s watching X-Files reruns version. I do like your work, maybe I could even be “passionate” about it, and would like to “join the team”—that’s the only reason you’re get a good cover letter letter. (Boring companies with cute, unpronounceable names with boring job postings get boring letters – pfft!) It’s basic marketing: create an attention-getting piece that conveys a clear message in a language tailored to the message’s audience. Or just rant loudly and ridiculously until you turn into a meme.

Also find my resume blah blah blah attached, I look forward to blah blah blah-ing with you!

Yours, Dan

P.S. I don’t have a smart phone—hope this is not a problem.


Corporate Haiku

[Rules: must be short, refer to nature, and be written during a meeting.]

Whiteboard reflects winter sun
dry erase marks washed
away by water.


A dreamcatcher—mere scotch tape,
rubber bands, a coffee pot—picks up
autumn’s watercooler rumors.


Male mannequins in low
winter light, be-chino-ed, agreeing
in a greige boardroom.


Paper settles like wet
leaves, inbox sagging, ink
tide turns in my resting pen.


Thumbs fully a-twiddle, my eye
seeks clouds beyond the static pits of the Celotex ceiling,
mind organizing nothing.


Old Huan Xi paused in grey light
on the bridge over the lobby —
“Licensing is key,” he echoed.


Cells in a spreadsheet
like tiles in the city square
numbers on a clear day jostle.


A hand-shaped cloud
scrolls down the unsaved
document of day.


As the projector goes to sleep,
not a ripple disturbs the blank screen’s
glow on our dark table.


Chuan hops from tile to tile
As if checking boxes
on SurveyMonkey.


HTML, CSS, meta data
heaped like unseen snowflakes
behind our browsers.


Forecasts–into skyless horizons
trends–creeping, invisible vines
projections–cloudless, lightless


Ad dollars poured in
to penetrate a market, like
pushing a pea up a hill.


Supply chains, long, across
rolling winter waves, dividing continents
of nationalists who shout


Slush runs in the streets—
overflowing—a spring tide, upward
from America’s funds

[Excerpt from “The Corporation” artist book, 2017]

The Organizer

Most mornings I bicycle to work on a wide boulevard with green space in the middle and commercial buildings on the sides. The median has been manicured and tended in an effort to emphasize the neighborhood’s position as a gateway to Oakland for those coming from SF, and to downplay its edge-of-the-world quality. It’s two lanes in each direction, wide enough for tractor trailers and straight enough for souped-up Japanese cars and tinted-windowed Beamers to speed to and from the bridge approach to the west. North, on the morning ride, the smell goes from welding to concrete dust to diesel to sewage undergoing treatment to bread baking at Panera to grease exhaust from the diner, shortly after which my old red Schwinn squeaks up to the office door.

Apart from people walking dogs, drifting garbage, small tree branches felled by trucks, and jetsam from passing vehicles, there’s nothing much to look at on the way. The parkway is much tidier than the surrounding streets. The homeless choose the street a few blocks east to pull carts of bottles and cans. One block west is an orgy of exploded couches and such. One day recently I breezed past a normally uneventful corner that was covered with a massive, low, wide array of trash surrounding and spilling out of a shopping cart.

The only thought that occurred was why the depositor hadn’t instead dumped it all on one of the streets veining out from the parkway, to join the 5 gallon buckets of paint, motor oil, couches, clothing, etc. that are now overseen by gorgeous wheat-pasted art and puzzling graffitied phrases. Some blocks look like sprawling destroyed living rooms, consumer culture inside out.

The next day as I approached the corner I anticipated the same bunch of trash in disarray. This time, however, the red cart was empty and all of the stuff was organized and spread out flat around it, with all of the shoes grouped as if walking away from the cart, clothing fanning out, dolls and toys lying next to each other, and empty containers and bottles placed in a pattern. I kicked myself for not having a camera to record something more intriguing than most gallery art. Somehow it didn’t seem intentional, probably because the intentions weren’t clear. In the art world, “it” is as much about the intention of a piece as the piece itself, so it was nice to see something whose intention was obscure and potentially very simple. A bunch of junk organized visually around an empty container was striking.

So I took it as it was and as it came, namely a brief glimpse of an intriguing action. The next morning, with a camera on me this time, I approached the intersection. Half a block earlier I’d noticed that the objects had been moved out of the street, but getting closer saw that the entire corner was immaculately clean. In its place stood a tall, slim, shirtless, muscular black man with dark skin and short dreadlocks. He stood in a kind of warrior pose (and exhale…legs spread, knees slightly bent, arms stretched, head facing forward). Behind him were two or three shopping carts wrapped neatly and tightly in black plastic attached like trailers to a bicycle. He had an intense, focused look, as one might imagine a shaman in the midst of a ritual. A powerful energy emanated from him which seemed to clear the air as thoroughly as he had (presumably) cleared the corner. On some unacknowledged plane I suppose a lighting-fast vision of his leveled arms dispensing fire across the dull landscape came and went. The positive magnetic charge of his presence both broke through and repelled my timidity: like a heroic figure or celebrity that stands 4 feet away, it was hard to meet his eye, though that’s all I was compelled to do. He stood like a reason.

Twenty-four hours later, and in the month since, no trace of him or the objects remained. There have been some small wagon-trains of shopping carts around the neighborhood, but their haphazardly stacked furniture and sloppy tarps suggest the styles of other authors.


“All Known Metal Bands” Afterword

I. Forty million years ago, the gorillas that would eventually metamorphose into the earliest humanoids split off from the evolutionary line of great apes. Thirty-nine million seven hundred thousand years ago, we see the first signs of a proto-human (Australopithecus afarensis) that can be traced directly, through a continuous set of fossils, to Homo erectus, the most common mammal that exists in the year of the creation of this book, the year two thousand eight of the Common Era.

There are those—the author of this book included—who believe that in that shadowy stretch of three hundred thousand years, the blink between great apes and humans, a distinct race much like ourselves came into existence, evolved, flourished, and ultimately destroyed itself by monstrous means, wiping clean the surface of the earth with horrific, fire-bearing tools of their own design, leaving but a thin layer of compacted ash to be dug through in the later search for thicker paleontological meaning.

Perhaps they formed books like the one you now read, books that recorded the knotted, frayed, and powerful doings of the Ur-men, the very first of those whose faces leveled gazes against each other, and toward the horizon; who grasped the ape’s tool–the stick–and sharpened it, or lashed it to a stone, or struck it against a hollow tree in concert with the beating in their chests. Perhaps they fashioned books of reeds or barks painted with dye or ink or blood or mud, scribed in wild tongues now dried and shriveled, jacketed in stone or skin or plant or such stuff as exists no more, in no way envisionable by our later minds.

It may be that these early women and men did and made and acted in such lofty or lowly ways that would uncloak us as simple clods.

II. The names in this book are invisible tokens to be uttered aloud, each conjuring a group of humans formed to play rock in its extreme forms—with the greatest impact of sound, in which the floorboards shake and the walls quiver, and ears split and leak blood; or of sight, with faces painted, hair preened bird-like, horse-like, arms and belts packed with stone and metal, skin stained life-long with arcane or vulgar signs; or of speech, wherein is screamed and growled what woman and man alike shun to speak of: death, abuse, horror, evil, hate, and the ever-yawning black maw.

Not only do these bards proclaim the fears that shadow human life as ghastly blood blots cobbled roads—in doing so, they also summon the vital forces that rise up in the face of these appalling dangers. Picture the whaleboat staved in twain by a great whale breaching beneath it, the oarsmen snarling, ready to make clubs of sweeps, harpooner turning to pierce the beast, even as he is tossed, to be swallowed in the foaming thing’s wake.

III. The names in this book were amassed as grains of sand in a bowl–the more that were piled, the more that evaded one’s grasp. The grains of metal players and hearers are scattered in their vast multiplicity throughout society, ubiquitous but concealed. Never has a music relegated to the underground of a civilization had so many devotees; no radio need transmit its power, for it is sought fiercely and freely by the doomed and the dispossessed, those whose ears are never touched by songs of love and weakness.

This volume contains just under fifty-one thousand bands. For each name that is used by more than one group, that name is listed once for each distinct group. Should one presume that each of these bands had an average of four members, and multiply that by the quantity of bands, one might calculate that at least a quarter of a million humans have undertaken this quest–to unearth, embody, aim, and deliver power itself–and have brought that quest into the harsh light of the public world.

IV. The names herein were collected by the author, with no direct aid from other humans, gathered from the ether in relative secrecy, using the tools of this moment: a kind of book with a static but changing screen made of light, and an invisible web tying many such books together, wherein language and pictures are transmitted through a refined from of lighting. But when the light books sputter out and die, this brick of paper shall remain. This dusty volume, which you may have unearthed from a tomb, or a burned-out library, or from a metal box submerged in dessicated mud. If you can read our language, then read of these beings who once populated the earth, and who are now gone. Examine this stone and read in it a fallen civilization.

Read it—and weep.

[From the book “All Known Metal Bands”, published by McSweeney’s, 2008]

140 Ways: Dear NASA

Dan Nelson
Oakland, CA 94611

Feb. 11, 2006

Public Inquiries Business Center
NASA Headquarters
Suite 1M32
Washington, DC 20546-0001


Dear NASA:

I am a photographer/artist currently engaged in a project called “140 Ways To Make a Tape Unlistenable.” The idea is to find as many different–and hopefully spectacular–ways as possible. Two of the ways that I’ve come up with are: a) to send one into orbit in a satellite, and b) to send one into a black hole.

All that I would need to represent these items in my catalog is a memorandum, after the fact, for each event, stating when cassette A was launched and a short description of its orbit; and when it is calculated that the gravitational pull of the black hole exceeded the escape velocity of cassette B, approximately where in the solar system this occurred, and any other relevant or interesting details. If it is found difficult to locate a suitable black hole, then propelling cassette B into a senescent supernova would prove satisfactory to the aims of the project.

I assure you that this is no joke. If you are interested in participating in a project at the very cutting edge of the international art scene, that combines several media in an exciting, relevant way, then we would welcome your input.

I realize that you are probably very busy, so I thank you for the time in answering this enquiry at the address stated above.

Dan Nelson

[from “140 Ways to Make a Cassette Unlistenable“]

Rhapsody on a Chart

It seems that the ti leaves that we lashed to both ends of the boat to insure a peaceful voyage are so far turning out to be, um, too effective. Since there’s not much to do during night watch on this slow boat to China, I often take a long look at the small scale, i.e. big area, chart of the north Pacific. After looking only at maps of land masses in the atlas for most of your life, you (like me) probably assumed that there “wasn’t much out there” in the Pacific ocean. There are usually only two pages devoted to the Pacific which show some islands – Hawaii, the Marshalls, Guam, and the islands on which big battles were fought in World War II – but not much else. And as far as features of the bottom, it treats the ocean as if were a swimming pool!

But on the chart (which highlights features of the ocean), there are reefs, atolls, mountains (called seamounts), valleys (called trenches), even rises. And in a twist of justice, it is the great land masses (like Asia and North America) that are barren of features. They’re represented only as flat yellow shapes with irregular borders. The islands, atolls and seamounts are surrounded by the kind of lines you see on small topographic maps used by backpackers. These show the height, incline, and contours of underwater mountains and hills.

The other night, a great find: Kapingamaringi Atoll. It is written in Roman characters (our alphabet), but such a word would never originate on the lips of an English-speaker – not even Lewis Carroll! Here’s some more atolls: Rongelap, Jabwot, Eniwetok, Ailinglapalap, Tabiteuea, Nukufetau, Vaitupu. And moving further west away from Polynesian lands over the Caroline and Mariana Islands toward Indonesia, we find Senyavin Atoll, Truk Island, Anatahan, Saipan, Guguah, Alamagan, Ulithi, Palau Island, and – what’s this?!?! — LadyElgin Bank?? There are, finally, some names from which I cannot even deduce what is signified, such as Selat Makasar.

And who ever said there were only seven seas? Have you heard of the Arafura Sea (it laps the southern coast of Indonesia), the Banda Sea, or the Sulawesi Sea, which is framed by the Indonesian and Philippine Islands of Mindanao, Sarawak, Kalimantan, and Sulawesi? The Sawu Sea, the Coral Sea…. You can only appreciate these names fully if you try to pronounce them, for it is naming them that makes the music. That is where their foreignness and, consequently, their appeal lies.

The crazy depth contours are hard to describe. Many spots hundreds of square miles are just white blots with a single number in their midst: 3042 (meters). Near the island chains there are massive trenches whose sides descend steeply to depths that are hard to imagine: 566, 2763, 3932, 4872, 9396, 10915 meters – that’s thirty-three thousand feet! Again, the swimming pool image, “Twelve feet at the deep end, people!” These are depths at which light does not penetrate, and has never penetrated, inhabited by creatures who have, instead of eyes, organs which sense the electrical fields emitted by other creatures. There – somewhere – fish swim through valleys and among mountains, over which sail ships that, to them, would seem to be floating in mid-air, driven by beings emitting incomprehensible sounds and frolicking in an element, a dimension, they cannot even perceive. So who are the aliens in this scenario? This reminds me of a remark Amy made during our departure ceremony in Baltimore to the effect that, “It’s like we’re going to the @*#!@&! moon or something!”

But then I go up on deck and there are the same scattered cumulus clouds and the same gentle swell we’ve been seeing for a week. Even though we will sail over depths of thirty thousand feet, we will probably not see a single one of these islands. So what’s the appeal of looking at a chart? Perhaps we will see more exotic things even than these, for they are only on the way! I’m not a teacher, so I admit that I don’t really know why it’s appealing – except for the mystery. Anything which places you near or before the unknown – that’s why we’re on this trip – to see what we cannot predict we’ll see. The waters on the chart, at least as far as depth and contour are concerned, are clearly laid out. It is the land that is blank. So, of the water we will know nothing more than its surface. Of the land? Not an enigma, but close.

If I do not see any of these islands and atolls, I can still mumble their names as I peruse the chart, and imagine what they might look like, what their people look like and how they dress (if they do dress!), and what sounds and sights one might experience there and nowhere else on the planet.

The ship herself is an island, moving among islands, with her own ways, her own language, and beings who dream what no other beings dream – and one being who dreams of Kpn Damar.

[Published on the Pride of Baltimore II blog, 1998]