Monday, June 01, 2020

violence and more violence...

Some days are mentally rougher than others. Even from way out at the far edge of the city, it's a roller coaster. My general fear and dread about what will happen with the virus is now coupled with anger and frustration at the cops inciting violence (in some cases, actually STAGING it ) as well as the right-wingers infiltrating what would probably otherwise be peaceful protests.  And now, a president sending in heavily armed military, as if that has ever made things better. 

Today, the news had me not sleeping so well through the morning hours and fighting the urge to check my phone for the latest horror story. so when I did finally get up, I was tired and sluggish. I had a student staff meeting early-ish, which I muddled through, not really giving a shit about anything we talked about--corona-proofing when we get back, schedules, tasks for them to do in the meantime from home.  Meanwhile I was doing more frantic scrolling of the terrible news and stuffing ice cream sandwiches for breakfast into my mouth and refusing to turn on my camera..  None of these things are good. 

Faced with an entire day of random library tasks and not really caring about them at all, and feeling kind of gross from all that ice cream  on an empty stomach, I told my boss I was taking a vacation day and going back to bed, and have been depression napping through the day off and on.  Because good things have a way of showing up in strangely unfortunate moments, later, when I went downstairs to fetch the giant cat litter, I found some very lovely copies of sex & violence waiting for me. It's gorgeous and on another day I be singing excitedly about its release (and will,  no doubt, soon) .  But then again, his book has that sort of aura, especially since I pulled it together in the darkest days that November after my mom died and then broke into sobs when it was accepted, not because of happiness it was taken, but because the first person I would have told would have been her. 

I will post a proper book-related post in a few days when I can and a longer entry about it's arrival. It's not that unusual that a book about violence toward women shows up on a day when we are  all talking about violence toward POC. The perpetrators are typically one and the same and two somewhat related symptoms of similar illnesses (ie. toxic masculinity vs. institutionalized racism, of which these killings are a bit of both).   We are currently under  a 9pm curfew and downtown all but closed off, but fires and violence are erupting in pockets of neighborhoods.    I don't know if tomorrow will be better or worse, but until then..

Saturday, May 30, 2020

saturday randomness

After a few days of a strange mix of humid weather that left things sticky in my apartment and felt warmer than it was,  today is rather mild and sun-filled.  I was awake early, and unable to get back to sleep, so continued designing a new banner for our A of R blog, which needed a refresh and some more promotion of our physical space (even though it's really just a virtual space at the moment, we had time to host exactly one workshop in there before everything went to hell.) The news is insanely troubling, and not even about the virus and its repercussions.  I was talking on the phone with a friend about how things like this hadn't really happened in our lifetimes and so seem extra jarring to our softness.  For other generations, in other countries that were not the US, not unfamilair. As X-ers, we came into a world where the greatest threat was Russian nukes, but there was always a clear villain.  Ditto, 9-11.  The virus is not vilified or really figtable.  Our institutionalized racism and treatment of POC is our own creation.  You can't rally patriotism when patriotism is the problem.  Now, the news is that white radicals are fueling the violent parts of otherwise completely legit protests. The terrifying thing is this is not all that surprising.  I am both rapt at attention with the news and horrified by it.

My anxiousness is now dually split between anger/social unrest and the virus, which is still, though it's not at the top of the news, killing people, surging exactly as we said it would into those places that opened too soon.  The police are killing people.  People are killing people. We are planning to be back in the library at the end of this month, which also feeds my anxiety, not about Chicago, which is doing really well, but everyone else. So until then I'm determined to make the most of these next few weeks in terms of projects I otherwise don't get to. I hesitate to say, in case I get sick and die (which is being dramatic, but you never know.) I do have plans to visit Rockford over Father's Day since I haven't been back in six months.  I plan to keep close to home until then as I have been, as as distanced as I can from my dad while I'm there unless masked, even though we're supposedly in the clear for visiting other houses than our own.  He seems to be much more out in the world than I am (stores and such), and actually it could travel both ways, but he's the older one with worse odds.)  Plus, I'm pretty safe until I go back to work. 

In my apartment, things are the usual quiet. Cats and meals and the entirety of the Friday the 13th franchise on streaming late at night. My sleep patterns are weird and in flux and sometimes I am awake at dawn.  Sometimes in bed through the early afternoon.  Sometimes a combination of both. This week, I've been working on summer virtual book clubs for the library and the very last of the Overlook poems.  I might even get to some submissions later today--older and new stuff.  (I'm trying to devote Saturdays to writing things since the week gets eaten up by library and press business. ) So time goes on and summer still happens, with or without us out in the world. I can control my little bubble in the work--this apartment, these cats (sort of)-, these poems--but not beyond it, and for now, it will have to be enough. 

Thursday, May 28, 2020

another dgp summer

messes and mascots

The onset of summer usually sneaks up on me.  I'll be busy with books and work and poems and one day I look up and the trees are budding their first leaves and blossoms.  The magnolia near the bus stop is always an early and flirtatious guest, but somehow, usually as my attention is focused on closing out the semester, the other flowering trees flush with color.  I am missing much of Grant Park's loveliness this year hunkered down on the north side, but have been watching the trees on on my block that I can see from the windows of my apartment.  Every day, a little more green, and by now, almost full coverage.  Barring the smaller tree in the courtyard that both gets and loses it's leaves about a month after everyone else, it definitely looks like summer out there, and the humidity in the air and occasional crazy flash thunderstorms confirm it.

Whether it FEELS like summer is another matter, so much of my experience over the past two decades dependent on a certain rhythm that I can't quite get during this strange time.  Normally, that mad dash to the semester's end would be followed by a couple weeks of recoup and settling into summer patterns, but without knowing what those summer patterns are yet going to be, it's hard to feel grounded.  And it being summer, of course, means dgp will technically be opening to submissions next week. I thought about postponing the open reading period until my mind was in better sorts, when futures were more certain on all fronts. But there's really no reason to that, since we don't know that things will necessarily be more a less stable than they are now.  (or my focus more or less promising in the coming months.)

Until the past couple weeks, it's been hard to feel enthusiastic about anything poetry related, which is a poor state to begin reading manuscripts. But then,  I usually let them build up a bit before delving in later in the summer, so it might not matter. (And with a lot of writer's with their minds elsewhere than poetry,  a smaller submission pool might not be a bad thing--the deluge doesn't usually get rolling til August.)  I've been slowly rolling back into layouts and designing covers, though things feel really slow and my mind scattered in a million different places, so it's hard to keep track of all the moving pieces.

I am just not good at life lately, let alone keeping a million cats in the air that is dancing girl press. So things move more snail-paced, but I take comfort in the fact that after a couple months of creative paralyzation, the blood seems to be coming back into my limbs bit.  I was looking forward to being able to work on press things at home this summer instead of the studio in the evenings, so there is at least that one bright spot.   Also, a whole bunch of titles that were set for spring release that are just now beginning to happen. I've been working in my more coherent moments on the backlog of January/February orders, so some titles that were new then are still waiting to ship from then, then I'll be starting on things that came after.

I've read some grim projections on pandemic publishing and we're definitely lower volume than normal sales since mid-March, but luckily I've had some author copy orders that kept me in printing without having to dip into my personal account.  Daily, I am thankful for having given up the studio and those high overhead costs.  Even if sales were super slow we could still survive as long as I can afford toner and cards tock, so it's good to be more bare bones. I still have hopes for things like the swim (aka the mermaid themed box projectanthology to happen this year when things get back to normal.

Until then, watch for new books by Brooke Larson and Sadie Schuck Hinkel I am putting the finishing touches on as we speak, plus about another half dozen coming down the pipeline very soon.   I would love to see what you are working on when we open for submissions, so send it my way starting June 1st...

happy reading and writing!

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

print vs. digital in a pandemic world

For a few years now, A of R has been exploring how artists use libraries (and in turn, how libraries benefit from artists and creative communities.)  This seems especially important as we come into a fast evolving online learning focus (either for the long or the short run.)  Further, a stress on the importance of print materials, especially true right now, when so much of our collection is inaccessible during quarantine. As easy as electronic materials are to use, so much is available only in print (including my own titles and most poetry unless they have distribution methods that involve electronic --most small publishers don't.)  Even, in the rush to accommodate,  our textbook reserves had only a few high-use titles that could be ordered as e-books. (Others my co-worker spirited away on her way out the door to scan some chapters for panicked faculty members from home.)  There is also the problem that while providers make such content available, you never really own it.  Thus, budget cuts, you discontinue, and you don't really have access to anything in the way you did in print. They also tend to be more expensive with less return.

Today, setting up our summer Book to Art club endeavor, the last moving piece of spring focus programming and devoted to The Handmaid's Tale, I went searching for a free electronic version for a re-read.  I have a couple of Atwood novels, but not this one (unless it's buried in the cases at the back but I'm pretty sure I initially read a library-owned copy.). As I perused the first few pages of a pdf, how strange I found my experience reading fiction online--how I immediately fell into how I usually read the web for content--scrolling and skimming.  I once watched a woman on a train back from Detroit with a kindle who was reading.  Only she wasn't really reading because every two minutes, she'd look at her phone, then go back to another 2 minutes of book. Phone, book. Repear. Usually, when I'm reading, I'm commuting, but if what I'm reading is good, I tend to get utterly lost in that 45 minutes or so and have to be careful lest I miss my stop.

There is also something to be said for physical browsing--approaching a shelf of books and paging through them--either choosing what you want to explore further or just skimming for inspiration. This is harder when entering search terms into a database without the physicality of the book there in front of you.  One would worry that a pandemic would kill the printed word, but people are still finding their way to printed books--be it via Amazon or curbside pickup at the public library.  The e-book thing never caught on like they thought it would, but I wonder if the current state will give it a boost.  Over the years, whenever I've asked students if they preferred electronic texts or print, it has overwhelmingly been the latter.

Of course, I say this with an obvious bias.  As an author whose books are very tied up in print publishing, and as an editor who makes print books that aren't available elsewhere. Of course, electronic mediums are also advantageous--I've been making more and more older projects available via the web, esp. the ones out of print, which give them new readers and new life.  What do we lose in such a format?  What do we gain?  Has the pandemic pushed print publishing further into the ground, or will people who read books still want, you know BOOKS, even when others cannot understand why everything isn't digital?  I don't have answers for these, only preferences.

Way back in 2004, I sat through an AWP panel that talked about how, as digital media rose to prominence, books would become more important as tactile, unique objects. About 15 years ago, someone high up in the college was allegedly quoted as asking why on earth a campus needed a library if everyone was reading on their kindle.  For a few years in the late aughts, I'd catch a lot of bus readers with their sleek little tablets, but it seemed the the newness wore off and soon people reading were toting print volumes again.   I got a Kindle Fire a few years ago for Christmas and can't say I've ever read a book on it (but I have watched a lot of Netflix.) While CD's died a quick death at the birth of mp3 & streaming technology, readers, those people really into books, are a harder lot to convince.  It's been almost two decades since the digital revolution and books are, since the days of the Gutenberg bible, still a thing.

A few days I was laughing over an article about the rise of the bookshelf backed zoom panorama,  which seems like it would be hard to pull off if all your books are digital. I am probably guilty of this, since my desk sits with my back to the shelves (less now than before, now it's just a shorter bank of shelves and now, where the others stood,  the coat rack.)  A house full of books is a sign of life of the mind, I suppose, though books can be ingested in all sorts of ways (some people are really into listening to audio books of late.)  But even still, I think the immersion in the world of a book, at least with fiction, is a little less deep electronically than on a screen.

I do take some solace in this--that books are still a thing, that indie bookstores, at least until this current predicament were actually thriving long after places like B&N and Borders nearly killed them.  While I don't miss grocery stores or department stores, I do miss bookstores (and, of course, thrift stores.) In  a world and a nation that seems to cater to the lowest common denominator and proves stupider every day, it's good to know people are still reading nevertheless.

Monday, May 25, 2020

tricks and trades

Sometimes I've managed to get myself unstuck creatively by trickery.  It happened after my MFA, when I'd spent about 3-4 years waffling and only occasionally sputtering out a poem like a firework that every quite went off completely.  There were too many people in my head, too many fingers in my poems, and it felt awkward and like it barely mattered. I was plenty busy with other things...that fall after graduating, I moved into the studio and started to hustle to make that rent--the etsy shop, growing the press, more forays into crafts and visual work.  All took away from the writing I'd been focusing on predominantly before that. I'd spend most of my weekend working on jewelry and soap and a million different things and a lot of time during the week filling orders for the shop. I was also pre-occupied by myriad romantic drama that cut across about three different entanglements that ate a lot of emotional energy, even while the library was pretty quiet in those days and my responsibilities considerably less. 

Mid- 2011, everyone seemed to be talking about the ridiculousness of James Franco and his writing.  Or maybe less his writing and more the fame-whoring that seems to be permeating the lit establishment that clamored to embrace him.  Also, just JF as a construct, a caricature even of himself.  Something very meta.   I started writing what I thought were just blog entries based on conversations spinning around and would occasionally share them. Even my non-poet friends seemed to like them a lot. What started as a fun little diversion became focused on the idea of art and celebrity and my own writing insecurities and experience.  I've always thought it was never about JF at all (who turned out to be kind of a creeper and most people lost interest). But more about me. I decided to pull them together and send them to Sundress as an e-chap and they were published in late 2012, at a time when I was just beginning to churn out work more readily.  By virtue of subject matter and easily accessed format, they may be my most heavily-read project ever. Later they would be included in major characters in minor films.

These past couple months have distracted me endlessly from creative pursuits.  There is the news of course, alarmingly fresh everyday.  And library work, which is now occupying my home and not just a set of hours spent elsewhere.  General dread and uncertainty. Also trying to keep the wheels turning with more rote pursuits (cleaning, cooking, assembling books) in the absence of creative roving.  While I've managed a few days where the writing feels good and tending to literary business seems possible--getting ready for sex and violence's release, submitting poems, working on the overlook pieces, outside of a couple graphic cover designs and some crypto memes, not much had been happening visually at all. 

Yesterday, I found myself wishing I had a larger landscape for my kitchen wall next to the fridge--perhaps a larger reproduction of the ghost landscape pieces that are all postcard sized.   It seemed easy enough, but as I started working this morning, I realized I really liked the colors I was mixing, and in an effort not to waste the paint on the pallet,  and eventually knocked off five different variations that aren't half bad.  We'll see what I think of them tomorrow, but it's a start and a move in one direction or another.  Meanwhile, the weather has been lovely the past few days and the windows all open overnight for the first time.  Let's hope it holds.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

space music and paper boats

I've been thinking a bit about the speed at which things spin past us wildly. About social media, especially in a world where our attentions are split in 100 different directions.  The things I followed once on the regular, blogs, you-tubers, litzines, get lost in the rubble of horrible news article and general mental scatteredness of living in crazy world where we may have never had control of it, but even the illusion that we did seems to be unraveling. I've been thinking about my own writing and art and how I feel like even when I am creating it, I am disconnected from the audience.  Or from even the idea of audience that I used to feel.  And yes, perhaps I think too much about audience (somewhere I hear someone yelling that only the art matters, the creation, not what happens afterward) but I think art needs an audience, or an awareness of audience at least, to be a full communication put out there into the universe. Otherwise, you're sort of like a table with only one or two legs and not the third.

I've always been the sort of creator that puts it all out there.  At one time, I was self-conscious about this.  I had a poetry website from the time I first started publishing.  It seemed important to have a web central for the work that was just starting to crop up in online journals. I think back on that time as exhilarating--the first time I got real-time engagement with work.  The online poetry community felt much smaller and perhaps it was..but so many folks took the time to write really nice messages to me.  It was the first time I really felt like a writer and it encouraged me to write and submit more.

This was before "social media" was a thing, but instead we connected via the lit journals, via listservs and discussion boards.  In 2001, I created a website with Angelfire, which was surprisingly simple. (the main landing page of my website s still hosted there, as is dgp, though both now take you to blogger sites.)  Over the years, I actually managed to tweak the design of pretty basic templates until I had something I liked. It's hoot to go back in the internet archive and see what the pages looked like over the years, what my tastes and visual inspos were. It was followed by a blog later--first on xanga in 2003, where I met some of the folks I am still poetry friends with.  Then on blogger in 2005 and still going strong.

Both venues and their content seemed to vascillate between diary-like content and the sort of stuff you use social media for now--publication announcements, recommendations, memes, links to cool things.  I also used to post a lot of drafts, some of which remain. (and some of which exist nowhere else.)  Probably from about 2005-2009, blogs were the center of my online lit community for, full of comments and interractions (good and bad) that dwindled once writers began to move to facebook for such things.  I joined Facebook in 2009 and that soon became the way you connected with other writers, while the blogs sort of dwindled down to the folks, like me,  who still loved long-form content too much to give it up.  But probably now and for the past decade, the blog feels like someone playing a record in space.  You know it's making music and broadcasting, but aren't quite sure if it's reaching anyone's ears.   And maybe it just feels that way because we're now trained to expect more interaction when we post things..a like or comment or a heart.  Proof that someone at least heard us.

But then again, writing might be a little like this itself.  You write a book, you publish a poem, and it blasts off into the universe, and only occasionally an echo comes back.  Someone writes a review or says a kind something that makes your heart soar,  You click with an editor or a something goes over really well at a reading. For poetry, it stills feels like there is a lot more silence than there is echo. But then of course, how can it be any other way?  Especially when you are but one record player in a sea of record players, all playing their own songs. It is, at the same tie absolute stillness and absolute chaos. But as readers, we are the ones out there in space trying to listen and there is not only the record players, but all the other space junk.  I feel the junk lately--some of it good--some of it good, some of it terrible, some of it just a hum, but ultimately distracting.

Until this pandemic, I was really good about staying focused on the center of things. The center of who I was--what was important--the rest of which revolved around that center.   But it's taken a bit of time to get back to being moored, and I'm not sure I'm even there yet. Some days I am there--but some days are lost in horrifying headlines and growing sense of doom that makes caring about writing or art impossible.  Also reading impossible, and even caring about poetry related things at all.  But I try to make use of the good days.  This week was eaten up by library work in long stretches--a presentation to other librarians about our virtual exhibits and a grant proposal deadline--but today I woke up determined to spend it writing, or working on writing related things at least since it's technically the weekend  (though what is a weekend anymore?)  While I was in bed and fighting the urge to check facebook or the local news for the latest terrible statistics and alarming headlines, I started plotting a new project instead.

A couple years back I started a Tiny Letter, at the time for sending out little missives of work.  I "published" off the bulk of two different series that way--exquisite damage and swallow--and collected  a small group of subscribers. Though not everyone read everything that came into their inboxes, some did.  I also enjoyed the ones I subscribed to--a mix of newsletters and writing samples and postcards from other writers delivered virtually.  And while the same info sometimes was available elsewhere--on facebook, on twitter, on author websites--it was nice that it felt a little special. It also felt like a moment of stillness.  The time it took to open an e-mail and peruse, that was different than scrolling past something in a feed. 

So it occurred to me what if I revived the Tiny Letter, not just as a news letter of what is happening or what I'm working on, but also as a way to share special things--little electronic projects and e-zines, if not totally exclusively, then in advance. Sampled poems from what I'm working on not posted elsewhere.   Or also offer special little collage images and printables.  I have the books & objects subscription. but that costs money, something none of us seems to have a lot of these days, so this would be free to whoever wants to join to receive it in their inboxes (monthly I'm thinking?)   I like the idea of calling it PAPER BOAT, because it feels like something carefully crafted and set off in the water every month and on it's way to you.  Something tangible and intentional (well as tangible as something electronically delivered can be.)

Today, I'll finish this post then I'll spend some time formatting the first one and making the webpage for people to join.  It's a scary world and a cloudy day that already feels a little sticky and storm swollen, but I have coffee and a laptop and lots of poems and pictures. So I'm feeling a little better able to focus today on the center, that for me anyway,  holds it all together.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

cooking for the apocalypse

I've been cooking more in my kitchen than I ever was during the quarantine--a lot of things involving tortillas, which are my favorite, but other things like crock pot experiments, pastas, pizza, soups. I'm not a successful baker, so you won't see much coronatine bread coming from my kitchen, but you may see some box mix cakes and muffins.  Prior to this, there were years where I kept very little food in the house.  I always got coffee & breakfast from a cafe or Dunkin, maybe a sandwich or vending machine fare for lunch.  Dinner was something microwaveable or a loaded salad, because the last thing I wanted to do at 11pm and working all day was cook or wash dishes.  Weekends for years probably meant a lot of takeout--all cuisines and all sorts of places. The frequency of delivery fare some periods can be measured by the fact that I once ended up involved for years w/  the delivery guy from a restaurant/bar  with amazing pot roast because he encountered me so much over about a 2 year span, he eventually facebook stalked me and asked me out.

My cooking, when it happened, usually happened on weekends.  I liked to make soup on Sundays, and homemade pizza on Saturday. If I was feeling adventurous, maybe fried rice or bbq ribs in the oven.  When I gave up the studio, I started having breakfast at home, but it was usually fast prep stuff even still-frozen croissant sandwiches, muffins, frozen waffles. On the weekends, I'd make omelettes, or bacon & fried egg sandwiches. Maybe pancakes or french toast.  The thing  about quarantine is that every day is a weekend breakfast now.  I'm loving omelettes almost daily, and toasted bagels slathered in butter. Yesterday, I had hash browns and made my mother's recipe for campers breakfast. Usually lunch is another bagel with cream cheese or a cold cut sandwich or maybe peanut butter, but my dinners have gotten a little more daring.  A couple week's ago, I made bruschetta. Last week, some creamy chicken sauce for pasta in the crock pot. Even simple pasta dishes are more elaborate--sweet italian sausage & peppers over rigatoni instead of the usual ground beef.  A lemon cream primavera sauce over fettuccine. This week, I'm going to try a pot roast. 

Part of it is just  the fact that there are simply more groceries in the house.  I hate shopping in stores even pre-pandemic, so have been amply shopping Amazon and Whole Foods (whose delivery slots seem to be getting easier to grab the past couple of weeks as people settled in).  Also, I am less exhausted from running around, so have more energy to cook and do the dishes. more time to slow down and enjoy the process as well as the results. (I've also been trying to save $ during all the uncertainty, so have forbidden myself delivery fare. )  I was eating erratically at first (a full pantry and fridge is a bad thing to have with a binge eating disorder) but I've calmed my ass down and can even keep some treats in the house and not gnaw my way through them all at once like a fiend (ice cream, chocolate, popsicles, even some baked goods.)

I have no idea if this will hold after I go back to old schedules of work and limited home time, but maybe. It'd be nice if I walk away at least with one good new habit in not relying so much on takeout and delivery.  Or so much on frozen food that is serviceable and edible, but not always that tasty and filled with extra sodium.