Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Earlier, I caught site of a group of students in a study room upstairs--papers flying, manic scribbling, that scared, dazed look of sleep deprivation and I feel it (well maybe not the sleep deprivation, though my 8 hours seems not at all sufficient as we get closer to the solstice) --but yes, the year-end frenzy, and while even though library things are quieting down, our last details being tomorrow's Book to Art meeting and a de-install on the Tattoo exhibit next week, I am pushing through to finish layouts and cover designs on  all but a couple of the 2017 releases, which means I have spent the day in design and typesetter mode and realized at some point, it had been 5 hours since I'd moved from my chair or stood up  I also have a batch of corrections & galley finalizations before a few books are set for printing.  I am also only in October on orders and a little more behind than I'd like, but I do get extra studio over the next couple of weeks that should remedy that and a whole bunch of loose ends that need to be tied on both press and art-related things. 

I'd also like to try to get all of unusual creatures typed up and the January zine project, /slash/ in the bag. I'm thinking of changing my zine subscription series from a before-the-fact- purchase to an after-the-fact bundle.  Mostly because I never know what I'm actually going to be sending out and how many things will actually materialize over the course of the year and how much to charge for them before I even know what they are. 2017's issue included

-the inventions of the monsters
-surrealism coloring book #1
-dirty blonde
-(in) vertebrate
-two cryptozoology zines
-botanical coloring book zines
-a couple other random cross-out zines

As soon as I can get a pic of everything, I'll be offering it all up in the shop for a mere $35, plus throwing in a couple prints to boot.   In 2018, I am also planning on doing monthly limited edition prints that will be available each month from the beginning of the month til the end and then they're gone.

Friday, December 08, 2017

I sometimes can't believe this is still a thing...

I've always had the incredibly naive idea that the world is always in some sort of progression, always assumed that time made things better, kinder, more compassionate and liberal.  That the America of my 80's childhood could only improve during the 90's and amazingly did..that Americans actually were smarter, more cultured, on the verge of this great rise of the internet, the rise of a new century.   So, of course, imagine my surprise when Bush Jr. was elected, when many of the people younger than me were actually more conservative. More..well, dumb--as evidenced by things like reality tv and the SAW movies. .  This conception of the world righted itself when Obama was president, but pretty much fell flat on it's face last year.   Maybe there is no progression, only swings to and fro.  Action and reaction. And people never really move forward, but hopefully the general trend is in that direction more than the other.

Likewise, in the poetry world, I assumed the new century made us more aware of different paths in this whole writing thing.  Different options and ways of "being a poet" in the world. When I first started publishing in online journals in the very early aughts, it was sort of poo-pood by the more established print-pubbing crowd.  These same poets are now hilariously publishing in those very same online journals, mostly because a whole lotta print pubs have either bitten the dust entirely ( a casualty of a world where no one outside the lit community really reads, well anything, let alone a 500 copy print run of a small indie journal. ) or, horror of horrors, become strictly online magazines themselves.  I have lost count of the authors who once said to me something to the tune of  "oh, I save my A-game poems for print pubs, not online publishers."  my response more recently is that my biggest literary hit EVER--more than any chapbook, any single poem (maybe even the one that hit the American Academy of Poets Poem of the Day feature and landed in a whole bunch of inboxes), or any other publication was my James Franco e-chap..I don't remember what the end tally of downloads was but it was quite impressive.  Granted the James Franco subject matter may have played into that more than the actual poetry, but still it was HUGE audience for a small and tiny press poet.  Far more than if I'd placed even in one of the higher circulating and esteemed print mags (those two don't always equate).

Probably long before even that I stopped submitting to print journals at all, probably for those very reasons..  I did send work when asked by editors and wound up in some gorgeous print journals that I was honored to be a part of and satisfied my love of solid paper and ink, but also it felt like very few people would ever see those poems. And since I very rarely had time to spend sending out work, those submissions kind of had to be places I felt could reach a larger audience. (or at least I could direct people toward in a linkable way. )  I'm not even sure it was a conscious decision, just something I sort of did.  Slowly the world came round, whether by choice or force, to respecting work published online.

I came up as a baby poet in a world very different world than the one I somehow wound up in--the open mic scene in Chicago in those same years.  We read in bars, cafes, random weird places.. We signed up to read and waited patiently through open mic sets, where the quality was sometimes uninspring, but sometimes really good. Sometimes, we even got to feature and read for longer.  In that scene, and in many other more performance oriented ones like slams, there were less rules--spoken and unspoken.  About where to publish, what to publish, their DIY ethos, where putting together a chapbook or cd of poems was totally what you did to sell or give away at readings, to trade with other poets.  It was about connecting with readers in a tangible take-homeable way.

In late 2003, I somehow wound up in an MFA program..and it was useful creatively no doubt, but I failed to warm to all those rules of academia regarding where to send work, self-publishing etc.  I had serious issues with many of the things that were passed off as career advice--the tiers of journals and presses and contests. And maybe it's just those things weren't geared for the type of poet I wanted to be. I wanted a fist book, badly, but I wasn't wiling to pay to play all that much in terms of contests. Luckily, I found a small press willing to give it a go.  But I realized even then, that though I love publishing work and writing books and reaching an audience, I'm not on the track that academic programs push you toward--the prizes, the residencies, the contests, the tenure (or lack of tenure) track that feeds itself like a snake.  It doesn't interest me mostly and doesn't align with my goals, which are sort of simple--write some books, make some books,  make some worlds, spread some poems around and invite people into them. And in fact, the very moment I turned my back on what I learned in my MFA years, I got my passion for it back.  It was then I determined I would pretty much do whatever the fuck I wanted in terms of putting myself and my work into the world   , whether that was self-issuing or publishing work ot publishing books or chaps with other presses I loved or respected and wanted to be a part of.

Shortly after I graduated from the program,  I put out what is one of the things I am still most proud of, and really one of the coolest things I've made -at the hotel andromeda, the Cornell poems (a collab with Lauren Levato Coyne.)  It was about a year after my first full-length came out. A year that brought a couple of chaps--one from New Michigan Press, another part of the Dusie Kollectiv. But the Cornell things felt awesome in a different , more profound way.  It took awhile to write it, longer to conceptualize what it turned out to be. So when the department sent out a questionairre for publicity purposes, for us to shout our successes that fall after graduation, I was psyched to share news of this amazing thing we'd made.  But of wait, nothing self-published.  Well,,,,damn..I guess not.  A couple years later, I got into a pretty animated  discussion with a faculty member from my former program on a panel at a conference about the uses of self-publishing and legitimacy.  A poet in the audience whose background was in slam poetry had raised her hand to ask for advice on issuing a book of her own to sell at readings and competitions.  I of course was ready to offer some practical tips on cultivating and building an audience and marketing to them successfully, and was shut down by not only the faculty member, but also the other panelist (another academic male.) who were majorly anti-self publishing.

I've always been against vanity publishers who take your money in exchange for something you could do yourself. (I'm actually against paying money to get people to read your work in contests and such as well.) But the chief danger of self-publishing is the peril of operating outside of established communities that presses sort of offer by default..ie, you are published by x press, who has fans and other authors and you are joining a community by placing work with them. On your own, you're just, well, on your own.  So the work falls to you, and if your willing to work it, it can be very satisfying. Of course, there will be those who object that the quality of your work needs a gatekeeper.  But seriously, the only thing being a gatekeeper has taught me is not to trust gatekeepers. There are other ways to vet your work--other writers, collectives, critique services other publications if you're uncertain and feel unsure of your readiness to put something out there. Truth is, a lot of shitty, boring work gets vetted and still winds up being published, like oh, say in the New Yorker. 

So it always gives me a bit of whiplash when a writer, even innocuously,  says the word "self-published" like it's dog poop on someone's shoe. And maybe it's just my DIY world that makes me oblivious to what writers apparently really still think, especially when you work mostly in the realms of book arts and zines and such, where it's just accepted as a valid way of putting work in the world.  And admittedly a world I feel far more at home in than the poetry system, where I've never really fit in----mostly uninterested in the games and heirarchies and unspoken rules.  Maybe it's the economy of scarcity--of publication spots, book contests, reading audiences-- it makes us kind of ridiculous.  Reading audiences ultimately have the final say, so I guess all you can do is get it done and get it out there, however that happens.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Today began with foiled screen printing experiments in the studio and ended with a sub-freezing walk home  even later than usual due to our extended finals hours.  In December, as opposed to spring term's May, midnight feels like 3am-everyone long gone home in the darkness and out of the cold. I hate it a little more each time, but I'm pretty sure I was the cheerleader when we instigated extended hours a few years back, so I guess I'm stuck.

In between, there were some successes in wrapping up details and pieces for tomorrow's murder mystery--all the clues ready to print and be placed in envelopes and planted in all the right places.  There are a mix of hard evidence clues and gossipy tidbits that have to be gleaned by talking to other players.  This is the first one with a more advanced structure, so I am prepared if everyone just gets confused and fails to actually solve the thing. But there will be punch and snacks and an awesome photo booth nevertheless. It may be as close as I get to holiday party since I am feeling less than festive and will likely skip most others. 

I am trying to fake it til I make it--the tree up, my shopping list made, though I won't have money to spare til the 15th to actually buy any of it. Playing the occasional Christmas tunes, watching the trashy movies about the holiday lovelorn,  but I'm not feeling it.  I'm wondering if I need to be one of those people who takes a tropical vacation over the holidays.  Or maybe that I should really just do it and move to New Orleans. (and why oh why when my leases are up is it always June or September and perfectly beautiful in Chicago?)

It occurred to me yesterday, that my mom has been gone exactly a month and it feels like the longest month of my life..there is a good part of the day when I am not thinking about it, and then suddenly the reminder comes harsh and terrible and I forget to breath for a second and suddenly the old panic is back and I'm gasping. I think at this point I am just aiming to survive December, let alone revel in it.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Tonight I fell down a creative hole and into 1930' s Hollywood--full of aspiring starlets and mob bookies named Vinnie "The Shark: and aging actresses with substance abuse problems. Also, stakery ex-husbands and ingenues. Next thing I knew it was time to go home.   It's two days until murder mystery fun and it's always a scramble.  Sometimes I think it's too easy, sometimes I'm making it too complicated.  There are documents to falsify and clues to plant and motives to ascribe.

Otherwise I got a good few hours in the studio with author copies, including the above lovelies, just about to debut.  Tomorrow, it's a catch up on orders I am dreadfully behind on.  There just seems to be this horrible slippery time thing that I feel like I have a handle on and then it's gone.  Today was sunnier than yesterday, though, less windy, but still cold,  but each day I'm grateful there isn't snow on the ground, because last year, there most certainly already was by now.

I have a blissful, beautiful free weekend coming up, in which I plan to do nothing but sleep in, drink coffee, and use my time as I wish (and if that means just laying on the couch and listening to bossa nova records, so be it.)  There are also scads of trashy holiday movies to be consumed, and probably some cleaning before the dust balls sprout teeth and start biting.  I did manage to swap out the fall clothes for the winter ones, though I am already longing for summer clothes.

No dreams last night, though admittedly I had good company and a couple drinks before I went to sleep, but it was a sort of deep, dreamless sleep that I need more of.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Today is windy, as in banging dumpster lids and projectile holiday decor kind of  windy. Waking up, the cats were going insane at the leaves caught in the updraft out the window. I've been working on author copies and orders and trying to get a handle on the next rounds of books (and of course, run out of printer ink at the most inopportune times. )  Tonight, more murder mystery planning for Friday-trying to get a handle on fake evidence and overly-gossipy starlets.

The weird dreams about my mother continue.  Last night, it was a horrible boring holiday party at a frenemy of hers and while we all knew she was dead, she was there,  but only our immediate family could see her. And she thought this was funny, and we all thought being dead was not so bad after all, and how maybe life is just this contunuum since everything is all so subjective anyway, completely in our heads.  And so why not make our own reality or somesuch--a reality in which she was still there.  And we were laughing and joking and everyone else thought we were crazy, because OBVIOUSLY she wasn't really there, right?  This reminds of the dream right after she died when I dreamed that we were all on a school bus, and she was in a wheelchair, depressed and convinced that this was her fate forever, but then I reminded her that she was, in fact, dead and that the normal rules do not apply to her any longer.(a nice dream until she left the bus and it was this desserted, apocalytic, hell landscape and not so much fun. )

Monday, December 04, 2017

It's  a hard case of Mondays, even though it's not exactly a re-entry situation, having worked yesterday, but I have been deeply confused by a couple things that normally I feel I'd have figured out somehow.  (two future dgp authors with the exact same name, printer woes. how to open a package of cookies. )  It's nice outside though, or at least it was when I came in, a mild 50 degrees even in December. I am determined to make it a productive week though, as I do all weeks, but there is all the usual unravelling that happens around Wednesday that continues til the weekend when it starts all over again. 

I've been thinking the past couple days about the idea of the "gothic midwest."  something that I associate mostly with Sam Shephard plays for some reason   When I was in college, we came in to the city to see a production of "The Buried Child" at Steppenwolf.  At the time, I would have told you the most noteable thing at the time was that it starred Ethan Hawke, who was somewhere in his career between Reality Bites and Training Day.  The thing that stuck with me was not, in fact Hawke's performance (meh), but more the final scene of another man carrying a baby's skeleton around the stage.   And rain, so much rain, and the kind of light that only happens in the midwest in march. (or this is what it reminded me of.)

I always think of that, even when I fancy  that some of my work might be considered of the "midwest gothic" ilk, particularly the fever almanac, and definitely girl show. (and beautiful sinister has always seemed sort of a  "wisconsin gothic" and more woodsy with a different feel..lol..But then pinpointing what it is about these texts that MAKES them such is a bit harder..not merely that they are set in the midwest, or that they could be considered gothic, but maybe more that they have a certain quality that I only associate with the midwest. Visually, there  are the ghost landscapes paintings, of course, and the attendant poems, and perhaps these capture it most. 

While Southern gothic seems easy to pinpoint and much written-about. This is probably the best description I came across for the midwestern version.

"While Midwest Gothic shares many similar traits with Southern Gothic and Gothic literature, such as the grotesque, characters with strained mental states, and elements of the supernatural, it is not just a mere transportation of these elements to the Midwest. Two key ideas inform Midwest Gothic: restraint and the unspoken. Emotional restraint keeps characters from revealing their secrets and also isolates them from others. A lot is left unsaid between Midwesterners–this is how they can be outwardly friendly, surrounded by people, yet still be utterly and hauntingly alone. Geography mirroring the psychological landscape is also an important element in the Midwest Gothic aesthetic. At first, the flatness of the landscape appears one-dimensional, static, and dull—until you realize the vastness is overwhelming, limitless, and eternal. The void can swallow you. Running underneath all of this is a current of horror, which is sometimes overt and sometimes only alluded to or implied. "

If I think about in terms of other work, you could probably fold in the shared properties of water and stars, though it is more suburban than rural. And what of the urban--the mermaid poems in salvage--the description above somehow relates to those as well. . It's neither here nor there, just something I've been thinking about as I start my week and move further into transcribing the very last of the unusual creatures pieces...

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Image may contain: tree, table and outdoor

It occurred to me that I have been doing this blog thing here for 15 years.  Well not HERE (I moved to blogger in 2005, but before that I was blogging on now defunct xanga--which was horrible design wise, but I weirdly connected with a lot of cool poet-people there.)  Journaling, of course, wasn't new..I'd been keeping an intermittent diary since I was  a teen and a cousin gave me one with a flimsy little lock for my 14th birthday.  The entries were spare and had months in between--bad poems about flamingos & kittens, rants about my friends or the boys who I was crushing on-- detailed fights with my mom or my sister, random high school girl talk. Later, there was a fabric floral blank book covered in roses that chronicled my first semester in North Carolina, more boy drama and self-seeking.

When I was 20., I started filling Mead Composition books and I liked their size and marbled covers immensely.  Inside, there was a lot of me processing the stuff I was learning in classes--Lit, Philosophy, Psychology.  Random recaps of things I was reading, seeing, doing. There are sometimes sizeable gaps, usually when I was having a bad time of things (my equally sizeable depression in the winter of 98 being an excellent example, also the rising panic of my job search in the summer of 99.)  Looking at them now, there wasn't a lot of deep digging nevertheless, mostly talk about wanting to be a writer, how that was going, things I was working on.  The theater shows that I worked on.  The books that I was reading--most of it breezy and documentary-like.

I seemed very intent on capturing things, forging my identity and thoughts,--and since I was likely the only person who would ever read them, it was entirely for me as audience, but I weirdly spent a lot of time doing it. A lot of time reading my own entries.    I think one of them begins with the whole quote about an unexamined life not being worth living. And I still believe that wholeheartedly. So I examined, and re-examined, and occasionally even still do. If anything social media has us doing this constantly I suppose though on a micro level without the commitment.

 I've often thought of going back to keeping a print journal, but then it seems rather pointless.  I have kept writing and idea notebooks since, but they are disposable, the used up things discarded, the unused words and fragments moved to the next notebook after that one is used up or falls apart.  These feel like no one really needs to see them, nor would anyone be able to make sense of them.  They feel a bit like the color samplings one makes on a palette.  . And really, a print journal would only offer the benefit of privacy, which as a writer/exhibitionist doesn't seem all that important (ie if I'm gonna say it, I might as well say it here (since I am convinced probably very few of you out there actually read this anyway..lol..)

Occasionally I panic when I think about accidently throwing away those Mead books, or a fire or a flood or some other terrible calamity destroying them. .  Somewhere in my computer files, maybe saved in my e-mail, is the entirely of my Xanga blog that they allowed us to download before the site went kaput, though I've never gone through it.  Blogger seems to be going strong, but I have these occasional moments of panic that all this would be gone--12 years of , well, STUFF due to a glitch, a hacker, or a zombie apocalypse.  Moreso than writing or books, which are a chronicle of a different sort, maybe partially the same life, but also the life invented for the purposes of being artful--details changed and people & experiences combined.  (I am a fictional poet, which means about only 60% of the stuff that happens in poems is real, 40% made me and the people close to me (and maybe not even then) know the truth.)

Admittedly  even sometimes here, the things I am not writing about are far more insightful and interesting than the things I am, but the blog offer a touch point and a trigger even on those things I would never want to lose access to even if I don't write them down. Things that happened--good or bad (falling in love, getting your heart broken suddenly and completely)-there in the subtext beneath the dailyness of the entries. . Occasionally, I think  should write daily in order to never miss anything I might need to keep for later--even tiny details that might get lost that will be place keepers for other things I do not write about (or haven't written about yet). It's also handy for remembering and referencing dates for practical reasons.

The daily entries seem important, but terribly impractical of course.  But maybe I will still try. Even if it's a simple as documenting how nice it was this morning on my way to work, and how sitting in the park across the street, even though its December, even though it was early,  I was terribly content eating my breakfast on a  bench like a cat in the sun.  How I spent the morning finishing up submissions and sending out the very last acceptances.  How I made a tiny sample matchbook book for zine night tomorrow.  How tonight I am making chicken soup and will be making my weekly phone call to my dad (that used to be a phonecall to my mom), though we don't really talk about much but his updates on hospital bills and what's happening around the house, and really it's this weird foreign country we're all not quite used to yet., but I still feel a need to do it.