Wednesday, November 15, 2017

working with what you've got

One of my most interesting takeaways from our ART ON THE CHEAP panel discussion last night, which focused on artists using upcycled and re-used materials in their artmaking, was the "work with what you've got", the consensus being pretty much unanimous that creativity happens most when you are forced to work within the confines of available material.  I was curious, and included the discussion question as to whether or not artists begin with an an idea and then seek out the material needs, or whether the material, as it prevents itself, dictates the project. It was overwhelmingly the latter, and have pretty much found that to be true in my own visual endeavor, though maybe even more so in my writing.

I've often mentioned how my writing practice changed around 2005, when I went from sitting down and attempting to say something in a poem (successfully or unsuccessfully) and a more collage, chaos driven approach after that.- a culling and assembling bits if language, image, and idea.  Sometimes I have everything I need when I sit down to do the writing.  Sometimes I don't and need to seek more out, or set something aside until I manage to have everything I need.  My own writing became so much more interesting to me at that point, and much less wrought with worry and feelings of failure.

Of course language is different, and endless when you compare it to the scarceness of say, thrifted items or ephemera, so there is a little more freedom there. I'm especially feeling this tension in material as I work on the /slash/ pieces, which are part found, part generated.  Sometimes the generated seems rather dull next to the found, and sometimes vice versa.  I guess the key is finding the balance.

(the above collage was one of my endeavors for the Book to Art project.  I've been composing a lot of collaged digitally lately, more than by hand, and it felt good to work in a more material way, and also an excellent exersize in making the most of what you've got (in this case a buttload of discarded books and images of movie stars).

Sunday, November 12, 2017

of mothers and losing them

When I was around 7 years old, I had a horrible dream that my mother abandoned me, dissappearing over a grayed wooden fence that separated the area behind our garage from the neighbor's yard and into a field full of daisies and was gone.  It was devastating for a 7 year old, and the sort of dream that I remembered after waking up crying, cried over subsequent nights. was as close to praying that I ever got asking to never, ever have a dream like that again.  Over time, the fear of it lessened, but I remembered it, have even used the memory a couple times in writing (see the poem "fictions" in my brief history of girl as match chapbook.) It was mostly filed under the THINGS I AM FORBIDDEN TO THINK about file, even when my mother survived a cancer scare when I was 13. I remember horrified that I wasn't ready to be motherless, yet, was not sure how any teenage girl could make it out intact without one, even if we fought a lot and there were times I was convinced she was absolutely insane (and maybe I was too.)  We were lucky, and later, when I was in my mid 20's, she had some surgery complications from a gall bladder and hernia, we were even luckier.

I was no stranger to lost love ones, most of my grandparents going early, sometimes unexpectedly, more often after long, terrible illnesses.   Cancer.  Freak falls resulting in blood clots.  An uncle with MS.  Maybe because I was so young in each of these it was easier to lose them somehow. By the time I hit adulthood, I had lost all grandparents, and would soon lose other aunts and uncles and many cats and dogs. But parents are of course, different, wound inextricably into your daily life for so long, people who are dependent upon for the first 20 odd years of your life and sometimes longer. At some point I suppose you no longer absolutely need them in the way you once did, though certainly they are an important part of your life and emotional support network if you allow them to be.

I didn't always take advantage of this--my mother in particular being a complicated knot of worry. So there was much that while I didn't exactly hide things from her if she asked, I did not come rushing forward to tell her.  Financial troubles, romantic dramas.  While in some arenas I shared everything with her, there was always a holding back of things that would worry her, or that I felt were too private even to share with my own mother, the person who had known me longest and best.  When I first moved to the city and began working the night shift, she would have me ring her phone twice and hangup to ensure I wasn't lying in an alley somewhere.  It went on for years, until email and social media allowed more regular check-ins.  She always said of she tried calling and I didn't answer she would wait a couple hours and then be on her way into the city--convinced I was dead.  Over the years, her primary worry shifted to my sister, who was plagued with more health problems and everyday dangers, so I got off the hook a little.

And maybe the worry-worn heart contributed to her death in many ways, heart disease being the chief culprit and so many of these things stemming from stress on that single muscle in the body, particular in the past couple of years, growing to include not only general motherly worry & anxiety, but extended family conflicts that she fretted over more than anyone else.  My mother, of course, had been a controlled diabetic and treated for accompanying diseases (blood pressure and cholesterol) for 35 years.  In the past 10 years, she had trouble sleeping well  in past years due to leg cramps and strange allergic reactions to things.   She was on xanax the last years of her life.  All things I imagine take a toll on the body slowly over time, and eventually resulted in her heart attack last winter.  Since then, she would get better, then worse, then better, then worse. Her general good health falling like a row of dominos.  A weird sudden latex allergy that wrecked her lower legs.  Cuts and sores on her heels from a fall that resulted in a bone infection. I thought we'd lost her for sure during the bout of delerium and the foot surgery, but she held on a bit longer, but in the end was begging to be let go. Her heart finally gave up the ghost.  And perhaps she did, finally just let go.

I am good about mentally preparing for things, but then you are never prepared for something like this.  I did get to see her reguarly on weekend trips to the hospital and rehab center, had been stuck working the last two weeks she was alive and therefore missed some opportinities to be there in the end.   Part of me still expected her to get better,  even if it got worse again.  I expected her to make it through the holidays.  I expected, hope against all hope, for her to eventually pull out of it. She always did, right?   In my preparations, I was reading some articles on losing parents and know that guilt is a huge part of it, so was prepared for that particular wave.   Particularly living in another city, no matter how often I made it home (which was frequently but maybe not frequently enough)  Also the horrible complicated feeling almost of relief, that the shoe I've been waiting to drop for months, that I don't have to worry about her because the worst thing has, in fact, already happened. She's safe from all the terrible suffering that could afflict her.

Sundays will of course, be hard when we miss our regular phone call.  Family gatherings & holidays where I expect to turn a corner and find her there among the crowd.   She was not a daily part of my life in the city, so somehow that makes it easier somehow, but those feelings are always there, waiting to knock you on your ass when you least expect it.  When I hurt my wrist a couple years back in a fall on the bus, it hurt like hell, and I laughed when I was high, because it felt like it still hurt, but that the pain was very, very far away.  In many ways, since Monday, this pain feels a lot like that, creeping around the edges and knocking me flat suddenly and without warning. There is still a certain unrealness to it that I don't know if it will ever go away.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Image may contain: one or more people

It's  been a couple of dreary, fog-filled days this weekend, but I am making good progress on things.--am continuing my layout blitz for the press and have spent the afternoon reading some more manuscripts for next year.  Earlier, I had a bizarre, surreal experience when one of the manuscripts that I will be accepting came from one of the first visiting poets I ever met in person (Amy Newman)  as an undergrad way back in the 90's, back when poets might as well have been unicorns or mermaids, even though I was a couple years in to writing myself.   I was thinking about my baby poet self yesterday, which was open house day at Columbia and all the the poets and their parents were headed up to the CW presentation. How I have been doing this for so long, but that sometimes it still feels just as magical.

I've been waffling over manuscript #8--that actually split into #8 and #10 a couple months back  (#9 being something else entirely). I have a title and possibility for submission if I finish it by the end of November, but there is one section I am still working the kinks out of and feels untethered. Art-wise, there is a lot of general tasks that are happening (things to be scanned and photographed and added to the shop), and even more that need to happen, but creatively,  outside of some cover designs, I've barely touched a paint brush or a glue stick in weeks.  This week, however,  is our first Read Talk Make session for Book to Art club, and I'm hoping to work some more on my paper theater pieces inspired by Grimm tales.

Next week, I'll be spending a couple days in Rockford and then we are getting closer and closer to the holidays and the semester's end. My mom is holding in there, and will be spared more surgeries by the sound of it, but she's by no means really better and at this point they are mostly working toward getting her pain-free and healing a bit faster than she has to this point. I worry most at her lack of appetite and a certain despondency and we're thinking she might also benefit from some psychiatric treatment,even though her vitals are all sound and good.  With the injury itself, the earlier heart attack, , and all the losses that piled up and multiplied over the summer, culminating in the delerium and foot surgery, I'm not sure how to make things better or what happens next. She's home for now with visiting nurses and therapists and such.  And my Dad seems to have general caring for her on lock, but she doesn't seem to be improving and may be backsliding again. Part of me wonders at the benefits of being in a new place--not the house, which is sort of isolating and suffocating and tainted with loss, history and static.

I get unusually panicky in the off moments when I'm not  forced to focus on other things--bus rides, waiting for elevators, when I crawl into bed and my mind gets a few quiet moments to process. I've started reading more fiction again--not just poetry, but  semi-trashy YA dystopian novels-- the kind of books that suck you into their world so completely you kind of forget who and where you are when you look up. All of which fends off other, less constructive impulses I've been plagued with that I won't go into. The alternative is the endless loop of worry and doubt, which doesn't exactly bode well in this season of all seasons, when with the time change, dark falls even earlier and I get that special, winter kind of crazy.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

This morning, as I rolled out of bed to start the first of two weekend shifts in a row at the library, my radiator was humming and clanging, and outside, I kept repeating these lines of the Mary Oliver poem "Wolf Moon" (even though I sorta hate Mary Oliver in general.)

now is the season
of iron rivers,
bloody crossings,
flaring winds,
birds frozen
in their tents of weeds,

and though the poem is really about January it always reminds me of November, when all of the leaves are gone and the woods are naked and still and dark so early. And that feeling of  dread that always creeps in at the edges of late autumn.  November is my least favorite month--less so than even January, which has it's own sort of lull and endlessness, less so even than march when I am crawling out my skin usually. Halloween I like.  Thanksgiving I like.  But there is a weird stretch in there between as we downslide toward winter that always makes me super uneasy. 

So I try to concentrate on interior things and poems and plans.  I have manuscripts to read.  And layouts to attack.  Covers to design and maybe finishing up transcribing the unusual creatures notebook, a project which seems to suit this time of year perhaps more even than the horror movie poems I was trudging away on earlier in the month. Tonight, I get a few extra hours in the studio picking away at orders and author copies and probably streaming STRANGER THINGS, which I intend on binge watching before the weekend is out. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Image may contain: one or more people

Sometimes when talking about being a writer (which honestly for as much as I obsess about it, it happens very infrequently in the day to day life of jobs and commutes and daily grind) occasionally I get asked, mostly from non-writers, what I write about.  It's a tricky question, almost in fact a trick question.  And I can say I write about horror movies (/SLASH/), about taxidermy and robot girls (unusual creatures).  About hotel ghost stories (postcards from the blue swallow motel).  About childlessness (the science of impossible things).  That in the past, I've written about mermaids, sideshow women, rural upbringing, the apocalypse, atomic-era america, zombies, bad road trips, pop culture, James Franco, Joseph Cornell, victorian women, ghost stories, urban legends, phobias.  But sometimes I feel like getting to the root of it is a much more complicated answer, and maybe one I'm not even completely capable of answering.  Sure, there are themes in there, most of them having to do either directly on tangentially with feminism I suppose. And lately, I've been trending toward prose poems more than lineated verse. But it's hard to give any sort of artist-statement worthy, nutshell description of my writing people seem to expect (or I assume they expect somehow).

I've been musing for a couple of years about perhaps starting an ekphrastic project devoted to Francesca Woodman's work.  Friday during the Indie Press Fest I met a freshman poetry student who was super excited about ekphrastics and bought my Salvadore Dali poems zine. Her enthusiasm  somehow fed my enthusiasm and my mind turned again to the Francesca-inspired poems, and then yesterday, like a sign, there was a volume of her photos lying on the table by the new books shelf, which I quickly snapped up and brought back to my desk. Mind you, it falls in line behind all the other plates in the air at the moment, but alas....

This weekend, I am library-bound, and declaring Saturday a layout frenzy day for the remaining chaps coming out this fall and winter. But I also want to get some things submitted to some places I've been solicited.  Also some new venues.  I'm currently working on a little resource zine of online markets for innovative work for the library, so I should have a good list when I'm done.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

I am bus bound again for Rockford, but just a quick note to say the last two days have been a whirlwind of literary goodness, starting with the Little Indie Press Fest on Friday, where so many publishers, artists and authors made the afternoon a delight and really brought home the amazing talent coming out of Columbia on a regular basis (and I even sold some books and prints--enough to buy a whole bunch of goodies myself.)  Saturday was my reading over at the Wit Rabbit series, where I read some Strange Machine pieces under twinkle lights and drank enough jack and cokes to leave a little bit drunker than I started.

This week, it's a bit of a breather until Friday's Horror Movie Trivia, which I am slowly working through questions for, and just general press doings and business. I've been finalizing a bunch of books and will be dropping them this week, as well as making my way through the last legs of summer submissions and making final decisions. I'd like to have responses out by the end of the month, but it will more likely be November.

In the meantime, it's been fall-like enough to wear some corduroy and drink hot cocoa a couple of days, and, yesterday, switching buses and walking a couple blocks down in my old LP hood, I got a little nostalgic for me of 20 years ago, who was newly hatched into the world and  walking those same leaf-littered streets, but also glad I am not exactly her anymore, and much the better for it.

Saturday, October 14, 2017


I have this incredibly lofty goal to both write everyday and make some sort of gesture toward art everyday and usually I end up failing.  The writing happens in fits and spurts and sometimes a mad dash toward either an external or personal deadline.  So much falls into the path on a daily basis that I end up cutting myself too much slack and the next thing I know, I get that itchy, dissastified feeling that I'm not devoting sufficient time to my own creative pursuits and too much directed toward library and press things, and just time wasters and general life stuff.   It's easier with art--to just dive in and make something happen on the fly, but writing is an altogether different beast--one that has to happen under the right atmospheric circumstances--sort of like a tornado, the correct science of air masses and currents to actually get spinning, and sometimes even when it's spinning, it doesn't always meet the ground, let alone do the sort of good damage you want it to.

So thus, there's always this overwhelming feeling of not living up to potential (I just mis-typed "poetential" there and that seems incredibly fitting.)  Projects that have been conceived, and sometimes even named with titles that are waiting to actually happen.  And we won't even talk about the writing-business side, the work that is done and very little time/energy to send it out in the world in any sort of effective way.  Just getting the writing done seems hard enough when your juggling dayjobs, and editing/bookmaking work, not to mention commutes, housework, errands, and lately trips out to visit my mom on the weekend  (and even I admit it's so much easier than for other women because I don't have children and am entangled romantically with one of the only people I've ever met with more creative & work time commitments than me).

Granted I wrote & submitted more in the early 2000's (both before and during grad school, the former because my obligations both inside and outside the day job were simpler, and the latter because I HAD to. )  But then there was the press and the crazy etsy shop ride , and then just the press but steadily growing all the time and still growing.  And then more creative fun opportunities library-wise with A of R, things that I also work on sometimes on my own time but also make my experience in the library far more rewarding than it used to be just pushing papers around and supervising the circ desk.

Even still I've managed, as I occasionally have to remind myself, to produce pretty well, even since finishing my MFA 10 years ago, maybe not at first, but the last 6 years or so finishing about a book a year and making lots of artist books, chaps, and zine projects that at least make me feel a little more productive.  But then there is so much unwritten or half written or merely conceived as a tiny glimmer at the back of my brain. And so much more to do and it feels like so little time (not just daily time, but approaching / possibly already middle age at 43, and so, you know , facing my own inevitable mortality kind of thing.) It's this sort of low-key, but steadily building, panic sensation.  What if I never get to the end of the project to-do list?  What if all those things go unwritten?

Of course, today. my only rare  day off and obligation free, I wake late to a cloudy overcast day, drink too much coffee, and waste time on social media and pen this blog post instead of a poem.   But maybe I'm just sitting here waiting for the right winds that make one possible.