Friday, June 18, 2021

film notes | late 70's techno-gothic

 I've read that we remember very little about our lives before age 4.  This is especially true for me, who feels like most of my memories began when my sister was born, 4 1/2 years in, and after we'd moved into the house in Loves Park.  Before that marker--things are just flashes.  The green shag carpet in the trailer we first lived in. My mother making popcorn in the tiny kitchen. Lying on the floor under the coffee table with a sheet draped over it as a fort. 

With my early intro to horror, its not surprising some of these flashes come from movies I probably was in the room for, but scarcely followed well.  One memory I held was some sort of alien baby movie, where a pregnant woman gave birth to a monster. Like everything, it was only flashes--the monster, dwarfish and covered in blood, with long hair in front of a backdrop of stars. A wall of early computers malfunctioning. It was so incomplete I wondered it it was something I invented entirely.  Years later, gifted with the internet at my fingertips, I tried to find it using all sorts of search terms--"alien baby" "demon baby" "70's evil baby".  Most results tended to bring up things like It's Alive and Rosemary's Baby. A Cronenberg film I don't quite remember the name of.  

I thought I was close with Demon Seed.  Basically a super computer sexually assaults the wife of its creator by trapping her in the computer operated house. It stars a lovely Julie Christie and like many similar movies, speculates on the dangers of developing technology. It ends with a strange, human-looking child that resembles their lost daughter, but inhabited with the computer's "soul". While a rather gripping,  trippy ride, this was not the right movie alas..

A couple years later, I was flipping randomly through a book in the library on 70's horror and saw a photo from The Manitou and got so excited. This was it! My search terms had been off--it was not alien or demon-but a Native American witch doctor--and the description was even weirder--a woman gets a strange growth on the back of her neck that turns out to be a witch doctor trying to be reborn to avenge the genocide of his people. At the end, it is, and the vanquishing of the creature that emerges involves harnessing the energies of the hospitals super computer, which sort of works the opposite of the other movie. There is also the weirdness of Tony Curtis as the lead, who almost delves into comedy, which makes things even weirder and more surreal. 

Even after I figured it out, I only recently was able to find it on Amazon and actually watch it--most of it, I don't remember at all in terms of plotline.  Only the end and its visuals--especially the computers and the star filled room and the witch doctor. I rewatched the other movie and was struck at the similarities in theme when it came to technology--the giant computer parts, the ominous monitors, how they could take over, or be taken over, by malevolent forces. A; especially funny considering we now carry a much more impressive computer in the palms of hands that controls our lives.  How are homes are inhabited by security systems and Alexa machines. Though our current technophobia films have a little less bite, I suppose, than it did when everything was new and threatening and suddenly in our homes. 

Thursday, June 17, 2021

the books that build us


When I was a child, in that time before memory, I carried around a battered checkerboard copy of Mother Goose tales.  It was more illustration than text, but I knew there was something there in those unfamiliar symbols. A code I needed to break. At my maternal grandmother's, there was a complete set of New Wonder World Encyclopedias, which were differently arranged than other sets, into volumes by subject matter. My favorite one to peruse contained poetry and songs for children.  I don't remember the particulars--only the illustrations and the feel of the glossy pages and the cover with its luxe engraved surface. I was obsessed with these long before I could read them, but used to pull them out to play "school" at her house, which was something I only knew about from tv/movies and that I would one day go. Later, they were ours, and I kept them on a small set of bookshelves in my room,  (they may in fact be in my dad's garage even still.)    I later inherited a set of alphabetical World Book's from my other grandmother, but their charm was more in retrieval of information than the tactile joys of the other. I did however enjoy the accompanying free two shelf bookcase they came with well into college, when my own book collection outgrew it. 

The Wonder Worlds were similar in  material feel to the Peter Rabbit books I've often mentioned--my first library obsession I could actually read myself--in their little matching display case at Loves Park Elementary.  Textured covers, smooth gloss pages. They had a smell only those pages provide, different from the matte paper of most other books, but also different--thicker, more luxurious--than magazines. These were the first books I tested my newly developing reading skills on, checking out a different pair each week. While we had a small collection of Little Golden's at home--given as gifts and procured from garage sales--I much preferred Peter Rabbits. Later, they were replaced by Children's Illustrated classics in their little boxed set--the pink War of the Worlds I kept reading over and over.

Once I was reading, I was off and onto other things. More books from the library, from the Scholastic Book Fair magicalness. By the time I was in 5th grade, my love of reading was paying off in school, and while I lagged behind (and always would) in math, I was a voracious reader who took my library visits very seriously.  There were literal fights over whatever novel the teacher had just finished reading (The Phantom Tollbooth was a particular favorite..)  Stacks of Ramona Quimby and Judy Blume.   Roald Dahl and Shel Silverstein  I checked out Little Women in the 6th grade, since it seemed to be the mountain few had successfully climbed, but had to return it the next week unfinished by directive of a bitchy librarian.  (I know enough of the plotline, I'm pretty sure I have never finished it to this  Later in my 20's, it was some sort of amazingness that I found myself in the position of being the school librarian, and myself, navigating conflicts over Harry Potter and RL Stine (I was much more generous.)

Of course, what I checked out from the library and what I was reading at home weren''t always the same  type of book.  Occasionally I would stumble upon a book about ghosts or a haunted house written for children and devour it, but at I had discovered adult horror novels around age 10, mostly courtesy of an aunt who passed them off to me secondhand. The first night in our new house, I had purloined my dad's copy of The Amityville Horror from a box, which I recognized from the movie. (not wise, but luckily we had a newly constructed /non-haunted home variety.) By the time I hot junior high, it was a mix of horror and teen romances, sometimes all at once, the marriage of which manifested in things like VC Andrews and Christopher Pike procured at the Waldenbooks at the mall. 

By then, my reading had broadened to non-fiction about weird things--urban legends and alien abductions. I came across a copy of The Bell Jar when I was seventeen and was unimpressed.  (just two years later, I would have said it was my favorite book.) I inherited a set of 70's Harlequin romances from a cousin and spent an entire summer reading at least one, sometimes two a day. By the time I arrived at college I had writerly inclinations, so devoted myself to Shakespeare and Faulkner and Jane Austen, all of which seemed rather tame compared to earlier reading materials, but enjoyable. I think my love of the Brontes came from that gothic, horror loving reader I had been (and actually continued to be, much of my college summer reading was still trashy horror and the entirety of Stephen King.) The love of books in general sent me seeking things that were "literary" and still horror--Poe, Hawthorne, Henry James, Frankenstein. Or more contemporary authors with a similar bent (thus my love of Toni Morrison.)  While I've read many books and many types of literature, I was always seeking the darker things--both in classics (Daphne DuMaurier, Shrley Jackson) and contemporaries (Jeffery Eugenides and Donna Tartt). 

All of these influences are pretty obvious if you look at my work as a writer, but so much of my development was not fancy highbrow "literature" and so much popular horror novels and that which would be considered "trashy" by many.  I've been thinking about this a lot as we get closer to our Bad Art focus topic this semester. Though I would also argue that some of it is very good--the Stephen King if not the VC Andrews, but still both formed me as a writer and story-maker. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

the painter and the poem

On weekends, my Youtube viewing schedule is largely plus-size fashion or thrifting hauls, a smattering of van and cabin life programming (aspirationally), some weird paranormal and urban legend stuff, and artist studio vlogs.  All of it happens while I am working on other things--cleaning, folding books, etc, so my concentration is rarely focused,  but Sunday  I was watching a painter do a study of a flower, kneeling carefully on the ground in her yard and it occurred to me how I very rarely attempt to render what is there in the physical world.  She would begin with a sketch, then moved closer to do more detail work.  While ultimately her pieces were a bit abstract and not true-to-life, it was definitely a different approach to creating that abstract object. While I have painted many flowers and trees and landscapes, they usually come not from something observed in the real world, but much more, the imagined. Or the developmental, what appears and can be finessed from whatever happens on the page when I start raking the brush across it.  Much is experimental and more about process--drips and smudges and color variations.  So much more about color and mood and a hint of realness, but no real efforts toward verisimilitude.

It occurred to me that my approach to writing is very similar, and poetry, by it's nature may be as well. So much is color and shade and music, maybe a hint of  story pulling it along like an engine. I've often thought about how my work is definitely split along the demarcation line--circa 2004, when I began my first attempts at visual work.  The poems before were like trying to paint that flower but always feeling like I came up short. I knew exactly what I was trying to do, what I was trying to say, but like that perfectly rendered flower, I failed. I was never happy with the work.  The writing process, while I liked to have done it, was tolerable, but scarcely enjoyable.  More like kneeling in the sun on my heels uncomfortably for hours, only to get back inside and find I'd done the bloom no justice whatsoever.  And so it was like this poem after poem--all the way through my first book manuscript.  I'm not sure I would have stayed in the game had it always been like this book after book, poem after poem. 

In 2004 and 2005, something shifted.  The process of writing became much more like an assemblage. Of words, of images, of feelings and fragments.  I did a lot of collage-style writing and incorporating found texts then.  Would keep a notebook close to me to catch the stray line or images for later.  I would pluck a few and stick them down on the page and move them around to see what developed.  Some of it was word-salad, but some of it took shape into solid things. The best part was never knowing what I was going to get, so I was always delighted when I got anything at all. It didn't have to look like a real flower or say the thing I most desperately wanted to say, mostly because it would create even more beautiful flowers, say things that i would never, with my intentions, think to say.  Sometimes, the most interesting narratives and themes came from the subconscious or the happenstance. There was a certain flow that made writing, if not always easier, highly enjoyable. Without expectations, everything was a success, no matter how small.

I could possibly argue I've entered a third era in my writing style the past few years.  I am not always as collage-writing driven as I was, nor do I need as much  material to make something new. And maybe this feels more like painting than collage--putting the paint down on the paper and then figuring out what is there that is of substance. When I was working on the honey machine Plath centos, this was the process, but that was probably the last time I worked with found material.  I still have notes jotted in my notebook, words and phrases and ideas, but I need them less now when I go to write and only turn to them when I'm stuck for a way to begin.  Typically, if I can get the first couple lines, the little machine of the poem will start turning enough to bring it to some sort of conclusion. Lay down the first few brushes of color and then keep going.  I don't necessarily know if this coincides with adding painting to my creative practice, or printmaking, which feels like another mode altogether. But I like it.  And it makes poetry more about process and discovery--and which I typically mostly happy with many, if not all,  of the things I create.   Sometimes, a flower fails to even resemble a flower, or a landscape is just lacking something, but each attempt makes the next one better.  

publishing and creative collaboration

 I've been thinking a bit about the collaboration that publishing often engenders--the push and pull of choosing work, preparing galleys and designing covers and how to mazimize that in terms of creating beautiful books and objects. Some of my favorite cover designs are not necessarily the ones I do myself (though that process is highly enjoyable) but the ones where the author has a role. So many dancing girl authors are also damn good artists and this makes their book even lovelier. (Check out Amber Rose Crowtree's recent chap, Harboring the Imperfect, as well as Emma Hyche's Picnic in the Abbatoir.) Other times, they have an image or a piece of art they'd like to use from a friend.  Or another designer who is willing to put something together that is print ready.  I like variances, since it keeps the series fresh and not too many books in the same vein.  (I try to switch it up, but I also tend to gravitate in certain directions and colors--lots of pale blues and greens.  Vintage illustrations and collage.(basically what most of my visual art looks recent case in point, the lovely cover for Loren Walker's neverheart)  

Sometimes, I am running off a concept or idea, but creating something from scratch to encompass those thoughts.  Early in the process, I will typically try to get a sense of what they like--how that manifests in their style.  Also what past covers appeal to them. Do they light bright or muted colors?  Photos or other media?  Simple or maximalist? What sort of fonts and colors should I avoid? What sort of imagery might we try pulling from the book?  What is too obvious or expected? What is surprising? If they have no preferences or idea where to start, I will usually try re-reading the manuscript and exploring directions. It's also cool if an author wants to use something I've already created (this happened with Elisabeth Workman's chap recently.  She had fallen in love with the conspiracy theories collages, so I created something in the same vein and style for her chap.)

In my own experience with publishers, I've been fortunate to have a similar collaborative relationship. In many cases, the editors ask for work I've made or can create.  In others, if I have no idea or appropriate images, they've made some really cool choices (major characters in minor films' design by Mary Ellen Knight  is an excellent example, as well as the lovely design Maverick Duck did for beautiful, sinister. ) For salvage, I had a vague idea of a mermaid tattoo that Black Lawrence was able to nail exactly.  Other books with them, I provided the artwork (girl show and sex & violence)  It's similar with the images I've been working with for the collections I've been issuing myself, as well as various zine projects over time. Of the three that will be issued this year, one is more illustrated (feed), one is a photograph (dark country) and the third (animal, vegetable, monster), a collage.

Even the insides of books are sometimes also a similar design collaboration, especially if there are visual elements inside or complicated formatting.  Sometimes, things just don't fit right and we have to make it work (we have literally sometimes turned poems on their We've also non traditional"books, including some decks of poems and a box project devoted to Emily Dickinson, and funds willing, I always hopw to do more of these non-book books in the future.  Even with the most simple design, there is a bit of back and forth on fonts and sizing and titles (to bold or not to bold? to make larger or consistent with the text?   how to handle footnotes and epigraphs?  All of it, a process I greatly enjoy.

Monday, June 14, 2021

the self-publishing diaries: dark country

Today, I was awake very early on one of those mild, sunny and breezy days this close to the lake.  Since I wasn't apparently going back to sleep, I started my dedicated writing day early and instead worked some final edits on the DARK COUNTRY manuscript and began to prepare a final galley.  I am hoping to have it to the printers after the beginning of July and available by month's end.  While the poems span at least few years work, it's always a little surreal how the self-publishing timeline varies from the traditional publisher route. The time involved in the process of compiling the manuscript, sending it out to publishers and contests, all that waiting that may only gather sparks of interest, and if you're lucky, a "yes." and then maybe up to couple more years before it sees the light of day.  (and that's if you're publisher doesn't shut down mid-process, which happened to me twice. ) While I wouldn't advise writing a book in a week and publishing it in the span of a few weeks, you probably could do it if you were doing it yourself. 

In the grand scheme of things, I'm in no rush, but I do feel an urgency to get these three books--this one, FEED, and ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MONSTER out this year, only because there are other full-lengths steadily queuing up behind them. If covid-year taught me anything, just grab it if you want it.  Is it too fast and too much?  Probably..but so is everything.  The work of all three goes back several years, during which I was rotating between the three different projects. Two of them, I sent out to my regular publisher who gracefully declined.  DARK COUNTRY is the only one that hasn't been out of the house, but it is actually the one with the oldest material. the beautiful, sinister poems, written between 2010-2012 and published as a chap in 2013 make up one section, the rest written somewhere between 2016-2021 (including the very recent conspiracy theories project, not initially intended, but when all was said and done, fit perfectly and now open the collection.  

While it has all along had a more narrative and story-like feel to all the bits, one thing I've noticed that I didn't plan for was the mixing of greek mythology with a contemporary spin.  Like many young poets that don't quite yet know what the hell to write about, much of my first work was mythologically based--Calypso, Daphne, Ariadne. I moved away from it eventually, but it still cropped up.  A poem called "Cassandra" in my first collection and the poem "Beneath" about mythological women in peril. While I tried to move away from the Greeks and subject matter that was too awkwardly "poetic" I still dallied in the worlds of folklore, and urban legends most of the time, if only the sort of personal mythologies we impose upon the world.  THE SHARED PROPERTIES OF WATER AND STARS, was after all, a retelling of the three bears set in suburbia. I used to write a lot of poems about Red Riding hood, and more recently, Hansel & Gretel.  And of course, mermaids, which make their way into almost every book somehow (if only by way of Plath in SEX & VIOLENCE)

DARK COUNTRY is definitely more contemporary, but so much of it's backbone is some sort of myth or folklore--urban legends, Slender Man, the minotaur retelling, the sisters in beautiful, sinister named after the muses.  And then of course, horror and late 20th century gothic in the context of suburban america.  The myths and stories are framed by our love of the haunted, the violent, the blood-soaked ground of parking lots and shopping malls. Of Illinois and Wisconsin, where everything takes place. Combustible prom queens and creepy little girls. You could probably say I've written this book in other books--especially certain poems in previous collections. And maybe, as I often fear, I am just writing the same book over and over til I get it right. But sometimes, the focus shifts and you get a more nuanced view, which is what I hope is happening here. 

Sunday, June 13, 2021

notes & things | 6/13/2021

Another week, and the humidity of the past week seems to have ended in a massive storm system yesterday that only cracked thunder a couple times, but had sideways rain for a good minute.  I found myself hitting the weekend, even after only working three days pretty exhausted, and I'm pretty sure the weather had more to do with it than any other factor. It wasn't even that warm near the lake, but humid enough, even inside, to have papers wrinkling on the walls and the cats sprawling out on the floors and tile.

It's an even shorter week this week with a visit to Rockford at the end of it, the first of probably a couple this summer, including one in August for my dad's 80th. It's still strange, even though I've been fully vaccinated for a month at this point, to think of moving about in the world as we did previously--travel, stores, restaurants, family gatherings. All of the things that in early 2020 became part of a past we weren't sure when we'd get back.  The city opened up fully on Friday, removing capacity limits and re-opening hotels, some of which had been closed for over a year. There's been a building of people and traffic over the past two months, so I'm not sure I noticed a marked difference on the streets, but it's surely there.  I just read that only 42% nationwide have been vaccinated, but look at the marked difference even those numbers make.  Here in illinois we were around 1500 cases a day in early April as appointments opened up to all.  We are now less than 300 (and that's with people moving around more) at about 60% on their way to being vaxxed.  Even this time last year, as we were at the lowest point coming out of lockdown, we were hovering around 1000, which only went up as people left their houses. Vaccines work, yo..

I, however, am a homebody at heart, so my forays into social worlds will probably still be relatively infrequent.  I am also noticing my social anxiety spiking in weird ways and some strong avoidance tendencies. Even a bit of panic when it comes to turning down invites. I am also determined to not stretch myself too thin in the ways I was failing circa 2019 (You know you're fucked up when it takes a pandemic full stop to right your mental state and shift your priorities.) I need to say "no" and set boundaries a lot more, and I'm getting used to the sound of it in my mouth and in my e-mail. 

But still, what do with a glorious, sprung free summer?  I do plan some 6th dating anniversary shenanigans with J at the end of the month--perhaps dinner and a movie.  Also some evening beach going since I get off work earlier. I'd also like to visit a museum toward the end of summer--perhaps the Field or the Institute.  I'd love to take a weekend and just do touristy Chicago things like Navy Pier and boat tours and all the things I pass by every day but rarely do (though these might be better plans for after actual tourist season.) Maybe stay in a cabin for a couple days when the rates go down in September. 

The benefit of shorter work weeks means I can do weekendy things and then still get a couple solid days for writing & art related things Mon & Tues and it makes a big difference.  I am not out doing things and thinking I should instead be writing or making art in those rare, non-working hours, which impedes my enjoyment of them a bit.  This weekend has been a bit of cleaning, but mostly recovering from my exhaustion and watching movies.  Today, I am cooking porkchops in the crockpot and working on some author copies for the press, but nothing too taxing. Tomorrow, I am working on finalizing dark country and getting this month's zine project in hand. Maybe submitting some work from newer projects that haven't yet seen the light of day. I am, with those Mondays all about writing, penning many more blog posts, so keep an eye out for steadily more content here--some about writing and art, but also about movies, and now that I feel I can read again, books.  

Friday, June 11, 2021

Thursday, June 10, 2021

#authorfashion fridays

(I used to write a lot more about fashion and style, but feel it's fallen off a bit as my moods settled into more somber and serious things in a serious and somber world  I don't know if we'll be here every week, but we'll give her a go...)

For the past month or so, inspired by some of my favorite plus size vloggers, I've been posting #OOTD's on instagram--not every day--since the days I stay home I vary between the same 4 or 5 sundresses I wear at home (some ore nightgown-ish than others.) But any day I actually get dressed and leave the house, I've been posting very no-frills outfit photos.  (I have goals to actually post them as full outfits with shoes and bags and hair not still wet from the shower.  Maybe even lipstick once we're wearing less masks.  But baby steps.) What I've liked is taking pics to see if how I want certain clothes to look is how they actually look (ala Cher and her polaroids). Also, just showing off some of my favorites and trying new combinations. 

Since summer and fall are my highlight seasons for wardrobe (winter is rather ho-hum and spring feels like a continuation of that with maybe a few pastels.) Summer is sundress season, and I have a lot of them. This weekend I pulled out the underbed bins and we are ready for it (it being probably not all that much, but I at least wear things to work.)  Summers are pretty simple in my uniform-like dress and cardigan combos.  There were years where I would have avoided sleevelessness because (egads!) fat arms, but now the cardigans are an add-on usually tucked in my bag til I'm in the library's chilliness--not an armor to hide too much flesh (my mother's voice chimes a warning at me everytime I wear something too bare or form-fitting, or that (gasp!) actually shows off my curves instead of hides them. I've learned to silence that voice.) I feel confident enough that I know how to dress my body in a way I like. Actually sometimes it's a problem-- I spend way too much money on clothes, when 20 years ago, I stuck to the same basics and tried to blend into the scenery. I shop sales and buy 2nd hand most of the time, but it adds up.  Still clothes are something that bring me great joy--the sort of joy I had when I was 8 or 9 before I became too body conscious and shut it down.

So if you like clothes or want plus size dressing examples, check out instagram the latter half of the week. I will also be showing off some other bags and accessories if I can manage to get ready early enough before I have to rush out the door...