Saturday, June 15, 2024

wallflowers and writers / part 3


As expected, I spent tonight devouring the remaining episodes of this season of Bridgerton and it only occurred to me in the very last episode what I had not realized about how this season differed from the previous, both of which followed pretty standard romance novel tropes. The fake relationship of season 1. The enemies-to-lovers of season 2.. While on the surface of season 3, you might have mistaken this for a friends-to-lovers trope, how the season was structured seemed to bely this, which may have been the reason I was thinking all along that the pacing was off.  Because yes, we do finally get a Penelope/Colin match-up everyone was waiting for, but I don't feel that was the crux of this season--or where the characters were heading, or at least not merely so. 

Once it seemed pretty obvious they would end up happily together, the finale episode was far more about Pen claiming her identity as Lady Whistledown and, as a result, her claiming a future as an author. No small feat in a world where women are designed to be sold off to the highest bidder each season. To forge no identity of their own outside the patriarchy. And perhaps that is the true love story of season 3. Penelope and her alter ego, which she sheds at the end in favor of writing more openly as herself.

Her speech at the ball was very in line with what I talked about regarding writers as passive observers, and it made me think of a conversation last week at a karaoke bar, in which, despite J's urging that we should do a duet at the mic, I had reminded him that I always have much more fun not as the center of attention. More as an observer that blends in and sees all. And I like karaoke, but its more that I like watching and listening to it (well, not all of it, but some, this being mostly a good group of theater people with fine voices.) I am not a performer, which is something I have always known, even despite a love of theater (and probably why I pretty much only was on stage in high school and spent many years after backstage and in the booth.)

It was a conversation we picked up later at the wedding downstate, where I expressed relief that our wedding plans as they currently stand are very small and informal, especially since I am not sure I can could stand such a hug focus on me and actually enjoy myself at a traditional wedding. It sounds terrible and exhausting, which might negate some of the fun of what is supposed to be one of the best days of your life. When I was graduating high school, I remember my mother threw a giant party in a tent and invited everyone she knew, including co-workers and people I may have not seen since I was a baby. I remember I had a mini anxiety melt-down right before it and a desire to hide during it, my little introvert heart not comfortable with all that attention and conversation with little escape. A few years later, my college party was just family and very informal like any other occasion and it was so much more my vibe. 

This feels like it may also be a factor in my relationship to doing readings. I haven't done an in-person reading since before the pandemic--the last one at the Field Museum in October of 2019, then a few virtual readings over the subsequent years,  but over that time I've come to accept that I actually do not enjoy reading my work (live anyway) in front of an audience as much as I may have had to convince myself of before. Granted it was a little better in group readings where I was one of many, but a whole event focused on me was apt to give me hives and a racing heart rate. I hate that when I tell people about this, the reaction is often to have more confidence, which of course is kind of insulting since I have plenty of faith in my abilities. I am just more comfortable being an observer. A listener. This is perhaps why I always volunteered to go first, since after I read, I was much calmer and could actually listen and enjoy what came after.  I did it because I do like sharing work, and socializing with other writers, but there are many other ways to do that that don't emotionally exhaust me, so perhaps I am leaning into those a little more. 

the collection


Friday, June 14, 2024

freelance life milestones

Today, I was updating some stuff in my portfolio over at Contently and realized that the number of entries I had had recently crested over 1,000, which was crazy to me, since it seems only a moment ago it was the summer of 2021 and I was in the final throes of thinking of throwing in the towel at the library and deeply unhappy with what I saw continuing to happen there. To have somehow in three years not only left that job far behind, but amassed quite a large portfolio of writing for actual money still astounds me when I really think about it. 

That was the summer things were slowly starting to get back to normal after covid, which meant more ILL traffic, more library traffic in general. More expectations in programming and exhibits, which had mostly been mostly online during the pandemic. We had gone into covid times with a short staffing situation of 2 people in a department that was once 6 or 7, and while one of the positions had been restored post-lockdowns, the important one that I was filling in for since 2018 had not. This meant, in addition to my actual job and the things we did just out interest and fun, had to be balanced with continual, more dragging kinds of work I thought would be temporary at the start, but as the years stretched on, it was most definitely not. Amid more obligations, my supervisors did their best with the provost office to try to secure a raise, not just for me, but for everyone in the department doing double and triple duty, but no go.  With half the staff still offsite and gross inequities in workflows and pay, I had been determined to stick it out, but by fall, just couldn't. 

It seemed things would not be changing anytime soon, so when I had any way of making a living elsewhere (thank god for online learning and the humanities lessons I took on) I peaced out and said my goodbyes. .Last week, news came through that they had just laid off several staff members (some more useful than others) and around 70 other people in the college, which is apparently in a nose dive of debt and dwindling enrollment. Talking to someone still there, it occurred to me that had I stayed, while my job would probably have been safe since we keep the library, ya know, OPEN, it would still be all the same bullshit. 

Not that it was all roses, and was actually very scary in the beginning. There was also a lot of work to gain some footing and stability and figure out what worked and did not work as a freelancer. Even now, sometimes deadlines and word count expectations collide and it gets a little harrowing with very long days (though admittedly things are much less harrowing in your comfy clothes with no commute.) I have done some really cool and interesting things as well, and written about all manner of things. Still, hands down it may have been on one of the best choices I have ever made. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

summertime poeting

Summer always feels like it should be a time for writing things. When I was a freshman in college, freshly sprung from my semester at the community college and starting RC in the fall, I spent those days poring over issues of Writer's Digest checked out from the library. Typing my way though drafts of slender, terrible poems on paper thin typing paper rattled with correction fluid. Every afternoon would find me waiting til after lunch, when the mail delivery crept past, to run, usually shoeless and cutting though the grassy field, down to the boxes at the end of the driveway waiting for those thin or thick envelopes back in the day when many publications still returned your drafts to you with a polite no. The "no"s were plentiful, as they should have been. But occasional vanity-esque anthologies bit (the kind of places that published in the back of WD.) Paperback anthologies that would publish you, but you had to pay for your copies, which usually contained many poems jammed on a single page. 

I feel those anthologies were a necessary step, though they are often poo-pood by "legitimate" writers. They were terrible, good god, but they satisfied my baby poet desire to feel like a writer. One, called "Living Jewels" was technically my first such publication, and included a tiny poem about television static and political angst. Somewhere it's still on my shelf. A year or so later, I would place another poem in a college lit mag. Then more anthologies, then finally, in grad school, my first non-anthology journal. It was summer again, when working at the library, I started publishing pretty widely in internet journals at a time when "print" writers were still on high horses about them. I often wonder where those writers are publishing now that so many print journals and presses are gone. Probably the web. More likely, not at all.

There was the summer I spent before my final year of college, still typing poems on that typewriter and mailing them off. The summer I worked at my parent's dining table and recorded every new piece to get to a feel for the sound on a tiny boombox.  I was getting better, freed from my tendency to want to rhyme a year earlier, and on the verge of snagging a couple poetry prizes around graduation with the pieces written that summer. Other summers I spent, not writing maybe, but definitely reading and journaling in those Mead notebooks I kept at the time. 

Another summer, 2005,  I spent ripping my first book down to the bare bones after a two years of submitting a couple different versions of it here and there to contests. That summer found me often escaping the heat and distraction at home in the air conditioned interior of a Barnes & Noble cafe downtown, going poem by poem, page by page, and reconstructing the house. Other summertime projects over the years like the exquisite damage poems and overlook. Two summers ago when I took a deep dive into the Persephone series that makes up my latest book. Or the summer I spent a portion of wandering around the Field Museum, writing extinction event. 

There is always a renewed seriousness in the fall, with big projects and plans, but summer always feels like stolen time, particularly when I was entrenched in an academic calendar, which meant a lighter load of obligatory work June-August, and even still now. This morning I wrapped up the final piece in the series I was working on and am set to move onto something else, which I may choose tomorrow morning when I sit down to draft the first piece, there being a list of potential directions and paths. One of which I will just choose and start off into the woods. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

notes & things | 6/12/2024

We are back from a weekend down in the southern Illinois hinterlands for a family wedding that included lots of woodland charm, sparklers, good food, and much revelry, plus a 5 hour road trip journey each direction, so I have spent today regrouping and lining up my tasks for the week. Whenever I leave the city, it takes a couple minutes to acclimate myself back to general dailyness, so I have been taking today slow, answering some press emails, mailing out some packages, and working through articles on birthday parties and which table scraps you can safely feed birds. (in other words, the usual.) This week is much slower than last week, which also brought cocktails with a friend I don't see nearly enough and a karaoke birthday party for one of J's friends.  I need a couple of these long, lingering summer days to get some poetry things done, so am looking forward to that. As I returned, all the technology I touched seemed to want to break, so I will be replacing my phone and one of the printers later this week as well, alas. 

I am working slowly on TECHNOGROTESQUE, the June zine offering, as well as some other little content bits for here and there. These poems feel like they were written a lifetime ago, but I realize it was only last April during NAPOWRIMO. So much has happened since, and time is doing that strange stretchy thing, where some things seem like they happened yesterday and others feel like forever ago. A lot has happened since last spring, including J moving in, quitting his terrible job, finally being able to go out on the regular (previously prevented by both my work schedule and later, even when I was freer, by his.)

Another development that seems to have occurred this weekend was that we finally let it slip to a few more people about our own wedding plans for next summer, which were under wraps to everyone but J's mom, who we told a couple weeks back. The original proposal and subsequent discussions started about two years ago, but were waylaid by schedules and money (the latter is still a consideration, so a small budget is key.) Only a few weeks ago did we say, okay lets do this next June which will be our 10 year anniversary so it seems fitting. Current plans include a City Hall ceremony and lunch or dinner for a smaller group of family and close friends, then a larger barbecue-style picnic gathering for a larger group somewhere between the city and the Rockford/Southern Wisconsin region where most of my family live.  As the girl who said she was never getting married, these developments seem strange and unusual even to me. But I think we mostly have spent many of the last few years of this decade thinking "Why the hell get married?" til the question eventually became "Why the hell not get married?" I do admit I already have my eye on a 1920s style art deco engagement ring with tiny diamonds and a 1930s-inspired dress that I worry will be slightly too warm for June. I have become one of those women who has a wedding Pinterest board and I am okay with that. 

Saturday, June 08, 2024

carnival games | part 3


see more HERE....

Wednesday, June 05, 2024

bits and bots

On Threads, which I can only take in measured doses, I've been idly following some of the discussions around AI (the actual discussions, not the handwringing and moral posturing about what is "real art," which still make up the bulk of most criticisms.) More the ethics of image scraping. At this point, with over 20 years of making things that could be called art in various mediums(and sometimes probably more on the "design" side of things than great works of genius) I mostly roll my eyes at those who question the authenticity or skills of people who use AI image generation, or embed it inside other creative work. Whether they are "real artists" or "posers" playing with a new toy. Granted some people are just having fun, as they should be able to in a world as messy and chaotic as this one. Others have more specific outcomes they are looking for. I've often, however, gotten the most interesting results entirely by accident.  

Sometimes, I am just running prompts and tweaking them to get exactly what I want, which sometimes turns out awesome maybe 10 percent of the time, 90 percent not so much. I wouldn't say its hard, which I feel like some people distinguishes "real art" from "fake." It feels more akin to creating a website or using found graphics for book covers. Or maybe even more like curation, running and changing the prompts and then choosing what I want to use. It takes a little bit of knowledge of terminologies like camera types and processing, but even here I only have a little bit. More it takes having some sort vision and direction for what you want to produce. Or having that elusive thing, a "good eye."

Again, much more "design" than "ART."

The handwringers will tell you that AI will be soon eliminate all artists, which doesn't seem possible. I'm not sure anyone who fears being replaced by some code is actually creating from a place that is all that genuine in the first place. You still have creativity and vision. Nothing can really take that from you. Still want to express what you were put here to express. The discussions feel a lot like painters worrying that photography would eliminate them.  Or that film would eliminate photography. Of course, it all comes from a scarcity mindset rather than an abundance one. While image generators are far more sophisticated than other LLM's (the results of bots writing poems are about what you would expect from high schoolers who've not read much poetry beyond the 19th century.) The one field where the fear may be genuine and concerning would be non-creative types of writing can be bolstered by AI's tendency to just get things wrong, make shit up, and just in general sound weird (or bad at best.) Not that they are replacing "real writers" who will always be necessary for any sense of voice or vision, but more the rampant spread of misinformation it may create in their absence. Still, I don't blame the AI, I blame how people may misuse it for deception.

I understand a bit more the artists who are angry that venues like Google and Meta are using their work to train their models, but really, I've long suspected that everything anyone ever posts on the internet, while it may remain yours by basic copyright, becomes part of the internet consciousness and therefore moves a bit beyond your control. It's kind of already in the terms when you join many sites. Someone I saw today that this actually a good thing for culture in general, that the internet collective should be vast and varied and a stew of everything happening. That its a little cool to be part of that collective (since I too have images everywhere online that are part of that dataset.) No one should steal your work and pass it off as their own, obviously, but everything is influence and very little is new under the sun. Sometimes I will glance at the most ardent naysayers and they are totally violating trademarks by drawing like Pokeman fan art or some other big IP, so I kind of take their arguments with a grain of salt when they talk about "stealing" and "theft."

I think a lot of discussions lack a certain nuance and understanding how LLM's work to create images. It's not like collage, where I quite regularly work with appropriated graphics and images. I try to stick to public domain and stock imagery to not step on toes and honor copyright, but everything else is fair game for collage fodder. The only exception often being physical collages, whose materials I sometimes lift from magazines and books willy nilly without attribution, as generations of collage artists have done before me. And really, most of my sources and materials are vintage anyway and not even related to contemporary artists. 

Generators like Midjourney, of course, produce things based on the language of the prompt and the AI's understanding of what something looks like. So if I issue a prompt for a woman in a white dress, the algorithm of the AI creates an image based on its understanding of what this is supposed to look like. It's not pulling from any one or even 100 artists, but a collective understanding of what constitutes "woman" and "white dress." And its sometimes just wrong or weird about images, especially when you start adding in stylistic prompts and types of photo. The woman and the dress don't exist elsewhere, but they exist now based on those parameters and understandings.  It's not another artists work, but they did potentially provide the dataset that helped create it. Many feel they should be compensated as such, and this would be awesome, but I don't really think that will ever happen. Because capitalism and all. Most actual  "theft" is intentional, done by unscrupulous rival artists and corporate greediness, not the result of 1000 monkeys typing Shakespeare 

totally real photo of the Jersey Devil...

I may be alone in thinking this all makes AI a great tool for world building and story generation, where you have greater control and diversity in what you can use without violating copyrights for mimicking other artists. And, since most of my work exists a bit in unreality, I actually appreciate what some people criticize as the uncanny effect of most AI art. I want it to look artificial, and it does most of the time. But then so does  a lot of painting and other mediums. Some things look very real, so it's actually things like deep fakes and public manipulation we should be worried about rather than some AI artists funny "hedgehog in space" image. Of course, I am also a little artistically mischievous, so immediately did things like make faux cabinet cards of of my favorite art exhibits we ever did  at the library was about hoaxes, including an exhibit that staged a full alien autopsy down to newspaper clippings, so I think there is room in art for it as long as you're not trying to, ya know, overthrow democracy or slander people. 

There are also discussion of copyright when it comes to the generated images, having been created by a machine, do the generators have a claim on them. Probably not.  I would not consider my AI experiments to be "mine" anymore than using a clip of a public domain video in a videopoem is mine. But I can make it into something else. Add context and purpose and create world or a story. While some of my AI generations are just for fun and inspo (see image above), some may eventually, like any stock image, become paired with text and poems (The Alice project is something that uses AI generated images that mostly, outside of some editing things and removing extra fingers, are as the bots intended.) Other pieces, like the Poe tarot cards, use a mix of found graphics and AI elements arranged digitally. Today for a book cover design, I simply needed a basic unicorn illustration with specific colors in its mane. I initially did it crudely with found graphics and it would have worked fine. But then put it in the hands of the bots and loved what they generated, but then inserted it in the design that I composed originally.  It's much less creation, more collaboration with a bodiless artist who always agrees with me and with much better Photoshop and rendering skills.  I can live with that.

Tuesday, June 04, 2024

the fox heads, the heads of dead rabbits


With the reminder that SEX & VIOLENCE is turning four, I dusted off one of the first videopoems I ever created way back during that weird pandemic summer. This is from the series of Plath centos that populate a portion of that book. ]

Pick up a copy HERE.