Friday, June 09, 2023

the year without fathers

Today, I was thinking how dare the world celebrate Father's Day and Mother's Day so carelessly close together. Especially here at the top of the summer, where I feel like I am finally climbing out of a dark hole. And yet there it is. In the months after my mother's death, I wrote an entire book of poems. I don't have the urge to do so for my dad, though the home improvements series references parental losses more generally. Really, my father and I's relationship was far less fraught with the stuff poetry is made of, though maybe it's just a different kind of poetry I don't really write. 

Through much of my adult life, I had a tiny inkling fear that we'd never been particularly that close. But I also had not a single clue how to breach patterns that persisted since childhood. Overall--it was a good relationship and my father was the type of person who would do anything for his kids,--like ridiculous things like driving me to multiple states, moving me several times, financial support in younger years, dealing with dead cats, and general life stuff. But my mother was someone who took up a lot space by her nature--talkative, extroverted, always moving. While we all had our moments when I was a teen especially, I grew into an adult who had a sound relationship with both, but my dad was always in the background while my mother and us daughters were the main show. For all the years I lived separately from them, my mother was the receiver of phone calls, which sometimes included my dad's commentary from the side of the room. But like in the car where he mostly drove and nodded along silently, we were a group of women who were constantly talking. 

After my mother slowly started losing her mind due to an infection in the fall of 2017, I found myself on the phone with him for the first time, which was strange--at first all our conversations about her. But after she died, he took the mantle of the twice-weekly calls and eventually we fell into a groove. I feel like I had more conversations with my dad in those final last five years than the entire four decades before. So at least there was that. But it doesn't make things like Father's Day any easier. I actually rarely spent the holiday with him since I would normally be planning a summer trip to Rockford in the surrounding weeks and we would just celebrate then, but there would usually be gifts sent via Amazon, the usual weekly Sunday call. But I will still be reminded all weekend of fathers and it will pull and drag and threaten to drown me. Jealous and angry in a way I am not usually about anything else.

A few weeks ago, on Mother's Day, I was so woefully sick with a cold and in a mood to smash just about everything even after all these years, so I don't know what Sunday will bring mood-wise. I also find myself perhaps without the catharsis of a writing project about my dad, which seems a strange thing, but I don't know what those poems would necessarily be about. What they would look like. Perhaps, it's a book already written--my love of horror that charts so many projects, but particularly DARK COUNTRY is all him. As is perhaps my reading and writing habits in general.  I am thankfully a little less shell-shocked than I was all of 2018..maybe because it's easier somehow to lose the second parent than it is the first?  Or is it that we were there with him in the last moments?  His illness and death came on and went out even more suddenly than my mom's. He was there and then gone in a matter of a couple weeks I have often debated in darker moments whether it was better to be there in the final moments or to not to be there in the final moments. I've decided both were just their own special kind of horrible. At the very least, my dad does not appear in dreams thinking he is still alive. He doesn't appear in my dreams at all, though my mother still knocks around from time to time. But then again, his absence is another kind of sadness. 

Sunday, June 04, 2023

who we once were, who we will be

I have a very early collage I made that I keep stuffed in my college writing scrapbooks and occasionally pull out for amusement. Not from my first forays into artmaking when I was in my thirties, but created probably around age 20 judging from the images. Lots of 90's standpoints like The Cranberries, So I Married An Axe Murderer, and a young Brad Pitt (who was not really anyone I saw as a heartthrob at any point, so I am not sure why that's even there.) Also lots of words detailing my obsessions--coffee (obviously), theatre, books, vintage, Shakespeare, poetry, art. Russia is in there I'm pretty sure because I was intensely enamored of Chekhov at that age. Other random abstractions like "muse" and "mind". Images of victorian ladies and illustrations of girls in black turtlnecks.

If I remember correctly, this found its way into a scrapbook of clippings long since thrown out, but I think may have once been framed above my desk as an inspo or vision board, much in the way I use Pinterest now. I had many sketchbooks--large format ones full of clippings for an apartment I would one day have, clothes I would like to wear. Of course, once I was out of college, it was many years before I had the money to buy the things I so carefully cut out and glued down. And even longer before I properly learned to dress my body and that the fashion industry was smart enough to realize plus size clothes are a good place to invest their efforts. I had some of these sketchbooks in tow when I first lived here, but I suspect I may have tossed them at some point in the past two decades in a cleaning purge.  

Like my diaries and journals, however, they are an artifact to the people we once were, good or bad, stylish or unstylish, tasteful or tasteless. I see this collage and I instantly think of the time I spent in my room while an undergrad, happily introverting between classes and rehearsals, listening to 90's music and making lots of tea and bad instant cappuccino. Those long unencumbered summers I'd stay up til dawn watching my parent's satellite tv and journaling or writing poems cross-legged at the coffee table. That girl was at the beginnings of things in every way.  Every once in a while I stumble on comments on Instagram reels of people certain something sinister is afoot because time goes faster.  It's called getting older. And its sinister as hell.  I think about the time drag of childhood, and even my college years, though scheduled out, still seemed long. But grad school, less so. The work world, even less. 

Even now, with a much less hectic pace to my days, it's still remarkedly fast. Earlier I remembered myself just a year ago happily sitting here enjoying the noise of summer outside my windows. how much has happened good and bad in the past year that moved fast/slow/fast/slow. Not just this year, but probably the last several, though I am not sure if the pandemic has to do with it, the simultaneous creep and speed of lockdown, or just years for me personally in which a lot of things shifted and changed after many years of the same. 

I still keep a vast system of Pinterest boards, some just decor things I want to emulate or write about, or art & design things to inspire me. Clothes and outfits I'd either like to buy or find similar looks. I keep boards for different art and writing projects. A whole board I like to look at when I need cover ideas when working on books. It's probably just more evidence that while things change, nothing really does. I still make moodboards and listen to 90s music. Still write poems and journal, albeit here and not a blank book. I still drink too much coffee and tea and while I don't have a coffee table to sit at, spend my introverting time instead at my work table. I can still can be found watching horror movies at 2am. (though at least I get to choose what they are now.)

Friday, June 02, 2023

art, rarity, and economics


I've been thinking this week about money and art, and mostly, how very little there is in it overall.  A small amount from shop sales (though unless its artwork alone usually these are largely eaten up by costs to make things--supplies and paper and toner and color printing jobs) Some book sales of my own full-lengths (actually a nice profit on self-published, negligible returns from trad published books royalties.), Occasional tiny payments from magazines (and these are like unicorn sightings in their rarity.) Occasional honorarium for readings.  A handful of manuscript consultations. I still make the overwhelming majority of my income from the freelance work that replaced my library income.

Overall, I've made 1000% more from selling art and paper goods than poetry, especially during the etsy years, when it was compounded by selling vintage and other crafty things. But writing and art alone--the creative work I do--has a far lesser return. And yet, it is often the thing, barring things I do for money and to pay the rent, that I spend most of my time and attention on.  I imagine this is true for all of us...unless you've carved out sweet reading gigs that pay a lot or are an artist making huge sales and commissions or have a really successful shop. Most of us will never make a living solely from the thing we love most. It gets harder as time goes on and markets become saturated and social media algorithms fuck us over.  What worked just a year or two ago can easily stop working on a dime.

Which also made me think about how I mostly feel okay about it, because the alternative is perhaps less desirable. I've always felt like a creator who is just too much. Too open about the process. Too prolific, perhaps. Too loud and show-offy. My creative work was tied very much to the business of submitting and promoting my work from its very beginnings. Before I'd published even a handful of poems, I had built a crude website to showcase them. Had started an online journal / blog to talk about my experiences and share work. I marvel at the writers who keep things close to their vests and occasionally drop a poem or a book into the world and then go back to the quiet. The rare foxes that can be seen in the forest only occasionally. Meanwhile, I feel like a peacock screaming at the top of its lungs waiting for someone to notice. People get tired of the peacock.  I get tired of being the peacock. 

But at the same time, maybe I am just too stupidly enthusiastic. I create something and I immediately want to show someone. To make that audience connection, even its just a handful of people. It's as much part of my process as the writing and art themselves are.  Usually, you will know what's going on in my head as soon as its happening. Will at least know the outline, the shape of it, even if not the particulars. I "overshare" a lot. One thing I miss about Twitter though I never really found a way to use it well, was sharing snippets from poems in progress daily. 

But eventually, it's all out there, maybe the exceptions being things I am trying to submit to journals when I am actually doing that, but otherwise I would likely just be posting every poem I write. I usually do this during NAPOWRIMO, posting my drafts daily, but it also sometimes make me feel even more downtrodden if it feels like no one is reading them. Occasionally I get my undies in a bunch and decide to send out work and some stuff crops up in journals, otherwise you will eventually see most of what I do somehow--in video poems, in the print or e-zines I create a few times a year. 

The last few years, I've created more electronic zines than print ones. Part of it is just being busy with the chapbook series in terms of assembly and its just easier to make an electronic file and share it unless I want to do something special and paper-laden (ie, the poets zodiac, for example.)  I could easily make it print only and ask people to purchase. But I feel like I already do that too much. Even those print projects eventually usually end up with some electronic version since I want to share them without people having to buy things, since no one really has the income for that. I want what I create to be available to anyone who is interested, not just those who have extraneous income to purchase it.

I often see the work I share as the museum itself, my little corner of the internet, while the saleable goods are the gift shop. With the full-lengths, most often you can find the shorter series that compose them in zines and chaps freely available, but the book is there is you want something to hold, to collect, to read in the bathtub screen-free. Or to support the overall work I do by sending a few dollars my way.  I've reformatted my Patreon recently, another platform I never know what to do with, allowing subscribers to get a copy of signed printed things when they come out, but also just providing general support. Many creators do exclusive content, and I'd considered it, but there is more joy to be found in sharing more widely than in any amount I may make by putting things behind a paywall. I've been trying to create a social content calendar that makes sense throughout the week, but really, I make something and I want to show you immediately. 

I think about rarity and value a lot..can something be less valuable because it is not rare at all? Is widely and readily available and therefore less interesting somehow? Maybe the answer varies according to what you're talking about and who you are...During the pandemic, when it seemed things were really hard for a lot of people, I thought about transforming the print operation of the chap series into e-chap one,  and completely free, though part of me still loves the physicality of paper, and I feel like other authors do as well. Someday, I'd like to figure out a hybrid solution to this, offering older chaps online. For chaps since 2014, this would be easy to format, though the first decade of books, how I laid them out, would require a complete overhaul of the design elements I don't have the time for now. But it's on my list of things to do. I would also have to arrange logistics and permissions with authors who even want their books available online, but it could be done. 

But if it's free, will people see it as less valuable and worthy of their time?  Is it an American thing, so tied up with capitalism that we can't see past it? Does rarity and exclusivity solely determine value? What room is there for art amid a system that doesn't seem to serve it at all? Is it better to see art as a gift and not a transaction at all? But then how does one eat or pay the bills or even survive as an artist at all? 

When I was moving out of the studio in the Fine Arts rather begrudgingly in 2019 (after I realized I was greatly in peril financially from stretching myself too thin as rent costs went up and up and everything else income-wise for me stayed the same) I passed daily under the sign over the door I'd passed under every day for more than a decade that said "All Passes--Art Alone Endures." To which my response, as I sadly packed up my things to move them back to my apartment and my considerably smaller dining room studio space, was how much bullshit that was in the context of most people's lives. (Granted a few months later, Covid lockdowns made me happy I had given up the space after all, but it still stung and felt like a loss and setback that previous fall.) 

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

notes & things | 5/30/2023

We find ourselves on the cusp of June--of full-fledged summer, though the weather has been mild and cooler and I still haven't properly opened all the windows just yet for any stretch of time.  Otherwise, I have been keeping my head down and working through writing assignments--throw pillows, sunrooms, garden design, chocolate, sci-fi classics. Making early promo materials for COLLAPSOLOGIES.  Making new collages and poems in tandem for a fun little bit of victorian-ish spookiness. 

I am knee deep in these last chaps assembly -- hitting the home stretch of late 2022 chaps and about to dive into this year's selections, which is exciting, as well as the promise of a new round of submissions in the inbox after June 1st. It is still difficult to believe that just next year, the chap series will be celebrating 20th anniversary, which is absolutely impossible somehow.  I swear it feels more like just a handful of years and not an entire two decades of issuing chapbooks by women authors.

I have a feeling summer will go by fast--it always does, especially since it feels like warmer weather has been slow to arrive here in the midwest, though I prefer that to the sudden transition and 90s in May. Especially once we hit the 4th of July and the summer begins to unravel. My plans for summer overall are small. Cocktails with a friend to catch up, nightly walks, some lake wanderings, a barbecue with J on the 4th. Summer always feels most like the season to be seized and savored and sometimes I forget it only to find myself missing it terribly in the dead of winter. I do love even the everyday parts of summer. The windows all open, the racket of birds, and that long stretch into the evening. Iced tea and raspberry sorbet. 

Creatively, I plan to finish up work on the victorian-ish thing that does not yet have a title, launch COLLAPSOLOGIES into the world, and then get to work on a new video poem project I hope to have ready for debut in August.  I recently finished up some edits on the home improvements stuff and sent out some submissions from a couple other recent series to various places, some larger circulation mags I probably have not a chance of getting into, but others to some smaller mags I have a nominal chance of getting into. 

Saturday, May 27, 2023

creativity and invisibility

I have lately plagued by a strange deflated feeling everytime I finish a creative project--be it a poems, a collage, a video--a heaviness and ambivalent feeling, not toward the art itself, but perhaps the futility of making it. It comes and goes, but I can roll out of bed, breeze through all manner of things--chapbook designs, articles on chocolate and throw pillows and local art galleries. Housework and dance workouts and nice naps with cats.  Feeling full of creative energy, energetic and enthusiastic. Only to spend my evenings writing poems or making collages or reels with a sense of nice flow, and then afterward, a decline. Not for the work itself, but maybe what feels like the invisibility of it.  I keep stumbling across reels by creators on Instagram with small businesses, talking about how social media has suddenly made them all but invisible. In many cases, it has decimated what were once thriving businesses. It's similar to the feeling of adriftness people used to talk about circa 2010 in the etsy forums, as the marketplace swelled to untenable levels and you had to keep paying more and more to bump yourself up in the search results. 

While I don't think invisibility has affected the shop (it's so small and word of mouth anyway these days) I do feel it when it comes to traffic and general feelings of being seen--not even creative work, but ANYTHING on social media. Though while I care less about the visibility for random nonsense and memes I post on facebook. I do feel like writing and art-related things sit with no views or engagement.  And yet, I know that I very happily once made poems and art in the days before social media as we know it. Somehow people saw them and liked them or hated them. Or maybe they didn't, but I felt much more satisfied and less angsty about it.

I've always been an artist and writer who embraced and grew within the online community. There was a before time, when I scribbled and banged out bad poems on a word processor and sometimes submitted to journals via snail mail and mostly was rejected. But after 2001 or so, my identity as a creative developed entirely in the virtual world. First in online journals and listservs, later in blogs and journals like this one. It all existed long before facebook (and way long before Instagram, which I did not even join until 2017). Sure I did readings, and took MFA classes, and occasionally published in print, but the center of my creative existence was still overwhelmingly online. 

And it was good for a while. I felt like people saw the fruits of my work and I saw theirs (even this feels like its harder..I see the same posts and lots of ads, but not even a 10th of the people I follow.). Now the silence that meets dumb facebook posts about pop culture or randomness, my cat photos and lunch photos, also meets creative work. Resoundingly and absolutely. And yet, my generation knows better than everyone that the internet is not the real world, and yet its hard not to feel like it is...I've noticed a disconnect going back to the pandemic, and granted, it may have had much to do with that. I felt its undertow in 2021 and 2022. I feel it more now. Or it bothers me more now.

Weirder ad-heavy algorithms, general disengagement from the internet and social media?  Who knows..but its rough and I am trying to untangle my feelings of validity from it nevertheless...

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

the best of tupelo quarterly


This very chonky beauty dropped into my mail room yesterday and includes some text and collages from the summer house that initially appeared online. 

You can pick up a copy here....

Sunday, May 21, 2023

plunder and reveal

It just happened that this week I have been editing and laying out three chapbooks that are appropriative in nature. One is Catharine Bramkamp's Unconscious Words, poems plucked and molded from bestselling novels from the past decade or so like Game of Thrones and Gone Girl. The other is Colleen Alles' collection of poems found in Jane Eyre, Reader to Tell You All.  The third is Erika Lutzner's chapbook of centos Think of a Have Made of Glass, All the Bees, Theoretically At Least, amazing centos created from the lines of older and newer contemporary poets like Plath and Sexton and, blushingly, even me. I am a fan of these kinds of poems--centos and blackouts and related forms.  Appropriated and re-worked texts. I have written my own (from Plath) and published quite a lot of chapbooks through the dgp series that include them. Obviously, as a collage artist, most art feels like appropriation in some way (though you should always credit your sources and be honest about your process, especially in writing.)

And of course, AI springs to mind, especially as I embark on training for the project I've recently signed on to that is supposedly supposed to help AI be a better poet. Exciting and slightly horrifying. Because AI is all appropriation (the bad kind with no credit, which complicates things.)  The very worst a bot could do would be to go off and start penning centos, stealing lines of poetry, but I am not sure even this is something a bot could do well without dissolving into chaos. My news feeds are above with Hollywood writers strike talk and their fear (totally founded) that studios will try to write scripts without them. While they can fake an undergrad essay, I seriously doubt they could write something as multi-layered and complex as the better series or films, or hell, even the shitty ones.  But, good lord, they will probably try...Though most blockbuster films are shit writing anyway, so now it will be chaotically shitty writing.

I was thinking of this intently earlier today as I brainstormed cover ideas for Erika's book, under the direction of looking for something related to fishbowl and bees (which were her ideas given to me as I started the design process.) I thought the bizarreness of it might be a good candidate for AI, which may give me something I could at least use as a foundational image or point me in a direction anyway. While some of the more graphically oriented ones were interesting, I would up going a more traditional collage route using a hive background image among the licensed ones in Canva, some bee clip art, and torn paper. The results were nicer, and far more in line with the book's tone, than the AI-generated images. But I keep thinking about how AI could be useful in a design standpoint (the creation of covers being kind of different from my own artistic visions when it comes to my own work.) But then, who are you plundering?  Who are you stealing from?  Licensed stock images are one thing, but living artists are another. 

But then again, I also know people who will say that all art is appropriated and influenced by what came before, on a scale from the actual words or images themselves down to style and influence, which is also kind of true, nothing new being under the sun. I also like to think that poetic egos are always searching for self-expression--for identity--which while it may use other words and influences--still strives to create something entirely new. Ie, the bots can write all the poems they want, but the poets should know better.