Tuesday, January 14, 2020

the book of yes

I got to thinking about this Lithub essay the other day, and about what I would consider my biggest "YES" scenarios-- some of which are what you would think, some of which are not.  Even still, it's a fascinating indicator of those sorts of formative experiences as writers, some marked by typical, expected trajectories, others less so. Do you define it by externals, what the creative world gives or does not give us, or is it by something internal?  Some personal measure?  While I don't have many of the things that would mark me as a fancy sort of poet--book prizes, grants, fellowships --I consider myself pretty successful as a writer (esp. given where I started.)  While I wish I could make some more money doing what I love, I long ago severed the expectation that those accompanied each other, so where does that leave you?  Particularly in a society where art is ignored and mediocrity rewarded? And where cash is king.  By those standards pretty much only Rupi Kaur is a success.

A little over 20 years ago, in the fall of 1998, I found myself writing the first spurt of writing that actually probably had any quality at all.  I was a poet nearly a half decade before that of course, but it was all really bad, despite what I told myself at 19 as I eagerly sent out work to places that, thankfully, did not publish it. By 1998, I was in the midst of my MA in English, and finally admitting to myself what I'd suspected all along but was too terrified to say--that I wan't cut out for teaching in any way. And yet here, I was, getting a degree, applying to Ph.D Programs with that very thing in mind.  That fall, at age 24, I had emerged from a serious bout of depression in the spring (both related and unrelated to the teaching quandary), But I was suddenly writing and reading like a fiend. I blame the The Wasteland, for laying everything open that fall--for giving me certain permissions in poetry.     As I made my way through that last year of grad school, it became very apparent that I really just wanted to spend all my time writing poems, and if I had to find some other sort of job to do that, I could. Subsequently, I abandoned my Ph.D prospects, finished the degree, and set out to find a job, turns out, in libraries, where I have been ever since. 

While my first acceptance followed in February of the next year, that "YES," while important, and to me evidence that I might actually not be deluding myself, seems smaller in importance to that previous fall's decision. In retrospect, it's interesting that it is the sort of "YES' that I gave to myself, rather than from some other sort of acceptance, but I've found those are often the most important--the self-dedications and permissions we eventually have to give ourselves and so much of the artists life revolves around these. 

And yet, there are some important "YES"es that came from others that are to be factored in, some more serious than others.  My first online journal publication was a big one  (Poetry Midwest), since I was only very tinily published in print at that point and still trying to figure out my work.  The community I found online in the early 2000's was (before my MFA, before I started doing open-mics around town in 2003) all I had and therefor very important--the acceptance I found there. . While I wouldn't say my MFA program acceptance was as heavy in weight, the local juried reading I won a year or so later definitely went a long way in affirming that I was on the right track.  In my head during this time, getting that acceptance for my first book seemed to be a "YES"  I badly needed to make myself feel like I was making it as a poet, though in retrospect, it wasn't perhaps as weighty as I made it out to be. I sometimes think that if Ghost Road had not taken the fever almanac, I would have likely started a career of self-publishing all my full-lengths (and the book would actually still be available instead of out of print when they folded .)  While I would have given up the chance to work with some really cool editors/presses, my "career" as a poet wouldn't be much different--my work & distribution methods mostly unchanged.

This fall's reading at the Field Museum, the invitation to do it, felt like a big "YES" exactly when I needed it (I think so big because, a)  I love that place and it's significance to my life in Chicago, and b) it's a non-poetry specific, high profile place where I felt like it was an honor to be invited into.  All of which made me feel a little more confident in some things where I was feeling less so. (I blame this on producing so much work in a relatively short time, some of which I was less comfortable with. )

There are so many little "YES"es that don't feel particularly life-changing momentous, but are really, really nice--book acceptances, journal acceptances, invitations to read--all of which go a little towards making you feel like you are really doing this thing--being a poet--which sometimes gets lost in day jobs and survival. Also the internal ones--a new stylistic approach, an interesting project, even a permission to fail--that turn out really great in the end.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

notes & things | 1/11/2020

Today, the wind off the lake, combined with the steady hum of the space heater, is drowning out my laptop speakers.  While we've been lucky overall, winter, outside of  few early snowfalls well before December, has decided to descend upon Chicago in one fell swoop--high waves on the water, snow flurries, wind that I have expect to be carrying a witch by on a bicycle. I am luckily tucked inside for the weekend, filling book orders, working on edits for the poets zodiac, and watching thrift haul videos on youtube, as well as season two of YOU, to which I am addicted.  I don't think I've ever been quite as grateful for groceries that come directly to me as I was this afternoon, and am now stocked up on coffee, chicken soup ingredients, and general food for the next two weeks.  (sometimes I just get the heavy stuff like cat litter and food delivered and opt to trek to Aldi for the cheaper groceries, but not this week.)

The past week has been a readjust after an entire two weeks away, and one week totally staying home and not leaving my apartment, which is my very best hobby lately--"not leaving the apartment," which I am very good at and hope to do more of in 2020.  While previous years would have been split, even when off from the library, with a need to go downtown to the studio, now there is absolutely nowhere else I need to be now. I can make books and art to my contentment in the middle of the night and then crawl into my comfy bed without having to get fully dressed at all.  It's amazing.

During that break, I managed to catch up on fall orders that I was super behind on, organize my dining room into something like an orderly home studio, and organize both my coat closet and my clothes closet in the bedroom.  There are other tasks I hope to take on in coming weeks--regrouting my bathtub, organizing my desk drawer mess in the living room, but they aren't urgent.  I also managed to tardily swap out my fall clothes for winter ones (though this is my least favorite swap, but I do like that it has more velvet than other seasons.) The fall swap came late due to temps staying warm through Sept. and then I've just been behind on wearing things for the past two seasons.

About 1/3 of my closet is always being switched out, so I try to make sure I actually wear the stuff while it's available--otherwise I get rid of it. The everything goes back in the bins for another year--things like flannel, velvet, winter florals, dresses too short to really wear without tights, etc  The bonus is feeling like I get a partially new wardrobe every season and sometimes the delight of forgetting I put away something cool. My favorite thing about winter, though I suppose also fall and early spring is sweater dresses, which occupy the suitcases on the bottom of the dress rack, two more of which I procured on sale right before Christmas, one in black,  the other in my new obsession color, dark green. Keeping them tucked away does spares them fom many hazards, including saggy shoulders from hanging, the errant moth, and dangerous siamese claws.

cover love | pastel edition

While I always love the cover design process for dgp--the scouting out ideas, collaboarating with the author-- one of my favorite things is designing something from scratch. Usually, the author will send me inspo images, or choose past covers that they like as guides.  Or, in some case, simply give me some suggestions of what they'd like to see.  I will come up with a design, then we tweak it to get closer to a finished concept.

The ones above went through a few iterations.  For Anagnorisis, the author had sent me some samples of street stencil art and a pinterest board of ideas.   This was actually the second thing I wound up mocking up--the first similar, but  a different perspective of the girl and a whole other color scheme--a dark green and white.  Eventually we got to this. The circle behind her was initially a formless blob and a friend of Effie's suggested the change.   Both of us liked how the circle evokes the moon. 

For the second book, the author sent a suggestion of vintage compasses. and I wound up creating a more modern, simple graphic version that wasn't working for her  I found this more antique compass, added the collage elements (kraft paper, an old ledger segment) and it was better.  Finally, we simplified what was going on by making the color more unified.)

Both books turned out beautifully and I'm loving the pastels.I tend toward that blue a lot, it's among my favorite shades.  The pink is super delicate &  girly (and reminds me of my childhood bedroom at a certain ag), but the black/white image makes it a little edgier & modern as a whole. 

Friday, January 10, 2020

future tense: imagined worlds from the margins

This semester's A of R focus topic is devoted to imagined future worlds through the lens of people on the margins (women, LGBTQ, POC, disability). Initially, we were thinking dystopias, but opened it up to all re-imaginings of a future, better or worse, nightmarish or ideal.  . We already have some Afrofuturist zine nights planned in collab with Chicago Public Library, a workshop on faux propaganda, and a Book to Art selection of The Handmaid's Tale, as well as artwork already filtering in for the exhibit like mad, so looks like it will be an interesting semester.

Planning for it got me thinking about Ursula Le Guiin's "The Ones Who Walk way from Omelas"  When I was in my freshman 101 English class in North Carolina, I had an unusually forward-thinking professor (I remember very little about him except that he was a younger dude.), who had us reading all sorts of things I might not otherwise have encountered, even as an English major later on. The premise is a perfect society, happy people, a city thriving financially, food for everyone---all at the expense of a single child kept chained in a basement in misery.  Basically, what the cost of utopia is and how bearable that cost and by who. (We also read Gabriel Garcia Marquez' "The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings," which is another of my all-time favorites.) 

As for my own work, the subject matter dovetails nicely with my ordinary planet series (from which I took some inspiration for the poster, as well as the background & cover concept I did a while back for Katharine Diehl's The Fourth Wave.) Since I usually like to contribute something of my own depending on if there is some extra wallpspace, I might be able to finish beforehand another series of more futurist collages made from some old Time magazines I began last year and then abandoned. 

Hopefully, the topic this time will be a little less bleak than our APOCALYPSE, USA semester a couple of years back...lol...

Thursday, January 09, 2020

the interior world

Sometimes, I think my desire to become a writer rested so much on the fact that I always, from the youngest age, was the sort of kid that lived mostly in my head and only part of the time outside it.  For the first four years I was an only child, my mother at home to look after me, but mostly the sort of 70's mother who was only tangentially involved in what I would do all day. She watched me, fed me, and occasionally would play board games with me as I grew older, but most of what I knew as "play" occurred on my own, and therefore, mostly in my imagination.   My favorite thing to do in those years was to have her drape a sheet or blanket over the coffee table, under which I would pretend to "camp", which mostly meant lying underneath , surveying my tiny private space and either coloring / drawing or watching the tv through a small gap in the front. After my sister was born, still very much of our play was non-toy related.  Me, my sister, my cousins played many rounds of "Let's pretend.." even as we got older.  Lets's pretend we have different names, lets pretend we're detectives,  let's pretend we are in the The Lost Boy's movie. While we led each other on these creative pursuits and they were fun, I also very much liked my imaginings when I was alone .  I would concoct stories in my head based on movies or books I'd read.  I would listen to my Walkman and live out the songs in my head.

But then there were always stories unwinding. .  They's sometimes be brief, but sometimes went on for days, transforming, becoming other stories. Or maybe these are what we would consider "daydreams" --which were almost as vivid and real to me as my night ones.   I had a crush on a boy in 7th grade and I imagined us in a horror movie summer camp scenario--how he would save me from drowning, but also would somehow turn out to be the killer.  My internal stories were fueled by Hollywood, but also by books--mostly horror that I was, courtesy of an aunt that passed them on to me, reading by the dozens. Though I didn't always write them down, I had endless plots going through my head. The summer camp scenario was a favorite, but another favorite in junior high was that I was teen pop star/ ice skater who was reunited with her childhood sweetheart--a teen I would pretend to be whilst lipsyncing Debbie Gibson in the mirror.  I think the most troubling thing about this story was that I was dying--mortally ill with cancer or some tragic disease that made my story even more poignant.   I would also concoct large historical family trees revolving around fictional mansions--decades and generations of families--always wrought with unfortunate deaths and madnesses (in some ways, I feel these were a pre-cursor to things like my unusual creatures project.)

It was the sort of world building I still love to do--through writing projects, through visual projects, through other things like the murder mysteries I design for the library.  I am still occasionally angry when I am pulled away from my internal wold and have to engage with the actual one. Still wish I could spend more time in my head than outside it.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

new year, new planner

Over the holidays, I watched a number of YouTube videos on organization--closets mostly, but also cupboards, bookshelves, pantries. It's probably akin to everyone making New Year's resolutions about staying and maintaining some sort of organization system that makes you a little less chaotic and crazy.  My favorite, which I binged nightly over my Christmas visit, were bullet journals--a seemingly intricate system of planner/journals/scrapbook that is intriguing, though at times seems a little obsessive and fussy.

When I came back, I was blessed with a brand new shiny sketchbook, my previous one, slightly larger, having served me well for at least a couple years of post-it planning and organization. Thinking as I laid out my usual system, I might incorporate some of the aspects of the bullet journal aspects into my sketchbook--places to include monthly goals, weekly outlooks, etc.  While I'm not sure I'm willing to commit to mood trackers or exercise. trackers like some of the folks on YouTube, I do think maybe seeing the goals and writing them down might make me remember that I actually have them.  Or, at best,  keep me pointed in the right direction and less adrift mid-year.  As I mentioned in some previous posts about overall goals, it was good, for the first couple of months to break them down into more manageable parts.

While I used to just be an avid maker of to-do lists and kept a traditional planner/calendar, both in print and digitally, my post-it strategy started in 2014 and changed pretty much everything.  I have this tendency to think of things I want to do--whether it's a potential writing project,  a new art technique, an idea for library programming. The problem before is I would lose track of things, forget about them for months if I didn't write them down. Then there is also the morass of dgp--easily tracking which books are in which stage of development--layout, cover design, proofing--when several are underway at the same time. We were having some communication/execution problems in our library department and my boss had experimented with a board, divided by staffer, with post its designating what people were working on.  I liked being able to look at the board to see what was on deck next, what needed to be done, but wasn't mission critical.

I didn't need a giant board on the wall for my own planner, obviously, but I liked the post-its, to be able to write something down, to move it around if need be, to jot down an idea for later when I had time to consider it.  I tend to use the first part of the book for planning out the week.  Then there are pages for "Next Week, "Next Month", Two to Three Months," and "This Year".  I usually move divide the post-its into their relevant days, along with reminders (meetings, events, appointments), and can, with a flip of pages, see what's happening any given week or day.

The second section is "Projects,"  which is divided into sections for Writing, Art, Press, Shop, & Library. Then a separate dgp section with columns for pre-layout, layout, cover design, proofing, finalization, and ready for release, ready for shipment.  It's followed by a section designated "Promo & Marketing, which includes pages dedicated to social media ideas, future blog posts, places to submit work to, submissions out, and forthcoming publications. Then "Personal, " where I keep track of home projects, books to read, books read, movies/shows to remember to watch, etc.

The addition this year was a "Goals" section, with a page for each month that I will fill as I go along. Then a "Weekly Round Up" to combat my feelings that I am always treading water, but am actually getting quite a bit done (ie, that my post-its are disappearing, that things are getting finished, but it's always met with more post-its).  The rest is just for "Notes" which so far, just has a list of things I need to get to stock my bar cart appropriately (I seem to have a lot of liqueurs and endless tequila but lack other basics like a good vodka and bourbon)..but will eventually also include things to remember for various projects, research notes, relevant quotes.

I do feel a little self-conscious every once in a while when the student workers find me, post-its all over my desk arranging my work week (though admittedly I have led at least one down the path of adopting a similar strategy who was trying to keep his fashion-design details organized.) It might look a little obsessive, but then again, maybe it is, but it does work.  I don't feel so much like everything is mounting up and slipping away.  If I don't finish something, I simply move it to the next day or the next week.  At the point where the post-it looses it's stickiness is probably where I need to either do the damn thing or let it go.

Monday, January 06, 2020

on research and renaissance dog-girls

I have always been the sort of writer who is in love with research .  There is something incredibly exhilarating in starting a project and seeking out every single detail and nuance. In immersing yourself in the process.   Perhaps it's the librarian in me, but it started long before I started working in libraries. Through college and grad school, I would put off my paper writing exploits to the very last minute, but the research had always been started much earlier--usually manifested in a mess of notebook scribbles and ragged print-outs carried around in my backpack.  It speaks to certain obsessive tendencies that serve me both well and sometimes not so much, but when channeled toward creative things, it can actually be highly enjoyable. 

 Though the intervening years have made such research more accessible and my notetakings more digital than not., I still resort to paper, usually loose sheets grabbed and then folded into my project sketchbook, where they usually stay until I make something of them, or clean out the notebook and stash them elsewhere. It's actually resulted in a weirdly specific knowledge about certain things--the Slender Man stabbling (necessary violence).  HH. Holmes' murder castle ([licorice, laudanum]). urban legends (archer avenue) and taxidermy (unusual creatures.)  There are others that I delve into every once in a while--Hollywood ghost stories, roadside motels.

This morning, on the first functional day of 2020, I found myself scrambling through a collection of file folders in the bureau next to my desk looking for the bulk of my written notes on Antoinetta Gonzalez, the so called "dog-girl" of the Renaissance.  Given my love of "monstrosity" and women, and in particular how the female body is often seen as monstrous, it was natural that it would catch my interest a couple years back.  but only now do I have an open slot in terms of projects.  So this morning over breakfast, I scanned through my notes and opened a new file and drafted something that I'm really liking so far and hope to continue working on in the coming couple of months.

So much of the work we do in the library wit the A of R initiative is about turning research into artmaking, and this is perhaps where the difference lies.  My reluctance to pen essays through six years of higher ed (and then even more later when I got my MFA) probably was more that the end project did not particularly excite me.  I mostly wanted to be able to read books and talk endlessly about them, not write rote and formulaic essays.  (I did not then really know how to write them any other way.) Had I been given a creative project to distill all that information, I think my enthusiasm would have been much higher, and perhaps my learning more enriched.  Which is something good to think about when it comes to education in general.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

hello 2020 | personal goals

1. While I'm feeling pretty good in general about my health, I can always do to drink more water and get more exercise.  I'm loathe to talk about diets and diet culture, but eating better in general is always good with some decidedly not-healthy-at-all thrown in in moderation, ie. more fruits and veggies, less donuts (but sometimes donuts.).  Curbing that decades old desire to binge whatever is on the plate. But nothing is more boring that talking about what people eat or don't eat.   I do like to resolve to get more exersize, only because I feel stronger an better physically and mentally when I'm moving on the regular.

2. There is always a struggle to balance the need to recharge my introvert nature and the feeling that I don't get out enough and turn down invitations way too much.  I like being at home, but sometimes even that seems pathological and unhealthy.  I cherish my weekends at home, but that doesn't mean I need to be crazy about maintaining them and miss out on other things.  I feel a little bit of easing on this with having given up the studio.  Since I'm not split in so many directions and less stressed in general, I do get to spend more time at home during the week so maybe this will help me feel better about being a little more socially amenable.

3. And the biggest goal for 2020, perhaps even bigger than creative or professional goals and something I need badly, is to resolve to give much less mental real estate to assholes . I had a work situation in December where I found myself trying to bed over backwards to prove that someone was in the wrong and trying to flip it back on me. There could have been passive aggressive e-mails arguing this in a fear that it absolutely needed to be established they were in the wrong (even though I doubt anyone else cares), but I decided not to.  Years ago, I would have worried that the narrative would have then been that I dropped the ball (which I do, totally sometimes, but not here, and this person has a record of broadcasting other people's failings to hide her own deficiencies).  Normally this would have had me stressed about about it for at least a day. And you know what?  I chose just not to care.   I felt pretty good about it.  Let's hope for more of that in 2020...

4.  I read quite a bit of poetry..either collections or dgp manuscripts, and spend a good part of my live elbow deep in text, but what I never feel I do enough of anymore is reading fiction.  While poetry always feels a little like work, or more active reading in my field, fiction is like a passive pleasure for me.  I used to read a good amount of novels on the bus, but the last couple of years, I spend more time either zoning out or obsessing over randomness.  That time could be better spent with a book, which also makes me less obsessive in general.   I enjoy leisure reading so much and it's stupid not to take advantage of this time.

5. And my perennial goal to document more, whether that be through blogging or photos, social media, scrapbooks (which I used to do obsessively but now pretty much never).  This space helps, as does instagram, which encourages me to take more photos.   Also, things that just help me feel more present and grounded in day to life life.