Saturday, May 23, 2020

space music and paper boats

I've been thinking a bit about the speed at which things spin past us wildly. About social media, especially in a world where our attentions are split in 100 different directions.  The things I followed once on the regular, blogs, you-tubers, litzines, get lost in the rubble of horrible news article and general mental scatteredness of living in crazy world where we may have never had control of it, but even the illusion that we did seems to be unraveling. I've been thinking about my own writing and art and how I feel like even when I am creating it, I am disconnected from the audience.  Or from even the idea of audience that I used to feel.  And yes, perhaps I think too much about audience (somewhere I hear someone yelling that only the art matters, the creation, not what happens afterward) but I think art needs an audience, or an awareness of audience at least, to be a full communication put out there into the universe. Otherwise, you're sort of like a table with only one or two legs and not the third.

I've always been the sort of creator that puts it all out there.  At one time, I was self-conscious about this.  I had a poetry website from the time I first started publishing.  It seemed important to have a web central for the work that was just starting to crop up in online journals. I think back on that time as exhilarating--the first time I got real-time engagement with work.  The online poetry community felt much smaller and perhaps it was..but so many folks took the time to write really nice messages to me.  It was the first time I really felt like a writer and it encouraged me to write and submit more.

This was before "social media" was a thing, but instead we connected via the lit journals, via listservs and discussion boards.  In 2001, I created a website with Angelfire, which was surprisingly simple. (the main landing page of my website s still hosted there, as is dgp, though both now take you to blogger sites.)  Over the years, I actually managed to tweak the design of pretty basic templates until I had something I liked. It's hoot to go back in the internet archive and see what the pages looked like over the years, what my tastes and visual inspos were. It was followed by a blog later--first on xanga in 2003, where I met some of the folks I am still poetry friends with.  Then on blogger in 2005 and still going strong.

Both venues and their content seemed to vascillate between diary-like content and the sort of stuff you use social media for now--publication announcements, recommendations, memes, links to cool things.  I also used to post a lot of drafts, some of which remain. (and some of which exist nowhere else.)  Probably from about 2005-2009, blogs were the center of my online lit community for, full of comments and interractions (good and bad) that dwindled once writers began to move to facebook for such things.  I joined Facebook in 2009 and that soon became the way you connected with other writers, while the blogs sort of dwindled down to the folks, like me,  who still loved long-form content too much to give it up.  But probably now and for the past decade, the blog feels like someone playing a record in space.  You know it's making music and broadcasting, but aren't quite sure if it's reaching anyone's ears.   And maybe it just feels that way because we're now trained to expect more interaction when we post things..a like or comment or a heart.  Proof that someone at least heard us.

But then again, writing might be a little like this itself.  You write a book, you publish a poem, and it blasts off into the universe, and only occasionally an echo comes back.  Someone writes a review or says a kind something that makes your heart soar,  You click with an editor or a something goes over really well at a reading. For poetry, it stills feels like there is a lot more silence than there is echo. But then of course, how can it be any other way?  Especially when you are but one record player in a sea of record players, all playing their own songs. It is, at the same tie absolute stillness and absolute chaos. But as readers, we are the ones out there in space trying to listen and there is not only the record players, but all the other space junk.  I feel the junk lately--some of it good--some of it good, some of it terrible, some of it just a hum, but ultimately distracting.

Until this pandemic, I was really good about staying focused on the center of things. The center of who I was--what was important--the rest of which revolved around that center.   But it's taken a bit of time to get back to being moored, and I'm not sure I'm even there yet. Some days I am there--but some days are lost in horrifying headlines and growing sense of doom that makes caring about writing or art impossible.  Also reading impossible, and even caring about poetry related things at all.  But I try to make use of the good days.  This week was eaten up by library work in long stretches--a presentation to other librarians about our virtual exhibits and a grant proposal deadline--but today I woke up determined to spend it writing, or working on writing related things at least since it's technically the weekend  (though what is a weekend anymore?)  While I was in bed and fighting the urge to check facebook or the local news for the latest terrible statistics and alarming headlines, I started plotting a new project instead.

A couple years back I started a Tiny Letter, at the time for sending out little missives of work.  I "published" off the bulk of two different series that way--exquisite damage and swallow--and collected  a small group of subscribers. Though not everyone read everything that came into their inboxes, some did.  I also enjoyed the ones I subscribed to--a mix of newsletters and writing samples and postcards from other writers delivered virtually.  And while the same info sometimes was available elsewhere--on facebook, on twitter, on author websites--it was nice that it felt a little special. It also felt like a moment of stillness.  The time it took to open an e-mail and peruse, that was different than scrolling past something in a feed. 

So it occurred to me what if I revived the Tiny Letter, not just as a news letter of what is happening or what I'm working on, but also as a way to share special things--little electronic projects and e-zines, if not totally exclusively, then in advance. Sampled poems from what I'm working on not posted elsewhere.   Or also offer special little collage images and printables.  I have the books & objects subscription. but that costs money, something none of us seems to have a lot of these days, so this would be free to whoever wants to join to receive it in their inboxes (monthly I'm thinking?)   I like the idea of calling it PAPER BOAT, because it feels like something carefully crafted and set off in the water every month and on it's way to you.  Something tangible and intentional (well as tangible as something electronically delivered can be.)

Today, I'll finish this post then I'll spend some time formatting the first one and making the webpage for people to join.  It's a scary world and a cloudy day that already feels a little sticky and storm swollen, but I have coffee and a laptop and lots of poems and pictures. So I'm feeling a little better able to focus today on the center, that for me anyway,  holds it all together.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

cooking for the apocalypse

I've been cooking more in my kitchen than I ever was during the quarantine--a lot of things involving tortillas, which are my favorite, but other things like crock pot experiments, pastas, pizza, soups. I'm not a successful baker, so you won't see much coronatine bread coming from my kitchen, but you may see some box mix cakes and muffins.  Prior to this, there were years where I kept very little food in the house.  I always got coffee & breakfast from a cafe or Dunkin, maybe a sandwich or vending machine fare for lunch.  Dinner was something microwaveable or a loaded salad, because the last thing I wanted to do at 11pm and working all day was cook or wash dishes.  Weekends for years probably meant a lot of takeout--all cuisines and all sorts of places. The frequency of delivery fare some periods can be measured by the fact that I once ended up involved for years w/  the delivery guy from a restaurant/bar  with amazing pot roast because he encountered me so much over about a 2 year span, he eventually facebook stalked me and asked me out.

My cooking, when it happened, usually happened on weekends.  I liked to make soup on Sundays, and homemade pizza on Saturday. If I was feeling adventurous, maybe fried rice or bbq ribs in the oven.  When I gave up the studio, I started having breakfast at home, but it was usually fast prep stuff even still-frozen croissant sandwiches, muffins, frozen waffles. On the weekends, I'd make omelettes, or bacon & fried egg sandwiches. Maybe pancakes or french toast.  The thing  about quarantine is that every day is a weekend breakfast now.  I'm loving omelettes almost daily, and toasted bagels slathered in butter. Yesterday, I had hash browns and made my mother's recipe for campers breakfast. Usually lunch is another bagel with cream cheese or a cold cut sandwich or maybe peanut butter, but my dinners have gotten a little more daring.  A couple week's ago, I made bruschetta. Last week, some creamy chicken sauce for pasta in the crock pot. Even simple pasta dishes are more elaborate--sweet italian sausage & peppers over rigatoni instead of the usual ground beef.  A lemon cream primavera sauce over fettuccine. This week, I'm going to try a pot roast. 

Part of it is just  the fact that there are simply more groceries in the house.  I hate shopping in stores even pre-pandemic, so have been amply shopping Amazon and Whole Foods (whose delivery slots seem to be getting easier to grab the past couple of weeks as people settled in).  Also, I am less exhausted from running around, so have more energy to cook and do the dishes. more time to slow down and enjoy the process as well as the results. (I've also been trying to save $ during all the uncertainty, so have forbidden myself delivery fare. )  I was eating erratically at first (a full pantry and fridge is a bad thing to have with a binge eating disorder) but I've calmed my ass down and can even keep some treats in the house and not gnaw my way through them all at once like a fiend (ice cream, chocolate, popsicles, even some baked goods.)

I have no idea if this will hold after I go back to old schedules of work and limited home time, but maybe. It'd be nice if I walk away at least with one good new habit in not relying so much on takeout and delivery.  Or so much on frozen food that is serviceable and edible, but not always that tasty and filled with extra sodium.

Saturday, May 16, 2020


The past few days feels maybe like a door opened, or maybe a window or maybe a wound.  Some release of pressure and a flowing of something that wasn't here a couple weeks ago. . Maybe it just takes time, or maybe just numbness to what goes on around me.  I feel less paralyzed--with fear? with dread? Nothing has changed and yet maybe something has changed.  And while I don't know if it's permanent, I'm gonna go with it and see what happens. The world out there is still crazy and toxic and possibly contagious, but in here, I am feeling more like myself at times.

I've been puttering a way on The Shining series, trying out titles, and have at least a chapbook length segment of them, and at least a half dozen more still coming maybe.  They are not bad, even the ones I wrote robotically and less-than-inspired at the beginning of April. The project as a whole is beginning to have a shape--a voice--that I am liking.  I've been working on it a bit daily first thing over breakfast, before the scrolling through social media poisons my brain for the day. Write the poem, then check facebook, because inevitably, you will find things to be at best, annoyed about, at worst panicky or livid. Things that make it harder to write, to concentrate, to care.

As the project takes shape, I begin to see a pattern, and end  to it, or a path toward it  and maybe that's what we lack in this pandemic world that we so badly need. And not just any path, but one guided by science and humanitarian concerns and not by profit and the incel nation who refuse to wear masks in Costco. I can't do much about the world beside wear my mask and stay away from people, but I can shape The Shining project into something interesting, so here's to controlling the things we can and not too much worry over what we cannot.


"I don't know how to write erotic poetry without using sex as a metaphor for distance, for all the spaces between..."

from how to write a love poem in a time of war

Soon, this little book baby will be hatching , and I was so enamored of my first view of the full spread cover that it might have cured my poetry ambivalence of late. So keep an eye out for a trailer and maybe some readings..there are Plath poems and blonde jokes and love poems aplenty...

You can get your very own copy here.

Friday, May 15, 2020

libraries and the age of anxiety

These days, my social media feeds are rampant with worried academics. And the worry is real as colleges and universities begin furloughs, across many departments and corners  of the institutions.  I've felt uneasy, especially since so much of my job, as it's currently defined, depends on access to physical collections and the business of keeping doors open. (Collections which are inaccessible at the moment and doors which are shut for at least another month or so).  I'm torn on wanting things to get back to "normal" and this strange state of "working from home" that is not altogether unappealing for someone like me.  Moreso than a return to my work environment, where we are discussing a host of approaches to be safe and limit contact, I worry largely over my reliance on public transport and how safe that is as we come back into the world.  On the other hand, being back in the library would ease my fears about my own indispensability should things linger into the red zone for the college this fall. Our particular department has long been bare to the bone--mostly because folks have left for elsewhere and not been replaced--but who knows what happens long run as colleges revamp their priorities and as libraries change to accommodate virtual learning and depend less on physical collections? Or if colleges decide they don't need libraries at all?

In terms of work, there is plenty of it even without those physical collections, though I worry what value other's find in some of it--and if it's enough to save my head when furloughs or cuts come along. Over the past few years, my responsibilities have grown tenfold. What started as simply processing the reserve collection turned into a lot of programming and exhibits stuff (my favorite parts of my job) but then also supervising and processing ILL, then later, some equipment set-up things, then some random clerical tasks after a co-worker went on medical leave in January.  Much of the latter half of those duties fell away with the quarantine--there are no events that require mics or projectors or other random set-up details.  Processing physical ILL's has paused, both borrowing and lending. I am useful in that I can track down electronic materials that other libraries are willing to lend, mostly for faculty, but these are pretty light in traffic (compared to physical lending). Since we gave up actually housing electronic reserve  materials a couple years back and now only help prepare and offer guidance on fair use and such,  there is not much reserve collection usage or processing happenings, though we are purchasing more e-books when we can now and into the future.  There's a lot of cleanup and summer reserve weeding  business, but only a fraction of it is possible working from home. We are getting a new operating system this summer, and a chunk of my time has been perfecting my knowledge of that. so we are ready to go when it's live.

In terms of programming, as I laid out plans in my article, it's gone relatively smoothly and I've learned and tried a lot of things that might still be useful, even when we're back, but engagement still feels low. It's not surprising, given that students are adjusting to upheaval, and it's hard to play creatively now for a lot of us.  I plan to continue some things into summer--zine Mondays, our Book to Art Club, another fun little project me and some staffers hatched.   So much seems lost, but also so much opens up new possibilities. Still I worry.  Worry if it's enough.  Am I doing enough?  And in the most anxiety loaded moments, begin to freak out and make lists of more things I want to do, but even here, don't have nearly enough time or energy to do them.  Somehow, some days still get swallowed whole in trivia. We spend a lot of time recently in zoom meetings,  mostly hriring, which we are still try to make happen if the college allows it, which are draining.. Also, some prep and practice runs for the new system eat some of my time, though both these things should be lessening as we get closer.

Still, in the quieter, less hectic time at home, I have had time to work on some things that get de-prioritized usually in the chaos of a given day--writing projects and grant applications, new endeavors (my cohort yesterday suggested perhaps a return of the Artcache adjusted for pandemic times.)  So there is something to be said of this pause-I am not spending a significant percent of my day amid book returns and purple I-share bags, or chasing down items upstairs,  So that adds some extra more creative time for things that will be good to have done in the long run, especially as we come back to an uncertain future. I'm not sad those things are not in my day, but it nevertheless makes me anxious that they are not. If those tasks are dispensible in the new world, then aren't I just a little?  Even though we still work on revised job descriptions and pay raises, interview new people for ILL & Equipment positions, all good signs, still I worry.    In my less angsty moments, I dismiss it as ridiculous. .  In the bad moments, I am terrified.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

finding the way back in

This morning I was once again awake unusually early.  Or maybe now it's becoming the usual early.  I will be ready to nap a couple more hours this afternoon before I settle in to other paid work, no doubt, but as such, I took it as an excellent time to try to wedge in some writing related tasks that have not been a priority.  Or maybe that is an understatement. Mostly since those things have not (in the mode of creeping panic, social media scrolling, survival, library work, press orders, etc. ) even been in my thoughts much at all.  But then maybe that too is not an entirely correct statement.  The lack of them has perhaps been in my thoughts. Or maybe a small (or large) bit of almost resentfulness toward it. Not the writing itself, which when it's good can be quite enjoyable (I think.).  But the "world of poetry" and the futility of believing in words. Of finding myself feeling unstable and vulnerable, and then blaming this creative life for not having stability, of stringing things together in this precarious time.  The what if monster.  Has living a creative life made me happier or has it just made me vulnerable.?  Months ago, I would have given you one answer, but I've been thinking about the other.  Not just me, but all of us. Surely, non-creative lives are also vulnerable, with none of the perks. But I watch enough people struggle around me, and feel my own creeping unease, and it's hard to make poetry matter.  It's also hard to imagine yourself in a trauma situation when things are so cozy and relatively comfortable, but while things are okay and I am lucky that I can both work from home and that I (for now anyway) have work to do, but even low-key traumatic situations are still traumatic.

This space, obviously,  has actually been very useful from a therapeutic stance, and I feel like that is still important. The writing out as a tool to think things out. I always think of that  famous quote from Flannery O'Connor about not knowing what she things until she reads what she writes.   But poems and more creative work? Does the world need poems right now?  Do I feel like it's important to write them? I don't have answers here, but, again, I'm hoping to fake enthusiasm til I make it. So this morning found me opening up the document for my dark country manuscript, which is mostly finished, but needs a little fine tuning in terms of ordering sections and a good proofing.  I have no plans to send it out, not exactly, since now is not the time to be squandering money on entry fees (if ever is a good time to be doing that.)   But I would like to have it in the finished category, especially since the subsequent (animal, vegetable, monster) is lapping at its heels. While I set goals in January to get these both under wraps, we are midway through the year and I have a hard time even caring about the goals I set at the beginning of 2020, any of them, but particularly the ones related to poetry

But I opened the document at least and fiddled with it a little.  Then drafted another Shining poem quickly and closed it before I deleted it and will look again tomorrow and see if I like it more.  Then sent a couple extinction event pieces off to a journal because I would really like to start sharing those. It's feeling a little like putting one foot in front of the other, but I will keep doing it and hope it sticks.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

mothers and the worry monster

Today is another Mother's Day. There is probably nothing more to be said from me I haven't said already on losing mothers, and I've written a lot about it already, but I tend to vascillate these days between wishing my mother was around to help me navigate this strange time and at the same time, incredibly thankful she is not.  It's a complicated feeling, and I don't dare say it aloud (though I guess this blog is exactly doing that--saying it out loud--but there's safety in never knowing if there's an audience. )

On one hand, when she was alive, I felt a lot more stable and a lot less lonely.  I've talked before about different kinds of lonely, and I'm not sure what difference in this time her presence would take, but even just an extra touch point, and extra ear, would be helpful to anyone no doubt. I still talk to my Dad on the regular, and those are different sorts of conversations that I'm glad I get to have (my mom historically tended to be the sole fielder of those calls home.)  For years, she was the go-between, and now it's direct conversations.   I imagine what she would think of all this happening had she lived. How crazy it would have seemed to her. She'd not doubt be just as angry at Trump, and sad that basketball season had been canceled.  But much like me, her and my dad were mostly hermits and would have appreciated this time to sit on the deck and work in the yard with no social engagements to interrupt them (even though my mother was more extroverted than the rest of us, she'd have managed as long as someone else were around to interract with.).

On the other hand, if you've ever admonished me for being a worrier, my response is usually "have you met my mother?" Hers was an obsessive kind of worry-always--and worse later in life. I feel sometimes that while yes, her heart problems and the infection were what killed her--worry was helping all along.  That said, right now, if she were alive, she would be at tremendous risk. not just as someone whose compromised by age and health conditions, but how she would be a ball of anxiety and fearful for everyone--not just me and my sister or my dad, but the whole extended family and her friends. This would make her more compromised, of course, the stress of that.  I worry about my dad, of course,  because of his age (78), but he's actually pretty healthy and mobile, with some healthy long-life genetics on my grandfather's side. And enviably calmer compared to the rest of us. But my mom would be a whole other thing, especially with her health problems the last year or so.

I sometimes think, had things gone a different way, had the doctors not botched it royally when they didn't stop or detect the infection til too late, had she not ended up hospitalized and in the nursing home. she might still be here, but she'd sill have heart problems that wouldn't get better with age.   But then I also think if she had not been having such a rough couple years up til the heart attack in terms of extended family drama, she might have had a better, healthier heart.  But there is no way of knowing if that is true. One of the complicated feelings I wrestled with  wen she died was this incredible relief that nothing bad could happen to her anymore.  Nothing could go wrong anymore, when things just kept going wrong in that last year. As such, she's one less person I have to worry about in this world right now.  But then again, that makes me feel sad and complicated as well.

There have been many moments in the past two months when I was again thankful about not having my own children. About the choices I've made.  Not just the more practical reasons of wanting time for myself, now more than ever, when I see other's struggling with work and homeschooling and children that really don't want to be inside and are going stir-crazy.  That would be another life, of course, but I'm not sure I'd be as content in it as I am in my current one.  Those desires could probably be called selfish by some , and maybe they are, but it's a kind of selfish I think is okay.  Women shouldn't have to not be selfish if they don't want to (and men don't feel that sort of pressure at all, nor are they burdened with as much of the child-rearing.) But also, the whole other thing-- the worry of having children in this world, whether they're locked in the house, or worse out in the world.  How I'm not sure my heart could handle that sort of strain, so endless hats off to all the mother's who manage it without their hearts utterly breaking in half.

Saturday, May 09, 2020

certain slants of light

Getting to a place where poetry or writing seems to matter in the grand scheme of things seems hard.  For awhile, every day just bought a certain amount of futility feelings, others maybe a little less.  It's good to have other  things to do that are more routine and don't involve having to put thoughts together creatively--assembling books, library work. Layouts and proofing are touch and go and require more concentration, so some days are decent for those, but others not so much at all. But a certain amount of joy --that living in the world of words--is missing.  I think this has less to do with being at home, which you would think would allow for so much room to play, but moreso with that anxiety about what is happening outside.  What happens next?  Then after that?  What can I control? What can I not?  Creativity, for this Taurus, means stability and a bubble in which things happen, and it's a bubble I feel everything pressing in on and it's no good.   I'll open the file of the Shining poems, and maybe I get something, but I don't find my usual joy and energy surge.  Writing a poem feels like doing the dishes or putting a load of laundry on. It's nice to have done it, but I don't revel in it.  Similarly on discussions of po-biz and readings and the things months ago I would enthusiastically taken part in.

And yet the poetry worlds goes on.  Today I had to take a look at the final designer proofs for SEX & VIOLENCE, and what struck me most was a small section of the book that I pay I pay much less attention to--the Dali -inspired pieces that, in the context of the manuscript, are more about art and violence, but in this light, the more apocalyptical themes seemed at the forefront.  Granted, I wrote a whole book about the apocalypse, and even last fall, the extinction event series came out of my time at the Field Museum. I see folks rushing to write pandemic poems, and I don't think I can or will, at least not anytime soon. But I've written a lot of poems about the end of the world. Obviously not that this is the apocalypse or extinction, but even for the luckier who have not gotten sick or lost jobs or love ones yet, in some ways life will be changed from what it was.

But poetry seems a tiny arbitrary world where the stakes don't seem to matter when our government is filled with idiots who just keep lying. And more idiots who line up outside capitol buildings with guns and believe them.   Where the huge infrastructure problems are being uncovered body by body of those who have fallen through it.  Where I vascillate between being afraid for my life and yet. sometimes, not all that tethered to survival at all.  A world that seems both too small and too large for a poem to matter. And yet, we've put all our coins into the faith that it does. 

Still I sat down with my proofs and dutifully went through them, the final check before going to print to make sure formatting was correct and things all matched up. The book will be out soon and I plan on making some sort of trailer, and despite extreme zoom meeting fatique, maybe a reading.  I drink more coffee and as I was finishing the light was fading in my apartment, but the sun hits that sweet spot where it reflects from one of the glassy lakeside high rises to the east and floods my living room with gold for about 10 minutes every day.  I'm not usually here to notice this, would usually be at the library this time of day,  so I do and take note for a poem that may or may not happen in the future.