Thursday, December 30, 2021

goodbye, 2021

This is usually around the time I do my year-in-review sort of posts, sometimes more detailed, sometimes less, but I had a hard time motivating myself to sit down and do it this week.  Not that there weren't good things that happened in terms of writing and art, but more that so much else has happened that those things seem tiny to talk about.  In fact, when I think back, much of the early part seems like a decade ago, so it's hard to capture any of it in a nutshell. On a personal front there was the anxiety before vaccination, then a moment of relief and hope we'd be back to something like normal that lasted a few brief seconds in June or July, but then went from creeping anxiety again to full blown as Omicron moved in this last month or so. Also creeping dissastifaction with my day job and plans to remedy it in the new year.  I've had a lot in my head since early October, and it has made me distracted and absent-minded and not really in a creative zone.  Still despite that, there have been a few weeks growing in the cracks. A couple spooky short stories.  The art advent project all the creatures, stirring in December. Things still can bloom, even here.

As the year began, I was working on getting feed close to publication-ready, my first book going it alone without the support and work of publisher, and it was a little grueling in the layout process last December,. But shortly after the new year, I had a proof copy in hand.  It, it of course, would have taken a little less time to finalize had there not been racists and idiots swarming into The Capitol on the news the same day it arrived. So it took a little longer, but I had a book by the end of February and it sold really well, better than expected, especially since it feels like such a personal book. I didn't submit a thing, but I published a couple poems in journals, Pretty Owl Poetry and talking about strawberries all the time.  A poem in Masks, edited by our library artist-in-residence. I also did my first ever zoom reading with The Poetry Foundation.  Then a couple more.   I issued numerous little zine projects throughout the year, mostly electronically. The rest of spring is split between my feelings before vaccination (anxiety, dread) and after. It was short-lived of course as other places were still on fire, but for a moment, Chicago was faring well.  I did napowrimo, at least most of it, finishing a little series on Walter Potter's strange taxidermy, and another short spooky little series called the bird artist. We launched our Urban Legends exhibit at work, in which I had some pieces from my conspiracy theories zine project. 

By summer, I finally was back full force in terms of dancing girl press releases., after a year where my heart was hardly in it. I went to Rockford a couple times, and even got back inside a thrift store again. Without a mask, no less, in June.  I worked on poems about spells that became the working girl's grimoire, and plotted the layout for the 2nd book I planned to release in 2021, dark country. I used vacation days to create shorter weeks that made the summer feel a little more liesurely.  On those days off, I edited and wrote and drank coffee all day. I would arrive back at the Library on Wednesday with a boatload of work that never went away and I was poorly paid for. I began to feel listless.

By fall, I was ready for the semester to begin, despite creeping numbers.  In the first couple months, we were brave enough to have some in-person things like screenings and collage sessions and workshops. I did a couple virtual professional presentations on zines & libraries. I visited a class to talk about dancing girl press.  I began curating the Bad Art exhibit. I also began thinking about different trajectories that might ease some of my bandwidth problems-- the feeling that I've worked 20 years in a job, 40 hours a week, and am only making $100 more per paycheck than I was a decade ago, while at the same time, my job duties have tripled. That I've also been working another full-time job (if you take the hours devoted to  my own writing and art + editing and the press)  all done in the off hours and weekends, and I feel like I never have anything under control or enjoy things the way I should.  Also the feeling that the creative life was failing me. Or that I was failing it. I tried to shake things up by writing some fiction, the quality of which remains to be seen, but it was nice to switch up genres. I was also looking to ramp up my income streams and fiction occasionally pays in a way poetry does not. (obv. not a steady income stream, but a possible one nevertheless...)

I also started scanning job pages in my most discontented hours.  Began to feel that personal loyalty to people I consider friends is no reason to stay in a job you have begun to hate and are woefully undervalued. Also that the last thing I need is a full-time job, even a well-paid one, which wouldn't necessarily solve my bandwidth issues.  I explored a couple freelance contract things and started writing for  one, which opened a door and offered a little bit of the stability I was lacking when I considered going it alone.  Things are shaping up that I may be able to leave working full-time in the next couple of months, the logistics of which we are hammering out, but there is some hope on the horizon.  I finished the year out with this vision in my mind and the possibility to create something new from my days. Not only in terms of my own writing and art (which makes no money), but devoting more time and expanding press projects (which makes a little money) and running the shop and having the time to fill it with prints, paper goods, and accessories, possibly some vintage,  in a way I haven't been able to in about a decade (which will hopefully make more money and eek out a living). And of course, a back-up plan with a handful freelance work and design/editing projects I may take on for others. Maybe some workshops. It's terrifying to envision it, but also wonderful.  

So that  is where my head is at these days. The pandemic rages on. I still haven't really been able to get back to reading for pleasure. The news is, as per usual, alarming. I distract myself with youtube fashion videos and instagram reels, with trashy televsion shows, since i feel like I don't have the bandwidth for things I have to think about.  I go nowhere I don't absolutely have to and don't plan to change that anytime soon. Since my boyfirend is DJ-ing as per usual at a a bar on NYE (which is terrifying me, btw) I will be spending midnight in my pajamas and may be asleep by the time 2022 rolls in. It seems appropriate.  

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

new year, new planner

Today I undertook one of my favorite and also least favorite projects of the year--transferring all my random slips of paper and no-longer sticky post-its into a new sketchbook/planner for 2022.  Good because it's bright white blank pages are sort of exciting, least because it just makes me remember all the things I never got a chance to get to.  I started the post-it system after years of lost to-do lists and actual planners and trying to understand bullet journaling and a million things that did not work to keep my mind organized.  The premise was simple..the front pages sort the days of the week, the coming weeks, the coming month, the coming year.  As things arise, I write them on the 1 inch post-its and stick them to the corresponding day.  Obviously stuff gets moved and transferred to coming weeks and I suppose gets done eventually if if ever does. 

I have spreads for dgp projects in the works, including columns--layout-cover designs--proofing--so that I can see at a glance what is happening with each book. I have a section for monthly goals, though as the year goes on, I usually lose track of filling these pages out, but occasionally they help me finish up things. The worst, though, is a section titled "PROJECTS' where every idea I have --for poems, for art projects, for shop lovelies--usually just sort of go to die, only to be moved to the next planner every late December. I also have pages for the library and things happening there. Admittedly, I didn't even change books between 2020 and 2021, since so much was just lingering from the previous year. There are ideas for art & design projects that I've been moving from book to book since 2013.  Also writing projects.  Occasionally, like unusual creatures, I finish them eventually, but more often not. I might seem productive on occasion, but not half as productive as I'd like.

As I make plans for this year and organize things and layout the planner, I am both terrified at what this year will look like and excited.  Will I get to all those things, finally?  Or at least some of them?  For sure, much of my days will be filled with freelance projects and shop business and editing projects, which I plan to amp up considerably, but even still I will have hours I don't currently have that get eaten up by working 40 hours/ week and commuting ( another 10 hours total).   Running a business is a lot of work and sometimes 24/7, but not doing with another full-time job (that's actually like 3 jobs) will be refreshing.  Not to mention bandwidth eaten up by that job, which was a lot in all sorts of ways.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

notes & things | 12/28/21

 We've now entered that strange, bottomless, formless week that comes between Christmas and New Years in which  I never quite know what to make of myself.  There is much to do, of course, battling with my intentions to do absolutely fucking nothing because its supposed to be a break.  In reality,  I fall about halfway on the scale between productive and not productive at all. While yesterday I arrived home and spent the evening unpacking holiday gifts and watching some bleakness in the form of Don't Look Up and Station Eleven (and then more bleak comedy in Death to 2021) it was weirdly only the first one that had me feeling panicky and not the one pulled from the pages of a pandemic novel. I read Station Eleven when it was  sort of new (I was on a YA novel kick and someone I worked with recommended it as a fave.) The fact that I ever used to read books for pleasure seems an impossibility, but luckily, I only remember bits and pieces, so it's kinda all new to me now. Today, I did some freelance work and packed up some book orders, as well as plotted out the plans on what I'd like to get under wraps before I plunge back into the fray.

Christmas was small and quiet with only immediate family and a raging shitstorm of a pandemic all around.  We had takeout Chinese and watched some movies before opening gifts. I came away with quite a haul, including art supplies, new bath towels, and assorted loveliness and edibles (the extra fun kind.)  And of course, I have a tendency to buy for myself way too generously, this year of which included a khaki wool coat (entirely different from my other camel coat, of course) and some new notebooks and sketchbooks to try to organize my life (which will hopefully soon be much less overwheming.)  

It snowed pretty heavily today, and it was nice to have nowhere to go and nowhere to be. It was also dark as hell in my apartment though. We've been lucky with a pretty light-ish winter that I would love to hold through January. Meanwhile, its the least mother nature can do while she insists on trying to kill us.  There are more covid cases in my social media feeds than ever and Illinois has soared up to Florida levels, despite mask mandates and impending vax requirements (that probably should have kicked in weeks ago.)  It's mostly because we are all vulnerable now apparently--as warnings of new variants predicted we would be. They lowered the number of days of quarantine and at the back of my head I know it's not because its safer, but because its necessary to keep the world humming, veering disastrously along. Flights in the air and people serving you at restaurants you really shouldn't be in. As other countries lock down strictly, it's a start contrast to the US and I know its more about bottom lines than safety.  We may die, but as long as we work, work, work, we'll keep going. 


Wednesday, December 22, 2021

all the creatures, stirring

 You can get an advance sneak peek at the remaining days of the advent project over on my youtube channel.  

You can still follow along for the daily unveiling at instagram through Christmas Day...

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

the ghosts of bookish obsessions past

In my effort to make some good changes in my bandwidth after the new year, I mentioned a couple times I've been doing some freelance copywriting/editing work to bridge the gap. One of which is writing & researching lesson plans and SEO optimized class content for an online learning site.  My domain, obviously,  is in the  humanities topics (I've written on lit, of course, some mythology, but also art and theater.) It's not only had me learning about some things I knew very little about before research (cycloramas, who knew?) but also revisiting some texts that I have't read in years like The Great Gatsby and Frankenstein.  I laughed when I realized there was a certain bent (barring Gatsby) to my selections (darker Kate Chopin Faulkner, Mary Shelley, The Scarlet Letter, Poe, Wuthering Heights.  There is also a whole bunch of Toni Morrrison in there I want to snag,)  

I get to choose the jobs I work on, so of course you'd find me orienting to the most horror-like offerings. It's also cool to go back and revisit some things I haven't read since undergrad or grad school.  As I was rooting around in all these darker things--revenge plots, science gone bad, southern gothicism, it of course got me thinking about how much many of these things, even though I haven't looked at them in years, probably formed the bed rock of my own aesthetic tastes. I mean, it was there before, in the form of horror movies and  my love of Stephen King and his ilk, but I was so ecstatic as a lit major to find things in my classes that scratched that same itch.  While there is a lot of literature that leaves me cold, these were the things I was most excited about in my classes..the things I devoured and wrote papers on and wanted to talk about constantly. I think about the end of my teens and the beginning of my twenties, a time when one might wander what one does as an adult with a lit major,  Not only that, but an MA in Lit where I spent two years in the thick of it. 

I was, of course, planning to teach, before I realized I don't have the required patience or people skills,  Also, mad social anxiety that would have left me a mess always having to be on. But the subject matter, I loved, and it's what made me a writer and is probably what makes me excited going back to all these bits of past fascinations.  It's strange, this life of books.  I still have not, with the exception of some poetry volumes, which I beasted for the Sealey challenge in August, and of course dgp manuscripts, really gotten my reading desires back in the pandemic. I've tried reading new fiction and I lose my way a few pages in, especially now as the doomscroll returns and I have a million things clicking in my head.  I've had better luck WRITING fiction lately than being able to immerse myself in the world of a novel.  It was easy to go back and page through Frankenstein or The Scarlet Letter because I know them well from before. (interestingly, though I had a class in my MA that was a whole lot of Hawthorne, I don't think I'd read Mary Shelley since high school, so my late 40's self probably got so much more than my 17 year old self. I also read The Scarlet Letter at 16 and was probably one of the only people in the class that loved it (it was doomed romance with very dark themes, what's not to love?)  

The reader I was, even then, informed the books I write myself now. You go from talking about and obsessing about books to writing them and I suppose that's the inevitable path.  As someone who hasn't gone the traditional teaching route, this feels new and a little exciting to me. I even like the editing back and forth process to hammer out the finish product, which I am usually on the other side of.  I love that this has afforded me time (and I'm actually getting paid a little) to think about the work that formed my young writer brain all those years ago with a new vantage point. 

Sunday, December 19, 2021

notes & things | 12/19/2021

Yesterday was dark, as in dark all morning with rain and then just dark.  These days around the solstice are usually not just literally the darkest, but also heavy somehow in a way I never feel in other parts of the year. I slept very late, spent both days in my pajamas, working on various things through most of the weekend.  My past couple of weeks have been pretty busy, finishing up batches of chaps to get out before the holiday and  taking on more freelance copy work to get a feel for how well it will make going it alone should I decide to do it.  

Which is of course a lie because I have already mostly decided to do it, at least in my heart, if not having worked out all the logistics just yet.  I've been thinking about it probably since early  October, but only in the last few weeks has it become a safe enough and desirable endeavor to make happen. Once the decision was made, there was this rush of relief and happiness I don't think I've felt in years, and that feeling alone is perhaps my answer. There are times when I don't want to leave, but it's gotten to the point where I can't--for financial reasons, for burnout reasons--afford to stay. Not even figuring in potential increased shop offerings and income (which will happen when I'm not working 40+ hours a week elsewhere) the freelance work devotes half as many hours for twice the pay. And its actually kind of fun.  Or at least a sort of work-fun,  It gives me hope for days that can be half spent working on that stuff, half spent on the shop and the press. The ability to dial back and take on less if things get crazy. Not all day spent at the library and off hours, late nights weekends spent on other things, which is how it has always been since the beginning. 

I can't even imagine having time to put into action all the projects and ideas I want to do without having to always work around the giant hulking beast of a full-time job that grants stability, but drains your energy. I don't dare think it will be easy or without sacrifices (financially), but at this point, it hurts more not to try to make it happen. I keep telling myself this is what I've been preparing for all these years. Now I just need to take that step. 

Sunday, December 12, 2021

notes & things | 12/12/21


 Today feels like a magical number of some sort, even if I am in the usual December dolldrums where everything mostly, at best is sad and anxiety-producing.   This year, like last year, a bit more than usual as cases rise and the general fuckery of people, even the ones who were careful in the past, increases with parties and gatherings and I have to check myself daily to ask if we are still, in fact, in a dangerous pandemic?  Or is it less dangerous?  Are we just tossing our hands and our cards up and taking chances? Despite the headlines, the nearing 800K death toll, numerous break through infections happening in my social media timelines and the content creators I watch, the world marches on as much as ever, though I am not sure I want to march with it.  

I have a gorgeous new green velvet dress, bought on a whim, but when my boyfriend asks if I want to attend the holiday party at the acting school he works at, I hesitate. I get invited to readings and outings and I say no.   I think, are you really sure you should be doing that?  Watch people attend concerts and plays and sporting events. Really? We've hosted in person things in the library, but I get cagey and away when it seems like too many people are there breathing on each other, even within the capacity limits on campus. I weather the bus, but get super anxious when it seems too full.  Is it me?  Am I crazy? Is this just me and my anxiety inhabiting the world that felt always dangerous for whatever reason pre-covid and now seems even moreso and at every turn. I think about June, when things seemed safe and even then I hesitated. I no longer feel like I might die, but I also just hate being sick, something which I always weathered and pushed through, but now seems more dire--even of its just manifesting as a cold. And there is still so much we don't know.  I personally was taken by surprise in March of 2020.  I won't be again. 

In other news, I've been greatly enjoying the bit of freelance work I've been dipping my toes in.  Last week, I got to write about installation art, this week, a short story I had not read previously by Kate Chopin.  Next up, fashion in the Great Gatsby. I don't know what next year will bring, but a little extra money around the holidays is a great help. I've been doing these other types of writing instead of poems in the morning, along with some more work on some short fiction, but I am getting itchy to get back to poems after the new year (or possibly during the brief holiday break. Tonight, I attended the release reading for Carla Sameth's WHAT IS LEFT, and her work and the guest readers left me incredibly inspired to get back to it.  This week brings much assembling the last round of releases and new layouts on the very last chaps of 2021. I will also be finalizing details on next year's selections, sending out agreements, and getting started on some other little bits I have planned. I am also in-deep on my advent project, which develops a little more each day. 

It gets dark so early, especially on weekends when I tend to sleep in and then have only a few hours before the night descends.  I light my small tree and the faux candles and try to do cozy things like make cookies and soup. Last night, a feast of stuffed pasta shells and garlic bread and holiday romance movies. I try to be festive while also still being anxious. 

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

the perfect life

A few weeks ago, I was filling out a job questionnaire for some freelance writing work and it asked you to describe your perfect life. A decade ago, I might have conceded that i was living it. A decade ago, I had just left etsy to focus more on growing the press (instead of the other things that sold better there..vintage, soap, jewelry--all fun to make and a necessary income stream paying rent on the studio, but not what I wanted eating up my time.) I also was getting back to writing after a couple years away in a way that felt good. While things were hopping in the shop and every holiday season more successful than the last, I realized I was getting further and further away from what I wanted dancing girl press to really be.  (chaps were a part of it, but also my own zines and projects and mostly papery things.) I was succeeding but maybe not where I wanted to. I still had that idle dream that I could one day swing all of it full time--if not the press & writing (poetry always being dismal in that sense.), at least the art bits--selling more originals and prints and paper goods. But at the same time, I was also happy in my day job and it was one of my sole ways of actually connecting with other people and working toward something good.  So I would keep building the press and keep working at the library and come what may...

It did not pay very well, but it was steady for the past  21 years.  I initially was willing to endure dismal pay since my friends were all there, I liked the campus community, and i had flexibility in working my desired shifts in the evening. My health insurance was covered, I could get free tuition and had access to any book at any time. The skills I grew as a writer and artist sometimes fed that job.  Sometimes that job fed them.  More good things happened, but then sometimes those wound up having downsides.  I took on a huge amount of programming work--exhibits, panels, workshops yes, but then steadily more and more was added to responsibilities (in addition to my regular workload.)  I readily did these things because I liked them,--always with a certain administrative carrot dangling that maybe eventually those things might comprise my job. Good work just became more work.  Job descriptions were drawn up and revised. Departments restructured.  My supervisors tried valiantly, but the college itself  threw up roadblocks.    There was the carrot of more money and a sexier title (esp as I moved about in conferences and professional publications.) I knew, at heart, it probably wasn't tenable.  There is a weird caste system in libraries between the degreed and the not degreed.  Perhaps I was overly optimistic--having decided way back in 2003 that instead of  going to library school, which didn't seem all that necessary beyond a couple letters, to use that impulse to get my MFA. Ie..if I was going to do another round of grad school, it should be in something I was passionate about.  This means that I am seen mostly as a clerk--not a terrible thing to be--but as I strived to do work that was a little more in depth..some people were very quick to try to put me back in my place. I never saw my career as being a librarian--maybe in libraries, yes, since I knew nothing else, but I goals have always been art-focused.  

But which also means I am paid like a clerk.  Badly, at that.  The big realization this fall was that in ten years, even my regular salary was a mere $100 more than it was a decade ago (while my rent for example is 25% more.)  This alone was alarming, but add in all that extra best-intentioned programming and the taking on of what not only used to be a whole position, but also it's own department with ILL for the past three years.  (a position that was almost filled, then pulled back after covid.)  Which means, now, about 50 percent of my work hours are doing that, with everything else jammed in around it.  The time would be do-able, but, as with most things, it's the band-width that kills me.  The amount of things, added with everything else. that I have to keep straight and keep running drains me more. 

And then there is the press and my own work, which is easily a full-time job in and of itself, especially when things are hopping.  Again, my own doing--taking on projects, making up my own, and of course the kind of rewarding work we want to be doing. But I am burned out, and scattered, and not living my best version.  I am also angry--randomly in fits and just  under the surface. I don't see things changing in the next year--anywhere--and it makes me want to find another way, another life, where I am not resentful and so tired all the time. There are things I want to be able to do--for the press, for my own work, that time and bandwidth prevents. I'm working on moving past the fear of uncertainty, of going it on my own. I don't know if I'm there yet, but there's been some progress. 

Becuase what I really need to do is fairly obvious.  For reals, even at it's most successful publishing and poetry will never turn enough of a profit to go it alone.  Maybe if every book was a best-seller success  and guaranteed to move at least a 100 copies.  (Maybe one book out of 50 gets there and sometimes it takes time.) Even without studio overhead, there are printing and material and shipping costs. Ditto on my own zines & books mostly. I am happy to break even there, with an option, someday of being able to pay authors. I do turn a profit on artwork and paper goods--esp. when I do craft shows and such (which haven't been as easy to do working full-time.) Some of the other doodads I like to sell in the shop--accessories, mugs, etc bring in some more income, and the more I put into it, the more it yeilds. But it's not guaranteed, especially if I don't hustle--but then maybe that's exactly what I need to do. Also, add in more paid design work and mss. consulting projects to make things interesting. 

As I've sort of idly scanned job listings, there are a lot out there--this being the great resignation--not just other academic gigs,  marketing and programming at cultural places or library-adjacent bodies that seem really exciting.  None of them require an MLS.  Maybe I would be qualified for them--maybe not--but then again maybe I'm not looking for a high-demand, possible 60 hour a week kind of job (which a lot of these seem like they might be just given their nature.). Would I be paid better?  Obv. yes.  Better respected. Oh yeeah. Would I be happier and better able to balance it with the rest of what I have going on?. Where my passions lie? Maybe not really. '

So then maybe the goal would be to not necessarily work MORE, but SMARTER.  I've been seeking out and taking on some freelance copywriting work. I am not taking on as much as I could just yet in the off hours, but it's paying me, per hour, about twice what I make at the library. That dream life?  Obv since I've cast my lot with poetry, it will never get me there entirely. But I can work to trim that work that I do to help foot the bills to something I am getting paid more to do--work less hours to free up time for all those other things I feel I should be doing--could be doing--if things were different.  But I never get there. So many people post-lockdown are reevaluating where and how they work and I am probably no different.  Maybe it's just this weird place called mid-life and this is my own crisis. I feel like I've spent years devaluing my own skills and abilities and perhaps its time for a change. 

Saturday, December 04, 2021

art, audience, and distance

This week has had a couple things dovetail very nicely into each other and it has me thinking about the purpose and approach of the things we make. On Tuesday, we had our panel discussion with Bad Art: Kitsch, Camp, & Craft artists, many of whom wander in installation pieces and non-traditional forms--ie the screeprinted underwear on the 2nd Floor, or the giant dog made out of recycled plastic bags.  It came up a couple of times the idea of being able to watch how audiences interract with such installations and when presented with such work.  I was, at the same time, working on my first freelance lesson writing project--for which I had chosen installation art as the subject. (out of many different options in the arts and humanities.) But I spent a few hours doing some research and looking up good examples, and writing about the ways we experience installations, particularly outside gallery/museum settings. A friend talks often how she likes to make the sort of work that is part social experiment--to see what lathers, to witness how the viewer responds.  

As writers, it seems a very different thing.  I get super awkward when people start talking about my work and how they respond to it.  There's a distance that the page allows between artist and audience.  When they creep too close, I just get weird. But we do still like to hear something make contact, just maybe from a distance.  A new dgp author told me this week that she had one of my older poems tacked to her wall and it made me so happy on a day that was feeling especially hopeless in terms of feeling like anyone actually reads what I, in poems, in books, on social media. But at readings, I usually tried to get away as quickly as I could after reading. When I used to do craft shows, people paging through my zines, my collages, my prints, similarly made me uncomfortable and I wanted to run away, even though I wanted them to look and buy of course.  I usually don't go to the openings of the shows I'm in. When we used to do Library general shows and I kind of had to, I was especially skittish and spent a lot of time hiding in the bathroom and escaping downstairs with my plate of snacks.   And we all want to feel like their is an audience and interest in our work. Even at the panel this week, though I had my black velvet pieces in the show, I was more comfortable just being moderator than talking much about my practice.  

I guess, moreso, I love building worlds, but how and when you encounter them is up to you. 

Thursday, December 02, 2021



At some point in grad school, I learned with delight that during Victorian times, Christmas & the solstice  was known almost as much for it's ghosts as it was for it's santas and reindeer.  For all it's jolly, it was always the darker side of the holiday that charmed me, whether it was a the horror of A Christmas Carol, or a penchant for sad and maudlin things.  The Grinch stealing Christmas, sobbing while Frosty melted in the greenhouse. When I was 5, apparently my favorite past time was making my mother play a song about a sad little neglected christmas tree over and over on vinyl while I cried in the middle of the room. Just to make it hurt good enough. As an adult of course, I still have a penchant for sadder Christmas songs--"Hard Candy Christmas" and "Baby, Please Come Home" are annual favorites. And let's not forget Robert Downey Jr.s cover of "River" from the Ally McBeal Christmas CD which is on perpetual rotation in my playlist.   

I am also a fan of holiday horror. Some faves include the original Black Christmas and a couple anthologies I streamed in previous years--All the Creatures Were Stirring and A Christmas Horror Story My favorite holiday movie of all time is One Magic Christmas which may be one of the saddest movies ever.  The best horror,  of course, comes from the ordinary.  Poverty. Loss. The father shot down in the bank robbery purely to teach his wife a lesson about Christmas.  I still remember the shock to my system at 9 y.o. when Phoebe Cate's character tells the story of her father dead in the chimney smack in the middle of Gremlins. 

Nothing, after all, could be more gothic than such early dark and creeping cold. The Nutcracker, when I actually saw a whole performance,  was dark  & creepy as hell. Winter solstice, moreso even than Halloween, seems like a time when the veil would seem to  be very thin,. It's why we light candles and reach for the lamp --there is so much time in darkness.  Not to mention the punishment and reward of something like Krampus legends. And Christmas seems a perfect time for ghosts, rising up out of the past in the form of memories and lost loved ones. Dickens knew what he was doing. 

So with all this in mind, I decided to create this year's #artadvent project as a haunted dollhouse of sorts, each collage a room or section of a creepy holiday house taking all it's inspiration from the darker sides of December.  I will be posting collages and reels daily over on my instagram,. so you can follow it there through the 25th..

Sunday, November 28, 2021

notes & things | 11/28/2021

And then, somehow it's the end of November, when just a few weeks ago, even that late in the year seemed an impossibility. Thanksgiving was just immediate family,   but it was nice to have better cooking than I managed on my own staying away last year   I came back to the city last night, once again leaving Rockford on the bus as it was turning in for the night and landing in a lively, glistening city, that on a Saturday night is bustling with shoppers and strollers even at 10pm. This city, that is way too expensive and occasionally too full of people is still worth it, especially when she has her holiday best on and everything lit up. I took the long bus home from Union Station, up through the north side and past the zoo lights, which I am hoping to get to this year.  I fear the new variant may put more of a damper on the holidays, but it's too early to tell. I did't have any indoor plans for the holiday, but it'd be nice to do some outdoors ones if it's not too cold. 

Today, I slept late and am waiting for a grocery order this afternoon.  I did get out my christmas tree and my winter coats from the depths of the entryway closet.  I ordered a new wreath for my door and a gold star to hang above the tree (it's the smaller, more minimalist one with just lights and pinecones.) I'm loving varying shades of green as colors, maybe some gold and cream.  I've never been a fan of traditional red and green. I love red in clothes and lipstick, but not so much in decor.)  There were years I convinced my mom into schemes of burgundy and hunter, and in my own apartment, pastels and jewel tones. Golds and ambers.  The ghosts of christmas decor past live in a box along with my larger tree, but the last few years, that tree seemed too heavy, both literally and emotionally.  Plus, you know, demon siameses. I usually get most of my gifts delivered ahead of me to my dad's so I don't have to lug them there,  so I don't have but a couple gifts to keep under it anyway, so small is fine. 

So, I easily set up my smaller tree, get the wreathes ready to hang and indulge in my own little holiday traditions. While I won't be eating a package of cookie dough, but I did get a carton of mint chip (in lieu of the peppermint I couldn't find.).  Also, some more of my favorite mint hot chocolate.  On decorating day, I usually kick off my bad holiday romance watching and make italian food--stuffed shells and garlic bread. I feel like as traditions crumble and rebuild, I like having my own standards. The movies, the more horrible the better. The December that I was stuck a couple weeks in bed with a pinched nerve several years ago, I binged one after another and it's now become a tradition in and of itself. Most are terribly written and sometimes badly acted, but there are some that are endearing enough to return to each year. 

This week, I am leading a discussion Tues night on Bad Art and finishing up the virtual exhibit. i am hesitant to start too much planning for the spring with my plans so in flux at the moment. We are in the final dregs of the semester, the last two weeks where everyone wanders around slightly glassy eyed and stressed out--students, faculty, and staff alike. In art things, I am working on a little #artadvent project for instagram that will have new pieces daily (instead of just old ones like last year) under the theme of "All the Creatures, Stirring" which works in a little more gothic undertones of christmas (think A Christmas Carol and Krampus legends.) It will be sort of a virtual paper doll house (the logistics on this I am still working on) but will be debuting on Weds. 

Monday, November 22, 2021

november and other fevers

I realized this weekend that November is the 15h anniversary of the release of the fever almanac, my very first book progeny.  In November 2006, amidst a fall which included heartbreak (and the start to a long dysfunctional entanglement that took years to disentangle) I was mostly euphoric and very sick --with what turned out to be mono, though I didn't know it yet.  As fitting to the title, the time around the release was a sort of fever-both literally and metaphorically.  The trees were crazy gorgeous that year. There was a fire a block from Columbia that sent us home and whose smoke gave me a headache for two days.  I was falling for someone I would find out later was married and a compulsive liar, but that November I was still under the illusion that he was my soul mate, despite inconsistencies and occasionally missed dates. While I had dated a bit before, had myriad flings,  and even had a 4 year open relationship that had dissolved in the summer, I was convinced this was wholly different.  the fever almanac itself was mostly a collage of bits of my romantic life in my twenties, with some spinning for the sake of art.  I had not yet really had my heart broken to that point. In some ways, it was whole book yearning for that sort of loss--losses that would inevitably come later. Kind of 13 year old me listened to sad songs and thought about being devastated.  The devastation was the point. The wreckage, while just theoretical at that point, the goal. 

But the book, the book was beautiful. It had been a year since the editors of Ghost Road had called to offer me a contract, and in a year, we had cobbled out a lovely product, the cover graced by one of my favorite photographers, Alaina Burri-Weir (whose work had been featured on a couple chaps and wicked alice print issues). Some of the poems in the book were written my first couple years in Chicago, a time when I was getting my publishing sea legs and just beginning to read at open-mic-ish events all over the city. The first draft of the mss. had been completed in late 2003, as I began my MFA program and planned to use that time to write something new. I had sent it out a few time in various incarnations in those years, mostly contests, and even gotten a couple finalist nods,  By the summer of 2005, I was putting the very last version together--a complete overhaul of the structure--and that was the one that accepted. Because my sister was staying with me intermittently and I was easily distracted by fun, I would work on the book with a stack of pages and a red pen at the cafe in the Barnes & Noble on State after I got off work and before catching the bus home--rearranging pages, making small edits, feeling out the bones of the book. 

The oldest poem was written in maybe summer 2001, the newest in late 2004.  Most of the third section of the book was cleaved off what was turning out to be a second manuscript.  There was an immense sense of relief to have that first book checked off the list.  )in the days when I still had a "things you do to become a poet."  I imagine it's a lot like victorian spinsters who desperately long for marriage, or women who desperately want children but feel the stress of the clock.  All of us had book fever in the mid-aughts, strung out across our blogs and listservs and pretty much all of us--the ones who wanted it--got books eventually.  Many of us, more than one.  But first books were these illusive unicorns--the prize, the thing we longed for as we checked our inboxes and ran our fingers over poetry spines in Borders or Barnes & Noble (places which carried so little poetry, they'd probably certainly never carry ours regardless.)  

By the time the book came out, I was already writing different sorts of poems.  in the bird museum was accepted by Dusie in late October, right before that first book was released. I had already written the bulk of manuscript #3--girl show--my MFA thesis, which I would begin tightening in the program that fall to finish it in the spring. I would go on to more books, even despite a couple years of barely writing anything at all.   I thought these projects were all so different, though looking at them now, I'm not that sure they are, nor am I sure that what I write now is fundamentally all that different. I think I'm tighter a writer--a little more attenuated to sound and rhythm.   Whatever my "voice" is, I feel I can wield it a little more adeptly. 

There would, of course, be more questionable relationships, and that same one, running like a vein through nearly a decade, not always at the surface of the skin, but reappearing intermittently.  There would be glimpses of this and others in major characters in minor films, in salvage--details smudged and combined and altered for the sake of art.  I would leave it behind, but it would still take a while to not think about, to not write about it. Other people broke my heart in other ways--better men overall who just made unfortunate choices.  But also really good relationships (see "how to write a love poem in a time of war" in sex & violence.)

It feels like a long time, but it's really not that long at all. While Ghost Road sadly shuttered a decade or more ago, I do still have a cache of copies available in the shop, as well as a free pdf version on my website if you want to read it. I'll be posting bits here and there this week on instagram and other social media to celebrate...

Sunday, November 21, 2021

on community and social media

The past week or so, I've been spending considerable time winding down at the end of the day watching youtubes and insta reels from fellow Taylor Swift fans, which is fun since by and large, no one in my circles, in person or on the web, like her music at all. It's got me thinking about communities and how important the feel, esp when it comes to art, not just cultural things.  There's been a video going around on the internets of an artist who talks about eschewing social media--how she didn't think it served her well.  From the sound of it, she was an artist who was minimally involved in the first place, but then was told that she needed to spend time marketing work via socials.  Thus, found it time-consuming and not particularly rewarding, 

It kind of made me gasp, mostly because I could not imagine my life as an artist or a writer not tied in some way to the sorts of connection the internet provides--whatever that platform. I feel like my practice and work has been so wholly tied to the web the last 20 years, in various ways, that it is completely inextricable from it--whether it was my first forays into online publications, my first blog endeavors my first crudely built websites and lit journals. In that first decade, which was only the beginnings of what we call "social media" as we know it, there were still ways of connecting with fellow poets on the web--mostly listservs and livejournal & it's ilk.  Then MySpace and Blogger (the latter where I set up permanent residence here.) Then Facebook and Tumblr, both of which I've used as a way to connect with other artsists.  Even things like Flickr and Pinterest that are at times incredibly useful, for holding my portfolio and creating moodboards if nothing else.  Some of the people, even the ones that are local, I sometimes met first on the internet, then in real life--through places like Xanga, where my blog lived it's first three years. 

As someone who is pretty introverted, I knew no other writers when I moved to Chicago, and while I met a few at open mics and reading series in those early years, my greatest community was online.  As someone who had a job that put me in front of a computer on the circ desk for hours, I was free to engage and share and develop relationships with poets everywhere while working. Some of them have lasted through various platforms and spanned two decades.  Some I've even met IRL at conferences and such.  As someone who remembers what writing and submitting work was like in the 90's as a baby poet--a very lonely and disengaged practice-- it was so refreshing to connect with editors and other writers almost in real time...

It cuts across writing and art, since the first people who saw my early collage endeavors was the internet--snaps taken crudely with a cheap digital camera or scanned on the library scanners. It's how I grew dgp as press, how I made connections with editors that would eventually publish my books. How I found my loose tribe of fellow-minded folks across states and countries. When facebook arrived I was a late adopter (2009), but an enthusiastic one, since it not only allowed connection with creative folks, but family and friends, some of which I'd lost touch with.  Ditto instagram. (though I am still trying to figure out how to best use Twiiter.)

I'm not sure I am half the writer or artist without the means to showcase work via various channels to find that community that everyone needs in some way.  It's not an extra thing that takes away from art-making, but it IS artmaking sometimes if that makes sense.  I scoff when people talk about "content"--a word I hear often when watching youtube vloggers. No one wants to think of art as content, but it kind of is.  Or at least it is for me.  It's not only that--obv.-- and some is more "artful" than others.  I've been plotting an advent paper dollhouse project I want to do, and creating it is one thing, but the sharing it (in this case on Instagram) is just as important. When I share poems and pictures and such, that is just a continuation of the project itself.  

I remember sitting  on my bed in around 1995 , and wishing there was a way to share my poems. Not just poems, but books and images and music I was excited about.  At the time, I didn't really know about the internet (there were two computers that were AOL connected on the lab on the RC campus, but I was only using the lab to type papers and write-emails.)  When my grad school professors at DePaul introduced us to the web for research purposes, I was shook.  I dropped hours in the P&W forums between classes just listening to other writers chat.  This still blows my mind sometimes, even two decades later.  That this thing exists--that we get to talk to other in these spaces. As new platforms appear and dissolve, things shift, but I will always enthusuistically embrace new ways of connecting, whatever those are. 

Saturday, November 20, 2021

the poet and the story

When I was twenty, I enrolled in my first ever fiction writing class.  It was actually my only ever fiction writing class, since I was really not that good at it and was gearing my coursework, at that time, more toward dramatic lit, then later, poetry.  Every few weeks, I would be up for critique, so would type up my drafts on the typewriter I bought with my high school graduation money, make copies at an off-chain copy store in the strip mall next to the grocery store (where it was cheap) or the campus library (where it was not) . We would read the stories and offer suggestions.  The bizarre part is i have no memory of the stories or their plots or even what my classmates had to say about them.  I do remember my instructor, a visiting author who had won a fancy award (and who also happened to be an alumni.) telling me my sentences were way too long and lush and unruly, and although somewhat Faulknerian ( which I took as a compliment, but it was probably not). So unruly and long that I lost my reader entirely within them, and that maybe I was better suited as a poet.  He was right no doubt.  Not only in my lushness of language being too much to follow the plot, but also my poet attention span better suited to the sprint than the marathon. 

A few years later, post grad school and during a summer off from my job at the elementary school library, I considered fiction as an option for extra income during the months I wasn't getting paid (and when I was, it wasn't that much.) That summer, I filled several notebooks with short stories--the notebooks are still somewhere in my apartment, but I haven't looked at them in 20 odd years.  They were not very good, and I remember only slight recalls of what they may have been like.  But a year later, I would go all-in on poetry and leave them behind. Or at least the genre of fiction as a whole. Surely, my tendencies toward story and a developing preference for prose poems was a holdover from those early impulses. That same 13 year old girl who set out to write fiction like Stephen King, writing her novel out long hand while watching horror movies on Friday nights when her parents left her babysitting, I buried her in poetry, where she appears on occasion in my penchant for certain kinds of stories and subject matter. 

The stories I wrote for that ill-fated workshop, in those spiral notebooks years later, they were attempts and gestures at "literary" fiction, which I guess is only a contrast to "genre" fiction--kinds of stories with certain expected parameters and rules. I was not sure what those rules were, but I was tempted last month, having finished my latest poetry longer manuscript, and on a brief pause before starting another (and filled with all sorts of ennui about everything in my life.) to try my hand at something very different, but probably not that different at all. A genre story.  A simple little ghost story. 

A few months back, one of my authors, Marion Cohen, had invited me to submit work to a special issue of Alien Buddha she was curating about thrifting. Despite my love of it and tiny mentions in my work, I could think of only one piece that might work--"The Blue Dress Poems" which appeared in my first book, the fever almanac--all the way back in 2006.  I joked that I'd always wanted to write a series about haunted thriftstore objects and a seed stuck in my head. A prom dress ghost.  A haunted suitcase that was found in a river.  Other things that held energies. It probably goes back to my teen love of Friday the 13th:   The Series--a an antique store filled with cursed objects.  And what if I wrote a whole linked collection of such stories about a town filled with ghosts.

It was a wholly impractical idea, mostly since I barely have time to write poems, let alone much longer and more editing-intensive things like fiction. But, thinking October might be a good time for ghost stories, I drafted one coming in around 6000 words, which felt long and clumsy.  Then started another.  I left them alone for a few weeks and then returned to find they were not as terrible as they felt.  The past three weeks, I took red pen seriously to one of them, and yesterday felt right to possibly let someone else see the first one.  I actually got a pretty quick faster than I expected, but it was weirdly encouraging even though it was no.   And my first rejection for something not poetry ever. (it was a rather high profile and well-paying market, so obviously I'm not ready for that.)

I don't know if i will send it out again,  Or if I'll just share it somewhere for people who already like my writing.  Or even keep writing more of them, but it felt good to switch things up, to cast something in an entirely different direction than I usually do. I like the idea of linked stories. A novel seems crazy ambitious and unfamiliar but shorts not so out of reach. I'm mid-research for my next poem project, but not likely to start drafting til after the new year on that. It's kind of fun. And in dreary November, I need all the serotonin I can get.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

notes & things | 11/14/2021

And so we've reached the land of dark at 4:30.  I saw a meme that said that in the late fall and winter there is no such thing as afternoon. Just morning, longer morning, and sunset. And it's true.  Around now, esp. after the time change you feel the longness of nights.  Yesterday, I took a nap at 6pm, drowsy and disoriented by the day's rhythms. Today, I slept til around noon and then got up to do some printing for books, and others I'll be finishing the assembly on tonight.  While I am never to quick to jump into Christmas mode, I did indulge in a couple holiday romance movies on Netflix last night.  Today, I'll probably watch more. I've cozied up inside with coffee and chicken & noodles in the crockpot, and Friday, invested in toppings for all that hot chocolate I've been hoarding. I am enjoying my slower weekends before holiday bustle--now whatever bustle looks like now in covid-world. I tend to buy strange presents for people, all online, so I'm not too worried about shortages. I will maybe hit the thrifts when I'm in Rockford for Thanksgiving but that's about it for public-going. There is talk of readings and holiday parties, but until we plummet to June levels of positivity rates, I will probably just stay in my little bubble. And yet, so much is still happening out there.  Monday, they'd blocked Michigan to put up the giant tree in Millennium Park.  Slowly, the windows on the Mag Mile are decking themselves out (well what stores are left after economic depression, riots last year, general retail failure) There are moments the city seems the same, and others that seems it will never be the same. 

I am still back and forth in my quandaries over plans for next year, sometimes vascillating in a matter of hours depending on mood.  At times, inspired and determined to see things out.  At others, frustrated and resentful.  I'll spend the weekend feeling like things are salvageable when I'm away and then disappointed midweek and longing for change. More headlines than ever talk about people leaving jobs, leaving entire career paths for others. And I get it. Despite the fact that new gigs are falling into their laps, so many of us are also motivated to forge out on our own--to take on more freelance and contract work. To change the way we've been living our lives--to put more effort in the things that seem more important--whatever those are. 

Still, I like where I work, if not how they sometimes treat their employees. And there are things I think I can get there that I won't elsewhere, which is why I would probably not leave to go somewhere else.  Part of it is comfort and my Taurean fear of the unfamiliar. But at least a decade ago, I loved the dream of working for myself and having more freedom. (though after lockdown, I also realized that I like a solid boundary between work--whatever that is-- and home (even if there are other kinds of work at home.) We're basically at a point of burnout where my one job, my day job, is actually three jobs, not just one (where I am not payed a comparable wage even for the one.).  And then I go home to do a couple more, mostly unpaid as well.   This will eventually bring the house down.  I can feel it. I'm not happy. I'm wiling to keep going on the unpaid work, writing, editing, because I love it and its important  With some tweaking, I can expand to offer paper and art and do more design work or copywriting /editing and possibly make a go of it.  Running a business is obv, several jobs.  I've done them.  But having your efforts focused on one or two things and not six or seven would make a huge difference. Then again, it may just take a bravery I'm not sure I have. I'm hoping to spend the next few months building a boat that won't seem so scary if I decide to set sail.

In more creative work, my TS Eliot research continues, but I haven't yet waded into writing waters.  I may not til 2022--since so much of my head is occupied with other things--the job stuff, getting out the last chaps of the year, some more painting and crafty things. I do have plans to release animal, vegetable, monster in February, so I will start getting a more final version of that mss. together in December, since the editing/design process is long when you're doing it yourself rather than someone doing it for you. I also need to decide if and when to send out a couple other projects on the burners. I do have one more little zine thing I might issue before the end of the year, so keep an eye out for that..

Thursday, November 11, 2021

twenty year itch | 2001

In my efforts to rekindle my enthusiasm for just about everything in life, I often find myself sometimes thinking about 2001.  I was 27 and had been living back in the city for a year. Why this year as opposed to others?   Why then and not, say 2002? Or 2003? When things really began to happen in terms of publishing and doing readings, and starting my MFA studies?  2001 was sort of this strange calm before the storm, a period of time when I was just discovering online publications and starting one of my own.  A time when I was creating my very first websites and learning about design while working the night shift at the circ desk.  A time when, having no internet at home, I was still mostly offline much of my life otherwise. At home, I'd read and journal and write late into the night. I still drafted every poem by hand on yellow legal pads or spiral steno notebooks then typed them into my e-mail at work. 

It was also the first rush of excitement to be connecting with people through poems.  Those online publications--the really nice fan letters that sometimes appeared in my inbox. Every online journal publication would find me printing out the pages and tucking them carefullly between plastic sheets in a binder for safekeeping (a practice I eventually stopped.) I didn't start a blog til 2003, so my journaling happened in more private spaces. Since we were years before even MySpace, most of my interactions with writers happened on discussion boards and listservs. Later on blogs.  

It feels a little more pure though, since it was very much a space unpolluted by some of the very things that later mudded my waters. Mostly, I thrived on writing and sharing.  On finding readers and placing poems in journals. I'm not sure I would have persevered or written half as much as I did in the vacuum of print journal culture, which seemed to put so much distance between writer and editor, and even more between writer and reader. By 2003, I was beginning to submit a manuscript and sitting in MFA workshops that always felt at best, not useful, and at worst, demoralizing.  I was learning the "rules" of poetry culture as academia knows it--arbitrary rules and classifications that make some poets matter and not others.  Some journals matter more than others.  Some prizes more important or sparkly.  I suspected much of it was BS, but it's hard to critique it when somehow, you still long to be a part of it. Because everything else is a sort of chaos. Conversations about it seems far too infrequent, short, or sometimes curtailed by those with vested interests. It's hard to see the shit when you're swimming in it. 

So much of my enthusiasm--for poems, for writing, for publishing--was under constant attack in those years, so much so that I needed a break after, during which I wrote very little. It took a while to get it back. Sometimes even still I lose the wind in my sails. 2001 was a delicious sort of freedom when no one was looking and you were sailing through the sky, and it was good, b/c it  kind of felt like no one was looking. Or only some people were looking and they wanted to see you succeed. There were no stakes or expectations because no one really new what to expect from you.  Or expected anything at all.  It was a drug to be sure.

Looking back, the poems are okay, but not the greatest. But it was okay. People seems to like them.  They were the best I could write at 27. I got better.  I'd hardly lived enough to write anything really interesting.  Barely been in the world outside of school. Each acceptance was this strange high--proof that I was not just deluding myself that life as a poet was possible. I didn't know about the rules, because no one had told me there were rules.  By the next year, I'd be writing even more and publishing regularly--putting together a chapbook. By the next, beginning to do readings and applying to a creative writing program.  all the things I was supposed to do as a poet, or so people were telling me.

Since 2001, it's been a long stretch of time in which many good things happened. I've written (if not yet published) 13 books worth of poems/prose. Placed poems in journals and with presses I really love.   I've read in amazing places like The Field Museum.  Had my poems taught in classes. Have even gotten paid on occasion.  Started a press that is still chugging along and met amazing people through that editing & design work. Not all was moving forward, of course....I lost interest after my program, then regained it tenfold.  Struggled for years with having time and energies to put words on paper. Took a while to figure out the world and determine what I want from poetry. What serves me, what does not anymore. How I want my "poetry career' to look going forward  

That too is a kind of freedom, an exhilaration, but sometimes I really do miss the clueless enthusiasm of my mid 20's. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

of magic and machines


Yesterday, as I waited for the exterminators, I used the free time to compile the first for real version of my automagic manuscript, taking what was several smaller series and pulling them under one umbrella.  A manuscript never seems real until it's on paper and tidied in a neat little stack in front of you,. The entrety has a similar feeling to in the bird museum in its victorian vibes, though definitely more fantastical and speculative in its themes.  It includes ordinary planet, the HH Holmes poems, the new bird artist series, as well as a couple other projects similar in feel (eleanor and the tiny machines and the shorter version of unusual creatures.)  It tops out at just over 80 pages, which always feels impossible--that I wrote them brick by brick, esp. since I rarely have endurance for longish things. And yet, there she is. 

The title of course, has been in my head for years, and sort of formed the center around which the projects, even in their individual incarnations, centered. A sort of magic of machines, or by mechanization. Google is automagic for example.  The behind the scenes working of technology, which plays a part in this book.  I always said ordinary planet was very steampunk-ish--both contemporary and victorian at the same time. Equal parts science and seances.  It's actually been mostly done since I finished unusual creatures finally, but the bird artist added that final little something.  Initially the Walter Potter pieces, being ever so victorian,  were intended for the project, but as I wrote them, they seemed to tie better thematically in with animal, vegetable, monster (the publication of which you can look for that after the new year.)

I don't know yet if I will try this one in the submission wilds or just issue it myself somewhere down the line, but it's nice to have it feel more tangible as a book like thing rather than just a loose collection of disparate poems.  It needs a lot of proofing and polishing either way. Some cross referencing with the zine/chap versions, where I sometimes make small changes to poems in the layout process I don't make in the manuscript version. And like most things, rife with typos from my shitty typing skills (esp. of they were never sent out in submission anywhere as individual poems, which some of these were not. It is, however, despite errors, it's own kind of magic. 

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

okay to not be okay

The passage of time is a tricky thing.  Today, I was doing the most mundane, unexciting thing--waiting for the exterminators, who make their rounds on my floor every 6 months pretty much like clockwork to spray under the sink. ( though I haven't seen any critters in my unit, I have seen one or two scurry down on the ground floor near the mail & packages, so am ever vigilant. The price of city living stacked amid 19 floors of apartments. )  It entails emptying the bottom cabinets and rounding up wayward cats and then just waiting for them to show up so I can put everything back again.  It occurred to me as I was doing it, that this is round three since they started doing the regulars in September 2020, each time, putting on my mask and allowing the dude with the spray can in.  Outside of some assessors when they were in the process of selling the building last spring, the exterminator, besides my boyfriend and my dad, is one of the only people who have been in my apartment since March 2020. When I think of it like that, the pandemic seems interminable.  Like it's just been happening forever. Like it will be happening forever. Despite things opening and groups be allowed to gather and a lot of people just carrying on as they were before. (if they ever even cared to take precautions at all, that is.)

And yet at the same time, it's fast. Those first few months during lockdown were over in seconds.  Even going back to work has been this strange loop. When I say "Oh, that was years ago," and realize it was only last fall. Or, "Didn't that just happen?" and it was 2019.  I lost track of many things I was working toward pre-pandemic. Some things became more important.  Some less. During the pandemic, I have written 19 rent checks. I have drank around 1, 000 cups of coffee. I have died my hair at least 20 times. Taken close to 500 showers.  I have written many poems, including the entirety of one manuscript (collapsologies) and part of another. I even published three books--one with another press and two on my own.  I've given a handful of zoom readings and library presentations, some of which I was even paid for. . Have laid out over 50 chapbooks and designed slightly less than that of covers (excluding the ones done by other designers or the authors themselves.)  I have built about a half dozen online exhibits for the library and processed hundreds of outgoing and incoming books. 

An yet, time is rubber band. Barring those first three months where I went nowhere, I have ridden the bus over 300 times, masked and at times, more afraid than others. I've visited family only about 6 times.  Eaten in a restaurant even less. Things I haven't done in the last 19 months? Had drinks in a bar. Gone to the movies. Really shopped in a store outside of quick run-ins. Visited a museum. Traveled.  Been to an inside family gathering. These are not things I always do on the regular, but part of me gets angry when I think about how they were things I'd easily give up if it meant banishing this crazy thing and getting back to normal. Like that we'get them back eventually. Like if we all did our part, it'd be over quickly. But some people didn't quite understand the assignment, so here we are. Even 6 months ago, as I got the second dose of vaccine, I was hopeful. And maybe there were a couple weeks in June pre-Delta where it seemed like we may be free of it. Many people rushed out an took advantage.  Some of us figured we had the rest of the summer mostly Covid-free so treaded slowly. Not so much,

As we face another pandemic winter, and a slight rise, yet again in cases in Illinois, I keep reading--articles, blogs, memes--that it's okay to be not okay.  I worry less of myself and those immediately around me (because vaccines, yo), but more about the tolls and costs and general societal, cultural upheaval. I cannot believe I live in a country where a cousin of mine says she refuses to get a vaccine because she simply doesn't like being told what to do. Another is unduly influenced by the hick idiot she tethered her life to.  Portions of my mother's side are Trump supporters. Where large amounts of people gobble huge amounts of  misinformation via suspect news outlets and social media the spew it everywhere..  Add in my own personal issues--questioning my job, my pursuits, my life in general, and it's sure to be a rocky winter, harsh in the way winter always is, but far worse. 

I recently watched an episode of the new Creepshow where a man is hired to exterminate a group of people occupying a buiiding under development, in which he poisons their communal pot of stew then goes mad, snuffed out himself like an insect. Yet humans don't need exteminators, since most of them will apparently happily march themselves right into the traps.

Sunday, November 07, 2021

notes & things | 11/7/2021

Even though I felt the stretch of the clock overnight and am an hour more well-rested, there is still surely to be disorientation tonight at the sunset so early. Even though the days have gotten markedly shorter the past weeks  even without the time change. These are the hours I am not quite sure what to do with.  It's too dark in my apartment to work on art things or books (which I prefer to do in natural light instead of lamplight.) But too early to make dinner and watch something on streaming. During the week, I am am in a windowless area of the library, so I barely notice time. Weekends are always hard to get used to. I've been indulging in winter thoughts, or trying to get ready for it. I've already added a couple new coats to my collection--one a plaid walking coat and the other, a cream colored faux fur that is more blanket than coat. It's lovely though i worry the dirt and grime of the city will ruin it eventually. I'm still wearing my heavier jackets at this point, but will switch them out for the full-on winter wear in the next few weeks. The last of the leaves are still coloring the tops of trees for the next week or so.  Today, I tried painting some fall postcards before the light got too dim.  I am not one to jump into the holiday too early, preferring to wait til after Thanksgiving, but I did do a little perusing of things I might want to buy for decor.  I tend to go minimalist.  I haven't had the heart to get out my full size tree and ornaments the past year and probably won't this one. Instead, I have a cute smaller one with pine cones I like the look and simplicity of.

Last night, I settled into bed with my first cup of raspberry hot chocolate of the year and watched one of my favorite movies that never seems to be streaming anywhere--Practical Magic in all of its witchy 90's goodness. Soon, I'll give into my guilty pleasure of holiday romance movies of the Hallmark ilk..the studio machine of which is cranking up even now on all networks and services. They're terrible, but I kinda love them. It's amazing how fast I go from slashers & horror to cheesy romance in the course of one month. In terms of romance, this week also brings Taylor's re-release of RED, of course, pretty much my favorite album of hers, I've been known to say that TS has written a song about every bad relationshiop I've ever had.  Most of them are on RED.

Yesterday, I noted the date but tried not to think too much about it.  Four years since we lost my mother, and yesterday (and today) that sort of overly sun-steeped, but still cold weather very much like that Monday.  I always have to check the date, since I am never sure whether it was the 5h or 6th, or what day the funeral was. That week is bleary in my mind, like someone put a piece of plastic over a window. I am intent on leaving it there. I feel in some ways it's a time period in my life I will never fully process, despite having written a book (or at least parts of)  about it. Now, when my mother appears in my dreams,  less now than before, at least both she and I know she is dead.  That's something. My moods are less stable this time of year than any other, so it's a bad coincidence of November doing as November does. Had you asked me years ago my least favorite month, I'd have told you snow-bound January, but at least January feels like a start to something new. 

So I make my way through the Novembers and the Januaries and sometimes, yes, even some Decembers, treading lightly and trying not to disturb too much. 

Saturday, November 06, 2021


For every good reason there is to forge out on the self-employed journey, there are several reasons not to. Not just financial stability, though that's part of it.  Not just gaining freedom--from a defined schedule, from making far less than you do or you're worth.  From hiring freezes, pay freezes,  understaffing, mounting work, and all the other things that bother you in a job that you mostly otherwise like very much. The chief benefit of self employment would seem to be that, with your time more your own, you'd be able to tend more readily to the things you are passionate about--the things that excite you and inspire you. The things that you really feel you are in this life to do. 

I envision that life of filling my days with poems and art and press work. With growing the shop to include more fun stuff--prints, jewelry, paper goods. With finally having time to do some things for the press in a less scattershot manner--like collab projects and book fairs and more time to promote things. More time for readings, even, that I usually can't go to working nights. Or weekend things because I am not so exhausted from the work week and badly need time away from the world for introverting. No daily commuting and more time at home to cook real food and keep house and all the things normally done in a hurry on weekends. I've worked a full-time job with at least  side hustle since i was in my mid-twenties (even when it was just writing.).  The press was basically a full-time job at some point. Add in my own creative work and all the projects sitting there waiting for me to get to. It's a nice dream. But I'm not sure its as nice as it is in my head. 

About a decade ago, I let a lot of things go I'd been doing in those few frantic years of studio life--things constantly evolving shop inventory (like soap and jewelry), selling vintage, etc--things I needed to make up the difference on rent. Running a shop of that size was time consuming, esp at some times of year.  Custom projects (wedding/graduation invites, party favors)  took up a lot of hours. Holidays were insanity.  In 2011, a little more stable in the publishing arena, I let them go in favor of getting back to the book-oriented projects--increasing the time for chapbooks and my own zines.  I still supplemented them with art print and paper goods sales, of course, the chapbooks at that point pretty much only paying for themselves. As the press grew, it faciliitated being able to add more titles per year. Some years, I bit off more than I could chew.  Sometimes, when real life intervened--more responsibilities at the library, anxiety/ depression issues, family loss, the financial free-fall of 2019, the shit storm that was 2020, etc--the press suffered in terms of lagging schedules, disorganization, missing orders and long shipping times I am still trying to get a handle on. 

But no matter what happened there in the shop--slow months, the pandemic, not many sales--I could still  do things like eat and pay the rent with my day job funds, even if the books were not quite paying fully for their own production (cardstock, paper, ink, mailers)  or just general running a business costs like shipping, website, software,  and Dropbox fees.)  Things also got better after giving up the studio rental and I no longer had to use my regular income for press maintenance (things like toner replacement and new printers could cripple me some months.)  But as most editors will tell you, publishing, esp indie publishing, is hardly an always in-the-black sort of business. 

What I fear about self-employment is stability--the most obvious thing.  Poetry is, of course, something that doesn't pay. but there are are other things I could do to supplement my income as plans to amp up my shop offering & art sales again are slow to percolate--copyediting, proofreading, tutoring. Design projects that I already dabble in. Manuscript critiques that have provided some great extra income occasionally.  I would not mind, and may even love, selling vintage again. When I needed money to move the studio in 2019, I sold some creepy haunted dolls things on ebay, so I am not a person who can't master a side hustle. Worse case scenario i could do some paid workshops or teach comp classes (for peanuts of course, but peanuts are a help.) I worry less about financial ruin than I do what it takes to avoid it, though, how these things may also consume, and in fact, consume even more time and energies than my current gig, mostly because they are not guaranteed.

If I have an unproductive, or blissfully slow week at the library, or take a week completely off   (which I try not to do since it usually results in a chaotic week after) I do still get paid. My paycheck still arrives in my bank account like clockwork every two weeks--tiny as it is. It pays my rent, my groceries, my CTA costs.  It pays the electric/phone/renters insurance/ student loan/ streaming service bills. It even allows some wiggle room for indulgences These days, I usually spend this on (mostly secondhand) clothes, but in the past it financed social outings  Or apartment stuff decor stuff or fancy bath gels. I also spend way too much on Dunkin and coffee, but it's an indulgence you will pry from my dead, cold hands. Depending on what's happening and the pace of life, I get takeout a bit too often when I'm too exhausted to cook or my schedule is weird.  Sometimes life is fucking hard and I really want tacos.  I'm okay with that, There isn't much to save, so I don't really, outside of my tiny deducted retirement provisions.  

It's a small financial footprint, and I make it work sometimes better than others, but it would be nice to have enough that you didn't live paycheck to paycheck and eye your bank account quite so anxiously. Especially when you are doing the work of three people and making barely enough for one. (and also, horrifyingly, making less than $100 more per paycheck than you were a decade ago while your rent has gone up 25% in that time.) It works because I do certain things (thrift, buy clothes on ebay or deeply on sale, shop frugally, take public transportation everywhere) Because I don't do some things--travel much, for example. Or have to maintain a car. Or even take taxis or ubers unless its an emergency.) Even pre-covid, I had curtailed my going out costs from what they were a decade ago when Friday nights were for drinking in bars. (Now I'm old, so they are for maybe pizza and Maybe I chip in for a movie outing or date night every couple months, but that's about it. 

 Of course, going out my own could be more perilous and uncertain.  And this gives me pause, not becuase I think it's impossible, but I worry what I give up in the process.  Now, since my basic needs are covered, I have freedom to work on projects that have no financial gain whatsoever.  To write poems and publish unknown authors and experiment with things.  To make weird, dumb art that's a lot of fun.  To thrown spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks. To try new things and care less whether or not  they are adding to my bank account. To be generous with my time when it comes to all the things you don['t get paid for in the process of being an artist.  It's hard, but it's also a gift. 

Maybe I am spoiled by my side hustles being lass "hustlely"--the years when nothing depended on commerce and most of my pursuits actually cost money, let alone generated any. The kind of freedom when artmaking is divorced from commerce.  When you could say YES to things that might not yield cash (readings, publications, workshops.) But more importantly could also say NO to things that while they might pay, weren't particularly desireable or worth the money. It's always the dream of the artist to give up the dayjob someday, but what would I be losing?  Is it worth it? 

I pretty much don't have an answer, but it's yet another thing to think about in the next few months...

Monday, November 01, 2021

back to the source

After a month-long rest from writing, November brings new thoughts and new projects. I've been musing over a project that is somehow a rif on The Wasteland--which coming up on its 100 year anniversary, seems entirely appropriate somehow, not only for this, but for me and all my poetic questionings and foibles of late.  My questioning of whether to go on writing poems or why to go on writing poems when mostly the world at large and sometimes even myself is indifferent to doing so somehow. And yet, I always say Eliot was the one who broke things open for me in poetry. Who, after years of writing terrible poems about cats and rhyming and maybe beginning to understand poetry, found me in a grad school class at DePaul studying British Mondernists --who of course he is claimed by, even though he was born in America. (interesting side discussions could be had that Plath, though she spend her last years in the UK is always dismissed as "that American woman" who married beloved Ted Hughes. )

Interestingly, it was not my first encounter with The Wasteland or Eliot, him being a favorite in English Departments, esp at the point where professors were only beginning to look to diversify their canons. I had spent plenty of time with Prufock as an undergrad.  Had taken another class devoted to British poetry that had us reading The Wasteland. I was probably around 21 and remember it being a more difficult read and one I was happy to move on from, full of too many footnotes and pompous pronouncements. Being 21, my interests were far more on play rehearsals, and theater parties, and figuring out what to do with the rest of my life than decoding cumbersome, almost purposely obfuscated texts. I was an English major, sure, but I much preferred reading novels and plays to poems in general, despite writing some very bad ones on occasion.  

Fast forward about 3 years and I was in the belly of the beast..a grad English program in Chicago  devoted to Literature, where our electives were even more precisely  laid out by literary period.  I spent some time with the Romantic poets, with 1850's Victorian novels, with Milton and Medeival Romances.  I wound up in Modern British Poetry class in the fall of 1998, from which I really only remember Eliot, though I know we spent some time on Seamus Heaney and Stevie Smith. My most vivid memory is sitting in the class and listening to the recording of Eliot reading his own work. It always has the same effect I later learned hearing Sylvia Plath read her poems--like some sort of spooky oracle. I was intrigued. I began to write more poems.

And perhaps it started that summer before.  A year into my grad program I was still figuring out what to do after.  I'd come in imagining I would get certified to teach high school English, but also idly dreamed of getting a Ph.D and teaching college-level. I was still very interested in theatre, though I no longer worked hands-on with it. I took as many dramatic lit classes as were offered during those two years and kept interviewing for front-of-house jobs at theater companies like Victory Gardens (around the corner from my apartment) to no avail. I was looking at dramaturgy and performance studies programs when it seemed like teaching might not be right for me. That summer, I started writing poems after a year or so of not really writing them at all. They were okay, but I still had no idea what I was doing. 

Cue Eliot, and a several week span in which we dissected The Wasteland, bit by bit. It was a lit class, of course, not a writing one at all, but it was far more useful than any of the creative writing classes I took before or since (and that includes my MFA studies years later.) Suddenly, it seemed all things were possible in poetry. Even in MY poetry.  It was terrifying and exhilarating and suddenly I was off--writing a huge number of poems through the rest of the fall and into the spring. They weren't all great, and even the better ones, looking back now, kinda overwrought, but all that writing made me feel like I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing.  And that solved many of my uncertainties and quandaries. I would write and find some sort of job I did not hate--preferably literary or artsy, but it didn't matter the field.  Of course, having no job experience and only knowing pretty much how to read books and write essays, and maybe some theatre tech stuff, it wasn't easy.  I interviewed at bookstores and the Newberry and a few places in Chicago before that disastrous decision to move back to Rockford. But it did get me working in libraries, which led me to something that fulfilled that goal. 

The poems from that year were many, and garnered my first acceptance that wasn't a school pub or vanity anthology. By the time the issue appeared I was back in my childhood bedroom that summer and waffling uncertainly about life. I had put a book mss. together that last spring in Chicago and called it Taurus (a title I later resurrected for an unrelated chap project.)  I wanted to complete a book at least before I turned 25. I sent it to the Yale Younger Poets Contest, and of course, it was terrible, but as the contest system goes, it probably wouldn't have mattered if it was brilliant. The poems were about women in history, in literature, mythology, and art. A better, abbreviated version with a few of the better poems became The Archaeologist's Daughter a few years later. More important I suppose than it being good, was that it was done. I had succeeded in my vow to write a book of poems by 25. It was bad, but I could do it. 

Of course once the real world had its hooks in me, I wrote less.  When I started working at the elementary school that fall, I was so exhausted most of the time from early mornings and chasing around children for story hours, I scarce wrote anything. The summer of 1999, which I had off, I spent writing fiction, hoping to turn it into a cash cow to get me out of the library.  Another library, of course,  finally got me out and back to the city I never should have left.  And then came more poems and the wide open world of online journals and blogs and internet literary community. And it's all history from there. 

Still, the Eliot stuck with me.  That permission and inspiration I first felt with The Wasteland, So much so, a decade later,  I wrote a poem for Poetry Crush about old Tom.  (see below)  The sort of writing I went on to write--the better poems later--still owe a great deal to that text.  And Eliot's life--his banker quietness and tragic wife, is also of great interest. Which is why, over the summer, I started contemplating playing around with the original to write something new.  I am in research and revisit mode write now and for the next couple weeks and we'll see what happens. I intend to spend some time looking for a door or a window that leads to something interesting and I am almost certain it will.


Dear Tom. 

I’ve thought about it and you’re right, April is the cruelest month. I think of you all afternoon at the bank, the sleeves of your dress shirt rolled just above your wrists, holding the short stub of a pencil bent over the massive wooden desk, wiping your forehead and beginning again to write. Oh Tom, my nerves are bad tonight. What are you thinking? When summer came it wrecked me. I dreamed of clairvoyantes and tiny pearl eyes for weeks. Your voice a yellow fog that licked its way up and down my spine. I wrote poems about coffee spoons and clties crumbling around me. I imagine you the calmness surrounded by tempestuous women and hundreds of unruly cats. I have known the hours, known them all. But really, that is not what I meant. Not at all.