Sunday, January 31, 2021

doing the thing

Yesterday, I was eating some cadbury chocolate and drinking tea  and suddenly flashed back to January of my final year as an undergrad, when I recall sitting on my mattress in my room in my parent's house doing the exact same thing  (in those years,  a single mattress draped with tapestries, very 90's boho of me.  Only when you're in your early 20's would that be comfortable.)  But I remember getting a copy of an anthology in the mail--it was definitely a sort of vanity thing--not terribly expensive, but absolutely one of the ones that you were accepted into only if you agreed to buy a copy, which was around $20.  The poem was awful and probably end rhymed, a habit I was only getting out of,  but it sparked something.

The back of Writer's Digest, which I read religiously in those years, were filled with such anthologies.  And I actually published in a couple during those years.  They weren't exactly filled with genius, but neither was I, and usually the poems were several to a page. While not wowing, that first little publication, for someone who at that point, had only appeared in a couple of college lit mag issues, felt affirming, even if the stakes were pretty low.  I knew nothing of po-biz or good writing.  What I was doing or where I was going, but it felt exhilarating and like I was on my way to becoming a writer..though probably less far along than I felt at that moment. 

Much gets made fun of and scoffed when people talk about "vanity" endeavors--their quality, or lack thereof, of the bad poets who fill such anthologies.  But then again, there is bad poetry everywhere, just as much as there is good, and who's to say what any of it is worth in the grand scope of things.  I occasionally look at the sort of markets people are dying to get into (ahem..The New Yorker) and find that bad, maybe just in a different way. (maybe not all bad, but terribly boring.) Some folks never progress beyond such anthologies, but I guarantee you, the feeling that they are a writer is just as strong as others publishing in "legitimate" places. Especially if you feel the more academic circles of poetry are closed to you, or even if you, like I did in  early 1997, don't really even know that they exist. 

So much of being an artist or a writer is about permission--not from an external source--but our own permissions--to create, to feel like we have talent or a voice.  Two years later, in my tiny grad school studio apartment here in Chicago, I was again eating chocolate and drinking tea (this may be one of the things I do most often) and marveling over my first "for reals" acceptance letter from a journal.  I carefully opened the SASE and probably squealed loud enough to startle my neighbors.  It was a tiny, local, feminist journal, but for me, it was one of the biggest triumphs. By then, I was realizing that some opportunities were more curated than others, but I don't feel like the second could have happened without the other. The permission I gave myself after that first publication got me to the place to begin sending work out elsewhere.  The more acceptances for work, the more I was inspired to create and send it out into the world. This was particularly true when I first started placing work in online journals after a couple years. I wrote so much between 2001 and 2003 because I felt like I finally had an audience, whether that was in journals or in doing readings locally.   And I got better (because I really couldn't get

I've been thinking about how art takes that permission--I feel this more acutely with visual art, which I have little to no formal training in so am therefore less certain about my skills. Or with the permission we take when we start journals or presses, that our editorial eye is valid and that we have something to offer.  When dgp was young, so many people were amazed that I'd had the (what?  bravery? audacity?) to start a press, especially when I was in my MFA program myself (though I was older and further along in the journey than people took me for).  So much is just a matter of saying "Yes, I can do this."  and then doing it. 

And we fail, of course...because such permission also gives you the permission to fail.  I have a lot of orphan drafts and mediocre, messy collages, failed paintings & prints that go into the trash.  Sometimes things don't work out like you intended them to.  But keep trying. What's important is doing the thing.  So do the thing.

(thus ends your snowy Sunday pep-talk.)

Saturday, January 30, 2021

swallow #10

notes & things | 1/30/2021

It's currently snowing and they are daring to call it a blizzard, but it at least worked out to be happening over the weekend, when I am tucked inside safely until Monday afternoon.  I've been cleaning a little, drafting the latest Paper Boat, drinking tea, and making chicken soup. All very relaxing after a long week, that began with the cats trying to kill us by turning on the stove last Sunday morning (just a lot of smoke and a very badly damaged stir-fry pan that happened to be on the burner), and ended with a Friday that felt like I was chasing my tail at work and not getting all that much accomplished besides answering and sending faculty e-mails and lib answer queries in the hours I was there.  It was also just cold and snowed a lot.  I slept really late this morning covered in cats (who cannot kill me now that I have child protectors on the stove knobs) and buried beneath the covers to escape the chill. Lately, with everything else going on, it being winter feels like a personal affront that is not really personal at all. 

Thursday, I spent some time choosing work for reading in a week or so for the Poetry Foundation, and decided to go with a batch of the tabloid poems, mostly because they are humorous and a lot less dark than most of what I've been writing lately and since last year.  I haven't done any kind of reading (in person or virtual since my Feild Museum reading in 2019, so I am looking forward to it.  I also have a couple other virtual readings coming up, one a release reading for the latest Pretty Owl Poetry, and another, the Poor Mouth Poetry series in the spring. Videoconferencing, while it does present it's own toils and troubles, makes me a little less anxious than going to unfamiliar physical places, so it's good during this time to have at least that. it also gives people not in Chicago a chance to attend, which is great, since I know more poets not in Chicago than in it.

In covid developements, the city is doing well, but the death toll mounts and news swirls with bad outbreaks and variants and political nonsense.   I've been controlling my access to social media and media in general the past few days--enough to stay informed, but not enough to be constantly doomscrolling through facebook on my phone as soon as I wake up. Instagram is a better alternative.  And twitter is good for getting in, posting what I need to, and getting out. I find myself in the bad position of having to spend time there professionally, both for my own work and the library, but also trying not to drown there. It makes me anxious.  It occasionally makes me angry, especially re: covid. This anger spills into real life as I watch the people in my building have giant parties. Someone said that when you're 19, you are carelesss that way--selfish and all id.  While I was a lot of things at 19, I was not that careless, so it's a bullshit excuse. 

Last week, I rearranged some art in the kitchen to make room for a dreamy green new hanging fisherman's float above my sink , so I needed a smaller frame, so painted some woodsy landscapes/ lakescapes that I don't hate. Outside of a couple library graphics, t's the first art endeavors of the new year, so let's hope they lead to more. 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

the home stretch

This past weekend, my concentration a bit better after the inauguration, I wrapped up a fine-toothed combing over my proof copy of FEED.  Making sure, in addition to the margin issues I want to fix, that I'd banished any pesky typos, misspellings, or weird punctuation. While I rarely do wholescale renovations on poems once they've solidified into finished form.  I have been know to do minor adjustments--like breaking up long and unweildy sentences into shorter bits.  Cutting redundancies or deleting things to help the flow. Sometimes a piece will seem fine when published in a journal, but I'll make minor tweaks before I publish it in zine or book form. The best example being "nebraska,"  a poem in my first book that had multiple revisions from when it first appeared in a lit mag, when I put in in chaps (the archaeologist's daughter and bloody mary.), then a final version in the fever almanac.  In this case, the entire final stanza was eventually retooled and rewritten.

My relationship to revision is a strange one.  In the process of drafting a poem, I usually make a lot of efforts then deletions.  Steps forward and back.   While I initially began as the sort of poet who writes out by hand, there was a shift at some point that led me to composing electronically, if only for saving myself a lot of confusing cross-outs and paper versions.  I don't remember when the shift happened and it was gradual. but it happened.   Once a piece has formed into being, there may be some cosmetic things I'll change as I'm getting ready to submit or make public, but I don't really revise in any organized manner. It's less of an intentional thing I sit down and do than something that just happens here and there.  This may be why I always found workshops rather tiresome.  Once a poem was done, I too was sort of done with it, so telling me to change things like structure or tone would just annoy me and wasn't very helpful  The poem existed, I could no more change it than I could unbuild a house.  I was polite and seemed willing to take suggestions, even nodded my head and wrote them down., but probably wasn't taking them seriously beyond minor adjustments..  Like changing the color of a wall or adding an ottoman.  Hanging a painting here instead of there.  A visiting writer at Columbia told me to watch the number of articles in my poems and if I cut a lot of them, it would be a lot smoother.  This was something I could use. 

So I found myself this weekend, pen in hand, reading carefully through the proof to make sure everything is perfect and in its place. If I can make those changes in the file this week, I can place the order for final copies before the end of January, which have them in hand and in the shop before February is done. Keep an eye out for more sneak peaks and snippets on social media as we get closer. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

pretty owl poetry


"everything’s a catastrophe when you’re knee deep in machinery.
Everything monstrous when you’re a monster"

-"Dick Cheney is A Robot"

One of the tabloid poems have hatched in the new issue of Pretty Owl poetry...

book birthdays | girl show

Scrolling through some older blog posts this weekend, it occurred to me that this little oddling turns seven this month.  My book of sideshow women set in the 30's/40's, it was initially my MFA thesis in 2007, but then bounced from it's initial press acceptance to Black Lawrence in 2011 and was published in 2014, which made the gestation a little longer than usual. It was the only book I've published that had a lot of hands in it from the beginning--my own, my thesis classmates and advisors. Many of the adjustments made to get it approved for the degree were ditched when I actually started sending it out, actually, so outside of maybe the ordering, the poems are probably a bit different than the version that exists in the Columbia archives (and it's a weird thing to know it's over there.)  Maybe some day if I am ever a fancy famous poet people will write theses on the changes I made merely to please an advisor and get the damned degree, and the ridiculousness of 32 year old me actually  feeling like I  had to do that becuase I just wanted it done (which is a whole other blog entry in and of itself.). But really, this is the better version and I love it so, even though it took 7 years to come to fruition. I also love that people are still, according to my royalty statements, actually buying this weird little book on the regular. You can get your very own copy here:

Saturday, January 23, 2021

on monsters and mirrors


In the aftermath of chaos and the great lifted weight of a screaming, terrible toddler on our collective chests, now so much of the news calls for unity.  Biden himself, classy dude that he is, says much of the same.  It would be easier if the Rebublican foes were of the old, Reaganish sort.  Nice to your face while secretly harboring their racism, their sexism,  their privilege, moral conditioning when it comes to sexuality, their fucked up priorities of money and big businesss over citizens. Such were the Republican days of yore---toxic, but much more politely toxic. Trumpkins were a particulary loud version of this, not even content to hide their awfulness in handshakes and policy, but screaming, running angrily through the capital building. twisted faces, full of violence. 

In the beginning, in late 2016. not seeing the impending damage and body count something like the pandemic would bring, I feared this most.  That Trumpf's win would make it okay to hate again.  To be awful and terrible.  That those guys--the truck driving, flag waving bigots, the snithering fwapping incels, the rabid maskless Karens--- would think it was okay to slither out of their homes (where they'd been hiding like roaches during the Obama administration)  and into the light.  That they mattered, that what they thought was okay somehow--something to be doubled down on and not shamed away. And over the years, they got more comfortable and ultimately, the result was what has been happening the last few months. On one journalists footage, a man in an orange hoodie, outside the capital yelling "This is not who we are!"  Sorry sir, but look around, but it kind of is...

But where is common ground to even be found with these people.  They are not okay.  Their opinions are not okay. Do you allow one sibling to bully and berate the other and write it off as differing sides? One child to pick up a stick and beat the other senseless in the name of free speech?  One is good, full of empathy and humanity.  The other is monstrous. There is a meme that says as much, how we will never find common ground with people who wear "6 million was not enough" on t-shirts. The kind of people who instead of protesting with signs and chants outside the capital, break in through windows with fists full of zip ties and bludgeon a cop with a fire extinguisher. Who are ready to hang a vice-president, who admittedly  gross and slippery in his own way, then toes the (mostly) party line, and shrugs it off. This is not okay.  These people, not okay.  I think the sooner we admit that and give up the illusion of unity, the better. 

Perhaps the only way toward progress is to hold a mirror up to the monsters so they can see their own monstrousness, and very much I think the events of January 6th were a start. There were very certainly people, watching from home and listening to the news who were horrified  and began to shift at least their allegiances, if not their nature. It's a start...

Friday, January 22, 2021

open door series


Tues. February 9th, 2021
Open Door Reading
The Poetry Foundation
details here:

Join us for a live virtual reading with Kristy Bowen, laaura goldstein, Dominique Dusek, and Damon Locks. The Open Door series presents work from new and emerging poets and highlights writing instruction and poetic partnerships. Each event features readings by two Chicagoland writers and two of their current or recent students or writing partners. 

video poem | swallow #9

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

notes on inauguration day

"We did not feel prepared to be the heirs

of such a terrifying hour
but within it we found the power
to author a new chapter."
-Amanda Gorman, "The Hill We Climb"

As a child that grew up in the late 70's/ early 80's, I always felt like history, more than just by definition, was something that would always be in former tense--that the country and its struggles, its wars, its battles were something that were firmly in the past.  We had fought for independence, fought to abolish slavery, to establish things like labor laws and social programs that now made our lives better as we knew them.  Maybe more like history was a done deal--that all that had been done had been done in service to being a better country, and if you believed the hype, the best country in the world (which as a kid who knew nothing about the world outside its borders, you'd readily believe.) We would stand every day and recite the pledge of allegiance, by rote, not one of us really thinking about the actual words or our place as Americans.  

During those years, our wars were in the past for the most part ,despite minor skirmishes that were typically interventions that, in theory and propaganda,  were to help make other countries as great as ours. When war came, with Gulf War No. 1, it was a fast success.  My mother brought home buttons a co-worker was selling emblazoned with "Operation Desert Storm", and outline of Iraq, and a flag. I wore it proudly on my jean jacket all that year and into the next. In the 90's, things happened, but they seemed like footnotes between "history" and "everydayness"--Clinton blowjobs, domestic terror, school shootings.  Not until 9/11 did something strike with any sort flame at being an important moment.  After that, much of the 2000's would have been only slight highs & lows in the history books-our first Black President, welcome progressive legislation, a number of natural and manmade disasters. the rise of the extreme right in the dank corners of the internet.

Democracy, all along,  seemed like a given. Like the only way a society could function, would function, barring a few autocratic holdovers on further shores. The world seemed just, or at least to be getting there, any remaining rough spots just left to be smoothed over. Of course, this was inaccurate-- the teeming history of civil unrest, racism, sexism, violence--was all still there, just glossed over in the shiny history textbooks. It was not the great country we'd been told it was. 

Even worse, that democracy itself was fragile like a doll, could be unwound and unraveled to the barest bone. That a few people in the right paces could make holes that made us vulnerable to evil (which at this point seems the best way to describe it.) To lies and hatred. To violence and collapse. Worse that some people were actually working for this to happen. That where there are men who abuse power, there will always be conflict.  Someone actively trying to destroy what we had created over the past 250 odd years, But more importantly, that American democracy it would ultimately withstand lies and hatred, violence and potential collapse. That it would re-emerge intact and with our eyes forward. 

Tonight, watching the recording of today's inauguration, it seemed quite a miraculous thing. The Capitol, still there and intact, rising behind the speaker when only two weeks ago, it was violence and murder and chaos. That in November, all that uncertain  span of days, I kept hearing the echo of "trust the system," but it was hard after so many systems so often failed. But yet, miraculous that here we are, on the other side of the terrible river of the past four years, and that we made it. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

writing toward

Sometimes I am a bit envious of other poets--maybe not for the things you'd expect. There is probably some good humored envy in seeing other poets get awesome things like money and prizes and coveted baubles. And maybe always far too much of the comparisons of self to others  that make the poetry world, with it's scarcity--tiny things that seems so important when inside (the journals, the fellowships, the accolades)--all things inconsequential when you're not swimming in it,  And of course the envy of talent--the poets that can swim circles in their poems around me in their talent and maybe I love them, but probably hate them just a little

But in this case, I am mostly envious of poets who can write one perfect poem about something--an experience, a subject matter, whathaveyou and be done with it. One perfect utterance that says all it needs to say in the moment. Many poets work like this, and when you read their work, you're like yes, this poem is wholly perfect, like a shiny apple. A perfect pear.  It's all it needs to be and it's wonderful. I was thinking this morning how different my writing is from this.  I do not have a shiny piece of fruit, but maybe things are messier.  You have a sliver of apple on the plate, but there is also a scattering of seeds, a core, possibly something that is maybe a worm, maybe a leaf. Or maybe not even of apple origins at all. A doll's arm.  A tiny mechanical car.  Together, on the plate, the form a whole that makes sense, but each part is not completely readable on it's own--whether it's a prose fragment, a visual element, a couple stanza's of verse.  And yet, as poems, they fulfill their function.  I always try to come to some sort of ending, some sort of logic to each piece that forms the greater whole. But really, they are strongest when placed alongside the others.

It makes it tricky when submitting work to journals.  Do I send things from different projects to give a wider swathe of selections? Does three pieces from a longer series out of context work? For the editors? For the average reader who will not be able to see the rest of the project most likely in that moment? I always try to explain the greater series in the cover letter, but I think I usually fail to be able to sum it it up distinctly without going on way too long. In many cases recently, whether I've managed to place some pieces on their own, I've been issuing things as zines and e-zines for the full effect, but these usually come later.  

And really, you need the whole series to form the entire apple. I think this was true even before I became a predominantly project oriented writer. Themes and speakers and situations that appear and reappear in earlier work, almost as if each poem is an attempt at something.  A reaching toward. Most certainly the sisters in the first section of the fever almanac are the same, or at least close siblings, to the sisters in girl show.  There are perhaps poems I've been writing for years, the same poem, just in a different form--a different angle or approach. Characters and voices that are echoed in other characters, in other stories that work a similar web of themes. I mentioned before that I more intentionally started doing this as I worked visually in sets and series..collages and paintings, each one that striving toward a whole--not in a single painting or poem, but in a variety of approaches. 

Sunday, January 17, 2021

the wolf at the door

Depression is a tricky business.  It's not something I am particularly prone to..anxiety being my dysfunction drug  of choice, and can only name a couple of times where that flipped into something else.  And ultimately, I am usually a pretty happy and content person, even with a lot of anxiety at times, so when I start to notice certain tilts on the horizon I can autocorrect a bit and steer myself to less rocky shores. Bad patches have appeared, but in between, a lot of good.  In some cases the external factors exascerbate internal ones, though not always. But I feel it now..sort of like a caterpillar chewing at the edges of a leaf until suddenly, there is no leaf left. 

When I wrote my last entry, I lumped it in with all the other things I miss in pandemic world--surface things that lockdowns and safety protocols prevent, but the worst is perhaps the one thing I can't really do that no one at all is stopping me from at all.  Namely, sitting in a house and a library full of books and not really having the concentration or bandwidth to read a single one.  And don't think it's for a lack of trying.  I've started many books, new ones and old faves I thought would snap me out of it,  Sometimes I get in a few pages, but I don't last for long with so much in the world competing for my attention. This is true at home where I take a book to bed and wind up doomscrolling instead.  Or on my commute, where I used to get the bulk of my enjoyment reading done, which is now instead spent fretting over proximity of bodies and maskwearing, and whether of not that person just has allergies or is trying to kill us. 

At first I worried I'd lost interest and enjoyment in so much, and it's true, even writing, which, thank god, still happens and is perhaps my only rudder. I think because I'm writing poems in the morning, in an unpolluted state of mind.  Blog entries are still possible (obviously.)  Even art, which at this point seems to be possible again. But reading for enjoyment..I'm not so sure.  Even my manuscript reading this fall and my proofing now is something more rote and mechanical than it ever was before.  It's not the books fault surely, but some door that needs to be closed in my brain.  Or maybe a door that needs to be opened again. It's strange to think I've barely opened a book (touched books, yes, many, chapbooks and library books and textbooks) but read so very little.  And in fact, have been hoarding things again at my desk in the library for some magical day it will come back. 

What I don't know is cause and effect.  Am I not reading because I am low-key depressed and nothing has quite the shine it used to?  Or am I depressed because I am incapable of doing one of my favorite things since like the moment the letters started arranging themselves on the page so I could understand them .  (And probably, even before that.) It might just be a casualty of the real world intruding so incessantly on my inner life--my attentions so much elsewhere. The outer world leaking into the inner life and poisoning it. Maybe I need to take a reading vacation, ie several days with nothing but books and I can turn things around.  Or maybe at least fake it til I make it, which is all I can hope for for now.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

notes & things | 01/16/2021

Though today I woke up to dreary gray, last night as I was leaving the library at 5pm ,there was a sliver of twilight in the sky that signals, even though it is cold and snowed on an off in wet drippy flakes all day long, we are on the steady climb out from the deep well of  the solstice.  This morning I dreamed about taking a trip and missing my train and being caught up in the middle of a street riot all at once.  Also buying stale peach rings (which I don't even really like) in a gift shop and trying to mail out packages in the middle of civil unrest.  Various exes, my sister, and yes, even my mother populate these dreams or drift in an out, but they get weird this time of year. I am usually less anxious in January than I am in December, but the world is not helping me out this year in any way as there is much to be anxious about. 

I have these moments throughout the day that feel normal, but then am taken aback by absurdity of doing things like planning committee meetings and doing faculty presentations while the equivalent, I read in an article the other day, of several 747 jets of people are dying every day. Not in crashes, but in hospital beds in every corner of the country (let alone what is happening in the world outside the US.) Also, you know, the attempted overthrowing of the government and a sullen mad man at the helm for at least a few more days. I'm tired.  Tired of doing covid math and doomscrolling and tired of planning for worse case scenarios in every breath and just tired. 

It's not good for my health (mental or physical) and also for my creativity.  I read a lot, but sadly it's not fun stiff like poetry and novels and just endless NYT, CNN, and Atlantic Monthly articles on the putsch (a word I previously would not have had occasion to know), on hospitalization numbers, on the new strain concerns, on which mask is better, on mental health crises that will flourish in lockdown (which will, of course, never end, because people refuse to do it the right way or at all.)  I am okay with taking a step down, a step back from ordinary life to fight the virus and have been all along (I say this know that it's harder for extroverts I suppose.) but the thing that makes me feel angry and crazy is watching everyone ruining our chances of even making a dent in infections long enough to get the vaccines happening enough.  Becuase you're a selfish fuck,  because you can't stay away from restaurants and bars, or stop jetting off on vacations or throwing parties.  As all the memes say, it's like I'm a member of the worst group project ever with no end in sight.  

And really, my own sacrifices are small, but wear on me more as time goes on The things I miss mostly  inconsequential little things--wearing lipstick, thrifting, museum trips, going on movie dates slightly high. (or even sitting in a movie theatre alone where I can mix my junior mints in my popcorn like the freak I am.)  Or maybe more just being able to be freely and obliviously  in the world without listening for someone coughing or making sure they are not too close or don't have a mask on.  It eats up mental energy I used to use for daydreaming and project planning.  Why am I so tired all day when I've barely done much at all?

Thursday, January 14, 2021

confessions of a project poet


Years ago, I was not a project poet. I wrote poems like many poets, on capricious whims or under cover of dark.  Wrote poems, at first about sirens and witches and the history women were stuck in like flies in a web. Then later wrote poems about growing up in a tangle of corn silk and  strange divinations. Floods and fires. Faulty relationships and loneliness.  They were decent, solid poems, if occasionally overwrought and overthought, and these poems eventually made a couple chapbooks and a book (the fever almanac) when collected together and put in an order that made sense., the alchemy of which I am not sure I could work now.  It was like a sprawling mass of words that needed to be compartmentalized and ordered and it took a while to get it right.  And then a little longer to come into the world.  This was one way to make a book and it was the sort of book I probably (though never say never) will not compile again. 

By the time it came round to book #2, I was a different sort of poet, and I'm pretty sure the development stemmed from my forging a parallel path in working visually--at that point mostly collages and some installation work. Like with a painting or assemblage, I tend to write or work in series.  Sometimes smaller or sometimes larger, but each dependent on the others for context, and for the past decade or so, a whole that includes both text and image. I wrote more, waited for inspiration a lot less, each project a working toward something (even if not always getting there).  There were poems about my obsession with Joseph Cornell.  With vanishing hitchiker legends and victorian stereotypes. Later, an entire manuscript about sideshows and circus women.  A strange little suburban fairytale.  Rather than the cover of night, these were by-day poems and a sort of work, much like running drills or experiments. I would show up and produce a new piece in the series, a new fragment of a puzzle. Eventually those individual projects might start to speak to and within each other, and then there would be a book.

The other day, I was thinking about endurance for longer project, and why, since the shared properties, I don't seem to have it.  It may be an attention thing (though I did just realize that the longest single thing I've written recently is probably the poets zodiac at 48 pages, but it took a while to get them finished after I committed to the project.)  Otherwise, the series tend to top out around 20 pieces or less and I'm ready to move to the next thing.  There are a number of book projects in the mix, but all of them are made up of smaller parts, so it's been a  while since I committed to a long haul. Even things I imagined might be longer sometimes, after some taming, wind up shorter. (this happened recently with unusual creatures and a couple years back with the Plath centos (I went a little crazy, but no much was chaffe.). It kind of makes me want to attempt something a little longer (not like novel longer. but full length longer.)  It would have to be something with a lot of angles and greater depth and breadth, and among the projects on my radar, I'm not sure if any of them are right, but we'll see what happens. 


Sunday, January 10, 2021

absurdities and atrocities

One of my favorite seasons of AHS was of course, Cult, and probably the most frightening one, although it is still to date the only one that has no supernatural elements in it at all.  (I would say my favorite is probably Hotel, though Murder House and Coven are up there, and the others emjoyable (all except the travesty that is Roanoke.)  While there are so many elements at play in other series--ghosts, vampires, demons, the apocalypse, serial killers, and more--the story of Cult is a simple one. Spuured by Trumps win, a young creepy, charismatic man somehow instills enough fear and influence to arrange a string of murders, blackmail local officials, and plan a massacre.  He is ultimately foiled by smart women, and I won't give it away, the final scene is one I sometimes return to as a catharsis to rage-filled men. He begins by making people afraid, then preys on it. 

I've always been a little fascinated by conspiracy theories, by the stories that take shape to impose order on the world and make it feel like net of carefully placed happenings and facts and not a chaotic swirling mass of randomness and chance  Alien autopsies, for example. Explanations for strange phenomena.  Untimley deaths and crazy historical coincidences.  They are fun to look at, less because I am seeking a pattern of order or cause/effect, but more that they are a way of understanding things, or at least the obsessions behind them.  A couple semesters ago, our Strange Fevers  Mass Delusions, Illusions, and Obsessions programming delved into this a little bit. 

I often think about how they go wrong.  Obviously the events of this past Weds. are a perfect example.  In my own work, the necessary violence series and the girls who tried to stab their friend based on Slenderman lore.  I think about these girls a lot when I think about politics. The mental illness in one girl who influenced another, and it's not hard to make the jump to political conspiracies and the inevitable bad outcomes.  These are everywhere and inscribed in our history long before the current ones--McCartthyism, the Satanic Panic of the 80's. All usually fueled by someone's agenda--the goverments, men who wanted working women to stay home and keep an eye on their kids. .  A lot of the mythmaking of these was believable..communist infiltrations of Hollywood and the media, missing housepets,  the rise of latch key kids getting up to god knows what in the off hours. Most not things one had to stretch their imagination too far into the absurd to get to, which made things all the more believable.

At some point, contemporary conspiracies got crazier.  Even alien abduction lore is easier to believe than a lot of what is floating out there.  Satanic politicians, baby eaters, lizard people.  I've watched over the past year as these things filtered into social media of the more mainstream-oriented people I know.  (My circle is mostly writers, artists, and academics, so much of what I see i, obviously,, liberally slanted and far more sane.  Every once in a while, things would filter through from relatives feeds.  The antifa busses during the BLM protests, discussions of democratic pedophile  rings (yesh, ignoring the very obvious out in the open  Eptsein one I'm pretty sure is holding a lot of puppet strings right now.)  Sometimes, the person who was posting it had no clue where these phrases and hashtags were coming from.  The smarter ones eventually learned to check their sources more carefully.  The others, not so much. 

In those moments I could see how misinformation spreads before you even kind of know it's there.  Rumor becomes fact, wild claims become theories.  I think it takes a certain kind of brain to succumb to these so easily, but maybe everyone is looking for that net of cause and effect and that is what makes it so dangerous when it goes awry.

Saturday, January 09, 2021

notes & things | 1/09/2021

It's been a long year, and it's only January 9th. It's taken a couple days to process what actually happened on Wednesday enough to write about it coherently--mostly I was taking in memes (thank god for humor, or we'd all be crying 24/7) and articles and collecting information the remainder of this week. On Wednesday, I was mid-way into a post-break catch-up week and humming along with work, my eye on the troubling covid deaths. That morning, I'd had my first test myself as a campus requirement, and despite it being a bit uncomfortable, nothing too traumatizing. It was a good, sunny day in Chicago, and that afternoon, watching the live coverage from DC it seemed alarming, but also sort of silly.  I'd suspected there might be violent protests happening, but not that they'd actually get inside and vandalize the Capitol. And if they did, it seemed kind of ridiculous, since they'd surely eventually be forced out and the count would continue (which is pretty much what happened on the surface.)  In the past couple days, far more insidious things have been tie toting para-military, violent threats on social media, hanging gallows and the police that moved a barrier aside to allow the rioters to pass right through. The deaths and injuries to other police. 

On the surface, a lot of yahoos treated far more generously than the BLM protests this summer, which points again to the core values of the right extremists--a problem with people who do not look or act like them. And who does act like that? I mean I am no fan of Mitch or Pence or even Drumpf himself, and while I may have wished they karmically died of covid or someone dropped a house on them. I wouldn't say my first impulse would be to string them up on the gallows (or anyone else with that kind of bloodlust). Fitter punishment would be rotting in a federal prison for decades and the besmirching of their name for all of history.  Is it toxic masculinity and cultural programming that leads men to fight and rape and murder those they don't agree with? Um yeah..  It's all connected...

The rest of the week was a wash at trying to continue on with working and routines and going about while frantically scrolling the news and socials for bits and pieces of the unfolding. I did get my proof copy in the mail of FEED, so we are getting closer.  Despite not knowing what I was doing, the only corrections are a couple pesky typos and some margin adjustments, but it's a lovely little thing to look at, and the book's exterior is looking better than ever. Next week, I'll prepare the final version and order the first batch of copies to make available in the shop.  I ultimately decided to not use Amazon since I plan on including some prints and other paper goodies with orders, so want to fulfill orders myself.  Down the road, I have the option of making it available as an e-book, so will probably do that after some time has passed. (Instead of Amazon, I used B&N, which was a little slower, but cheaper overall and apparently about the same print quality on their POD. Look for that coming in February if all goes well. 

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

cover notes: overlook

As I've often mentioned, cover design is one of my favorite aspects of the publishing process--whether it's finding the perfect adornment for the work of another writer, or even just for my own zines and book projects.  Sometimes this means something original--a painting, a collage, a digital design. Sometimes, I am hunting for something that already exists.   Initially when I was thinking of how something like overlook would manifest, I was thinking of a batch of ivory invitation cardstock I'd been bequeathed during a library office clean out.  It was lovely, and I imagined using a gold pen and some fancy lettering and making it look like an invitation for the the Gold Room (and this may actually still happen, since I have the supplies and eventually planning a small edition print version for the Books & Objects Series--maybe as an outer cover ) When I decided to publish it as an e-zine (initially it was supposed to be released in Oct. as part of my #31daysofhalloween fun) I went in simply looking in vintage public domain archives for a photo of a New Years Eve party not unlike the famous one at the end of Kubrick's film. I was looking for decadence, since so much decadence pervades the poems. I nearly fell out of my chair when I stumbled on the image I wound up using--not only for it's decadence, but how it so perfectly echoed one of the weirdest scenes in the film., what I like to laugh and call the "bear blowjob" scene.  In a movie that has a lot of weird, this is one of the weirdest moments in the film, and the cover image not only echoes the scene, but there is also the same subjugation tones that reflect the artist's roll in capitalist society (though one might ask whether the artists are the people or the beasts.  Or the people inside the beasts.) Either way, I couldn't have dreamed of a better cover tied so intricately in with the poems  and, also just really bizarre and creepy. For the text and other graphic elements, I kept with the idea of loopy script like one might find on an invitation or hotel lobby placard. Covers are challenging sometimes when it's just your own work, let alone when you are channeling another existing piece of art like a film. For my Dali project a while back, for example, I wound up just using the actual painting the series was about since nothing else seemed quite right (and luckily it was old enough to be in the public domain.). I think a lot about world building, but so much of ekphrastic writing--whatever the medium--already takes place in a world someone else created, so it's nice to be able to play homage to that, not only visually, but thematically. 

Monday, January 04, 2021

projects and planners. oh my...

Because I am back to the library today and will once again lose the free time I've enjoyed the past two weeks and back into the melee, I finally sat down last night with my new journal/planner, aka the post-it depository, where projects and tasks go to either get done and accomplished or linger until the stickiness of the post-it has wane and I either renew my commitment or throw it out.  Adapted from a rather ridiculous productivity tracker at work (it wasn't my productivity in question, necessarily, but I was the only one who liked the format and adapted it to my own needs.)  It was a gamechanger, mostly in that, while not as fussy as a bullet journal, it was a step-up from endless to-do lists scattered all over home and the library. This way, the task is done, the post-it gets uncermoniously thrown in the trash and no longer waits for me.  If it doesn't get done, it moves to the next available day to try again.  I keep better track of things this way, including the morass of dgp projects that move through  a system of process grids until completion. I also jot things down that I don't need to think about now, but don't want to lose track of for later. I track projects across areas--writing, art, library, editing.  I also track things I want to blog about, submissions and places to submit, etc. Also, just things like household projects and grocery list fodder. 

After a few years of just recycling the sketchbook I was using, I decided to get a little fancier.  This time, not only did I include the planning parts and grids, but also goals sections for each month.  From the get-go, it was an untenable year at work, even prior to covid.  February and early March had a lot of obligatory happenings that kept me from other things (of my own and other's design.) Still, I wrote down goals--projects to finish, zines to layout, chaps to proof. I made lists of new techniques I wanted to play with like hand lettering. What it became was a shorter and shorter list as the year went on.  December was basically blank.  I did accomplish quite a lot, though it wasn't always the things I laid out in goals.  Sometimes, really all I was content to do was survive on the basic level.   I was able to rally in October and make some things happen in terms of projects and zines, but it was a late coming.  Meanwhile projects languished, chapbook layouts lingered, reading and visual art, with the exception of the video poems, were highly unlikely.

When I bought the sketchbook for 2021 a couple weeks ago, I had a glimmer of hope that I would retry this again, with some adjustments, but basically the same format.  When I sat down to actually lay it out, flipping through 2020 again, I nearly lost hope in the point of it all. I briefly considered just continuing on, with this year as an attempted do-over, but then, much of the back extra pages had been chewed up in randomness and poem notes, and there was no space for another monthly goal break down, so I carefully taped out and labeled sections.  Moved a whole bunch of uncompleted post-its into the new sketchbook.  I feel both lighter and heavier somehow as I head back to work and into the uncertainty of the world. 

But I will do it with a shiny new sketchbook and something like an ordered system, whether or not I make any progress in making things happen, and I suppose that us something...

Sunday, January 03, 2021

winter landscapes

Winter has, admittedly, never been a favorite season.  Depending on when you ask me, you might get different answers as to what exactly is.  Spring, of course, brings an end to foul weather, blooming trees, bare legged outings, and my birthday.  Summer, as long as the extreme heat and humidity stays away, is lovely in it's long days that linger til twilight. In it's rainstorms that occasionally crash and roll through the midwest.  Beach going, woods romping, and al fresco meals,  and all the things I feel I never get enough of. Fall is a buckling down, a seriousness, but also a spookiness.  Sweaters and warm drinks and coziness and trees at their most gorgeous right before they lose it all.  

I love September in it's hovering between the two seasons especially, also the air that seems to smell of dusty classrooms, old books,  pencil shavings. It gives way to an increase in horror movies and chocolate consumption, but I've never much liked what comes after Halloween--the bare trees, the dirty ground, the real chill that settles in and stays all night, leaving the plants & ground frozen in the morning. It stays this way--in this rather dissappointing season forever, or at least it feels like it.  Usually, even Christmas and the holidays cannot save it, since eventually the tinsel and the fairy lights come down and it's back to the same darkness. In truth, the worst depressive episode I've ever experienced happened in January.  And every year, the dip happens just a little (though this past year, it's been happening all the time, so I've no idea what will happen this month. )  These months are just harder for me mood-wise, creativity wise. In the strangeness of my sleep patterns that have me often in bed too early and wide awake in the middle of the night.  How hard it is to gather myself to even wake up eventually or leave the confines of the bed in a chilly apartment and place myself gently in the shower.   In how even going outside is usually pretty uncomfortable and involves just a lot of clothes to even survive. 

To combat these feelings, I often joke that I love to throw an abundance of new outerwear at winter. If it's going to be quarrelsome, I'll surely feel better with a new coat or boots.  And sometimes it works.  But mostly I just have a lot of coats and the moths find some insanely tasty during the off months when they're tucked away, so some of them have holes I'll be patching before I wear them again. This seems an apt metaphor for something, but I am not sure what. Since it gets dark so early, there is a lot of strange time that seems like it's not useful at all. Too late to get anything done in my day, but not early enough to eat dinner or settle in with streaming.  In the library, I notice it less, but home these past couple of weeks it feels like I don't quite know what to do with these hours except maybe take a nap or doomscroll endlessly on my phone.  

It occurred to me as we were driving back into the city, as I stared at a lot of brown fields and bare trees, at that moment untouched my snow,  that maybe I was lacking in being able to find the beauty of the season.  That maybe this was important, especially in a season that doesn't have all that much to offer, and frankly, sometimes might kill you with exposure if you're in it too long or underdressed. . Outside of people who seem to like throwing themselves about in snow and ice (skiers, skaters, in other words insane people.), could there be something to find beauty within the season?  I mean, for someone like me?  Some people are really into snow, but what I see when I look at it mostly is a slipping hazard, wet boots, bad drivers, and even if pristine and white, it will be filthy by mid-day and then just a slushy mess full of dog droppings. Mostly something to be endured until it melts away, like most of winter. When people tell me they prefer cold weather, I assume  they are just being contrarian to the general consensus and/or mean to say they hate the heat and like moderate weather.  Cause don't we all. 

I started by making a list of things I like about winter.   Bare branches.  The landscape layers of gray and brown with a bluish tint.  The roadside grasses, when not snowbound, winter up lovely--the ivory feathers of pampass grass, reeds, and pussy willows. (when I was a kid, we'd pluck cat tails from the shores of Lake Wisconsin and I'd hoard them in the pockets of the van door and somehow was convinced they had some relation to actual cats.) When I was on a train traveling through the Cascades in late February, for a second, I loved the mountain winter..snowcapped and untouched, but also warm enough that the streams were still blue and moving and not frozen over.  I thought to myself that winter could hardly be bad in a place designed, by altitude, to be snowy most of the time.  (Fast forward a few days later when, on the way back, the train being stalled by an avalanche passing into Montana, we wound up on a scary bus journey through those mountains in a snowstorm and I was kinda over it.) 

Yesterday, I took down my small tree and mourned the lights in that corner of the room, so relocated a lamp from the bedroom to make up the difference, but it was a different kind of light.  Still I get angry at holiday decor up past it's welcome.  One year, I fumed over a bedraggled velvet ribbon on a light poll downtown that turned pink, then brown, and survived well into May. I hated it so much, likewise with trees that overstay their welcome and half priced aisles of leftover decorations in Walgreens. It's all a little sad.  Some people rip that tree down the day after the holiday..but I do like the lights and am always sadder when I finally need to put it away. This happened in my mothers house and happens in my house. The best years were the ones where I did not decorate at all, but somewhere there has to be a happy medium.

Friday, January 01, 2021

hello 2021

There is, of course, time to make resolutions in the coming days, but maybe not just now.  We slept in a little bit longer (well more than usual) after a late night in which many cocktails were made, edibles were eaten, drinking card games played (thus proving the speed of intoxication with only two players-wowza.)  We nearly missed midnight because we weren't paying attention, but it was fun.  I briefly hoped that the leftover champagne I managed to spill on the floor next to the bed groggily in the middle of the night and then mopped up with a pillow case before climbing back into bed was not an omen for 2021, but you never know. 

Today, there was a little more snow fall, but luckily I've been tucked inside with tea and still warm banana bread, and while it seems a perfect time for swapping out my journal/planner and beginning to think about the coming year, I am just going to sit with the stillness a bit more, the blank page of a year we've all longed to get to, though I'm not sure it changes much beyond the symbolism of a fresh start. 3-4 thousand people a day are still dying.  We have a new administration, but the old one is still being it's usual ridiculousness. The stimulus check, while helpful, was still very tiny and far less than people need. There are still people, including my own extended family members that think masking and distancing is a personal choice or opinion and not a public health crises. People in the government who believe this. Also people who still refuse to believe the illness that has killed closing in on 350.000 is actually even a thing. 

I think the past year with all of its limitations, did gift me a glimpse into people, when under pressure crucible-like , I might not have seen. The cousin of my mother who was spreading Russian-bot posts that buses of antifa were headed to Omaha during the summer protests.  The cousin who used his time making at least a dozen racist comments on articles about BLM that kept showing up in my feed. until I unfriended him.  Others who flout partying maskless in bars and at parties, as if their selfishness and irresponsibility affect only them and not the people, if they get it, they will spread it to who might not be lucky enough to come out of it.  It's given me a scary inside view into people's personalities and I am not sure I want to be around them anymore.  In this case, ignorance was bliss  I definitely saw the worst of people, but then sometimes I also saw the best in so many ways and circumstances when it comes to everything going on in 2020. The people who made masks and stayed home.  Who raised money and checked in on neighbors and helped people get through hard situations.  The two men,  barely out of teen years, who after witnessing the hit & run near the bus stop, didn't just stand there dazed like the rest of us, trying to figure out what happened but acted immediately, wrenching open the car door and checking on the driver, then kneeling there talking to them until the ambulance arrived.  

Sometimes it's hard , after a year in which bad seems to be everywhere, on social media, in the news, in the government to find the good, but may be better at seeking it out this year if nothing else. Or even more so, at BEING the good..