Saturday, February 27, 2021

notes & things | 2/27/2021

Every time I write 2021, it seems like an impossibility.  Still, the latter part of this week, the very last of February, has been warmer and the snow in its enormous drifts, slowly whittling away.  I watched a video if the ice breaking up on the lake, which is a good sign (I know she's over there, but the mounds of snow and sand make it hard to see her from the bus in daytime, and it's all blackness on my way home in any season.)  March is technically the beginning of spring according to meteorologics, but we have at least a few weeks where anything at all can happen. Still, I am in better sorts this weekend, even though it's been a long grindy week that began with webpage building for a fairly large faculty publication showcase and ended with meetings and zooms and a backlog of ILL shipments needing to go out. Still I can walk freely on the sidewalks without dodging slush and ice, so it's much better than even a week ago. 

Today, I've been getting poems ready for my Pretty Owl Poetry reading this evening, the first I've done from home (the Poetry Foundation one I did in the library)   I will likely shut the cats in the bedroom to stop them from interrupting as they occasionally do for most work-related meetings. I'm reading some of the tabloid poems, including the one in the journal ("Dick Cheney is a Robot"), as well as some of the conspiracy theory pieces that I've been working on this year. On one hand, virtual readings are nice since they let me read for things I would not have before due to location and with an unlimited audience to boot.  I also do not have to spend 45 to an hour on public trans getting to readings in seeming every part of the city but my own.  Also, my social awkwardness feels less acute via zoom in some ways, but more in others. We'll see how it goes.  I also need to keep reminding myself of time zone variations in the virtual world. It's still strange to think that even a year ago, we'd never have dreamed the norm of reading to web cams instead of real people in a real room. That I'd even be doing a reading from my living room on a random Saturday night.  What's been lost, what's been gained.  

Becuase I needed to polish up a few of the new pieces for tonight, I spent some time earlier going over everything new, which I've sorted just been pouring into a document as I finished bits.   That particular series is far from finished, but I'd like to get it under wraps in March anyway before I move on to something else. There are probably around 20 that I'm happy enough with.  I will be finishing up my final print file for FEED this week after a month of just not really being able to siphon off time for those final corrections. My days get bogged down in minutia, so that proof copy has just been sitting forlornly on my desk all month long.  She is a lovely thing, though. Once I do that, I should have copies within a month (they were backed up over the holidays, but I imagine things will go faster with the final printing.)   I'll be doing another big promo push for the book release as we get closer. 

I am also working on the very last piece of swallow.  I've been posting he pieces as I don't want wait to share them, but intend it to be a sort of video chapbook, so there will be something more whole and cohesive design-wise (well more so than a Youtube playlist anyway)  coming your way when I've nailed down that very last segment.  The swallow poems will be available in FEED in print , so the timing is good, since the videos are great ways to harness new readers. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

wingless, legless

"For months, I couldn’t write. It was the loveliest vertigo, sort of like drinking tequila but without the hysterical blindness. My blackbirds were wingless, legless. They sputtered on the ground like firecrackers while you played flare gun, fire engine.


I've been sharing some bits from older projects over on twitter and tumblr and thinking about fallow periods and what grows both within them and after them.  What develops when nothing seems to be developing at all. How we're sometimes writing even when we aren't writing at all.  Or at least it doesn't seem like it.  I've spoken before about the couple years after my MFA degree when it felt like there were too many fingers in my poems, too many cooks in the kitchen.  Having written under observation for the previous four years, it was suddenly strange to be free to make not have to produce and show up, red pen in hand to defend those choices.  Some folks love workshops, and I actually liked them for getting to see other writer's work in progress and how poems became poems.  But they were less useful for me--at least most of them.  Craft classes I loved..since most of it was reading things and developing projects and then presenting bits of those projects, not with an eye toward vivisection of every little bit, but with an open-ended discussion on the project as a whole. I think so much is lost in critique-based workshops that could be so much better.  Also, the bad tendency of writers to try to change another author's poems into what they themselves would write and not through a reader's eye.   Also, just assholes. 

So in that early party of 2007--a lot of things were happening in terms of new project releases (feign, the Cornell project, my first little Dusie E-Kollectiv chap.)  But in the fall, when I moved into the studio space, most of my time was spent growing the press now that I was free of grad school and setting up the etsy shop.  It continued much this way for the next 3-4 years.  I was just really busy. Not that I wasn't writing at all.  Poems would fly out if me at intervals.  I was loosely working on what would become my narrative chap, beautiful, sinister, but very slowly.  I'd go a few month without putting anything down on paper.  It was a good time for visual and design projects, but not so much for words.  My second book, which had been accepted my last year of the program came out in 2008, but the bulk of in the bird museum had been written between 2005-2007. My third manuscript, girl show, (also my thesis) had been accepted by the press that published book #1, but they folded in 2010 and it landed back in my lap.  I was waffling on whether or not "being a poet" was something I even wanted. And editor and publisher, yes.  An artist , maybe. But writing was hard and thankless at times.  So why keep at it?  But then again, also why not?

What was happening in those years behind the scenes, in more personal things,  offered a lot of subject matter, however, and maybe I needed to take a step back to go forward. I've mentioned before how the james franco poems loosened some gears in its silliness. At around the same time, Black Lawrence accepted girl show, so I felt like maybe not all was lost. Maybe I was still a writer after all. In some ways, the windows and doors open, I could breathe inside the space and things began to grow there.  In late 2011, I put together a chapbook, havoc, of the poems that had been busting up through the concrete anyway, mostly about poor romantic choices. A couple years later, they would make up a good chunk of my 5th book, major characters in minor films. 2012 bought a burst of productivity and it was settled.  I kept going.  

Poems got easier, of course, the more I was back to doing them.  Since then, I've been trying to channel and summon the excitement I felt when I first started publishing and sharing work in the early aughts. Not what I learned in MFA school, which is strange system of secret knocks and code words and arbitrary rules to the outside. I've seen some of the best poets in my program go on to never write (at least publicly) another word and it makes me tremendously sad.  I get it, I totally do.  But I wish it weren't.  Nevertheless, something did rise from the floorboards in those years.  havoc is testament to that.  Are they a little overwrought?  Sometimes I think so.  (I had a way of digging in on something that can get annoying to my more mature eye, but they're still good poems.) But more importantly, they exist. 


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Saturday, February 20, 2021

houses we haunt

Last week, I was combing through some link changes and stumbled back into my tumblr, which for awhile was where my domain led and served as my website (its feed being an easy thing to follow and separate pages enough to hold other stuff with easy updateabiliy)  It was that way for a few years until Tumblr tried to  cast out all the porn, but kept flagging any collages that had nudes in it as such, Thus I spent an ungodly amount of time clicking through to challenge what their bots were flagging as adult content. I don't even have nudes in a lot of work, but it was still annoying and not how I liked to spend time.  So since I had grown used to modifying blogger templates for other sites, I moved back here and set up a similar system of pages.  While you can follow blogspots vial rss, what I lost in terms of functionality was that easy ability to  follow. 

Fast forward a few years and reading through tumblr, I kind of missed all the engagement there, the people who still live in that space, so thought I might reopen the doors, dust off the furniture, and use it to post snippets and drafts of things.  Old projects, new projects.  Things that don't get picked up my journals after a couple submission rounds(which are sometimes the best pieces.) Granted most people have similarly fled tumblr in the intervening yeats, but we'll see how it goes. it doesn't hurt and while I usually post just snippets here and on other socials, there I will be posting full poems there, some of which aren't published elsewhere, so it's a good thing to follow if you are Tumblr minded.

In many ways, it feels like haunting an old home in a city where I'm not sure anyone actually even lives any more.  Facebook feels like this sometimes..compared to what it used to be like. So many have moved onto twitter or instagram or left social media entirely. I do like it, since I feel like that is sort of the nexus of my online social world, largely since it not only serves as a connection to writers and creative folks, but also family and old friends, people from college and high school who would be lost otherwise to distance. I spend more time there, or at least did until the last month or so (my biggest beef is that I can't control the bad news machine there and what I see in my feed, so it was making me anxious, so now I only go on there later in the day and direct those scrolling impulses to instagram in the morning.)

I imagine, the numbers will wane further.  I really like instagram, but twitter still feels like throwing a dime in the ocean. I like it for work, and tweeting programming stuff for the library, and use it for the press a little in less crazy times,  but I don't quite know what to do with my personal account.  Lately I've been posting news, cool little gifs, and snippets of published or work-in-progress, so we'll see. The blog-world also feels deserted sometimes for shorter content platforms, but I imagine I will never leave this space, since I've been in this house for over 15 years now.  The Poetry Blogger network gives me some hope that others are still living in their spaces and regularly updating. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

writing history and myth

 I've always considered myself a poet whose work relies tremendously on research, whether it's more serious (the Chicago World's Fair, the Italian Reniassance) or less serious (tabloid headlines and slenderman lore.) In the early 2000's my errata project, which cobbled together both orginal and found texts was one of the first things I'd written that involved external sources directly, but I'd touched on bits obliquely before.  Many of my first, better poems were steeped in history, mythology/folklore, and literature. (I always say I din't have much to write about myself, so I plumbed these to exhaustion.) Thus I have a lot of mermaid poems, even from the beginning. Fairy tale poems --my favorites being Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Hansel & Gretel--all things that I've written more than one poem about.  My entire project, the shared properties of water and stars is basially a take on Goldilocks that's expanded into story problem logic.  

Later, I devoted an entire chapbook length series to Resurrection Mary, Chicago's own vanishing hitchhiker legend, a project that not only had me deep in chicago history, but doing fun things like ghost tours. girl show involved a lot of searching into sideshow and carnival performers of the 30s and 40's (and the discovery of the Hilton sisters, after which my two siamese are named.) There was the summer I spent reading Slenderman stories and books about the legend, as well as digging into true crime about the stabbing in Waukesha. There was research into pin-ups and nuclear america for strange machine and terrestrial animal. Extinction and evolution for my series written for the Field Museum. Ekphrastic subject matter for the Cornell Project, my Dali series, the Shining poems.

When I was an English major in college, and into my grad school days at DePaul, I was really enthusiastic about the research part of a project.  The scoping and gathering of sources.  The learning and processing of new things.  What I hated was actually assembling them into a paper form. This seemed like an afterthought, that the fun--the discover--was already over. While writing poems and creative projects is certainly more interesting than a five paragraph essay, I have to be careful even now to not load myself down with details and then fail to actually write the finished project. This nearly happened with the HH Holmes subject matter, mostly because I was disappointed with what I had dug up, facts that painted him not a diabolical serial killer and more just a tabloid sensationalized opportunistic dude who happened to murder people on the verge of uncovering his crimes. There was no maze-like murder castle--and any dark undercurrent in the White City was no more than just the usual sort of Chicago lawlessness. 

I wasn't exactly  sure what to do with my research and wanted to abandon ship, but stuck it out, instead focusing on the women around Holmes, victims and co-conspirators, which was much more rewarding. Occasionally, in normal summers, I will  pass the guided ghost tours outside the Congress Hotel and they are always talking about Holmes somehow, though his relationship with that particular hotel is thin at best  (and the Congress' ghost stories interesting enough on their own.). I always want to correct the tour guide spouting the tabloid misinformation like it's fact.  But then, how is this different from the world? 

With our urban legend topic on tap this semester in the library, I've been thinking about how thin the wall between folklore and fact is. How often one is taken for the other. How they build upon each other.  How one mistelling or mistep can take 100's of years ti unravel. How 100 years from now, our own history could be murky enough to be mistaken for legend, legend for history...or do they somehow eventually become he same...

Monday, February 15, 2021

notes & things | snow day & post- valentines edition

When I was in the fifth grade, we had, on Valentines Day, what they called a blue route day...,mostly meaning that school would be open, but that those of us who lived further out on the bus routes, where the roads could be impassable, could stay home.  There were at least a couple of these every year, and it beat the treacherousness of watching a huge yellow school bus try to turn around at the end of the dead end road, a feat that even in good weather was a precise, mechanical, series of steps in order to not plummet into a ditch or get stuck in mud.  On a normal day, we would have relished this--maybe spent some time clad in puffy coats and moon boots in the yard, which at the time, still had a good hill where the house was built that had not settled to the slight slop it has now. We would find a steep spot and plummet down the hill on metal discs.  Or we'd built forts in the snowplow drifts near the driveway, complete with tunnels and rooms in the snow and then play there til the sun started to set.  

This particular day was a tragedy, due to it being Valentines Day, and therefore, the day of room parties full of red frostinged cupcakes and carefully decorated boxes waiting to receive valentines from classmates, which was always it's own weird system.  The people you actually liked or had crushes on would get the cutest cards, others less favored, whatever was left.  I had carefully planned out my cards & recipients, but then was thwarted by mother nature. My mom, who was not yet working again, managed to pull together a party at home for us--complete with boloney sandwiches cut into hearts, sugar cookies,  candy from my neighboring aunt's basement stash in her salon, and whatever else was lying around--tinfoil heart stickers, tiny redhots, slight stale conversation hearts. We probably watched movies and played with the stickers and outside of these snippets, I don't know much of what the party entailed. 

The next day, back at school, when I collected my stuffed box of valentines that had accrued in my absence, there was a sense that the party was already over.  In a couple years, Valentines parties would be a thing of the past--junior high giving way to candy grams and carnations gifted by friends As someone who didn't date in highschool, V-Day was always more about girl friends than boys. I'd collect my carnations (that had their own color-coded langauge) and the Hershey bars adorned with construction paper hearts. In 8th grade, tormented the first boy who ever broke my heart with mysterious ones every class period that hinted at a secret admirer that would never materialize just to dissappoint him. By spring, we were one again on speaking terms, but I don't think he every knew it was me.  In the fall, he went to a different high school and I never saw him again. 

As an adult, the go-to for V-day was a visit from my parents.  This started in grad school and continued up until maybe a few years ago. We would usually go to the Lincoln Park zoo, which even in freezing weather, still had quite a few people and offered respite in the indoor habitats.  There were years in which it was actually lovely weather.  Years in which it was like 10-15 degrees and we spent most of our time quickly shuffling between buildings to get inside asap.  We'd follow it up with lunch, first at a near-by diner, later at a italian restaurant up in the neighborhood with a parking lot. As for romance, I've never been one much for romantic sentiment in a day when it seems expected.  In truth, spent most valentines days spent partnerless for whatever reason, even in and out of relationships. The relationship that went on for years that would self-destruct in winter and rekindle every spring. or the married one who, of course, had other plans. 

I was thinking about that 5th grade party that was not a party in light of lockdowns and stay-at-homes that this year landed us at home for Valentines--a late start due to working, but entailed flowers and chocolates of a more adult-variety (and other similar treats). About traditions and remaking them. Last year, we saw our very last movie in a theatre pre-covid (Parasite) on Valentines night. Since my relationship history is spotty, I was around 40 before I actually spent an entire holiday with a partner, who brought me gifts no less. This is nice, but also strange, like a language I don't quite speak but am getting used to. 

Today, a snow day home from work and the campus closing early since it's supposed to get crazier tonight.  It seems like it's been snowing for weeks and I think it has. Alternating snow and cold, annoying, but I have now kind of gotten used to this being the way it is now until it's not, which could also be said about covid and the death toll I am trying not to check every day obsessively since it just freaks me out, but does no actual good. So at least I am safe inside for a bit longer with bacon and coffee and a warm shower (even though my bath gel in the bottom is pretty much frozen on the ledge and my sponge was adhered to the metal window frame and I had to pry it away) But this part of winter seems always this way, so we endure...

Friday, February 12, 2021

voice and the spaces between

 All day before my Poetry Foundation reading Tuesday night, I kept thinking how strange it was that I had not read poems in public, outside of recordings, in more than a year and a half.  I've had stretches like this, but usually due to my schedule and workloads and just the happenstance of no one inviting me (b/c I usually say yes.) My last public reading had been the Field Museum one, tucked in a corner of the bird exhibits and a slew of sort of depressing climate change poems with extinction event. Fast forward to this week, and I'd decided to share the tabloid poems, some unseen, some just beginning to make their way into journals. Initially, they seemed a perfect choice, since so much of what I've written recently has been a little dark and glum (which is saying a lot given my whole body of As I reading them, I realized I was a fibber and actually parts of them are as dark as anything I was writing last year, just framed in a funny context. The audience seemed to enjoy them, thank god, nevertheless. 

Zoom readings are strange. I liked the ease of doing it. I found a  cozy corner in a private study room, read and listened to poems, and went right back to work til closing the library, which is the impediment to many readings I'd like to attend.  I didn't have to make a long, cross city trip on public transportation or be awkward socially and  headed for the door.  You also can't really see your audience, which is kinda freeing but also frustrating. When I came to the city, my first reading ever was after I placed in a juried contest which entailed first a finalist reading at the Evanston Public Library, which actually drew a pretty good crowd and was therefore more terrifying. I progressed, in the next few years through tiny bookstore readings with a tiny (and once regretfully  NO) audience and many raucous open mic-style nights, where I began to feel more comfortable on the stage (though no less awkward off it.)  One of my favorites included the Gwendolyn Brooks open mic at the Chopin theatre (that I had no chance of winning, but so much great energy in the performers and audience. )  So many readings at Womanmade and DVA Gallery. So many bookstores and bars and coffeeshops. Not just in Chicago, but a couple offsites at AWPs--Atlanta, Seattle. Woodland Pattern up in Milwaukee. Classroom visits with students. Nearly 20 years of sharing work in various spaces. 

Somewhere in my drawers is a tape I made circa 1995.  I was coming off my first poetry workshop in the spring and was writing and submitting work at a rate I hadn't been in a while. .  I would take my small black boombox out to the dining room table of my parent's house where I would write in the afternoons and record myself reading the poems.  Mostly, to see if the sounded good when read aloud, since so much of poetry depends on the auditory. I saved the tape and traveled with me from apartment to apartment since , though I don't even have a tape deck to play it these days.  Besides I am not sure I could handle hearing 21 year old Kristy and her terrible poems from this distance.  I do like the fact that it exists, along with cd recordings of several other radio readings preceding the rise of digital files. I also have a taped version of a reading we wound up recording in a bustling diner near Northeastern U. complete with dishes clattering and secret slot machine noise from the back. 

I have a strange relationship with the sound of my own voice, which of course does not sound anything like it does in my head when I hear it played back. Too childlike, too formal  I sometimes struggle with this when it comes to the video poems.  I remarked to a friend recently about the delight and surrealness of hearing other people's voices read your work. Hearing your words in other people's mouths and I remember the shock of the first time. Someone once told me at AWP that she had had her students read all the poems in a chapbook of mine, one poem per student, all in a circle and this felt like a ritual.  I wanted to see it and hear it all. This along with a local poet who once told me my work reminded her of a hybrid between Plath and a Davis Lynch film is one of the coolest things and highest compliments anyone has ever said about my writing. .  I want to put his on my tombstone. 

Sunday, February 07, 2021

swallow # 11

hunting beauty

I've been thinking quite a bit about my moods and what makes me happy. What saves me from the doldrums of winter and rights the ship when it seems the darkest and most treacherous.  Today, I suddenly felt like I maybe needed a  greenhouse or conservatory visit--a remedy that had worked before, perhaps in the darkest of times, but then of course, discovered, as suspected, the two options are closed completely due to covid. On Valentines Day in 1998, on a LP zoo visit with my parents, I wandered into a room filled to the ceiling with pink and red blooms and snapped picture, taken with a disposable camera, I still have tucked away somewhere. Something cleared in my head that had been underwater for a couple months.   I kept the photo as a reminder. That as dark as things were, something like beauty could somehow save me. I suddenly thought maybe I need to visit a home garden center with a nice big greenhouse for the same effect, but it seems a little ridiculous. 

So I wait. At the bus stop, even though the sidewalk is piled with snow and frozen over, the japanese magnolia I wait for every year has noticeable buds.  They appear far earlier than they should, and the wait is its own kind of agony. (and sadly one of the things I most missed seeing last year during lockdown, along with the blooming trees and lilac bushes in Grant Park. ) It'll be at least another two months, early April, before any real green rears itself up from the gray brown landscape. I think whatever happens with lockdowns and pandemics, I need to spend more time in nature.  I feel it, like a mineral deficiency, but in my spirit rather than my body. With the beaches closed, outside of seeing the lakefront passing by on the bus, I didn't even really have that. I also didn't get to spend much time out at my dad's since I didn't want to risk infecting him in the beginning and especially once i was back to working on-site.  As it was, summer slipped past so fast I barely felt it. 

There are of course, other places for beauty.  As of this week, the museums are slowly beginning to open up, but even though I could wander most wings of the Institute and the Field Museum, it still seems risky in the more congested areas and not at all necessary in any functional way.   So I wait. 

Saturday, February 06, 2021

notes & things | 2/5/2021

The weather, as promised, is a special kind of suck. While I can deal with snow and I can deal with sub-zero cold, I hate when they pack a one-two punch that leaves the sidewalks ice-ridden and wind that, when catching you on the cross streets, nearly knocks you over into snowbanks. No less, that it persist for days until any sort of thaw. Thankfully, I've actually lucked out and the very worst of it seems to be hitting on or near the weekends, so I get a bit of a relief from actually having to navigate in the worst of it. I shouldn't be bitching, since actually all this started much later than usual in the season and December and most of January was mild-isg, but it still seems endless. So while it is snowing (again) and I don't have to go anywhere,  I am taking advantage of my free time  to make some blueberry bread, and later more soup (it's a go-to since I can just let it simmer on the stove and not be that attentive to besides dumping things in every once in a while.  Ditto on tomorrow's chili plans.) I've been slowly reluctantly doing some housecleaning while working my way through some writing questions for a forthcoming interview, that has me thinking about how my writing processes have changed in the past 20 years. How the poems themselves have changed. 

The past two weeks at the library have been a flurry of activity that the dawn of every semester brings in terms of ILL and reserves, so there seems to be less time for creative things. The percentage of classes on campus is still the same, but we seem busier, which may just be that people are finally acclimating to covid-world after a disorienting year and getting on with the business of education. I hope so.  But I also worry about variants and outbreaks and the bars/restaurants opening up again. How all of it can go so bad so fast.  We were barely paying attention (my own attention was so fixed on the election I had stopped obsessing over covid counts.) That second wave hit us and kept us down for awhile. I am more comfortable that the current administration is based in science and reality instead of conspiracy and denial, but there is a limit to even how much good they can do if people just continue to be selfish and stupid on the individual level.  

So I wear my masks and do my best and good god, will it ever end? A year ago, I was also bitching about the weather and lack of sunlight.  Was planning the Future Tense exhibit and going to movies and stressing over my full planner, but I did not even mention the virus until the very end of February here as it began to loom on my radar. I did not regularly worry that I might get sick and could possibly die just by breathing air. It's strange after a year to realize that, barring the months I was locked down home and anxious from more of a distance, this has been my whole reality for the better part of a year. That we ever congregated with people around a table. hugged friends or family, or made out drunkenly with near strangers seems a long ago dream.  That we ever sat in packed theatres or less-packed poetry readings.   I taught two sessions of a zine workshop in person to about 30 students the final week before lockdown.  We hosted an LGBTQ career event in the library that was decently attended and well-catered.  Had a socially distanced staff meeting the Friday before the campus closed.  Outside of public transportation, these are the last time I was around more than  1-3 people at a time in a room where we talked to each other.  I don't even like people or socializing all that it's strange to think what's missing from the last year of our lives, especially if you've lost someone. Especially then, and yet, my neighbors still party and my cousins still hang out in groups in bars maskless (and of course, in doing so, make all of this go on longer and more body-ridden than it has in other places.). I suppose their reality is different than mine., but I'd prefer not to have that sort of blood on my hands. 

Thursday, February 04, 2021



About a year ago, in that weird before time, I was finishing up a short series of prose poems devoted to Renaissance "dog-girl" Antoinetta Gonzalez and her portraitist Lavinia Fontana.   When lockdown struck in March, it sat un-edited for several months as I toiled to get writing again and ultimately moved onto other things.  It was a fun little series, even harboring the title of my animal. vegetable, monster manuscript and is rather central to that book, which deals so much in considering the artist as monster and monster-maker.  When I finished the first draft of the larger book, I set most of pelt aside, intending to maybe create a zine eventually after I was able to place some poems in journals.  I sent them out in a round of subs, but only Rogue Agent was kind enough to bite, so mostly they've been gathering dust since mid last year. I finally had some time to get them in order and into bookish form.  Consider them in their fur lined, paint smeared glory as a little valentine to fend off the cold. 

Part of a family of court performers known for their talents, humor, and  the fine covering of hair that enveloped her, her father,  and her siblings. Antoinetta captured the fancy of a princess and became, according to history, her dearest friend, though it sounds like she treated her more like her pet.  I first caught wind of Gonzalez in The Monstorum Historia and decided to dig a little deeper, thus the seed was planted but it took a few years to materialize.  In that research,  I made another interesting parallel discovery.  Her likeness was recorded several times by Lavinia Fontana, the royal  portraitist, who is regaled as the first-ever female painter to produce nudes.  The series sort of goes back and for between them..the artist and the subject, the watcher and the watched. 

Writing history is a strange thing, and that's perhaps a subject for another blog post,  Until then, you can check out the e-zine version here


When I was child, in that weird time when memory is just beginning to form, i was obsessed with a black and white checkered volume of illustrated Mother Goose tales.  I carried it from room to room until it fell apart, staring at the pictures, imagining each story based only on the visuals. It would be a hot minute before I could read it.  Before I learned the alphabet, which my dad would have me recite in exchange for a pack of Rolos.  (thus my long trajectory of bribing myself to write with chocolate.)  I'm sure the bribing only happened once, but I remember the feeling of accomplishment as he handed over the candy.  I landed in kindegarten knowing the letters, but it'd be a year or so til they started making sense as words, as patterns, as something familiar. Waiting alone  in the car while my mom was in the store (becuase yo, it was the late 70's), I remember the exact moment the orange-lit words on the Jewel-Osco sign made sense and suddenly the code was broken.  I spent the next couple years writing out letters on those lined newsprint tablets, perfecting a neatness I never exhibit in my scrawling. While I had spent years before obsessed with pens & notebooks,  drawing squiggled lines and making up stories, now I could do it for real.  

On the phone last night, my dad tells me the story of how he kept getting in trouble in elementary school for not paying attention to lessons and instead writing ghost stories surreptitiously at his desk. Suddenly, a secret question was long-answered.  Where this all comes from.  The need to tell stories.  My mother would, when alive, regularly to others say about my writing or my smarts, we don't know where she gets it. My mother was less of a reader, her enthusiasms tending toward True Romance magazines, but then only on vacation when she could unwind. . Words, however,  were always in the house, but the kind varied. Hunting & fishing manuals.  National Geographics. Horror novels passed off from my aunt. Later, overloaded trips home from the library. I had always known my dad was a big reader, even now when a lot of that reading happens online. But I'd never know about the stories. Those similar tendencies that show up, even without having made themselves known. 

My mother spent years painting ceramic & bisque figurines, while she babysat batches of kids, while she watched television every night.  The paint in their jewel-colored jars were strangely fascinating and something we were not allowed to touch lest we dry them out or make a mess.  This fact something both I and my sister could blame for our visual tendencies, but the words, beyond a desire built out of being a reader, were always kind of mystery--something I did not see in my parents or anyone in my extended family (especially in my extended family.).  I occasionally find hilarious that in all of our family, my sister and I seemed the only two who were stupid enough to be artists and writers (even though we both have other jobs to pay the bills.).  How two rather sensible and non-artsy (though if you look closer they were) parented children who lived most of their life in creative head space--who instead of practical things like health care, education, and business like our cousins--we instead locked down hard in the arts and humanties (and of course in doing so, ruined our chances are ever making more money than our

But more like flowers growing suddenly and inexplicably out of concrete, really, the roots were there and richly thriving all along. 

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

snow and static

There is just a lot of snow. On the ground, in the streets, muddying up my head.  And cold, colder than I like--a state that makes everything so absolutely hard-traveling to work, taking out the trash, running any kind of errand. I bought a giant bundle of faux sakura blossoms for the vase on the worktable to brighten my mood, as well as about $50 worth of fancy tea to replace the lipton I ran out of. I have a list on Amazon I have labeled "treats" to get me through winter (or whatever horrible comes after winter. More teas.  Sunglasses. Luxuriously scented bath products.  All things I have plenty of, but buying more gives me a little lift (unlike clothes, which I always want more of, but am a on a shopping moratorium due to closet space.)  This list is separate from "home" and "supplies", which also have treats, but usually cost more than $20. I need to get more exercise--I feel fragile and rickety and plagued with odd random aches. . I need to drink more water. More sleep (though arguably no matter how much I get it's never enough.) I've been avoiding doomscrolling and limiting my facebook visits to late at night if at all.  Hopping in and out of Twitter and Instagram as needed for writing stuff and library stuff, but not staying too long.  Limiting how many times I can look at the news or coronavirus stats, and it's helping a little. 

Other winters, left to my SAD deivices, I knew it was my own particular bit of lowness, but the world seems heavy and low--all of us not in great shape. You would think that normalcy and routine would help, but I am stressed by continuing the routines amidst so much uncertainty--processing books and hosting meetings and getting ready for my reading next week, putting on my human face while really I just want to hide or run off into the woods and never come back.  As I passed the Congress hotel last night, I was so mentally exhausted I thought that, if I had money, I could just disappear there for a few days to get my head screwed back on straight.  I've heard of women doing this...usually just to get a moment's peace from husband and kids.  I have nothing to hide from at home, really, so it seems especially useless endeavor.  Mostly I was just winter achy and tired and didn't want to ride the bus back to the north side and through the cold. It seemed like the most insurmountable thing in that moment. On the bus, I forgot to switch to my heartier mask, and even that late, there were too many people despite limits, and I almost screamed at the man standing in the aisle to please stop breathing over me. I did not, but if I get sick, that may be the culprit. 

I am still hanging onto that slightly later sunset, even though it's supposed to get arctic this weekend. Once we hit February, there are usually about a two-week window for nonsense and then things are milder (less cold, small bits of snow that melt pretty fast). I still have whiplash for the past year, which seems to have passed insanely slow and insanely fast at the same time. But it will be March again, and then we're back to April and a much kinder season, no matter what Eliot says..

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

the bottomless sea

Sometimes, being a writer is rougher than others. In a weird, terrible time for the world in general, perhaps my only respite is my petty (self) centeredness .  The same centeredness that saves me is also the same centeredness that occasionally knocks me off course and leaves me feeling blue for no good reason. This usually happens particularly when I am writing a lot, when the flow is good and the words come regularly and better than I expected. When I'm really excited about a given piece of work or series or project. In "the zone," or the flow as many people describe it. It's a great state to be in, but it also feels like the loneliest state. I often liken it to dropping a stone down a well or into the ocean  and waiting to hear it hit the water or the bottom but it never does.  This very blog has felt like that sometimes. You post things, put words out into the world and really have no idea if anyone is reading.  There are page hits, and occasional likes and hearts, but you wander if people are just being polite or if all those stats are just lonely bots trolling the internet.  Yet still, you throw stones down the well and sometimes those stones are poems, which feel even heavier than just blog ramblings.  You keep waiting for the splash, the certainty, but it rarely comes.

This feels even stupider a thing to be worrying about when thousands die every day.  When people are struggling. I sometimes have to go offline and quell the chatter of writers doing the exact same thing that I am of course--worrying about rejections, about word counts, about success and writerly drama. The chatter is only an echo of what happens in my own mind, of course, and while I don't always say much of it aloud, it's there and I kind of hate myself for it.  Worse, the tantrum of the poet who is screaming "Look at me!  Look at me!" and arranging deck chairs and playing in the orchestra while the ship lists and rolls and may very well end up at the bottom of the sea.  

At the same time, the act of writing is a raft, a life preserver.  Or maybe the violinist can only save themselves by playing hymns as the water takes them--ankles, knees, the bottom of his coat. It's maddening to know how ultimately frivolous it is, but then also be disappointed by the fact that everyone is too busy saving themselves or dying to listen to you play. For every great piece or project I write, there is this feeling of disappointment that it too will be another stone dropped into the ocean with no splash. Lately that feeling sometimes comes within seconds of writing something, even before any feeling of accomplishment settles in.  "this is great, but does anyone care? "  Or more importantly, SHOULD they? 

It also makes me consider the difference in creating visual art.  If I make a collage or a painting or a print, it exists, and if only for me, makes the world a lovelier place.  Some of my best work (hell, my only work in this dry spell) from the past year is hanging in my apartment or tucked away until I can properly hook up my scanner at home.  It's existence, even if only I've seen it, is justified by it's decorative purpose. The boat itself is enough.  The sea.  The stars.  If someone sees it and likes it, that's just icing on the cake. Words, though, are a communication.  A point of meeting and intersection. Do they even exist without readers?

So I find myself on a raft in the wild sea, dropping poems like stones in the waters that churn and get darker at turns and I dare complain no one is listening. Or is listening enough.  It sounds foolish, but I can't be the only one..