Monday, November 22, 2021

november and other fevers


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

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

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

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

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

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





Sunday, November 21, 2021

on community and social media




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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, November 20, 2021

the poet and the story

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 14, 2021

notes & things | 11/14/2021



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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 11, 2021

twenty year itch | 2001



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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Wednesday, November 10, 2021

of magic and machines

 


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

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

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

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

okay to not be okay

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, November 07, 2021

notes & things | 11/7/2021


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

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

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

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



Saturday, November 06, 2021

hustle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 01, 2021

back to the source

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Dear Tom. 

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