Saturday, December 31, 2022

goodbye, 2022

In the end you took more than you gave, but for awhile you were really good. I mean really good. What you gave no doubt better for the long term, what you took, inevitable. You were a year in which I began by leaving a job I'd had for 20 years that was not only a dead end, but wasn't making me happy anymore  A year in which I found new ways to make money in ways that I love and with something I am good at.. In which I was able to explore interests and  passions by putting them to paper. For money, no less. As such, I felt in general more in control of creative work and press work and just the general business of living working from home and without the mental labor of being stressed all the time and herding kittens I wasn't be paid properly to herd. I was not in the constant state of overwhelm that has plagued me a decade or more. 

There were times when I felt isolated by working alone after a more lively environment, but more often I felt exhilarating to spend days working at home at my own pace, on my own schedule. To occupy the day with writing assignments and galleys and poem drafts, but also naps and cats and cooking actual food in my kitchen. To actually feel like I was living in my apartment I pay so much rent for. While I missed, at times, my downtown commutes and scenic bus ride along LSD , I was happy to be free of them, particularly during wintry weather and covid spikes.   

You were also a creative year, with several writing projects started or put to bed., several zine projects and two full-length books launched into the world along with more experiments with video poems. A year of writing poems about writing as a creative medium, Greek goddesses and monsters, and, toward the end, love. Of some ventures into writing short horror fiction and maybe a little long-form smut. 

While the end of the year was brutal, the middle was mild and full of long, summery afternoons and evenings. I haven't even begun to really process the events of the last couple months with the loss of my dad, the swiftness with which it all happened and the swiftness with which everything swept through the holidays to land us here, on the last day of the year. So much of it still has my head spinning. If it follows the pattern of losing my mother, it will take months to unpack and open certain doors I've shut in my mind to function at anything like normal. But then, what is normal?

Tonight, I am actually going out since J is DJ-ing at his usual weekend karaoke spot down along the river walk, so maybe I can catch a few fireworks around midnight.. Most NYEs, even pre-covid, have had me enveloped in my introvert cocoon come midnight, but I find myself, after two years of being denied much celebration of any kind in more public places, I am ready to (masked if I must) kick up the dust on my party shoes a little. Besides I have a new book to celebrate as well, which you can get a copy of here. Tomorrow, we intend to spend the first day of the year binging Wednesday on Netflix and doing nothing in particular, which seems an excellent way to start off the year... 

Friday, December 30, 2022

not dead, but waiting to be born

Like clockwork, every once in a while someone dusts off the very tired mantle and declares poetry dead.  It happens in little magazines, blog posts, facebook/twitter rants, and sadly on platforms for the normies like The New York Times Opinion Section.  Suddenly, like a bunch of rats feeding on the corpse, we are all illuminated by a set of headlights for a moment, all of us who consider ourselves poets or poetry lovers, then we scurry back into the woods or behind a dumpster or into our notebooks and word docs until the next article comes looking for us.

This particular one irked me even more than usual because it took Eliot's name in vain.  Not derogatorily of course, but placing The Wasteland on a pillar and declaring everything since irrelevant. I get excited when I see discussions of The Wasteland, it being sort of thing that set me on the course to become the poet I am, but also, I know that audiences were split between it's brilliance and the WTF? factor, as perhaps all brilliance should be experienced.  Those 1922 audiences didn't quite know what to do with it, nor really any of the modernists like HD and Pound. Something new was born and launched poetry in a new direction, or at least a new direction for magazines like The Dial and The Little Review who were looking for innovative work.  Because of course, formalist poetry still thrived everywhere else and continued to do so, particularly in the halls of the academy. Some formalists will say it still does.  But for those who were paying attention to more avant gard channels through the 1920s, things were shifting and those things, like they always do, were moving into what we consider the canon. But then again, the lines between the canon and mainstream readers, ie the average Joe who would pick up a book of poetry was much thinner. It would be thickened of course by new means of stories and language like radio, films, television, the internet. It would be strengthened by anti-intellectualism and distrust of academics, bohemians, and artists in the McCarthy era. Eventually, by the time I was born in the mid 1970's, and certainly by the time I reached college in the 90s, they might have existed on entirely different planets. 

But then people will want poetry.  Even if it's just for weddings and funerals.  While I was studying Dickinson and Eliot at a tiny midwest liberal arts college, slam poetry was hitting its stride about 90 miles away in Chicago, even in places like MTV, and though many would argue that slam is closer to performance art than poetry, I would argue in return that poetry is in fact a slippery little beast. That while academia and what passes as the literary establishment (ie, places like the New Yorker and Poetry Magazine)  scoffed, poets were paying attention. In the mid -90's I remember stumbling upon a tiny article in Glamour magazine talking about how woman poets were taking the poetry world by storm (Olena Kalytiak Davis, Lisa Jarnot, Lee Ann Brown--all poets whose work I later came to love.) I was smitten by the idea of being a poet, and had already been trying to write it (badly, but still). By the time I arrived in Chicago, the open mic scene was one of the best ways to share work. But when I enrolled in an MFA program at the college I worked at, the canon was already shifting, transforming, as younger instructors brought new poets to the classroom. The poets that inspired my MFA classmates was an entirely different set of poets than who inspired my open-mic friends.  As the internet bloomed, I found other poets there--many, occupying blogs and online lit journals and myspace accounts.  I started my own. These all sometimes overlapped in their reading interests, but just as often did not.

But the thing is, and perhaps this why articles like the NYT's one infuriate me, is that if you ask any one of us, poets that is, what is a good poem, we may have (will have) entirely different answers. This was a pivotal scene in a workshop I once took, where the teacher had us go around and tell everyone what we thought was most important in a poem, and I think with one or two exceptions, in a room of around 15 people, no one had the same answer. Also,  young poets may be astounded that there really is no singular poetry world, but more like an overlapping map of constellations of aesthetics and influences and presses/journals. It might seem sprawling and chaotic, but it makes room for everything, including underheard and underrepresented voices. For visual poetry, for language poetry, for more traditional verse. For insta poetry and verse epics and strange word collages like mine.

Poetry, on one hand is Rupi Kaur and her innumerable fans that while not my taste, has brought "poetry" as a word to the lips of younger millennial and gen-zers. It's also amazing poets who get some recognition like Ada Limon, who was finally a US poet laureate whose work I already liked.  Or Claudia Rankine, who I was aghast one day when a friend who knows nothing of poets said she was reading Citizen on a bartender's recommendation. It's also me and my fellow poets who are writing their best work to date and have like 5 dedicated readers. While poetry is something like Poetry Magazine or the American Poetry Review, it's also tiny indie presses and journals that are publishing (at least for me) the most exciting work. On the other, performance poets and cinema poets and open-mic poets. It's also the girl writing bad poetry in her diary as much as it is the crochety "established" poet writing crappy poetry during his sabbatical already under contract with a major journal. Or the girl writing really good poetry on her tumblr and the guy who writes poems on his phone but never shows them to a soul.

So when you declare poetry is dead, I ask which poetry? Which beast? Because really poetry is a shape shifter more than any other language based art form. You think you have it pinned down and its gone. And the more whimsical among us would say poetry does not have to look like a poem (or even language as we know it) at all, but can be a painting or a sunset or even a meme. Maybe the best poetry is being written on a wall in a can of spray paint, or with a tiny brush on a seashell. 

As for 100 years from now, who knows,. canons and trends shift. The poets who were taught in the 1960s are barely on the lips of poets now. Probably the most famous poet in 2122 may be Rupi Kaur, not because its the best but because there were just a lot of copies floating around and cluttering up libraries. Or maybe its some random poem that has yet to be written that goes enormously viral for whatever reason and the whole world, even the non-poets and normies, take it home and make a place for it in their bed. 

Thursday, December 29, 2022

pretty interiors and pestilence gods: a year in freelancing

Other than very obvious things like the loss of my father and the crazy of the past two months, 2022 was a strong year. A good year. A year in which, up til late October anyway, felt like one of my best year's ever. There was initially some searching, as I left the library in February and worried about not starving to death. Some establishing routines and structure to my day to be worked out. I had secured the humanities lesson writing gig in November of last year, which made stepping away securely from full-time work even a possibility. That,  I figured, plus some manuscript critique work I was already doing, some workshop stuff, and selling things in the shop like paper goods, artwork, zines, etc. would hold me at least close, with a little fat trimming (less takeout and dresses) , to my previous income. It would not only remedy me of feeling like I was woefully underpaid and overworked due to understaffing (academia's fucked up priorities in budgets and all), but also allow me more time for art, the press, and my own writing, since I would be less exhausted and gaining valuable hours normally spent commuting and recovering from the library. Just a whole lot less going on in my head and a focus on important things.

In truth, I was terrified.  I spent the first few months of 2022 wondering if I could do it. I started bullwarking up freelance work, taking on some really cool projects. In the spring and summer, I started writing dictionary entries for an online antiques dictionary.  Then neighborhood guides for a real estate site (this one paid well, even with raises, but was just temporary when they eventually hired full-timers to do the work in December.) By summer, I had secured one of my main income sources, the gig with House Digest, which often my most fun one, writing about decor and design, a passion reflected in my interest in design mags/social media and youtube watching, but not something I'd pursued in relation to writing. Looking around at other things I was interested in writing and talking about, I took on a news writing job for a gamer site where I get to write about horror films and tv, which while it pays less than other things, is enough to pay into my entertainment budget each month and then some. I also started writing occasional, and now pretty regular lifestyle pieces for a culinary site--everything from crafty ideas to restaurant and city guides. Then how-to style articles and SEO adjusting for E-How later this year. I actually still have spots for additional work should it come along that's interesting.

It's been a whirlwind, and while I usually put in a good 8 hours writing daily in addition to creative things, the pace is slower and relaxed, with time to take breaks and naps and listen to music. I don't hit the end of the day or the weekend exhausted.  My stress level and feeling like I am herding kittens is much less. My quality of life in general I would say has improved twofold, as has my income, which while not huge, no longer has me down to the wire each time rent is due. I also have a certain amount of control over how much work I do and income streams, which means that I can adjust when extra expenses (like the holidays) come up. 

Not to mention, its a helluva lot of fun.  I have learned so much, seen my city through fresh eyes, found new obsessions and trends, upped my horror knowledge. I have writing days and press days, so any day my routine varies, and even in the writing days, I can direct my efforts where I like depending on bandwidth and deadlines.  The only pitfall with self-employment I've found  is that when disaster strikes, you just can't take off from work and still get paid being a freelancer like with a conventional job, but it's still better for everything else. When my dad was in the hospital it was hard to balance work and trips back and forth to Rockford, but then again, I needed some focus and normality and work offered it, so maybe it wasn't entirely bad after all. I also cringe a little when my insurance, which I now pay for myself, comes out of my bank account, but then I tell myself I am much healthier now that I am not stressed to the hilt. Today, while invoicing a couple places I write for, I was struck again how its amazing I get paid to do this.

Yesterday I wrote about a Babylonian pestilence god and a cool AirBNB in Florida. The day before, ideas for girls weekends and organic modern aesthetics.  Today, Ifrits (a kind of jinn in Islamic folklore)  and rustic glam style. Here's to a new year of interesting writing adventures! 

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

automagic coming soon...

This little volume will be hitting the shop come Saturday and I promise you will love its creepy little corridors filled with fortune tellers, serial killers, and malevolent mechanical birds....


Tuesday, December 27, 2022

holiday ghosts

It was a weird Christmas, and while I enjoyed it, I was also swinging from happiness to despair in equal measure, sometimes within the course of an hour. I would be laughing in the kitchen and then wiping away tears surreptitiously  as I thought about how my mom would name her turkey some ridiculous human name before popping him in the oven. I would be enjoying a lively gathering with some new people--mostly actors from the acting school J works at--and then remember that the reason mostly I was there after years of being unable to attend was that I no longer had parents to celebrate the holiday with.  I sometimes feel like losing my father so close to the holidays was also like losing my mother all over again.  I helped to decorate the tree at the man who was hosting the dinner (J's boss) and the tree, and even the house, was drowning in the ghost of his wife he'd lost a while back. I sliced my finger while cutting carrots and bled in the bathroom, not crying because it hurt, but because everything changes. 

I muddled through with good company and good food.  Driving back to the north side along Lake Shore Drive with the glistening lights of the city at 2am felt a little like driving back after holiday gatherings in the dead of night, but that magicness of childhood couldn't be found here.  Yesterday, we drove out to Rockford for the postponed holiday with my sister (the snowstorm and cold the end of last week meant it was pushed back from Friday). Though our old traditions are changing, it was fun, and we exchanged gifts, ate food, and watched Christmas Vacation and Bad Santa, two holiday favorites. We stayed in a hotel with a very comfy bed and a prime view of the Walmart then headed back today since both of us had some work that needed to be done.  

In addition to some books and edibles and weed-related things I got as gifts, I managed to buy myself a handful of presents for myself--a new tablet for watching streaming, some spiced orange bath gel, some candles, a new wallet and messenger bag. My mom once said, when I was 8 and asking about Santa, who she admitted did not exist, that as long as I did not tell my sister the truth, we would always get gifts technically "from Santa." This persisted through the next 40 years of overly generous gifts at Christmas, even after she was gone, with my dad who would buy us stuff rom our Amazon wish lists. This year its just my money, being my own Santa, but hopefully when they arrive they'll bring a little joy. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

the longest night

I always feel a need to mark the winter solstice with a check mark to remind myself that however the season effects me, some years worse than others, we are already climbing out of the cavern that is December, While this always seems rather hopeless each summer solstice, when we are just getting into June and then its already ending, here, I welcome the lengthening days, even if its mere seconds and won't be noticeable til February.  This seems especially important after a stretch of gloomy cloud-covered days that was basically all of December until this past Sunday. Or just  my own internal gloom meter that is running high these past months. It's like maybe someone cracked a door down the hall and I see the tiniest sliver and way out of darkness. 

A blizzard blowing in tomorrow has upset some pre-holiday festivities and postponed them into post-holiday festivities. For the first time ever in my newly orphaned state I will not be spending the holiday with my parents in some form, though I will be doing Christmas with my sister next week after the inclement weather passes.. I  will actually be spending Christmas Eve helping J get ready for Sunday's dinner at his bosses that he's been doing each year, so I will be celebrating the actual holidays with new people and new situations which maybe is exactly what I am needing to shake off the sadness of the first Christmas without either parent. On one hand, there's an impulse to cling to old traditions like my life depends on it. On the other, to run off to the Bahamas and invent new ones.  It works out there is no larger extended family gatherings happening this year I need to go to (plans are afoot for future, lengthier, gatherings in warmer weather)  So in lieu of the Bahamas, I will spend Christmas in a terribly wintry possibly sub-zero Chicago, but still have something going on besides hanging out with my cats (which actually would be a perfectly fine idea if I didn't feel too self-conscious about spending holidays entirely alone.) We are already plotting out new traditions with our postponed travel plans that may include a marathon of Christmas horror and boozy hot chocolate while the snow blankets the city, so all is not lost.

On Sunday, I actually put real clothes on and ventured out to he first holiday gathering since covid down at the Chicago Actors Studio where J works, which was anxiety-fraught but still fun. I felt a little feral and out of practice at socializing with new people--especially high energy performing arts people-- (which has never been my forte.  I do feel like not working (well not working anywhere but home) has made me much more likely to accept invites and go to things since I am not as exhausted and wanting to just stay home when I'm not working. Even though I am still putting in 8-10 hours some days, I do not have to commute and run about, and feel like I get ample time in my house that I pay so much rent for. I am also just not as mentally exhausted and introvert-depleted working on my own. I may even venture out for New Years.  I already have a dress and will wear a mask if necessary..

So we move on through the winter, with that door at the end of the hall opening just a little more each evening to summer. 

Monday, December 19, 2022

2022 in poems and pictures

2022 at turns feels like one of the very best years but also one of the worst, with the great freedom, curiosity, and gains of the first 2/3 perhaps shadowed by the very last part. While there is much to be said of the adventures of early to mid 2022 and less to be said of the last two or three months, it still deserves a round up of sorts. The kind I do every year in terms of projects finished, abandoned, goals accomplished, goals threw out. Reinventions of goals and income strings and things I'd like to work toward in 2023.

Creative-wise, which is perhaps the most important, it was good year, with three zine projects (the plague letters, unreal city, and memoir in bone and ink) all finished up and released into the world in digital format, as well as the initial video series for the last project, which was a fun bit of summer endeavors and something I want to do more of. While I didn't do much engaging in the po-biz side of things via seeking publication, I shared a lot of work in various ways and on various platforms, which is sometimes an even better way to gain audience interest anyway. I moved pretty quickly from completion on some projects, and am still sitting on others waiting for edits, so there actually wasn't much to send out in submission that was either not ready for publication or not at all ready for publication. This is by far a better set of circumstances, but it  means outside of a handful of ready pieces from granata one of which was taken, I haven't done much submitting. 

Outside of finishing up the unreal city series, and then writing memoir in bone & ink during NAPOWRIMO, this year's other chief endeavor was granata, the Persephone poems, which I worked on through the summer. I was able to edit some of the earliest poems in the project, but there will be more once it settles a little. I was (and am) still unsure whether I want to make it a full-length or leave it as a longer chap, but that will be sorted out in the coming year. There is also a small series of relationship poems I abandoned in October and tend to go back to when my head is fully back in the game. 

I released the gorgeousness that is animal, vegetable, monster back in the spring and am always amazed at how many people are willing to buy copies when much of the poetry world seems like crickets somethings, so thank you!  I'll be finishing out the year with automagic due out in a couple weeks, so keep an eye out for more promo on that and I'll be adding details on how to order soon. While I love little zine projects and their immediacy and electronic availability, I also like to have something heftier and more tangible available for traditional book lovers. While I write a lot of short series in themselves, much of the time I am writing toward larger bodies of work in which those smaller projects hang together in a sort of constellation. There will be more books due in 2023, including collapsologies and whatever I decide to do with the Persephone project. Also another, as yet untitled,  half-finished project that will be coming in 2024 no doubt. 

Most of my art endeavors this year have been in the cover design vein, or for video like my Christmas collages, but I am feeling an itch to maybe get back to painting.  The goal was to add more to the shop once I had caught up on orders and late books, which was going well, at least until the last two months of upset, but I should be able to get back to that full heartedly in the new year and finally finish up some new paper goods and prints I've been hoarding for awhile. There are still some late books, as well as the things I've been accepting for 2023 coming later in the year (I am still in the thick of the last batch of submissions which was delayed by the fall, but responses will be going out soon.)

I will maybe write a more goal focused project for 2023, as well as a post devoted to the other kinds of writing this past year I've been up to that have been the bread and butter of my income. , but they perhaps need a post all on their own since  a lot has been happening on that front. Until then...

Thursday, December 15, 2022

the self publishing diaries

This lovely little stack of AUTOMAGICs arrived in my mail room on Wednesday and I can't quite stop staring at then.  The exterior turned out even more lovely than I imagined as I was designing it over the summer. While the release, which was expected around Halloween was delayed due to my dad's passing, I was able to finalize the tweaks that were in progress and order a set of copies to make available at the end of the month.  One of the biggest blessings of self-publishing of course being that flexibility in scheduling and timelines. The manuscript itself had been finished for a year when I first started the editing project to make the book a reality and I appreciated the space between finishing the last section of the poems in spring of 2021 and starting those edits this summer.  Even though some of the segments were chaps and zines previously, its good to spend some time away from work and then come back in with fresh eyes, another benefit of creative control on a project. 

I watch a lot of youtubers writing fiction who issue their own work, and am always a little relieved there is much less editing and proofing for a poetry collection than a novel. I like to get a second set of eyes to find any ridiculous typos, but I mostly do my own copyediting since I do it for the press already. You don't have all the continuity and plot issues that come up fiction, so editing is a lot easier. I probably took about a month and half to get things as I liked them with some minor changes, usually to the flow of language or changes and standardization in punctuation. All of that happened over the summer just marking up the manuscript bit by bit so that by early October I was able to make the changes and order my first proof copy.  I only had one this time since with each book, I get batter at landing the margins and spacing so the changes to the interior are smaller and then I'm ready to order a larger stack. It helped that I had used this trim size with FEED, so the specs were already worked out. (DARK COUNTRY and AVM were tougher--one wider, one narrower.)

The cover, which I designed over the summer, also needed a tweak to move the title text over and adjust some of the graphics at the bottom. Since you can't always tell what color things are actually going to be from the printer, I was happy that I nailed the salmon pink of the spine perfectly to match some of the flowers. I am also astounded at the quality.. They are much higher quality than  POD books of yore. Also quite a bit cheaper than I was looking at in the early 2000s when I considered self-publishing. 

With the actual production of the book a wrap, there was, and still is, promotion if anyone is going to read it, which leaves you as the author doing the heavy listing that publishers (well, some publishers) handle.  Even with presses bolstering the actual books, poets shoulder most of the task of selling the books.  I had a strong start with some teaser trailers, but I still need to do quite a bit more in the next two weeks before its officially available, including a proper trailer, promo graphics for social media, etc. I also plan, since a reading isn't really possible, to do some recordings. I may also have some other tricks up my sleeve in the next couple weeks, so stay tuned....

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

the twelve days of christmas

Over the weekend, I engaged in the first bit of creative work I've touched in a while since earlier in the fall.  While I wasn't quite thinking I'd be up to an advent project on last year's scale, I did manage to make a little something for the 12 days of Christmas..Enjoy!

Sunday, December 11, 2022

automagic | coming december 31st....

From the eerie world of 1890's Chicago to strange apocalyptic landscapes, AUTOMAGIC builds an intricate Victorian dollhouse full of fraudulent fortune tellers, overconfident hucksters, unhappy housewives, and ghosts of a violent past that still lingers. Available December 31st.


This week I was able to finish up the corrections and submit the final polished file to the printers.  I had thought that the usual holiday delays would apply, but actually got word yesterday that my first shipment is already on its way and so will be in my hot little hands by the end of the week. I thought I might not actually have copies in time for release, but it seems I will have books before the title is even available in the shop, which gives me a chance for a couple more weeks of promo if I can get back to focusing on creative work again. Today, i played a little on a holiday project on Canva I'll be unveiling this week, so there is hope.  I've been tending to tricky track press things like e-mails and file finalizations, but haven't yet tried to get back to design since I feel a little like the well is still sort of empty. I did spend some time today plotting out projects and what I'd like to finish in the new years in terms of poetry manuscripts once things are churning, which is a good sign since a couple weeks ago, I wanted to quit poetry altogether, so progress..

Saturday, December 10, 2022

notes & things | 12/10/2022

In my efforts to embrace a season I am not really feeling, J and I hit up a Christmas choral concert at DePaul his friend was performing in. I'd brung a mask, but we ended up on some of the extra chairs in the back and not too close to others, so I didn't really need put it on. But still it was nice to be out, and the church at DePaul was lovely, a surprise since I hadn't ever been in there, even in my grad school years. Despite my reluctance to go places and do things, sometimes I feel better in general when I have--whatever those things are. This was true prior to covid, the difference now being that I am less tired and weighted by wanting to be home not working full-time, and also having my nights free to spend as I choose, a luxury I've lacked most of my adulthood.

If any week needed a break in the routines, it was this one, which because of slew of cloudy days, and just being so close to the equinox, has felt unusually dark and heavy. I wake around noon and then work through the afternoons, which are so short right now it kills me. I've put up my tree and garlands and wreaths, which provide some interior lights along with the star lights hung near my desk, but the I groan a little every night when I am forced to turn on lamps at 4:30.  I keep telling myself it is only temporary.  In a week and a half, we'll hit the darkest day and then it's all downhill, very slowly though, through late February when you start to notice the days getting a little longer. 

Last week, to cheer myself, I ordered some dresses, one for Christmas Day--a plaid smocked peasant dress, and then a burgundy velvet spaghetti strap number for New Years, which I am determined to do something with to close out this year that has been equal parts awesome and terrible.I also got a super cute pink velvet 40's style dress that may be perfect for a Valentines Day date night in the future. I have found that my shopping has become much less general and much less prolific in the past year, not due to money as much as just feeling strange buying clothes when I usually wear one of several cotton slip dresses most of the time. Most of my mad money I've been buying little things for the house, holiday decorations, a set of bowls, slipcovers for the furniture, a new coffee maker. In the coming year, I plan to get a new, larger bar cart and replace my troublingly leaning bookshelves in the living room.

I did make a dent in e-mails last week and this week, as well as some finalizing details on press things, which means this week I can turn to layouts.  I even managed to work out the corrections in AUTOMAGIC and submit the final file. Today, after a couple months away from my own creative writing at all, I opened a fil of poems I'd been working on in September, then abandoned, and they weren't half as lacking as I believed them to be. Some of them were even pretty damn good.  I had a fb messenger convo yesterday with a local poetry friend about trying to rekindle your enthusiasm as a writer and find audiences (me for poems, him for a new novel)  and I don't think we came to a conclusion or perhaps there is no conclusion to find in a world that barely values words at all and we all feel far more disconnected from it--even 20 odd years into "careers" whatever that means. 

Sunday, December 04, 2022

anxiety, reading, and the widening gyre

I have a strange confession, which is perhaps not out of nowhere exactly since I have eluded to it in the past two years. Not frequently, but occasionally.  It was a problem I hoped might shake itself out with all this at-home time, and a little bit less of a stress fraught existence, or an anger fraught existence, than the span of early 2020-late 2021 could offer. But no dice apparently. I do find myself writing a lot, not just paid work, but my own creative work. Things are sound and productive there. But  I've found I've never really recovered the novel-reading habit, the reading for pleasure kind of yearning, I used to have. 

Granted, maybe it started long before, most of my fiction reading happening on my 45 minute commutes each way, particularly at night when the lake outside the bus windows was pitch black and not all that much to look at.  I used to read more at home, particularly before I had the internet there in the 90s and early aughts. The less, esp. since I did a bulk of my reading online in general, whether it was poetry journals or news articles or other kinds of content. These formed the bulk of things I read in a day, as well as the manuscipt submissions and galleys for the press. Occasionally, I would read poetry books, but more as a sort of way to shake loose my own words, which feels far more like work than pleasure.  Ditto on non-fiction books for research purposes. 

Covid changed something, even when I went back to work.  I am not sure it actually had to deal with the virus itself, or the response, or just that it put me on high alert for anxiety (not just about getting it, but then anxiety about EVERYTHING.). If I'd been hovering around a 5, I was now solidly at like an 8. Like all the time. my bus rides were spent not in the midst of a book, but counting down the 6 million dangers I faced and the terrible things that could happen. Or I would zone out completely. I didn't feel I could immerse myself in the world of a novel. I also lost a lot of faith I had in the world being a good place.  Or even a safe place to read and let your guard down.  Even films I occasionally had to often stop, either because something was causing distress or I just was having trouble concentrating. It's like my brain changed or rewired itself in new ways that prevented the sort of immersiveneness I could achieve pre-2020.

And this did not change once my stressors lessoned and I was working at home.  The baseline was a little lower and I wasn't angry all the time, but I still could spend hours fretting over worse-case scenarios on everything from minor to major. That I'd end up hospitalized or something would happen to the cats, That there would be a fire or I wouldn't be able to pay my rent.  Something would happen to my dad (which of course happened, but even as bad as it was, was far worse in my imagination of what could have happened to him) I would literally pause movies and have a half hour freak out. In fact, that things were going so well made it worse because it felt woefully fragile.  Everything. Because it is.  Or at least it feels most like it is when things are good.

And they are, obviously barring the past month, which was not something even remotely in my control. Which of course makes it worse.  Or better. I'm not sure which. I have a stack of novels on my coffee table, both trashy and more serious far, and it would be easy to pick one up and spend an afternoon reading.  But I can't. Or when I've tried, I read a few pages and then decided I should be doing something more productive, either for money or creative reasons. My brain is on constant churn, so lodging a foot in the door seems impossible. I'm not sure it will change any time soon.

Friday, December 02, 2022

notes & things | 12/2/2022

I will be plunging back into press work and poetry work this weekend after more than a month away, so if I am supposed to be working on something with you/for you hopefully I can get it wrapped up or at least underway. Tucked carefully in an email folder there are at least a month's worth of things that were less critical--submission queries for the books I haven't had time to read yet, discussions with authors and corrections on books in progress.  I have a whole lot of orders to fill so will start there. Then probably the overdue contracts for what I've accepted for 2023.  And then set a plan for layouts as I close out the year. The last month and a half has been a lot of boomeranging back and forth in and out of the city and devoting what little time I have to paid work to not starve, so it's been a struggle. To triage the necessary to survive and the not. My head hasn't been in it at all--still isn't--but again the faking it and making it rule applies. 

I feel even further away from my own work than do other peoples (which is at least bolstered in importance by involving others)  but I hope that I can get AUTOMAGIC available before New Years.  Poetry in general feels not at all important but maybe then that's when I need it the most. That when I am not writing is maybe exactly when I should. I looked at the very pretty proof copy of the book yesterday and felt the weight of sitting down to make those final edits.  To even care about releasing a book when I do not feel like reality is quite real anyway. Or that poetry life and real life are not even meeting each other. Not to mention the drag of December when I swear yesterday it was well on its way to darkness at 3pm. 

But then again, barring the heft of all that has happened, this feeling is always here, the uncertainty of December, especially without even a glimmer at the end of Christmas, which is less bright this year and sort of murky in the distance. I will hopefully snap out of it by New Year's--all of it, the holiday funk, the SAD depression, the writing fallow ground. Or at least I hope so. My mother's death prompted a really steady creative churn, but it did take some time to acclimate. I had hoped to do another advent project this month, either with art or words, but I am giving myself the year off, which is perhaps the kindest thing I can do. J keeps bringing me things when he visits, I think to cheer me up, --praline chocolates, a cinnamon candle-- and I am trying to be merry, putting up the tree and garlands, hanging stockings, but I still cry a lot randomly.  

Tonight, I am going to settle in with whatever slew of terrible holiday romance films I can find on streaming and eat pimento cheese and triscuits, and probably an entire pine of mint cookie ice cream. All creature comforts I am fond of in winter particularly.  I will light the candles and string the Christmas tree lights and shop online for an ever-dwindling number of family gifts I  will never quite get used to. 

Monday, November 28, 2022

notes & things | 11/28/2022


I am not sure I am at the alright part yet, but today felt a little bit like normal, or a new normal.  Last night found me crying on the bus on the way home thinking about being without parents, which seems like you are without anyone worry about you (which is silly, since obviously friends and partners care about your safety and well-being, but perhaps never so fervently as parents.) The hole left by the death of my dad is maybe a smaller hole than the gaping chasm left by my mother, but is still a hole and still bottomless, or at least it seems so at the moment.

Last week was doozy, with both the funeral and Thanksgiving happening right next to each other and not really feeling like I had my bearings at all.  I cried last night crawling into my own bed the first time since Thursday and being so fucking glad to be home after a chaotic weekend. I need stability and quiet and cats and all the familiar things.  Today, getting up and starting my writing day, I was feeling a little bit better moving evenly paced through work without the crunch of the past month of trying to finish things in half the usual time. I looked at the calendar and realized it had been a month on Saturday since my dad wound up in the hospital, a month of this particular slow-burn horror. I intend not to leave my apartment for at least a week.  

I am getting used to fatherlessness much as I struggled to get used to motherlessness. I was at the house this weekend, which is a kind of excavation but also a kind of erasure. In my dad's office that used to be my sister's bedroom, I found an entire drawer of remotes to appliances we no longer owned. Books on birds, fishing, and casinos, probably most of which I'd bought him. A stash of golf tees in a cup with something about fathers and golfing that I tossed in the trash. The house has been hollowing out steadily, but already, there are rooms that feel not at all inhabited by us.  I once wondered why my mother and aunt threw my grandmother's glorious costume jewelry into a fire, but I kind of get it. Some stuff will be donated, of course, or given away, trashed, or maybe burned. Since my apartment is already full of too much stuff I want very little.  Last week, I took a  book on bird lore and some photos of my mom as a kid not in the albums. This week, a  watercolor I gave her as a gift that has been on the wall above my dad's chair for over a decade. Everything there seems too heavy, to both carry back on the bus and to carry just in general. I have to be selective or die under the weight of it.

So much stuff, even despite several thinning outs.  My mom threw out or passed on a lot of our stuff when they re-carpeted a couple decades ago, and my dad cleared out much after her death. But still, several decades of decor and thrifted stuff and hand-me-downs were still there. Cupboards full of platters and dishes for parties that were never going to happen again. Broken appliances and random cables.  Its a well-used house, cheaply built in the 80s, so who knows if or what it can be sold for.  Particle wood cabinets and baseboards, mismatched tile and stained carpeting. Busted doors and broken fixtures. The most valuable thing is the land its on no doubt, but its also unruly land, which we saw this summer when nature overtook the carefully plotted gardens and patches carefully tended by my dad in better days. The trees keep the last summer my mom was alive.  Then a large part of another just narrowly missing the house in October before my dad's hospitalization. Like an omen. Or the birds that weirdly kept inexplicably getting in the house, four of them,  this past year.  None of it good. 

Thanksgiving, like it did five years ago, felt off kilter and a little like ripping off a bandaid too soon, so I don't know about Christmas or what we'll be doing if anything at all since the old structures and traditions, will need revising into a new shape around the holes that are left. Maybe that means entirely new traditions, or revisions of old ones, I'm not sure.  It's hard to believe its December even at all since mentally I am stuck somewhere back in October before everything slid sideways. I intend to unpack some new Amazon holiday things and the tree from my entryway closet tonight and attempt to fake it til I make it anyway. 

Sunday, November 20, 2022

notes & things | 11/20/2022

I am still feeling a little like the world is unreal these days.  Yesterday, I looked out and could have sworn I was trapped in a furiously shaken snow globe.  By the time I made coffee, it had dwindled to a few flurries.  It gets so dark so early, and I sleep so late, usually till around noon, , that it seems there are a few scarce hours of daylight before nightfall. I'd intended to write all day to get a jump on work for this week where I'll be traveling a bit and away for the holiday, but instead I had a long, long phone call with a friend I'd only been texting the last few months and it felt good to catch up on all her misfortunes (her own family and pet deaths) and my misfortunes. We both agreed to bury 2022 forever and never speak of it again. This summer, I'd been very happy, and some good things (personal, professional) had developed in late October  I will talk about later, but the price of good fortune was the exact opposite it seems.  Autumn has been positively Greek in its hubris.

Tuesday is my dad's memorial service, when we will placing both his ashes and my mother's, which have been on the mantle for the past 5 years, in the ground of the plots they owned since around the time they got married. It is all moving very fast and I have yet to catch my breath or spend much time with my thoughts.  I've mostly been working furiously and napping frequently in equal measure. I have to keep reminding myself that its the holiday season, that Thanksgiving is this week.  I am not really feeling it, but am hoping to fake it til I make it, procuring new garlands and stockings from Amazon for my bookshelf, some new evergreen sprigs for some vases. I was going to just wait til I get back to the city next Sunday, but I may just put it up tomorrow. 

I write this post now as I would normally be embroiled in my twice-weekly call with my dad, an hour I have cautiously watched approach on the clock on all day as I did the usual Sunday things like sweep the floors and clean up the kitchen. The past few years, he had taken over where my mother had left off on Sundays and Wednesday nights.  I have always been grateful for that time, mostly since the previous 20-ish odd years of living away from them had involved very little phone convo with him, since my mom liked to do the talking for both of them with him occasionally chiming in from the other side of the room. Only when she was really sick and the delirium had set in did he take over. It was sort of like getting to know someone new, but also very familiar.  I am not quite sure what I will do with myself, especially on Sundays when the 6pm call was so engrained in my schedule my entire adult life.  We would talk about meals and streaming and what was going on there.  About his cat, (who at 17, passed away recently as well while he was in the hospital, and we were at least glad that we did not have to share this with my dad.)

Though I suppose life is all about finding new routines and structures, but it feels like, though I cling to my structures and routines like a life raft, they sometimes fail me. I don't know what my new Sunday nights will look like going forward.  Maybe I should just plunge myself into writing and work and when I emerge into 2023, things will look a little less lost.  

Thursday, November 17, 2022

the body and its failing machine

November persists and does as November does. On Saturday, we watched my father's last labored breaths, and though the drug cocktail (morphine and ativan) he was on in the final moments was supposedly designed to increase comfort and ease the transition (to what none of us knows), it was still jarring to watch the breath drain out of his worn-out lungs. Because the lungs, for whatever reason, were the things giving out, which meant that he was fully mentally present, but sedated at turns, in all of it...the hospitalization, the two weeks of ventilation that was hoped to give him a chance to recover after trouble breathing but did not do so in the end, leaving him completely trapped on the machine.  

The UTI infection that landed him in the hospital and made him incredibly weak set the stage and a bacterial infection in the lungs caused, they believe, by asperated food that led to pneumonia.  In a normal person, probably not a death sentence, but in an 81-year-old man already frail and thin and so very weak, it meant the end. An end we, and some very hopeful hospital staff, tried to prologue with medical technology, but ultimately failed. We'd been warned about tough decisions--to take off the ventilator and hope he pulled through, or to leave him bed-bound in a nursing home on it forever. The latter, not an option, especially since it already felt like we were pushing the bounds of what he'd have wanted with the ventilator in the first place--because for a minute, it seemed like getting off it and getting better was still an option. He often spoke with the horror of my great-grandmother Chloe's last few months bed- bound in long term care, and wanted anything but. But for a couple weeks, we believed recovery could still happen, the original infection that had weakened him cured by antibiotics. But the strain on the body--the weakness, the malnourishment, made him a sitting duck for other nasties. That acknowledgment, that it wasn't going to happen, which slowly sank in Saturday morning after the doctor's final trial off the machine failed, was the hardest part.

So on Saturday afternoon, with some of the family around in the form of cousins and his remaining siblings, we said goodbye without trying to seem, to him too much,  like we were saying goodbye, chatting about western tv shows on the set above, endless pharma commercials,  and chocolate chip cookie recipes (whether milk chocolate was an acceptable alternative to semi-sweet or dark) as he slowed and drained. He'd been awake for a few moments, wide-eyed and clasping our hands with a tenacious grip, having come out of the sedation they'd mostly kept him under the past two weeks, but unable to speak, to only gesture with his hands--to wave us away, I swear, or maybe just to wave goodbye. Then motioning for someone to raise the bed.  He stared for a while at the ceiling as the drugs fully kicked in. Maybe a half hour.  I was turned talking to my aunt and when  I looked up and his chest had stopped moving and moments later, the nurse confirmed his pulse was gone.

I count myself lucky or unlucky that I lost my grandparents early--some early to cancer, or to freak accident-induced blood clots like my grandmother-- most of them in childhood with the exception of my paternal grandfather who we were not particularly close with due to distance and divorce (he later succumbed to fast spreading cancer). When my mother died, it felt unexpected, though she was riddled with so many cascading health problems (the heart attack, legs ravaged by a latex allergy that failed to heal, the deep infection in her foot that led to delirium) in the months before her heart gave out. I was convinced she was getting better, up to a point, but she was not. The end was therefore completely a surprise and not a surprise. I was also not there to see it happen. 

My dad, for most of his life, despite the same seizure disorder my sister has, was pretty healthy right up til the last few months. His pain in his legs and back (he called it sciatica, though the doctors believe it was more like arthritis) had gotten worse in the past year, necessitating a cane or walker, but he was still reasonably spry. Though recently, the falls had become more frequent and while not injured, he had trouble getting up the last couple weeks he was home. Once, he was rescued by the Amazon delivery guy when he fell trying to get up the steps. The next time, the EMTs.  His appetite had taken a plummet and though he talked often about food on the phone weekly, was not eating enough of it, rendering a man who had always been thinner than the rest of us, much too thin. All of these things made him frail and vulnerable, and in classic Bowen fear, convinced he had cancer and not wanting to know (he did not). My sister tricked him into hospitalization by promising a routine doctor visit. He was doing well a couple days in, but then stopped being able to breathe on his own due to secretions building up in his lungs.

With a family of people taken out by a host of other things, he is perhaps lucky to have lived to be 81, when I suppose the body just begins to give out like a well-used car.  If the other ailments don't get us, the steady unwinding of our internal clocks will get us all the same despite our best efforts. There is still the sense of unrealness, even though unlike my mother, I was there to see it happen. I hope this means he will not turn up in my dreams later, not knowing he's gone, which happened for a good year after losing my mother. Also that usual strange relief wave that comes as the backside of grief--that the very worst thing that can happen has already happened. But mostly both hating and marveling at the body's machinery and the unfairness of an active mind caught within its cage of it and unable to stop its failure even with medical machines and hospital professionals and still the expiration date marked on all of us. 

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

notes & things | 11/9/2022

We are now in that dark dip in November, always a tricky place and moreso in recent years.  With my dad still in the hospital and the outcome still uncertain, this week we hit the 5 year anniversary of my mother's death and I am just trying to triage feelings and mounting work and general anxiety that is knife sharp and occasionally bleeds out all over the room and people around me. Or it doesn't and I feel alone inside it like a dark lake and I am looking for a board or a broken door to float on. There are no poems here, there isn't time, and outside of some orders, DGP work has been shelved for the coming weeks in favor of getting things done to get paid and pay rent and shit. In between, there are weekly trips to Rockford, which always makes me want to crawl out of my skin--even before illnesses and hospitalizations and this unbearably early dark. I find I have to be away from home base when I also feel I really need to be here--for the structure, for the cats, for some semblance of normality, yet if things go awry, I also want to spend more time with my dad, especially he's unable to turn this around. Without structure, I am completely ragged and wind-tattered most of the time. I feel completely ill-equipped for almost everything. The time there is a vaccuum descend into and re-emerge.  This past weekend, a horrific scene in the waiting room that had nothing to do with me rattled me more than I'd like. 

I've put a pin in AUTOMAGIC release since poetry is not where my head is, though some may argue that is exactly where it needs to be, but I just can't right now. I still have to make final corrections and adjustments and order the final copies, so maybe in a few weeks I'll feel more like it. Poetry seems pale and inconsequential.  Like a game I play sometimes for stupid prizes There are other good things happening in the wings of the current tragic stage, both personal and professional (potentially) but right now I am mostly numb and poised in crash position.  I keep thinking if it were summer...not this, not this dark and cold, I could cope better. But then again, maybe not.  A friend once told me it was worse to suffer depression in summertime. Like you weren't supposed to be sad or anxious in warm weather, but it was perfectly acceptable in colder weather. I wouldn't know since all of my low spots have occurred in fall or winter. It seems impossible for me to be sad in summer despite what LDR says..

Monday, October 31, 2022

notes & things | all hallows eve

It's been a week. Which is to say it's been the kind of week I've been dreading but felt was kind of inevitable in greater or lesser degrees. My dad wound up in the hospital with an infection that had made him weaker than usual after a few months of more limited mobility that had been building the past year. He had been talking of pain in his legs and back that he'd written off as part of the sciatica that had plagued him for a while, requiring a cane and a walker most of the time (which apparently is more arthritic in nature as it turns out.). He'd complained about food just not being as desirable in the past few months, so had been steadily getting thinner, but not yet alarmingly so until recently. 

His condition had worsened in past couple of weeks to the point that my sister successfully tricked him into a trip to the emergency room under the guise of taking his stubborn ass to the hospital. The actual problem for his weakness and unsteadiness that resulted in a couple falls was dealt with quickly, but I arrived to find him a smaller, frailer version than I'd last left him. He seemed to be doing well all day Friday, but a seizure maybe (these are not new to him, and something he is medicated for, but very infrequent with more than a decade since the last) resulted in some aspiration and lung issues that led to him being put on a ventilator, which thankfully due to low covid infections right now was readily available.  He's been in a holding pattern since, sedated and intubated. and the doctor seems optimistic, they will take him off and go back to trying to get him ready for some rehab and physical therapy  

On one hand, for all their hope, I am being cautious with mine. My mother was sick in greater or lesser degrees for months, and yet her death shocked me to the core since I really believed she would pull through.  The visuals on this one scare looks terrible, this small, frail man hooked to a machine that is currently breathing for him (though the settings according to the nurse s are lower and more just augmenting his own breathing).  I have prepared myself for the worst. Well, am trying to while still hoping for the best.  A friend said via text today that hope is a tricky thing--difficult to have and difficult not to have. 

Since he is currently under heavy sedation and not missing me, I headed back to the city to finish up some deadline writing projects, tend to the cats, and get some warmer clothes for going back later in the week when he will hopefully be back awake and kicking or at the very least awake. The day before things went south he had seemed really good, still very frail, but up using his laptop (well as much as shitty hospital wi-fi allowed), watching television, and drinking coffee. He was sleepy, but could have a conversation. By that night, he'd started having some problems that got worse.

In many ways, my dad is a very different person than my mother, with none of the overall health problems that plagued her in terms of heart disease and diabetes. He is also just mentally and emotionally stronger on the whole. Age will still sink its teeth in though. As will fear.  One of the reasons he wanted to avoid the doctor was he was certain he had cancer--which he did not.  On Friday, when the doctor came through, he asked, partly joking,. partly serious, "So I'm not going to die?" We all laughed.  Hours later, he came close to it. 

Tonight, the veil is supposedly thin, and I feel anxious that its so thin he could just slip through without a sound. Though I suppose any of us could. It's that weird time of year when the clocks will be changing and the trees bare and I want to crawl out of my skin. November is not my favorite month, never was-- and even less so the past few years since my mother's death at the beginning of it. Tonight, we are going to watch some horror movies and eat chocolate and appease the spirits. Hopefully they won't steal us in the night. 

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

#31daysofhalloween | little apocalypse

Years ago, I had a book that didn't quite make it out before the press shuttered, fitting since it was about the end of the world and all (though we've had several apocalypses since.) I may at some point issue a bonus print version, but you can read it here, though:

Monday, October 24, 2022

#31daysofhalloween | overlook

As if anyone ever has to ask what my favorite horror movie is....

read it:

Saturday, October 22, 2022

#31daysofhalloween | licorice, laudanum


A couple year's back, I spent a springtime writing poems about Chicago's most famous serial killer and the Columbian Exposition World's Fair, which involved a lot of research and true crime reading. And while the project veered off in interesting directions not at all intended,  made a little e-zine for it, or you can read just a sampling over at Tupelo Quarterly, which also includes a brief process note...

Friday, October 21, 2022

#31daysofhalloween | the torturer's apprentice


This little collection will be soon going out of print with BLP, so get it while the show is still in town...