Monday, February 28, 2022

her daughters become diction

Every once in a while, I like to pull out older work and older books and take a look. Sometimes, it's an effort to revisit an older version of my work or myself.  Sometimes it's a confidence booster to see how far I've come and how much I am writing or creating better than I was then. This weekend, it was my first book from oh so long ago--16 years now--which seems like an impossibility. A book that is actually no longer really in print, though I have a stack of copies and occasionally make them available in the shop, but mostly direct readers to the pdf version on my website. 

As presses close and lit journals shutter, especially post pandemic when everyone has been struggling,  there is much talk on the internets about what happens to our work when the things that used to seem inviolate--publishing houses, presses, lit mags--are in flux all the time. I've had two presses fold on me, one after publishing one book and accepting a second (girl show, which later found a great home at BLP ) and another (little apocalypse) that made it to the final proof stage and the press, which had published another project, had to close.  (that one I do eventually intend to put into print, but right now, it's just a freebie read on my website.) My young poet self would have been frustrated with all the uncertainty of this world we call publishing, but now I just figure the work is also fleeting and shifting. There's a certain amount of responsibility I feel l should take in making my work available if other avenues fail or end. 

There are, of course, poems in the fever almanac I cringe to read, mostly ones that seemed ever so brilliant at age 30 that seem kind of unspectacular now.  But then again, sometimes I cringe when things are published and later soften toward the work.  I remember hearing poets talking about how your work of any given period is simply an example of what you were working on during a give span of time. If it's not perfect, and you've thrown it out in the world, it's still important in your development and scope of artist.  Even if you hate it sometimes. There are actually some very good poems in my first book.  Also some merely adequate ones. (I was a promising young poet, but mostly just, however between these two poles. 

They span from when I first moved back to Chicago and started writing again in earnest and started publishing in the world of online journals I was discovering. (it was a world that seemed vast, but compared to later, was actually sort of small.) The last poems in it are from my first year of my MFA poem, when I was struggling to shift my work in new directions (which is where these poems broke from would become book #2, in the bird museum.  That final section of the collection begins to change a little.  Mostly I remember the poems in this book as the fodder for countless group readings and open mic nights I used to do when I was first navigating the local poetry world, so those are mostly fond memories of sharing work in real time via readings over cocktails, and later, in my first workshops (though these memories are less fond admittedly.) 


She still promises us an ocean then.
The lick of salt on our lips.
Sand settled in the depths of our bodies.
Anchor. Motion. Tide.

In late July, we travel the road
to the quarry, the dry skin
of our heels cracking, rasping.
Summer drying us out like sea grass.

She survives only on ritual:
her hands washing stockings
at the sink, the comb at our scalp.
Whispers stories of mermaids, loss.
Treads wistfulness like water.

Fires burn the valley nightly.
Her body listens, lists
to boats and destinations
while smoke settles in the curtains.
Scorches itself in the weave of her day.

Her daughters become diction.
The ghost of us, our lost selves,
scattering across the continent.
We are roses presses in a book,
the iron bed pushed against the wall.

We are furrowed, furious,
prone to strange weather.
Dream the water will take us
back one day willingly.
Our voices dumb as stones.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

notes to self

There is a tik-tok / insta reel trend going around that talks about former versions of yourself and how they would react to the current you and your current life, and it's a cute idea. Though admittedly, looking back when the span of years is so long seems terribly unruly and would take some time (I think the fact that most of the posters are speaking from the lens of their mid-to-late 20's just makes me feel old.) Neverthless, I was thinking of the very young versions of myself, from 10-20 or so. like if you were walking along and encountered that younger version of yourself and had a conversation with them. I'm not up for filming a video today and trying to get the captions to not be distorted, but I thought I'd blog my own little version.  

*My 10 year-old self would be excited that I re-discovered my love of clothes and fashion after decades of hiding my body and just trying to blend in. 

*My 11-year-old, binge-reading, self would be amazed that not only do I get to check out and read countless books from the library, but that I would work in them for 20 odd years.  

*My 12-year-old self would be sad that I would never be able to marry Corey Haim or Keifer Sutherland. or live in a vampire-infected beach town (well, I suppose the latter two are still possible, but highly unlikely.)

*My 13-year-old self, after my first heartbreak,  would be amused that I gravitated to funny boys/men for decades unhappily until I realized that sometimes humor masks heaps and heaps of insecurity and how to recognize it. 

*My 14-year-old self would be amazed, after getting her very first diary for her birthday, that I would be journaling and blogging on the regular three decades later. 

*My 15-year-old self,  who was all about dysfunctional dieting, would be happy that I was finally repairing my relationship with food and eating. 

*My 16-year-old self, who made her very first thing that could be considered an artist book, would be surprised that not only would I would not pick up visual art pursuits again until I was 30, but that they would then become the center of my creative life.  

*My 17-year-old self, reading The Bell Jar for the first time and being unimpressed, would be surprised to realize how obsessed with Plath I would eventually be in my 20's. 

*My 18-year-old self would be shocked that I did not become a marine biologist after all, even though I was so bad at the math parts of science.  

*My 19-year-old self would be amazed, after just beginning to write poems in earnest and send out work, that I would make a career of it and actually have published whole books of it. 

*My 20-year-old self, who was just beginning to discover the joys of thrift stores and flea markets, would be delighted that my whole life (closets, apartment)  is filled with cool, old things that I love. 

Saturday, February 26, 2022

under cover of night

The past couple of weeks, I've been feeling out something like a schedule, which is challenging when you actually have something of a choice about how you set up your days, which for so long, I did not. Am I better at writing in the morning?  And if so. what?  Lessons? Poems?  Blog entries? Maybe fiction?  I've been rather liking diving right into the lessons in the morning, when my mind is fresh and clean. By morning, of course, I mean my morning which happens somewhere around noon usually. I've been falling victim to late night streaming marathons, which is actually okay, but it does give me a later start if I am just falling asleep at dawn. When I was in college, and left much to my own devices, I eventually reverted to being mostly nocturnal.  I would get up around 2pm. and go to bed at 6 a.m.  I would drink tea and coffee and read all night, journal or write, or watch weird random things on the big screen in my parent's living room (the only satellite hook up, so if I wanted to watch anything, it had to be after everyone else went to bed.) Of course, those were the days when if by chance I did have to be up earlier the next day, I could swing it (this is the thing that I've maddeningly confronted most about aging, too little sleep and my body just starts shutting down.) While there have been a couple days in the past week where I've seen the sunrise on the other side, I try not to make a habit of it, since I do like to take advantage of daylight to work on things as much as I can. But even when I was working, my ideal wake up was 10-11am. Whenever someone asked me how I could possibly work such a late shift at the library, it was easy, those are my most awake hours. 

The other maddening effect of getting older is that my batteries seemed to drain faster over the years each day.  While a decade ago, I could keep going all day, doing whatever kind of work whenever.  Slowly it got harder.  I don't know if it was age or burnout, but I started saving more work-intensive, concentrative tasks for earlier in the day and easy, rote things for night. By late afternoon, anything that involved problem solving or concentration was just not going to happen. I had a few brief hours of brilliance and I was a goner.  I could write poems in the morning over breakfast, tricking myself before I settled into the day, but I wouldn't have been able to do one at night.  While I could probably do a layout for a chapbook, there was no way I had the creativity after 6pm to design a cover or do serious proofing. When I had the studio, I was never as good at finishing things in the summer, when I left the library earlier as i was during the regular academic year's early hours.  I simply learned to live with these limitations.

Over the past couple of weeks, though, a strange thing has started to happen. Like it was in the past couple months as I prepared to freelance full-time, I've been starting my day with the lesson writing, as soon as I my feet hit the floor. I'll usually do my research while I eat breakfast then start writing for the next couple of hours til I finish. They are 1000-2000 words, depending on the subject matter, and take me about 3 hours unless it's something that needs a lot of images, quotes, sources.    Then I'll stop for a break, a shower, get dressed if I'm actually going anywhere (and for now, that's just been short trips out to the alley, the lobby, or the mailbox.) Then I'll fix something for lunch and sit down to answer and sort e-mails, then start working on shop orders, printing, shipping a couple days per week. Layouts and design the other days. Proofing and editing on others.  Everything that was crammed into a couple hours in the morning, late nights, or weekends is now blssfully  the largest chunk of my day.  I have twice as much time and can work until I pause for dinner at around 8pm or even beyond if necessary. It's  a lot of stuff to do, but I don't feel stressed  anymore cramming it all in. 

And perhaps the biggest change is how I feel at night, when suddenly now, after I've had dinner, done whatever I needed to do in the apartment, maybe even gotten in some exersize, I've been WRITING at midnight.  Poems and blog entries mostly, just  little bits, but something. I'm finishing up something poem-sh right now, but I might even return to the short stories I started last fall.  It's like maybe my brain, so badly broken by just too much going on, has been repairing itself.  I don't hit the end of the day (or the week, or the month) exhausted and babbling.   I'll eventually settle in for some Netflixing (in bed, though I do have a new Fire stick that allows me to watch things on the couch after two years of a missing Roku remote.) Or even some insta scrolling mindlessly before I fall asleep.  But I don't quite feel like I'm dying by the day's end, and that is something. That is everything. 

Friday, February 25, 2022

the poets, when we talk about war

When I was 16, we went to Florida. It was a trip I spent most of the time tanning my legs, drinking overpriced virgin daquiris on the beach, and fighting with my mother becuase I ultimately did not want to go to Disney World.  But we did, and while the visit was unmemorable and it had lost all the charm my previous 8 year old had found in it, I was okay with it.  Notables included trying my first omelet and learning to love shrimp, which on the Gulf, was something I would develop an affinity for. Because we always did, we drove in marathon sprint,  and though I freshly had my license, I was spared the highway, where my dad and aunt rotated shifts to and fro. I was not a teen who was really aware all that much of the news.  I didn't watch it and there was no internet, so I lived in my little teen-angst bubble rather undisturbed by the world outside issues of Tiger Beat and Seventeen.  I kept a diary, the blue one I'd started at 14, but there doesn't seem to be anything about the trip or even that sunmer, one in which I'd not only gotten to drive, but also went to camp where I was a volunteer counselor for one week (which was and was not at all like it is in horror movies.).

On the way back through the south, I became aware that something was happening. We would pass under bridges filled with people, waving flags and holding signs.  I remember my parents saying something about the Gulf, which I had only a vague perception of where it was, The first troops that August were getting ready to go overseas, and traveling those same highways and routes where people lined up to support them.  In the winter, when the Gulf War, Round 1, we bought giant "Support the Troops"  buttons and eyed the news, where the night sky over Kabul was a lot of flashes and flickering, but it still all felt very far away. It was a very un-war like war, and mostly I was just pissed it interrupted my prime time television watching and favorite shows (I never admitted I was a very compassionate teen, I was likely a little monstrous.)

It didn't seem like war because war was something else. It was the war of history books--of the dregs of Vietnam which ended around when I was born.  It was the fighter jets of WWII and that terrible All Quiet on the Western Front book we had to read in 10th Grade, where we were horrified by mustard gas's effects on the body, but pretty much remembered nothing else.  I say that I grew of a age in a time of peace, but even that is not true, as the muddle eastern conflicts and other places were just always at war. At the same time, for most of my childhood and teen years, we lived under the shadow of THE war. WWIII. The war that would end all wars. The war that would end us. 

I was over at the neighbors house and my parents out bowling the night thy aired The Day After, and for months afterward would lie in the bed wondering if we were prepared for nuclear war. If we should be stockpiling canned goods and bottled water.? Why weren't my parents more freaked out about this? I would think about this, like all children, as I struggled to go to sleep at night.  At the time, I was only 9 and  would have been determined to be a survivor, to stuck it out and rebuild society. For all the duck & cover, we'd be foolish to think we could. When I watched the movie as an adult around age 40,  I would much rather be one of those skeletons the fire consumes immediately.  I would also not like to know it was coming. 

When the USSR, which just existed for us  as a big pink blob on all the school maps, shattered into other colored, smaller blobs when I was a teenager, I remember noting it briefly and being a little relieved that all my childhood bedtime fretting was much less of a threat.  There were other threats, but they seemed less large and looming over the midwest. My high school AP Bio teacher, who was responsible for the environmental fervor that drove me toward studying marine bio and various snippets of wisdom (including why sex was pleasurable from an evolutionary stance, becuase otherwise we'd all rather nap and eat donuts,  which was a shocking revelation to a bunch of 11th Graders) off handedly one day talked about war and starvation and how any country (though he meant Russia) could be starving and wave their weapons around threatening the rest of the world unless we helped them. I had a couple years not fearing nuclear war, but there it was again..becuase the weapons didn't just vanish. They were still tucked soundly in their silos, sleeping, getting faster and more powerful in the intervening 30 years. They've been there all along.

A couple years later, in college, I remember reading about how Emily Dickinson is notable for barely, in her work, in her letters, talking about the Civil War. Sure, Amherst was far from the Mason-Dixon line, but people usually say that she was disengaged from the world in isolation.  At the time, I thought, how sheltered and privileged.  The older I get, the more I understand need for shelter sometimes for mental health. For turning away from things you do not have control of. Some people, mostly soft bellied Millennials and Z-ers are freaked out, rightfully so.  Many of the X-ers have danced this dance before and are no more worried or less than we were as children. The internet means its much more raw than the drone of the 6 o'clock news of our childhoods. Some say, there is always war somewhere. Someone is always in crisis, it's just on a larger scale and with bigger weapons than usual. 

I float somewhere in between, my X-er shell uncrackable, but a tiny sense of panic underneath the ice..  The problem is my panic is all used up after two years of Covid, so I don't think my energy reserves are big enough to truly freak out. Again, I am tired of living through history--through big things like wars and deadly pandemics and whatever other atrocities dominate the news. I just want some quiet. I've also been thinking about my nightly viewing of Reign, all those European countries just fighting over nothing and conquering things to conquer them. Men and their endless warmongering and male toxicity.  It might be time for a complete news hiatus. (which also means a social media hiatus, becuase things like Facebook are as troubling as the news for doomscrolling. ) 

Thursday, February 24, 2022

spring and other longings

Snow today, and a dim and gray apartment that yesterday, for a couple hours was filled with a springish swathe of sunlight, even as the cold moved in. I'm excited for March, and getting out more into the world for walks and mini-adventures when its warm. While February has been catching up and figuring things out in this new work-from-home routine, I've been staying in except for small runs to the lobby, the alley and post box on the corner, largely since it's terrible cold out mostly and I am still without health insurance through March 1st, and thus don't want to fall on ice or snow or any of the other treacherous things (Though I did get bonked on the head with a box that left a welt on my hairline when I was trying to throw away--it  blew back at me in the wind that whips the alley as I tried to get it in the giant dumpster, so everywhere is treacherous it seems.) Next week, I plan to go pick up some covers downtown, so it will be my first journey abroad in three weeks and I do miss downtown most of all (I've been watching some apartment tours for design ideas on YT and coveting those spendy skyline views.)   

As for me, I spend a good amount of time at the work table looking out at the courtyard between my building and the townhouses opposite with  a glimpse of the highrises a block over  that line the lake. Plus some trees at the street I use to gage my seasons.  But until today's snow, there were spots of ground clearing, if nothing that looked like vegetation emerging just yet. Each day, I note the later sunset and how soon I have to turn my lights on (though it depends where I'm working in the apartment--my writing desk gets dark early, but the studio space retains light a little longer. I am still working on cleaning and organization of that space, slowly, since so much was shoved away nearly two years ago when I moved everything. It will no doubt take a while, even working in the space consistently. 

Sunday, February 20, 2022

notes & things | 2/20/22

Weekends feel like an an entirely, much-needed treat now.  Actually, just Sunday so far, since I have a lot of catch-up from January to do in terms of my own projects and press work and  still want to keep a steady income stream from the freelance stuff, at least while I'm still feeling precarious. But maybe eventually, will be able to claim Saturdays down the line.  Right now, the weather is too chilly to go out much and I feel like i am still in rest mode, but eventually weekends might be for, you know, having a life. Right now, it just means a day free of obligations, even cleaning, which my schedule now allows to happen in smaller, manageable bits throughout the week instead of a good chunk of Sunday.  Before, whatever I could not do during the week due to work, all got put off til Sat & Sun, which was itself overwhelming sometimes, esp. since the shadow of Monday was always creeping up behind me.  Even before, when the studio was downtown and I did not work on books on weekends I worked on writing and art things, not the worst, but still a kind of work I felt I had no other time to do. Since late 2019, and the ability to do more official business at home, I felt a pressure to get as much done as possible on these rare days, which pretty much meant no real idleness or rest, which I think is kind of necessary. (maybe less necessary even now because I do not hit Friday exhausted beyond measure, both mentally and physically.)

Today, I've done nothing but sleep in and eat breakfast late and maybe I'll do some painting or collage, but maybe not (If I don't, I can make time during the week, of all things, which is so much kinder to me,) I will have my twice weekly call with my dad and watch some design youtubes and make something a little more complicated for dinner.  Tomorrow, I'll return to freelance stuff 3-4 hrs in the morning and press/shop things in the afternoon til I whenever I stop, and even still some time in the evenings for proofing AVM or doing creative things. Still, a kind of work, but now something I can enjoy and not feel pressure to just get it done so I can go to another kind of work where I also had no time to enjoy even the enjoyable parts.  

It still feels a little scary and surreal, but at the same time, so very wonderful and, like, mentally healthy, which has been an unknown concept that last 20 or so odd years.  The fact that I am actually doing it still surprises me a little. I'd always though I would eventually retire to do this sort of work full-time with the buoy of my IRA/SS, but I don't know if I would have survived another 15-20 years at that pace without so much crumbling. At those stress levels, I might not have made it all.

While there is still much whirling in my head---new projects, new layouts, orders, new shop goods,  research for the lesson writing--it is at about 50 percent what it was when you added library things, which increasingly got heavier in the last few years. Sort of like if you were carrying a 50 pound bag up the stairs but now it was only a more manageable 25. I sleep better and eat better and have time in the margins for more netflix at night (am still working my way through REIGN, which I am loving.) It's been a hard balance to be a person like other people and still be productive and creative and I was at a breaking point. (I'm pretty sure I was already broken and just didn't know it.)

Thursday, February 17, 2022

orgies and book proofs, oh my!

Today, a snow storm and the really amazing realization that I do not have to go out into it unless I want to (and I certainly do not.) Instead, I stayed tucked inside with a writing assignment on Slavic Mythology I was finishing up. On the subject of further proof that Christian missionaries ruin all the fun, I had a hard time,  since I know the lesson content is written with high school kids in mind, trying to convey that some celebrations involved orgies, without actually using the word, ya know, "orgies. " I settled on "fertility rites" but it loses something in the translation.  The myth and fairy tale content is a nice break sometimes from the lit, esp since yesterday involved  an in-deep piece on confessional poetry, and earlier in the week, the rabbit holes of Lillian Hellman and her testimony in front of the House Committee of Un-American Activities (something easily I could have spent many more hours reading about but had to stop before I went too deep into 1950's nonsense and the evil figure of Walt Disney.)

A couple days ago, my proof copy of animal, vegetable. monster arrived, and there is the usual adjustments on the interior, but am very happy with the cover. I should be able to get the whole shebang finalized in early March, which pushes back the release a bit later than I intended, but April is my birthday month, so it seems propitious to bring it out then. In the meantime, I plan to start making some videos, including some for the artist statement pieces that open the book. Also some other promos for reels and such as we get closer. I went with a slightly smaller trim size and am really liking the look, as well as the creme paper instead of the usual white.  

The past two weeks, I've doing my morning writing routine over breakfast in the mornings before I switch to other things, but I haven't yet had a chance to see whether or not it is actually any good.  While it is definitely slower and less stressful, my days are still long, so usually wrap up around 9pm, when eat dinner, then settle in for some streaming (lately REIGN, which I am loving for it trashy CW version of a period drama.)  After I knock out a few new layouts next week, I can dig in on my own editing projects at least once a week going forward, possibly even with a whole day set aside for them if I like.  

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

notes & things | 2/15/2022

Today, a late start, since our Valentines festivities stretched super late (even for me) and I went back to bed after J left this morning. There was a gorgeous single rose and chocolate strawberries and pink champagne as per our tradition, We did not brave the movies on Sunday due to an audition he had, but with cases falling in the state, hopefully spring will be a much more habitable place. Movies, maybe even dinner again. 

Today's task is mostly e-mails and a start to some new galleys. I am learning over the last week to loosen the pace at which things happen--not last minute and calamitous, but steadily and enjoyable--author copies and cover designs and even printing is not as terrible as it once was (outsourcing the majority of covers has saved me much equipment related angst.)  Last week, I accomplished what would normally take me a month in terms of orders and shipments, and even was able to take Sunday off, which has not happened in years. 

I alternated writing days and press/studio days, working on freelance stuff 2-3 / week (depending on my own speed) and press & shop related business the other three days.  I am still playing catch up from January, but I am hoping to clear out a day for editing and submitting and other writerly-related business.(I try to write poems in the morning, but as far as revising and actually doing something with them requires a little more sustained time.I used to be able to do this on Satursdays, so perhaps I will go back to that routine. Since Sundays are designated days off, I probably will still do some painting and art related things, but it's optional.

I was thinking as I worked through a stack of author copies last week how different things feel.  Normally I would have worked all day and then robotically tried to assemble the books and get them out the door as fast as possible because I had to leave or move onto something else pressing. And there was always something new that had to be done in those tiny spaces of time and just a general feeling of overwhelm.  Last week,I spent three days working at a good pace, but also enjoying it. Plotting out some marketing ideas. Watching some Youtube artist interviews. Painting some hand elements (glitter!) on some covers. It feels much less chaotic and rushed and exactly what I need.  

The thing I feared about losing that steady income, small as it was,  is barely anything compared to how much better I feel the past week. Sure, I have to work steadily on the lesson writing, but even those days are simpler and nice. filled with research in the morning and writing through the afternoon.  While things will definitely be tighter until I trick out the shop completely with more offerings (which will be happening in March as I regain my bearings and finish up some things I've had supplies for, but no time.) I am okay with less spendy living. I won't be buying (as clothes  I won't have commuting expenses and takeout draining my bank account. The freelance work can cover the rent and bills and groceries just enough. The press pays mostly for itself these days so that's a plus, so I don't have to worry about affording toner and paper. The only new expense will be supplies, but I can scale those as I work, since right now I have so much already waiting to happen. 

And, finally, actually have time and energy to make it happen.... 

Friday, February 11, 2022

the crack in the glass

One of the chief benefits of keeping a journal or a blog (on paper or online) is an ability to encounter your past self on occasion. To see exactly what you were feeling, thinking, obsessing over.  My print journals in those Mead composition books from the 90's are as big a mess as my head was in my early 20's. My blog, a decade later, much more coherent and sense-making.  I once thought I could be more honest in handwriting--in things meant for no one but my own eyes, but I don't think that's true. As someone closing in, if count the Xanga era, on two decades of keeping a publicly available journal, I actually think knowing that others could potentially read what I write hones my thoughts and observations in a way those composition books never did. I am not embarrassed by much of what I've written online, maybe because in creating a better, more public version of my thoughts, I become a better version by default. 

Of course, there is always talk about the realities that social media does not reflect (and this blog, is perhaps just that, a longer form social media.) I try to be honest here, but again, all the messiness of my emotions and thoughts gets cleaned up.  But in doing so, it makes the back of house less messy as well, even if you do not always see everything in the frame of the blog.  I think about this especially in regard to more personal things like relationships, which I've never hidden from view, but did not always open a wide door in (because really, the details were less interesting to the outside than to myself.) I think as a writer, you put yourself out there in so many ways anyway, especially if you use life as subject matter, so here doesn't really feel any different. 

As a writer and artist, I'm always hoping the blog is a glimpse inside the process (or at least a glimpse inside the mind behind the process. ) Initially, before other, shorter, more connective social medias in the aughts, it was one way I participated in community. As people left the blog-world, I kept it more for myself. Here is where I kick the tires.  Where I think things out. There's that quote, I think from Flannery O'Connor,  about not knowing what you think until you write it. And that is so true of this space, whether it is personal or professional, creative or everyday.

As I've been talking to people about changes--job changes in my case, other life changes for others, we talk about breaking points and cracks in the glass that later lead to those changes. I was skimming through some old entries from later 2018 and may have found one of my own. I feel like that year was mostly a whole lot of numbness and processing my mother's loss the November before, BUT in December of 2018, I distinctly remember having a breakdown at work, crying about how all we had left, as we got older, was loss.  I kept asking, after reading 2009 entries, how had I been so happy a decade before, even though I was writing less and in the worst relationship I could have possibly been in?   It was random, and strange, and in the middle of an otherwise ordinary day. It was a feeling, though my mood improved,  that stayed with me all of 2019, manifested in anxiety flare outs and toxic bitchiness, and probably into 2020, though Covid was a strange respite of survival and worry and took focus away from what had building on my own. When we came out of lockdowns and imminent death (well as much as we ever did), so many people looked around and thought, WTF?  This is I suspect part of what they call the Great Resignation which I myself am a member. It did not wholly have to do with stretching myself too thin, or my mother's death, or feeling burnt out at work,  But all of those things combined lurked like a monster under the bed that at times, felt like it might devour me. 

It felt stupid to say things were terrible, because they weren't--not on the surface, but they were definitely not okay. Add in the general state of the world and things were worse. A friend, after patiently listening to me sob for two hours, said she see saw this with everyone our age right now (and shockingly that was well before the pandemic which only intensified it.) As my head clears a bit this past week, I can read through those entries and see the beginnings of what some might call low grade depression, might call a mid-life crisis, might call just living in the 21st Century. I don't know if shifting my life in better directions will help, but it certainly can't hurt. It was a little scary, to pick up the sword and start carving into the monster beneath the bed, but I'm willing to give it a go. 

Thursday, February 10, 2022

switching gears

As I close out my first week of working wholly for myself, I will give a massive shout out to the ability to actually complete things. I mean, like to the end. I've pretty much lived the last 18 or so odd years in a state of half-finished.  Half finished projects, half finished layouts, half finished orders strewn about.  When I had the studio, I could spend a couple hours working, but always had to switch gears and go to work.  Ditto the last couple of years. Even when I worked on things at night, I was at the end of my day and less productive, and had to often stop to go to bed.  Or weekends, to do whatever of my own stuff (housecleaning, errands, etc,) that badly needed attending. And then of course, there was the energy wasted shifting gears, moving from one things to another, whether it was an e-mail interruption or a phone call or a suddenly pressing task that needed to take precedence.  And even when you moved back to the original, it took time to refocus (if you could at all.)  I think only  in the absense of such circumstances do you realize how not at all productive they are. How much they cut away, not only from the quality and quantity of output, but your general mental drain and feelings of burn out. 

This week, I actually have been just catching up from the past month, not yet forging ahead. In my mad dash to finish up at the Library, and foster my freelance efforts, January was mostly a wash for other things like the press and creative works, so now I am getting to orders and author copies I put off, to new layouts and things I'm already behind on.  There is a lot, and my days are pretty long (though admittedly less long than before. I usually work solid about 7-8 hours instead of 8 hours and then another 2-3 on top.)  And its a more focused sort of working,  I'm testing whether it's best to devote entire days to one line of work (ie, one day doing the freelance work, one day doing design, one day on assembly/production, one day on my own writing and editing, one day to new product creation to the shop, or whether to do little bits of each day, but it's nice to have the space to figure out what is most productive for me, whatever that is.  Scared that I will become a shut-in, I've even managed a couple trips out to to the corner mail box and to walk around a bit, though it's a little too cold and snow to go on those lovely long walks I am looking forward to in spring. 

I've talked with friends about the energies it tales to constanly be switching gears, and how much time and energy it takes. To pause, refocus on something else, to go back, then refocus again. At the library, distractions were constant, even when I purposely tried to ignore the dinging e-mail notification on my pc and the phone. I'd be working steadily and get interrupted by a student worker question or needy patron or broken printer.  Come back and get distracted by the news or social media, and then get back to what I was working on and then get interrupted again.  This was actually less difficult and more micro  than the shifting I would do during the day at large. Writing in the morning, press work, commuting, library (where I could potentially be working in three different modes and for three different jobs). No wonder I was mentally exhausted all the time. Sometimes I tried to devote days to one or another line, but some things, like ILL processing had to happen every day or get backed up to move smoothly. And e-mails. Sometimes 3-4 accounts to check.  Egads the amount of time to just get through them (and I feel like I never really do.) If I had an exhibit to hang or web pages to build on top of that, it was even more intense. 

So needless to say, despite feeling a little strange that I am spending so much time alone (which is fine as an introvert, but I don't want to become Miss Havisham levels of mad) things are going quite well. I even consented to a pre-Valentines outing to a movie and maybe dinner after.  and  it occurred to me that weekend plans were usually NO because I need to reset and rest, but now I will not hit the end of the week quite a s frazzled, so am much more open for outings, especially as (hopefully) the covid rates continue to fall. 

Sunday, February 06, 2022

of work and time

On Friday, people at work, as goodbye-for-nows were exchanged and tiny celebrations hatched, kept asking me how nice it must be going to be to have my time be my own.  I laughed, of course and said I'd probably be busier than ever, which is no doubt true, but it will feel different.  Especially since, for one, I have the freedom to set my own schedules and routines in a way I have not for, well, really since ever. College was something dictated by class schedules and play rehearsals. Grad school at DePaul had a little more free time when I wasn't in classes, but was largely a time of full-time study and some writing. Since, I've been working full-time in addition to fitting all my more creative pursuits around it (and there was that crazy 4 year span where I was also getting my MFA.) My outside pursuits happened largely in the in-betweens and in odd hours either early or late in the day. My course was entirely dictated by work schedules, which is what will change. 

Over the weeks since I decided to leave, I've been thinking about how I want to structure my day, now that I am free to choose when and where to focus efforts.  There will be the freelance stuff...maybe 3 hours a day. The press/shop which will now get 4 hours daily which will be so much more generous than the previous 1-2 and weekends. (which means more on-schedule dgp releases, more time to clear the inbox, better marketing,  faster order turnaround, and new shop offerings.)  Daily writing, time my own writing and art projects, maybe 1-2 hours rather than hits and misses all week or manic sprints to finish on deadlines.  I'll have the discretion of nights, when I can either do more work if I want or chill as needed.  Same with weekends (this is one thing I am looking forward to..a little more work/life balance...because I have never had it.)  I'll also be working maybe 8-9 hours daily and not 11-12 so that will be great.  Also, no commuting, but much more ample time for walks. 

Even "work" is probably not true, because despite deadlines and e-mails, it is a very different kind of work.  My own projects, editing, layout, design, assembling books and art stuff--very different from library e-mails, clerical stuff, and hefting ILL materials around.  Work that feels like play, much less work, and I am ready for it. Even the lesson writing work, which is helping me bridge the gap until I can get the shop back up to the levels it was a decade ago,  is full of research and writing and really enjoyable. I also have flexibility to work as much or as little as i need. 

There may be adjustments--I'm not sure if am better at writing or high concentration tasks earlier in the day or later. Whether I am a more brilliant designer in the morning or the afternoons, but the freedom to make those adjustments is heavenly.

Friday, February 04, 2022

on goodbyes....

 The weekend before I started at the Library in 2000, I had basically uprooted my life in two short weeks, over the Thanksgiving break, to move to Chicago from Rockford.  I'd been living there for a year and a half since finishing my MA in lit.  In the meantime, I had spent three months floundering for a job I was qualified for and then the next year and change working in the library of an elementary school..a job I was quick to leave with the promise of better wages, city-living, and not crawling around on my knees shelving and reading to children. I moved in with a thrifted recliner, a futon on the floor, a Christmas tree,  and some clothes and started work immediately that Monday after the holiday. I have been there ever since.

It;s is bizarre to leave, and I'm not sure it's settled in completely, the place I considered a home for two decades will no longer be that. In many ways, it not lost, since I still will visit, attend workshops, surely  borrow as an alum. Have plans to collab with my A of R co-curator on more community library focused things.  But also, it is kind of lost to me as I walked out into the snow tonight.  I will no longer be occupying the cubicle I spent 8 hours a day, every day. The desk covered with stickers and the bulletin board and partition walls collecting random art and ephemera over the years. Will no longer have access to my e-mail address I've used in various places since the beginning.  To my slow, slow computer that always took so long to wake up each day. It has always felt, as the years wore on , that it was more and more MY library. That I was invested in it--from the daily tasks and patron interractions to the art we hung on the walls.  And in recent years--the signage, social media and blog accounts I occupied. 

The past two weeks, when discussing future plans, it was hard not feel that investment and ownership, but of course, hard to diseentangle. To slowly return books and pack stuff up--not the ordinary things one has in a workplace--a mug, some chochkes, but 20 years of random crap, much of it squirreled away in my desk and under my desk, and in various nooks and crevices of my work area. Magazines & books I took from the free table for collage. Art supplies brought in for workshops. Things given to me by co-workers. Things made at events I liked and kept. The sum total of twenty odd years in one place.

It felt strange to leave the studio where I had been for 12 years, but only a small segment of the day.  This feels more drastic--leaving where I spent eight hours every day for almost twice as long. A place with formed my social group and my outside-work life as well, which has varied over time (there were years where I spent nearly every Friday night in various bars with people I worked with, other years where I barely socialized at all as people moved away to other jobs and other lives. ) It's as interwoven in my life, perhaps even moreso than my non-work life.

So today, there were goodbye tacos and sweet cards and notes and flowers.  I will miss the people the most, not so much the work and the hours and the commute. It won't feel real, I suppose, until Monday when I do not set off for downtown as I have every day for two decades.  Do not close out the library at 10pm, which I've been doing almost since the beginning. It's wonderful, but also tinged with sadness..

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

the girls turn into trees, then back into girls

John William Waterhouse

Last night, as I was coming home, the snow was just beginning to fall, and an hour or so later, I stepped out to mail a package and everything was covered in white. This morning, on waking, a good amount of snow and wind, though thankfully Columbia, last night,  had already decided to close for the day. It was a welcome reprieve in a week that has seemed longer than it should be for two days in, but also, is moving briskly towards my last day in the library on Friday.  I went back to bed after J left for work and then spent the day with coffee and some reading on HD, who is the subject of my latest lesson writing assignment.  She  is actually one of the modernists I am least familiar with, strange since there is much to like there, particularly her interest in mythology. The more I work on non-poetry writing pieces about myths, the more I feel them, again, wanting to creep back into my poems, so who knows. 

As I packed up a box under my desk last week, I found my huge stash of copies of The Archaeologists Daughter. I remember having had them shipped there way back in 2005 when I was still hesitant to deliver to my building due to thievery, though it seems quite ridiculous that anyone would steal a box of poetry chapbooks, it certainly happens. It was actually part of two shipments, the first with an error that the editor of Moon Journal corrected, so I had double what I needed.  I wound up recycling the error copies and bringing the rest home, though I already have many copies there.  The chapbook, which came out a little later than planned, was technically my first, though it actually followed two others I issued myself.  They are the oldest poems, some written as early 1999. Some poems appeared dually in other chapbooks because of subject matter (there are a couple that overlap with Bloody Mary, though the poems slightly vary.) By the time it came out in summer of 2005, I was on the verge of acceptance for my first full-length and working on new work, so I always feel like book got a little short-changed.

Nevertheless, there are poems in there about history. literature, art, and mythology, largely because I was such a baby poet (I was approaching 30, but still a novice), I scarce knew how to plumb my own life for subject matter, nor yet smart enough to create original stories. That would come later, as would other projects with nods to mythology--beautiful, sinister, with it's three sisters named after the muses.  taurus, of course, a retelling of Ariadne and the Minotaur, only before Theseus enters the picture.  When I was pulling together dark country, I realized these two things seemed strange but somehow appropo in a book about horror and the gothic. What is, after all, more horrific than the monsters of the Greeks? The original gothics--the harpies, the sirens, Medusa, Cerberus. SO much blood--I think of Agamemnon in the bathtub every time I see him mentioned. Of Cassandra, the prophetess no one would believe. (who has her own more modern poem in The Archaelogist's Daughter, of course, as well as in the first full-length.)

I watched a terrible movie about Achilles with Brad Pitt last weekend and began thinking of the epic hero and how women fit into that. Or don't.  They are, of course, wives and lovers and monsters. Villians and victims.   I have a poem about Daphne in AD, but also a poem later, in major characters in minor films, called "how to re-imagine your life through mythological characters." (where the title of this entry lives.)  It ends with a mention of Iphigenia, who also has seemed like a character that needs her own epic journey, so I made not of that for a future possible project.