Saturday, February 25, 2023

hustle and slowness

I spend a lot of time listening/watching youtube videos while doing other things, mostly since they involve less investment than a show or movie and I can just put them on as background noise I can listen or not listen to as my hands are busy folding or trimming books. Most of it is plus-size fashion bloggers artist vlogs, and thrift store-related content, but I stumbled recently into a strange land of videos of women, mostly in their thirties, talking about their rejection of hustle culture, which is countered by the crazy morning routines and discussions of productiveness and goals and hustling by another set of women, usually in their twenties. Like on instagram, there is a lot of workout gear and yoga and juicing. Journaling and 6AM wakeups,and reading that Atomic Habits book everyone somehow has. The thirty-somethings live in idyllic places like France or some countryside somewhere, drink a lot of tea, read many novels, are usually married or partnered, and talk about "slow" living. They may make a living off youtube ads or selling art on etsy shops. One does something with astrology for money that I don't think I understand.

Maybe it's a decade-of-life thing, and I'm not sure where I stand as a woman in her forties on this equation or if it matters where I stand at all.  Truly, I can see both sides, but also tend to roll my eyes at people who talk about rejecting hustle who seem to be enjoying a financially stable existence that doesn't depend on whether they hustle or not (likely family money or a working spouse) It reminded me of a recent article about a woman who was encouraged to step away from hustling but feared the ground she'd lose if she did as a writer and whether or not she'd be able to pay her rent or eat and I related so hard. There isn't really a safety net sometimes, so all you have is hustle. I also have a similar eyeroll for discussions of minimalism, which are easy to have if you have the cushioning to replace the things you threw out if you need them later. 

But also I think the hustle I've always done, even when working for somewhere else. There was a sense of stability (well not much) but I needed to hustle, to cram in as much as I could, do as much as I could. And in many ways this is still true.  Because I don't have that stability anymore, I hustle quite a lot to make sure I have pillars of income to keep things afloat should any of them fail. I want to keep things humming along with the press because it feels like important work, so I wind up hustling there. I need to hustle with my own writing and art because these are the things I am most passionate about and feel I should spend my time doing. It's not about awards and publications so much as it is about putting work out and being creatively productive as an artist and writer. This is the most valuable way--the most content way--I can think of being in the world.  I want it, and only parts of it even seem like work. I'm not sure that deciding all I was going to do was drink tea and read novels, tempting as that is, would make me quite as happy as making things, doing things. Maybe the key is finding balance. 

One of the vloggers talked a lot about the danger of seeking validation outside yourself and always longing for the next rung on the ladder, and here might be where I might agree, but I'm not sure dismissing hustle is the right culprit. You absolutely should hustle for the things you love and that are important to you.  And you may have to hustle for things that are less important but keep food on the table (right or wrong, it is what it is.) But you might want to examine if you are always constantly seeking the next things--this is true in art, professionally, in life. I've known so many people who hit a goal (a book deal, a big money prize)  or a milestone (a marriage, a child)  and then, discovered that it didn't scratch the itch they thought it would. Immediately, they think the next one and the next one will guarantee the happiness they crave. This also seems like a maddening existence, though there is nothing wrong with working for what you want. For setting goals and having ambitions and things you want. The trick is maybe not hanging your happiness on them like a coat that fall to the floor at any moment--especially what you don't have control over.

So of course, the goal might be only hustling for the right reasons, but then I suppose those reasons are going to vary according to what you want and maybe not what you've been told you should want. I want to work hard, don't mind working hard, but I want the gains for that hard work to be mine, which, after years of working in a job I wasn't remotely compensated for, that I invested 8 hours a day and endless mental real estate, at least now I feel like I am hustling for me, so I guess that's as close to slow living as I can

Thursday, February 23, 2023

more from the iphigenia series

I loved this short little series of collages so much, I decided to make them into a limited edition postcard set that will be in the shop next week. Keep an eye out on Instagram for more details on how to snag one. Here are a couple more pieces from that series...

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

where we plant our feet, part 1

I recently chimed in on a question that a friend on FB asked about moving between disciplines, which garnered a whole bunch of great answers, from writers who not only play in visual arenas but also music and other arts.(and in fact someone suggested that really everything from art, from gardening to cooking to decorating your home.)  As someone who has spent a lot of time with my feet in more than one field--not just the arts--it got me thinking about how I move back and forth and between things historically, whether it's just natural or intentional or if there is resistance and an attempt to readjust with each shift.

My first love, of course, was writing. Which started very young and persisted through my young adulthood with nary a nod into other things. I wrote long novel plots in notebooks in junior high and poems in my journal and geeked out over newspaper articles and English class essays.   Words were the thing, That is, until I sort of accidentally enrolled in a drama class my senior year.  I had carefully chosen my classes for my final year only to get a call over the summer from the assistant principal asking me to change something in my schedule that couldn't work.  I'd intended to beef up my sciences and take a zoology class but it conflicted with the 4th year French class I planned on taking, so I needed another elective. As he rattled off the list, I sprung when he said Beginning Drama, mostly since it sounded like an easy respite from more challenging things like Trig and Anatomy. I had no idea I would be so into it.

I had taken a drama class as an elective in grade 8, but all I really remembered were some fun field trips to see shows in Milwaukee and lip-syncing Debbie Gibson's "Foolish Beat" on stage. Because it was a first-year class, it was nearly all freshmen, which had me often being the oldest and most favored with the teacher, who allowed me to spend most of the period not in class, but in her office grading tests with a red pen (I have no idea what we were being tested on( and helping to mend costumes. She encouraged me to try out for the fall play, which I only have vague memories of what it was about, but I landed one of the leads in a pretty small show to my own amazement. I fucking loved it of course, and as I dipped my toes more into the "theater kids" that year, joining the chorus of the spring musical, I had idle dreams that I should maybe throw my lot in show business. Which of course was ridiculous and the dream of every other 17-year-old caught with the theater bug, but it seemed like an option. 

I was going to be a scientist after all, and if not a scientist, a writer anyway. And so I held these things like three balls in the air that last year.  In one hand, my college plans at UNCW and an obsession with the sea, In the other, newspaper articles and essay writing and occasional poems.  In the air, the glistening orb of chucking it all to go join the cast of Les Miz. Sounder thoughts prevailed, and since the other two, making a living and a career of them was so far from my frame of reference, I went off to NC the next fall, but still boasted an obsession with both writing and theater I indulged on the sides occasionally by typing drafts of stories on my electric typewriter and taking in campus productions.

When I landed back in the midwest, having cast off my pursuit of marine science, writing is where I turned most of my efforts, but I still would feel the theater bug churn in my chest every once in a while, drawing me to genres like dramatic lit and any performance I could find in the area. By my second year of college in Rockford, I had successfully infiltrated the theater department, mostly working backstage and stage managing rather than acting, but it was where my primary social group was, even though I was technically an English Lit major. I loved most the classes that melded the two, things like seminars in drama and theater history which produced my first true acquaintance with the Greeks. For a while I thought I might want to be a playwright, though I was no better at that than fiction. I was a minor in theater eventually, but I took nearly enough classes for a double major, including credit hours painting and building sets and costumes. We would have raucous cast parties and go on field trips to Chicago shows and had a great time for my final three years. When I graduated, it was lit I decided to keep pursuing for my MA, but so many of my electives at DePaul were based in writing for the stage. As I was getting close to graduating, I interviewed for a front-of-house and administrative job in a local theater company, but ultimately decided to leave the city. 

Of course, post-grad school life can take chunks out of you. Theater was of course an easy one to give up, especially when working long days made it hard to imagine spending nights in rehearsals. Later, I would work nights, which made even seeing performances rare. Not that I did not use my skills, both as a performer and a stage manager.  They came in handy for reading to elementary schoolers and later for reading poems of my own aloud in bars and cafes and galleries. My project management skills, while learning in a very stressful environment, made me good at them in less stressful ones like running a press and later running library programming with all the balls in the air. Nothing seemed as stressful after all, as live theater.

As someone whose partner is an actor (more film than live, but sometimes on stage) and as I watch from a distance, the directing and orchestrations of performances, it all takes me back, but kind of makes me happy that writing and art are less stressful. I loved theater in college, but I also was wired out, sick a lot, and just exhausted from late nights/early mornings. What I could do at 21 I don't think I could do at 48. Over the holidays, because I spent more time with J, I also spent more time with other performers, and though it was an adjustment to their high energy compared to writers and librarians that have formed my social group for two decades, I eventually felt very at home. Not enough to want to DO theatre again, mind you, but maybe to make seeing it more a part of my life now that I have a little more freedom. 

As for the initial question, I think theater and poetry are not all that far apart, even the Greeks would agree. There are times when I entertain the idea of writing a performance piece for the stage, or a poem/play, using dramatic conceits and elements from live theater in written work. The idea of the verse drama or drama-in-verse. When I was working on granata last summer, there is a little of this in the chorus and other elements of Greek literature, but not enough to make it in any way a drama, but it does mean that that's not completely off the table.  One thing about live theater production is that it's time-consuming and more structured as a group activity, so writing and doing theater like for real, don't mesh well, since both are time intensive, far more so than visual art in my experience. So doing both at the same time wouldn't be in the cards. But writing for the stage perhaps may be something that would be an interesting direction nevertheless. 

(stay tuned for part 2 where I talk about moving between visual art and writing, which happened a bit later...)

Sunday, February 19, 2023

writers and failure

I have been enjoying the week promoting and making fun little content bits for the latest zine, some of which are almost as enjoyable as the writing of the poems and the making of the images themselves (my little animations are especially fun via reels to pair with piano Taylor Swift covers I have been listening to on repeat while writing freelance stuff the last couple of weeks.) I've done a couple of recordings, but actually like working more with text and image than voice, or at least, hearing my own voice.

This week, I was reading an essay about failure and writers that was really good in talking about how writers, in the digital age, don't have the same markers and consistencies in the world of letters. That things are constantly changing, and therefore the playing field of being a writer constantly shifts.  I feel this, especially as I see so many authors doing interesting things in new mediums. As I try to do new things in what's available to me, the logistics of which are also in flux. The process of my pursuit of publication and sharing work is so different now than even 20 years ago. Definitely different than those SASE's I was sending out 30 years ago.

I guess talking about failure, like Joyce and Melville, and the ultimate folly of trying to gauge your own legacy or famousness as an author, is a capricious endeavor and a waste of time. If you cannot gauge what success is even now, how can you gauge failure? Is it not all one grand experiment? Throwing something at a wall and seeing if it will stick? I see a lot of churn in the literary world, the bending to and fro to get something like success, but I often wonder if we are speaking the same language at all when we talk about it. 

I think it takes a while and perhaps an entire career to get anywhere like peace with the striving, especially when it comes to poetry where the gates seem high and unscalable, even though the kingdom is frightfully small and no one lives there but the poets themselves. You can occupy yourself with throwing yourself at the wall repeatedly. Finding a bridge over the mote or looking for others to hoist you over, but what happens once you are inside looking out? Instead of breaking your teeth on the bricks or trying to lob yourself over the parapet, you could also just go wander off into the woods instead. Carve out your own little cave or hollow. The longer you go and the farther you get the less you look back.

I feel like I used to stand across the river and gaze at the walls. That I too bloodied myself just a little trying to get over or through them. But it feels good, though scary, sometimes to walk off into the distance a little way, Even if the woods are darker than you'd imagined, lonelier, and sometimes all you hear is an echo. But occasionally something makes contact and lights up the forest like a storm.   

Friday, February 17, 2023

the iphigenia series


This new set of digital pieces, the Iphigenia Series, based on Agamemnon's doomed daughter, are some experiments stemming from AI-generated images, in many cases, picked apart and collaged with textures, ephemera, expanded on, or in some cases, rebuilt with other parts if they were weird or wonky...(oh the hands!) 

see more experiments here as I continue to work with them...

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

notes & things | 2/15/2023

While I've no doubt had enjoyable Valentines as an adult, the holiday completely conjures childhood--classroom celebrations and red and pink construction paper hearts. Conversation hearts and sugar-dusted gummies. Choosing just the right valentine from a variety pack for your close friends or crushes. Deciphering later what the cards given to you really meant. Who gave you prime ones or boring ones or obviously their least favorite. It's all doilies and foil heart stickers. The year my mom and aunt, on a snow day, made us an impromptu V-Day celebration at home with whatever candy they had on hand (random Christmas chocolate and red hots I believe.) and heart-shaped sandwiches. Later, in junior high and high school candy grams and colored carnations presented in classes from friends. 

While my Valentines have been a little more romantic lately, with movie dates or at least date nights at home, my routine was once an annual zoo visit with my parents, who would come in around the holiday bearing heart-shaped boxes of chocolate and other gifts. We'd hit the zoo, usually in mildish weather, then go have dinner. This mostly ended with my mom and I don't remember the last year we did it. I only remember 2017 Valentine's Day was when she had her first heart attack that started the downhill slope of that year.  Three years ago, J and I went to the movies to see Parasite, not realizing it was the last movie we'd see due to covid for another two years. I used to work on most Valentine's evenings, so would mark the occasion with chocolates and little presents to myself.  This I did this year as well, some new tea, a floral dress, a new piece of art, a new satin kimono to replace the one I recently ripped. 

J arrived last night arrived at my place with both truffles and very strong edible treats we enjoyed while watching Infinity Pool on streaming, a wild trip of a movie even without the enhancements of weed. It was fun, but made today a little more legarthic than usual. I did manage to do some writing-about the I Am Legend sequel coming and how to decorate your indoor spaces like outside spaces when you live in a city. This week's lessons are about seas monsters and dryads, so are extra fun to be researching, but I am moving slower through the middle of the week than usual.

It was noisy and blustery today, with some snow expected tomorrow. Hopefully, this is the last of it, though I know March can also be quite a beast when she wants to.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

on exes and exorcisms

Love is a tricky mistress. When I was in my mid-to-late twenties I acknowledged that the fairy tale dreams were bullshit, even while occasionally going on dates and having minor flings.  Because it's what you did if you wanted romance (and obv. sex in the pre-Tinder age). Because romance was both terrible, but also kind of fun if you didn't take it too seriously. Part of my ambivalence was just circumstances of being really busy with other things--college, grad school, finding jobs and writing. I met men, some in person, a few online, and there were short-term liaisons and uninspiring strings of dates in coffee shops and art museums. I liked some more, some less. These were usually of pretty short duration. I was too much or they were too much or we were both too little.  Early on, I drew a little from them for poems, which didn't happen all that often since the kinds of poems I was writing were definitely based more in a persona-focused style of writing. Ie, my stories were woven in the larger web of things happening in any given poem. 

This changed in my thirties, when I had firmly embraced solo-poly life, which I was just beginning to understand as my ideal relationship style. I was dating a lot more. I was also getting more comfortable in my body and with my desires. Some lengthy entanglements, others shorter. Sometimes several at once, sometimes just one. One better relationship that spanned both decades was mostly about four years of scandalously dirty e-mails and occasional but infrequent visits. Another, 10 years of high drama and passion with short gaps. Another, on/off so much I wasn't sure it actually qualified as a relationship. A crush on a male friend I spent an entire year chasing that never materialized. Weird short bursts, some dramatic, some tepid and fun but not really sustainable. Lots of 2-3 date series getting to know people and discovering I really didn't want to know them. Some were internet dates and meetings in bars. Some literally showed up at my door in the form of delivery men who asked me out. (okay, just the one, and it wasn't really the porn scenario he'd hoped

These men made it into poems, though sometimes, I created a Frankenstein of their worst traits. My major characters in minor films book had a lot about the 10-year ordeal. As did dirty blonde, which I used as a way to ill-advisedly re-open communication between us 5 years later. The shipwrecks of lake michigan poems were about the delivery man / engineering grad who I turned into a physicist because it was sexier. There were also longer relationships that never quite made it into poems, or only in small details and situations. Emily D's more slanted truth.  Some weren't memorable enough to earn a mention at all.  These men merge together to prove a point, or just slip in anecdotally in a poem about something else entirely. Nothing is purely autobiographical. Nothing is not.

This was true even in good, long-lasting healthy relationships. I tried to write a book of love poems for my current partner of 8 years as a Valentine early on and even that, due to some strange circumstances outside the relationship, morphed into a book about men and women and the me-too conversations in society at large and navigating romantic relationships with men in general. I think the initial impetus and details of those poems came from that framework, but they wound up being about something else. As far as I know, he's never read these poems, but knows the contents of them and that they exist. Some day we will have a laugh and I'll show him. Outside of that, the better relationships, the sounder ones, have far less appearances in poems, but I think that's just a condition of culture. 

And of course, that current long, actually healthy relationship has deepened over the years, and in the between, wasn't really captured in poems. This may change. I also haven't been writing as many autobiographical things, but then that's probably not really true.They are there, just in poems that seem to be about other things entirely. Some that current relationship, others details that make sense to include for some reason. I was thinking of these other things--these other entanglements--these other men--when I started writing HOTTER this past summer. I kept joking that it was an exorcism, so much bad stuff and bad karma that needed to be wiped out and brought into the light. So many things I wanted to finish writing about and be done. Even Taylor Swift is probably tired of making art from pain and it shows in her newer albums. 

But then are we ever finished? As writers? As women?  I saw a reel on Instagram lately about the humor of women in totally healthy relationships loving songs about bad ones (in this case, Miley Cyrus's "Flowers"). A comment brought the comments thread to a full stop for a second about women and their tendency to be able to sympathize with even fictional relationships and sadnesses and heartbreaks. Even about entirely made up and fictionalized situations or ones made up in our heads.  Or even the possibility of heartbreak that may come at a future date.  I think about Taylor Swift and how much pleasure everyone, but particularly women, in sound relationships or not take in her songs drawn from autobiography (and even the ones not. which are sometimes my favorite--I'm thinking "No Body, No Crime" here or "Ivy."  Someone else said this is why women like love songs and romance novels, and I think they are on the money. I rather like to trot out my ghosts, stand them up and dust them off every once in a while even though I have been happily partnered for years.

At the same time, I feel weird about the fact that some (though not all, mostly the worst) of the men who show up in the poems take up even a slight bit of real estate in my mind. Or worse that they would know this. I imagine some might, but most will never know. Still it's strange and slightly cringe to me for some reason.  Even in their Frankenstein bits and parts and odd scraps of story.  Even if they are unrecognizable to anyone but me and them. More than likely, though I have made like ART out of them they probably don't even think about me very often at all and certainly aren't turning me into poems (very few of them being creatives at all.). Which seems strange and unbalanced and kind of sad on my end, no?  But then again, it's just a scrap, a fragment, like a piece of mental ephemera. Like a ticket stub to a movie you liked for a while or a newspaper clipping ragged at the edges that falls out of a book every once in a while. 

But what else to build from? This the "ex-orcism" part, the purging, the getting things out.  But it's also a book about me, and the versions of myself that were cast off just as much as a lover in certain kinds of relationships and entanglements. The past lives and past detritus can be sloughed off to make room for new things, which I felt was important as last summer ended in a year that already had brought so much change, and would eventually bring far sadder changes but also happy new possibilities. All of it seemed to call for something,. and since it's a little bit of anti-Valentine in many ways, I thought it might be perfect to drop this month, this day over all others. 

You can read it here (unless we ever slept together, then you might not want

Monday, February 13, 2023

hotter: a little book of ex-orcisms

This little anti-valentines zine is now available to appease all the dark little hearts.

Read it HERE...

Saturday, February 11, 2023

feathery turnings

I am terrified by this dark thing
That sleeps in me;
All day I feel its soft, feathery turnings, its malignity.

-Elm, Sylvia Plath

Every February 11th for the past two decades at least, the same thing happens. At some point I suddenly realize that it's the anniversary of Plath's suicide, and every year, I am surprised that indeed another year has passed without her in the world that could have still had her in it had things worked out differently. Books that could have been written. Awards and accolades that could have been won (which she craved), More and better loves, more words, more paintings. Just more. While she may not have lived to be in her early 90s at this point, she would have had many more years in the world that would have loved and demanded her work.

Or I like to think it would of, but it's also wrapped up in the complication that one of the reasons that Plath is so famous and so loved is that she did not live past 30. I always try to list the poets that were Plath's contemporaries that had long careers--Mary Oliver, and Adrienne Rich. Or Linda Pastan, also born in 1932,  for example, whose recent passing was mourned by a number of poets I know who appreciated her work greatly.  They all did well. Went on to write more, love more, become mentors for younger poets, and thrive as teachers and writers. But outside of literary-specific world, they're not quite the household name that Plath is among the normies  Part of it might have been the success of The Bell Jar, and her fame as a prose writer, but even that is complicated by her very famous death and the book's related subject matter. 

I've no doubt we'd still be reading Plath if she'd lived, though I suspect the sad girl cult, of which I am a member, sometimes wouldn't have made her a patron goddess (along with Taylor Swift and Tori Because I learned everything I knew of the lit world from reading Plath's work and journals and letters when I was 19, she is still something at the heart of my own writing, even as my poems have changed and developed over more than two decades. It took me a little longer to fully appreciate the craft and skill of Ariel, which I grew to become enamored with (so much so that I wrote centos drawn from it with honey machine.) What happens on the other side of depression when you climb out of it and dust yourself off? Would her work have been as furious and full of blood if she'd calmly reached middle age? We'll never know.

But then, I sometimes realize that for all my obsession with Plath, I have in fact lived long past 30. My own work, which even now pales in comparison to the brilliance of hers, the intensity of hers, has had more time to develop (maybe I'll get there when I'm 80). That even in the darkest period of my life --smaller bouts of depression like the one 25 years ago, either acute or slow burn--I was not suicidal. Bad brain-wiring anxiety-prone, yes, which sometimes led to depression, but not to the depths of Plath by any means. Also, with Plath specifically on my mind through my 20s and 30s, I was careful to never allow men and their nonsense fuck up the whole of my life. To make the kinds of choices that I knew would keep the abysses and whirlpools at bay as much as anyone can.

I know so many poets similarly obsessed with her work, because she's obviously amazing, but it also has always for many of us felt like a warning. A glimpse. Like a therefore but for the grace of god go I. Like if our darks had been darker or our reds meaner, we might not all be that different.  As someone who has more than a share of seasonal affective disorder, I also know even something like snow and early dark (also loneliness and crying children and being sick)  can tip an already shaky boat. So these are the things I think about every February, though now I've learned to look not at the snow and the dark, but at the lengthening of the days that stretch ahead through March.  At flowers and serotonin-boosting comforts like grilled cheese and chocolate and tea.  But then I also realize that while Sylvia didn't quite make it to shore, her last collection, written as the boat bashed into the rocks and finally broke apart, DID and maybe it's just the lifeboat the rest of us needed to make it safely to our destinations.

Thursday, February 09, 2023

confessions of a baby poet

Today, I woke up thinking about how it was 30 years ago this winter I began sending out my first tremulous and terrible submissions of work. It's completely impossible, and yet there it is. I was 18 and had landed back in the midwest after a brief attempt at being a budding scientist in coastal North Carolina, an experience I enjoyed, but which was increasingly expensive and futile given my shoddy math abilities (necessary for the core requirements of becoming a marine scientist who kinda needs to understand it for chemistry purposes.) So I packed up my dorm room and came back to Illinois, with the aim of studying English and writing and probably teaching at some point. It was overwhelmingly the most sensible thing to do. Despite doing well on my own a million miles away, I greatly missed my family and my cat. Out-of-state tuition even for a state school was a beast. The travel and getting back and forth was a nightmare. I was a far better writer than a scientist anyway, having penned numerous ranty editorials for the school paper, aced every English class essay I ever wrote, and easily won essay contests that garnered me sweet cash prizes and year supplies of Noxema. I could find a school here that would allow me to study the things I wanted to--either in Rockford or maybe Chicago (though that would come later.) I could study English or writing anywhere.

Because I waited til November to make the call on my DOA science career, I landed back in the middle of a brutal winter with no real plan and a little shock at the disparity between the mild barely winter weather  of Wilmington and here. Because I had student loans that needed to stay in deferment, I enrolled at the community college in Rockford with the financial help of my aunt (my parents were going through a rough patch that had my dad out of work and almost stranded us in the mountains of NC for expensive car repairs on our return trip.) I liked the courses though--a class on short stories that introduced me to Flannery O'Connor and Ursula Leguin and one on dramatic lit we got to watch a lot of videos for. A Psych 101 class and a seminar "current" history, which we watched unfold with no internet and weekly issues of Time magazine.  Mostly, all I really remember was Clinton's inauguration details and drinking cup after cup of the vending machine coffee found in the basement of the mammoth RVC buildings where my classes were. 

That spring, I would apply and be accepted to study English at Rockford College with a nice financial aid set up for the next four years, but that winter had me feeling alternately hopeful and discouraged that I wasn't quite sure what I was supposed to be doing with my life. On one hand, I was lucky, as long as I was enrolled in school, my parents allowed me to live with them rent free, so my time not in class or studying was my own. I spent it reading and listening to moody 90's alternative music in my room, but I also spent it investigating copies of Writer's Digest I checked out on the continuing weekly trips to the public library. I was mostly hunting for, again in the pre-internet world, places to send work and go about the business of being a writer. I hadn't even yet read Plath's journals and letters, which I would that next fall, so I really had no idea where to start. 

At that point, I'd been writing poems for a few years, and by writing I probably mean a dozen or so poems about deep things you think about when you're in your adolescent years, mostly out by hand in a diary or on scraps of notebook paper and extra pen-pal stationary. There was probably a decision in there to actually try to do this writing thing, buoyed by those lit classes and the reading I was doing. By reading the magazines and the excitement to be deep diving into English courses come fall. 

What I found in the magazines, specifically the BACK of them, were of course, mostly vanity-esque kinds of anthologies. (I hate the word "vanity" and attendant conversations, but I don't know quite how else to describe a journal that accepts all poems and funds its existence by making contributors buy copies, so I guess that's what we'll call it.)  I kind of knew that was the case, having been familiar with the National Library of Poetry anthologies a friend had gotten into in high school, so I picked and chose among the ones that were less egregious in their pricing for contributors but still gave you a sense of accomplishment and community that I needed.  Not that those poems, and pretty much the others, weren't bad. Oh, they were. Just I also feel like those sad little poems were some of my first forays into "publishing" in its general sense and for that I am still kind of grateful those opportunities existed. 

I still have these anthologies--mine were the paperbacks, not the $40 plus hardbounds, but I published in a few. They mostly have more than one poem per page and lurid flower photographs on the cover. I was so fucking excited by them, though.  I was publishing a little in the college lit journal, had started to get nods in campus poetry awards, but these seemed bigger and bolder. By the time I graduated and moved on to grad school, I had a tidy little stack of them. They would also come with "press releases" they encouraged you to send to local news outlets. Which I quite embarrassingly did. And indeed somewhere in a scrapbook still have some yellowed clippings of my name in the paper, which also seemed very important when you were 19. 

I typed up my submissions to those and elsewhere (even some legit journals I found addresses for) on the electric machine I'd bought with my graduation money and sent them off tucked in with SASES., which I funded with birthday money and bits from my parents for doing cleaning projects. My mother did not understand why I always needed stamps. I would carry my magazine issues, my handwritten poem drafts and endless stamps, around in a sturdy envelope box she'd brought home. From my room and the large desk set-up in the corner forged from stools, plastic milk crates, and a large board, to the living room where I would sit on the floor by the single family TV. Or you'd find me at the dining room table or outside on the deck. 

The poems, which I still have some of on their thin transparent typing paper, were slender little horrors, mostly about feeling alienated and disjointed with bad imagery, no use of metaphor, and nothing really of poetry about them. One of the first ones published was about watching television static after the national anthem (in a time when channels weirdly went off the air). It was probably about 8 skinny little lines. I had read virtually no poetry outside of some Dickinson and maybe some Shakespeare. My mind was a blank slate. 

By spring, as the weather improved and the snow melted, I learned to await the mail delivery each day, usually dashing across the field in front of the house to the box by the road without shoes (which more than once had me stepping on a bee or prickly plants that seemed more numbered in those years than now.) The days rejections or acceptances that  arrived were both wonderful and terrible.  Each month, I collected the latest issue of Writers Digest at the library, and on a few occasions, procured my own from the Waldenbooks at the mall, which at the time, was the only bookstore really in town. I would only learn about Poets & Writers from a teacher my last couple years of college, which would then guide my submissions a little more in later years.  

I continued through that summer much the same, and only eased up a little when I finally enrolled in my lit program and got distracted for a while from writing poems amid classes and rehearsals and for a second, fiction writing (which I was also bad at.)  I wanted to do and be a lot of things in those years, but the writing desire was the steady undercurrent, possibly just a hobby I would do while making money doing other things. I'd write occasional poems on vacations and breaks, but didn't share them.  I would return to submitting work the last couple years of undergrad with a little more knowledge but still not much inherent talent to speak of. But I did return. 

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

coming on valentine's day


This fun little series of poems and collages have been what I've been up to since last summer and it seems very much like releasing it on Valentine's Day is highly appropriate.

Tuesday, February 07, 2023

vibrations and murmurations

Today, I took the first step in a new project and while it feels good, it also feels fragile, like a set of planks laid across scaffolding that shakes a little when you walk across it.  Like maybe you shouldn't be building here after so short of time when the ground is still shaky, which makes sense since it's a series about death and memory and houses. Amid the news about the terrible earthquake in Turkey and Syria, I read the news and close my eyes and thank god for the mostly solid ground of the midwest. I say mostly because it's still possible to rumble every once in a while and scare the shit out of us.  When I was a kid, a small quake hit mid-evening when I was outside and I felt nothing.  A decade or more ago in the middle of the night I think one may have woken me with a slight banging noise, but I went promptly back to sleep oblivious.  When I was in the Fine Arts, a huge construction project behind us regularly had things migrating across my worktable from the vibrations as they readied a skyscraper foundation. Yesterday, they were jackhammering in the basement of this building for a repair and even though I was working with headphones on, I could feel the trembling in my fingertips. 

And of course, this new thing all comes back to birds and ghosts, as everything does.  I cannot stop it any more than I can the weather. I'd been waffling for the past couple weeks after finishing the thing I was working on last summer before I took a break, uncertain of which little project listed in my planner to begin or continue working on. As I rolled out of bed and rearranged the cats to not disturb them as I got up, a first line came to me, and after quickly making coffee, I opened a shiny new word doc and typed it down. One thing about writing for so long, having penned poems for three decades now, is that once you take that step--that first fledgling terror of a line, the others follow swiftly as long as you don't pause to look down. Rather than piecing together poems from bits of string and cotton, the tiny machine of them begins to roll and suddenly you have something like a song. It may not be great or good or even sound, but its something, and once there is something beyond the blinking cursor on a field of white, you can work with it, mold it. Cut away the parts that aren't working. 

And, of course, this girl cannot write about birds. In the year before my dad was hospitalized, beginning in the fall of 2021, three different times, three different birds (as in different kinds) got into the house, two through open doors, and one completely without explanation my dad found rattling against a window.  He had had occasional problems with field mice, and once, we had a chipmunk somehow in the basement, but birds were not usually just getting in, and yet they suddenly were.  The two that came in the door, one at night, no less, seemed to be waiting outside to get in. I try not to think of these as omens, and yet, how can I not? I was thinking about those incidences I wrote this morning--a piece that was full of psychopomps and decaying houses. The very first and uncertain step.

Sunday, February 05, 2023

notes & things | 2/4/2023

January felt very long, and yet, already it is over. It began with a kiss and a NYE outing to celebrate the year and my new book, and ended in a frigid night where even the radiators and the space heater were struggling to keep the apartment warm. In between, I wrote about churches and goddesses and all manner of randomness. I was sick for a week and stayed in watching dinosaur movies and eating delivery food and sleeping late into the afternoon on occasion.  I finished a series of poems and made progress on a set of collages for a zine. I worked on edits and contracts and cover designs for upcoming chaps. Still ,I felt slower and less energetic than usual. As if everything, the lens of this first month, was dragging the bottom of a lake. But such is January.  It's less heavy than December, but still a weighty month.

February, however, is obviously a chance to start over. I realized today waking up that it has been exactly one year to the day I finished my job at the library and began this past year's exploits on my own. It called  for a celebration of some kind, so I am settling for a pint of chocolate peanut butter pretzel ice cream with my grocery order.  Today, I spent most of the day slowly drafting a lesson the lengthy history of tarot cards, which was fun, then playing with an AI app for possible collage and cover design purposes.  (I don't like the lack of control, obv. but I do think there might be ways to make it work for me for certain elements I can then use in collages. )  I also fiddled with a possible cover for GRANATA down the line, though the publication of that project is possibly more than a year out. I am not even sure it's actually finished but will be reassessing this spring with edits and something toward finalizing and maybe sending some of the work out to journals.

I am still hovering over several possible things I want to work on next and will likely just pick one and dive in. I find myself stalled out when this open space happens, unable to commit.  Once I've chosen a path, I can drive it to completion. It's sitting at the crossroads that makes me immovable.The weather, however, has improved slightly and each day, the daylight lasts a little bit longer...

Saturday, February 04, 2023

on graphomania, or for the love of notebooks

One of my favorite childhood memories was my love of "writing" and by writing, I mean scribbling loops and lines and zig zags on paper and saying it said something. Of course, it didn't, but my stories, however, were many and vast. I learned my alphabet, sing-song, before I was 4, but it would take a while before I actually could do anything like read or string words together., much less master the physical control that forms even the most basic letters. I wanted cursive, of course. And pens, and lined paper. I remember being very impatient with the strangely textured greyish newsprint of handwriting tablets they gave us in school. And pencils, which I grew to hate with alacrity I still hold them in, even for drawing (which luckily I am terrible at, so no loss there. )  

I wanted ink, ideally, in multiple colors. And thinly ruled college spiral notebooks.  The slide of it across the page. Even if they said nothing at all and everyone thought I was a weird little kid, I was "writing" the best I knew how. I was familiar with books of course, my dad being a big reader, and having a good assortment of Little Goldens and my trusty, battered checkerboard Mother Goose I'd been hauling around since I was 3. I'm not sure where my knowledge of cursive writing came from, especially humorous since my parents both had terrible penmanship. I don't know where I was pulling it from, but I wanted it acutely. Those swoopy lines and loops that held words.  Was obsessed by them.

I remember getting, by request, as a Christmas gift a selection of notebooks and pads and pens, including those rare tri-color beauties we all coveted in school (and actually also as adults, where a couple became fierce spoils in the unclaimed pen wars of the library circulations desk several years ago.) All of it was tucked inside a canvas tote bag. which I don't really remember having anything on it, but it formed my attachment to that particular carry-all that also still continues today. I was probably 5 or 6 and honestly, it was by far my favorite gift that year, even more than the playdoh hair salon I also loved or the large play kitchen I would get the next year. More than hand-held games and Barbies and pom poms and kiddie perfume. Even more than a black sweatshirt with a rhinestone cat face &  whiskers I wore until it fell apart.

In school, I was struggling with forming perfect letters, but at home, I was filling notebooks with things only I could decipher. When we mastered printing and moved onto cursive, it was better, though I was still not as neat as I would later be, when in high school, I modeled my perfectly slanted penmanship after my French teacher with her perfect little crossed sevens.  I still continued my brand of writing even after I was learning how to actually write--it was faster, less laborious, and really no one was reading it anyway, not even me. Those stories were usually gone as quickly as I told myself them in my head, or they would become entirely different stories when retold. 

It's all especially humorous considering I gave up drafting by hand over a decade ago. Largely, it was mostly because the screen allowed for easier revision than all those cross-outs and notations ever did. Now, I do write notes by hand for both noncreative and creative work, but the composition happens on the keyboard. There is a similar satisfaction to hearing my fingers click over the keys and the words appear onscreen, but its less a tactile thing than writing cursive by hand (or more likely, my strange hybrid of cursive and print.) I still love pens, of course, thick gel ink ones, my trusty G-2's, that are bold and roll satisfactorily across the page.  I go through about one per month now taking notes for lessons and articles and various projects. I still get a shiver every time I start a notebook (I like the spiral kraft-covered ones with lines) but also occasionally use inexpensive sketchbooks with multi-purpose art paper inside. I also use a sketchbook as a planner with post-its for organizing tasks, as well as green-tinted stenography books I love to keep track of completed projects and income each day.

I come by it honestly. My dad's life was littered with a million small notebooks he kept track of everything from bills and household expenses to golf scores and horse race handicapping. I found a couple of these with strange betting notations when cleaning out his office in November, though I did not keep them. His handwriting small and messy, though a little less messy than my mother's.  I've often spoken of my paternal grandmother's small diaries, one of which I have intact from the last years of her life. Another in pieces that I've occasionally used for collage. You could not stop any of us from writing things down. 

I started a diary when I was 14, and I still have it, full of poems and boys and the ratings of a teenage girl, including food diaries and calorie counts I wish were not in there.  I graduated to the composition books all through college and up til around 2002 when I started my first online journal. In between, there were other notebooks--large and small--full of class notes and reading lists. Beautiful journals I filled with random things and quotes and didn't keep. Also, poem ideas and snippet notebooks that were used then salvaged for unused lines and ideas that were carefully added to the next one before throwing the old one out every few months.I know some people who keep all these things or none of them, but if I did, I may be drowning in a sea of notebooks and bound journals as far as the eye can see.

My mother, in her later years, once remarked to a stranger, at a reading they accompanied me to at a university, that she always wondered what I was doing, hiding in my room with my pen scratching across some notebook, or writing hunched over the coffee table cross-legged on the floor, even in summer when I was not studying. Only now she saw the fruits of it in the poems that I read and published (this was 2008 or so). That she finally got it--what I was doing all that time.  What I continued to do. 

Still, I love a pretty notebook and occasionally buy one just for the beauty of it, even now when so much of my writing happens through the click of keys. I also decorate my notebooks much as I did in high school to keep them identifiable according to which writing job they're for. They sit in a stack underneath my monitor, though I do, at least, throw them out when they're full.

Thursday, February 02, 2023

moving objects


A sneak peek of a video project on tap for February....

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

what poets want | part 3

(read parts 1 and 2 here)

When it comes to those ethereal factors of being a poet, beyond the external validations and desires to communicate, to make connections, to find an audience for what you write, is a dark little space .  A tiny attic at the top of the stairs. A why poetry? Or maybe just a why?

That is, of all the things, of all the means of expression, or ways of interpreting the world. Versus fiction, or visual art, or film. Versus making arty Instagram videos or tiktoks. Versus essays and songs and journal entries. Why this?

I've also been thinking about "content." Mainly how I bristle at this word, especially since I make my living writing it now. But it feels like art shares a border with content, as creative content anyway. I write a poem, I share it, wherever that is, web or page or in-person, and its out there, being consumed, much as content is. I was reading something a while back about content is different from art in that art isn't trying to sell you or get you to do something--to buy something, subscribe for more, support the artist.  But then that's where things get fuzzy. Or maybe a painting or a poem is less like content and more like a gift. A scream into the universe, meant to be heard or not, with no clear aim.

Either way, what is this thing and what do you want it do?  I've written often of my desire to carve out stories, but also to build worlds that don't exist. In this way, I am more akin to most fiction writers I suppose, to novelists or screenwriters. And yet, poetry is the genre I chose.  Sometimes it feels like I do many of the same things as a fiction writer, creating a reality and something of a plot. Building a world, even if it's a fragmented one, and creating characters that move around disjointedly within in it.

If a novel or a story is like a room with a window, the woman who just left the room or will be entering, the poem is the fly on the windowsill.  The cracked perfume bottle on the dresser. The scent of jasmine that could be the leaking bottle or could be wafting in from the windows.  The poem is all these things at once. The moment that is happening yet doesn't really have a beginning or an ending. And the larger projects are really just collections of those moments that form a fragmented whole. 

Or that's how I write anyway, toward building that broken world and then flinging it out onto the page, the internet, the stage during readings. Of building a world which is also sometimes building the self or an interpretation of the self. Or looking at its reflection, but not getting too Narcissus-like about it (because that happens.) Because, really, it could be anything but poetry and be much easier going. 

And because its poetry, formed so long ago as a storification of song mostly, sound plays a role. Rhyme, rhythm, meter. Less important in free verse than they once were, but still guiding that musicality. You can pay attention to these things or not. Master them and wield them or leave them behind. I do more now than I once did, letting the music of the poem drive its little machine. 

So all these I suppose are what the poets want, or at least this poet wants in a general sense, That's of course complicated by visual art, by video these days, which I want to do similar things, but are less beholden to words, to language, which is a trickier beast than image. 

So maybe the poet wants the room with the window, but also the bottle and the jasmine vines climbing the trellis. The woman and the fly.  The house and its silence.