Monday, July 31, 2023

atmospheric conditions, part 1


notes & things | 7/31/2023

 Another week has slipped past, filled with many good summery things, including catching the amazingness of the Barbie film, big luxurious breakfasts and homemade tiramisu, sleeping gloriously late, and wandering around the zoo yesterday for the first time in years. Today, however, it's back to work and press doings and a plunge into writing decor things tomorrow. Today, my first fall/spooky season article debuted, and there will no doubt be plenty more in this long slide toward the end of summer. The weather has cooled after a few hot days and was much more amenable to being outdoors, though even limited time in the direct sun for any period of time always makes me feel drained in a way I don't normally in my usually nocturnal wanderings  (especially when edible gummies are involved). Resultingly, I went to bed early and slept all through the night. Of course, I was wide awake at 5am this morning and apparently wide-eyed and bushy-tailed at an unusually formidable hour (at least for now.)  

I am still caught in a strange place with the new poems, unsure of what direction, if any, they want to go. There are about a dozen, but I haven't decided what sort of animal they will eventually be. Without daily writing exploits most of July, I have been directing more efforts toward the visual side of things most days, including just making random collage animations for IG in addition to more series-based projects (see above.). I will be working this month on recording and making video poems for the VILLAINS series, so keep an eye out for that in September, as well as a possible impending zine for that batch of HOME IMPROVEMENTS collages and poems, probably coming toward the end of this month. I have more diversions planned for fall, including another haunted dollhouse advent project, the Henry James-inspired governess zine, and more in the works over the next two months. 

As we enter back-to-school season, once again the month of August feels disorienting, disconnected as I am to an academic calendar after decades of being firmly entrenched. My own nearly 20 years of schooling, then the library job at the elementary school, then over two decades at Columbia and an MFA program nested inside it. It's hard not to see September as a new beginning and August as an ending of sorts. It is perhaps why most of my autumn endeavors seem more serious than the writing I do in the spring or summer. How it feels like a time that calls for weightier projects. (Though, last summer I was just beginning HOTTER, which turned out to be not so serious at all, and then I took some months off from writing poems with everything with my dad.).) I've been kicking around a project inspired by Mary Shelley the past few weeks and maybe that is how I will spend my autumn, which seems fitting. Or maybe some other horror-driven divergence.   

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

art & content: promo a-go-go

I was thinking more and more on this subject that I touched on last week in terms of content and branding for writers and it seems especially prescient to be having this discussion as people are diving off Twitter and into the lifeboats of places like Blue Sky and Threads. I feel like so often, writers see social media outlets as ways to promote other things like publications and books and other kinds of press they garner as writers, but my favorite writers are the ones who use it, whatever platform they are focusing on, as a vehicle itself--not just to direct traffic in a given direction, which feels really frustrating when you're not quite sure if they are willing to go there and if they are, whether they made it safely. The internet is a crazy place, prone with clicks and distractions. I am totally guilty of scrolling along, opening an article or a publication, and then in the three seconds I wait while the page loads fully, I've forgotten it and moved down along the feed. )

I can also sometimes feel like annoyingly beating a drum no one wants to hear. Loudly and without end. And yet, however many times you promote a book, people will still miss it, due to algorithms and post-covid attention spans, and all kinds of other reasons. They will be surprised when you tell them you have a new book, even though you've been promoting it constantly for months. In an era of constant content, stuff gets lost or drowned out in the signals. 

And yet I've seen people, writers and otherwise, do really cool things with all these platforms, even here on blogger, where I remember in the heydays of poetry blogdom, there was some really beautiful and intricate essays on aesthetics that weren't so much about promoting any one thing or other, but juts existing in the world as a vehicle for making and sharing. Ditto on Tumblr, Youtube, even Twitter (I was reminded by the upcoming film trailer of how obsessed I was with the Dear David Twitter and how much I love Youtube ARGs and storytelling through social mediums.) 

The way I have shifted my thinking a little this past year is how social media works for me as a writer and artist. I am still totally promoting things, and well, I guess myself as a creative, but instead of seeing the platforms and what occurs there as a means to an end, kind of like the car that drives your audience and readers to the dance party (and hopefully everyone gets in the car and you don't lose a few out the window) But instead seeing social media, wherever you like to land best, as the dance party all by itself. I've been posting a lot more art and writing and related reels this month--not particularly to drive sales or traffic, but just to share and it feels good. Some of it, of course, more driven to advertise the new book or point out new shop offerings, but just as much not. It occurred to me that I feel like socials offer many more potential eyes on your stuff than other kinds of publication. And what's more, not necessarily other poets only (though I imagine algorithms obviously still skew to other writers, but not exclusively.) Sometimes I just make stuff for fun for Instagram or Youtube (I tried Tik Tok in the spring, but it was clunky for me on my phone and the views were not substantially different from IG reels. (actually Youtube shorts outpaced both.) Stuff that's only tangentially promotional for any particular thing. 

This content feels perhaps the best out in the world since there are less markers of whether or not you are failing like a stack of unsold books sitting there waiting for someone to notice you. You make it--be it poem, be it collage, be it a strange little reel and it's out there in the world.I used to avoid posting poems in these spaces, "saving" them for journals and serial rights, who probably are gonna give you 9 nos before you maybe get a yes. And then trying to get readers to that publication and your poem once it's out (and if it's out and the journal doesn't cease publication before it's actually live--a tragic effect of post-pandemic closures.). While I love the community aspects of journal publications, I've been splitting the difference and dividing new poems between submission packets and just posting a lot of them on IG.  Often this content feels like a better ROI of time than submitting every single poem traditionally. I've been doing this with rejections as well, esp. for pieces I really like and don't feel like flinging them back out there again and moving onto sending out other projects. (also this allows me some flexibility for sharing poems one by one that are coming in impending zines without worrying about eventual withdrawals on long-wait submissions. because I do want to share them, but I d rather fo it on my schedule than someone else's. 

But then there is also a danger in doing this--the platforms themselves are iffy and subject both to algorithms and self-destruction (ahem,..Twitter). Occasional shadiness. Things get real hot and go cold real fast for no good reason, which I suspect is why business advisors tell you to keep eggs in many different baskets. But there is only time for so many baskets. I am mostly an Instagram user, though I do share similar things and more on FB, but less as an artist (though that too).  That's more from freind-walled protected content, pop culture, random silliness. Everyone is there, including old college and HS friends, relatives, old co-workers. These people are rarely on Instagram unless they too are creators of some sort. I use a lot of other sites for tools--Youtube for video, Flickr for storing images, Pinterest for my own inspo reasons (not just art but also fashion and decor). And this place, its own kind of of black hole where words go in, but it's hard to hear them hit bottom. I joined Threads a couple weeks back just because I liked the idea of it, but have found, like Twitter, I don't have much to post (and maybe even less b/c its a phone app entirely and I hate typing on my phone.)

So far, I've just posted some links to blog posts here over there and don't really find myself clicking in to the app a tenth of as much as I do IG, so it may not be all that useful for me personally, but it will be interested to see how things shift and change like the sea...

Friday, July 21, 2023

life in plastic

I was definitely a Barbie fan as a kid, probably from around the time I first noticed that toys and clothes were a thing. While my interest in other kinds of dolls waxed and waned, Barbie was different. It was more about being Barbie and slogging her through outfit changes and dramatic scenes. Setting up the intricate townhouse with the string operated-elevator and the vinyl pool set that came with tiny plastic beach balls and suntan lotion. Less about treating her like a doll to be mothered, though I did this to some degree with Cabbage Patches later on. That kind of mothering never took (obviously) but the fascination with Barbie and her wardrobe did. Christmases from around ages 5-12 were filled with requests for Barbies and Barbie accouterments, including that lopsided cardboard townhouse that eventually warped from humidity and fell apart (a far cheaper alternative to the dream house, which probably should have taught me about real estate and economics early on.)

Still, those years were an endless trail of Barbie, from gold glitzy lame-clad Babie to roller skating Barbie (and Ken). Barbies with magical perms and long hair you curled with a strangely large and violent plastic contraption. Rocker Barbies in neon. Off-brand Barbies whose legs didn't bend but we'd buy them anyways, largely because there were so many clothes carted around in our pink vinyl cases you needed an army of Barbies to wear them. You had the newer and more pristine Barbies and you had the Barbies who had seen some shit--shorn, taken in the bathtub, heads popped off and stuck crudely back on. The one inexplicably missing an arm or leg. I went through a stage around age 6 where Barbie's legs were always in my mouth, my teeth gnawing her slender feet enough to leave marks and some cases, go straight through to the bone. 

My sources for clothes were multiple, including a huge stash of clothes and dolls inherited from my older cousins from the 70s and a woman who lived across the street who sewed the most exquisite and tiny doll clothes and sold them at craft fairs. I occasionally got her missteps and her cast-offs, including a cool tiny floral sleeping bag I adored.  Occasionally my mom would buy them from her or swap them for the bisque-painted animals and figures my mom worked on and sometimes sold with her at the fairs (we also got a second-hand guinea pig from her when her teen daughter moved out). These were beautiful and detailed in amazing fabric, denim, and furs, and nothing like what Barbie was getting in the stores. I never really wanted the career-driven Babies--the doctors and astronauts. I wanted the most pink and glamorous, the most outfitted in tulle and satin. Who cared about careers when your wardrobe was fabulous.

We eventually had a lot of collective Barbie stuff between the two of us as my sister got older. Cars and beauty counters and swimming pools filled with water we were forbidden to play with in the house lest we spill it. Luxe canopy beds that Barbie barely fit into. Lots of random single shoes and a pair of red cowboy boots. While my interest was waning as I ended elementary school, we still sometimes hauled them out and at least dressed them stylishly and proposed intricate soap opera-like dramatics before abandoning them for something else. Once, under the direction of a girl loosely related by marriage through my aunt and uncle, I'm pretty sure there was some sort of nekkid Barbie orgy and possibly a murder that was great fun and had us in hysterics. There were boys that were the offspring of my parents' bowling partners who broke the elevator and a pillar in my townhouse and convinced me at age 9 I'd never live with boys. You know, the usual stuff. 

I don't think I quite understood that Barbie's body was amiss, that the strangely proportioned monstrosity meant for the male gaze and teetering on her tiptoes was supposed to be the "ideal" body. But then again, you got that shit everywhere. I think by the time my own body issues were kicking in, I was barely paying any attention to Barbie at all and there are probably far more sinister and immediate things to blame for the afflictions of girls and their bodies in the 1980s. Like the new pediatrician who urged my mother at 10 to put me on a diet to lose 20 pounds thus beginning a decade and a half of dysfunctional dieting. At least Barbie was shown as an independent woman with career ambitions, which I probably never realized was as subversive as it was for the time We were, after all,  just a decade or so out of women actually being able to have credit cards without husband approval.  Everyone always talks now about "main character energy" and I don't think we realized quite how much Barbie had. While she was often paired with Ken, she was just as often not. I think there was a Barbie friend that had a kid (or maybe I hallucinated it) but Barbie, despite lavish fantasy wedding dresses, was always a single girl and independent--also probably far more revolutionary than we thought. 

The coolest things I am seeing about the movie, which we are hoping to get to see in theaters, though I may have to go it alone or just wait til streaming due to J's schedule, is that it seems to include everyone in on the Barbie train. not just statuesque blondes, but people of all races, body types, etc, all the main characters of their own stories. To Barbie, I may own my storytelling acumen and flair for dramatic plots, but also my interests in clothes and fashion since I too like to dress up for no good reason, and in fact, bought a Barbie pink sundress just lack week just in case we make it to the theater or just to wear out. I've often wondered if there was a writer Barbie what would she be wearing? Her accessories? No doubt a tiny bottle of Advil and a notebook with tiny page? A tiny laptop and cup of Starbucks? Self-doubt and imposter syndrome?

Thursday, July 20, 2023

scents of the city

Earlier today I was working on an article about perfect Chicago souvenirs and trying to avoid the obvious ones--snow globes and sports jerseys and giant overpriced tins of Garrett's popcorn and stumbled upon a Chicago-scented candle, which had me giggling to myself all afternoon because the first impulse had was to say that to be a real encapsulation it had to smell a little like pee and food cooking, which is actually not at all accurate (though certain alleyways you pass by definitely go hard on the former.) It does smell like food--fried, grilled, broiled, especially in high restaurant areas. Down near Columbia and the Fine Arts, it sometimes smelled like bbq when there was a restaurant still in the Blackstone Hotel. All the hotels had a smell like A/C--a blast of cool air--when you walked past the doors.  In May, I could catch the scent of lilacs across the street in Grant Park when the wind was right. Sometimes asphalt and concrete, sometimes the lake, and sometimes like rain or cut grass. There is a particular spot near Randolph Street along Michigan that, on some nights, I could catch the scent of Blommer's Chocolate factory miles away.  My little neighborhood on the north side mostly smells like the lake if it smells like anything, especially if the wind is off it. Maybe garbage in the alleys if it's been unusually hot. Every spring, Loyola lays down a mulch near their buildings that I swear smells like cat shit. My apartment building smells like laundry soap on the first floor and weed and cooked Indian food upstairs, and sometimes like Chinese takeout in the elevator which always makes me crave it.  

I have an early poem in my first book, THE FEVER ALMANAC, that talks about the city--particularly Lincoln Park that subconsciously to me smelled like money and cashmere. When I was in grad school,  I used to walk around the neighborhood at night with my sister when she was visiting and we'd try not to be too obvious about staring into the windows of palatial graystones and brick mansions. The well-heeled young LP Trixies riding bikes and walking golden retrievers one last time for the night, who have probably no doubt moved to the suburbs after marrying their Chads and popping out a few kids. It was a neighborhood that was beautiful, but even then I was sure I didn't belong there. I still associate certain smells with that apartment though. like.the thin tinge of gas from the stove that greeted you always. (My sister always says we made Chef Boyardee box pizza one time and it smelled like it for two There was a smell the streets had when the leaves started to fall and I will always associate that particular neighborhood with autumn in my mind, though I was there for two full years of other seasons. I also associate the strong smell of coffee from when I briefly worked at Starbucks one summer. Herbal Essences shampoo (which I still use) and the weird unpleasant smell of mint tea bags sitting for a couple days in mugs I kept leaving everywhere.

Scent is a sense that has even more of resonance than hearing for me. While music has its own associations and memories, they feel more like cognitive things.  A few weeks ago,  heard Adele's "Rolling In the Deep" song and immediately I am in a wood paneled bar in the summer of 2011, madly in love with someone who would never love me back, who turns and says, after we are quite for a second, "Wow, this is a good song." I hear Veruca Salt's "Volcano Girls"  and I am in my car driving to play rehearsal in 1996. Smell, though, is not just mental memory, but bodily memory. Anytime I smell Downy, I think of my grandmother's carefully folded washcloths in a pale blue cabinet. How I would wet them in the bath and hold them over my nose to relish the scent while mice ran back and forth under the tub, terrified I would hear the snap of the traps she kept there. When I was a child and she died when I was around eight, I was convinced every time I smelled it maybe she was haunting me. And of course, it being a major brand, I smelled it a lot.


Wednesday, July 19, 2023

demons and demagogues

This is often posted as a real vintage unattributed image, which is of course, part of its charm (but it's far too good a manipulation...sadly not

I've been stumbling across this article quite a few times today and bookmarked it to read this evening...not because I was especially interested in the religious tenor of its title or aims (though without the religious stuff, still a sound read on audience engagement with poems and not always having to fully understand things to appreciate them.) But also because it got me thinking again about what drives poets to speak when so much wants to silence them, which can range from insecurity and fear of rejection. Actual rejection and neglect of certain voices. Self-doubt and imposter syndrome. Just the general rigors of navigating everyday life in the face of artmaking and creativity.  Capitalism and anti-intellectualism.  In some places, persecution of voices, death, and imprisonment of going against someone with power. 

Everything conspires against the poet, and yet the poet somehow endures. Poems still get made, though just as many do not. I think about my MFA years, and I don't think it's a coincidence that some of the best writing I encountered was by poets never wrote again. At least not for public consumption. They did far more sensible things with their careers or locked down their artmaking to private or both. The terrible ones also maybe stopped writing or maybe they got better or are still getting better somewhere in secret. Others went on to continue and publish in journals, in books, maybe win some awards. But these were often the most ambitious and tenacious ones when all other things were equal. Maybe the most stubborn, not especially most brilliant. (I group myself in this group.). It's hard to make a name, even if you managed to pass through the bottlenecks of publishers and award committees, and editors.  It doesn't mean it's easier, and may in fact be more difficult and dispiriting because you can see the distant shore of things when you took their existence on faith as a younger poet.

Even outside that shore, the act of writing, even if you set fire to every poem you write and scatter its ashes is a gesture in madness. Of tenacity. My first thought when I saw the above article's headline was to snort and say out loud to the cats and no one in particular "Yeah, I don't think God has anything to do with that!" Becuase, in the Christian mythology hammered into my head equally by Milton and too many episodes of Supernatural, I know that the sort of questioning that happens in poetry, the sort of subversive luxuriating of language, is very ungodly and of the body vs. the soul. Or at least the way I do poetry. Maybe if I were a different kind of poet, I'd connect it to god, but sometimes writing and expression feels more like a demon. Not Satan or Lucifer per say, who is far too fleshed out and specific an allegorical figure,  but something demonic harbored in the heart or the mind where the words get made. A hallucination. A trickery.  Many people say poetry can get you closer to god, but I feel sometimes like it definitely has the opposite effect. Poets have the best kind of madness, literal and figurative. But then again, poetry is also about exaltation, which seems a little godly, though I would frame it more as a pagan sort of energy. Also, writing anything, and bringing something into being is a god-like activity whatever your brand of religion.poetry does nothing good for the world. Or maybe it does everything. 

So we bed down with our demons and make poems from them, the big ones and the little ones, and hopefully they do not devour us before we are done.  

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Monday, July 17, 2023

plague letters and the animal body

I was scrolling back through some blog entries from last summer and noted the difference in not only everyone else's attitude toward the pandemic (which is still happening) but also my own. I am perhaps not as careful as I should be...but I understand now how easy it is to become complacent. Well, maybe not initially when there was still hope we could stem it. But maybe less now. The fall and winter was rough one, and I emerged on the other side not necessarily ambivalent about covid, but feeling loose around the edges about it when I had been so vigilant before. Of course, the price was what may have been the virus after New Year's outings, and then maybe again more recently (this time ferried to me at home by J.) We've reached the stage where unless you mask all the time, you are likely going to come across it. Even me, who barely interacts with anyone. Since I was isolating whatever it was, and no one is taking stats anymore, I just assumed maybe it was and did not venture out to get tested (which would actually possibly expose more people than me just waiting it out at home.)  I wasn't particularly sick either time in a scary way, just an annoying one--both sinus and then some coughing later, the usual pattern of my illnesses that befall me 1-2 times per year. The second one may have bought a low-grade fever, but I didn't have a thermometer at home to check for sure. Whatever it was, it moved out on over the water fairly swiftly. 

I've been thinking of complacency as I edited the plague letter poems last month, written in the thick of things, later than bloom, but still when Delta and Omicron were running rampant. The idea of the body as it moved through the world or did not move through the world. As someone who often has felt at various points like all head/no real body, it was strange to be beholden to things like contagion and biology. Surely, I was not a creature that, like an animal, faced extinction merely by the sort of virus in past years I would have just worked through and brushed aside as sniffles or maybe the flu, but never so bad as all that. Only a few things tripped me up. When I had mono in the mid-aughts, or a very persistent cough that afflicted me in January of 2019 (so much so, I later wondered if covid had been with us longer than determined because that was brutal). Even that I was lucky to come down with the feverish part over a weekend and was back at work on Monday hacking at my desk. 

The letters are, in this case, epistolaries written to the self as abody, as corporal creature. But also to others--investors, senators, petty thieves. The bodies our bodies interact with in real space and virtual ones. As poets, I suspect I am not the only one who feels like she lives in her head more than her actual body. I dress the body sure, and love clothes but they feel separate somehow. I feed the body and sometimes the body wants things--tacos, ice cream, sweet red cherries. Coffee or chocolate. Sometimes it wants sex or touch or just to throw itself into water and swim to an opposite shore. I am aware of the body sometimes more than others. Like how different my muscles feel, good or bad, after workouts or movement.  How it feels when I've gone too long without either. The animal body, which seems like some stranger to the creative and mental body we inhabit that barely notices the animal until, say, you've been busy writing and forgotten to eat lunch and your stomach lets you know.

Having been at a tattoo studio twice in the past month, I've thought of this while lying there emblazing the body with magnolias and butterflies, which I suppose, puts you in the body for the duration of the session, much in the way I imagine massage or reiki or acupuncture does. Strange and somewhat a stranger still  this body, even still after nearly 50 years of living in it and moving it around in the world. 

Sunday, July 16, 2023

art and content : the dirty c-word


I have a sordid little confession to make. I  have been known, in some moments, to call what I write or do or make "content" particularly if made in/for the medium of the digital world. I don't call poems this, obviously, not when I am writing them, when they have the elevated status of "art" and feel to have some sort of sacred creative aura around them that places them on a shelf or pedestal above my "content" work, which is mostly blogs and articles about wallpaper and DIY projects and various design aesthetics. Or restaurant listings and lessons about architecture and greek goddesses. I spend much more of my time on these things since they allow me to eat and pay rent, but when the poems get made and the art gets created, they still exist on another plane. An elevated plane.

That is, until it comes to sharing them with an audience, which in turn, suddenly kinda makes them content whether I like it or not. People throw around the word content dismissively, the action of consuming it (vs. consuming ART) as frivolous and a way to pass the time. But then I often consume art as a way to pass the time, don't we all? It's not selling bed sheets and Ikea credenzas, but it is working in a similar way. To entertain, to stir, to inspire. Just doing so for different aims. And in some ways, maybe it works to sell the artist, to generate interest, attention, to build community. Which is all the same aims of content of other kinds.  And yet artists, even me, get prickly when you start calling what they make, especially writers, the dreaded C-word. 

My dirty little confession includes that I actually have written in my planning software "Creative Content Day." Part of this is what everyone would agree is content..promotional graphics and reels, webpage building, writing blogs like this. But also some things that may cause pause. Editing work that I've drafted daily during the week. .Assembling manuscripts.  Sending out submissions. Two days a week are press days for editing & design, four others are freelance days, where I am writing content every day for other publications that pay me to do so. Creative content days are my favorite, even though I am usually working on writing (mornings) and art (evenings) throughout the week.  It's a day where I do more time intensive tasks that can't be wedged in the rest of the week. But then, I also keep a list and a google drive folder called "creative content" to keep track of things I want to post on socials or here through the week. This includes collages but also poem graphics and reels and other random internet bits. Eventually, whatever I pedestal I put it on when making it, no matter how high,  it eventually becomes content. 

People (and by people I mean artists and writers) get really knee-jerky when art is confused for content. I follow some IG's most dreaded creatures, "content creators" some of who make intricately beautiful videos of home decor or style, sometimes in service to brand deals, but not always. While some would hesitate to call them art and more a kind of consumable, That consumability has often been leveraged and aimed an everything from pop music to romance novels to distinguish it from art. Perhaps we should talk more about formulas and genres. A romance novel has a formula, as do most chart-topping songs. The content creators are usually adhering to some sort of formula based on what they are drawn to themselves or the styles of other creators. But then so does literature sometimes--even poetry.  Insta poets are an obvious example. New Yorker poems are another. I would also say certain avant-schools of poetry also have a style you see again and again. 

And ultimately, unless you are one of those rare exotic birds who doesn't want to share your work, your work eventually becomes content, whether you read it at a reading, post it on FB, or submit it to a literary magazine. At the point where it meets a consumer, no matter how lofty its aims. So this at least makes me feel less weird about calling my art content. 

But I will confess that doing so, at least in the past year or so, has made things like promotion and social media little more fun. I used to see them as separate, the art-making and the content creation, one the meat and potatoes, the other the flavorless broccoli, or the necessary evil of getting your work out there and enticing readers/viewers to look at the art. But much of what I do now I see holistically as part of the same process. I used to focus so much on the end product of book sales and gaining attention, but now I try to focus more on sharing things--whether its poems or images or video. The sharing is the point (though if it leads to book sales or website visits all the better.) But I've used the analogy before of the museum gift shop. Nice if you stop in, but absolutely not necessary. You can still enjoy the museum. This shift in thinking has taken a lot of pressure off me to see myself as failing if I don't get enough likes or hits or sales in the shop. The content and the sharing/consuming is the point, not these other markers. 

I have seen the statement that while content is out to sell you something, art is a gift you give with no return expected. But then again, everything is an exchange of some sort, a creative product for attention and engagement. Art for audience. Even if it's in non-digital spaces like coffee shop readings and gallery spaces, it works much the same. 

art and content :the beast of branding

Every once in a while I stumble into an article or discussion about art as content. Or conversely, about content as art. More often it's posed as a dismissal or a question, about what we produce as artists in a world where content reigns. And what is meant by content, really, since so much of what entertains or informs us could be classified as such?  Youtubers and Instagrammers creating content for various niches. Television shows and Hollywood movies. Blogs and articles and aesthetic Tik Toks. And, usually the most important question,  how artists especially work to make a clear line of distinction between what they do as artists and what "content creators" do. 

I suppose we are all content consumers to some degree. Movies, shows, obviously, and for me things like plus size fashion and thrifting videos, design articles, and IG reels. Writers on Instagram talking about writing routines and publishing, or artists showing a day working in their studios. I've been a reader of long-form blog content, writing, and lifestylish things,  since the beginning, long before short-form social media was a thing, Even before the internet, things like magazines and non-fiction books. All of it content--read to inform or entertain, or in some cases to sell something, because yo, capitalism. When I was first looking for freelance writing career guidance and watching a lot of, yes, content, on Youtube, there was much discussion of content vs copy, how the latter was to sell, but also how the former can also be used to sell. While less of my work has been overtly in the interest of commerce, some of it definitely is, whether its blogs or gift guides or design must-haves. Much of content writing is brand building, but some is definitely more driven toward strategically directing traffic in some way. 

Back a decade or so ago when people first began to speak of brand building, things got weird. Not just creatives who make artful things, but people, just ordinary ones, going about their lives as presented for social media consumption. People branded their families, their weddings, their everyday life. They made logos to start blogs about household cleaning tips or DIY projects. Recipes and family holiday photos. Successful branding in turn led to more engagement which led to advertising and sponsorship and the things that make money on the internet. And of course, if you are at all creative, the idea of turning your passions and interests into money-making activities is the dream for all of us (well, unless we are rich already or have some sort of support). 

Artists were quick to scoffingly say they weren't brands, they were artists, but still in many cases came across as brands (which I don't think is a bad thing if its genuine and true to who you are and what you're making/doing/love.) We are all brands, on the internet or not. It's expressed through what we were, what we do, who our friends are. What we read and watch and make. If its not online, its in person. I always think of figures like Anne Sexton or Stephen King, and how, through things like reading and interviews and just being in the world, they definitely were a brand. Sometimes it has to do with the work and sometimes nothing at all. It can be a conscious effort or not conscious at all. I think the internet got people thinking about it in marketing terms where they weren't thinking about it before, at least not the artists themselves. Pre-internet, it may have been left to agents and PR reps and other professionals if you were big enough to have them.

Of course, most of us don't have these. So we somehow embody a brand--good or bad, genuine or disingenuous. Assemble it through bits of internet ephemera, real life, and of course, the work, which is hopefully the path toward which all things lead. It's true of everyone from novelists and painters to big-name Hollywood actors. It's about work, but also about the YOU who makes it. Because ultimately, its seldom just about work. Culture has never fully been able to cleave the artist from the art, the writer from the writing, no matter how valiantly New Criticism tried. 

When I was a baby poet and building my first website in 2001, I was so clueless and hopeful. Over the next few years I spent time agonizing over color and images, and yes, even fonts. I didn't know it, but that was a kind of branding. Every social media platform or book design or interview, also branding. Your author photo and how you come across in a tiny, tiny picture.  This blog, is part branding, part brain dump, of course, which is also a kind of branding. I often hear writers bemoan that they are no good at branding, but I think if they really considered what they do and how they do it, they'd see ways it works in their life as a public artist. They aren't just doing it, they ARE it. Even if they're just making random observations or posting memes on Twitter. 

The public you can be the same as the private you, the genuine you, the you when no one is looking. Or I suppose it could be something else..a Hannah Montana-like trick of mirrors. Or an artistic persona. Alternate versions with pen names and made-up pasts. But whichever part you re playing in the public sphere, that too is a brand. It may have very little to do with the art, itself, or it may be tied inextricably to it. But it's there. 

What I also don't think gets mentioned enough is that branding can also be part of the art and not entirely separate from it. As someone who gets great enjoyment from re-engaging with my writing and art in how I put it out into the word--the websites, the video content and graphics and blogs--its becomes very closely tied together. The thought processes behind both are similar. Both are a kind of creation, but with different ends (or maybe not so different at all--as I plan to discuss in part two of this discussion.) Regardless, so many artists see branding and marketing as the antithesis of creating and get frustrated when they don't think they are doing it well or enough or it seems tremendously overwhelming. They forget to find joy in it, though there is surely joy to be had, however much time you choose to invest in it. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Monday, July 10, 2023

poetry and documentation

When I was in the process of finalizing and editing the poems in COLLAPSOLOGIES, I kept stumbling across details from the early days of the pandemic that I forgot. Somehow misplaced in the intervening years since I wrote them and made the "bloom" zine in late 2020. In the entirety of the collection, this section is probably the most directly autobiographical, and in being so, feels almost like an artifact of a very strange era in history--both the world's and my own--that passed. I often write poems, and once they've solidified, I don't really look at them again until they meet some kind of publication. Or sometimes, I'll put them in a zine and then not really revisit them until I am compiling things for a full-length manuscript. 

Even though other poems touch on the pandemic like "the plague letters," or "unreal city" (which is actually not in this manuscript but another) those pieces seem later, written at a great distance in late 2020 and 2021.  "bloom" was written in the mid to late summer of 2020, when the experience of lockdowns and quarantines and curfews for the city were still much fresher. When we were making our way with trepidation back into a wholly uncertain world with no vaccines. It's far more personal to my own experience of those strange months, the leading up and the immediate aftermath--how the tree near the bus stop was full of wasps no one seemed to be dealing with for weeks. How the library felt like a tomb re-opened (though this was probably wrong, people had been in and out all spring installing plexiglass and directional stickers that would already be curling and peeling from the walls and carpet.) The cleaning staff, who had worked on campus to get it ready to reopen told horror stories about bathroom and stairwell floors full of dead cockroaches after the college used the time for more hearty extermination efforts in the absence of the public. Their stories all told through masks from a careful distance of 6 feet away. We did things in those months that actually were probably over cautious like setting up self-checkouts and closing the stacks in lieu of a pickup shelf\. But really, hardly anyone was around to use it, not through that summer or into the fall. In a staff of around 15, there were three of us in-house regularly, and it remained that way for a long while. Every day, we presented the app screen that claimed we had no symptoms to the security guard and placed our faces up to a tablet to discern possible fever. 

But the best details come from the early and middle days of lockdowns. The details of the world as people stayed inside, including one very luxurious group of black cows who laid about French beaches absent of sunbathers. They were my favorite detail that I sometimes forget, but there they are in a poem. Or the coyote photographed in the middle of the Mag Mile, not a completely unrealistic sight in the wee hours, but unreal midday when normal the streets would be teeming with people. These were the surreal good memories, but there were also less so---fires, violence, riots downtown (not pandemic related, but justice related) Curfews that required J, who was suffering serious financial constraints due to not working, come over evenings before the city battened down for the night at 9pm.   And  I was lucky, death and sickness only skirted the fringes of my existence, but it cast a pretty big shadow over my mental health nevertheless. The day my copies of SEX & VIOLENCE arrived was also the day that things were burning downtown. I told my boss, I was taking a sick day and going back to bed instead of working. I wasn't sick, but perhaps the world was and I was feeling the effects acutely that Monday. I also began to question what the point of poetry was at all

Some of these memories exist in Instagram shots and the blog posts I was writing here, but the poems in "bloom" flesh them and the surrounding months out a little in more detail. Commit them to the page. While the other parts of the book circle around the pandemic from various angles, this one attacks it head-on. But then again, the fact that it feels so personal is also the reason it is actually my least favorite of all the sequences in the book, outshone by The Shining poems, also written that summer, and the tabloid pieces, written a bit later, which feel like they have more to say on the books overarching themes. Also, the world is swimming in pandemic books. I've published a few. But I decided to open this book with "bloom," largely because it provides a context and a grounding. Almost a prologue as to why the rest of the book exists, even when only two sections address the pandemic directly, the others glossing more on economic and political subject matter. Even while, in the present, the experiences that I was writing about feel like a strange fever dream I am not even sure I had. But the poems prove it. Set it in ink. 

Sunday, July 09, 2023