Baby Steps

DreamingBooksThe solstice is a time of new beginnings. The light starts to come back, overpowering the dark, the seasons turn, and we hunker down for the winter, which is a time of introspection and creativity. So it seems, I hope, oracular that I had the day I did yesterday. I've started doing some electronic housecleaning, getting my bookmarks and passwords back in order for accounts I haven't touched in several years. These are mostly creative accounts connected to my website building, or bookmaking, or my now defunct teaching and freelance careers. Some of them are old enough that I've already been scrubbed from the sites themselves, which is fine. Most of those are obsolete or I don't use them anymore anyway. It's a little sobering that it's been that long though.

I'm also trying to change the way I work, so I set a repeating timer for 20 minutes and then got up out of my chair and did something else for varying amounts of time when it went off. Peed. Made the bed. Did the dishes. Looked over the mail. Had lunch. Made tea. (I just found a great Darjeeling from Arbor Teas in Ann Arbor. Fragrant and lush.) Planned dinner. Cooked. Stood up and sang a bit, which felt great! Ran out to do shopping. Swept the floor. Emptied the catbox. I thought it would be annoying, but it was actually good to get my ass out of the chair and not get sucked into the Intertubez so deeply, as deeply as I have been. I've also been weening myself off Facebook in preparation for my exodus in January (which won't be a total one, at east not yet; I'll be over at MeWe, too, for those who'd like to join me, just not as often, either).

Not Hopeless bullshit
credit: Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

All of that electronic housecleaning and organizing seems a hopeful (and useful) step in my personal rehabilitation. That's what this feels like: rehab. I'm still feeling a little displaced, or maybe "unplaced" would be a better description, in an apartment that's not quite home but becoming it, in a life that's very different from one I knew for 25+ years. Yesterday was a bit like rediscovering that old self, or maybe unearthing her again (hopefully not like a zombie or vampire). I'm reminding myself of what I used to do when Facebook hadn't become an escape and a focus for my energy and rage. First thing in the morning, I used to read Arts & Letters Daily, which is a great aggregater for the kind of stuff writers and readers read. I used to read the comics every day, so I spent some time weeding my comics bookmarks, and adding some to Feedly. I reconnected with some old 2D friends, major portions of whose stories I've missed and may never catch up on, which makes me a bit sad. I may have to buy books to do that. (Oh no! Not that! Don't make me buy books!)

I also spent part of the day cleaning up my poetry market bookmarks and adding new ones. It's sad to see how many journals have folded in the time since I was regularly sending work out. But there are plenty more to take their places and lots of venerable ones hanging on. I won't start with how it pisses me off to have to pay to have my work read, which is one of my many soapboxes, this one about how our government doesn't support the arts in this country. Regardless, I'm at least thinking about submitting work again, which I haven't done much of, lately. And starting to act like a real writer again, whether I'm writing or not. It's a business if you're serious about it and some of your time has to be spent doing the business end. So while I'm waiting for my brain to clutter itself up again with voices, this seemed like a good way to spend my time.

And it led to a really wonderful and exciting day-making interchange with an editor who seems like she might be a new friend. 

Perfidy-Report-buttonI've been wondering what to do with all the poems I wrote about T-Rump in the first year of his reign, poems I wrote in a white-hot rage, one a day for a long time, until I was worn down and couldn't keep up with all the acts of cruelty and vileness. They were posted on Facebook and a resurrected blog I'd run during W's torture regime, The Perfidy Report. Fifty-four poems later, Days of Perfidy became a collection I despaired of ever finding a home for. Then, while trolling through the Poetry Submissions Portal on Facebook, I ran across a call from Headline Poetry & Press, which is all about political poetry. I looked over the submission guidelines, which included an email address to drop the editor a line if you had questions. I didn't just want to upload the whole manuscript so I shot her a note instead, explaining the manuscript's genesis and that the poems had been published on The Perfidy Report and giving her a link, thinking I'd hear back in January at the earliest. Much to my surprise, she responded only a half hour later with an enthusiastic interest. That started a really pleasant and fun back and forth email chain of the kind you have with new and interesting people, asking questions, answering them, sussing out what each of you like and are like.  

It's always gratifying when people like and are interested in publishing your work but it's even better when you make a personal connection with someone who likes your work. This was really great because I don't often email editors with personal requests like this. Like, never, in fact. Maybe I'm getting bolder in my old age. I'm not sure I can explain why this whole thing was so delightful. In part, it was the speed of the reply, the curiosity and openness and collaborative nature of the person on the other end and her sense of humor. I realized this morning that she reminds me, at least on paper, of my grad-school friend Gwen, another poet and generous soul that we lost to cancer a few years ago. Anyway, it was a really delightful experience back-and-forthing with her. Just what I needed to restore a little faith in myself.



Use It or Lose It

BooksMadeHereBeen thinking a lot about creativity lately and how I seem to have lost mine. It's always been a bit of a struggle for me, in contrast to some of my friends who seem to have new things pop out of them all the time (I'm looking at you, Marcia Gilbert. And where is your website for me to link to?) That goes way back. My mom was a creative person too; she crocheted a bit, did embroidery, needlepoint, and crewel work, tatted, sewed quilts and clothes, baked, poured and painted ceramics, and most of all, painted china. Needlepointing and china painting were her two main creative outlets and she was really good at both. She and I made ceramics for a while when I was a kid (the kind you pour in molds with slip, not the thrown kind) before she started china painting, and that was fun, but I think I would have liked thrown ceramics better. Messy, more intent involved, glazes to mix and a bit of chemistry to learn. Still a goal. I love ceramics the way Mom loved porcelain.

One of Mom's painted plates

She was also a perfectionist and really tough on herself, so I had that role model, which didn't make it easy to be creative. And she was an honest critic, which was both good and bad. Kids need a mom who thinks everything they do is brilliant; I had one who thought everything I did had the potential to be brilliant. On the plus side, I learned to take criticism well pretty early. It made me practice and practice and practice and practice when I was teaching myself guitar, but it made it excruciating to take lessons in anything. Failure wasn't an acceptable part of the process. But it has to be, and it's taken me a long time to allow myself to do that, to fail, to make failures, and not feel like one at the same time.

I think Mom was hoping we'd have a hobby or craft we could do together, so I tried crocheting, hooking rugs, embroidery, and making ceramics with her. She really wanted me to learn china painting, but I didn't have the patience for it and, well, see above about taking lessons. I explored very different creative avenues from Mom's, too: pencil portraits, pen and ink, guitar in high school, and finally writing. Writing was something Mom didn't do at all and it was it like breathing to me. The words were always there, shaping themselves into sentences or lines and stanzas. There was a voice in my head most of the time stringing them together. All through school, when my teachers thought I was taking notes like mad, I was writing stories—fanfic and stories about the kids in my neighborhood—that I shared around at lunch or on the bus after school.

Then I took a mechanical drawing class in high school and fell in love. I've always scored high on the spatial relationships part of aptitude and intelligence tests, the ones where you rotate 3D figures or take them apart in your head, and I liked the tools of mechanical drawing. I've still got my set of pencils and compasses and my T-square. And then I learned to type, on an IBM Selectric that was almost, but not quite, a typesetter. (In grad school, I got a daisy wheel typewriter/printer that was even closer; heaven.) I joined the yearbook staff. And that's how I got interested in layout. I learned real typesettng on the college newspaper, and when PageMaker came out when I was working my first job in New York, I was in ecstasy. I taught myself PageMaker, QuarkXpress and InDesign as they each came out, studying typography along the way. I bought a copy of Words Into Type. I bought typography and design books and learned to see what makes a good layout and good design. I bought art and artist's books. I laid out newsletters, pamphlets, proposals, posters, book covers, and reports. And that's how I wound up with the half-assed graphics/layout/word processing "career" I've had. I've never worked as a graphic artist in high end design jobs like magazines or advertising, but I've learned a lot from paying close attention to them. In one of my freelance proofreading jobs, I worked with a guy who was a fucking genius with Photoshop, who advised me to learn that instead of Illustrator. Turned out to be a wise choice for someone who's largely lost her drawing skills. I still hesitate to call myself a graphic artists, self-taught as I am. But I'm good at layout.

About ten years ago, I managed to scrape enough money together to take an intro to letterpress printing at the Center for Book Arts. And if the daisy wheel printer had been heaven, and the page layout programs had been ecstasy, working with a Vandercook and setting my own type by hand fucking blew the top of my head off. As a class, we designed and printed a broadside poem by Gregory Pardlo, "Glass," (which I loved). I suggested the design and set the type while everybody else picked it out and prepped the press. We each got a chance to set up and run off 25 copies ourselves. It. Was. Awesome. I fell in love with the Vandercook, which is a monster of an electric mechanical press. It fed all my love of machinery and tools and making large things do my bidding. I went home with dreams of my own letterpress shop dancing in my head. This of course requires that I win the Powerball lottery to buy a suitable building for my friends to live in and me to run  my press out of. Sure. Why not?

During the course of the long fanfic career I've had, I met a woman who was a conservator at a university library. When we became friends, she brought me into the lab she worked at and showed me how to do library bindings. I had no idea it was as easy as it was. That only fueled my press dreams a little more. We wound up making some very fancy fanzines together, a couple of which I'm still really proud of, with an imprint we formed called Two Vixens Press. In the meanwhile, as a poor substitute, I bought the equipment for a tiny, strictly digital press: a good Epson color printer, an HP laser printer, a powerful desktop hand built by another fandom friend, a big screen, and the Adobe software to go with it. I also bought myself a cast iron book press, which has been really handy. And I made some books (links in the sidebar). I started blogging about book arts, and going to book arts shows. Thus was born Maelstrom House. Then the Roommate happened.

So it's been a long, dry period of nothing creative and I'm easing my way back into making books, which appeals to my love of layout and typesetting and hand making things in mixed media. My equipment is outdated or broken now, so I have to rebuild that, and my hands are not as strong as they used to be and thanks to the growing arthritis, not as nimble. I feel like I've lost a lot of good creative time and momentum. I'm trying not to be resentful about that. It won't help.

For many reasons, I decided to ease my way back in with a book of my own poems. For one thing, I'm sick of the fact that the only way to get a collection published in the U.S. is to pay someone to read your work in a contest, the entry fees for which average $25. I've had enough individual poems published, and had enough people whose opinion I respect tell me I'm a good poet to not look at this as a vanity project but rather as another way of getting my work out there. I won awards for my poems in high school, college, and grad school. I've had a couple of near misses with contests, making it to the finalist pile. Besides, I'm in good company with Walt Whitman, e.e. cummings, and Virginia Woolf. The stigma of self-publishing is largely gone now, and there are many avenues of it. I've decided to put it out through Maelstrom House in a new imprint, or the resurrection of an old imprint—Long Meg Press—to keep it separate from the publication of other people's work. I'll start with a few handmade, perfect bound editions, make some print-on-demand editions available somewhere (I'm trying desperately to avoid Amazon; suggestions welcome), and learn how to make an ebook, which is a skill I've been wanting to add. And I know a thing or two about making books now. 

Well. I'm relearning it, anyway.

Imposition in InDesign. credit: Adobe

When I left my job at AKRF, I was a power user of the then-very-new InDesign CS2 and I could make it sit up and bark. I've laid out a number of chapbooks and zines and pamphlets and cards since then, so you'd think I'd remember how that signature thing works. Oh hell no. InDesign's newer versions do this cool thing called imposition, where you lay out the book in the page order it should appear in when printed, and the program makes the signatures for you, without screwing up your original layout. In the early versions, you had to do this by hand and it was an unholy fucking mess of linked text boxes. One thing that taught me was to make dummies first. But now InDesign does the messy work for you. It's almost too easy. Nothing like printing on a letterpress would be. 

But could I get that damn program to give me five signatures of an 80 page book? I could not. Took me four tries and a trip to the Adobe Help Desk (where I should have gone first) to remember I had to treat the first and last pages like a half-signature (of 4 pages) and check the box to print blank pages. (JFC, Adobe, why would I include blank pages in a document if I didn't want to print them? That should be the default, you dumbasses. Not a special box to check, buried in the printer preferences.) Then I realized if I was going to perfect-bind this thing, I didn't need a set of five signatures, which I'd have to pamphlet stitch and then bind; I needed individual four-page signatures. Duh. *Dramatically smacks forehead.*

Anyway, I got the innards laid out and fancied up with a nice typeface and a few ornaments here and there. It needs a bit more futzing with, but it looks good. And now it needs a cover. And Long Meg Press needs a logo again. I was dreaming about making that, the other night. It's good to dream.

Dreams: Anxiety #1

Depressed_moiI'm numbering these by type, because there will always be more. I'm a vivid dreamer and work a lot of stuff out in them, usually in the morning before I get up, like today. The street cleaner woke me at 7:30, and I rolled over and went back to sleep to find myself somewhere abroad, in the snowy mountains of Afghanistan, at a place that looked strangely like home nonetheless, and was equally hard to get to, get around, and get out of. I was living in a concrete bunker-like room with tall ceilings but very little else that was charming about it, though it was very modern, and I was late for class. Again. I'd enrolled at some kind of trade school where I was learning about design, and industrial design, and how to use complex tools and materials, but I wasn't the diligent student I usually am. I'd left my partner hanging on our project and screwed around for most of the semester. Today was the last day I had to redeem myself and I'd overslept, until 1:30 in the afternoon. Class started at 2:00, and there was no way I'd get there in time.

I went anyway, but it was mostly over by the time I got there, and people were putting the finishing touches on their projects. The class was in a huge concrete warehouse-type structure with multiple levels. Very modern, very Rem Koolhaas, totally out of place, but full of cool, talented people, wrapping up the end of their semester. A bunch were around a piano singing and celebrating the last class, including one older guy with an amazingly resonant bass voice that I wanted to meet. My friend Emilie was there too, working with an old acquaintance from high school named June. They were putting together a Plexiglas "rug" that would double as a wall-hanging and fold up neatly into a flat-pak. Around me throughout the building, I hear machines whirring. It occurs to me, after looking around, that the projects are oddly gender-sorted: women doing textiles and "soft" materials, guys working with glass, plastic, wood, metal, the ones that require complicated machinery to work with. My partner, a guy, and I had been working with glass and Plexiglas, though I don't remember what we'd been doing. It's reminiscent of the failed art project I'd done in college that promptly fell apart when I took it in for critique. (Great concept, it just needed better tools and technique to make it.)

I proceed to have a meltdown, realizing I've screwed up my whole semester and I'm going to fail this class and have to repeat it. I don't know what's wrong with me. I'm unmotivated, depressed, upset. Emilie keeps insisting it's because I don't have a man but I know that's not it. Somewhere inside, I know it's because I'm afraid: of the machines, of failure, of being found out as a fraud. I don't know what I'm doing and I hate that. But this is one of those few times where I can't just surf the fear through a new experience. I'm a failure.

Meanwhile, I meet three more friends in the parking lot, where it's snowing, and it turns out they're all pregnant, at more or less the same time, in the same stage. They've gotten huge since I last saw them. One of them is Sharon, whom I often copy edit for in real life Another is a summer roommate from college. The third is an unknown shadow. We drive away, through the snowy roads of the little town I grew up in and I wake up.

Well, that seems pretty self-explanatory, doesn't it? Another species of the anxiety dream, this one about art anxiety.The tool fear is kinda true. Dad worked hard to convince me that tools were dangerous and girls shouldn't "play" with them. I'm sure if I'd been a boy that would not have been the case. He was really annoyed when I took small engines in high school, and shop. Of course, the two token girls weren't allowed to get their hands dirty there, just like we weren't allowed to use the lab equipment in chemistry. (Thought it was okay if we washed it.) Jen gave me her tile cutter, which I'd love to have some place to use (it needs a workshop though) and I have a power drill, a Dremel and a couple of hand saws. I'd love to have a jigsaw or at least a circular saw, but again, you need a workshop for those, which I haven't got. Yet.

The pregnancy bit I'm sure is a metaphor for artistic creation. I'm seeing everyone else but me as full of ideas for art. That's a real fear too. I never think I have enough ideas for writing, making books or whatever, and yet I don't have enough time to get to the ideas I do have. Go figure.

I'm sure the snow and the sterile-looking buildings, the inaccessibility all speak to being trapped in some place where I can't create, but I'm not sure where that's coming from. Maybe from my looming reunion and my first (very minor and I hope last) surgery.

So there's my dream analysis. Be amused.