Web/Tech

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.

Rose&Lilac_10in
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.

Signatures-Adobe
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.


On Bubbles and Lost Time

Dark Side CookiesSheesh, did I. It's called Facebook.

I spruced up the blog a bit this weekend, to bring it up to date. Changed the layout and banner. Added some new/old content in the sidebars. Checked the links. In doing so I rediscovered some places on the web I hadn't been to in a while: interesting blogs, magazines, web comics. Things I miss, that I hadn't realized I missed until I saw them again. You'll see them over there on the right in the sidebars. In the editing, I discovered some of them were gone, or had come to a conclusion, or their authors had moved on to new projects, or to new places on the web. Most of them dated from about ten years ago, which is an eternity in interwebs time, and a fair amount of time in realspace. All things change; nothing is immutable. But I also spent part of this weekend starting a new account over at MeWe, which is largely antithetical to the conclusion I came to today.

I think I'm done with social media.

Crazy cat lady
Posing outside my office at NJCU with fellow adjunct activist Bri Bolin's signifying gifts.

For two reasons: one is that it is a huge, exhausting time suck of the "somebody is wrong on the internet!" type, and two is that I can't be part of the (sociopolitical) problem any more. I was initially pretty skeptical of Facebook when it arrived and killed my first account after a few weeks. I didn't like that it lived on, zombie-like, for weeks afterward, either. I was a lot more fanatical about my privacy back then. I've now reached the conclusion that it's impossible to have any privacy in an internet world without living totally off the grid like the Unibomber, so what the hell. It's not like my life is so utterly fascinating or that my secret thoughts are so dangerous that I'd be injured by them getting out. Embarrassed, probably, but not actually, you know, ruined in that Victorian sense of reputation. As I get older, I give fewer and fewer fucks about that. I'll never see any of you people again anyway. (Ah, the lessons New York has taught me!) I mean, I've already had this picture (above) circulated on the web back when it actually could hurt me, so what's the difference now? (In case you're wondering, the hat and mug are an in-joke with a somewhat vicious history. My fellow adjunct activists and I were embracing what was supposed to be a slur. I love that mug, and that hat is warm.)

I don't remember how I got sucked back in to Facebook again, but I dove in head-first with gusto the second time around, the way I tend to do with new things. It's a bit like infatuation with me; I can't get enough of it at first and then the fire dies down, eventually. Except it didn't with FB. I love the fiddling with settings and getting things to look just right (which is why I end up working in production so often). I also like to meet new people and make new friends. And before I knew it, Facebook was my principle "place" of social interaction, which is not a good thing, at least for me. I know chat rooms, BBSs, Tumblr and FB have been lifelines for folks with social anxiety or who live in the boondocks and can't find anyone like them to socialize with. And I think that's the beauty of the Internet: the opportunity to meet other people like you (and not like you). I rolled around quite a lot in Fandom-space through the Internet, and met some wonderful people I still think of as friends, though I'm not very involved in that subculture anymore. I've met some very cool friends of friends on FB, too, folks I would love to meet in "meat space" someday. Some of them, like some of my activist friends, I've actually been lucky enough to hug in real life. And for activism, social media is a godsend. It's not the be-all and end-all, by any means. Nothing beats face-to-face live action. But it's a great way to plan and connect and get the word out (c.f. the Hong Kong protests, most recently), although it can be a two-edged sword, when the government gets hold of it.

Somehow, in my embrace of all things social media, I wound up running not just my own but my union adjunct caucus's page, and New Faculty Majority's social media: blog, Twitter, FB. And after the election, the League of Nasty Women FB group. I went from adjunct activism to political activism. And I have spent hours a day on FB, shitposting and information and news posting for, literally, years. 

Years. Egads.

As I mentioned in the previous post, it was its own kind of lifesaver for me at the time, for at least five years. But I find instead of expanding my world, it's narrowed it to the issues of the day. Especially since the 2016 election of the Not So Great Pumpkin (apologies to Linus), I've been utterly absorbed in working to counteract the horrible crap he and his bigoted, greedy minions are foisting on us. It's felt like both a cause and a mission, in a way none of the obligatory proselytizing I did when I was younger ever did. But I have what I call a vacuum cleaner mind: if it's in the way, I suck it up, and the steady diet of politics and injustice I've been living on is beginning to take its toll. Quite a while ago, I decided I can no longer do nothing but wait for god to clean up our messes, as my former religion dictated. But I know also this is not something I can do alone, and it's not something I have any control over. I can speak out, be a good ally, vote, but I can't reach people who won't listen, and the ones who do listen don't need much talking to. As for that "someone is wrong on the internet" factor, I'm learning to let that go too, which is a good thing. I don't have to win every argument or even join in. Let the antivaxxers Darwin-Award themselves out of existence. A sign, maybe, that I'm finally maturing and don't always have to have the last word. Just sometimes.

I realize now that I miss literature. I miss poetry. I miss browsing through the internet for interesting articles not on politics or social justice. I miss following a couple of webcomics I was following before. I've been confined to the links in my bookmarks bar, which consist largely of newspapers and social media and work tools, and that's just crazy. The interwebs are vast and wonderful. There are still books being written, new poets to discover and read, things not directly related to politics and social justice to write about. I'm not sure whether what I've been doing is an addiction, an obsession, or—at least for the last few years—a form of self-care, but I'm ready to move on now. Even as I was doing this, I knew it couldn't last, but what I hadn't counted on was quite how much it would wear me out.

One of the other things I did when I was sprucing up the blog was have a re-read of my raison d'être for it ("Dowsing for What?" in the sidebar). I started this about 10 years ago, after my folks died,and I finally made the move to stop calling myself a Jehovah's Witness. I was much more concerned with spirituality and religion then; the tag line for this blog was then "Finding a new way to believe." I've changed that now to just "Finding my way." I haven't become an atheist in the meanwhile and I doubt I will, but I haven't become a Buddhist either, which seemed likely at the time. I wouldn't even call myself a monotheist, because the whole notion of god seems fairly limiting somehow. I'm trying to avoid the Dunning-Kruger effect. The universe that we know is just too vast and unknowable for what passes for religion to be a viable option. I keep coming back to Arthur C. Clarke's assertion that any sufficiently advanced technology looks like magic; the corollary being that any sufficiently different and/or advanced life form seems like a god. If energy is conserved, as it seems to be, we do have a kind of immortality. And if the Many Worlds hypothesis is true, "I" may exist everywhere, which I find both kind of hilarious and negating of my uniqueness in a very Buddhist way.

Galadriel dark queen
Don't draft me to run for office.

When I was a JW, one of my frustrations with it was the neutrality in politics they practice. Unlike the Mormons, with whom they're often compared, they don't vote, they don't lobby, they don't run for office, they rarely go to court, unless it's to fight for a civil right that sustains their public preaching and right to bang on  your door on a Saturday morning. I grew up during the Vietnam war, and even though I was in a military town, there was enough dissent about how right the war was to make me sympathize with the anti-war protesters. Like most young people, I was full of zeal for right and wrong, and my religion prohibited my participation in such "worldly" things, or I'd have been a hell-raiser a lot sooner than I finally came to it, in my late fifties. Who knows where that would have led? Jail, probably, like Jane Fonda, bless her. Sadly, she's got a lot more energy than I do right now. and I find, after immersing myself in activism and politics for the last five years, that I am not just tired, but less passionate than I was. The infatuation has worn off. I would never run for office because people like me should never have power (c.f. Galadriel; Dunning-Kruger; and Good Intentions, Road to Hell Paved With). Also, that window is closed now. It's time for people younger than me to step up, and time for the Old Farts™ to give it a damn rest. You had your chance and blew it. Lead, follow, or get the hell outta the way.

This doesn't mean I'm abandoning the field entirely, or that my own personal code of ethics and morals does not continue to be offended by the Fuckhead in Chief and his Dark Minions. Or by his enablers. I'm looking at you, Mark Zuckerberg. The last straw for me, with you, sir, was your approval of Brietbart as a "legitimate news source." But before that, I watched with disgust and dismay as the algorithms your company developed silenced anti-racist, anti-bigotry, anti-fascist, anti-rape culture, feminist, and other progressive activists while leaving the hate-mongers to spew their shit simply because they were white men. Any platform on which women cannot say "men are trash" without being censored and thrown in your stupid FB jail, while men can threaten women with rape and violence with impunity is a misogynistic hot mess. If calling out racism gets you censored, but being racist doesn't, that's a hot mess. Fuck that shit, Mark. You are part of the problem, and you're responsible for skewing our election by taking money from Russian trolls without compunction and refusing to do your duty as a private citizen to stifle hate speech in your business. Your cool little creation that aimed to connect people all over the world is turning into 4chan, and you're letting it. Not to mention that you expect people to sift through the sickness and violence posted to your platform without providing them with mental health benefits. I cannot be party to that anymore. Hence the MeWe account.

 

20181130_215419-ANIMATION
Jillybean has a bath.

I'm not sure how that'll work out. I'll probably maintain my FB account for a good while, and I've promised to stick around at the League of Nasty Women until the 2020 election, but I'm weaning myself off it. I abandoned Twitter quite some time ago because it really is a sewer and I'm too long-winded for that kind of character count. I ditched Flickr because I think I'd like to do something professional with some of my photographs, but I'll keep my Instagram account at least for sharing pictures of the Jillybean Calico. (Here's another.) And Pinterest has been really useful for a lot of art projects and world building; also, the infatuation has worn off there, too. It's just occasional fun now. I never did much with my Tumblr account and the platform has turned into a puritanical rule-bound shit show now (in a way that has nothing to do with curbing misogyny, bigotry, or white supremacy), so that's just as well. I've got 616 "friends" over at FB. There are people not following me over to MeWe that I haven't yet formed meat space social bonds with that I will miss, and it means I'll have to try harder to stay in touch if I want to keep them. But so will they. It's our own special kind of bubble, and I'd like to get out of it, at least until the bigots and fascists get chased back under their rocks again. 

And as Auntie Maxine said, I'm reclaiming my time. I've got other things I want to say, and I'll be saying them here. Follow along if you like, and feel free to argue with me here.


Call for Submissions: Teaching Poor: Voices of the Academic Precariat

SupermoiOkay, I have officially lost my mind. Here's what I hatched with a bunch of cronies over the weekend. We already have publisher interest. I am boggled. I think the project is suddenly taking on a life of its own. Get on board with us:

Call for Submissions: Teaching Poor: Voices of the Academic Precariat

The career of college professor, giving back to the society that provided for them through education, was once a respectable path to the middle class. That class position is now slipping through the hands of the very people who helped create it, thanks to the erosion of tenured and tenure-track positions in favor of short-term contract positions without security. What should be rags to riches stories about the power of education to lift people out of poverty by providing a pathway to better jobs have become, for many academics, stories of stagnation, downward mobility, and outright impoverishment under the burden of massive debt uncompensated for by the very academy that helped contract faculty incur it.

Teaching Poor: Voices of the Academic Precariate will be a collection of voices from the world of so-called adjunct or contract college instructors who now teach 60-75% of all college courses in the United States and are paid wages equivalent to Walmart workers. In the tradition of Studs Terkel’s Working, Teaching Poor will honor both the difficulties and the triumphs of this new class of impoverished white collar laborers in the academic trenches, detailing personal struggles with the resultant poverty produced by low wages, crushing student loan debt, lack of healthcare and retirement provisions, and the professional and cultural costs this system levies on individuals and the students they teach.

I welcome creative non-fiction, biographical essay, short stories, poems, comics and, in the spirit of hacking the academy through digital humanities, may eventually expand to multimedia and a permanent archive of work similar to Story Corps.

This project is in its very early stages and I’m looking to see what kind of interest there is both in contributors and publishers before defining it or looking into other funding/publishing sources. I have publishers in mind (AK, Haymarket, Soft Skull, Atropos, Verso, ILR, Atticus, Riverhead), but also welcome suggestions. I do want this to be more than a self-published ebook though, and perhaps something truly groundbreaking if we can make a collaboration work.

Send your queries and submissions to Lee Kottner at teachingpoor@gmail.com.


Resistance is Futile

HurlingMoi I have been assimilated. I'm back on Facebook, though it seems to be not quite as annoying as it was the first time I joined. At least I haven't been poked and friended by people with whom I have nothing in common, and an awful lot of my friends are there too. I even found a couple of people I'd lost track of, one from my sophomore year of high school, another from graduate school. I think it might actually be a useful networking tool for some of my art projects too.

All this in the midst of a Vicodin haze. That's my excuse and I'm stickin' to it. Find me here.