The Context Coin

Context creation can operate like the creative equivalent of Universal Basic Income. I want to make sure people’s obvious and immediate needs are met so they can tap into what they already know, but have been too stressed, distracted, and scared to access.

Started down this rabbit hole after getting hung up on the phrase “thought of everything,” which is one of those sneaky compliments that can point simultaneously to expressions of tenderness and anxiety. If I’m obsessed with preparing for every eventuality, where’s the room for surprise? For delight? For exchange?

(My word for 2022 is Return, and one of the meanings that I enjoy in it is the aspect of returning a serve, as in a game, as in conversation, as in play.)

It can be a strength. Someone who thinks of everything is likely good at logistics-heavy things like Kickstarter and self-publishing (hello), willing to go the extra mile to ensure that a project meets certain stringent standards (like accessibility), and concerned about the minutiae of how things feel

This crops up any time I unbox an Apple product. Something as small as how the cellophane unfolds from the device (smoothly, beckoningly) has a huge impact on my experience of receiving it. Someone went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that the box would be easy to open, that that textures would be pleasing, that the shapes would nest within each other just so.

This is a very capitalistic example, so it makes me uncomfortable to sing its praises, but the meta-experience is still there. What would it be like to have the resources to devote that much energy to how someone feels just upon opening the packaging of a book I’ve sent them?

It’s stuff like this that had me schlepping out to an industrial paper firm back in 2020, staggering away with armloads of samples, printing prototype decks in my living room, fondling card after card and wondering “woodgrain or linen? 200lb or 300lb? Ecru or Natural?” as if there’s a single right choice.

There isn’t.

There’s the trap. 

When Twyla Tharp asks workshop participants to come up with 60 uses for a stool, she notices a consistent pattern:

“[…] the first third of the ideas are obvious; the second third are more interesting; the final third show flair, insight, curiosity, even complexity, as later thinking builds on earlier thinking.”

There’s a version of context creation that suggests (maybe even only subconsciously) there is “a right way” to participate. I think it’s the version that relies too much on the anxious side of the “thinking of everything” coin. Tenderness in extremis is anxiety.  

I need to provide the context that keeps people on the stool after they’ve exhausted the obvious possibilities, because with that context comes freedom to explore.

At Wayward, we weren’t told what to make. In fact, we were encouraged to approach the week as a period of time during which we didn’t have to make anything. But we were fed, there was a loose schedule, there were comfortable things to nap on. We were held. And within that container—that tender context—things I didn’t even know I had in me emerged. Seemingly without effort.

I want that, and it shows up once I know when to stop trying to think of everything.

Wisdoms for Self

I’m wrestling with the letter I want to write to introduce my 2020 100 Day Project when I release it later this month. I’m feeling the pressure to get it just right. To say it just so. (Sound familiar? I keep finding different elements of this project to obsess over as a way to avoid sharing it. Go figure. Just share it, Lucy.)

I poked my head into Instagram briefly this morning and found Anis sharing a project that has its roots in a much older project and is now reemerging:

Back in 2014/2015 I was in a place of heavy loss, a place of relearning, rewiring, reforming my self, & began writing down & sharing online these monthly wisdoms/lessons for my self to learn, think on, & try to remember. Have wanted to return to this for years now, & being now in some months of heavy reflection seemed a good time for this returning. Here’s things I put down last month for me to hold & turn over & try to remember.

Here’s one:

12.21 Lessons for Self
(to learn anew &/or to be reminded of to continue learning)
Anis you do not need to straighten every wrinkle. Nor do you
need to respond in a moment. If someone is upset & out of that
anger speaking poorly to you, it is not your job to temper
them-
-if you need time to acknowledge your transgression to
them without theirs to you, step away & come back.
Dont forget Anis, no one gets to tell you how you process your
loss & rowboat your grief.
This means too, don't forget, you don't get to direct how others
process theirs, to expect them to rudder across the lake in the
way you might.
Decisions are not just cerebral in nature. Not all abstracted can
be bent for the brain to weigh, Anis you have to also recognize
that the heart & the body are part of the decision making pro-
cess.
Indecision is an enemy of vulnerability.

This subtitle sings to me.

It’s a funny thing how we all begin turning toward the same subjects at the same times (or have already been turning for several years). Reminders. Permission. Speaking to the self as the self, but at a removal from the self. This is the energy of the thing I’m about to release, too. Seeing it reflected in these words from my brilliant friend fills me with compassion and energy and, okay, a little envy, too. I have to elbow myself in the psychic ribs as if to say “Hey. Cut it out. There’s no race here, ya dingbat.”

On another slide, Anis writes:

I sometimes use vulnerability w/self to avoid vulnerability w/others. I wear my heart, but wearing can be a costume.

This is one of the things that drives me away from sharing such a personal thing in public. I want it to be known (I want to be known), but not in a space where I’ve traditionally used perceived vulnerability to mask real connection.

The greatest pleasure I’ve gotten from this project has been pressing the physical prototype (or the Dropbox folder of images) into the hands of trusted friends, and then talking about it with them. That’s energy I want to preserve moving forward. This connection. This depth.

Interior Design

I keep remembering Dad’s wedding reception
when Grandpa lost the word lily.
My hand out pointing to one of the centrepieces,
white flowers spilling over onto the table like wine.

I had the garden in my head
when I asked him to name them.
The garden out behind the bungalow he built
that he always kept so neat. I saw him on his knees
in blue overalls, pruning. I saw him pretending
not to mind as a football went crashing
through the fuchsias. Then I saw his eyes,
panicked and dark as the hole where a word should be,
some kind of —

and my dad said lily and this is how we manage.
Dad keeps the word lily. I keep the sunlight and the grey squirrels
cascading across the lawn on Sunday mornings.
And together we remember everything.

Joshua Judson (2020), via today’s installment of Pome.

Cheap Thrills

Look, I’m not going to beat around the bush:

This is a fountain pen shaped like a shark. It costs less than four dollars. I have one and it is delightful. It writes far better than a pen that costs less than four collars has any right to write. I use it about as much (or more) than my fancy-pants Sailor 1911, which is really saying something.

Also: some of the colors are currently on sale for one dollar and ninety-seven cents.

ONE DOLLAR AND NINETY-SEVEN CENTS.

It should be illegal to sell something so functional and charming for so little money, but I’m glad it’s not.

A Truly Magnificent Thing

A screenshot of British and Exotic Mineralogy, a website organizing illustrations of rocks in an interactive, color-coded map.

Interactive! Illustrated! Compendium!

…OF ROCKS!

This is one of those situations where the “About the Project” page contains just as many delightful surprises as the project itself. Just a treat from start to finish.

(Reminiscent of An Ocean of Books, a project I blogged about back in November of 2020.)

Even You Leave

80
A PRIMER FOR FORGETTING
THE EMPTY STUDIO. 

Said John Cage to the painter Philip Gus-
ton,
"When you start working, everybody is in your studio-
the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all,
you own ideas--all are there. But as you continue painting,
they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely
alone. Then, if you're lucky, even you leave."

Again, Sarah Manguso:

My goal now is to forget it all so that I’m clean for death. Just the vaguest memory of love, of participation in the great unity.

What does it mean to be a steward of something or someone in decline?

In caregiving or hospice work (and ecological thinking in the era of climate collapse), this is clearly the game, but I catch myself wondering how it translates to making a comic or writing an essay or any other generative act. How is this season of my life a form of cross-training?

Often I think of creation as an additive process—raising a child, building a city, weaving a carrier bag. But what if, rather than moving closer to the realization of a vision, the putting-down-on-paper-ness of it all degrades the original, unthinkable idea? (However I pronounced “Hermione” in my head as an eight-year-old, for example, vanished the moment I listened to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on audiobook.)

I say “degrades” and feel the jolt of negative connotation, but I don’t mean for this to be negative. There are many ways to think about caring for someone with less time left on this earth than I have. Some of them are negative, depressing, dispiriting. Some days I succumb to that helplessness. But there’s a richness to it, too, even if it doesn’t fit the cultural model we’ve inherited for worthwhile heroics. Again, Le Guin: “[…] the Hero does not look well in this bag.” I try to apply the grandiose posturing of meeting an impossible deadline to the work of caregiving and instead I come up against the fact of death again and again and again.

I think there’s still a part of me clinging to the idea that if I could only become [blugh] enough, I could bring my ideas into the world in a visual form that fully encapsulates what’s present in my mind. And yet: 100% of the time, the page I draw does not, cannot, match the one I envisioned when I sat down at the drawing board. And yet and YET: 100% of the time the physical manifestation of that vision eclipses what I’d imagined. Maybe not in the moment, because I’m stubborn and I’ll usually spend a day or two scowling at whatever’s ended up on the page, muttering about how I’m not mad I’m just disappointed, but once I’ve gone away and come back and seen the page contextualized in the greater stream of the narrative, it’s like someone’s shaken the Etch-a-Sketch. Blank slate. The vaguest memory of love.

Ramble #30

New year, new Ramble.

This one (my 30th since I started this practice in June of 2019!) is about stuff I lost track of in 2021, things I’m thinking about in the new year, trying to abandon perfectionism, what to share and what not to share, the topography of the Ojai Valley, and various other things.

Also: looked at a bunny, found some owls.

You can read the transcript or browse all the notes and associated ephemera over on Patreon for free, or just listen directly below.

A mountain range in the Ojai Valley turning pink at sunset.
January 1st, 2022

[Rambles are typically 20-minute freeform audio updates recorded outside every couple of weeks. You can listen to previous Rambles here or subscribe directly in the podcast app of your choosing with this link.]

2021 in Reading: The Big List

Trying not to be precious about year-end stuff right now because I’m feeling stuck, but here’s a big list of things I read in 2021! Reading was hard this year for…well, you know. All the reasons. I needed a lot of comfort food to get through the upheaval of moving home, and for huge swaths of time I felt as if I’d lost access to the part of my brain that thrilled to Alberto Manguel or Le Guin in the first part of the year. I’m still sort of there.

Read a lot of comics (thanks, Danielle’s studio library and also The Actual Library) because I started drawing a graphic novel and it turns out reading more comics helps your brain think in comics??? Who knew. I still feel like I’m scratching my way towards figuring out what really makes a comic work for me. It takes a lot to get me excited about them, which feels somewhat icky as a person who knows first-hand how much fucking time they take. But there it is!

Started trying to track rough start/end dates towards the second half of the year because I got curious. I’ll probably stick with that into 2022.

Bubble and The Liar’s Dictionary both made me laugh out loud. The Creative Habit and Always Coming Home reminded me how I got to be the way I am. I’m sure there are other books I felt feelings about but I’m just going to HIT PUBLISH.

See previously: 2020’s Big List

LegendRough Guide to Ratings
🎭 – Plays
📝 – Poetry
📖 – Books (Fiction)
📓 – Books (Nonfiction)
💬 – Graphic Novels
❤︎ = Yes
❤︎❤︎ = Oh Yes
❤︎❤︎❤︎ = Oh Hell Yes
  1. 📝 An Ocean of Static – J.R. Carpenter
  2. 📓 The Book of Delights – Ross Gay ❤︎
  3. 💬 Oksi – Mari Ahokoivu
  4. 📖 The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories – Ed. Mahvesh Murad & Jared Shurin
  5. 📖 Solaris — Stanisław Lem
  6. 📖 The Liar’s Dictionary – Elly Williams ❤︎❤︎
  7. 📖 There but for the – Ali Smith ❤︎❤︎
  8. 📓/📝 Bluets – Maggie Nelson ❤︎
  9. 📖/🎭/📝/📓 Always Coming Home – Ursula K. Le Guin ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  10. 📖 Never Mind – Edward St. Aubyn
  11. 📖 Bad News – Edward St. Aubyn
  12. 📖 Some Hope – Edward St. Aubyn
  13. 📓 A Reader on Reading – Alberto Manguel ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  14. 📖 Mother’s Milk – Edward St. Aubyn
  15. 📖 At Last – Edward St. Aubyn
  16. 🔄 📖 Guards! Guards! – Terry Pratchett ❤︎
  17. 📓 The Mother of All Questions – Rebecca Solnit
  18. 🔄 💬 Delilah Dirk and the Pillars of Hercules – Tony Cliff ❤︎
  19. 📖 The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien
  20. 📖 The Mezzanine – Nicholson Baker ❤︎
  21. 📓 Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert ❤︎
  22. 📖 The Two Towers – J.R.R. Tolkien
  23. 📖 The Return of the King – J.R.R. Tolkien (Finished April 20th)
  24. 📖 Wonder Tales of Seas and Ships – Frances Carpenter (April 22nd – April 27)
  25. 🔄📖 The Raw Shark Texts – Steven Hall (July 20th – July 27th) ❤︎❤︎
  26. 💬 Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut, Ryan North, Albert Monteys (August 4th) ❤︎
  27. 💬 Lucky Penny – Ananth Hirsh and Yuko Ota  (August 4th)
  28. 💬 Kodi – Jared Cullum (August 6th)
  29. 💬 The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist – Adrian Tomine (August 8th)
  30. 💬 Girl Town – Casey Nowak (August 9th)
  31. 💬 My Life in Transition – Julia Kaye (August 9th)
  32. 💬 Bubble – Jordan Morris, Sarah Morgan, Tony Cliff, Natalie Riess (August 12th) ❤︎❤︎
  33. 📖 The Accidental – Ali Smith (August 23rd)
  34. 💬 Don’t Go Without Me – Rosemary Valero-O’Connell (August 24th) ❤︎❤︎❤︎ 
  35. 🔄 📖 The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil – George Saunders
  36. 📖 Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen (Finished Sept. 8th)
  37. 📖 All Systems Red – Martha Wells (Sept. 10th)
  38. 📖 Artificial Condition – Martha Wells (Sept. 10th)
  39. 📖 Rogue Protocol – Martha Wells (Sept. 10th-11th)
  40. 📖 Exit Strategy – Martha Wells (Sept. 11th)
  41. 📖 The Absolute Book – Elizabeth Knox (Sept. 30th? – Oct 17th)
  42. 📓 The Library at Night – Alberto Manguel (April 22nd – October 19th)
  43. 📖 Sphinx – Anne Garréta (Oct 28-30)
  44. 💬 Draw Stronger – Kriota Willberg (Oct 30)
  45. 📓 Goodbye Again – Jonny Sun
  46. 📖 The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton (Nov. 18th-20th) ❤︎
  47. 📖 Milk Blood Heat – Dantiel W. Moniz (Nov. 20th-22nd) ❤︎
  48. 📖 The Devil and the Dark Water – Stuart Turton (Nov. 27th-Dec 2nd) 
  49. 💬 Piece by Piece: the Story of Nisrin’s Hijab – Priya Huq (Dec. 6th)
  50. 💬 The Legend of Auntie Po – Shing Yin Khor (Dec. 7th) ❤︎❤︎
  51. 💬 Treasure in the Lake – Jason Pamment (Dec. 9th)
  52. 📖 The Glass Hotel – Emily St. John Mandel (Dec. 15th-17th) ❤︎
  53. 📓 The Collected Schizophrenias – Esmé Weijun Wang (Dec. 18th)
  54. 💬 Tell No Tales – Sam Maggs and Kendra Wells (Dec. 15th-21st)
  55. 📓 The Creative Habit – Twyla Tharp (Dec. 22nd) ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  56. 📓 Intimations – Zadie Smith (Dec. 28th) ❤︎
  57. 📓 I Shock Myself – Beatrice Wood (Dec. 25th – Dec. 31st) ❤︎