Hollerin’

It felt as if everyone else had already read Priestdaddy and I was last person to arrive at the Priestdaddy Party and yet when I scream at anyone in earshot about how this is the funniest book I’ve read in years, many of them haven’t heard of it at all. A reminder, then, to holler about the things we love, never assuming they’re old hat to those around us. We can always be the catalyst for someone’s next foray into joy.

“You can be a carpenter this time around.”

A lovely short post by Dave Rupert about platforms and silos and what we’re getting out of being in online spaces. Having been largely absent from social media since becoming a caregiver, I don’t feel a lot of Loud Feelings about the implosion of Twitter.1 I do feel the urge to encourage folks, as Dave does, to “pour a foundation for your own silo or home.” A personal website is a lovely thing. Nobody will buy this platform and use it as their personal plaything. No advertisers will boycott and send me scrambling to produce different content. No seed funding will run out overnight.

But as Robin said: “It’s not enough to make some­thing and post it online; you must also inject it into some channel that will carry it to peo­ple.”

For now, that channel is mostly RSS, with the occasional direct share to Discord and Slack. I’ve contented myself with carrying these posts to far fewer people of late, and maybe that trend will continue. I’m toying with the idea of Dunbar’s Digital Number. How many meaningful online relationships can I maintain? The number shifts dramatically given what I’m doing in the rest of my life, and the fact is that I’m currently walking around with overwhelming emotions sloshing perilously close to my airways at all times. So I don’t let myself worry over what will become of Twitter, even though it brought me so many treasures and connections and friendships and opportunities over the years, because I’m doing as Dave suggests and pouring value into myself.

That’s enough for now.

1. This might change when it’s time to promote my next book and I emerge from the bunker to find tumbleweeds where my weird and far-flung online friends once stood, but that’s a problem for Future Lucy.

Never Again

Saw a comic that made me laugh in queasy recognition. Didn’t want to link to it on Twitter, so I went hunting. Coni has a blog! But the comic isn’t on the blog. THE COMIC IS NOW ON THE BLOG, RENDERING THE REST OF THIS POST SEMI-MOOT! Coni has a Patreon with lots of comics on it! But not this one. Coni has an Instagram with this comic on it! But the formatting loses a lot in the jump to square panels. So: a Twitter embed.

I don’t say any of the above as a criticism! I do the same thing! There’s some obscure internal logic that dictates when I make the effort to cross-post things and when I don’t. Sometimes it’s about formatting, sure, but other times it’s about tone. Certain comics or posts just fit better in different parts of my online presence.

I’ve wondered with increasing frequency whether it makes the most sense to start consolidating everything on my own site, but the fact is there’s something valuable about maintaining these different tonal environments. I like having Patreon as a space to talk (mostly) about craft and maintaining a creative practice; it keeps my blog free of any pressure to produce “worthwhile” content. Maintaining a little distance helps combat context collapse, keeping certain things within certain circles and keeping those circles relatively small.

(I keep thinking about the era when comics friends would warn that Twitter became unusable for them after they’d surpassed 10,000 followers, a threshold I’ve been over for some time.)

But there’s something else under this: the idea of being a Word Person and/or an Image Person on the internet. Some people certainly play with both (I’m thinking of Robin’s essays), and you could even argue that cartoonist is the definition of a Word and Image Person, but I think the way we treat platforms online splits these categories by necessity. I have split myself.

A lot of this crystalized after I read Alexis Madrigal’s lovely thread on Word People:

I read this thread and think “Yes! That’s me!” Or at least the Me that occupies this particular corner of the web. The Word Person part of my brain is the one that wanted to go to a liberal arts college and get a degree in Something Other Than Art (although I fell at the final hurdle and ended up with one regardless). The Word Person is still reading like it’s her job and keeping a journal and talking too much. She even controls how I read comics (words first, images as a sort of subconscious afterthought), which is a source of much self-judgement. (I know how long those pages take to make!!)

The Image Person struggles to keep up, or speaks in a register that’s harder to hear.

And then there’s the coding angle! Most of the blogging services my internet friends are gushing over these days focus on the written word. Introducing images of all different sizes and formats to the experience of building a website automatically shoots it into a realm beyond my limited technical ken.

Anyway, back to the what-goes-where-ness of platforms. Other Robin had a bit about that in his latest newsletter:

It’s not enough to make some­thing and post it online; you must also inject it into some channel that will carry it to peo­ple. The web itself doesn’t do that; you need an extra layer, some reser­voir of atten­tion and/or curiosity, whether it’s Google, the blo­gosphere (RIP), Stum­ble­Upon (RIP), Twit­ter (RIP) … hmm, there seem to be a lot of dead chan­nels out here.

Back in the 2000s, I thought I knew things about dis­tri­b­u­tion, about atten­tion and networks — but I didn’t really.

It was, honestly, the expe­ri­ence of pub­lish­ing a book with FSG that showed me what dis­tri­b­u­tion really looks like, and taught me that you just can­not be start­ing from scratch every time. You need sup­ply chains — not only (or even pri­mar­ily) physical, but com­mer­cial and intellectual. Emotional, even.

I love the idea of a reservoir of curiosity coupled with an emotional supply chain. And those features don’t need to be built! They live in the people I want to spend time with! Curious people who maintain relationships over time and space, even when those relationships lie fallow for a spell.

I don’t measure the health of my friendships by whether or not we speak every day. Why should I then transfer that pressure onto my internet spaces?

It’s Fall and I’m Different

“I have done nothing all summer but wait for myself to be myself again.”

— Georgia O’Keeffe, in a letter to Russel Vernon Hunter, from Georgia O’Keeffe: Art and Letters

I’m not sure what type of Seasonal Human I am.

I have friends who grumble and sweat their way through summer, yearning for the day when the leaves begin to turn. “YES,” they cry, the minute the mornings get cold, conjuring a cocoon of woolly sweaters and bobble hats out of thin air. “THIS IS MY SEASON.”

Do I have this? I don’t think so. At least not consistently. This year saw a huge uptick in interpersonal energy around the Summer Solstice, but it was frenetic and surreal and overwhelming. It left me dizzy. I wanted to return to the gentle rhythm of work; going to the studio every morning and having enough room to breathe. And I got that for a while! But then there was another social energy surge in October? That’s not so common.

Martha Graham spoke of not using an emotion to generate a movement, but rather letting the movement return the emotion to her body. I wonder if seasons work this way, too.

Gigawatts

When things get overwhelming—as they have been for the last, oh, six months or so—I default to logging phone numbers and quotes and book recommendations and ideas in my to-do list app rather than filing them in their appropriate places. This never goes well for me, since my to-do list then becomes an un-completeable heap of Weird Stuff that elicits instant anxiety every time I look at it until one day (today) I rush through it and delete or file everything that isn’t an actual Task.

One of those items, a mere two months old, was to mention that this graph made me emotional the same way seeing a bunch of drivers pull over for an ambulance in early 2021 made me emotional.

These days when I see exhortations to conserve power or water or any other communal resource, I’m alarmed by how cynical I’ve become. Maybe it’s living in a drought-blighted valley where the local country club maintains an emerald green golf course, knowing that however many penalties the water district imposes, the wealthy will just pay for more water. Or maybe it’s general pandemic-era weariness. I don’t know.

But we had a massive heatwave in early September, prompting the powers that be to send out a state-wide text encouraging people to reduce their power usage and avoid blackouts—and it worked! People were asked to make a sacrifice for the common good and they did! You can see it!

1.21 gigawatts. How about that.

Just the Thicket

A zero-to-sixty obsession with Katherine Angel this past week, having never encountered her work before. Just finished Unmastered and a cursory Google reveals that of course it was Olivia Laing who reviewed it in The Guardian when it came out, referring to it as “a giddily joyful book, thicketed with exclamation marks.”

Thicketed!!

I love her. I love that they are peers. I love this game of finding out that people I admire know other people I admire. (See also: endnotes in Unmastered referencing Hélène Cixous.)

This is probably the sign I’ve been waiting for, wondering what book to take when I flee to an island with no internet or cell reception next week. I’ve had Laing’s Everybody, A Book About Freedom sitting on my shelf since it came out, but for some ungodly reason haven’t cracked it. Everything else on my list is a library eBook accessible only via an iPad app and it feels deeply wrong to be reading on an iPad in the wilderness. BRING ME PAPER.

Monday

Surprise outcome after yesterday’s mope: I have rather abruptly returned to being a person who says she’ll do things and then feels capable of doing them???

I’m not saying nature is healing and Portland Lucy has reestablished herself, but the ambient back-to-school energy I’ve been craving is certainly doing something.

This is what it takes:

  • The feeling, however trivial, of control (over my movements, my schedule, my food intake, my sleep)
  • Microscopic movement in the direction of something that’s been scaring me—I’m talking truly microscopic, like moving a pencil five inches closer to a notepad and then calling it a day
  • Letting the dog see the rabbit
  • Securing caregiving help during the week
  • Moving piles of mulch from one end of the property to the other in a wheelbarrow, raking them over the parched earth, watching the ur-heap on the concrete shrink bit by bit
  • Leaving the house at least once every day
  • Asking for help, accepting meals from friends, letting them lighten the logistical load
  • Starting the process of buying a friend’s old car so I can have my own reliable transportation
  • Undergoing a healthy dose of heartbreak
  • Getting in the sea
  • Allowing myself to fuck around in the afternoons because the fact is I feel lethargic and dismal every day after lunch, so if I’ve done something early enough it’s not a hardship to watch Ted Lasso or read a book or stare aimlessly into space
  • Making diary comics again

It’s the shift when weeks of broken promises to myself stop feeling like impenetrable, sticky guilt and instead alchemize into rocket fuel. Suddenly everything is happening and the urge is to ride the wave, tackle it all in one fell swoop, but my most important job is actually to do less. Rest must be just as much a part of this as consistency. The hardest discipline.

I feel so much relief in my body.

Sunday

Everything feels foreshortened today. Hands, legs, heart, head too close to the camera, grotesque. Nothing where it should be, every line misplaced. The disquiet of thinking “That can’t possibly be right,” only to line up the landmarks and learn (too late) that it is.

…After These Messages

I’ve become a person who says I’m going to do things and then completely fails to do them and it feels so intolerable to my sense of self.

In my support group for young caregivers we talk about the emergence of new selves from this season of our lives. How they’re unfolding in real time. How we haven’t fully met them yet, or learned what they really care about. What they’re capable of.

Past Lucy—or Portland Lucy, as I’ve been thinking of her—excelled at Doing Things, but Present Lucy isn’t up to the job. Past Lucy still says “Thanks so much for thinking of me. This sounds like a great project! I’ll get you those initial sketches by next Friday,” while Present Lucy says “Have I already taken his blood pressure this morning? How long has it been since he ate? Will I be able to sleep in my own bed tonight or are his legs still too weak to go up the stairs to his room? He needs a bath today. When did I last cut his nails? Is that the alert system going off? Oh he just got out of bed. The nurse is coming at 1pm. The phone’s ringing—oh shit it’s the lawyer. I was supposed to sign that engagement letter. What did we talk about at the appointment? I can’t remember. It’s already been a week. How long has it been since I ate? I need to change his Depends. Time to take the blood pressure again. The nurse said he shouldn’t sleep too much during the day, but the physical therapist said to be careful not to overdo it on the exertion. Should he be exercising right now? Should he be asleep right now? What’s this check I just found in my desk? Agh, there’s the package I told her I’d mail before the weekend. Last weekend? What day is it? I need to do laundry…”

(and on, and on, and on)

The friend I’ve been doing coaching work with looks at me sternly from our Zoom window. “You need to let go of the idea that you can work in an environment where you’re constantly being interrupted by a medical alert system.”

Okay, so I have to leave. Go to the studio. I’m lucky—so lucky—to have a studio. I just need to get there. To get there I need to have slept enough to get up early enough to go before he wakes up. To get there I need to get the ingredients to make the quiche to bring the food so I can stay long enough to work. To get there I need to get gas in the car to drive across town to be there on time. To get there I need to have enough executive function to put all the pieces in place, and we already know how well that’s going.

“I hope your dad’s doing better after his stint in the hospital!”

I parrot back platitudes, but I don’t know what they really mean. He’s recovering from three surgeries and adjusting to new medications and succumbing to mortality all at once.

He went in unwell and for a moment I entertained the fantasy that he’d come out better. Not cured, just improved on some level. And maybe he is. Maybe it’s hard to see beyond the fatigue and the confusion to the circulatory system beneath. The miscalibrated meds a mask for actual health improvement. But it doesn’t feel like he got better. It feels like he’s just getting worse, and we’re over here pushing so hard to try and stave off something inevitable.

Portland Lucy will be back after these messages.

(But will she?)

(And if not, who’s coming in her stead?)