Working on the music, for me, it’s kind of important to not fake it in some ways, to not try to force this emotional state out of it, to sort of pay attention to what’s going on in your life, if you’re feeling inspired or motivated just letting it happen. […] Especially after you’ve released a bunch of records for a long time, you don’t want to manufacture longing.RIP Brian McBride
Two lovely pieces of feedback on the blog in very different mediums recently: a tiny, encouraging email from Rob right after my last entry and the sweetest postcard from Piper that arrived in my PO box sometime in June (but given the way life’s been going I didn’t manage to stop by and discover it until well into July).
Maybe it’s because blogging is often a much quieter affair than posting on social media, but I love these little blips and boops of connection. They hit harder than comments and likes and reblogs. They feel more personal. They remind me to reach out and email people (or write them a card!) when their work strikes a chord.
I had cause to do this recently with Ursula Vernon, whose work I’ve been following since I was in middle school. She’s been sharing some very vulnerable comics about dealing with breast cancer and I thought “My god, if not now, when?” It’s been over TWENTY YEARS and I’ve never taken the time to tell this person how much discovering her website and her comics and her delightfully eccentric illustrations meant to me as a weird tween without a lot of artistic friends. It’s an impossible gift when someone’s been a fixed point in your creative community for that long.
It reminds me that even if social media is crumbling around us, people can endure. The impressions we make on one another outlast the silos and the buyouts and the implosions.
But it’s good to come out and say so every once in a while.
I’m sitting here thinking about internet silos, the exhaustion of trying to post all the things in all the places, the relief of not being in an active Kickstarter cycle anymore, how two hummingbirds fencing in mid-air is more exciting than any action film, how much has changed since the WGA went on strike in 2007, what it would look like to write things for my blog and then share them everywhere else rather than trying to tailor things to each channel, how little lust for Instagram I have when I’m not obligated to be there, the Mother Theresa quote on the chalk board in front of this house, the vast gulf between the place I help take care of as a part-time job and this place that I’m looking after for friends, how much love pours out of the funky flooring and flaking windowsills, where I should eat lunch today, how much I need to pee, making physical objects, the power of niche communities, how every industry has its 1% and that 1% colors the public perception of how we do what we do and how so many people really do have no idea how the money shakes out no matter how many times we explain it, the Hooded Oriole who came, long and slender, to the sugar water feeder just ten minutes ago, the oleanders blooming, the possibility of rewilding a large stretch of our property, and building something there in the process, the fact that there are no rules on the blog, the emerging judgement that this is indulgent and pointless, the retaliation that it doesn’t matter, the gift of time, the inclination to capture, even imperfectly, the feeling of swinging on a porch swing while I write and how pleasurable and correct it feels to be writing while in motion, like recording a Ramble while walking, like understanding music through dance, like being in conversation with a friend while you both bob in the surf of the Pacific Ocean.
I signed up for another one of Jocelyn’s online classes last month, and so far I’ve found it incredibly helpful in finding my way back to bits of myself and my creative practice that have been occluded by caregiving. One of the exercises was a mind map exploring all the tools we use to access and interact with our creative selves. The four stages she suggests are Ritual, Connection, Collection, and Synthesis. Here’s a big mess of ideas around those hubs:
I love letting myself use little doodles to explore concepts like this. I think it started after Shay Mirk shared some More/Less lists they’d made for the year and inspired me to make my own. (Pretty sure I did one for 2022 as well but I can’t find it so here’s an old one.)
I see these inventories and remember that I have such a robust series of practices for doing what I do. I also see how the things I’m pursuing in my life right now have roots in this list from two years ago, which I love. It all takes such a long time.
I recorded a Ramble about all this the other night that I still haven’t edited and uploaded to Patreon, but it’s coming. Still circling the question of my job and what I think it is vs. what it actually is.
I’m washing my eyes with words and hoping something turns up that works as I’m moving forward.Robert Eggers, on writing dialect for The Lighthouse
7. People pretend there are readers and non-readers. But there are just people willing to practice the patience necessary to get hypnotized, and those who quit before their eyes turn into spirals. To read is to welcome this hypnosis, await its arrival, then trust its direction.Gabi Abrão
Life happened because I turned the pages.Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading
I wish I’d known at twenty-one, when I developed a chronic illness and became suddenly alienated from all my peers, that over the decades, one by one, all of them would come join me on my island.Sarah Manguso, 300 Arguments
I come back to this quote a lot these days, thinking about it from the perspective of losing a loved one early in life, or becoming a caregiver, or any of the other life circumstances that hit us before we feel they “should.” It’s a weird construct, when you get right down to it. These things happen all the time, so what undergirds the idea that they’re aberrant?
I’m much further into reading Stephen Jenkinson’s Die Wise than I was a couple months ago. (Funny how I can’t crack into a book that gets too directly at my current lived experience while I’m right up close to it. I had to go to another state before I could find a way in. I’m hooked now, though.) As far as he’s concerned the undergirding is a sense of entitlement; this particularly North American obsession with individuality and control and comfort.
The book’s full of things I feel like I’ll need a long, long time to process.
Exactly one year before I started drafting this post (which then languished for a little while, so technically now it’s more than a year ago, but whatever you get the idea) I wrote a short thread on Twitter about feelings and impermanence. I dug it up because I came across this photo and couldn’t remember what the hell I was doing that led me to group these little slips of paper in this kind of configuration. I’ve copied the thread verbatim below.
“Did an exercise in therapy this morning where my therapist asked me to list all the feelings running through my brain/body on bits of paper. Spent the rest of the session sorting them into affinity stacks while we talked.
It got me thinking about Chronic Feelings vs. Current Feelings. These are current, influenced by the hospital visit this week, the slow return to stability after a trauma, my anxiety about understanding my family’s finances, an impending trip, a disappointing career decision.
The Chronic Feelings are things like anticipatory grief, professional burnout, climate anxiety, hatred of capitalism, Pandemic Fatigue. The stuff we’re all collectively steeping in that constitutes a full emotional plate on its own.
But to try and be present with the feelings in my body right NOW requires a different sort of lens. It requires understanding that all of this passes.
I get reliably down most afternoons. Eating lunch triggers a slump of despair and exhaustion that isn’t the end of the world. It’s rare that I feel dreadful while I’m having my tea and scrawling pages into my journal outside in the sun first thing in the morning, so whatever’s coming for me today will, at the very least, abate for a half hour tomorrow. This helps to remember.
I have many weird/bad feelings about Twitter but also I think a lot about the people I know on here who’ve been generous enough to share their complex emotional stuff over the years. Folks grieving in public, folks naming anxiety, folks sharing their affirmations. It’s important.
A big cornerstone of how I’ve carried myself online for years has been an emphasis on sharing clear, proactive, hopeful things. Sometimes I fear this season of my life is going to break that, because it’s HARD. But I do think there are still ways to approach it with that ethic.”
Weird to still be chewing on the same stuff a year later. Weird to still be in an endless rollercoaster of absurdity and grief with my dad. Weird, also, to see the cadence of tweeting transposed onto my blog. Writing like that doesn’t belong here! But also I engaged in it for so many years on that platform. Every container nurtures its own syntax.
A friend asked if I’d signed up for Bluesky and the wave of exhaustion I felt in response washed the flesh clean off my bones. It’s not just that Twitter seems to be continually on fire these days, it’s the broader truth that social media feels hollow to me now. The ADS! There are so many ads. Why did I ever put up with a space that was so aggressively trying to sell me things at every turn? (The answer is that it was giving me the Good Brain Chemicals when I interacted with people I care about, but these days I don’t post enough to get notifications, so I’m trading my attention for NOTHING! No wonder the shine has worn off.)
I’ve been thinking about this installment of Holly Whitaker’s newsletter ever since I read it a couple weeks ago. I haven’t even dug into the links, but the dislocation theory of addiction latched onto my brain stem and has yet to let go.
Our modern social arrangement, Alexander argues, means that we have to sacrifice “family, friends, meaning, and values” in order to be more “efficient” and “competitive” in the rat race. In this framework, addictive behaviors are adaptive responses meant to fill that void of meaning and purpose. Using substances can provide a temporary sense of community (with other users), purpose (to acquire the substance), and meaning (feelings of euphoria or calm from using the substance). Substance abuse and addiction help to fill the gaps in meaning and purpose left by modern society.
None of this is news to me, really, but the articulation slotted something into focus. Reflecting on consumerism as an addiction (or maybe….everything as an addiction?) this month has been a valuable touch point.
And then here I am hitting go on a reprint of my graphic novel! A product I must then sell! A product I might even sell on the premise that it will make people feel less alone! HNGNNNGNNHHGHHH.
(I was going to expand on stuff in that tweet thread in this post too, but I got sidetracked and now it’s time to make my dad his breakfast so I’m hitting post because there are no ads here and nobody needs to buy anything and it’s one of those days where I want to move to the woods and eat grubs for the rest of my life so byeeeeee)
Jacob wrote six very good sentences today about jealousy and being an artist. I needed them this morning because there’s nothing like moving back in with your parents and mostly disappearing from the face of social media and undergoing a massive gear shift in the trajectory of your career to bring up feelings of unworthiness and comparison; but that’s not what I wanted to write about.
The fifth sentence (“The purpose of an artistic star system is to undermine solidarity”) brought me up short because I interpreted “star system” as “constellation.” The constellation is one of my favorite metaphors for how creative people—all people, really—exist in the world. On these grounds his statement didn’t seem right at all. On second reading I realized he meant “star system” as “a system in which certain people are held up as shining exemplars while the rest fade into obscurity,” to which: absolutely yes. The dangers of worshipping celebrity.
I’m flying solo this week while my mum attends my godfather’s funeral in England, but I’m not really solo. We’re trying overnight caregiver coverage for the first time; something I advocated for because loss of sleep is infinitely more disruptive to me than structuring my days around changing my dad’s Depends and making him meals and bathing him and metering out the distribution of pills.
There are so many gifts to trying overnight care, but one of the biggest has been getting me back on my early to bed, early to rise rhythm. I’ve been waking up of my own accord at 5:30 or 6, feeling more rested than I have in months. It grants me a gift my dad taught me to love: an hour and a half of luxurious time to myself first thing in the morning.
Many of my happiest memories of being with him are around this time of day. In high school, we’d listen to Erik Satie on my boombox in the kitchen while he made me eggs. In middle school, we’d drive to the tennis courts at Libbey Park and hit balls back and forth under the amber sodium lamps until the sun came up. (Neither of us knew how to play tennis, but it didn’t matter.) Earlier still, I’d wake up to the sound of him tapping away at the keyboard with two fingers in the corner of the bedroom, writing.
Those hours felt like secret time. Sacred time.
I still treat it as such. This morning it was dark enough when I got up that didn’t realize the valley was shrouded in mist. Now I can see that the lawn outside my window is spangled with a galaxy of dew-soaked spiderwebs.
All this is to say that in the blissful hour I’d been granted this morning, I dove back into Recollections of My Nonexistence, Rebecca Solnit’s memoir. She writes a great deal about context, and the way subcultures and communities act as greenhouses for culture, so when I read Jacob’s post, the string layer came back online. Solnit writes:
In a way, this has been my life’s work, the pursuit of patterns and the work of reconnecting what has been fractured, often fractured by categories that break a subject, a history, a meaning into subcompartments from which the whole cannot be seen. […] The art of picking out constellations in the night sky has cropped up again and again as a metaphor for this work.
Elsewhere she quotes the poet Diane di Prima: “You cannot write a single line w/out a cosmology.”
I believe this with all my heart.
There is no content creation without context creation.
The Terra Nova Expedition is the Millennials’ polar expedition. We’ve worked really hard, we’ve done everything we were supposed to, we made what appeared to be the right decisions at the time, and we’re still losing. Nothing in the mythology we’ve been fed has prepared us for this. No amount of positive attitude is going to change it. We have all the aphorisms in the world, but what we need is an example of how to behave when the chips are down, when the Boss is not sailing into the tempest to rescue us, when the Yelcho is not on the horizon. When circumstances are beyond your power to change, how do you make the best of your bad situation? What does that look like? Even if you can’t fix anything, how do you make it better for the people around you – or at the very least, not worse? Scott tells us: you can be patient, supportive, and humble; see who needs help and offer it; be realistic but don’t give in to despair; and if you’re up against a wall with no hope of rescue, go out in a blaze of kindness. We learn by imitation: it’s easy to say these things, but to see them in action, in much harder circumstances than we will ever face, is a far greater help. And to see them exemplified by real, flawed, complicated people like us is better still; they are not fairly-tale ideals, they are achievable. Real people achieved them.
I am leaping out of my chair and whooping and cheering and hollering about this passage from Sarah Airriess’s latest Patreon post. (The whole essay was released early for Patrons, so you can either become a supporter to read the whole thing today or just wait it out until it becomes more widely available in a month. Personally I’d recommend the former, because Sarah’s Patreon is one of the best around, but I’m biased.)
This talk originally accompanied the launch of The Worst Journey in the World, Vol. 1, Sarah’s graphic novel adaptation of Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s account of the Terra Nova Expedition. I’m holding my copy right now, and it’s one of the most beautiful comics I’ve ever seen. Again: my appreciation is probably heightened by the fact that I’ve been following along on Patreon for years as she’s shared the process behind every page, but even without that context it’s a beautiful, beautiful book.
In the microcosm of caregiving, I’m learning this lesson over and over again: it isn’t the systems that make it bearable; it’s the people. It’s Gabriela texting to say she’s bringing over a rotisserie chicken. It’s Jim coming by in an hour to take my dad out for a visit to his favorite coffee shop. It’s Jen holding space for our cohort of young caregivers to show up and commiserate with each other over Zoom because she went through what we’re going through and wants to pay it forward. It’s Hayley texting a loving thought from across the country when I somehow need it most. It’s Sarah picking up my watch from the place in Ventura that I keep forgetting to stop at and then coming to help me build a bed frame. It’s also whoever left a free mattress in the parking lot behind Vons.
I think back on the way I lived through the first ten years of my career and it feels so different. I was bolstered and supported by community, it’s true. I was even asking them for help at every turn to make my books and my work possible! But somehow the ways I’m relying on others right now feel so different. I’m humbled so much more thoroughly by letting people in during this season of my life because it’s not just creative anxiety anymore. That’s peanuts. That’s easy.
This is the real shit.
It’s not freezing to death in Antarctica shit, but some days it feels real close. I’ve feared and loathed the thought of anyone seeing me like this for so long, but time and time again I see that people want to help each other. Or, at the very least, my people want to help me. And my dad’s people want to help me. And my hometown wants to help me.
I just have to let them in.
If queerness can be understood as a longing, a technology that allows us to glimpse something new that we sense before we can see it, a dowsing rod, a black light, then water might be the catalyst that dissolves our attachment to whatever is keeping us from it, from ourselves.
It’s very hard not to quote the entirety of this essay by J Wortham, which manages to articulate so many angles of my obsession with getting into bodies of water. I wrote a fair bit about my plunge habit when I first moved, but there were many more beyond what I covered. This week it was the frigid Pacific Ocean under a drizzly Santa Barbara sky, then the broad arroyo of the Ventura River, then Thacher Creek in Horn Canyon.
It’s been a winter blessed with unusual—almost unprecedented—amounts of rain.
Part of the reality of searching for queer respites is that they are fleeting, ever-evolving, a question without a resolved answer.
Their writing makes me think of Heraclitus.
Queer time is a sensate way of life, the kind treasured by people who perhaps understand with crackling urgency how circumstances can change in a moment, and the importance of pleasures that even in small doses can sustain you for weeks, months, years after the moment has passed.
Both times I’ve been at Wayward (a decidedly queer space) I’ve swum more frequently than any other time in my life, and yes: those pleasures have sustained me for the last three years. The daily naked plunges in the lake woke me up after naps and started me off right on foggy mornings; they soothed and refreshed and coaxed and shocked. They gave me a touchstone of what it felt like to be fully embodied, fully held. Given the self-obliterating caregiving role I find myself in now, I’ve needed it.
This total immersion of my body into water, repeatedly, without fear, allowed for a total surrender of the illusion of separation between self and the natural world, the universe, whatever you want to call it. If you don’t believe in god, say ocean. Diving nude into the ocean in broad daylight, without fear of reproach, opened a portal to a higher consciousness. Ordinary, and then extraordinary. To be near the sea is to be humbled by its magnitude, to watch your priorities be reordered to its scale. What are self-consciousness, fear of the future, existential worries, to the ocean?
The last night we were on the island, after the main cohort of retreat attendees had gone, we hiked through the forest and over the cliff to the sea. After warming up by a bonfire on the beach, there was no more reason to wait. Two of us waded out into the freezing black water, stepping gingerly over beds of oyster shells until it was deep enough to paddle. I was shuddering and staring, willing and wishing, just about ready to turn around and admit defeat when I began to see it: the water beneath me erupting in stars, bioluminescence eddying around my limbs, all of it too beautiful to seem real.
Each time I allow myself to be enveloped, something is remembered for me: a place, a feeling, a fluency. I can’t always name it, but it’s too powerful to deny. It’s almost as if the parts of myself that have gone missing are recollected in water.
The stars that night were glinting, and the bonfire on the shore waited like a beacon, but the brightest shimmer was running down my forearms, spiraling behind my palms, reminding me of everything I could be.
Hello, hello, hello.