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.

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.

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.

Poetry for Everyone

I contend, though, that there is poetry for everyone. Everyone. Folks who don’t get it just haven’t read the right poems. The stuff we are educated in poetry with during our school days doesn’t help. Too often, “classic” is just a euphemism for worn out. What do I have in common with some crusty old English aristocrat who died 100 years ago? Give me an ill-tempered, one-eyed old birdwatcher who swigs red wine and eats fried chicken from Albertson’s instead.

But I was one of those people, for years and years, who didn’t get it. Then I read a particular poem that knocked my lights out. Words and lines formed together that felt like they were pulled from my own brain. I never looked back. I never had any idea — or intention — that anyone would ever call me a poet until it started happening. It felt pretty good. It felt a little subversive. I love that about it.

Now poetry is part of my every day. I read some every morning. I don’t so much as write poetry as live it. “The purpose of poetry is not to learn more about poetry, but more about life,” Robert Bly said, and I believe him. I tell my poetry kids that poetry is life, how they live their lives, how they share their lives. The study of it is the study of what it means to be alive. What ends up on the page is the least important part of the process.

I really love Chris LaTray.

Tell Me I’ll Be Okay

Shing wrote a very perfect post-mortem about their epistolary keepsake game, Remember August. It is personal and statistical all at once, just as much about the logistics of running a very unique kind of mail-based narrative as it is about the decline of once-cherished relationships. I strongly recommend reading the whole thing, but this sentence in particular hit me in the chest:

I felt a little bit like by making games like this, I was tricking strangers and friends into telling me that I would be okay.

I feel this so keenly when I listen to messages from The Right Number. Much like the handwritten letters players posted during their interaction with Remember August, the human voice carries so many layers of intimacy. The current prompt is about refuges, and people have been calling to describe, in gorgeous detail, their chosen temples and cherished landscapes. I lie in the dark and let their accents and words wash over me, one by one. A house in the mountains of northern New Mexico. A warm beach. A particular couch in a family room.

I never listen to too many at once, so there’s actually a backlog of messages I haven’t gotten to yet, but they feel timeless. There’s no response forthcoming, just the knowledge that I’ll listen to them and keep them safe somehow. And in return, they keep me safe, too.

Familiar

Going through my father’s private papers and files after he died, a well-worn folder slipped to the floor. Faded to a pale blue, I could only imagine how thickly covered it was in my father’s prints. I picked it up gingerly and breathed it in – it smelled like Dad – a stab of grief. It was chock-full of pithy quotes written on various scraps of paper, match book covers and the backs of random envelopes; my dad had kept these over a lifetime. If my father had religion, then this was his bible and I was holding it in my hands.

—Meredy Benson-Rice

Rhymes

I haven’t historically been someone who reads a lot of books simultaneously, but I won’t lie: it’s doing a lot for me right now. My brain is scattered and anxious and burnt out and overwhelmed and uncertain, but allowing pattern recognition to come into play as I’m reading across genres and timescales…that I can manage. It helps things feel as if they make sense.

Of course, sometimes the patterns I recognize are massively uncomfortable. Here’s three about habit, practice, belief, and enthusiasm:

Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way:

A photo of a book that reads: As artists, grounding our self-image in military discipline is dangerous. In the short run, discipline may work, but it will work only for a while. By its very nature, discipline is rooted in self-admiration. (Think of discipline as a battery, useful but short-lived.) We admire ourselves for being so wonderful. The discipline itself, not the creative outflow, becomes the point. That part of us that creates best is not a driven, disciplined automaton, functioning from willpower, with a booster of pride to back it up. This is operating out of self-will. You know the image: rising at dawn with military precision, saluting the desk, the easel, the drawing board...

Over any extended period of time, being an artist requires enthusiasm more than discipline. Enthusiasm is not an emotional state. It is a spiritual commitment, a loving surrender to our creative process, a loving recognition of all the creativity around us. Enthusiasm (from the Greek, "filled with God") is an ongoing energy supply tapped into the flow of life itself. Enthusiasm is grounded in play, not work. Far from being a brain-numbed soldier, our artist is actually our child within, our inner playmate. As with all playmates, it is joy, not duty, that makes for a lasting bond.

An annotation in the margin reads "Jesus fucking christ, OKAY."

Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods:

"Right," said Om. "Now...listen. Do you know how gods get power?"
"By people believing in them," said Brutha. "Millions of people believe in you."
Om hesitated.
All right, all right. We are here and it is now. Sooner or later he'll find out for himself...
"They don't believe," said Om.
"But—"
"It's happened before," said the tortoise. "Dozens of times. D'you know Abraxas found the lost city of Ee? Very strange carvings, he says. Belief, he says. Belief shifts. People start out believing in the god and end up believing in the structure."

Fenton Johnson’s At the Center of All Beauty:

The thing about living alone is that—exactly like living as a couple—after a long time it becomes either a habit or a practice. A habit is a way of living that you follow because it's what you did yesterday and the day before and the day before that. A practice is a way of living that you create and renew every day. A habit is a way of being that controls you. A practice is a way of being that you control—a deliberate (ad)venture into the unknown.

I think I’ve listed these in the order I encountered them, but I can’t be sure. I just know I read the Cameron passage and felt personally attacked in that good, awful way that means something true is surfacing. I love daily drawing challenges. Arguably I’ve built a whole career on them. But I also, deep down, know that they can become a kind of ego trap. Fortunately there are all these other rhyming passages that offer alternative paths and approaches. Johnson underlines a truth I’ve already folded into large parts of my brain: that there’s a fundamental difference between a habit and a practice.


Bonus Kicker: I read Zina that passage from Cameron and she immediately latched onto the etymology of enthusiasm. “Did you know?” she asked. And I had to reply that I did, because there’s a phrase rattling around in my brain:

“The Greeks said that to be enthusiastic was to be filled with God.”

Why do I know this? Why do I know it with this specific wording? It feels like something I know through repetition, like I’ve heard it read aloud many times or included in a talk. I dig around in the filing cabinets of surface memory and find nothing.

At 11:30 that night I finally find it: a single quote pulled from a series of small stories written by Frank Chimero in, as far as I can tell, 2010. I’d written it down in 2016 in an old notes document where I kept links and things to include in my newsletter. A quick spin through the archives suggests that I never actually wove it into an update, but every time I went to write one I’d skim through that list of quotes and links and there it would be: a phrase.

I suppose this is how we learn.

Three Ephemeral Website Things

A few rhyming pieces from this week:

1. Sarah wrote a lovely, somewhat bittersweet post about finally closing her Photobucket account, which touched on a lot of what I find difficult about maintaining an archive of one’s creative work online as an artist, rather than just a writer:

I’ve never been sentimental about my childhood homes, but I imagine this is how it feels to leave one. I invested a lot more emotion into these drawings and writings than I ever did any actual geography; it was a (virtual) dwelling and a social life and autobiography all rolled into one. My blog archive and my long-defunct website, cosy and reliable home bases for so long, foundational in so many different ways to my identity, will be floating out there in the deep web without their illustrations, like abandoned buildings with hollow windows; it feels like I’ve pressed a button that sent them instantaneously into ruin.

2. Earlier this week, Brendan linked to Wesley’s writing, which led me in turn to their exploration of How Websites Die (which, in turn, referenced Winnie’s writing, whose work I only found recently through strange, roundabout blogging connections—did you know I love this game?). Timely to see that there’s a group of people all wondering about how we can (or if we should) make these spaces more enduring. Are they even built for that?

3. All these things led to thinking about how I do know someone who, out of a sense of love and duty and grief and stewardship, ensures that Chloe Weil’s site remains online, even eight years after her death.

I think the web is full of these silent acts of affection, but they can be hard to see.