Ramble #27.2

Haven’t been super exact about remembering to cross-post when I release new Rambles, but I wanted to be sure I shared my latest one because people have said some deeply thoughtful and lovely things in the comments over on Patreon, and I think this is a discussion worth having right now.

Broad Themes: similarities between grief and creativity in both their acute and ambiguous forms, what to do when there is nothing to be done, Vaccine Feelings, broadening the window of tolerance for discomfort, models for social and economic validation, the metrics that matter in understanding Patronage, object permanence and online audiences.

Guest Starring: a lot of birds.

(If you prefer reading to listening, you can download a transcript here.)

April 10th, 2021
Ramble #27.2

Owl News

Usually we get Great Horned Owls in our garden, slow and mournful and resonant, but last night I heard a newcomer with a call like a rubber ball dropped down a flight of stairs.

Listen:

It’s a Western Screech Owl!

This audio recording is from April 4th, 2020. It was captured 130 miles from here in the San Gabriel Mountains by Lance A. M. Benner, a Principal Scientist at NASA JPL, and uploaded to the miracle that is Xeno-canto. If you haven’t come across that site name before…well. It’s a community-driven database of bird calls from around the globe, but that description doesn’t really capture its magnificence. The site’s been around since 2005, and the breadth and quality of the recording collection is staggering. You can look for absolutely anything there, and a great deal of it is licensed under Creative Commons.

Benner has contributed 1,926 recordings to the site.

Isn’t it wild that people just do stuff like this?

The most famous Western Screech Owl in my internet circles right now is probably Coconut the Owl, who took up residence in Austin Kleon’s backyard earlier in the Pandemic and recently received a new abode:

A photograph of a small owl fluffed up and looking very satisfied in an owl box, a tall wooden crate nailed to a tree. There's a fringe of icicles on the box's roof, and the branches are bare. The owl is barred grey and white. Its eyes are closed.
Coconut in situ.

Also apropos of nothing I followed some links about Benner out of idle curiosity and found myself listening to a few of his owl-specific recordings on Owl Pages Dot Com, a site devoted to…well, you know.

A screenshot from Owl Pages Dot Com showing eight sections titled Owls of the World, Owl Physiology, Owl Gallery, Owl FAQs, Owl Articles, Owl Sounds, Owl Artwork, and About the Owl Pages.

This concludes the evening dispatch of Owl News.

Websites? Wobsites. Wibsits!

Last month, while driving from Portland to Ojai, I stopped off in San Francisco for a distanced morning park walk with my pal Robin Rendle. After I’d got done screaming about how unbelievable it was to see the sun and be outside in short sleeves, we remembered we’d been joking about recording a podcast for a long time and figured there was no time like the present to give it a go. So I offer unto you:

A Robin Rambdle or I’m Sorry, You’re Welcome, Episode 1 or

A jaunty yellow square with three black speech balloons containing heavy white text that read, in order, Websites? Wobsites. Wibsits!

(You can download a transcript of our conversation here, if reading’s more your bag.)

This is broadly a discussion about unusual websites and trying to be yourself on the internet, but we also managed to talk about The Muppets, book design, 1970s British television, generative poetry, and at least two types of cheese.

We also watched a hawk building a nest in this tree the whole time we talked. Magical.

Three tall trees silhouetted against a blue sky. The sun breaks through the trees on the left, producing a lens flare.

Here’s links to more or less everything we mentioned:

Aaand…that’s it! Thanks for listening. It’s nice to get excited about stuff while talking to a friend.

Two Rambles

Ramble #24 (January 7th, 2021): The 7th anniversary of my arrival on Patreon! Reflections on my first solo Christmas, good quotes about solitude, writing down nice things, thinking about early internet communities, trying out anonymous audio-based support groups, picking a word for the year, stuff about birds. There’s also a bonus recording attached to the original post on Patreon from Tim Dee’s The Running Sky, which is just gorgeous.

January 7th, 2021
Ramble #24

Ramble #25 (January 21st, 2021): much shorter. Took a walk. Petted a cat. Tried to figure out how I’ve changed my relationship to being online and whether I could distill that process into replicable steps. (Also, thanks to a truly mystical service Robin turned me onto called Descript, this is the first Ramble with a proper transcript.)

January 21st, 2021
Ramble #25

(If you’re universally hot for RSS feeds—and if you’re here, let’s be real, you probably are—you can always subscribe to these directly in the podcast app of your choosing with this link.)

[Complete Ramble Archive]

Perfectionism, Process, Patterns

[I’m going to start cross-posting the weird captain’s log audio updates I’ve been doing on Patreon for the last couple years here on my blog. If you’d like to take a spin through the whole archive, I’ve made a page for every past episode here.]

Okay, so! A Ramble. Typically when I share these on Patreon I try to keep it simple and just throw up a list of links to things I talked about, in case folks want to follow up and read what I’m reading. I still don’t know how to approach the practice here. Ironically, this particular Ramble is about the relative ease of talking compared to writing for me, and how the pressure to “get it right” in text is so much stronger.

I recognize that this is probably diametrically opposed to how a lot of people feel about any kind of public (or semi-public) speaking, but I think by talking, and my best thinking-talking usually happens when I’m addressing people who get it. Sometimes this is specific friends for specific projects, but there’s a reason this practice came into being on Patreon. My Patrons have bought into the weird, non-transactional structure I’ve built for my page, which means they’re probably the people I trust the most with an imperfect, non-linear audio snapshot of whatever I’m thinking about at the time.

On a practical note: I talk so much faster than I write. My guess is that a transcription of each Ramble would feel like an insurmountable slog to read through, but as a 20-minute audio snippet it’s a relatively small ask. You can do other stuff while consuming it, which I know people do because they comment and tell me about it! How lovely to imagine a friend or stranger doing dishes or puttering in the garden while we spend twenty asynchronous minutes together. It’s the best.

Every Ramble also comes paired with a photo I took while recording it. This started because I was too lazy to draw a cover for the first one, but it’s become a really important part of the process. It creates a visual touchstone that reminds me of the season and the weather and the moment when I was thinking these thoughts. Seeing them all together feels like a form of cyclical time travel.

Anyway, here’s today’s:

A moody photograph of a skyline at sunrise. There are black buildings and telephone poles silhouetted in the foreground and a streak of orange against slate-grey clouds on the horizon.
December 8th, 2020

This Ramble felt like going to therapy on a week where I think nothing in particular’s been going on, but find myself reckoning with the unseen weight of countless stressors from the last three days alone within five minutes of opening my mouth. Except I should replace “stressors” with “stuff I’ve been thinking about while reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s Always Coming Home” to paint a more accurate picture.

And because I do think it helps, here’s that list of links to things mentioned:

So that’s that. These come out roughly every 2-3 weeks, or as the mood strikes. Don’t set your watch by it.

This Book, That Book

Katherine Kwong is a delight. She’s smart and earnest and curious and very, very kind. We first met in person at my book tour event for 100 Demon Dialogues at McNally Jackson in New York, and her online exuberance is even more tangible in person. When she told me she was launching a podcast to interview folks about formative books from their childhoods, I couldn’t wait to hear it. Little did I know she was planning to interview me for its inaugural season!

Because of Quarantine Time I honestly couldn’t have told you when we recorded this conversation for This Book, That Book, but given the details I share about our foster dog it seems to have been fairly early on in the whole process. Possibly March. Anyway, I was delighted to get a text this morning saying that my episode had gone live, so I share it here for all of you to enjoy.

We discussed My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, a sun-drenched dream of a book full of thoughtful observations, eccentric characters, and a deep love of the natural world. It holds a place very near to my heart and manages to act as a touchstone in our conversation for growing up with a menagerie of creatures in Southern California, life as an only child, and my nascent love of tall ships (partly catalyzed by the book’s own small vessel, the Bootle-Bumtrinket).

You can listen to the episode (and check out the four other interviews released so far) below:

The Right Number

Hello, long-neglected blog. I hope the tumbleweeds and bits of lint accumulating in the corners of this platform have been keeping you warm, even if they’re singularly unable to keep you company.

I’m back because I launched an odd new project on my birthday last month and I wanted to talk about it here to break my long silence and maybe goad myself into blogging more often on a website I actually own.

So: the new thing!

A navy square with elegant gold lettering that reads "The Right Number: a place to speak and be heard." Underneath it is a number: 503-673-6267

The Right Number is basically a secular confessional housed in a voicemail box. Dial (503) 673-6267 and you’ll hear a brief prompt, after which you can record a response for up to three minutes. All messages are confidential, prompts rotate every two weeks.

The first two prompts (“What’s something you wish someone would say to you right now?” and “What’s something you wish you could say to someone else right now?”) both elicited a wide range of thoughtful, heart-wrenching, funny replies. I’d say it was working as intended if I’d had any real sense of how this was going to go ahead of time, but I didn’t.

As it stands, I’m very happy with the project so far. The user base is still small—an intimate crowd of willing weirdos—and I’m perfectly content for it to stay that way. Recording freewheeling audio updates over on Patreon every two weeks for the last couple years has taught me that sometimes the quality of conversation and connection I’m hungry for online is best cultivated through sustained, vaguely directed projects over long periods of time.

So: that’s the thing!

If you want to play along, you can sign up for this tiny newsletter that’ll send you an email reminder every time there’s a new prompt (usually on Mondays, but I make no promises).

I’ll see you in the voicemail box,

L

Rage, Liberation, & the Adventurous Life with Tessa Hulls

I love being on Patreon for many, many reasons, but chief among them is the platform it’s given me to record more conversations with creators I admire. I already keep an extensive archive of panels, talks, and classes on my SoundCloud page, but the support and enthusiasm of my Patrons has allowed me to add candid monthly interviews to the mix. Typically these conversations go up for Patrons first, and then (if the artists are comfortable with it) on the public feed a few weeks later.

Back in September I spoke to Tessa Hulls—a dream interviewee of mine for some time. Tessa’s work defies categorization, but it often encompasses notions of heritage, independence, wilderness, and community—all things I am endlessly fascinated by. She did a staggering number of residencies in 2018, all while juggling enough concurrent projects to make my head spin. I am deeply in awe of her energy and dedication.

In this 90-minute conversation, we discuss merging identities to create powerful new selves, balancing finances as a traveling artist, the transformative power of alternative community gatherings, coming into one’s own as a vulnerable communicator, navigating fine art spaces, “pathological independence,” and the current cultural crucible of female rage. Notes on our conversation below:

If you want to see more of Tessa’s work, I’d highly recommend starting with…

• This essay about bike touring, weddings, and personal freedom

• This glorious series of paper cut paintings

• This comic about rage

• And, really, everything on Tessa’s website and Instagram. Her graphic memoir, Hungry Ghosts, is definitely a project to keep an eye on over the next few years.

If you liked this conversation and want to help support more things like it, you might also like supporting me on Patreon! I am deeply indebted to the folks there for making these talks possible.

Thanks for listening!

Imposter Syndrome in Our Own Words

One of the great pleasures of touring this year has been gathering groups of smart, accomplished people in a room and then asking them about their worst experiences with Imposter Syndrome. I heard raw truths from creators in Chicago and San Francisco, who then brought their wisdom to bear on what we can do to make ourselves feel less alone in the face of these challenges.

These conversations were complex and enlightening, and I’m so glad to make them available for you all to listen to on the web (thanks to the support of my rad team on Patreon). Check out the audio players below to find two new episodes featuring wisdom from Craighton Berman, Michi Trota, Suzanne Walker, Bobbie Johnson, Molly McLeod, and Rose Eveleth.

I’ve got a bunch of new conversations going up soon, so be sure to keep an eye out if you’re in need of more things to listen to. Enjoy!

The Galaxy of Super Adventure: Fears

Hey Friends,

If you like spaceships, comics, radio drama, and the practice of making things, let me recommend a really fun podcast! The Galaxy of Super Adventure is part one part galactic adventure saga, two parts creative advice round-table. It’s run by my comics pals Ben Hatke, Zack Giallongo, and Jerzy Drozd, and this week’s episode (all about FEAR) features a guest appearance by yours truly!

GosaHeader

I play Bold Space Adventurer and Sensitive Artist Lucy Bellwood, crashing in for a talk about artistic anxiety and self-doubt with the help of my sentient French mustache sidekick, Polly (pictured above).

The whole series is a hoot, and I highly recommend listening to it from the start, but if you just want to jump in for this episode, check it out here. Enjoy!