Nesting and Turning

My working theory is that the silence and the sunshine and the singing are key materials of the nest I am always building, to hold whatever thoughts, feelings, rhythms, and ideas become my poems.

Tara writes a monthly guest column on Nicole‘s blog. Every installment holds several gems, but her latest is particularly gemful. The nest! I adore this metaphor. What are my nest materials? How do I tend to build with them? I don’t know yet, but I have hunches. I want to lay them out and inventory them like a bower bird.

An additional thrill is that Tara and I will be working on something together in the next few months. She’s a spectacular poet (in addition to being a thoughtful and lyrical essayist), and sometime last year she shared a new collection of work with me under the title Low Tide Book. (You can hear me explore her idea of “a low tide of the spirit” in Ramble #20, notably before I got with the program and started pronouncing her name properly. It should be terra, like earth.)

I read the poems and loved them, and then I can’t quite remember what happened next but somehow I got to do my very favorite thing and smush two good people together while yelling “MAKE SOMETHING!”

The other person in this equation was my friend Stefan.

I say “my friend” in that way I do to refer to anyone I know primarily through the internet, and it’s true we’ve never met in person, but I do think of Stefan as a friend.

We connected on Kickstarter in 2012 because we were both running our first projects at the same time.1 He ended up with a copy of True Believer and I ended up with a copy of Cedar Toothpick and then we sort of fell out of touch. I do remember that his campaign didn’t have a video, but rather a delightful audio recording taken in a field. Possibly with some bees. Anyway, I loved his attention to quality in paper stock and his creative focus on the minutiae of the natural world. Cedar Toothpick still has pride of place in my poetry shelf.

When we reconnected via Instagram many years later, he floated the idea of collaborating on something. By that point he’d been branching out into publishing work by other writers under his imprint, Bored Wolves. Somewhere in there was when Tara sent me Low Tide Book, and somewhere shortly after that was the moment I realized they were perfect for each other. She had this manuscript full of contemplative poems crafted in conversation with the natural world, he had a tiny, remote cabin in the Polish highlands and access to a boutique printer. It writes itself, really.

So the long and the short of it is that we’re all making a book! Tara’s already written it, and I’m going to illustrate it, and Stefan’s going to publish it.

The title we decided on was Tell the Turning and it’s going to be on Kickstarter later this year. I’ll be sure to talk about it more before then.

1. The ecosystem was much smaller then, so it was common to just become pals with whoever else showed up in the Discover tab. It was nice.

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.

Important Bird News

This is an excellent thread that made me laugh uncontrollably for many, many minutes. I share it with you as a gesture of goodwill.

Yours sincerely,

Tiny Sky-Tyrant

P.S. I’ve been working on my marsupial impressions, too.

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]

Unselfing, Grief, Birds

I came to Helen Macdonald’s work late—long after H is for Hawk had graced bestseller lists and garnered awards and been subject to breathless recommendations from friends. Somehow these trappings make me less likely to pick something up in the moment, until I get to it years later via my own circuitous means and become a breathless proponent myself.

In this case, those means involved stumbling across a gorgeous edition in the gift shop of the V&A during a trip to London in 2016.

I mean, look at it. It’s perfect.

Vintage Classics edition cover of H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald, illustrated with an elegant goshawk on a blue background.

It was also the right size. It fit my palm like a secret, and I carted it out of the museum in triumph.

The next few days were a blur. I downed the book like the titular goshawk, fierce and ravenous. It danced through so many threads of literature and loss and nature, cataloguing the strange places we go when we can’t cope with our own grief and must instead contextualize it within older networks of meaning. I absolutely fell in love with it. It mapped a landscape of parental loss I’d been dreading my whole life and, in doing so, humbled me with gratitude.

I’m probably due a re-read.

Macdonald has a new essay collection out this year called Vesper Flights. I’d tuned into a chat about it between her and Robin Wall Kimmerer (of Braiding Sweetgrass fame) earlier in Quarantine, but hadn’t been able to give it my full attention. The gist I left with, though, was that in addition to being a magnificent writer, Macdonald is also one of those people who feel deeply human when placed in front of an audience—funny and self-effacing and smart and real. It’s something I put a lot of stock in, that little waggle of the antennae that says “Here. Pay attention. These are your people.”

Imagine my delight on Monday when I found I’d forgotten about buying tickets to hear her in conversation with Jeff VanderMeer! Smart move, Past Lucy.

The conversation was wonderful. Macdonald endeared herself to me forever by revealing that while all her childhood friends were pasting rock stars on their bedroom walls, she venerated pictures of kestrels. As someone who scrawled lines from Dryden on her wall as a youth and never understood the appeal of Jonathan Taylor Thomas, I relate.

Early in the conversation VanderMeer asked “Do your enthusiasms find you? Or do you find them?” This kind of emergent question feels loud right now. It’s not so much that I’m on the warpath, hunting down a particular line of inquiry, rather that every book I open seems to suddenly be in conversation with everything else I’ve read in a given week. The threads start talking to each other. This is always The Sign.

Macdonald and VanderMeer also explored the dangers of projecting human emotion onto animals, leading Macdonald to refer to the “strange unselfing that happens when you see a wild creature.” What was the last thing that unselfed me? The great horned owls calling to each other in the meadow preserve. The western fence lizards skittering across the drive. The moon, unexpected and sharp, hanging low in the sky.

When an audience member asked if she’d be returning to writing poetry, she paused. Her poetry, she said, had been a sort of lovechild of cryptic crosswords and abstract expressionism (HI WOW HELLO). But she went on to explain that “things are really urgent now” and that essays were where she wanted to focus her energy because they allowed her to speak to the current moment most directly. “Essays,” she said, “are about being puzzled by something and needing to work it out.”

Of course the mediums we chose reflect the times we live in—I feel it in my frustration with the glacial pace of making comics—but it was refreshing to hear someone say it outright. It feels adjacent to how I’ve been approaching Rambles on Patreon. Crafting written updates was taking too long. Talking is swift and personal and correct for what I’m trying to do in that space. But it’s been two years and now I’m beginning to wonder what comes next.

Toward the end of the discussion, someone asked a question about how we can balance a sense of wonder at the natural world with the immense losses of climate change. Macdonald was blunt in her response: sometimes wonder simply isn’t accessible. Sometimes we are flattened by grief.

“The banked grief at the back,” she called it, and something cracked open in my chest. This was the backbone of H is for Hawk: “You grieve things because they should be there and they’re not.”

A stand of eucalyptus trees silhouetted against the sky at dusk. There an owl perched on a high branch. A crescent moon above.

The Ornithology of the American Lesbian

If you follow me elsewhere on the Internet you’ve probably already seen that I illustrated this feature for BuzzFeed on The Ornithology of the American Lesbian. The writers gave me a ton of freedom when it came to matching birds and humans, so I got to run wild picking my favorite avian friends. Challenges included accurately translating Bette Porter into an ostrich and Lea DeLaria into an owl.

My only enduring sorrow is the fact that the authors were originally thinking of human illustrations, so the classification text never got updated from Mammalia to Aves. Apologies in advance to my scientist pals—I promise I’m only responsible for the artwork. Check out the whole list here!

TCAF/VanCAF Recap

Photo May 09, 9 01 52 PM

So. Wow. TCAF and VanCAF. Holy cannoli what an amazing couple of shows. Sold out of basically everything, met a ton of new fans and familiar faces, moderated my first panel, hung out with some incredible creators, ate delicious food, and just generally dissolved in a giant pool of happiness and gratitude that I get to be part of such a wonderful industry.

True Detective Season 3
The industry is also goofy. Did I mention it’s goofy? Here’s me with gun-slinging comics rockstars Katie Shanahan, and Nicholas Kole photographed by Chris Cater — you can see more of his photos here.

Thanks to all of you who took the time to stop in, say hello, buy comics, and even follow up via email to let me know how much you’d enjoyed them — I’m really lucky to have such classy folks for fans.

Photo May 24, 1 18 15 PM
One of my favorite things at shows is seeing readers’ beautiful nautical tattoos.

If you missed it, the VanCAF panel I moderated on Building Comics Communities is available to listen to online:

And here’s a little gallery of watercolor commissions I did during the show! You can even buy a couple of them in my store right now.

I always have such a lovely time tabling at these two Canadian shows, and I couldn’t think of better note to end my spring convention rush on. If you’re looking for my upcoming appearances, check out the updated list to the left of this post. You’ll notice I’ve had to cancel CAKE in Chicago this weekend (I’m sorrrrrryyyyyyy), but I’ve also added some new stops to the summer/fall roster, so keep an eye out for me at a show near you.

Photo May 24, 9 55 56 AM

For now, it’s time to get back to the studio after a long month of travel, business, house moving, and other nonsense. I can’t wait to DRAW!

See you guys next time,

L

Site Overhaul!

Welcome, friends, to my brand new site! After realizing that my former blog theme was no longer supported on WordPress and therefore failing to load images properly, I upgraded to a new theme and have spent the afternoon putting together a more robust and well organized homepage for you all to enjoy.

There are some sections that are still under construction and some kinks that are still getting worked out, so do bear with me as I bumble though, but hopefully the overall experience is much improved.

Since this wouldn’t be a proper blog post without some art, here’s a smattering of doodles from the past week. I’ve been out sick for four days with a killer cold, so this has basically been my M.O. of late:

book

Then there’s the first wave of backer birds for those of you who were kind enough to support the Cartozia Tales Kickstarter. Thank you!

And a couple portraits from the past month to round things out:

dudeDebFINAL