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.
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.”
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.
I’d put down Notes from Walnut Tree Farm for a spell, but yesterday I picked it back up and Deakin immediately ran a saber right through my heart.
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.
Bobbie’s on a roll right now.
Social media is built on ambient relationships. You post, you tweet, you share; I read, I listen, I see. Maybe we interact briefly. But I can feel closeness to you without actually having it.
To make things even more complicated, we can exist on both sides—creators and consumers of other people’s thoughts, and each other’s. But so often I see what you’re doing, you see me, but we’re never quite talking to each other.
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:
Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods:
Fenton Johnson’s At the Center of All Beauty:
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.
Caught an excellent, all-too-brief conversation between Austin Kleon and Sarah Ruhl on YouTube earlier today and took some sketchnotes:
I particularly love seeing this emergent theme of authors and creators starting to meld their own weird secular practices with ideas of the sacred. Sometimes it’s stuff they were raised with and other times it’s new systems they’re exploring. All of it fascinates me.
I came to Sarah’s work in high school via her play Eurydice. I’ve managed to see it performed a couple times over the years, but it was the written stage directions I first fell in love with, so the real joy has been knowing they’re there, unspoken, in any mounted production.
(They put on a whole season of her work in Portland one year and I somehow only managed to catch one play! I have a hard time getting over that. But it was In the Next Room, Or The Vibrator Play and it was stellar.)
Since 2016 I’ve found that she’s actually leaping between all sorts of spaces, writing essays and poetry and now a memoir and also a collection of correspondence called Letters from Max which was one of my favorite things I read in 2020. I even drew it as part of a year-end round up, but never actually wrote the blog post. Oops. Here, look, my favorite reads from two years ago:
(I still stand by all of these. God, 2020 was good for reading.)
There’s a tenderness and a generosity and an absurdism to Sarah’s work that I adore. Nice when you finally get to see an author you’ve long admired speak and they reflect those qualities in conversation.
Fun Postscript: Apple now does this text recognition thing in photos that can be very helpful for generating accurate alt text. Unfortunately it’s more of a challenge when dealing with something as complex as a page of illustrated notes. Here’s how much it managed to find in this photo:
And here’s what it looks like pasted into a text document:
I actually love this? Doesn’t help with alt text, but it does make a cool new artifact.
FUE SPINT INTO FLIE, Y’ALL.
I’d never even heard of Infinity Zines before, but this one Kori made is just stunning:
Then there’s a tiny essay Anne sent me in the mail that’s modeled on a cootie catcher. It’s about care and capitalism and giving and receiving, but it’s more complicated to photograph than I have the energy for tonight, so this is just to say that I am having a lot of feelings about unusually-formatted zines lately. I think they’re very good.
I’m inking my entries from Hourly Comic Day, which knocked me on my ass this year. It’s not that it was a lot of work (I mean, it was), but more that it forced me to really look at what’s happening in my life during this season. To examine the monotony and poignancy and fear and humor of caregiving. To feel as if part of me is still trying to maintain a life like the life I had when I did Hourly Comic Day last year (and the year before that, and the year before that, and so on x 10).
Not wanting to draw my dad because to draw someone you have to really look at them and sometimes it’s too painful to look at him.
And then also understanding that sometimes the best thing I can do is look at my pain.
I hosted another Chill Drawing Hangout on Zoom earlier today and it was lovely. I’m grateful to know so many people who are willing to gather and be generous with each other and enjoy making art together. I’m going to do my best to make it a monthly practice, which means next one’s March 4th from 12-2pm Pacific. (That’s one day before we’re due to open a show of the collages I’ve been making with my dad, so I’m anticipating that I will be a mess, but that probably also means a couple hours friendly drawing will be much-needed.)
I want to write properly about how long it’s taken me to realize that one of the MANY reasons I’m in love with Lewis Hyde’s A Primer for Forgetting is that it’s basically a blog in book form. So many small chapterlets subdivided into loose categories, all titled with brief words or phrases, all circling similar themes. It’s how I think about what I’m doing here (or with my Rambles)—building a database over the course of many months of Stuff I Am Thinking About so that someday I can surprise myself by finding out the seeds of the next thing have been germinating for longer than I’ve known.
Nisabho’s been recording meditations and sharing them online, which I only realized recently while trying to Google the name of the monastic community he’s working to establish up in Seattle. We went to college together (he features very prominently in True Believer, the first comic I funded on Kickstarter) and he’s remained one of my lighthouse humans. Anyway, Wednesday this week was rough and so I found myself listening to this half-hour talk on grief and mourning to try and cope. It was so lovely—like we were still walking together in the early dark of Portland in October 2020. He recited the same Mary Oliver poem for me on the sidewalk there. I got to share my 100 Day Project with him and his parents.
This post is basically Sarah Ruhl’s 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write, although she was caring for small children when she wrote it, but I feel an increasing affinity with anyone who’s doing 24/7 care work these days.
Okay that’s enough small things, back to doing dishes.
Just one of those weeks where every time I feel overwhelmed I start reading another book.