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.

Ambient Friendship

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. 

Ambient friendship.

aaaggghhhh

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.

“All right, then, annihilate me”

Caught an excellent, all-too-brief conversation between Austin Kleon and Sarah Ruhl on YouTube earlier today and took some sketchnotes:

A gold and black page of handwritten notes from a conversation between Sarah Ruhl and Austin Kleon. A drawing of Ruhl, in cat-eye glasses with long hair, sits page right. Various headers like What tastes good? and Imperfection is a portal dominate the page. Doodles mingle with notes.

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:

An illustrated selection of six books: Syllabus by Lynda Barry, Beowulf by Maria Dahvana Headley, Letters from Tove by Tove Jansson, Letters from Max by Sarah Ruhl and Max Ritvo, Attrib. by Ely Williams, and How to Be Both by Ali Smith.

(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:

A screenshot of Lucy's phone showing a photograph of her sketchnotes with little blue highlight bars over a great deal of the text.

And here’s what it looks like pasted into a text document:

A screenshot of Lucy's text editor full of misunderstood transcription. It reads: Tibetan Buddhism
from feir babysitter.
"I'll have Whal-she's
having.
A service to the
invisible world
Esther Perel, you knaw
That lore lady
at and guess core
of your 20s.
I Want
something
more.
WHAT TASTES
GOOD?
One haile.
a
day to mark-she
passage of time "
Internal truth ofer
Next boole
Asymmetry Lets
fue spint into flie
archi
The line

I actually love this? Doesn’t help with alt text, but it does make a cool new artifact.

FUE SPINT INTO FLIE, Y’ALL.

A Collection of Small Things

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.


A photo of Lucy's desk with four half-inked comics pages on it.

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.


An ink drawing of a lumpy, leafless tree with two tiny people at the base of it.

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.

2021 in Reading: The Big List

Trying not to be precious about year-end stuff right now because I’m feeling stuck, but here’s a big list of things I read in 2021! Reading was hard this year for…well, you know. All the reasons. I needed a lot of comfort food to get through the upheaval of moving home, and for huge swaths of time I felt as if I’d lost access to the part of my brain that thrilled to Alberto Manguel or Le Guin in the first part of the year. I’m still sort of there.

Read a lot of comics (thanks, Danielle’s studio library and also The Actual Library) because I started drawing a graphic novel and it turns out reading more comics helps your brain think in comics??? Who knew. I still feel like I’m scratching my way towards figuring out what really makes a comic work for me. It takes a lot to get me excited about them, which feels somewhat icky as a person who knows first-hand how much fucking time they take. But there it is!

Started trying to track rough start/end dates towards the second half of the year because I got curious. I’ll probably stick with that into 2022.

Bubble and The Liar’s Dictionary both made me laugh out loud. The Creative Habit and Always Coming Home reminded me how I got to be the way I am. I’m sure there are other books I felt feelings about but I’m just going to HIT PUBLISH.

See previously: 2020’s Big List

LegendRough Guide to Ratings
🎭 – Plays
📝 – Poetry
📖 – Books (Fiction)
📓 – Books (Nonfiction)
💬 – Graphic Novels
❤︎ = Yes
❤︎❤︎ = Oh Yes
❤︎❤︎❤︎ = Oh Hell Yes
  1. 📝 An Ocean of Static – J.R. Carpenter
  2. 📓 The Book of Delights – Ross Gay ❤︎
  3. 💬 Oksi – Mari Ahokoivu
  4. 📖 The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories – Ed. Mahvesh Murad & Jared Shurin
  5. 📖 Solaris — Stanisław Lem
  6. 📖 The Liar’s Dictionary – Elly Williams ❤︎❤︎
  7. 📖 There but for the – Ali Smith ❤︎❤︎
  8. 📓/📝 Bluets – Maggie Nelson ❤︎
  9. 📖/🎭/📝/📓 Always Coming Home – Ursula K. Le Guin ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  10. 📖 Never Mind – Edward St. Aubyn
  11. 📖 Bad News – Edward St. Aubyn
  12. 📖 Some Hope – Edward St. Aubyn
  13. 📓 A Reader on Reading – Alberto Manguel ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  14. 📖 Mother’s Milk – Edward St. Aubyn
  15. 📖 At Last – Edward St. Aubyn
  16. 🔄 📖 Guards! Guards! – Terry Pratchett ❤︎
  17. 📓 The Mother of All Questions – Rebecca Solnit
  18. 🔄 💬 Delilah Dirk and the Pillars of Hercules – Tony Cliff ❤︎
  19. 📖 The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien
  20. 📖 The Mezzanine – Nicholson Baker ❤︎
  21. 📓 Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert ❤︎
  22. 📖 The Two Towers – J.R.R. Tolkien
  23. 📖 The Return of the King – J.R.R. Tolkien (Finished April 20th)
  24. 📖 Wonder Tales of Seas and Ships – Frances Carpenter (April 22nd – April 27)
  25. 🔄📖 The Raw Shark Texts – Steven Hall (July 20th – July 27th) ❤︎❤︎
  26. 💬 Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut, Ryan North, Albert Monteys (August 4th) ❤︎
  27. 💬 Lucky Penny – Ananth Hirsh and Yuko Ota  (August 4th)
  28. 💬 Kodi – Jared Cullum (August 6th)
  29. 💬 The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist – Adrian Tomine (August 8th)
  30. 💬 Girl Town – Casey Nowak (August 9th)
  31. 💬 My Life in Transition – Julia Kaye (August 9th)
  32. 💬 Bubble – Jordan Morris, Sarah Morgan, Tony Cliff, Natalie Riess (August 12th) ❤︎❤︎
  33. 📖 The Accidental – Ali Smith (August 23rd)
  34. 💬 Don’t Go Without Me – Rosemary Valero-O’Connell (August 24th) ❤︎❤︎❤︎ 
  35. 🔄 📖 The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil – George Saunders
  36. 📖 Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen (Finished Sept. 8th)
  37. 📖 All Systems Red – Martha Wells (Sept. 10th)
  38. 📖 Artificial Condition – Martha Wells (Sept. 10th)
  39. 📖 Rogue Protocol – Martha Wells (Sept. 10th-11th)
  40. 📖 Exit Strategy – Martha Wells (Sept. 11th)
  41. 📖 The Absolute Book – Elizabeth Knox (Sept. 30th? – Oct 17th)
  42. 📓 The Library at Night – Alberto Manguel (April 22nd – October 19th)
  43. 📖 Sphinx – Anne Garréta (Oct 28-30)
  44. 💬 Draw Stronger – Kriota Willberg (Oct 30)
  45. 📓 Goodbye Again – Jonny Sun
  46. 📖 The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton (Nov. 18th-20th) ❤︎
  47. 📖 Milk Blood Heat – Dantiel W. Moniz (Nov. 20th-22nd) ❤︎
  48. 📖 The Devil and the Dark Water – Stuart Turton (Nov. 27th-Dec 2nd) 
  49. 💬 Piece by Piece: the Story of Nisrin’s Hijab – Priya Huq (Dec. 6th)
  50. 💬 The Legend of Auntie Po – Shing Yin Khor (Dec. 7th) ❤︎❤︎
  51. 💬 Treasure in the Lake – Jason Pamment (Dec. 9th)
  52. 📖 The Glass Hotel – Emily St. John Mandel (Dec. 15th-17th) ❤︎
  53. 📓 The Collected Schizophrenias – Esmé Weijun Wang (Dec. 18th)
  54. 💬 Tell No Tales – Sam Maggs and Kendra Wells (Dec. 15th-21st)
  55. 📓 The Creative Habit – Twyla Tharp (Dec. 22nd) ❤︎❤︎❤︎
  56. 📓 Intimations – Zadie Smith (Dec. 28th) ❤︎
  57. 📓 I Shock Myself – Beatrice Wood (Dec. 25th – Dec. 31st) ❤︎

Fade Out

I expect and hope that eventually I will no longer be a public person — no blog, no Twitter, no public online presence at all.

I have no plan. I’m feeling my way to that destination, which is years off, surely, and I just hope to manage it gracefully. (I don’t know of any role models with this.)

Brent Simmons

Brent spearheads NetNewsWire, the open source app I use and love for reading blogs via RSS. I didn’t even know he had a blog until Winnie (who, I should point out, I never would’ve met if she hadn’t tagged me in a post she’d written in response to something on this blog a week or so ago) wrote a little about the magic of the app being free earlier today.

I wonder about this, too. Whether there are people I know who are already working towards having not less of an online presence, but zero online presence. What it would feel like to return to the liberating anonymity of growing up on the early internet. Whether I’ll ever reach a stage of life where I can withdraw permanently, or if I’ll want to, or if it’ll always be a seasonal ebb and flow.

Glad I’m not the only one.