This one (my 30th since I started this practice in June of 2019!) is about stuff I lost track of in 2021, things I’m thinking about in the new year, trying to abandon perfectionism, what to share and what not to share, the topography of the Ojai Valley, and various other things.
Also: looked at a bunny, found some owls.
You can read the transcript or browse all the notes and associated ephemera over on Patreon for free, or just listen directly below.
[Rambles are typically 20-minute freeform audio updates recorded outside every couple of weeks. You can listen to previous Rambles here or subscribe directly in the podcast app of your choosing with this link.]
Working on Tell the Turning with Tara and Stefan over the past year has been such a gentle, eye-opening process. Historically, there’s been an element of exhaustion or overstimulation in the work I make due to it being tied in so many respects to social media. The energy of being on Twitter or Instagram bleeds into everything from the pace of production to the pressure to reach more people. Even if I’m enjoying making the art, there’s this extra stuff that I don’t quite know what to do with.
But this book felt different.
We took it at exactly the pace we wanted to. We didn’t share a great deal online as things came together. Instead, we focused on enjoying the process of building something as a team. We focused on enjoying each other. Mostly this took the form of writing many, many goofy emails, but there were other bits and pieces too.
I’m pretty sure we’ve only had one Zoom call this whole time.
When it was time to crowdfund the book, it funded. Quickly, and without much fuss. There was no need to hurtle towards stretch goals because we knew what we wanted to make and it was modest. Between us, we knew enough people who were willing to pitch in. We shared the load.
Time passed. The manuscript was typeset. I spent about a month in my new studio making paintings, settling in, texting Tara occasionally to ask about the identity of this or that plant mentioned in the book. We took a walk on the beach when she was visiting California in the summer. Stefan and his team sent the book to print.
And now all three of us have copies in our hands. In Poland, in Portland, in Ojai. And I guess a lot of other people are about to have copies in their hands as well, but a lot of this still feels local to that trinity.
Three friends who wanted to make something together, and then did.
I like working this way. I hope I get to do it again sometime.
Tell the Turning (my illustrated collaboration with poet Tara Shepersky) went to press last week in Poland and our publisher, Stefan, has been sending the most delicious slew of process photos from the print house. I figured I’d post some of them here because I’m trying to get in the habit of using this space for visual stuff just as much as I use it for blathering in text about craft and money and comics and everything else.
Here’s our impressive and pristine stack of Munken Arctic paper! This is one of the few papers not currently suffering from extreme stock shortages in central Europe, leading to our unexpectedly-ahead-of-schedule print date. At a time when all sorts of publishers and indie creators are reporting a three-month average delay in production timelines, I’ll take it.
Here it is all loaded into the printer. (I have an intense soft spot for the little vacuum plungers that lift the pages off one by one.)
And then of course comes the best part of any printing house update which is, naturally, the video:
WHOOSH WHOOSH WHOOSH! BOOK BOOK BOOK!
That leaves us with a HUGE stack of printed pages…
…which will then be trimmed and sewn together to create the final book.
You can get a closer look at some of the illustrations (including the cover and the special Field Offering postcards I designed for Kickstarter backers) in this sheet:
Basically it’s going to be here before we even know it and I think it’s going to look and feel incredible and I cannot wait. What a joy.
(I should probably also mention that you can preorder the book here! It’s currently on track to begin shipping October 20th, which is just around the corner.)
This concludes the first installment of the “post more visual content, you coward” challenge. Thank you.
The Kickstarter for Tell the Turning has come and gone. It funded with joyous speed, which helped me lean into treating it as an exercise in enoughness over the course of its lifespan, but I still experienced the odd pang of guilt that I wasn’t saturating the digital airwaves with more promotion. It helped that I was undergoing a massive slate of complex life things during those three weeks: second vaccine doses, unexpected deaths, preparations to return to Oregon and pack the rest of my life into boxes for a more permanent move. It was good to remember that we already had enough, and that I had two amazing collaborators doing their part as well. (If you haven’t read any of Stefan’s project updates, I recommend them wholeheartedly.)
Now we get to make a book, arguably the meat of the thing, but a Kickstarter leaves one with some delightful side products.
Volunteering to make the video for the campaign was a chance for me to practice editing (something I’ve been wanting to work on), and a challenge to capture the eccentric flavor of our little fellowship. It was also an exercise in embracing imperfection, since I’d started adhering to absurdly high standards on my own campaigns and needed to shake some of that loose.1
With the campaign over, I find myself wondering: where will that video live now? Does it still serve a purpose? I don’t know. But it’s funny how sometimes the parts of a project I’m most proud of are those adjacent to the work itself.
Once (and only once) I got my shit together for a talk far enough in advance to craft a deck of custom-illustrated slides that came out better than I could’ve hoped.
I organized my year-long tour for 100 Demon Dialogues via an Airtable database that can soothe even my darkest moments of self doubt.
I love these bits and pieces, even if they don’t go in my portfolio or grace the front of my site. Even if they’re for projects in hibernation, or enjoying their final rest. They’re still out there: not the whole thing, but part of the thing.
1. Don’t get me wrong: I’m thrilled with the animated demon Patrick and Chris helped me pull off for the 100 Demon DialoguesKickstarter video. I watched it the other day and grinned thinking about the day we spent filming in Patrick’s apartment, me staring at a chopstick with a post-it note demon stuck to the top to try and line up eyesights correctly. It has been extremely worth it to pay friends to help make my work better—hell, Chris is responsible for helping me line up those three long-distanced waving shots for the Tell the Turning video—but there’s something to be said for doing it less well myself sometimes. It’s good to remember that I can. ↩
For many months, earlier in the Pandemic, my elementary school had a banner of this Kobayashi Issa haiku hanging outside their driveway:
Climb Mount Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!
The entire family had a very good time yelling “O SNAIL” very loudly whenever we drove past. It made a hard season easier to bear.1
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’ve been working on a collaborative publishing project with my friends Tara and Stefan called Tell the Turning. It’s an illustrated collection that’s very much rooted in place: a poetic celebration of flora and fauna, a compendium of walking companions, and a testament to three people finding out that they’re on the same page about the correct pace at which to make something special (slowly, slowly).
In contrast to that preference, the Kickstarter campaign we launched this morning funded quickly, quickly. It took 78 people 4 hours and 42 minutes to turn this from a book we three collaborators believe in very much to a book that will actually exist. Though her poetry’s been published in various external venues, this is going to be Tara’s first book-shaped collection of her work. When I think about the difference it made in my life and career and whole *arm waving* identity as a creator to cross that threshold, I get choked up.
It takes so few people, relatively speaking, to make this transformation possible.
I felt allergic to the idea of crafting a bunch of flashy Instagram graphics to try and plug the launch earlier today, so I just sat in a field and recorded a 7-minute video ramble on the things I love about my collaborators and how capitalism traps us with a false sense of urgency and posted that to my story instead.2 (I’m no expert at these things, but maybe you can watch it at this link? Unsure. It’s pinned on my profile, anyway.)
The Kickstarter doesn’t have to be a runaway freight train. In fact it feels nicer as something intimate, held close to the chest, tucked into a pocket, or passed to a friend.
I have a lot more thoughts about this whole experience (of course I do, hi, hello, I’m Lucy Bellwood), but for now I’m gonna go take a long walk. If you want to investigate the campaign and watch the goofy video I made and marvel at Tara’s work, you can absolutely do so here, but you don’t have to pledge a dime because it’s already going to exist. This is enough.
And now we get to beam at each other and go make something beautiful.
1. According to Wikipedia, the poem was used to title a novel by the Strugatsky brothers called Snail on the Slope. I only learned about the Strugatskys for the first time from Jez last year, which made this feel like a bit of serendipity. ↩
2. Apparently Stefan watched the whole thing with his young daughter and it was the first time she’d heard anyone say the word “motherfucker”! I feel honored. ↩
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, buther 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.