Mark Andresen at the Pan Review (“a bi-monthly look at the arts and literary scene”) graciously invited me to answer some wonderful questions for the Pan Review Of The Arts No. XIII. I’m very grateful to Mark for this opportunity, and grateful there are such fascinating corners of the internet, where we can ponder the inner workings and explore inspiring esoterica.
I’ve almost finished with my dollhouse re-vamp as part of spiffing my office. The dollhouse had become like a beach at low tide, catching every small bit the waves cast there. Many of the items in the dollhouse are from my childhood, many handmade by my friends and me. (I’ve blogged about my dollhouse here.)
Yesterday I took everything out, cleaned the shelves, and am sorting through it all, deciding what to keep. Not all of it, but the most important bits.
Today I realized that Maude, the mama bear, doesn’t have an art studio (which she had when I was a kid–a separate cardboard box with canvases, etc.)! And there’s a perfect spot for it. So now I get to make some stuff.
There’s something so calming about taking time with this.
And while I should be decluttering other (larger) things for an imminent yard sale, too bad; this day has been perfect.
Listening to the MekonsEXISTENTIALISM this morning, I spoke parts of the following to my husband…jet-lagged, and not as precise as I’d like to think is my usual, here’s an attempt to capture my words/thoughts, after a little more caffeine:
I can’t believe I never knew of the Mekons until I met [you] my husband. Not because I knew so many bands, but because the music of the Mekons goes straight into the body, to reach the tender bit that is humanity, or something else I can’t articulate. Anyway, their music feeds that part. As I listened this morning, I thought, why doesn’t everyone see this? Maybe it’s just an inescapable fact of independent art-making, the small batches that come from not being a Big Famous Commercial Commodity. Microbrew of sound. An acquired taste? We should all acquire it. If the world were just, their sounds would spill out to all humanity. We’d hear the Mekons piped through the air in sports bars and over sidewalks. (Wouldn’t that be a different world?) If that happened, we’d have to wake from complacency and consumption; I wonder if we’d ever get anything “done.” If the trains could possibly still run on time, if making and selling widgets would still be relevant, or if our inner parts would thrive better, if we’d get off our rumps beyond widget-making, and make art.
…help me answer these and other raggedy questions by purchasing EXISTENTIALISM from Bloodshot Records here. (And add the most excellent ANCIENT AND MODERN for just $8.95 more!)
Last year at Emerson College, Senior Writer-In-Residence (and my friend) William Orem created an installation called THE BLACKBIRD PROJECT from photographs of multiple sections of the Wallace Stevens poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” projected onto the walls. (My voice was among those of several poets and writers who recorded stanzas of the poem, which played throughout the gallery. You can watch the video here.)
Friends, you are in luck, but you better act soon: There are only a few more days to see and purchase Jon Langford’s art at Emporium. Get your hides over there to bask in the light where art, music, and the human spirit collide.
The show runs through April 30, and there are still some pieces for sale. Tell your friends! Don’t miss it!
Read the Dayton City Paper piece about Jon Langford and the Antioch School Gala here! (However: Please note that the Gala is happening ONE NIGHT ONLY! Saturday, March 4, at 6pm. For more information, or to buy tickets, you can call the school at 937.767.7642 or go here
Since attending WRITING THE UNTHINKABLE with Lynda Barry at Omega Institute in July, I’ve used a process Lynda (aka Professor Andretti) described for writing her amazing novel, Cruddy. I adapted the steps a bit to write a short story. My process was:
DRAFT 1: Write the first draft by hand—not with ink and brush (as she when drafting Cruddy), but with a black Flair. Using lined paper, I double-spaced lines. (This is important: skip a line in the composition book, as if your hand is double-spacing).
(I started this story from a very messy prompt/embryo I did last spring about taking stuff to the curb for junk day. We have this junk week thing in our town every year, where you can take just about anything to the curb and either another resident will harvest it or the trash collectors will take it. The essay was what I started with, literally writing the words I had typed up onto the paper, longhand, but veered from the essay totally so it ended up as fiction. Really, I’m dealing with some of my (internal) baggage in this essay-turned-story and so using this ‘junk’ was both cathartic and creative.)
DRAFT 2: Re-copy draft 1 by hand without taking anything out (!) but slowing down and adding things where needed. (This is really important: you must copy everything you wrote in the first draft. You can add as much as you like, but you are not removing anything. When I tried it, it began to feel like I was not cutting myself to shards, but instead just acknowledging that some of the junk—every word!—had a reason to be there, at this stage. Doing this worked against the constant self-critique I usually feel when writing. I wasn’t finding flaws and rooting them out, I was just re-copying words in slow, deliberate shapes with a pen. In fact, as Professor Andretti recommended, when my brain started to go faster than my hand, I deliberately
s l o w e d d o w n
and focussed on making the shapes with my pen on the paper.)
DRAFT 3: Type up. On a typewriter. Professor Andretti used an actual typewriter for Cruddy, because you can only go forward (pretty much) on a typewriter whereas on a keyboard and screen you can go both ways (this ‘just keep moving forward’ idea is an extension of steps 1 and 2 above, i.e. not cutting down but building up, keeping momentum going.) I did this step on word processor because my typewriter needs a new ribbon—but before I used the word processor, I turned off the (judgmental!) automatic spell/grammar check as you type feature. If you try nothing else from my post, try this. It’s totally liberating! I knew I’d eventually do a manual spell check, so I just didn’t worry about it at this point. And I am maybe never turning that sucker back on. Like double-spacing my handwriting, excusing The Judge allows more oxygen in the room of my writing, lets me breathe. Ah! Doesn’t that feel better? Yes.)
DRAFT 4: Here is where Professor Andretti would finally type it up on a computer. Once I had the draft on the computer (see step 3), I did a spell check, and then printed it. It still needed work and I took things out and added things, etc., but a lot of what came through in the process was evocative and strong writing. What came through most of all was the character’s voice. I believe that using this technique allowed her enough oxygen to tell her story.
It was a great and illuminating process. It felt good instead of pressured. (It was actually much more fun than usual writing.)
I’m happy to have spent those several weeks using some of the techniques I learned from Professor Andretti…and living in the not knowing/not fiction/not non-fiction/what the hell is an image/”search for underpants, eee*” zone…and I got a story out of it!
* This is a reference to a song Lynda Barry would sing in the morning at our workshop. I much prefer her/our version to the South Park version—we all sang along with her—but if you want to hear the song, go here.
To learn more about Lynda Barry, go to her Instagram.
A week ago, I returned from the Omega Institute where I attended Lynda Barry‘s 5-day workshop called WRITING THE UNTHINKABLE. (I know that I will be writing about the experience for a long time, so I’m not even trying to encapsulate it all here. I do know that the time I spent in that workshop will affect my work and life in ways I can’t yet imagine, and probably for the rest of my life.)
Barry’s work had us considering what is an image but here “considering” is the wrong word: instead of an intellectual brain-ing activity, we considered via specific remembered images…with the moving hand and what she calls the back of the mind, and our friendly Professor Andretti (her workshop code name) guiding, prompting, timing us. We worked like dogs! (It’s a cliche, but also an image, and a puzzling one: aside from working dogs, do dogs work?) On the drive home, almost every song I heard had a mystery in it.
Images are everywhere, and I’m almost 50 years old, and I feel like I am just now noticing this!
Doing this work was the kind of experience that opens the senses. I’m noticing so much, so much more fully, in a more embodied way. I have not yet opened my composition book where the work from the workshop is contained. I’m following Professor Andretti’s advice and waiting, so the images have time to coalesce. It’s a magic process, and I don’t want to disturb it.
But I did open a small box of stuff that’s been sitting in my office for almost a year. The box is full of items from my (long-gone) childhood dollhouse. I still have most of the contents and inhabitants (Steiff and Schuco mohair bears, mostly, and some other species). A couple years ago, I moved the things out of boxes onto a bookshelf in my office, and having it out in the open makes me so happy. But today’s box was undiscovered until my mother found it at her house last year. (When she gave it to me, I opened it and looked through quickly, but didn’t have time to really peruse it, so I put it away. Now I am wondering if I put it off not only because of busyness and inertia, but maybe also something like the composition book from the workshop: maybe in that box there was still something magic happening that needed to be undisturbed.)
Tonight when I looked through the tiny items with my daughter, among the treasures (some pictured below) I found a tiny sample bottle of Estee Lauder Youth Dew. (Lynda Barry writes and talks about how sometimes an image, a song, will transport us back to a forgotten corner of our lives. If you are a child of the 1960s and 70s and you don’t believe me, try smelling some Youth Dew!)
This is one of those times I’m glad I’m a packrat.
I can’t yet write deeply/fully about my experience at Lynda Barry’s WRITING THE UNTHINKABLE Omega Institute workshop last week, because it’s all still coalescing, and it’s summertime, and I just don’t have the mind space word space right now. But I wrote a message to my former students and couple colleagues, because the message does scratch the surface (cliche, I know) in telling about how it was to be in the room with LB. More, more deeply, when I can.
I’m just back from an amazing workshop at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY, where I spent the week along with 70 others working with Lynda Barry. Some of you know her work, maybe some of you don’t…but I wanted to pass these links along in case they are of interest to you.
If you like her vibe and work, I recommend the workshop very highly. It got me moving in the creative flow, writing and drawing and working really hard, and also unlocked a lot of stuck ideas I had about making art and what it’s all about.
(Or, in shorthand: Lynda Barry rocks! And so can you!)
She’s very generous about her teaching. She considers her work open-sourced, and wants anyone and everyone to have access to it. Her book that contains the most teaching stuff in it is Syllabus, but it has as much for the maker of art as the teacher. (Okay, by now you know how I feel about Lynda Barry’s work.)
Here’s her TED talk, a good, longish introduction to her work: