Shit Got Real or One Bite At a Time

I’ve been writing this post in my head for a while.

Been wanting to give you and me a break from the memoir drafting stuff.

From flickr user MrsDKrebs
From flickr user MrsDKrebs

It is hard, hard, hard to be in self-examination mode, and to stay there, and to stay sane. I spent a lot of last week weeping. Part of it is I was half sick, but I’m feeling good today, forward momentum for the first time in like nine days.

It doesn’t usually take me that long to get it back.

I’ve learned some shit about myself and some of it ain’t easy to deal with. And none of it is easy to accept responsibility for. But at the end of all of this, I hope I’ll be a better person.

But that’s not what I mean by Real.

What I mean is that I am finally, finally, finally actualizing. I have been thinking about myself as a writer since I was a kid. But I have spent an absurd amount of energy and ambition and intellect trying not to be a writer.

And for about the last year, I’ve paid lip service to being a writer, and have been looking for the way home, and have been doing a lot of right things, but somehow missing the mark.

And it’s true that almost no writers get to be only writers. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about centering myself around my sense of myself as a writer.

Doing that helps me to make better choices about all the other things that are compulsory owing to adult responsibilities.

I suddenly do not feel like I’m missing out on some mirage on the horizon if I take an afternoon off, or if I take a long walk for no reason other than to walk, or if I take a day off, or if I just don’t do anything for a little while. I feel like I’m recharging. I feel like I’m getting back to the bricks of the story I’m always writing in my head.

I feel like a writer, I am all right with it. It is the rightest, goodest thing in my life. Owning it is the best thing I have ever done for my mental health.

Yes, Child is superb, but I generally feel like a fuckup of a parent. I am a better writer than I am a mother. I’ve had loads more practice

How I got home:

1. I write every day. My own work. Not stuff I’m getting paid to write, not articles, not blog posts. I make my own art five out of seven days. I view the writing I’m being paid for or the blog as other work, and I do it at a different time of day, and I think of it as separate from my own writing.

2. I read every day. Not shit I’m getting paid to read, shit that helps me be a better writer. Shit that is neither shit, nor uses the word shit as liberally as I have in this blog post.

3. I learned the value of spending time around other writers sometimes. I am giddy, giddy, giddy about going to AWP in like eight days.  I will hear smart people talk about writing for an entire weekend, and if I am brave, I will hunt down writers whose work I like and tell them I like it. I will also get a literary tattoo with my friend, Brooke.

4. I feel comfortable with my sense of myself in a way that is difficult to describe. It is like finding the perfect pair of Jeans? I have spent my life looking for this perfect cut, color, fit, and here they are, and now that I’m wearing them, I never want to take them off? That they make me feel and look so, so fucking good that I am more confident and capable willing to wrestle adversity to the floor? That’s an imperfect analog, because it feels even better than that.

In my next memoir

I will try to figure out how and why I have always known I am a writer, but got the idea that it was an invalid thing to be, or that I could never make any part of a living at it, or that I should try like hell to be something, anything else.

In the meantime, I’ve got about 145 pages out, another ten or so in progress, and ideas for at least a hundred after that, not counting the fleshing-out I’ll do in revision, or all of the trash I’ll make of things I’ve put in that don’t belong. This reminds me of that old joke: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Paydirt:

If you are an artist, be an artist. There are lots of people who will tell you why that’s a damn fool thing to want to be, and they might be right, but you’ll know if you have a choice, and if you don’t, don’t fight it. Just do it. And celebrate it. You won’t be thwarting that central part of yourself, so you’ll do better in all the other parts.

“You Can’t Touch the Music, but the Music Can Touch You.”

from Flickr user Robert Couse-Baker

Child’s been watching Regular ShowI love this trend of hipster cartoons.  I would argue that it started with Spongebob, but maybe Scooby Doo is the original hipster cartoon, adjusted for period and culture.

My favorite hipster cartoon is Adventure Time.  If you haven’t seen it, do.  You will pee your pants.

I was in Urban Outfitters with my sisters in State College.  I used to love Urban Outfitters.  I still do.  But I can’t afford it now.  I couldn’t before, either, but I didn’t know that yet.  Anyway, this gorgeous, pixie, tattooed hipster girl helped us look for the perfect mary janes in the perfect size, and she’s shooting products with an iPhone with some kind of scanning device attached.  I said, “Damn hipster store.”

And my sister leaned over and stage whispered, “They don’t like to be called hipsters.”

She can say that with authority because she is a hipster.

The title to today’s post is from an episode of Regular Show in which Mordecai and Rigby get a really catchy song stuck in their heads.

But the poignancy of the quotation really struck me.

I grew up playing piano.  And aside from that I had a bargain basement teacher who didn’t teach me anything about theory–and when I finally discovered on my own that there was a theoretical aspect, it was a little bit too late.  I could’ve studied it and learned it, but I wanted it to be easy, internalized the way the keys still feel under my fingers.  And I should’ve.  But I was stubborn and charging forward with my life.  I was on to the next art, drawing, and hoping to go to art school, but hoping more to get the hell out of my parents’ house and pay rent.

What was I thinking?

I’m 31 now.  Officially in my 30s.  But–and I’ve been talking about this with people, it seems I’m not alone–I feel like I can return to myself.  Somehow, being “in my thirties” gives me permission to honor who I am.  But I’ve spent greater than a decade changing my mind about myself.  Trying on different jobs and hats and lifestyles, always being a creative person underneath it, and gravely desirious to make my living with creative pursuits.  So now that I’m at home with April Line, artist/creative; I feel like I’m 20!

The world is my oyster.  (You win if you just read that in a NY accent).

A few months ago, I tweeted one night when I couldn’t go to sleep that “Sometimes I feel like a prisoner in my own bed.”

Being a prisoner in one’s own bed is bad, but being a prisoner to one’s cultural expectations is far, far worse.

Today, I am free.

eBooks for Free or Sale, Philosophy of Commerce for Artists

Lookee!

I made some eBooks.  And listen, I know that my graphic design skills leave something to be desired.

But each consists of 55ish pages (+/- 10K words) of the best stuff on this blog.  Notes on Life and Love is something of a memoir in essay, fiction, list.  On Writing and Living is all about writing and how to live as a writer, from style and grammar to a version of The Productivity Post.

I selected the content in these two books based on the stuff that gets found the most in searches, and the stuff that people seem to go back to again and again, or the stuff that people were most enthusiastic about in the comments.

Here’s why I did it:

1) I like to try new stuff and see what I can learn.

2) I was curious about trying to adapt content to work off-blog, per the Blogging a Book (or Booking a Blog) Webinar.

3) As a way to entice people to love me more.

4) Because, as much as I am put off by the notion of monetizing and marketing, working for free is stupid.  As an artist, working for free takes money from other artists.  I wrote a post about that before.

5) To see what kind of feedback I get, whether people are more interested in learning about writing from me, or in hearing about my life.

Philosophy of Commerce for Artists

Just because the internet tells us to give our work away for free doesn’t mean that some people aren’t willing to pay for it.  I love Bandcamp because it lets musicians put their work up, and gives consumers of it the option to pay or not to pay.

I know there are consumers of art who want to pay for it.  And there are those who don’t.  And there are those who can’t.  I’ve been all three.

Probably, in another decade, there will be Bandcamp for writers, too.  For now, I’m taking my cues from Bandcamp, because the music industry has been de-centralizing for about a decade now.  I hope the books market will adapt more quickly.  Yes, yes, people can sell their books on Amazon for $0.99 if they want, but that’s not really the same.  Bandcamp gives art consumers the option to pay what they can, what they want, or nothing at all.  It asks, “What is this worth to you?”

But I’m legitimately thrilled that you’re here, so I’m completely happy if you keep hanging out here without paying a red dime.

But if you want to, you can.  If you have the means to, and you’re entertained or educated or edified here, please do.

Sort of like how you buy cookies from the girl scouts or your kids’ or grandkids’ fundraisers so support the work behind those things. Buying my eBook helps me pay my internet bill, put gas in my car, and feed my kid.

And if you’re an artist who agrees, feel free to rob my ideas wholesale.  This was all very easy to set up, and I did it in a matter of hours. I’m happy to help.  Hit me with the Contact form.

Options

You can have either eBook for free here, or by clicking the eBook tab above.  If you know somebody who’d get a kick out of one of them, please share it.  Post a PDF on your own blog if you dig.  I want people to read what I write.

You can pay $5.00 for either eBook on the right-hand menu over there.  You can pay with your PayPal account or via a credit card as facilitated by PayPal.  You don’t have to have a PayPal account to make this work.

If you don’t want the eBook, but you still think that April Line Writing is worth a bit of your hard won cash, you can just click the Tip Jar.  That’ll take you to a “donations” page where you can tip as much or as little as you like.

Stay Tuned

Because the next thing is that I’m going to do a Newsletter.

And with my slower posting schedule, the posts are getting better.  And there will be much to share about grad school, my sister’s wedding, my Freelancer’s Collective for Business project (with my pal Ryan), and the stuff I’m reading over the summer.

Advice About Love for Artists or Anybody.

From Flickr User qthomasbower.

1.  Always worry about your choices, for your wide mind and readiness for new experience can lead you to crummy places with crummy people.

2.  Choose lovers who are also artists.  If you marry, marry a pragmatist.  If you divorce, remarry an artist.

3.  Avoid the tiger and the rat.

4.  Trust yourself.  Do not take society’s portrayal of you as flaky or too weird to heart.  If it smells like danger, then it is.  If it smells delicious, it might be.

5.  Accept that you look at the world differently than not-artists, this means that you will have to be flexible in arguments.

6.  Some people can’t handle being with an artist.  No matter how nice you are, this will not change.  It will not always be immediately obvious.

7.  Sometimes, even if it makes total sense and seems like it will work, it won’t.  And other times, if it seems like it won’t work, it will.  On this, trust your guts and your heart.

8.  If you share a domicile, keep a place to work that has a door to close.  Unless your partner is also an artist and you are involved in her process, do not involve her in yours.  Do not ask for or trust her opinion of your work.  She can’t be objective, and doing so is a recipe for resentment, and opens the temptation to make the relationship serve your work.

8 a. Keep your work separate from your relationship.  If you create work about your partner, tell her, show her, and give her editorial authority.  If she is uncomfortable, you must not use that material.

9.  If your partner is the rare sort who can be objective about your work, do not ask for her opinion unless it won’t hurt your feelings if she says she does not like it.  You do not get to ask then be hurt when she answers truthfully.

10.  People love to be with artists because artists make stuff for their partners.  Do that.  It is nice and inexpensive.

11.  Make sure your partner is all right with the financial weirdness of making a living as an artist, if that is how you do it.

12.  Artists are especially possessed of a compulsion to introspect and self-criticize.  Make sure your partner does not mistake this for exclusion, conspiracy, or malignant narcissism.  It may help to talk her through your thought process.

13.  It is wonderful to have the artist’s sensibility, to be able to see the world differently.  People who can’t will want you to do it their way.  People are especially prescriptive about love.  Enjoy your artist’s purview for the gift it is, and don’t listen to them.

Guest Post: “You’ve survived it again, the Poem says.”

This Post originally appeared in Center for Health Media and Policy out of  Hunter College.  This post is an eloquent meditation on Andrew Merton’s poem, “Coming Out of a Depression.”  Thank you, Joy.  Enjoy, everyone. 

Joy Jacobson is the CHMP’s poet-in-residence. 

This week Andrew Merton’s first book of poemsEvidence that We Are Descended from Chairs, is being released from Accents Publishing. Merton may not be typical of a debut poet: he is an accomplished journalist and chairs the Department of English at the University of New Hampshire, where I was his student 30 years ago. I got in touch with him again when the founder of UNH’s journalism department, Don Murray, died in 2006. Murray and Merton had a strong influence on my writing life at that time, and now that I teach writing I’m grateful to recall what they taught me.

With this new book of poems Merton is instructing me in another way. As poetCharles Simic writes in a foreword, Merton’s “chief subject may be described as our human comedy mixed with tragedy.” A good example is this poem (reprinted with the author’s permission):


coming out of a depression

sleet

gravel in a chicken’s gut

flies buzzing feebly against a screen

crows

morels at the foot of a dead apple tree

shadow of a hawk, receding

whisper of snakes on stone

the sun that powers the heart of a flea

a history of oceans
written on the underside of clouds

in a worn wicker basket
abandoned by a stream,
galaxies blooming

We might see this poem as a topographic map, demonstrating in relief the hills and valleys of a particular psychic landscape. Or maybe, more aptly, it’s a travelogue of the byways leading out of Hell. Regardless, we have little choice but to trust our guide.

We start in a season of bad weather. A single word, sleet, acts as both noun and verb of its own endless sentence. This is a place of ineffectual flies and of many birds, caged or scavenging or predatory. One life form here, the morels, are saprotrophic, feeding on dead things, and I imagine the apple tree to be reaching for the memory of the forbidden fruit it once bore. Thou shalt not eat of it, God warned, and I wouldn’t dare. In this place I wouldn’t even gather the morels for consumption. It’s an environment that reduces its raptor to shadow and retreat.

Those first six lines seem to me to be in whispered conversation with some other famous literary depressives: Yahweh, Poe’s raven, Keats’s narrator “half in love with easeful Death” from “Ode to a Nightingale.” But in Merton’s seventh line a movement evidenced only by the swish of snakeskin on stone changes the view. It’s a sound I can see. I’m reminded of a friend’s sumi ink-stick drawings; one in particular depicts a gray road winding through gray-black trees. A simple, colorless elegance.

Now with the eighth line a real and measurable power asserts itself. It may be no more significant than the electroconductivity taking place in the heart of a flea, but a life can revolve around that sun. And it does, here. A couplet emerges, and in it a pairing of water and language—a natural history written in clouds that must fall inevitably down.

A rain of words: a poet’s dream of redemption.

Merton’s final tercet calls forth a basket, left behind and emptied, apparently, of its cargo—the infant Moses, perhaps? And why not? The poem has recovered itself enough to form a stanza, a complex interplay of lines and images. It’s a free-verse universe but it’s ordered. Even during a clinical depression, involuntary body processes like heart rhythm and respiration are kept up. You’ve survived it again, the poem says. You walked through sleet and ate gizzards, and your powers of observation were never lost to you. Take a peek inside the basket, the poem invites. Go on: you’ll be stunned all over again to discover galaxies so numerous they can’t be counted. But they can be contained in the worn wicker of your mind.

You can watch Andrew Merton’s recent poetry reading at UNH, a video in three parts, by clicking here. And you can order the book from Accents Publishing.

Three Weeks to Geek: Beddor & Mendheim, Worlds & Games

Used with permission from WCC

The thing that got me intrigued by this Comic Con in the first place–and the thing that got me to pull my head out of my ass and realize that the project is revolutionary, and it just happens to be coming alive in this relatively small, conservative town in which I live–was when John Shableski (the guy who’s in charge of WCC, and who has boundless drive, energy, and knows everybody who’s somehow touching the comics industry) sent me the preliminary schedule for the con when we were first discussing my involvement.

I expected a smallish program full of mostly local people talking about how much they love comics and wish Stan Lee was coming to Williamsport.

That assumption kind of touches on my prior ignorance of all things Comic, and in some ways, I feel I got a new brain through all of this: one with a better understanding of what comics have become, and why they’re important.  Yes, important.  Like canonical literature important, my literary friends.

But the program in one of its earliest iterations was equal parts comics and scholarship.  There was everything from people talking about comics they wrote or drew to panels discussing social concerns, circulation, and very few local people.

And the thing that continues to impress me about the scope of Shableski’s vision is that he is drawing attention to connections between comics and text, comics and film, and comics and video games that are not blatant.

As someone who has only lived in Williamsport a short time, I can say this, probably not without some backlash (steels self against comments):

There’s a general antagonism toward outsiders here.  Williamsport is a town that would rather celebrate local talent than acknowledge that–while we do have a disproportionate amount of it here–it could be complemented and edified by the big, bad, outside world.

This has made bringing the WCC to fruition a tricky task, and has required all of us who will take part to become proselytizers.

And the folks who are coming are as varied as the stories they tell, but they have two common characteristics: enthusiasm and vision.

I talked to two of the presenters this week, and I’m sharing tidbits from my conversations with them because they represent two very distinct pieces of this comics-as-new-media world.

Hatter M Book Cover, used with permission
Nature of Wonder Cover, Used with Permission

Frank Beddor is author of a series of novels called Looking Glass Wars that became a series of graphic novels called Hatter M.  These are an alternative version of Lewis Carroll’s Victorian classic, Alice in Wonderland.  And though I’ve only read Hatter M of the graphic novel series, I can tell you with certitude that the stories are dark and engaging and thoroughly imagined.

Here’s a clip from our phone interview:

Michael Mendheim is a video game producer who has been working in the video games industry since the 80s.

He says his favorite ever was this one:

Michael Mendheim's Mutant League Football, used with permission

And here is a tiny excerpt of our interview:

Me:  Has doing a graphic novel always been your dream?  If it has, how did you wind up finally doing one.

Michael Mendheim: Yes, I’ve always loved comics and thought the Four Horsemen concept would be perfect for a graphic novel. The Four Horsemen video game was in development with a small team at the 3DO Company. We were developing the game and a comicbook series (which Simon Bisley was illustrating).

3DO endured financial hardship when the tech bubble burst and they filed for bankruptcy. Rather than let the property die, I purchased it out of bankruptcy – it took about 18 months for the property to clear but once it did, I owned it free and clear and immediately  called Simon Bisley and told him we were getting the band back together.

Four Horsemen Cover, Used with Permission

Once Again, you really shouldn’t miss this thing, even if you have only a cursory interest in comics, or if you’re a teacher, or if you like books, or if you just like to listen to cool and/or smart people talk about stuff they’re into.

What is Literature?

Stitches, A Memoir, by David Small

Sometimes, I like to concern myself with philosophical questions like “What is beauty?” And lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about literature, specifically literary fiction, and asking the ether, “what counts as literature?  What are the standards?  Should there be standards?  If there are standards, who should be in charge of them?”

It is clearer every day that the time-honored model of the academy as bastion of literature and high art doesn’t jive with new media.  The academy itself is dabbling in new media with online courses and virtual text books, Facebook pages & marketing departments who tweet… We’re in a state of cultural reckoning right now.  It’s exciting and confusing and wonderful.

If we want high art–or really any standards at all–we’re going to have to figure out how to let the academy, the canon, and new media work together, or at least integrate into one another to some extent.

Graphic novels are totally old news.  I was kind of peripherally exposed to The Sandman around 7 years ago, and I’ve been paying a bit of attention, so I know that graphic novels have been adapted to film somewhat frequently lately, as in The Watchmen and V for Vendetta and others.

And really,  they’re not typically in my taste.  It’s not that I can’t see the beauty, or recognize the value, but like with video games: try as I might, I just can’t make my stubborn, realist self be so in love with the fantasy. I find the writing to be generally poorly done, or overdone, even–or especially–when the art is fabulous.  I do love particularly fanciful children’s books.  But really excellent children’s books hit that sweet spot of beautiful writing and beautiful art.  It seems wasteful or disrespectful to me to make gorgeous images and attach them to poor writing.

Comic book movies are old news, too.  Batman, Superman, The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, Spiderman, all began as comic books, whose cousins, graphic novels, are appearing with greater gusto and in a wider array of disciplines and applications all the time. Less famously–and more in my aesthetic–American Splendor explored the “real” world in comics as told by Harvey Pekar.

But I’m trying.  Really trying.  Trying so hard that I’ve agreed to present at the Wildcat Comic Con on character development in writing (specifically, that it is important to know and love one’s villains), and to moderate a panel on Zombies.  I do enjoy The Walking Dead, the show & books, those graphic novels are entertaining.  I’ve read chapters of The Zombie Survival Guide here and there, and I find voodoo zombies to be particularly fascinating.

 I recently read Stitches.  

Stitches is realism, a proper memoir that is at turns tragic and funny and strange.

 David Small is a well-known, award-winning, beloved illustrator.  His illustrations have adorned children’s books and magazines for decades.

In 2009, he released this work, and I will tell you openly that this is one of the most literary things I have read in a long time.  I would have laughed at you if you’d told me several weeks ago that I would think of a book with fewer than a thousand words as high literature.

Stitches is.

The book works like a prose poem.  It tells a vivid and affecting story with carefully chosen words and often eyeless, expressive figures, leading the reader to certain conclusions without doing any of the work for her.  The writing is spare, beautiful.

Here’s a taste: My step-grandfather, Papa John, came home from work.  Papa John had a scratchy face.  He wore a watch and chain.  He was the “greeter” at a funeral home.  He took me to see the trains come in.  Papa John knew everyone in town.  He knew all the “boys” at the bar.  And on chilly mornings, he stoked the furnace. 

“What do you put in there?”

“Coal.”

“Do you put little children in there sometimes?”

“Don’t be silly.”

In this scene, it’s clear that young David feels unsafe at his grandparents’ house, but free to ask his step-grandfather–who is one of the nicest adults in the book–questions that indicate that fear.  Small, drawn clues to the narrative signal us to slowing action with greater detail,  lead us to questions and conclusions, as in the facial expressions showing subtle intention, so you get the right read on each character.

I don’t want to tell you too much.  I want you to go get this book and read it.