Friday, January 30, 2009

Another delightful Alimentum launch at the Merc

I was at the Merc, The Mercantile Library, last night celebrating the 7th issue of Alimentum, the literary journal where food is muse. (Disclaimer: I am co-designer of this rag.) I love the Merc, in the comfortable yet elegant space one feels rather important just sitting there along with flaking plaster busts regarding the room with interest. In fact, one Restoration era gentleman looked just like Keifer Sutherland, with cravat.

I hear the private library is going to move, ah, sigh...more change. New places are nice but it takes many a decade to acquire that old New York club feel.

Here are my drawings, sketched from the second row, hopefully not making them too nervous, with autographs, of the performers:

Kristen Aiken, Leslie McGrath, Steven Sher, Carly Sachs read poems, creative non-fiction, and short stories and then the snarky literary band, One Ring Zero, represented by Michael Hearst and Joshua Camp, played an assortment of instruments, some of which I'd never seen before, with lyrics, written by notable authors as well as recipes set to music. They even set a rejection letter to music. I loved them.

I have borrowed their description of this odd instrument, equal parts penny whistle, harmonica and keyboard, one of only 50 in the world:
Claviola: This focal point of One Ring Zero was designed by Ernst Zacharias in the 1960s. Similar to a melodica, air is blown into a mouthpiece and then directed toward the reeds by pressing on piano-like keys. Pipe lengths then shape the pitch.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Neil Gaiman won the Newbery Award and you should read his book

even if you aren't a kid. Or give it to a kid you like. The Graveyard Book is a delightful homage to Kipling's The Jungle Book, but in this case the orphan is raised by a graveyard of ghosts and undead. I was lucky enough to hear him read the first chapter live and then hear the rest, for free, from his website. The videos are still up there. Still free.

Gaiman has this ability to tap the yearning and essential goodness in his heroes while not shirking on their emotional growing pains. He is exceptionally good at creating fantasy worlds that bring alive the bitter-sweet of real life. His scary bits are scary, but not too. Unlike some horror writers who do go on too much with gore and depraved laughter, Gaiman's worst nightmares are sometimes only spooky watchdogs that have been ignored too long. Or people who think they are doing you a favor or saving the world... Add to that his humor and pacing and delight in words and you have, well, a classic.

The Newbery prize means the book will never ever go out of print as long as books are inked on paper. He deserves it.

Why dancers make great calligraphers

Back when I was hungry to learn how to be a book designer I was the lowest level of hands in the design department at Harmony Books which was part of Crown Publishers when it was still privately owned. In this position, I was not getting much to design at all. No, I was pasting up books by passing pieces of type through a hot wax roller and then sticking them to boards. It was dullish stuff. Exacting. Hours lumped along as I measured and drew the pale blue guide lines (blue didn't show up when the boards were photographed and transformed into plates for printing), inked in crop marks, and carefully squashed the type flat and true.

Being new, young, and untrained, I had been given an interior cubicle at some distance from the rest of the Harmony people. Meetings happened and all too often nobody remembered to call and invite me (pre-email!) because in my distant cell I was a forgotten prisoner of paste-up.

Luckily I sat near a team of incredibly talented women who produced the luscious promotional materials that helped sell all the Crown books in bookstores and book fairs as well as glossy ads, mailers, posters, book stands, special gifts, and cool give-aways. Whenever I had a free moment I would wander over and watch or ask if they needed any help. Arlene Boehm and Nancy Hussar* had major chops. Nancy, always preppy looking, brought a sort of ultra Martha Stewart level of taste and class to anything she touched--she loved antiques and interior design. Arlene was a cockatiel loving tall thin red-head who arrived at work on motorcycles and had a passion for pre-Raphaelite art. She kept a wonderfully illustrated journal of her adventures, with bears as her avatars. I LOVED them. They took pity on me.

Arlene told me to take as many calligraphy classes as possible, "take italic, roman, uncial, anything," that in this way I would really begin to understand type and one couldn't design well without understanding type. This was the best advice about learning design that I have ever gotten. Ever. I took classes through The New School, many from the legendary Jeanyee Wong. In those classes, gripping a pen with a square cut metal nib and dipping it in ink, I learned why type is thick and thin and how size of nib, angle, and pressure made the letters take on different personalities. Most of all, I realized that tight effort in my fingers was less effective than a fluid gesture that involved my entire arm, and soon, my whole body including my breath. The dancers got it right away, they were used to kinetic expression, if the line was moved from stage to page, it was still a narrative movement.

Some of the dancers were recently retired, some were on injury hiatus, I'd look at their poise and beautiful results and just pretend I too could dance in ink.

My calligraphy did help me to see how typefaces differ and also gave me a new appreciation of the incised letters in ancient Roman arches, those too were made with calligraphic shapes, and I loved looking at Islamic, Medieval, and Chinese hand lettering at the Morgan Library. I loved calligraphy but... it wasn't going to be my career. It could have been, and people that started when I did are these many years later true masters of the craft. But I loved designing books.

Graphic design moved from originating on paper to originating on computers. I learned it as it happened. I work on a computer now. It isn't physically kinetic like calligraphy and I miss that. Don Pettit, the astronaut, described typing on a laptop in weightlessness and realizing that with no "top" or "bottom" there doesn't need to be a desk tethered to a wall. He could float anywhere and work, all he needed was a way to keep additional materials traveling with him. What a thought. Everything in page design responds to our human bias to "feel" gravity. Think about it, when I center a block of type on a page it feels better to have a little more space below than above, this has something to do with how we see things in perspective as we walk on the ground, held there by gravity. When roman architects made columns they made the bases thicker than the tops, again because of perspective, things with bases that are thicker feel more stable. How will designing in weightlessness affect design in the far future? Will the golden rule travel like cultural DNA into space? I suspect it won't. Look how Twitter and blogs and websites are affecting print design. Change, change, change. Dance, dance, dance.

*Sadly, Nancy died a few years ago, too soon. She is missed... Arlene designs, paints, and has illustrated her own picture books.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What do parrots and dogs have in common?

They both understand a lot more than they let on.

And they are certainly stubborn creatures that crave attention and variety and are happy to let you know when you have not provided it. Rather like people actually.

I am reading about parrots, it is my new mini-obsession. I think I need to write a story with an African Grey having a role. Smart smart birds. If only their tweet wasn't quite so shrill.

The talkative Alex is an amazing story. Could think on the level of a 5 year old child. 150 word vocabulary.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Auditions, tuitions, headshots and preparation

Natalie gave us a sneak preview of her audition monologues. She is one of 1,200 students trying out for places in 42 theater MFA programs tomorrow. I took another head shot for her today.

In 4 minutes she did two roles, Kari from The Pavilion and Julia from Two Gentleman of Verona. Characters that lived 400 years apart, one nostalgic and bitter, the other jealous but fair. She was great, a full range of feelings from soft desire to loud despair, the perfect gestures, and above all clarity in expressing the narrative--so that her excerpt suggests the whole. Verve and intelligence and passion. And if nobody on the other side of the audition table can tell how good she is, they are fools. It helps that she has leadership experience, is artistic director of the black box theater, and decidedly easy on the eyes. So says me and Jim.

Natalie took our applause, curled up in one of the green armchairs, and asked Jim, "if I auditioned for you, would you call me back?"
"Oh yes, you would certainly get a call back. That was very very good."

She is typing up her resume to staple to the backs of the photos.

I am pleased that 4 years of college have prepared her well. She thanked her teachers Deb and Val for teaching her so much. Money, time, and effort well spent. Now fingers crossed.

Steeples or soup kitchens?

I've been mulling over how organizations spend their money on short term and long term goals. For instance, in all the years I've lived in my neighborhood, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine has flip-flopped from constructing it's carved stone towers to shutting down the stone yard and concentrating on community outreach. It depends on who is in charge and how the economy is doing. Do you tend only to immediate needs or put some soup money into the future? The cathedral is a huge tourist destination, the carving and building is rather exciting--think donations--and it also keeps stone masons employed. But you can't argue that hungry bellies and souls need nourishment too. Currently the towers are not going up, seems as if both need to happen.

NASA is a bit like the steeple, one can go to church without one, but pointing to space has unexpected returns. I hope Obama's presidency doesn't forget to support efforts that ecourage curiosity and exploration. Good inventions come out of the work of moving people into space. Good things also happen when people aren't required to find specific get funding, scientists and researchers must pick from a narrow range of projects that sound profitable to corporations and universities. Half of all science experiments fail to prove anything but that failure is part of how people create new models. They also need to explore those "hmm...that's odd" moments. Look out, but also, look up. So here's to feeding the hungry and building for the future.

Blog dissing

I know the pre-Obama decade is going to be known as the fatuous age of relentless self-promotion. People are blogging in ever increasing numbers... and like most things masses do, much of it is not worth reading. I understand some bloggers shamelessly reveal personal details, whine, and otherwise drag friends, foes, and family through e-mud.

But, dear reader, I am getting sick of saying nothing when people ask me if I am writing anything lately and I mention I've been keeping up with my blog and they respond:

"Oh. Blogs. I hate them. It is disgusting how many people do it. Expose themselves. Like reality shows, I keep away from that infection, thank you very much!"

This is followed by a glare that attempts to reduce me to smoldering ash.

In the past I have shrugged and said, "it's not all bad." If they hadn't already turned away, I might mention I wasn't writing or talking trash in my blog. Or that blogs are like opinion columns, you find the ones you relish.

But I am no longer gonna take it so mildly. I think of all the times people have told me they are working on projects I initially consider boring, silly, demented, or dangerous, but good manners impel me to ask questions and discover that through their fascination I was given a gift of seeing something freshly, with enthusiasm (who knew building and racing your own motorcycles was so much fun!). Why would anyone respond to my assertion that I am doing something that interests me with their avowal that it must be an utter waste of my time and theirs? My take on life isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea, but after 42 years of filling journals and sketchbooks, I pack some skills.

Recently my father told a relative I was blogging and it got the usual dismissive response--with me sitting right there. "Oh, but you should read it" Dad said, "it is really good writing, I enjoy reading it." Granted, this is my father, and he was proud of my first scribbles, but all the same, it felt good to have the support. So from here on out, when anyone says "I hate blogs," or the more usual "I hate poetry," I am going to say, "How rude! I just told you it is something I enjoy doing." Or as I get more zen about it "eh, your loss."

Saturday, January 24, 2009

You know you're out of shape when... decide to take a yoga class and there isn't a single pair of sweatpants, loose pants, floppy shorts, or exercise pants in your entire closet and the only clothing store in the neighborhood wants 32 bucks for a single pair of badly made designer sweats in awful color not meant for mature hips. feel and HEAR your knees grinding when climbing up any flight of stairs. carry 18 pounds of laptop, extension cords, job files, and camera in two shoulder bags for a day and it was a major workout.

...your agile daughter goads you into a yoga class and mentions there is a "gentle yoga" session that you think, "ah, just my speed," and she says with a smirk, "must be the blue-hair special." dream about running, jumping, bouncing, and other things you did when younger and wake up and realize you are certainly capable of doing them all again, if a tad slower, and the only thing stopping you is well documented laziness that mid-life won't let you get away with.

...even sucking in gut to stare at self in mirror isn't enough. But, with a shrug you walk away muttering "time happens." realize that you don't care nearly as much about how you look as how you feel and the energy you can bring to each day so exercising is no longer vanity but sanity.

...making the commitment to fitness is a weird new thing that you never thought you would have to do.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Photography jaunt

My friend Michael and I went after work to take photos together. He and I recently shared our sob stories about how we annoy friends and family by walking along, convulsively pulling out a camera, gazing through it with a demented squint, then with mincing steps leaning this way and that, muttering things like "I wish I had another lens," climb up or squat, snap the shot, and finally return to awareness that we've left Others uncomfortably waiting. We discovered it is not at all annoying be with someone else who is also behaving this way. We wandered up to Bryant Park where we discovered Canada had magically produced a skating rink and maybe also caused an inflatable two story vodka bar to sprout behind the New York Public Library. I was a bit confused, Canada and Russia are both cold, but why would that conflate a martini with a Zamboni? Never mind, it was a great place to crouch, mince, scrunch through snow, and wish we had tripods.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

When lunar "rover" wags the tail

I was eagerly watching the entire President Obama (wild cheering) inaugural parade yesterday because my husband's brother-in-law, Don Pettit, was one of the astronauts marching on this most amazing day. It turns out the crew from the latest shuttle mission was at the very rear of the parade and the cameras cut away to an ad just as the nose of the new lunar rover appeared. "NOOOOooooo" went a collective moan from our couch. How could CNN so disrespect our need to see NASA's ace crew wag the end of the parade?

Otherwise, a very fine day of watching history unfold as I built a book catalog for Marsh Hawk Press and daughter Natalie draped herself on various surfaces and dozed on and off getting over a flu-like-thing.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

First sketch of Fellner's ALL SCREWED UP cover

So here is the first sketch. I simplified it some going to cardboard and glitter, but this is basically what I drew. Look below to see what it looks like finished.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Simple advice for getting published

Here it is: "start with the best, work your way down to the rest." --C.S. Carlson

Many years ago I had a job in the manufacturing department of Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, the famed literary (then) independent press. I wasn't terribly good at scheduling print and bind orders, I only stayed on the job for a year, but my interest in design and calligraphy were noticed. One day my boss, the commanding Doris Janowitz, dropped by my desk and said in her quietly booming voice, "we need a map, I know you are taking a calligraphy class, we'll pay you something to do it overnight if you are interested."

It was a map of Iroquois settlements in New York State. I made the map following blurry photocopied examples of other maps. My calligraphy nibs were worn down, oaths had been hurled when ink splattered, but by the light of dawn it looked...OK. It was duly printed and I was able to consider my work published by the legendary FS&G. Naturally, this led to a spot of capitalistic thinking. Salaries in legendary publishing houses were not equal to keeping my cat, let alone me, in kibble comfortably. I needed to do freelance work and here was a chance to do something...challenging yet kinda fun.

Here is where I developed that simple advice for getting published. Instead of contacting some so-so publishers--where true modesty should have compelled me to apply--I decided that I would start with the places I most wanted to able to say, my work was in their books. I went to the best. And astonishingly, I got work from Knopf. The art director, the smart and talented Virginia Tan, took a chance on me and I did my best to not shame her.

Once I was doing maps for Knopf, it was easy to get work from other publishers. Soon I had a small but thriving sideline in handmade maps for books. I was able to turn handmade skills to the future by working fill-in shifts for The New York Times where I learned how to make maps and charts on a computer.

I went through the same thing becoming a book designer.

When I started writing poetry, and got the lamentable urge to have it published, my success wasn't quite so instant. I started with the best, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and Poetry, and was quickly turned down with terse form letter slips (as in one sheet of paper cut into ribbons of bad news). I then began working my way down. The pretty darn prestigious said "no," the fairly well known said "no thanks" on half sheets of paper, sometimes with a hand written note "keep trying, there's something there," and finally a virtually unheard of literary magazine took a poem. I kept writing, rewriting, and challenging myself to improve. I kept sending out. I got more published. Still waiting for Poetry or The New Yorker to say yes, apparently the world needs more of my graphic designs than my poems...

When my coeditor, Jeanne Marie Beaumont, and I were thinking of who to ask for blurbs on The Poets' Grimm, our anthology of fairy tale poems, I immediately suggested the best and most pertinent names I could think of. Were we were aiming too high and wasting our time? Possibly. But I stuck to my mantra. We had a great anthology, there was no shame in asking great writers and scholars for their response. And most of them said yes and wrote us terrific blurbs.

Of course there is one caveat to the start with the best... it also helps to sell the best that I can make. I improve my chances when I understand my market, double check everything, push myself, and revise the thing before I send it out, and learn from my mistakes for the next time.

When I start something new, the years of telling myself it is possible, make me more confident. I am sure I will have to learn how to design eBooks (Kindle-like paperback-sized electronic devices) and also have the same book content be able to simultaneously appear in a simpler smaller layout on an iPhone or its equivalent. When I start looking for that kind of work, you know what my mantra will be.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Read speed

I have an unfair advantage and I know it. I read fast and I love to read on a level where it is another hunger that has to be appeased. I get that parched feeling in my throat and I'll drink a glass of water, and if the parched feeling is in my imagination, I pour myself a book. I think I fully qualify for all the reasons a kid discovers and leaps into the bookworm lifestyle: a longish childhood illness, frequent moves making me feel displaced, totally inept at sports and prone to an adult-like vocabulary that marked me as a doofus with my peers... by 4th grade I was toting Jane Eyre and Sister Carrie to the playground along with the works of E. Nesbit, the Oz franchise, Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, Nancy Drew mysteries, and anything T.H. White (Mistress Masham's Repose my favorite). I read 16 books over the summer when I was 10. It just got worse. Or better, depending on how you look at it. "Get your nose out of that book" wasn't my idea of a good time.

I was just glancing in at the site and John Klima was patting himself on the back for reading 53 books in the last year. I realize that is a lot of books for most people, Klima noted "median is nine books/year for women and five for men," so that really puts him ahead.

I don't keep track. I got to the library a couple of times a week, bring a stack in, take a stack out. At home, if a novel or book of poetry doesn't grab me after giving it a fair chance, it gets returned and I open another. In this way I don't finish but begin a great many books and average about 2 or 3 I finish a week. So call it almost 3 books a week. Time off for holiday visitors. A vacation or deadline that consumes my time... so 120 books a year? And I know plenty who read more than I do.

Keep them coming. But my bookshelves are full. I now use the library. Love the library. Love to read. Buy only the ones that demand a place on my shelf.

UPDATE (from my father):

"I thought you'd like this bit of family lore: my father's father (the chemist who worked for a Nobelist in Stockholm) was a speed reader. He would turn the pages fairly rapidly when reading and told my father that he scanned several sentences at a time and could remember what he read. The gene skipped two generations and you got it expressed. What I got from my father's father was his capacity to generate dandruff that coated the insides of his eyeglasses. Lucky you."

Giving good cover

I enjoyed making this cover for All Screwed Up, a memoir by the very talented Steve Fellner. It is almost finished. I met Steve after I designed the cover for his first book, Blind Date With Cavafy, which won the 2006 poetry prize at Marsh Hawk Press and the 2008 Thom Gunn Award for Gay Male Poetry. He liked it enough to ask his new publisher, Benu Press, to please use me to design this book too. And they did. You gotta read Steve. He's smart, funny, and gets your attention. He grew up some in trailers; bowling, adoption, and being gay all added to his crazy childhood misadventures. So I made a real mobile out of corrugated cardboard using a red hanger, clip art (touched up), and glitter. Jim cut the letters out with a pocket knife. The back cover was made in photoshop by merging several photos. The mobile is twinkling in my living room.

I still have the paper cup I used to create Steve's other cover. I found the cup in a gutter in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn when I was with a photography class taking shots at twilight. I put the cup on the hood of a car and snapped it. Then I redrew the image in the coffee cup to be guys holding hands. That part I did in illustrator and then merged it in photoshop with the photo I'd taken.

I wonder if he will want something other than a paper product for his third cover?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Just who stole my Citi card?

Yesterday my daughter Caitlin and I took a shopping cart worth of donations to the Salvation Army on 96th street. It is a good walk. Uphill and down, both ways. We took the dog, who was delighted to be out, and was very good about allowing me to be alpha lead. I have watched the Dog Whisperer show and have applied the very useful techniques Cesar Millan demonstrates. It has been a tad embarrassing to be in public and have a neurotic, not terribly bright, miniature dachshund taking point by darting, stalling, spinning, and sniffing strangers' ankles as if they were fresh meat. But now she trots along with me, not against me, and it is a good walk.

Sadly, my ATM card must have fallen (or been removed) from my pocket on the return walk. By the time I noticed an hour ago, some crook had already signed my name and made off with $162 bucks worth of MTA transit cards. Instead of a good Samaritan finding it, I got a thief. That was annoying. I wonder what percent of people would try to use it or would try to get it back to me? I called CitiBank, got them to send me a new card and put a "stop" on the old one. But wait...

In reviewing my bank statement, with the helpful guy sitting in a call center somewhere in India, I realized that more than one crook has been using my bank account for their gain. CitiBank, about a month ago, started charging a new fee for their "checking plus" overdraft protection. I need this protection--it is one of the reasons I bank with Citi. Because I wait for clients to pay me, sometimes the mortgage has to be paid when I don't have full funds. With the overdraft account, the bill gets paid and the bank makes 14% interest on that borrowed money. As soon as I get paid, I settle up with the overdraft account... Now they are charging $10.00 each day that an overdraft happens in addition to the 14%. How much does that make them? Usury. I sputtered. The guy I spoke to offered to waive the fees, now $30.00 worth, 10 of it thanks to the thief yesterday, because I am a "good customer" (as in having checking, savings, mortgage, IRA with them) and hadn't known about the change. "You should have known, we have certainly sent you letters," he said. "I didn't know," I replied. Really, they must have buried it in small type and business jargon.

So is this the way Citi will turn from their old bad workstyle of risky investments? After the bailout their big brains sat in a conference room and asked themselves, what can we do? Forget risk, charge customers new fees! Sneaky fees, take away their perks, make 'em pay, pay, pay! Gosh, that makes them on par with the notorious Bank of America. Was this the only new business model they could come up with! Sheesh. I am currently researching new banks. I don't need Citi to take even more of my already taxed dollars. Bad enough they got to siphon off a little of me through Uncle Sam's bailout, no more, the buck stops here.

Friday, January 9, 2009

What do you say when...

the play a friend of a friend wrote put you to sleep three times as you counted down to the final curtain and you will meet the playwright after the show?

someone asks you for a reference and you wonder how much you can build upon on the fact that they showed up 5 days a week and kept breathing the entire time?

your dog evacuates on the welcome mat outside the neighbor's door as they are coming home?

a relative is drinking themselves to idiocy and early death and everyone but you appears to be in silent denial?

people you genuinely like ask if you are ready to be saved?

the brilliant poem that came to you at 4 a.m.--you wrote it down on the back of a shopping list in the dark--but in the daylight it is less compelling reading than the other side of the paper.

you realize your good intentions had unexpected consequences?

your father turns out to be right, all too many big business bosses are crooks.

everyone you know loves a book and you think it is vapid tied with a trendy bow?

you realize that you are as foolish as most other people.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Fear of drawing like I can't draw

I'm working on my first mini-graphic novel. It is more an illustrated nano-story. 4 pages. You would think that after umpteen years of drawing models at the Art Students League, I started there when I was 14, decades of being a designer, and a score of calligraphy classes, not to mention being a compulsive doodler my entire educational K-12 incarceration, I'd be like ho-hum I'm drawing this itty story. Not so.

What is this fear? I can't blame it on thinking I'm too old to do this stuff and will be shown up by people younger than my shoe size. I couldn't design websites if I paid any attention to the rumor that it is a youth-only career. Granted, I'm not doing cutting-edge action script Flash sites like my young friend Mike Kramer, art director at MTV (but he promised to show me how it is done, actually). I can't be terrified my writing will earn me universal scorn, I've written a poetry book, I've read the poems at many many places and lived. People cried and laughed and occasionally bought a copy. So if it isn't the drawing and it isn't the writing, what is it?

I have a secret. I'll use gray type to say it whisper soft. (The dream deferred doesn't dry up like a raisin in the sun. No, it takes on an unhealthy glow of false joy. Like the Christmas pudding soaked in rum that sits and sits and sits, soaking in it's jolly juices for years, it can never taste as good as its recipe promises. It is stale. My courage has been compromised by spending so many years yearning. How can the actual work of learning how to put together image and sound measure up to the dream of doing master work? It can't.)

OK. So the only way to get over the fear is to just do it. Draw some bad drawings, write some weak sentences. Laugh at myself.

Jim gave Caitlin her first fountain pen for Xmas. She has been drawing with it for about a week and realizing how expressive the flexible nib can be, enjoying that lovely conversation ink has with paper when gesture creates thicker and thinner line. She drew nine musical performers one evening while visiting friends in Lexington, forgiving herself for false lines, missed likenesses, and overworked can't erase ink! "I forgave myself, look here, I drew the hat four different times, I kept making it too narrow, but it doesn't matter, I captured something, maybe just my being there or a feeling the singer gave me, and when I couldn't draw a hand I just showed it in motion." Indeed. This is it. Just do it. See what works. Hope it transmits an experience. Have some fun. "My friends enjoyed my doing it, I liked that too, it's like what you do when you sketch people." She's right. I just have to treat it like those sketches I do at events.

It is so easy to spend every day working on my designs. I like the work. My clients pay me. The hours fly by. But I never lose this urge to do something more. As nice as it is to design books and websites, it is time to see if I can do this 4 page venture into my old/new fascination.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

"some poet" speaks back

I was reading GalleyCat, the publishing buzz blog (although rather in dirge mode these days due to all the layoffs), and the following quote, from a New York Times article about the new pinch in publishing company budgets, just jumped out at me:

“Books can only support a certain retail price...It’s not like you have books that can be Manolo Blahniks and books that can be Cole Haan. Books are books. A book by James Patterson costs the same as a book by some poet.” --Amanda Urban, literary agent

As one of the "some poet" group, I dislike us being considered anonymous. The whole point of writing poetry is to give voice to my very own twinges of humanity: the celebrations, mourning, railing, questions, conversations, ruminations, sensations, memories, passions, confusions, and dreams that fill gray matter and soul. And as a poet I'm a pair of loafers, definitely no heels.

But poets don't speak in one voice as a (borg-like) collective hive. Poetry is intensely personal even when it isn't confessional--it is a reduction sauce of the heart. Surely some literary agents can give name to some of the people that fall in the sack of "some poet." So are you saying that poetry is a) monetarily equal to hamster litter and b) not worthy of a living name, such as Billy Collins, Gerald Stern, Lucille Clifton or Kay Ryan, our current poet laureate? Or even poets kids read too: Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelusky or Dr. Seuss? I am sure Ms. Urban didn't mean to offend, I am not holding her responsible for not being able to name anyone in the mostly-non-money-making profession of American Poet. I am well aware the average person's eyes glaze over or dart away in alarm when I reveal I write poetry. They murmur "poetry, I don't, uh, do poetry or opera," and quickly change the conversation to noting the shiny new pennies in my loafers. But it is time for us some poets to rise up and say we have names, we have value, even if our books don't make the best seller list very often. And here at the frontier where commerce drops away and art walks the footpath of glory...OK OK, we'd all happily step on the gas to enjoy James Patterson's sales, but we're not holding our collective breath for that to happen.

We remain, some poet(s) only in the mind of the collective deal makers or people who won't read the stuff...which is a lot of folks, admittedly. Here's a truth, in times of trouble or joy, people return to poetry. How many weddings, inaugurations, or memorials are poetry-free zones? I expect relative sales of poetry to go up. Read us, name us.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

See Flash Rosenberg perform and wear her world for awhile

I have had the enormous good luck to see Flash Rosenberg perform her one woman show, at Symphony Space, "Know Flash Aloud" in the 2004 American Comic Vision Festival (overview of Flash.) And even better, get to know her. She is one of the most skilled and talented human beings I have ever met. She is so good that I left the whispery voice of "I could do that too, even better, harrumph" way behind me. That little green tic gets going when I watch a less than splendid video installation or the half digested things that pass for art in too many SoHo galleries, but with Flash, I happily realized this is the real thing, behold and enjoy. She makes you feel as if your life too is full of moments worth examining with whatever glasses her mind wears.

She tells great stories--memoir, humor and observation--in line, words, photos, costume, live on stage and in film. Put a pen in her hand and she cartoons, she's a delight with her myriad of faces and gestures drawn with lines that suggest all of life's humorous bumps and spirals. Her drawings veer into abstraction without ever losing narrative and expression. She's currently Artist-in-Residence for LIVE from the New York Public Library where she sketches a response to the heady conversations as they are happening. Upcoming LIVE from the NYPL in 2009 is here.

She is a professional photographer as well. And good, of course. She teaches too... I think whatever she does, from shopping for fruit to telling her stories on stage, she brings every audience into her smart funny world.

She is slender and favors black. She wears the kind of costume jewelry that a dramatic and beautiful woman makes elegant just by placing around her neck. A style that punctuates the woman.

Monday night she will be one of the performers for MONOLOGUES AND MADNESS downstairs at Cornelia Street Cafe here. Join me there, it'll be good.
It was fun. Many good performers and works. Some were professional writers or actors performing for the writers. Flash was terrific, despite sore throat that gave her a raspy Harvey Fierstein undertone. Did a monologue about the adult ed class she teaches at the Cooper Union "Underground Creativity: Einstein on the D Train" using photography, drawing and creative writing. Classes held in the subway, getting students to observe people. Games, like looking only at shoes and guessing what the face looks like... Am working up courage to try writing and performing a monologue myself. Flash said that was her intent in inviting us to come, get us to do it too. The event happens the first Monday night of each month.

Had dinner with a happy crowd of Flash's enthusiastic and artsy friends. Food at Cornelia St. Cafe is delicious. Company was filling.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Looking forward to 2009

So what we if we are in economic tumble and my retirement cookie became a retirement crumble? I still have faith things will, after a few years, get better. That I am wired in such a way that I want to work, need to work (and lucky enough to have people to pay me to work) and words and images just sort of force me to keep writing and drawing too. I have these two fantastic daughters and a dog and a cat and a husband who has perfected the craft of making coffee. I am fighting moths and the inner-but-outer clutter monster and sort of making a dent. Spring will come. The days are getting longer and my afternoon--oh, sigh, it's dark already--gloom is starting later every day. I have friends I love and family I love and like and neighbors who make me smile and a little guy in Queens named Tris who will have the new picture book read to him that I gave his parents last night. The book, of course, is my favorite wordless adventure by David Weisner, Flotsam. It darts between straight forward narrative and surreal imaginative adventures. Everyone I give it to ends up inventing many stories to tell through it's pages. And snow is hugging the tar and crenelations of rooftops as a bluer sky than yesterday is glowing over the brick buildings that look as if they were dipped in honey glaze as the sun sets. I wish all of you a good year, do the things that give you joy, keep writing.