Saturday, December 31, 2011

Something awesome near York Central Market....

Sunrise Soap Company near York Central Market.
On the left: the kitchen, where soap is made
On the right: the shop owner, pouring soap into a mold.
Visit the Sunrise Soap website!
  Over Christmas, when Michael and I were visiting my parents, we went to York Central Market. Back in the 1980s--when I was in grade school and there was a local economic boom--York Central Market and its adjacent Cherry Lane stores were the place to be, especially on Saturdays. And now they are again, with some wonderful stores opening up in the area in and around the 19th century-constructed market itself. We happened upon Sunrise Soap, which has a beautiful facade, enhanced by outdoor art--even a gorgeous painting in the transom over the door. Inside, not only was there soap (see the owner's awesome soap-making kitchen above!), there were also handmade items like lampwork glass bead earrings; wind chimes made of silver utensils; and original paintings that looked every bit like the work of Thomas Eakins. I'm so excited that Cherry Lane is making a comeback and that creative entrepreneurs are helping to make York a pretty fantastic place again. Visit the York Central Market website here and see all the amazing stores inside!

The beautiful York Central Market

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On Red Bubble, my Drawings on T-Shirts and hoodies....

This morning, I opened a store on RedBubble, a site that caters to artists who seek to sell their work on T-Shirts, hoodies, and as stickers and iPhone covers. I know their T-shirts are very high quality, since I just bought T-shirts by two other artists for Michael and myself. The printed decal of each drawing is high resolution and substantially thick, so it will not fade with washings. Additionally, the T-Shirt is of equally excellent quality. Farbic tags, offering details about Red Bubble's mission and the artist, come clipped to the shirt tag by a tiny wooden clothes pin. How ingenious is that?  
As I continue to complete drawings (which will happen more quickly as I complete Christmas gifts here) my store offerings will continue to grow. The image originals are available in my Etsy art store.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I'm walkin' here! I'm walkin' here!

No apologies either. It ends up being a highly philosophical take on life, no?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Let the record show I foretold this if....

Tonight, Michael brought home the Post-Gazette, whose front page bears the following headline (above the fold, no less): "Constitutional convention call gains traction". What's this mean? They're seeking to incite a movement to alter the Constitution. Let the record show that, if this actually begins to pick up speed and it is not handled with care, I foretold this development with this story, "Conceived in the New Liberty".

So, to all the journal editors who have rejected it, one of whom responded: "this doesn't resonate with us," I welcome you to think more deeply about what you feel is relevant and what should resonate with you. Contemporary literature is becoming too insulated, too inward looking, too sexually obsessed. Wake up! We can express ourselves freely only because we still have a Constitution that permits it. Start messing with it, and censorship might be the new American way. It can happen insidiously slowly, in ways we might not even realize until it's too late. Believe it, kids. I feel like I've been yelling at the top of my literary lungs over the past few years, and no one listens, no one cares, no one wants to hear it. And because I can't say it any better than my boy, social satirist George Grosz, I'll refer to his criticism of the socially detached avant-garde in the 1925 essay "Art is in Danger". Grosz, who collaborated on the manifesto with Wieland Herzfelde, wrote:
           Today's artist, if he does not want to...become an antiquated dud, has the choice
           between technology and class warfare propaganda. In both cases, he must give up “pure art.”
          Either he enrolls as an architect, engineer, or advertising artist in the army (unfortunately very
          feudalistically organized) which develops industrial powers and exploits the world; or, as a
         reporter and critic reflecting the face of our times, a propagandist and defender of the
         revolutionary idea and its partisans, he finds a place in the army of the suppressed who fight
         for their just share of the world, for a significant social organization of life. ("Art in Danger")

Shouldn't we writers be at the barricades and use our voices to advance a message that matters?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Jane Priser and Magical Jasper...

Jane Priser, "Alien Face, Tricolor"

Etsy continues to be an amazing place for me, a hub of like-minded people doing inspiring things. Since I started creating artwork in earnest for the Literary Outlaw store earlier this year, I've 'met' and discovered atists doing some genuinely stunning work. Colorado-based artist Jane Priser is one of those people. Her polymer clay masks, with the haunting, often color-saturated eyes are, at least to my mind, somewhat like reading an A.S. Byatt novel....remember the description of the seance-conjured angel in the two-novella work, Angels and Insects? Or the description of Maud Bailey's flat in Possession? Well, like that. I am completely smitten by Priser's otherwordly beings, which seem to have depth and intelligence in those unblinking gazes.

For my part, I've been doing assemblages in cigar boxes. I've also been making illustrations, like "Magical Jasper", which is supposed to be a hybrid of our dog, of course named Jasper...only with a scaly backbone and fly-away hair (heh, like the hair doesn't fly away on its own in our house...I get out the vacuum one each day precisely because of that). Now, there is something about drawing with a ball point pen that is not unlike meditation for me. It's almost like automatic writing, and somewhat more restful that painting, although I enjoy that, too. Except, except...painting involves a certain level of anxiety. See, painting can sometimes get away from me, and I have to steer it back to a workable format, an aesthetically pleasing product, which sometimes involves reverting to safe imagery. What does that mean? It means, imagery that I've succeeded with before. With ballpoint pen (a good smooth flowing ballpoint), I'm pretty much free to do as I like, and I'm glad for that. I enjoy, too, making and developing the arabesque, nuturing the wisp into three-dimensional believability with the fantastic power of cross-hatched shaing....and then there are the eyes. The muscles of the iris, the diameter of the pupil, all totally absorbing to articulate in ink. Am I an art geek? Well, yes, I'm afraid so.

Savannah Schroll Guz, "Magical Jasper" (2011), ink on paper

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On art, on memoir...

"Loretta", 2011, polymer clay/acrylic/varnish sealer

So much to tell....primarily because it's been several weeks since I posted. This is due in part to my "day job", something I'll go into later, the holidays, and the general feeling that I had nothing new to really say. Strange, Weird, and Wonderful Magazine, for whom I have written several horror stories since 2008, has decided to cease publication with the fall issue. I wrote an apocalypse story back in May at the editor's request from a prompt he provided. After that, and a slew of other similar disappointments, I decided that writing has begun to be a somewhat hopeless enterprise. I've begun posting on Fictionaut and, of course, at Literary Outlaw, which I know I need to update. And more frequently, I have begun to clutch my coffee mug and head down to my basement studio and make things. I've been doing this since February or March. And now I'm beginning to sell a few items. I am so happy to see my work go to wonderful homes. I've sent "Loretta" (left), a pin depicting the 'den mother' to the made-up Lesser Known Girl Gang, to a new home. I'm very grateful to Loretta's new owner, Lindsey, for her wonderful note about about much she likes her. This definitely keeps me returning to the studio to create.

In other news, I've gotten some really good feedback on a memoir piece I wrote last year (or was it earlier this year?....I'm not sure....time has gone so fast, I can barely keep track anymore.) Originally, I wrote it for a hypertext project curated by Dan Waber (a project Chris Bowen of Burning River told me about--thank you, Chris!). I titled the work, Italy, 1990, because I went on a business trip to said country with my parents that year. Actually, I went on more than one business trip--all told, there was one to Atlanta, one to Chicago, and one to Europe--but Italy kept me out of school the longest and left the greatest impact on me. My experience with the machinery salesmen and the technicians helped to define who I have become. Had it not been for these experiences, I might not have attempted a foreign language with as much zeal. I might also have felt less comfortable running around Europe later, when I was on my own, trying to figure out train time tables, scuffing my shoes on the cobblestones outside monuments and grand mansions. But more on all this later.....I realize now that that day job I was talking about above is calling. Time to get into the car, turn up the radio, and zone for an hour until I get to campus. *sigh* Two weeks, kids, two weeks.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Why I Prefer Middle-Aged Characters

On Sunday night, Masterpiece Contemporary aired Page Eight, which I found every bit as riveting as, apparently, the critics do. It defied many of the tiresome approaches to thriller narratives that involve the rogue agent--ranging from his late thirties to mid-forties—who smokes or has smoked, drinks to excess, and is disturbed by social interactions, yet is still perceived by both sexes as cool and alluring. To me, this formulaic kind of character gives rise to indigestion because it’s a type. This type was developed in the 1970s when (thanks to the help of film noir) the squeaky clean, heroic character—usually a socially-didactic cipher--of the 1940s and 1950s was re-cast as a more three-dimensional human, with serious shortcomings and a dark-side (perhaps more than one). For example, there’s the recovering alcoholic or, say, the reformed pill popper who has been kicked off the force and instead becomes a private detective or perhaps a consultant to the police. At the man’s core, he is understood to be good, but life and its frequently traumatic events have complicated his identity, precipitated a descent into substance abuse. And then there are characters like Kurt Wallander—whom I find absorbing, despite the fact that he conforms to a character type. He is gifted in figuring out cases but cannot negotiate familial relationships and seems vulnerable and deeply damaged in a way that still causes me to hope for his redemption through some deeper relationship.

Bill Nighy as MI5 Intelligence Analyst Johnny Worricker
in BBC Two's Page Eight.

Page Eight has very little of the traditional narrative nonsense I find so often in contemporary movies and mini-series. The main character, Johnny Worricker, an MI5 Intelligence Analyst, is gray haired, lined with age, and generally reticent with what appears to be a calm evaluation of facts. He is unflappable and strategic: the very qualities necessary to being reliable Intelligence Analyst. A viewer can see how he got and maintained the position for so long in a politically volatile environment. He’s been married several times—I remember the number five being batted around during the movie—and this alone suggests some undetermined failing, whether it be an inability to connect or an inability to commit or something else entirely. But his character is broadened by the fact that he does not live in a spare apartment, where housekeeping appears a foreign concept. He has lovely furniture, antiques, and apartment walls painted a bright green, a little bluer and more whimsical than the shade of kelly. Deocrating these walls is a shockly white trimwork and small to medium-sized Modernist paintings hung close together in salon-style. This is a somewhat surprising revelation of character, suggesting a deeper and richer internal life than Worricker projects in everyday circumstances, where he appears aloof or discomfitted, a demeanor that is brought on by his daughter's own paintings of torture victims. Clearly, too, he has collected art for many years. Our intelligence analyst has not just a appetite for acquisition (surely that argument might be made, given the number of paintings on the wall and his number of marriages, if the two collecting habits can somehow be equated), he also has the capacity for aesthetic appreciation. Not only that, he is a shrewd collector, cashing in an especially valuable painting with his (female) dealer—a relationship the director suggests was, through glance and dialogue, at least previously romantic—purchases from him for many banded stacks of cash. This, we find he carries around in a plastic shopping bag, which we see in the final scene as he is headed off to self-imposed exile in South America.

When I wrote “The Corpus Lupi Experiment”, I also chose a fifty-something man, Liam, for my main character. (I suspect Johnny Worricker, though, to be closer to his middle-sixties) I realized now that I choose these older figures (In “A Thousand Incarnations, A Thousand Deaths” I chose a middle-aged female, who worked as a lone secretary in a dentist’s office) for two reasons: (1) the popular media usually develops and focuses on teenage or twenty-something characters, or on characters perceived to be in their prime, which I consider to be in the mid-thirties to early forties and (2) middle-aged characters are more realistic (even when I’m writing about unrealistic things, like vampires and werewolves).

Let me explain. We are given to understand, although this perception is slowly changing, that the love-lives of those who have crossed the threshold of 45 are no longer worth inspecting. Whatever fantastic illusions that might easily be sustained in teen and twenty-something relationships, the ripeness and complexity of thirty-something relationships, is no longer worth examining after 45 and certainly never past 50. Good Heavens, no. The media tells us this in unspoken ways: sex after 45 is dirty. There are wrinkles, maybe physiological complications. No one wants to see an older woman attempt to woo a younger man, and we certainly don’t want to see a younger woman being “preyed upon” by an older man. When we do see this, there is eventually some reckoning or a return to social mores becomes part of the narrative. Certainly, a middle-aged character with another middle-aged character has also traditionally been deemed unpalatable to audiences (again, I acknowledge there are exceptions to this rule--like, ugh, The Bridges of Madison County--and I recognize that this attitude is changing).

But I believe that these middle-aged characters and middle-aged relationships are much more absorbing precisely because of their complication, because of the characters’ histories….because much of life is spent feeling like you’re off balance, not like you’re on top of the world. And middle-aged characters embrace this insecurity or have at least come to terms with it in a way that younger characters do not. Middle-aged characters carry regret and sometimes denial. They are filled with historical surprises that younger characters simply do not have. Often, the middle-aged characters are not heroic but instead remain riddled with crippling uncertainty. And this is precisely what makes them so intriguing. Perhaps it’s because I am moving away from the ability to identify with the preoccupations of twenty-somethings, and I can identify with the buffeting by life that middle-age characters undergo. To me, teen and twenty-something heroes are unrealistic, cheap, a dime-a-dozen. Give me a middle-aged survivor of life’s challenges any day of the week. Grizzled and wrinkled they may be, but they’re just far more interesting.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Artist James Ward (a.k.a. Jimbo Art)

James Ward, "Bird of Paradise" (Serving Plate)
See the Etsy Listing here
Etsy, I have found, consistently showcases some fantastic artists. For example, I've been following the shop of British artist James Ward for at least a year. While he does works on paper, like the watercolor-drawing below, a bulk of his production for Etsy involves hand-drawn ceramics featuring anthropomorphic animals. In his profile statement, he indicates that he likes to create narratives within his images, although he admits they are ambiguous and, I would add, elliptical.You can't necessarily determine what has happened before the 'captured' image or what might happen afterwards.Still, the viewer knows there is some humorous or deeper interaction happening, and this is the heart of Ward'swit.  

The artist's attention to detail is similarly stunning. Take, for instance, his hand-drawn wolf serving plate. The fur has texture and volume; the eyes hold depth and expression.

And of course, there is Ward's attention to brief verbal narratives, which often accompany his listings. I quote the description that accompanies "Goat Puppet":
James Ward, "Goat Puppet"
Viewthe Etsy listing here

"Ralph began his puppetry career in the late ‘80s following a brief sojourn in burlesque dancing. He regularly performs a range of puppetry and mime in underground clubs. His work, often taking a political bent, is heavily inspired by Dadaist theories. He dreams of taking his act to London’s West End and to Broadway." -- James Ward
Brilliant, no? I think so.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

And in the studio....

Yesterday, very happily, I sold the pin just above
in one of my Etsy shops. It's a lime slice made of baked
polymer clay, painted with acrylics,
and protected with varnish.
The rind says: "Destined for...gin!"

Since it's getting close to the Christmas shopping season, I made
these three handpainted pendants this morning.
I'm letting the protective top coat and epoxy resin dry.
Next, I'll fit them with ribbons and clasps and they'll be ready to go
into the shop.

And here they are with bubble chains. Swankness.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

And of particular interest this moment...

Martha Holmes for Life Magazine
"Painter Jackson Pollock with his
wife Lee Krasner"
While recuperating from what feels like a mild case of the flu today, I've been thinking. Dangerous? Indeed. I'm listening to the lawn mowers outside, and thinking about the harvesting we've still been doing. Our pepper plants, both the sweets and the hots, are so weighted with colorful specimens, they're lying sideways. I got two Budweiser cardboard boxes full of brightly colored wonder this weekend. I also started thinging about making jam again. Every year, since Michael and I have had a garden, we've grown hot peppers and made hot pepper jelly. One year, just before our September wedding, we made a huge batch (probably our third that summer), and we called it 'pre-marital hot stuff'. We slapped a post-it note label on it and gave it away to relatives. Freaky with the name, no? Okay, maybe a little.

Okay, get ready for it--a non-sequitur! I'm good at these. Back in graduate school, I remember reading an article by feminist art historian Griselda Pollock about the painter Lee Krasner for my Methodology & Issues Class. This particular article was long, involved, and discussed the concept of persona, and how we merely knew Krasner's persona rather than who she really was. It was my first semester of graduate school, and I'll admit, I was freaking out, reading until my eyes crossed. I had to discuss this particular article, determine if the argument presented had any weaknesses, and provide a rationale for why I felt the point used was ineffective. (Or at least, that's how I remember the assignment). Most things that have freaked me out academically usually end up having a long influence on the way I view things. For example, in college, I took an archeology and human pre-history course, where we talked about the Australopithecines. I remember being absolutely terrified by the tests in the class, although I remember none of them. I must have done fine because the class did not bring down my GPA, and I recall graudally gaining a kind of confidence in the course. However, the first test I studied so hard for--I had a complicated relationship at the time with an older slacker student (long story), and this created additional stress because when he wanted to party, I wanted to study--I actually made myself sick. I literally dreamt of monkeys swinging from tree to tree the whole night before the exam. I woke up ill, but I went and took the test anyway because I had little other choice. I have not forgotten what I learned in that class, and it appears again and again in my stories. Some freaking long impact that night of swinging monkeys had on me, right?

Anyway, back to Krasner...I gave the presentation, written in essay format, and I suggested that there was one specific passage of language that blunted Griselda Pollock's message. This was met with stunned silence--not because I was right, but because I had focused on just a few words in an essay that went on for some thirty pages. People looked at each other around the seminar table. I felt like an ass, and for the next two hours, questioned whether I belonged in graduate school, or whether my time might be better spent slinging hash at the 'O' up the street. I don't remember what my particular argument was or the passage I focused on, but I will never forget Griselda's concept of projected persona and the projections accepted by the subject, in this case, Krasner.

Lee Krasner, late 1940s/early 1950s

Later, when I lived in D.C., the movie Pollock came out, and I went to see it with someone who had a stylistic affinity for Abstract Expressionism in his own paintings. I had known him since that painful moment around the seminar table, although he was not present to see what I felt was the debacle. Now, of course, things seemed more glamorous in the movie than they probably were--most likely. In the movie, Pollock never tinkled in Peggy Guggenheim's fireplace, as he had done in real life. And the walk-up that Krasner and Pollock originally shacked up in--the one with the bathtub in the kitchen--was probably much rougher than the symbolic representation of penury depicted in the movie. What I did feel acutely was Peggy Guggenheim's nasty dismissal of Krasner's paintings when she made a 'studio visit' to Pollock and Kraser's walk-up: "What's L.K.? I didn't come to see an L.K.!" Guggenheim passes out of the room Krasner uses for her studio, "I came to see Pollock. Where are the Pollocks?"

Ouch. Yet here is part and parcel of Griselda Pollock's thesis. Krasner accepted this dismissal, and subjugated her own work to elevate Pollock's career. We know not the real artist that Krasner was--at least until later. Instead, we know the Krasner who was Pollock's wife and artistic sounding board. We know a persona, not the genuine Lee Krasner. See that photo above? Notice the title? There's no mention of Krasner being a painter herself, only that she is Jackson Pollock's wife--Pollock, the painter. Interesting, too, is that for the picture, she is what appears to be a half-step behind him. Interesting, no? Is this posing by the photographer or her accepted position?

 Another thing I remember from reading about the couple was that, when they moved to upstate New York, they made jam. They gardened. They bartered for goods and services with their paintings. There is a marvelous picture of Lee in the kitchen, as part of the Life Magazine spread. She is wearing a dark dress, a light plaid apron tied at the waist. And she is doing something at the sink, although it doesn't appear to be washing, while Pollock smokes and appears to wipe a plate with a towel. Behind her is the beautiful kitchen--not beautiful in the contemporary sense. There is no granite, obviously. There are few applicances. Perhaps some would say it's inadequate, certainly by today's standards. And yet, to my eye, it is entirely beautiful and complete, which is likely the aura the photographer intended. There are glass cannisters filled with unidentifiable cooking ingredients on a shelf near Krasner's head. In the background, an ostensibly enamel stove holds a huge tea kettle. There is domesticity here, the image says, not the depravity and poverty so popularly associated with artists' lives. (Say what? Like actors from Shakespeare's era, artists not engaged in craftsmen style labor were considered slackers, devoid of approprate moral compass. Peggy Guggenheim, on associating with and supporting artists--even marrying Max Ernst so he would not be deported--was purposefully slumming it. Sure, it ended up being cool, but at the time, it was a strategically daring act.)

Gail Levin has written an excellent biography of Krasner, getting to the heart of who she was. And in the process, Krasner's formidable strength as both promoter of Pollock and later, of her own artistic production (although she destroyed a conserable amount of her work, leaving only about 599 pieces, according to one estimate) is finally brought forward.
Lee Krasner barefoot in her studio.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

And the final two ads

 So the ad campaign I ran last week went well. At left, there are two more images, as I switched the ad content out every 24 hours. Ultimately, I had over 100 click-throughs to the Literary Outlaw website, which means there must have been something compelling enough in either the text or the image to make someone click to read more. And that is somewhat gratifying.

"Conceived in the New Liberty" was, as I suspected, rejected by the group that invited me to submit my work. While an invitation sounds hopeful, it was merely a pro-forma note sent to previous contributors. They said "Conceived..." "did not resonate with them." I find this a funny sort of reaction, since some of what is currently happening in Washington, D.C. and New York City is fairly similar to what appears in the story, which is actually set in Washington, D.C. and has a band of proselytizing anarchists (a group I read is also attending the real life demonstrations). Of course, the Occupy Wall Street protesters are not burning facscimiles of The Constitution. The reason I included this in the story and made it such a narrative cornerstone is not because I condone it or seek to incite this kind of behavior. I included it because I can see it actually happening. Let me explain.

Yesterday, in a class I teach--a college-level course--I asked the students if they had heard of Ernest Hemingway. I received blank stares from my mid-day class. To have graduated from high school and not heard of Ernest Hemingway indicates to me that something is wrong with our educational system. Of course, there is a far stretch between knowing about Ernest Hemingway and understanding our nation's founding doctrines. I'll admit that. However, I'll bet if you asked many high school graduates what the 6th Amendment guarantees, they wouldn't be able to tell you. This is frightening. Why? Because if its existence and function are not understood, how easily can we be persuaded that they are no longer relevant?  With the triumph of uninformed opinion over fact in many so-called news programs, with the rise of uncivil discourse, with the proliferation of media by which untruths can be propagated and history rewritten, will students fight the removal of these rights? Maybe. But not until it's too late, until these rights are already rescinded. So this is what I was getting at with the story.
I see what's coming out of high schools, out of GED programs, and I'll admit, I'm afraid. We've got an entire generation lured by technology, entirely without curiosity, unwilling to learn, bored to death by a lecture on critical thinking, logical fallacies, and propaganda. Often, they collect their Pell Grant money and disappear, never to be seen again after the first four weeks of classes. There are exceptions to this behavior, but they are few. So, how easily will they be persuaded to undo the foundation of our nation, to walk apathetically or with misplaced anger into a new era of martial law before realizing they've made a terrible mistake? And maybe they will never realize it.

I've decided that submitting to journals is like spitting into the wind. My words come back to me, usually with a curt or snarky response. And so the last of my works, submitted at the beginning of the year and up until July, have finally returned, all of them rejected. I am a writer without a  traditional audience. And I say traditional because I know, based on the ad campaign, that I gained at least a few readers, even if this contact was fleeting. The fact that my words have met with someone else's eyes is a very good thing.

Last week, I found this fantastic quote by George Orwell. It comes from a preface to Animal Farm, and discusses his difficulties in getting the text published. The preface is apparently rare in reprints of the book, but it is reproduced in its entirety here: "The Freedom of the Press". The quote that I find especially powerful opens paragraph five: "Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban."

I would go so far as to say that even in the independent writing world, which by its early definition championed the bold idea and served as the author's Salon des Refuses, has its own insular system in place, whereby only certain styles, certain ideas, and certain writers are elevated, while others are marginalized, ignored, and devalued. How can a writer combat this? It's pretty thorny problem, and one with no easy resolution, other than to go off on your own to trumpet your message yourself. At least there is that potential. It's quite a comfort.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Three Ads from the Seven-Day Campaign....

"These men were in desert camouflage, and both
carried M-4s, which were, to the president,
a somewhat stunning exhibition."
-- The Balance of Power

"He saw men scaling the low terrace walls. Their anger was
unmistakable. It was in every set jaw, in every horizontal
brow that squinted under the white sky..."
- Buses from Bridgeport

"...the rats that stood before me now were lean and
squint-eyed, looking sideways at me and sizing me
up in terms of shank, brisket, flank, tip, and sirloin."
--Revolutionaries, a Fable

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Friday, September 30, 2011

In the Spirit of Healthy Dissent

Michael in front of the House of Burgesses,
Williamsburg, VA, mid-September 2011.
A few weeks ago, when Michael and I were in Williamsburg, I picked up a few pamphlets, one of which was printed on the Foundation's colonial-era, moveable-type printing presses. One of the hand-stitched booklets I purchased was Common Sense by Thomas Paine. Another was Poor Richard's Pamphlet No. 11: An Anonymous Account of the Boston Massacre. And finally, I also bought the slender, Williamsburg-printed Summary View of the Rights of British America Set Forth in Some Resolutions Intended for the Inspection of the Present Delegates of the People of Virginia Now in Convention, written by a "native member of the House of Burgesses". What's the House of Burgesses, you ask? It was Williamsburg's (and by extension, Virginia's, governing body, where elected officials presided for a greater part of each year). It is bicameral, with two parliamentary chambers, one dealing with British colonial concerns and the other with Virginia's localized conerns). I include a picture of Michael, standing in front of one side of the House of Burgesses. The circular window indicates that it was a governmental building.

Revolutionary pamphlets with hand-sewn quires, no bindings
I find a great deal of inspiration in these old printing processes and incendiary pamphlets, compositions that fuelled the Revolution. It's also compelling evidence that language is truly an agent of change. Yet now, things have altered so radically within the last fifteen years, that it seems print is completely obsolete. How do you distribute revolutinary material now? Of course, via the internet. Not only do you have a greater broadcasting capacity, but the cost is minimal. And yet, yet...there are so many people distributing "revolutionary" (the air quotes appear around revolutionary on purpose) material that it's difficult to be heard at all. The sheer number of voices undercuts almost every message but those voiced by the loudest or most popular figures. Of course, the internet promotes democratic expression of ideas, and this is wonderful. At the same time, however, voices that have genuinely compelling and thoughtful messages are often lost in a cacophony of pseudo-intellectual noise and other totally opinionated garbage.

Inside the printer's shop, Williamsburg, VA
mid-September 2011.
A few years ago, for ZMagazine, I wrote a review of Signs of Change, an exhibition charting the modern history of international revolutionary paraphenalia. You can read the review here. I started the essay with a quote by George Grosz, a quote that I pulled from his 1925 essay "Art is in Danger". Grosz wrote, "...come out of your seclusion, let the ideas of the working people take hold of you and help them fight this rotten society." Here, Grosz was telling the intellectuals to come down from their ivory towers and get involved in a progressive movement to effect positive social change. He wrote this shortly after the rampant inflation that crippled much of Germany. Perhaps more significant is that he wrote it after he had been to Russia, saw the impact of Communism on the people, and had begun to stray from its ideology. 

I still find Grosz's quote to be significant, particularly as a writer. Do I believe in art for art's sake? Without question. But I feel that at least some artists and writers have a responsibility to engage in a kind of political warning system...that is, extrapolate from the data we have--in this case, particular elements of the status quo--and determine where these current variables might lead us should they persist. For example, (these are, of course, very specific and narrow variables) if students continue not to care about their studies, if they continue to collect their Pell grants and government funds without investing the time necessary to earning degrees, if they are never taught (or never absorb and understand) the fundaments of our political system, if they continue to cling to restrictive labels that facilitate their movement through the education system without truly working for what they receive, what will happen to us as a nation? How easily can we be conquered by savvy (even not so savvy) manipulators, who tell us what we want to hear? Is this what the men writing revolutionary pamphlets--including The Declaration of Independence--had in mind? Did they expect that we would be come a nation of slackers, surly and opinionated but unable to produce any factual details to substantiate them, even though they are often expressed with both middle fingers raised?  

Moveable type printing press, Williamsburg, VA
mid-September 2011.
 It's this realization that makes me want to write. I imagine where these variables, if unchanged, will lead us. As I mentioned in the previous post, this is why I wrote "Conceived in the New Liberty", where people actually burn copies of The Constitution because they are manipulated into believing it no longer works for the nation (and because burning the facscimiles gets the attention of television crews, who offer a kind of fleeting celebrity). This becomes the point at which the country descends into martial law. I myself see this descent coming, and in some ways, it's already here. Other writers have seen this potential, too. Take Vonnegut's Player Piano for example, or better yet, Orwell's Animal Farm. I wonder, are students even required to read this book anymore? And if they are, would they understand its implications or would they simply accept it at face value, as a story about talking animals in a farm yard? I truly wonder about this, given my own experiences in the classroom.

In the spirit of revolutionary pamphlets and dispersing views that counter popular notions, I've just purchased some ad space for Literary Outlaw on both Scholars and Rogues and Liberty News Forum. I've done this before, specifically for American Soma, which helped me sell two copies (one of which went to England) and landed me an interview with Jeff Farias on his radio show. At the time, I advertised on Truthdig, but their rates have gone up exponentially. What had, in 2009, cost $50, now costs $400. So I opted for something more economically viable for my piggy bank. We'll see if these two blogs accept the ad, first of all (for ads must be approved before running), and what traffic it might generate. We shall see....

Friday, September 23, 2011

Launching Literary Outlaw

So, I've launched something I've been talking about for quite awhile: Literary Outlaw. It will become the place that I publish my fiction, particularly my political and speculative fiction. The so-called 'Featured Story', titled "Conceived in the New Liberty" appears there. I've sent it out to one publication, but I have little hope that it will be published. I say this not because I don't have confidence in the story, but because it's not something that literary journals would readily publish. I explain this statement a little more below. But first, some philosophizing, brought to you by: My Mid-life Crisis, available in regular or economy size. I know. It's a little early for that, isn't it? Indeed. But 40 is just three years away, so I'm rehearsing. Plus, I had one when I turned 30, too, so let's call it a relapse.

Lately, I've been asking myself: what is it that I want to accomplish in life? Well, I'd like to be a writer. Check! Cool. Got that one down. I'll recap...I published my first book, The Famous & The Anonymous, in 2004 when I was nearing 30. The designer and publisher was the wonderful Steven Coy of Better Non Sequitur. Through Steven, I made the online acquaintance of James Stegall, who ran So New Publishing. After he published my work in two short, DIY-style anthologies, he then went on to publish a theme-based anthology that I edited, titled Consumed: Women on Excess. Three years later, in 2009, he published American Soma, although its distribution and publicity didn't go as I'd hoped. (The design, by David Barringer, is awesome, and I'm really grateful to him for his astute marriage of visuals and concept). The rest of my experience with American Soma was less than stellar. I leave it at that for professional reasons. I'm very grateful to author Jen Michalski, Iconoclast Magazine, and horror writer D.L. Russell for their reviews of the book. That helped take the sting out of some of the things that happened with So New. American Soma was the last book James published under the So New imprint. He now is distilling whiskey, I believe. There's more to that story, of course, but it's all water under the bridge. And water moves on. Not even rocks can keep it back. Indeed, rocks, over time, are worn away by moving water. So, let's move on.

American Soma was a mixture of different genres, all of them related to either the actual or metaphorical drugs people take (or are given) to mediate (or influence) their experiences in the world. And I'm very interested in this: in human psychology and the things people cling to in order to mitigate pain or navigate through the harrowing landscape that is life. I'm also interested in politics. As a college instructor, I see how little information students leave high school with, whether through conscious refusal to pay attention to anything that doesn't involve music, consumption, or good times, or through poor high school curricula. I suspect it's a bit of both. But many kids can't even tell me how many amendments there are to The Constitution, or what any amendment is after the second one. They really have no idea. So, I wondered: how easy would it be to convince them that something better is needed, that The Constitution itself is obsolete, that we could come up with something better? Pretty damn easy, I would wager. And therein lies the danger that I see, and that's what I've written about in "Conceived in the New Liberty". This is not something that is going to find easy publication. I'll be the first to ackowledge that.

Back in my elementary school days, I was a handful. I talked back to the teachers, and only through my Mother's intervention did I avoid getting corporal punishment. Oh, they wanted to paddle my behind pretty badly because I was not a docile subject. I was not a bad kid, mind you. I just didn't like people telling me what to do and when to do it. So, I stood in the corner a lot. I often spent recess indoors, so I could think about the ramifications of my inappropriate behavior. This causes me to chuckle now. Anyway, I've taken some of this childhood 'FU' and decided that I would start cranking out my work in a venue I felt comfortable in. Of course, I know that self-publishing, which is in essence what I'm doing, is denigrated. I will not be easily reviewed, but I return to my other experiences in publishing and ask myself, "When has it ever been easy?" The answer to that is "Never." But at least it's out there. Like water, I will keep moving, hewing a path through the obdurate field that hasn't truly welcomed what I offer. Here, folks, is Literary Outlaw.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Home again, home again...

...with more to come on where I've been and what we've been doing this past week. In the meantime, some pictures. Just a teeny, tiny sampling until I can tell you more. I've got a 10 o'clock class an hour down the Ohio River.

Michael at Chownings Tavern, Williamsburg, VA

A rainbow (actually, it had been a double rainbow) seen
on Route 15 coming from Maryland to Pennsylvania.

Michael waiting inside a colonial store.

Me, in a tree, Williamsburg, VA

Friday, August 26, 2011

On Michel Houellebecq...

The Elementary ParticlesAt one time, I was a great fan of Michel Houellebecq. Perhaps 'great fan' is too robust a phrase. Maybe 'had a peculiar fascination with' would be a better expression of my feeling for his work. See, the dude is dark. But once upon a time, 'dark' (as in psychologically messed up) appealed to my sensibilities. The first Houellebecq novel I picked up was The Elementary Particles from one of the bookstores I trudged to after work when I lived in D.C. I read about protagonist Bruno's plight--specifically, the horrible experiences he had in private school (experiences with which I could identify, having been in private school for several years). And there, I began to see a deep and abiding truth to Houellebecq's characters, to his view of the world and the emotional physics of its inhabitants. I will admit that it depressed me deeply. Things in Houellebecq's world are bleak, pornographic, and nihilistic. But along with all this is keen insight into human character.

I should also say that I read Houellebecq after 9/11, when the city changed, when it temporarily fell under martial law...when military police directed traffic at every stop light downtown...around the time I walked home to MacArthur Boulevard from K Street because a woman on my bus announced to us all that she heard on her Walkman the news that Bush had been attacked in the White House. I immediately pulled the cord, got off the bus at the next stop, and began walking home according to my internal compass, partially following the bus line. I knew the lady was nuts, and I wanted to get as far away from her as possible. But I digress...I read Houellebecq at a time when things looked particularly bad, at a time when I felt especially isolated. This colored my view of his work and caused it to resonate with me in ways that it probably wouldn't now. And yet, yet...I titled a story that was nominated for a Pushcart Prize three years later "Essential Wreckage" as a secret homage to The Elementary Particles because that's what The Elementary Particles is really about: human wreckage and human suffering. The collateral damage caused by living. The unintended (or sometimes intended) hurt we cause ourselves or others by moving through life in ways either mild or violent.

And really, you have to dig a writer who has such a superlative array of high quality shots, like the one below. It doesn't look like the man above, does it?. Who, I say, who has been at the gin today? Michel, the liquid level's well below the top of the label. And buddy, you might want to tip that ash away, too.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Like, where have you been, Savannah?

Where have I been, you ask? I'll tell you: the deli. To make extra money for a project described below, I've started working part time at a deli, where I am cutting cheese in a way that no one would object to. I'm also learning how to make rotisserie chicken (in three flavors), fried chicken tenders, and salad that comes in individually wrapped components I throw into large mix bags along with mayo squeezed from a huge packet. And who the h3ll knew there were so many kinds of ham and turkey? The learning curve, kids, has been steep, I'll tell you. Me? I trained to be a museum curator or a gallery director. To me, cheese and luncheon meat was something I put on a tray next to dip and pre-sliced vegetables. So all this business about honey-roasted, mesquite-smoked, buffalo-coated what-not is new.

Ofcourse, I'm teaching, too, starting next week. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have a class in Wheeling in the morning, a mid-day class on the Weirton campus, and a class back down in Wheeling in the evening. It's a lot of driving (50 minutes to the Wheeling campus and 50 minutes back, if traffic is good), but then, that's why we got Frieda.

And then...I'm still doing my freelance writing work, too. Of course, this is what I really should be doing right now because I've got a deadline for a four-page article next week. And yet...and yet, I felt I ought to offer some explanation for my lengthy absence from blog-land.

Now, the way in which my working life could get especially interesting is the fact that the grocery store in which my deli is located is a union shop. And right now, the union is in rather heated negotiations with the store owners, who feel their investors are not getting the desired returns. They have proposed a 3-year wage freeze and an increase in out-of-pocket healthcare expenses required of workers. Already, the union, of which I am not yet a part until I am there for a full 30 days, has threatened a strike until better terms are put forward by the company. The company has replied, and I'll paraphrase them in rough (if not entirely fair) terms: "Your store is a depressed area; you're not likely to find another job, so we're going to do it and you're going to like it. We could potentially close the store, too, if you all aren't careful." As you can probably imagine, this statement has was not received with delight by any of my co-workers. It inflamed many of them, since the employees are the ones that make the sun rise and set for customers (and, in many cases, serve them hand and foot...believe me, I've already had some customers I've had to take my figurative patience pills in order to deal with). The date for settling contracts is August 28th, so we'll see what happens.

I finished copy-editing In the Aftermath, a collection of short stories, several of which are previously unpublished. When I've completed my article and finished my lecture prep for next week, I will purchase an ISBN, format the document using the Kindle interface, and get it out there for Kindle users. This may take a month or so for me to complete, since Michael and I will be in Williamsburg for vacation soon. Of course, once In the Aftermath is out there, I suspect no one will purchase it. Yet, it will be out there, and I will feel somewhat heartened that I'm producing something for public consumption. Someday maybe someone will read my work, likely only after I am long gone, and say, "why was she ignored?" (This, kids, is the fantasy that keeps me going.) I've found it almost impossible to get anyone to accept any piece of fiction I write. So, I'll publish myself, rather than sit back and continue to wait for someone to deem my message worthy. In order to have income for such a venture, I play with meat in the deli. Now, see, we've come full circle. But let's have another slice (look at me, I can't stop with the deli puns) of "Conceived in the New Liberty"-which is almost, almost done!)

"Appearing endlessly on the news were images of Richardson’s mug shot, where his glasses were off and his eyes were as wide as a startled doe. Occasionally, online, simulations of a red rubber stamp appeared above his head: Public Enemy#1.   “But he’s a boy,” Richardson’s mother said, when the Today Show finally interviewed her. “He’s just a boy. He’s not responsible for this.” She wiped away a tear dark with eyeliner. “He was in the city feeding people that day. He was trying to do some good. He wasn’t in any of those museums. I don’t understand why he’s even in jail.” She was husky-voiced, a smoker, who was heavily wrinkled and heavily made up for the show. Even though her tears were obviously genuine, she did not inspire empathy from viewers. No one felt her pain. Instead, they forgot her when they were again presented with the grainy video feed from the G-20 protests and the image of a confused looking Richardson coming up the steps of the National Archives." -- from "Conceived in the New Liberty"

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Farewell, Fair Truckerella. Hello, Frieda: A Pictorial

Truckerella, my Mountaineer, saw me through my late-20s to my mid-30s.
I got Truckerella in late 2003, when my Dad felt I needed a more reliable vehicle for going back and forth to Harrisburg, where I then had a boyfriend (a man, who, funnily enough, sold used BMWs). At the time, I was driving my Mom's 1998 Mountaineer--hunter green--whose check engine light persistently flickered on while I drove up and down the white-knuckle highway known as Route 83. And so, Truckerella, as I came to call her, came into my life, thanks to the fantastic generosity of my parents (to whom I am very grateful). I drove Truckerella everywhere, and over the years, several men have sat in the passenger seat, including: a male cheerleader (yes, yes, I know...giggle away if you like); a former Calvin Klein model-turned banker from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Later, an astrophysicist from Baltimore, Maryland. Still later, a Redbone Coonhound breeder, with whom I went out once and who inspired this letter-story appearing at Yankee Pot Roast in 2005. Yes, the guy pulled it out in the passenger seat of my truck, to my utter shock. Note to boys everywhere: this is really not an advisable first date move. This memorable and slightly horrifying moment is the only reason I include the guy in the list. I don't even remember his name, just the absolute horror of realizing what he had in mind for me that evening. He made an impression in all the wrong ways.

And then, I came back to Pittsburgh and met Michael a day after I arrived. Michael took and kept that passenger seat. So, Truckerella has a great deal of sentimental value. She was with me through the last vestiges of my twenties and through my early thirties. I wanted to drive her for ten years, but she kept falling apart. We've sat along the road twice: once in searing heat and once in freezing cold, along Route 22 in the dead of winter. After three towing bills, and numerous repair bills, I began to feel Truckerella was letting me down. And when the window broke last Friday, I had to let a good girl go.

On Saturday, at a Kia dealship in Robinson Township, outside Pittsburgh, Michael and I found Frieda. It was the first car we saw. It was the only car we drove (if you don't count the Jetta wagon we test drove last year, around this time). Now a new life chapter begins. Pictures follow:

Michael makes sure Truckerella's 'chastity consol'
doesn't still have any CDs. We're saying goodbye to her.

Our salesman Tom Cole at #1 Cochran holds Frieda's
driver's side door open for me.

At Michael's mom's house, Michael claims the
passenger seat again for all time. I'd already reserved
it for him. :-)

At home, nightfall. Of course, we've been cruising. The speakers light
up and change color inside. We had to experience that after dark.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

And on Thursday....

I've got my courses for fall. There are three, two Writing Skills and a Comp I. My Tuesdays and Thursdays will be slightly crazy, since I will be traveling down to the Wheeling campus, back up to the Weirton campus, and back down to the Wheeling campus at night, but it will give me time to think in the truck. And thinking leads to new stories. Also, I'll get to see my old friend, the electric plant near Brilliant, Ohio, lit up at night like a post-apocalyptic fortress. And then there's the gorgeous red flame that shoots eight feet into the sky from the coke plant stacks across the river in Follansbee, and this is always what I see just as I'm making my way into Steubenville. It's then I know I'm finally close to home, where Michael's waiting on the sofa for me. Also, on Monday, I have an interview for another part-time job, which will give us some much-needed extra scratch for our upcoming projects. Both of us are in dire need of new cars (although I don't say this in the presence of my truck, in order not to make her feel, I'm kidding. That sounds a pale shade of insane, doesn't it?). This month, I'm working on several freelance projects, too, so things are moving along.

I mentioned before that I'm working on a Kindle edition of a new short story collection. I've got 40 more pages to proofread, and I'll be ready to create the cover and prepare to upload the entire package. I also re-reserved the domain name, which will become my own imprint.

Over the last few days, I haven't spent quite as much time on it because so many other demands have snagged my attention, but I'm nearly done with "Conceived in the New Liberty". The story deals with the complete dismantling of the America's political foundation. Here's another tiny excerpt:

"As pro-Constitution activists grew in numbers and began sparring with members of The New Liberty Movement, riots broke out. When 18 people were sent to the hospital, police were dispatched in their riot gear to restore order. On K Street--less than a mile away from the National Mall, where police formed a charcoal-colored wall with their raised shields and FlexForce Crowd Control suits--the wide windows of lobbyists’ offices were smashed with crowbars. The Molotov cocktails that sailed from the street onto desks, leather sofas, and upholstered cube walls caused an inferno that occupied fire companies from both the District and Northern Virginia for several hours. And while fire hoses doused the blackened buildings, from which searing flames continually shot, a popular coffee shop on Connecticut Avenue was being held up. Around the same time, a bar was broken into on 18th street. A light-colored SUV drove onto the sidewalk and figures in plastic George W. Bush masks rapidly loaded into the back five full liquor boxes, a small floor safe, and—to their great surprise—a Thompson M1A1 from the manager’s office closet. No one stopped them."  

Now, to a completely different topic: I have to admit that I'm not easily impressed. Things affect me deeply, and I sometimes cry in response to other people's pain. Also, music can make me emotional. But rarely do I get goosebumps from something. I realize that I've had a long obsession with what follows here, and I suspect I've probably written about it here before. I've only seen segments of the movie, and eventually I would like to see the whole thing. It is, from the parts I've seen, totally amazing, totally haunting, and exquisitely produced. The synthesis of story (which I understand is based on the director's own experience), the animation (which is incredibly good, particularly in the metaphorical interplay of light and dark), and the music (I mean, it has Max Richter as part of the soundtrack, and he is on a nose-bleed-high level in my mind) make this something I feel would leave an imprint both on the imagination and collective historical memory. Here is the trailer.

Monday, August 1, 2011

"The Unnatural History of Brown's Island" at Fiction365

The Service Bridge to Brown's Island
On Saturday, July 30th, "The Unnatural History of Brown's Island" was the featured story at I am grateful for the exposure. Thanks very much to Benjamin, Fiction365's editor, for accepting it. While the story is fiction, it is based largely on fact, as well as local folklore. My husband's uncle actually died in the Brown's Island explosion of 1972.
Right now I'm in the thick of job hunting, looking for something that will provide a more steady stream of income than freelancing and adjuncting, which can vary from project to project, semester to semester. With our many farm-related aspirations and the small (but not serious, thankfully) emergencies we've had over the past two months, a steady source of income will be welcome and provide me with a more dependable schedule. Actually, as I write this at 1 p.m. EST, our shepherd-collie is having a $1K tooth extraction. Yes, I meant to write 'one thousand dollars'. I choked on that number myself when we went for the consultation on Saturday, but it is genuinely needed, and so he is getting fixed up. Michael started talking about getting insurance for the boyz now. He said it's actually available through Thermo, where he works. When I first heard about pet insurance, I thought it was a little silly. Now, if you'd ask me, I would say 'sign me up please.'

Right now, I'm working on proofreading a collection of 16 stories, which I plan to release as Kindle Edition under the Literary Outlaw imprint. Stay tuned for the details.....

If you wonder what else is going on in our world, check out our homestead blog, the link to which is below. We've been canning beans most of the weekend. We're ants instead of grasshoppers, right? Right. This evening, we'll be making watermelon jelly. For pictures of our gardening and culinary activity, just visit

More to come shortly....

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

And for humorous purposes....

"Bastards won't give me tenure."
These delightful animatronic figures are for sale this week at an auction located near Steubenville, Ohio. Michael found them on These darlings were once part of moving window displays erected in commercial venues. Really, I'll say no more, and allow them to speak for themselves. They have so much to say.

Celebrity Rehab: The Sesame Street Edition

Thursday, July 21, 2011

General Doings...

It's Thursday and incredibly hot, a fact we have been unfailingly alerted to and reminded of by the news for the past week. I can look out our living room window, from where I'm writing this post and see trees and haze. The ciccadas are screaming, so that (according to popular lore) means there are only six more weeks of this hard-to-breathe, quick-to-sweat searing thickness. We hope. To heal my broiled (and now perspiration-drenched) spirit, I envision approaching surf and cooling breezes. Happy place, yes. 
O Fallen Angel
Kate Zambreno's
first novel, O Fallen

Kate Zambreno's wonderful blog (like this post or this one) always reconnects me with what it means to be a writer. She is a thinking writer, an intellectual, very analytical, but also forceful in her emotion, and sometimes her uncertainty. At her blog are the best three parts of humanity: head, heart, soul. More on her new book Green Girl very soon...

What I worked on from 7:33 A.M. until about 11:30 today is "Conceived in the New Liberty", a fictional commentary on how easily we might allow our rights be dismantled. I'm happy that it's flowing pretty steadily.  During my daily hour of penance on the exercise machines in the basement, I flip between HLN, CNN, and Fox (all three are on consecutive stations on our cable box) to get a feel for the tenor and language used to deal with contemporary issues. My perceptions are, in part, what spurred my Two Minutes Hate post on Tuesday.

Lapith fighting a Centaur
Metope from The Parthenon

I may have mentioned this before, but I finished the Lord Elgin story, which I retitled "The Metope Prophecy." A 'metope' is a  decorative architectural element, a carved spacer in a freize that usually appears between fluted trigylphs. On the Parthenon, there are 92 metopes. Many of these are what Elgin brought back to England to sell to the British Museum.

If you remember this post and the excerpt it contains (all the way at the posts' bottom), here is the paragraph that follows it:

"The image haunted him the following morning, even though he’d had other, less vividly remembered dreams afterward. He knew he could not save Phidias’ immense Athena. She was already lost. The military leader, Lachares, had used the gold plates that comprised the goddess’ drapery to mint coins to pay his troops in the third century before Christ. Resplendent then in copper and ivory, she survived two fires before disappearing with the rise of the Ottoman Empire. So, as he sipped at the dark brew that passed for coffee while his wife moved sulkily in her chair down the long table, he began to think of the statue’s plea in metaphorical terms. It is a message, he thought, staring at a triangle of buttered toast. I’m supposed to rescue what is still there." -- from "The Metope Prophecy"