—Traditional English song, reprinted in Herb Gardening in Five Seasons by Adelma Grenier Simmons
I love the seasons, and I love the way they pull me along with them into new phases of my life as they change. With my melanin-challenged skin and migraines that make me sensitive to light, I have tended to dread the intense sun of the summer. I used to start dreaming about Halloween in April, as if I could wish the in-between seasons away. But like a lot of things, I’ve learned that if I go with it—if I decide to embrace the obviously beautiful aspects of the season along with the blessings that are harder for me to recognize—I stand to gain a lot more. Living in season, a concept I first started thinking about thanks to the writing of Waverly Fitzgerald, has been a big part of that. Diving deeper into the reality of the day I find myself in, rather than trying to work against it. I might prefer the cool air and rich colors of autumn, but I’ll be damned, in summer the song really does sing itself.
In an essay about the holiday, Fitzgerald says that May Day, like Halloween—which is opposite May Day on the Wheel of the Year (I love that, the idea of the year as a wheel that keeps on turning)—is a time when the veil is thin between this world and the other one, and spirits can wander freely. Does that sound goofy to you? Maybe it shouldn’t. If you live in a part of the world where spring is turning into summer, go outside. See how it makes you feel. When I step out back I find myself in a messy little garden, a different world from the one inside my house. It’s full of life and color, and the weather is moody from hour to hour. The clouds move swiftly and surprise me with the rain that we need to make everything grow. There’s a wildness in the air.
There are many traditions around the world that mark this time of year with a festival. In northern Europe, where my people are from, the May Day festival was called Beltane, and there was dancing and drinking and maybe some sexy stuff too. Revels. I like that word, and I like the idea, too. The celebration has a feeling of abandon, of letting the wildness of nature inhabit your mind and body for awhile. Goodness knows I need that sometimes, don’t you?
Anyway, it happens that a small anniversary is coming up for me this month. I started keeping this blog four years ago, in May of 2015. Sometimes I feel like anniversaries and birthdays aren’t worth marking—like, who cares that another year has passed in the life of this blog that I really only keep for myself? But marking the passage of time gives us a chance to reflect on the things that have happened and the work we’ve done. I’m proud to have made this space where I can work through some of my ideas, and to have shown up to it, to have kept a commitment I made to myself and to anyone who’s reading this. I’m proud of some of the things I’ve written here, too. This spring, I wish you fruitfulness in your life, that you have the courage to hatch a plan you’ve been making and nurture it along. No matter how humble the plan is, how small your ambitions may seem to you, don’t talk yourself out of them. If you feel drawn to something, I promise you that’s reason enough to let it flourish.
Hello, friends! I’m excited to announce a new issue in my Cat Party zine series: “Lost & Found.” This one anthologizes the writing and visual art of 5 contributors, all of whom reflected on cats who have come into their lives by surprise, or disappeared unexpectedly. It includes comics, drawings, and essays by visual artist and performer Julia S. Owens, musician Marina Murayama Nir, comics artist Ashley Punt, writer Alexis Campbell, and writer, baker, and activist Ailbhe Pascal.
Please allow me to share the introduction I wrote for the zine with you here, beneath the photos. If it sparks your interest, why not pick up a copy of the zine for $4, either from me or from Microcosm Publishing?
Welcome to the cat party! If you’ve been here before, welcome back.
My name is Katie, and I wrote a book about cats that was published by Microcosm Publishing near the end of 2017. Microcosm and I go way back. They’ve sold zines of mine for many years, and now that they’re a real-deal publisher, they’ve published three books I wrote, too. The first one was called White Elephants, and it was a memoir I wrote about palling around with my mother after my father died. The second one was Slip of the Tongue, a collection of essays about language. Last year, Cats I’ve Known came out. I set out to tell stories about all the cats in my life, and ended up sort of writing about my whole entire life, like I always do. But to at least some degree the book really is about the cats: family pets I had growing up, beloved cats I’ve shared my home with as an adult, strays I keep bumping into on the street, and the friendly bookstore cats I look forward to seeing whenever I stop in to browse. Each story was illustrated by a talented artist named Trista Vercher. When the book came out, I had a cake made by a local bakery that was based on one of their drawings; in both the drawing and the frosting, the cat’s fur was a lovely shade of grey that was actually quite purple. It tasted delicious.
In the months since the book was published, I have had many good conversations with people about the cats that they know and love. Each time I set up shop at a book fair or sign copies of my book at a bookstore, I meet people who want to tell me stories about a special cat they know who loves to pose for photos, or the adorable way their two cats curl up under the covers with them at night—and only occasionally growl at each other. Our cat friends are very dear to us cat people, and none of us can resist sharing our stories. Microcosm and I decided that a zine series would be a good way to keep on telling them, both mine and other people’s.
For this issue, I invited writers and artists to tell stories about cats that were lost or found—a cat who came into their life by accident, perhaps, or one that took off unexpectedly. The theme must have struck a chord, because I received many, many submissions. I couldn’t accept them all, but the ones I’ve chosen will make up two issues, this one and a Lost & Found #2, to come out in the spring of 2019.I am very proud to present this issue of Cat Party, with its collection of beautiful and touching stories. Thanks to the contributors for doing this with me, and thanks to you, readers, for joining the party.
A few years ago I applied for a freelance proofreading job. The idea was to find something that would supplement the income I get from my other jobs, and the flexible structure of this one would have fit nicely into my schedule. Plus, I enjoy proofreading, and I’m good at it. I didn’t get the job, though, so I thought now was as good a time as any to criticize and make fun of their interview process, which included a proofreading test (which is standard) as well as a personality test AND an I.Q. test, which I think is pretty ballsy of them, especially considering the fact that they already had my resume, my complete list of writing credits and education, and two professional references. This wasn’t a very demanding position I was applying for. How much more information about my “I.Q.” did they need? I don’t apply for jobs all that often, so I genuinely don’t know: Is this sort of shit typical now?
To his credit, the personable guy who interviewed me over the phone told me that he doesn’t put much stock in personality tests because he finds them “a little weird,” as do I. And it surely wasn’t his decision to give these tests to job applicants, so I don’t blame him for it. I do find fault with whoever it was at this company who thought it made sense to try to gauge my “intelligence” and “personality” using standarized tests, without considering the possibilty that there might be some value in having me COME IN TO MEET WITH THEM. I mean, really. A phone interview and a computerized personality test? How about inviting me to your office? I could get there on the bus in 40 minutes, and then you’d have a chance to shake my hand and look me in the eye. You know, like two human beings. Wouldn’t that kind of exchange tell them more about me than two exams that didn’t test me on anything to do with the job they were considering me for?
If you’re wondering what a personality test is, I can tell you what this one was like. It was comprised of a series of sets of two statements, and I was asked to look at one set at a time and choose the statement I more strongly agreed with. The test was timed, and copying the text from the page was fussy, so I was only able to grab two of the sets to share with you. (I’d actually planned to make poems out of them, so I wish I’d gotten a few more.) Here’s one pair:
I almost always understand and agree with the reason for rules.
I might break a promise to someone if I had no other option.
Among so many other things, I take issue with the way the second statement here is phrased. If I had no other option? If it’s the case that I have no choice but to break the promise, then I must break the promise, right? Am I overthinking this? Or did they underthink it? Either way I found this impossible to answer properly.
Here’s the other pair of statements I copied:
I take my obligations and responsibilities as seriously as most people do.
I enjoy interruptions when I’m completing a boring task.
Now, you know that when you’re given a “test” like this, what you’re trying to do is figure out the answer they want you to give, not the one that’s true to how you feel. I struggled back and forth with my strong inclination to answer honestly and my (sometimes stronger) desire to get a high score on every test I take, and I kept finding myself baffled by this one’s intent, which was baffling by design, I’m sure. But I don’t believe for a second that the people who gave it to me were making an honest effort to assess my personality type in order to find out whether I’d work well with the people they’d already hired, or whatever. The statements tended to be about my feelings toward work and relationships, and just as often about my attitude toward rules and—though they were couched in language about honesty or other moral quandaries—how likely I am to respect the authority of a boss and do as I’m told. If that’s what it means to assess my personality, somebody needs to get a better understanding of what a personality is.
I’m reminded of a beautiful quotation from The Office, a show I quote from about 100 times a day. In this particular episode, the new HR rep calls an ethics meeting, and in it she tells everyone not to steal office supplies and also that wasting time at work counts as stealing from your employer. The office well, actually guy, Oscar, pipes up:
“This isn’t ethics. Ethics is a real discussion of the competing conceptions of the good. This is just the corporate anti-shoplifting rules.”
It’s embarrassing to agree with the show’s annoyingly pendantic character, but this is perfect. These kinds of critiques of corporate culture were one of many reasons the show was so good.
For a day or two after I applied for the job, I thought about the indignation Barbara Ehrenreich expressed at being given bullshit personality tests like the one I took in her book, Nickel and Dimed. I felt bolstered remembering her conviction that no one who was considering giving her some crummy job (or even a decent job) had a right to try to worm inside her mind in that way. Here is a quote from her wonderful book, in which she says the same thing I have been trying to express, more eloquently and possibly even more angrily:
“What these [personality] tests tell employers about potential employees is hard to imagine since the ‘right’ answer should be obvious to anyone who has ever encountered the principle of hierarchy and subordination. Do I work well with others? You bet, but never to the point where I would hesitate to inform on them for the slightest infraction. Am I capable of independent decision making? Oh yes, but I know better than to let this capacity interfere with a slavish obedience to orders . . .
The real function of these tests, I decide, is to convey information not to the employer but to the potential employee, and the information being conveyed is always: You will have no secrets from us. We don’t just want your muscles and that portion of your brain that is directly connected to them; we want your innermost self.”
Her book was written 20 years ago (and published a few years later), but this kind of everyday mistreatment of workers continues. It has most likely gotten worse, institutionally. Ehrenreich is still mad about it—follow her on Twitter if you don’t already—and so am I. You should be too.
I’ve only ever taken one serious writing class in my entire life. I was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania when they introduced a new requirement: Everyone, regardless of their major, would now have to take a writing class. I remember thinking this was a bit superfluous for someone like me, who already knew she was a writer—ha—but I was excited about it, too. In my memory, they issued a special publication listing all the different, themed writing courses we could choose from, though it’s possible I’ve trumped this up in my mind, and the listings were only a part of the regular course catalog.
My boyfriend thought we should sign up for the same writing class, since he was an economics major and this would be our only chance to take a class together. I didn’t necessarily agree that this would make the class more fun or interesting—and in fact it made the whole experience more tense, at least for me—but it happened that we were both drawn to the same listing, out of all the many we could choose from: Writing About Death. We signed up.
Writing About Death was taught, and I believe was created by, a young PhD student who had gone to school at a university that was infinitely more liberal than ours. She was a more radical thinker than anyone I’d met up until that point, probably, and it made a big impression on me.Twenty years on, the class is still so vivid in my mind. We arranged our chairs in a circle and faced each other to have our conversations. There were only two female students, me and one other girl who—I woudn’t put money on this, but I’m almost certain I’m remembering this correctly—was pre-med, and had little to say about the readings. Our teacher’s ideas were challenging but her presence was protective, and I felt safe and seen in a sea of overconfident boys in baseball caps.
We read and talked about James Joyce (“The Dead”) and Allen Ginsberg’s “Kaddish,” and watched a film about the AIDS quilt. We made a visit to the Shambhala Center downtown and tried meditation, which was unfamiliar to most but not all of us. I stunk at it, but I can still remember the buzz in the air in that room, all of those young bodies thrumming with energy and trying, briefly, to be still. In fact, all of the things we thought, talked, read, and wrote about in that class were as much about life as they were about death, but that’s kind of how that goes, I think. Can’t have one without the – other!
Ginsberg visited our campus that semester, and our instructor got to meet and have dinner with him. She showed him the writing we’d done in response to “Kaddish,” and the next time our class met she reported to all of us that he’d picked mine out, was impressed by it. Well, she’d explained, these aren’t exactly original. This was an exercise based on your poem.
“I know,” she said he said. “But this girl got it.”
Will you hold it against me that I’m bragging about Allen Ginsberg reading and praising something I wrote, all these years later? It’s just such a dear memory for me. Early encouragement of the most electrifying kind.
Anyway. Anyway, anyway. I have stayed in touch with that teacher here and there over the years, and I subscribe to her email list. Not too long ago she sent out a message about a show she was putting on at a gallery in New York. Through a performance in the space and graffiti scribbled on the walls, she would explore the secular usage of godly turns of phrase. Expressions like Oh my god (OMG!), the kinds of things people say all the time. She wanted to investigate the meaning of these words when they’re divorced—or are they?—from their religious context. It’s such an exciting idea, I wish I’d had it. She invited people to submit things remotely, and she would then write some of them on the gallery walls. I wrote something short in response to the call for submissions at the time, and have expanded on it a bit, below.
The word holy. I heard it so much growing up, in church and in my Catholic grade school and high school—which were extensions of church, figuratively and almost literally, with chapels inside the schools and, in the case of my elementary school, the beautiful, stone parish church right next door. The priests lived in their house on the property and the nuns lived in theirs, and we kids were in the same small class with the same kids from first to eighth grade, starting out as a pile of puppies and turning into tall, awkward young teenagers; in my mind now those kids occupy a space just to the left of siblings. For us, school and home and church and family were hopelessly intertwined.
The holy family. (That’s Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.)
The holy trinity. (That’s Jesus, God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit.)
Holy of holies. (That’s God in general, I guess. This one was both said and sung during the Mass.)
The language of Catholicism sounds ancient, even though it’s no longer the magical, dead language of Latin. When I was a kid the word holy so often it was normal and even mundane, but I don’t hear it said or think about it much anymore.
These days, ”holy shit!” is one of my favorite things to say. It’s profane, but it functions as an affirmation, like “Wow!” or even “Good for you!”
Though I find myself in a very secularized micro-culture, most of the people I know say “Bless you” or “God bless you” when someone sneezes. I’ve trained myself to get used to saying “gesundheit” instead. It makes me feel uncomfortable to bless someone in casual conversation, and I’m surprised that more of the people I know, almost none of whom are religious in any way, don’t find it odd.
Here’s one more little story for you. For the first several years of my life my parents did not give us any sort of religious education, but when I was around 8 years old my mother decided to go back to the Catholic church, which she had grown up with. She enrolled me and my sister in Catholic school and started taking us to church. During the first Mass I ever attended, I was scandalized because I heard the priest say “Jesus Christ.” I whipped around to my mother and whispered, “He just said a bad word!” She was mortified (and pissed), but it wasn’t my fault: I’d only ever heard my father shout “Jesus Christ!” when he accidentally broke something or hammered his thumb instead of a nail, so I thought the word Jesuschrist was a curse.
I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to the idea of divination. Actually, I’ve always given this idea a fair amount of thought, since I tend to see symbols everywhere, not just in books but in real life, and then I try to plumb them for some meaning I can use. Recently, though, I’ve started ASKING for symbols. I’ve been learning about the colorful characters of the tarot—The High Priestess! The Hermit! The Sun!—and I’ve taken to doing a simple one-card reading for myself every morning. It’s a nice practice, a piece of quiet, thoughtful time that twinkles with a bit of magic, somewhere between the wisdom of a therapy session and the sudden secret bolt of truth that hits you in the moment you make a wish on your birthday candles.
On Friday I read that the comics artist Lynda Barry, whose work I sincerely love, has started an advice column for The Paris Review. The second question, and answer, are frankly bizarre (though the answer is also generous and funny, as all of Barry’s writing is) but the first one is Lynda Barry at her latter-day best, if you ask me. Though the letter writer is seeking advice in dealing with boredom, Barry’s answer is really about writing; writing via tricking yourself into writing, by doing oddball experiments and fun stunts that aren’t writing first.
Barry, if you don’t know, has put out three big beautiful books about writing over the last 10 years—What It Is, Picture This, and Syllabus: Notes From an Accidental Professor— that are almost mystical in the ways that they advise the reader on how to begin this often difficult task. Every page is covered completely by a painting or a collage, and in this swirling, heady atmosphere, Barry tells us how she finds her way into creating, even when she’s stuck. In response to that question about boredom, Barry recommended elaborate project that involves chucking your cell phone out of sight, belting down a couple of stiff drinks, and going for a long and epic walk, during which you will undertake to answer some question in your mind by making symbols of three things: (i) something you see above eye level, (ii) something you find discarded or forgotten on the ground, and (iii) a person.
My husband and I went away this weekend, for a wedding in the countryside of northeast Pennsylvania near the New York state border, and we had nothing to do but loaf the day after the event. I figured this expanse of quiet Sunday would be a good time for me to try Barry’s experiment. The only changes I made were to do it throughout the course of the day, rather than during one focused walk, and I didn’t get drunk first. The question I asked the universe-slash-myself was: How should I focus my time and attention this fall? Let’s see what the universe, aka me, came up with.
i. On Sunday morning Joe and I drove up the road from where we were staying to the nearest small town, which is where my friend who got married lives. I’ve tried to imagine this town many times because my friend is also my pen-pal, and I think about the place where she lives every time I write her address on an envelope. I’ve always pictured an autumnal sort of place because of how much my friend loves Halloween, and I wasn’t totally wrong. The town turned out to be a very pretty and sturdily functional place in the manner of many towns, small and large, in this part of the state, with painted brick Victorian-era storefronts and lots of old shade trees. We walked all the way up and back its long main street, and my eyes were drawn to the spires of several churches. The one I liked the most was nestled on the top of a hill a few streets back, a big stone and stained-glass Catholic jawn that was built during the first few years of the 19th century. We followed a narrow walkway and bridge to get closer to it and just look. I haven’t considered myself Catholic, or indeed Christian, since I was released from my parents’ house 20-ish years ago, but I must say, I’ve become more interested in spirituality in recent years. Or—if not spirituality exactly, then connectedness. That’s why I’m always looking for symbols; they remind me that nothing is disconnected from anything else, even if I don’t understand why. I’m okay with not knowing why.
ii. Lynda Barry’s guidelines were pretty obviously written for a city dweller like me, but I wasn’t in Philly yesterday; I was in this small town, where very few people throw crap on the ground, or else someone is quick to clean it up if they do. I didn’t find anything meaningful to me discarded on the sidewalk during our walk, but later in the day, Joe and I got permission from the owner of the hotel where we were staying to borrow one of the rowboats to take out on the small lake. As we picked our way along the lake’s sandy shoreline near the dock, I felt dreamy with the heat and my experiment, and I saw a face in the arrangement of a few stones and a piece of wood under the water. I see faces in things pretty often, usually when I’m very tired or about to get a migraine. Seeing a pattern in something random is called pareidolia; it is commonplace and not abnormal (and apparently it’s most common for people to see faces in particular), but I experience it as slightly disturbing and maybe meaningful when it happens to me. This time, I saw the face not because I was getting a headache (thank god) but because my mind was relaxed and open and searching. I read this lake-face to mean that I should try to be in this state more often.
iii. In the evening we went back into town in search of some dinner. Only a few restaurants were open past 4:00 or 5:00 on a Sunday, and one of them was a little bar that we chose because it looked comfortable. When we walked in, I thought of the Lobo from Roseanne because of the place’s laid-back, rural vibe and prominent pool table. We took a tall table next to the bar, and sitting at the bar by himself was an old man I couldn’t take my eyes off of. He was skinny and wiry, and was wearing a black button-down shirt tucked into dark, belted dungarees, both of which were oversized on him. The jeans could properly be described as hitched up. He had a huge hawk nose and stooped shoulders, was probably in his 60s but seemed somehow ancient, and had a full head of dark hair, neatly parted. He sat at one end of the bar, facing forward, not morose or hunched over but content and bright eyed over his mug of beer. I hope someone paints his portrait in oils before he dies.
At first I felt awkward in the bar since we were from out of town and looked it, but the music playing in there was good, and after we ordered beers and I had a few sips I relaxed into being there. It only takes one drink for me to be convinced of the romance of the barroom all over again. I’m a huge cheeseball that way. “Sara” by Fleetwood Mac came on the jukebox and I crooned it to Joe. Then “Ashes to Ashes” came on and we both tapped our feet and sang along. At one point the old guy walked past us to his spot at the bar and settled back down, and Joe gestured toward him with his head and said, “He’s the one starting the music back up every time it gets quiet in here,” and I died. My favorite person at the bar liked Fleetwood Mac and David Bowie, too! Obviously he was the person I’d been looking for all day. But what should he symbolize to me? I guess the reason I lit up with delight when I saw him was because he was so completely himself, right? That’s the message I’ll let him give me, then, to be myself completely, and to remember how much fun it is to be yourself in a world that, for some reason, would like you to be something else instead. It’s the only way to live, really. At the very least, it’s a reliably good way to pass a pleasant Sunday evening at the bar.
p.s. If you’re looking for recommendations, I’ve been reading an excellent book about tarot by one of my all-time favorite writers, Michelle Tea, who just put this one out a few months ago. The book is called Modern Tarot and it’s thick, thorough, and easy to engage with.
p.p.s. The title of this post is another piece of advice I got from Lynda Barry, sort of. I saw her speak at the Free Library a few years ago, where she told a very funny story about getting her makeup done at a department store makeup counter, and how before she did this, she visited a street food truck and did what she always does when she’s nervous, which is “eat a hot dog really fast.” I laughed hard at this, and so did a man sitting near me, and his voice is what I remember when I think of that story. A stranger sounding happy.
Happy New Year, everyone! This might be my favorite time of the year to be alive, this week right here. True, being cold (and getting colds) is kind of a drag, but I like taking stock and I like making plans, and I feel that the week between Christmas and New Year’s is the right time to do both. I’ve spent the last few days working on my year-end review, and yesterday, by happenstance, I discovered the writer Ksenia Anske and her beautiful website. I was inspired by her year-in-review blog post—and its accompanying photo grid!—to share my own, so here goes: a list of things I did and learned in 2016.
I wrote and completed edits on my book Cats I’ve Known, to be published in 2017. Completing this work was my biggest accomplishment of the year—that and surviving the appendicitis that tried to strike me down just a few weeks after I finished the first draft. Nice try, body! I’m still winning, for now.
I completed Magical Thinking, the zine my pal Mardou and I made by emailing back and forth with each other on topics including gemstones, herbal healing, and dreams. We then published our dialogue, accompanied by the illustrations Mardou drew. (She is a talented comics artist whose work I really enjoy.) I brought the zine with me to the NYC Feminist Zine Fest at Barnard College, an annual event that I tabled at for the first time. It was a long, hectic day, but I had a few interesting and memorable conversations with visitors to my table, which is the measure I use to judge all zine fests. Frequency and quality of chats.
I also tabled with my zines at the Scranton Zine Fest, the Philly Zine Fest, and a Winter Market at the Germantown Kitchen Garden, and all three events were fun and very rewarding.
I continued to benefit from keeping this blog. Having a place where I can explore my thoughts about the things I’m reading has been good for me. I like writing about books, but I don’t always like books-writing jobs, if ya feel me. In this space, I can write what I want, at whatever length suits me. So thank you for taking an interest in my blog, gang; it means a lot to me.
I finally visited Haegele’s Bakery in the Mayfair section of Philadelphia. As far as I know these folks are not my relations, but they have operated a German bakery in the same city that I’m from for nearly 90 years—and I never got around to visiting it until last month. Whatta jerk! Joe and I went there with friends on the damp, chilly Saturday after Thanksgiving, and it made me so happy to see how pretty and old-fashioned the shop is, sitting right there on the corner of a residential street just a few blocks away from the one where my mother lived when she was a teenager. I ate a Stollen AND a Bienenstich, and they were both gorgeous. Planning on getting myself a Grosse Neujahrsbrezel on New Year’s Eve, too.
I got two new jobs this year, contract gigs doing editing work, which is just a mundane thing that I needed to do to make more money and wouldn’t ordinarily mention. But my job slog has had an unexpected and happy result (besides the more—but still not enough!—money): I discovered that I love editing other people’s writing. What’s more, I’m not bad at it. There is something deeply satisfying about taking a piece of writing and making it tighter, cleaner, smoother, and better all around, while preserving its original spirit and without imposing my own voice or attitude onto it. It’s like being a tailor, an invisible mender: I leave things looking better than I found them, and if I do my work really well, you won’t be able to tell I was ever there.
I raised a black swallowtail butterfly, which was an incredibly beautiful experience that happened half by accident. In September I attended a meeting of the garden club I used to belong to, and a friend there gave me a bunch of cuttings from her herb garden. I put them in a vase on the kitchen table and enjoyed them for a week or two before Joe noticed two minuscule caterpillars on their leaves. We watched them both get bigger fairly rapidly, then put them inside a small aquarium to keep them safe. Over the next week one of the caterpillars kept escaping, so we released it into the wilds of our backyard and wished it well. The other we kept, feeding it carrot greens from our garden because we read that’s what they like to eat. This guy went to TOWN eating them and got bigger and fatter by the day, until he made his chrysalis. Then that gnarly looking thing lived in our kitchen for 2 more weeks before it burst open, behind us on the kitchen counter while we sat at the table one morning, talking and drinking coffee. We were lucky to see the creature’s black wings when they were still all wet and soft and crumpled; the whole event happened so fast, if we’d been in another room for even an hour we would have missed it. We brought the new butterfly outside, and Joe went into work late that day so that we could sit in our yard and watch it spread and flap and dry out its wings in the sun and fresh air, carefully but quickly, before it flew away.
My good friend Nadine Schneider and I made a zine together, and I’ve been selling it at the Wooden Shoe. She wrote about making and using herbal body care products, and I wrote about how you can clean your house without nasty neurotoxins. We called it Kytchyn Witche and spelled it that way because that’s the way it’s spelled in an account we read about the good luck “poppet” that English people kept in their homes during the Tudor period. And because it looks cool.
I street-protested the Trump presidency and the appointment of Stephen Bannon as Trump’s chief strategist, and I plan to keep on doing so because these people are really bad news, and protesting is democracy in action.
I saw a fuckton of bands play. I celebrated a significant birthday this year and while I don’t really want to tell you my age, I will tell you that in honor of it, I set a goal to see 40 live shows this year. I achieved the goal and had a lot of fun doing it. Highlights include: discovering the industrial/punk band Uniform when they opened for somebody else, then seeing them again later in the year (are you familiar with the phrase WALL OF SOUND); seeing another act on the Sacred Bones label, Blanck Mass, who turned the tiny space at Johnny Brenda’s into a cathedral with his majestic noise; enjoying the heck out of ourselves at RuPaul’s Drag Race Battle of the Seasons, which had about 100 clever acts packed into one show (plus Sharon Needles and Jinkx Monsoon LIVE AND IN PERSON!); watching Philly band Remote Control (pictured above) channel Peter Murphy; being transfixed by the sight of weirdo genius Jenny Hval bopping around the room; and Shopping. We got right up in front of the stage and danced at them, and they danced back. Such a good-natured, high-energy band, and those post-punk melodies do something really nice to my brain chemistry. If they don’t get big I’ll be a little surprised.
Joe and I hosted three shows at the East Falls Zine Reading Room this year, which wasn’t as many as last year. They were good shows though, featuring the chiptune musician Sloopygoop, folk singers Potential Gospel, video artist Cory Kram, postpunk band Rabbits to Riches, loony tunesters Yoga Dad, and memoirist Ashton Yount.
Joe and I also toured twice, up north during the summer and down south in the fall. In New England we did readings at the Papercut Zine Library in Boston, a bookstore in Providence, Rhode Island, and one in Woodstock, New York. On our Southern tour, I was pleased and frankly really proud to perform with our friends Kishibashi, his wife Mocha, and their daughter Sola (all three of them on violin) at a wonderful bookstore called Avid in Athens, Georgia. The artist and adorable human Missy Kulik read from her comics at that show, too. We also performed with the one-man band who is Tall Tall Trees, at a fine bookstore in Asheville, North Carolina called Downtown Books & News. Then we went to Savannah and did a show at Starlandia, a charming creative reuse shop, with the inimitable Dame Darcy, a comics artist whose work I have admired for a long time. (She read from her books and, accompanied by her friend Skippy on guitar, she played sea shanties on the banjo. It was a special night.)
I participated in Fun-a-Day last January, and even though I was lazy about it I managed to write a little something almost every day that month, which was an undertaking I took to treating like a diary. At the end of the project I made a handmade book collecting the month’s meditations and exhibited it in the group show. I plan to participate again this year—just one more day till it starts!—and I’ve got my idea ready and my pencils sharpened. They are metaphorical pencils.
I hosted a Pop-Up Zine Reading Room at Amalgam Comics in the Kensington neighborhood Philadelphia, which means that I took a bunch of zines and books from the collection at The Soapbox and sat at the bookstore with a sign inviting people to join me and read them. It was sweet. I also ran a zine workshop for the high school students in the after-school program at the Lutheran Settlement House, also in Kenzo, and in November I cohosted a letterpress printing and book-binding workshop for some undergraduate writing students. Those events were sweet, too.
I started a zine about Christmas, which I have historically hated, with my friend, the talented artist Nicholas Beckett. His witty, warm, and sweetly grouchy drawings helped me hate Christmas just a little bit less.
I started a new writing collaboration with Eliza, a lovely new friend I met at the Philly Zine Fest. I look forward to seeing where this project takes us in the new year.
The truth has finally been spoken at last—that poetry is an essential industry. The story, as it comes to us—by hearsay evidence which we can not vouch for—runs thus: Mr. Conrad Aiken, being included in the recent military registration somewhere in Boston or near it, showed his undeniable fighting spirit by fighting for his art—he demanded fourth-class registration not on the usual easy terms (for he might have claimed exemption because of having a family to support) but on the ground that he was a poet and that poetry is an essential industry. The claim, being novel, was referred to Washington, and by some ultimate Solomon, there sitting in judgement, was sustained, being affirmed and decreed and locked and bolted under all the sacred seals of law.
This Thursday the 12th, I’ll be giving a free workshop at the Kelly Writers House at Penn on HOW TO MAKE A ZINE. I plan to give a quick history of zines, punk, and DIY, then let everybody loose on the clip art, rubber stamps, and Letraset. Each student will contribute one page, and I’ll paste them up and make copies of our collaborative zine. Reception with snacks to follow.