Once a month, here in Joshua Tree, Cholla Needles Arts & Literary Library hosts an open reading on the outdoor stage behind Space Cowboy Books. Thanks to the ongoing pandemic and mandatory distancing, we’ve been unable to meet in person, but the Cholla Needles website has transformed into a virtual “salon” with an impressive (and growing) collection of poets reading their work. Some, like me, live in the high desert, while others hail from places far beyond. The videos are organized into pages and are well worth your time. I’m fascinated by this medium—how we present ourselves and what we reveal. I’ll always love listening to writers read their work aloud, although of course I desperately miss the face-to-face energy exchange of the Cholla Needles readings and the Desert Split Open Mic. This is not the same, but it is something. I hope you’ll check out my work and the rest on these pages.
Page 1: My reading is from my chapbook of tiny stories as classified ads, Swap / Meet.
(I have a few remaining copies of Swap / Meet available for $5 + USPS ship. worldsplitopenpress[at]gmail[dot]com to order.)
With the Desert Split Open Mic, like all in-person literary gatherings, still on hold, I miss that live energy exchange, the intimacy of truths told in confidence to those who will hear. I miss watching us step up and swing and sometimes miss, but always try to listen hard to each other and ourselves. I miss my physical response to words read in halting voices that grab me and shake.
Reading to you from my office, alone, is not the same, but it is something. I am interested in how video might share our work more widely and creatively. Why not, I suppose. Video allows me to deliver my work in autobiographical context. I made a YouTube channel. I’ll update it now and then.
I’ve followed social distancing recommendations for about 10 weeks. It feels like so much longer, doesn’t it? Maybe because it’s been 10 weeks of chaotic change and uncertainty, underlain with faint, abstracted, persistent fear. Even in the flurry of creativity I retreat into in order to cope, I feel the worry slip in. I catch it in the corner of my eye, a reminder that I might as well make the art I want to make, now.
I can be dramatic—I already knew this. 10 weeks in relative isolation isn’t making that less true! I suspect the videos I record in this strange time will become a visual diary of deconstruction or transformation. I will try to embrace my changes, for lack of another choice. We are all, already, different. Nothing is the same, but we are something.
Here in Joshua Tree, CA, every second Saturday is Art Walk. All the galleries stay open late with displays of new work; there is live music; refreshments are served; friends meet up and hug. It’s not like that, this month. It’s different here, as everywhere. Quieter and more distant. It’s something we’re all mourning, as we reluctantly explore other means of connection. One of our local galleries, the Beatnik Lounge, just opened a virtual show, “Alone Together: Art in the Time of COVID.” As soon as I heard the name of the show, I knew what I wanted to write for it. I decided to record myself reading it, as I’ve started doing, here and there. It’s not like reading live, but it is something.
Here I am reading “DESERTed,” written in response to a beloved painting by high desert artist Zara Kand. As always, thanks for listening.
This month’s Desert Split Open Mic, and so much else, was interrupted by Covid-19. Life stopped and we held our breath, braced for grief. We covered our faces and hands and stepped back from life. We retreated indoors and watched everyone else do it wrong.
This month, I feel the distance between us acutely. I want to hear your words, online, if not in person. I want you to hear mine.
I’ve written a lot in this socially distant time: more feminist, dystopian science fiction, more pages for a long story in progress that may yet insist on becoming a novel. If we’d held the Desert Split Open Mic this month, though, I’d probably read this, though: You Were the Girl Who, a queer little flash published in Black Heart Magazine back in 2013. Thanks for listening.
Well this is a cool thing at the right time: Our local Space Cowboy Books just asked me to compile a list of some favorite feminist titles. DREAM assignment. I had a blast and hope you’ll check it out: essays, poetry, novels, and more. Buy books online, from the safety (?) of your own home, BUT—buy them from an independent bookseller. Then go wash your hands. Yes, again.
From the moment I realized, as a little girl, that my gender was considered inferior, I’ve sought an explanation. I was heavily influenced by 2nd wave feminists, and I find myself equally drawn to, and educated by, the younger, 3rd wave feminists, who insist the conversation be intersectional. On this list, you’ll find essay collections, books of poetry, novels, even a craft book. It is not intended to be definitive. These are personal recommendations, representing ideas and solutions from a diverse group of writers and thinkers from the late 19th century to present day. I hope that this list, along with the book I edited, Feckless Cunt: A Feminist Anthology, offer inspiration and fuel for the continued fight.
My brief interview with the Simultaneous Times podcast’s Supplemental Log is now live! If you have about 15 minutes, I’d be honored if you listened to me describe my approach to writing, what I’m trying to do as a literary event facilitator, what problems I ran into when writing sci-fi for the first time, and more.
The Supplementary Log features interviews with the authors and musicians of the Simultaneous Times podcast. Simultaneous Times is a monthly science fiction podcast produced by Space Cowboy Books in Joshua Tree, California. So far, they’ve produced 2 stories of mine with full cast recordings and original music. They’re making great stuff every month and I hope you’ll subscribe, as I do.
It was my honor to emcee this recent multimedia event in Joshua Tree. We celebrated poet and artist Tamara Hattis and her newly-published collection, Colors of My Pain. The topic was the lived experience of chronic pain and illness, and it was a tremendously moving afternoon. The quality of work was outstanding. How lucky we were, those of us in the audience! And how grateful, to be covered in the Hi-Desert Star:
I wasn’t sure I could articulate what had, until now, been an instinctive process for me: a search for abstracted inspiration through visual cues. So it was incredibly special, the moment I realized the group not only understood what I meant, but used it to launch into their own beautiful, nuanced writing. Like—instantly. Instant poetry. As if effortless. Maybe it was the magic of Joshua Tree National Park, or the magic of gathering creative souls in a joint endeavor. In any case, it was an honor to do this and a cool experience and I hope I get to do stuff like this again soon.
In 2019, my writing did not make any “Best Of” or “Favorite” year-end lists. I wasn’t expecting it to. I did write a fair amount—less than I should’ve. But my writing brought me to some singular experiences this year, opportunities to read intensely personal work in front of larger audiences than I’d encountered until now. I started the Desert Split Open Mic in an effort to continue the conversation started by 2018’s Feckless Cunt Anthology. Every month I wrote something for it, and a few pieces were published. I planned literary events for Joshua Tree Pride, participated in a staged reading of a friend’s novella-in-verse, helped plan two events celebrating composer and poet Lou Harrison, and more. A few times each month, it seems, I found myself standing before a microphone as myself. Did I forget to mention that I’m an introvert?
As 2019 limps to its overdue end (just me?), I feel overwhelmed by exhaustion. It was a tough year, personally, and that’s part of it. But the truth is, I was busy. So busy that I forgot some stuff by the time those year-end lists cropped up. Gathering these photos, I realized that almost everything here required me to step beyond my comfort zone. No wonder I’m tired!
Most writers labor on without much if any external appreciation. We open our veins for the page and—maybe—get an acceptance or a “Like” or word of praise. Sometimes that’s enough, that small acknowledgment from a reader: “Yes. For me, too.” But, in the quiet between acknowledgements, it’s important to remind yourself that you are amazing. You are doing the work and, sometimes, it’s good! Thank you for indulging me as I reminded myself. Wishing you health, happiness, and—most importantly—hope in 2020.
A month devoted to all things literary? Yes, please!
Our community celebrated September’s NEA Big Read with many events, all inspired by one extraordinary book: StationEleven by Emily St. John Mandel.
Joshua Tree-based literary journal Cholla Needles devoted their September issue to the theme of survival, taking a cue from Station Eleven. I’m thrilled to have three CNF pieces included: “Pathological,” “Listen for What I Don’t Say,” and “Desert, Mother, Home.” I read them at a number of community open readings held throughout the Morongo Basin, including the one I hosted at Joshua Tree’s SpaceCowboy Books.
I was especially honored to participate in this Author Panel on literary genres. I found our conversation interesting and useful—hope you will too. Click below to listen: