With the Desert Split Open Mic, like all in-person literary gatherings, still on hold, I’m missing that live energy exchange. Reading from my office, alone, is not the same, but it is something. I’m interested in how video might be used to improve publicity opportunities for small-press authors. Video allows me to deliver my work in a personalized way. You see my office and hear my voice. I’ll continue to update my YouTube channel when the mood strikes. View the whole virtually yours playlist here, or click below for individual videos. Thanks so much for watching.
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.)
Happy viewing. Stay safe and sane. One day we’ll do this live and in-person again, and we’ll feel that energy exchange, even from six feet away.
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.
Playlist: virtually yours
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 honor of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion, I made my first zine! A FLY ON THE STONEWALL recounts the revolutionary events of June 28, 1969, from the perspective of a (literal) fly on the wall. It premiered on Sunday, June 16, Joshua Tree Pride’s “Lit Day.” Now, locals can pick up a copy from Joshua Tree, CA’s Space Cowboy Books, or contact me at susan [at] susanrukeyser [dot] com and I’ll mail you a copy for $5 + $1 shipping. $1 from each sale will be donated to the Transgender Community Coalition. This zine is dedicated to Sylvia Rivera and was written with boundless love and respect.
At the end of 2018, as the Feckless Cunt Anthology promotional tour wound down, I thought about how much I wanted to continue that conversation—about politics, feminism, the patriarchy, race, class, gender, binaries, queerness, oppression, everyday abuses, and the moments that change everything, forever. I hoped that others in my local community of Joshua Tree, California, wanted to talk about the things we can’t ignore. The Desert Split Open Mic was born. One evening a month, we meet in a cozy, funky lounge and share words and work in progress. We keep it simple: read your own poetry or prose–or the work of a favorite writer–8 minutes max. Our first meeting was in January 2019, and we met again in February, March, April, and May. We took off June, as we helped plan Joshua Tree Pride. We love seeing some of the same faces return each month, and there are always a few new faces, too, which is thrilling. The evening is shaped by the truths each reader brings, and there always seems to be a balance.
The Desert Split Open Mic allows me to continue in the role of facilitator of other writers’ words, which I have come to realize is a role I love. It also gives me motivation to keep writing my own new work in this vein. I am grateful to those who have or soon will publish work written for this open mic:
My satirical, imagined conversation, “What’s Your Problem with Joe Biden?” recently ran at The Weeklings, just days after Joe announced his 2020 candidacy.
My furious, feminist, flash rant, “Ingrown Rage,” is set to appear in Cliterature‘s forthcoming HAIR-themed issue.
On Saturday, June 29, I will perform “ID, please,” a piece about fluidity, contradiction, and queerness, at the Art Theatre of Long Beach, for OUT LOUD: A Cultural Evolution.
These pieces exist because The Desert Split Open Mic exists.
Joshua Tree goes quiet in the summer, thank goodness–or quieter, at least. We slow down, conserve energy in the staggering heat. Should we resume The Desert Split Open Mic in July? Or wait until September? We’re still considering. But, soon or very soon, we will meet again. Please join us, if you can. Everyone is welcome. We’re listening.
Huge thanks to Read Her Like an Open Book for allowing me to explain how Feckless Cunt: A Feminist Anthology came to be. As Editor Bill Wolfe said on Twitter: “When enough is enough, it’s time to take out the bullhorn.”
From Not Feckless: How a Writer Becomes a Publisher in a Moment of Rage: “I became a publisher impulsively, in this moment of rage. My own words failed. But I knew there were writers who still had theirs, who could articulate their fury, indignation, sorrow. That’s how it works, in this resistance marathon: we take turns. We share, and our collective words carry us. … I had no idea how to publish a book. I figured I would learn.”
In Joshua Tree, California, we have a community lecture series called “Teddy” Talks, a take on the famous TED talks. They’re held at Beatnik Lounge, an art space and JT’s unofficial community center. This month I appeared with two other authors, Rose Baldwin and Gabriel Hart. We had a blast. The crowd was kind and interested, the conversation stimulating. My talk was titled: Rejecting the Rules and Criticism that Derail Writers. The subject is dear to me. I also discussed both my novel Not On Fire, Only Dying and my brand-new, flash fiction chapbook, Swap / Meet.
So if you have fifteen minutes for my two cents, click below.
Sometimes I wonder if I have the face of a woman who needs help. I am frequently offered advice. I do ask lots of questions, and I can see how that might seem, to some, like I want answers. Probably I’m just being polite. Or I’m after your stories. I want to get you talking so I can watch. I want to hear what you don’t tell me. Keep talking. I’m not listening, but I am.
Now, days before my 50th birthday, I look in the mirror and see a face with deepening lines, silver hair, and eyes that have seen love and marriages and travel and motherhood and shitty jobs and rescued animals and exhilarating art and my own writing published and grief and failure and a second, solo, cross-country move that finally convinced me I might be kind of a badass. I see the face of a woman who has a word or two of advice to GIVE, in fact.
Not that you asked. So go ahead and ignore me. Or listen for what I don’t say.
Lighten Up, Francis. Humor is a survival skill, especially in dark times like these we’ve lived since November 2016. Some of us can’t stay afloat without it. Humorlessness is tiresome. It does not prove your commitment to the resistance. In fact, since humor disarms and draws others in, it can be a useful tool. Not everything is a fight to prove your position is the correct one. Life is hard and brief, so maybe just crack a smile. It’s good for you, and the rest of us, too.
I Would Prefer Not To. It’s okay to say NO, and you don’t even have to come up with an excuse. NO to going to that thing you dread. NO to small talk with that acquaintance you don’t trust. NO to gatherings where you’re expected to play an old role. NO to staying where it’s safe but not happy. You deserve joy in every shade of the spectrum: comfort, safety, friendship, support, bonding, duty, desire, lust. And everything in between. Move towards joy, always. Move away from anything less.
It’s Going To Be A Beautiful Wall. You’re the architect of your life. Get your hands on those blueprints ASAP. Construct your present, add on, renovate, tear it down to sticks and start over. Point yourself in the direction of a future you’d like, but understand it’s like a note added to a dinner reservation: “Quiet table by the window, please.” We regret to inform you that requests are not guaranteed. However old you are, you’ve been hearing it all your life—how things should be done. What you ought to do, and in what order. How you must behave. Has it occurred to you that it might be bullshit? You have one chance to experience life. Take a big bite, a wide view. Be a good enough friend to yourself to build and fortify your boundaries. Make them beautiful—opaque, if not transparent. Sturdy.
People Are Strange When You’re A Stranger. It’s not wrong just because it’s unfamiliar to you. We all have a different way of being in the world. Notice your resistance—when you feel defensive, you’re bumping up against one of those “shoulds” you were taught and maybe believed. Breathe, listen. You, too, can live any damn way you please.