What are you currently working on?
This summer is shaping up to be full of fun projects! (The only fly in the ointment is I sort of have to find a job, like a jobby-job. Yuck.) First of all I’m working on a book. A zine I’ve done for a few years now is going to be turned into a book and published in 2011, so I’ve been compiling the old material and writing new material and getting excited about the creation of a book, like as an object – thinking about how it will look, what will be included, what we will call it and how the cover will look and everything. It’s creative nonfiction, like a memoir of sorts. I don’t know that I can talk about the specifics too much right now, but that’s an important project to me, the biggest thing I’ve got going.
I also have some new zines in the works. A few years ago I did an interview zine called White Blackbirds: conversations with women who aren’t married and don’t want to be. I did this zine because I find marriage to be a thorny issue, fraught with confusing feelings and politics, and it’s something that’s been hard for me to sort out for myself. I’d wanted to write about it for some time but I found I didn’t know what to say. I decided it would be much more interesting to talk to people who DO know how they feel and what to say, so I put out a call for participants in a few places online and ended up with a batch of fascinating responses, all of them different and surprising to me. Straight women, queer women, women with children, a woman who’d been married before but, she says, never again, another woman who is married because she has chronic health issues and needs insurance, but who doesn’t always disclose her marriage … an interesting range was represented.
Then just a few days ago something funny happened. I’d donated a copy of the zine to Bitch magazine, which is starting a zine library at its offices in Portland, Oregon. The zine librarian posted a nice review of White Blackbirds on Bitch’s website (http://bitchmagazine.org/post/from-the-bitch-library-white-blackbirds#comment-33953), and to my surprise it has gotten a very hearty response, so I’ve decided to do a second edition of it this summer with new interviews. If you’re a lady who doesn’t want to get married and wants to share her feelings and ideas on this subject in a zine, get in touch with me.
I’m also writing the new edition of White Elephants, which is my serial zine about the yard sales and church rummage sales I go to with my mom, and the people we meet and things we find there. I love doing this, both looking for treasures and writing about the hunt.
This summer I’ve also been tabling with my zines at craft fairs, which is something I really enjoy, sitting and talking to people about my work and theirs.
Are you currently leading any workshops?
Yes, I made up a little zine workshop a few years ago to put on at the Collingswood Book Festival in south Jersey. Since then I’ve done it at Bryn Mawr College and the big Free Library Festival at the main branch of Philadelphia’s Free Library this spring, among other places. It’s a basic how-to workshop – we talk briefly about underground publishing, then make a little zine together. I always bring a large selection of zines from my own collection so everyone can see the wide range of what zines can look like and be about; I find that giving a definition of what a zine is works best when you can see and touch and read them.
I’ve done the workshop for all ages – kids, teens, and adults – and there are benefits and challenges to each. I like doing this workshop, even though I can feel shy at first, standing up in front of a group, because making zines and participating in this community has meant so much to me. I know it could have real value in other people’s lives, too. I recently found out I’ll be doing it for teens at a couple of branch libraries in Philly this summer, and for adults at the Mt. Airy Learning Tree in the fall.
Have you participated in any exhibits?
A few, though I’m not what you’d call a visual artist. My zines have been included in some shows though. The first zine I ever made, Word Math, which is a collection of found poetry, was included in an exhibit on underground art at the Baltimore Museum of Art in 2004. Earlier this year a couple of my newer zines were included in a show called THANKS FOR SHARING at D21 Kunstraum Leipzig in Germany. It looked like a great show with interesting talks; I was sorry it was too far away for me to get to.
Are you a member of any organizations? Are you working on any projects w/ those organizations?
I’m proud to be a member of the Women’s Caucus for Art, and yes, I’m doing a couple of projects with them right now. We’ve just finished a piece called What They Taught Us, which was a book-making project that paired women from the group with girls at Arise Academy, a charter high school in Philadelphia. Using fabric, paint, pictures from old books, beads, and feathers my partner and I made a book together, which I think turned out beautifully. All the books will be exhibited at the Free Library later this summer.
As a group the WCA will also do a project inspired by Judy Chicago’s installation from the 1970s, The Dinner Party, which honors important women in world history. We’ll be altering chairs to exhibit in the city’s Fringe Festival and for use in a stage production. I’ve got a neat idea for mine that I hope I’ll be able to pull off.
Do you have any [non writing] interests you’d like to discuss? (art? Are you in a band? Etc…)
Yes, let me tell you about the other projects I’m excited about for this summer! Get ready, it’s about to get really dorky in here.
First of all I have the care of an herb garden at the Richard Wall House Museum (http://www.cheltenhamtownship.org/wallhouse/index.htm), which is a colonial house museum in Cheltenham just outside of Philadelphia. I belong to the Old York Road Garden Club, which started this garden as a teaching tool about 15 years ago, when the township turned the house into a museum. Now I’m the chairperson of the project, which pleases me to no end. The idea with the garden is that only herbs that were grown and used by colonial American people have been planted there, so that people who visit the museum can get a deeper sense of home life during this time. From a few 18th-century books and diaries we have some information about this specific thing – herbs and their cooking and medicinal uses in early America, which is somewhat unique unto itself because once the English colonists were settled here they became a bit isolated from new developments in Europe.
Looking after this garden has fused a few things I really enjoy: historical reenactment and curatorial practice, studying old books like a school nerd, the ancient art of healing, woman-style, and being outside. My sister and I put down mulch on the beds and wood chips in the walkways one evening a week or so ago, and we saw a sweet little garden vole go running from his hiding place under the lungwort. It’s a beautiful garden, which I can’t take credit for at all, though now it’s my job to nurture it and keep it healthy and pretty. We’ve got a number of plants growing there, including a gorgeous silvery sage (a very valuable medicinal herb to Colonial people, who believed it was good for the brain and longevity), dill, rosemary, lily of the valley plants, and many others. I added a few chamomile and sweet woodruff plants last week too. Come visit!
My other summer project is: become more like Cyndi Lauper (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5ikJcGm7ps). I found a pretty-looking stringed instrument that I couldn’t identify at a thrift store a few summers ago and bought it, and after some research found out it’s an Appalachian dulcimer. It sat in my living room just being a pretty thing for a couple of years and then my boyfriend – who likes making music and is getting pretty good on the ukulele himself – tuned it using that Garageband program on his computer. I’ve gotten new strings for it and polished it up, and it’s about ready for me to play around with it and try making a little music. I’m no musician but I can read music (or could when I was a kid, anyway), and I’ve learned a little bit of classical guitar, and beyond that I’ve decided that it’s good for me to jump in and try things that seem intimidating or that I’m not especially good at. That’s what I did with knitting, and I have just kept making small things even though I can tell I’ll probably never be so good at it that I can do large, complicated projects, and doing this has brought good things into my life. It’s relaxing to do things with your hands and satisfying to have made something, very human.
What themes and concepts does your work generally revolve around?
Oh gosh, I don’t know. Life stuff, real stories from my own life. I write creative nonfiction and poetry, not fiction. In my reading and my writing I love small domestic details, real/istic conversations, subtle symbolism, a note of sadness/darkness, and a sense of humor.
What’s your background?
School-wise? I have a bachelor’s degree in linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania. In school I was interested in languages in contact and language and the mind; I loved studying linguistics and I try to keep up with new research and publications in the field, or at least the mainstream bookstore versions of these ideas. I started a grad program in modern English literature at University College Dublin in Ireland but didn’t finish the degree. I read a lot and roamed around through the countryside, though, which taught me a lot. I have worked as a writer of different stripes since college, and these days most of the freelance stuff I do is arts journalism and book reviews for newspapers and magazines.
What are you currently reading?
I’m on the look-out for good books as always so if anyone has recommendations please send me an email. The last really good novel I read just like a month ago was Rose of No Man’s Land by Michelle Tea. She is SO GOOD, and one of her greatest skills is describing sights and sounds and feelings in this totally unique, vibrant way. It’s like her writing is a living thing. I have also started rereading I’m Looking Through You, a memoir by Jennifer Finney Boylan, for comfort purposes. Something about her writing voice, the sad elegant hilarious person that inhabits the writing, makes me want to climb into her life and just hide out there for a while. Cecil Castellucci has a new young adult novel out called Rose Sees Red and I’m excited to read it. She’s very good, I think, and likable – I’ve really enjoyed all her other novels. That one I’ll review. I found a new zine called Scatter Gram recently – it gives the nitty gritty day-to-day details of working toward a degree in library and information science, which is interesting to me. I just read the wonderful poem “Image of the Engine” by George Oppen for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and it so happened that I found it the day after I’d been to a funeral, and it helped. Oh and this weekend at a yard sale I found an 1878 edition of the Letters of John Keats to Fanny Brawne – swoon.
Stevie Smith (probably my favorite poet), Billy Childish (whose novel Notebooks of a Naked Youth opened me up in a way I hadn’t felt since I was a teenager, and didn’t know that I could ever feel again), Ali Liebegott (genius), A.M. Homes (genius also), William Blake, Raymond Carver, Mary Gaitskill (in small doses at a time, yikes), James Joyce, C.S. Lewis, Francine Prose (sorta, I go back and forth on this one), Cookie Mueller, the comedian Dylan Moran whose writing credits are his stand-up and TV show Black Books (genius genius love), Cindy Crabb who does the zine Doris … and lots of others.
Favorite comic strips/ comic books/ graphic novels?
Dinosaur comics is far and away my favorite web comic. I’m in love with it, it’s so smart and funny. http://qwantz.com/index.php. Someone also recently introduced me to Garfield Minus Garfield which is pretty brutal, and such a smart damn idea, the kind of thing I wish I’d thought of. http://garfieldminusgarfield.net/
I have liked a number of graphic novels in recent years. Adrian Tomine is one of my favorites, since his read like proper short stories – I was amazed by how good Shortcomings was.
I recently read and LOVED Sword of My Mouth, a post-apocalyptic anti-consumerist survivalism story by Jim Munroe, the second in a trilogy. I really admire Munroe’s ideas and his imaginative take on the idea of having a “career.”
If someone were to come to your town/ city to visit, what places/ bars/ parks/ events etc should they be sure to check out?
Go to the Old Pine Street Church colonial cemetery if you want to sit quietly by yourself. Check out Walk a Crooked Mile, a good used bookstore in a historic, pretty and still-operating train station in the Mt. Airy neighborhood. Take the 23 bus from the top of the hill in Chestnut Hill all the way to South Philly and just look out the window at the different neighborhoods. Go walking in the woods on Forbidden Drive back along the Wissahickon Creek. It’s part of Fairmount, the city’s park, which is the largest urban park system in the country. If you’re here this week go to the Bloomsday reading at the Rosenbach Museum and Library on June 16 – it goes on all day but just go at the end, when Drucie McDaniel does the Molly Bloom soliloquy. I’ll be there, crying a little.