Two things

I got some nice responses to my first Scrapbook entry of 2012, and I really appreciate it. Sometimes it’s funny having a blog and not knowing who’s out there, so it feels good to get little notes from the Internet world letting me know that there are real people out there reading these words. Thank you.

Two unrelated things:

1) Just wanted to point you in the direction of Carin Makuz’s blog, Matilda Magtree, where she was kind enough to interview me. Carin and I go back to the Humber days. Her site is worth keeping in your bookmarks – thoughtful and beautifully written with great photos as well. And she picks a perfectly appropriate meal to accompany my book.

2) When I was in Toronto over the holidays, I picked up a bunch of my old zines. I’m going to scan some of the less embarrassing pages for an experiment I’d like to do this year to teach myself the basics of e-publishing. In the spirit of the recently released Magnetic Fields song, here’s a sample of a page from melt the snow #5, created at the height of my Magnetic Fields fandom (click to get a larger image so that you can actually read the teeny tiny type).

Fall Inspiration

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A few weeks ago, I got restless. I wanted to make something. Nothing particularly epic or grand, just something I could start and then – get this – finish. So I decided to write a story. The thing is, I haven’t written a story in a very long time, not since my book came out. All of my energy had been thrown into novel writing. It was both weird and nice to start writing something from scratch, something with new characters and different settings. I rewrote it a few times, printed it out and then gave it to Andrew to read one evening while we were sitting in a Korean restaurant eating dinner. I didn’t really plan on having him read it, but it was in my bag, so I handed it over. I stirred up the egg yolk in my bibimbap while he read through the pages and I didn’t cringe or hide under the table from embarrassment. The story is pretty short, and I’m not really going to do anything with it at the moment, but it’s satisfying to have.

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I’ve maybe caught the short story bug again; I want to write more. I guess I’ve been feeling inspired these past few days – the coziness of fall setting in, and I’ve been reading a lot of really great things. For instance, Meta is the newest zine by Marissa Falco, about Margaret Kilgallen, a painter and a graffiti artist who died in 2001. I was unfamiliar with Margaret’s work and it was a great experience learning about her through Marissa’s words, but also via the layout, design and type of the zine, which was also inspired by her – homemade, hand drawn, perfect in its imperfections.

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One rainy evening I went down to Cagibi to see Jeff Miller and Cindy Crabb. I’ve gotten the opportunity to see Jeff read a few times here in Montreal, and he’s always great. It was Cindy’s first time in Canada, and she was here for the recent launch of The Encyclopedia of Doris, an anthology of her latest zines, an alphabetized collection of thoughts covering everything from apple crisp to grief to social ecology to Vandana Shiva. She read one of my favourite things she’s ever written: i think hope is like a crush. not the resigned hope, like – i hope things get better – but the hope that feels like suspended disbelief. where spaces open up and everything is possible again, and you’re pushed to adventure, pushed out of your regular boxes, pushed to show off, to be the person you want to be the most, working hard to show your best sides, your secret scars, your hidden dreams. I choked up.

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Another night, Jonathan Richman played Montreal. It was a short set, and I almost feel like I dreamed it because the set was so short, and we got there late after he’d already been playing for 20 minutes, and we were standing behind Win and Regine from Arcade Fire who were dancing and grinning, and actually, everyone in the room was grinning, and Jonathan danced on stage and spoke bad French and strummed his guitar and after the encore he had to come out to tell us that he really was done for the night. We shuffled out into the streets, all pent up energy, and then drank too much red wine.

It was nice.

Reverb10: December 6

Working on a zine

Today’s prompt:

Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?

The last thing I made was my zine, Places & Things. It’s pretty bare bones as far as zines go – mostly text cut up and pasted down. I also printed out a few photos to break up some of the words. The cover is composed of various vintage Greek postal stamps. Andrew bought me a bunch from the Sunday flea market in Monastiraki when we were in Athens and I meant to use them for other crafty projects, but so far they’ve only made it as far as my zine. (Would you like a copy of it? Why not order it?)

Summer 2010 Iphone

As for what I’m going to make next, the truth is that I want to focus my making-things energy on getting my novel draft up to snuff. That and some Christmas cookies. I really want to do some good Christmas baking this year.

P.S. It’s nice to have a non-draining prompt like this on my first day of a new job. My brain feels a little stuffed with cotton, so I’m just going to end this now and go out into the first Montreal snowstorm to hang out with my girlfriends.

Book update: Books or Zines

On Friday in Montreal it was a horrible rainy day. After work, I walked to the metro in that rain, but it had developed into the kind of rainstorm where your umbrella keeps turning inside out in the wind, and then you realize you’re going to get wet no matter what, so you put away your sad, broken-spoked umbrella, turn up the music in your earphones and curse a lot.

But it wasn’t so bad because I was holding 2 plastic bags filled with boxes of freshly copied zines and when I came home Andrew said, “Hello, published author!” and showed me my books, which had arrived in the mail that morning. I said, “I think I’m going to cry” and, given that my hair was a wet, frizzy mess and I was holding this droopy umbrella and too many bags, he thought something was wrong. “What happened?!” he asked, worried. “I’m HAPPY!” I said. I mean, obviously.

Things I Made

So now I have two new things I’ve made sitting in a pile on the kitchen table. You’ve heard a lot about the book, so here’s something about the new zine.

Places & Things

I keep thinking I won’t make another zine, but then, eventually I do. And because I wanted to write about my time in Greece in a tangible format and not just on this site, I put together a zine as well. Places & Things is mostly about Greece, but also other places I visited, and there are recipes too. This summer I read The Alice B Toklas Cookbook, and the zine owes a lot to that. Have you read it? It’s my favourite kind of food writing – more emphasis on the words than the practicality of the recipes. And this is even better because it’s filled with charming stories about Alice and Gertrude Stein travelling around France. There are recipes like “Bass for Picasso” and instructions for cooking 100 frog legs.  My zine (and recipes) are nowhere near as extravagant, but I respectfully borrowed Ms. Toklas’ format.

You can buy the zine from me here. I like to trade too if you want to go that route. You can also get it from me in person at Canzine in Toronto next Sunday or at Expozine in Montreal in a few weeks.

Oh, and I’ve been updating the book section of the site, so check it out if you have questions about getting a copy of it for yourself.

Making things

I started work again last week, and am remembering the good and bad things associated with so much structured time: the pleasure of being busy, but also getting worn out by it; feeling virtuous when I remember to pack a lunch, but savouring a few moments of calm when I escape on my own; after work drinks with friends; weekend brunch.

And balancing writing while you work full-time: I’m easing into that too. To tell you the truth, I haven’t written much since returning in mid-September. I spent one afternoon writing a very rough draft of a new story, but it still needs a lot of work. I’ve been getting some ideas and scribbling them on post-it notes, but they don’t count as actual work. They’re more like bait – I have things to work on if I want to, if I can figure out a way to organize my time. I’m giving myself some breathing room from my novel, too. I need distance and told myself to leave it alone until the end of the month. Even reading has taken a bit of a back seat – I can’t seem to sink into a book these days. While I wait for my latest online order to ship, which includes books that will snap me out of my reading funk like Darcie’s (It’s out! Buy it!) and Sheila Heti’s newest, “How Should A Person Be?”, I’m reading essays from Jonathan Ames’ “The Double Life is Twice As Good”, which I downloaded to my Iphone and is perfect for metro commutes.

Working on a zine

This weekend, I relaxed into something other than writing and started laying out the zine I mentioned a few weeks ago. There was no writing left to do, just the tangible, visual stuff: cutting up the text, choosing images, figuring out the most efficient way to lay it out. I worked on the kitchen table for awhile, and when that got messy, moved to the floor.

Word on the Street(My dear friend Emily snapped this at Word on the Street last week)

I feel like I keep dangling these projects in front of you without telling you how you can actually get them. So here’s a run-down:

  • I’ve compiled ordering information for Bats or Swallows over here, along with details about readings: http://bibliographic.net/book. It’s now available for sale on the Invisible site, and if you’ve ordered it from Amazon, I’m told copies are starting to ship. Some people got copies at Word on the Street last week in Toronto.
  • The zine won’t be available until Canzine on October 24, and you’ll be able to buy copies of it directly from me.

The Toronto launch for the book is a go on November 8th. We’re figuring out the Montreal launch. I’ll be travelling to New York City at the end of November (for an unrelated fun reason that I’ll give you details for in a bit), and I really want to do a reading there. If anyone has any tips for that, let me know. At the very least I can do one while waiting in line for a Shake Shack burger, no? I still haven’t gone. Two birds, one stone.

What I've Been Working On

Ever since we’ve been back from France, it’s been hot. Really, really hot. We left Athens a few days ago because the city was empty anyway and we’ve been cooling our heels in Agistri, swimming twice a day, drinking a lot of icy drinks and getting stuff done. So, just what have I been working on in Greece? Not just swimming and drinking, promise. I spent some time finalizing things for Bats or Swallows, but mostly I’ve been working on other projects.

It’s funny how words accumulate, how slow and painful it can be, but how one day you look at the Excel file you use to track your word count (you do that too, right?) and you realize it’s a higher number than you expected it would be. Most of the words need to be rewritten or reordered or resomethinged, but at least you have material to work with, clay to mold. You have ideas that have actually been put on paper.

I’m working on a novel. I was anticipating a breakdown point with what I’m working on now, for it to implode, but it’s August and it hasn’t happened yet. Which means, I think, that I’m doing a better job than I have in the past.

I haven’t shared much of the writing from this project – it’s very first drafty and sometimes doesn’t make sense and every page or so there’s something in the writing that makes me cringe. I get self-conscious when even Andrew looks over my shoulder as I’m typing. For awhile I was calling the book Living Expenses, but that title doesn’t fit anymore. I have another title in mind now, but maybe it will change too. Not-Living Expenses is about a family. A small one. It’s about marriage and roadtrips and the Greek shipping industry, which sounds more ambitious than it really is. It’s an internal book, I think. Maybe the first novel you write has to be internal.

I can tell you the names of the characters in the book. There’s Zoe and Anna and Nicholas. I have a good handle on Zoe and Nicholas. Actually, you’ll be able to read a little bit about Zoe in Bats or Swallows in a story called “Swimming Lessons”, and you’ll probably be able to tell that her story belongs to something larger. She was the one that started everything. I think I know Nicholas pretty well too because I’ve been writing him for the past month. Actually, I call him Niko now that we’re on better terms with each other. I’m not going to share any writing about him yet, but if he had a soundtrack, it would include these songs (excuse the crappy You Tube links; I don’t have an Internet connection and I don’t want to use all of Rosy’s bandwith uploading MP3s):

(Okay, enough vaguely creepy talk about my characters as if they were real people. You do that too, right?)

I’ve also been writing a zine. I can tell you the name of the zine because I had to submit a bio for a reading I’m doing in the fall and I included it, so now I really have to finish it. The zine will be called Places and Things. The last zine I made was a few years ago and I keep thinking I won’t make any more, but then I get it in my mind that I really, really want to make one, so I do. I like zines because they’re forgiving like that, and also private.

When I first discovered the Internet as a teenager, it felt like a private space. Hardly anyone I knew used the Internet, and the concept of Googling someone’s name didn’t really exist. Most people didn’t have websites (“homepages”) and I actually shared an email address with my parents until I finally signed up for Hotmail a year- maybe more than year! – later. My zine, on the other hand, felt really public. It was being distro-ed by zine distros that no longer exist, I had reviews in magazines like Broken Pencil. I got mail. Now it’s the other way around. Blogs and websites are the norm, I’m all over the place online, and I rarely get letters (and when I do I’m horrible at responding to them, argh). I may not keep up with zines much anymore, but the zine world feels like a small, private place I still like to visit from time to time.

None of these things are finished yet, but they’re getting there, and with some patience and luck (on my side, and I guess yours too depending on whether or not you want to read them), they’ll eventually see the light of day, some sooner than others.

The Second Part

It’s pretty obvious, but these days I’m spending a lot of time in front of a computer. And sometimes I’ll link to things I like here or on Twitter, but more often than not I don’t. So, I started a Tumblr to collect random images, videos, songs, text, interviews, etc. that I find online and want to share.

http://secondpart.tumblr.com

In the first entry I explained the name, which is from a Stephen Dixon story:

I named my second zine after this story. Now that we’re living in the future, I was able to find the story on Google books, 7 am on a Saturday morning when I’m up too early, a little hungover, telling myself I should get up, get dressed, take a walk in that brisk Montreal winter air and get some coffee and then just write. But, first I reread the Stephen Dixon story and remembered why I loved it so much, and why I like it even more now that I’m writing more seriously. You make such ridiculous promises to yourself as you’re writing, set the most insane expectations. And in this short, short story everything comes true. You finish your novel and the dead are resurrected.

1) I was in Toronto last weekend and did an afternoon reading at the Toronto Zine Library. Hallowzine featured a bunch of great zine writers, like Alex Wrekk (Brainscan), Jeff Miller (Ghost Pine), Chris Landry (Kiss Off) and Suzanne Sutherland (My Bad). I felt a little sheepish reading at a zine reading considering that “Cement, Flour, Saints” is now 2 years old and is not going to be reprinted, but I seized the opportunity to read “We Should Make Things”, the essay about zines that I wrote for the Shameless anthology. It was great reading it to a group of people steeped in zine culture. They knew what I meant when I talked about long-armed staplers and glueing stamps. I’ve only done a handful of readings, but this was my favourite, I think. The vibe in the library was warm and cozy, the audience was engaged and it was a wonderful way to spend a few hours on Halloween afternoon. Super big thanks to Amy for being an adorable MC and for inviting me to read.
Hallowzine setup at the TZL
Setting up for the reading – Chris is stringing up pumpkin lights, Amy is in kitty-cat ears and Suzanne has a beard on. Just your typical Halloween day reading.
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Here I am reading. I didn’t wear a costume, but I did wear all black for the occasion.

2) Soon after working my way through those Cavafy poems, I happened across a flyer for “Cavafy: Passions and Ancient Days“, a one-man reading/play by Yannis Simonides that was going to be performed at Montreal’s Hellenic Community Center. I reserved the night for myself and went this past Friday. It’s been awhile since I’ve been to a Greek community event. When I was growing up, my father was heavily involved in the community and I spent many childhood evenings in auditoriums like the one I was in on Friday. It felt the same: the old ladies with their haispray-stiffened hairdo’s, that blend of Greek and English, the vague smell of coffee from the coffee makers in the back of the room.

Simonides’ performance was an homage to Cavafy, and jumped from biographical facts about the poet, Simonides’ own reflections on his work and influence, and then to Cavafy himself, reciting poems. It was surprisingly seamless: Simonides was wondeful at switching between the two roles of himself, the playright, and Cavafy, that famous Alexandrian poet. Cavafy was such an interesting, complex person and Simonides touched on everything that made him who he was: his eccentricness, his homosexuality, his sense of Hellenism (Cavafy always insisted that he was a Hellene more than a Greek, and that if he was a Greek, he was an Asian Greek), his love of Alexandria, his work life (30 years as a government clerk in the irrigation department!). The show was billed as a bilingual reading, but other than the poems which were first read in Greek before being translated, it was in English, to the dismay of some people in the audience. The woman next to me poked me once after I’d laughed at a joke and asked me if I understood what was going on. I said yes, and then she sniffed, “This is like a university course.” I guess not everyone was as impressed as I was.

Doris #26 – Cindy Crabb: Today was one of those days, those simple, perfect ones. The weather was beautiful: Indian summer, a little cool, but still warm enough to eat breakfast on a picnic table in the sun. Andrew and I went to the market and bought eggplants and coloured peppers and avocadoes and the man in Tortilleria Maya spoke to me in Spanish, and then we went downtown to the Antiquarian book fair at Concordia and I bought a book called “Science and Psychical Phenomena” and then we went and sat at a sunny table at Reservoir and drank beer and ate fries and then, AND THEN, when we walked down Duluth there was a strange puppet show going on in the window of a cafe. We stood with the small crowd and watched a vaguely demented show about a girl who ate everything, starting with cupcakes and cookies and then moving on to cats and bicycles. And as she kept eating her belly (a balloon) started getting bigger and bigger and bigger until it exploded in a big pop and everyone laughed except for the one child in the audience who burst into tears. Her father hugged her and laughed and explained that it was okay and it was really very adorable. And throughout the day I would sneak peaks at the zine I had purchased that morning, the latest issue of Doris and this is one paragraph I particularly loved: but i think hope is like a crush. not the resigned hope, like – i hope things get better – but the hope that feels like suspended disbelief. where spaces open up and everything is possible again, and you’re pushed to adventure, pushed out of your regular boxes, pushed to show off, to be the person you want to be the most, working hard to show your best sides, your secret scars your hidden dreams. And I think that’s how I’m feeling these days, hopeful. It’s a worthy feeling to aspire to. What I did today has nothing to do with the zine, but the zine was a part of the day, you know? It made it better. Doris always seems to have that effect.

You can order Doris straight from Cindy or from Paper Trail distro. If you’re in Montreal you can pick it up from the zine rack at Le Pick Up (7032 Waverly), which is run by Jeff Miller of Ghost Pine fame. He has a great selection of zines. While you’re there you can also get a pulled pork sandwich or a really great breakfast bagel.

Kind of full circle

When I was making zines, I used to send them off to magazines like Exclaim or Broken Pencil and weeks later I would eagerly scan the magazines to see if I was mentioned in them at all. This was before the Internet, so I wouldn’t have any inkling about a review until it was in print in my hands. You’ll find a few reviews for “melt the snow” in the Broken Pencil online archives (on mts #11, “I think I’d like to sit in my pyjamas on a rainy Sunday afternoon listening to Belle & Sebastian, reading Melt the Snow and that would be the closest I’d ever get to being Teri.” Ha, that was so me at age 20!) When I was 18, one of the most exciting things that happened to me was coming home one day to a letter from Hal Niedzviecki asking to reprint a story from mts, the one about me crashing my car. It’s still online, in all of its awkward teenaged glory.

So, I was happy to hear that my essay from She’s Shameless was going to be the featured excerpt for Broken Pencil #44, the DIY issue. You can read part of it online (although the formatting is a little wonky?) and the rest in the magazine (or in the book, of course). I even quote that car crash story in the essay, full circle-like.