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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Art Farm Reading Recap: The Art of Listening & Other Quandaries

This weekend, I was lucky enough to read at the KGB Bar (which also has a literary magazine!) with four other women writers who also did residencies at the Art Farm this season. It was great to reunite with Raluca and Aimee, writers that I lived and worked with on the farm, and Ed, the amazing ringmaster of this gloriously DIY operation. I was also introduced to two other awesome writers, Kaylen and Lauren.
The Art Farm writers and ED, mastermind of it all!
Before I got to the bar, friends asked me if I was nervous about reading. "Nope," I said. "Not in the least." I had a bunch of friends coming to the reading and somehow their presence seemed to be enough to ward off any feelings of worry or anxiety. [By the way, thank you to the best friends ever who came from Boston and NJ to attend! It was so special to have their support!!]

That is, until I got up the podium. Then I forgot my name and how to even speak English, for that matter. The whole thing was a strange out of body experience, and I'm not quite sure how I got through it. But somehow, my mouth spoke words and pages were turned.

Anyway, this has me wondering -- do people actually LISTEN to what's being read at a reading? 

Generally, I think I'm a pretty bad listener, although I've been getting better since becoming addicted to podcasts. But usually, when I'm listening to a podcast I'm by myself and I'm keeping myself physically occupied with an activity like driving or cooking. 

During a reading, there are so many moving parts. First of all, you're in a room full of people. That's distraction enough to keep my mind occupied for days, thinking up story lines for these strangers' lives. Also, you have nothing to do but listen. Maybe it's just me, but I find this extremely hard. 

Don't get me wrong -- I like attending readings and I get something out of the experience, but I think it's such a wholly different way to interact with the written word.

I think about how different the "writing life" is these days. Today, writers have to think like rock stars in order to sell any books and make money. With free music downloads, musicians can't make money on records like they used to. So they have to go on tour to make the big bucks. It's the same with writers. Gone are the days when writers didn't need to have a public persona to be successful. I see more and more writers going on tours (if they're lucky enough to have their publishers foot the bill). Some readings I've been to even make buying the book mandatory to get into the event!

I think that readings can be moving events, and they certainly have a purpose in terms of getting your work directly to an audience. But for an extrovert like me who can barely keep my butt in a chair, I wonder what people get out of the experience. Feel free to post a comment here and let me know what you love or dislike about attending readings! 

Here are some photos of the event!
The sultry venue on the lower east side!
Aimee Herman shares poetry and letters
Raluca Albu reading from her novel-in-progress

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Author Spotlight: Simon Moreton

This week, in my comics/graphic narrative class, we were fortunate enough to have a Skype conversation with British cartoonist, Simon Moreton. It was way too late his time, but he was gracious enough to spend the better part of an hour answering our questions.

We’d all read Simon’s latest book, the beautifully rendered Plans We Made (Uncivilized Books). To tell this poetic autobiographical coming-of-age story, Simon uses simple pencil line drawings with minimal text. Some of the pages have only two lines on them (that form an “x”, or an airplane, depending how you look at them), or are intentionally left blank. [Side note: Our class had an interesting discussion about the similarities between comics and poetry, with their heavy use of images and white space.]

One of my favorite spreads!
Anyway, reading Simon’s book really opened up the world of visual storytelling for me. Give me a blank page and ask me to draw a scene, and I’ll happily do so – with words! But for some reason, I have a block when it comes to rendering things visually. In our conversation, he told us that he used to obsess about getting things perfectly right on the page. But he quickly grew tired of perfection; you can never make something look exactly as it does in a photo or in reality. So he asked himself—what’s the point of making something super detailed? The most important thing is that your reader understands what’s a tree and what’s a person. I find this notion very freeing!

Trying my hand at Simon Moreton-inspired minimalist drawings

This shift allowed him to focus on the story more than the visual details. He says he asks himself these questions when he’s creating one of his comics. What’s the essence of the story? What feeling are you trying to elicit? From there, he follows the drawings and isn’t afraid to explore where the drawings take him—something that all art forms and artists have in common, I think.

A page from Plans We MadeAs someone who also obsesses about place in my writing, I really enjoyed the place-based aspect of his story. Plans We Made has some really beautiful landscapes, and I could feel his connection to this small town where he grew up. As it turns out, Simon is geographer, which prompted me to ask him what connections he sees between his professional life and his artistic life. He said that the two work in conjunction with each other, and that the artwork deepens his intellectual experiences at work.

I was fascinated to learn about the trajectory of Simon’s comics career. He started self-publishing his comic, SMOO, in 2007. Since then, he has put out 10 issues and has amassed a strong following of SMOO supporters. The coolest part about it is that he printed and cut all of these zines himself, distributing them by mail and at comics festivals around the world. He told us that this was how he learned how to make comics – by making them and getting them out into the world. In doing so, he figured out his style, what worked for him and what direction he wanted to move in. But the most important thing for him was to be creating work. Clearly, his DIY style has worked out very well for him.

There is a quiet quality to his work that I find truly beautiful and inspiring. It was awesome of him to stop in and chat with our class, even if it was the middle of night across the pond!

As for me, I continue to stay restless. This weekend, I’ll be traveling to New York City to give a reading with my fellow Art Farm writers at The KGB bar, a "New York literary institution." The reading is Sunday Feb 14th at 7 p.m., so please come on by if you’re in the area. It’s free of charge!

I am also pleased to share a new publication at the Normal School, a “hermit crab essay” that mimics a Wikipedia article to explore my relationship to my HAIR. I hope you’ll check it out and tell me what you think!