Saturday, January 19, 2019

an incomplete list of the ways he made me feel better during the three days between the second (and way ouchier) mammogram and the biopsy


He suggested we watch a movie and I eat a whole pizza.

He insisted he go with me for the biopsy even though I'd made the appointment for eight in the morning and he's not a morning person.

He said I get to pick all the movies we watched that weekend even if I wanted to watch cheesy Eighties adventure films.

He told me he knew it would be okay.

He said, "If it makes you feel better, I loved you back when you didn't have any boobs at all."

He put pizza on the shopping list and circled it like it was really, really important.

[If you know me, you know pizza is really, really important.]

On the night before, he rubbed my head and ran his fingers through my hair until I fell asleep.

He went to the store and came back with three pizzas.

Friday, January 18, 2019

a moment in the day: bip


It's the night before the bipsy.

That's a typo. It's a biopsy.

Bipsy makes it feel so, so, so, so much funner.

It's the night before the biopsy, and I'm sitting at the computer working on some graphic design stuff.

I've been trying to make drops of water out of nothing. Out of pixels and vectors or whatever magical things make pictures on computers where there were no pictures before. I have all these layers on top of each other and they come together to form what looks like a drop of water. Kind of. A drop of water in extreme. A drop of water in relief. A drop of water that is just a little bit too much a drop of water, and therefore not enough a drop of water at all.


The issue's not the over-bright blue color. That's on purpose for the background I'm going to set it against. It's just that it's not finished yet. I start mulling next steps. Maybe I need to take it into Photoshop and put a bit of a blur on it in selective spots.

Maybe I need to lay a thin, transparent layer of blue on top. Or start washing in a color counterpoint, a dab of yellow or a bit of purple.

Maybe I need to do a little erasing to the pointy top of that drop of water that's just a little bit too much a drop of water.

And then I remember. It's the night before the bipsy, the so, so, so much funner bipsy, and I haven't been thinking about it for five full minutes.

And you know what's weird? There's part of me that feels uncomfortable about that. Like I should be thinking about it. Like, oh no!, I forgot to think about the very important thing!

That's what this day is like. That's what a lot of my life has been like, if I'm honest. I'm either worried or I'm worried about not having been worried about the very important thing. But what is actually a very important thing is that for five full minutes I've been thinking about a drop of water and nothing else at all.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Book cover: This Particular Happiness


Creating the book cover for the next Forest Avenue Press title, Jackie Shannon Hollis' This Particular Happiness, came with a very particular challenge. From the publisher description:

As a farm girl in eastern Oregon, feeding bottles to bummer lambs and babysitting her little sister, Jackie Shannon Hollis expected to become a mother someday. After a series of failed relationships, she met Bill, the man she wanted to spend her life with. But he was a man who never wanted children. Saying I do meant saying I don’t to a rite of passage her body had prepared her for since puberty.

A memoir about not having children... I've made lots of book covers that focus on the central something in the book. But, how do you create imagery about the lack of something?

What I did first was procrastinate. A lot. And that's fitting, right? That's me performing the lack of something, i.e., working.

OK, I wasn't procrastinating so much as beating my brains out, trying to come up with a way to put this theme visually on the page. I kept thinking about this scene in the 1938 film Marie Antoinette with Norma Shearer where, to taunt Marie Antoinette for not yet having given the Dauphin Louis-Auguste an heir, Madame du Barry sends her a tiny empty cradle for an anniversary present.



There you go. A book cover showing an empty cradle.

Ugh.

In the end, the inspiration for the concept came from publisher Laura Stanfill, who sent me an email asking if I might create a promo piece for the book that included an image of Jackie with some words of identity arranged around it:

DAUGHTER
LOVER
WIFE
FRIEND
SURVIVOR
AUNT
NEIGHBOR
MOTHER

That list got me thinking. I emailed back:

There's something that feels very dynamic to me about your list of things she is, with the word "mother" crossed out. It makes me wonder if that's the seed for the cover, itself. Like if those words were over a photograph, maybe not even as thought bubbles but as, like, overlapping words in some way.

Then Laura to me:

Or another concept like that—a flower (she gardens), and the petals could include the words, and that is very much about womanhood and growing into your own beauty. Ooh, I kind of like that. What other vessels could hold happiness? Hold the title?

Me to Laura:

Would it be too on the nose if we explored the flower thing and the mother petal were falling off?

Me to Laura:

Because I can see something really stylized where the words aren’t just in the petals but form the petals. And maybe the title words form a pot or something.

And then I was off and running.

I made SO many versions of this concept. Versions with the flowerpot, without the flowerpot, with various stems and vines, minute changes in the flower and its petals and the words that made up the petals. Often something would be visually appealing to me but wouldn't quite convey enough of what I was trying to say.

An early work-in-progress version of the flowerpot idea, as I was trying my darndest to fit the words into the shape of the pot. Definitely too jaunty. There's joy but there's also a lot of heartbreak in this book.


Experimenting with blurred flower backgrounds with the white lines overlaid. I wasn't worried, yet, about trying to find a font that would go well with the flower lettering - just looking at the shape of space on the page.


Laura and Jackie really wanted "professional" incorporated into our list of words, and I just couldn't squish it into a petal because of the length of the word. Here I tried making it a leaf. Something to frame Jackie's name with. I knew I'd need another new word for the other side, but for starters I just flipped "professional" backward. The layout was pretty but it distracted from the falling "mother."


Adding the "professional" leaf on the stem of the flower didn't work because it, too, distracted from the falling "mother."


In fact, plenty distracted from the falling "mother," including the blurred background. Cover work can be a delicate balance. Sometimes a design element that is a plus in one way (like the moodiness of the background of the sample below) can be a minus in another (too busy against the detail of the flower).


There were versions with swirly vines all around. At this point the lettering for the title was starting to get there, although those Rs look as though they found their way into grandma's liquor cabinet..


I worked and worked to get that flowerpot thing to work. No matter how much I simplified, it was always just too complicated for comfort.



I finally got it through my head that in order for the concept to work, the whole thing needed to be simple and "mother" needed lots of space around it.

"Mother" had to be the star of the show, and all the bells and whistles I was adding were taking away from what we were trying to communicate to the potential reader.

Another change that happened at this point was the rounding-off of the flower petals because it was suggested to Laura and Jackie that pointy petals might looks like a marijuana leaf, and that's a very different particular happiness.

I was pretty happy with this sample, because the layout was really pretty to me. But Laura pointed out that the swirly... let's just call it greenery was still too distracting. And she was losing sight of the fact that the petal was falling from the flower because of the place where I connected the stem.


Come on, what was my problem? Why did I keep complicating things?

So I knuckled down, simplified the greenery, moved the stem, and we finally, finally had our cover. 


And a lovely blurb from Cheryl Strayed to boot!

This Particular Happiness comes out October 1st of 2019. More information can be found on the Forest Avenue Press website here.

And in the meantime, here's a little taste of the book:

But my body also called out for other possibilities that I didn’t pursue: to run a marathon, to climb the face of a cliff, to go beyond my limits. My longings always called out for more, more, more than what I had. 

And I kept opening the same wound over and over thinking a child would be the salve. I wanted Mom’s approval. I wanted the approval of the women in the mothering club. I didn’t like to be left out. I didn’t want to be pitied. Or judged. 

Maybe this thing I called wanting a child was a distraction from a bigger need: to understand why I was here, why I alive. My need to justify myself. 

Would a child justify me? 

Would it make me happy? 

Wasn’t I already happy?

Saturday, January 5, 2019

a moment in the day: needles


Stephen is sweeping pine needles from the space that used to be our Christmas tree.

Earlier today, I took down all the ornaments and put them away, wrapped the dead lights in loops, palm to elbow, and stowed them in the trunk where they'll wait for next year.

I picked up the Christmas waldteufel and gave it a spin for good luck for Stephen's healing.


As I worked, he'd been at Urgent Care, getting the four stitches removed from his lip from the very scary New Year's Eve two-in-the-morning fall from our bed.

He's been ailing so he hasn't been happy, so I haven't been happy. I don't like beginning a year in an unsettled place.

We've been to medical offices four times in the last six days. The ER on the morning of the 31st, then Urgent Care later that day, then Urgent Care again on the 4th when it looked like things were infected, and then today Stephen went back to have his stitches out, and as a bonus, in the middle of things, I got to get a mammogram. I'm not great at math, but that's a pretty darn obnoxious doctor-to-day average.

Scritch, scritch, Stephen sweeping pine needles. I take Nicholas out in the backyard for a walk. It's dark and he runs off across the yard, to lift his leg on the shadows of dormant day lilies.

Usually when I take down the Christmas tree, I try to make a little event out of it. Some music, some movie picked out for us to watch afterward, maybe fun food. To pretend it isn't sad to put Christmas to bed for another season. This year it seemed kind of fitting to put it to bed without any supper.

Stephen told me the removal of the stitches hurt a little. I feel bad that I didn't expect that somehow. For a pessimist, I tend to be weirdly optimistic sometimes, like, okay, this time he's just going to get his stitches removed, no problem. I feel bad that I didn't go along.

Nicholas pees on the spindly, leafless dogwood tree in the very corner of the yard. Over the fence, the neighbor's house is all dark except for one window, dead center up top, full of light. There's something furry in the window. And a man moving around. The something furry is maybe a cat, but no, it's way too big to be a cat, but it's right in the window, where cats like to be. I squint because sometimes I think if I squint, magical binoculars will appear in front of my eyes.

The man moves left, then right, then left in the window. The something furry breaks and dissolves in the movement if the man in the window.

And then I realize. The man is taking down his Christmas tree too.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

2018 for us: a year in random images


January.

We rolled over the year at the home of Keaney Rathbun and David Brandt, two amazing cooks, who made a ridiculously fabulous Polynesian-themed dinner. The below cake was consumed before midnight, but I had to include it as it was still happily in my belly as we rang in the New Year. Photo includes baker David and photobomb yam.


Guests included the lovely Grace Weston, Michael Payne, and Lisa Kaser, seen here modeling her homemade party-themed fascinator.



Stephen's work at Froelick Gallery.



Nicholas and laundry.



Drinks with Kathleen Lane at Vintage Cocktail Lounge.




Bradley K. Rosen's Bunkie Spills and Rene Denfeld's The Child Finder on Powell's Staff Top Fives display.



February.

My Valentine's Day card to Stephen.



Stephen's Valentine's Day card to me.



I had to work on Valentine's Day but before I left in the morning, I hid some tiny hearts around the house. Each said, "Remember when," and had a memory inside. This is a picture Stephen took when he'd rounded up what he thought were all of them (although a few found their way into daylight over the next days and weeks.)



February snow and happily-un-removed Christmas lights.





Nicholas and blanket.





March.

Frost on the windshield, taken from inside the car.



Portland March for our Lives.



Tabitha Blankenbiller's book launch at Powell's City of Books.



Jason Arias.



Stephen with Shawn Levy.





Killer robot weather report.





I don't know what this is. It might be related to killer robots.



April.

Starting to decide on the order of paintings and stories for The Untold Gaze.



Karen Karbo and Lidia Yuknavitch at Broadway Books.



Stephen's work on display at PUB Gallery of Art at Peninsula College in Port Angeles. In the background, checking it out, is the lovely Gloria Moe.



That time our neighbor gave us a chicken egg that was the exact color of our house.


My underskirt: Rigoletto, Portland Opera.



May.

Stephen was visiting artist at Peninsula College in Port Angeles.




Julia Stoops and publisher Laura Stanfill at the Parts per Million book launch at Powell's City of Books. This was before most of the crowd arrived.




Sam Saxby, beloved intern for Forest Avenue Press, introduces Julia.



Stephen's photoshoppy tribute for Walt Whitman's 199th birthday.



Spinning in my Rigoletto dress in the green room of the Keller Auditorium.



The supernumerary ladies of Portland Opera's production of Rigoletto.




Liz Scott and Laura Stanfill at Mother Foucault's Bookshop.



Stephen, Colin Farstad, and Margaret Malone at Burnt Tongue, Crush Bar.



June.

A couple of Stephen's paintings up at Froelick Gallery.



Amie Zimmerman's book launch for Oyster at Turn, Turn, Turn.



The surprise Doug Chase left for me at my desk at work on my birthday.




The card Stephen made for my 49th birthday.



Gem (one of many) found on our hike for my birthday.



July.

Circling in on the final file for The Untold Gaze.



My birthday card to Stephen was very elaborate with many pages and I wrote about it here, but here are a couple images from it.



Lovely shenanigans for Stephen's big birthday party. Left to right, that's Michael Payne, David Brandt, Keaney Rathbun, Stephen, Lisa Kaser, and Grace Weston.


Birthday party setup. I tried to take a picture of the S that I'd tried to string up in lights in our tiny dogwood tree. Not my best effort.


Lovingly-decorated (by Stephen) envelopes containing author contracts for The Untold Gaze.



August.

Tom Spanbauer's I Loved You More up on Powells' 25 Books to Read Before You Die (21st Century Edition) list.



With Ken Jones and Courtenay Hameister at KBOO radio after the interview she and I did in honor of her book Okay, Fine, Whatever.



Hidden sea of flowers at Oak's Bottom (our anniversary hike).



Nicholas and sunshine.



Giant inflatable flamingo on rooftop as seen from my dentist's office.



Some pictures from my August trip to California for my parents' 50th Wedding Anniversary. Family, food, games, the beach. Mom not shown as she was most often behind the camera.







And meeting my new niece for the first time!



Elly and cone.


September.

Brian S. Ellis at Slamlandia, at Literary Arts.



Some of my writing group, the Gong Show, playing Thursday hookie from group to go watch Brian read. Left to right: Bradley K. Rosen, Shannon Brazil, Brian, Doug Chase, me.



The image I made/stole for the Portland Writers' Picnic.



At the Portland Writers' Picnic: Gypsy Martin, Carmel Brethnach, Ashley Walker, Parag Shah, Steve Arndt, and Sara Versluis.


Shannon Brazil set up a table at the picnic this year with local authors' books, including books by Rene Denfeld, Debby Dodds, Monica Drake, Margaret Malone, Karen Karbo, Mindy Nettifee, and more. With Shawn Levy and Davis Slater.



I spotted Rene Denfeld's The Child Finder at the grocery store!



Nicholas and blanket, part two.



Stephen and I were honored to be asked to host the 25th (and final) Burnt Tongue.



The Untold Gaze arrives!



October.

At the open house we threw for our authors and contributors to The Untold Gaze. With Aliza Bethlahmy, Sue Hayes, Brian Kent Carrier, Gretchen Nation, Laura Bieber, Robert Hill, Liz Scott, and Dian Greenwood.


Our impromptu bartender, Dan Berne.



Contributor Steve Arndt checks out the stacks of contributor copies waiting in the studio.



Nicholas reaps the benefits of the cheese plate.



The Untold Gaze on KBOO's Between the Covers: Stephen Rutledge reads his piece.



Stephen and host Ken Jones.



Contributors Liz Scott and Bradley K. Rosen, who were next up to read, listening in.



Time travel, as proven by restroom graffiti.



Nicholas and grin.



Back Fence PDX, when my camera made B. Frayn Masters' head look like it burst into flames. With Co-host Mindy Nettifee.



Where I work at the Powell's Industrial Warehouse, there's a train track and once or three times in a while, there's this train engine that will run along the track, all ringing and dinging. I heard a man owns this thing for fun, sort of as a collector. He runs it out and then, a little while later, runs it back again.




We had our first Untold Gaze event at Froelick Gallery.



Our readers for the evening. Adam Strong.



Suzy Vitello.



Whitney Otto with one of Stephen's paintings in the background.



Sam Roxas-Chua.



Suzy Vitello signs books with the help of Froelick Gallery Director Rebecca Rockom.



The second Untold Gaze event was at Powell's City of Books, where they put Stephen up on the marquee.



Surprise Stephen O'Donnell masks in the audience.




I asked the authors in the audience to stand. This is only part of the group, captured at this particular part of the audience. Seen here are Margaret Malone, Liz Scott, Robert Hill, Steve Arndt, Scott Sparling, Doug Chase, Bradley K. Rosen, and Lisa Kaser.


Lidia Yuknavitch reads from her story "Judith et Holopherne."




Margaret Malone.


Stephen at the podium.


Jude Brewer.



Scott Sparling.


Monica Drake.


In the signing line: Monica Drake, Jude Brewer, Lidia Yuknavitch, Margaret Malone, Scott Sparling, and Doug Chase.



Stephen signs a copy for my writing mate Christy George.




Then there was Tammy Lynne Stoner's book launch of her novel Sugar Land at Powell's.



Along with special guest Kate Carroll De Gutes.



They had cookies made to look like the book cover! Here's part of mine.



November.

Next up was Kat Gardiner's book launch for Little Wonder. Here she is signing a book for fellow Dangerous Writer Krista Price.



And a hug with Holly Goodman.



Doug Chase and Tracey Trudeau.



Nicholas and sun, part two.



I interviewed poet Justin Phillip Reed at the Whitsell Auditorium as part of the Film to Page series - we talked about the film Alien and how it influenced his work. Not long after, he won the National Book Award.



Also I photoshopped myself as Sigourney Weaver in the movie, because why not.



The third event for The Untold Gaze was at American Legion Post 134, with a whole host of writers. This was our "adult" show, where we could show off some saucier images and stories. Stephen even read a story he wrote based on one of his paintings. (Sorry for the quality of these. I took them.) Lisa Kaser.



Doug Chase.



Dian Greenwood.



Robert Hill.


Liz Asch.



Sean Davis.



Sara Guest.



Kevin Meyer.



And David Ciminello who came appropriately dressed for his story about a romance between a she-man and an ape.



Our audience. Dead center in back are Stephen's mom Mary O'Donnell, long-time family friend Mickey Park, and contributor Kathleen Lane.



Electrified building-in-progress seen through the window at the party after Lit Crawl.



After far too many years, we finally made it to the Multnomah Whiskey Library which commissioned Stephen to paint a portrait of a famous whisky maker for its walls. Here are Stephen, David Brandt, and Keaney Rathbun sampling the wares.



And the painting, right there over the door. Colonel James E. Pepper.



And there it is on the menu. How cool is that?



Stephen read a story as part of the November 2018 edition of Songbook PDX.



Stevan Allred's book launch for The Alehouse at the End of the World at Powell's City of Books.




A huge crowd.



And a goddess bearing donuts. Nikki Shulak.



December.

A trip to Palm Springs with my wonderful friend Laura Stanfill to commune with an assemblage of women writers.







Monica Drake, Laura Stanfill, Liz Prato, Suzy Vitello, Michael Keefe, me.



Stephen and I were honored to be included in Courtenay Hameister's "A Very Bookish Christmas" book fair at the Siren Theater. Here Courtenay and Sheila Hamilton (and someone my camera didn't see) share a selfie.



And we sold copies of The Untold Gaze. Here is Juniper Fry with her copy.



The saddest Christmas tree lot ever.



Solstice moon under which we threw into the fire wishes that came true and we hope will come true. No, I can't tell you. That's against the rules.



Our Christmas card for this year.



A luxurious Christmas brunch Stephen made.



A patient dog waits for treats that came in Lulu and Pops' Christmas basket.



We had plans to spend New Year's Eve as we did when the year began, with Keaney and David, Lisa, Grace and Michael, good food with good friends, but a middle-of-the-night fall out of bed and a trip to the ER for four stitches in Stephen's lip prevented that. It was a scary experience but it could have been way worse.



Still, that's a sad image to end the post on. So instead, I think I'll show off some more. And end this with books. First, a handful of book covers I designed this year. This Never Happened by Liz Scott (University of Hell Press), Besotted by Melissa Duclos (7.13 Books), The Alehouse at the End of the World by Stevan Allred (Forest Avenue Press) The Animals After Midnight by Jeff Johnson (Arcade Publishing), and The Place You're Supposed to Laugh by Jenn Stroud Rossmann (7.13 Books). Wow, that's a lot of red, yellow, and orange. Not pictured because we're on the verge of doing a cover reveal very soon is This Particular Happiness by Jackie Shannon Hollis (Forest Avenue Press).



And finally, The Untold Gaze, which we designed together and was a huge amount of work this year (and previous years) and a huge labor of love.