Word whittling

Wrote the letter (it’s a story, really) in one intense day…from 10am through to now (2:30am, March the 1st), from a handwritten rough draft of 3,700 words—whittled and shaved and whittled some more—down to 1,200…hopefully without losing its flavour or story.

It’s pretty good. I know it is. With the kind of knowing that lives wherever my meagre understanding of this craft lives. This knowledge is so elusive that, when it’s absent, you worry that you’ve made it up. But, when it surfaces, it’s so satisfying. That moment when you recognize that what you have done will generate sparks, if only for a few minutes.

I gave it everything I dared, wrote it all down, and then went back over it with a scalpel, and took two-thirds of it out again. I have done the best I can do. Tonight, that is. I can only speak for tonight!

“One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.”
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

I’m allowing myself to gloat a little, now, because I might look at it tomorrow , think, “Oh, it’s crap,” and start all over again. Ah, the writing life…

I’ll bet I can excise another 200 words, tomorrow, if I put my mind to it. That’s still too many words for an A4 sheet of paper. I’ll have to add a second sheet to February’s letter.

It’s so grueling to try and hack a story down to 600 words, and yet still do it justice, give it some depth. There’s a very real danger of trivializing the subject matter. This is probably why I only post photos on twitter!

Of course, something very, very short, the tiniest bite of writing, can hold universes. Haiku, for example. Or W.S. Merwin’s translation of delightful Asian aphorisms, East Window:

Sudden
like a spear from a window

Long way to the law.

Fist right here.

Spits straight up.
Learns something.

Sardine threatens.
Who knows it?

You’ve got an axe but you can’t use it
the other one’s got a needle
but he can

I bought East Window on a whim, never guessing what it would come to mean to me. Every time I pick it up, I discover something I hadn’t noticed before. It makes me laugh, or gasp, or sigh in pleasure, without fail, every single time. The wisdom in it is so tight, so sharp, so loaded, so wry, so observant. Today it is, to my wonderment, one of my favorite books of all time. One that I would grab, at the last moment, from a burning house…or choose to have (along with Coleman Barks’ Essential Rumi and Alain de Botton’s The Consolations of Philosophy) on a desert island, or take with me on a long journey on foot around the world. Seriously. I know, I was surprised, too. But it does that; each short poem is a little bronze key that unlocks a door you didn’t know existed in your head, and through that door floods the foolishness and the cleverness of humankind.

Or, for a more contemporary example, the entries submitted to the website 8WordStory :

“From 30 October to 24 November 2017, Queensland Writers Centre is giving you the opportunity to publish your work and be seen by up to 300,000 people across South East Queensland.
There’s just one catch.
You can use only eight words.”

My favorite entry (after scrolling through hundreds of 8-word stories) is still Kat Cope’s.

“(Everyone ready?)
SURPRISE!!…..no,
it’s today — isn’t it?”

It’s a magic story. In one deft move it conjures balloons, an explosion of confetti, a bleating of party horns, a cake held aloft, a pile of presents, bright lights, a roomful of friends, a disappointed person trying to be grateful, a swooping descent from being excited and proud…to the sickening feeling in your gut that you’ve really, really messed up on this once-in-a-year opportunity. A tragedy. A comedy. A universe in a grain of sand. A master stroke.

Good night. Good morning.

Advertisements

Artistamps

artist's stampsHaving so much fun with the February letter. Now that my initial anxiety is gone (thanks to such a great response from the first recipients of the January letter) I have been able to muse on the idea of Mail—its symbols, its purposes, its paraphernalia—more, and get creative and playful with my letters.

I started by making a mini-sheet of Artistamps.

An artistamp is a tiny art form that resembles a postage stamp in shape, size, and feel. It is not valid for postage, but is different from a forgery or illegal stamp in that the creator has no intent to defraud the postal authorities or stamp collectors. In this way, the artistamp resembles the Cinderella stamp, which resembles a postage stamp but is not used for postage purposes—even when issued by a government agency. Commemorative, holiday, charity, propaganda and fundraising stamps all fall under the Cinderella stamp category…

Irony, satire, humor, eroticism and subversion of governmental authority are frequent characteristics of artistamps. Artists play with the expectation of official endorsement that the postage stamp format inheres in order to surprise, shock, or subvert, the complacent viewer’s presumptions.

Mini envelopes to hold a set of ersatz artist's stamps...February letter's inclusion. My local post office let me play with their rubber stamp, and frank each envelope. Having so much fun with this letter subscription!

The fact that the artist’s stamp sets its own stamp on an (art) letter is one of the special features of this form of expression. A further facet of this small-format art is its challenging the mail monopoly by laying claim to the perforated and gummed miniature works of art. The stamps the artists create are not meant to swindle the postal service, but to call into question the right to design things.

(from the catalog of the exhibition Leck mich! – Künstlerbriefmarken seit den 1960er Jahren (Lick me! – Artist’s Stamps since the Sixties) by The New Museum Weserburg, Bremen, Germany)

The designs will be familiar to most of you; they have been taken from scans or photographs of my sketchbooks and paintings. There are 18 different designs on each sheet, and everyone who receives the February letter will get a complete set. The hardest part of making these stamps was deciding which 18 images to use! It was so much fun, and the finished stamps are so endearing, that I know I’m going to have to design several sheets more, over time, just because I want to see what everything I have ever made looks like as a stamp!

The phrase, “the right to design things,” in The New Museum Weserburg’s exhibiton description, resonates with something I feel about postage stamps. When I looked into the stamps currently available from Australia Post’s philatelic shop, I found only half of the available designs were stamps that I would care to put on my letters. Among the reasonably nice flowers, landscapes, Aboriginal art, and animals (especially the gold-foiled Chinese New Year horoscope sheet), were sets like: Legends of Television Entertainment, Convict Past, and Norfolk Island Convict Heritage (two distinct sheets sporting drab paintings of historic prison buildings), the black and white set of Women in War, a banal collection of Love to Celebrate stamps (roses love-heart, pair of wine glasses, pair of wedding rings, cake, balloons, etcetera) and a couple of small, brown, dull Christmas Island Early Voyages stamps. An announcement heralds the imminent release of the depressing Norfolk Island Golf stamp set, featuring a man rolling his golf clubs across the green. I don’t understand why such a poverty of beautiful stamps exists in my country…it seems almost as though AusPost doesn’t hire artists to design their stamps, at all, but hands the task out to retired accountants and ossified history professors.

How I envy people in the U.S. their ability to order customised stamps from Zazzle.com, with anything they want, printed on them! So lucky….

Artistamps 99cUntil Australia catches up with the world, I guess I’ll carry on making artistamps.

I messed up the first sheet by trying to perforate the stamps with my sewing machine.  Without power on the boat, this meant turning the wheel with one hand while guiding the sheet with the other. It took nearly an hour to perforate one sheet, so I gave up on that idea. Instead, I used a pair of craft scissors with a fine wavy pattern to cut the stamps apart. Quicker and much nicer looking.

I’ll be sending a complete set to each of my letter subscribers. They’re in a miniature envelope, with an extra artistamp affixed, and my friends at the local post office lent me their cancellation stamp—whee!—so I have franked each stamp with an official ring. I love playing with the Post Office’s toys!

What to do with these (or any other) artistamps? Have a play in your journal, use them in collage, decorate letters you’re writing, or in scrapbooking projects, whatever.

Can you use them, mixed in among the real postage stamps, on an envelope?

According to Wikipedia, “Artistamp creators often include their work on legitimate mail, alongside valid postage stamps, in order to decorate the envelope with their art. In many countries this practice is legal, provided the artistamp is not passed off as or likely to be mistaken for a genuine postage stamp. When so combined the artistamp may be considered part of the mail art genre.”

I don’t know if the stamps I’ve made here are safe to use in the post. I probably shouldn’t have put a monetary value on the stamp, even though it should be obvious that there are no 99c stamps, and they don’t even say which country they’re from. I’m going to ask the Post Office about Australia’s laws on this, and hopefully they will actually have someone who knows the answer! Queries like this are probably exceedingly rare, these days, and I worry that it’ll be hard to find a government employee who knows or cares about these finer points of the law.

Always ask about your country’s laws before using artiststamps or Cinderella stamps, as decorative elements, on envelopes going through the actual post…being wrong could turn out to be a federal offense!


In case you haven’t already heard, every month I write, and then reproduce, a beautiful art letter—calligraphy, illustrations, postage stamps, wax seals, fun inclusions like artistamps or poems or photos, and so forth—and send it out as part of a letter subscription. Find a stunning work of letter art in your mailbox…once a month, for a few months up to an entire year.

Click here to learn more & subscribe.

 

Outgoing : : January (!) 2018

#outgoing #January2018

Very late, but a stack of envelopes with the first letter finally went out (causing a happy commotion at the post office) this Monday morning.

In it are #Goethe #genius #power #magic #boldness #connection #revelation #meditation #empathy #sharedhumanity

The artwork is a bit conservative. I found it hard to begin without knowing how the printing process would treat it. Naturally, I wondered (that is, I stressed) about each reader’s tastes, the reasons they might have subscribed to my monthly letters, and how to make a letter that would, somehow, please them all.

January letter

Now that I’ve found a good printer in Sydney, I can let myself go on the visuals. Once I start getting feedback about the first letter, I think I will have a better idea about handling the rest. Jill and Kath—letter-buyers and friends I’ve made on this blog, though we have never met in person— both wrote to reassure and remind me to just breathe and be myself. Thank you, ladies…I needed that!


Subscribe to a few months—or a whole year—of beautiful monthly letters, and brighten up your usual letterbox fare: The Scarlet Letterbox.

ha’bir’day to us, mr. william s. burroughs

mermaid goblet

Old Bill and I celebrated our birthdays last Monday. I’m guessing he spent the day passed out, after a naked lunch, on junk and scotch in the Afterlife; while I was spoiled by the women in my tribe, all day (and we went to dinner that night…er, dressed).

There were so many presents by the end of the work day that, on Tuesday, I had to ask one friend to help me get them all down to the Dinah Beach Yacht club’s pontoon and my dinghy, in her pickup truck. I rowed my loot home at dusk, slipping through a crack in the wall between rain showers and thunderstorms, where the oil of the sun came leaking out.

Sadgroves Creek

Among the pressies was a pre-loved iPhone, so my Instagram account—created, and used briefly, in October 2016, when my brother let me take his spare phone along for a weekend in NYC…oh, Tallulah, I feel a digression coming along…

*I ended up staying a week…spent my second day working as a labourer, helped shift 2 dozen large paintings from a warehouse to a gallery in Brooklyn; stayed at a crash pad in Queens—se habla Español—with 8 other people, and having the best time hanging out with, mostly, Colombians…but this deserves its own story)*

—is active again. Though I am still very much a cautious, shy, laconic Instagram poster. And hashtags baffle me. Some people put so many hashtags on each post that soon Instagram will have to invent meta-hashtags to help you navigate the hashtags…

There should be an app where they’ve simply hashtagged the entire dictionary, and you can just copy-paste all 171,476 words to accompany each photo or video you post…just to, you know, get it over with…find everyone by looking up everything, every time.

January letter mail drop

I’m slowly learning to edit and post photos with the phone…frustrating for someone who’s used a DSLR most of her life; but have been unexpectedly enjoying playing around with some of the filters and with Picmonkey’s phone app, which is like the lobotomised version of Picmonkey for laptops.

Friends have already warned me that it’s addictive, but I think I have a few weapons against that, up my sleeve. For one thing, I am a fast typist on my Macbook, and I really hate the clumsy pawing at teeny-tiny letters on a greasy, fingerprinted glass screen with my fat fingers. I tried to Google the Philippine city of Davao, and Auto-Correct wanted to know, “Did you mean ‘Satan’?”

Also, my eyesight seems to get worse every year; if I have to run around looking for my glasses every time the phone dings, just to be told that so-and-so liked this-or-that, and commented such-and-such, to whom…forget it, I simply do not have the patience.

“If someone has died, the people around can ring me,” I mutter….and if no one has died, then it can wait till the hour that I check social media in the evening.

Social media aside, though, I am charmed by the iPhone’s uses as a tool. The camera is good and convenient. It has been nice to carry my e-mail, bank, and Etsy accounts in my pocket. And I am a data hound who loves bar graphs, charts, and statistics, so I have been tripping on all the apps for monitoring, counting, and averaging everything…from my sleep patterns, to the number of words typed for the Morning Pages that I usually write at midnight, on most nights of the week.

N.B. The sleep app is dodgy and I have removed it…I woke up feeling fantastic nearly every morning last week, but the little bar graphs tell me that I have been “awake” for several hours every night, that my sleep quality has been “poor,” and that I am in “debt” to the tune of 8 hours of sleep..! Which is, of course, hogwash: imagine! owing myself sleep from the start of the week, and this app wants me to “repay” it! So I deleted it.

image

Though I must confess that, two nights ago, I was awakened by the sound of my own voice speaking a strange cat’s language of mewing chirrups and musical ‘prrring-krring’.

So maybe the phone isn’t entirely to blame for believing that I have been up half the night, talking to Bast.

A bonfire on my desk

drunk on color

It’s been raining since Thursday… the solar panels are starving and I haven’t been able to use my laptop, for fear of draining my batteries beyond recovery. Sometimes I think I have watched enough water fall from the sky to wash the world away.

No matter. I have been writing letters. Yes, those letters, the ones I’ll be mailing copies of, to the dozen brave first customers who came to my ETSY shop over the past two weeks.

But there have been other letters, besides. Friends, and strangers, will also be getting something in the post from me this February. It’s International Correspondence Writing Month (InCoWriMo) and, for 28 days, hundreds of people have pledged to write a letter (postcard, gift card…) a day. You can write to people you know, or you can pick some lucky ducky from the list of addresses submitted to the InCoWriMo page.

It isn’t cold, in Darwin…not even after 4 days of rain. But the soul craves warmth, possibly because the sun has been blotted out by cloud cover, and everything is shadowy and grey. So I built a bonfire on my desk.

I piled together some hand-marbled Himalayan paper, old Pantone swatches, polished bits of brass, postage stamps, gold inks, and one of my printed postcards. Set it alight with a sliver of sunlight that broke through the clouds, and stood back to enjoy the blaze.


P.S. I have finally settled on a name (yes, settled againanother name) and this time it’s for good…bought the domain (no website up yet) and everything: The Scarlet Letterbox.

Just to confuse you, I’ve changed the name of my ETSY shop, too; but it’s the same old shop.

We’re live! (updated)

Ugh.

I’m late opening my ETSY shop…forgot what it was like to tweak listings on ETSY, all the little things you have to think of: the terms and conditions for items, the postage for different countries, and all those photos you’re allowed to post, now!

“Luscious Letters” is killing me. It sounds like a steamy soft-porn novel. Ye Gods!

UPDATE: I settled for the name “The Scarlet Letterbox”

But it’s nearly midnight, every name I come up with is worse than the previous one, and I am still at the office. The tide is a long way out by now and I am stranded ashore, so I guess I’ll be sleeping in this dress, and “Hello again, old couch in the storeroom.”

This is by no means the final “face” of my shop OR the Letters project, but I couldn’t keep putting things off until they were perfect. They’ll never be perfect! Sometimes you just have to dive in, give yourself permission to start dinky, Photoshop-illiterate, using whatever you’ve got, and Relax…knowing that you can fix things tomorrow, and improve the overall project as you go.

Mail for Sale

Most importantly, you may now sign up for 4-, 8-, and 12-month letter subscriptions.

Your feedback and suggestions are very welcome. If something sucks, please tell me while it’s still baby step days! LOL

Thanks,
N.