collaboration station (what the heck is the keep writing project?) by Hope A

I have had penpals since I was 10. By the time I was 18, I thought it was normal to have friends I knew only through the mail and would travel great distances to meet them.  (This is so far before social media normalized treating strangers as confidants...)  When I was 31 and starting college, I wanted to stay in touch with my friends while at school. So I started a project, asking $1 for a subscription for the first 2 months, and wrote a mailing list. I sent  postcards I designed in computer classes and soon began typesetting and letterpress printing them.  In the second year, I asked friends to collaborate with me. (you can see the results in the archive here ) By the 3rd year, I redesigned the postcards to be a two-part folded card--one side was a postcard designed for the recipient to keep, and one side was to be mailed back to me, with question or prompt for response.  In December 2011, I had a showing of the cards and responses. I worried people would feel to shy or self-conscious in an art show setting to read through a basket of my mail. But within the first hour, people were sitting on the floor, reading and sharing the variety of responses I receive for each question. 

Since then, the format has remained mostly the same with the occasional exception--some months I send just a single postcard, no question, just a moment to enjoy.   

This past July I sent my 100th postcard. Some months have been more experimental in form and some months were experimental in numbering (see if you can find the 2 with the same number). It seemed like a good time for a shift in perspective. I asked 13 people--artists, writers, printers, penpals--if they would collaborate with me on a postcard one month each. Some have ideas for themes or questions, some are sending drawings for me to print and a few extra brave letterpress printers are willing to interpret my mountain of notes, emails and templates to print the whole thing themselves.

At the end of the 13 months, we will be nearing our 10 year anniversary.  Which seems like a good time to have a party. November 2018, plan on coming to New Orleans to read postcard responses, eat cake and have a drink with us. The location is tbd. This is the 3rd time we have shared the postcards and responses--once in Baton Rouge and once in Oakland--but the 1st time for New Orleans. Please join us.

So, if you have been putting off subscribing, now is the time. The first of the collaboration cards will go out in mid-September, with a small gift to help keep your cards safe so you can show them off to your friends. Or better yet, you can gift them a subscription.

It had meant a lot to me to be able to keep in touch with so many pen pals this way, to reconnect with old friends, to meet others and to hear a little from their lives. This kind of correspondence has allowed me to ask questions, request advice and build bonds.  It seems like just a letter writing project, but it has meant so much more to me.

If you still have questions, you can check out this FAQ page, or contact me gutwrenchpress@gmail.com.

 

Thanks. And keep writing.

happy birthday to me! by Hope A

Did I think I would be celebrating 100 postcards that day I was biking home in the Baton Rouge humidity? I knew I had thought of something that made sense of all the parts of me, something I was excited about. Now here I am with multiple birthday cakes (and I turned 40!) and a pile of mail to answer.

This month's postcard was based on designs by Blackbird Letterpress, who kindly let me borrow the template and their die, to finish these lovelies one late night in the shop. Though the type is all computer based, those sloppy drawings are all mine.It was a fun experiment that went reasonably well, even after 600 passes on the giant Vandercook at Baskerville. 

Now what? you might ask.

Now I ask my friends for help. I've asked 13 people to design a postcard in the coming year. Some are letterpress printers, some are ceramics artists, some are writers. All seemed excited to collaboratively design a postcard with me. I am lucky lucky lucky. Actually YOU are lucky, as they will be delivered to your mailbox in the coming year. Expect your first one in September.

Meanwhile, if your subscription has lapsed, you can re-subscribe here. If you are receiving cards but you are not sure for how much longer, I will send you a notice in a few weeks letting you know how much longer you have a subscription.

If you thinking I am suffering from heat stroke and talking nonsense, rest assured I have air conditioning, plenty of cold drinks and a plan--I will send you letterpress postcards every month if you subscribe to the Keep Writing Project. It is available as a gift, and about to get more fun. You can also have many of your questions answered here. 

Well, I may claim to not be affected by the heat but I am ready for a drive out of town, some lake swimming, some visits with friends. i will be back in September with the first collaborative postcard!

slow down by Hope A

20170620_104223.jpg

This month's postcard was designed before I accepted a part-time position at an arts summer camp and a position that was originally  3 hours a day but ended up being 6. One week I was redesigning my website, planning for summer projects and the next I was wrangling 5 year olds who are very sweet but may need a mid-afternoon nap. I do.

It is easy to think of this Annie Dillard quote how we spend our days is how we spend our lives  and frame it the developing definition of self-care and go to the pool with our friends every day. That is what I want some days. But I also find that when I have a little unexpected free time, I catch up on work, writing newsletters and blogposts (ie TODAY). 

A friend once talked to me about the idea of "internalized capitalism"--the push to be productive, to always be doing something. But I find that the constant need to think, plan, do, sometimes leaves me so tired I watch dumb tv and hours later I am still home and I haven't seen my friends in days. I try to keep a more even keeled approach--breakfast with a friend, a walk in the park, and then printing at home. Taking a break to rest, explore, do something that isn't on a list, to reenforce the connections around us. Even as I work to create new postcards, new drawings, a new zine, it is also helpful to have some unproductive time laying on the couch with the cat. Balance. For me that means finding ways to slow down. 

How do I do that? One, is that I have been mentally reframing my work, refusing the constant talk of hustle.  The letterpress printers I know love the idea of the hustle but I was never sold on it. Which might be why I have a smaller business, focusing on postcards instead of wholesale greeting cards, and balancing a few part-time jobs.  The balance of time and money and creative endeavors is real and for now I still choose the flexibility and inconsistencies of part time work over a full time job.  

On the smaller scale, once in a while I stay in bed and read even though my instinct is to jump out of bed and start making lists and putting away dishes (after tea and yoga, though). Some days it is good to sit and read as I don't sit still during the day.

I also just switched to a flip phone (thought the slow, code like texts are not helping). I also use a timer especially when I have computer work to do, giving my self a break to stretch every 30 minutes. Around the house that may mean I clean up for an hour, then read or draw.

In a larger context, as confederate monuments are removed from the city of New Orleans, large protests and marches occurred on both sides of the argument. If we are talking about balance and how we spend our days, we don't have the energy or time to constantly hold large marches, which are important for visibility. How do we incorporate these ideals into our daily practices? How do we approach the racism rooted in history that still sprouts today? 

Here in New Orleans, the weather gives us some encouragement with heavy humidity weighing down your best intentions and sporadic storms that never behave as you expect, leaving you drenched or with a suddenly sunny and clear day off from work.  That's my summer!

 

where you read by Hope A

 

I have a friend who used to only open his mail when he was ready to respond. I tried that for a while but lately, I want to read it as soon as I have it. I stand outside the post office, facing the bayou and read everything. The other day that included 2 poems from a book a friend sent to me. I cried a little, looked up to see the post office around me, the bayou across from and rode home.

Despite my reputation and vocation, I sometimes don't write back. I have found that making time, if not every morning, then at least once a week, to answer my mail has helped. I still read everything standing at the post office but then I reread, find an appropriate note card and write back.

This month, there was a lot of experimentation in the process. And nothing worked out like I thought (which is the important part of experimenting! discovering new things!)  I took a photo of the spot at the bayou, but my phone had recently fallen into some water and the photo was hazy because the lens hadn't quite dried out . I used the blurry photo as a reference for a line drawing. I was going to use 2 layers--a detailed top layer and a soft under color. But one of them didn't work. The I decided to experiment with a split fountain on a platen press. And I chose the colors of the rainbow. The result: a card that is not what I thought it would be. But when is it ever, really?

 

lists by Hope A

Keep Writing number 97 April 2017

Keep Writing number 97 April 2017

I like lists. I multiple to-do lists, short term and long term, shopping and big plans and day trips and people to write to.  I write lists to help organize my thoughts and sometimes to help me organize my memories. When the multiple plans and to-do lists become more stressful than helpful, I toss them all and simplify.

This is not new. In 8th grade I kept a tiny notebook for a week with everything I ate, not just calories and fat or things you might connect to body image issues emerging at puberty. I don't think I was trying to get skinny* but I wanted to know how I ate. I kept track of vitamins and minerals.

My friend Bear** also keeps lists. I remember a gold star chart they had in their apartment in New Orleans, giving themselves stars for cooking and spending time with friends. I like these simplified lists of what we need to do to take care of ourselves. What things in a day are important and what can be overlooked. I constantly need this reminder so this month's postcard is a list of what I think I need to do everyday to be healthy and happy and grow.  And today's tip--I alternate water and iced mint tea as it gets warmer, because I can rarely drink enough water but the cooling mint is sometimes better than coffee in the afternoon. Really. Try it. 

here come the footnotes:

*an interesting thing I just realized in the past 5 years--I thought I was skinny all those years. I am not sure any more. I am not sure when I thought I wasn't any more but I used to buy strightlegged pants though I have curvy hips strong thighs. Body image is a weird warped thing. I was lucky not to struggle with it, in the way that I felt ok about my body but what I thought I saw and what is there were generally not the same thing.

**I talk about Bear a lot. Partly because they are a great human being. But they also happen to be a great yoga instructor and life coach. They once helped me write a post-it sized plan (literally on a post-it note) about how I was going to make the most of college and graduate. If you want once a  week sweet notes from Bear, talking about taking care of yourself and social justice and being a part of a community---I strongly suggest you subscribe to their weekly love notes.  And if you are looking for some good advice and guidance on how to make your own gold star chart and more, talk with Bear about coaching. Seriously. They are the best.

different ways to resist by Hope A

image from the Social Justice Kitten collection by Sean Teharatchi

image from the Social Justice Kitten collection by Sean Teharatchi

Since the presidential votes were counted, I, along with many others, have been plotting different ways to resist, to stand strong and feel connected against what has felt like a tidal wave of difficulties.  Outright racist and fear-mongering speeches, unleashing the worst in some people, the deliberate and blatant refusal of an idea of a fact. It can feel overwhelming. But there are many groups already working against the affects of racism, fear, poverty, to help with access and empowerment. I decided to use the thing I already do, sending postcards every month, to raise money for local groups doing tangible work. I started by offering pay-by-donation subscriptions to the Keep Writing Project on Inauguration Day. The response was so great I extended it another 24 hours. I then decided it would continue for the first 100 days of the new presidency.   After a few weeks, and $800 for the New Orleans Abortion Fund, I started raising money for BreakOUT, a group that works to end the criminalization of LGBT youth. For the last 30 days I will raise money for the Cornerstone Builders, a group that support newly released in their first 72 hours out of prison. Part of this project also pays for monthly busses to take family to visit their loved ones.   Every year a group of cyclists ride from New Orleans to Angola to raise money for this project, to keep families in touch, to offer connection to those who are imprisoned. For the whole month of April, I will send any money I receive for Keep Writing subscriptions to this group. There are many ways to resist. Donating money is a small part, but also learning about these groups, belong to support them in anyway. Stay close y'all.

research in south louisiana by Hope A

The weather is perfect right now. Spring. Not the spring that comes after a long winter but the one that comes before a long summer. In a month or two it will be too humid to wear jeans. After a few weeks  I will dress only to anticipate stickiness and overly air conditioned spaces.  But now, the sun is warm, the shade is cool, the breeze still offers relief and the nights are magic.  This is the time of year in South Louisiana that I get most excited, most restless.  The things I thought I should do no longer were working, the endless work was making me tired and irritable so I took to the road, with snacks and water, a camera and binoculars. I have a few projects coming up that I not realize I was working on as I drove slowly with the windows down, turning down side roads and stopping to take notes. Halfway through the day I realized that is exactly what I am doing. Here is a piece of what will come later. 

from the source by Hope A

Recently, friends had been sharing a photo on social media with a caption that didn't sit right with me. The news itself was upsetting, but the caption seemed inaccurate from other sources. I wanted to say more about it and to share it because it is an important story. But I also wanted to be accurate. There are so many outright lies and inaccuracies and this one was a simple fix. I read the story the photo was linked to, and 2 others that corroborated the information. I shared a different photo, with a slightly different caption. The mistake was small and did not take away from the impact of the information and I did not want to point our the inaccuracy to my friends because I was embarrassed to be that exact.

But we could use more exactitude in our information.

And a little more skepticism in the news we receive. We hear talk about disagreeable information as being "fake news," but it is not just the president who wants the news to reflect what he already believes. We can do it too sometimes, find the news that confirms what we believe  But a larger perspective gives context so I have been trying to listen to a few different news sources. 

This month I have been asking you to tell me from where you have been getting your news and why. Now I am sharing it with you. I was going to provide comments on each source but I will let you decide which sources are useful to you. I like facts, smart analysis, and a little humor. Not all of these sources are 100% awesome 100% of the time, but combined they help keep me informed.

Links are provided! Just click on the underlined source.

NPR

The Rachel Maddow Show

Democracy Now

WTF happened today

Al Jazeera 

and I will keep it updated as y'all send me yours! (in no particular order)

New York Times

Washington Post

Huffington Post

LA Times

 

The Eutomaidan (for Eastern Europe)

Southerners on New Ground newsletter

NARAL newsletter

Emily's List newsletter

Council on Islamic Relations newsletter

National Immigration Law Center newsletter

The Skimm

The Guardian

Daily Kos

Twitter

Bust magazine

Bitch magazine

The Daily Show

John Oliver /Last Week Tonight

Colbert/ The Late Show

The New Yorker

High Country News

The Economist

France 24

the library!

art by people who are not like me

Radio Canada

The Lens New Orleans

The Advocate Baton Rouge & New Orleans

PBS

this crazy TV station that my antenna picks up from Japan

response from Andy

response from Andy