Friday my one-woman production run was interrupted by a visit from my webmaster, Brian Miller. Brian is a jack of all trades who among other things runs a server and maintains websites for a number of local businesses. I was not expecting him that day.
I emailed him last week when one of my beloved authors pointed out an inadvertent omission in the website bookstore (thank you, Robert!) Brian was biking up a mountain someplace way south of here, followed by a hike in the Smoky Mountains, and promised to get back to me when he returned. His plan was to come by Thursday morning and sit down with our screens side by side.
Thursday came and went. I wasn’t too concerned. Brian’s always, always busy. He usually has to take several cell calls from other clients while we are working together. He’s a good guy and he does good work, and he’s giving me a great price.
When I heard from him Friday morning, the first words out of his mouth were, “I know it’s late for Thursday morning.” I laughed and told him, “Especially if it’s last Thursday.” My humor was a tad convoluted: I am working on finishing last week’s To Do list. I was optimistic last week and actually divvied up a list of tasks day by day. But the nature of this business is regular interruptions at irregular intervals. In cardiology there’s an idea about heart rhythm. An irregular heart rhythm, or arrhythmia, can be either regularly irregular—drop a beat every third beat, for example—or irregularly irregular, a more chaotic misfiring. The Kattywompus rhythm is irregularly irregular, which would drive some people crazy. It doesn’t feel all that abnormal, to me.
I’m doing production runs and last-minute preproduction on four chapbooks, this week and next. There’s a stack of manuscripts queued up waiting for these books to get done, authors awaiting editorial input, decisions about bindings and cover art and titles. I may have a handful of volunteers here one evening next week to help finish up these 400 copies that are in the chute, and then I’ll move back into primarily editing mode for a stretch.
For solo production work Friday, I cranked up Paul Simon’s Graceland. One of the things I liked about working as a waitress was how when the restaurant was busy, the physicality of my job became a dance, muscle memory and non-cognitive decision-making kicking into gear. Sometimes book production work is like that, and it flows better with high energy rock and roll. Preproduction (formatting, editing, internet searches, email), web work, anything including conversation, goes better with classical or jazz. Latin and some African music go with everything.
Next CD I popped in was Patti Smith’s Horses. I finished reading Smith’s lovely memoir, Just Kids, last week. It’s the story of her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, with whom Smith remained close through enormous shifts in their lives, until his death. It’s a sweet read on art and the artist’s life, and a fun ride. Lots of scenes when she and Robert lived in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan and rubbed shoulders with Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, Sam Shepard, Allen Ginsberg. I laid the CD cover on the table where I was working, with its iconic cover photo by Mapplethorpe, of Smith gazing at the lens in white shirt and suspenders, jacket thrown over her shoulder, leaning on a white wall. I loved the passage toward the book’s end where Smith’s husband, Fred Sonic Smith, ponders a bunch of photos that Mapplethorpe has taken of Patti and says, I don’t know how he does it, but every picture he takes of you looks like a photograph of him.
I was cranking out manuscript texts, folding and sorting, tweaking proofs, answering the occasional email, when Brian showed up. I shut down Patti Smith, tuned to classical radio and turned to the website for a couple hours. We got some problems solved and generated a bunch more work. The website will be unrolling for some time, as I figure out what we need, and Brian figures out how to make it happen. Watch for big changes in the look of the pages, and new content loaded irregularly regularly.
One chapbook has text printed and folded, and needs its cover finalized and printed. A second, Christine Howey’s, If You Find Yourself Submerged In a Pond Under Ice, has half its copies printed and a cover also needing one last item decided and formatted. The chapbook is by a woman steeped in the theater—you can see Chris’s stage chops in format and content of several pieces. The poems comprise an arc of her transgender journey, told in compelling, often very ordinary, simple human detail. We found some really cool cover art for it—that’s part of the fun of publishing. I’m mulling the last details after a good conversation with my associate editor, Bonné de Blas, who was finally sprung from her graveyard shift at a chain bookstore—more on that later. Today I should finish printing the second book and start the third and forth, depending on the day’s particular rhythms and unexpected encounters. So far, it’s turned out to be mostly another web work day, but the day is still young, and I’m pumping more coffee as I type this.
Yesterday I drove over the Chagrin River. I cross the river twice on most weekdays. It’s always breathtaking driving down the hill, catching sight of the water as the road rounds a curve—sometimes the traffic is too heavy to spare a real look at the river—then climbing up the other side of the valley, often with a hawk crossing high above. There was a narrowing of lanes in the return direction that I saw on the way, so I took a route home that follows the river itself for several miles. Beautiful, driving upstream beside that constant motion, through the lush foliage of our late, wet spring. The brown, roiling water was so high it looked like if the road could be swamped in a heartbeat.
Today I went back just to spend some time beside the river. It’s become one of my favorite places. It’s hard to remember, when there’s so much work waiting, that refreshing oneself out in the world and especially, in nature, is good for the work and for the soul. Brian seems to have that rhythm down, to have located some kind of balance between the thrall of our invented technologies, the world of human creations, and the deep call of the natural world.
We are of this earth. We resonate to the rhythms of nature as we do to music, even if sometimes we move a little kattywompus to the beat.
p.s. For those of you who haven’t met me and stumbled over the gender in that first sentence, yes, you read that right, and if you want historical examples of Sammy as a woman’s name you can check the depression era chapbook, Aunt Sammy’s Radio Recipes, from the California Extension Service (I’m not recommending the food), or a slightly more recent, albeit obscure British comic strip from the 1940s featuring a woman spy who flew secret missions against the Nazis. If you find any actual sources on that one, shoot me an email. I’ve only heard about it from a long-ago Irish friend (thanks, Estelle, wherever you are). If you want some input on the whole gender discussion, see last week’s New York Times Magazine article on the couple who are keeping the gender of their third child secret. You can imagine the reactions. Mine: I am so pleased to have our culturally claustrophobic definitions of gender opened up for discussion.