Solstice Graveyard Picnic

It’s really strange to try to fathom how much my life is going to change once I’m in California, my little brother will go to college, and my retired parents move to Orroville (which happens to be the one point in the state farthest from any interstate highway in Washington state.) I’m trying not to think about how melancholy it is that this chapter of my life is quickly coming to a close…that a year from now if I come “home” to Seattle there isn’t going to be a home for me to come home to.

It was the solstice yesterday though, so my family decided to celebrate by picnicking in a graveyard. This is actually kind of a long-standing Greathouse family tradition. Back when we were in West Virginia we used to go to the graveyard all the time because there were so few other parks in Morgantown that were good for walking around. We would park at one end, walk across it, and get Hostess cupcakes at the store across the street to eat on top of nice gravestones. It kind of desensitized me to death at a young age in some ways, and it was weird when I went through this period as a pre-teen where I didn’t want to be in graveyards because it suddenly dawned on me how weird it was. I’ve since recovered from that stigma and made a bit of peace with my own mortality, so I’m good to eat and laugh on graves again.

We had a crazy picnic. My Dad ate nothing but grapefruit, which is kind of par for the course these days, but the rest of us managed to pack balanced meals. We looked around until we found a nice name, and then spread out our picnic blanket over Crispina Tiberi. Most of the time these days, we go to graveyards when we think the parks will be crowded. In Washington, the first (nice) days of summer are always people-traps since the novelty of warm weather and clear skies is fresh and exciting again. The graveyard we were in was over by the University of Washington, so we could see the dorms my friends used to live in and the Space Needle to boot. Dad brought his binoculars. Afterwards, we did a stroll through Ravenna Park. We headed home, and in a strange reversal of sociality, Dad and Hasdrubal both had people to see and a party to be at. Mom and I stayed home and sorted the whole house, helping me pack a kitchen, gather spices, and make peace with the emblems of childhood that will vanish as she and Dad pair down their belongs and prepare to move into a cozier house somewhere in Eastern Washington. My life is packed up in cardboard boxes now, making a faint existential scratching noise from inside.Image

Dad unpacks a camera, while my little brother Hasdrubal spreads another blanket.

My Final Days: 8 Days and Counting Until the Move

I figure that the best thing I can do with this evening is to make (and start fulfilling) a summer resolution. Summer resolutions are always easier than New Year’s resolutions, because it’s just a simple fact of life that it’s easier to get things done when there’s nice weather egging you on. I should get in the actual habit of blogging. All the really interesting people I know keep blogs and keep interesting blogs at that, so why shouldn’t I?

I worked today, but it was an easy day for little nanny me since I only had to put in a few hours, and while the baby was still asleep. It was virtually high-paid house-sitting. I plowed through the last of the work for my online courses, marveling at the reality that I will never have to take another class again. Eight weeks from now, my thesis will be turned in and I’ll be done with school for good. I installed Skype on my computer and finally got it working for the first time ever; I have someone who wants to do a video interview with me for one of the nanny positions I’ve applied to down in Palo Alto.

Considering that last week I put in three times as many hours at work, spent an eight hour day with my friend Nick, got lunch with Alison, went to both Claire and Hannah’s 21st birthday dinners and following celebrations, took my CLEP placement test for credit, had dinner with Sean, drove to Leavenworth and back with Magi, went to dinner in Bellevue with the family, saw Little Shop of Horrors at the ACT theatre in Seattle, visited all old high school teachers, and wrote two papers for my finals…I think I deserve an easy down day. I’ve only got eight days left in town before Zaq and I pack up the van and move down to California together. I don’t want to be running myself ragged everyday. Tonight I wasted in the best way possible, just walking up to the woods to go play on the St. Edward State Park swing set and watch the sunset over the trees by the seminary. It was really beautiful, and with the right soundtrack, it was perfect. I love MP3 players, man.

The Lotus Eaters

The Lotus Eaters – New EP by Jennifer Kingwell

There are two great misfortunes in this world. The first is that too few people appreciate Jen Kingwell…a misfortune which stems from the second, which is that too few people know about Jen Kingwell.

This week, she released her first solo work, which is charmingly different than her previous cabaret-style work with The Jane Austen Argument and neo-noir experiment with Neon Bogart. The Lotus Eaters, a short six-track EP wrought with melodic elegance and experimental beauty, is a must-listen for any fan of baroque pop or chamber pop. The link is above; she releases all her music through Bandcamp so it is perfectly possible for you to start listening to it as you read through this blog :)

Its spoken word opening sets the contemplative tone for the entire EP, and the rich strings that follow the echoing words give a sense of regality to the beginning. In just fifty-two seconds, Jen piques your interest in the entire project.

The second track, “Sleeping Lessons,” offers a song as mellow (yet intriguing) as its title. This really showcases Jen’s voice right off the bat, and the ambient sound that trickles in behind her is the perfect prelude to instrumentation that gradually enters. Wordplay like “you’re not obliged to swallow anything you despise” throws an engaging message, both rebellious and gleeful as the song builds.

Bizarre imagery against a rhythmic background defines the title track, “The Lotus Eaters,” giving an ominous tone to this adventurous song. Full of pounding percussion, the pulse is broken only for a crash of cymbals and an exposition of Jen’s upper range. It doesn’t tell a story so much as show us a character, giving a sense of futility and determination all in one wallop.

And somewhere in the world

There’s two kids with their hands

In each other’s hair

Kissing in tutus

And the whole world is watching,

The whole world is watching

Cause this is the lens that makes sense.

Next, with “Kissing in Tutus” (previously released as a single) Jen gives us a higher, more feminine beginning to a song that carries itself with a driving drum—thumping like an over-eager heartbeat. It bears some of the same inspirational vibes as “Sleeping Lessons,” but it’s elevating “ah-ah’s” play against crisp strings and sharp staccato sounds in a very different way. The flow of her voice against the instrumentation is uplifting, and this song as a whole paints a picture of love familiar and fanciful, iconic and individual. It seems to seek to remind us why a kiss—any kiss—is unique and powerful.

I must have missed a memo, because I was pleasantly surprised when I heard track five and recognized that delightfully distinct British voice telling me, in little more than a minute, a brilliant story of a girl and her dreams. How can you not be curious about a track entitled, “She Never Trusted the Stars Again,” and how can you not be satisfied when Neil Gaiman tells you exactly how the stars could lose a girl’s trust? The poetic nature of the story is relayed in simple, concise terms, and is all the more enchanting for it.

The final song, “Andromeda,”full of longing and a loving appreciation for the sublime, gives the EP a strong but sentimental ending. A perfect follow-up to the previous track, it becomes a love letter to something bigger than the stars. Much more subtle than the high-strung electric pop of The Impossible Girl’s The Sky is Calling, this final track on The Lotus Eaters does give a similar sense of musical appreciation for the cosmos in its own way, distinct to Kingwell.

While I still miss the cabaret-sound that she had when I first heard her playing with Tom Dickens, this EP further proves what any Kingwell fan has known since Phoenix: this woman can not only hold her own as a solo performer, but continually blow us away with a new take on her own style every time she composes for us.

The Unofficial Pre-Announcement

So for the few of you who have been following me all along, since I started this blog to help promote The Young House, this is going to sound like déjà vu. For the rest of you, I’m happy to announce that things are looking up in my little literary career for the first time in a while. Backstory time!

Last summer I signed with a literary agency who fairly quickly got me a deal with a small digital publisher which I thought was going to be my foot-in-the-door as an author. They were going to publish and promote it, and I was going to go gangbusters on the social media front, using my marketing background to make sure everything went as perfectly as we hoped. They had some internal trouble within the agency though, and the publisher wasn’t seeing as strong of sales with its newer titles, so they were refocusing their efforts all into those titles. I was really scared for a while there because I thought I was going to be locked into the bad contract I signed, but they were good folks and when they realized they couldn’t do my work justice, they offered to cut me free.

I got off a lot easier than most of the silly young writers who leap at the first contract that comes their way.

Even still, it was a major disappointment, and I decided to break off my publishing efforts for a while and focus on content creation. I wasn’t going to try to put it out there, I was just going write and remind myself why I loved writing. Only then that turned into not writing at all, but losing weight, getting into shape, meditative work, and just generally taking care of myself. This took longer than I thought it would, but here I am, sending out query letters and ready to take the next big leap.

I haven’t officially announced it anywhere, and I promised myself I wouldn’t commit-commit to it until after my little much-needed three day vacation to Big Sur next week, but I’m confident that I will be moving forward with this project. Taking everything I learned in three years of DECA marketing competitions and all that I picked up working with Writers Bloq and the Collective Presse last year, I’m going to be independently publishing The Young House!

Starting Small: Thinking Outside of Traditional and Self Publishing

Looking around as I attempt to establish myself as an author, I see a lot of people caught up in the dichotomy of, “To traditionally publish or not? That is the question.” Every corner of the literary internet has an opinion on whether self-publishing or traditional publishing is better, or who it is better for. So caught up in this controversial professional issue, I think a lot of people start thinking about the choice as a purely binary one.

Since I decided to start trying to publish my books two years ago, I’ve found that there are a multitude of avenues to take when you decide you want to publish. The first thing I realized was a common-sense rule that should be obvious to anyone who’s familiar with the querying process: The shorter it is, the easier it is to get someone to read it.

I’ve queried a lot of short stories and poetry and gotten it published with tiny literary magazines. Are these impressive names I can drop? Not at all. Did it pay? Hardly. Am I published? Yes.

One of the golden rules for being “discovered as an artist” that I once heard was that to be discovered, you have to put your art where people will see it. I think the key to gaining that following everyone wants you to already have is to building it in slow steps. Make sure that whenever you tell someone “I’m a writer,” you can also tell them where they can go online to find something you’ve written. When my exclusivity contracts for short stories come due, I always put them up on my blog or website, if they aren’t already online for free. Make it easy for people to see what you are about.

Like everyone, I’d rather be signing book deals, publishing novels, and paying the rent while readers and fan mail pour in, but I’m resigned to starting slow and going up from here. So far, I’m in a lot better place than my peers who have been querying this whole time or trying to self-publish when they’re artists not marketers.

It’s not very glamorous, but I’ve met a lot of people and built a very neat network of other independent editors, publishers, and writers over the past few years. I can honestly claim that I’m published, and when people—potential readers or other professionals—ask me about my work, I can tell them where to find it. Pretty good for a silly little girl who doesn’t even have her BA in English yet.

Querying Again

Well, I’m at it again. I think writer must be an old Latin word for “foolishly persistent.” As if I didn’t learn from those three early years of seeking and writing and querying for representation, I’m back to the drawing board again with new novels and new resolve, determined to get myself published.

It’s almost like I love writing or something.

I took a massive break from querying because it just got too depressing. The hundred or so letters I sent out made no difference, and I remained no better off than before. Or that’s what I thought.

Looking back, I realize how much I learned from that experience. There are so many horribly stupid and unprofessional mistakes I made during that time when I was querying my first book, but I definitely got something out of the process. I know how to start a letter now, I know how to end one. I know how to talk about myself and my accomplishments and try to get the story to speak for itself.

If I could do it all over again though, I’d do exactly what I did. Those first few years of being an absolute newbie green idiot were probably the most beneficial thing I could have done with my time. The thing about any art or science is that you get better with practice, and I guess the moral of the story is just dive in. You’ll get better. Eventually.

Absurdism in Children’s Literature, Joy in my Thesis

I woke up at 6:30 this morning with a burning desire to get up and start playing, like it was Christmas morning or something. What’s crazy is, as excited as I am for today, the only thing I’m going to be doing is working on my senior thesis. A literary research paper. That’s what inspired me out of bed three hours early this morning.

None of my friends are doing a thesis for their undergraduate degrees unless they’re specifically enrolled in an honors college, so I guess it’s just one more perk of being an online student who is expected to write—not test—on everything she learns. The fantastic thing about online school is that it teaches you how to integrate reading and learning into your day, into your life. Brick and mortar schools are all about tests, tests, tests…but when you go to school online and have access to the internet during any given exam, they realize how much more sensible it is to teach you how to write (and write well) on your subjects.

Ergo, I’m writing a sixty page senior thesis as the capstone of my undergraduate career. Since I have no intention of going to grad school, this is kind of my big blow out, the grand finale, of my relationship with academia…and I want to make it count for something. I am resolved to produce an end product that I’m proud of, and is hopefully publishable.

My senior thesis is a sixty page paper, and the last thing I have to finish before I can graduate this summer. I’ve got four months to pull this thing together, and I’m writing on absurdism in Victorian-Edwardian children’s literature fantasies.

Absurdism, in this context, refers to the philosophical concept of the “absurd”: the conflict between mankind’s desire and need to search for and seek out a meaning of life, and his inability to ever find it. We’ve been walking this planet for eons and we’re still asking what is the meaning of life? I’m an absurdist because I believe if we haven’t figured it out yet we’re not going to figure it out, if we haven’t stopped asking yet we’re not going to stop asking, and if this is so we might as well embrace and enjoy it.

I think literary nonsense is a fantastic vessel for this, and themes of absurdism exist well outside of the gloomy, nihilistic fiction of absurdist authors like Kafka and Camus. Think about the way Alice tries to make sense of Wonderland, or what Wendy Darling is searching for when she heads to Neverland…aren’t there some commonalities between their fantastic quests and our own impossible-to-understand human conditions?

I am having an absolute blast with this project, studying Christiania Rossetti, J.M. Barrie, Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, Beatrix Potter, Kate Greenaway, Andrew Lang, Ruyard Kipling, and Kenneth Grahame. I’m going to be spending my summer on Stanford’s campus, and am looking forward to being a quick walk away from their Meyer and Green libraries. I may or may not be moving in with my boyfriend this summer solely to get access to his school’s libraries ;)