king harvest will surely come

I’ve been in unofficial (and then official) quarantine for three weeks now. Thankfully, my leftover cough from my horrific flu in February is gone. No fever. No cough. I’m OK. Still teaching a few students, but we’ve made some big changes. My new classroom is our old study room, and each kid gets a table all to themselves. Public school was supposed to return from spring break on Monday, but it’s been postponed indefinitely. I don’t believe they’ll go back before September.

It’s Thursday, though the only way I can be sure of that is looking at the menu bar on my desktop. My RSS reader of choice, NetNewsWire, has a weird bug that backdates all my blog posts by a full day, only adding to the time dilation of quarantine. Many of our days have been cloudy and grey, so the sun is no help with the time. It even hailed this morning.

My job has slowly diminished as COVID-19 spread across BC—from my usual 12 hours/week to 6 to just 4 this week. But where this would have caused me stress last year, I’ve had a small financial cushion to keep paying my rent, and now that tax refunds are coming out, and the government is providing help, I know I’m OK for now. 

(That’s me in my new classroom, with my new friends.)

I’ve been uncharacteristically unstressed about all of this. Yes, I’m a homebody who loves my solitude, but the weather has also been spring-like, and usually I’d be hiking on my days off. I’ve been struggling, but not worried about it? My brain hasn’t been catastrophising, especially not in the last weeks as it seems like, locally, we have a handle on things. I know how lucky I am to live in a place with the support of socialism, with our small, spread-out population, with my parents close whenever I need help. 

A common refrain I’ve heard—from folks my age and younger—is that we were just getting our lives together when this happened. I definitely felt like 2020 was gonna be a good year for me—finally taking some big steps and acting on long-held ambitions. But I’m also very OK with letting go of the old normal because that’s what needed to happen. (I’ve been joking that my farmers market biz was already apocalypse-proof; I just didn’t realise it would be relevant so soon.) 

The heart of everything I create has always been DIY. The heart of this new normal to which we’re headed is going to be DIY.

The last few years, I’ve chosen a word—a theme—to guide the year. At the start of 2020, I chose CONTINUE. Some plans have changed (XOXO is cancelled, concerts have been postponed), but others will continue. It would be so easy to cancel everything, but the White Rock Farmers Market will CONTINUE. We open May 3rd, a Sunday, with modifications. If you’re not ready for our new DIY world, I can help.

My obsession with traditional crafting means I already had a sourdough starter ready to share once everyone decided to bake bread at home. I had already turned my focus to the local environment—salt made from Crescent Beach, flour milled in Chilliwack, herbs grown in my own backyard. I was ready for this paradigm shift that we never actually wanted to witness. But we’re here now. We’re going to CONTINUE. I can’t take your hand, but you can follow me.

Jess

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dry your eyes, Sunday girl 🗓️

Four years ago, I started a project to make a zine a week. I called it Sunday Zine, because I knew I would need a deadline to keep me on track. I made 50 zines that year—some of them are now part of my greatest hits. But when I reached the end of that project, I didn’t want to make another zine.

Honestly, I didn’t want to make anything. I didn’t want to write. I didn’t want to blog. I stopped reblogging and tweeting. I had a day job that was paying my bills, and I had moved out of my parents’s house. And if being an artist hadn’t happened by now, maybe it was time to give up.

That lasted about two months. 😂

The last time I sent you a letter was six months ago. It was just before I left for the XOXO Festival in Portland. On the Friday before the talks started, I sat in the co-working space in the same building, with my laptop, and I wrote the beginning of a letter I never sent. Today, I don’t remember exactly why I didn’t.

I did a lot of zine shows and art fairs last year. I tabled in the heart of the West End, at the flagship Broken Pencil show, in the Artist Alley in my rec centre parking lot. I even took the bus to Olympia for my first time at their zine fest.

And nothing seemed to work. I ended the 2019 season deep in the red. I couldn’t even sell enough to make up the table fees. This time, though, I know giving up art isn’t the answer. I don’t want to give up writing this time. I have to try something else.

Luckily, I’m a generalist. 📚

My dream has always been a little shop. A physical space where I could host readings, hang art, sell books and whatever else was my obsession at the time. My dream was always that the contents would change—with the seasons, with the weather, with my whims.

Physical space is expensive, even moreso here in the suburbs of the most expensive city in Canada. Even with my small windfall of inheritance last year, I couldn’t find a retail space that I could afford (we need the tiny house movement for retail!)

But let me tell you about my 2020 project. 🥖

Starting May 3rd, and twelve more Sundays until October, I’ll have a booth at my local farmer’s market. (At this time, I’m assuming it will go on as planned; of course, this might change 😔) That booth will be called All Day Breakfast, where I’ll sell zines, of course, but also sea salt—made from water collected from my local beaches—and sourdough starter—dried for bakers to start their own. This venture feels like the culmination of my two big dreams: writing and baking. I couldn’t make one or the other work by themselves, but maybe, by bringing them together, All Day Breakfast will be stronger.

🍳 For now, you can buy these provisions online.

In 2019, I pushed myself out of my emotional and physical comfort zone. In 2020, I’m staying close to home, so I can dream even bigger. For 13 Sundays, May to October, I’ll be testing, iterating, baking, and writing to find my niche. In 2021, perhaps I’ll find my little shop.

Stay tuned for reports from the market, and if you’re close by, I’d love to see you there. I’ll save you a loaf.

Thanks,

Jess

🖨️ Resizable text fields forever

First: I’ve moved this newsletter from Mailchimp to Substack. The former might be the best tool for email marketing, but that’s not what I’m doing here. The latter is nicer for writing words. I want this email to feel like a letter—not just for you, the person reading it, but for me, too. I enjoy writing letters. One of my oldest internet friends is my oldest internet friend because we both love postcards and really nice pens.

I miss having penpals. Remember the back pages of Tiger Beat and Bop? Where kids would send their mailing addresses and ask others to write them? I had penpals through Girl Guides, too: one from Finland and one from Ontario, both random matches, and another whom I met at a provincial camp. We wrote about life in our different cities and traded stickers and mix tapes on cassette. It makes a lot of sense that I would find myself in the internet because I was already writing to strangers.

A blog is a letter you write in public. A zine is a letter you fold into a book. An email is a letter that can’t wait for a stamp.

For much of August, I’ve been working on a love letter to the XOXO festival. Since it began, in 2012, I have watched from afar as some of my favourite internet artists gather in Portland. We had Twitter then, so I could follow along, and all the talks are available on YouTube afterwards, but festivals and conferences like that are often frustratingly out of reach for a lot of us. But last year I was lucky to receive a free pass. I was lucky to have that chance to effusively introduce myself to people I have long admired like Matt Haughey, Helen Rosner, Cabel Sasser, Sydette Harry. I was lucky to be a part of those old internet feelings.

I wanted to put those feelings down on paper, but I didn’t. I thought about it a lot! It just became one of those zines I thought about making, but didn’t. A good project needs a deadline (I get on the bus September 4th), a structure (paper, def, but also PDF), and a purpose: I didn’t want to go back to XOXO empty-handed. And now I had a community to help me.

We each made a page—text, comics, collage. We made a zine to print and fold and share. It’s about making friends, feeling weird, but also books, art, jumpsuits, bingo, and the internet, of course, because that’s what led us to XOXO in the first place.

Love letters can be printed on paper, or they can be an email typed straight into a text field and sent out to some internet friends.

Thanks,

Jess

PS. I’m gonna take an offline break in September, some time to think about a new project. You’ll hear from me next Friday.

💌 Art is just noticing what others miss

As social networks move from the public space to private, I’m spending more time in Slack with the group of internet weirdos I met at XOXO last year. The festival’s tagline is “for independent artists who live and work online.” That first verb is the important one.

The internet and I grew up together. It moved into our living room when I was 14. I learned how to be a writer in public. I taught myself code. All of my friends live inside these wires.

The XOXO book club is reading HOW TO DO NOTHING by Jenny Odell, who will be a speaker at the festival. It’s a compelling read; I finished it in three days. Where many of us who live on the internet have been searching, frantically, increasingly, for ways to disconnect, to runaway to the mountains, to live off the land, Odell argues for the opposite. The solution to fixing what the internet has done to our brains, she writes, is the reconnect with the world. Not the world inside the wires, but the world of the trees, the flowers, the birds. (Especially the birds, Odell would say.)

It’s not surprising Odell grew up in California. For many of us on the west coast, a hike in the woods is the answer to all our problems. (Add a thermos of tea, and I’m set.) Before I read this book, I might’ve told you I already know how to do nothing. Halfway through this book, I would’ve said I already know I’m surrounded by cedars, honeybees, and crows. And yet, immediately after I finished reading, I downloaded her suggested iNaturalist app and took photos of the trees on my block, the wildflowers growing in the unlandscaped lot, and the weeds forcing their way through the cracks in the pavement.

For a few years now, perhaps since I moved to White Rock in 2015, I have heard a different bird call, in between the crows and seagulls I know. It sounded, to me, like the cliché of a dove. I was lucky to catch glimpses, enough to know it was more than one bird, and grey, but not a gull. I didn't even know if doves were wild in this area. I imagined they had been a pair, someone's pets, escaped or set loose.

And then I saw them this afternoon, in a quiet unmoving moment, around the corner from my house.

two grey doves sitting on telephone lines among trees

Zooming in as far as I could, I managed a few blurry frames, even as the two birds ignored me, seemingly unbothered. They've lived in this neighbourhood a long time; I'm sure they know me, perhaps better than I know them.

Once I was home (and back on wifi), I uploaded my photo to iNaturalist, eager for an identification. Eurasian collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto). But even better, someone else has noticed them, too.

My story is not unique. An introverted girl who didn't have much in common with the kids she called friends, I found others like me on the internet. I won't give them up, no matter how much the people with money try to destroy our networks. We made the internet once; we can make it again.

Remember: if you noticed something cool, someone else has noticed it, too. They'd probably love to chat.

Thanks,
Jess

🌞 Summer break for teachers 😹

This is Junior. The summer heat has not been kind to black cats.

When we moved into my parents’s current house, almost 15 years ago, the previous owners had created a sandbox in the backyard for an above-ground pool. So my parents bought an above-ground pool, too, and it’s gone up every summer. My dad rigs up a solar heating system with dozens of metres of black piping on the roof, but this year, there have been too many off-days in between the blistering heat. It hasn’t been a good swimming summer.

It’s been a much better summer for teaching, though. Last June, I came home from my Palm Spring vacation to literally no students. I taught only one or two days for the months of July and August. This year, July was good—I can pay my August rent. September, though, remains to be seen. If you’ve been thinking about buying one (or more) of my zines, now is a very good time.

If you were here last August, you might remember I made a zine every day. That’s what I called them then, but many of them were just a single sheet of flat paper—a broadsheet, perhaps. As with most daily projects, not every effort is my best, but the sum, the collection, the experiment is the lesson.

I wrote 31 zine reviews in July, and whoa, are my fingers tired. This wasn't a purely altruistic project. I wanted to contribute to the zine community, but it's also my kind of networking. Some of the zines in my library are a decade old, and tracking down those artists has been a fun exercise. Follow the links if you want new people to read.

I am very good at thinking about big projects, but I’m better at doing small ones. This August, I’ll be posting my completed tasks on my blog daily. I’ll be making Congenial Telegram monthly (No. 02 is brand new!) And, of course, this newsletter is fortnightly.

Until then, thanks,
Jess

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