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Anatomy of a Cactus + the insularity of longform writing
Two friends moved away from Santa Fe last year. I agreed to take care of two of their plants. Unlike my past efforts, Becca and Soni’s aloe plant and cactus have done quite well in our home. They seem therefore generous to me, as though their well-being reflects some inner agreeableness. Presumably, we get along in some deeper way. Maybe they like the surviving scrappy succulent and the squat but infinitely stable cactus—impervious to all things, even my forgetting. As my family and I get ready to leave Santa Fe at the end of May, I have similar plans to gift this modest plant family to another friend in town.
Becca and Soni’s cactus had two main stems when it arrived. Proud but young-looking, like a tween with perfect posture. Both stems were the same height. Slowly, I noticed one stem grew taller than its twin. I wondered about this ambiently. I turned its pot, thinking maybe if the shorter stem was farther or nearer from the window, maybe the shorter one would catch up.
Instead, the shorter stem grew a small arm. I hardly noticed it at first but it began so tentatively , like the small nub of a thought. That arm has since grown quite big and I often wonder—if all things were equal, if those the twin stems indeed had the same conditions—then the energy it took for one stem to grow tall might be equivalent for the other stem to grow an arm. And if so, how remarkable to imagine that the two stems indicate two different choices for growth. I wonder if the stems discussed this with one another. Maybe the shorter stem was working on producing its arm for a while before external or public protrusion. What a relief it must have been when that new arm at last began to stretch out.
Writing novels is like that—any long form work. It takes time to produce. Time to write, time to think, time to research and read, time to do nothing. I’ve been working on my novella, The Healing Circle, for years and years and years, with different intensities. I don’t mean suggest that Becca and Soni’s cactus is just a metaphor, but I relate to its quiet effort. That cactus has given me a lot of support in my writing efforts as I think to myself, be patient, the book will come into being at last when the time is right.
The Healing Circle is scheduled for release mid-August. We don’t have a cover yet but I will share it when I do. There is something symbolic about it coming out now—after seventeen years running the Green Lantern, an art space and a press in Chicago, I moved to Santa Fe with my family in 2019. I came here to write. I finished The Healing Circle. Now we go to Connecticut for the summer to see family and relocate to Oxford for a grad program in the fall. The book is inspired by the death of my own mother. She passed away in 2004, before I started the Green Lantern. It’s taken me that long to write around the experience but it feels good to be here. Over the course of the summer, I’ll be thinking about transitions, writing, plants, books I’m reading or have read, art I’m seeing or thinking about. And making New Age-inspired playlists. These are letters from my studio space. Thank you for reading!
What I’m reading:
Zen Cho’s Black Water Sister came out last year and was recommended to me for Cho’s ability to weave together supernatural, familial, and folkloric threads. The main character, Jessmyn, lives with her parents after graduating, all of them having relocated to Penang after giving up the American Dream. Jessmyn (Jess) hides her sexual identity while looking for jobs when she starts to hear the voice of the posthumous psychic grandmother Jess never met.
Eco Soma: Pain and Joy in Speculative Performance Encounters by Petra Kuppers. This book looks at the relationship between disability studies, performance art practices, and ecological awareness. Released by Art after Nature, a series I’m co-editing with Giovanni Aloi, published by the University of Minnesota Press. Giovanni, Petra, and I had a really nice conversation about her book a few weeks ago. You can listen to that here.
What I’ve seen:
I started making comics based on interviews with artists and curators. These have come out recently in Southwest Contemporary and the Chicago Reader. Here is the latest one, published in the print issue of the Chicago Reader last week. Stan Miller and Dutes Shellabarger talk about their exhibition, Loving Repeating, at the Hyde Park Art Center.
What I’m listening to:
During the pandemic, I started making playlists for friends. Here is a New Age-inspired Healing Circle playlist for writing/thinking. Here’s a link.