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Sidewalk Joy, Rejections, and a Good Cause
It's a really good cause!
Let Me Paint Your Vacation Pictures
I’m participating in an auction for a very worthy cause. Sisters in Crime, an organization of women crime fiction authors, is raising money for The Innocence Project. There are few things more horrifying than being in prison for a crime you didn’t commit, and for that reason I’ve donated to this group for years.
Now I’m offering up a painting from YOUR vacation photo as a prize in this auction. Go here to bid, and if you win, we’ll work together to figure out a photo that will work for a 5x7 inch painting from me. There are many other prizes on offer, so please take a look at all the auction items while you’re at it. Bidding starts today!
Please Enjoy Portland’s Sidewalk Joy Map
It’s hard to even explain how fabulous this is. So Portlanders love their Little Free Libraries, and in general we love the idea of “take a thing, leave a thing.” We also love weird little home-grown art installations. These passions have come together lately with the popularity of alternative little free somethings: the tiny art gallery PDXFlag, the free flower box hosted by Georgina Ottaviano, and the Little Free Fibrary, sharing yarn and other knitting supplies.
Are you already obsessed? I thought so. But it gets better. The folks at PDXDinorama (take a dinosaur, leave a dinosaur) made a map of dozens of Sidewalk Joy Stations throughout Portland! Even if you don’t live here and can’t make it your mission in life to visit each one, you can still browse the listings and be inspired. They aren’t all housed in Little Free Library-style boxes—some are attached to trees or just arrayed around a front yard—but they are all good-natured, creative, and, well…FREE. Take a thing, leave a thing. Make something, admire something. Share the joy.
I Kind of Miss Rejection Letters
The other day, the parent of a college-bound kid told me that she realized she’d left a few things out of her child’s education: the kid didn’t know how to put a stamp on a letter. He didn’t know what corner the stamp went on, and where the address went, or the return address.
I know, it sounds crazy. But I told this story to a few people, and they’d all experienced this with young adult friends, relations, and employees.
That got me thinking about rejection letters. When I started submitting poems and stories to literary magazines in the 90s, the way it worked was that you’d send your writing, along with a self-addressed stamped envelope, to a magazine whose address you’d found in the Writers Guide, which was sort of like the Yellow Pages of the literary world. (I’m glad I don’t have to explain what the Yellow Pages are to you people.)
Then you’d wait.
Someday, maybe many months later, a fat envelope would arrive in the mail. It looked different from all the other mail, because the envelope was creased from where it had been folded in thirds, and it was addressed to you in your own handwriting.
It always took me a minute to realize that this was one of my self-addressed envelopes, coming back to me with my rejected poems and stories inside.
Also inside would be a rejection slip.
These were awful and impersonal but also kind of glorious. Some included a little handwritten encouraging note, or even just the initials of the editor. Some were sort of jolly, or at least upbeat. Others had long lists of all the things that might be wrong with your writing, with a checkmark next to whichever ones applied to you.
I got sort of interested in rejection slips and even submitted work to places like the New Yorker, knowing I’d never be accepted, but hoping to collect a nice rejection slip anyway.
I kept them all. One day, I decoupaged a dresser with them.
My rejection letter dresser still sits in my office today, where, ironically, it mostly serves as a platform for various electronic devices that need to be plugged in and kept nearby. The drawers are filled with extra sheets and towels, not for any writerly reason but because we have nowhere else to put those. Every day I look at the rejections from long-dead magazines, and some, like the New Yorker, that are still around and standing by to reject me yet again, should I ever decide to collect another one of their slips.
Here’s a droll little piece about famous writers and their rejections, if you’d like to read more on the subject.
Mostly, though, I miss how concrete it all felt: the thick book of addresses, updated annually, the roll of stamps, the stack of poems, the fat envelopes crashing through the mail slot.
Oh, and once in a while, someone did accept a poem or a story. There was almost never any money involved. Nonetheless we’d go out to dinner to celebrate, never minding that, what with the dinner tabs, I was running my writing career at an ever-growing deficit.
The Joy of Iterations
My friend Craig went to Patagonia and took some wonderful pictures. I asked if I could paint from his photos, and he said yes, but could he buy a painting, and I said no, he couldn’t buy one, I’d give it to him.
This was an excuse to try a large-ish painting in acrylic. I thought I’d like acrylic better than oil because of the fast drying times and the way you can lay down a really sharp edge, which is somehow difficult for me in oil.
I’d tried a couple large acrylic paintings already, and both failed miserably. I was forced to accept that maybe I’d have to do smaller sketches first, figure things out, and then work my way up. I’m usually too impatient for anything like that, but this time, I got sucked into the project and did these over just a few days.
Left to right: acryla gouache and acrylic ink in an 8x10 sketchbook, then acryla gouache and acrylic ink on an 11x16 illustration board, and finally, acrylic paint with a little acrylic ink on a 16x20 illustration board.
I realized I should do this more often. Random mistakes and weird choices in one version can turn out to be very useful in the next version. Little differences in brush choices, color palette, and underpainting can yield some surprising differences. After I took this photo, I immediately picked up the large one and made some more changes to it.
It takes time, and I suppose it wouldn’t be a very profitable way to work if I was doing it for a profit. But when you’re making free paintings for your friends, and trying out new materials, it’s a great way to figure stuff out.
What Are You Reading?
I’m embarrassed to admit that it’s taken me this long to read my friend Jonathan Evison’s novel Lawn Boy. He writes a lot of novels—it’s hard to keep up!
His is one of many books to get caught up in the great book-banning frenzy of 2023. Actually, this started last year for him. You can read about it here if you like. It’s absurd, of course, and although it’s brought the novel a little bit of attention, it’s also brought threats and intimidation to him and his family. What a world we live in.
Anyway, it’s a truly lovely and authentic book about a guy who does people’s yards. I remember when he was writing it that he wanted to write the Great American Landscaping Novel, and I think he succeeded. It’s a terrific book and it will definitely not corrupt your innocent mind, or if it does, maybe your mind needed a little corrupting.
The Bit at the End
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