countdown

I am intensely aware of, caught in, the linear experience of time. The calendar year is ending, the solstice is approaching, Christmas is coming, it’s Liam’s last few months of high school, we are all moving away from Boston. Our trajectories for the next year or so overlap in our usual helixy sort of pattern, but we are no longer five fish in the same stream, nor perhaps will we ever be again. It’s bittersweet.

Even Bri is leaving town; her time on the old ship is up, and she’s headed to a few months of school in Virginia, and then on to her next assignment. Where that will be will depend on where she finishes in her class. Top of the class gets first pick, second in class second pick. I’ll probably be visiting her in Spain, or London…

bri elf MOS

What a sweet time it’s been.

. . .

By the way, I am happy to report that I finally penetrated the cobbler’s shop in Harvard Square. I needed to get some salt remover for my thrift store riding boots, and of course I wanted to ask about the windows.

Remember the windows?

leather shop in harvard square

The name of the place is the Felix Shoe Repair. Cash or check only. The windows were built in France, and brought over in 1895. So about the same time frame, same level of exquisite craftsmanship, as Gaudi’s Casa Batllo in Barcelona.

Batllo in the night

He liked the boots, which was nice. He tells people right away if their shoes are not worth his time (leading to some sketchy Yelp reviews) but mine passed muster, and he explained to me how to remove the salt, condition the leather, polish and seal them. It was fun.

He was very Old World, and there were lots of beautiful hand tools.

Felix shoe shop

I’ll think of him when I wear the boots.

.   .  .

On Thursday, we went to see John Waters at the Royale, the hilarious dance club with golden vinyl couches and baroque balconies. We had fun.

John Waters wouldn’t allow photos, so we had to take pictures of each other.

Kate and Bill at John Waters in Boston 2014

I feel like I am on the end of a fern frond, and it is curling up behind me as I move to the tip. I will fall off soon, and form a new trajectory.

I wish I could ride back and live this six months again.

Not to change anything, just to feel it all just one more time.

However, that isn’t how it works, and I will pay good attention to my remaining fourteen days, and dream, in background, of what may come next.

a soft snowy day

It’s a snowy morning in Boston, and I don’t mind because I’m a fool in love.

blue berries cambridge

Admittedly I am not able to accomplish as much as I would like on these winter days. But they are sweet, with everyone so close. And Harvard is made for winter; the whole campus, even Harvard Square, suddenly makes sense to me.

While I maunder pleasantly here in Cambridge, awaiting the Solstice, enjoying the last weeks of our time out of time, contemplating the tapestry of my life, other people are quite active – the New Horizons team just celebrated their spacecraft waking up for the final time; it was thrilling to just be able to pull up the Deep Space Network and watch the signal coming down.

Beep!

DSN getting Pluto wakeup call

Why, my beloved friend Rick Binzel was in the Boston Globe today, Pluto is so exciting.

Rick Binzel by Suzanne Kreiter

The kitten is enjoying his first Christmas. He’s been surprisingly good with the Giant Tree that Bill installed.

first Christmas

Bill did not forget to pack the Shuttlecraft. Thankfully! Could it even be Christmas without this ornament?

shuttlecraft to enterprise

My glamorous friend Kim Van Antwerp is also rocking life. I sent her a swank vintage scarf with a little box of love and she fired back no less than three shots of her out there living life in it. And considerably more stylishly than most would.

Kim van Antwerp in scarf

Sigh. Only a few more weeks left here.

Strictly Commercial / Treasure Boxes

I feel as if I could speak, write, or paint on the side of a building any potential sequence of words, but I still might not get it said. I’m continuing to move forward through my to-do list, which is daunting. Everything is related to everything else, or nothing else, but cross things off I am, and I’m down to hard things. Do you know what I mean?

How I relate to the world has taken a sea change; some things seem easier now than others, and some are more difficult, and some are demanding to be done first. The days grow shorter; there is an illusion of less time. There is certainly less daylight. It matters less in the city; who cares if it is light or dark? There is always something open, something good to see or to do.

For example, check out this gorgeous solution to a very narrow problem, as seen in Cambridge.

red steps cambridge

When I went to Tucson last month, I meant to make metal, as I’m still behind the eight-ball financially (and with my final press bill due in ten days) but my metals bench was under a layer of enchanting treasures.

I’ve been smallerizing for years now, and everything that’s left has got a story; the remaining treasures are things that need to be explained as they are passed on.

Treasure

I went to the cigar store yesterday for a stack of beautiful wooden boxes. To get them, I took assorted transport and passage; first our car (delivered to the Navy Yard for Bri) then a bridge to walk over, two trains and a bus home (the Central Square stop was a total freakshow of the heart) and four more blocks to walk from the bus stop. I staggered in the door, feeling happy.

Three Bags Full

Yesterday and today, I’ve been mailing back the final wave of pieces that I have been holding from others. It’s time to let go, give my thanks. I have two pieces left that I cannot identify, they are unusual, made by the same hand. I will post them on the Book Blog today or tomorrow. I did not succeed with everything I have been holding; I always think that I can do anything if I keep trying, but it is not always the case.

Speaking of trying, I’ve been practicing with the FOUNTAIN PEN that Kyle Cassidy gave me (thank you, Kyle) and writing small poems to go with the items I’m placing in each cigar box; filling the space not only with tiny things that have meant something to me, but with the thoughts and words and attention and love that they have commanded from me; small personal vignettes. I think that there will be 22 boxes.

If you are interested in seeing them, keep an eye on this space.

fountain pen from Kyle

December?

I don’t know how it can be December. I fight against even the idea. Our life here evaporates into mist on December 30th. Sabbatical terms are like that; here, and then gone.

I had an appointment over at CSAIL yesterday (CSAIL is the AI lab at MIT that builds all of my favorite robots, and is housed in the Gehry building) and so I thought I’d do a bit of a shoot.

Gehry O Rama MIT, photo by Kate McKinnon

The Gehry is surreal just sitting there; it doesn’t need any filters or effects. Admittedly, however, the light was fantastic.

Robot at CSAIL, MIT, Gehry Building. photo by Kate Mckinnon

I attempted to infiltrate the roof of the Green Building (the I.M. Pei tower that houses MIT Planetary) but I was unsuccessful. However, nothing will stop me. I am bent on getting a shot of Rob van der Hilst up there, tall and magnificent against the crazed, mysterious Ball.

It’s been a strange and lovely  year.

If I could describe my feelings only using colours and lines, I suppose they would look a lot like these two photographs.

here and there

I’ve never really been sure why things are extra beautiful from train or bus windows. But they are.

I rode a bus home to Boston from Philly last night, after a nice Thanksgiving in Lancaster and visit with Kyle and Trillian. Kyle gave me a fountain pen; I am excited but still not proficient with it. I finally was able to introduce Bill, which gave me great joy.

philly from the bus 3

Anyway. Windows.

I even like things through dirty windows, and especially when I am alone.

Philly twilight 1
Perhaps it’s the feeling of an imminent fresh start; each minute on a conveyance unrolls unique, and there is a destination ahead at which I can begin again.

The first step onto the ground is intense for me, even if I have been there before; once I was moving, now I am afoot on Terra.

dirty bus window philly
I talk too much, and I feel too many unauthorized feelings, and when I am moving along in a train, and cities and bridges and buildings are glittering backdrops reeling along beside me, I feel that I am nowhere, everywhere, untraceable, and it brings me peace.

My favorite place to be is uncatchable, anywhere, my favorite feeling is to be understood. Each is fleeting, rare, almost never forgotten.

Philly from the bus 2

New Jersey by Twilight

It was lovely to come home to Boston.

leather shop in harvard square

The leather shop in Harvard Square seems as if it has been there forever. Note the vault lighting in the sidewalk out front. (Doriot!)

Before I went to Pennsylvania (and what a trip to drive through five states in six hours) for Thanksgiving, and after I came back from Tucson, I went out to PTown for the first time, with my friend Gail.

Gail on the Beach

In fact, it was my first time on Cape Cod.

I loved it.

owl sculpture tip

marine supply

gail on the marsh

dusting out the corners

I’ve greatly enjoyed these few days in Tucson, rustling through my belongings (there is still an astonishing level of STUFF despite all efforts to contain my enthusiasm in that regard). Action figures abound; some of them are very expressive. I love to photograph them.

Yard Longing

Today should be a great work day; mailing things, photography, making pretty gift boxes, prancing around. It’s glorious here, in the 70’s and sunny, with cold nights, and the vines are viney and the flowers are flowery.

rather pretty

My little car is excited to see me, I drive around with the top down, playing the Ramones, laughing. I’m seeing friends, planning a walk up a canyon. Electric Larryland twice, Carlisle.

I am sleeping with cats, getting up early, listening to entire records, feeling the music pass by me like I am on a sea voyage.

The honeysuckle, creeping fig and jasmine have made a beautiful bower of my private space in the back yard, and the huge palo verde tree in the back yard is now big enough that its northmost branches create a canopy over the old orange trees.

birds lizards and B40 Cooper

It’s very peaceful back there. I am imagining us all wandering around, imagining nice weather for the book launch party in February. I am imagining walking in other places, too, with other people. Cities.

I am hugely drawn to cities. Just thinking about walking endlessly through city streets makes me high.

I want to walk forever and then have something to eat and walk some more. I want to walk for hours, and take really long strides, like a racehorse. I want to suddenly veer down alleys and spontaneously climb up stairs and ride up elevators to look out from the tops of buildings, and I want to walk over bridges and of course under them too.

I try to learn to not think of walking with other people as walking, but as a cocktail party that is on the move.

I want to talk to strangers. I want to paint people.

flowers on a summer evening

It feels intense, I think, how can I be so lucky as to always be wanting things so much? I used to think it was a handicap but I see now that it’s just what it is, life force.

My mind fills with my new project; I have untied its corset-strings, and it spills out all over my head and makes my skin shiver. I think of all of the people I am going to talk to. I hate having only an hour or two with someone, though. What I’d like to to is be stranded in a nice place with them for a few days.

Miss Fish watches me do the things I’m doing; she is happy to get up at 4 am, nap with me in the afternoons. She does not make lists.

Miss FIsh Doesnt Make LIsts

I think, “I could be like her.”

When I was flying in, I was bringing things home from Boston. Our time is coming to an end.

It felt stupid, because of course I’m not leaving Boston. I’m coming back as soon as winter is over. But I brought home my summer clothes, my sandals, my beads, my Unipig, even Kirk wanted to come home. It was an odd collection of things I had in my carryon, and I warned the TSA guy on the X-ray that there were a lot of tubes of beads coming through, but I’d forgotten the tripod, that the tubes in bundles like explosives, the Kirk with his arms up, the little bag of metal tools.

The guy sent the case for a swab and I laughed, and apologized, and said, “What did it look like?”

And he just looked at me, full-on, with a really deep look and said, “Terrifying, honestly. Terrifying.”

I felt badly.

Terrifying Bag

When I get back to Boston in a few days, I’ll be headed to P-Town with Gail, then off for Thanksgiving in Amish country. Then it’s time for all of Liam’s art school applications. Then it’s Christmas, and then I’ll be back in Tucson for a while, avoiding the real winter.

I like the start of winter, though; the snap in the air, the change of the leaves, the chance to wear coats and scarves and short skirts with fleece-lined tights.

boys in providence

I have this crazy thought that somehow, there might be more time ahead for all of us together in Boston. It will be interesting to see what we each do, with all of this freedom of choice.

I think of Liam doing his first year at Mass Art or someplace groovy near Boston and Evan finishing his last year of high school in Cambridge. Wouldn’t that be a thrill. I’ve loved us all together; and the four of us going to a new city together has been everything we each hoped it could be.

It would be so great to have more of it. The boys are so fascinating now, and anyway I doubt they are really ready to be suddenly completely apart. We’ll see.

This time, it’s up to them, such an interesting moment in our life together as a family.

What it’s like to make books.

I’m here at Home Base in Tucson to make a suite of new pieces and parts (mostly in metal) and about 50 Treasure Boxes and 5 new kits, all to help pay the final press bills for the beautiful, transcendent Volume II of CGB.

Screen Shot 2014-06-08 at 11.39.29 AM

It’s such a beautiful book. It’s an honor to work for it.
And work for it I must.

If you are curious about making books…

I know that many people who make original work think about doing books. It’s easy enough and hard enough to produce one for a publisher (if one has a book in them, that is- you don’t find out until you try) but it’s significantly more challenging to do it alone. And there are trade-offs each way.

Publishers provide professional photographers and layout teams, and they get books in shops and on lists, but the writer is generally paid royalties of about a dollar a book. If that. And that’s after expenses. And after any advance has been deducted from their earnings on the work. An author who sells a million books can make a million dollars. Whee.

I prefer to control my content, do my own photography. And I am not going to sell a million books. Maybe 100,000 over time, if I’m very diligent to remain visible and my work remains relevant.

But… professionals make beautiful work, and once you hand it off to them you are finished, you can move on. I’ve worked for many years to be able to produce beauty too, and even at that I rely heavily on a team of really kind and clever volunteers to edit, proof, and to check my ideas as well as my words and captions.

Basics Leader smaller web

How it breaks down financially

If I do the work myself (and I do everything now except editing my own work, which is kind of impossible) I pay the costs, and retain the lion’s share of the cover price of the books.

Big distributors like Helby take 60% of cover, wholesale to shops is done at an even 50% split. Amazon, to warehouse, market, sell and ship (and take the hit if shipping or warehousing goes wrong) takes 22%. If I sell it myself, and have my assistant warehouse and ship, I pay 17% (13% to her and 4% to PayPal) but I am responsible for all errors, shipping or warehousing problems. If I sell, warehouse and ship myself I pay only the PayPal commission and the cost of the postcards and puzzle erasers I send along, and am responsible for everything.

The financial rewards of Doing It All (have you tried warehousing and shipping even a thousand books?) must be graphed with the risk and the work and the space and time demanded. I use all methods, and it works. I can travel; I have an acceptable level of risk. I make almost no money selling to distributors or wholesale, that is if I count the cost of my time, but I am well paid when I sell retail on my own.

So far, CGB has sold about 8000 books over the course of the project. That’s a lot of sales for an indy book (in fact it’s astounding, and I think just getting started) and a big enough stack of money (about $220,000) to do the job. It’s also a lot of responsibility.

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 7.59.21 PM

It’s difficult to know how to honestly account for money, overhead and time, but the actual costs to produce the two physical books, which are printed and bound in the USA, are around $90,000. My professional time on the job (about 8,000 hours), priced at $20 an hour (about minimum wage for a professional) would be $160,000, for a rough cost of $240,000.

After the dust has settled, I have as of this date $20,000 in press and production bills left to pay, and about 3000 books left on my shelves to sell. These books are mine free and clear; they represent a value of about $90,000, which is about two years of living wage for me.

To earn that money, though, I will have to reprint Volume II at my own expense (at a cost of about $15,000 a reprint run of 2500 books) before 2015 is out, because only about 1000 of the remaining books are the second volume, and it will be the one that sells fastest…

You can see how it goes. The project feeds me; it keeps me working, but there is no extra, and I must often pay before I am paid.  But for the work I do, I receive in return complete and total freedom, and the gift of constant improvement.

My skill set is very good now, and pre-order advances made it all possible. There is no way I could have funded the whole $240K on my own. I live hand-to-mouth, by choice.

Fortuneteller Header web

I have promised myself (and publicly, so I keep the promise) that I will NEVER take another advance for a work from my hands; this is an insane promise for a writer to make to herself, because all projects require funding. All writers must eat.

But the success of CGB was also the demise of my ability to fund through advances; I was harassed by the impatient contingent of the project for six months, as I wrangled a huge overrun in content and went over budget by 50% in time and money. The very success of the work was the difficulty. I needed every book order to pay the staggering bills for the larger runs; I could not simply do what I had in the past, and pro-actively refund the orders from the small but noisy contingent of impatient people. Nor could I fend off the people who presumed that for the price of a book, I belonged to them.

Had I been working on my own, this would not have happened, but of course had I been working on my own, the project would never have existed. It had to happen the way that it did.

There are something like 4000 hours of work in these 56 pieces alone; I photographed over 400 pieces for the project. Tens of thousands of hours of beading, thousands of hours of photography, of writing…

Final NYC Poster web

The ideas filtered through everyone who participated; that’s why they are so richly developed.

It’s hard to give advice to people who wonder about making their own book. If you want to take it on, be sure you have a good team (friends, family, colleagues, all will be important to you) and that you are willing to work for your vision.

For me, work is a joy, even/especially when it’s hard.

If you are looking for a copy, buy the books in my web shop, here, or see a variety of my books on Amazon, at this link. Free shipping can be had on Amazon, if you are Prime, or spend over $50. I charge $6, and ship Priority Mail.

And keep an eye on my blog, the book’s Facebook page, or subscribe to the Book Blog, if you are interested in seeing the Treasure Boxes, kits and findings when they go up.