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.

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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.

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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.


Patti Smith at the Vatican

So Patti Smith is playing at the Vatican on December 13th.

photo Rolling Stone

Patti Smith and this Pope. It’s a natural. Maybe if you only remember Patti from the ’70s, it’s a bit of a shocker.

But once you think about who she really is, you see that they have so much in common; two people who come from humble places, who never wanted wealth or power, who called out greed and stood up for love. They believe in living and bringing peace, they don’t go for glamour and flash. This Pope will not wear the ermine robes; he walks out at night to tend to the people sleeping on the streets.

I’m really touched by all of this.

I was lucky to have so many great role models in music when I grew up. Pop stars seem so vapid these days, photoshopped and autotuned, coming off like bots.

Here is a recent Patti, who is as real as it gets, singing Frederick in Toronto, at a concert in memory of her friend Robert Mapplethorpe. I’m sure that she is also thinking of her husband, Fred Sonic Smith, who died young; they were hugely in love. She raised their two children alone; they grew up to be musicians.

Each of them are playing on this clip; Jesse on piano, Jackson on guitar.

I’m looking forward to seeing her at the end of January (after she sings at the Vatican). I’m heading to San Diego, to see it with Doriot, who amazingly has never seen her live. What are the odds of that?

Here she speaks of her love story with Robert Mapplethorpe. I really identify with this; this is the love that I want with people, and I don’t want anything more or anything less. I have zero interest in superficial relationships.

Patti kind of helped save my life, back in the day.

In high school, I was bullied; I was smart and strange and I didn’t want to talk about bullshit. It was fairly merciless. I had a few friends, thank God. I was forced to go to church and to Sunday School, and seemed at all times to be surrounded by adults who believed in God as a kneejerk thing to do, but who didn’t seem to have any interest in explaining (much less exploring) the disconnect between the concept of loving all people, of love on the ground, and the reality of religion over the centuries; war, persecution, intolerance. I wanted decent answers if I was expected to give honest prayers; I was expected to give my trust, my faith and my heart to their story.

Yet all real questions went unanswered; the biggest, of course, “Why isn’t it enough to simply be good?” What if I don’t need a creation mythology to live love? Why are other mythological Creators wrong and yours the one true Creator? Why were the books that speak of the power of women cut from the King James Bible we used in Sunday school? WTF Lilith!? Why is it important to construct a story to explain what cannot be understood?  Why would a God who was about love be jealous, or torture Job, or slaughter innocent children as a revenge for enslaving one people, but encourage slavery in other portions of the same book? Why was it better for Lot to offer his pre-teen daughters to be gang-raped by a mob of roving toughs than to allow them to be gay in his stables? WHY?

Why did adults, who seemed to place so much emphasis on accuracy and education, act like they had no facility for critical thinking regarding the many plot holes in this story?

I do think it’s enough to just be good, and I think the new Pope thinks so too.

Now if he would only repurpose his missionaries in the field to pass out nutritious food and free condoms to all of the impoverished peoples in the world, so that they could control their fertility and prevent the spread of AIDS, we’d really be getting somewhere.

I think this song got me through when I would have just given up.  There were days, honestly, when I had to decide each night if I was going to live to endure another day of torment, waiting for the day when I would be old enough to break free, and the love part would kick in.

Leave me something.
Leave me something to live.
Oh, God, give me something:
a reason to live.
I don’t want no handout;
no, not sympathy.
Come on. Come and love me.
Come on. Set me free.

Hearing her cry from the heart still brings all of the old feelings; the well of love all around us, and the deep and suspect promise of salvation.

I feel myself again 12, 13, 14, 15… finding some kind of steel inside myself that got me through. A day, a week… a piece at a time I made it through to love and freedom.

And that’s a big part of the reason that I am so fierce about my freedom now.
It was very hard-won.

Thank you, Patti, for everything. It’s been a perfect life, and I’m so glad I spent it with you.

swirling fast now

The swirl inside me (which feels like both a galaxy and a soft-serve ice cream) is intense today; I am outside of time, but on the good side. Im on the side with the moving, tessering sidewalk and the flowers, where a day of work happens in 8 minutes. Not the side with construction fence and nowhere to explore. I’ve lived three lifetimes and I’ve only been awake for four hours.

I love the caliber of the human shimmer in the air in Cambridge. These cities vibrate with intelligence, with real work, with people who have expectations that they will find or create what they are questing for. People walk everywhere (unless they don’t) and this moving energy is what I want to be near to right now. People who walk, who carry their worlds within them, people who are looking back at me, who engage me. LA seems very far away, very la-la land. The desert is the desert; it is a piece of my heart. I am comfortable with my home base in Tucson. But not ready to leave Boston. I will go west for winter, and then I will be back.

I find, oddly, that there is a certain light here at dusk where everyone who is aware can suddenly see me; I have never noticed this before and suspect it is locational. But in that right light, which only lasts for a few minutes, all of the sorts of people who are normally not looking are looking. People in doorways, street people, bankers, randoms. All, suddenly, looking at me like I have stepped out of a painting, or am carrying a secret message.

I laugh at the strangeness of that. I forget to test it. There is too much of interest here; I pile things up to look at later, think about on a rainy day. But then I get involved with the rain.

porter tunnel

At any rate, the key information is that the light here is mindbendingly good, and I am fully awake.

I continue to prowl the streets, the alleys, the thrift shops, the bookstores, the flower gardens, the sky, the inside of my head, my ideas about ideas. I feel like a seed in loam; I cannot conceive of leaving without a plan to come back.

As summer has slipped into fall, like a fish lurking beneath the surface of a pond of ectoplasm, I have been psychically waiting for the most impatient or career-ambitious people in the beadwork project to give up and leave, so that the surface disturbance is gone, and I can work again with pure concept. I think that time is probably now, and I can re-assert my individuality, my right to work in peace, and at my own pace, and most specifically perhaps I can learn to simply not answer demands that do not contain the word “please”.

Someone left a mindbendingly unproductive review on Amazon for the new CGB #2 (which is made of new ideas) that says only, “There are no new ideas in this book.” I have thought deeply about that, but my thought process is made entirely of “How can I more successfully repel this person?”

She thinks my book is Internet Owl.

draw the fucking owl

The thing is, my circles are not like anyone else’s circles. They are brilliant, well-thought out circles that can hold any goddamned owl alive or imagined. I am happy with them, and very happy with only engaging a small fraction of craftspeople with the ideas. I have some good thoughts on how to better do that, and the first is to enable the Look Inside feature on Amazon to show the introduction, which does a very good job indeed of explaining.

The next press runs are already planned; a new poster (a smaller size) a second run of Volume II (with a dark orange coil, so it can be easily distinguished from Volume I for fuck’s sake) and a set of new postcards. A couple of card decks. Some serious metal jewelry. An entire runway show, where both the clothing and the ornament is entirely hand-crafted. A proper book launch party at the Tucson shows, in a few months.

And of course a new book, which is ambitious in scope beyond my ability to even catalogue or explain. But I do plan to build, and to paint; I want to make art that one can sleep in, small spaces that are physical expressions of the intensely chewy work I have begun, interviewing 100 people, prowling through their hearts in every way possible, exploring my ideas about sustainable architecture, about living with art, considering human dignity, encouraging creative energy… and as usual making things primarily to photograph them, or to use as photo sets.

I have contemplated, with the investment of a month of my life, my concerns and fears (I can count my concerns on one hand, as it turns out, and I have no fears) my hopes and dreams (seemingly endless) I believe I see paths that will both allow me both to excel and to care for my people; I am trying not to force anything, but I must still be assertive.

I had fun going to Amanda Palmer’s book release party Monday night, and to her show on Tuesday night. Both were very good. She’s drawn a lot of hate and love for her ideas about sharing, caring, not caring, and the importance of doing focused work and rejecting hidebound people and ideas. We have a lot in common; I support her and wish her well. I feel strongly, as she does, that the people we surround ourselves with will affect us deeply; sometimes people need to come and go, or be wooed closer, or to be moved away from, or to be given everything, or to be given nothing.

Amanda Harvard Square

Bri and Neil Gaiman

Even Bill was there, most excellent.

Bill in Harvard Square

The show at the Royale, Amanda wearing a perfect kimono, made (I am told) by Kambriel.


Brooklyn – Philly – Boston

I embarked on another whirly trip, flying from Boston to NYC, riding with Ryan down to Philly to go see the magnificent Trillian Stars in a production of Hamlet. She played Horatio, a traditionally male role. It was divine.

Some photos…


Driving out of Brooklyn, digging the Brooklyn Bridge and the mighty Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, built in 1964 and still one of the longest suspension bridges in the world.

flowers in late fall philly

Flowers (that are actually leaves and berries) in Kyle and Trillian’s hood.

Below, Kyle, Ryan and Brian walking into the beautiful Hedgerow Theater building, and below that, Kyle and Jared Reed (who played Hamlet with incredible ease and clarity) talking about filming their swordfight.

Hedgerow Theater entry

Jared Reed Kyle Cassidy Hamlet Hedgerow

Ryan and Trillian Stars and a beautiful PUPPY.

Ryan and Trill and a PUPPY

30th St Station Philly

I love every part of the 30th Street Station. Waiting for the SEPTA train to the airport, having fun with vertical panoramas.

train philly 2

On the train to the Philly airport, fall blazing away outside.

train philly

Leaving Philly

Philly skies

Stopping in New York

NYC skies

I am in love with NYC and that’s a fact.

Lastly, a digital painting of a photo that Bill took in Providence, at the Swan Point Cemetery, current lodgings of H.P. Lovecraft. WORK.

What I want to say to people sometimes.


Kate Says Work

It’s Fall

Hell, I even changed my clocks. (We don’t do that in Arizona.)

Things are very beautiful here. We moved for the third and final time, and excitingly our new place is everything we love. We are each very happy in our own ways; everyone feels confident and happy and we have loved the time we’ve spent together. It’s hard to believe that we are just eight weeks from going home now.


Views on our new street, Franklin, between Mass Ave. and the river, in Cambridge. Closer to Central Square than Harvard now, by a block.

garden on franklin

Our kitchen is very well stocked. Oddly it has a ten pound cleaver, rusty. Bri hardly needs it to board your vessel.

Bri and a cleaver    gene sterling at the goodwill

Goodwill paintings, Kirk on the move.

isnt this awesome

liam as police

Liam’s Halloween outfit, Evan and Bri petting Sir

evan and bri and sir

It can be hard to tell Sir and Jasper apart. Sir is softer, and lets you kiss his bunny tummy.petting a kitten

longfellow bridge

The trophy wall is still going strong under the grand old Longfellow Bridge, which is being replaced in situ; they are doing it half at a time. The construction crew was chatty, said that they would stay in place for another year. Bridge fixing is slow work.

trophies under the longfellow

bri on silver

There is a park on our street in memory of a boy who died as a teenager. It’s got a huge pan drum that’s also warm and soft in the sun, and in the bushes, we saw a plastic sword and a little scrap of a poem. It’s a peaceful, sad, warm  place.

we are like islands in the sea

So far I’ve been to Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania. Hoping to add to the tally in short order. I’ve seen leaves, bridges, buildings, beaches, fantastic sights.

We couldn’t be happier.

archery trophy

MIT, from the Longfellow, a little digital painting.

cambridge painting


I had delightful adventures this week, and infiltrated multiple East Coast states while having them. On Saturday, we drove to Providence, Rhode Island, for one of the Waterfire street parties. I fell in love with the little city, and especially the Brown campus. On the way in, we stopped at the Swan Point Cemetery to visit the grave of H.P Lovecraft, and then detoured to see the Big Blue Bug on 95.

Bill at Lovecrafts grave

There were poems, tokens, quarters, you name it, left at Lovecraft’s grave. Liam read us one of the scraps of prose. The boys seemed very alive amongst the dead.

boys at Lovecrafts grave

alive amongst the dead

The Big Blue Bug’s name is Nibbles Woodaway,and thanks to Bill, I got very close to him. He’s huge.

Giant Bug II

Waterfire was fun, but smoky as fuck from the many bonfires on the river. I had the most fun walking around Brown, and finding Lovecraft tucked here and there in the city. I want to go back and explore all parts of Providence. What a gorgeous little city.


The next morning, Ryan (who met us in Boston Saturday night) and I drove to Connecticut, for Cynthia von Buhler’s continuing birthday bash, which had moved from NYC to her and Russell’s place on a lake. It was beautiful, and leafy enough to satisfy anyone hungering for fall colours.

driving to conn with ryan

While we were driving, Bri was running her second marathon, this one the Marine Corps race in Arlington, VA. She amazes me. This is what she looks like after 26 miles? I would be a mess. A dead mess.


To make up for not even being able to run 2.6 miles, we were paddling paddleboats around a lake, lying in hammocks, and taking pictures of beautiful skies and trees and water and friends.

CVB Dock Connecticut cvb lake pano cvb lake vertical pano

Cynthia’s place is amazing; art everywhere. These are two lighted bird puppets from one of her theater pieces.

puppets at CBVs

And a diorama, one of many tucked in her library shelves.

CVB diorama

Late that night, Ryan and I drove back to his place in Brooklyn. I had the idea that I might see Michael Pope in the morning, and see him I did, briefly, before Ryan and I went out to play in Williamsburg.

Ryan wakes up under the train in brooklyn   jewelry shop

There was so much great food around that we had to eat twice; breakfast at Bliss, and lunch at Ryan’s favorite pizza place.

bliss with ryanpizza

In between meals, we walked down to the East River.Wburg beach

There was a great playground; bouncy things, bridges, swings.

Kate swings E River


And amazing street art everywhere, of course.


street portrait NYC NYC 1

snail in brooklyn

A fab cheese shop.

Bedford cheese shop

On the way to LaGuardia to hop home to Boston, I caught a billboard in the act. The act of what, I’m not sure. But definitely, doing something.

Caught the billboard broadcasting

This week should prove equally adventurous, as we are moving Cambridge apartments (the last move before we go home in late December), Kyle Cassidy is coming to town to photograph the Dalai Lama (among other things) and I’m heading to Philly at some point to see Trillian Stars play the part of Horatio (!) in Hedgerow Theater’s production of Hamlet.

And then Ryan comes back, and lots more people come into town, because it’s Neil Gaiman’s birthday on the 10th of November, and it’s Amanda Palmer’s official book release, and there’s a huge party in Porter Square.

kate and ryan at cvbs

I love it here, and that’s a fact, It’s hard to imagine leaving.

gorgeous NYC