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    Why I’ve always loved Annie Dillard

    June 18th, 2022

    Annie Dillard has been a writer in the fringes of my consciousness since I was a fledgling adult. Despite having only ever read one of her books, I’ve always talked about her being ‘my favourite writer’. The question is: Why?

    Uh, so you’ve only read ONE of her books??

    When I discovered The Writing Life, I was a full-time writer. I was about 20 years old. I was in the second year of a professional writing degree. I did literally nothing else but read and think and write. There weren’t any exams, it was all tradesmanship and art.

    I read The Writing Life and felt like someone had breathed my life onto a page. For the first time, I felt like someone understood my epic battles with this thing that I was called to do. While all the study in the world is important, for the first time I felt like someone was really speaking to my soul.

    The writer studies literature, not the world. He lives in the world; he cannot miss it. If he has ever bought a hamburger, or taken a commercial airplane flight, he spares his readers a report of his experience. He is careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns, because that is what he will know.

    Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

    Dillard was the only one to tell me not to write about what I know. Instead, she told me to write about the things that perplexed me, amazed me, bewildered me. She told me to take the things that I fail to understand, and to chase them, chase them, chase them, until they made sense to me.

    This is why the dog-eared pages in this book lie as flat now as if they were manufactured that way.

    This is why the margins of this book are forever marked with wiggly lines telling me to read it, read it, read it, read it again.

    Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?

    Write about winter in the summer. Describe Norway as Ibsen did, from a desk in Italy; describe Dublin as James Joyce did, from a desk in Paris. Willa Cather wrote her prairie novels in New York City; Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn in Hartleford, Connecticut. Recently, scholars learned that Walt Whitman rarely left his room.

    Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

    I blame Dillard’s commentary for the reason why the Spanish sequences in The Integration Project caused its early-draft critics to comment, ‘Those are more realistic than everything else’. I’ve never been to Spain. I’ve never set foot in Europe, much less drunk coffee in Barcelona. But the scenes I wrote about Barcelona were more realistic to Australian readers than the scenes having lunch in an Australian pub.

    Go figure.

    Dillard’s words resonated in my abdomen because we’re the same species.

    Annie Dillard challenges boundaries

    I’m not going to get scholarly on you or on myself. Academics have done this so much that Dillard herself has lost track. Instead I’ll suggest that the boundary-challenging nature of Dillard’s work is more of a boundary-dissolving. The reason why I feel like she is inside me when I read her work is because she and I aren’t separate people. That boundary of selfhood is imaginary: I am you, you are me, and we are also the trees. Our experience of this multi-selfhood is just rare in a digital age that forces individualisation.

    The painter, in other words, does not fit the paints to the world. He most certainly does not fit the world to himself. He fits himself to the paint.

    Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

    On her website, Dillard has left commentary above each item in her bibliography.

    Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, she writes, was ‘trying my hand at prose’.

    Holy the Firm, she writes, took her 14 months to write though critics suggested that it was written hastily. For that book, she resolved herself to write about whatever happened in her environment over the following three days… and then a plane crashed nearby.

    About The Living she writes that she ‘talked myself’ into writing an old-fashioned novel. But it was the process that got her there, not her intention.

    Tellingly, Dillard conceives The Writing Life as ’embarrassing nonfiction narrative’.

    Here I’ll stop. You can read her annotated bibliography on her website.

    Perhaps it’s the embarrassingly nonfiction narrative that speaks so warmly. It wouldn’t be embarrassing if it weren’t an extended moment of vulnerability. Paradoxically, Dillard voices the same things that I’ve also come to think about my art.

    Foolishly, no dreaming I was about to set my own world tumbling down about my ears, I said I hated to write. I said I would rather do anything else. He was amazed. He said, “That’s like a guy who works in a factory all day, and hates it.” Then I was amazed, for so it was. It was just like that. Why did I do it? I had never inquired. How had I let it creep up on me? Why wasn’t I running a ferryboat, like sane people?

    Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

    I’m currently reading Annie Dillard’s back catalogue

    Don’t make the mistake of thinking that I’m beginning the back catalogue with Tickets for a Prayer Wheel, which was Annie Dillard’s first published volume. I mean, I’m writing poetry right now. It would make sense, wouldn’t it, artistically and numerically? I have a friend who does that. He decides he wants to read an author, and reads their entire catalogue of works beginning with the first one. He reads them in sequence. I am in much admiration for his attitude and restraint, but I live a much more haphazard life. I am digging at random. I am reading wherever my heart takes me next.

    This means that I’m beginning with For the Time Being. It tells me that my magnet isn’t back to front. From the earliest pages I found myself grinning in recognition:

    Ted Bundy, the serial killer, after his arrest, could not comprehend the fuss. What was the big deal? David von Drehle quotes an exasperated Bundy in Among the Lowest of the Dead: “I mean, there are so many people.”

    Annie Dillard, For the Time Being

    Dillard found Bundy’s conception of numbers hilarious.

    (So do I.)

    What will happen if I decide I’m wrong about Annie Dillard and her work?

    What if, after reading several more of her works, I decide that she’s a pompous git? A brainless twat? A self-absorbed person with ridiculous views of the world, and not a real sense of being Person? What if I read her work and become tired, or bored, or put off forever?

    What will happen to my own concept of my life—my artistic life—if somehow Annie Dillard falls from the pedestal upon which I have placed her? Will her works fail in esteem? Will I never read them again, never recommend them, pass over her volumes in a library?

    No, it’s unlikely.

    Annie Dillard was a gateway drug. She was one of the first writers I’d encountered who was able to bring nature onto the page for me. Up until I read The Writing Life I had mostly read fiction and creative nonfiction essays. Most of those were about people, characters. Dillard wrote life.

    After trembling so violently that it seemed it must blow apart, the moth took flight. Its wings blurred, like a hummingbird’s. It flew a few yards out over the water before it began losing altitude. It was going down. Its wings buzzed; it gained height and lost, gained and lost, and always lost more than it gained, until its heavy body dragged in the water, and it drowned before my eyes without a splash.

    Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

    Without having been primed by this introduction to nature writing, I could still have read Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain and enjoyed it. I could still have read Underworld by Robert Macfarlane and felt rocks as brethren. It is simply that Dillard primed me to understand the intensely personal nature of experience. That priming enabled me to let go of myself more fully so that I could walk barefoot with Shepherd over the heather and feel how she stepped sideways over the foliage to maintain her pace. That priming enabled me to become overwhelmed by a desire to dive into a subterranean river just because it gushed so spectacularly, when Macfarlane had a moment of ridiculous exuberance.

    What is important for me is that Dillard enabled me to identify with her. To grudgingly accept this fledgling artistry in myself. To know myself as artist, even if—when I first read her anyway—I was on a fast-track to running away from that artist in fear.

    Why are we afraid of our art? Why are we so absorbed and consumed by it? Why do we do foolish things, imagining that they will help?

    We do them because art is such a solo endeavour, so maligned in our society, that it’s hard to find the baring of an artist’s soul beyond its art. It’s uncommon to see an artist fuck it up.

    It’s uncommon to see an artist admit it.

    …I did not yet know how foolish it was to plan days of solitary confinement, days in which my only activity was walking four or five feet from the bed to the desk. […] The task was to change intellectual passion to physical energy and some sort of narrative mastery, from a standing start.

    Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

    Unconscious imitation is a powerful tool

    Once you know that you are using it, you can use it. The risk, as any artist knows, is that you are unaware of it.

    In my early years, training this writer’s fire hose into some sort of shape, I was taught that imitating others is a powerful way to find your own voice. You begin to write. You write in the voices that you’re reading. You do this enough and eventually you break into your own style, your own voice, your own method. But you’ve got to start somewhere.

    At this point in my life, where I feel like I am starting all over again (years of writing for others notwithstanding), I have to ask whether I’d be happy to imitate Dillard unconsciously. I probably would.

    But in the context of admitting an undying love for a writer’s style, perhaps a better question is: Would I be happy not to?

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    Brutal Pixie is GONE. (Well, almost.) Here’s the story.

    June 4th, 2022

    The company I started back in 2013, Brutal Pixie is gone. By which I mean, the brand has been torched. The company is still here, but this time I’m backing myself.

    Brutal Pixie wasn’t mine to begin with. Not really.

    The company Brutal Pixie was a fun and memorable eight-almost-nine years. But its name and brand were not created by me. Both were gifts. They were gifted to me by a woman who was my first journalist at Metal as Fuck, a publication created in partnership with a terrifyingly psychopathic, though charming and intelligent man. The man was someone with whom I was in a long-standing, toxic, and damaging co-dependency. The journalist became someone who seemed to me unhappy in her own skin, forever chasing travel and the next intoxicating drug. Neither have been in my life for a long time.

    Making new people makes you new, too.

    When my little fella came along and I reconnected with myself, I felt how wrong-all-over was Brutal Pixie.

    It wasn’t just that the brand didn’t fit me any more. It was too hard to explain, even after more than 9 years of operation. I became out of step with the market and its needs. I stopped caring about its services. It bored me beyond belief. Even my daily emails became a chore, its offers falling flat for more than a year, its subscribers bailing like rats out of a sinking ship.

    Over the past four months I have focused on my art instead. The art of being an engaged, focused and patient mother. The art of an author and creator.

    I have taken real and meaningful steps to recover my artistry. What I discovered is that I’d put my inner artist into a deep, concrete cell and soundproofed it very well. I couldn’t hear her cries as she bloodied the walls attempting to claw her way out, losing her fingertips in the process. Letting her out, healing her, has been the best thing I could have done.

    As for that Other Thing —

    Brutal Pixie is officially a thing of the past, with the name manifest officially at ASIC. Almost all of its digital assets will be destroyed in the coming weeks, and profiles online removed or changed over in coming months. You’ll find me dancing around the outside of the burning fire in ecstatic celebration. I say ‘almost’ because some of the tools I’d built I decided to keep. You’ll find ‘em over at Gumroad.

    So what is the company now?

    The company now takes my own name. I’ve pared services right back to this finite list, each of which sparks joy. (Joy is what Leticia means, did you know?).

    I’m backing myself, figuratively and literally for what feels like the first time since I was 15 years old. And it feels amazing.

    xx Leticia

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    New book on the way: Artist in Recovery

    May 29th, 2022

    Artist in Recovery is the title of my next book. I am excited to share the news that Lionstower Books (Mount Books imprint, for poetry and romance volumes) will be publishing it, and that it forms my first poetry collection.

    The title was written and intended as Woman as Artist: Walking the dark forest path from maiden to mother, the collection weaves together the grief, beauty, love, and ecstasy of pregnancy and motherhood; the trauma, pains, grief, and loss of hiding your artist in the shadows; and the excitement, fury, and process of emerging as a creative artist.

    There are so many ways in which woman overlaps artist and creator, and so many ways in which it’s an untold, sacred tale.

    This book is a poetry collection about woman as artist.

    This theme of Woman as Artist is the beginning of a new era of place-being for me. In fact, it’s not really my work. I feel as though I channeled most of it. It’s just that I was the best creator for this material.

    I’m not done with this space. There is so much depth to plumb. So many stories untold. So much hidden.

    In my experience, women don’t tell stories of beauty and love. There are many moments of shared trauma; of angst, failure, limitation. We get lost among them, when the beauty of life can be so intense that it catches your breath. Women are creators; I realised in writing one of the poems for the collection that people became obsessed by their ability to render humans in perfect realism, that this has been a benchmark for artistic output for hundreds of years. But women create humans perfectly, at a rate of three hundred per minute, and nobody ever puts them on a pedestal and cheers them for doing divine work.

    Perhaps it’s time that we did.

    I wrote Artist in Recovery over a period of 8 weeks; the first four to a self-imposed deadline; the second four to a publisher’s deadline. It comprises approximately 150 poems, all of which were written by hand. Mostly in the dark. Usually very late at night. (Or extremely early in the morning.) Always with a sleeping one-year-old beside me. This equates, I realise, to about 3 poems per day, and what it tells me is that I am capable of continuous artistic output even when I don’t have vast tracts of time in which to do it.

    It surprised me to begin writing in what Past Me would have considered to be a ‘feminist’ space.

    Right now, I’m just rolling with it. Because it feels amazing.

    The learning has been immense.

    Writing this poetry collection has taught me how to listen.

    It also taught me:

    • how to be led by a force bigger than me
    • how to write without paying too much attention to where the puzzle pieces go
    • how to trust that the collection will be complete, even as each poem comes out as it will. I had to learn that when I sequence them afterwards that it will be perfect.
    • how to write even when I apparently have “no time” to do so.

    One of the most astonishing things that I learned was that sequencing afterwards always works! I’d become so analytical, so stuck in literal logical, so bound by the apparent need to plan that I had caused my inner artist to atrophy. She’d not only been closed up in a prison, but I had choked off the only outlet that my inner artist had! This is supposed to be playtime. It’s supposed to feel like I’m pouring my heart and its energy into the page. It’s supposed to feel effortless, and it’s supposed to feel like I won’t live unless I write.

    I remember feeling like this when I was much younger and much more prolific.

    More info on Artist in Recovery is to come

    Pretty soon I’ll post some more about this collection, including:

    • snippets from the collection. (You can see some of them over on my Instagram channel, which is the main place I’m putting them at present.)
    • artwork once we’ve got a cover in place that everyone is happy with (and cross your fingers that the cover I desperately want in place is agreed to!)
    • some of the thinking behind each of the pieces, and the collection as a whole.

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    ‘Biodagar’ bites the dust

    May 21st, 2022

    ‘Biodagar’ has hit the dust, in one of a number of momentous changes to my (virtual?) life, and digital assets.

    The username is one that I’ve had for more than 20 years, after I fell in love with the Icelandic film Biodagar (movie days).

    Here’s what happens, though, when you decide to use a username rather than your own name for your significant digital assets:

    They proliferate.

    Over time, some of them no longer fit. You find yourself wondering whether or not to change them. You um and ah over it. And it’s not until you have a really damned good reason to do something about it that you discover that this boulder was actually a pebble. It’s easier to do than you imagined, for all those years.

    Thus it is that this site has been renamed to my own name.

    It’s also the case that my company is being rebranded to my own name, and that site is being consolidated back to this one, too.

    With one fell stroke of her pen, three digital assets became one.

    This has immense benefits in terms of administrivia; but it’s also enormously environmentally beneficial. The more digital assets you have, the more energy you require, the more rare earth minerals you require, and the more effort Mother Earth takes to support you. While this consolidation hasn’t quite stretched to the deliberate archiving off-line of everything within this particular site’s database, that’s something that I will do in future. Once I’ve done that, I’ll pare this beastie right back.

    For now, though, it feels good!

    The shifts to my business aren’t all in place yet, but they’re coming up over the hill fairly quickly. I’m ditching all of the services and rebuilding from scratch, intentionally. You can see some of that rebuilding here, if you’re curious.

    In the meantime, watch this space. Fewer assets mean focused output into a single place. This one.

    xx Leticia

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    The artist re-emerges, and with her a new project

    March 20th, 2022

    Recently I fell down a rabbit-warren of immense magnitude.

    A project that is barely a zygote, more a coming together of stardust and attention. It has seen me dip a toe into the murky worlds of myth and mythography, feminisms and womanhood, religions and dogma, creation and creators.

    The rabbit-warren is gigantic, fraught with danger. I currently liken it to a starless river. A starless river is a subterranean river, one of which is The Timavo River, which runs from Slovenia to Italy. It is a territory known from end to end but partially explored and poorly understood.

    Robert Macfarlane writes:

    ‘Starless rivers run through classical culture, and they are the rivers of the dead. The Lethe, the Styx, the Phlegethon, the Cocytus and the Acheron flow from the upper world into the underland – and all five converge in a welter of water at the dark heart of Hades.’ (Robert Macfarlane, 2020 UnderlandPenguin Books)

    He goes on to describe the character of each one:

    • Lethe is amnesia, oblivion, forgetfulness, concealment, truth.
    • Styx is the means by which you move into the underland (thanks to Charon, the ferryman).
    • Phlegethon is heat, fire, boiling blood, which flows in coils and spirals.
    • Cocytus is lamentation, cold and icy.
    • Acheron is woe.

    The Timavo River is deep underground; to meet it requires an adventure of serious caving.

    Macfarlane again (italics are mine):

    … a team of French divers were working from here recently, that they spent a week down here in the chamber, pushing further upstream each day until the risk became too great. The most distant point they reached was almost 1,000 feet (304.8 metres) upstream from where I stand: a triviality, an immensity. I am awed and bewildered at the thought of their persistence. ‘Conquistadors of the useless,’ Lionel Terray once called climbers—but this is another order of futility altogether.

    In one sense, the territory I am beginning to map ahead of a deeper exploration is known. Like the Timavo, I know roughly where it begins, the lands through which it flows, and where it emerges. Also like the Timavo, exploration is difficult. It requires a strong grasp of intentionality. A deep understanding of my own sense of meaning. An ability to avoid being sucked under by the wiles of dogma, the persuasions of academia, the idea that what is written is Knowledge and Wisdom. It asks me to hold tight to my own gut. To coat myself in the muck and dirt of my own instincts, and thereby to savour its earthy smell while appreciating its ability to protect me from getting burned.

    Along the way, I risk being swindled by a false linearity. That this notion of running from point to point is the Way, that there are no diversions, no alternative doors, no dimensions.

    ‘There are always people living under the stairs,’ Troy said last night.

    ‘Where is the door?’ I asked. Our stairs have no underneath, have no door, just a wall.

    ‘It’ll be there somewhere. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.’ He leaned in and shrugged. ‘It might be a dimensional door, you don’t know.’ He turned to Beren, and continued. ‘Mum’s a writer but she can be very literal.’

    Seeing what is can be a trap as much as it can be a freedom.

    This new project is provisionally titled Woman as Artist, but its context is deep and its application broad.

    As an example of the territory, a tiny piece from Robert Graves’s extensive work The White Goddess: A historical grammar of poetic myth:

    It it must never be forgotten that the Triple Goddess, as worshipped for example at Stymphalus, was a personification of primitive woman—woman the creatress and destructress. (Robert Graves, The White Goddess.)

    The intention I’m currently carrying for this work is to shine some light on the creation mode of woman in her role of Mother. To highlight the destruction of old ways. To throw into public the mess that happens before coherence becomes possible.

    To do this, I am systematically challenging the idea of Self as Writer that I’ve carried for the entirety of this life. I’m using the project as a means of taking and making place. Place-making, place-taking, place-being is the mantra humming around and inside the project. Healing separation from source. Coming back to landscape. Rectifying a situation of having been born holding a pen, but having used the pen to scrawl banality.

    As the zygote cleaves on its way to form the guts of this new Thing, I’ve begun the first halting steps down the warren and fallen into mythography. There is a guide, but no bestiary.

    This time I’m not letting it stop me.

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