pen and ink: LJ Moore 2015
pen and ink: LJ Moore 2015
there was a feeling of the vastness of the sky. and of being so close to the top of the earth that there seemed little to hold me in place. the landscape, devoid of trees or of anything to measure myself against other than the ship, the icy crags, and the immense horizontal ribbons of sky and sea, made me tiny- as tiny as a footprint, or a fish. at the same time, i felt the power and utter belonging of being so small: anything could happen in this world where a day could elongate into months, and the shifting of the ice crackled like a storm of unseen creatures about to break the surface.
small, fierce things, my new book of illustrations and stories, is sold out! However, if you would like to special order a copy, contact me!
I am delighted to announce that in conjunction with Achiote Press, my new book is ready for purchase! There are 50 handmade, hand-sewn copies ready to slide, crawl, scurry, bound, leap, wing, flutter, slink, creep, dig, and nose their way into your mailbox. All you have to do is click the button below and decide how many small, fierce things you want!
Details: Each books is 5″ X 5″ and 70 pages long. They are printed on acid-free coverstock, hand-sewn using fishing net that I found washed up on the beaches of Svalbard (yes, the North Pole!) Each book has a unique cover created from found textiles and photographs, and contains 12 stories and 28 pen-and-ink illustrations.
Here is what some wonderful people have said about small, fierce things:
“L.J.’s Fierce revels in the often queer intersection of the human and non-human worlds, with a focus not so much on the digital world (which we might now have come to accept), but on the animal: how the harmonica might make a rooster berserk, or the way a man whose frown “seemed permanent” might appreciate eye contact with a porcupine for “the way it had come to be there in his hands.” This book is a series of anti-selfies: off-kilter moments full of wonder, not presentation; this is not a window display but a corridor of funhouse mirrors. You might look the same when you’re finished, but something inside will be different.”
“In LJ Moore’s small, fierce things, feelings you never thought to name become animal, donning flesh, fur, spikes, feathers. Nightmares walk and secrets play the banjo. These very short stories, written simply and without guile, vibrate with power and mystery, celebrate the authority of ambiguity. What does this mean? Moore has a way with last lines that feel unexpected but inevitable, lines that pin her characters to inescapable fact but open up a world of feeling in the reader, a simultaneous shrinking and explosion of possibility. These tales dance at the edge of fantasy but are never twee, never merely fanciful. They are too serious, too much about the sad predicament of being human, to be reduced to the whimsical, though it is clear that Moore is enjoying herself, letting her characters speak for themselves in awkwardly charming ways. The animal drawings that accompany the stories preceded them, according to Moore, and the stories came about as illustrations of the drawings, rather than vice versa. The drawings are sharply rendered, slyly funny, with more than a hint of the bizarre. They, along with the stories they fueled, bring to mind Flannery O’Connor’s famous line, The Truth Shall Make You Odd. I think Moore would be okay with that.”
–Sarah Fran Wisby, author of Viva Loss, and The Heart’s Progress (forthcoming from Plain Wrap Press)
“Cats bring prey to feed their young and LJ Moore must be part feline because her small, fierce things sustains us. In words and illustrations, Moore brings the wilderness of the imagination to our front porch. It’s a bloody gift, still warm. Good kitty.”
–Tupelo Hassman, author of Girlchild
“As its name suggests, small, fierce things offers world in miniature–finely tuned observations that break open upon contact, secrets within secrets, hidden worlds that lie at the borders between the natural world and human consciousness. Wondrously illustrated and carefully wrought, LJ Moore’s work is a strange and uncanny delight.”
–Colin Dickey, author of Afterlives of the Saints, and Cranioklepty
“Each story in this collection reveals an unexpected and mesmerizing portrait that spins with the exquisite energy of dreams. Populated with all manner of creature-guides, and ranging from the far north to your grandmother’s bathroom towels, small, fierce things is a constellation of bright marvels not to be missed.”
–Stacy Carlson, author of Among the Wonderful
Not convinced yet? Read an excerpt.
Interested in the process of how this book was made? Scroll down!
Outtakes from the making of small, fierce things:
Oslo to Longyearbyen
June 14, 2013
I have to admit, it is a strange thing, perhaps a completely insane thing, to fly across the United States and then across the Atlantic Ocean, and then all the way to the northernmost point of Norway, and then back across the Atlantic, (bypassing Iceland, land of the best musicians on the planet) to land on an island no one except Philip Pullman has heard of, which is really an archipelago, to meet a group of artists who are complete strangers, and then climb aboard a ship and sail without any idea where you will be going or what you will be doing for two weeks.
It is such an insane idea it appealed to me unequivocally, and was in fact, something I knew I needed to do. Needed because my life is a study in extremes: the extreme of analytical, day-bound problem-solving, and the extreme of self-abandoned expression. The extreme of day is my job, which arms my wallet and (theoretically) allows me to spend the non-work time writing, which is the expression part. Unfortunately, the extremes get out of balance, which leads to a kind of relentless, low-level despair.
I am not the first creative person in the world to struggle with this problem of money versus passion, nor will I be the last. I can’t in good conscience feel sorry for myself either, because I have the option to struggle: something a lot of exhausted and hungry people wish they had. At the same time, it is hard to live a life knowing that there’s a thing you want to be doing, that you love, that you were made to do, but you can’t do it because you have to do this other thing so you can earn your lettuce and tomatoes and fish, your bus pass and your deodorant and your tennis shoes, your electricity bill and garbage service and toilet paper.
If you’re lucky, the thing you feel passionate about doing is also something people want to pay money for. Alas, poetry is not one of these things. The nice part is, it’s always been this way, and I can look back to the times when the poets in various lands had to make verses for their bread, and had to rely upon their cleverness to somehow entertain the king but not insult him enough to earn an axe to the neck, or be locked up for annoying important people. It does bring to mind an interesting question: is it worse to die quickly by one’s poetic wit, or slowly? Better to wear rags and rhyme for a cup of wine… or wear H&M stare out your years into computer screen, riding an office chair into infinity? Both are tragic, but only one is a current option.
Before this trip, I had been feeling the weight of this balance of extremes more keenly than usual. Not that I wasn’t getting any poetry written, but when the day world gets too much advantage over the world of disappearing into writing, I begin to feel like a sleepwalker. And when I don’t write, my vision begins to narrow, and I start to believe that the struggle is meaningless.
I begin to listen to an internal voice that tells me the world is nothing but routine, and that what matters is whatever conflict or fear-of-the-day is being blasted through the internet or blaring out of all the big-screen TVs mounted in the hospital cafeteria and the surgical waiting rooms. When this state begins to get a foothold, it colors everything it touches with a veil of futility and exhaustion. I become too tired to write. And by tired I mean soul-tired and gut-tired. The drive doesn’t disappear, but it converts to a kind of guilt-tipped, pointing finger. It is not a joy but another responsibility that I’m neglecting. Not writing means I am wasting my life.
I had reached a point, before this trip, when I had to wear headphones most of the day to survive the onslaught- that generalized aggressive energy of news, traffic, bills arriving for things I did not buy or subscribe to, email spam, emotional spam, people fighting over parking spaces or running other people over in crosswalks, or strangers hulking along the street projecting menace, or hopelessness, or desperation.
After awhile, faced with that level of assault to the psyche, it’s hard not to become hard. And the hardness is double-edged, because to write, to really fall in and write, becomes an exercise in trying to shrug off an increasingly more permanent armor in order to get at the vulnerable parts of the self- the only parts that can shape-shift into the work. Some writers combat this hardening by drinking, or going off on psychedelic road trips, or maybe some of them cope with the pressure more eloquently. Some of them just toss everything to the wind- walking out on their jobs, picking up and moving, giving away all of their possessions, in the hopes that upending a world that has settled into an ugly configuration will allow it to re-settle into a more liveable shape. I used to do that. I used to box everything up and get rid of most of it and get in my car and drive across the country. Then I’d settle in a spot for awhile, and the build-up of this struggle for creative balance would build up to the breaking point again.
At some point, I got too old, and frankly, too stubborn to uproot again. I wanted things in life that don’t survive when you transplant them. I wanted to cling like a limpet to San Francisco, the most ungrateful mistress there is. But this meant that I could not grandly disrupt the world every time things began to get routine. What happens, now that I stay put and let things continue to build up and wash over me? I get bent out of shape, and begin to believe in the most depressing versions of reality: that people are awful and the world is mostly violent and hopeless. And then I rebel against that idea, because it is simply not true. And the irony of it all is that I’m doing all this rebelling against myself: the hopelessness and the answering rally against a dark vision of the world is all non-verbalized. It’s a little diorama of war inside my head, visible only to me, and felt only by me. And if I’m not writing, there is no way to let it out.
However, I don’t believe that this sense of overwhelm I struggle with is entirely self-made. It is also the result of an atmosphere of constant distraction.
The boundaries of the personal and the public are disappearing. People talk on their cell phones while they are in a public toilet. They talk on speakerphone on the train. They speak louder than they would normally, without any filter or thought of the people around them, because when you are talking on a cell phone, the world around you becomes secondary and somewhat unreal. I think this is just a simple matter of our capacity for attention. When you talk to someone on the phone, you try to filter out distractions around you- like other people, who nevertheless are forced to listen to you and are then distracted by your conversation, because human beings hone in on voices and language. We try to listen to one another, even if the person talking isn’t talking to us. Meanwhile, we are distracted from whatever it is we are doing: trying to read? Trying to text someone? Trying and trying and trying…. to concentrate, to not be distracted. Public space used to be considered shared space, and therefore a place to be considerate of others. Public space is now rapidly converting to portable personal space, and the people and things in public space are basically furniture.
And the rising gestalt is to further blur these social boundaries by not just offering the services and technology to be in constant and immediate contact, but to begin to expect it from everyone. If someone doesn’t answer and email within say, 30 minutes, you might text them, or call their phone, or both in rapid succession. For some people, 30 minutes is way too long. This isn’t just in personal life: it has extended into the workplace, where email has created a constant, unorganized flow of questions, open-ended conversations with ten people cc’d, and the expectation of immediate response. People check their “work” email from their beds at home, or when they are at dinner with a friend. There is no longer a sense of place connected to function… which is one of the basic concepts behind behavior.
A good example is a dojo. People build dojos to train in martial arts, and there are rules of respect and codes of behavior that apply only when you are in the dojo: inside the dojo, you keep things clean, you show respect to the teacher and each other, you listen more than you talk. These rules are not arbitrary or cultish: they are there so that learning and training can happen. If you change your mindset to fit the place, eventually, the place evokes the mindset.
Outside the dojo, these rules don’t apply, and you can go back to your “non-dojo” mindset, to be and do other things. Similarly, work used to be work, and home was home. At work, there were certain expectations of behavior. Rules that made it possible to be productive. Then you go home and those expectations are released. Of course there are notable exceptions: doctors, mothers, I’m sure other people can think of more… but the basic idea holds- we need a way to shift from one mode of being to another. We need moments of respite. We need thinking time, play time, talking time, working time, sleeping time, reading time. Unfortunately, the urge to complete a task, or to be responsible, or to answer a call from some other part of life is very strong, and is now enabled everywhere we go. The impulse to check, check, check the email or the phone, is as strong of an impulse as wanting to smoke a cigarette, but there is a much higher tolerance (and no proven negative health outcomes- yet) for the addiction of constant distraction.
Just before I left for the Arctic, someone asked me if I would be able to answer email while I was away. I said, “No, we will be off the grid. No internet.” This person then insisted, “But surely the ship will have radio, will have satellite?” My response was disbelief: “I don’t want to be in contact. That is the point of going to the North Pole.”
Am I the only one that that feels exhausted and sickened by the constant barrage of phone and email and media? Actually, I’m not. And there is a growing number of people beginning to recognize and address this problem that Christopher Butler has aptly termed, “Hyperity,” a state of overconnectedness which he described, way back in 2010, as an effect that causes stress, mistakes, lowered IQ, and lowered productiveness.
Of course, anyone who has tried to wean themselves off checking their phone and email knows that distraction is oddly compelling. It is both the cause, and the band-aid, for the feeling of being overwhelmed. I think the thing that has frightened me the most over the last few years is realizing that it has become harder and harder for me to concentrate. I am so used to a scattered way of working and thinking, that I can’t do one thing at a time anymore. At the gym, I ran on the elliptical machines while playing Candy Crush Saga on my iphone for an hour. In May I was doing this pretty much every day. I listened to podcasts while playing Candy Crush Saga, while walking down the street.
At work, I listened to the news with headphones on while answering emails and scanning documents, and working with five other pieces of software- toggling from window to window and function to function. Yes, studies show that multitasking doesn’t work, but for a decade we’ve been trained not just to work this way, but to live this way, and the world is still demanding we do it.
The good news is, when the technology is off, and put away, and there is no chance of “just checking it for a sec,” it is still possible to disconnect, or rather re-connect. After traveling for two days alone without text messages or cell phone contact with home, I felt a kind of peace starting to take hold. Yes, I felt lonely, but that is not a bad thing. To feel lonely is also to look forward to seeing people again. And if there is any one thing I could say is missing from life that is causing the bulk of my struggle with balance… is that I have forgotten what it feels like be in a quiet place where there is nothing to do but look around and see and feel, and then decide to do something. Not be compelled to do something. Not be prompted or reminded or expected or worried or pulled in a direction by nervous or reflexive/reactive energy to check on, check on, check on something… but to act deliberately and with curiosity… to walk out into a new landscape where all signs point to possibility, and to choose.
San Francisco, California
July 6, 2013
When I was a kid, we had a cathode-ray tube TV. Sometimes, when the antenna signal got deflected, or the vert and horiz were messed up, all the people and images on the screen would suddenly spasm into several versions of themselves, or the picture would start flipping top-to-bottom on the screen, or bend and zig-zag. That’s sort of how I feel right now, returning from Svalbard.
It’s not so much a physical sensation as an emotional one… though re-adjusting to a nine-hour time difference is probably part of it. I know my body will figure out how to match the cues from nature soon enough. I’m not so sure about my images on the screen, though.
When I close my eyes, here is what I see:
And when I open them, I see this:
For the next few weeks, I’m hoping to tweak the dials and bring these two visions into alignment. There are lots of stories from the journey I will try to do justice to here in coming posts, including adventures with our understatedly-badass guides, Theres, Sara, and Åshild; the ghosts of Pyramiden; flying snails; it is not 4pm if there’s no cake; the ass-contest; if it’s dead, drag it back to Kate; and the convivial wrath of Captain Jo.
Much of what I did on the journey was to record audio, which I will be putting together into a larger project that will be available for download in a few months. My ultimate goal is to offer a journey to the arctic in sound, that anyone can take by listening. Why sound and not video and photos? I’ll devote an entire post to that in the upcoming weeks…
June 14, 2013
I’ve got an hour until my shuttle back to the airport for the final leg to Svalbard, and I have internet access… so guess what? A small blip from Norway!
I was greeted at the Gardermoen Airport by rain and what I thought were crows, but I’ve now identified as Jackdaws. These guys are about 2/3 the size of American Crows, but have the same body language of curiosity… perhaps with a little less swagger. I made friends with one who looked exactly like this by tossing him/her a yogurt-covered almond.
Norway is beautiful, even right next to the airport. It is swaths of green with small two-lane highways. I arrived exhausted at 11:00am local time, which was 2:00am for me. I tried to sleep on the plane, but I find it difficult to sleep on the plane… too much unpredictable noise. I did watch The Hobbit, which put me in an adventuring state of mind, though I think I’ll skip the singing.
My motel, (which is frankly more like a hostel), is passable. It’s warm, and relatively clean… but there is nothing to eat, and I mean nothing. Well, okay, there are chips and soda, which is what I ate for dinner. There is nothing within walking distance… no restaurants, no grocery stores, no bars…. there was a beautiful trail though through the Kulturpark, which is where I found my first geocache in Norway on the bottom of a WWII tank parked on the grass. This whole area was a military base during WWII and apparently so much airline activity was directed here, it was eventually converted into a commercial airport.
The path was beautiful, and I decided to go looking for another geocache about 8/10 ths of a mile away. I got within 14 feet of it, according to my gps, but didn’t find the damned thing, despite wading around in wet grass and getting stuck in the rain. I was wearing my deck shoes for the trip, which still aren’t dry. Duh. Duh. Duh. But seriously, you can’t just give up within 14 feet of a cache… though I finally did after an hour of fruitless searching.
I did meet another kind of bird… it looks like a sparrow, built higher off the ground, with a white bandit mask. It pumps its tail up and down whenever it comes to a halt. It turns out to be an aptly-named “White Wagtail.”
I also discovered some odd little abandoned cabins, with busted-out windows and trees growing so thick around their front doors that only animals would be able to knock. They did have plastic keyholders– the kind with a code like real estate agents use– on the front. I’m guessing they used to be rented out. I was poking around one and thought I heard music coming from inside so I took off. It would be a remote place for a squat, but I’m a stranger here and therefore prefer caution.
I made it til 6:30pm local time and finally gave in, took an Ambien, and went to bed. Can I just say that I already have strange dreams as it is, but Ambien is like taking a hallucinogen. I slept really really well, but oh my god the dreams. The first one involved a roll-away bed with a dead body rolled up inside it. The second was about some reality-tv type game I was in that somehow involved exploring unfamiliar places and taking photos of the other players without being seen. I woke up promptly 8 hours later, and then made myself keep going back to sleep until 6am.
I have been writing a lot by hand in a journal. And in terms of the effect of this experience on creative process, I already have noticed quite a few things, but I won’t have time to transcribe any of it until I get back. For now, I offer just a little glimpse of the surfaces.
Breakfast, by the way, was…. interesting. A vegan would lose a lot of weight. A vegan who is gluten intolerant would starve to death.
I did, however, get plenty of coffee, which is my manna… and I picked up this souvenir for some lucky friend to spread on toast!
San Francisco, CA
June 11, 2013
Tomorrow’s the day.
At 5:30 am I’ll get up in San Francisco and drink enough coffee to make me amenable to being awake, and then I’ll take a bus to a plane to a plane to a shuttle to a shuttle to a plane to a barquentine. It will be two days later and I’ll be North of most of the world.
I have a lot of feelings today: above all, excitement… beneath that a few small worries… will there be enough coffee? Will my digestion get screwed up? Will I be sore from sitting too long? But those small worries are small.
Beneath those concerns is a vast, dark current of hope and sadness. The sadness is strange. The sadness is a voice that says, this could have been your whole life but it’s only three weeks… and the sadness says… is it worse to set off on a journey you know will wake you up, only to have to return to lethargy and sameness? The voice also says… there is so much you haven’t done and will never do.
I wonder about these voices and their insistence on preparing me for disappointment: the disappointments of a short lifespan, of the necessity to waste time, of all the lost stories that spoke and died in me, but never made it any further than an intention.
I had a dream last night: I was walking on a tour through a neighborhood I didn’t recognize. I walked with a group of people I didn’t know up the sidewalk on the right-hand side of a steep street which ran between two high cliffs. The guide was pointing out the dwellings built into the cliffsides. They were tall, with the facades of the narrow, stately Victorians I am used to here in San Francisco, but they were somehow carved out of massive trees that were wedged partway into the rock. I have drawn a terrible sketch with my terrible drawing abilities to show what I mean:
It was twilight when we were walking, and there was a hush over the group. I asked if we could go inside these houses, but the guide said “No one goes inside those dwellings. No one lives there.”
As he said this, I saw the curtains being drawn back from a window in one of the houses in an upper storey, and I knew someone was looking down from the window at me, but it was dark inside so I couldn’t see them. It was getting darker outside, and I found that the tour group had moved on without me, and I was just standing on the broken sidewalk, looking up at the houses.
A door opened in the house closest to me, and a shape came down the sidewalk. I couldn’t really “see” the shape, though it felt like a person, and I knew it was, for lack of a better word, a ghost. This being moved toward me… and I remember that some communication passed between us. We spoke, but we didn’t speak. It’s the way you know things in dreams… you speak, but not necessarily the way you do in the waking world.
And then the being swept back up the sidewalk, back up toward the house. As it passed back inside, it broke apart like a transparent fog, the particles of it seeming more like simply an existing part of the landscape that had momentarily rearranged, and were now flying back apart into the grass, the rocks, the darkness again.
And I suddenly felt, like you feel a thunderstorm approaching, or like you feel the hum of bees where you’re near a bush full of flowers… I felt that all those forsaken houses…. they were full of beings like the one who had stepped out and momentarily formed in order to speak with me. Not only that, but the houses were full of histories, full of hidden passages, full of doors leading to even more interesting places, and that I was not afraid to go in, though it would still take some courage to do so.
I like to not interpret dreams, and just let them work how they work best- like paintings and photographs and symphonies- images with emotional, non-verbal content. But in this case, I’d like to say that it’s not unusual for me to dream about talking to the dead. And these dreams are always transformative, in the sense that my inner world is now getting ready to travel with my body to places unknown.
It seems like a great way to set off for an adventure that I truly hope will give me a chance to get my internal world and my external world back into a kind of synchrony. I once said that a writer who is not writing is like a haunted house… and that is what I have been feeling like lately. Perhaps now I go by that ghost’s example, and re-shape the part of me that creates and communicates out of those little shimmering bits of my surroundings…