Penduline Press is filled with the spirit of Ariel Gore’s inspiring energy and the flames of her creative spark. This is natural as Ariel has been your teacher for many years. Your work at Penduline performs as an homage to Ariel Gore’s work ethic. In juxtaposition, Ariel is adamant about printing a magazine her readers can hold in their hands and you’ve chosen to print a magazine online. Why did you choose to print an online mag instead of traditional print?
Back in 2011 when Sarah Olson and I started Penduline, we intended for there to be an online as well as a printed version. We priced out the cost of four issues per year and factored in the additional time we would need to deal with layout, printing and distribution. It became clear that neither of us had the bandwidth to do it all. We thought about our many friends and relatives overseas who wouldn’t be able to buy Penduline locally…Sarah is a Kiwi with family in New Zealand as well as in Europe and other parts of North America. I’ve spent time all over the world—and I’d just come from living with my family in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, in places where the distribution of printed materials was difficult and limited. Sarah and I concluded that an online-only format would enable anyone with Internet access to read any issue at any time. No dead trees, no need to subscribe to anything, no negotiating with magazine vendors to pretty please carry our indie lit mag and place it favorably on shelves.
It’s quite interesting to see how in the years that followed, many other publications added—or completely switched over to—online formats. I remember people years ago looking askance at us when we told them we weren’t in print. Heh, heh. Today, we never hear this kind of criticism.
Do I support print? Of course I do. You should see my house. You should see my room. I love how Ariel insists that print isn’t dead. Ariel has a long, long history with the making of the printed word. I on the other hand come from a background in desktop publishing, tech translation, and tech editing—work always done electronically. If the final version is electronic, I’m not all too bugged by it.
Why do Penduline Press? Why be creative? On top of being creative, as if that weren’t a struggle enough in the midst of mainstreamed uncreative souls, why choose to be independent? edgy? visual?
Sarah Olson and I have a great deal of experience working creatively in teams (she with design, I with music groups/ensembles), but for this project, we wanted to limit the size of the team as much as possible—to two people. To just us. By not affiliating ourselves anywhere—by insisting on indie status—we felt we could exercise the least amount of censorship in curating and publishing the magazine’s artwork and writing.
We’re definitely all about the visual aspects. Sarah designed our layout using a color palette I actually saw clearly in an early-morning dream I had about a month before Penduline was launched. And though a number of fantastic artists have submitted their work to us, we also enjoy searching for international artists ourselves and asking them to contribute work to the magazine.
Why be creative? I’ve actually been asked that recently by someone who is super uncreative. The answer lies somewhere in between “I can’t help it, I just am,” and “Because life would be so much more boring otherwise.”
Being creative has its drawbacks—you get very drained by it, for example. Wiped out. It can be more distracting than parenting toddler triplets. But there’s the other side to it—the high it gives you…the amazement that comes from realizing that you, yes, YOU, just now came up with that particular poetic image, or clever association of unrelated things, or unique set of characters.
Tell us a little more about the draining process. Tell us more about the high. What are its qualities? How do you practice self-care as an editor in this drain and high process?
Curating/editing a magazine issue is not completely unlike working on my own creative writing. For me, they’re both like puzzles with components that need the proper placement in order for there to be the clever and good flow I want to achieve. When I see the array of submissions chosen for an issue and first sense the collective impression these works will make on the reader, I am thrilled: This is the group of stories and poems and images for this issue, and it’s a beautiful and powerful thing. I’m thrilled in much the same manner when I’ve honed and chiseled and performed a piece of my own fiction, poetry, or memoir work: This is what I wanted to express, and I’ve now finally done it. But there’s the aftermath, the wave of exhaustion from my brain’s cylinders having fired too rapidly over too many hours. I’ve just concentrated so hard on one thing, and have excluded nearly all other thoughts from my head, that it’s almost otherworldly. I’m dazed. The real world then awaits me with its billing cycles, chores, and missed phone calls.
I practice self-care because I’m a solo mother and have been one for twelve years…not because I work on Penduline or any other project. Parenting without practicing self-care is deadly. Sitting at a computer for 50 hours in order to ensure a successful issue launch is deadly. I study Italian and Latin for my voice program in Baroque opera. I exercise six days a week, one to two hours a day, then soak afterward in a hot tub with aromatherapy bath salts. I take my kids and our yellow Labrador puppy to the dog park and watch him go insane with his dog friends. Out of expatriate homesickness, I cook traditional recipes from the places in Europe where I spent my twenties and thirties and was taught how to cook. My mother? She never practiced self-care. She didn’t have these kinds of hobbies. She didn’t enjoy cooking. I am so glad that I see the world and my place in it so very differently than she did.
Penduline could be called your creative haven, perhaps the digital equivalent to your physical haven. You moved from your “creative desert” of Ohio to your “creative spring” of Portland. How has your building a creative home turf for yourself influenced your press? Are there experiences in your turfing process that mirror your process of running Penduline?
Ohio is by no means a creative desert! Our Issue 5 (Ohio) proves that. I felt back in the early 2000s that Ohio had become a creative desert for me. I wasn’t among creative people in my job or home setting…though at the time, I wasn’t physically very far away from Donald Ray Pollock, Kyle Minor, and probably dozens of others whose work I adore. Coming to Portland definitely opened the lid for me in terms of “active” creative thought and process. I met a whole lot of people who’d come to Portland for the sole purpose of creative expression. I found numerous kindred souls.
One of the great things about my life in Portland is that I don’t limit my creativity to editing and writing; I’m heavily involved in classical music studies and have completed in-depth art studies in drawing. I suppose this multitasking spilled over into my ambitions with the Penduline project: we initially didn’t publish poetry but now do; we also didn’t include audio/video but now have opened up to it as a wonderful addition; and we initially had no idea we’d run internationally themed issues, but found ourselves doing a fabulous Aotearoa/New Zealand issue, then an Éire/Ireland issue with a guest editor, the marvelous writer and performance poet Dave Lordan.
Did the “active” creative process become true for you due to moving into an environment that supports your multiple outlets of creativity? Or is it more of a reflection of your inner self actively pursuing your creative process that creates community around it?
That’s kind of a chicken-or-egg question. By moving to Portland, by uprooting myself from routine and complacency, I created ambiguity, which brought about a lot of self-reflection. Out of that came the courage to try new things, to take new courses, to say “I am a writer and always have been,” and “I am a vocalist and always have been.” Creating community around what I was doing took far longer, I think. That’s due in part to my extreme time constraints as a solo parent of two young kids. One of the reasons I teamed up with Sarah Olson is that she completely gets the solo parenting thing, even though she is very happily partnered.
Is there tension between your nose-to-the-grindstone Ohio roots and your newer Oregon life? Do you have problems integrating and balancing those two sides of yourself while running a press?
I am definitely a workaholic when it comes to editing. Nothing bothers me more than seeing people’s work online that is poorly edited (by the writer and/or by the person or people who are supposed to catch typos, errors, and formatting problems and fix them). I spend hours and hours each issue writing to contributors and asking them if they are happy with how their work looks and reads online. When this is going on, my personal life in Oregon suffers, of course. I hike in all seasons, I camp, I take my family on educational trips up and down the coast. Penduline’s demands can weigh me down at times and limit my enjoyment of these gorgeous surroundings. On the other hand, I am happy as hell when one of our issues goes live and it’s amazing. I love contributor feedback about how great a job we did with communication and with the editorial process.
We have taken something of a publishing break in 2014 due to my full-time classical music studies and Sarah’s retro furniture refurbishing work…so I suppose there are difficulties in running our press AND doing other things at the same time. Music is so much stronger a need within me than literary-related pursuits are. I could totally give up editing and just be a vocalist for the rest of my life.
How do curating and crafting exposure for artists and writers improve the field of literature? Why do we benefit from this silent performance and witness?
When we publish something, we are honoring the talent of that writer or artist. When we publish an issue, each contributor gets to enjoy all of the other work in it. There’s the sense of a large-group effort having been made, even though the business of writing, painting, and sculpting is often so solitary, so lonely even.
I know from the several hundred submissions we receive each quarter that there are a LOT of people writing out there. We might accept thirty pieces out of seven or eight hundred. I feel we have a high standard, even though we also want to give experimental writings a fair chance and we know they might not appeal to every reader.
People often ask me how I curate. I can only say that I go with my gut. It’s a sort of instinct that tells me whether a piece is right or not. Many submissions are simply not right because they still need more revision, more careful consideration of story or of characters, or a fresh look at poetics or sense of place in the narrative. Writers are eager to get their work out there, and I understand…but I’d rather accept the work only when it’s genuinely ready.