|SHELLEY JACKSON'S INERADICABLE STAIN|
LETTERS TO WORDS
I will be putting together the video over the course of this week, which means that we can fudge the deadline a little; I will probably still be able to use your video/reading if you get it to me sometime this week.
A few notes:
1. No need to name the punctuation aloud. Just pronounce the word as if you were reading it from a book.
2. No need to worry about "production values". Any crappy camera that can shoot video with sound is fine, so long as the word is audible.
3. Please email me a link to the video so I'll be sure to find it (and know whom to thank!)
4. Be aware that while you can post whatever length video you like, I may only be able to use the couple of seconds in which you are actually saying your word; don't be sad if your contribution gets trimmed a bit!
So a while back I had an idea: to give a collective reading of the skin project, each participant saying his or her word in real time around the world-- a reading audible only in pieces, just as the story is legible only in pieces. Of course I quickly realized that it would be very hard, maybe impossible, to organize this. Someday I may try to do it anyway. But meanwhile I have had a simpler idea, which is to piece together a reading from videos of some of my participants saying their words. Not, of course, of the real story, which is not for public consumption, but of another story--or poem or maybe even gibberish--made out of (some of) the same words.
The Berkeley Art Museum would like to host this video on their Internet Art Portal as part of an online exhibition of Skin. It opens March 1, so we have only a short time to put it together. If you want your word to be part of it, and I hope you do, please follow these simple steps:
1. Video-record yourself saying your word aloud. It's OK if you also include a few extra words like "this is my word, 'the'", so long as the word itself is clearly audible. The video should show your tattoo, as well. I'll leave it up to you whether to zoom in on the word or include more of yourself in the picture.
2. Upload your video to your own (or a friend's) YouTube account and--this is important--tag it: "skinproject" -- all one word, no spaces.
In a week, I will do a search for that tag, find all the words, and assemble them into some sort of order. I'll try to find a way to fit them all in somehow, though I can't promise that I'll succeed. I'll pass my text on to the museum guys, who will then edit the clips together in the specified order. On March 1 it will go up on the museum website. (Once the show is over I'll post it here, so it will live on.)
Please upload your reading by midnight, Valentines Day, Feb. 14, to give me time to put all the pieces together!
I've just spent a couple of hours filling out certificates and address labels and the result is fifteen stories ready to go in the mail tomorrow. With these I will have sent out a copy of the story to very nearly every word who has updated his or her address through this website. Please, even if your address hasn't changed, or even if you emailed me with your latest address, go here and confirm that I have it right. That will also magically bump you to the top of my mailing list!
So I am creaking along, mailing out stories. I am also starting to admit new applicants again. Huzzah!
You may have been wondering where I was. The answer is, right here, where I have been mailing out batches of stories whenever I find a free moment in my teaching schedule. I'm about halfway through. Like I said, it's a slow process--I remind you again to confirm your current address, to speed things up. Even if your address hasn't changed, it helps me to know you are still where you're supposed to be!
I am also, very slowly, adding new participants.
In other news, it is still winter. Why?
It's getting cold here, a good time to sit and scrawl addresses on red-bordered mailing labels. The stories are wending their way a few at a time through the mail in the pleasingly sturdy cardboard mailing tubes you can just barely make out in the photo to the right. They are individually and rather laboriously hand-assembled, so it will take some time to get them all done: I humbly ask for your patience. As I said below, I'll probably get to yours sooner if you have confirmed your current address here.
A quick note to apprise you of some new stops on my reading tour, including three readings this coming week: Tuesday 9/26 (Brooklyn), Thursday 9/28 (Newton, MA), Friday 9/29 (Amherst, MA). See here for complete information.
Words, please take a moment to confirm or correct your address, here. Many of you have already emailed me your new addresses, but this will be much faster! I have received my first box of mailing tubes and am about to send out a first round of stories; confirm your address and I predict you will get yours a little sooner than otherwise.
To any New York participants who've been assigned words but are a little slow about getting inked (you know who you are): If you like having cameras pointed at you, there are not one but TWO television crews interested in filming you getting your tattoo, one from Germany, one from New Zealand. I'll be there too. If this sounds interesting, email me.
It has been great to see your friendly faces (and beautiful tattoos) at my readings! Next reading, 7:30 PM on September 26 at Spoonbill and Sugartown, Bedford Ave., Williamsburg, Brooklyn. More dates coming soon; please check back here.
I am happy to announce that the first printed, stamped, signed copies of the story and certificate were handed out on July 24, 2006, to Christine Chun at Dog Eared Books, San Francisco, right before the first reading from my new book Half Life. More copies went to the words who turned up at readings in Berkeley, Portland, and Seattle. I'll have some more at my other upcoming readings (see the list here), if you like the idea of receiving yours in person, and you happen to live nearby, but if not, don't worry: I'm about to start mailing them out. ("Finally," you are fully authorized to mutter.) They're beautiful, if I do say so myself, so I think I was right to ditch the 2,100 copies I had printed last year but decided I didn't like, even though they cost me $800!
I got back from my travels last night to find: a summons to court; dog poo in my closet (tell-tale aftermath of a really scary thunderstorm); a letter reading, in its entirety, FUCKTARD*. As the subtitles for a certain kung fu movie's theme song would have it, "Life is so."
*This letter was (mis-)addressed to someone else, but was in my name and bore my return address, which is how it came to me. Should you receive such a letter: I promise that if I am angry at you, I will have something more interesting to say than "fucktard"! And there is no such word in my story.
Long lost friends,
I'm back, finally. So this is what the world is like. Sun! Wind! Pigeons! A leak in the ceiling! A plumber named Reuben! I kind of like it, after all.
Where have you been all this time? you rightly ask. Well, I've been in Arizona, visiting my ailing grandmother; in Japan, visiting the Site of Reversible Destiny; in Seattle, conducting myself like the ambassador of tattooing at the Bumbershoot festival (more on that later); in Cork, Ireland with a number of body artists (two of whom are also words); in Manhattan teaching literature; but mostly, at home in Brooklyn. Where I have been toiling like a dog (not my dog--she just lies around) for many months, trying to finish two books at once. Why? Because I am an incorrigible workaholic. Because I am an enthusiast. Because I am addicted to terror, misery, and the hours after midnight. Because I imagine I am superhuman, when obviously I am shamefully, foolishly, mortally, luckily human. Still, somehow, by staying up until five in the morning every day for weeks on end, at considerable cost to my lower back, my head, my eyes, and perhaps my sanity, I did finish both the art for a picture book and a novel. My first novel, Half Life, which I began when I was younger than you probably are now (but was too inept a writer to pull off then), and have been working on ever since. It's been a long, long education in humility, and I'm unbelievably proud that it's done. This summer I will receive from HarperCollins the entire first half of my life in the form of a dense block of ink-stained paper. I'm going to sit down on it and weep with relief.
Before then, I have some WORDS to attend to. No, I did not forget (if I ever did, the SKIN on my wrist would remind me)--and I will not give up, even if sometimes, like last fall, the shackles of work get so heavy I advance no faster than an amoeba.
Can one shackle an amoeba?
Skin is my only major project this fall, so you can expect progress. Check back for more news soon, including photographs of the Seattle show. As always, I thank you for your patience, and if you are not patient, I still thank you, I still like you, I am still, and always, awed by your generosity and daring.
I have been staring at the screen so long my right eyelid is twitching, and the sky is the color of an oyster, and there is a dead pigeon on my window-ledge, but otherwise life is good. I'm about to send this out as a mass email to you all, but since addresses change, I thought I should post a version of it here too:
Skin Project Handy Flow Chart July 2005
* * * * * * * *
IF you mailed in your release months ago but never got a word:
THEN either the release or the word was lost in the mail. Contact me.
IF you got a word and haven't tattooed it yet, but intend to:
THEN proceed as planned. No need to contact me -- unless you would like to have it done at the Bumbershoot Festival in September (see below).
IF you got a word but have decided not to get it tattooed:
THEN please, please, let me know, so I can fill the gap in the story. I won't be mad, I promise.
IF you got a word tattooed, but haven't sent pictures and form:
THEN what are you waiting for? Send them!
IF you got your tattoo and already sent pictures:
THEN I will be mailing the story soon.
URGENT: If you've moved, please email me your new address immediately.
(If you haven't, don't confuse me by sending it again!)
IF you live in or near Seattle:
THEN volunteer to be tattooed at the SKIN installation at the Bumbershoot Festival September 2-5--or just come hang out. In addition to photos and documents from the project, there will be a local tattoo artist creating words on the spot. It costs money both to get into Bumbershoot and to be tattooed, but the artists are offering a discounted rate. (I don't know what it is.) Volunteers should have an exhibitionist side, since there will be an audience. IMPORTANT: you must already have been sent a word--I won't accept walk-ins! If you're interested in volunteering, contact me.
PS If you live near Long Branch, NJ, come see my case study of Skin word no. 1261 in INKED! at SICA. See NEWS.
I'm trying to track down the following people, whose words came back in the mail: Nicole Bellefleur, Karianne Blank, Brian Fowler, Pablo Marchese, Shavone Davis, Sky Sithbunkerd, Jennifer Stanley, Shoe Star, David Weekes, Timothy Charles, and Simon Parkinson. If you know any of them, please tell them to send me their new addresses.
Yesterday, I sold my novel. Tomorrow, I pick up your certificates from the printer. These are good days!
Today, after many annoying little glitches, I finished designing the certificate. I take it in to the printer tomorrow. After I've seen the proofs, it should take them only a couple of weeks to finish the job, and then, my friends, I will be able to pay my debt to society. That is, to you. Finally! Today I also went on a fruitless quest for surgical thread and cheap tracing paper, and designed a stamp featuring a lovely, creepy écorché--a flayed man holding up his own skin--borrowed from an anatomy book from 1556.
Yesterday, I rode the Cyclone in a thunderstorm. Rain like bees stinging my face, sideways lightning violet overhead. Someone was laughing hysterically. It was probably me.
Yesterday I mailed every last word for which I got a release! (Except three whose releases came this week.) That means I'm more or less caught up to where I should have been a year ago. I hang my head in shame. Then I lift it up again in pride, because it was a buttload of work, and I did it.
You might notice that I have a new category above: words spoken for but not released. These words theoretically belong to the 467 people who were accepted but have not yet sent in their releases. However, once I've assigned the 315 free words, I am going to stop holding words for any of the 467 that haven't sent me releases yet, since I know there are plenty of people who'd love to have them.
I'm stuck on the certificate until I get a software update. Won't take me too long. Meanwhile, Northwestern words: it's confirmed, I am coming to Bumbershoot next September. If you have your word, but you haven't gotten it it inked yet, you may be able to arrange to do it on the spot, for a live audience--if you want to, of course. If you've already gotten the tattoo, there are other ways you can take part, but I haven't gotten all the logistics worked out. I'll send out a group email once I have, but check back here too.
The sun is out!
I have sent out another pile of mail, and at 1209 words I am only 100 away from the end of my pile of releases. And yet I have accepted 1780 participants. So where are the releases from the remaining 471 participants, I ask myself? Actually, I ask you. If you've decided not to take part, let me know so I can offer someone else your place without a qualm.
The dignified and kindly proprietor of GM Printing in Chinatown informs me I can either spend $850 or $290 on the certificate, depending on whether I choose the full color design I really wanted, or not. $850 it is, I'm afraid, but I have to give him the file in Quark, not Photoshop--a little hitch. (Isn't this boring? Such is the life of a writer. At least this writer.) Meanwhile a friend can make me the interactive world map of words for a mere $2000. I had better apply for a grant.
Words in Seattle and nearby: I may be taking a Skin show on the road to Bumbershoot, where if logistics permit we will invite a tattoo artist to take up temporary residence. More news when I get some. Words in Sweden: a short feature will air on Cobra in about two weeks.
P.S. Anyone know Jacob Kennedy, Emily Post, Megan O'Neal, or Tang Yean Ling? They've disappeared and left me holding their words.
In five minutes I will go downstairs and mail 72 more words: 48 to the US, 12 to Canada, 7 to the UK, 2 to Belgium, 2 to the Netherlands, 1 to France, and 1 to New Zealand. Meanwhile, for those of you who have long since sent in your photographs, the certificate is designed and I have located a reasonable printer and a place that makes foil stamps. It will be expensive, my words, but you are worth it. As for the story, I am writing numbers over each word, so that you can find yourselves. If it is not too ambitious, I will stitch the pages together, like skin, and roll them up.
Some of you have asked whether I'm planning to bring all the words together some day. Someday I will, though I will have trouble finding a location close to everyone. I'll have to think how to include those of you who live in Argentina, Norway, Thailand. Not to mention California.
Other ideas for the future: 1. Exhibit a wall of words and portraits, framed back to back, so viewers can turn them to face either way. 2. Footnotes. (To be explained.) 3. A world map showing words' current locations.
I am pleased to announce that since the new year dawned, I have finished my database of names and addresses, and sent out about a hundred and fifty new words. I'm also in the process of sorting my overstuffed (sk)inbox, and separating out the emails from confirmed words who have questions about releases, photos etc, so I can answer them first. (One question I can answer preemptively: No, you have not been expunged. I haven't expunged anyone who didn't ask to be expunged.) My most pressing project is the printing and mailing of the story and certificate. It is not done, but it will be beautiful, I suspect, hope, and even insist. Thank you for your patience with this project's slow growth.
P.S. My arm is much better, finally, though it still feels wrong if I spend too many hours typing. Thank you so much for your many kind inquiries (and even get well gifts). I like you.
I'm feeling brisk this morning so I reckon it's time for a brief follow-up report. Since I last wrote, I've finished addressing envelopes and making a list of everyone who has sent me a release form. I managed to transfer the database my sister was working on for me across platforms to my own computer so I can add to it myself. Next major task is to enter in the information for everyone who sent me photographs, and file those with their release forms and other documents. I am having to reinvent myself as a secretary/reference librarian. How unexpected!
In other news, I have found two ugly doll heads, a little blue doll leg, a blue tin "DERAIL" sign from a railroad, and an stout small wind-up gentleman with a briefcase.
P.S. Sign a petition supported by booksellers, librarians, writers, and readers like you to protect reader privacy from the depredations of the so-called Patriot Act. Eight days left. Do it!
It is a year since I launched this project, and I am still amazed at the quantity and quality of response it has had. (Total number of emails I have received related to this project: 10,090.) As those who have been watching this website are aware, the amount of mail I got overwhelmed me, and I'm still swamped. It would have been smarter to have a team working on this; it would have been smarter to automate my mail instead of addressing every envelope and email myself. But I am stubborn, and I have stuck to my plan to handle all the correspondence myself. This project seems to me to be partly about making the relationship between author and reader--which is usually abstract and impersonal--into something specific and individual. For once, the writing and reading goes both ways: I write you, you write me; I send you words, you tell me what they mean. In a sense, you are telling my story back to me, and rewriting it in the process.
So. We have a working relationship. That means that I don't get to ignore your frustrations and desires, and you don't get to ignore mine. You have to imagine what it's like to have 4,788 urgent messages in your inbox, and I have to imagine what it's like to send emails to someone who takes six months to write back!
With that in mind, I would like to start providing more regular, detailed updates on this website. First, the general context: I have quit my full-time teaching job, so I have even less money but more time for my own work. I'm teaching part-time, editing a novel and illustrating my third children's book. I'm reading philosophy in preparation for writing a PhD dissertation, which is going to be about goo, doll games, taxidermy and language. In August, I was in Switzerland where I teach and study at the European Graduate School, and then in Frankfurt at the Kunstlerhaus Mousonturm's summer academy, where I launched a new project in collaboration with the artist Christine Hill, called The Interstitial Library. While I was away, my sister was helping me on the Skin project by starting a database of the names and addresses of words, and a filing system to contain all the paperwork, photographs, etc.
This is the current state of the Skin project: I have a great pile of release forms which represent about 800 words. My first priority is to make a list of all these participants so I can let those who asked know that I did receive their forms. I will address their envelopes at the same time. Then I will assign the words and mail them out, in the order that I received the forms. I need to make a similar list of everyone who has sent me their photographs, so I can let them know I got them, and later, mail them their copies of the story. Meanwhile, I have to read through the 4,788 messages in my inbox and answer questions, make final selections, send out information and release forms, and eventually, let those who did not get in know when the project is closed. Finally, I have to mail out the stories and certificates. In the long run I also want to to add everyone's name and address to the database my sister started, so all the information can be retrieved when I need it.
Today's projects: Add a status report to my website (you're reading it); make list of words, address envelopes. More news later.
THE SAGA OF MY POOR ARM
All spring my whole right arm was suffering some kind of awful repetitive stress seizure. When it didn't feel like a spear is lodged in my shoulder, it felt like someone was running an electrical current up my forearm, through my elbow, into my armpit, and behind my shoulderblade. I had to stop typing for a few months, which put everything on hold. My arm is finally feeling better--thanks to everyone who sent sympathy and advice!--but it still goes numb when I spend too long at the computer, so I'm moving slowly.