Time for the July newsletter has rolled around while I’m still thinking about last month. The June Stikmantica boasted more link clicks and more unsubscribes than any previous issue. That bore pondering, which I have done. After a month, though, it’s time to reach for a hypothesis, because without hypotheses experiments are blind. It will take experiment to plumb those opposite reactions. When in doubt, approach paradox as a scientist.
What was different about last month? A plurality of clicks were on a link that was not even identified, an image tied to an audio track I made in reaction to the murder of George Floyd. Next in number were clicks on links related to bookshop.org. Half went to the Bookshop home page and half to Stikmantica’s affiliated shop. One click leapt to what was then the current installment of this blog. The interest in Bookshop is gratifying, but the real take-away is that people were curious about original work. (Confidential to the blog reader: bless you.)
What was not different about last month was that there were no reports of new work, no pieces shared from projects in progress, no invention revealed. I did mention—without specifics—that I doodle and jot, but the newsletter as a whole was about housekeeping. That has been the tendency over the past few issues. Technical and organizational housekeeping have taken up substantial time during these weeks of shelter, and the newsletter has chronicled what I have been doing. Possibly at greater length than interest warrants.
To tell the truth, though, a few months of newsletter from behind the curtain has provided cover for a couple of brow-beating crises that would be even drier newsletter fare. One crisis springs from an inconsiderate pandemic settling its buttocks squarely onto plans for the entire rest of my life. That’s a topic for another blog, all on its own, some other time.
The second crisis is one of confidence in my creative life. All the housekeeping chores were necessary and overdue, but they also provided a means to step back from the authorial ego. It was no accident that I took them on as a batch. Clustering the administrative and technical updates made it relatively simple to consider Habdvarsha in practical terms. A publisher contemplating a catalog with an audience in low double digits has to ask whether or not the enterprise is worth pursuing. The collective housekeeping set up a measure to evaluate.
Besides no sales, feedback over the past few years was another reason it seemed important to take a clear-eyed look. I don’t get a lot of feedback—always it comes on a rare day—so every word carries charge. Some of it is encouraging. More is not.
I have been told that the works of Habdvarsha require more engagement than anyone can reasonably expect. I have been told—many times now, really, okay?—that during my lifetime no one will understand what this work is. I have been told that Habdvarsha will never find a public. I have been told flat-out that I am misapplying my skills. These and similar observations have come from people of good will, people with the best intentions. Always, the comments carry a suggestion that art would be better served if I abandoned the incomprehensible project and took up something else.
Art might be better served if I did that. Maybe I am mistaken, and Dvarsh, An Introduction is not art. Even if it is art, maybe the fictive constructs of Habdvarsha require unreasonable engagement and it is art for only a handful. Maybe my continuing existence drains the work of comprehensibility. Maybe Habdvarsha will never find a public. Maybe all of this is true. As I went about the business of reorganizing Stikmantica, the possibility that the whole enterprise is a mad obsession was not an issue to simply wave off.
Finding heart to jump into the next project has been a challenge. Finally, I think I’m getting there. A key turned in memory, and the joy that went into making Dvarsh, An Introduction raised its head. It was the first project of my total self, the first of riffing all at once in all the ways I am. That, in fact, was the challenge. It took the whole of me to remake, reform, rebuild the language from a cute bit of ordinary cleverness into something far more interesting, a carrier of story. And better, better, better than the language is the book. I remade the language as an instrument of the book.
The idea assembled itself quickly. Without any deliberate plan, I saw exactly how to layer together literariness and conceptual art, graphic design, linguistics and puzzles, social critique and role play. The scope was clear from the start, easily the tallest order I had ever set. I made hundreds of mistakes, but every day brought discovery. I was happy. It’s the only time of my life about which I can say that.
Making that book involved the whole of me like nothing ever had. I imagined I was crafting something wonderful. I liked the person doing the work. I felt purposeful. That feeling slipped away under the blank stare reception of the book’s release. I lost the joy of creating a wonder just because it’s a wonder that has no public. Screw that.
As mentioned elsewhere, Nod’s Way is part two of a larger fiction that starts with Dvarsh, An Introduction. It certainly came together out of the same place as the earlier book, although with more sober determination. If Dvarsh, An Introduction was a product of joy, Nod’s Way was born of stubbornness. Every minute spent on the oracle, I knew that no one could grasp the totality of it until they had deciphered Dvarsh, An Introduction. I made it anyway.
The conclusion I embrace from these months of isolation is that wherever I end up on the planet, I choose to create with my whole self. I want to keep making this world, not some other. I want to see how I rise to a bigger challenge. There is no public. The books demand unreasonable engagement. As long as I live, no one will understand. These are simply the conditions of work that springs from happiness. New ideas are simmering. Time has come for a shift in the newsletter. By grace of all that housekeeping, the business of Stikmantica can roll for a while.
My lance, Sancho. There are giants.