Tag Archives: love

the dictionary project author interview: anna joy springer

I’m so pleased to share with you all today this author interview with Anna Joy Springer. I find Anna Joy’s work to be immediate, visceral, meditative, guttural, melodic, charged. We are lucky that she doesn’t limit herself in medium of expression.

 AJ promo photo


1. Please share a memory/story/thought in relation to a dictionary/dictionaries:


When I was very small, I ate every word in the dictionary, slowly. The dictionary had been wheat-pasted to the lower half of the walls of my small attic nursery for insulation. As the pages were so thin, many pages were layered in order to create a barrier from the draft. I was an extremely hungry child, and lonely.  Sometimes my mother, who couldn’t bear the sound of “crying babies” left me in the nursery for longer than she should have. She put bottles of formula in my crib, and, when I was not sleeping curled around a bottle or two, I would play a game of “throw the bottle.” Later I would scale the white dowels of my tiny bed-prison and drop myself the floor to retrieve the bottles, warmed sometimes by sun coming in through the small round window. I would find myself soon on the bare wooden floor with empty bottles all around. Teething, needing something less forgiving than a rubber nipple to chew, I would gum the walls to feel their delicious pressure against my swollen gums, and I would suck on the words there until they were soft enough for me to pull off strips of the dictionary pages and suck and gum them into balls. Then, I would swallow them. I didn’t learn to read this way, but I did learn that words are a kind of nutriment and thing to busy oneself with to keep oneself from dying of boredom and loneliness.

2. What is your current favorite word?

My current favorite word is “oodle.” I say it many times a day and I sing it.  It is what I call my new poodle, Percival. It is satisfying and sensuous and silly all at once.


3. What is the most obnoxious/insidious/annoying word?



4. What word has been your (recent or past) muse?



5. I heard you read from your fabulist memoir The Vicious Red Relic, Love, and it was really, in form and content, unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. I may be making this up, and forgive me if I am, but I think I remember you saying something about how this was the only way to tell this particular story. Could you talk a little bit of your process in writing the book? And your decision about the form, the container for these stories?


Hmm. I don’t know what I was referring to about this being the only way to make this story, but I do know that I didn’t feel right about “just telling a story” because that wouldn’t be a very dimensional representation of the bigger and smaller pictures touching and affecting each other.  “The story” isn’t a dramatic rendering of events in this piece – it’s more like a collection of evidence about a period, place, and subculture, with a love story as its emotional emblem. The other love stories are like echo lines all around the central one, and they provide a sort of vibe that runs between ancient Sumerian and late 20th c urban
queer punk.  And I guess the thesis, if there is one, is “if we believe ourselves to be something like characters in a story that we’ve heard in different ways a million times, we might consider the interesting possibilities and dangers of creating new ‘liberating’ kinds of stories, even while knowing all stories will somehow reference, reflect, refract, and resist that initial one.”



6. You are a visual artist as well as a writer and you speak of your creations as grotesques. Could you offer your own definition of that word?


Things that both seduce and freak you out and make you feel like your thinking isn’t as big as some other unknown sense that may also be a part of your mind or spirit.



7. Please respond to the following words and definitions*, picked exclusively at random for you:



Dem·bow·ski (dem bou skē),  n.  a walled plain in the first quadrant of the face of the moon: about 16 miles in diameter.


Dembowski died on the moon and nobody outside of the organization found out.



rhen·i·um  (ˈrēnēəm),  n.  Chem. a rare metallic element of the manganese subgroup: used, because of its high melting point, in platinum-rhenium thermocouples. Symbol: Re; at. no: 75; at wt.: 186.2.  [ < NL, equiv. to L Rhen (us) RHINE + ium –IUM]


Dembowski had discovered rhenium in the first quadrant of what we call “the face” of the moon. Dembowski was going to be very wealthy, very taken care of. We all were.



plas·ter (ˈplastər), n.  1.  a composition, as of lime or gypsum, sand, water, and sometimes hair, applied in a pasty form to walls, ceilings, etc. and allowed to harden and dry.  2.  powdered gypsum.  3.  see plaster of Paris.  4.  a solid or semisolid preparation for spreading upon cloth or the like and applying to the body for some remedial or other purpose. –v.t.  5.  to cover (walls, ceilings, etc.) with plaster.  6.  to treat with gypsum or plaster of Paris.  7.  to lay flat like a layer of plaster.  8.  to daub or fill with plaster or something similar.  9.  to apply a plaster to (the body, a wound, etc.)  10.  to overspread with something, esp. thickly or excessively: a wall plastered with posters.  [ME, OE  <  ML  plastr(um) plaster (both medical and building senses), aph. Var. of L emplastrum    < Gk emplastron salve, equiv. to em- EM2  + plass(ein) (to) mold, form  + tron  -TRON] –plas·ter·er, n.  –plas·ter·i·ness, n.  plas·ter·y, adj.


Instead, we were instructed to plaster over the face of the moon. In essence, to create a new face indistinguishable from the last. This plastering would render the rhenium undetectable, and we would be able to return to the site after our mission, when the organization was down for holiday break.  We knew this plan was infeasible, but we couldn’t disobey command, not with the example that’d been made of Dembowski. We pushed Dembowski into the dust and plastered over that too. When we finished, we
felt destroyed.



Ka·ma·su·tra  (kä′mə so̵̅o̅trə), n.  an ancient Hindu text on mystical erotics.


On our return, we didn’t speak except necessary commands and professional responses. Some secrets are powerful and should remain unuttered. One of mine was that I had removed a small book from Dembowski’s leg pocket before the plastering. It was a Kama Sutra, printed in Sanskrit. He had carried it out on his quadrant sweep, and I can’t imagine why. He may have planned to leave the book there in the great hole now known as “Dembowski,” in order to pretend, on a later mission, to have “found evidence” of earliest cultures’ space travel. He might have imagined presenting this quadrant as the former location of a university of lunar sensuality and erotic moon worship. But his plan was unsuccessful. The greatest anthropological and religious scam of the century, at least, was averted when Dembowski broke his neck.


mil·le·fi·o·ri  (miləfēˈôrē),  n.  decorative glass made by fusing multicolored glass canes together, cutting them crosswise, joining them into new groups, embedding the groups in transparent glass, and blowing the resultant mass into a desired shape. Also, mil·le·fi·o·re.  [  < It equiv. to mille thousand ( < L)  + fiore, pl. of fiore  <  L  flori- (s. of flos) FLOWER]


He had tripped over something hidden beneath the moondust. The organization kept it. It was an oblong millefiori bead. No one ever confirmed whether it was ancient or modern. No one outside the organization knows about the bead except for the buyer, my mother. She wears it, dangerously, on a leather thong around her wrist. She still refuses to tell me the results of the tests she’s had done on the bead. She’s mocked me with farfetched millefiori origin stories for years, a new one every time I’ve asked. I have my own fun, too. I have put Dembowski’s volume of the Kama Sutra in Sanskrit under her bed. I would like very much to inherit the bead. I will hold it in my mouth wherever I go.



Anna Joy Springer is the author of The Vicious Red Relic, Love (Jaded Ibis, 2011), a fabulist memoir with soundscape and images. She’s now making a book-length rebus called Thieves With Tiny Eyes.  An Associate Professor of Literature at UC San Diego and the director of its MFA Program in Writing, she teaches experimental writing, feminist literature & graphic texts. She’s played in punk bands Blatz, The Gr’ups, and Cypher in the Snow and toured with the all-woman spoken word troupe Sister Spit.



*Definitions taken from Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, copyright 1989


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Photo by Kristin Korpos


fm : frequency modulation, fathom from


I have been incessantly watching Bridget Jone’s Diary. Okay, not incessantly, but I have watched it three and a half times in about as many days. Maybe it’s because the holidays are approaching. Maybe it’s because I want Colin Firth to make lots of babies with me. Maybe it’s because it’s the end of the semester and I need films that are funny and easy to watch. Now is not the time for Requiem for a Dream.

But I think the real reason I’m watching is because I find Renee Zellweger’s Bridget Jones to be such a likable protagonist. She’s funny and well-read, but she fumbles. She doesn’t say the right thing all the time. In fact, she often says the exact opposite of the right thing. She loves her friends and she struggles with insecurities about her weight and appearance, her job, her single status.

I can easily watch the opening sequence over and over again because I see my shadow self so clearly in it. Who has not had that moment? That moment of sitting on your couch in your pajamas, hair disheveled, teeth unbrushed, watching lousy television, listening to the radio and singing along to some song in the lines of “All by Myself,” having a pity party, cursing the gods, feeling like a complete fuck-up, finding it hard to believe that this year will be any different than the last? Tell me you’ve never had a moment like this, and I’ll tell you that you are a liar.

I had plenty of beautiful moments and experiences in the past year. I’ve had my share of hard ones, too. Yet when I think back to New Year’s Eve, I can’t feel much of a difference in my actual self from then to now. At a gathering at a friend’s house, we all partook in a ritual in which we beckoned in the new for the new year and burned messages that contained all we wanted to shed. Many of the things I beckoned for last year have not yet emerged. And I have done work at the shedding but some of the same habits, patterns, and insecurities are here. If I’m honest with myself, I can see the nuances of change, both in my life and in myself, but the changes are not always as demonstrative as I had hoped or expected. Beyond this, my life feels steeped in uncertainty at the moment and uncertainty is quite good at seducing anxiety and doubt. Everything is okay, but lately both the ups and downs, the moments of joy and the disappointments, feel heightened and intertwined.

So, I think I find such satisfaction in the movie because within a two hour block, Bridget Jones is embarrassed and depressed, resolves to change her life, fucks this resolution up royalty, lives vulnerably, opens up to possibility in life and love, says and does foolish things, finds more self acceptance, and, of course, love: from herself and from others.

I like it because it is packaged and condensed and easy. Not like life and yet enough like life that it allows me room for trusting.

After her lip-synching to Celine Dion, she narrates her desire to change. She says, “And so I made a major decision. I had to make sure that next year I wouldn’t end up shit-faced and listening to sad FM, easy-listening for the over-thirties. I decided to take control of my life…and start a diary: to tell the truth about Bridget Jones—the whole truth.”

Sad Fm.

I like the idea of Sad Fm because it feels like such a ripe metaphor. (It reminds me of KFKD, for those of you who have read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.)  Sure, there is the literal act of listening to sad songs about love left, love gone awry, lives fucked up, seemingly irrevocably. But it feels so apt for the times in which our minds circulate around the same fucking songs, the same damn static. The static that says, at full blast no matter how gingerly you turn the dial: Not enough, Not smart enough, Not loved enough, Not pretty enough, Not worthy enough. And the songs with refrains all about past mistakes and your undeniably abysmal future. Sad Fm is the mind’s way of separating us from the world around us, isolating us and making us feel as if we are not connected. And Sad Fm is only one station but when you are listening, it feels like the only station. As if there is a sumo wrestler sitting on your chest and preventing you from standing up and just simply switching the dial to the radio which is a football field’s length away. The force feels that real and strong.

But it’s not. I began this post earlier in the week, and today, I am listening to a different station. Know what helps? Little things like watching a movie with a protagonist that isn’t fully realized and developed, that struggles to honor her worth and accept her whole self and yet still manages to walk through life, living and being vulnerable and fucking up and standing back up and dusting herself off. That is a protagonist I want to root for. That is a protagonist I can offer love and compassion to. That is a protagonist that reminds me to offer that same love and compassion to myself.

Rob Breszny, author of Free Will Astrology, writes in his book Pronoia is the Antidote for Paranoia: “Have you ever been loved? I bet you have been loved so much and so deeply that you have become blasé about the enormity of the grace it confers. So let me remind you: To be loved is a privilege and prize equivalent to being born. If you’re smart, you pause regularly to bask in the astonishing knowledge that there are many people out there who care for you and want you to thrive and hold you in their thoughts with fondness. Animals, too: You have been the recipient of their boundless affection. The spirits of allies who’ve left this world continue to send their tender regards, as well…You are awash in torrents of love…Think about that. In your life, you have been deeply and completely loved. Probably many times. Many more than maybe you are even aware of, with a depth that you might not be able to fathom.”

Awash in torrents of love.

Embedded within the movie is the best romantic movie compliment of all time. That being when Mark Darcy tells Bridget he likes her just as she is. Her friends retort, “Just as you are? Not thinner? Not cleverer? Not with slightly bigger breasts and a slightly smaller nose?” No, just as she is. This is the hardest thing to do for ourselves and the thing we desire most from others. To be loved, with all our flaws and with all our beauty. To be loved not despite but because of all that we are. Such a remarkable gift, this blessing of hearing through the static and noise to the place of acceptance and of being seen.


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1sug·ar     noun     \ˈSHo͝ogər\

1: a : a sweet crystallizable material that consists wholly or essentially of sucrose, is colorless or white when pure tending to brown when less refined, is obtained commercially from sugarcane or sugar beet and less extensively from sorghum, maples, and palms, and is important as a source of dietary carbohydrate and as a sweetener and preservative of other foods b : any of various water-soluble compounds that vary widely in sweetness, include the monosaccharides and oligosaccharides, and typically are optically active

2 : a unit (as a spoonful, cube, or lump) of sugar

3: a sugar bowl


2sugar     verb     sug·ared     sug·ar·ing

transitive verb

1: to make palatable or attractive : sweeten <a story sugared with romance>

2: to sprinkle or mix with sugar

intransitive verb

1: to form or be converted into sugar

2: to become granular

3: to make maple syrup or maple sugar



I found Sugar at a time in my life when I was mourning severed connections, reflecting deeply on myself and my life and my choices and experiencing raw loneliness. My life was by no means in shambles, but I still was struggling with boundless uncertainties and deep self-doubt.

An advice columnist for The Rumpus, Sugar’s columns are exactly the opposite of what repels me from other columns. They are not didactic. They do not pretend to solve someone’s complicated problem or deep question in one neatly wrapped up answer. They are not formal or impersonal. They do not have an imbalanced or hierarchical relationship between advice seeker and advice giver. There is no air of superiority.

Instead, Sugar is a cartographer of the heart; she reaches into the map of her personal history, pulling out threads of her journeys and struggles and celebrations and weaving them through readers’ questions. Here, she says, look at this. And this. And this. In authentically crafting stories that navigate their way to an answer of sorts, she offers words that resonate with all readers, no matter whether they have been in the same situation as the advice seeker or not.

It isn’t that Sugar is telling us things that we don’t already know. Sugar taps into the deep register, the inaudible murmur resting below the words being said and she echoes back this thrumming in the truths she tells and the way she tells them: with honesty, with compassion, with love. Often those writing in don’t only need to address the current situation in need of attention and healing but the deep wounds that lie beneath it. And these wounds—of not feeling worthy or of being ashamed or of being scared to love or to be vulnerable or take risks because of our past hurts—these are ones we can all relate to.

Tonight, Sugar is having a coming out party in San Francisco, to tell the world who she really is. But as she said in one of her columns, we already know who she is: “…I quickly realized that telling stories about my life was often the only way I knew how to communicate the complexity of my advice. Your story spilled into mine and then I spilled it back into you, with hopes that we’d all find ourselves somewhere in the big story that belongs to all of us in a place we made up called Sugarland, where you know me already, even though you don’t know me at all.”



Researcher and storyteller Brene Brown has a brilliant TED talk about vulnerability. One of the things she discusses is that there is only one major difference between whole-hearted people, those who live with their whole heart, and those who don’t, and that is that whole-hearted people view vulnerability as a necessary part of life. And they see that vulnerability involves risk (to say “I love you” first, to do something they’ve never done before, to ask for help) and they choose to be vulnerable anyway. Sugar’s columns are built with vulnerability and they encourage this sort of way of being and living in her readers.

I brought Sugar’s columns into my freshman composition classroom this past fall to show them examples of how to use personal narrative to make a strong and clear point. We read one of her columns aloud and discussed how she went about telling her story and for what effect. Then, students had to answer one of her letter writers using their own personal experience. They talked about loss and grief and insecurities. Their words spilled over with hope and fear and love and disappointment. And when they were finished writing, one of my students asked: Can we see her answer? What did Sugar say?

I never know how students will respond to lesson plans and had hopes for this one. But it was about something more than craft or pedagogical goals: I wanted to expose them to the rhetoric of love. One of the things I love most about Sugar is that she writes her column because the letters she receives need to be read and these stories need to be told. We all need tending to. And in reading and in responding, she has created and held a space for us, where we all can feel less alone, where we all belong, where we have the opportunity to be whole-hearted people, together.


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rhyth·mist  (ˈrith-mist)  n. A master of rhythmical composition; also, one versed in rhythmics.

(from Webster Comprehensive Dictionary: International Edition, Lobate through Z)

“Get rhythm when you get the blues/ Get rhythm when you get the blues/ Yes a jumpy rhythm makes you feel so fine/It’ll shake all the trouble from your mind/Get rhythm when you get the blues.” –Johnny Cash


Lately, I’ve had a case of the doldrums. This usually happens to me in summer. I think that we make summer the time of happiness. Get a tan. Go on vacation. Read mindless books. Enjoy yourself. So if you aren’t feeling happy all the time, there is something wrong with you because, come on, it’s summer.

Especially in the past four years while I have been studying and working on the academic calendar, summer is a sort of pause in the rhythm of my life. It is a time for reflection and detoxification and detoxifying requires bringing all the toxins to the surface, where they are visible. This can be a difficult process.

I’ve been thinking lately about what I am in this life and what I am meant to be. I know, easy questions. And I’ve also been thinking about Lucinda Williams’ song “Born to be loved.” In it, she cites all the things you are not born to be: “to be abused,” “to lose,” “to be abandoned,” “to be forsaken,” “to be mistreated,” “to be misguided.” What you are born to be at the end of each refrain is loved. You were born to be loved.

Lately, in my mindfulness meditation, I’ve been practicing metta, or loving-kindness, for myself and one of the things I’ve been saying to myself is “May I be love. May I be loved.” Isn’t it amazing that only one letter is different in these two intentions? When I say them aloud, if I do so quickly, you may not even hear the difference. Perhaps it is because they are so closely intertwined, the ability to love others and one’s receptivity to love. Recently, Stephen Elliot in his daily email piece for The Rumpus quoted someone’s interpretation of the human question as being not: “Am I loveable?” but “Am I capable of love?” For it is in our capacity to offer love, which we are all born with even if we have to work at it in our lives, that we are able to be loved. My mindfulness teacher has me offering metta to myself because he knows that only in offering acceptance and love to myself am I really able to offer these to others.

So, a few pulses I have been considering, a few rhythms repeating in my mind these days. Hope yours are steady and continuous and raw and new.

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Obama Speaks At Memorial for Victims of Shooting, http://www.huffingtonpost.com

thrive* \ˈthrīv\ verb

1. To make steady progress; prosper.

2. To grow vigorously; flourish

*The title of tonight’s memorial was “Together We Thrive: Tucson & America”

I was there tonight in Tucson. I stood in line with the thousands to be able to participate in the memorial for the victims of Saturday’s tragic shooting, to be able to pray for healing of those who are still in the hospital and for all those impacted by this tragedy.

I went because I wanted to stand up with my community and remember those we have lost. I went because I wanted to pray for the healing of those who suffer. I went because I wanted to hear what our leaders had to say.

As a college instructor, I have decided to spend some of my rhetoric class time examining and discussing texts about the shooting. It not only feels relevant to talk about words and their meaning at times like this, it feels necessary to give students a space in which they can wrestle with their feelings about an act of violence taking place in their adopted town, at a grocery store that could be their grocery store.

As we discuss in class, the words we say and the way that we say them matters. We each need to take responsibility for our own words and we need to call those we listen to, particularly our media and our political leaders, to be responsible for theirs and to speak in a way that invites rather than discourages open and thoughtful conversation. Obama said it the best last night when he said: “It’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.”

One of the moments I valued most about tonight was when President Obama spoke about the importance of not making this an opportunity to hate one another. He said: “But what we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other. That we cannot do. That we cannot do.”

I myself am guilty of this. When 19 people, including a congresswoman I deeply respect, were shot on Saturday, I immediately thought of the rhetoric surrounding her reelection campaign. I thought of Jesse Kelly and his screaming campaign strategies. I thought of the tea party and how often their language includes words that insinuate violence, and how whether these words are figurative or literal is often hard to tell. And on top of the enormous sadness I felt, I became really angry.

We need to listen critically to all points of view we are exposed to. But being angry and blaming those who invoke this kind of language is not ultimately the solution. The solution is not to return anger with anger, hate with hate. It seems to me that the only real solution is to move towards a society in which kindness, respect and empathy are woven into the fabric of our institutions, our neighborhoods, our daily lives. And while I do think it is important to hold our leaders and media personalities accountable for their language and encourage speech that is inclusive to understand different points of view (as Obama talked about when he emphasized the need for civil discourse), it seems to me that the most important step that each of us can take individually is to model in our day to day lives what we want our world to look like.

Meaning: we choose to be kind, to be empathetic, to be respectful, to be generous. We weigh carefully the words we use when we speak to one another. This sounds simple, but I believe it is one of most difficult things we can commit ourselves to doing. I think of how many times per day I allow myself to become annoyed with other people: because they are not moving quick enough, because they should have used their blinker, because they are being too loud. Sometimes I merely note this to myself, but sometimes this annoyance comes out in my speech or my body language, to my perceived offenders or to other people.

One of the things I have heard multiple people say about Gabby is that she is someone who genuinely loves people, someone who tries to find the good in each person she meets.

Our responsibility is not only to be kind to the people we know and love (and let’s be honest, we aren’t always even able to muster that), our responsibility is to be kind and loving to people we don’t know and yes, to people that to us, for whatever reason, feel the hardest to love.

Underneath vitriolic political rhetoric, underneath cuts to mental healthcare, underneath lax gun control laws—all of which are valid and important things to discuss and sort through together—is a society has become sick from a severe lack of connection. We don’t realize how much we need each other or how our choices and interactions impact each other. We don’t try to understand each other. We don’t love each other in the way that we need to love and be loved. This denial of our interconnectedness is a wound we all carry and it is something that we can begin to change with every interaction we have.

Tonight, as President Obama shared stories about each of the victims, we laughed and smiled and cried as we, as a community, celebrated their lives and, in turn, grieved for their loss. When the President told us that Gabby Giffords had opened her eyes for the first time, the stadium erupted in joy, people jumping out of their seats, tears streaming down cheeks.

I think of a young man I saw at the University Medical Center on Sunday night who had a piece of fabric safety pinned to the back of his hoodie with these words: Love is stronger.

Love is stronger.

The actions we take tomorrow, next month, next year will not undo the tragedy that has been inflicted on these individual souls, on their families, on our community and our nation. There will be many more tears. There will be years of recovery and struggle. There will be much sorrow and much need. And, by saying what I say here, I in no way mean to minimize the gravity and sadness that permeates all of this.

But, it seems to me that loving each other better, caring about each other more is the only answer. This will come out not only in our daily interactions but in the decisions we make collectively as a community and as a nation. I believe this kind of love is possible. I believe in its possibility because I have known too many stories, seen too many miracles, known too many people who demonstrate in their own way the decency and compassion and beauty and endurance of the human spirit.

For now, we can pray for the strength to love each other and that the ways we can do so will be shown to us all.

Sunday 1.9.11 at UMC, Tucson


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