A Life in Picture Books: Shutterfly for Beginners

Life, Inverse

It was the spring of 2017 when I took a poetry course, taught by the local poet laureate.  Being the anti-procrastinator I am, I started working on my final project the night after we got our syllabus.  The project was to create a chapbook of all or some of the poems we would be writing for class that semester.  I decided I’d make it easy on myself and create mine on Shutterfly—no staples or glue for me.  

All semester, that book was like a piece of sculpture I kept adding clay to and chipping away at.  Because all my poems were autobiographical, I titled it Life, Inverse.  In that class, I psychoanalyzed myself, sharing parts of my life I never thought I would share with anyone.

I learned a lot about myself that spring.  

I started my own book publishing company, Campbell Peach Press; my mom grew up in Campbell, Missouri, and we always wanted to go back to the Missouri Peach Festival someday.  I learned how to write short and overcome my fear of public speaking (almost). I learned to love the spoken word as much as I did the written—to appreciate the oral storytelling form—for such teaches us to be active listeners.

Before then, I’d thought that because I was a storyteller, I could not be a poet; like the ballads of Tom T. Hall, all my poems told a story.  They were grounded and concrete and that was okay, for a poem was whatever I made it. My love for poetry grew along with my love for Shutterfly, for I didn’t have to be a skilled photographer to make beautiful books.

Shutterfly was for writers, too.

From that final project, I created the second edition of Life, Inverse as a Christmas gift for another professor, under whom I worked as a work-study student in the English and Communications Department and where I would work for three more semesters; it was there I working when my mom’s time ran out, and there would be no more peach festivals.

Life, Inverse

Following that second edition of Life, Inverse, I decided that every person who had ever supported me in my writing would eventually get one of my one-of-a-kind Shutterfly books.  I wanted them to one day look at it and say, “I knew her when,” though I believe that everyone I have given one to will know me forever.

All that creating on Shutterfly helped me become more aware of not just the words and how they sounded but of how they looked on the page.  I was not an illustrator, but I could be a graphic artist, and so I began taking pictures whenever I saw something I thought I could use in one of my books. Because I sought out these images, I went to places I wouldn’t have visited otherwise.  I began to look more closely at everything—to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.

That summer, I worked on Slow-Speaking Lady (a nod to Anne Waldman’s Fast-Speaking Woman, which had been one of the required readings in the poetry class) for my professor and now friend, with whom I collaborated on the school’s annual literary arts journal.  I also worked on The Post-It Poet (and other community college stories), based on my adventures at Pensacola State College—a gift to my other boss in the English department and the one who had hired me.  

Slow Speaking Lady

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That following spring, my mother was in an automobile accident.  Following her heavenly transition, I created Stories of Mom:  The Memories, the Moments (as compiled by her daughter). 

Just Mom

With that book, I was able to encapsulate memories Dad had forgotten, my brother had shared, and my grandmother had never known.  I did what I wished people had done on her online obituary guestbook—share memories of her, no matter how small, for you don’t realize how precious a memory is until you know there won’t be any more of them.

The summer after I graduated with my A.A. and my A.S., when my friend retired from the English department, I gifted her Dream in Chocolate When You’re Feeling Blue—a collection of brief poems inspired by the silly little sayings inside Dove Chocolate candy wrapper foils.  Dream was also largely autobiographical, with the inclusion of old family photos and snapshots of my college life.  What I remember most about creating this book was that the bulk of it was done during that long, hot summer when my husband, my daughter, and I were carless (eventually becoming homeless).  I was spending an insane number of hours in the Math Lab, conquering algebra by using it as an escape from my fear of being trapped in a desperate cycle of financial instability. I would often be on my laptop under the breezeway after class, working on Dream.  I didn’t know to whom this book would go then, but I knew it would be ready when I knew the answer.  

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This summer, I worked on A Memoir of Mother Goose—a series of vignettes based on the nursery rhymes Dad always read to me, and Children of the Blue and the Grey, about life in the American South and the transcendent nature and suburban graffiti that is prevalent in Pensacola.  These books were for two Facebook friends I have never met but who have supported my writing.

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Children of the Blue and the Grey

This Christmas, I made a chapbook of poems on motherhood for a friend who had just published her own beautiful chapbook of poems, Queen and Stranger.  Even though I never took her class, I feel like I know the core of who she is from reading her work, especially when I hear her read it; for no matter how much we try to hide behind our work, poetry is extremely personal. 

It is not another person’s fiction but our truth.   

When someone shares their poem, they aren’t just sharing their workthey are sharing a piece of their soul.  

Hymns of Motherhood

My books have continued to improve (I still need to take a different peach photo) as I learn more about how to use the app.  The advanced editing feature is a must-use.  

This hobby can get expensive, but only if you let it.  The way to get the best deal on Shutterfly is to have your book ready so that when you get a coupon code for a free book, you can combine that code with unlimited free pages (I’ve had to do this with a couple of my books that have exceeded the 20-page minimum).  You also want to make sure that your book is set to hardcover (my preference), as the free book codes usually include that; (if your book is set to softcover, it won’t have a spine).    

These books, however rewarding to give and receive, are also very time-consuming; I have worked for months on one book.  When I was working full-time at my alma mater, I would spend my lunch hours in the Writing Lab, working on one of these.  For someone whose main focus is photographs (see what I did there?), it might not take as long to put together, but because mine was text-heavy, punctuation like em dashes and apostrophes did not transfer over when I copied and pasted them into the app.  It was a tedious process; even after I made all the corrections, I would read every piece aloud, sometimes twice.  The eye is good for grammar, but the ear is great for flow.  

My next project will be to write a storybook for my daughter based on the Calico Critters (the Hopscotch Bunnies, in particular), using their Instagram photos, as well as Hannah’s Hymnbook—an ongoing scrapbook in which I document all the memories of my daughter as they happen or as I remember them.  Trying to capture everything with a photo or video would be ceasing to live in the moment.  Shutterfly, rather, helps me relive that moment by providing a beautiful medium to place those memories—in a physical book and a digital copy that will endure forever.

Through Shutterfly, I discovered not only my love for graphic design but how to share my writing in the old-fashioned way that is becoming more beautiful the more rare it becomes.

I have not been paid to endorse Shutterfly in any way, nor do I receive any special discounts for promoting them.  I simply love their product.

The Year in Review: 2018

auldlangsyne

Twenty-eighteen was the best of years and the worst of years.

This year was my first Christmas without my mom.  I think of all the conversations that we never had about all the good things that were happening in my life, all the stories of mine she had yet to read, all the books and meals and time with Hannah we had yet to share, all the Christmas shows we had yet to binge-watch together (like the “Bob’s Jelly Doughnut” episode of “Wings”)…

But I know she was there–I just wish I could see her being there.

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This December, I graduated with my A.A. and my A.S. and got a full-time job I enjoy at the college just before graduation–a job where my creativity is not only appreciated but encouraged.

The A.A. was what I wanted, the A.S., what I felt I was supposed to want.  I will go for my Bachelor’s in Business (with a concentration in Graphic Design) in the fall at the college that has been like my second home (as well as my Bachelor’s in Creative Writing at The University of West Florida when I can swing it).

It was my work on The Corsair designing recruitment ads, as well as making Shutterfly books for Christmas gifts, that led me to seeking a degree in the graphic arts.  (Besides, I can also use whatever I learn to make this blog better.)

My “passion for the college” was what got me the job (my supervisor actually said I had this thing called a “skill set”–something no one has ever said to me before), and it did not go unnoticed by me when I went in for my first day of work and saw a few or more copies of the newspaper scattered, opened to my farewell letter: http://ecorsair.com/letter-from-the-editor-in-chief/

How easy it is to have passion for something that has given me so much:  friendships, scholarships, a quality education, and numerous opportunities to become a better writer (and not always with a grade attached).

I put everything I have into everything I do.  There’s a quote by Mark Cuban I came across once–“Work like there is someone working twenty-four hours a day to take it all away from you”–and maybe that’s why I am the way I am.  I almost lost nearly everything or had it taken away, and the thought of that happening again terrifies me so much, I am hyper-vigilant about being the absolute best at everything I do (except for maybe astronomy or statistics), but it’s also more than that:  I care.

I don’t half-ass things (though the amateur lexicographer in me wonders if the opposite would be “whole-ass”?).  I don’t even read my own work once it’s been published–I just sort of glance over it, afraid I will find a mistake, only to obsess over it. 

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On Christmas Eve, my husband and I accepted an invitation to a church where we could have a fresh start. There was a woman pastor–something that used to seem strange to me, but not anymore.

That is not a change in values but in perception.

*

I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions (I prefer to look back and note my accomplishments); however, I’m always making To-Do Lists (as well as goal lists, be they weekly, monthly, or lifetime) because if I didn’t, I’d simply forget it all.

Because this year has been crazy, and I’ve been spending so much time finishing college while applying for jobs and trying to make a living, I haven’t been taking care of myself or spending as much time with my family as I should.  I’ve still done a lot of writing, but more for this blog and the newspaper than submitting to magazines.

It’s time to read more, sleep more, and even play more (like with dumbbells, if not barbells).  Managing my stress is going to be a large part of my New Year’s health goals, for once I do that, my mind will be clearer to focus on other areas of wellness.  

I drained my batteries dry this past year but was able to sally forth because the light at the end of the tunnel just kept getting bigger.  I feel like I have passed through to the other side, only to find that there are more tunnels.  My community college experience opened those doors; that’s why I never saw them before.

But for now, I am content to just stand in the light.

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My community college journey

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         It has been a long four years—only because so much has happened in those years.
         I was almost thirty-three when I enrolled at the local community college—all set to get my degree in Health Information Technology to become a medical biller and coder; I was trying to be something I wasn’t, or rather, something I didn’t want to be.  The classes were excruciatingly boring (some people got all jazzed looking up medical codes, saying it was like solving a puzzle—I prefer jigsaw or mysteries), but all the while, I was taking other classes that interested me more (I needed something to keep my sanity), working towards getting my A.A., but not really realizing it until I found out that I had quite a few credits to go towards it.
         I will always have my A.S. degree as a backup (though I will still have to get my certification), but right now, I’m in that place called Contentment—a place I haven’t been for a very long time.
         Originally, I had ignored the email that was calling for students to apply for the Editor-in-Chief position for The Corsair (the college’s student-run newspaper); I didn’t want the job because I knew I wasn’t a leader (but neither am I a follower—I just like to lead myself).  I only wanted to worry about making my own deadlines, not getting others to make theirs; if someone wasn’t self-motivated, it wasn’t just their problem, but it became mine, too.
         However, I accepted the position because I saw it as a way to give back to the college that had helped me so much with scholarships and not only appreciated but celebrated my writing skills.
         I am very proud of the work I did, and, I hope, inspired others to do.  I learned a lot about myself—like that I have what it takes to become a great graphic designer.  (I just need the training.)
         Through creating Shutterfly books of my writing for friends and family and designing recruitment ads for the newspaper, I’ve become more aware of how words and pictures can complement one another.  I have the creativity and imagination, if not yet the talent or skill to choose graphic design as my vocation.
         My writing dream is to be either a nationally syndicated humor columnist or a regular contributor for The Saturday Evening Post.  I think both are a possibility within a decade. For example, my Capra-esque short story, “The Post-It Poet,” won Honorable Mention in this year’s The Saturday Evening Post’s Great American Short Story contest.  (I won the same honor a few years ago.)
         “Poet” is about a thirty-something woman who goes back to community college to “figure it all out.”  (Guess where I got that idea.) It’s also about how poetry can change the world (and did), including her own.
         Writing sure changed mine.
         My work as EIC for the paper helped me get a career service position at the college.  If there was one thing I tried to drill in to my staff, it was that the work they did on The Corsair mattered, that a missed deadline was a missed opportunity.
         So, I’m glad I did accept the position, but I’m equally glad to be moving on to other kinds of writing (thank you letters, press releases, et cetera).  I not only was the EIC for the fall semester, but I also kept up the website and Facebook page, as well as take pictures and write stories, in addition to conducting meetings and work days and writing and answering the endless emails and texts.  I even experimented a bit with video, as well as post archived material on the Facebook page (the latter to fill in the gaps between issues, as our paper is a monthly).
         Since free college is included in my new job, I will go for my Bachelor’s in graphic design next fall.  I will learn how to draw and take pictures—two things I don’t know how to do very well; whatever I learn, I will be able to use for this blog.
         The last eighteen months of my college journey were extremely hard.  It seemed like the world was throwing everything it could at me to get me to quit, but it was against my nature to give up.
         As November was coming to a close, I was wondering what was going to happen to us, as three of my four jobs were going away for the holiday, one of them permanently.  Tutoring labs don’t need to be open when kids are out of school, and you have to be at least a part-time student to be EIC.
         But then, one night, as I was driving home from my second home on campus, “Silent Night” played on the radio, and I knew that whatever happened, we would be okay.
         Then, perhaps not even a week later, I got the call, then the interview, then the job.
         And it was more than all right.
         Our college’s motto is:  Go here. Get there; for me, it’s Go here.  Stay here.
         Now it’s time for a semester-long spring break and a semester-long summer vacation.  I’ve been running on adrenaline for too long; I’ve tried to do everything at 100% when my batteries were at 10.  There were few nights when I came home to a sleeping child, which made me sad; there is nothing quite like the feeling of seeing your child through the glass of the front door, jumping up and down because she knows you’re home.  I’d be so spent that even when I was home, my body was exhausted and my mind was adrift.
         I so look forward to graduation tomorrow.  Even though someone who was with me on my journey at the beginning won’t be with me in the same way at the end of it, I think she has the best free ticket in the house.
         I’ve often thought I could’ve done all this years ago, but I wouldn’t have met the people I’ve met—might not have experienced the things I have—so I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Poem-a-Day April 2018 Writer’s Digest Challenge #20. Theme: “Earlier Line”

When Art Lost its Tangibility

1000 Years in the Future

With every year that passed,
the world became more senseless.
Crayons disappeared,
markers faded,
colored pencils became dull.
There was no more paint,
no more sculpture.
Music–
created by the computers
or their programmers–
was piped in everywhere,
scattering the thoughts of the populace
as in the world of Harrison Bergeron.

There was a uniformity to everything–
a measure of control in a chaotic world
that sought to make everything smaller,
greener.

For they said the earth had run out of room
for art that took up actual space.
Through computer applications,
a New Art for a New Era was created
by the creators–
as virtual space was infinite space.
Thus the tactile processes of creating art
was lost,
and craft stores had gone the way of
small businesses.
Photographers and graphic designers became
the modern artists.

And so, when batteries died and
the electricity went out,
the art went with it.
And this art that had lost its smell
was but a memory
that no description
could ever do justice,
for human recall was the height
of fallibility.

And when the power grid shut down,
a group of bored children came upon an old schoolhouse
that had not been touched by urban decay,
but by rural depression, isolation, and apathy.
It was in a cobwebby closet that they found
the pencils and the crayons,
yet they knew not what to do with them.

But then one remembered a film from long ago–
saved from the Ban and Burn 100 years before–
where fingers weren’t the tools,
but rather, held the tools.
It was then that human hands reclaimed the functionality
that had once created beauty
(even as the artists of the New Era could only capture
and rearrange it)–
the kind of art that was as messy
as it was beautiful.

And when the power returned forty years later
following The Rebuilding,
the world glowed with screens once more,
but it had become alive again through a New Renaissance.

http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/2018-april-pad-challenge-day-20