Monthly Archives: April 2022

If Animals Could Talk: An Interview with Carla Butwin and Josh Cassidy

This week on the People’s Guide to Publishing podcast, we had the pleasure of speaking with Josh Cassidy and Carla Butwin, the intrepid creators of brand-new Microcosm publication If Animals Could Talk. Hear their amazing story, which spans entire eras of viral social media, two very different publishing houses, and countless foul-mouthed, frank, all-too-human animals. Get into the details of producing a highly-visual book, and contemplate the merits of various editorial styles. This book is a publishing parable of our times. And it’s hilarious.

Enter Sandwich: Some Kind of Vegan Cooking with No Connection to Metallica

Oh, aging rockers. We’ve all seen them struggle to get along and cope with life. Maybe they just need to sit around a backyard picnic table, share a vegan feast, and talk about their feelings. After all, to live is to stir fry. Automne Zingg, genius mastermind behind Comfort Eating with Nick Cave and Defensive Eating with Morrissey is back with hilarious illustrations of the band’s revolving cast eating their feelings and expressing their enthusiasm for food, but in a tough and intense way. “Yeahms!” sings James, riffing on a giant yam. Zingg’s work is coupled with the inventive and flavorful recipes of chef and queercore punk musician, Joshua Ploeg. Written in lyrical form, the recipes parody 40 of the most quintessential tunes. Crank up the volume while concocting plant-based recipes like Master of Nuggets, Pie of the Beholder, an All Nightmare Footlong, or maybe just a little stock. So let it be eaten. (Just don’t try to illegally download this book.)

Hey Ho Let’s Dough!: 1! 2! 3! 40 Vegan Pizza Recipes Unrelated to the Ramones

When you don’t wanna go down to the pizzeria, whip up these vegan pizzas. Automne Zingg—mastermind behind Comfort Eating with Nick Cave, Defensive Eating with Morrissey, and Enter Sandwich—has illustrated these colorful pizza-themed homages to the boys from Queens, as they eat pizza, sneer at pepperoni, and play pizza guitars. Joshua Ploeg’s recipes wittily incorporate vaguely familiar lyrics and humor. Pizzas range from traditional marinara with vegetables and veggie sausage (Texas Chain Sauce Massacre) and white sauce specials (Carbonara Not Glue), to variations like Beet on the Brat, Havana Pizza Affair, Thyme Bomb. “Well, I’m Against It,” comments Johnny, but you’ll find a pineapple pizza recipe in here as well. Pizza is deconstructed, reconstructed, and, like the best bands, turns into something far better than the sum of its parts. 

The Magic of Creative Work: An interview with Katie Haegele and Joe Carlough

This week on the People’s Guide to Publishing podcast, Joe and Elly sat down (like literally, on their couch in Philadelphia) with Kitchen Witch author Katie Haegele and her husband and fellow small-press publisher Joe Carlough to talk about publishing, writing, creativity, community, zines, their creative histories and future directions, and to get to the heart of why creative work is so meaningful to all of us.

Katie’s written tons of articles and zines and Kitchen Witch is her fourth book with Microcosm. Joe C. is the proprietor of Displaced Snail Publications and This & That Tapes. Together they run the East Falls Zine Reading Room. Their work is beautifully-done, full of heart, and affordable—well worth checking out!

Healing Your Magical Body with Plants and Minerals

A helpful, hand-written compendium for herbal remedies for a wide variety of body systems, from the teeth to the nerves, plus info about herbally treating various ailments like colds, parasites, and heavy metal toxicity. Sections on herbal preparations, recipes, aromatherapy, and general principles for health. So much is packed into the pages of this zine it’s incredible.

Creative, Not Famous: Building Creative Communities with Ayun Halliday

Ayun Halliday’s superpower is bringing people together to create amazing artistic happenings. Her book Creative, Not Famous, featuring words and art by almost 40 collaborators about the glories, perils, and responsibilities of being a non-rich, non-famous creative person, fits that bill nicely. It came back from the printer last month, a beautiful, illustrated, square brick of a book that is extremely cool and inspiring if we say so as small potatoes ourselves.

We chatted with Ayun for this week’s People’s Guide to Publishing podcast, and we also interviewed her separately for the post below! All of her stories about us are true, even if only the leading edge of the much weirder truth.

What inspired you to write your book?

Creating and producing Off-Off-Broadway theater with Theater of the Apes. It can be a losing proposition in so many ways. There are those sad trombone moments when you think, “Why the hell am I beating my head against the wall for something so few people seem to care about? Is it really worth all the misery it’s causing me?” 

Of course, there are also those wonderfully triumphant moments when all the labor and time and the ridiculous financials of the thing seem, in retrospect, absolutely worthwhile.

As a theatermaker, I found myself flooded with gratitude to every single fellow small potato who took the trouble to support our efforts. (If you’ve ever wondered if an actor can see you from the stage of a tiny black box theater, the answer is yes.)

I am grateful to every person who subscribes to, resubscribes to, or buys an issue of my zine, or turns a friend on to it. 

Community is something we small potatoes shouldn’t take for granted. 

I have this theory that 99.9% of all artists, musicians, writers, and performers throughout history never “achieved” what society tends to consider success – wealth and/or renown. (Also, a lot of folks who were very big bananas back in the day wind up forgotten within a generation or two.)

And yet, we small potatoes persist! Why? How? What can we learn from each other? How can we hold ourselves accountable, show up for each other, and strive to be worthy of the comparative few who dig what we do?

Early on, I realized that it would be a mistake if mine was the only perspective informing this monster, and reached out to a broad range of creative people who seemed to have some familiarity with working at this level of renown and circus peanuts, who’ve been doing it for a long time, and who hopefully wouldn’t take offense at being pegged as a “small potato.” Their experience, observations, and oft-contradictory advice permeate the book.

What was it like to publish with Microcosm?

This is my second book for Microcosm. My first, the Zinester’s Guide to NYC, also had a lot of moving parts, including illustrations and handwritten elements. 

A decade later, I harbored fond memories of sitting knee to knee with Joe in a flying-ant infested trailer in Portland, Oregon, a composting toilet a couple feet from my back, collaborating on the final manuscript for pretty intensive week. No, really!!!

Ten years was also about how long it took to recover from the communications hell of juggling dozens of contributors and being responsible for organizing their work…) I was ready for another go round.
Not every publisher I’ve worked with “gets” me the way Microcosm does. I chafe at having my edges and idiosyncrasies sanded down, and I really loathe seeing myself packaged as “wacky” or “zany”. That’s never been an issue with Microcosm. 

Everyone I worked with on the Microcosm end of this book was patient, enthusiastic, and courteous, even when the placement of the illustrations felt like a giant, insoluble puzzle … my fault for treating illustrations like punchlines to specific sentences, while dwelling in ignorance of the realities of how books get laid out. 

Finally, I know from experience that Microcosm keeps very tidy records and pays promptly. 

What was the submission/query process like for you?

Wait, what now? There’s a submissions pro…WHY WAS I  NOT INFORMED!? I’ll have to try that next time around… 

As usual, I just sort of tumbled through the cellar door. Elly, Joe, and Ruby the late, great service dog were in New York City on business. They invited me to be a guest on the People’s Guide to Publishing podcast [here’s that episode!]. We taped it in a noodle restaurant I’m quite fond of, and at some point, I started nattering about the need for a “small potato manifesto.” Then we went next door to a matinee at a small Brooklyn theater where I’ve worked in the past, and there was this regrettable, unforgettable moment of audience participation wherein I was called onstage and an Italian clown hoisted my shirt up to my clavicles without consent…but that’s an anecdote for a different interview. I can, however, offer video evidence of Joe, Elly, and Ruby on Metropolitan Avenue 4 minutes and 35 seconds into my 1-second-a-day video for 2018… September 23, check em out!

What else have you written?

Four self-mocking autobiographies, a YA graphic novel, a kid’s picture book, the Zinester’s Guide to NYC, more anthologies than you can shake a stick at without dangling a participle, a bunch of freelance work (including a decade of twice weekly posts for the great Open Culture ) and of course, my long-running zine, The East Village Inky. I’m currently working on a guided journal / creative exercise book to serve as an interactive companion to Creative, Not Famous.

What’s the best book you read in the last year?

The Council of Animals by Nick McDonell. The pandemic did not slake my appetite for dystopian yarns, apparently. This book delivers a biting, non-human-focused comedy of post-apocalyptic manners in which a number of species, domesticated and wild, engage in a highly political debate to decide the fate of mankind. I was particularly enamored of a demented, oppositional, lonely mutant lizard who’s convinced he’s a bat. Funny, topical, inventive…all the things I crave in end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it lit.
Where can people find you online?

The Black Man’s Guide to Getting Pulled Over

In this bitingly satirical – and unfortunately still hyper-relevant – zine, author Johnny Parker II and illustrator Felipe Horas depict the dreaded and statistically extremely fatal incident of a Black man at a traffic stop. After a night out on the town with his girlfriend, the protagonist is stopped by a cop on the way home simply for driving while Black. The zine offers practical advice for other Black men to avoid being murdered by the state on their evening commute, and paints a hyper-realistic image of all the bullsh*t things cops say to pretend that they reason they stopped you wasn’t their overt racism. Finally, The Black Man’s Guide to Getting Pulled Over offers hope by encouraging the reader to channel their righteous anger into pathways towards change. 

How to Resist Amazon and Why: An interview with Danny Caine

This week for the People’s Guide to Publishing podcast, Joe and Elly traveled to Cleveland where we sat at Cafe Avalaun and interviewed Danny Caine, author of the bestselling How to Resist Amazon and Why. Hear about the origin of the viral zine that sparked the book, the second edition in the works, what it’s like to run an independent bookstore, and how readers can tap into the movement away from giant online retailers and towards smaller, independent, community-based businesses… like bookstores.

Here-And-Now, Short-Term, Instant-Gratification Coping Skills

This list of skills originally appeared in Coping Skills and is also featured in Unfuck Your Stress, out in paperback October 2023.

The more coping skills you have in your back pocket, the better. If you have an array of stuff to draw from, you are far less likely to fall apart. Consider it a toolbox. You may have a really fantastic screwdriver. Passed down for generations. Your grandpa used it to fix the bathtub 60 years ago. That’s all well and good, except maybe it’s a flat head and today is the day you need a Phillips head. My suggestion? Try any of the following skills that sound vaguely interesting, useful, or intriguing. There is nothing wrong with having a huge, rolling cart of tools on hand at all times. And these are the types of skills that you can use in the moment when you are about to lose your shit.

  1. Chew on something. Gum. Beef jerky. Pop Rocks. Something that you can focus your attention on.
  2. Find something to keep your hands busy. Stuff like Play-Doh or Silly Putty is less distracting than fidget spinners, Slinkys, fidget cubes, etc. But dude, use whatever works for ya.
  3. Blink. It interrupts the brain’s perception of time (according to research, it may function as a way of slowing down our neural metabolism). It’s essentially a system reboot/mini-nap that we do throughout our waking hours unconsciously and that we can also do consciously when stressed.
  4. Attach a specific scent to feeling calm, happy, and relaxed (lavender can be a good one to use since it has calming properties in its own right). You do this by intentionally smelling a certain scent when you feel safe and relaxed. Like after meditation or guided imagery or exercising. Then carry a drop of that scent on a cotton ball in a ziplock baggie or small container. When feeling stressed, open it and inhale the scent and reconnect to the calm feeling.
  5. When you find yourself thinking in negative terms of “I can’ts” (such as “I can’t deal with large crowds” or “I can’t run a 10K”) add the word “ . . . yet” to the end of the thought. That opens you up to the possibility of working towards being able to do it later, rather than getting stuck in a cycle of negativity.
  6. Take a hot bath with Epsom salts for a detox. If you don’t have access to a tub, at least soak your feet.
  7. Go ahead and cry. Sad tears release chemicals that other tears do not.
  8. Create a list, either in your head or written down, of five things you are grateful for. (My mom made me do this when I was little and I hated her for it . . . but it so worked.)
  9. Take off your shoes and socks and connect to the ground beneath you. (It’s called “earthing”—the idea is connecting to the earth more than your own body, which is grounding.)
  10. Hold a piece of ice in your hand. It won’t actually hurt you, but the sensation will disrupt the other distress signals in your body. This is an especially good coping skill if you struggle with thoughts of self-injury.
  11. Count backwards from 100 by threes. Trust me, you won’t be able to focus on anything but keeping those numbers organized in your mind.
  12. Look at cat videos online. Or pygmy goat videos. Or panda bears. Or puppy dogs. Embrace whatever your cuteness kryptonite is for a defined break, like five minutes.
  13. Identify whatever muscles are tense in your body and intentionally relax them one by one.
  14. Visualize a stop sign in your head. And tell yourself “STOP.”
  15. Picture an ideal moment in your life. Put yourself back in that experience and connect to the positive feelings you associate with that time period.
  16. Blow bubbles. It’s damn impossible to have panic-attack-inducing breathing and control your breath enough to blow a bubble at the same time.
  17. Get under something heavy. Weighted blankets are great, but whatever blankets you have will also do, so pile them on you. Or crawl between the mattress and the box spring of your bed, if that won’t induce any claustrophobic feelings. As a general rule, you want a weighted blanket to be 10% of your body weight if you are an adult for maximum effect. For kiddos, it’s about 10% of their current body weight plus a pound or two.
  18. Sit in the sun. Vitamin D helps depression symptoms and reduces systemic inflammation in the body.
  19. Do some gentle yoga poses (also known as forms, or by their Sanskrit word, asanas). These facilitate body awareness.
  20. Drink something warm and soothing. Coffee or tea with honey and lemon. Do caffeine-free if caffeine makes you edgy (my personal favorite comfort tea is Good Earth Sweet & Spicy, and it is available with caffeine and without).
  21. Take a picture of a living thing that you love. Your boo. Your kiddo (human or fur baby). Your bestie. A gorgeous flower. Your own damn rock-star survivor self. Take pictures of all of them. Remind yourself that there is love and beauty living out in the world.
  22. Create a tiny treats budget and hit the thrift or dollar store. When I was raising my daughter on 18k a year and living off my WIC groceries, one of my favorite treat activities was to buy a dollar bottle of nail polish and give myself a pedi at home. Create a tiny fun budget for yourself. Something in the one-to-five-dollar range maybe? Hit the dollar store or resale shop and treat yourself to something that’s purely for fun. A bubble bath. A cheesy book. A new mug for your Sweet & Spicy tea.
  23. Write a letter to someone you love or appreciate. Tell them what makes them so special to you. You can send it or not, but sending it might turn out to be the boost THEY need.
  24. Write a letter to yourself. Your past self, your future self, your current self. Who could use some support and words of wisdom?
  25. Take one toxic (or suspicious) thing out of your life for 21 days. A food, a substance, a shitty human being. How do you feel? Any better? What happens when you allow it (or them) back in three weeks later? Does your body say no?
  26. Drink some water. Drink A LOT of water. I don’t wanna see one bit of yellow in that pee, OK? Water is as vital to the brain as it is to the body. It improves our memory and our concentration. You NEED those brain cells well lubricated, am I right?
  27. Reflect on something you do hella well. How’d you get so good at it? How might those skills translate to this situation?
  28. Make a list of things that DON’T need to be changed in your life. What works just fucking fine?
  29. Have sex, cuddle with someone, get a light touch massage, or just think about someone you feel close to. These are all activities that release oxytocin (deep tissue massage decreases cortisol, but light touch massage releases far more oxytocin). Oxytocin is a peptide hormone that facilitates connection and empathy. Interesting thing? While cis women are the people scientists have said have more access to (and therefore more) oxytocin (thanks to childbirth, nursing, and a higher likelihood of being relational in general), cis men are far more sensitive to oxytocin than cis women. We all need it to keep our parasympathetic nervous system online!
  30. Touch not an option? Nurture relationships in other ways. Send someone a text or email thanking them or telling them how much you appreciate them. Deepening our connection with people has a stronger positive correlation to our health than smoking has to cancer!
  31. Strike a (power) pose. Tons of research shows that when we stand like superheroes (legs apart, hands on hips) we feel more powerful. Standing like this for two minutes decreases cortisol (the stress hormone) and increases testosterone (our engaged-to-win hormone). Channel your inner Wonder Woman or Black Panther, y’all.
  32. Take a tech break (and can I just say I initially typed this as “brake,” which is equally appropriate). Set up a schedule for checking your messages and social media rather than being on the obsessive constant tech check. Some people have gone so far as to gray out their phone screens (without the bright colors to entice us, we are far less likely to fall back into the rabbit hole of mindless scrolling).
  33. Picture someone or something that represents loving-kindness and compassion to you. It could be a person, a spiritual figure, or maybe an aspect of nature that resonates with you. Picture yourself in the presence of this compassion and loving-kindness and feel these things towards yourself. What would you hear? How would these experiences feel to you?
  34. Try a Tibetan singing bowl. The concentration it takes to make it hum is sort of like blowing bubbles. You have to focus so much on that, you can’t focus on other stuff. (I have a friend with a neurological tremor who can focus in well enough to hold his fingers still with the bowl, and that’s AMAZING. It’s the only time I’ve seen him not shake!)
  35. Do something slowly. Like, slow way down and be mindful. Or pick a task that requires time and mindful attention (making risotto works, trust me on this one!).
  36. Plan a dream trip. Is it a vacation or a learning experience? Where will you go? What will you do? Most importantly, what amazing foods will you try? Plan out all the details . . . you’ve now got an amazing goal to work toward!
  37. Pick an anthem song. Play that shit when you need a pick-me-up. Sing along LOUD. (Mine is “Sunflowers” by the Velvet Janes.)
  38. Smudge that shit. Seriously, the research shows that burning sage and other herbs kills toxins in the air and improves brain functions. Obvs, burning and producing smoke is better (and that’s what I do at home), but at work I use a sage spray so I don’t set off the smoke detectors in the building (everyone there already has enough to put up with having me around!).
  39. Set your intention by saying it out loud, not just thinking it. It adds an auditory cue, making it more likely to stick.
  40. Do 5-7-8 breathing. You are essentially breathing in for five counts, holding for seven, exhaling for eight. The longer exhale engages the parasympathetic response.
  41. Take a break from your comfort zone. Take a different route, even if just to your mailbox. Chew your food on the other side of your mouth (you have no IDEA how weird that will feel to do intentionally if you are a creature of habit!). Pay attention to how these changes affect you; it gives you something new to focus on.
  42. Make a list of things you look forward to. If the list seems small, create new things to look forward to, like a cupcake date with yourself at the end of the week. Anticipation produces dopamine before you even get the reward!
  43. Are you really furious about something? Try the 60-minute “anger package” from Julia Samuel’s book Grief Works. Do 10 minutes of journaling, 20 minutes of running (or some other cardio exercise), 10 minutes of meditating, and 20 minutes of watching or reading something funny.
  44. Shift your language. Say “I don’t” instead of “I can’t.” Instead of making demands of others, state your preference to them and label it as such. These language shifts add ownership to your experience and decrease the power struggle.
  45. Make one small but healthy change for 21 days and see how you feel after. Not a huge diet shift, but maybe switch out dairy milk for almond milk. Maybe do five minutes of stretching in the morning before going to work. Maybe switch to half-caff instead of fully caffeinated coffee. Something that can have a huge impact without a ton of extra stress and planning.
  46. Try a cue-controlled relaxation technique. Just tense and then relax certain muscles in your body at a time, so you can connect and feel the difference. When we are upset, we tense our muscles in certain patterns as part of our fight-flight-freeze response. By connecting back to our bodies, we can start to unpack these patterns so when they occur we know where to focus our relaxation efforts.
  47. Channel your inner Dr. Phil. Step outside what’s going on mentally for a moment and ask yourself, booming Texas drawl included, “How’s that workin’ for ya?” This isn’t intended as a mechanism of self-shaming for whatever response you are having. Remember, responses aren’t good or bad, they are all adaptive. But this does let you step out of the cycle of response for a minute and judge whether it’s an adaptation that is helping you through the current situation in the healthiest way possible. So you can adjust as need be.