Tree of Many Fruits is anti-copyright, and free for download. If you would like a version that can be printed and assembled into a zine, follow this link to the booklet file. Print double-sided, using short-edge binding (in Layout settings). Fold, staple, and distribute freely.
This was my first attempt at facilitating collaborative, community publishing, and I found it to be a unique art form, one that stands alone, yet can work in-tandem, with individual writing. The poem at the beginning All My Bones are Branches was a collaborative practice: we asked writers to answer the question “What does the forest mean to you?”–aiming for 5 words or less, but open to longer responses. I then re-combined the answers into a poem. I mixed lines to create new meanings, and found myself able to group shared concepts and objects, that appeared across the responses, together into stanzas. This was all without any lateral communication during these exercises, but perhaps shaped by program content.
Art was similarly crowd-sourced: Participants of the class were invited to draw fruits, which we hung from tree branches and trunks cut and tore from collected scrap-booking paper, mostly found and recovered– the most memorable being patterned tissue that once wrapped toilet paper rolls! Together, Kaelin and I assembled the zine: formatting the submissions, laying them out to the split 8.5 X 11″ bounds, taste-testing these fruits, and repeating this process until we found something that resonated. Then, we glued them down, without the need for visual editing software like Canva or In-Design.
Much has been said as to the connections between weaving and words, and we became community “weavers”. While we weren’t sitting in knitting circles or around looms, the “zine team”–a group of students from the program–all contributed thematically in the process and the ethics-building of the publication. Themes of hybridity, along with the zine’s title, came out of the buzzing hive of our initial meetings. Seemingly small choices in small publications spoke deeply of the groups values. Most of the original zine team were drawn into the undertow of the quarter’s work, compounded by social and school obligations. Communicating via email did not reflect the real-time demands of scheduling around weather changes, and the many mishaps of the quarter. By the end, Kaelin and I sat around a metal folding table in their music studio, with the chaos of raw paper materials–the images, the words, the stories and impressions– laying in paper trays I had assembled from office paper that same day, gleaned from a …. creative offshoot, or printing attempt that was destined for the recycling bin. In this world of gods, Sophie and Keiko (Kae’s canine companions) barked and wrestled as we talked about life– the rants and raves–, unpacked the co-creation of science, and asked each other our deeper ecological questions. Like all great friends, we left some holes in our answers, sharing humble ponderances between complications.
The level of respect lent to creators truly broke down any binaries I felt between writer and audience. I pictured the writers reading and viewing their own work within the context of the publication. Choices made to ordering, artwork, and layout were all done with the writer and reader in mind. As I shared a print copy with one of the writers, I saw his eyes light up, and as he shared his reflections, I felt the resonance of seeing work in a publication that had paid attention to the content and tone– and amplified it.
Will I continue this work? Yes, I hope to. Although, as someone processing caretaker and nurturance roles, I struggle to maintain a connection to my “own” voice. Within capitalism, we are often asked to focus on our selves–our own work, our own stories, our own creations, and can think of shifting back and forth between collaborative work and individual is a zero sum game: there are editors, and there are writers. There is “other people’s writing”, and our “own”. Secretly, I found making this collaborative zine to be a new, fun art form; I was challenged to hold and re-fashion the work of the group into something whole and new, a creative process within itself. One of the lessons of this class is that “we” exist as interconnected with a nexus of something larger, of an ecosystem, that our identities and experiences are by no means singular. This was the intoxicating fruit that I found: to widen channels that connect creators across time and space.
After a period of gestation, these new aesthetic powers will show up in my work. In the meantime, I am retreating to much-needed “me time”, and focusing on my own writing. Without that, I am truly lost, and–to channel Miranda–publishing and collaboration definitely can pull focus. While it’s been a labor of love and I am finding belonging in being indistinguishable from a creative whole, I never want to wholly sever the anchor to my own voice. So, for the time being, I’ll be returning to my writing and art-making, and perhaps this, too, falls within what it means to be ecological–to attend to what falls within our immediate circle, and trusting that, in time, we can feel into our branches again.
Cheers, and a massive thank you to everyone in the Fall 2022 Writing as Experimental and Ecological Practice.