Blessed Be #2: The Sacred Text of Rosa Who is Great with Marcus Lund and Stella Peach

BBF: Why don’t we start with a little information about your art practices? What kind of art do you make? What kind of writing do you do?

ML: I am first and foremost a fiction writer.

SP: I am a musician first and foremost. I have what you might call an experimental/folk solo act that I write and perform as and play with a couple other bands and ensembles. I really like working in collaboration with other artists of other mediums. I am also a visual artist. I illustrated The Sacred Text of Rosa Who is Great.

BBF: Well, that’s a great transition in to my next question. We have gathered to discuss your collaborative book, The Sacred Text of Rosa Who is Great. This book, written by Marcus and illustrated by Stella was the winner of Quiet Lightening’s 2015 book contest. I want to talk to you all about a few different things regarding your collaboration. I’m thinking about your process of making this book, the significance of that process to you both and what you are hoping to communicate to your readers with Rosa. So, let’s begin with the origin story of how Rosa Who is Great came to be. What was your collaboration like?

Marcus Lund and Stella Peach at E.M. Wolfman Books in Oakland, CA

ML: I worked on the story of Rosa for 4–5 years. It saw several iterations. When it was finally finished, I had a difficult time finding a home for it. I saw the call for book submissions from Quiet Lightning and was inspired to send Rosa in for consideration. It is important to say that the guidelines for the contest were such that the book had to be published through social media. Then the winning book would be printed. I decided I wanted the book to be across multiple media platforms including Instagram which then required a visual requirement. That is how I came to collaborate with my partner Stella, who is an incredible illustrator. They really blew me away with their illustrations and really took the visual interpretation of Rosa to task.

SP: I already had a daily drawing practice so from August 1st-31st I drew for Rosa everyday. It was a really interesting challenge and balance between keeping my vision minimal and easy to accomplish and still have it be representative of the text. I gave myself some constraints. I chose 2 colors and simple lines.

BBF: It’s interesting that Rosa inhabits multiple spaces both on social media but also as a book object. Can you say more about that?

ML: Yes, in some ways there are two version of the book out in the world. You can still go through and experience the book on social media or you can read the printed book, which is a physical object.

SP: The thing I liked about the social media component too was that we had multiple platforms for Rosa. The social media platform is a more disjointed version of the text so it is definitely a different way to encounter the book.

BBF: What is the story of Rosa?

ML: It is a folklore tale about a woman who lives in a village and is unhappy. The folks in her village really want her to be happy but she wants to be left to her sadness. So she leaves the town and goes on a journey. Rosa’s journey is told through the perspective of the town. She goes up a mountain and meets a man who claims to be a prophet who controls the village. Rosa is skeptical of everything throughout her journey whereas the town really believes that she is great and that this man in the cave really does control them. They build her to be greater than life. In the book, you get multiple experiences and perspectives both the towns and Rosa’s.

BBF: It becomes like the church of Rosa?

ML: Yes. The church of Rosa. The idea was to create a faux religious text that incorporated folklore and myth.

BBF: Do you consider Rosa to be a queer text?

SP:. Rosa is a queer text in so many different ways! The text is so magical and because of this the elements are always changing. At first, Rosa’s identity is almost completely dictated by the dreamers, until she makes it out on her own and defies their assumptions and expectations about her role in their lives. I feel like that speaks to queer experience around forced conformity. Her ability to say No! This is not who I am! in response to their dreams is important, because it ostracizes her even as she is being true to herself — the divine tradeoff of Coming Out. Rosa really throws her middle finger up at the town. In that same vein, when you do come out and others still can’t or won’t see you for who you are, it can make you want to quite literally run to the hills like Rosa does. I think Rosa speaks to the narratives of queer folks particularly in areas of the country that do not offer queer visibility or support. I think it’s interesting that Rosa’s gender and presentation does change from dreamer to dreamer, and while that is definitely more a reflection on each dreamer’s idea of Rosa Who Is Great, I think there is a sense of fluidity and gender apathy to her as a character, even without the dreamers. Rosa to me is agender if anything — someone who wants to just be and would rather not be bothered with Being a Woman or Being a Man or Being a Prophet or Being a God. She’s just a Rosa. I think too because Marcus and I are both queer identified that becomes an intrinsic part of this character. I identify with her in a lot of different ways.

BBF: I’m interested in what you say about queer narrative. I wonder what you might consider a queer narrative? What does it take for something to be a queer narrative? How does one queer a text?

ML: Relating that to Rosa, her gender changes at times in the book, but her queerness is not explicit. The way I really see her queerness manifest is how she is unapologetically herself and as Stella was saying this is what pisses off the town. She is completely unwilling to be happy. She is unwilling to fit into the idea of what she should be. Being queer for me is very much about gender identity and sexual preference but also about being wholly yourself and trying to break out of certain constraints. It’s about accepting your queerness and not shoving it down, hiding it.

BBF: Stella mentioned identifying with Rosa. Marcus do you also identify with Rosa?

ML: I do identify with Rosa. I identify with her defiance and her ability to spot bullshit. I also enjoy quiet nights to myself. Really though, I look up to Rosa. As I mentioned earlier, she is wholly herself. That’s something I strive for and I admire her ability to know herself so well. I hope to someday be as wholly myself like Rosa is.

BBF: In what ways does the occult influence your artistic practice? And do you have daily practices?

SP: Yes, the occult influences my art a lot. I pull a tarot card daily, and sit in from of my altars to invoke intentions. Often when I’m stuck I’ll try to do a ritual for clarity. I also think that I use art to influence my magical practice more often than the other way around.

ML: The occult shows up in a lot of my work and it did in Rosa. The town builds rituals around her. They praise the stars in the sky. One of the earlier iterations of this story was about a boy who attended an evangelical church, which was true of my own experience. I grew up in basements where people were speaking in tongues and things like that and I wrote this story about this boy experiencing that and I was really pushing up against that experience from my childhood and wanted to write an indictment on those churches. I was at Mills working towards my MFA in Fiction at the time and brought this story into a workshop. Micheline Marcom, my instructor, pointed out the anger in it. It seemed to take over. I didn’t like that. I really wanted to write something about growing up in that space without mocking it. And Rosa was my way of writing about these experiences more indirectly.

BBF: Maybe there is something subversive about Rosa…maybe that is a part of its queerness the complexity of Rosa the person and the narratives enacted on Rosa by the town…

ML: Yea, excellent…way to bring it back around! In regards to occult practice, my writing is my daily practice and in some ways I think writing is intrinsically connected to the occult. A practice of centering yourself and you know simultaneously feeling yourself inside your body…

SP: That trance state where you are channeling an energy that seems to transcend you in some way…

BBF: When you become a vessel…

ML: Yea, it sounds silly saying things like that because there is the part of writing or creating art that is just the work but I think out-of-bodyness is also a real experience of writing.

BBF: Do you consider your relationship to the occult queer? Is this political/personal? Both?

ML: Astrology and tarot are both tools I have used to understand parts of myself that are difficult to get to know, particularly my queerness. They have revealed things I have known my whole life but have had a hard time saying out loud. Maybe four or five years ago I did a past, present, and future reading and the whole time I was thinking about my relationship to my queerness and about sleeping with men specifically. I can’t remember the specific cards, but I remember my past card was all about staying safe and keeping certain things tight to the chest in order to protect myself. My present card was all about knowing myself wholly and deeply and loving that self. My future card was about living wild and free. After the reading I just sat at my kitchen table and cried for a few minutes. I have known I was bisexual since I was a teenager but didn’t come out until my 20s. Tarot helped me define my desires. It’s very personal but as Stella always says the personal is political.

SP: I grew up in a pretty witchy environment, but it was deeply cis-gendered and played heavily on the union between *male* and *female* in regards to sexuality and power. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to re-contextualize magic, and form a practice for myself that is far more queer-oriented. I try to let my magic and occult practices seep into my everyday life. I have many altars around me at all times, and am constantly in communion with them, sometimes re-arranging them for hours until I feel Just Right. I have a daily tarot ritual and work with crystals, and am learning more about astrology every day (another thing queers seem to flock to in droves), but my greatest magic is my art and my music. That’s where the unspeakable really happens — the exact moments when the intangible becomes tangible and things that were vapor just moments before emerge into the world.

BBF: What are you working on now?

ML: I am writing what I hope to be the final draft of a novel about a boy who lives in Montana and has a real life bird who lives inside of his chest. It’s where nearly all of my energy is currently focused. I am also curating and hosting the monthly reading series called shygge here in Portland, OR.

SP: I’ve recently started painting a ton, and have a nice little studio set up here in Portland where I can work every day. I’m actually at the very beginning of a brand new Graphic Novel / Art Book project, so I can’t say much, but I am very excited about it!! In addition to my art, I’ve been playing with a couple of bands and professional ensembles here in Portland, and am hard at work on my second record. I’m also busy cataloguing the best swimming holes within a 50 mile radius of my house.

BBF: Where can people get their hands on your book? Any last words? Things you’d like to add?

ML: The book can be found in a few bookstores in the Bay Area but the easiest way to get a copy is to order it directly from Quiet Lightning, I will end by saying thank you for asking us to do this interview.

SP: Rosa just wants you to love yourself. To be true to yourself. To be you, even if it’s not a popular you. She’s got your back. You Are Great.