Welcome to KQED Arts’ Women to Watch, a series celebrating 20 local women artists, creatives and makers who are pushing boundaries in 2016. Driven by passion for their own disciplines, from photography to comedy and every other medium in between, these women are true vanguards paving the way in their respective communities.
Plenty of people write poetry when they're going through heartbreak. Very few people wind up writing poetry so hilarious it lands them a book deal.
Anna Pulley falls into that latter category. The Oakland writer just published her first book, the witty collection The Lesbian Sex Haiku Book (With Cats!), illustrated by her partner, Kelsey Beyer.
But I'd been following her writing for years before that -- whether she was dishing out sardonic yet empathetic advice in her dating column, or chronicling the experience of being shy at orgies. No matter how foreign a topic might seem, Pulley has always managed to tease out the universal threads that make us human: our weaknesses, our funny parts, our endearing (and not so endearing) peculiarities.
Took a walk around Lake Merritt with my partner, ate Arizmendi pizza, and binge-watched Season 5 of Girls. Wild nights over here.
What can’t you live without?
Words. Touch. Coffee. Kissing.
If you could travel any where in the world, where would it be?
I'm pretty into the idea of visiting Iceland lately. Or Brazil. Or Kelsey's never been to Paris, so maybe there. Or Ireland. Ooh, and Japan! My travel to-do list is long. We went to Bali last September and had an amazing time.
Who is your personal hero? Why?
I have so many. My mom is a big one. She's an author as well, and wrote three books on Native American beadwork. I aspire to spread her generosity, kindness, and love.
Helen Keller is another personal hero. I'm going through a period of finally dealing with my own hearing loss, and am looking to others who are hard of hearing or deaf to see how they carry on, and her life story immediately came to mind. Everyone should read Keller's autobiography, which is free on Kindle, and goes far beyond what we're taught in school about her. Her belief in herself was unassailable. I carry a quote of hers around with me: "I know I shall not fail." It's simple but her conviction floors me every time. I try to live out the truth of those words, even when I feel like I'm drowning.
How did you find your creative voice?
By trying and failing over and over again. Eventually that failing becomes "experience."
What is something most people don't know about you?
When I was 20, I got my pilot’s license. I'd spent a year and thousands of dollars learning how to fly planes. I was nervous on the day of my flight exam, for all the normal reasons you'd be nervous to go up in a tiny two-seater Cessna with a stranger and have him cut the engine mid-flight to test what you'd do in an emergency. But I was most nervous about my hearing, which has never been good, and which is pretty essential when doing things like landing planes.
I'd landed on the runways of Ryan Airfield hundreds of times (there are only four options, it's not terribly complicated) and yet my nightmare came true. I misheard the directions from the tower and tried to land on the wrong runway. The kind of mistake that could get you killed.
I passed the test, though. And I never flew again.
What do you do when you feel uninspired/blocked/etc?
I read the inspiring works of others. Often Adrienne Rich, Cheryl Strayed, Jeanette Winterson, or Jenny Lawson if I'm trying to be funny. Works like a charm. If I'm on a deadline, I'll just start writing anyway, even if I don't particularly have anything to say. For me, the "block" is often my own resistance or fear or insecurity to doing the work. So to push past that and do it anyway is 90 percent of the battle. If all else fails, I go for a walk.
What's your biggest 'learning moment,' and what did you you take from that experience?
I don't know that there's a "biggest" one — every moment is a learning moment if you open yourself up to it. That said, learning that it's okay to ask for help has been a big boon to both my creative and personal life. Like most other things, I got that advice from a book (Amanda Palmer's The Art of Asking).
What’s your greatest achievement and how has it shaped you?
Writing and publishing my first book — The Lesbian Sex Haiku Book (with Cats!). Publishing a book has been a childhood dream, and I have never been so utterly dedicated to an object as I am to this. Plus, my partner illustrated it, so it's taken on this symbolic outpouring of love too, which has affected our relationship in interesting ways. (We even went to couples' therapy to deal with some of the legal and contractual parts of making a book, like total lesbians.)
I started writing the haiku in 2010 to overcome a bad case of writer's block after my life fell apart — my fiancée dumped me, my dad got lung cancer, and I was struggling to survive in San Francisco on a $6/hour internship. I didn't realize it at the time of course, but that dark period became one of the impetuses for this book.
Coffee or tea? What kind?
I've come around to tea a lot, but coffee will always be my dominatrix. I like a nice medium roast please. Otherwise, I'm not picky.
What does a perfect day look like for you?
Sleeping in. Delightful meals that other people prepare. A walk and great conversation. Everyone responds to my emails right away. No one says anything awful to anyone else on Twitter.
Who are your local inspirations?
All indie booksellers. SOMArts does great stuff. Flight Deck does cool, provocative theater. Radar reading series is great. Litseen. Bawdy Storytelling. The 99% Invisible podcast. Everything Carol Queen and Susie Bright do. And whoever the tagger is that writes "Oprah" all over Oakland. Who are you? Marry me?
Avocado enchiladas from Rosa's in my hometown of Tucson, Arizona.
What upcoming show are you excited about?
I'm quite intrigued by the pot exhibit at OMCA.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Frolicking through life, being dressed by birds who also polish my extensive trophy collection. I don't really know. Five years ago I never would have guessed I'd be where I am now. I like the surprise element of life. I would love to have another book under my belt (or two) — hopefully a book of essays. As long as I can contribute something creative to the world, I'll be happy.
If you could live in a book, TV show, movie, play or painting what would it be?
Duck Tales. Who doesn't want to swim in a giant vault of gold?
If you like what you see, tell your friends to sign up for my tinyletter (tinyletter.com/annapulley). If you don't like it, tell your enemies.
Curious about who else made the list? Check out the Women to Watch series page, including photo galleries, interviews, and videos.
Do you know a Bay Area artist who is doing amazing things? We want to hear from you! Highlight her efforts using #BayBrilliant.
For arts stories you won’t read anywhere else, come to KQED’s Arts and Culture desk.