Updated: Jul 22, 2022
Before ever meeting Sammi, I’d heard about her creative practice: “She has stations,” I was told, “She moves from sewing station to writing station to fabric dye station, and so on.” Many of these stations rely on machines, and I was curious to learn more about how her digital life sustains the intersections between them, while also dealing with the accumulation of text as a professional writer. In our conversation, we were able to touch on the impulse and structure of digital collecting, how parts of our digital processes feel universal—but aren’t, and how machines affect one another.
Sammi Skolmoski is an artist and writer from Chicago. She currently works as a staff writer at The Onion and a cartoonist at The New Yorker. | sammiskolmoski.com
This interview was conducted on October 17, 2021, at Sammi’s home in Chicago. The transcription has been edited for clarity.
Sammi, hello! Welcome, & thank you
Thank you for having me. It’s weird that I’m not facing you…
We’re side-by-side, sitting in Sammi’s beautiful home/office/studio surrounded by—what’s surrounding us? What are these things?
Tufting frames, lots of books, a sewing machine…
Wholesale rolls of industrial fabric—
And a microfiche viewer that I got off free Craigslist. You know, the necessities.
A jar of pom-poms… and, your computer!
My HP desktop computer, refurbished.
Sammi, what do you use this computer for?
I like using it for everything. I don’t own a laptop—my laptop is given to me from work, so if work goes away, the laptop goes away. I got hooked on desktops back in grad school, because it was nice to see so much at once on the monitors. So then I did very little research and bought a refurbished computer, and I use it for everything.
You do a lot, as a professional comedy writer + creative writer + textile/video/book artist… Is all of your work stuff on the laptop, and this desktop is creative + personal?
No. That makes sense, boundaries-wise, but I’m not good at boundaries. So it just depends on if I’m working from home—it’s a feeling thing. Do I feel like laying on my stomach like a seal on my bed? Probably, and that’ll be laptop day. But in normal times, it’s mostly desktop at home and I just have two main flash drives that I use for everything. So it’s not hard; I don’t know if you know ~how flash drives work~ but they just move the work back and forth.
What do you put on the flash drives versus on a cloud, like Google Drive?
I don’t do any cloud unless I have to share it with someone. Except for iPhone photo backups.
Do you edit the photos you have saved or backed-up, like go through and clean them up?
Eeee well, I’m not a crazy phone-picture-taker, so I don’t have that many. And then when I back them up, it’s mostly because I get a feeling that I’m going to drop my phone soon, because that happens like every six months. I just do it for posterity. But the things I’m saving are like, a picture of a cloud. A picture of someone’s dog. I just back them up in Google Drive and never open them again.
What about screenshots and images from when you’re on your computer?
I’m looking at it now, and that’s mostly what’s on my desktop. Most screenshots are for reference things, like this one—should I just open it?
Oh yeah, please.
This one I saw on Twitter and it was an ad for—I don’t know what year—but the World Fair in some newspaper, and this was the ad for the fair. I love it so much, and it feels really important to me. So it just stays on my desktop until I decide what its purpose is. Other screenshots are reference photos for art, or if I get particularly targeted ads—which are a good way of checking in on yourself. Like, why is this being targeted at me? A good way to start some introspection.
What is this slideshow in the upper right of the desktop screen?
I have no idea!
It’s… babies? On home publishing cards and calendars?
I finally invested in an inkjet printer. Again, refurbished. And we wanted to make bootleg t-shirts at work of the famous picture from The Onion on “bat scientists” so I was like, “Oh, I’ll print the t-shirt transfers!” and as soon as I plugged in the printer and installed its software, these babies started haunting me… Photos of babies and birthdays and it’s ever-playing, no matter how many times I hit the "X." Whenever the computer goes to sleep, they come out again…
How would you orient someone to using your computer? Is there anything they should know?
What do they need to do?
Great question. If someone were being you for a day, what would they primarily be using?
I mostly use Adobe stuff… I have a Cricut, so that’s attached too. This computer is the one with my digital embroidery machine things too… it connects all my machines.
How many external machines are hooked up to this one computer?
Two printers, a scanner… A really old scanner that I somehow cracked the really old software for… a digital embroidery machine, the Cricut, and yeah I think that’s it.
What is the relationship between your creative, personal, and professional files on this computer? Does an embroidery machine file just sit next to a PDF of your resume?
When I apply to residencies or grants or whatever, it goes onto one of my two flash drives—the one that is older and has kind of a mishmash of various resumes and CVs and cover letters, in all the infinite formats that they have to be in when you just change one or two words. And then my other flash drive is newer and it’s pretty much exclusively creative things as well as a “moon” folder.
… Is that… just images of the moon? Or…
It’s just like, what’s going on with it. General moon business.
But yeah, everything I do is on this computer, which is kind of a hindrance because it’s hard to check out and get fully into the creative work when your folder of to-do’s is there or your alerts for things are still popping up…
So it sounds like you need a third computer.
Or like, a second desktop and second apartment.
Well, once you’re famous from this interview, you can really splash out. What would happen if one of those flash drives got damaged?
I would… cry. I’m surprised they haven’t been damaged already, but mostly they just stay plugged into this computer. And if I have to take them out, I put them in my glasses case. So yeah…. yeah, I should back them up. Is that what people do? Huh.
Which flash drive would you be more devastated about, if something happened to it?
My instinct would be to say the one with all the resumes and stuff, BUT so many of those things are submitted via email, that I bet I could come up with various versions of them. So yeah I think it would be the other one, it’s got all the working things right now—reference pics for what I’m working on, things to read… plus all my pictures of Zappa [Sammi's departed—yet beloved— bulldog]!
Are there things that you collect on your computer, besides moon business?
Yeah yeah yeah, lots of collections on this computer—here’s my collection of weird-looking Garfields. It’s really important stuff. I don’t know what it is about really poorly-rendered Garfields and bad Bart Simpsons that really speaks to me. Also, I haven’t done this in a while and actually kind of forgot about this very far, far-off icon sitting over here, but I used to see a lot of good posts on free Craigslist; I kept seeing this one post for giving away the cotton balls that you pull out of vitamin supplement bottles—like, why is someone taking such care to offer this to someone else? It would be posted biweekly too. And then this one free Craigslist post just gives you the recipe to make “tasty filled pocket pies” and then the post text is corrupted in some way.
I don’t know, it’s just really satisfying. I don’t know why I keep these things around…but they’re in their folders, just in case.
Are those folders of collections things that you want to make into something else, or is it enough just to have them?
Well, based on the date in the corner of that Craigslist ad, that screenshot’s been around for like five years now. I don’t know if it has a purpose, but when I’m stuck, something about a corrupted tasty pocket pie will always unlock things.
If your computer were a museum, what would it be?
Probably Museum of Outsider Garfield… Cute Lumps… The Cute Lumps Institute at the Museum of Outsider Garfields.
Final question—if you were no longer here, what would you want to happen to your digital archives?
WIPE IT. Ha um, yeah, I would like to make it someone else’s problem. Say that it can never be deleted, so they just have to tend to this as-is for the rest of their lives. And really just make it a burden on somebody else. You’re making me think I should delete some old poetry you know, like that can’t get out.
Make a designated folder for it?
Yeah I already have one, it’s in the top corner called “recycling.” But yeah I don’t know what would happen to all of this, if I weren’t here... I can't think about dying with any sophistication—I just start screaming. I just hope that someone would use the computer, it’s a great machine. Can’t recommend it enough.
Update: As of February 2022, Sammi’s desktop computer now resides in her art studio—which changes everything.