“Our lives are a constant swirl of information, of emails that can be checked on phones, and phones that are checked in theatres and bedrooms, for texts and news that stream in constantly. There is so much information that our ability to focus on any piece of it is interrupted by other information, so that we bathe in information but hardly absorb or analyse it. Data are interrupted by other data before we’ve thought about the first round, and contemplating three streams of data at once may be a way to think about none of them.
Nearly everyone I know feels that some quality of concentration they once possessed has been destroyed. Reading books has become hard; the mind keeps wanting to shift from whatever it is paying attention to to pay attention to something else. A restlessness has seized hold of many of us, a sense that we should be doing something else, no matter what we are doing, or doing at least two things at once, or going to check some other medium. It’s an anxiety about keeping up, about not being left out or getting behind.”
(sent to me by Steve Lambert)
Time to shut it down.
This is the question I ask myself whenever I am facing a big decision regarding my work. As my success has grown over the last few years I have found myself asking it on almost a weekly basis. Our modern culture is decidedly lacking when it comes to role models who demonstrate how to maintain integrity in a culture that pushes mass consumerism and selling out at every turn. At some point early on in their career Fugazi decided that they were going to set some very definite boundaries about what they would (only play venues for all ages) and wouldn’t do (sign a record deal for money) . I have heard a story (secondhand) that they turned down a deal worth millions in order to keep control over their work and maintain their integrity. They never sold merchandise because it felt like a money grab, and it complicated things. When asked why they didn’t take the money and use it for great things (to change the world) Ian MacKaye stated something like, “we all have to do what allows us to sleep at night.”
I can’t say that I’ve been able to tow the exact same hard lines as Fugazi, (yes, I signed with a big publisher), but I will say that I aspire to go as far in their direction as possible (not do products for products sake, give away as much as I can for free, make things that people can afford). Recently I have been turning down deals, product offshoots, merchandise, publicity, etc. on an almost weekly basis. Because I don’t believe in it. I wish to speak the truth, and for myself that means only doing things that I can stand behind, that have a reason to exist, that have meaning for me. This feels good, and allows me to sleep at night. I am very lucky to have an agent and an editor that totally get me and stick up for my ideals too.
I feel myself getting stronger and more powerful with every “No”! But it definitely helps to have Fugazi as something to model myself after. So many times I have wished I could pick up the phone and call Ian MacKaye and say “what should I do here?” Even though I realize that if I sit quietly with myself I already know the answer.
There are days when everything I see seems to me charged with meaning: messages it would be difficult for me to communicate to others, define, translate into words, but which for this very reason appear to me decisive. They are announcements or presages that concern me or the world at once: for my part, not only the external events of my existence but also what happens inside, in the depths of me; and for the world, not some particular event but the general way of being of all things.
Italo Calvino, fr. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller
For many in our society life is pallid, dull, and insipid. Lacking any sense of adventure. How can we develop in our young the sense of wonder, of magical beauty in living and learning? A sense of excitement and eagerness to learn is natural in all children, yet we have found ways to stifle these enthusiasms in a very effective manner.
If we could be as efficient in supporting a child’s eagerness to learn as we have been in stifling this eagerness, this would revolutionize life as we know it.
This is one of the key questions pertaining to the improvement of human welfare: How can we build excitement and meaning into daily life? –Not with motorcycles, tennis, and TV, but with socially valid action?
Wm. (Bill) S. Coperthwaite (pg 3 of A Handmade Life) The world will miss you!
The single greatest harm done by the story our culture tells comes from the divisions it enforces within each of us. We are assured in a million ways that the sensational intelligence of the body is not really worth paying attention to. And we find, indeed, that the more unmindful we become of our bodies, the more they appear to be mindless. And so we are persuaded to separate from the body and live in the head, assured by a culture that passes off this pathological dissociation as completely normal, natural and unavoidable. Once we are caught in the prison of our craniums, we are unable to join the world–though our hearts yearn to do so. Instead of joining it, we think about it, and analyze it, and judge it. That’s just how we are, and it’s what we imagine the normal human state to be.
The description of ‘normal’ we have been raised on may be as hard to detect as a chameleon in a landscape, but it is always there exerting its influence–and its effect can be felt in a sense of frustration or lack in our lives as we try to live a story that is at odds with reality. When we attempt to recover peace in our lives, our efforts more often resemble anxiety management than any kind of real peace. Being estranged from our bodies, we feel victimized by them–and so when they hurt or fall sick, we feel fear or annoyance or betrayal; and when we exert them or look in the mirror, we may feel guilt or vanity or anger about the shape they are in. And though we accept the fact of our essential solitude, we cannot bear the emptiness of our own company. To alleviate it, we surround ourselves with distractions: chat rooms, telephones, computer games, shopping, Web browsing, Twittering, and of course popular entertainment that wears meaning on its sleeve as an assurance to us all. We generally have neither the time nor the attention span for art that draws us into the unnamable ambiguities of life itself. When we try to improve our situation, we look about for answers that will help us connect and feel better about ourselves–yet none of the self-help prescriptions seems to work for very long. Our ability to escape that divided state is hampered by our difficulty in understanding that what holds us back are the very things we accept as the normal givens of the world.
As we relate to the body, so we relate to the world.
Philip Shepherd (excerpted from New Self, New World, Recovering our Senses in the Twenty-first Century)
My newest offering.
Please note: The book is compiled in part from some of my other books and also includes some new material. I had been thinking about doing something with mail for a while now, and reworked some pieces that I love and that I felt lent themselves to the concept of mailing. I enjoyed it so much that I am going to do it again at some point. It is not an attempt to “repackage” old material, so don’t write me in a huff about it.
One of the reasons I do not write much here anymore, (well in fact there are many reasons), is that I became tired of cranky comments and trolls. I have no interest in constantly defending my work and my every word, I have no time or energy for that. As my work has increased in popularity, so have the critiques. Which is completely expected, and I am grateful for those who do value what I do. I hear from a lot of you and I apologize that I cannot write you all back. Please know that I read and am grateful for every word! I am devoting as much time and energy as I can into my family and my work and I find there is not much energy leftover for this space.
I am not bitter about the internet per sey, but more saddened about the direction blogging has gone in (ie. ad based and commercial). Basically everything I feared about (and wrote about) the medium many years ago has come true. Blog ads have destroyed the integrity and the voice for everyone, not just those who have them. I so rarely read them now because the content has become a vehicle to sell the ads (as predicted), and so many are filled up with sponsor interviews and product giveaways. In the beginning I really believed in the internet as a democratic environment that could change everything, and in some ways I still believe in that, but it is also so bogged down with advertising that it has become no different than other mediums, (the ones I left behind long ago, most namely tv.)
And so I focus on the good out there, and the good that I can do with my own work. I truly believe in what I am doing, and I will never put out anything with the purpose of “making money”. I will only do what I feel has a reason for being, something that benefits people, (no product’s for product’s sake).
So where does that leave this space? I would be lying if I said I hadn’t contemplated leaving it behind for good. Something about disappearing into the ether excites me. I was inspired by James Kochalka’s exit from his daily comic American Elf. I would like to become an underground secret agent who pops up unexpectedly but really stays out of the limelight. I have recently begun a campaign of sabotaging my own books in bookstores, (well not wrecking them per sey, just writing in them a bit). I enjoy the fact that I might get caught at some point.
I suppose I do not know about what will happen here in the future.
There is a magical theatre in the book Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse which is not always there. It shows up only if the protagonist is in the right headspace.
Maybe my blog will become that. I will figure out a way to have it appear only to those who are truly interested and in an open minded frame of mind. I like that idea. Any programmer’s out there who can do this?
A bit of a teaser for you.
A book drop today in REDONDO BEACH, CA at Mysterious Galaxy (ask at the register). Doesn’t that sound like a cool place?