Talismans from book issue and Punk Teachers from Mishap #26 and the Introduction and part 1 from Mishap #22
The perception shifts started when I was twelve. Pre-sleep nightmares: I would close my eyes, head on the pillow, and my reality would…change. I’d be in the middle of a field lined with white chalk for football but the goalposts were impossibly far away. Closer was the nausea, the seemingly slow drop of my consciousness like water in a falls and then I’d be a blade of grass. Still a person my size and a filament—the disorientation of dual perception produced vertigo and my huge field of vision would swirl. Looking down at an “I” who was but a thin strand, I was also looking out at the immense field that dwarfed me. If you’ve ever been so alcohol soaked that the spins came, you’re halfway to the feeling.
Eyes would open, fast, and the dark object forms in my room still moved. Like a top wobbles to a stop, my perception would settle then crash back to normal. I had no idea what caused this or why some nights it would not happen. The frequency of these perception nightmares would increase, decline, only to occur again just when I believed they’d never reappear. Fear.
I dreaded going to bed but was more afraid of talking about what was happening. I never let my mom know that my refusal to turn in was more than the stereotypical teen wanting to stay up late. Assumed teenage rebellion has always been a good cover for secrets, and I couldn’t let this one get out. The vertigo (hallucinations mean you’re crazy, don’t call them that!) was more frightening than arguments over bed time. I could not sleep because I couldn’t stop these perception shifts—who cares that I have school tomorrow?
Lying awake in the dark, afraid to close my eyes, I embraced the one solace available in my predicament: books.
Eyes tracked words and didn’t have to close. Mind translated symbols into story and thus was too busy to hallucinate. Once mom went to bed, I’d turn on my light, grab a book, and stave off the terror. Talismans available for free at your local library.
Books as salvation: a familiar tale told by countless individuals across cultures, eras, and circumstances. The escape from poverty, first as escapism and then as education. The comfort of people’s stories when suffering tragedy or oppression. There are as many stories about the solace stories offer as there are books. Eluding madness, though, was what books meant for me.
So I read. One hundred and four execrable Louis L’Amour westerns so loved by my father. Mystery and suspense books procured by my mother or from the library (I read and re-read my Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators continuously). Stephen King’s work was a revelation—It would occupy a week—and I bet I’m one of the few people who never complained his books were too long. Frankly, horror books weren’t all that scary compared to what I was trying to escape. A Wrinkle in Time. A collection of simplified classics for kids that included The Prince and the Pauper and The Man in the Iron Mask. I’d read anything, then read it again. Each word held high my eyelids until exhaustion dropped me into sleep like a sap to the back of a fictional detective’s head.
Eventually the perception shifts stopped, mostly, but the reading habit remained. If my stand-in psychotropics kept me awake and sane, they didn’t quite give me an expansive literature education. I often wonder what I’d be like if my parent’s had a library of literary magnificence instead of Ladigo and Dean Koontz. I’m fairly non-judgmental when it comes to people’s reading habits, actually, and I suppose I owe that to my read-anything cure for pre-sleep nightmares. Still, there were the books I was reading, even as I left home for college (the ones you can buy in the grocery store check-out line), and literature. College could have been the place where my voracious reading inclination was channeled towards the Western Canon (or the post-modern fungus sprouting from their rot), but I took a modern literature course that changed everything.
Taught by Lawson Inada—Oregon’s current Poet Laureate, not that he ever mentioned his own work--, we read two books. We were also asked to write stories ourselves and I believe that all literature courses should include this aspect. Lawson was clearly in the camp that regards stories on their own merits—no fanciful, scholarly prejudice against “genre” works—because he chose a hackneyed adventure book and a new novel by Toni Morrison.
Prey, by Ken Goddard, was about an Indiana Jones-style Fish and Wildlife agent tracking down animal smugglers. Sure, it was fun having Ken—the head of the only wildlife forensics lab in the world—come to class and talk about his work. It was Toni Morrison’s Jazz, though, that enthralled me.
Here was language used not just to tell a story, but as a part of the story. Dual perception, but not crazy-making here. Serviceable prose can relate a scene, describe a character, and move the plot along, but Toni Morrison used language in a much more important way: the words were strung together in a way that caught not just your attention, but they slipped a hook into your emotions. Jazz was not the title just because the story had jazz music in it, no, she wrote prose that was jazz, what Lawson called “The Key of M.”
Now, I do not enjoy jazz music and my upbringing in white, small town Oregon did not predispose me to understand a story about East Coast African-Americans in the early 20th century, but I found out about what literature can do: it can make the unfamiliar known, produce experiences you’ll never have, induce empathy for others, and inspire a search for more knowledge and understanding.
This class and that novel put me on a winding path of discovery and beauty I might never have stumbled upon. My own misfit status and sense of outsiderness brought me to punk rock and that sent me certain places. Simultaneously and congruously, Jazz sent me off to read novels by women and women of color. These novels, memoirs, and political books taught me as much, if not more, about this world than any of the politics and experiences I encountered in punk and anarchy.
Jazz is not my favorite novel, nor even the best Toni Morrison tale, but it is the book that affected my life more than any other simply for what it represented as a trailhead.
As for my favorite novel, that would be Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. I won’t give a review, because, hey, just go read it. When Milkman flies, look out, because it is heartbreaking and encouraging all at once. Like life, eh?
Hope Lies in Indoctrination
Punk teachers are carving out their own little niche in the zine world (thankfully they aren’t forming bands to spread the joys of algebra—insert your own math rock joke here). Even with the faulty public school system we have—and the irony of punks becoming teachers when so many of us loathed school as just another institution keeping us under authority—there is something cool about punks as teachers. They are taking their passion to make the world a better place and applying it in an area that desperately needs caring individuals able to share a healthier worldview. Of course the challenges, bureaucracy, and hierarchical nature of the school system prevents and suppresses vital learning…as you can read about when punk teachers make zines and write columns. Still, even if they have to pass as normal and have their ideals shrouded by the blanket standards of public institutions, the chance to be that “cool” teacher is one many punks are finding worth taking. They are, of course, doomed to fail, right?
Punk teachers got me thinking back on my own school days and the anomalous learning experiences I encountered in a mostly conservative school system. Even in the small mill town of Bend we had teachers who came of age in the sixties and early seventies. Much like punk teachers today, they took their idealism into institutions that frowned on such notions like nuns casting stern glances at giggles. Still, hope, after all, is the responsibility of the next generation (in this hand-off the children of the sixties did not deviate from their predecessors), and, as every right-wing Christian knows, you have to get them while they’re young.
I think it is rare, these days, for kids in a public school to be taken to an outdoor camp. Back in the early eighties though, this is exactly what my school district did. The camp was in the woods somewhere in the Cascade Mountains. We spent three days and two nights there, filling the camp with the energy of elementary kids about to become middle-schoolers. Separated first by gender, we were then divided into small gangs led by a high school kid, and these oldsters took us to our cabins. During the day there would be activities and the first would have appalled my father.
The first morning, a young man (I picture him not as he was but have replaced his image with that of a red-bearded Earth First! guy I met many years later in Idaho) brought us away from the buildings and had us blindfolded. The warm spring sun prevented total darkness and the blindfold was as comfortable as closing eyes against the light. Our activity instructor had us wander, under supervision, until we bumped into a tree. Having made the tree’s acquaintance, we were to embrace our new friend: literally becoming tree-huggers. Can you imagine the parental outrage in a mill town based on resource extraction? Their children were kidnapped by a bunch of hippie teachers, blindfolded, and made to hug trees! Luckily us kids thought nothing of it and no parents were informed of our indoctrination into a pagan cult.
Additional activities included learning about bugs in the water, the interconnectedness of nature and that toothpaste is a poor projectile weapon when confronting a raiding party from another cabin—though it is damned hard to clean off your jacket. All good fun and all promptly forgotten once we were back in the classroom. Our excursion and touchy-feely tree groping made little impression on us, despite our teacher’s connivance. Forget radical Islamic madrassas, the Bend-LaPine School District tried to turn us into eco-terrorists! Their evil plan failed, though, in the face of their own mind-erasing rote learning once we were again seated in our desks beneath the ugly glare of florescent lights.
Undeterred, the hippies disguised as teachers had another surprise hidden in their little red books. Freshman year of high school meant that we were growing up and time was running out if we were to be indoctrinated. So, in desperation no doubt, the teachers pulled out the mind-blowing big guns: animated propaganda! First day of school in our county jail-like institution was when we were shown an animated short entitled “More!” A few anthropomorphic figures wandered in a field. “More!” they shouted and a city sprang up. “More!” they demanded and everybody had a car. “More!” the cry rose to the heavens like trumpets had once descended and the earth was covered in asphalt and buildings until there was no room left to move. The perspective panned out into the universe, the final shot lingering on the tragic outcome of an earth over-run by people who only wanted more (actually, this was a better explanation of capitalism than we received in history, personal finance, or social studies).
Ever since we had learned language we had been told to be grateful that we lived in such a great country blessed with such abundance. Now, when we were just getting old enough to truly appreciate the luxuries, they told us they were bad; that we were bad for wanting more. Talk about playing with your head. Talk about failure: most of us had cars within two years.
Not content to turn us into pagan anti-capitalists, the hippies in charge decided to up the ante and make war on xmas before Bill O’Reilly ever warned us about it. An audacious, bold attack, the P.C. thugs in administration barred the word “Christmas” and attempted to force us to use the Stalinesque phrase “Winter Holidays.” Their anti-american hubris caused a backlash as students whispered the word to each other like children who had just discovered swearing. Brave xtian teachers fought back by decorating their classroom doors with construction paper depictions of Biblical scenes with the words “Merry Christmas” emblazoned above like Martin Luther had nailed shit to the door. Our intrepid, courageous class president invoked the banned word at a school assembly, to the cheers of the student body who would not submit to the cheerless oppression of our communistic administration. We had taken the tree-hugging in stride. We tried to do well in cultural studies. We even sat through their mind-dulling propaganda day after day, but this…no, we would not be denied presents on santa’s birthday! Xmas! Xmas! Xmas!
The lesson here, punk teachers, is that your efforts our probably doomed to fail. By the time kids reach you, they are already wise to your anti-american schemes, having previously been indoctrinated by American values.
Do not give up hope, though, for this indoctrination is paper thin and was shredded the very next year at my school when grunge broke big. Weird and rebellious was now cool and even the jocks wanted to borrow my Fugazi compact discs. Dead Kennedys blared over the P.A. during lunch breaks and even devout xtians liked Nirvana (they had, after all, a song about finding god, right?).
The ultimate lesson here, then—if you want to change minds and steer the youth--, is to form a band and make it big. Just don’t try to take away xmas!
I decided to write an introduction more on the personal side rather than just delve into the piece that follows, as was my original plan. I like the idea of simply jumping into things without preamble, but…. Well, Mishap is always the same even as the words are strung together in varying sequences, but this issue is a tad more cynical than those past. Starting out at the dead-end street I wrote myself into seemed too depressing. Though I’ve always found that most dead-end streets aren’t actually The End if one is willing to hop a fence, walk across the tracks or a deadened field, and explore. We’ll climb that fence when we come to it, but meanwhile the night is fair and a little wandering on Personal Avenue will stretch our legs.
Tracy and I are doing okay. June 21, 2006 was our ten year anniversary and we traveled to the Lost Coast area of Northern California. From our base at the Counterpunch Tower in Petrolia, we explored the grandeur of Humboldt Redwoods State Park, saw the brown pelicans fly above the coastal surf, and swam in the clear waters of the Mattole River. We dubbed the tower “Creak House” as its many windows moaned and screeched in the wind. A fabulous time, happening immediately after Tracy graduated from the librarian program. Two bonuses involving Alexander Cockburn. The second was having the well-known writer prone on the floor with his head in the gas oven…trying to ignite the pilot light. The first was as he introduced himself officiously, “Hi, Alexander Cockburn.” Tracy replied, equally formal, “Tracy S.” She’s good at taking people down a peg, and Alex now knew it, judging by the droll smile on his face.
Upon returning to Eugene that summer, Tracy’s search for a librarian position continued. She put up with me despite my jokes that since she now held a Master’s degree, I could no longer associate with her—No Gods, no Masters! She landed a position at a community college in a small conservative town three hours drive from Eugene. Since the end of August last year, we’ve traded off driving back and forth to be together on weekends. While being apart and driving are unpleasant challenges, we’ve managed to make it work better than imagined. Tracy has conquered not only the frustrations of a new job, unpredictable boss, and being in a new town, but also the teaching of students about the library and the research process. She is a top-notch librarian and enjoys helping students at a community college. As even the FBI has complained about librarians “kicking them around”, it is for your own safety that I warn you not to mess with Tracy the Librarian.
A pun on a Dickens title had to come about for a second time that summer as Tracy’s place had several faucet problems. We have mostly fixed “Leak House”, but the DIY projects are ongoing.
I had imagined, that with so much time on my hands, I’d be writing up a storm and the subsequent word precipitation would fill several zines. Instead, I got stuck with nothing to say and no desire to force writing. I understand that writerly advice is always to scribble each day no matter what, but prescriptions are absolutes. Those can’t apply to everyone and I’d rather read. In truth, I seriously thought I was done with all this. The pointlessness of it all…until I get a rad letter or another’s zine. And my brain has its own ideas, plotting out essays, how to write about an experience, or telling me a story as I bike to work. Sometimes I’ll be reading and will jolt out of reverie, realizing that the last two pages hadn’t registered, but I had figured out why sea turtles lay their eggs on the shore.
Well, you are holding this so you know the outcome of my wrasslin’ match with apathy. I swear I’ll catch up on my mail, too. And eat my greens.
Our first trip to Albuquerque in two years, at the end of May 2007, was an emotional one due to loss in Tracy’s family and difficult interactions. Out of that, our return trip through Canyon de Chelly and Zion National Park proved an amazing spirit lifter. I’d try my hand at nature writing, but, well, maybe some other time as describing sandstone cliffs is beyond my ability with words. The photos won’t copy well, but you’ll get the idea.
Nika and Molly, the young cats, dwell with Tracy while the two old men, Calvin and Abu, whine at me down in Eugene. Both the old men have ongoing medical problems—as does my dad--, but they’re doing well, considering. As am I, to tell the truth. There isn’t a day goes by I don’t appreciate my own good fortune, comfort, and loved ones. Not a day because there’s so much shit and horror and suffering in the world I feel I’d be remiss not acknowledging the positive, the joy, and those who care about me. Thank you.
Maybe the old saw about appreciating what you have because others have it worse is problematic (just be grateful and don’t make trouble or we’ll bring democracy to your ass, punk), but I think perspective is a powerful thing—especially for those of us with critical minds and fingers quick to point. In our post-modern times, perspective is equated with point of view. They are not the same thing. For instance, a white person’s anti-immigrant point of view lacks the perspective of a native person’s, say an Apache or Oneida. Point of view is opinion based on ideology while perspective is fact plus personal experience (often historical experience as well). Perspective is larger and understanding someone’s perspective requires not only listening to them, but learning and empathy. Point of view can be purchased while perspective is often a gift.
I remember last year when I fucked up my finger at work. From my point of view—flat on my back upon a gurney in the emergency room—things were bad. I was trying not to freak out about the bloody mess that was my left hand ring finger. For calm, I thought about what the severely wounded in Iraq must go through. As a calming tactic, this method appears counter-intuitive. But consider that I had a minor wound and was brought to a fully functional, staffed and stocked hospital with reliable electricity (not to mention worker’s insurance). How would I cope with a stomach gashed open, lying in filth in a run-down hospital with few supplies, intermittent electricity, and overwhelming numbers of wounded? Man, I had little to worry about, when I put it like that. More, why shouldn’t everyone have it as good as I did?
Or, closer to home, what of my late grandmother, Lois? I was in danger of losing a part of my finger while she’d had her leg amputated below the knee—at the age of 90! She was tougher than I’ll ever be, but I could at least get a hold of myself and not panic, despite pain and worry.
I don’t believe we should ignore our own problems and pain, nor the oppression we each face, but we should have a firm grasp on perspective, lest we become desensitized to the suffering of others while focusing only on ourselves. There are some white people who complain about “reverse discrimination and racism”, for instance, but they do not have a workable perspective on racism, nor history (also, I’d be more likely to take their claims seriously if, all along, they had been working to eliminate racial discrimination against people of color).
Often, through empathy—attempts to understand what other’s experience—new perspectives will enable us to face our own challenges with a clearer head. Perhaps even leading us to come to the aid of others. Empathy is a devalued skill in our culture: either we’re for ourselves and/or a very narrowly defined community, or else we are shamed, guilted, or forced into helping others. There’s cooperative value to be gained from deciding to look at the world as it really is and then deciding to what we can to make it better. I may not bring this up again in the pages that follow, but these ideas are the arteries pumping life’s blood into the stories ahead.
Last, this is a double-issue, which I think is kind of a cheat. “Well, it is one publication, but really two! And it counts as two subtracted from your subscription, ha ha ha!” Well, there are no subscriptions to Mishap, but I’ll wave a pen in a gesture of apology anyway. Still, I’ve always wanted to do a fiction-only zine, and a double-issue is a good way to do so while maintaining interest for those who do not enjoy fiction in zines. Also, #14 was three separate zines that I counted as one, so I’m actually ahead if we’re counting. Plus, I had to get to #23, didn’t I?
Out of excuses, on to the rest of the zine.
Explorations in Futility, Part 1
“Maybe you’ll believe us when your back’s against the…
…wall.” --Conflict, “Serenade is Dead”
The flyer was in an old three-ring binder, affixed to the inside cover with gluestick.
“Protest the U.S. government’s threat to bomb the Iraqi people.
Saturday Feb. 28, 1998. Noon to 1 o’clock,” it read, over a skull and beneath the small phrase, “red, white, and brutal.”
The first war against Iraq had never ceased, as the United States and Britain backed devastating United Nations sanctions and enforced a “no-fly zone” with multiple missile and bomb attacks. These lasted right up until “Operation Iraqi Freedom” in 2003. Back in the beginning of 1998, then president Bill Clinton was preparing to bomb numerous sites in Iraq over the on-going conflict around U.N. weapons inspectors (there to ferret out and end Iraq’s weapon’s programs). Never mind the general consensus that declared Iraq nearly weapons-of-mass-destruction free (the George W. Bush administration of violent neocons would use whatever doubts about that consensus for their own drive to war just five years later). Never mind that the Iraqi’s were objecting to U.S. spies on the inspection teams.
Incensed by the destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure in the first gulf war—war crimes under international law--, the loss of tens of thousands of lives in the war, the brutal sanctions, and these new threats to kill, I made the flyer mentioned above and tried to organize a protest. As an individual, I did it punk fashion: no press releases-- merely a mailing of the flyer to media outlets--, nor any coalition building with local groups. Just paste up flyers and hope for the best. Such a method now strikes me as hopelessly naïve and ridiculously ineffective, but at the time I was buoyed by the minor success of an anti-police brutality protest (1). After all, I had to do something. What else could I do to help stop the coming murders? Those of us who abhor suffering and unjust violence often feel an obligation to stand against them.
A few of us punks showed up at the federal courthouse on the appointed day and time, including a masked-up guy holding a sign with a Crass quote on it (2). Unbeknownst to me, Eugene Peaceworks had also organized a protest for the same day, same time, same issue. A happy coincidence. Now instead of a handful of punk rock anarchists, our protest numbered nearly 25 people. KVAL TV news showed up and got the Crass-sign guy on tape, “Fight war, not wars!”
All in all, it was a pathetic showing. Still, I felt good about it, like I’d tried.
The bombs and missiles rained terror and death upon people in Iraq not long afterwards.
The way I write that suggests some causal connection between the two events, but that isn’t true—and that is my point. What could twenty people in a small city hope to achieve? Were our collective might enough to storm the federal building and hold it hostage, the resulting spark still would have been snuffed out by the winds of war.
“But from the fleshheaps of the slain, there comes no cheer
Their game is over, the chips are down”—Amebix “Spoils of War”
When hundreds came out to protest the Bush administration’s plan to invade Iraq (oh how seriously the media took the claims that the government was still seeking diplomatic solutions, even as troops and weapons were amassed at the borders!) in 2003—part of a mobilization of millions around the globe--, I stood in the crowd and wondered where all these people were in 1998. Bitter, I guessed it was all right with them when a Democrat president gives the murder orders. I laughed at the subsequent attacks of the right-wingers who supported the invasion but questioned the anti-war movement’s no-show when Clinton bombed Iraq, Serbia, and Sudan. The right-wingers are only partly right, for many in the peace movement did oppose Clinton’s violence, as did countless punks and anarchists around the world.
My bitterness was not unfair, but two points I’ll make. First, yes, part of it did spring from the understanding that this protest would not matter at all. In this despair, I put bitter judgment upon all who were now protesting but had remained silent under Clinton. Second, I was bitter because no one seemed to realize—like I had after my protest five years before—that all this was pointless.
Peaceful protest is not the equivalent of even non-violent resistance. The peaceful protest, march, and oration in Eugene before Bush’s war was more like a social gathering than an act of dissent, objection. From a perspective that realizes that even this picnic was something more than selfish business-as-usual, the event looked like a success. From the perspective of hoping to actually stop the coming war, it was an inconsequential, cruel joke.
These two protests book-end the rise of more militant protests and actions throughout the world, and in Eugene. Much furor and debate and police activity has surrounded these minor escalations in resistance, but whether protest-as-usual, riots, or eco-sabotage, all have failed to significantly impede progress/destruction.
Progress? Modern life is war: on the poor of the world, on indigenous peoples, animals, rivers, the earth, and even the sky and the silent black space above it. Anarchists in Eugene used heavy hands to try and slap this message home: our way of life in the U.S capitalist economy (3) requires staggering amounts of violence to sustain. It is not non-violent to drive a car; to buy clothes, household goods, food, or computers. It is not non-violent to vote for the sociopaths who support wars that ensure U.S. economic and military supremacy. Nearly every action we take—however benign it seems—within this structure requires systemic violence. What is success in this way of life but unlimited growth and the consumption that requires it? That growth is reliant upon violence.
Knowing this, many of us anarchists found it laughable that progressives and pacifists would join in with the shocked chorus of the mainstream and decry breaking windows as violence. Call that violence? Then you will need stronger words to describe depleted oceans, ruined land-bases, the extirpation of indigenous peoples, and the results of cluster bombs (4).
It is easy to condemn, to mix some self-righteousness in when one’s own naiveté is shattered by the cold, brutal fact that destruction continues unabated. Faced with my own powerlessness, it is comforting to dismiss and condemn as ineffective the tactics of others. Ashamed of my own complicity in horrors, how much better it makes me feel to point a finger at someone else. This has been a consistent trait of anarchists in Eugene, but merely pointing out how others fail doesn’t then prove your own position correct. Nor does it make much of a difference. From the perspective of an Iraqi, it makes no difference at all.
“System bloody system, we ain't got no dream to die!”—Omega Tribe “Duty Calls”
Whether we are met with exhortations, condemnations, or gentle suggestions, we’re mostly given individual solutions for systemic (some say civilizational) problems. If only I sign this petition. If only I buy the right kind of goods and recycle (5). If only I voted for the right candidate. If only I took more militant action. If only I refuse to do this or that, give up this or that, or do this or that…why, then everything will be okay.
If we look outside of the shame and guilt tactics—the threats—used to push us into individual tactics and choices, and honestly question ourselves, the chance of large-scale, positive change seems bitterly small. I will say this here, then we’ll think about it differently later: whatever you do today and tomorrow will not change the world. Individual actions cannot change institutional problems. There are 300 million people in the U.S. alone! Imagine a giant ant colony of 300 million, does it matter if one worker ant doesn’t work for one day? For a year?
What we are offered, in the chance for large-scale change, is hardly better than the individual proscriptions. Conservatives and neo-liberals try to sell us on the free-market economy. Hey, vote for the Democrats or some third-party loser. Anarchists might try to offer us class-based organization or green anarchy (though anarchists are a tiny minority compared to the above examples). There’s always religion, or, hey, green capitalism. These days we even have eco-steward Christianity!
There are many more examples, but the large-scale organizations we might sign up with are either a part of the problem (democrats, green capitalism) or else they have big picture vision and few people (anarchy). Of course, we are only concerned about this if we care and want to see positive change. If we think that someone like me can overcome oppressive acculturation and actually make a difference. I’ll give you 50 to 1 odds.
Okay, way to start out the zine with finger pointing, cynicism, and hopelessness (6). I should throw in a humorous pop culture reference now to keep the reader engaged (7).
Later on in the zine, we’ll take a look at a protest I participated in almost 15 years ago. That was back in the days when youthful outrage and naïve optimism (8) made everything I thought and did seem ripe with revolutionary importance. I haven’t lost the outrage, just the sense of importance (wisdom is a measure of humbleness added to empathy, I think, but then, I am not very wise). That past passion shouldn’t be condemned from this future, more realist vantage point. Why bother trying, learning, experiencing and getting mad if you think you can’t do anything? Even if what you do doesn’t make much of a difference, you still have to live with yourself. I told you we would get to this again. Individual actions can’t change the world, but you have to live with yourself (or you have to lie to yourself). I can’t just say, “Fuck it! Might as well forget about it.” I couldn’t live with myself. Our popular culture makes it so unpopular to take a stand on anything, to care about others—we become like the “free” people rockin’ out at our underground party while the Matrix machines bore down to destroy us all (9)—that, naivete aside, simply deciding to care and do something should be applauded and encouraged. Like I said, you’ve got to live with yourself. Clap your hands, but not for too long. It is tempting to leave criticism out by the dumpster in the alley, but we shouldn’t be unwilling to notice when our own self-congratulatory garbage stinks. A lot of what we do stinks. Other people may smell worse, but that ain’t rose scent wafting off even the most right-on, enlightened person.
“Forget about it? You mean... rip it from my memory like a picture from a book? A picture of a small boy... kind of shy... with big ears who only wanted to be liked. And the laughing faces of his classmates, mocking him because he forgot to wear his pants to school? Is that what you mean?” –Pete Hutter “The Adventures of Briscoe County Jr.”
As the late Kurt Vonnegut Jr. wrote in Galapagos, it is our oversized brains that are the true villains. Whether mine is regaling me with Regret-O-Vision, the Insecurity Channel, or simply Panic Hour, it doesn’t shut up or stop thinking (10). Most of the time this is annoying, like someone turning the radio on when you are trying to read. Other times, it can get out of control and keep me up at night. Still, even helter-skelter thoughts sometimes lead to places you need to go.
My participation in protests, groups, propaganda, conferences, punk—none of it came close to making up for my complicity in this destructive system. None of it would replace what I took from the earth. None of it would erase white male supremacy, or the privileges I gained from it and cashed in on. None of it slowed down the system for a millisecond. I’m not being unreasonably hard on myself, nor is this about self-hate or guilt. This is realization beyond inner turmoil. Also, it is pretty disempowering, sure. When suicide looks like the best way of participating in the struggle, it becomes time to reassess where you are at (11).
Where I’m at is a frightening, depressing, but contextually interesting place: a reluctant white male producer/consumer in an unequal, hierarchical destructive society (12). There’s no solution, no way out of this that isn’t frightening. Options seem few. Take the actions you deem necessary and wind up in prison or dead (at least I have a choice). Take the actions you think necessary and lose everyone and everything you love and care about. Take no action and you may lose them anyway. It is so easy to say that you will gain so much more, but that is an unattained, probably pyrrhic, victory.
All is not lost. Well, maybe. Actually, for millions, even billions of people, animals and places, it is. Lost.
None of us chose to be born and we can only live the life we have. We will do what we do within the structures we are born into, with our situations, experiences, and beliefs shaping and guiding us. I do the best I can given my circumstances. I could do more, I could do less. I can’t do much, but I can’t simply close my eyes, stick my fingers in my ears and shout, “La! La! La!”
If people were incapable of living while suffering exists, we’d either be living in a world with no suffering or humanity would be extinct.
Marilyn French wrote about the “politics of felicity.” About how taking action because guilt or shame motivates us will not lead to success (and may even perpetuate all the bad things we want to change as we hide from our guilt through ineffective action). She wrote that we might, instead, take action because what brings us joy will prove more effective in the long run. It is a message of reciprocity. If a clean, wild river brings me joy, why would I not wish for others to experience it? Why wouldn’t I fight for that clean, wild river if it brought me joy? If good food brings me satisfaction, why wouldn’t I want everyone to enjoy what I do? I want to end suffering for others because what joy I have should be shared.
Taking action could be a million things and I’m not here to tell you what to do.
“In fact, we get the feeling Mishap is about as "punk" as Donny Osmond or the Partridge Family.” –Green Anarchy #20
I was explaining punk rock to someone recently and realizing that the whole shebang is difficult to convey. If it were a book on tape, a near complete explanation of punk would require multiple cassettes (or ten double Lps on color vinyl, of course). The personal meaning of punk that I value has to be located within the broad spectrum of punk, and this led my listener into confusion. She had no map to punk rock, and I, the supposed compass, was spinning wildly. We were lost until we mutually converged on the point in our paths where personal experience shared the same dirt track. This was a feeling of being an outsider. For her, it was being a lesbian in a small, conservative town, then out in the world as a mostly closeted professional. Retirement brought openness, just as acceptance into a community brought security. For me, an outsider is what I was, and it was a punk community that brought some measure of sanity, of making sense of this world. A place where difference and weirdness was appreciated rather than harassed and called names.
Both my listener and I had experienced being outsiders for different reasons, in different ways, but the relief we found in our respective communities was similar. When I talk about empathy and sharing stories, this is what I mean. Being able to make connections and reach understanding even though we’re not the same and even if our experiences aren’t exactly comparable. Like Tracy said, often people make a quick claim that they “understand” us and what we are going through, but they are only trying to own our experience and tell us what to feel instead of listening to what we are actually saying. I certainly can never understand what it is like to be a lesbian growing up in a small town, but I know my feelings of being different and can empathize with someone else without claiming I “know just how you feel.” I wouldn’t even be able to do this if not for punk rock.
There are plenty of detractors both outside and inside punk, but criticisms don’t undermine the positive experience it has been for me. More than a place to fit in as an awkward other, punk lead me to seriously look at the world, as well as myself. I like to think that I would have examined and rejected white male capitalist patriarchy (13) if I had never found punk and the people involved, but I have my doubts I would have.
I did think, though, that by now I’d be surrounded by an awesome punk rock anarchist community. As vaguely imagined by a younger me, this future community would have carved a space separate from the capitalist scum system (if we hadn’t defeated it already, of course) where we didn’t work jobs but collectively supported each other doing…well, something cool. My community now is very small and no where near my utopian vision--though I do have the unbelievable good fortune to know Tracy.
I was always naïve, not knowing which people in my social circle did heroin, who was crushed and/or cheating on whom, who was really a jerk. I like to think I was simply optimistic and good natured, but mostly I was clueless and didn’t care. I am, however, observant upon reflection. I watched other communities and collectives crumble. I saw how a scene could implode through a collection of individual bad choices (plus the constant pressure of this society). I saw that trust was sometimes rewarded with the lash of betrayal. I saw the acrimony of dissolving friendships. I have done more than just see these things, but felt them happen around and to me. “Man,” I’d think, “if this is how we treat each other, how are we ever going to have a community?”
What I am trying to say is that risking my life on what others might provide seemed doomed to fail. I imagined myself putting in tons of work and resources, material and emotional, into some collective community…then having it implode through petty jealousy or minor difference of opinion (14). So I got a job, knowing that no one else was going to take care of me, while still holding up hope in my utopian vision.
I try to juggle my desires for a liberated world free from suffering, living my life, and work. I throw all these up in the air and a lot of times, sadly, the only one I catch is the job.
(1)—Held on my lunch break from work. I felt, and feel still, a bit ashamed about this choosing to go back to work. Others made the protest memorable, sporting targets on their backs and creating provocative signs.
(2)—The guy with the Crass slogan was Jeff Luers. I shake my head every time I hear or read some progressive’s or liberal’s or pacifist’s condemnation of Jeff’s arson attack on SUV’s. They always say something about how he should have “worked non-violently” or even within the system. First, I don’t accept the premise that destroying property is violence. Second, what these people—who were not there on that Saturday in 1998 when Jeff was, by the way—ignore or don’t know is that he, indeed, had been an activist for a long time and wasn’t just some fire-happy nihilist. He’s said repeatedly that frustration with the ineffectiveness of traditional protest and activism prompted the (still symbolic) economic sabotage. But some people refuse to acknowledge his words and prior actions in their effort to cowardly distance themselves from property destruction. That may not sound fair and I do appreciate the many who have come to his support after he received that unjust 22 year sentence (which will likely be reduced by the end of this year, thankfully). But the time to speak up on his behalf was before Judge Velure brought the hammer down.
(3)—Or any economy on a large scale.
(4)—The anti-war activists, in general, who rally at the federal building, condemn militant tactics, and profess belief in “non-violence” ignore the violence of the police and of the so-called justice system. Some of them even work with the police in advance of a “protest” and promise to try and prevent “violence”, or even negotiate their own arrests. I call that stupidity, not dissent. Putting someone in a cage isn’t a form of violence?
Where were all the pacifists and “practioners of non-violence” when the cops killed Marvin Young? Where were their protests when it was revealed that former EPD officers Magaña and Lara were using their police power to rape and abuse women? Where are all the pacifists every time a cop does violence?
Pacifists and non-violent adherents accept the violence of the police as normal and necessary, even going so far as to aid the police in stemming more militant protest. The State, as every political science student learns, must have a monopoly on violence. This is the foundation of their authority. Most pacifists and non-violence adherents do not view violence as an inherent quality of the State—of the cops--, but as some distasteful excess that can be diffused with good vibes and ineffectual pleas. Violence, not the “will of the people” is the core of government.
(5)—Only 2% of this nation’s waste comes from municipalities—from the people in a town or city. 98% comes from commercial (production and services) sources, well, and government. So, even if every individual one of us—around 300 million—recycled everything we could it wouldn’t make a dent in the waste stream worthy of praising. Yet, the focus is on cajoling individuals to recycle, an idea that still isn’t mainstream. Reducing consumption is always a minor part of any plan to stem waste. Or, moving away from individual choices, how about a focus on a rapacious capitalist economy and reining that in? The 2%/98% figure comes from Elizabeth Royte’s Garbageland.
(6)—Hope? See Derrick Jensen’s Endgame.
(7)—Nothing springs to mind immediately, sorry.
(8)—It just seemed like anarcho-punk was so right, so inspiring…how could we fail to bring down everything that made us so miserable?
(9)—Ooohhh, nice pop-culture reference save! Hey, ever notice how some anarchists and other radicals harshly critique popular culture, like television and movies, but then cherry-pick movies, tv shows, bands, and books to present as evidence for their own beliefs just because said media contains something that corresponds to their ideas? Weird, huh? Now, Blue or Red pill? You should forget I brought it up.
(10)—Unless I submerge my brain beneath a basin of beer.
(12)—I don’t ultimately define myself as such, of course, but this is about recognizing reality and I am all o those things even if philosophically opposed.
(13) I will use those words, which represent concrete reality, until they are no longer relevant, thank you.
(14)—Oh, it happens, all right.