Monday, 21 November 2011

A rant about freeness : what the Bath does to me part 1.

The Bath:

Last night, having got back from Kielder Water and a weekend in the outdoors, I had a bath and my mind raced. I don't think it's that bathtime gives me NEW thoughts, but it can give me a rocketing new perspective on my old ones. If I could type in the bath then you might've got a 5000 word essay about my thoughts, my self-justifications, my prejudices and why I think I am what I am and why that is right. So maybe it's better that I don't type in the bath, and the sediment I'm left with now is just a fraction of what I've thought - but it's glorious because it gives me two things that I often feel malnourished for: a sparkling clear refreshedness, and confidence/backbone/certainty.
So there are 3 things that, after a good sleep like now, I feel like ranting about on a regular basis. I'm gonna rant about the first one now - free-ness - and the other two on another day, probably after another bath and another good sleep (the topics are 'why I hate artists', and 'howcome I'm so shit with money').

The Thanks:

After my last blog post, which was declaredly in a bad mood, I had a few very supportive and very kind responses, on email and even by phone. This was a happy surprise for a few reasons - our phone and internet have only just been fixed so the sound of the phone ringing is one of them, but also it's a fillip to know people read your thoughts on a blog, that they care enough to respond, and that it's people who you personally have a lot of respect for, and are much better at certain things than you are. But nonetheless, I'm gonna disagree a bit with these friends, and beyond them with 'the way that things are done', and possibly with 'how I'm gonna do things in future'. Because I am actually quite proud of the way that I've been doing things, and I have got stuff out of it that is incomparable, that is life-affirming, that I recommend, and that is probably linked to 'why I hate artists' and 'howcome I am so shit with money'.

I print my zines and things and I give them out for free.

When I was in regular work 2 years ago - regularly and reasonably paid but psychologically wearing and wearying - I worked out that I was paying £200 a month for zines and similar things (including trainfares down to fairs, postage, printing & wotnot). Having moved out of regular work, I found it hard to stop paying out on these things, so I squandered some of the money passed down by my family, to continue printing my doodles and thoughts and giving them away. I now realise I won't manage to repay this money, so the repercussions of my urges have hit home. And when I've mentioned to those near me that I'm now a bit lost and worried about money, they've given me sod-all sympathy and just don't get why I would have squandered that money. This has made me feel like I'm surrounded by less like-minded people than I used to know, and on low days it makes me think 'what have I got to show for my life', 'where is my house, my kids, my career and my cult record label?' And it makes me think, too, more bitterly, that if people really don't get the thing - that they don't share an understanding of the joy and subversive magic that I've been living off - then what makes them different from my mortgage-taxman-nuclear family-apolitical-topgear watching old schoolfriends (who I also love, by the way, but who are wrong)? Why did I branch off from the socially mandated route of life to hang out at punk gigs, sleep out on hillsides and get my teeth chipped by riot police? Are we alternative types just less successful bankers?

The glorious answer No:

To that last fatuous question we all say no together, hurrah! But why? I don't know your reasons, but I know some of mine. I don't sit, going through my productions, my creations and my voluntary efforts, thinking 'what price can i sell these for?' I don't make friends with people because they can further my career. That poison is absent from my motivations, and so I have preserved the ability to smell it in others - avoiding such people makes the air smell cleaner. I volunteer where I will be with other people on an equal basis, an equal relationship: where together we'll work out some kind of interaction and social happening that is begun from an honest, non-profit-driven, not out-for-ourselves basis. I feel human when I am there. Sometimes bored, sometimes unclear (not gonna pretend that we're ubermensch at the star and shadow), but at home. In the home that we evolved animals should be in. A little beginning of the anarchist future. It may dissipate every day, but it's constantly beginning again all around.

I also work for pay, and hang out with people who are busy converting people's good ideas into brands they can sell, and I know that we can also find nourishing relationships in that capitalist world. But deepdown we all know there's shit going on and we are just surviving in an evil structure. When I work for free, when the door is open, or when I approach somebody in a coffeeshop to tell them something that they find funny and a relief, then i am not just surviving, but I am living. And I need these moments to keep me going. I think we need these moments to remind us that we not living in Metropolis or Thatcher's dark dream, that we are not trapped in our class, that money and education have not stratified us into our correct places in this all-controlled world. We live in a green & blue rock powered by the sun, with more going on spontaneously and autonomously than any fucker will ever know, and when we do things freely, and when we connect with each other through these things, then we have shown that there is more to life than what the bosses and the fascist future-planners can control. We make our world.

Model Two

If model one is 'make something to sell', then in zine terms, and in the DIY scene, it involves time paying out (for stalls, ads, promotions) in order to make more money later. It involves you sitting at a stall hoping to sell what's in front of you. It involves a lot of time talking about product, promoting your wares, raising its profile and so on.

Model two is what I prefer to do:

- time paying out to get nothing back in monetary terms, but to open up a possibility of an email or comment or piece of post given voluntarily, out of another's good spirit, at a moment of their choosing, not yours. This possibility adds a magic tingle to my life - an unknown other being may, if they choose, reach out to connect with me at some point in the future. This increased possibility could not be paid for and it is what makes my Newcastle feel so special to me. Unpredictable, effusive, from people I simply do not know, with different backgrounds, soundtracks, home settings and eyes - thank you so much to all those of you who have got back to me over the years. In fact thank you to those who didn't as well (why should you?) - I really appreciate that you saw the zine, and so my life brushed past yours. I wonder what you thought of it, but I don't claim it.

- if I sit at a stall, it is because I want to be there. Not because it a place I might make money out of. I don't see new people as potential customers. I see them as unknown possibilities. We might draw together, we might exchange something, we may if we choose to, pay for something. But we are there because of other reasons than the desire to profit out of each other. Thank god!

- when I talk, even if it is about something I have made or drawn, it is because I am interested in it. My conversation can follow my impulses, which can be influenced by anything they want to be. I do not have to steer it towards 'and that's why this is better than that other person's thing', or 'give me money', or 'do you have connections I can exploit', or 'lie, manipulate, rip-off'.

Newspapers are adverts:

The newspapers make money from murders, from scaring their readers that terrorists are coming, that a new disease is probably right now being spread by immigrants. I think this is a misrepresentation of the world, and so I believe that newspapers are full of lies. They cannot avoid it, because they want to sell copy. They want people to pick up theirs instead of the competitors. They increase their profit by showing more tits, more blood, scaring more people, exaggerating violence and denying all the real richness of life. What horrible fuckers they really are.

Free zines, compiled from my diary or from my superfluous opinion, left out on a pub shelf. Well, they may be shit. They can be boring, irrelevant, hard to read, embarrassing. Such failings are things I can live with and get past. I put effort in to avoid them. But I do not have to if I don't want to. And when I pick up another person's free zine, if it is not primarily to promote a venue or an arts funding stream (yes, crack & narc, that is you lot, value you though i do), then I gain something BEYOND the constraints that we so much have to live through. Thankyou also to all those who have written because they CARE about something (with their own minds - I don't include evangelist promotions, because they are generally made by zombies, sorry).
Write because you have an idea you feel like writing down. Draw because the pen makes an interesting line across the page. Tell people you found something really cool. Don't try and sell it - it's probably not even yours to sell. Play with materials, join others to share stories, go to a gig because jeezus christ it's good to see people produce noises in front of you, in a crowd of other people alive right now today, and if you leave disappointed, do some introspection and share it. Finally, I would say, don't just share it with people sitting at a computer. Share it with the city you live in. Make it so that somebody who goes into the cafe can look up from their goddamn phone and see, inbetween the advert-flyers, some odd thing made by a stranger. Let them be intrigued and let their mind have some blessed relief from the constant determination of words to make them buy. Don't live in the goddamn 'creative industries' but remember who the fuck you are and just ADMIT we're all creative : then share something of that singularity - who you are, where you live, what you see, how you feel about it...

Some refutable opinions of mine:

An economic view is wrong not because there are flaws in the mechanics and the maths. An economic view is wrong because it is not where life begins, and it is not where the meaning of life will be found, and it is not where we learn and grow and give credit to all those poor old slushy dead organisms who put so much effort into evolving into us. Don't live like you're always after the main deal, don't give up because no one understands you.

Make an artefact, leave it somewhere. Post it to your old schoolfriends. Paste it to the postbox. Print it. Put it next to mine somewhere in Newcastle. I'll be honoured to have your company. And both of us will know that we've been a part of something broader than this same old shit.
And even though the day goes past and you (I) have nothing in the bank or necessarily even in our hands to show for it, we know that today we reached out beyond our bedroom and tried to let our imagination touch reality. That story, that image we liked, that memory of the night before - it is SUCH a shame to keep them in. Draw them (won't be perfect), write them (won't sound right), attach them to the city (somebody will rip em down tomorrow). It means living in the present, and even though it doesn't build up a legacy, or accumulate things to claim as your individual private property, it has given to the commons, and it has made this city's cultural(?) life that much richer and more diverse. So I know all the above is pretty easy to ridicule as juvenile self-righteous hyperbole. But I was thinking it anyway. Like I write my diary anyway. And it can be lonely to think and read such things later, and realise no-one ever knew, or ever connected with these things I thought, wrote.

By printing pages of my diary and turning my sketches into free zines, I have gained so much (unquantifiable, unsellable, unmarketable) reward. I would not have encountered this if I had put a pricetag on every thing I print, or drew only what I thought would sell, or rewrote my thoughts to fit in with what the consumer normally likes. So apologies if my voice, ego, idiosyncracies might grate. But when I read yours, I will recognise something of my own existence in them and I shall love you for your honesty. So make free zines.

Inspirations for the rant:

Alex "think that everyone is very respectful but a little bemused by your amazing dedication to giving your work away free!"

Pete on the phone: "you're sowing so much seed but hardly any of it hits the right places to be valued"

Music helping me rant:
Grace Petrie

Poster from my teens, still on my wardrobe door, and still my aspiration:

Earlier this month I wrote a related rant on
'we make zines' about why I make things on paper, not on the web:

"Pritt stick, scissors, pens and laying things out on a table is a far more satisfying way to do it, and it matches how I think - I feel at peace when I work that way. Whereas whatever I do on a computer is clunky and dependent on other machines/gadgets/online timings and ways of working. I can only use digital tools when I know (by the hands-on process, above) what I want. So yes a digital photo with the contrast exagerrated, a print-out of some text from a word document, will then get pritt-sticked on somewhere. Sometimes pictures will get scanned. But no, no publisher, photoshop or other intelligent digital process. A good example is the 'wor diary' i do with 3 dozen other people up here, which the printers (I know) would much prefer to be a digital file so it can talk to their machine in a language it understands and not have to go thru their human eyes and fingers, but instead I send them a wodge of variably sized prittstick-heavy papers. Images at I s'pose even a photocopier is digital really, though...

The web doesn't really exist. Talking to somebody at a computer is not talking to a person. Things picked up in a pub, from a bus seat, at a friend's house are actual real parts of our world. We are not evolved to sit all day staring and tapping with 2% of our muscles and coordination engaged. It's unavoidable, I know, for work and communication and everything now, but breaking out of this little rut that we've collectively chosen to imprison ourselves in is good. The more overbearing computer drudgery is, the more valuable are the things that help us break out of it. Zines help you do that, especially free ones left in public. I think it's like the case with postcards too - postcards have travelled, emails have not. And any fuckers out there who only advertise their events on facebook, they are missing the beauty and contribution and opportunity that hand-making a poster and sticking it up in a public place gives to society. Our images should be on the walls, they should not be reserved for profiteering adverts and psych-manipulation."

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