DIY is dead. Long live DIY.

The final death toll is 36.

According to the L.A. Times, the Ghost Ship in Oakland was considered an “enchanting ‘safe space’ that many called home.” Yes, people lived there, but they also opened their doors for others to meet and gather.

I’ve been in plenty of spaces like that: filled with wooden furniture and antiques, decorated with draped cloth and light strands (although I cannot picture this pallet staircase everyone keeps talking about), and it didn’t occur to me to search for fire exits or sprinkler systems. I took it all for granted.

Maybe that makes me stupid. Maybe I shouldn’t assume that a building could stand in a highly populated city for 30 years without a single inspection. I know I’ve lived in apartments with insufficient fire exits (not to mention the severe pest problems and illegal underheating that made for some very, very cold February nights) that still managed to pass city inspections on a regular basis, and I sure as hell wasn’t about to report the issues, criminal though they may be.

Why would I do something like that? How could I be such an arrogant, brain-dead moron? Answer: because I’m not made of money, and it’s better to have a shitty roof over my head than none at all.

As many people have already pointed out, not only was the Ghost Ship an essential place to the people who did call it home, it’s far from one-of-a-kind. You’re probably within spitting distance of a DIY space right now.

These are places where people live and work. Usually, if they’re not squatting, they’re not living there 100% legally (that is, the space is not zoned for residential use or there are more residents than the lease allows, etc.), and it has nothing to do with sticking it to The Man. People simply cannot afford to live and eat and clothe themselves. That’s all there is to it.

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The fire has terrified city officials nationwide. Fire departments are all combing their files, searching for any structures they may have overlooked, especially those that are the most suitable for a group to occupy with little risk of detection.

I get it. It’s their job, and they’re the ones who would have to sift through the wreckage searching for bodies. A consequence of this, however, is that people are losing their homes.

I’m looking out the window right now: snow continues to fall, and will through the night, as temperatures hover below freezing. Some local spaces have already been closed down. The DIY kids are going underground. Even more than usual, I mean.

That’s the rub: their goal is to evade detection. That’s how their homes have stayed below the radar for so long. That’s why they’ve been so easy to ignore. Will they eventually be forgotten entirely?

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Who, us? No, we’re fine. This is fine.

On the plus side, another Lost Generation means we’ll have some great artistic and literary works to look forward to. Remember how awesome F. Scott Fitzgerald was before he drank himself to death? And Steinbeck before he smoked himself to death? And Hemingway before he stuck a shotgun in his mouth and blew his brains out?

‘member?

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Trump: “Who ‘members? This guy!” Pence: “Dude, are you still constipated? You should maybe think about seeing a doctor.”

Tweet Your Dissent

A local college instructor told me about the rhetoric class she taught this fall. She had her students watch the presidential debates. “Watching those debates is usually very useful for students. [The debates] illustrate rhetorical tools and logical fallacies.” This year was quite different. Students saw Trump fail to use even the most basic principles of argument while barely stringing together a coherent thought. After he won the election, the students stopped working. “Nothing you’ve taught us matters,” they told the instructor. Logic no longer applies. True and false are subjective. 2+2=5.

In other words, the students have lost faith in their education as well as in our democratic system.

I’ve been dealing with it the only way I know how: research. It’s the most reasonable way to predict the future, especially now that ours appears to be out of our hands. There’s little precedence, however, for this precise situation. While corruption has existed among humans since the dawn of our species, the Era of Information (that is to say, the Present) is virtually unprecedented. We can compare it to the invention of writing, the printing press, radio, and television, but it’s so much more prevalent in our daily lives that any of those things have ever been.

This is the problem. There is so much information that cherrypicking is necessary. We can’t possibly absorb all of it, and people are more inclined to read articles that correspond to their way of thinking. People love to be right! They love to be vindicated and told that their way of life is the most valid.

So there’s one other thing I’m trying. I can’t believe it’s come to this, but I’m freaking tweeting like a maniac.

We know Trump doesn’t read anything other than Breitbart. We know he can’t stop tweeting to save his stupid life. So I’ve started tweeting articles at him.

Signing the petitions and protesting and sending money to organizations that fight his administration are all excellent, and I’m doing that as well. With his inauguration six weeks away, however, I’m willing to do everything I can to make my dissension clear, even if it’s spending half an hour every day tweeting a bunch of articles at a chump trumpet. And then blogging about it.

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Who could have seen this coming?

Also, it’s pretty satisfying. Tweeting at Trump is about as close as I’ll probably ever get to insulting him to his face, even if he gets so many tweets that he likely won’t see mine. However, I encourage everyone to tweet articles to @realdonaldtrump. He’s bound to spot a couple of them, and just think about how funny he looks when he cries. His head gets all red and sweaty, and then he stammers out some lame comeback that makes everyone around him experience shame by proxy.

In the meantime, I continue to be an Absurdist. It’s all I have left.

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“Who’s intensely constipated? This guy!” courtesy of @realdontaldtrump

It’s Absurd! Or: Suicide as the One True Philosophical Problem

Some time in the early 1940s (or, possibly, the decade before, or really any time between then and about 1915 but most likely in the late 30s), Albert Camus wrote: “The absurd man will not commit suicide; he wants to live, without relinquishing any of his certainty, without a future, without hope, without illusions … and without resignation either.”

In the same year he published those words, he wrote these: “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.”

People don’t like to talk about suicide. More than one National Geographic documentary narrator has referred to it as “the ultimate taboo.” If we assume that both Camus and National Geographic are correct, then these truths depend on each other. A if and only if B, and vice versa.

BUT

By the very definition of absurdism, even this observation is meaningless. Or maybe it’s not. We’re alone in the universe and in 10 billion years nothing we’ve ever done will have mattered.

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Please meh this page. Or don’t. None of this matters.

Anyway, I’ve wandered from my point, which is this: we have entered the absurd. No future. No hope. No illusions.

The laws of evolution do not guarantee inherent positive development. Things do not get better just because time moves forward. In the 1960s, women in Afghanistan looked just like women in the United States. They wore make-up and bobbed hair. They went to school and drove to work. They had no way of knowing that only 20 years later, they would risk death with this same behavior.

This is all I can think about. I am surrounded by the same ideology that that has polluted the cradle of civilization to the point where it’s simply a cesspool of spiritual excrement. I already struggle with my place in a society that just gave me a giant middle finger.

“You have no future,” says the giant middle finger. “Also, no hope or illusions. None of those things.”

All that’s left, according to Camus, is resignation.

Honestly, I’m on the fence. Resignation. The word sounds relaxing. No more stressing about whether or not my life matters. With resignation, the answer is: it doesn’t. I have no future. I have no hope. I have no illusions.

As a female incapable of procreation – that is, our only apparent function – I hear the message loud and clear: I have no value.

The Church of Euthanasia advocates suicide for the good of the planet. That is to say, if a person is dead, that person is no longer using up natural resources that could be utilized elsewhere. If one is useless to society, it makes sense that one should altruistically eliminate oneself for the good of the rest.

BUT

The Church of Euthanasia drags us right back into the absurd, with slogans like, “Save the Planet, Kill Yourself,” and “Eat a Queer Fetus for Jesus.” And with the absurd, of course, there can be no resignation. Because that is the very nature of the absurd. The absurd is killing the Buddha. The absurd is cheering for Machine Gun Joe. The absurd was on the front fucking page of my newspaper this morning.

Resignation is all that’s left. I’m pretty numb right now, but I’ll keep fighting it. I’d like to believe everyone else will, too. I hope we are not resigned to a bleak future. The past 24 hours – and the three decades leading up to them – have taught me not to hope too much. It may very well be that America hanged herself last night.

The Power is Glorious – Condor and Jaybird

It’s taken me nearly a month to write a review of Condor and Jaybird’s newest album, The Power. No, it’s not just because I’ve been busy teaching and writing and giving readings in laundromats.

It’s because The Power not the type of album you listen to a couple of times and think, “Oh, I get it. It’s this: …”

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This. Cover Art by Tyler White.

Dissecting The Power is a slow burn. It’s not a term paper. It’s a dissertation.

Example: According to producer Andrew Barkau of Future Apple Tree, ‘Lightbringer IV’ alone is a tapestry of 80 tracks that jostle one another as in a prelude to a mosh pit, and then swell into an orgiastic sonorous dogpile.

Barkau’s the same guy who describes the album’s theme as a “theological buffet.” An astute assessment, it serves to inject the soaring melodies and acrobatic syncopation with additional significance. But let’s go back, first, to the album release party:

The Village Theatre in East Davenport was beyond capacity, I can tell you that for goddamn sure. Not that anyone could have done a thing about it. If the fire marshal had shown up and turned the hoses on us, maybe some of the younger families with toddlers might have gone home. The rest of us would have found the blast refreshing, as we were already soaked with sweat, anyway.

The Golden Fleece opened and set the tone for the evening. The band is known for inventive melodies, a satisfactory amount of thumptastic percussion, and a barefoot lead singer very at ease with the audience.

Next: Mountain Swallower, another local favorite and a fine group of young fellows who bill themselves as bridge-gazers. They’re like shoe-gazers but not as boring. Mellow, but unafraid. It doesn’t make me want to sit in the dark and drink alone. I’ll keep the darkness and the drinking, but one cannot sit and listen to Mountain Swallower. Some form of creation is required. A little crying is acceptable.

By the time Condor and Jaybird took the stage, there was not a dry person in a one-block radius. I’m fairly certain I slipped in puddles of sweat as I got in line to exit the building for a smoke, as did most everyone else. Between sets, the room emptied out but for scatterings of torn and abandoned clothing, spilled drinks, a few old folks who weren’t about to get out of their chairs, and a handful little kids with those noise-canceling ear muff things.

Those last two details are important: Condor and Jaybird isn’t a sound that caters to a select few. Librarians, gutter punks, retirees, bartenders, bankers, schoolteachers, carpenters, toddlers, small-business owners, students, and exotic dancers were all members of the audience – I even bumped into a lumberjack.

It’s not that the band plays it safe with their music. Detractors might not appreciate so much experimentation or non-traditional use of instruments or the simple-yet-terrifying bird people that appear on stage.

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Payton Shumaker Photography, The Power Release Show

In the very first minutes, a listener will assume that the band’s main influences include 90’s brit pop. Then: high school marching bands, Christian rock groups from Michigan, and some of the jazz trio that backed Mr. Rogers.

Then, we descend into deconstructed mythology: gentle, patient strings that collide and separate. Private myths. A little baseball organ. Jesus camp. Suggestive hip movements. Decompartmentalization. Synesthesia. Dogs wearing hats.

See? I’m not even sure what I’m talking about anymore. Wait here while I go back and listen one more time…

Fiends are Friends

Bloodsucking Fiends (A Love Story, #1)Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While Christopher Moore wrote this comedy-horror novel in 1995, I didn’t read it until twenty years later. During that period, unfortunately, the vampire-as-sex-object ascended from transgression to trope and into cliché. It happened with impressive speed, but I’ll leave an analysis of that phenomenon to people with the mental fortitude to study vampire romances.
My point is, does this book suffer?
Moore is always good for a laugh. And I laughed a few times. It’s not his best work, however. This is not entirely because of its subject matter. He has legitimately written comic masterpieces that outshine this charming story of [mild spoiler:] (view spoiler)
Amid all of this, Moore plays with canon in a way that is both surprising and satisfying (which is among his greatest strengths as a story-teller) even after a decade of sparkles and intense staring have made us all gun shy when it comes to messing with the laws of the vampire.
Still, something about this book feels a little tired. Is it the subject matter? It can’t be Moore himself. He apparently had so much fun writing this book that he continued the story (it’s a trilogy – You Suck and Bite Me follow).
Help me out, people. Let me know what you think.

Bottom line: It’s a quick read. The characters are amusing. The dialogue is sharp, as per usual with Moore. Just don’t hit this one right after reading Lamb or Fool.

View all my reviews

Bettendorf Public Library › Call for entries for NaNoWriMo flash fiction contest

Source: Bettendorf Public Library › Call for entries for NaNoWriMo flash fiction contest

Judge Ethan Canin presiding. He currently teaches at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

I haven’t kept up with the workshop since 2009, when I applied to two graduate programs in writing. IWW turned me down. The School of the Art Institute of Chicago accepted me. Glean from that what you will.

Whether or not Canin opts for the minimalist style the workshop’s championed for the past seventy-odd years (which is roughly sixty-odd years too long), it’s nice to have some crossover between that literary community and the one in the Quad Cities – which, while special in its own way, is not nearly as centralized as Iowa City’s own writerly population.

The more participants we have, the more similar opportunities will crop up in our region. So everyone write a 300-word short story. Everyone. Even if you don’t feel like it. The average Facebook post is half that length. You can do it. You got this.

Do it for Uncle Sam.

Do it for Uncle Sam.

Deteriorations in Domestic Peace

We’re going to look back on this as a profoundly dark time in American history. The Institute for Economics and Peace just published its 2016 Global Peace Index report. The United States is charted alongside Saudi Arabia and Peru. (As the world’s largest producer of cocaine, Peru actually sees more homicides related to environmental activism than to its drug trade.)

These numbers are from data collected in 2015, so they don’t include the most recent surge of civil discord and public executions/assassinations.

People in my own hometown, who have never marched for anything, are holding a March for Solidarity tonight in response to the rash of shootings across the country. I’m actually afraid to go.

I was afraid at the G8 summit in 2012, when Chicago police stood alongside the protest route with their batons at the ready, held out in front of them so, together, they formed a human barricade. I made it through that, anxiety disorder and all, but then I got to the portion where the state police forced the route to narrow significantly so that protesters were all squished in together like sardines with nowhere to go. Nope, nope, nope. Staties are huge and reek of sadism. I walked over a mile out of the way to get to the end of the march rather than go through that.

Photos of officers beating protestors ran on every front page the next day. Press especially liked one of a local officer raising his baton amid a brawl, just about to bring it down, with an expression that appeared to be one of maniacal glee.

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This one is my favorite. Look at this officer going to his happy place. Photo by Nina Berman 

My fear of police is relatively benign. I fear them as I feared playground bullies. I’m aware that they could kill me but am almost positive they’ll restrain themselves before it gets to that point.

But maybe they won’t. There’s no recess monitor. There’s no one to be the voice of reason and pull the kids apart. There’s no reason for restraint and no consequence for indulgence.

The smallest misunderstanding could be the first sign of violence, and in a society so filled with misunderstanding – and misinformation and misguidance and misplaced rage – I fear entering a large crowd like the one that will be at the March for Solidarity.

Why? Because a childhood friend’s teenage sister was shot to death recently. A few days later, police arrested a couple of suspects, one of whom was 14 years old. A 14-year-old had a handgun. It’s alarming, but no one seems to be truly and deeply shocked by this. I’m not even that shocked, if I’m honest with myself.

In a society where a 14-year-old owns and uses a handgun, killing an innocent child, and no one is astonished, it is reasonable to fear one’s fellow humans regardless of who they appear to be.

A March of Solidarity should be a peaceful affair. But I have every reason to believe that it won’t be. I have every reason to believe that it could turn into a deadly event.

The Global Peace Index report is 127 pages long. It gives the impression that while homicides and crime rates in the United States remain relatively stable, militarization increases are some of the greatest in the world. The Institute for Economics and Peace points out that this leads to decreased internal and external peace, as well as an increase in perceived criminality and domestic terror organizations. In short, we’re fueling a deep-seated cultural mistrust of our government (both local and federal) and of each other.

The Institute’s projections for future global violence are not encouraging. Deaths caused by terrorism have more than doubled in the past eight years. If you look at the Institute’s map, it looks just like one tracking an epidemic. We’re wandering right into the middle of that epidemic and we’re not protecting ourselves at all.