Monday, December 19, 2011

We're Just Here to Watch the Game, Officer

Riding the high of our freezing, raining, slightly disorganized and overwhelmingly policed action at the Port of Long Beach on Dec 12th, a table full of soaking wet comrades came up with an idea for a brilliant autonomous action. 

Ruth Fowler, who wrote a great piece on what we did, was the origin: she signed up to receive LAPD chief Charlie Beck’s tweets some time ago, to keep tabs. She got an announcement for what appeared to be a public relations event: the LAPD basketball team going to the Midnight Mission on Skid Row to play a team comprised of people who work at the various missions/outreach centers there. I kid you not: The LAPD “Young Gunz” vs the “Skid Row All-Stars.” The press release itself is a work of manic rhetorical genius: the LAPD are "just men doing what they love" on the court. Competition between the teams "shows the level of mutual respect." And other bizarre obfuscating tripe.
Our instant suspicion of the event was not paranoid: the LAPD is notorious for its harassment of the residents of Skid Row, even more notably since the Safer Cities Initiative was passed. This initiative has resulted in the area of Skid Row, which has low incidence of violent crime, hosting the highest concentration of law enforcement anywhere in the country. The money for services never materialized from the Initiative, and the cycle of homelessness and incarceration has not been broken, it has been reinforced. The missions in the area, while providing much-needed shelter, food, and care, especially to people attempting to get sober, support the Safer Cities Initiative and thus still contribute to the criminalization of homelessness. Please read more about the issues- this is a political quagmire, safely hidden from view as the gentrification of downtown Los Angeles rolls along per Mayor Villaraigosa's plans. 
Like I said, we were still high on adrenaline from the port action, and trying to ignore our freezing wet clothes while we occupied a breakfast spot in Long Beach, and it was decided: Sometimes you just have to mic-check the police chief in his basketball shorts. 
The following day, we descended on the offices of LA-CAN (Los Angeles Community Action Network), also located in Skid Row, and talked with organizers there about our plan to crash the LAPD’s little PR stunt. We wanted to make sure we weren’t jeopardizing any important relationships with the Midnight Mission, that there would not be repercussions on Skid Row residents, and that we were covering the right issues in our planned statement. We got some great advice on the statement and a smirking green light on the action from long-time activists we trust. 
Nine of us walked into the Mission that afternoon with a script, a video camera, and hopes to show a few people that OccupyLA has the brains and the balls to disrupt self-congratulatory band-aid media stunts from law enforcement. We watched the cops serve meals, with sidearms visible under their plastic aprons. (Very friendly.) We sat in the stands, we stood for the anthem, and then when the players were getting introduced, I pulled the script from my pocket and screamed “MIC CHECK!” 
This is what we said: 
"We, the 99%, do not accept the criminalization of the 15,000 homeless people on Skid Row. Shelter is a human right, and by shelter we do NOT mean jail cells under the so-called Safer Cities Initiative. The police presence on Skid Row is highest in the world, with a greater deployment of law enforcement than anywhere but Iraq. We want real community change, not empty public relations efforts. We are here in support of the RESIDENTS of Skid Row, and all those who are doing what they can despite the violent selective targeting of City Council and the LAPD. "
The LAPD scrambled to figure out how to kick us out without arresting us in the middle of a nice little time. They yanked on Ruth a bit, but we were escorted out of the building with no further incident. 
During the mic check, one of the officers kept saying, “This is private property, you can’t do that here.” It was hilarious logic: everyone in the stands responded to us, mostly with favorable cheers and “Skid Row! Skid Row!” as we left. If we’d been chanting something short and supportive, like “Go Allstars!” We would have had no problem. What we did was say a little too much, with a little too much conviction, and puncture the veil of Public Relations to remind everyone that the problems of our city are not only not being solved, they are being exacerbated by the LAPD. 
There’s really nothing finer on a rainy afternoon than some good ol’ disruption of business-as-usual. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

On White Privilege and Going to Jail Part II

I was arrested last Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning at the "peaceful" eviction of the OccupyLA encampment. I was released late Thursday night on my own recognizance, with a notice to appear in court on January 6th. I still have comrades in jail, some of whom were snatched just two days ago during a march. 

One conversation that has emerged from this experience was sparked by the impatience many long-time activists feel in the face of the arrestee's complaints about tight cuffs, bad food, rough treatment, no showers, and so on. The conversation looks something like this: 
Occupy Arrestee: They treated us so badly in jail! This is an outrage!
Seasoned Activist: What did you expect? They've been doing this to people for fifty years. 
OA: But this time they did it to ME!
SA: And so now you care? What about when they were doing it to the Black Panthers in the 1960s? What about when they do it to people in marginalized urban communities every DAY? What about when they do it to the house-less, or to prostitutes? It's so selfish to suddenly care about the treatment of incarcerated people now that you've had a taste of the system. 
OA: I know, I know. What can I do about my past? I didn't get it. I get it now. 

As frustrating as it is to know that many of the people who were radicalized by their experiences in jail could have potentially been radicalized by an education prior, I hope to help welcome my brothers and sisters into the radical fold, whatever their entry was. 

For me, the real moment of radicalization happened last year, in an Ethnic Studies course taught by Dylan Rodriguez at UC Riverside. When I read the book "Pacifism as Pathology," by Ward Churchill, and sat in a room of activist-scholars who had much clearer and more nuanced understanding of the way privilege functions in our country, I had the first in a series of "aha" moments that have changed me. 

Some statements of my privilege: I am a white woman from the middle class, who had not yet been targeted by law enforcement. I can see women who look like me on TV. I have never been told not to speak my native language. I have never been told that my clothes could be a reason for my imprisonment. I have access to birth control. I have an education. I can read very well. I have traveled to other countries. I have access to the internet. I know a lot about nutrition, and I can afford to eat healthfully. I do not support a large family. I have a supportive family. I have never lived with a substance addiction. I own a cell phone. And so on.

I am from Berkeley, and so my understanding of what it meant to be leftist was mostly pacifist, communicative, and passive towards state power. I had never questioned the efficacy or the inherent privilege of that position. I generally want to deescalate violence. I had never questioned the efficacy or the inherent privilege of that stance, either. Over the course of ten weeks in Dylan's class, scales fell from my eyes and I was in pain: the pain of realizing that for all my education and radical politics, I had actually been blind to the complex functioning of systems of repression and oppression. It wasn't my fault, but it was my fault. 

In the holding cell at Van Nuys Metro, I watched women get angry at the way incarcerated people are dehumanized, bullied, and subjected to torturous conditions as a matter of course. One activist said, "Stop complaining at every little thing, it makes us look stupid. This is what jail is like for everyone." I interjected, "No. I think every grievance should get voiced. Our job here is to remind the LAPD, and ourselves, that we don't have to accept the 'fact' of jail, that we can look at it with fresh anger, and that we are fighting systemic acceptance of wrong, immoral, inhumane conditions for everyone, not just for ourselves." In that situation, the naive response was the most radical! It involved women seeing something for the first time, and recognizing its disease because they had not already accepted that it was status quo. 

This is why longtime organizers always need to listen to new voices and young people. We sometimes settle into a sense of "one must pick one's battles." Do I think my friend should have screamed so loud about wanting a toothbrush that she got carted off to solitary? Yes. Because she started a conversation on the whole cell block about why the hell they wouldn't let us brush our teeth. She started a conversation about repressive tactics of psychological torture that many thought weren't used on American civilians. One officer, when we requested a newspaper, said, "You don't get to have one today. You need a lot of time to think."

So we took that time to think. And as far as I know, not a one of us felt repentant at the end of it. 

The move into more radical thought doesn't have to happen violently, but it feels violent, because it is the destabilization of all that one used to "know" about how the world works. It is an epistemological shift that hurts. But it is the best kind of pain. It is birth. And the more who go through it, whether in a classroom, in a jail cell, or from their childhood as it is necessary for survival, the more comrades we have in the fight. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

On White Privilege and Going to Jail

Guest Writer on Gorgeous Curiosity! Welcome Ryan Rice! 

Two Arrests For The Resistance: Padding My Resume

            Since Occupy Wall Street began, I have been arrested in both Oakland and in Los Angeles. Across this nation we have seen protesters being beaten, pepper-sprayed, tear-gassed, and shot with rubber bullets and bean-bag projectiles. As of Sunday morning, there are a total of 4,619 arrests across the country. You read that correctly. The United States of America has arrested nearly five thousand people made up of nonviolent students, citizens, seniors, activists, journalists, and legal observers. I hope my arrests may highlight the permeating cancer we’re fighting. I hope my arrests may illuminate the overt attempts by the oligarchs to inhibit freedom, incarcerate the dissenters, and further the continued destruction of this great experiment known as America.

Occupy Oakland

I was in Oakland for their November 2nd General Strike, and was part of the 103 arrests in the nighttime raid of Alameda County Sheriff’s department on Occupy Oakland. I spent 16 hours in a cold, dirty holding cell in Oakland with other comrades bent on the devilish desire of restoring democracy to this country. The police took every opportunity to intimidate us, letting us languish in the jails with tight zip-tied cuffs for hours as many of us suffered bruises and wounds from the attacks at Occupy Oakland.
Those arrested were the ones within an arbitrary “no-zone” around the tent city. We were the ones that came to investigate in the dead of night the hundreds of shock troops assembled around a community encampment. We were the ones that raised a peace sign and held our ground. Those that fled the state’s power were spared. They that submitted to the fears of the helicopters, guns, paddy wagons, and tear gas were out of danger. Yet the First Amendment was the only permit we needed! The occupy movement is a 24/7 protest on public space because of the immediate and dire need to change the course of this nation. But still the raised shotguns fired and flash-bang grenades exploded.
I hope you have all seen the video of Ranger veteran Kayvan Sabeghi being beaten mercilessly by shock troops for standing up against injustice. I witnessed first-hand as his internal injuries grew worse and he screamed from the floor of the jail hallway for medical assistance. I observed the smirks on the guards’ faces as they did nothing until hour fifteen.
I was treated personally with mostly dignity. They saw my white skin, they heard me speaking policy, politics, and law, and they saw me look them in the eyes with a righteous indignation that I would wager they do not often receive. The National Lawyers Guild assured us of our timely release and the legal action they would be taking in our defense, so it turned into a waiting game.
The worst feeling of the ordeal was the utter powerlessness I felt when trapped unjustly. Here I was, witnessing wrongs that I was incapable to stop. In all honesty, it made me very angry. For me, Oakland was a transition of sorts. As a white, educated, heterosexual male from suburbia, I had never experienced many of the problems I was now standing up against. Hell, I was pulled for speeding and the officer happened to be my life guard at the country club I attended. He told me to run along and slow it down. That’s it. Meanwhile, my brothers and sisters have their Fourth Amendment rights violated at every corner in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods.
So my transition was one from vicarious experience to truth. What was a sad or maddening article of injustice in the New York Times suddenly became a reality check. I was no longer discussing the problems of the prison-industrial complex in a campus coffee shop. I was talking about the War on Drugs with a disaffected young black man hauled in for possession with intent to sell as we sat chained to the wall.
Once out of jail, cited and released for “Remaining at the scene: riot, etc”, I strapped on my gas mask, tied up my boots, and made a beeline for the occupation. Along the way, we passed a local black-and-white that rolled down their windows in a surprisingly friendly manner.
“You guys headed back? Be good!” they exclaimed with hot coffees in hand and ready for their beat. My revolutionary brother raised his shirt and displayed the perpendicular 18” bruise along the middle of his back. The officers immediately expressed a kind of dumb-founded shock. These were not the black-clad thugs from the previous night.
“Who did that to you? That could not have been us, we’re not trained that way. You can paralyze someone with a hit like that,” said the driver, disregarding a green light to further gawk at the police brutality.
My comrade’s back was bruised when he was peacefully meditating between the state gangsters and the youth barricading themselves from the violence to come. Seated in the lotus position, the first blow directed at him was parried by a Real Life Superhero’s shield. After he was beaten unconscious, they turned back to the danger-to-society pacifist and cracked him across the back.
On our return to Occupy Oakland, we were greeted with cheers, hugs, slices of cold pizza and freedom. We were back home.

Occupy Los Angeles

I spent a further 14 hours in a cold, dirty holding cell in Los Angeles with forty-six other freedom fighters. Ranging from ninety-three to nineteen, the wide collection of protesters served to show the LAPD how diverse this group was. This was the first mass arrest for this haven of a city. Since Occupy Los Angeles’ inception, the LAPD, City Council, and Mayor have all worked to facilitate a nonviolent protest around City Hall.  This has also made Occupy LA toothless and my goal for November 17th was to raise awareness of the scope and seriousness of these protests.
We had several actions throughout the day that were unpermitted, which set the course for the LAPD to grudgingly show their truer colors. The beat cops in their blues disappeared and the riot cops in tactical gear and missing badge numbers took their place. What had been a relatively passive occupation on the lawns of City Hall was gaining steam. Members of the occupation wanted to toe the line of what this whole thing was about: money in politics.
So we marched to the plaza at Bank of America and set up a flash occupation on the grounds owned by Brookfield Properties – the same corporation that owns Zuccotti Park and a property that was smack dab in the middle of the hallowed halls of Los Angeles commerce.
I joined other comrades in a fast that day, in order to recognize that we are all responsible for the woes we were raising our fists against. I was not a part of Occupy LA in order to protest a specific rich CEO or attack a single corrupt politician. If I was in a position of power, I just may abuse it as our leaders have. So for me, a fast was a symbolic gesture that in absolving this system of oppression we must also absolve those selfish ideals within ourselves if we have any hope of succeeding.
Just like my personal transition in Oakland, Angelenos were feeling the reality of what the Occupy Movement is fighting as they witnessed hundreds of police assemble in riot gear around a tiny patch of symbolic grass. Deemed a ‘private persons arrest’ for trespassing by “Citizen Thompson”, the police moved in on 47 people at 4:30 pm that afternoon. They were blatantly taking orders from the 1% to move in and squash political action by the 99%. How threatening that rag-tag group of activists locking arms around a medical tent must have been.
As we were processed, I immediately saw a chasm between the treatment in LA versus Oakland. We were, as an officer told us, “being treated with kid gloves”. I did not thank her for that, as unfortunately some of my fellow arrestees did. Why should I thank an officer for doing her job and upholding the presumption of innocence and satisfactory levels of human decency?
Because of the kid gloves, I seethed from the injustice. Where were the dozens of detectives that were arresting and booking the white collar criminals that are destroying our planet? Where with the black-clad SWAT teams that were zip-tying the war-profiteers for making billions as millions of people died because of their purchased policies?
Just like in Oakland, my appearance, demeanor, and speech made room for officers to try the classic “divide and conquer” strategy. I was festooned with compliments and calls for me to “forget about the partiers and homeless just there to party”. I was advised by plainclothes detectives to get serious, leave the “South side” (of City Hall… where most of the divisive language about the “partiers” resides) to them, and work on getting into politics myself.
I met those suggestions with flat out rejection. I told several of the officers that strategy of throwing out the poor, wretched refuse is what helped fill their jails. Rejecting and discarding whatever he took a “partier” to mean was exactly what this movement was not. For one, I am wholly and totally against the wars on drugs and poverty that have imprisoned and oppressed millions. Why would I ever want to continue a policy that destroys lives?
Secondly, I have witnessed the disaffected and unserious become empowered and solemn about the issues that caused camps to spring up across the globe. How dare this elitist tool of the plutocrats work to divide a people’s movement. It is even silly to think that his tactics could work when I have seen social progress at occupations that is far and away more substantial than a strategy of throwing people who share a bottle of wine or smoke a joint together in the cold night under the bus.

The Future – More Arrests?

            I do not know what the future holds. Two months ago, I could have never predicted that I would have had a shotgun in my face in Oakland, protested the President as he drove by in West Hollywood, helped galvanize Occupy Long Beach in the face of police psych-warfare and sleep deprivation, or been surrounded by goons in black protecting ATM machines as curious passersby looked on.
            Here’s what I do know: Standing up is an action that a lot of Americans have forgotten or left in the dust out of disgust. For decades, dissent and empowerment has been attacked on all fronts. Provocateurs infiltrate, groups splinter, and our education system falls short of honest dialogue on political and economic systems. Voting rights are attacked, gerrymandering is pervasive, and money in politics ensures any progress for the people is undermined.
            But I must resist. I am compelled to get on the frontlines and lock arms with Truth on my left and Justice on my right. Perhaps it is because of my youth that I have the nerve to imagine an alternative. However, that is who has always been the vanguard for change. Those that are na├»ve enough to think that people should be treated fairly are the ones that must Stand Up. Right now. See you out there.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Occupy Everything: Let's Stay Here 'Till it Sucks

One of the poignant hilarities of Burning Man this year was Ted's realization that most people live their lives according to a passive principle we now call "Let's Stay Here 'Till it Sucks." At Burning Man, when things are not sucking, they tend to be AMAZING, so the principle works the opposite way it works in the default world. In other words, Let's Stay Here 'Till it Sucks means "This is great! I love it! I want to do it for a while longer!" at Burning Man, but in the rest of the world it often means "I don't hate this, so let's keep going until I do."

The state of not-really-hating your life is what many Americans have mistaken for being happy with their lives. I think about this more and more often at Occupy, but also often in conversations with people about sex, sex work, the law, literature, art, traveling, and love, which are all political conversations to me, even if they don't seem that way to others. (Every day I talk about these things. This is one major way in which my life does not suck at all.) The point is, people stay in relationships that seem okay, because they aren't obviously abusive and everyone around them isn't objecting. They stay in jobs that aren't obviously soul-crushing or patently destructive to the world in an immediate sense. They eat food that seems alright because it was marketed to them in a relatively legible way. They have sex that has worked for them in the past, and even when it seems less and less sexy, they accept that as a kind of normal decline, and that's ok too.

And they don't notice that things have really started to suck.

Laura Kipnis wrote a book called "Against Love" in which she argues that this is why people cheat on each other: not because they are basically hard-wired to be nonmonogamous (although she believes that too) but because you don't really understand how bored or uninspired you are until BLAM! someone comes along and kick-starts your sexy hormones and ALL YOU WANT IN THE WORLD is to feel that good. It's the same argument for any drug, including the ones I like best: sugar and compliments. You seem alright, but then, something comes into your body or your peripheral vision, and it seems so much better, and you are faced with the choice to run after it and risk your life as it was, or ignore it, and risk your life as it was.

And this is why Occupy is so beautiful, even as the Los Angeles General Assemblies implode and the listerve gets cranky and the sleepless activists start hating each other for drum circles or pot smoking. It's still a group of people who looked at their toaster pastries and their bank statements one morning and thought, "This really sucks. This sucks BECAUSE it is supposed to seem as though it doesn't."

Our banks are supposed to seem like they are ok. Obama is supposed to seem ok. The WARS are supposed to seem ok. It's all supposed to seem inevitable and normal and even "natural," and people talk about "human nature" when the cops tear gas a crowd of incredibly dedicated, motivated people in Oakland. I say, bullshit. We stayed here (American status quo) long enough, everyone. It sucks now.

Our main-stream movies mostly suck. Most of our food sucks. Our constant self-congratulatory rhetoric about how powerful we are sucks. Women still make 74 cents on the dollar despite the fact that they are graduating from college at a rate of almost 2-1, which means some percentage of men are not only doing worse in school, others are clinging to their positions of power and not helping anyone. We put nearly 25% of our black men in prison and then pretend it's their fault they are under-employed.

It's not that I believe griping does much. But I do still hear complaints from those outside the Occupy movement about how we don't seem to know what we want. We do. We would like to see people starting to care about how much life in America sucks for a huge percentage of its population. Even that would be enough. Just that would change the tide of our media, would fundamentally transform us from a pseudo optimistic populace of people who have grown used to being lied to into a crowd of getting-educated voices attempting to redress grievances and understand each other.

And so if one thinks of every space as a place to Occupy, which means a space in which to think very carefully about what could be BETTER here, the whole zeitgeist will change. The philosophy of acceptance of things that don't seem to suck will give way to a philosophy of constant visionary attempts at change for the better. Do you know who already does this? Kids. Watch them. They are never satisfied with things that are simply acceptable. And this is the message of the Occupy movement that keeps getting drowned: we want things to be better, and that is a risky position we are willing to live in, and willing to make sacrifices for, and willing to defend against the inertia of a country that has been basically exhausted and worried and just trying to get somewhere that doesn't suck for so many years it doesn't seem to know how to run after the sexy, the bright, the unfamiliarly beautiful.

The major tactic to use against the Occupiers, which is happening right now in Oakland, SF, NYC, and DC, is to make life suck there. Hurt them with tear gas, rubber bullets, and make them feel hopeless about their power. It's a more direct way of making people unhappy than the many years of consumer culture that make them numb. And this is why the whole thing is so important: the serious attempt being made to shed the years of voiceless, numb, nonparticipatory isolation that makes the middle and lower classes despairingly unable to change their government.

Living this way has made me extremely sensitive--if I wasn't already. I'm crying while riding the bus to school, I'm begging people in class to think about the life-and-death consequences of their beliefs and actions, I'm groaning and laughing and feeling overwhelmed and getting hurt all the time and getting in fights and inappropriately ruining "nice" conversations and feeling more urgency to everything. When there are moments of tenderness or rest, I'm sinking into them recklessly. I got sick last week and still all this was happening. Because it's always happening. I just caught the train this time.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I Live Mostly in a Tent and It's Great

I write from the apartment affectionately known as The Bedroom in MacArthur Park, downtown Los Angeles, where I'm on a break from Occupying LA to be online, eat food, clean my body, replenish supplies, and get ready for a weekend in the Bay Area doing readings for the new awesome anthology Men Undressed: Women Writers and the Male Sexual Experience (OV Books! Get it!)

My new friend Jonas took this photo last weekend on the one-week marker for the LA Occupy group. Last night's General Assembly meeting was the first time I saw LA occupiers really lose their focus, yell at each other unnecessarily, break the consensus process, and generally break down before they rallied again in solidarity with each other. Because the movement is getting big, there were a lot of occupiers who never even saw the meeting. Democracy, and its incarnations here, fascinates. Someone very insightfully noticed that we were all getting scared--scared of the process breaking down, scared of the implications of warnings that came in from police, scared of what happened to our comrades in Boston, scared that we may get nowhere and all end up dispirited and jobless, scared and scared and scared. Try doing this out of love instead, he said. Cliche? Who cares? It was wise. People calmed down. I wonder if he has kids. I hope he has some soon. 

I'm going to a few links below to those who want to read more about the Occupy movement, as many participants and sympathizers are offering incredible analysis even as we speak. What I want to say here is what I have been saying to many in my life who are reluctant to come down to the Tent City. 

One does not have to know exactly what the Occupy movement is demanding to know that we are doing something this country hasn't seen for years, if ever. That fact alone should excite anyone who is upset by the American status quo. My friends who are not occupying have many objections to the movement. I actually don't care to refute them. What I care about is that everyone who wants to have issue with us, must come meet us. You must know your candidates to vote responsibly. Just come down and visit, I say. We'll eat a sandwich on the lawn and talk to people. You don't have to pitch a tent in your first hour here. And who wouldn't want to see the spectacle? Well, the friends come. The people I can't be close to don't. Sometimes life offers you a litmus test of incredible predictability, and you have to feel some pain of loss to get to the truth. I'm relieved to know who I can trust now.

At Occupy, we often use the rhetoric of consciousness-raising groups from the radical left of the 60s and 70s, and one phrase in particular that I love is :we've "woken up." It doesn't mean that we all agree on what exactly the "dream" was, but there is a sense of real exodus towards a new civic reality, and because we are downtown in the city where we live, it isn't like the high-on-the-mountain peak experience of Burning Man. It's a sustainable more transparent reality that is actually attempting to dig in its heels. We've got drum circle people, iPhone people, hardcore organizers, teenagers who stop by for dinner, lawyers, preachers, and full-time students who are suddenly discovering that living in tents with each other for weeks on end is not only politically radical, it is REALLY FUN. We want justice, and we also want to be able to eat some beans and rice in a circle and talk about justice for hours on end.

This is something I'm not seeing in the media that much: how enjoyable it is to be frustrated by community, as opposed to frustrated by isolation. I would much prefer to witness a degenerated consensus meeting where 200 people are struggling to hear each other than retreat to the silent box of this apartment every day. And this is a lovely apartment. And of course I am grateful in this moment to have its amenities and its temporary quiet--but it is becoming more and more clear to me that in some truly deep-seated Foucault-ean sense, the rest of my daily life is designed to keep me from being in gatherings of large people. (BTW, fellow occupiers, contact me if you want to come over and shower or meditate or whatnot. We are easily accessible by Metro.)

My Teds in Montreal say that there are tons of activists and demonstrations there, and that the crowd of people moving in on an issue is not a rare or anxious sight. I think the U.S. has trouble dealing with anything that isn't sound-byte or logo-ready, and so the Occupy movement offers a terrifying reality: we may be speaking truth to power simply by figuring out how to speak to each OTHER, and we're really not that interested, many of us, in coming up with a bumper sticker for KTLA to put on the nightly news. Some people are, sure. That's because everyone is here! But the lack of quick slogan is directly tied to the fact of community building--a large group of people talking does not a bullet point make. I'm not against the list of demands, I'm not against the pithy signs (oh, I really love a lot of the pithy signs!) but I think that the cacophony is truly delightful, and it is actually a sign of unity, not a sign of dissolution.

I've been waiting for this. And I still am not even sure what it is.

Check out the OccupyLA website and get involved!
Read Steve Almond's piece about OWS at The Rumpus

Friday, September 23, 2011

Notes from the Wall Street Occupation!

Fall 2011 has crashed in! Crashing into new program at USC, crashing into Burning Man, crashing into my 32nd birthday! Crashing into the world: right now, the occupation of of Wall Street.

Max Hodes, one of my closest friends, is participating in the demonstrations. This is his report from the front. Get IN!

Letter from the Occupation of Wall Street
by Max Hodes

Questions abound on the street here and in the media, what little of it has reported these events, as to what the intentions of this protest are, how it is organized, what it wants.  From what I have seen that is because the narrative of the status quo, of what protests should look like, simply does not contain a logic for this event.  It is not exactly a protest, not exactly a march, and doesn't have a defined goal.  It looks more like Tahrir Square than any US political rally, though it lacks the focused demand of a leader to resign.  It has international support, a supply chain, and a democratic organizational structure that arose spontaneously.  My thoughts here represent an attempt to understand what is happening on Wall Street.

The General Assembly

The NYT confuses this with an organized group. It is not. It is the name for a gathering of participants who need not be named or declare any affiliation or ever have been here or anywhere else before. It uses a consensus-building model to make discuss and make decisions democratically. Nearly everyone who is at the site seems inexperienced using this model. There are frequent arguments over abuse of process. These conflicts diminish with passing days. New committees and working groups are formed every day to deal with whatever issues have recently arrived. For example, when we arrived there was already a media team. They took it upon themselves to create a 24-hour broadcast on the internet, in addition to shooting and compiling footage with multiple cameras, also on a 24-hour schedule. It was later determined by the GA that there should be a separate Media Outreach committee, dealing with inventing PR tactics and training participants in same. There is a comfort committee, dealing with blankets, cardboard supply, soft things, to increase longevity. There is a medical team. There is a sanitation committee. All volunteers who notice problems and fix them as they see them. Anyone who has an idea is basically free to enact it unless someone in the GA has some principled concern about it. Each participant is given full license to use their time however they see fit. Volunteers are called for where needed, and usually appear in droves. There is a committee of facilitators who might, to the untrained eye, appear to be leaders of the outfit. While facilitating, they do not participate in discussion in the offering of opinions.

As far as larger organizational structures go, this is as good a model as any, but it does have limits which become evident as the group grows.. There simply isn't time for everyone to offer themselves to a discussion and those that feel more inclined to lead than follow seem to end up facilitating. However, that level of participation is still more democratic than a simple yes or no vote. Individuals determine the level of participation they want to see from themselves. Gaps in leadership are filled as soon as someone wants problems solved, because they need to do the solving themselves. The GA seems to create a less inert population because people with the inclination against slow decision making are free to speak up and seem rarely shouted down.

I think that on a large scale, the consensus model could be used in well-trained groups of up to 500. Smaller groups, being more agile, might serve larger communities better by volunteering representatives, training them, and sending them to larger consensus-bodies. In such a way I can even imagine an alternate societal organization to our current one. Over the course of 100 years with sufficient participatory training, unilateral action on the part of a large body of people might be entirely eliminated because the process has the feeling of fusing individual and group identities. Maybe that's wishful thinking. I'm well trained already in the process, and this one was excessively frustrating. When I disagree with the group at large, I don't want to participate at all. And my lack of contribution goes entirely unnoticed. This has it's advantages and disadvantages, but I ultimately like it more because of the choice one is forced to make moment to moment. In the film The Matrix the Architect describes the same choice to Neo: act, or do not act, choose. Without this choice, no process is democratic. Compulsory participation is fascism plain and simple. It's one of the million things we're protesting against.

Why are we protesting

No one knows. Everybody is enraged and everyone has a unique focus. We have not decided on a single demand, and I don't want to. I would like this to turn into a Burning Man-esque event. An ongoing party of the political, artistic and spiritual avant-garde, that becomes an ever-updated cultural institution; a continual protest against the status quo with real political consequences. For that to happen, we will need to find ways of becoming genuinely disruptive. That means we will more than likely be struck down, unless we can somehow strike a perfect balance of necessity and aggravation. If the world demands we stay because we are stirring up right conflict, then we've got a chance at perpetuation. More likely, the cold will get us before too long. The blue-shirt cops seem to like us. The city cut their overtime hours, possibly as a way to get at their pensions, and this is the best chance they've got to log hours before retirement. It's the police lieutenants who are doing the dicking around.

Still we keep getting asked, what we are doing there. And still no one knows. We are occupying because the world is outrageous, we blame greed, and those who feel entitled to their greed. Wall Street is the center of greed. It's that simple. We didn't keep Troy Davis alive. We haven't fed anybody who was hungry, we haven't stopped the monster or done more than create a slightly spectacular nuisance. No one has thrown themselves into the gears of the machine. Maybe what we're protesting is that we can't even see the gears. The machine is a phantom beyond any measure of control except perhaps this one. We are actually trying to alter culture by pushing and shoving it with phantom hands, which turn out to be the only tool available, since the culture is itself composed of phantoms, ideas, fleeting moments, rather than anything concrete and destructible.  There is not, for example, any factory to strike against and shut down.  The machine will continue with or without our participation.   

My arrest on Monday morning was the first that I know of.  It was carried out, as reported by the Wall Street Journal and The Colbert Report, under an obscure law from 1848 against the wearing of masks at public gatherings.  The arrest, like many at protests, was possibly illegal, but of course legality is not the point of these arrests while disruption and intimidation absolutely are. It snowballed in many more, each more brutal than the last. This got people down there. That and the free pizza. Now the slog war begins. Get bodies in there every day and every night, marching, singing, laughing, being. Not too loud or they'll shut us down, but loud enough and long enough and we'll be undeniable, and then we can become unstoppable. Unless we issue a demand, which I'm pretty sure would get ignored. This is perhaps the point which is missed by the GA: why issue a single demand? Why not continue at this noise making, this occupation, with no singular demand and thus no end in sight?  Why not confound the whole model of protest with an absurd action?

So we press on, activating ourselves ever more despite all the forces that tell us to stop.. That's what we're protesting. The middle of the road with it's long yellow line. That's what we're protesting. A million little hurts and ten-thousand big ones. That's what we're protesting. That we're not allowed to protest aloud. That's what we're protesting.  That public space, the space where thousands of tiny, healthy, necessary, revolutions can take place, has been stolen from us and remade as controlled space, sanitized space.  That’s what we’re protesting.  That the police, and by extension the state, do not protect us, the majority of the people, but the tiny greedy minority which conducts its business on Wall Street.  That’s what we’re protesting.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Oh Sweet Nothing: Chicago to Reno and the Loneliest Road

We’re driving straight into the sun on Hwy 50. It was named “The Loneliest Road in America” by someone who came here before everyone who is here now. But how could one be lonely here, with all the ghosts around? Someone made those petroglyphs. Someone built those mining towns. Someone ate food, pooped, had sex, and walked all over this place. I’m suspicious of people who use the word “people,” who use “human nature,” or “natural,” because usually those words are actually obscuring the fact that the speaker means to say “people I’ve heard of,” or “people of a particular culture I know about,” and often “human nature” is a wildly inaccurate idea of human beings in the 20th century under global capitalism. But the notion that there were humans a few thousand years ago who lived in this desert, and who had at least these three functions in common with us: eating, pooping, having sex--is thrilling to me. It makes me respect the writers who focus on those activities more. They aren’t boring, they aren’t low-brow, they are a threads that actually do connect human beings across time and space, and that makes them deeply important.
In Chicago, we stayed with the fabulous Gina Frangello, inspired writer and publisher. Her 5-year old son Giovanni, when prompted to tell us something about himself, said “I think a lot,” and “I’m cute and a lot of girls like me.” Yes! We’ve been saying these phrases for a week now, whenever we feel the need to remind ourselves how to tell the simple truths that have been socially conditioned out of us. We watched Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom on a blanket in Wicker Park, I drooled at Matisse and Cezanne at the Art Institute, and I got handed free Cubs tickets outside Wrigley Field from a man who disappeared so quickly I wouldn’t know him to thank him today. Thumbs up, Chicago.
In Missouri, we took a long detour to Chillicothe, where one of the more important female mentors of my life, Virginia Sillerud, was born. Grandmother, fashionista, incessant teller of grand tales, inventor of “The Mini Breakfast”* and reckless driver, Virginia is mythical figure of the past who still lives somewhere deep inside a thin body and a fogged-over Alzheimer’s brain. I tried to imagine her walking along those small-town streets in her smart 1940s pumps, a young woman with a red lipstick pout and an itch to leave--she fled for St. Louis, eventually for San Francisco, and didn’t talk about her Missouri childhood to us as kids. I grieved the death of her stories--I don’t know enough of them, and she can’t tell them now. I filmed the town for my family, none of whom have been there. It had a one-street downtown with historic early 20th century facades, and then streets and streets of old homes, half of which were in disrepair. We got a beer at a bar that has been family-run for sixty years. On the wall: a big orange poster that said “Hunters Welcome.” 
In Kansas, we drove off the highway to Lucas, where a bizarre cement sculpture marvel called The Garden of Eden made me the happiest I’d been in miles of prairie. Built by a Populist oddity named Duinsmoor, the G of E is completed with enormous Chagall-ish art that indicts big business, depicts original sin, and entombes the creator and his first wife. A relative gave the tour, and shined a light on Duinsmoor’s lime-encrusted face in his mausoleum. When asked why he had himself mummified, our affable guide said, “He was a visionary, an eccentric, and an egomaniac.” The town thought him insane, in 1900. They owe much of their revenue to him now.
My sister Lauryl and bro-in-law Sammy have a gorgeous new life in Denver, CO, and they invited us into it for Captain America, a late-night diner discussion of the film, and a superlative and royal experience of cinnamon roll at Breakfast Palace before we took off the next morning. 
I forgot my backpack at their house and added over two hours to our driving time. Luckily, we met Bri and Lucas in the town where I discovered my error, and they saved the day! When we returned from Denver the second time back along 70 West, we exited in Silverthorne, crunched along a dark hill, and arrived at a perfect 1980s ski cabin! These astoundingly cute people fed us, housed us, entertained us, and restored our faith in the possibilities for kindness and sharing and lack of suspicion among 20something Americans. 

If you are ever in Delta, Utah, I highly recommend room #40 at the Rancher Motel and Cafe. It sleeps between two and twenty people. 

I like towns named after objects: Rifle, Parachute, Yellowcat, Rabbit’s Hole, Dead Horse Point. But I love towns named after states of being: Desire, Panic, Defiance, Deference, Tranquility. Naming places after people is so arrogant of us. We’re patently classist when it comes to naming human dwelling places--streets, buildings, neighborhoods are named for the white wealthy, and then occasionally renamed for a black, Latino, or American Indian person. When our hubris extends all the way to naming geographical phenomena after people, we are truly lost in the anthropocentric coil. Thompson hot springs? Thompson thinks he gets to privately own thousands of gallons of healing water flowing from underground?
For the phenomena and landmarks of the landscape, I prefer names that offer extreme practicality. Arches National Park. Filled with naturally occurring stone arches, of course. High Point Trail. Up a steep climb, you see. If not practical, they must be poetic: Black Dragon View Area. Yes.

But how about Eureka? There is a Eureka in every state that’s got a natural resource someone wanted to exploit. Gold. Eureka! Iron ore. Eureka! Cheap labor. Eureka! We went to the Eureka Museum in Nevada and got hypnotized by 1934 newspapers that expressed some concern over Hitler’s rise in popularity. I could have stayed there for a year, reading the papers through the war, looking at old marbles and writing desks and the entire collection of printing presses and lintoype machines from the days of the Sentinel. I have compulsive imagining in the presence of antiques: the hands that touched this, the people who read this, the lives that crossed here.

And this is why I am both ravished and ravaged by cities: I am buffeted around by all the lives: every face a piece of art, every building a history museum, every plant evidence of some geological force. I entered Los Angeles to the sound of the Talking Heads, dancing in my car in the traffic. This trip doesn’t end.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Groundhogs on the Northern Haul: New York to Chicago

We’re 227 miles from Chicago. My right hand is swollen with a cluster of mosquito bites that have become one enormous hard aching welt. Anthony has pink eye. The car has lost two wheel covers and the brakes are squeaking constantly. Entropy. Things fall apart. We drink a lot of coffee. I turn to the artists I admire for ways to talk about decay that are fearless and appreciative of its beauty: Henry Miller, Jim Morrison, Leonard Cohen.

In New York, I had the fascinating experience of feeling severely disappointed by the Museum of Sex. Max (Ted) and I went to it with high hopes. Only one floor, the “Sex Lives of Animals” exhibit, was really mind-blowing. My main complaint is that the Museum of Sex is actually more of a Museum of 20th century, Western cultures’, Sex-in-media, a kind of pornography and erotica retrospective that has unclear notions of where it wants to start and how it wants to progress. The place, in attempting to somehow stay out of any particular political debate about sexuality or censorship or taboo, has rendered itself rather boring and quaint. Great underground bar, great store, a few really good pieces by some mostly contemporary artists. Not nearly enough context for anyone to know the true importance of what they’re looking at historically.

The Tenement Museum, in contrast, was brilliant. Oh, all these museums are too expensive, but our tour guide, Rachel, made our tour the most exciting and important and informative and infuriating (in a good, activist way) 90 minutes possible. I turned to Max and said, “This is really, really fun for me.” Learning, real learning, is one of the most pleasurable activities there is, I think. And now I know quite a bit about the garment industry of the early 20th century on the Lower East Side, which helps me think about immigration history in our country, which helps me understand better what is happening now in Arizona, Texas, California, and so on.

And then we left New York! We met an Amish family in rural Pennsylvania. They had dirty clothes, blunt haircuts, four horses, and they sold us honey in old salad dressing bottles at $2.00 a piece. We drove through two small towns: Desire and Panic. In Desire, we saw a hutch full of baby lop-ear bunnies. They wore black rings around their eyes and most of them still had one ear pointing up, like some fantastic sound had just rolled in from the West. And that is where we’re headed. West on I90, listening to Springsteen and missing Clarence Clemens and drinking no-name coffee from yet another defunct Dunkin’ Donuts. There are maverick, functioning, former franchised donut shops all over this country! Just another reminder that the constant fight for survival is still tolerated by those who fantasize about being the next big capitalist, not the lower management or worker. Desire and Panic. We are not a Buddhist nation, sir, oh my, no.

We stopped in downtown Sykesville, PA and met an arrogant Israeli pastry chef who boasted that he had no employees. His cinnamon rolls were sweet butter dough dancing, and he’d built a replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa out of cardboard and icing.

At the Museum of Labor and Industry in Youngstown, OH, I tried to understand how people in the 19th century poured pig iron, and imagined being a wife in a company town. 

The Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame rose from Lake Erie like a disco-ball promised land and I walked into a U2 concert in Buenos Aires, in Cleveland, and got enraptured by the mad bright 3D crowd and their perfect strong shoulders, but especially by Bono’s screaming desire for the Overman. I last saw U23D in January of 2008, when I was a different Vanessa, living in a different city, thinking much different thoughts about my quite different life. Pow! Time and space collision!

One tendency I see in this part of the country that fills me with distrust is the constant architectural use of boxes. Especially in the depressed areas of cities, the boxiness of the strip malls, little houses, schools, hospitals, restaurants seems like a form of aesthetic punishment. All the signs are rectangular. The windows are rectangular. The siding is a long series of rectangles. The fonts used to advertise are square and symmetrical. I don’t believe it to be much or at all cheaper to write that way than to use script. There’s an inertia to this kind of urban landscape that people take for granted, and I think it’s one of the contributing factors to our being no longer a revolutionary country. When people are given only boxes to live in, they see boxes everywhere. If they are told, in the subtle form of their city planning, that they do not deserve beauty unless they are wealthy, they will believe it, and that belief spells the end of creativity. The Heidelberg Project offered a gorgeous “fuck you” to this homogeneity of aesthetics.

The Heidelberg Project is a street, a nonprofit, a community art organization, a cluster of unlivable, burned out houses that have been transformed into huge art projects in Detroit. One of the houses in the H. Project was covered with stuffed animals. They’d been nailed to the outside walls, and it seemed that new ones kept getting added. One could tell how long a stuftie had been living on the house by its level of disintegration--many of them were drooping and matted, greying and sagging from rain. I photographed their sweet sad faces.

I met a boy at the Heidelberg Project who offered me such hope for change. He was eleven years old, black, living in this ignored and depressed area of Detroit, riding his bike around the neighborhood with a few friends. He let us play with his basketball and I asked him if he’d contributed to any of the installations on the block. He said yes. Which one? I asked him. He refused to tell me.

“Come on, you’re never going to see me again,” I said. “Why not tell me?”
“You gotta guess,” he said, smiling.
“Tell me one fact about yourself,” I said. “Then it will be a fair chance for me to guess.”
“I like art,” he said. “And basketball, and I play football at school.”
We played a brief hot-and-cold game until I’d found all 3 art installations he’d helped with. One of them was a two story home covered with enormous colorful polka dots.
“You painted some of those dots?” I asked.
He nodded.
“That’s my favorite house on the block,” I said.
“Mine too,” he said.
Hell yes. Hell yes. Hell YES.

Earlier. We kept seeing these adorable fuzzy animals on the side of the road--both alive and dead, and then found out that they are woodchucks! Groundhogs! They are incredibly cute, and the internet says that they get killed by cars in enormous numbers because they like to eat the grass at the side of the road. Immediately after reading that, we were hearing more and more reports on the Casey Anthony’s release, and we realized that nationally, accident statistics dwarf the statistics on crime, but it’s crime reports everyone seems to care the most about. It’s as if our collective desire for control over death manifests itself in a phobia of “criminals” instead of a logical move to prevent stupid accidents. Can’t CNN do a story on defensive driving?

We’ve killed nothing but some bugs so far on this trip, so our current level of decay and entropy feels lucky. And now I’m in Chicago, sweating out the dusk in Wicker Park, eating Wheat Thins and tuna on a blanket, waiting for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to play on the big inflatable screen. Pow! Another confusion of spacetime! You thought I was 227 miles from here! And I was.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Balls on the Road: Citrusville, Phish, and Quebec Edition

This is one of the moments of hilarity and prankishness that dropped into the Superball IX Phish Festival Weekend. Normally the Ted summit is Burning Man, but this year we descended on Watkins Glen, NY for three days of transformative music, lights, conversation, dance, and art with the masters of derailment.

But First! Anth and I drove to Eutawville, SC, where Linz met us by plane, for the Citrusville Citizens' Sports Tournament. Every year Raymond Hawkins, Linz's mad genius younger brother, organizes a tournament of sports for his family and friends, based in his invented town of Citrusville. We played sports for 7 hours. We wore matching jerseys and ate boiled peanuts and Charleston Chews to keep up our strength. Something true: I adore badminton. The following day Linz, Anth, and the family all went out on a boat, while I cruised around the tiny town of Eutawville, eventually settling in at Aces High, the only bar in town. I met Mudhog and Hambone, and listened to their stories of southern living over a can of Busch. One must be a club member to drink at the Aces High, and I'd like to boast that due to bartender Gina's great generosity and humor, I now am one. I'll always have a place to drink beer and sit down in South Carolina. Does anyone know the name of that game that involves a large jar of water with a shot glass at the bottom, into which people try to drop quarters? All we could come up with was "Drop a Quarter in the Jar." It turns out that I'm perfectly at ease by myself in neighborhood bars populated almost exclusively with men. More on that later, probably. In the book on bars.

We packed Linz and our gear back into Aayla Secura (my little blue Toyota Yaris, who has been the heroic vehicle of this road trip and is named after an awesome Jedi Master) and drove 12 hours north to New York. There we met up with two other Teds, Janet and Max, spent an evening walking through Brooklyn with the venerable Jon Cotner, co-author of Ten Walks, Two Talks,  and practiced his "spreading of good vibes" by speaking simple compliments to strangers. He cooked us scallops, we talked for hours, a difficult but important fight erupted, and eventually the Teds fell asleep in a small heap in JanTed's room. 

In the morning, we got five Teds into the car, and met two more, Aaron and Karine, in Watkins Glen, NY. Oh joy of reunion and material reality of bodies! Oh violently loving Tedpile! We pitched tents, we slathered sunscreen, we entered the rarified world of a Phish Festival!! We were missing one Ted: Josh, who had life obligations that forced him to stay in California. One must not worry too much about keeping the Teds organized in their mind. We are right now eight people, but we will likely be more, and we share basic principles and life experiences and love each other with familial fervor and thus any Ted is Ted.

And this is where a most important theme emerged, although it still slips by me, feels not-quite-tangible, and I grapple with my ability to articulate it...because the basic premise is a kind of ghost, a Derridean notion of the trace every word is and leaves, an encounter with the state of wistfulness and desire that characterizes living: nothing is ever truly finished. Phish is my favorite band in part because there is no "authoritative" version of any song, since many songs were played live before they became studio recordings, songs have multiple incarnations as each time they are jammed out a new textual, musical world emerges, and songs listened to outside of the live Phish show inevitably present themselves as truly different experiences than those we "do" with Chris Kuroda's lights, with the crowd, with Trey Anastasio's elated smile, and so on. This blog will not feel finished. This trip is not yet finished. That's the way things are, and often I worry that literature (and even more insidiously, bad TV and film) is trying to sew up the cracks in reality by inventing "endings" that are not the only real ending, i.e., "endings" which are not: "and eventually, all these characters would have died, had they ever been actually alive."

Over the weekend the music fixed us in emotive bodies with gorgeous harmony, asked us to focus outside ourselves and get ready for the fight for the working class AND our right to be weird, loosen up our identities and become overflowing cups of love, train us to be freedom fighters for people far away, and also, invited us to hop in a space ship and take off for planets yet unknown. We read sections of Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and then Phish played us the song, "Thus Spoke Zarathustra." We also ate $1.00 grilled cheese together, napped in the shade of an enormous stage set, and talked with many other Phish fans who had innumerable philosophies on how to listen to and incorporate the music and its effects into life. The validity of ecstasy, of peak experience, of overwhelming joy and deep terror and big balls and mischief and true comrades was pounded into me with every kick of Fishman's drum. 

When we'd totally won Superball IX and it was time to leave, we entered our temporary Ted separations. Anth drove back to NYC with Janet, Max and Linz. Linz got on a plane and went back to summer school in Berkeley. I drove with Aaron and Karine up to Montreal, with one very important stop along the way: Boldt Castle, in the 1000 Islands. 

There is something perplexing at every turn in Boldt Castle. This is because it is a "restoration" of a building and a vision that was never actually created in the first place. It's an opulent mansion begun in 1900 that fell into disrepair before it ever was actually opulent, before anyone lived there. In fact, no one has ever lived there. CG Boldt was building it for his wife as a romantic gesture of a summer home. She died unexpectedly in 1904, a bit over a year before the Castle was scheduled to be finished, and he ordered work to cease on the behemoth. The place changed hands many times, was open for tours as early as the 1920s, but mostly people were touring an empty shell of a place, and were asked to be interested in the many carefully-cut pieces of granite on the outside. Eventually, it got spruced up. Bizarrely, it's all wrong. The furniture is a motley mix of things that belonged to various people related to the Boldts, and pieces that sort of resemble things a rich person would own at the turn of the century, and only about ten of the 127 rooms are "done." Aaron, Karine, and I went up every flight of stairs and realized that we much preferred the un-refurbished floors where people had covered the plaster with graffiti since as early as 1917. In the same huge mansion: layers of graffiti, fake rooms for people who didn't ever there, and a constant piping of an old Enya album (Shepherd Moons?) into every room through a series of speakers that were added to the mansion in the 1990s. We walked the grounds, in a slight daze, and came upon a gorgeous stone fountain. The basin was painted a garish blue and Karine and I said, simultaneously, "Oh, that blue is all wrong!" And then after our ferry ride back to Alexandria Bay we had a lively conversation in town over a few beers during which we decided that Boldt Castle is what happens when people become obsessed with the notion of Finishing Projects.

It seems to us that artists invent "finished" as a psychological trope to keep from going crazy with perfectionism or self-loathing, to let go of things that have been sold or published, or to create space in which to envision new projects. That Phish is able to keep making old songs different and new, to never let them be finished, seems a grand act of meditative calm and will. That Raymond Hawkins keeps improving the Citrusville Sports Tournament annually seems more understandable, but I think it's possible we'll all play the last Tournament without knowing it's the last one, and one day we will all just notice he grew out of it. And Boldt Castle will never be finished, as long as the non-profit running it now keeps getting half-baked ideas about how to simulate its authenticity. One can learn this lesson about the impossibility of endings on LSD, of course, and one can learn it by becoming a mystic, and one can learn it in meditation, and one can learn it in moments of sudden revelation due to art or sex or other pleasures, but I also think it has to be practiced somehow, thought through constantly. Because the impulse to tie things up in a narrative, to have discrete packages of memory or identity or accomplishment can be so very strong. 

Now I am in Montreal, where the lilt of spoken French graces outdoor patio bars and the staircases are wantonly adorable. And more comes, more comes, more comes.