scary monsters lurk in jungles like the amazon.com

So I got a message today from Lulu, the self-publishing megaliths that currently have my book, The Savannah Stories. Normally, to put your book on Amazon.com it costs money. Either you sign your life over to Lulu, who act as your agent, and thus lose some of your property rights (which I wasn’t that stoked about doing), OR you simply pay a nice little fee to Amazon (which I also wasn’t that stoked about doing). Well, it seems that they have selected my book, for whatever godforsaken/godblessed reason to put up on Amazon for free! No strings attached! No skin off my back. Book is the same price, I get the same percentage, they’ve taken the cut. Hm. And I still have copyright control. Simply too good to be true? Have I missed some fine print? I didn’t have to do anything? It’s available there as we speak. In the immortal words of Keanu Reeves: “Whoa.”

tv on the radio in the park

With their latest album, Dear Science, having been hailed as the best album of 2008 by a plethora of music giants (Rolling Stone, Spin, and MTV among them), the Brooklyn-based TV on the Radio brought their genre-defying act to Vancouver on Monday night. The eclectic, high-energy performance proved perfectly set within the Malkin Bowl at Stanley Park, complete with sea planes flying overhead, eagles circling, hippies, hipsters, and even small toddlers on their parents’ shoulders.

While a few songs from previous albums lent some depth to the show, the majority of the set was comprised of their latest offerings, including the two singles, “Golden Age” and “Dancing Choose” (the latter of which signalled a brilliant change in lighting from bright red to monochrome, which theme-obsessed nerds like me love). Even when lingering beautifully through one of their slower songs (“soul-grabbing mood music,” as my friend called it), TVotR exploded with an intense energy that instantly propelled them into a place in my top ten live acts list. TVotR can best be described as “experimental rock,” because there really isn’t any nice, round hole in which you can fit this polygonal peg. They combine all forms of rock, roll, rhythm, blues, with a nice veneer of funk. And what else do you expect from a band such as this, with wind chimes hanging off the end of guitar, and the last number played with cymbals, bells, and a Blue Man Group-style hammers and drum? It was quite simply fantastic.

As eclectically wonderful as TVotR are, they have perhaps been rivalled in Unique Snowflake Status by opening band, The Dirty Projectors, also from Brooklyn. With three—nay, four—outstanding vocalists, The Dirty Projectors quickly shed their first impression of emo, hippie types who used to hang around the back steps of the high school playing their experimental music and generally being weird. Alas, no, they were quite impressive, showing a musical range and an energetic command of their songs that made everyone restlessly lying on the grass sit up and listen.

TVotR: certainly one of the loudest shows I’ve ever been to. However, I might just be getting old. Or I was standing right next to the speaker. It was worth a week’s hard-hearing.

hacksaw in all its issue two glory

So, without even pretending to mask this blatant display of self-promotion, the second issue of Hacksaw is available! This issue is, dare I say, better than the first. This is good news, as people generally prefer the quality of something to increase. At least, this is what our rigorous marketing studies have shown. Just kidding. We don’t have a marketing budget. In fact we hardly have a budget. For this issue we argued the guy at Kinko’s down almost 50%, then spent a bit of what we saved on beer. This is how we kick it indie style.

I’m not entirely sure how a running commentary on the latest issue ended with a reference to a night at the pub, but that is usually how most things end around here. Anyway, I’m proud of this issue. Not only did we get submissions from all across the Lower Mainland and across Canada, but also from the UK and from Israel. It’s quite the globetrotting micro-adventure. I even worked wonders with a stamp carved out of a potato. Call me cheap/creative, but that was a fun night. This also means that each and every copy has a unique touch, which is part of what Taryn and I wanted when we originally discussed our unofficial mission statement in an evening of insobriety.

If you were interested, they’re going for $4 each, and you can get them from me (email me at ashleigh@qlp.ca), or online here. Also, and this is not entirely confirmed (as we haven’t actually dropped them off yet), it will also be available at The People’s Co-op Bookstore on Commercial Drive.

wildly appropriate cookie fortunes are better than chocolate (which makes them twice as good as sex)

It’s Rodeo Week at work (can I get a tepid “woo hoo”?), so I get to wear jeans all week. I actually dug out a pair of blue jeans that I haven’t worn in maybe a year. On Tuesday, I stuck my hand in the pocket and found an old fortune cookie fortune. The baked good had a remarkable talent for pithy wordplay: “Don’t lose sight of what you want.”

This came at an interesting time for me. Now, I don’t believe in fate anymore than I believe in “signs.” I do believe that your mind makes connections to things or deems certain things significant in a way that can highlight what it is you truly want. I have spent the last few weeks, while happy, pondering my existence. I feel fulfilled with my life right now, but I don’t think I can maintain this long-term. More or less, the job with the City is great right now, but if I was still here in twenty, nay ten, nay five years, I would have to seriously get in a good cry. It’s a great day job, yet, like Taryn said once, to settle into this would simply be not living up to my potential. I know that this is not what I always dreamed of doing, and in my younger days, I dreamed pretty damn big. I still occassionally write my first-female-Best-Director Oscar speech in my head.

I’ve come down to earth a bit, and realized that if I can simply eke out a living working in the arts, I will be blissfully thrilled. The only way I can do this, I realized, was to lose the day job. The day job is pretty comfortable, but if I’m not stressing about how I’m going to pay my rent, I’m not going to care. I’m not going to push myself. It’s a Catch-22. I like being comfortable, knowing what my annual income will be, but I’m restless with that kind of security. It’s a horrible dichotomy that I can’t compromise.

Then, Tuesday afternoon, I got a call from Alyson Drysdale, the co-ordinator of the Film Arts program at Langara. Not only did I get into the program for January, but she said (and I paraphrase), “we normally like to wait awhile before we make a decision on an applicant, but when an application comes in as good as yours, we like to make a decision right away.” My head swelled immensely. She kept going! There were several other lovely things she said, and I was skipping around the room ridiculously, in a state of disbelief, like I has just wandered into the waterfall room at Wonka’s factory. I spent my undergrad years in a perpetual state of “omigod-what-the-hell-am-I-doing-here-everyone-else-is-so-much-smarter-than-me.” It’s nice to feel… confident.

This also made the work situation fall spectacularly into perspective. Fuck this job, man, I’m outta here in January! It feels good, like my future is far from secure, but at least I FINALLY (and I emphasize FINALLY) feel like I’m on the path I’ve been always wanted to be on. I don’t know how far this path goes, but I’m going to enjoy the journey, which is really the point after all, isn’t it?

"vivos larga gatos negros" – chat guevara

I’ve been thinking about what I would name publishing company if I had one. “Black Cat Books” has always stuck in my mind. (I know that there is, or was, a Black Cat Distro that sold zines and such, so that might be out.) I’ve had this name in my head ever since the last time I was by the SPCA. There I saw a flyer that said black cats make up something like 60 or 70% of the cats in the shelter because hardly anyone wants to adopt a black cat. This struck me as particularly cruel and unusual (but sadly not necessarily surprising), and as I looked through the tiny cages with all these poor forgotton black cats, I thought they are the feline equivalent of any indie (or really just any) subculture. Misunderstood by the rest, castaway in ignorance, yet tinging with mystique and rebellion… and ultimately loveable. Black cats are the perfect symbol for the outsider.

My fluffy black cat, Arthur, is perfectly misunderstood. Well, I don’t know how misunderstood he really is, as he actually is an asshole. He does still frighten the neighbourhood children though, especially at Halloween, when they run away thinking him some witch’s demon familiar. Evil aside, I fully believe that if he had opposable thumbs, he would lead the revolution.

Long live black cats.
Vive les chats noirs!

the great beyond of postmodernity

I was reading an interesting article at broken pencil, called Zines Are Dead: the Six Deadly Sins That Killed Zinery, by Chris Yorke. While the article summarized and divided the great cultural change of the late-nineties into six easy-to-read words, each a harbinger of death for zine culture, I think the death of zines can either be summarized in one simple word (“Internet”), or it is so emblematic of an entire social landscape that it is impossible to define.

Whether works of art or frenzied outlets, zines came to encapsulate the look and feel of the postmodern age. They are full of contradictions: intensely individual, yet photocopied into oblivion; falling on any subject or in any setting, but always immediately identified as subcultural; each one new, original, unique, but always appearing as if composed of varying bits of pop culture dissected unapologetically with a hacksaw (hey, wait, that’s the name of MY zine!). They are timeless and timely, meaningless pastiche and meaningful art.

As personal and handmade as they are, zines have always relied on technology, namely the magic of the photocopier. Was their decline and death in the (as Yorke puts it) late nineties, really a death or simply an attachment to another technology? From Xerox to the Interwebs. Is it that the creative/fanboy/activist/artistic/fangirl/political/underground outlets zines provided has simply been replaced by online outlets, such as this blog? If so, is the ordinary zinester satisfied? To me, there’s still a feeling that something’s missing.

I didn’t really understand until I made What I Did On Saturday Afternoon, as I cut and glued and drew and wrote and compiled. Not only did I feel like I was tapping into an unmined source of creative potential, but I felt a thrill in the creation I don’t think I’ve felt since sometime in high school. I felt connected to my work. I don’t know if this will make sense to anyone else, but the feeling of alienation was lessened. There was something in each square centimetre of that photocopied paper that I recognized as my own, that I connected with, that made it feel not only just something I’d written or created, but something that was a part of me. I created that thing in an afternoon, and it felt more like me than the book I spent years writing and months laying out and weeks waiting to arrive in the mail from the publisher.

I’m not sure how coherant the whole thing is, but it makes me think of photographs. This transition to digital imagery, while convenient as hell, still doesn’t make the photographs seem real. Even when they’re printed off the computer, they still seem fake. I need a hand-developed old-fashioned photograph to make it seem like a valid memory. Everything else feels false somehow. Perhaps I am overstating that, but I think there is some truth to it.

what i did on saturday afternoon: the zine

So by Saturday I was feeling marginally better. I was able to do something other than watch all of season four of Battlestar Galactica, and since that was all I had done the previous two days, I was also feeling undeniably creative. I don’t know. The impulse to create overtook me. I wanted to write, I wanted to draw; but I also wanted something more frenetic and crazy, with lots of scissors and glue.

I ended up taking a random assortment of things I had written in the last several years (going back to 2001 at the earliest) but never really did anything with, and compiled them into a quarter-page zine, fittingly titled: What I Did on Saturday Afternoon. I had most of it together beautifully, but realized that there was something poignant missing. I searched back through the darker recesses of my iBook and found some random passages of reflection that I compiled in the years after my grandmother’s death.

That miniature memoir, coupled with poetry, microfictions, a monologue, drawings, photographs, and photocopies of random things I found in the cupboard under the stairs (where I keep the photocopier), when assembled into a whole, went from what I intended to be an exercise in randomness to an interesting study of self. When placed together, these orphaned artworks of the last ten years of my life presented a fantastic collage of all the people I’ve been in that time. It was such a remarkable side effect of self-reflexivity and past/present/future that I feel somehow changed. Like this acknowledgement (or release even) of my past work will allow me to reconcile this different facets, let me put them behind me and move on artistically. When I first started, I had an idea what my back cover would be: a photocopy of a Joe Strummer quote that I had hanging over my desk for the last three years, that says: “The Future is Unwritten.” By the time I finished the zine, I handwrote under that: “only the past is written. and not very well.”

I recommend to any writer or artist with those little scribblings, half-started projects, and unacknowledged musings to do the same. You will feel exposed, vindicated, rewarded, and infinitely free.