Flower Fest 3 at Lo-Fi: Seattle music meets Guadalajaran

Seattle punks TERMINATor meet Mexican rocker Nathalia

September 11 in Seattle saw a moderate-size crowd sweating anxiety away in the Eastlake neighborhood before two Lo-Fi nightclub stages, where four local acts supported four bands all the way from Guadalajara for Flower Fest 3. The festival made a nice way to compare and contrast Mexican rock with rock developed from within the Five Eyes states (FVEY: US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand). That’s a term a little more specific—this writer pedantically notes—than “the Anglosphere,” which would include states such as Jamaica and South Africa where presumably (please correct in comments if wrong) local bands produce a very different sound than either Guadalajarans or FVEYers.

En esa noche

So how does music from México’s second most populous municipality differ from today’s Emerald City sound? First thing to know, if you’re reading this from outside the Pacific Northwest, is that grunge is basically over here. The four USian groups who played constituted two pop punk bands (one, Secret Superpower, easy on the ears and one, TERMINATor, more challenging), a heartfelt acoustic guitarist-singer with a bassist backing him up (Great Spiders), and a set of very talented, medium-hard rockers (Swamp Meat vs. Killer Ghost).

The highly enjoyable Seattle bands are, in the grand scheme of things, not too different from what you’d likely hear on a college radio station in any U.S. port city. Imagine 4/4 time, some nifty idiosyncracies sprinkled in, familiar instruments to hear for a respite at the bar … and you have the general idea. But what about the sound from south of the border?

Judging from Tuesday evenings’s excellent four viajeros (travelers)—an experimental noise-metal crew (Mortemart); an instrumental group of rockers (Mindhala); and two sets of all-around rockers with vocals (Uay and the all-women Neptuna)—Guadalajara rock is typically infused with more rhythmic variety and no fear of major intervals relative to the more strict FVEY sound.

Now let’s see how that simplistic binary plays out or doesn’t with each individual act. One caveat: I couldn’t make out lyrics of any band, so this is solely judging based on audio. And for extra explicit dorkiness, images of Guadalajarans are aligned right, and Seattleites are aligned left.

Seattle on the left meets Mexico on the right

Secret Superpower rocks

First up, locals in Secret Superpower (Soundcloud) sounded a bit like Garbage in a good mood, with Daniel Cutting’s steady drumming and Kira Wilson’s distorted bass underpinning guitarist Paige Spicer’s warm chords. The trio’s dreamy songs welcomed the night in well. For those who showed up early, Secret Superpower enjoyably situated the evening in the context of familiar female-fronted rock, with their own almost retro spin—happiness is too often uncool these days, but like yesteryear, Secret Superpower didn’t fear to put a smile on audience faces.

Confident drummer Daniel Onufer

Next came two local bands in one: Swamp Meat (Bandcamp) vs. Killer Ghost (Bandcamp). The first song of this badass conglomerate of bands featured a rumba-like drum beat that really showed off drummer Daniel Onufer’s confident playing. The second started off with a military-style march on his authoritatively cracking snare while Laura Seniow fingerplucked her bass and Lila Burns added sweet guitar melodies. Onufer’s confidence extended to dropping a stick and retrieving it without missing a beat and singing (and singing well) while drumming. The other guitarist, Sharif Ali, let loose with passionate vocals too. If there’s one word for this superband it’s confidence. Their skill breaks my binary already, because they inserted unusual rhythms that ventured outside radio norms.

Noisy Mortemart, perfecto

Third, a loud noise intro said shit was about to get serious with Guadalajaran psychedelic rockers Mortemart (Bandcamp). Synth player Chaka—fittingly dressed in a NASA T-shirt—guitarist Albert and bassist Kiaran constructed a rumbling howl that caused showgoers to instinctively look around at the P.A.—would it hold? Would our eardrums? With the independence viajeros have, Mortemart didn’t worry about audience reaction and kept going. With his bucket cornet, Eric issued plaintive cries over the aural thunder. Then Daniel’s drums kicked in with a driving beat on the floor toms, the horn’s perfect-fourth agonies now almost lost in the rumble. Kiaran’s bass grooved hard with an octave-based pattern and it was clear the rhythm section would put passion into every simple note as the soundscape continued to be built around us. Chaka even inserted some video game-like bloops and beeps into the strange mix. This writer bought Mortemart’s album Overthinking via Bandcamp and you should too—check out the song “The Healing part 2.” The album versions are far less experimental than the live show, which is good for iterated listening. Put the shoe on the other foot, and it’s a hard time imagining notoriously homebound USians traveling to Guadalajara and repeating this show of confidence. But hopefully someday!

TERMINATor’s Veronica Dye on flute

Fourth, Lo-Fi gave us Seattle-based TERMINATor’s popping punk (Instagram; got a link to their music? put it in the comments). The three-piece: Veronica Dye on drums and flute, Albie on guitar (with hat), Lauren on guitar also (no hat). Veronica looped her flute in for some songs, which gave the music a psychedelic edge, especially with Kevin Blanquies’ colorful, trippy TV static-ish visuals in the background. TERMINATor is currently filming a visual album, which sounds promising and super cool. We take back what we said about all USians in the preceding paragraph; these musicians, who aren’t afraid of challenging listeners while still delivering pleasing pitches, could totally play with confidence in Guadalajara. The looping flute (a simple three-note phrase) added some rhythmic risk. Not all is stable and predictable in corporate FVEY land.

2/3 of Mindhala

Fifth, Lo-Fi offered Mindhala (Bandcamp), an instrumental Guadalajaran band. Victor’s Stratocaster described long, tender arcs above the urgent bossa-like grooves of Anton on bajo electrico and Nathalaia on drums. Some of the fastest notes of the night came from Victor, Anton brought skill to his hammer-ons, and Nathalaia, who would go on to drum for Uay and Neptuna later in the evening, was just getting started with her ample abilities. It would be great to hear Seattle-based rock bands experiment with bossa beats and more technical playing.

Uay, un grupo excellente

Antepenultimately, Uay (YouTube; got more links, put them in the comments please!). This Guadalajaran band serves as a cool example of how Guadalajaran rock tends to differ from rock from the FVEY states. Unlike USians in general, Uay has no fear of vocal harmonies, stomping the kick drum every beat, using major intervals to build riffs, and rumbling regularly on the toms. Chaka (in his NASA T-shirt!) laid down powerful bass-playing that matched Nathalia’s hard-hitting drums. Kieran added extra percussion with a second snare; all this rhythm inspired a woman up in the balcony to dance in sexy circles. Vocals came from guitarist Oby and Nathalia (which made two drummers singing that night). This writer is predicting more great music from all these Guadalajaran musicians in the future and wouldn’t hesitate to hear them play again. Gotta make sure the orange boy-king doesn’t actually build a stupid wall, so that can happen.

Great colors behind Great Spiders

Penultimately, guitarist-vocalist Omar Shambacher’s Great Spiders (Bandcamp) played some thoughtful pop tunes with a bassist (know her name? leave it in the comments). This pensive music served as a nice breather between the louder UAY and Neptuna. It encouraged this writer sit down and rest for a few minutes, thinking over the night and being glad to live here in this corner-of-the-map city. Heartfelt songs long developed, Great Spiders sounded comfortable for FVEY-raised ears without sounding completely conformist either.

Neptuna canta en español

Ultimately, Flower Fest 3 closed with Neptuna (Bandcamp), four women from Guadalajara, all of whom sang as in the image from the balcony. The reliable, powerfully playing Nathalia drummed yet again, but this writer failed to get the names of the bassist, keyboardist, and guitarist (know them? by now you know where to add ’em). Nathalia frequently kicked on each beat in that Mexican style as the women sang in exquisite Spanish. Neptuna also makes use of rests (silent pauses in the music), something FVEY rockers all too often leave out. Go check out their Bandcamp and spring for the album Mar Rojo (Red Sea); this writer just did.

Hasta pronto

All the bands were totally enjoyable, but the Guadalajran music sounded more of a nation, fluxing and changing with vibrato and rhythmic variety…whereas the Seattle music was a bit more square, a bit more predictable, a bit more of uber-state Five Eyes. Travel generally enhances art, so remember, no bad borders, no wrong walls…

Creative Commons License

Flower Fest 3 at Lo-Fi: Seattle meets Guadalajara by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. It does not affect your fair use rights or my moral rights. You can view the full license (the legalese) here; you can view a human-readable summary of it here. To learn more about Creative Commons, read this article. License based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

Seattle Food Not Bombs sharing report: 25 March 2018: Happy Defectors

This evening at Occidental Park in Pioneer Square, the Seattle chapter of the worldwide Food Not Bombs movement once more shared, with homeless individuals and others and ourselves, donated food.

Free soup

40-plus aid recipients enjoyed hot soup for no cost. The vegan, glutenfree meal contained cauliflower, carrots, beans, and more — perfectly good food that otherwise would have been thrown out by the donor restaurant. Guiding this action was the principle that quality food is a human right.

Four volunteers had lots of fun implementing a better world. Two guys, two gals. We played guitar, sang, danced. Some discussed the possibility of going train hopping in the near future. Others petted the leashed cat a passerby randomly brought. Each week, creating a Food Not Bombs reality is probably my happiest time.

Various aid recipients seemed really happy as well, especially when talking a bit. One guy said he might go to New Mexico soon, or Louisiana (he wasn’t sure), by bus I guess. Another told us the warmer weather was cheering them up. It seems when people have little, the food tastes better, ordinary things matter more.

The sign

Lots of people are still lodged in the bombs life, wherein they’d much rather gaze upward at the death-dealing leaders to pick one of them to promote in their rivalrous battles with each other, but to those people I’d like to say, there’s still time for you to do something different. Find a Food Not Bombs chapter in your area or start one. Defect from bombs and make good food a human right!

Creative Commons License

Seattle Food Not Bombs sharing report: 25 March 2018: Happy Defectors by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. It does not affect your fair use rights or my moral rights. You can view the full license (the legalese) here; you can view a human-readable summary of it here. To learn more about Creative Commons, read this article. License based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

Two surprising statements at Washington’s March 2018 Behavioral Health Advisory Council reveal dehumanization of the vulnerable, show need for solutions

This agency oversees the Council

Last week at the March 7, 2018 meeting just outside Olympia, two surprising statements were made that showed how dehumanization of the vulnerable is normalized within this body of the Washington state government. One was by a DMHP (designated mental health professional) for King and Pierce counties, Robert aka Robbie Pellett; the other by Dr. Caleb J. Banta-Green of the University of Washington’s Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute. Especially as this Council engages with mental health and substance abuse block grants that affect the lives of vulnerable human beings in the Pacific Northwest, the disregard revealed by the two statements should elicit urgent concern that leads to tangible action.

Input from the success stories? “I don’t know.”

The first surprising statement came from Pellett when he was presenting about the changes going into effect on the first of next month for “Ricky’s Law,” the involuntary treatment act for substance use disorders. According to a Department of Social & Health Services flyer passed out at the Council meeting, “Involuntary treatment for substance use disorders had been historically a planned admission process with a court order. As of April 1, 2018, designated crisis responders will be able to immediately detain a person who meets the criteria for involuntry treatment due to a substance use disorder to a secure withdrawal management and stabilization facility, if there is space available.” Pellett addressed councilmember questions — such as, how will first responders distinguish between an individual in crisis due to substance use and an individual in crisis due to (so-called) mental illness — and I, attending the Council as a member of the public, had a good opportunity to ask him a question myself.

I asked Pellett, “What input on this involuntary treatment act change has been heard from individuals who have overcome substance use disorder?” and he said, “I don’t know.” This Council meeting wasn’t the first time Pellett has presented on the upcoming change to Ricky’s Law, so I think it’s safe to say he should know the answer to the question (and if not, why not?) — and that the answer may well be “None.” Pellett walked over to me later and told me such input would be welcomed.

What’s likely happening here is straightforward: salaried folks in the Washington state government are imposing lockups and forced treatment on a vulnerable population without procuring the input of those who have succeeded in fixing the vulnerability — and that’s dehumanizing because it probably isn’t helping long term, it’s treating the vulnerable as impersonal products for the medical industry. Given withdrawal risks, danger presented to others, and additional issues, it’s understandable that unpleasant measures may have to be taken by those around a person with substance abuse problems — but that doesn’t mean bureaucrats and cops dictating from above have the answers. I find it hard to believe that individuals who have overcome substance abuse would advocate for confinement as “medicine,” but maybe they do. The point is, their input, like that of psychiatric survivors, has likely not been sought by the government/medical establishment, which makes money by compelling “treatment” rather than addressing the widespread social, environmental, nutritional, trauma/abuse, and other conditions that are among the root causes of such problems to begin with.

Research about the unusual? “Science is for most people.”

The second surprising statement came from Banta-Green during his presentation on opioid addiction. Among other things, he advocated for opioid replacement medications, which I’ve heard from individuals with a history of drug abuse is a good step. But, a scientist himself, he also said something very illuminating about the nature of the science industry.

Banta-Green said (I’m quoting from memory): “Science is for most people; it’s to find out what works most of the time in most cases.” He didn’t say this principle is problematic; he said it as if it’s an inexorable fact that everyone on the Council must learn and hew to. But those who differ from the masses are also valuable and entitled to support — they should not, through being ignored, be dehumanized.

The science industry’s glorification of the majority and erasure of the unusual is not acceptable. If you have a rare condition that’s killing you, you won’t agree that because your problem isn’t popular it doesn’t merit research. Each person’s life is meaningful. It’s unjust to devote resources only to those who are in the box of being common. The scientific establishment provides the rationalizations for industry, so of course in favor of those who are cogs in the machine it ignores the irregular humans who might jam up the wheels of profit.

Normalization: Polite, well-paid people permit dehumanization

Councilmembers at the meeting were positive and pleasant throughout the day, and I think Pellett and Banta-Green both sincerely want to help others. Banta-Green was endearing when he talked about how he learned to put away his wonky charts of statistics when meeting with communities who requested concrete solutions. Pellett took initiative to speak with me about how the input of substance abuse success stories would actually be welcomed (who will gather that input?). The problem is, while vulnerable people are suffering and dying, we cannot afford to ignore the dehumanization that’s taken for granted in behavioral health committee conversations, that no one much speaks out about any longer because they’re so acclimated to it.

The political circus, which teaches the conservatives in the United States to laugh and joke about launching bombs and the liberals to normalize the lesser and increasingly worse evils, trains the population in these norms of dehumanization, such that smiles go hand in hand with disregard for human beings. For instance, hearing USians’ responses to Obama over the years showed me that many in this country are quite willing to see his victims as the mere eggs one has to break in the quest for the omelette of lower health insurance premiums. This is the idea that some lives are expendable. Just as USians shrug about those still captive in Guantánamo whom they rarely hear about, so the success stories aren’t on Pellett’s radar, so the outliers aren’t subjects of Banta-Green’s science. When you advocate for dehumanization at the countrywide political scale, expect no immunity from it in the medical system when your own health tanks.

Readers might say, “This is all well and good, and I more or less agree, even if I don’t go into such detail or say anything publicly — But what, after all, is anyone supposed to do about it? Can’t fight City Hall. And just look at those Occupy people: idealists, radicals went into the streets, and the cops stomped them. How can you reasonably expect me to take action, when I’m yelled at by my boss all day and just want to come home to consume corporate entertainment before going to sleep and beginning again?”

Actions you can take

People have a range of abilities, interests, and time available to dedicate to making the world a better place. Below are some strong suggestions for what you might consider doing about the issues exposed by the two surprising statements documented above.

  • Attend such government meetings, take notes, speak out there, publish about it afterward. In Washington state on the topic of mental health, there are Behavioral Health Advisory Board and Mental Illness and Drug Dependency meetings in King County as well as these state Behavioral Health Advisory Council meetings. They’re all open to the public. There are probably similar meetings across the country. Much of the actual governance takes place in these unelected ministries/agencies, rather than exclusively that political circus which receives corporate airtime.
  • Where there’s weakness, there are predators. For example, poverty is a problem (which can be addressed by debt jubilee, basic income, changing the economic system, and more); accordingly, predatory lending agencies swoop in to make the problem worse for their own gain. Mental health is no different. Since the predators aren’t interested in helping, take matters into your own hands and strengthen yourself by overcoming addictions (for example: alcohol, porn, caffeine) and building community and undertaking the work necessary to improve your own health. This lightens the load on others and gets you into a clearer state from which it is easier to take effective action.
  • Speak out against dehumanization and stop celebrating Omelas. If you don’t want presidential candidates to kill your own children, why do you glorify them knowing full well that they’re killing the children of others? It may be just you and a few people having a conversation, but fighting for hearts and minds to alter beliefs is necessary for any dramatic change to happen.
  • Pursue further, better documentation of the issues surrounding the two surprising statements. How would we confirm that no input from the substance abuse success stories has been heard by those altering Ricky’s Law? What would Banta-Green say if challenged about his statement that science focuses on the average? Is there a way to calmly, rationally document what’s happening here and encourage people to devise their own strong solutions instead of begging the authorities to change?
  • Building a better world requires knowledge that’s both trusted and worthy of trust. Corporate social media platforms, small one-person websites such as this one, and the bottlenecks of academia and journalism all sometimes produce good information but not well enough to overcome the global problems facing us today, for the reasons explained here among others. Funding, programming for, and sharing information about the global data commons project would allow everyone to own public information to create knowledge resources that would sustain movements establishing alternatives to the current systems.

Also, if you like this post, please consider donating and/or sharing it!

Creative Commons License

Two surprising statements at Washington’s March 2018 Behavioral Health Advisory Council reveal dehumanization of the vulnerable, show need for solutions by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. It does not affect your fair use rights or my moral rights. You can view the full license (the legalese) here; you can view a human-readable summary of it here. To learn more about Creative Commons, read this article. License based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

Seattle Food Not Bombs sharing report: 4 March 2018: Fortune Cookie

A common Food Not Bombs image

Today the Seattle chapter of the global Food Not Bombs movement shared donated food with homeless folks and other individuals, primarily at Occidental Park in Pioneer Square. It’s a direct action we take just about every Sunday, with the meal starting around 5:15 p.m. This evening, on a shoestring budget, three FNB participants made a tangible difference in many people’s lives, enjoyed great, bonding conversations, and propagated the straightforward message that food is good and bombs are not.

Around 40 aid beneficiaries came to our setup, where we offered great grub. The hot soup, two large bucketfuls gifted by a local restaurant, was vegan and glutenfree. It included lentils, carrots, and corn. Also on offer: bread, fruit (mostly apples), and a sole fortune cookie someone donated on the spot. Food Not Bombs makes a point of offering food that’s generally high quality and healthy, and conveying allergen and other important information about the meals accurately. That’s crucial for our reputation as aid providers — so that recipients trust our food (word gets around) — and it’s significant because everyone, regardless of housing status, deserves to have their dietary requirements respected.

It was heartwarming how just about every person who partook in the meal maintained an optimistic attitude, positive energy — despite poverty, lack of housing, or other troubles. I believe big goals are important in life, but the Zen people have something when they talk about the importance of enjoying the present moment. Sharing that meal, conversing with everyone, was a complete experience in itself. Insofar as metrics matter, well, without the officialdom, bureaucracy, fear, and hierarchy of the nonprofit industrial complex, we were able to feed some 50 people this evening for nearly no monetary cost, while many others are waiting for permission to act. Personally, I’ve been much happier providing direct aid as part of a community than I have been doing ‘serious’ journalism paid-work for hierarchical nonprofits.

The three FNB volunteers, when no one else was at our tables, informed each other about diverse topics, such as antipsychiatry and Dostoevsky, because we’re actually a quite knowledgeable crew. Even as I understand genuine knowledge comes from participation in the user group of whatever system in question, from real life engagement with the subject matter at hand, I still feel surprised at just how much non-credentialed individuals may know about complex topics. We remembered characters in The Brothers Karamazov and how they relate to the author’s other fiction, we talked about different people’s encounters with psychiatric drugs and forced lockups. It was really nice to share our experiences and readings without some inexperienced academic or powertripping clinician insisting that the Truth was their unique sales point, their competitive advantage, their private property. The gamesters of Triskelion are wrong: brains in a vat aren’t brilliant, and engaging with the practical, sensory world around you matters! Else, how will you improvise usefully when you forget the ladle for the soup? (Our answer: use one of the giveaway cups you’ve been pouring soup into as a ladle.)

Food Not Bombs has been a great learning experience for me; I bet it would be for many of you as well. We bring to the park a big sign that says FOOD NOT BOMBS, to open the door for our message without hitting hungry people over the head by proselytizing. It’s a really simple idea, that instead of spending trillions of dollars bombing people, we could cook for each other. It looks like creepy predator Joe Biden may run for president in 2020. Don’t beg him or destructive Trump to make food a human right, they don’t care, and you know better than to trust corporate television such as MSNBC or Fox — do it yourself. Find a Food Not Bombs chapter in your area or follow these steps to start one.

Quick note: you don’t necessarily have to do this at a park. Once people finished coming to our tables, we drove the remaining soup and other items around to some tent encampments with hungry individuals and gave out food that way. Corporations teach you to fear people without houses, but these individuals are just people without houses, you can still interact with them, they’re human as you are and you may be homeless next, assuming you’re not already!

Next time I do a sharing report I’ll try to provide more details and some photos. And no, I didn’t forget the Chekov’s gun above. One of the homeless folks opened up the fortune cookie, and his message was: Good luck will soon come your way.

Since I can’t share food with you online, here’s some great music by the French artist Uppermost:

Creative Commons License

Seattle Food Not Bombs sharing report: 4 March 2018: Fortune Cookie by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. It does not affect your fair use rights or my moral rights. You can view the full license (the legalese) here; you can view a human-readable summary of it here. To learn more about Creative Commons, read this article. License based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

Leaflets against Facebook’s profiling offer solutions, including Getgee

Flyer in Seattle (click to expand)

On 24 February 2018, more than a hundred of the flyers pictured above appeared in Seattle near Facebook’s regional office on Dexter Avenue. That date marked the two-year anniversary of the corporation introducing its “Reaction” feature, which encourages users to supply the company with personal data by reacting to content in one of six prefabbed ways: Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, and Angry. But instead, one can act against the paradigm Facebook is imposing.

The flyers educate readers on the risks of corporate software analyzing your social media posts and sending first responders to your home if you post something it interprets as evidence that you’re depressed or suicidal — and the flyers offer tangible solutions for this problem. Here’s the text of the leaflet in full, with links added:

SAY NO TO FACEBOOK PROFILING USERS AS MENTALLY ILL

As reported by Tech Crunch, Facebook is now developing artificial intelligence to profile users as allegedly becoming depressed or suicidal. Your use of Facebook is in danger of being seen as symptomatic of mental illness. As a result, Facebook users may have their reputations ruined and be unduly subjected to mental health treatment. Facebook may be able to exert unjust control over users under the guise of helping them with mental health issues. This new program is a clear abuse of user data. As long as corporations such as Facebook control access to public information, people will give up personal data to make use of the platform where the public information is hosted. Facebook will then exploit this personal data for unjust social control, which this “mental health” AI profiling is an example of.

Stop Facebook from making this new program a reality!

Things you can do:

1) Support the global data commons: http://getgee.xyz Everyone should own public information — not corporations

2) Comment on the Tech Crunch article: Facebook shouldn’t profile you as “sick”:
https://is.gd/LyJqni (that short link expands to
https://techcrunch.com/2017/11/27/facebook-ai-suicide-prevention/)

3) Share https://pastebin.com/Hmhiy6qp for links to articles about Facebook inflicting psychological harm and to resources for safe alternatives to psychiatry

If you’d like to print and share these flyers yourself, below are links to PDFs, ready to go:

Andrew Boyd’s 2016 book Beautiful Trouble offers these suggestions for leafleting:

Make it fun. Make it unusual. Make it memorable. Don’t just hand out leaflets. Climb up on some guy’s shoulders and hand out leaflets from there […] The shareholder heading into a meeting is more likely to take, read and remember the custom message inside a fortune cookie you just handed her than a rectangle of paper packed with text. Using theater and costumes to leaflet can also be effective.

Thanks for reading, and good luck!

Creative Commons License

Leaflets against Facebook’s profiling offer solutions, including Getgee by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. It does not affect your fair use rights or my moral rights. You can view the full license (the legalese) here; you can view a human-readable summary of it here. To learn more about Creative Commons, read this article. License based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

Clarion West 2008 – Part 8 of 10

This post is the eighth in a series of ten about my experiences at Clarion West Writers Workshop (Wikipedia; Twitter) as a member of the 2008 class. I’ll talk about the final week of the workshop, Week 6, when Chuck Palahniuk (Wikipedia; Twitter) instructed. (It’s pronounced PAUL-uh-nick.) Here are Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 of the series. In Part 7 I talked about Sheree R. Thomas‘s week and the beach reunion my class held in October 2011 in San Diego. We’re tentatively discussing another reunion now — maybe Las Vegas or Portland.

I should note that on August 31 2009, my Clarion West comrade Pamela Rentz said as a comment to Part 3:

Cool! At this rate you’ll have the workshop covered by 2012.

It is now February 2013. Part 7 was published on January 3, 2012 — more than a year ago. At this rate I hope to have the workshop covered by the time I’m dead.

Of course, Week 6 was the last week, so this should be it, right? Except for the remaining Parts 9 and 10. I think Part 9 will be my last remarks on the ’08 workshop plus a report from our forthcoming reunion. I should also write about the surprise guests we had at the workshop who gave talks or taught for just a few hours. Part 10 will just remain open; you never know what might happen.

Famous person at bottom left

Chuck Palahniuk — or “Chuckles,” as we began calling him before he arrived, perhaps in an effort to defuse his celebrity power — was the most wildly creative of our instructors. Leading the workshop, he took the day’s stories and came out with several ideas for each, some off the top of his head, ways to make them more powerful: this scene could mirror that scene if you change this about the setting, or this object one character carries around could also be used in another instance ironically, or other more powerful uses for motifs and structure. His mind was so flexible; he could invent possibilities for the formal properties of a story so felicitously. If you’ve read Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy, you probably remember Card’s “Thousand Ideas in an Hour”; Palahniuk has the same fecundity.

Here’s an example. His week I turned in a short story about a mentally ill son and his mom. The mom wrote poetry with a favorite fountain pen, and during an author reading at a bookstore the son took the pen from her and crazily insisted on writing with it while talking aloud, becoming a social nuisance. Palahniuk pointed out that the pen could explode and cover the son’s arm with Rorschach-like inkblots. The pen is a tool for creativity; the pen, like his mind, breaks; control of the pen is contested, just as control of the son’s life is contested. This was just one of the twenty-something ways he came up with for amping up what was already in my story. Hearing him do this, you couldn’t help but learn some of the ability yourself. Afterward you read real-life stories better too, interacting with people and catching on to their recurring motifs or themes.

I notice the manipulation of formal story properties (character, setting, etc.) a lot while watching TV shows. Lost or The Twilight Zone come to mind. But writing is not contained by formalist wizardy. Sometimes writers just create mood (think of JD Salinger) or just wonder (think of Haruki Murakami) or tell you what’s what (think of Philip K Dick talking about God). And that’s all great, despite the business-like emphasis of some writing instructors on “Make everything in the story perform multiple functions, OMG, we gotta be economical here to turn a profit.” It got on my nerves the way Chuckles constrained everything as if there’s one true way to write. Art and sex are some of the only areas in life where you get to escape rules; people, especially those giving advice, just want to bring rules in because it reduces uncertainty — at the cost of quality and freedom. (Gay Saul Morson’s Narrative and Freedom: the Shadows of Time is a great critical theory book about how traditionally structured narrative clamps down on possibilities and the sense of freedom in fiction.)

He had plenty of rules for sentences, many of which are often totally helpful. Here’s a list of some. (Pam Rentz noted some others.)

  • Don’t use “specific” figures like “100 degrees” or “55 mph.” That’s missing an opportunity to characterize. What do those figures mean to the character? Is 100 degrees hot for him or not bad?
  • Use lyrical prose as a contrast. Don’t use it often; it gets tiring over time. Use it for effect. [Oh, poo.]
  • No abstract verbs: no remembering, considering, etc. [Oh poo again. What if the narrator is an abstract thinker or you are emphasizing uncertainty?]
  • No filtering. “I smelled the sour stink of sweat coming off him” should just be “The sour stink of sweat came off him.”[Same poo as above.]
  • “Going on with the body”: Go visceral, flesh-and-blood. Describe palms, feet, smells, flavors. Don’t be cliché, but if you don’t do it at all, your narrator will seem disembodied.
  • Never/seldom use forms of “to be” or “to have”; use more descriptive action verbs.
  • Make your settings (and physical descriptions of people) move. You want a movie, not a framed picture, unless for effect. [E.g., instead of “He wore a black button-down” write “His black button-down came loose from his slacks” or whatever.]
  • Don’t shortcut by saying “ugly dress.” Describe the dress and why the POV character thinks it’s ugly.
  • Attributive tags for dialogue are good. Not only do they keep the reader clear on who’s talking, they serve as the natural pause in conversation.
  • “Submerging the ‘I'”: Circle the pronoun “I” in your manuscript and figure out ways to reduce the use of it. Ideally, use it no more than once per page (!). It reminds the reader the story is not happening to them. Me/my/mine/we/ours do not seem to do this. You can use the word “I” a lot intentionally to create distance.
  • Use a lot of dentals: d’s, t’s, p’s, k’s. They sound good.
  • Be specific. Is it a maraschino cherry or a Queen Anne cherry or a … A gun is never just a gun.

Here is some other advice he gave to the workshop or to me in the one-on-one conference. Same caveat (from me) as above about “rules.”

  • Set specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, timed goals. Big ones. Tell them aloud to each other and everyone else constantly. Hang them on your walls, etc. etc. [I don’t go for this Tony Robbins self-improvement stuff, but here I’m noting what Chuckles said. I believe a person should set goals, but not forced ones. Something like, “I’ll write fiction for two hours every morning.” That’s a lot more human than the bodybuilder obsessive stuff which, I think, ultimately backfires psychologically.]
  • Externalize humanity via symbols. We’ll like a horrible character if they have a pet.
  • Goal of a first novel: not so much quality as it is to write something people can’t forget. [I believe for art you should not care what other people think while you are creating. But it’s hard to ignore the context you are in.]
  • Sell chapters as standalones. Doing so impresses potential publishers.
  • Show the reader your (and/or the character’s) authority. Establish credibility via facts, factoids, research, etc., particularly those about the subject of the story.
  • You can characterize by making a character habitually notice one thing: e.g., someone’s clothes or money status or whatever.
  • Never (!) forward plot through dialogue. Action is always stronger.
  • Don’t start a story with thesis/topic sentences that give everything away. One workshop story opened by telling us the character scratched through to his brain. Just show the scratching and make the reader wonder if the character’s going to get to the brain or not.
  • A good book: Another Day in the Cerebral Cortex.
  • If you bring an object in (a “prop”), use it over and over as many ways as possible. Make story elements do multiple jobs! [Poo. Fiction is not a factory.]
  • Setting can’t (!) be stationary and it should influence the character. A fan blows smoke on the character’s face, peanut shells on the bar floor add height to the character…etc.
  • Scenes shouldn’t all be the same length. That’s poor pacing.
  • Physical action = the strongest way to characterize.
  • Putting a lie or an unfulfilled social obligation early in the plot can be useful.
  • Check out Victor Turner on limnoid experiences. These are experiences where you go to be a different person, e.g., a cruise ship, a rock concert, Burning Man, etc., where you experience a lot of affection for others, there are social rules in place, etc. People like reading about limnoid experiences, especially invented ones.
  • As to research, ask interview subjects to tell you stories. Share your stories so a touchy-feely atmosphere is established. Tape record. Show you’re listening by saying stuff such as: “You’re kidding, they really said _____?” Kind of manipulative but it works.
  • It’s okay to write a thousand books and stories with dead fathers in them. [This was in response to a question of mine in the one-on-one conference.]
  • Low subject matter in high diction can be comical.
  • Check out Cold Comfort Farm and A Confederacy of Dunces.

The class gave the instructors gifts, and for Chuck Palahniuk we created something — I can’t quite remember what — that he had to dissect, a fit for his shock jock style. See picture below; here is the complete set.

Dissection

For some reason during Week 6 it was important to me to question Chuckles about his insistence on rules. Not sure why I cared about doing that so much. He did tell me at one point that writers tend to come from one of two backgrounds: journalism or academia. The former are more amenable to rules, he suggested (the miniaturist, Amy Hempel style he prefers). This makes a bit more sense to me now since I’ve sold some journalism pieces and other freelance material; editors want stuff that’s easy-to-read and efficient. But the business mindset shouldn’t overtake art.

Shane Hoversten wrote an amazing story for this final week. It was a farewell story for our class. He included each of us as characters. He imagined me getting drunk at the workshop (I rarely drink), saying stuff about lyrical prose and olfactory sensory details, and passing out. :)

Since the workshop some people have asked me what Chuckles was like as a person. He was reserved compared to our other instructors, who mingled with us more. Probably that was partly because it was his first time to teach at a Clarion; he’s taught at Clarions more since 2008, so I wonder if he socializes more now. He really cared about helping us, and enjoyed teaching. I learned a lot from him.

I’ll write up concluding thoughts about the workshop in Part 9, if I ever get around to it!

Creative Commons License

Clarion West 2008 – Part 8 of 10 by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

Clarion West 2008 – Part 7 of 10

This post is the seventh in a series of ten about my experiences at Clarion West Writers Workshop (Wikipedia) as a member of the 2008 class. I’ll talk about Week 5 of the workshop, when Sheree R. Thomas (New Book: Shotgun Lullabies; Wikipedia; Blog; NYT piece; NPR talk; Strange Horizons interview) instructed. Here are Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 of the series. In Part 6 I discussed Connie Willis‘s week (Week 4) and ended by noting my hopes for seeing my Clarionites soon. Indeed, in this post I’ll talk some about the #CW08beach reunion my class held in October 2011!

Sheree attended Clarion West in 1999, a year when, someone said (someone — my notes are unclear), the workshop got intense with pregnancies, people not showing up, manuscripts thrown angrily across the room at their authors, divorces, etc. Clarion’s not really for the faint-hearted; yet, deep-down, writers are faint-hearted folks. So the space station (Clarion West takes place on a secret orbital above Seattle) gets very pressurized.

Happens right here

During her 1999 year, for whatever reason, some students begged Chip Delaney to tell them if they “were” any “good.” Apparently Delaney didn’t want to do that, but eventually acquiesced because his experience as an MFA teacher (if I recall Sheree’s comments correctly) led him to believe it was bullshit to take people’s money for years and just feed them hot air the whole time. Delaney gave students the option of not hearing his opinion. (I’d flip a coin. Because you have to learn not to care.)

Sheree R. Thomas (via)

Early on, Sheree said she wasn’t going to “redline” anybody, because just one person’s opinion doesn’t mean jack, and because there’s no necessary connection between how well someone writes at Clarion and how well they do after Clarion.

How did I do at Clarion West? I wrote two great short stories there (here’s the finished Glenn of Green Gables), one kinda bad story, and grew up a lot, learned stuff. How have I done after? I’ve written 50-something lifestyle/infotainment pieces for CBS News, completed 3 really good new short stories and drafted 5+ more, sold zero of them (though they’ve earned a few Euros through Flattr), and blogged about 100 posts here (also earning a very few Flattr tips). I’m usefully obnoxious on Twitter, where manuscripts don’t fly across the room but subpoenas do; I haven’t earned one yet. It’s all a bit frustrating, though fun. In the time it’s taken me to write these seven posts, I’ve gotten married and am getting divorced; the main payoff of the marriage was growing a spine. Especially now as I live with roommates in a cheap, freezing-cold place that resembles some sort of heavy metal dungeon, and forage for necessary medications like a hunter-gatherer going after berries, I have become downright mean in a way I never anticipated.

Once I wrote this!

Back to Sheree. With the possible exception of Paul Park, she was the most blunt of our instructors, which I thought was great. At “infamous Week 5,” most Clarion classes descend into mayhem. Week 5 took our class and amalgamated it into a giant pile of snuggle. Which mostly was great (see below, our reunion, after all), but the quality of the critiquing by classmates went downhill. Sheree, who’s also a freelance editor, gave me a great tip in our one-on-one conference for getting critiques from people while bypassing the need for them to be any good at giving them. You simply hand them your manuscript and watch their faces as they read it. You see what emotions your story strikes, rather than hear their report about what emotions your story allegedly struck. (Obviously written critiques are useful too, yadda yadda yadda.) We didn’t get to watch Sheree’s face as she read our stories, but we didn’t need to. She was blunt, and appropriately so; one of my favorite instructors there, for sure.

Sheree listed a ton of resources for our class:

Sheree R. Thomas and young person (via)

In response to someone’s story — I forget whose — she suggested the True Porn anthology and the What the Fuck? anthology . She suggested to me Maryse Conde’s novel Crossing the Mangrove and Toni Morrison’s novel Love. When I asked in the one-on-one conference about making secondary characters more autonomous (so to speak), she suggested writing compellingly from the point of view of people who disagree with me would help me create more individuated secondary characters. (Shades of Lacan?)

Week 5 found people guessing about Chuck Palahniuk, the Week 6 instructor, who was the biggest name and biggest wildcard. All the other instructors had either taught a Clarion before or once went to a Clarion themselves — and often, both. But Palahniuk hadn’t done either (though he’s returning to teach in 2012).

Fast forward three years and shift to a sandy orbital above San Diego, where 14 of our 18 classmates showed up for a week-long reunion at a house on (the celestial version of) Mission Beach. That’s more than 75% of the class after three years; that shows some serious bonding. (And our email list is still active.) Our venerable classmate Pam Rentz organized the whole thing — a herculean effort for which we rewarded her with a gift that included a signed picture frame. We all got along really well at the reunion, though the trippy reunion vibe was slightly present, as at all reunions. Same people, but different, but same, so who am I? That kind of thing. We all had dinner together most nights at this huge dinner table. Small groups of us also did some in-person crit sessions, which was really cool.

This place rocked!

What happened there stays there

(Yours truly in black)

Silly as ever!

View from beachhouse! (via Carol Ryles)

You can find more CW08beach reunion pics at Pam’s dropbox.

I’m not sure what to conclude about my writing progress since Clarion West 2008. Though I haven’t finished much fiction, I feel good about my writing overall, but then again, I’m intrinsically an optimist. It’s reassuring to remember Cory Doctorow talking during Week 3 about it taking him several years after his Clarion West student year to finish a lot of fiction. But I don’t have to conclude yet; I still have 3 more posts in this series to go!

Creative Commons License

Clarion West 2008 – Part 7 of 10 by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@douglaslucas.com.

Clarion West 2008 – Part 6 of 10

This post is the sixth in a series of ten about my experiences at Clarion West Writers Workshop (Wikipedia) as a member of the 2008 class. I’ll talk about Week 4 of the workshop, when Connie Willis (Wikipedia) instructed. Here are Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 of the series. In Part 5 I discussed Cory Doctorow‘s week and ended with a somewhat bizarre dismantling of my psyche. This post is quite the opposite: I brag. Bear with!

“Total exhaustion is the goal,” Mary Rosenblum said, teaching Clarion West during our Week 2, and by Connie’s Week 4 I was totally exhausted; that’s clear to me now as I read over the emails I sent friends and family during that middle of July ’08. In those emails I also now detect a down-on-myself attitude about my fiction-writing, one that I don’t particularly experience anymore (knock on wood). These days I get dejected or grumpy about my fiction-writing at times, of course, but I don’t feel such negativity, pessimism, or bewilderment about the whole process. I have strong confidence in my abilities, and faith that new stories will turn out right eventually, that I’ll be able to revise them into artworks I’m proud of. That confidence is due in part to Wifely Kate, additional and diverse employment experiences, and other factors; but, a huge chunk of it has definitely come from Clarion West. This benefit from Clarion West took a long time to set in; I’ve had to incorporate what all I learned into my writing and my life, and that took me quite a while.

Outside the Clarion West spaceship: replica of Seattle

The additional confidence from Clarion West hasn’t derived so much from the grab-bag of tips I picked up from the instructors or my fellow students (though these have helped!), nor was it any sort of confirming validation that other Clarionites sometimes mention. I gained so much, I think, from the way a Clarion workshop primarily focuses on the process of revision, not creating an ultimate and spotless draft; and, second, making weird friends who accept me for my weirdness-es was an invaluable gift. As Kate puts it, I found my people, my tribe.

About Clarion’s focus on revision — writing and life are pretty much driven by storytelling, or at least by motifs that recur and recur, carrying with them their old meanings and acquiring new ones as they go. I’ll have more to say about how this works when I get to my Week 6 post (the forthcoming Part 8), but for now, the emphasis on revision, the way instructors and fellow students took specific elements of stories and suggested specific changes (with reasons!), gave a real sense that one’s own fiction can work, after all, that the poor draft you wrote does indeed have potential in it. There’s a real feeling of hope there.

Which is why I shouldn’t have been so down on myself. My Week 4 short story was an unfortunately convoluted mystery. I came up with the story from absolute scratch — not even a vague idea of the story before the workshop — which was a specific challenge I’d set myself before arriving at the space station (the Workshop mysteriously floats in orbit over Seattle). In the emails, instead of feeling glad I about actually succeeding at this task I’d set myself, I was all down on how the story didn’t “work.” Well, pretty much no first draft ever works. And, no matter how bungled, the first draft had cool ideas. Why be so negative?

Connie told us it took her eight years of writing before she sold a story; she also asked each of us to tell the group how we started writing. The answers varied; some knew since birth, it seemed, and others were late bloomers. Me? I wanted to be a writer as a kindergartner, but soon switched my hoped-for career to astronaut; in middle school I made up stories often, but then switched to music. When for various reasons I determined a music career was not for me, I tried writing again, and after a few months, maybe even only after a full year, I began to enjoy it. I hope people reading this who are searching for their own directions, whether as a writer or otherwise, come to feel patient with their search. Often — and the psychologist Csíkszentmihályi (gloriously pronounced “Chick-sent-me-high”) makes this point — it can take learning time before you enjoy a career path. For many, beginning to play, for example, tennis (maybe at the behest of a friend) isn’t very fun: all those frustrating, misguided racket swings and terrible serves. But once you can get to where you can actually play not too shabbily, the fun and satisfaction finally starts setting in. If you give up on a career path without giving yourself time to get some basic proficiency, you probably haven’t really tried at all.

Picture stolen from Connie’s website

More about Connie. She’s a frequent master of ceremonies at science fiction & fantasy events, a respected dame in the field. She was one of the instructors who hung around our quarters of the space station in her spare time, answering questions and just visiting. Before I went to the Workshop, I read one book by each instructor; for her I selected Passage. The book was fast-paced and straightforwardly written — and also very moving. Highly recommended. She’s a real expert at plot.

Her advice mostly centered on plot, too. Here are some of her tips I collected; she gave the caveat that her advice was only her advice, that we should feel, like Agatha Christie, free to break any rules.

But I should note first that during Week 4 an anonymous friend sent me a replacement copy of Peter Straub‘s If You Could See Me Now; the copy I brought with me, oddly, was missing a page. I found it helpful to have a book with me that was totally unrelated to Clarion West. Really reading it was impossible, due to the total exhaustion, but being able to dip into a page here or there and disappear from the Workshop was refreshing.

Anyhow: tips from Connie Willis:

  • Connie’s definition of plot: “A constantly surprising chain of events with each new scene turning the story to a new point where the logical occurs, unforeseen by the reader.”

  • Unremitting horror exhausts readers. Use contrast!

  • The perfect title means one thing when you start the story, and by the end of the story, it means another. It should be evocative, it should add something to the story, and it should have both literal and figurative meaning(s).

  • PG Wodehouse claimed a 7500 word story needs two big reversals: one at 1500 words, one at 6000 words.

  • If some things in the story are complicated, make other things simple.

  • Develop a good filing system (for research and ideas, e.g.)!

  • Fix one aspect at a time when you revise.

  • When you read fiction or watch film, look for reversals, raising the stakes (“things get worse”), foreshadowing, climax, dénouement, interior conflict, exterior conflict. Study extensively the books you know well and admire.

Connie also gave us each a critique coupon to snail-mail her along with a short story or novel opening, if we wanted. Finally, a tidbit: in interviews she’s mentioned that when she was very young, she read the fiction section at her local library in alphabetical order. At the space station I asked her how far she made it through the alphabet. I believe her answer was H, that reading Heinlein made her switch to reading all the library’s science fiction.

As I’ve said throughout this series, writing these Clarion West posts induces in me a unique sort of stress that I don’t fully understand; I feel, maybe, as if I’m just not describing the time well enough, not at all portraying just how transformative and wonderful the Workshop was — that these posts are somehow doing violence to a great gestalt from a time that’s gradually starting to feel like long ago. Maybe that’s why I delay these posts: to hang on to my Clarion West experience.

One thing that continues on, however, are my classmates, our relationships. They’re all people I treasure; mostly we keep in touch, sometimes through our email list, sometimes with individual phone calls, even trips here and there.

One way or another, see y’all special Clarionites soon. ;-)

Clarion West Donation Drive 2010: Sponsor Me!

Clarion West, the six-week writer’s workshop I attended in 2008 on a space station in geosynchronous orbit above Seattle, hosts an online donation drive called the Write-a-thon each summer concurrent with the in-person workshop (June 20 – July 30). This year I’m participating in the drive along with many other former students and instructors. Here’s the deal: participating writers pledge to complete a certain amount of work individually; their friends, family, and fans donate whatever amount they choose to Clarion West as a show of support for both the writers and the organization. My goal: “Each of the six weeks I’ll either write a complete, good first draft of a new short story, or finish revising an older, in-progress one.”

I describe my feelings for Clarion West and my background in terms of the Write-a-thon further on my personal Write-a-thon profile page.

The donation drive works on an honor system — but, if you want proof I actually meet my Write-a-thon goals, I’m happy to accommodate you privately pretty much however you see fit. And, no promises, but if you do donate and want a character named after you in one of the stories, let me know that, too, as long as your name isn’t Forrest Gump or Darth Vader; if your name is euphonious I’ll ask the Muse to see if It can work anything out.

Clarion West is a nonprofit organization, and in the United States donations there are tax-deductible, as described on the main Write-a-thon webpage. Remember the organization has to fly the space station, pay the instructors, and so on — a lot goes into making this wonderful workshop happen. Rest assured that it is totally, totally, totally acceptable to donate a mere $5 if you want; $5 times a lot of donors times a lot of writers equals a whole lot of money.

To donate, you can either 1) click the PayPal “Donate” button on my personal Write-a-thon profile page, or 2) send with a note mentioning my name a snail-mail check to:

Clarion West
P.O. Box 31264
Seattle, WA 98103-1264

Thanks everyone, and I really appreciate even a single $5 donation to Clarion West. Let me know if you donate: it’ll make me work harder! Feel free to badger me about my progress towards my Write-a-thon goals, too!