Resist the Hivemind, thoughts on the Jack Straw Writers Program

2007 Jack Straw Writers

Nine years ago I was pleased to work with the following group of writers at the Jack Straw Writer’s Program: Doug Nufer, Anna Maria Hong, Susan Landgraf, Cheryl Strayed, Charles Potts, Corrina Wycoff Kathryn Trueblood, Laurie Blauner, Vis-a-Vis Society(Sierra Nelson and Rachel Kessler), Willie Smith, Howard W. Robertson, and Molly Tenenbaum.

In 2007, I was a curator for the Jack Straw Writer’s Program, a program created by Rebecca Brown and Joan Rabinowitz, and last night went to a reading at Jack Straw and it was kind of comforting (considering) to hear and see many local writer’s able to work, publish, and exist in the Pacific Northwest. I wrote the following essay in response to the question about curating the series and that every writer I was able to listen to them then, and they remain writers I listen to now even I haven’t been in touch with them for a long time. You can find audio of that year and following years at Jack Straw.

Resist the Hivemind

from the Raven Chronicles new issue “Celebrating 20 Years of the Jack Straw Writers Program, 1997-2016

On Facebook, I often read appeals to “Hivemind.” They write, ”Hivemind, can you tell me…” They do it without apology, as if all of our individual capacities as thinkers are reduced to a kind of communal processing capacity. We are the mental equivalent of ants. Writers resist this conception of thought. Writers who eschew cliché, doggerel, and sentimentality strike out toward the strange wilderness of what they think. When they are deep into what they really think and how they think their alien thoughts, their written or spoken work provokes me as a person. I can recognize myself in them, but also recognize someone who is not me. A book or a poem inevitably provides relief from the incessant pressure of my own presence.

A community somehow levels the progressive nature of the written word. It joins us into a structure with conventional standards of decorum and the watchful guidance of our fellow, polite, thinking ants in the Hivemind.

In late 2006, around the time that Facebook was opened to everyone over the age of 13, I was asked to be a curator for the Jack Straw Writers’ program. This allowed me the chance to listen to and engage with a collection of writers who could offer access to their interior thoughts. I felt myself drawn toward writers (or in the case of the Vis a Vis Society, a pair of writers) who adhered directly to that. Willie Smith embodies this urge. Willie will be the first to flog his writing with the communal standards of the Hivemind. And yet, year after year, he is incapable of bottling up his urges, confessions, and lurid suburban Cold War tantrums. I have had coffee or drinks with some of these writers, but I don’t claim to know them. We are not part of a physical community. Yet, we are a gathering of individuals who had cultivated, and continue to cultivate, a method of capturing our inner voice. I was pleased to hear how they read their work in 2007 and hear them speak aloud their inner voices. Nearly ten years later with Facebook used by 13% of the world’s population, they are still thankfully engaged in their work of writing as singular voices and not as part of the Hivemind.

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Genre of Silence by Matt Briggs at Connotation Press

From Robert Clark Young, Connotation Press‘s Nonfiction Editor:

Matt Briggs Genre of Silence

Genre of Silence, an essay, Connotation Press, 9/1/2016

“While Connotation Press is far from the first magazine in the history of the publishing world to run photos with a story, or even the first online magazine to do so, one cool thing about our website is that we can put up all manner of multimedia projects just with a click. The photos in Matt Briggs’ “Genre of Silence” do a beautiful job of illustrating—in the best sense of the word—the story, much of which has to do with his father. This piece covers a lot of ground and is an absolute joy to read—and view.”

You can find my essay at Connotation Press.

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Literary Fiction is the Neo-Con Genre

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Humans have a face.

It is odd to me how conventional thought and identity are represented in fiction. Most literary magazines and most literary fiction generally present a highly conventional sense of identity on the part of the humans that are in the stories. These humans stream-of-thought sounds similar (to us). The way they interact with the world is similar (to us). Even the larger structures such as plot assume certain motivations and actions (that we can relate to). As readers we expect these conventions to be in place.

Anyone who reads I suspect is either fitting their encounter with actual people into these conventional molds, or the are, as I am, happily confused by the strangeness of other people. In my case fiction, even naturalistic fiction, is as realistic as high-fantasy. The sympathetic narrator is as alien to me as an elf. Continue Reading →

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Greek Urns Don’t Float in the North Pacific Gyre

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Proposed Land Use Action at Hugo House 9.2015

I just finished Dark Reflections by Samuel R. Delany, a novel about a black gay lyric poet coming of age just before Stonewall named Arnold Hawley. I saw a reading with Delany, and he read from the book and said he wrote it because he wanted some way to concretely explain the choice that young writers were making when they dedicated themselves to writing. To explain what decades of neglect, poverty, and earnest focus (and it’s corresponding blindness) is like to a young person is nearly impossible. In the book some of the affecting moments include Hawley — who is not just a great poet, but a sensitive and picky reader and someone that any writer would recognize I think as the writer they aspire to be — include a dinner scene in which Hawley has been dragged from his book crammed studio apartment to drink wine and listen to much younger editors argue and talk about things they only half know about. Hawley has no way to provide much to the conversation not because he doesn’t know about the subject, but because he knows too much. Anything he added would sound like a correction, or worse a history lesson. They reference strands of thought that Hawley had  deeply read in, participated in, had anticipated before they even developed, as they had happened. Hawley buys donuts in another scene for the warehouse workers who are putting stickers on the hundred books in the print run of his his bestselling title. He has just won a major, although obscure poetry prize, obscure even by the obscure standards of the poetry world. It the only notable prize he will win his lifetime. It results in a modest amount of poetry-world fame and then afterward an even more bitter sort of obscurity since he briefly seemed to be about to rise from oblivion.
Continue Reading →

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Kickstarter Campaign for Total War – War in Globalism

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Hey baby, need to buy some weapons, some serious arms?

In the American Civil War a doctrine called the Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization was likely the most important determination of victory in the war. This may be the first war where this was understood by one side, and it would be the way in which the World Wars were fought. Victory in the world wars depended on disabling the capacity of the enemy to produce the material of war. The idea of total war had also been simmering and came into existence during the war between the Federalists and Confederacy. The wars of the Middle Ages were no less brutal, but were in fact kind of guided by ideas of chivalry and divine right but also were limited by the human scale of industrial production. Labor in the Middle Ages was the labor of humanity and animals. This had gradually given way to wars inflected by technology and more so by the industrial capacity of nation states at war. The World Wars saw the logical conclusion of war as a conflict between the economies of nation states. These wars of factories and the reproductive capacities of vast nation states. Without much of a surprise the losers of the war were industrial titans, Germany and Japan, and the winners of the war, The United States and Russia were monolithic and totalizing systems from top to bottom — Industrial Capitalism in one corner and Industrial Communism in the other. China was present in this war but was violently shucking off its colonialism and then embarked on the rational path of Industrial Communism.

But at the end of the war, technology and industry had produced the destructive capacities of the Nuclear Age, and at the same time, produced the networks that would give rise to Globalism. Globalism would in the end become the epoch that would replace Modernism with its nation states. In Modernism the corporation belonged to the nation state and while profits were vital to the mission of the corporation it was within the construct of the nation state. In the transition period between Modernism and Globalism, which might be called Post-Modernism, corporations gradually eroded their ties to nation States. For example corporations such as Apple Computers while being born in California in the United States by the first decade of the 21st Century relied on components from a global supply chain, Chinese labor, and sales to a global market. Apple is hardly as much a United States corporation as it is a Chinese corporation. It is a global company and does not really belong to any nation state. Continue Reading →

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The State Does Owe You A Job or 2 Millions Dollars

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We drink Coke. IA Richards is wrong. A paleolithic man wouldn’t drink a Coke, nor would he have any interest in Hamlet. In all Post-Apocalyptic stories the survivors want to roll the clock back; that is their central theme. If you have ever actually tried to survive in the wilderness, you know that water taps and central heating are worth the trade. Survival is not liberty, either.

Generations ago we traded our ability to support ourselves off the land for the coordinated, collective action known as The State. We traded this ability for the collective gain in productive power so that we could benefit from the bounty of this increase known as the division of labor. This trade came with an obligation from The State to provide for us. It is not possible for a contemporary human to survive off the land. A contemporary human does not in fact own enough land to survive. Because of this we are in fact entitled to support for our survival. The existence of The State makes the phrase an Nanny State an oxymoron. All nations are Nanny States.

We are entitled to support in the same way that a fish is entitled to water, a bird to air, a contemporary man to his Nanny State. Our greatgreatgrandmother’s gave away our ability to support ourselves long before we were born to The State. The State, in turn, must make certain that we have food, shelter, and education. In the United States this contract is the promise of the Constitution and includes the slightly weird concept of “the pursuit of happiness,” not happiness itself, but its pursuit. You can chase it if you want. Happiness I suppose is the carrot. Unhappiness is the stick. But any threat of starvation or denial of anything else at the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy is breaking the contract.

If The State breaks this basic provision of food, water, shelter, health care, personal security, privacy, education, and the time and freedom to make and maintain social bonds then The State has broken its contract and should provide you with the ability to do this for yourself. So at my age that means the basic survival of my family will cost about 2 million dollars (with education and health care being completely covered on top of that). This figure came from the The Self Sufficiency Calculator for Washington State.

If The State fails to honor this agreement, than the agreement would seem to be null, and yet the void of no state — the appeal of zombie narratives, Mad Max, and other end of the world narratives — is another world and one that in which we are not designed to survive. Even in these myths the survivors end up like maggots surviving on the corpse of The State and the only way that the survivors survive is by creating a new state.

Why would anyone want to void the existence of The State? We traded our ability to take care of ourselves for the reality of cooperative action and the effecinces of the division of labor. The State does not have ability to restore us to our condition before this trade. It is merely a myth to think that we could return to what we were before The State. As a species we have been altered forever by The State.

If I were you right now to give you a parsec of land, like the Romans did to their citizen soldiers, could you turn that land into a living? Of course not. In America, only a libertarian nostalgic for a golden aged pioneer world that never quiet was would yearn for such a thing. Continue Reading →

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On Work

Women leaving work for the day, Hana Shoe Factory, Lewiston, Maine, August 1973 Photo by Alex McPhail.

Women leaving work for the day, Hana Shoe Factory, Lewiston, Maine, August 1973. Photo by Alex McPhail.

Americans are obsessed with work. It is the one cult that I think most Americans willingly belong to. Just work hard and everything will be all right. The cult ignores the obvious reality that if you are being exploited, labor is an aspect of your miserable conditions. It is not your salvation. It is the terms of your oppression. The cult ignores the obvious reality that the richest people in the country are free from labor. We like to believe that Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Larry Ellison, and so on have became what they were through hard work. And if you work hard enough as well, you too can be a Koch. I talked to Jeff Bezos once for five minutes. I was aware that in those five minutes, if you measure a person’s time by the dollar, those minutes were easily worth more than my annual salary. Labor itself cannot buy you freedom.

Of course I’m typing this on the third weekend in a row when I am working… blogging itself is labor and it is labor I am not paid to do. If only I work hard enough I will crack will open in the sky and money will pour out. Even the folks at The Stranger praise work. Christopher Frizzelle pointed out at an after work even that itself was on the clock for The Stranger staff and only obliquely leisure time for myself, that then books editor, Paul Constant, had written more than 10 blog posts a day for his entire career so far at The Stranger (in addition to doing his other work.) In reading a sociological study of the bums that lived in the Hooverville in the Duwamish during the Depression, the bums were praised for their industry. My father’s highest praise for someone: She is a hard worker. Socialism and Communism are derided by many Americans because they makes people lazy. Even the so called slackers are now seen as hopeless rubes for the expansion of the work week. The millennials are regarded with alarm because they value leisure time. I’m sure that will be fixed by the time they start to have children, mortgages, and run out of forbearance on their college debt.

Okay, I need to get back to work after taking a break to do some work.

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Reading with Matt Briggs, Gary Groth, John Olson 10.10.15 2 p.m. at the Frye

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Genius / 21 Century / Seattle SEPTEMBER 26, 2015 – JANUARY 10, 2016 Genius is an unprecedented, large-scale celebration of exceptional multidisciplinary and collaborative artistic practice in Seattle in the twenty-first century. It features over sixty visual artists, filmmakers, writers, theater artists, composers, musicians, choreographers, dancers, and arts organizations. The exhibition and its more than thirty-five events will run from September 26, 2015, to January 10, 2016.

Literary Festival

READING WITH MATT BRIGGS, GARY GROTH, JOHN OLSON

Saturday, October 10, 2015
2 – 3:30 pm

Location
Frye Galleries

BREAK THE GENRE

What are the boundaries and limits of genre? Readings are followed by a moderated panel discussion.

ABOUT THE ARTISTS

Matt Briggs is the author of eight books. The Publication Studio recently releasedVirility Rituals of North American Teenage Boys, a collection of stories, and The Double E, a novel. Briggs first novel, Shoot the Buffalo, was a finalist for the 2006 Washington State Book Award and won the 2006 American Book Award. His stories have appeared in The Chicago Review, Word Riot, BULL, Spork, Birkensnake,ZYZYYVA, and elsewhere. He lives in Des Moines. (I’ll be reading on the “Genre of Silence.”)

Gary Groth is President and Co-Publisher of Fantagraphics Books, Executive Editor of The Comics Journal, and Co-Editor of the Mome anthology.

John Olson is the author of numerous books of poetry, the most recent beingLarynx Galaxy (Black Widow Press 2012). He is also the author of three novels, including The Seeing Machine, The Nothing That Is, and Souls of Wind, the latter of which was shortlisted for a Believer book of the year award in 2008. In 2004, Olson received The Stranger Genius Award for literature and in 2012 he was shortlisted for an Artist Trust Innovator Arts Award.

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Writers in the Information Economy, a talk at Seattle Central College 10.29.15 at 12 pm with Matt Briggs, Paul Hunter, and Phoebe Bosche

Making Hay | Matt Briggs, Paul Hunter, Phoebe Bosche as part of the Conversations on Social Issues at Seattle Central College, Thursday 10.29.15 12 pm. (Library Room A)

Making Hay | Matt Briggs, Paul Hunter, Phoebe Bosche as part of the Conversations on Social Issues at Seattle Central College, Thursday 10.29.15 12 pm. (Library Room A)

I am going to talk with Paul Hunter and Phoebe Bosche (with The Raven Chronicles) about the humanities and in particular writers in the information economy. We’ll bring our talk to Seattle Central Community College to talk as part of their series Conversations on Social Issues at 12 p.m. in Library Room A. If you are free for lunch that day and in Seattle, I hope you can make it.

Paul Hunter studied English at the University of Washington in the late 1960s, and was around in Seattle during the end of the first tech boom fueled by Boeing and the start of the counterculture in Seattle. He worked as an English instructor at a private school in Seattle where his students went off to work in the second and third-wave tech booms. Paul is a poet, musician, instrument-maker, teacher, and editor and publisher. For over a decade, he has produced letterpress books and broadsides under the imprint of Wood Works Press, located in Seattle. Hunter is the author of several chapbooks and four books of poetry: Ripening (2006) and Breaking Ground (2005 Washington State Book Award), both published by Silverfish Review Press; Mockingbird (1981, Jawbone Press) and Pullman (1976, University of Washington Press). He was profiled in on the PBS News Hour in 2007. Continue Reading →

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Mowing the Lawn

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I am aware though after I mow my lawn in a strange suburban pride in having a neat and tidy lawn.

I am aware though, after I mow my lawn, in a strange suburban pride in having a neat and tidy space to call my own.

I mowed the lawn yesterday. This morning I’m looking out on the bluish early morning light and seeing the edged and smooth and somewhat green velvety texture of the lawn coated with early morning dew. There are drops in the scraggly and mostly dead rose bush. I like the collapsing and tangled and probably unhealthy rose bush and don’t want to trim it, but the lawn itself is something I feel a degree of suburban energy around. I don’t even know know how to phrase this. I didn’t have a lawn when I lived in an apartment while going to college. In fact the entire building didn’t have a lawn. It had a hedge of bamboo where raccoons would hide while migrating from Lake Union to Green Lake. There were planters for the Japanese maple trees along the street. But otherwise the building was free of vegetation even though it was under very tall city trees that left leafy, cool shadows on the side of the hill in the Spring and Summer. But after this I lived in houses on city lots with tiny lawns that required mowing and I would kept these patches of grass trimmed and short. It would take less half an hour and I would be done. I didn’t think much about the lawn or lawn care or mowing lawns in these rental houses. We lived for a time in a house north of the city, and the previous tenant had left the back lawn to grow. He’d had a bon fire in the middle of the grass that had gone to seed for several generations leaving clumps of golden straw and a brown morass of old seed pods. I used a weed whacker to cut the grass down to a manageable size and then began to cut the grass and after a season the grass was a plush bed of grass and the old fire-pit disappeared into the soft bed. It calmed me, but it wasn’t until I bought a house in the algae coated suburbs filled with cul-de-sacs, pastures holding drainage ponds, and houses with somewhat vast overgrown yards that I became the owner of my own bit of managed lawn. Continue Reading →

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