Five Quick Things

8 January 2008

First, moving house is going to be very expensive. It will basically suck our savings dry — paying for removalists and freight and insurance and bonds and a month’s rent up front. I’ll be glad when it’s over.

Second, I’ve resolved to put some exercise back into my routine this year. When I was a kid I used to play a couple of different sports, so there’d be training three days a week and then matches on the weekend. Now, I walk to and from work a few days a week, but it’s not enough.

Third, my more fun resolution is to write letters. Moving away from friends makes this a no-brainer.

Fourth, I’m thinking about abandoning social networking sites. They’re an easy way to keep people up to date, but the flipside is that they kill conversation:

“I did X on the weekend.”

“Yeah, I saw that on Facebook.”

“Did you hear that Y and Z got together?”

“Yeah, it was on Facebook.”

Blegh.

Fifth, notwithstanding the aforementioned cost, I’m really, really looking forward to moving.

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Tick, tick, tick

3 January 2008

I don’t really get into the spirit of New Year’s celebrations. The calendar is, after all, just an arbitrary numbering system. Birthdays I can go along with, since it’s the number of laps around the sun since a particular event. But calendar years don’t really have a tangible reference point; the numbers were plucked out of thin air.

So I always feel like New Year’s eve parties are celebrating nothing. The clock ticking over another second, just like all the other seconds. Even the fact of the inevitable countdown turns an otherwise decent party into a tedious chore. Is it midnight yet? Because I want to go home.

This year, I didn’t celebrate the New Year, not properly. I went to a couple of different parties, but we left the first one long before midnight and the second one was actually a thirtieth birthday party. It was nice: just a regular party, with champagne and whiskey and cupcakes and friends.

But now I’m wondering whether I shouldn’t go along with the New Year’s traditions, just this once. 2008 might be just a number, but it feels more genuinely like a clean break this time. I was at work on 2 January to start cleaning out my office. Next week I’m flying off on a mission to find somewhere to live, and when I get back we’ll have to start packing. February is the journey, and March is a new job.

So given that, perhaps I will make some resolutions this year.

Zine cover - Telegram Ma’am #9

In 2006 and 2007, Maranda Farthing was hospitalised after trying to commit suicide. It was her attempt to escape:

When the darker part of my mind took over, I needed to find a safer place, a place where I could take a break and get some help. To get to that sort of place, I had to hurt myself.

Telegram Ma’am #9 takes the reader to that place with Maranda. First, briefly, to a rehabilitation centre, then to a psychiatric hospital for seven days, and then to the beginnings of her post-hospital life. It is a story of panic and pain, but also of love (a mother who made the difficult decision to take her daughter to the hospital) and care (a nurse who uses what might have been “standard nurse-to-patient textbook stuff” to calm her patient).

Maranda is very good at describing her situation in a way that encourages empathy rather than pity. I think it is because her inquisitiveness and perceptiveness come through so strongly: if she was going to be in hospital for a week, she was going to scour the library and wander the corridors:

Earlier, I ventured the hospital grounds on my own. I simply went downstairs to find the cahnge machine and get myself a drink, but I wondered what the others might think of me, an obvious patient in my casual clothes and ballet slippers, confused expression on my face as I explored the hallways. Would they sense I was from the Mental Health Ward, or could I pass for a “normal” patient?

Telegram Ma’am #9 is hard to read. Not because it’s badly written, or boring — far from it. It is hard to read because it takes the reader through a difficult period in Maranda’s life and makes us feel like we are there with her. Not sharing her experiences, exactly: more like witnessing them from close by, unable to do anything to help. Fortunately Maranda has the strength to get through without our help, which is what makes us want to keep turning the pages.

Maranda Farthing, Telegram Ma’am #9, 1/4 size, 32 pages.
Available from the author, but maybe sold out.

Five Quick Things

14 December 2007

First, HR screwed me over. It’s the last pay day before Christmas, and I got about a third of my wages, because they didn’t process my contract extension until 10 December — 12 days after I signed it. And now they’re going to try to pay me the difference by next week, but won’t make any promises. This makes Christmas shopping difficult. Bastards.

Second, my new favourite web comic is We the Robots. It only started recently, so you should jump back to the beginning and read it from there.

Third, I am in complete agreement with the latest Zero Punctuation. I have hit a wall on the last couple of songs on “Hard”, because of those pointless hammer-on arpeggios. My little finger can’t cope.

Fourth, I think I’ve finally got my head around the “aeroplane on a conveyor belt” problem, and I think the plane would take off. Still, it will be nice to see what Mythbusters has to say about it.

Fifth, I apologise for the lack of recent zine reviews. I have a few that I’ve structured in my head but need to sit down and type and tweak them. Stay tuned.

Five Quick Things

5 December 2007

First, my fiancee is away this week, meeting with her future employers and scoping out possible future neighbourhoods for us. It has been hard to adjust to sleeping alone. Fortunately, there are only a few more nights left. I’m wondering whether I should do a similar recce mission in January.

Second, while she’s been away I’ve had a chance to indulge my unrefined self — doing crazy, foolhardy things like leaving the dishes until the morning, and playing Guitar Hero III. The last few songs on “hard” are kicking my butt, but I’m enjoying the first few on “expert”. If you’ve got the Wii version and want to play some online multiplayer, drop a comment and we can exchange friend codes.

Third, I’m broke at the moment. I’ve had to dip into my savings a bit, which is not good — we’re going to need them to pay for long-haul removalists and a bond and furniture and all that jazz. I suck at money.

Fourth, it was Mum’s birthday on the weekend. I gave her some movie tickets and a book, but it turns out she already had the book. That’s always a bit of a bummer, but at least it means I picked something she was interested in. I just got there too late!

Fifth, Christmas is almost upon us: it’s time to start organising gifts. This is a problem, due to my aforementioned financial circumstances, so I am going to try to be a bit more creative this year — crafty, even.

Zine Review: Scam #5½

30 November 2007

Zine cover - Scam #5½

Arnold Zwicky wrote an interesting post for Language Log recently, about the blurred edges of technical and everyday words. He pointed out how “the common-language use of epicenter for the central point of an event” is slightly different from its original jargon meaning: “Technically, it’s the location on the earth’s surface over the place where the earthquake event happened, undergound.”

When Erick Lyle named Scam #5½ “The Epicenter of Crime: The Hunt’s Donuts Story”, borrowing the phrase from a news broadcast, I suspect he was using epicenter in the common-language sense. But the technical meaning is perhaps even more fitting, because Hunt’s Donuts — beneath the “OPEN 25 HOURS” neon sign — was the point where the underground centre was reflected on the surface. It was the place where the petty criminal underworld of San Francisco’s Mission district met the world of the upstanding citizenry.

You can read part of the Hunt’s Donuts story in a March 2000 article in the SF Weekly. By that time it was called Magic Donuts, and the city was trying to force the new owners to shut the place down, using their tactic of suing “Mom and Pop” store owners for social problems beyond their control. But if you want the full story, the real story of Hunt’s Donuts on 20th and Mission, you need to read Scam #5½.

In Lyle’s story, the Magic Donuts dispute is just the latest episode in a long history:

… the story of Hunt’s is both less and more than news. Its a rumor, an illicit history, the pull of the gravity of the epicenter of crime. At 20th and Mission, battles to control the identity of the Mission have been acted out again and again, between ever changing sets of police and thieves over the years. In the story that follows we have the Irish cop who shut down the mission’s Latino bars as his father shut down the city’s gay bars. We have the young kid who couldn’t beat the Hunt’s sponsored team on the baseball diamond who grew up to try to shut down the shop as police captain. We have the Latino teenagers who hung out in front of Hunt’s framed for a cop’s murder in the famed trial of Los Siete de la Raza.

Hunt’s Donuts was a microcosm of the Mission community, capturing both its successes and its failures, its hopes and its tragedies. Established by a pillar of the business community but condemned by the police, it was simultaneously a place where families would buy donuts after mass on Sunday and a place where drunks and junkies would trade goods of dubious provenance. In Scam #5½, Lyle brings the place alive on the page.

We see Hunt’s through the eyes of its owners, its customers, the growing Latino population, the police — both sympathetic and otherwise, the drunks, the punks, and the yuppies moving in and gentrifying the Mission. Ultimately, Lyle is sad about Hunt’s closing after 52 years as a Mission institution, and it is easy to see why: love it or loathe it, Hunt’s Donuts was in the thick of things. Scam #5½ is a comprehensive social history and a pleasure to read.

Erick Lyle, Scam #5½, ¼ size, 32 pages.
Available from Paper Trail, Needles + Pens, McPheeters and Microcosm

Five Quick Things

28 November 2007

First, this site is too infrequently updated. This is because my motivation is currently exceeded by the effort involved in coming up with a topic and then putting finger to key. I will try to reduce the required effort by coming up with a few “template” ideas for posts — it’s worked quite well so far with zine reviews. Here is the first in what I hope will become a weekly series of Five Quick Things.

Second, I managed to get my hands slightly sunburnt over the weekend. Actually, it would be more accurate to say I managed to get part of my hands badly sunburnt. I burn in an instant, so I apply and reapply suncream almost as a reflex. Unfortunately, I missed the base of my thumbs. Thankfully, the sting has gone out of it now.

Third, I like the fact that the term guerilla clockmaker is a real term. That there is such a thing as a guerilla clockmaker. A group of French activists snuck into the dome of the Pantheon, set up a workshop and camp, and spent a year “piec[ing] apart and repair[ing] the antique clock that had been left to rust in the building since the 1960s”. Sadly, the French government refuses to wind the clock.

Fourth, last night I took my lady friend out for dinner at a cheap Chinese BBQ restaurant. I love restaurants that have ducks and pigs hanging in the window, cooks wielding massive cleavers behind the counter, and are frequented almost exclusively by foreigners. And the food was amazing.

Fifth, Contrast Podcast. Go. Listen.

Zine cover - No Better Voice #30

In No Better Voice #30 Jami has opted to stand back and showcase her friends’ work. She has pulled together a disparate collection of contributions; some are fictional, some are factual, and there is no apparent overarching theme.

The strongest piece is from Christina LaRose. It is the story of a young girl progressing through a ballet school, and it is a love-hate story. It is the story of an abusive relationship, of a culture that inflicts physical and mental pain but promises happiness: “a world of pain—a world of pain ensconsed in a smile”.

I was drawn in by the first-person perspective (perhaps it is autobiographical?) and despite having no experience of ballet lessons I could nonetheless feel the horrible conformist pressure being put on the protagonist. Her body is the wrong shape, and she must be bound to eliminate unsightly curves:

When I get home, I pull the First Aid kit out of the medicine cabinet and roll ace bandages over my breasts, my waist, my hips. I am a shrinking creature, a mummy. I jokingly wrap a bandage over my face. Dad walks by and laughts.

“You’ve bandaged yourself out of existence!” he says.

I smile yes, yes, yes beneath the medicinal smell of the cloth covering my eyes.

While No Better Voice #30 is worth reading just for this story, there is plenty more to read. I also enjoyed Jenny Bloomer’s “Shark attack!”, a story about how wearing a dress turns her into prey at the bar, a target for sexual predators. It is evocatively illustrated by LB.

For something a little different, Shaun Allen has contributed a fascinating short history of the Revolutionary Union Movement in the US auto industry in the late 1960s and the 1970s. The movement was made up of several small union locals that challenged not only employers but also the tame-cat United Autoworkers, which had a poor record on including black workers in its leadership positions. Inspirational stuff, though the movement was short-lived. It’s nice to see some history in a zine like this.

Jami Thompson (ed), No Better Voice #30, 1/4 size, 32 pages.
Split with Marked for Life #2. Available from Eye Candy, Stranger Danger and Paper Trail.

Do not try this at home

13 November 2007

We’ve gained notoriety,
And caused much anxiety
In the Audubon Society
With our games.
They call it impiety
And lack of propriety,
And quite a variety
Of unpleasant names.
But it’s not against any religion
To want to dispose of a pigeon.

So if Sunday you’re free,
Why don’t you come with me,
And we’ll poison the pigeons in the park.

Please, do not try this at home.

Zine Review: Skin Deep #2

7 November 2007

The importance of zines to fascist organising is explained in White Noise:

Over the years an underground network of nazi skinhead magazines[,] “skinzines”, had been constructed. … With the politicisation that being in contact with other skinheads brought, it was common to find that an address over a period of time went through three stages: a skinzine address; contact for a skinhead crew; then finally a contact point for a fascist organisation.

Zine cover - Skin Deep #2

With that in mind, Deep Skin #2 is a must-read for anti-racist campaigners. It is a beautiful skinzine written by a violent racist… poet. Make no mistake, this is a serious bonehead: “Its for the dude who doesn’t want to be a total gay if he is just trying to write some poems. So you can fuck off.”

The zine is characterised by childish handwriting, naive sketches, bad spelling and a preoccupation with homosexuality. A sample:

Regret I had one time

knife
I am sorry I forgot you at home
knife
I am sorry you didnt get to party
knife/since dad that homo left you are
my best friend
knife
the block of concrete meant nothing
to me
knife

Like all good satire, Skin Deep #2 is effective because it is so accurate. Poems about “knife” and boots and being “too fucking tough / to have friends / or love” skewer the ultra-masculinity of the racist scene. And when the nazi twins are in the headlines, complaints about “weak” kids books are spot on: “my son doesn’t need some fuzzy tiger teaching him how to be a fag”.

I hope some real boneheads accidentally read this zine and see what utter morons they are.

Anonymous, Skin Deep #2, 1/4 size, 36 pages.
Available from Microcosm.