Wednesday, November 30, 2016

America 7.0

Fuckity fuck fuck fuck fuck godamn motherfuck shit hell cocksucker son of bitch... BOLLACKS
Sorry, just needed to get that out of the way.

I don't know what iteration the United States has entered into in the last few weeks, but I'm quite sure that whatever it is, it's definitely a worthy of a full number jump. It is a change that is horrifying, mind-bending, and utterly depressing. Much as I didn't feel like I recognized my home on 9/12/01, it's tough to see how this is the same country that existed on 11/8/16. At the same time, it is not permanent. There are an infinite iterations of numbers, and there are an infinite number of guises that our country is capable of assuming.

So here we are. Changed, but capable of change again. I know, this is simple stuff, but it's important to remember, at least for me.

For reasons I won't go into here, our family was consumed by a personal crisis at the same time that Fuckface Von Clownstick, as he'll always be to me, was setting the world aflame on November 8. It has therefore taken a little longer than normal to ruminate over what this means for me, my loved ones, and our way of life. A few thoughts, in no particular order, for you to do what you will with:

Yup, yup and hell, yup

1. The honeymoon is REALLY, truly over. I'd always sort of assumed that come November 9, I'd be able to breathe a deep sigh of relief, dial back the continuous checking with the latest political developments, and get back to the things I enjoy most: Doing fun shit with my wife and kids, running, and promoting graffiti and street art. On the latter point, I lamented in my last post that politics was crowding out everything else, and that still hasn't changed—I haven't even updated my Instagram in a month now.

I now know that as important as these things are for my own mental and physical health, I need to engage more fully with the outside world. I cannot take for granted anymore that the vast majority of people in this country will do the right thing when it comes to choosing our leaders. It is clear that there are, in fact, a terrifying number of Americans who would just as soon chuck the whole system of checks and balances out the window, just for the glimmer of "security" that a strongman promises them.
This seemed sort of funny in October. Now, not so much...

2. Right, but how to respond? There seems to be a consensus among folks I've talked to about this that once you've gotten over the despair of the moment, there are roughly three courses of action you can take: Think globally by promoting outside groups whose causes you support and pestering the living fuck out of your elected representatives to do the right thing, and act locally by doing small things in your own neighborhood to help protect the vulnerable and strengthen the ties that bind us as citizens. You know, go to rallies, visit local mosques to lend support, make eye contact with random people on the sidewalk, etc.

This is how we do it in Brooklyn.

3. Know Thy Enemy. A friend of mine made the point that in this election, there were plenty of people who were not necessarily pro-Fuckface as they were anti-Clinton. They no doubt had reasons that I disagree with, but now the election is over, those reasons are moot. He's the one giving a master class in demagoguery and corruption now; she is not. I hear a lot now about how we should do more listening to each other, but let's not kid ourselves: Those anti-Clinton voters are the ones worth listening to. The voters who really think a misogynistic bully is a model of leadership are not going to meet you half way, no matter how patient you are.

4. Issues matter. Distractions do not. (This is closely related to #3). Last week gave us a perfect illustration of this. Does it matter that Fuckface demanded that the cast of Hamilton apologize for "harassing" Mike Pence at a recent show? It does not. Same with this utter gibberish about flag burning. Picking pointless fights that do nothing but rile up his base and generate headlines is so Act I, to use a theater metaphor. While it may have made sense to respond to them when he was merely a potential threat, and not an actual one, now it's time to zero in on Act II: Plundering the prestige of the office to fill his pockets with filthy lucre.
Graf beef, or our future president's twitter account?

5. Pick issues that really resonate. With so many critical aspects of life under threat now, it feels easy to get paralyzed. Racism? Nuclear proliferation? The economy? Reproductive rights? Climate Change? Terrorism? Education? The list goes on and on, and while it may seem as if attention to one issue may result in the neglect of another, I take heart in the fact that as one person, there's only so much I can expect of myself anyway. So for me, my top three topics are climate change, "post truth" (also known as lying) in the public discourse, and preservation of American democracy, particularly when it comes to voting rights. Thinking of gerrymandering and such.
Can you guess where all the black people are crammed together?

6. Reach out. With two small children and a full-time job, this is something I've been meaning to do anyway, but now it's taken on a much greater sense of urgency. Calls and texts to friends to just ask "What are you doing?" as well as groups on Facebook do help combat the sense that I'm fighting this fight alone.

6. Blow off Some Steam. In those first few days after the election, I realized that it was not good for my mental health to log onto Facebook and Twitter and read yet another pointless series of back and forth arguments that never resolved themselves in a productive fashion. Like many, I'm addicted to my smartphone though, so now, when the urge to pick it up overcomes me, I boot up Neko Atsume instead where I currently tend to 36 cats. No, really. It's utterly pointless, and I love it. It also goes without saying that the ultimate outlet is putting the damn phone away and spending real time with my kids. They can be the biggest causes of stress, but the flipside is true as well: They give as much as they take.

Here, kitty kitty kitty...

7. Never give up on cities.  As I detailed in the very first post of this blog, this whole endeavor began with my pursuing of a masters in urban studies. I did do in part because I call a rather large one my home, but also because I do believe that cities are where the greatest challenges humanity face are going to be solved. Even that bastion of innovation, Silicon Valley, eventually came to realize that urban living is where it's at, and moved to San Francisco. (Yes, I know, the Bay area is suffering from redonkulous levels of displacement as a result, but that's another argument). Sadly, while the country is often split into "red states" and "blue states," it's probably more accurate to describe the U.S. as a country of blue islands marooned in a vast red sea, with a few larger bodies of land on the edges.

These blue islands are where I believe the future lies, and indeed, as of this writing, their denizens cast almost two million more votes for Hillary Clinton than the sentient garbage fire poised to "lead" the country. That's cold comfort, however, when you live in a country that was set up from the very beginning to protect the interests of rural states from the tyranny of the majority. Ironically, it is they, not the unwashed multi-culti masses of the streets, who have elevated the least empathetic man alive.
Brooklyn, USA

What can a writer in a liberal enclave on the coast do? I'm still working it out, as I'm sure many others are. All I know is that as I move forward, I need to define myself more by what I'm for, not what I'm against. This is going to be tough, since it's very clear that going forward, if you disagree in any way with the incoming regime (and I do mean regime in the worst possible sense), you will be labeled a traitor and attacked viciously. So yes, let's reform our own camps, and listen to those who will listen to us. But we've got to watch our asses too.  
Home sweet home, worth fighting for.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

A year later

When I decided to turn Graffiti Murals into a book, part of the motivation was borne out of the fact that I'd never encountered a book like it while I researching for my masters' thesis, and when I looked at the chapters and images I'd collected, it sure as hell seemed like there was enough material to turn it into a book.

And then, voila! The first copy arrived at my door on June 25, and on August 28th, it hit the stands in a few stores, including the Barnes and Noble in Union Square, the Strand and the Museum of the City of York. And of course, the evil empire known as Amazon. Fun little thing about that: When you buy a copy that's discounted there, the royalty I get is a percentage of that discounted price, not the list price. So yeah, I did ok sales wise, but no, I won't be taking my wife out to dinner at Per Se with my first royalty check.
Got me a little book release party in October.

I've written already about some of the publicity I was able to get, and most recently, I got the book into the hands of the folks at Brooklyn Street Art. All in all, not too bad, given that the fall was a blur of sleepless nights tending to our newborn son, who arrived two weeks before the book, and the winter was, well, it's kind of hard to describe how bat-shit crazy things can get at a university during the spring semester.  Of course, you probably knew that, given that I went seven straight months without posting anything here. Erm, sorry about that. In my defense, I did start three other posts before getting distracted by life. Also, have you heard about this thing called Instagram? I've got a whopping 204 followers now. That's something, right?
Gowanus, how you call to me like a siren...

So what now? This is a head scratcher. No one is calling anymore to talk to me about the book, and to be perfectly honest, my desire to hit up random reporters and producers has waned a bit. The book was always a bit of long shot, as wonky as it is, so at this point, I'm kind of ok with occasionally pitching it to reporters when I see they've written about something similar, and otherwise moving forward with a new project, particularly since that newborn who was keeping us up all winter is now a wobbly, more or less walking one year-old, and lets us get seven hours of continuous sleep. Time to fire up the reporting juices again!
Welcome to the world kid. This is graffiti. Capish?

The problem is, I have no idea what that should be. For a short time, it looked as if a fella from the one of the city's government agencies was going to incorporate anecdotes in the book into a proposal to expand a pilot project that promotes murals as a deterrent to vandalism, but then he jumped ship for another department and left no forwarding information. And it's not as if there aren't plenty of new walls being snapped up every day by enterprising writers, either to make political statements, advertise their talents, make real estate developers look good, or, well, who the hell knows what the point of this was, but it's out there, without the help of anyone in official city circles.

One area where there is a concerted effort to support murals is the the amazing 100 gates project out of the Lower East Side BID, and one of the best things to come out of writing the book has been meeting Natalie Raben, who runs the gates project. If you haven't wandered down that way, you don't know what you're missing. In a way, the Gates project epitomizes the kind of collaboration I hoped to inspire. After all, well-executed illegal graffiti and street art can seize and transform a block like no other, but short of changing the laws and dismantling NYC's vandal squad, there's no obvious way to promote that, aside from sharing a picture of it on twitter or Instagram. 100 gates is the next best thing, and I really hope to see more projects like it.
And they dubbed him...Faust

I need new inspiration. I love to explore new spaces when I get the chance, such as a recent visit to Mount Eden in the Bronx, and revisit familiar hot spots like the Bushwick Collective and Welling Court too. But for all the amazing art that's there, it drives me on instagram.

I can haz old skool graf please? Much thnks

In retrospect, it might have been naive to think a second act would simply reveal itself in the course of the promotion of the book.

One line in the Brooklyn Street art review intrigued me, and makes me wonder if perhaps I should try to look at the art I seek out in a different light:

In the context of urban studies and planning, the creativity here is sort of reduced to pawndom, but as a social factor, he provides examination of the intersections of invested parties.

It's an interesting observation, that I reduced the creativity of the murals to "pawndom." It feels a little like a knock, because a pawn is, by its very nature, disposable, and that's definitely not how I feel about murals. But it could also be simply because I don't delve all that deeply into the nature of the art itself. In that regard, I plead guilty to being a a bit of a philistine—shit, I can't even decipher a lot of graffiti tags.

Part of the problem, I must confess, is that in the absence of a straight forward path towards another project, I've allowed myself to become consumed with news of the presidential election. I've wasted words upon words upon words (the best words!) on social media about the human garbage fire that is Donald Drumpf the same way a person on a leaky life raft in the ocean frantically bails out sea water as fast as they can, to no avail. And yet, the stakes are so high, I can't resist the temptation to read every analysis, breaking news or flabbergasted response to the ravings of a man who is mentally and morally hollow. Hell, I've even wasted time rethinking arguments I might have made with Trumpists, even though I know their default response will always be "Well, Hillary is worse because BENGHAZI!" Worst. Election. Ever...

On the plus side, I suppose it's nice to think we'll make history one way or another on November 8, by either electing a woman for the first time, or by electing a man with fewer qualifications than a bowl of expired potato salad. In which case, I'm sure the graffiti we see will be a LOT more political than it's ever been.

In the mean time, if you bought my book online from Barnes and Noble, and figured 'Well shit, I may as well also get me a copy of Becky's Beach Fun,' kudos for making my world a little more unpredictable in a good way.

Bywater, New Orleans