April 30, 2003
How's Your Plot?

Nora Ephron, in Fast Company, on why she told young women graduating from Wellesley in 1996 to "be the heroines of their own lives":

I didn't mean "heroines" in an epic sense. I meant heroines as protagonists, not supporting actors in the story of their own lives -- women who understand that they have choices and who have enough advantages that there's no one but themselves to blame if things don't turn out the way that they'd hoped. Someone very smart once wrote that the hardest thing for women to give up when they begin to achieve equality will be the habit of an alibi.

Posted at 07:01 PM
That Smiling Face

Has anybody else noticed that someone is going around putting up posters of George Bush (not Bush, the band) all over town? Well, not literally "all over" but enough so that I've seen repeated sightings in the last couple of days.

Here's one on Michigan Avenue yesterday:

There's no text on the poster, so it's hard to know what the meaning is. Uber patriotism at work? Really, really subtle political protest? Or just somebody with a color photocopier and a whimsical sense of humor? I wonder.

Meanwhile, as fast as they're putting them up, others are taking them down (as here at the Randolph El stop):

Or painting them over, as someone (a cranky construction worker?) has done here, further south on Michigan:

The eerie glow on his face reminds me of the pictures of Jesus they used to show us in Confirmation class. The beatific smile doesn't seem much like life, but the neck crease is a little unnerving.

Who's got a theory?

Posted at 06:50 PM
April 28, 2003
Why I Need a Minder*

I need to verify this, but it is entirely possible that somewhere between my French class and the Fullerton stop, I lost, mislaid, or was relieved of a bag of shoes.

Ironically, I had carted one pair, a soft shiny set of heels, downtown to get them fixed. The repair shop told me they were unfixable. So they were heading home to take their place among the things I don't know what to do with but don't want to throw away.

The other pair, a pair of loafers purchased at an outlet mall in Florida, had been living in my desk drawer at work for some time. I had looked for them this morning and decided to bring them home.

It's possible they (the two pairs of shoes) made a break for it. I admit I was pretty distracted and not paying attention like I should have been. So now they're out there on their own, chrome wheeled, fuel injected and steppin out over the line. Maybe.

Who wants to call the CTA's Lost and Found for me and inquire if anyone turned in a bag of shoes? Come home, guys, all is forgiven.

* Skeptics may suggest that this title should simply read "Why I Need a Mind."

Posted at 09:39 PM
April 26, 2003
Career Day

With a colorful stack of brochures, they hand you a line like ‘the future is yours’...

When I was in high school, a local newspaper writer came to our school for “Career Day.” Today, the only thing I remember about his presentation is a discussion of an apocryphal-sounding story about a man who spontaneously combusted, leaving only a pile of freeze-dried coffee behind. Over the years this memory has gotten blurry, to the point where I can almost tell myself that a local newspaper writer came to our school and spontaneously combusted. The point, however, is that that’s all I remember from Career Day.

Against this backdrop I find myself thinking about “professionalism” and the big picture. It started with the ongoing debate about blogging being the same thing as journalism, and continued with a more general debate with Chris. And it’s in the media news as well as pundits weigh in on the proposed revamping of Columbia University’s journalism program.

When I first started reading up on this, I was honestly surprised at how widespread distrust of professionalism is. The distrust stems from the assumption that when groups of people consider themselves professionals, the result is likely to be conformity, exclusion, and passivity. The most obvious targets for the argument are fields like medicine and law, but the debate also extends into computer game design, teaching, librarianship, and nursing.

It’s an argument in which the opposing sides don’t hear each other very well. In a paper about librarianship, one author described the clash of rhetorics as “a civil war between privileged professionals arguing from positions of moral absolutism and beleaguered managers arguing from positions of organizational efficiency.”

Who gave you the right to plow the surface of my clear day? Oh, I see, this must be Career Day

As I turned my attention to the eternal debate as to the necessity of journalism degrees, a sinking feeling set in. You mean this hoary old war horse is still out there?

Yes, and apparently it’s still alive and kicking. Consider this salvo from the Washington Post this week. The writer skewers Columbia’s dean for referring to journalism as a “profession” and maintains that all the necessary skills can be learned on the job:

Journalism is best learned by doing it. Mostly, an aspiring reporter needs a job, preferably for an exacting editor. You try to be accurate, clear, quick, perceptive and engaging. These are not abstract skills learned in a classroom. At best, journalism schools are necessary evils.

Some j-school detractors argue that would-be journalists major in something else, then figure out how to be a reporter later. Want to report on politics? Go study political science. Interested in health reporting? Go major in biology. And so on.

I don’t wholly disagree with this idea. My school required journalism majors to have a second major to balance out the educational experience. This requirement (and a master’s degree, in my case) helped me to become a more educated person.

Some j-school detractors have gone so far as to apparently advocate that education makes no difference. The A-Clue Newsletter maintains:

But newspapers and the "journalism profession" (an oxymoron to put next to "military intelligence") are no longer in a position to be judge and jury on who is, and isn't, practicing journalism. …It's readers who decide who journalists are, and what journalism is.

The implied discrediting of education—apparently, any education beyond the ability to read—is staggering. It’s hard to imagine someone applying the same principle to medicine, or business, or even technology. Would you say “It’s patients who decide who dentists are, and what dentistry is”? I don’t think so.

Serious anti-professionalists might accuse me of "enforcing the status quo." But for whom? Contrast this with the implicit current of nostalgia running through anti-j-school arguments--seemingly hearking back to the day when reporters learned from the school of hard knocks and didn’t need no stinkin’ education. Was the quality of reporting really any better? That's up for debate. And if they would have us return to those days, would we also be returning to the days when women weren’t commonly well represented in newsrooms, except for the society page? Status quo, indeed.

Just because it's not inviting doesn't mean the wolves aren't biting
My, my, my, what a big pointy ear! All the better to interview you with, my dear

In the end, inevitably, my experience colors my view. I invested a lot of time in my education and I don’t regret it. I support professionalism (including but not limited to education) for women in publishing (and other professions), because I believe professionalism is necessary for women and their accomplishments to be taken more seriously. And finally, I don’t require everyone who works for me to have a journalism degree, but I do require them to demonstrate an understanding of journalistic principles.

The demonstrated understanding is the deal-breaker. When I’m contacted by would-be freelance writers who don’t seem to be able to demonstrate that understanding (failure to attribute, for instance, or opinion masquerading as fact) I suggest they go take a journalism class or two. I don’t have the time or inclination to teach mini-seminars in “Why plagiarism is bad” or “Why you should not offer unsubstantiated assertions without supporting them.” Hiring people who don't understand technique and ethics is unappealing not just because I don’t need the aggravation of fixing their errors, but because the reputation and integrity of my publication are at stake.

This is the flaw in the “an aspiring reporter just needs a job” argument for me. For who’s going to teach the aspiring reporter? Without journalism schools, we all become teachers of Journalism 101, and that’s simply not what I came here to do. Does that make me a “privileged professional” or a “beleaguered manager”? I think the answer is: both.

(Lyrics to "Career Day" by Franklin Bruno.)

Posted at 03:50 PM
April 23, 2003
What Have You

Seen last Friday:

I have some half days available so if you need help in cleaning or what have you call me.

Wouldn't you know, I was going to call to find out about the what have you, but everyone had gotten there ahead of me.

Posted at 09:42 PM
April 21, 2003
Henny for Your Thoughts

Of the many surreal things I've heard during Gulf War II, this exchange by Donald Rumsfeld and a reporter last week has to top the list:

DONALD RUMSFELD: The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over and over and over, and it's the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it 20 times and you think, "my goodness, were there that many vases?" (Laughter) Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?

REPORTER: Do you think that the words "anarchy" and "lawlessness" are ill-chosen...

DONALD RUMSFELD: Absolutely. I picked up a newspaper today and I couldn't believe it. I read eight headlines that talked about chaos, violence, unrest. And it just was Henny-Penny, "the sky is falling." I've never seen anything like it. And here is a country that's being liberated, here are people e going from being repressed and held under the thumb of a vicious dictator, and they're free. And all this newspaper could do, with eight or ten headlines, they showed a man bleeding, a civilian, who they claimed we had shot... one thing after another. It's just unbelievable how people can take that away from what is happening in that country. Do I think those words are unrepresentative? Yes.

My first reaction was: Is it possible I just heard him blow off the looting of national treasures?

My second reaction was: Henny penny! Who talks like that?

Seriously, I thought the whole thing was made up. It didn't make any sense. Apparently Rumsfeld, when he's in haste to debunk his critics, ends up talking like my grandmother.

(He's used this term before, apparently. The Betty Fnord Clinic offers this example.)

At first I thought he'd gotten the metaphor wrong. Wasn't it Chicken Little who thought the sky was falling? But I checked and Henny-Penny is, indeed, another character in that (rather tiresome) story.

It's apparently a better known term than I thought. For example, it's the name of this "provider of global foodservice solutions" (and here I didn't even know there was a problem). It's also an Australian chicken restaurant.

Elsewhere, apparently a number of folks have beloved pets named Henny Penny. For instance, this apparently real chicken is wearing a lovely knit hat.

The Rumsfeld quote took place on April 11 and was widely reported on April 12. (Yes, this is not exactly timely now, but I have not been feeling well, so it's had to wait.) Eerily, this site named a "Henny Penny" Pet of the Day on April 12, 2002! Now that's something to sqawk about.

This is getting altogether too creepy. I'd better go wear a large object on my head until people stop talking like this.

Posted at 09:04 PM
April 20, 2003

My best friend is a good Jewish girl, but she tells me she always enjoyed Easter festivities. I'm sure as kids we must have shared our chocolate bunnies with her.

Lots of people have asked me what we're doing for Easter. I came up with the egg-dyeing because it sounds so dull to say "We're not doing anything." When I was a kid, Easter was predictable as the tide: Sunday dress, church, brunch with relatives, ham, Easter grass, chocolate. I don't miss these things exactly, but sometimes it's hard to relinquish ritual.

At any rate, when I mentioned I was going to color some eggs today, she said, "Tell E. it won't hurt him to color some eggs. Oh, and if you do? Take photos." So here:

(She doesn't read this site, so if anyone knows any reputable services where I can get digital photos made into actual Kodak prints, let me know.)

Posted at 09:12 PM
April 17, 2003

We visited Bloomington this weekend, where it is really spring there, as opposed to faux spring here.

"Here, get on this--lady says there are violets growing in the snow over in Red Bank."
"Violets don't grow in the snow," I said.
"They might in Red Bank," he said. "Slide on over there."
I slid instead to a bar and put in a phone call to the Chief of Police in Red Bank. A desk sergeant answered and I asked him about the violets.
"Ain't no violence over here," he told me, and hung up.
--from "Memoirs of a Drudge," by James Thurber

Posted at 07:16 PM
April 15, 2003
BOT Pt. 6: We'll Always Have Roger Miller

I had only been on the job a short time when I learned the secret of being an editor. Two of my colleagues came up to me with a question to which there was no apparent right answer. Maybe it was about the reader service card, or something to do with an ad. I took a deep breath, looked at it a minute and made a decision. They said, “OK,” and walked away. I was startled because they accepted my opinion so quickly, then I realized that most of the time, people just want you to make a decision—even if you don’t really know the answer.

This is the rule I have operated by ever since. And it’s the reason I couldn’t go back to those BOT days. For better or for worse, I have become used to being the person giving the orders. This was somewhat antithetical to the way the magazine was put together, although I never really tested the group’s limits.

Although music brought us all together, BOT doesn’t reflect much of it. Sometimes all I can remember is that Roger Miller records played over and over at the parties (in addition to a bunch of other stuff). Maybe it was the only thing everyone could agree on. How could you not like Roger Miller?

Well here I sit high, gettin' ideas
Ain't nothing but a fool would live like this
Out all night and runnin' wild
Woman sittin' home with a month old child

This is the most meaningful conclusion I’ve come to from this little excursion back into those days. After BOT #3, we never did another issue, although it was discussed from time to time. The moment, whatever it was, had passed.

The culture around us changed rapidly, too. Early in 1991 we were on the brink of the “grunge” hype that would catapult “alternative” music and the punk rock lifestyle into a media spotlight of sorts. K Records and Sub Pop and all the rest were no longer blessedly obscure. Suddenly, it was all the rage to be disaffected. No one affiliated with BOT particularly identified with this trend, but it and the zine boom of the early and mid-‘90s subtly changed the context. The Internet, with its promises of greater connectivity, changed things even more.

Dang me, dang me
They oughta take a rope and hang me
High, from the highest tree
Woman would you weep for me

Where did everyone end up? All over the place. Some of the coconspirators moved to Louisville and they can be found here. Mike lives in Seattle. Gus still lives in Bloomington. Ed is an itinerant philosophy professor. And so on.

Writing this retrospective was not a nostalgia trip. I don’t want to go back to 1990. It’s been instructive and fun, though. The response from people who remember and total strangers who don’t even know me has been encouraging, and their enthusiasm helps me to remember what fun it all was the first time around. I am grateful for having had the luck to do this magazine and for the forum to remember it now.

Just sittin' around drinkin' with the rest of the guys
Six rounds bought, and I bought five
Spent the groceries and half the rent
Lack fourteen dollars of having twenty-seven cents

Some absences are noted. I’m not in touch with some of the BOT posse any more. Time and distance are largely responsible for this. The Internet and the grapevine being what they are, I expect that sooner or later they’ll connect with this site. I don’t imagine they’ll agree with all my choices, but that’s OK. Agreement was never the point.

They say roses are red and violets are purple
Sugar is sweet and so is maple surple
And I'm the seventh out of seven sons
My pappy was a pistol
I'm a son of a gun.

Posted at 09:20 PM
April 14, 2003
BOT Pt. 5: Bears on Toast

Whenever I open a magazine, I never miss the letters to the editor. In real life, however, my experiences with this kind of correspondence has been decidedly mixed.

Fan mail is great for the ego, but it makes for a self-congratulatory magazine department. Other letter writers are less enjoyable. There are the pedants who want to correct you or enlarge on an obscure fact; “irregulars” who have taken offense at something you’ve done, on purpose or by accident; and cranks who seem to write in again and again, dragging around the same old hobby-horse.

There used to be someone out West who would tape my current magazine’s business-reply card to a large envelope, fill the envelope with random newspapers and junk mail, and mail it back to us, just to drive up our postage costs. I'm all for creative forms of protest, but I'm afraid in this case it backfired--I don't know what they're cranky about.

So by far the best mail I ever got was the mail we got at B.O.T. By issue #3 we had gotten a certain (anthill-sized) amount of exposure via a listing in Factsheet Five, a regularly published compendium of zines and music resources published by Mike Gunderloy, who became somewhat of a cult figure.*

(Sometime early that year E., whom I still did not know very well at that time, rushed up to me and said something like, “YagonnasendyerzinetGunderloy?” I was so taken aback, I thought he was having a seizure.) I haven’t dug up the listing, but it was favorable enough to earn us a few correspondents, some of whom submitted things that ended up in issue #3.

There was a sizeable gap in between issues 2 and 3. By the third act I had undergone several seismic life changes that can help explain the delay. For one thing, I had a real, full-time job in publishing now and was paying my dues and more, doing entry-level grunt work and learning rudimentary desktop publishing software. For another, I had broken up with the person I had been dating (a BOT cofounder), which made it rather hard to concentrate on the magazine. There actually was a brief custody battle over BOT at one point. It wasn’t until after Christmas 1990 that things settled down enough for me to finish.

I don’t have any memory of the production process or putting #3 together. I have an idea that it might have been released, ironically, around the time of the start of Gulf War I. The third BOT, “Bears On Toast,” is dated “Winter 1991” which must mean January or February of that year. The cover art is done in ink by yours truly. I was inspired by Picasso’s “Don Quixote” to draw bears floating downstream on pieces of toast, apparently watching television. I worked very hard on the bears and apparently didn’t know what to do with the right-hand side of the page; see uninspired crosshatches. The bears look nice, though.

One of our correspondents was David Wagner in Singapore, who came across the Factsheet Five listing and sent us an impressionistic account of bathrooms in Southeast Asia.**

Arguing about the bathrooms in Southeast Asia, which are predominantly holes in the floor,…I said, why not a stool or even a bench for comfort? It’s better for your colon and ultimate comfort, my friend. Yeah, but I have a surgically altered knee and it’s not comfortable, or even very possible. Well, you’re the rare unfortunate, most holy god, scratch, subtract five points.

Carl Shiffler weighs in, as usual, on a number of controversial topics, including Robert Mapplethorpe, abortion, and…Lithuania and the last days of the Soviet Union. He offers what reads today as a sort of antidote to the current administration’s version of Pax Americana:

It’s beginning to look like the USA is getting its way everywhere in the world. The Eastern Bloc has cracked; Central America is toeing the line even though they still don’t want us to keep their countries under 24-hour radar surveillance. What have they got to hide? In Cuba, Castro is getting old, the Sovs can’t support him anymore. The Cubans must feel like they’ve got a big slavering wolf looking down on them. China, hell, them boys is old, too. Just a matter of waiting them out. Hong Kong will be the poison pill. Red China will get sick and die. The Japanese, too, are backing off.

What’s next? Well, it looks like the next big problem will be Supereurope. The U.S. and the Sovs, or at least the Russians, may have to unite as a counterweight, an Arctic Ocean League. The Third World could be a threat, too, you know, them getting nukes and all. Will the U.S. continue to dominate Central and South America? Tune in about a decade from now for the next episode of “As The World Squirms.”

I ought to mention, too, of “The Crossroads Bar,” a cryptic fiction series that appeared in all three issues. It never really got going enough for me to figure out what it was about, although this episode talks about flying saucers. Massey Ferguson contributes a Peter Rabid comic, one line of which reads, “What the Hell! Do I do with Mr. Turbo-Corpse?”

B. contributed two articles to this issue. One was “Three Dudes Standing Around Talkin’ About the Floyd,” a record store employees’ astute observations about music T-shirt culture well before Nick Hornby:

Once we got in some Misfits tie-dyes. I laughed almost ‘til I cried. A punker dude bought one with his mom’s plastic. I wrote “Misfit Tie-DIE” on the charge slip, but he didn’t get the joke. I guess it was a bit of a stretch.

The other article is “Two Dudes Sitting Around Talking about Dan Quayle Doing Coke,” which was inspired in part by the rampant gossip of the day connected to Brett Kimberlin, who claimed federal prison officials tried to keep him from going public with allegations that he once sold marijuana to Dan Quayle.*** B. had intimations of a bigger cover-up, about which we had a number of discussions. He fictionalized the whole thing as a long dialogue, with plenty of puns, conspiracy theory, and music snobbery. Looking back and considering the histories of both GWB and Clinton, it all seems rather quaint:

You figure he was into Dark Side of the Moon when party time rolled around?”
“Nah. Don’t figure that’s coke music. Goes with pot, not cocaine.”
“Doesn’t go with anything.”
”You got that.”
“Yeah, right.”
”Maybe Steely Dan.”
”Sounds more likely.”
“Are you making this all up?”

Ed contributed several items to this issue, my favorite being this fake ad for A Love Doomed to Deconstruction. “In preparation: a study of the iconography of a rock group, “The “The” of “The The.”” Below we also see a sampling of Mike and Gus’s Octogon strips. I also feel compelled to explain that I added captions to most of the incidental art from an uncredited children’s book about the adventures of a bear. I have no idea what “Run, Zigzag, Bo! And don’t drop the melon” and “A half-naked man was disappearing over the hill” mean. It must have been a good book, though: “Shed them clothes or I’ll shoot!” also appears.

The back cover was a pastiche of things, including a Singapore stamp, a menu for a smokehouse in Terre Haute, a plate from the bear book (“and they traveled on forever” ) and a handwritten note from one of our contributors.

Dudes, enjoy d(illegible) Dried ink and dead wood. Please feel FREE to Bears on Text. It is a most ? text.

And it was.

*This article gives you an idea of what Factsheet Five was like. It’s since gone out of print.

**Wagner’s note states that he’s an artist working in glass in Singapore. I never heard from him again, but here’s a few links about someone named David Wagner who left Singapore a few years ago to run a glass design business in California. Is it him? Who knows.

***The story of Kimberlin got a lot more press in the early ‘90s in The New Yorker. Later, the reporter who interviewed him wrote a book debunking the whole thing and claiming Kimberlin was unable to produce any evidence. Kimberlin has stayed in the headlines for various things since, most recently for suing the Bureau of Federal Prisons over a rule forbidding inmates from playing electric guitars. Ya know, I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.

Tony is apprehensive about trumpet lessons.
"Music should be for the angels"--Schoenberg
"What is that? A record? I thot we had plumbing trouble"--my housemate Steve

Next: The Wrap-Up

Posted at 09:49 PM
April 10, 2003
BOT Pt. 4: The Post-Modern, Deconstructed, Gritty-but-Sensitive Bear

In publishing, you live and die by a deadline schedule. The schedule can shorten your holidays, abbreviate your vacations, and mess with your sense of time. Right now I'm editing June, hand-holding authors for July and planning September, and it's not even Arbor Day yet. (Is it? Better check on this.)

BOT, of course, did not live by such deadlines. However, by zine time, we got issue No. 2 out the door pretty speedily--just a few months after the first issue. I don't remember the actual dates, but seems like BOT 1 came out in early 1990, say maybe in January, and BOT2 was published in the spring. The cover says "April Fools Number" but that may or may not be tied to an actual calendar date.

I always liked the cover of BOT 2, although it was never clear to me why Mike drew a bear eating a hamburger and wearing a dunce cap. I also like the contrast in textures between the grainy dots of the bear and Mike's usual bright, clear lines in the lettering. The notation along the right margin reads "Glasnost for all but USA and Panama." Maybe it had something to do with the fall of Communism.

Inscription on the masthead page: "I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words Bother Me." The inevitable Pooh quote and doubly ironic because this thing is just filled with long words, not to mention long sentences, fragments, and stanzas.

The obligatory bear story by T. is sort of a bears-in-Indiana-meet-the-Twilight-Zone affair. Demands one character:

"Didja ever notice how bears look more like people in bear suits than animals? That's why they're so damn cute. And do ya know why they look like people in bear suits? BECAUSE THEY ARE PEOPLE IN BEAR SUITS!"
"What about small bears?" asked Charlie.
"Dwarves or trained dogs," came the reply.

For some reason I made a small illustration called "Rabbit on a stick." No animals were harmed in the making of this illustration.

One of the issue's two showpieces is a long article by Ed called "A Bonfire of Vanity: Tom Wolfe's Manifesto for the New Social Novelist." From what I can remember, Ed wrote this simply because he was thrown into a rage by an article by Tom Wolfe ("one of the most irritating attempts at literary criticism I've come across since a certain semiotician told me that Freud was nothing more than a "literary game").*

What really incenses me is his sanctimonious and arrogantly retrograde criticism. Basically, he has three complaints to air: the experimental forms of fiction which have appeared over the last few decades (1) are elitist and amount ot no more than "literary games" (heard that one before?); (2) though often extremely well-written, are literarily inferior to best-sellers and the daily paper; and (3) depend too much on foreign, especially European, models and hence are unsuitable as our proper national literature. Of course, social realism, he contends, embodies the antiheses of these criticisms.

And for the next 6 pages, with block quotes and footnotes and a broad grasp of literature, Ed proceeds to tear Tom Wolfe a new one. (He also couldn't resist the punnery that we remember from his days as Ed the Meat Poet: "His 'criticism' is such trash, it becomes evident that he is less a litterateur than a litter auteur." Ouch!)

I don't know what the reader reaction was, but it was certainly a step forward for BOT: an article that showed its colors and took a stand. For all our good intentions, I don't believe anything in BOT1 showed the same commitment. We typeset it to look just like an article in Harper's, down to specifics about margins and drop caps. What I remember best about this piece is fussing with Ed over footnotes and layout details and nuances in the language. In the last analysis, it is pretty nearly perfectly executed.

A dozen years later it's still a mystery to me how, with all there was to do in New York, he got obsessed enough to write this. For all its brilliance it also has a bit of the smell of the stunt--something you challenge yourself to do to see if you really can do it. And he did.

"Carl Shiffler," too, takes a stand. In this issue he grumps about MADD ("Does MADD have to be so doggone MEAN?!") and takes on the controversy related to the National Endowment for the Arts and obscenity. As protest, he proposes:

...a national obscenity day, when nothing will be presented but obscene art. Obscene opera at the Metropolitan in New York, obscene plays on Broadway and in high school gymnasiums, obscene music on the airwaves, obscene movies and television, obscene poetry on stage and obscene art on the walls. Once the point has been made, we can all settle down and act like human beings again.

There's some poetry (which we're skipping, because some of it's by me and I don't like it much), some stream-of-consciousness, obscenity-laden narrative by my friend who has since become a rabbi, and a somewhat inconclusive of Semiotext(e) SF and ArtPapers' Noise Culture Issue. Still on the literary tip, B. reviews Thomas Pynchon's Vineland. In the end, he concludes:

There is a tendency to read books as part of a body of work, a tendency that Pynchon's work seems to encourage. Basically, criticism will pull from Vineland what Pynchon wants pulled (cult of personality inverse in action--does Pynchon have the same press agent as The Residents?); his next work will be blueprint for his last one, a la Beckett, among others.

There's also a reprint from the then-local zine Pretentious Shit, whose creator is apparently still out there in Web-land somewhere.

We see Mike's art again in this episode of Octogon. And we wind up the issue with 12 pages of poetry by Eric Rensberger, who still writes and performs poetry. B. notes, "Someday he will be recognized as the poet laureate of Southern Indiana," and I guess we are still waiting for that day.

Back cover was cobbled together from pieces of an envelope Ed sent me with, as noted, "the FINAL draft of my essay on Wolfe." It is not just "authorative" but "authoritative." Too bad about "exited," though.

Next: BOT 3: The Return of the King**

* You knew Tom Wolfe would have a Web site, didn't you? And you knew it would look like that.

**Whoa doggies, that was a joke. The real title should be "Attack of the Clones." Whoops, wrong again: It should be "Bears on Toast."

Editor's note: This was written to the sound of Pere Ubu's "One Man Drives While Another Man Screams," which was the soundtrack to all of my paper-writing in grad school. I guess that's my way of saying this series is starting to feel like homework. We'll wind it up next week, though, after a restful jaunt out of town this weekend.

Posted at 08:46 PM
April 09, 2003
BOT Pt. 3: Bears in the Wild

Last summer I studied the elements required for a magazine launch. Be it Turnip Weekly or Shoe Enthusiast , you need a plan; a budget; a subscription and distribution strategy; an Internet strategy; an advertising strategy; and so on, and so on.

I'm not going to say BOT had none of these, although we certainly weren't very organized about it. Only the Internet strategy was missing, it being 1990. The plan went as follows:

Editorial team collects a bunch of stuff for an undetermined period of time. Editor (me) does light copy edit, rudimentary typesetting, and layout with Xacto knife and glue stick. Friend who works in copy shop (we'll call him Gus) adds a few post-production fillips (like page numbers and random clip art bits) and photocopies gratis in turn for a few free ads for the copy shop. I can't remember who put the issues into the plastic bags, or where the plastic bags came from. Distribution was via local record stores, the hipster dorm's convenience store, and via mail order out of my apartment.

In its way, it was an education in production on a peanut-sized scale.

Looking at the individual issues, it's hard to highlight everything. There was a lot of art that time prohibits scanning and posting, and a lot of poetry that wisdom urges me to just skip right over. So the things I've pulled out are the things that seem to me to still retain some interest, or that were just plain fun.

Cover photo: Photo of a well-worn stuffed bear. This bear was made for me by a friend of my grandmother's when I was about 10. When it arrived, it smelled comfortingly of cigarette smoke, which seems strange but not inappropriate for this context. To make the cover I basically photocopied the bear. I have no idea which copy shop witnessed this entrepreneurial behavior.

Obligatory bear story: T.'s essay on "Short Things" riffs on the "short-faced bear":
...alive during the Pliestocene and one of the new world's "Mega-Mammals". ...Can bears see color? I hope so, however short of vision perhaps they were. Perhaps they could not adapt to the ever-warming conditions as the Ice Age drew to a close. But maybe not. There is a theory that Stone Age new world hunters actually killed off the mastodon. Perhaps after they killed off the mastodon, they hunted the short-faced bear into extinction.

Oddly it never occurred to me to fact-check this until now and lo and behold, this animal is actually real. Like a lot of stuff we did with BOT, I was never quite sure if it was real or made up.

Ed does an excellent cartoon autobiography of himself. "All the characters," he notes (including Jane Morris and the Devil) "in this comik are actually me. But I am not them."

Later in the mag there is a long interview with filmmaker Michael Gitlin, whose latest work at that time was a piece called "Duplicating the Copy from Memory." This is a film I never actually saw, although a film catalogue describes it this way: "an eviscerated narrative. It has two characters and a story that advances by fits and starts. Along the way there are anecdotes and asides that convey information by hiding it, the way and envelope contains a letter. "

Sadly, I don't know who wrote this interview; I managed to lose the first page (one of the disadvantages of our non-bound format). If anyone knows who the interviewer was, lemme know! Here's a tidbit:

BOT: This may be a banal comparison, but most movies would be like fast food restaurants--you walk in, you pay your money, you get your food. And maybe in a different, "nicer" restaurant, you lok at the menu, you know you'll have to wait a little bit longer, becaue there's actually a cook who's going to work...
MG: ...and in this film, you come maybe and sit down and the waiter's just died, and you have to sit there all night long until they hire a new waiter. Once they hire a waiter, then the cook dies.

The pseudonymous "Carl Shiffler" had a column in all three issues. In this issue, he envies Madonna, rails against national drug testing ("Drug addiction is the Communism of the '80s, an enemy to unite the country against") and offers one of the most loopy descriptions of Tussin'-Up I ever saw: "You know, George Walker agrees. He called Tussin-Up the 'Mad Magazine of South Central Indiana, a publication where young people can read about people like themselves. It puts the world at your fingertips and is a good place for news and information.' " **

Later, T. again, in "Style Crisis: Why I Need Cable" well before the era of reality TV:

My friend Tim is in Los Angeles. He keeps a list (on his refrigerator, I'd imagine) of the various movie stars he's seen. ...Prob'ly he's seen thousands of TV people BUT didn't realize they weren't real poeple. (It should be understood that "real" is more or less pejorative.) The fact of being on television confers some quality on people--coz nothing is more disheartening than an invasion of real people into TV land. It's just a sorta function-fixedness problem.

I left the back cover to Gus and I was surprised and delighted with the result. The original note was probably attatched to something left for us on the kitchen table. It misspells my name, but otherwise it's one of my favorites. The wacky cut-up collage back cover became a motif after this.

* Gitlin's musical star in the Bloomington underground firmament is detailed here, see especially the Dancing Cigarettes. He's still making films. I'm not sure but I guess this is probably him.

**Last word today goes to Steve Millen. For information on him I refer you to Mike's excellent Tussin'-Up archive and timeline. This was the zine I remember best that was local to the area. The reference sticks out like a sore thumb now because its creator, Steve Millen, committed suicide in late 1990. Steve, as I recall, didn't hesitate to offer faint praise for the first BOT. I think he said it was nice, but it didn't go far enough. I was taken aback but on some level, I thought he was right.

Next: BOT #2: Days of Bears and Roses

Posted at 06:29 PM
April 08, 2003
BOT Pt 2: Bears Explained (sort of)

Every magazine needs a mission statement; that's what we learned in Magazine 101. Having a mission is handy. Coming up with it, on the other hand, is no fun.

BOT didn't get around to articulating its mission until its second issue. The bear motif was an ongoing theme; each issue had a bear-related article, because T. was obsessed by bears. The title was also a semiotic pun of sorts ("because whatever you're saying bears on the text," he told me rather feverishly).

It hardly stands as a raison d'etre, though.So how did we explain ourselves? In the debut issue I wrote that we "decided to put out BOT as 'the last zine of the eighties.' Conveniently enough, this could be modified to 'the first zine of the nineties' if necessary. As it turned out, this was the case, but better late than goddam never." (That would be my 'crusty newspaper editor' persona at work.)

Part of the reluctance to say what we were about was that it was hard to articulate. We knew what we didn't want to be better than what we did want to be.B. took a stab at it in issue #2:
If a work has tendencies that set off alarms in the collective brain of the BOT editorial staff, then that piece may be in for a rough ride. The problem is that we don't know what will alarm us until we see it; we take everything we get, pick it apart, then make our decision. Perhaps that is a hangover from various deconstructionist tendencies floating around these days...for some reason, as hard as it is to say what we won't like, it's harder still to say what we will like.

Deconstructionism, it seemed, worked its way into a lot of conversations back then. It was fitting because this was a magazine that was literally made for being taken apart. It consisted of unbound pages in a plastic bag. You could rearrange it, if you wanted; you could tape it to your walls. I think we eventually bowed to the wisdom of page numbers, but that's as far as it went. The freedom of the unbound magazine was very liberating.

But the guidelines? Oh, yes. A few paragraphs later, B. says, "I feel I've made things no clearer" and he pretty much hadn't. General guidelines were: Letters good. Rock criticism: "Keep it to yourself." Book reviews/movie reviews good. "We love essays!" Also, "We love art!" As for fiction and poetry, the backbone of most literary magazines, there's an almost avuncular warning: "Remember, it's easy for muddled thought to hide behind the mask of artifice." (Careful, kids!) Investigative journalism: "If time is of the essence, you're sending it to the wrong people." (Well, he had us there.) And finally: "We love miscellaneous info-type things!" (This was to become evident.)

It was easy, looking at our inspirations, to see what we wanted to be. One of them was Wyndham Lewis's Blast. I can't honestly say that I sat down and read this slice of pre-WWI rabblerousing all the way through. The stark typesetting and graphic design, however, were (and are) things of beauty. I can't say that Lewis himself seemed like a lot of laughs (although the Wyndham Lewis society may prove me otherwise). I particularly liked the Manifesto (seen here), although it isn't reproduced in its entirety online anywhere I can find.*

Another inspiration was Semiotext(e) USA, which in the late '80s served as the Sears-Roebuck of underground literature (one online catalog describes it as "Critical Theory/Art/Comic Books," which about sums it up). Lots of material from this has made its way back online. Lots of good stuff here, put together lovingly. I first read The Abolition of Work here, though it was published elsewhere as well.**

In the end, B. finally did get down to what amounts to a statement of purpose, somewhat contrarian and with its roots definitely showing. "We want to be agitators and instigators, not mediators and referees. We want to be part of the argument, not a monument to argument itself. That's not to say we won't print material we don't agree with; on the contrary, if something agitates us there is a good chance it will agitate our readers, and if we feel that agitation to be a positive thing, then we would probably run it. That's the liberal intellectual way, after all."

Next: Issue 1, or "Get On with it, Already. What Was IN this Thing?"

*(Miscellany: We also liked the Blast First label, also named in homage to Lewis, a lot. Today, as we see, it's still popular to blast philistines, even if they're no longer from Putney. These folks have turned their wrath on The Gap, Britney Spears, Netscape, and Subway, among others. Eat fresh!)

**The Semiotext(e) publishing concern is still around, of course. Lately they published Hatred of Capitalism: A Semiotext(e) Reader. Publisher Sylvere Lotringer speaks here about what this means:
Hating capitalism seems like a luxury at this point because what else is there? But accepting that as a fact already is playing the capitalist game: cynicism by day and new age by night. It’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Jack Smith kept repeating: I need something to hate. Something is better than nothing, and this is what we’re finally left with in this society of plenty.

Posted at 09:58 PM
April 07, 2003
BOT Pt. 1: Bears Uncovered

Editing a magazine is strange work. In the past five years, I figure I've edited more than 50 individual issues alone. That's 50 times proofreading every page, 50 times agonizing over final approvals, 50 times worrying about folios and page numbers and did we spell everything right on the cover?

I love getting the new magazine fresh from the printer, all shiny and new. But then the issues pile up and after a while they start to seem stale. Your decisions live forever, although they don't age well. (What were we thinking with that cover photo, anyway? I can't believe we used that headline--sooooo cheesy.) Even so, five years later, I can pick up a back issue and a phrase or an idea will be ringingly familiar. It takes a long time for the words to fade away.

Lately I've been inspired to go back and re-examine the first magazine I ever edited. As mentioned here, in early '90s my friends and I published three issues of a literary 'zine called Bears on Text. It was, to say the least, of limited circulation; I think we printed 100 copies of each. The format was 8.5x11-inch sheets of paper, photocopied front and back, packaged loose in clear plastic bags. We sold each copy for $1 (and gave away lots for free).

So this week will be a sort of archaeological dig, wherein I try to tell the story of B.O.T. To see if I can explain what we were trying to do, and to understand whether we succeeded. To see if any of the cultural flies buzzing on the sherbet of 1990-91 are still around. To see if things are still "ringingly familiar" or if something surprises me. To figure out what I've learned.

Also, some of the stuff is pretty cool.

So here's the context:
I'm in my last semester of graduate school, fretting over my resume more and enjoying it less. To take my mind off the inevitable, I turn my attention to the zine my then-boyfriend and his friends want to produce. (Boyfriend is not E.; write your own script here.) The guys are all in the same band and we're all part of an intricately connected subcultural universe that is based on a series of shared cultural reference points and in-jokes. A lot of these reference points are intended to manifest themselves in the zine. They don't seem to translate very well now, though, so I'll skip 'em.

E. is around, but not actively involved in this project. A couple other friends of B&W are connected to the scene in emotional and practical ways. Cocokat has moved away, but is still involved with the group. Mike is a supporter and contributor, although I don't know him particularly well at this stage. In forms I didn't become aware of till later, they both informed what we tried to do, in their own ways; at the very least, I always was interested in their reactions.

A few more wacky things about the era: no one has a computer. No one has any money. No one has the Internet. We're in a college town 50 miles away from the nearest big city--so, largely, if we want anything interesting to happen we have to make our own culture.

We began with the premise that the zine would be about bears...and everything else.

Next: The Context, or "What Do You Mean, About Bears?"

Posted at 09:09 PM
April 05, 2003
Baking Time

E. and I have both been sick this week, consecutively. So today we're at home and it's a slate-gray Saturday afternoon. I've been to yoga and had a pedicure and bought milk and eggs. Now, in an effort to make the house a little cheerier, I'm making cookies.

For some reason I'm listening to NPR, which is unlike me. But the novelty is kind of entertaining. While I'm assembling the ingredients I listen to a story about a documentary made earlier this year featuring Iraqi and American teenagers in a series of dialogues. One Iraqi kid says he gets most of his ideas about American life from the movies. An American tries to tell him that the movies aren't really representative, that real life is much less interesting. It looks like we'll have enough flour.

During the mixing I listen to a series of reports from the front. The U.S. has made a "foray" into Baghdad, whatever that means. The American military representatives speak in the broad, southern-toned accents of my in-laws. They don't sound nervous. I think about my friend in Colorado who says thousands of soliders who live in her town are gone: deployed. I hope they'll be all right. Fortunately the butter has softened sufficiently.

I think about how fast this war has blown up. When we talked about it in September at Coit Tower in SF it seemed surreal, like a joke. It couldn't actually happen. Even more surreal: my uncle writes to me that he is now participating in peace vigils in his city. "Your mother writes that you've demonstrated against the war," he says. "Keep up the good work." It was so cold that day. They are demonstrating here again today, but we aren't there. It's almost as cold today.

It's baking time and the kitchen has turned into a mini-production center. E. asks, "Approximately how many minutes until there's cookies?" Well, that's classified.

We're cranking now on the cookies and the soldiers sound optimistic. It sounds like the news is good today. I wonder: Will we win and what happens then? Will it be like D-Day, with everyone running in the streets? But the wars these days are never really over, are they? And will we have another? How do we stop this?

Washing up the cookie sheets I listen to a profile of an Iraqi expatriate living in America now. She was recently visited by the FBI who wants to know what her relatives back at home are up to these days. The program records her talking on the telephone to her brother in Iraq. She sounds so happy; I'd like to have had a brother. She asks him if he has any message for her guests (the interviewer, I guess). The only words he knows in English are "Thank you." She translates that as "Thank you for coming to liberate Iraq."

In the desert more people are dying. I still have some French homework to do. E. is in his chair reading The Mandarins. The house is quiet and it's still light outside. I turn off the radio. We are waiting.

Posted at 11:07 PM
April 03, 2003
Irreverent about the Reverend

So we're in a meeting today, six of us in a room and another handful of people on the telephone. And H. is getting discursive on us, telling a story about a presentation he saw with a great case study that would just illustrate the point we're trying to make. "And the speaker--I think his name was Al Green!" he says, and then rushes on.

Across the table, expressions of disbelief flicker across faces. I'm afraid to look at the person next to me, so I try looking astonished out the window. Finally J. can't take it any more. "Al Green?" she repeats, sounding amazed.

Almost at once, everyone on the phone bursts out laughing. J. stops writing on the flip chart. Someone else in the room is snapping their fingers and about to burst into song.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I wonder if the guy's name isn't really something like "Hal Green" but this makes the better story, doesn't it? Sha-la-la-la.

The real Al has got his own site, of course, here.

(Of course, the joke will really be on me tomorrow when I'm trying to figure out who the heck we were actually talking about in this conversation.)

Posted at 09:11 PM
April 02, 2003
Pot, Kettle, Black

E-Media Tidbits (quicklink A28220) reports that Google has declined to include Infoshop News as a source for Google News. The original link includes this quote from the Google Team: "We are not accepting sites where all articles are produced by one individual. We are looking for sources with current news written by a staff of reporters and edited by a staff editor."

The excerpt doesn't explain what's driven this choice of criteria. I'd be interested in knowing how this decision was made and why.

It's easy to see how this might be used as grist for the mill in the ongoing "is blogging journalism?" debate (here's an early look, but the debate rages on elsewhere daily).

I have a journalism degree and a job in magazine publishing. But I've had only lukewarm interest in this debate. I understand that some bloggers may want to be considered "journalists" but for me it's hard to reconcile my understanding of the two activities.

It's hard to me to define blogging as journalism when so often blogging consists of linking to headlines about the news and reacting to it. That's punditry, not journalism, although both are found in the newspaper.

Until more bloggers start doing first-hand reporting, finding things out for themselves, rather than just acting as mediated filters for other sources, my answer to "is blogging journalism?" is going to be no. Believe it or not, not everything is discoverable on the Internet. Some things you still have to get out of the house and figure out for yourself. Sometimes you even have to ask other people for their views--even if you think you might not agree with them. I'm not seeing this interaction happening in the blog world, and it's the interaction that makes all the difference.

It's similarly hard to understand the blogger rush to self-select as journalists, for that matter. There is the compulsion to be taken "seriously," but by whom? The media? The government? Other bloggers? Welcome to the club; journalism is already full of people who take themselves too seriously. There is the economic driver to be paid, but again, by whom? Good luck getting all those people who find your site randomly via search engines to ante up.

I am fortunate not to need to depend on this site for my livelihood. I am also glad I don't have to aspire to professional journalism here. If I were going to stake my career on the contents of this site, I'd do away with random bits of whimsy, pictures of soup, humorous typos, posts by the cat, oblique stories about my past, and shoutouts to my friends (hooray for Snake-Haired Baby!). I'd do interviews and fact check and keep things relatively impersonal and strive for consistency of tone and language. I'd do these things because that's what a (good) journalist does.

It'd be a whole new ballgame; it'd be work.

Is blogging journalism? It's too soon to call this one. A better question is: Why does it have to be?

Posted at 08:42 PM