Saturday, February 26, 2011

You Could Sell That

"There is a chance here for you," Paul said, "to become extremely wealthy." He continued to gaze stoically ahead. "The idea strikes me as bizarre," Childan said. "Making good luck charms out of such art objects; I can't imagine it."---Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle

Part one:

I make things.

Some of them come out very nice. Some are fit for everyday use, and I use them. Others are meant to be decorative and I use them for this if I have room in my environment.

I make shopping bags crocheted out of plastic bags, I crochet little items to hold personal items. I make teapots, tea cups, small books and cards.

No matter where I am, using something like a shopping bag, people will remark on them, ask me how I make them, how long it takes, admire the handicraft and design. Then they will get a glow on their faces and set out to award me with the capper: "You could sell that!"

This is considered the highest compliment you can be paid.

It always makes me shrivel inside. I usually backpedal and try to take this in the spirit it is offered in. I say that I make these things because I like them and like to use them and I would be unwilling to part with them for money. You can see the interest drain on the other person's face. You aren't willing to take it to the next level--the Olympics of the marketplace, where consumers can decide if you're really worthy of the gold medal.

One lady was nice enough to end the conversation with: "Oh well, at least they make a nice conversation piece."

Part two:

I crocheted 20 years ago as a weapon to combat heartbreak. I had learned how when I was ten, but picked it up again with a vengeance to keep away some pain. Every stitch a bulwark against reality or some shit like that. Who knows. It distracted my brain and I began to pile up little yarn bags.

One day, an old friend of the family visited my mom and I. He and his wife had been the richest people we had ever known. In their heyday, they owned a beautiful house in Piedmont, a Julia Morgan Tudor mansion that I adored visiting as a kid, frankly envious of their son who had all of the rooms the gardens and the Tudor gazebo to play in for hours. They were like royalty to me. Of course, they were not, and when they had run through all of the money in an effort to pretend that they were, things went south in a hurry. Their downfall from fortune was a combination of brazenness and squalidness that was sad to watch.

Our friend, the husband, visited us in the middle of this process. In the course of the visit, my mother told me to go get my yarn bags to show Mr. X. I brought them down from my room in a pile to show off. I had about 20 by then, different colors and patterns.

He looked through them all one by one. He looked into my eyes. He pulled something out of his pocket. It was a plastic rectangle. Looking closer I saw that it had the US constitution on it in very small letters. He said, "Look at this. This man had an idea. If he had kept that idea to himself, he would be the only man with a copy of the Constitution in his pocket. But this man had vision. He put his idea up for sale, he got a patent. There are thousands and thousands of these, millions even, for sale. Any man can have one now. I have one here, I am showing it to you. This thing you are doing. It is very nice. But it will never mean anything. You have to take this idea, the part of it people will like, and sell it so everyone can buy it. You will make money. You will have a nice little life. Then if you want, you can make these little things if you want. You will have the time. But one by one like this? It is a waste of your time."

He beamed and sat back. He had delivered the message.

He left and I didn't crochet again for four years.

The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

Part three

I'd been groped by the invisible hand of the marketplace.

The Invisible Hand is the god of bourgeois society. The Hand giveth and the Hand taketh away. If you are found worthy, the Hand bestows riches and fame. If the Hand finds you foul and unworthy, you are reduced to ashes and your name erased from the records of history. Most of us fall into the latter camp, to differing degrees. Our family friend was a priest of the Hand, a desperate acolyte.

In his fall from favor he was at his most anxious to believe. In his effort to be kind, he ended up doing a lot of damage. I never really looked at life the same way after that. It was in its small way a watershed event. He had ripped away the veil of sentiment and revealed his class interest: naked cash payment. I can see that now, but at the time I felt soiled.

In all instances in our society, we are ruled by capitalism. A brief flirtation with the art world disabused me of the notion that there was anything different going on there. There is no world of special people who do not commodify labor and the products of labor. It is the only way to exist. Many of my friends have been involved in various reform efforts to break this relationship (although they may not have realized what they were doing)---any "alternative movement" is an attempt to break through this system and hopefully train capitalism to be better, cooler, funner, more satisfying, hipper, greener, sustainable, etc. People struggle with the end result, which is that eventually all of these efforts also turn to shit.

The capitalists need to seek ever-expanding markets to make a profit. A profit is not just having 5 bucks in your pocket from the sale of your cool thing, it is a bottom line that needs to expand every quarter to be considered successful. Why did a cool magazine like ReadyMade turn to shit? Capitalists discovered the market for alt-sustainable/DIY crafty people and bought it up and expanded the definition to reach a wider and less picky audience. It will get shittier and shittier as it loses even the slightest relationship to its original audience. That's just one example of a phenomenon that has happened over and over since the first capitalist to "discover" cool handicrafts mass-marketed them and alienated the original creators and flooded the marketplace with shit. Martha Stewart didn't invent that idea, it has been going on in different forms for centuries.

Every generation of artists and artisans has a section that attempts to recapture some "authentic movement", to fight this system and reclaim some patch of ground. Others, the "realists", skip that step of emotional agonies over authenticity and jump straight into the commercial market. The first group takes a little longer to get in there, but eventually they do. They conceal their relationship to the market with the branding of their finer intentions, which makes them actually more deceptive than the second group, who are reviled as mere tradesmen by the "authenticity" fetishists.

The lower middle class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, all these fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history. If by chance, they are revolutionary, they are only so in view of their impending transfer into the proletariat; they thus defend not their present, but their future interests, they desert their own standpoint to place themselves at that of the proletariat.

Part four

All of that to say, that buying and selling your talents is considered the pinnacle of success in capitalist society. The more you sell, the better you are than everyone else. If you fail to do so, you have lost. You are a loser. Though many of the little people of my social realm like to think we are outside of all of that, truly, we are proles. The faster we realize this, the more we will have to unite us with the revolutionary segment of society. The more we try to resist and reform, to preserve some "alt-capitalism" for ourselves, the longer we perpetuate this sorry state of affairs. There is only one kind of capitalism, there is no good kind or bad kind.

I don't really talk about this with my friends or colleagues. Thinking this way has been a secret in my life. Maybe others feel this way too. I don't know. I try to imagine the responses of people that I know. I think most people I know realize that the system is a problem and have different individual responses for dealing with it. Individual responses are not going to change anything though. 

The Buddhist view is "Make positive effort for the good" as if your individual actions and thoughts will emit waves through existence and slowly chip away at the rockface of "bad".

This will take too long. In fact, it will not work. It may even do the opposite.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

iPodliness is next to Godliness

It only took me 24 hours...but now I have Pandora on my iPod touch.

I had to download iPod touch software 2.0. I accidentally downloaded it twice in my excitement so the next time I see you Ffaelan, I have software for you. So I paid twice...tres stupide. But no matter. I forged on. I hooked up my device for syncing. Then the computer (laptop) tells me that since it has less than a gig of memory left on it, it cannot back up my iPod stuff so it's just going to go ahead and delete all that m'kay? Uh, hells no!!

The last genious time I did that it took me four bleeding hours to get everything back the way I wanted it. So it was time to make room on the computer. I have several movies and tv shows on here that I've always meant to burn to dvd, so I thought I would go ahead and do that and delete them off the hard drive.

Problem. The only DVD burner I have on here evidently is iTunes. Which will not import the video files into it's own format. Why? Not enough memory on the computer. Ack.

So I figure I will just take photo files off the beast to make just enough room for the iPod to do its thing. We have 1 gig stick drive. I hook that bad boy up. I open it up. I open up the photo file. They crash and freeze the computer. This happens for 3 hours. The virus software is running and refuses to halt despite all my foaming at the mouth. Alex tries. It works for him, and then crashes on me. We are watching Beowulf and I'm beginning to really sympathize with Grendel as he rends beefy thanes limb to limb.

Finally AVG hands back control of the hard drive but I'm too exhausted to make more than a token effort. I go to bed. On awakening manage to get AVG to quit (why it needs to scan the hard drive for 12 hours a day is a real mystery to me). I move a gig of pictures and video files over to the stick drive. Success!

An hour of futzing around and I get 2.0 installed on the iPod. I download the Pandora app. It won't work.

By now I am calm. After four fruitless tries, I uninstall and reinstall. Success!

Yes, Pandora is worth all that.

That is all.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

I promise I'm not going to turn this into a video blog...

Jon Stewart Interview

Blogger's hating the embed code so follow the link to hear how David Sedaris quit smoking.

I saw this broadcast on The Daily Show during "Week 2" of my quit. I'd heard of David Sedaris but naturally like everything else, I am the last one getting around to him. This broadcast was the only thing to put a smile on my face that week. I just bought Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim and finished it pretty fast. I bought myself some books to celebrate Month 3. I also got Steampunk (edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer) and Collapse by Jared Diamond.


Monday, June 30, 2008

Our Town

The Oakland Police Department has a neat little widget that allows you to create an interactive map of anywhere in Oakland, by crime and location. Here is MPK ground zero for the last three months. It's like a TV crime drama writ in JPEG.

Friday, June 20, 2008


Two months today of not smoking!  I am so proud of myself!  I had a really horrendous crave episode on Monday night, but I had some Habitrol which really helped.  Someone was smoking outside and the smoke just wafted in everywhere.

I was gasping for a cigarette and I was afraid I was never going to get past this stage.  The whyquit website resets people's counters back to day one when they break down and smoke "just one" or take a replacement.  But this is my website so I'm going to celebrate!  I hate being addicted to it.  I've missed so much in life because of smoking.  Being so anxious over at visits to friends that I couldn't enjoy myself because my whole day was timed around the "first one".

Not going to places because I couldn't smoke there.  Being foggy and ill with constant sinus problems.  Not being able to be fully creative in my studio because of the background concern of lowering nicotine levels in my brain taking up unconscious and then conscious mental space.  The fact that I don't have health insurance and smoking is like russian roulette for someone with my genetic background.  (My poor grandma was so sick with cancer, her cancer had cancer, practically :( )

Now I'm back to my childhood addiction.  Eating pretzels in a ritualistic manner that involves carefully nibbling off the round parts and then eating the remaining triangle.  


Thanks for letting me share.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008


A great day for human rights! Link