misfits, banksy on the bowery

"don't we want to live in a world made of art, not just decorated by it?"

happy halloween, banksy. thanks for stopping by.


as i'm about to argue that an open-notebook approach to compensation for creative work is both honorable and optimal, disclosure is important. note, then, that i have written poems for several small literary journals and received contributor's copies but no payment; i've been a salaried editor at and writer for a print magazine for the past decade; mcsweeney's paid me $25 for contributing to a book; miranda july sent me a contributor's copy of learning to love you more, though my work was referenced in an essay rather than reproduced; my flickr photos were available under a creative commons license until about a year ago, and were used by national geographic, the wall street journal, the food network, a few print authors, and many websites; i once consented to receive a review copy of a chuck klosterman book that i subsequently panned; i once drank a bunch of brennivin and posted bruce springsteen cover art on this site; i do not ask for permission from or compensate anyone for the photographs i post on birthday cakes for animals; i have never received payment for my writing on this site (which has never featured ads) or for guest posts on a few friends' sites (one of which features ads); i paid my little sister $300 (as i recall) to illustrate our save-the-date cards and wedding invitations; i paid michel gondry $20 to draw my portrait.

a colleague and friend of mine, easily the most prolific writer i know (she's got something like ten novels and probably hundreds of essays and articles for everyone from the new york times to women's magazines to sites like salon.com and nerve.com under her belt), wrote a long facebook post last week about a site she'd just pitched with an essay. her contact declined to buy her piece, but said that she was more than welcome to post it on their site for free. what magnanimity! i won't quote directly from the post (it still isn't public), but in short, my friend made a strong case for writers needing to protect themselves from "exposure" gigs, noting that actors with union cards aren't allowed to work outside of contracts (to do so would be damaging both to them and their peers). groups like actors' equity, AFTRA, and SAG don't really have analogs in the publishing world, but maybe they should; as tim kreider noted in the sunday times this weekend, it's a hot mess out there right now.
I know there’s no point in demanding that businesspeople pay artists for their work, any more than there is in politely asking stink bugs or rhinoviruses to quit it already. It’s their job to be rapacious and shameless. But they can get away with paying nothing only for the same reason so many sleazy guys keep trying to pick up women by insulting them: because it keeps working on someone. There is a bottomless supply of ambitious young artists in all media who believe the line about exposure, or who are simply so thrilled at the prospect of publication that they’re happy to do it free of charge.
i haven't had to spend too much time thinking about the implications of writing for free. my literary-magazine credits are ancient history, and i am confident that turning my juvenilia over to those now-extinct journals did no serious harm to my community (i do squirm a bit over the strange poem about christina aguilera, but that's another story). this blog predates Big Web Money for personal writing, and my feelings about it haven't changed over the years; i hope it's been of use to other people, but i'm not ashamed to admit that i've written it mostly for my own benefit, and i'm comfortable with its potential financial impact on my peers as a not-for-profit public site featuring my recreational writing and photography. as for the writing i do as part of my full-time magazine job, it's work with formalized pay, bless it, and fairly uninteresting in the context of this discussion.

the majority of my experience giving it away is with photography, and honestly, i'm ashamed of it; i think that because i'm an amateur, to put it mildly, it didn't occur to me that making my photos accessible via creative commons could affect anyone's livelihood. it felt good to collaborate with, say, self-publishing authors who really couldn't afford professional images, and the random bigger hits were entertaining. hey, my selfie is on gizmodo! i started getting messages from professional photo assistants who wanted to use my stuff, uncredited, for free (for the titillation i would get, i suppose, from seeing them distributed to a wider audience?). i noticed traffic to my flickr stream from public-domain search engines, and it occurred to me, after way too long, that my hits were replacing paid work. whether or not someone can afford to pay a photo contributor is beside the point these days; why should they, when there are millions of folks like me out there? my default licensing setting is now creative commons/attribution/non-commercial. that feels right to me, but i still don't really know what i'm doing.

the titillation of exposure for non-professionals as currency has been examined to death in discussions of, say, reality television, but i'm starting to think about how it affects the food chain in other ecosystems. my friend's post-your-essay-for-free! offer is what kreider calls "death by exposure" for professionals, and in a media climate where everyone with a keyboard is a potential content provider and traditional outlets are dying off like giant pandas who can't figure out how to mate in captivity, the less-experienced writers who think they're building portfolios by working for nothing or next to nothing are going to find that there's no one left to look at them. long ago when the earth was flat and lots of newspapers still existed, i wrote a column for my college daily that was syndicated across the country. it was less impressive to the intern coordinators at big publishers here in new york than the fact that i'd been promoted at the on-campus coffeehouse (that, at least, showed i had management experience), but as far as i know, my friend's mother remembers me as "that girl who wrote about having sex with you." at some point in the near future, the kind of titillation keyboard-havers get from seeing themselves onscreen could be exposure's main value—or its sole value.

is it fair to resent amateurs and aspiring pros for what's going on in the media world? does resenting them do any good? some of my friends believe the market will sort itself out, but i...think about how that worked out with regulations and big banking over the last several years, and i have my doubts. also, have you ever watched writers try to split a restaurant tab? what we as "content providers" and lovers of thoughtful communication can do, and what we must do, is take responsibility for what we're doing, and how it affects our industries, peers, and contributors. i mean that literally: why don't we talk about things like how much we are or aren't getting paid for our work, and how much we pay each other? "Maybe [people who ask you to write for free are] asking in the collaborative, D.I.Y. spirit that allegedly characterizes the artistic community," kreider writes in sunday's times piece. "I have read Lewis Hyde’s The Gift, and participated in a gift economy for 20 years, swapping zines and minicomics with friends and colleagues, contributing to little literary magazines, doing illustrations for bands and events and causes, posting a decade’s worth of cartoons and essays on my Web site free of charge. Not getting paid for things in your 20s is glumly expected, even sort of cool; not getting paid in your 40s, when your back is starting to hurt and you are still sleeping on a futon, considerably less so." gift economies work, or "work," in closed systems like burning man, where collaborative community is institutionalized. in practice, proprietors of profitable businesses depend upon (and in some cases prey upon) contributors who decline to commodify their work.

friends and colleagues, please make your contributor-compensation policies easy to find and easy to understand. take responsibility for how your participation in this new, weird community affects the rest of us. make sure you're not the guy who doesn't kick in on the tab. we're supposed to look out for each other.


banksy, minibanksy

so that also happened

so that happened

say what you will about the conservative groups claiming that bill de blasio will be soft on crime and drag new york city back to the seventies, but you can't pretend the british-graffiti epidemic that's swept the city since he won the democratic primary last month isn't real.

why people deface banksy's work; the banksy v. robbo war in pictures.


the dirty dozen {notes from my hometown police blotter, as reported by the oc register*}

Suspicious person/circumstances. 1:37 a.m. The caller reported a house with the porch light that keeps blinking. The caller thinks someone is inside trying to send an SOS signal.
Disturbance. 8:27 a.m. The caller said her grandson is arguing and refusing to go to school.
Suspicious person/circumstances. 1:56 p.m. The caller reported a man undressing behind Marshall’s.
Disturbance. 3:14 p.m. The caller said a man, who wanted to buy her car, insulted her. She said he told her it looked old so she yelled an obscenity at him and he made a threat “I know where you live” and walked off.
Citizen assist. 10:09 a.m. The caller reported an ongoing issue with scams the caller thinks are occurring with CVS.
Suspicious person/circumstances. 3:28 p.m. The caller reported a female roommate possibly involved in prostitution.
Citizen assist. 3:46 p.m. A woman reported that a neighbor went into her garage without permission last night.
Suspicious person/circumstances. 6:16 p.m. The caller at Trader Joe’s reported a man taking pictures of customers entering and leaving the store.
Robbery in progress. 10:04 p.m. The caller said he was walking by the Laguna Hills Community Center when a group of about 10 people tried to rob him. He said they said they wanted to search his pants for any money and tried to take his recyclables. Police arrested a 30-year-old man.
Suspicious person/circumstances. 1:35 p.m. The caller reported a woman throwing clothing into the street and walking trail.
Court order violation. 7:13 p.m. The caller said he wants to turn himself in because he violated his restraining order.
Suspicious person/circumstances. 12:03 a.m. The caller reported two people with masks on.

*previous installment here.


101 in 1001 {III}: 037 read three library books [completed 10.13.13]

III: OUTRAGE, ARNALDUR INDRIDASON. in some ways outrage, an icelandic thriller, seems hyperconscious of the nordic-crime-fiction juggernaut that is stieg larsson's millennium trilogy: the title refers to rape (the first of larsson's books was called men who hate women in swedish), and indriðason's leading man, crotchety old inspector erlendur, has gone on a vision quest in eastern iceland and left reykjavik's latest murder mystery to elínborg, a female member of the reykjavik police force (and a secondary character in indriðason's previous novels). in other, more important ways, it's like that episode of space ghost coast to coast where space ghost follows an ant for ten minutes: icelanders, bless their hearts, dance like there's nobody watching. witness a stakeout with elínborg outside edvard's house (edvard might or might not know who killed runólfur, a creepy guy found dead in his apartment in a tiny san francisco tee shirt):
The car was chilly but she did not want to keep the engine running and risk drawing attention to her presence. She was also reluctant to pollute the atmosphere more than necessary. She never left the engine running when the car was stationary - it was practically the only cast-iron rule she observed as a driver.
elínborg is as methodical as erlendur is erratic, and iceland's impeccable national databases and tiny population suit her style of police work perfectly: when one of runólfur's neighbors mentions she saw a man limp down the street in a leg brace on the night of the murder, she tracks down and interviews each and every male icelander of a certain age who had polio. she also finds a woman's scarf beneath runólfur's bed and notices that it smells like tandoori; alors, time to consult the one place in reykjavik that sells tandoori pots. this is a particularly lucky break, as elínborg knows it well.
Perhaps [the mystery woman] worked in a restaurant that served tandoori dishes. Elínborg knew something about tandoori cookery, and had even included some tandoori dishes in the cookery book that she had published. She had read up on tandoori cuisine and felt pretty well-informed about it. She owned two different clay tandoori pots. In India they would traditionally be heated in a pit filled with burning charcoal so that the meat was cooked evenly from all sides at a high temperature. Elínborg had occasionally buried a tandoori pot in her back garden in the authentic manner, but usually she put it in the oven or heated it over charcoal on an old barbecue. The crucial factor was the marinade, for which Elínborg used a combination of spices, blending them to taste with plain yoghurt. For a red colour she added ground annatto seed; for yellow, saffron. She generally experimented with a mixture of cayenne pepper, coriander, ginger and garlic, or with a garam masala that she made herself by using roasted or ground cardamom, cumin, cinnamon, garlic and black pepper, with a little nutmeg. She had also been trying out variations using Icelandic herbs such as wild thyme, angelica root, dandelion leaves and lovage. She would rub the marinade into the meat - chicken or pork - and leave it for several hours before it went into the tandoori pot. sometimes a little of the marinade would splash on the hot coals, bringing out more strongly the tangy tandoori fragrance that Elínborg had smelt on the shawl. She wondered if the woman they were looking for might have a job in Indian cookery. Or perhaps, like Elínborg, she was simply interested in Indian food, or even specifically in tandoori dishes. She too might have a tandoori pot in her kitchen, along with all the spices that made the dish so mouth-watering.
wild icelandic herbs in tandoori, by the by, are delicious; take it from me, i've been to austur-indíafjelagið twice.

like indriðason's novels which are not jar city (his first inspector erlendur book, far and away his best), outrage doesn't quite tweak the wrinkles in one's brain which blockbuster english-language murder-mystery-thrillers traditionally tweak: the pacing is all over the place, the translation thumps unexpectedly into potholes of british slang, and the case itself is of limited interest. then again, i've never really gone to them for that; i started showing up for a cheap iceland fix, and now that i've been to iceland a few times, i keep coming back for (the weird-ass dancing and) the little revelations of cultural character. halldór laxness's nobel-winning, majestic-as-shit independent people is a gorgeous way to think about icelanders, but one should leaven that impression with pop culture, i think. one should always leaven with pop.


                                                  When Darwin
thought to test sonic responses of earthworms,
he requested that his children serenade
his soily jars of them: and, dutifully, an orchestra
of whistle, bassoon, and piano began
concatenating the night away in the billiards room,
its air alive with tremble and skreek,
low-blown moan and high-pitched tootle, so
racketing you'd think the row of dead wrens
and the barnacles might rise up and start capering.
The worms appeared deaf to the music; nor,
I'll bet, does this concert sound like a day
in your world—though it's of your world.

(from albert goldbarth's "jung/malena/darwin," tin house #57)


From: 1
To: 2, 3
ok, today's brainstorm need: making a "drowning pool" ophelia-type candy vortex in a glass jar out of blue sour straws for our goth party. what kind of figurine or image do i put at the bottom of the vortex?

From: 2
To: 1, 3
The grieving lady face from Edward Gorey? Phyllis Schlafly? Martha Stewart?

From: 3
To: 1, 2
John Boehner?


101 in 1001 {III}: 037 read three library books [ongoing]

no pants time

II: RIVINGTON WAS OURS: LADY GAGA, THE LOWER EAST SIDE, AND THE PRIME OF OUR LIVES, BRENDAN JAY SULLIVAN. hats off to the new york public library for hooking me up with books i don't want to purchase and install at my apartment and am unlikely to find at my office! it served me well with jon ronson's psychopath test and served me even better with rivington was ours, a DJ/bartender's casual memoir of life among the beautiful people, lady gaga in particular, on the lower east side (i.e. our 'hood) circa 2006. my only real beef with library books thus far, standard used-book potential for bed bug infestation aside,* is that i have to read them straight through right away to avoid late fines, which is sort of annoying when, say, one wishes to skitter between an old copy of gilead from one's mother-in-law, the big ol' vampire novel one lugs back and forth on the subway to decompress over the course of the week one is shipping the december issue at the office, the new yorker, and the isadora duncan autobiography that makes one wonder if one speaks english as well as one thought one did.** that said, i'm not sure one is meant to linger over sullivan's prose.
On our first date I was so nervous that I blurted out, "So, Nikki, tell me, what are your hopes and dreams?" I had hoped to disqualify her, to hear she was boring or stupid or in graduate school. I had hoped to find just one reason that I could quit staring at her, to stop imagining how much of my life I'd change just to make room for more of her in my world.***

She told me she was waiting tables ever since she quit designing lingerie for a bigger company. Now she wanted to start her own lingerie company with a partner who'd worked for Victoria's Secret. They would launch in February.

When she turned the question on me, I answered truthfully about my secret writings.**** Afterward we looked into each other's eyes like two lost sailors who first sighted land.
sadly, though the beautiful nikki is a lingerie entrepreneur and not a grad student, she isn't nearly compelling enough for sullivan (per gary shteyngart [who in turn must have lost a terribly high-stakes poker game to have had to deliver such a blurb],"a writer's writer. yes, he's that good."), who prefers to spend his hours out from behind the bar or the turntables with gaga, a young "musician" with extremely compelling eyes ("Her eyes sparkled like disco balls." "Her eyes were glowing like bright factory windows, her mind inside chugging along, excited by the noise of production." "She had an emptiness in her eyes and if you looked you wouldn't find her." "Her humorless eyes were pools that hovered just below thirty-three degrees Fahrenheit."). despite the sweet nothings they exchange at sullivan's obligatory twenty-fifth birthday party at the hotel chelsea (sigh), nikki leaves him to his karl lagerfeld-esque imagery ("I remembered the crisp air and the expressionless leather on all of our friends' jackets") and his lovelorn nights of blistering art theory with gaga ("If you thought she was a bit dumb, it was probably because she thought you were not that bright and didn't try to say anything over your head.")

and what of the lower east side? as we all know, memoirs of this sort are all secretly or not-so-secretly love letters to the city itself, right? sullivan spills a bit of ink describing his fragrant commute through "big trouble in little chinatown" on the way to the B/D station at grand and chrystie (like a lot of people who spend the evening on the lower east side, he doesn't actually live there), a bit more on an afterparty for the killers at motor city (good night sweet bar: and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!), and quite a lot on an awkwardly-telescoped vespa ride through central park to gaga's parents' place on the upper west side (of course he has a vespa). that last passage in particular feels like filler, and it is; brendan jay sullivan wants you to know how well he knew lady gaga and how highly other people think of him, and that's about it. there's nothing wrong with wanting those things, but if one is to be a writer's writer, one would want the former to be someone else, yes? this is my theory.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 if you are a book-borrower, what sort of books do you borrow? do you find you need to rush through them?
02 who is shakespeare's finest character?
03 have you ever referred to a chinatown as "big trouble in little chinatown"?
04 if a pop star told you she'd heard you're well-endowed, would you mention that in your memoir?
05 is it ever OK to give chapters song-lyric titles?

*bed bugs love used books, people. if you bring one home, do yourself the favor of throwing it in the oven at 115 for an hour (they also die at temperatures below 26 degrees, but most freezers don't get that cold).

**holy shit, isadora duncan.

***spoiler: not much.

****"[M]y third-time's-a-charm full-length manuscript The Confessions of Mercutio—a retelling of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. To tackle the great work, I took Shakespeare's finest character and Romeo's best friend, a longwinded drunk with a knack for getting into situations, and gave him free reign of Verona."


101 in 1001 {III}: 037 read three library books [ongoing]

I: THE PSYCHOPATH TEST, JON RONSON. to decide how i feel about jon ronson, i need to give a name to what i think he's doing. i read lost at sea, a collection of his articles for the guardian, and sort of concluded that he's a middlebrow comic nonfiction writer; his research doesn't seem especially rigorous, but that's par for the course with short personal essays, and it's entertaining stuff. the psychopath test (subtitled "a journey through the madness industry") reframes things a bit: it's a book-length treatment of a single theme, anchored by the application of a checklist of psychopathic traits to subjects like a ruthless business executive, a former haitian death squad leader, a man who claims he faked psychopathy to avoid jail, members of the media (himself especially), and so on. he also considers how the media and pharmaceutical industry benefit from mental illness and/or perceptions of it, and, er, hunts down the publisher of a really fancy zine. he's often very funny, but he's also misleading and unsatisfying when he ventures into dark places with a light touch. he presents some wild old psychiatric research on mental institutions,* for example, without explaining that its methodology was subsequently and definitively torn apart.** at what point does curating information in that way become irresponsible?

in his review of the book, fellow guardian contributor will self notes that "at his best, ronson is one of the finest comic writers working today," then implies in the nicest possible way that pop scholarship like his might be kind of horrifying.*** i don't think ronson is a monster, professional and personal feelings about responsible research aside; i do think that someone who makes $250,000 ("double that in a good year," as he tells us in "amber waves of green," a piece he wrote for GQ) should hire a straight-up research assistant if he wants to be taken seriously. for better or for worse, this gal expects copious footnotes in her comic nonfiction (i miss you, DFW).

*such as david rosenhan's "on being sane in insane places," published in science in 1973, in which he and seven other subjects faked their way into inpatient treatment for insanity and were given antipsychotic drugs and held for an average of nineteen days, even though they behaved completely normally after admission.

**a friend adjacent to "the madness industry" who read the psychopath test at the same time i did sent me two pieces from a 1975 issue of the journal of abnormal psychology: robert l. spitzer's "on pseudoscience in science, logic in remission, and psychiatric diagnosis: a critique of rosenhan's 'on being sane in insane places" and theodore millon's "reflections on rosenhan's 'on being sane in insane places.'"

***that courtly criticism, in part:
So mild – and, dare I say, humane – is the tendency of Ronson's satire that when he ventures out into the world of political extremists, or military fanatics, or psychiatric persecutors, he is determined to see the nebech in everyone – until they're revealed as shlemiels. But just as there was a break-point in [Ronson's] The Men Who Stare at Goats, one that occurred when the heirs to the new age military theorists actually began torturing Iraqi detainees with hideous ditties from kids' TV shows, so there's a break-point in The Psychopath Test when this reader, at least, began to think: these people aren't merely shlemiels, they're utter bastards. From then on the humour is sucked out of the text into the vacuum of a dark and cruel space.


Naturally, I don't discount the possibility that Ronson is only too aware of what he's up to here – he's undoubtedly a clever and thoughtful man. By constructing his books so that they start off achingly funny then at a certain juncture become naggingly painful, he does indeed force us to think more deeply about the subject at hand. This, surely, is all that contemporary satire can achieve: in a world with a relativistic moral compass, it can't enjoin us to do the right thing – for which there is no longer any consensus – but only to think about what the right thing might possibly be. That Ronson's books, rather than providing us with the material we need to think about these questions, can only indicate the further reading we should do,**** is also mandated by his authorial persona.
****and then it doesn't! many of the sources in his bibliography are secondary (books and magazine articles); a fact checker who handed over backup like that would be unlikely to work for me again.