How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Unemployed. In Greenland! But let’s back up a few months here and frame this story properly…

Back in December, I was informed that the University would not be renewing my contract and so I would be leaving my position at the library come the end of the fiscal year, June 30. A week before Christmas is a hell of a time to get that kind of news.

And who tells someone they’re fired 6 months ahead of time? Because let me tell you, that colors the way you spend those last 6 month. And we’re not talking rainbows and sunshine neither. (True story: 3 months ago I thought I was having a heart attack. At 33. From the stress. Turned out it was just indigestion. From the stress.)

I had 6 months to look for new jobs and did. Things were looking up as, a week before my job ended, I scored an interview for mid July, doing my old job only for more money and hey wouldn’t that be great, because I’d get two weeks of vacation, during which my folks were here. So Ducks in a row is what it was.

Except that I didn’t get the job. That was kind of a blow, I don’t mind telling you because I nailed that interview. We’re talking Gold Medal dismount. Or so I thought. Plainly it was lacking in something as they went with someone else. But that’s fine. I didn’t want that crummy job anyway. *Sniff*

Because really and truly, I’ve been looking forward to being unemployed. Which is weird to say but let me unpack that a moment: Did I mention the stress? Of working someplace that doesn’t think you’re good enough to keep around long term but clearly thinks your adequate enough to keep around for half a year? Mind games would be fun to play after 6 months of that fucked up situation. So yeah. I’m not loosing any sleep over being out of that job. And I mean that literally. I haven’t slept so good in the last 3 years as I have in the last 3 weeks.

Also I’ve been wanting time to write and focus on my novel since I got to Oregon 3 YEARS AGO. I sort of fell into a job right away, which was unintended, but a bonus.

But the gig is over and now, while I look for gainful employment in the worst economy since the Great Depression, battling a hundred other overqualified librarians in a thunder dome lined with razor blade covered books, vying for the one position, I have a moment to focus and actually do what I love, which is write. And so long as I don’t fritter it away, I can finish my novel in a month or two, while I look for other jobs, and maybe, if I’m lucky, back into a new career getting paid to write for a living. Even if it means a pay cut (and it will) even if it means moving to a smaller apartment (which is likewise very likely) because I won’t have to go up against fucking Master Blaster just to work at a fucking library.

Being a librarian pays the bills, but it’s not my dream job. And weirdly enough, being unemployed in the Second Great Depression is liberating. I don’t have any more excuses and if no one’s going to pay me to do the career I’ve built up over the last 8 years, then fuck it, I’ll write my books for a living. If I’m going to live under a bridge and starve to death, might as well do what I love.

But the card board Manse is a little ways off yet. The government teat of Unemployment is a sweet, sweet cushion between here and there. And for a few months at least, I can work at making my dreams come true. There are worse things in the world, like working a shitty job I don’t like, for a university that doesn’t appreciate all the hard work I did for them.

So that’s where I am: all I have left is the dole and a few daydreams of respect. But it beats dying or working for the man, which is just dying, only slower and from the inside out.

So. How’d you spend your summer vacation?

Coming Attractions

The Independent:

The tape recordings that Richard Nixon made, almost obsessively, of everything that went on in the Oval Office helped bring down his presidency. And now a similarly thorough archive of video footage threatens to create a world of embarrassment – and legal liability – for Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer.

About 15,000 videotapes of Wal-Mart executives at work and at play over the past 30 years have suddenly become available to the public thanks to a series of blunders by the retail giant – which paid too little attention to the company it hired to make the tapes before abruptly terminating their relationship two years ago.

[…] Now they are available – for a price – to researchers, labour rights campaigners and lawyers looking for dirt of all kinds. It’s turning into quite a lucrative business.

A Kansas City lawyer representing a 12-year-old boy who suffered extensive burns when a gasoline can bought at Wal-Mart blew up in her face was astounded – and delighted – to find footage of employees making jokes about their gasoline cans blowing up at a Christmas party.

The lawyer, Diane Breneman, is hoping to present that footage in court to challenge Wal-Mart’s claim that it couldn’t have known the gasoline cans it sells “presented any reasonable foreseeable risk”.

The archive also includes footage of Hillary Clinton, who served on Wal-Mart’s board from 1986 to 1992, praising the company to the skies – a position she has since sought to mute.

“I’m so proud of this company and everything it represents,” Mrs Clinton said at a store opening in Arkansas in 1991. “It makes me feel real good about what we’ve been able to do.”

While I’m glad that this archive of video will be able to help people reclaim some of the dignity that was sold off at cut rate prices by Wal-Mart, the thought that it might also bring Clinton’s perverse bid for the White House to a close is heartening. Anything to get this opportunistic freak show to end just a little sooner would be a good thing.

The Revolution Will Be A Dinner Party

I had never heard of the Slow Food Movement until I read this Bruce Sterling piece (link via Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing) but I love the idea:

The Cornish Pilchard. The Chilean Blue Egg Hen. The Cypriot Tsamarella and Bosnian Sack Cheese. You haven’t seen these foods at McDon­ald’s because they are strictly local rarities championed by Slow Food, the social movement founded to combat the proliferation of fast food. McDonald’s is a multinational corporation: it retails identical food products on the scale of billions, repeatedly, predictably, worldwide. Slow Food, the self-appointed anti-McDonald’s, is a “revolution” whose aim is a “new culture of food and life.”
Slow Food began as a jolly clique of leftist academics, entertainers, wine snobs, and pop stars, all friends of Ital­ian journalist and radio personality Carlo Petrini. Their galvanizing moment, which occurred in 1986, was an anti-McDonald’s demonstration at which Petrini and his dining buddies brandished pasta pans while folk-dancing in the streets of Rome. This prescient intervention predated Jose Bove’s violent wrecking of a French McDonald’s by some 13 years. While the anti-WTO crowd was politically harassing corporate globalizers, Slow Food was methodically building constructive alternatives. Today, Slow Food is well-nigh as “glo­­bal” as McDonald’s but networked rather than hierarchical. Year by methodical year the Slow Food network has stuck its fingers into a host of pies.
As a nonprofit heritage organization, the Slow Food empire retains a mere 150 full-time employees with a modest budget of $37 million a year. Yet Slow Food has invented the modern Italian food-heritage industry. Today it is a thriving ganglion of local chapters, called convivia, which number about 83,000 people in more than 100 countries. It’s also a publishing house specializing in tourist guidebooks, restaurant recipes, and heritage reprints.

The whole concept is just brilliant. You popularize things– not just food, but fashion, literature, art– all the totems of culture that, by their nature, can’t be scaled up to a global market and encourage other people in other areas to do the same with their favorite things. Using the Internet, you network, getting information out to the world, spreading the knowledge of the existence of these fun, unique concepts to other people who might like them or be inspired to do something similar. Viral marketing of the homespun, rather than the hyped marketing of the mass produced. A globally networked cottage industry. This is part of a larger Slow movement that seeks to curb the stress inducing speed traps of modern life without stifling pleasure, innovation and joy.

Here’s a Utopia for you: imagine a handcrafted, do-it-yourself world comprised of a loose network of neighborhood cultures, all sharing information and ideas, inspiring one another through cooperation rather than competition, making a living rather than a killing, chasing the Long Tail rather than the immediate profit, all for the love of being creative rather than the crass desire to make a quick buck at the expense of beauty and meaning. With windmills and solar power and free range livestock, backyard gardens, boutique couture, free municipal wifi. And no ponies. Maybe it’s a little over-optimistic or naive but we can dream.

This won’t save us in the short term from the worst excesses of Capitalism run amok, which we’ll be dealing with for years to come, as we rebuild our wrecked economy. But this could give the future a shape free of the cycle of boom and bust economic models that drive countries to war and depredation, just to enrich a few corporate shareholders and drive millions of people to an early grave from stress, depression and the general malaise of mental and emotional emptiness caused by the pursuit of ever more pointless mass produced stuff.

It starts with the basics: food. Then moves on to encompass the basic necessities of life: shelter, companionship and expression. All that which is at the core of what it means to be human. Expanding from there into the arts and infrastructure of the world is a bit more of a challenge but something that is worthwhile. People reclaiming not just the means of production but the meaning in producing.

All this navel gazing about economic models and do-it-yourself sustainability leads directly into the upcoming news about my book, The Machine of the World. Watch this space.

Why A Recession Could Be a Good Thing

Amanda Marcott has a great little post at Pandagon regarding the looming economic downturn. She makes a solid point that I had yet to consider:

I hear that our economy is on a downturn and the government is going to give us money to make it right. What I say is that the economy has been on a downturn, and it wasn’t until the very wealthy saw their extreme wealth threatened that we saw any action on it.

The irony is this: The fix for our problems is actually pretty simple. Capitalism per se is not the problem. In its place, it’s a good thing. But we need the basics to be made into public property—access to nutritious food, housing, health care, day care—and we need to get our capitalist system out of short-term thinking. We need to make it unreasonable and unprofitable to gamble on third world debt and the way it can be used to manipulate foreign currency. We need to make capitalism capitalistic again, i.e. return the risk to it, instead of offering huge government bailouts to save its failures. And we need high marginal tax rates to encourage capitalists to make long term investments instead of the short term investments that rule our culture.

While I disagree that Capitalism isn’t the problem (as someone in the comments at Pandagon pointed out, forcing working class and lower middle class people into subsistence living with no social safety net is a feature of Capitalism, not a bug) I do agree that the Economic Downturn* has been underway for a while and it’s only now that we’re hearing about it because it’s suddenly affecting the wealthy, who thought that their wildly inflated housing prices would somehow insulate them form the cruel realities of Alan Greenspan’s Invisible Hand job.

Continue reading “Why A Recession Could Be a Good Thing”

I Dream Of None Of The Above

I had a dream last night: November 2nd came around and by a landslide decision, None of the Above won the Presidential election.

The way it happened was this:

With the writer’s strike on, there was nothing good on Television. In an effort to fill the void left by their unfulfilled dreams, strangled ambitions and the general ennui of 21st century American life, the Television Viewing Public turned to Politics in search of something to watch. Everyone was horrified. Who were these slack jawed yokels, belligerent Jesus freaks and spineless sympathizers of the overfed and mentally malnourished? This is what we had to choose form for President of these here United States?

So a movement began. It was simple: Come November 2nd, vote for None of the Above. When None won the majority, we were forced to throw out this gang of bozos and find some real humans to elect, and fast. While the Parties That Be scrambled to slap a new coat of paint on the same old turd that they had been trying to sell us before, a handful of dedicated citizens stepped forward and decided to take one for the team. They weren’t rich or famous or known for being known. one was a school teacher from Baltimore and another a plumber form Queens. A small businessman who ran a corner grocery store in Cincinnati and an artist from San Fransisco raised their hands and said they’d give it a try.

With only two weeks to throw together an election, the New Candidates met in public squares and on the Internet to debate in a real life, substantial way and figure out what the American People wanted done and how to do it. They disagreed on a few ways and means but it soon became clear, whichever of these candidates eventually won, we would all be better of fhaving someone who was there to do a job in four or eight years and then go about their lives, rather than turn the country over once again to the professional class of chowder heads and Machiavellian dingbats with fake smiles and plastic hair.

The School Teacher won president and the Artist, Vice President. As a concession to some of his good ideas, the Grocer from Cincinnati was made secretary of the Interior and the plumber became Secretary of state. They didn’t have any experience doing anything but living. But that was enough.

and so, the New Candidates took their turn at running the country. Win or loose, everyone was confident that at least they wouldn’t be as bad as those idiots we almost elected.

Outlaw Clockmaker’s Restore Cultural Heritage In Secret

Guardian Unlimited:

Four members of an underground “cultural guerrilla” movement known as the Untergunther, whose purpose is to restore France’s cultural heritage, were cleared on Friday of breaking into the 18th-century monument in a plot worthy of Dan Brown or Umberto Eco. [Though, as pointed out in the comments at CT, it’s more in the vein of a Pynchon novel]

For a year from September 2005, under the nose of the Panthéon’s unsuspecting security officials, a group of intrepid “illegal restorers” set up a secret workshop and lounge in a cavity under the building’s famous dome. Under the supervision of group member Jean-Baptiste Viot, a professional clockmaker, they pieced apart and repaired the antique clock that had been left to rust in the building since the 1960s. Only when their clandestine revamp of the elaborate timepiece had been completed did they reveal themselves.”When we had finished the repairs, we had a big debate on whether we should let the Panthéon’s officials know or not,” said Lazar Klausmann, a spokesperson for the Untergunther. “We decided to tell them in the end so that they would know to wind the clock up so it would still work.

“The Panthéon’s administrator thought it was a hoax at first, but when we showed him the clock, and then took him up to our workshop, he had to take a deep breath and sit down.”

The Centre of National Monuments, embarrassed by the way the group entered the building so easily, did not take to the news kindly, taking legal action and replacing the administrator.

Getting into the building was the easiest part, according to Klausmann. The squad allowed themselves to be locked into the Panthéon one night, and then identified a side entrance near some stairs leading up to their future hiding place. “Opening a lock is the easiest thing for a clockmaker,” said Klausmann. From then on, they sneaked in day or night under the unsuspecting noses of the Panthéon’s officials.

“I’ve been working here for years,” said a ticket officer at the Panthéon who wished to remain anonymous. “I know every corner of the building. And I never noticed anything.”

The hardest part of the scheme was carrying up the planks used to make chairs and tables to furnish the Untergunther’s cosy squat cum workshop, which has sweeping views over Paris.

The group managed to connect the hideaway to the electricity grid and install a computer connected to the net.

Klausmann and his crew are connaisseurs of the Parisian underworld. Since the 1990s they have restored crypts, staged readings and plays in monuments at night, and organised rock concerts in quarries. The network was unknown to the authorities until 2004, when the police discovered an underground cinema, complete with bar and restaurant, under the Seine. They have tried to track them down ever since.

Via Kieran Healy at Crooked Timber.

Strike!

If you’re wondering what this whole WGA writer’s strike thing is all about, but only have enough time to go one place to get the low down, you could do worse than stopping by John Roger’s place over at Kung Fu Monkey. If you have the time though, also drop by Ken Levine‘s and Jane Espenson ‘s sites.

As dedicated fans of good writing and good TV and film, we owe it to the WGA to support them any way we can. If you live in LA or New York, swing by the picket lines and give them a honk of support. Bring them water or Pizza or just say thank you. Send a letter or e-mail to the studios or your local paper, or write it up on your blog.

Writers deserve to be paid for their work. That”s what the strike is all about.