Life Harvester #8: Piles Part II, Shoes #8, Totally Different Head #4, Binging Crime Dramas

HEY WHATS UP HELLO
   
  Welcome to August. Happy birthday to my mother, my sister, Lucille Ball, and Andrew Cunanan. There’s a lot of exciting stuff going on this month! Most of it is commerce related so if you don’t wanna read about that just skip on over to the next section.
Firstly, this past Sunday was the 10 year anniversary of the first Slice Harvester review, and to celebrate, I’m selling off the remaining stock of back issues I fortuitously found in my parent’s house in May. CLICK THIS LINK TO BUY, YOU’D BE A FOOL NOT TO! If you don’t know, Slice Harvester was a fanzine that I did for many years where I reviewed a plain slice from every single pizza parlor in Manhattan. I ate pizza with many friends, weirdos, and subcultural luminaries, who all put their two cents in. Tom Scharpling called it “one of the best fanzines ever,” on this week’s Best Show and I will brag about that for as long as I’m alive because he’s the greatest.
Secondly, I’m offering individual print subscriptions of Life Harvester for the first time. You can head to patreon.com/lifeharvester to learn about them. It’s very important to me that print editions of Life Harvester remain predominantly a free thing that weirdos can find laying around and pick up and read and maybe learn about something cool or get even weirder, and as such I’ve been paying the relatively low monthly printing and shipping costs out of pocket. But some people have expressed interest in paying to have them mailed directly, and so I’m offering up a subscription. You can get just the zine or the zine and a monthly digital mix, or the zine and a monthly mixtape mailed to you. I am still honestly unsure how I feel about a Patreon so we’ll see how long it lasts, but let’s see where this experiment takes us.

PILES PART 2
     Last issue I discussed my burgeoning interest in piles of all kinds. Dirt piles, snow piles, free piles, mulch piles. Since then I learned about Allison Cekala’s Instagram account of beautiful pile photography, @americanpile. I showed it to Becca who suggested we look at her website where we found MORE PILE PHOTOGRAPHY. Can you believe it? Here I was joking about “being into piles” because it seemed like a funny riff, but it turns out I was getting in on the ground floor of the next big thing! Obviously, I had to reach out to Allison with a few pile related queries. This is what she said:
HOW DID YOU GET INTERESTED IN PILES?
    About 15 years ago, I had written a paper in college about the history and politics of solid waste management in New York City. Through that project, I became aware of defunct landfills in and around New York, most of which had been significantly transformed, but to a trained eye one could start to get a sense of the hidden stories that these landscapes held. As a photography student, I began photographing these sites, and started thinking about the ways in which our landscape is constantly changing due to human activities. Something that appeared to be a “natural” hill may have had numerous lives before its current landscape iteration. This idea is still present in my artwork. 
CAN YOU REMEMBER HAVING A FIRST FAVORITE PILE?
    One interesting thing about piles is that they are constantly evolving due to natural weathering, or more commonly because of the shaping force of humanity. When I was in graduate school in Boston I happened to spot a pile out of my car window that ended up sending me on a literal journey across the world. It was Boston’s stockpile of road salt; pristinely white, as large as a ski slope, and nestled along the Mystic River in a densely populated neighborhood. I got permission from the salt company to photograph and I visited every week for several months. The pile looked different each visit because salt was constantly being offloaded from ships, then transported to other locations. Through my studies of the salt pile I formed a relationship with the salt company and learned that most of the salt came from one mine in Atacama Desert of northern Chile. I ended up getting a grant to make a film, my first film, Fundir, that traces the pile from Chile to the streets of Boston. My salt obsession lasted almost two years and it was a result of that initial pile I saw from my car.
DO YOU HAVE A CURRENT FAVORITE PILE?
     There was a pile that I was watching this summer next to a house that was recently demolished. As construction began on a new foundation, the pile remained, getting weathered by rain and sprouting small plants.  Then one day it was suddenly gone. I’m not sure if it was dirt that was from the original site or if it was put back into the foundation or if it was carted away, but nonetheless, I was weirdly saddened by the loss of the small monolith. I saw it growing and morphing back into the landscape, then suddenly it was gone. I think there is something jarring about a pile’s transient existence. Piles seem to be a constant fixture in the landscape, but they are actual highly mobile. Thinking more deeply, I actually think the comings and goings of these temporary accumulations are a mirror to our capitalist economy.   
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR WHEN PHOTOGRAPHING A PILE? 
     For @americanpile I am attempting to create a typology, so I am both looking to photograph a particular shaped pile in a particular way. I look for a symmetrical mountain shape, the shape that most closely resembles “natural” mountains and I also position the piles in the same place in each frame so that in their similarity, we see their difference. The material of the pile can be particularly exciting—once I found a towering pile of clam shells on the coast of Oregon, but often they are some form of dirt, sand, or gravel. I see the piles as inadvertent sculptures made by humans and it is always nice to see signs of its maker; tire tracks, hand written signs, etc.  As the project continues, I think I am more and more interested in the backgrounds, i.e. where the project sits in nature, rather than the pile itself. 

TWO ZINE REVIEWS
     In 1997, when I was fourteen years old, I did my first interview for a zine with Greg from the Bouncing Souls. I cornered him after a gig at 7 Willow Street, the all ages punk venue in Port Chester, NY, shoved a dictaphone in his face and asked him “what’s your name and what do you play?” 
     “My name is Greg and I sing in the Bouncing Souls,” he replied wearily and looked back to me. That was the only question I’d prepared. I had assumed that since Greg and I were clearly destined to be friends (spoiler alert: we never talked again) our natural chemistry would kick in and we’d be off and running. When that didn’t happen, I fumbled for a minute and came back with “what’s your favorite joke?” Greg told me a complicated dirty joke about a guy who has sex with a bus driver in a graveyard. Then I said “shit, I think my dad’s here to pick me up.” I transcribed the tape and printed the unedited text, (including telling Greg I thought my dad was waiting outside!), in the second issue of Atrophy, my high school fanzine.
     Fifteen years later, I asked Aaron Cometbus, author of Very Important Zine, Cometbus, to interview me for now defunct Very Important Zine, MAXIMUMROCKNROLL. “I’ll ask questions,” he told me, “but you have to transcribe it.” When I sent him the initial transcript he wrote me back, “you know, you’re allowed to edit this to make us both sound better.” Reader, I didn’t know that. I was operating with a naïve punk notion of authenticity that misunderstood absolute fidelity as a virtue. It functioned as an implicit excuse to forgo the labor of editing. Clearly, it’s not okay to fabricate questions and answers from whole cloth. But, when translating spoken language between friends in which people have a tendency to trail off or communicate in gesture into clear writing, deleting a few stutters and stammers makes for a better experience for the reader.
     In issue 8 of long-running Vancouver punk rag, Shoes Fanzine, Nate brings us five interviews, each with a different eye towards the past. Shoes does a fantastic job at something punk has historically done well: elevating the stories and voices of people whose cultural production might not typically warrant this sort of documentation. Nate interviews his childhood friend Will about starting a chapter of Anti-Racist Action as a teen in the 90s to combat the rising tide of neo-nazi behavior in their hometown of Sarnia, Ontario. A conversation outlining strategies for direct action opposition to organized fascist incursion in a local community feels especially pertinent in the current moment. In another interview, Nate talks to his friend Karmin about sailing across the Pacific with her wingnut dad, a trip that almost killed them both. Both of these interviews are conducted with a familiarity that can only exist between friends, which gives them a papable sense of warmth,but that sort of one-to-one transcriptiondoesn’t always translate so well to the page. Particularly in the conversation with Will, there is some coaxing that Nate does to get Will to move the story forward that felt superfluous and took me out of the piece.
     Matt Hern, author of What Is a City For: Remaking the Politics of Displacement, talks about his life after running The Purple Thistle, a punk community space in Vancouver in the vein of ABC No Rio or Gilman Street, and his personal growth from doing punk-centric activism to community organizing around housing rights for a broader segment of the population. The conversation feels strong and direct, as does Nate’s talk with perennial faves Shellshag (drummer Jen was this month’s caption contest winner!) about their experiences in San Francisco’s Mission District in the early 90s, their brief flirtation with careerism, and their triumphant return to punk in New York City.
     The first person Nate ever interviewed for a zine was the first person who ever interviewed me, Aaron Cometbus. In 1999, Nate sent Aaron a letter full of questions (somewhat basic, but far more thorough than my questions for Greg two years prior). Twenty years later, Nate sat down with Aaron and asked him the same questions, as well as some interesting follow-ups, without showing him the answers from 1999. For the final piece, he printed the full conversation and included both sets of answers. Seeing two iterations of the same person, two decades removed, side by side, was such a wonderful experience and if you’re curious what it’s like, you’ll have to order the zine to find out.
     I think this zine could benefit from a little editing and a makeover. The design, while legible, was plain and felt somewhat slapdash. A zine is a visual object just as much as a literary one. Shoes is a good zine—no small feat!—but with a few tweaks and a little more care for the presentation I think it could be a great one.
     The other zine I got in the mail this month was Totally Different Head #4 by Portland punk rocker Corby Plumb, which also consists primarily of interviews. It’s great looking, with a multicolor-print cover featuring an illustration by friend to the newsletter Travis Wiggins. The interior layout is easy to read, the design is crisp and cute. And it better be­­––almost every interview in here is about visual art. You’ve got a dual interview with Erika Elizabeth, of Portland’s Collate, & Samantha Wendel, from one of my favorite Austin bands, Crooked Bangs, about their respective prolific visual art practices designing physical posters and fliers, a conversation I’m happy to see in an era of an increasingly virtual visual landscape. 
      Next, correspondent Travis conducts an interview with Grace Ambrose that also focuses primarily on her flier-making. Grace, as always, is brilliant and casually charming. She shares thoughts on her artistic practice that made me want to draw, which is incredible because that’s typically the last thing I ever want to do. She also discusses her approach to music making and there’s an actually interesting discussion about different guitar picks. It’s nice to see Grace recognized for something besides her time as coordinator of MRR, which was certainly great, but far from all she should be acknowledged for. 
      Following Grace’s interview is perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the whole zine, a conversation with Stevie Pohlman, the driving force behind the new-to-me band Mope Grooves. The discussion ranges from songwriting styles to the imperative to create art in the face of encroaching fascism—“If you don’t claim space in… the dream world, somebody else will. If you don’t imagine the future, someone builds a dystopia for you.” I’ve been listening to Mope Grooves incessantly since reading the interview. Their catchy minimal pop music for lunatics is just what I need right now. This is one of the joys of a good fanzine, the thrill of discovery. 
     The issue closes with Osa Atoe of legendary Shotgun Seamstress zine, discussing her pottery. Her responses are wonderfully straightforward. She is not at all inclined to fulfill the expectations of the interviewer. (e.g Q: does [pottery] relate to how you play music? Feel rhythm? A: nope. Osa then goes on to describe the differences between making pottery and making music in vivid detail.) Osa’s reluctance to simply follow the lead of her interlocutor belies how deeply present she is in the conversation, and her willingness and desire to share her feelings and experiences completely evokes a rare combination of absolute comfort and complete openness that is a delight to read.
     These interviews are interspersed with record reviews, mostly of PNW bands, most of whom I’ve never heard of as an out of the loop old person, spanning a few genres all with ties back to punk. I didn’t necessarily like every band that was reviewed, but the reviews were good enough that I did look them all up and listen to them. TDH is everything I could ask for in a zine. Can’t wait to see the next issue.

     For more information about either zine writeshoesfanzine@hotmail.comor totallydifferenthead@gmail.com.

BINGING CRIME DRAMAS
     I’ve talked in previous newsletters about how watching television is the thing I do most alcoholically in sobriety, and crime dramas are my frequent drug of choice. I’ve dissociated to more crime shows than I remember. They don’t need to be good, though some of them have me. There’s The Fall, starring Dana Scully where the serial killer was problematically hot, Broadchurch starring the queen from The Favourite and a weasely looking guy who I guess was Dr. Who (I wouldn’t know because I’m not a fucking nerd) and they’re in the UK somewhere and maybe he lives on a boat? There’s Top of the Lake, a kind of Twin Peaks-y nightmare that featured a very cool-seeming new age, women’s separatist community that lived in a bunch of shipping containers. While I was procrastinating writing this newsletter I watched an entire season of a French show called Black Spot. That one wasn’t good, but I still watched 8 hours of it in the past two days.
     I do this for the same reasons I drank: to avoid responsibility, to annihilate any sense of myself and along with it annihilate the near constant litany of anxiety and worry that comes with being alive. Clearly, if I was doing great, then I wouldn’t need this kind of outlet. But, I see it as a sort of harm reduction.
Towards the end of my drinking I combined my two favorite methods of muting my inner critic like some kind of dark George Costanza. Almost every night I’d buy a pint of whiskey and drink it alone in my apartment. I would pour it in a glass and sip it slow while I watched back-to-back episodes of Law & Order: SVU with the lights off. I would talk to my cats and oftentimes talk to myself, wandering between my bedroom and the bathroom, smoking cigarettes at the window, trying to stretch out the pint of whiskey until I could finally sleep so I wouldn’t go to the bar.
     I ultimately quit drinking in the end of 2011, I think, so this was right before that. I had been working with this survivor support/abuser accountability collective for a few years at that point. We were young and wounded, doing activism at the intersection of prison abolition and social work. We all hated the cops. At a meeting I let slip that I had been secretly watching SVU. It was a true guilty pleasure––I literally felt bad enjoying it! How could I root for the cops? Slowly, almost everyone else at the meeting admitted that they too had been watching SVU in secret. The politics of the show are objectively terrible, but there was something that seemed to resonate with each of us. Maybe spending a substantial amount of our lives fighting an uphill battle against male violence in our community, it felt good to come home and lose ourselves in a fantasy world where morals dilemmas were clear cut, the police cared about survivors, and Ice T was beating up rapists.
     Veronica Mars fits in somewhere here too. In some ways there’s less guilt because she’s not a fucking cop, though her dad isthe sheriff for most of it. But whatever, she’s a teen girl detective solving the murder of her best friend and her own assault while constantly humiliating incompetent adult men. Who doesn’t like that kind of schadenfreude?

ASK A SHMUCK

Dear Shabby,
    How do I talk to mutual friends of abusers in my community?
-Exhausted With Casual Complicity

Dear Exhausted,
    My short answer is this: it ultimately doesn’t matter how you talk to mutual friends of abusers in your community, it matters that you do it. As for the actual discussions, there are so many variables, but the most important thing is that you stay present, and make your feelings and expectations known. Depending on your friend’s comfort with the subject (taking into account their own survivor status/trauma history, their familiarity with this kind of discourse) I might try to set aside a time in advance for the conversation, rather than bring it up as a surprise. Begin the discussion with simple, factual questions and statements—How close are you to So-and-so? Have you known them for long? Are you aware they have been called out for abuse by multiple partners?You get the drift.
    At this point how you proceed will depend on how your friend responds. Are they receptive? If so, then you can discuss what this knowledge means about their relationship with the abuser. If they seem tentative or freaked out, maybe you can offer them some time to process while clearly stating that you’d like to continue the conversation at a later point. If your friend seems hostile or defensive, this might be a time to think about how important their friendship is to you. At the end of the day, you may be nervous about these conversations, but you’re hopefully doing a small part in keeping other people in your community safe and making things better for the survivor.
Xoxo, Shabby the Shmuck

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