This Is The Re-Launch

April 3, 2013

One Night in Beverly Hills, photograph by Charles Peterson

One Night in Beverly Hills. Photograph by Charles Peterson

It’s been a long time… I shouldn’t have left you. Not that you’d know it since I’ve been posting on the regular here for four years but—

Four years is a long time to be lost. Lost and found and back to the beginning that never ended and the end that never began as the ouroburo spins like Dead or Alive, round and round.

I ramble, I often do. I’ll make it short and sweet, cause I gotta go. Today I am pleased to announce the re-launch of my website,

I created the site when I set forth on my own back in summer 2009, thinking I knew which end was up. I didn’t, but you couldn’t tell me ishh. I was no longer listening. I had long since gone deaf.

But, the Universe being what it is, made sure I got my come-uppance and undoubtedly, yes. It was a mess—chaos in it’s most glorious sense. The other day, Mr. Brown mentioned The Sublime. Then DJ Disco Wiz tweeted, “Know how sublime a thing it is To suffer and be strong..”

That’s how it went down. And down it went. Now I’m on the upswing and I begin where I am, starting fresh. I re-launch, remix, rebrand, release, refresh, renew, regenerate, do-re-mi e.t.c.

I thank each and every one who has stood by me through .. this (smile). The clouds are gone. Let the sun shine again.


1940s Style

August 16, 2010

Anita Loos said it best, “The rarest of all things in American life is charm. We spend billions every year manufacturing fake charm that goes under the heading of public relations. Without it, America would be grim indeed.”

You know how everyone is great with faces, and bad with names? I’m just the opposite. If I speak with someone once, I am inclined to remember who they are but for the life of me, I don’t seem to recall what they look like. That might be a comment on massive amount of time I communicate digitally, having long standing relationships with people I’ve never actually seen. Strange new world.

I recently reconnected with Matthew Newton, who I have never met, and got into a conversation going on the subject of writing in the Digital Age, which is increasingly becoming one of my favorite subjects. I thank Matthew for taking the time to speak on it further here.

I’m glad we have this opportunity to discuss writing, as it’s not something that seems to come up often in my conversations with people, yet I find it highly enlightening to chat about a form of communication all of us use, to different ends. The first thing I am curious to know are your thoughts on the act of writing, that is, how do you decide not just what you want to write about, but what form and in what medium that piece will occur?

When it comes to subject matter, I’m pretty schizophrenic about what assignments I take on. I think that’s a result of having tons of energy and ideas and interests, but having a limited amount of time to realize it all. This makes it really hard for me to settle on one specific idea — whether it’s writing about PTSD in vets from Afghanistan/Iraq, sampling in hip-hop, the prosecution of graffiti artists, etc. I want what I write about to matter, at least to some small extent. And focusing too long on a specific subject that I’m not enthralled by ends up making me feel isolated or trapped, and I greatly dislike that. So by switching it up, I keep myself interested at all times.

That path though, the idea that a writer should become an expert in a specific topic, is the way nonfiction writers make a name for themselves. Whether it’s through writing exclusively about finance or politics or sports or war or whatever—it’s the old school journalistic concept of maintaining a beat. Tons of journalists do it very well and make great contributions. Others, it seems, are looking to leverage that expertise into lucrative moonlighting gigs as pundits on MSNBC or Fox News, or to get invited to speaking engagements where they can hold court on their chosen topic. That path is fine I suppose, but that’s never really appealed to me. With that being said, I’m also certain my decision to write about only what interests me has been extremely detrimental to my career. If of course you can define this thing I have attempted to maintain these past seven or so years as a career.

Anyhow, to get somewhat back on track, I basically decide to write about something after I become obsessed with it. If I can’t stop thinking about a topic, I know its probably something I’ll end up writing about in some form—whether in a blog post, longer form magazine article, or even as a commentary piece. The majority of the time, the topics I’m attracted to seem to be cultural in nature. But they also need to have conflict, some form of struggle. To give an example, right now I’m doing research about creativity and mental illness, and how the two, if at all, are linked. For the last few years, I’ve been keeping notes and thinking about the suicides of artists I really respected, people like Vic Chesnutt, David Foster Wallace, Angus Fairhurst. I’ve wondered how much validity there is to the notion of the tortured artist, and why so many artists who take their own lives become these idealized martyrs of high art following their deaths.

Another subject that fascinates me are economically depressed towns and the factors that converge to create these realities. Where I’m from in Pittsburgh, the decline of every single town can be traced to the implosion of the steel industry, or some form of manufacturing. All these little towns that sprouted up along the rivers here were established because there were jobs—there was a need for a place to eat and sleep between shifts. But now that the mills have closed, and the jobs have vanished, what becomes of the towns that are left behind? In and around Pittsburgh, what happens is that these towns become economically distressed communities, and they cease to be self-sufficient. It’s an idea I’ve been kicking around for years now, wondering how and why it might be an important topic to write about at length. I say why because so many articles have been written in recent years that examine the decline of cities like Detroit and Cleveland, and how these places are in dire straits and need to be restored. And mainly folks seem to tune in just to gawk at the disaster-porn photography that accompanies the article. But what hasn’t been tackled much is the counterpoint to this argument. In other words, why should these towns and cities be saved? It’s such an emotional dilemma, because so much of our personal identity and feelings of security are wrapped up in where we choose to call home.

But I’ve also got a dozen ideas in motion at any given time, so usually whatever bubbles to the top first is what I end up writing about.

Eve of Destruction Image courtesy of Arn-Chorn Pond

How do you think the Internet functions, both positively and negatively, in providing people with platforms for public discourse?

It’s strange, some days the Internet feels like nothing but a vile wasteland of knuckle-dragging creeps, the kind of people you might find slumped over on the floor in a public restroom. But then on other days you encounter fascinating people who challenge the way you think or make you laugh until you nearly piss yourself, or you learn invaluable information that you could never have stumbled upon as easily in the pre-Internet world.

Back in the mid to late 1990s, when people were still hording those free AOL CDs to get online and using Lycos (or whatever else was around) instead of Google, everything seemed a lot less complicated. The Internet was still like the Wild West, untamed and (mostly) devoid of the too-cool-for-school set. Everyone was still figuring out which end was up. So naturally, 15 years later, we’ve all matured a bit, become more jaded and cynical about our relationship with this glowing screen that we stare at all day.

What’s so profound about how the Internet has influenced the way we interact, is how it’s enabled us to retreat into solitary lifestyles. And really, this is the negative side of the situation, because the more socially withdrawn we become the more we think it’s okay to treat one another like total shit. Online, people speak and act far differently than they do in-person. Without an electronic buffer, or the anonymity a screen name provides—in other words, when standing face-to-face with you—most random strangers would never be so insulting or purposefully inflammatory as they are when commenting online. But add some distance and the protection of a computer monitor, and all civilized behavior is quickly forgotten.

You mentioned that you have seen a change in readers’ attention spans, and you credit this to the Internet. Do you believe people’s attention spans have decreased, and we now process information differently, and if so, in what way ? Or do you think we may actually be increasing our ability to filter through countless messages that are not of interest?

It’s probably not fair for me to blame plummeting attention spans entirely on the Internet, I have no real data to back that up. But I believe it’s changed the way we organize and prioritize the information we receive. For example, I’ve learned about the last dozen or so deaths of public figures almost exclusively through Twitter or Facebook status updates, not traditional news outlets or even TV. The Internet has just become so pervasive in our everyday lives—so much so that when people say they’re going to be away from their computer for the day or afternoon, some of us don’t know how to handle that. For that period of time, those people may as well be dead to us. The concept seems to fry our brains.

Like you suggest, it would be great if this minute-by-minute flood of information has actually helped us to become more efficient in the way we process information. And depending on how a given person’s brain works, that may very well be true. But I think so often we end up just getting distracted by the Internet. I can’t even count how many times I’ve gotten lost in an Internet K-hole, wondering how the hell I ended up watching videos of The Great Space Coaster when I started out looking for serious information about codeine promethazine addiction in Houston, the latest suicide rate among active duty U.S. troops, or whatever.

Special Report: Is Sampling Dead? Photograph © 77 cuts

How is writing for the Internet different from writing for print? And who do you think, if anyone, successfully bridges the divide?

Several years ago, I would have said there’s no difference. But today writing for the Web has a lot of its own nuances. Mainly this pertains to all the ways you can maximize the visibility of your posts so that search engines and services like Reddit, Digg, etc. can easily find them. The most dramatic change is the way headlines are treated. All headlines are now meticulously loaded with keywords for the sake of search engine optimization (SEO). Basically, this means what was once traditionally the subhead (or dek) or even the lede in a story now becomes the headline. As a result, headlines are long and rambling and ugly these days because they are written to lure the attention of search engines and, of course, readers.

Also, you can ignore all this shit too, pretend it doesn’t matter. But when the point of writing is so that people will read, hopefully learn something, want to read your work again, maybe buy your book if you ever write one—you’re basically just sending your words out into a void if you don’t follow the rules of the Internet.

As far as who is successfully bridging the divide? It seems like everything eventually ends up online anyway, but there are good examples of people who strike a nice balance. Matt Taibbi is one case, he does long form political reporting for Rolling Stone, both in print and online, and regularly augments his reportage with incisive blog posts. Then there’s Stephen Elliott, who runs the literary website The Rumpus. He’s an accomplished author with a half dozen or so books to his credit, but is also someone who realizes the value/importance of online publishing—and the forum for discussion it provides. And really, the list goes on: Michael Kimball, Lesley Arfin, Steve Almond, Jonathan Ames, and this is a weirdly random list, there are hundreds more.

You also mentioned that among the writers you know, you discuss how you are now responsible for both creating and promoting your work? Do you see this as an opportunity for growth as a writer to connect directly with their audiences? Are there downsides to being the spokesperson for your work and reaching out directly to your readership?

Essentially, I don’t think anyone wants to be promoting their own work all the time. Especially today when the whole idea of self-promotion is often met with a less-than-enthusiastic response. I have a whole process for promoting an article once I’ve written it. But I hate it. It bores me, even depresses me. But it’s also what gets my work out there in front of a larger audience. So it’s part of my routine.

I’m a freelance writer/independent journalist who is, for the most part, not exclusively affiliated with any single print or online publication. Essentially, I’m a free agent who lends his services to whichever publication is respectful to my work, gives me a little freedom/control, and pays. I didn’t follow the proper literary/journalistic channels by attending the right school (Brown, Columbia, NYU, etc.), or chumming around in social circles I felt I could leverage for career advancement. In other words, I’ve pretty much gone about things all wrong. And while that’s something I’m reminded of almost everyday, I also don’t care.

As far as viewing this as an opportunity for growth as a writer, I think that’s very true. The more you talk with readers/fellow writers who have similar or contrasting opinions on any given subject, the more you refine the way you assemble your stories. Being the spokesperson for your own work does get weird though. What I hate most is feeling like a huckster. Because often I think, maybe this is all just a bunch of junk that nobody wants.

Robert M. Johnson: Dispatches From A Distant America Photograph © Robert M. Johnson

Christophe Salet, Photograph © César D. Wixan

The rise of digital media has sent traditional forms of communication into a spin. The result, when combined with the economic downturn, has gotten me thinking about the 1970s again—a time when the only way to get the word out was to do it yourself. Back then, the independent press was a sight to behold, as publications such as Search & Destroy on the West Coast and Night on the East Coast transmitted the undercurrent of the culture like so many flashes of lightening.

These days it is the blog that is revolutionizing our world, making the First Amendment a global phenomenon. And while the form itself has been derided by those who look to its weakest practitioners, there are many out there making their mark in highly vital ways. Having begun this blog last summer first as a showcase for my clients and past work, it has slowly transformed into something else: my very own publication, a place where I can investigate and explore anything I am inspired by. And one of those things is bloggers.

I first met Christophe Salet when he came to work for me back in 2007. Both his level of experience and his disposition of manner made me see him as a colleague and a contemporary, rather than a subordinate. We recently reconnected, and he introduced me to his blog, Arte Fac(to)tum. I was suitably blown away. I thank Christophe for taking the time to chat with me about his thoughts about publishing today.

• Confederacy.jpg: Front cover of the French Pocket edition of A Confederacy of Dunces, Editions 10/18.

While I have known that amazing work you are capable of producing, I really do not know that much about you! Please tell me how you first got into book publishing and why.

Well, like many people who work there, I turned to publishing when I realized I was not talented enough to be a Pulitzer prize writer. More seriously, I grew up in a small town in the southwest of France, kind of conservative, and did not travel much until I could do it on my own. So everything I learnt as a kid, I learnt it through books. I mean, things that really interested me, which had not much to do with what they teach you at school. There was no Internet at that time, nor cable TV. So books always appeared to me as a way to escape my provincial life and well, get a little smarter.

Besides, after I graduated, I was sent to Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) for one year and a half to work at the French Trade Commission, as an alternative form of military service. And this also strengthened my fetish for books : first, because there was not much to do (basically, everything you like to do when you are in your 20s is punishable by public whipping), so I spent a lot of time reading. Second because this made me realize how much education and free access to culture (i.e. books… to begin with) are important to a free democratic society. So when I came back to France and started looking for a job, I did not think much. I sent my resume to all publishers and it started there.

I believe one of the reasons that publishing is troubled is that it does not understand 21st century marketing—both on a digital level, as well as in creating viable brand strategies to build a core consumer base. Having worked in marketing for the past decade, what are your thoughts on the problems the industry is facing today?

I did not work enough time in the US to really get to know the situation there. But I can talk about the situation in France. Problems may not be so different… In the past decades, publishing turned from some kind of craftsmanship to a real industry. Distribution became very concentrated and more and more global, which put a lot of financial pressure on independent publishers. To survive, they had in turn to concentrate and hand over management positions to business people who applied the same performance ratio as in any other industry. This led to a profound change of values : creativity and long-term vision ceased to be the driving forces. Instead, short-term profitability became the rule, giving place to a risk-adverse culture.

Then came the ebooks. And the situation we are facing right now is that most publishers are really panicked and don’t know what to do. So, they try as much as they can to protect their assets by delaying the switch from paper to digital : protecting ebooks from piracy with the same devices as the music industry before (devices which are not really efficient at dissuading actual hackers, but which are a real headache for regular consumers), selling e-books at the same price of paper books, releasing ebooks months after the paper books, etc. And simultaneously, thinking (or trying to convince themselves) that the iPad will save their business… Absolute schizophrenia !

So the major problem I see is this lack of creativity that prevents them from adapting to this new situation (although there still are some independent publishers that do an incredible job). On top of that -or consequently- I have the feeling that people are beginning to question the role of publishers. They more and more appear as “forces from the past” who desperately try to keep control of a world that is gone already. I heard people ask “who needs a publisher when you can self-publish your book in a second on the Internet ?”. Well… sure! Take The Confederacy of Dunces for instance, by American writer John Kennedy Toole. Had he lived in 2010, he would probably have published his novel on, or any other self-publishing site… and (maybe) he would not have committed suicide. So you think: publishers are useless, and probably evil. They can’t even spot a genius when they have it at hand. But then, you ask yourself : had the book been so great without the work of a publisher (for it found one eventually) ? The answer may be yes in this particular case, but I doubt it would be the same for any bestseller of the last century. And also: how the book would have met its readers amidst the 700,000+ books that have been self-published in the US alone in 2009 ? Would it have been translated in 18 languages ? I really doubt it.

So no, publishers are not useless. But they’d better find a way to quickly adapt to the world their readers are living in. And the good news is : the ones that will are the ones who have imagination and creativity. At least at the beginning…

Why did you decide to start your blog, Arte Fac(to)tum—and what ideas are you exploring?

I’ve been writing as a freelance journalist for various magazines dedicated to design for a few years now. Which I rapidly found kind of frustrating : because you can’t always pick up the projects you’re going to talk about, because you always have to work on tight deadlines (which means very little research work, if any) and because the type of writing is quite limited. On the one end of the spectrum, you have very serious magazines with academic-like articles, and on the other hand, articles that are barely enhanced versions of press releases, where every young designer is “a rising star”, every object a “must-have” and every exhibition a “must-see”. In the middle : not much… But I believe there are other ways to talk about objects, neither as an historian or a sociologist, nor as a shameless consumerist.

So I decided to create this blog, where I could write about topics that truly interest me, like projects crossing the boundaries between all the creative fields that produce artifacts : design, craftsmanship, fine arts (part of it), architecture… Of course, this blog does not pretend to be an alternative to current magazines. To me, it’s more like an open lab where I can experiment new ways of writing, talk about projects that are not necessarily in the news (but that seem relevant to me), and most of all take time to do extensive research. I only publish 2 or 3 articles a month, so it’s some kind of “slow writing”.

Armchair sculpted in an anthill, from project "Les territoires d'Afrique" by French designer François Azambourg. Photograph © César D. Wixan

What have you enjoyed most about creating your own blog?

What I like about blogging is the anonymity. Not because it gives you the power to say anything without taking the responsibility for it, but because you’re not being judged on who you are, what’s your academic background or what’s the legitimacy of the magazine that publishes your articles. Instead, readers judge you on what you write, which in turn encourages critical thinking. So I get very interesting and inspiring comments, which would not necessarily be the case if readers knew I was, say a university teacher in History of design or, at the opposite, a clown or a policeman with a fetish for objects.

Another aspect of blogging that I really find interesting is that it forces you to be more creative. There is no point in writing another article about the latest design exhibition or high-profile designer’s project because you know that everybody will write about it, based more or less on the same material. So you have to think out of the box and always be on the lookout in order to identify topics that have not been covered elsewhere, or adopt a different viewpoint. For instance, when I heard that French designer François Azambourg was working on a throne-armchair sculpted in an anthill, I decided to investigate previous experimentations in the field of animal-human co-creations (i.e : objects designed by humans using materials made –or damaged- by animals), like the ones conducted by the Swedish collective Front Design with their “Design by Animals” series, or by Slovak designer Tomás Gabzdil Libertiny with the “Honeycomb vase”.

My blog is still very young though, and it still looks like it’s been written by someone who suffers multiple personality disorder. But I don’t really care: again, I see it more like an experimental field, where I can try new stuff. We’ll see how it goes. I truly admire magazines like SightUnseen (online) or Apartamento (print) though, that really reinvented the way to look at and talk about objects / interior design, and managed to develop a truly consistent approach.

What are your thoughts about blogging as the future of publishing? How do you think this changes the playing field, for both content creators, artists and designers, and marketing strategists?

Blogging is another form of self-publishing, just like the websites I mentioned before, except that it’s free. The great thing about it is that it allows artists and all kind of content creators to gain public exposure without the help of anybody, and without going through the (obscure and subjective) selection process that is inherent to publishing, art curating, etc. Yet, I believe that being a successful blogger implies a few more skills than just creating a blog and posting content regularly. There are so many blogs around that, in order to exist, you also have to know how to communicate and make your blog visible to others. Meaning that the ones who succeed at the are the ones who are good at what they do AND who are good at promoting themselves. Both competencies need to come together. But creative talent does not necessarily come with self-promotion skills, right? So I must say that I’m not overly enthusiastic about the idea of blogging being the future of publishing. Unless you can find people who act as talent scouts and have the guts to support and invest in an unknown artist/writer while he or she turns from a raw diamond into a first-class jewel. That used to be the job of a publisher I believe.

Sex and the Single Ape

June 24, 2010

Photograph © Single Ape

Tami Mnoian introduced me to the Single Ape a couple of months ago, and while I loved the way this simian of sorts dealt with the messy questions that people threw at him, I wasn’t in a place in my life where I could use any of the expert advice. Flash forward to the other day, when my fingers began typing s-i-n-g-l-e-a-p-e without my awareness. I ended up back where I started, checking out stories for the lovelorn, thinking, I need more straight men in my life. Cause clearly they know something I don’t.

It occurred to me to ask a question, but then I realized the questions I had were not about me. I wanted to know about the Man behind the Ape, about the furry paw that gently peruses the pages of Cosmo.

So I dropped a note to Steven (aka the Ape) who graciously agreed to an interview, so I could get a glimpse into the guy who understands, “As awesome as romantic comedies are, life isn’t one. It’s way uglier than that. So much so, that when someone really does capture the realistic nature of relationships on film, it’s actually pretty disturbing and gross.”

Ohh yea, and he’s got these amazing photos too ..

Photograph © Single Ape

Tell me about your muse, Miss Helen Gurley Brown.

Well, I went through a phase where I was really into true crime books, especially old ones. I spent a lot of time digging through bookstores for them. But true crime is a finite category, and eventually it all tends to be different tellings of the same stories so I got into also checking out the self help sections. I really like weird books, and in the self help section you would find them. Like christian teen guides about the evils of masturbation and homosexuality for example. One day I found a copy of Sex and the Single Girl and just plowed through it. I loved how she wasn’t afraid to tell woman to fake it. “Get travel posters, it makes you look worldly..”. Stuff like that. It was equally funny and informative. Plus she calls lame girls Mouseburgers. But mostly I like how she just served it straight without seeming like there was some underlying agenda that you so often find in self-help books. Everyone wants to give their idea in the beginning and spend the rest of the book defending it. HGB is more of a regurgitation of facts and information with no linear connection except that some of it might help you out. I guess it seemed a bit more personal and realistic.

Photograph © Single Ape

Things have changed since the 1960 publication of Sex and the Single Girl, in many ways due to the sexual liberation Miss Gurley Brown set in motion with her magazine, Cosmopolitan, which is still at the top of the Hearst empire (recession be damned). How does Single Ape cater to this new breed of “liberated” men and women?

Hmm.. I like to think she kicked off the era of just telling it like it is. The truth is a bit ugly – like pretending you’re worldly by buying travel posters for instance – but it’s also good to know if you want to jump in the game. Unfortunately Cosmo has slowly drifted into a shell of its former self. Like some generic parody of her Ideas. It all went downhill when they fired Helen. I think the problem may be that the superficiality of our society   fluctuates in cycles. There are times when people want the straight talk and times when they want everything glossed over. The opposite of Helen would be the woman’s magazine dudes who answer questions that end with BS like “but most of all, remember you’re beautiful on the inside… “. Not to say people shouldn’t remember their inner-radness, or whatever…but if they are asking a question, they might want some useful answers and not just generic buzz phrases to jot down on post-it notes.  I’d like to think I’m trying to carry on a little of her vibe.. advice for people who really want to listen to some ugly truth mixed with pretty affirmations and realistic suggestions.

Photograph © Single Ape

The problem, so far as I see it, is that women ask women for advice about men—and none of us understand men. Reading Single Ape, I thought to myself how simple it all looks through a man’s eyes. Do you find women unnecessarily complicated? Confusing? Or have you got a handle on us?

That made me laugh. I’m not sure it’s always as simple as I make it seem, but I definitely try to simplify. I do think everyone makes everything way more complicated for themselves than it has to be. I also think people have a tendency to lose control of their craziness and as a result stomp their own game. We’ve all done that. As for the question, I do think woman are unnecessarily complicated when it comes to boys. They seem to always want to see a man’s point of view with a girl brain. Except guys don’t have girl brains, they have guy brains. The same brain that makes a shitty bed or enjoys a full day XBOX marathon. If you really want to get into what he’s thinking, you have to try to hop behind the wheel of some dude mind. Because wondering if he likes you and applying your girl thought process to his actions is like trying to translate Japanese with a German dictionary.

Photograph © Single Ape

It must be strange—albeit appealing—to have strangers tell you strange things that are seemingly none of your business, yet the put it out there for the world to see. What is it get such an intimate—albeit anonymous—glimpse into the human psyche?

Well, truthfully, I’ve always gotten that. It used to annoy me because it took a lot of time out of my days, answering questions. It wasn’t until friends started sending their friends to ask me stuff that I decided I should try to make something out of the situation, because as it was it was totally killing my productivity to work on anything else. You might be thinking “just tell them to scram…” True, but I can’t resist a good story.. or even the bad ones. But the glimpse, I believe, is the same glimpse we all get from are crazy and not so crazy friends, I just get a little more of it. Eventually, there is little  to nothing that you haven’t heard before, just variation on themes.

Photograph © Single Ape

Have you discovered any recurring themes among men and women?

Oh look, and that’s the next question. A ton of themes.. too many to list. I always joke about just making an ape wiki, maybe with some kind of flowchart that directs readers to their answer. Choose your own advice. Mostly the themes go back to the thought process, and how everyone tries to dissect each other without removing themselves from their own shoes. That, and the fact that guys just love porn, no matter how much sex they are getting or can have. That doesn’t sit well with girlfriends. I also think there are a lot of themes that constantly dispel the stereotypes of guys and girls. Lots of girls love sex, and lots of guys love to cuddle.

Photograph © Single Ape

And, lastly, to cop a page from the Single Ape playbook: What kind of bus do you take to work? Does your boss wear loafers or sneakers? Are you still making out with that one girl?

Ha.. I guess I should explain how I told you I dig for information by asking light questions with dirt revealers tucked in between. When I was a kid I read this book all about secrets revealed. In it was a chapter on polygraph tests and I learned that’s how they do it. By measuring your stress differential between “what did you eat today” and “did you chop his head off…”. I’m pretty sure I could get anyone to tell me anything if I approached it carefully enough. Though more often I find myself trying to hear less than more. For every question that gets written in, there are 10 or so that are asked privately. I don’t have all my own answers, but I definitely have all of yours.

Artwork © Part Time Punks

A couple of years back, Patti Astor and I were standing in a mansion in the Hollywood Hills. She looked over at Andrew Pogany and commented on his beauty. “Wait til you meet him,” I told her.

Andrew is one of my favorite people. It’s a bit indescribable really, except to say that he’s always disarming, even when he is totally hung over. A big picture thinker, a community builder, and an editorial wunderkind, Andrew is a creative whirlwind. In the decade that I have known him, he has never failed to impress, not just with his superior work, but with his inimitable charm and wit. Andrew recently launched launched Echo Park Books, and chats about his first release, Art Time Punks, which bridges the past, present, and future of publishing.

Artwork © Part Time Punks

Please talk about Echo Park Books. What was the inspiration to get into book publishing, particularly at a time when print is struggling?

Andrew Pogany: My friend and partner Lee Corbin and I had been talking about making books together for a while now. I suppose we both have an affinity for reading and for the book as a physical medium. But really, there’s just a lot of amazingly talented artists, writers, musicians, activists etc in L.A., and these people and their work inspire us not just to publish but to represent. Also, the cultural moment is right. There’s an excitement in the world of book publishing. A whole new inventory of book making and book marketing tools is available to independent publishing houses and individual publishers; a new frontier has opened and both individuals and corporations are looking to stake their flag.

As for print struggling, that’s just an issue of Format. The other side of that coin—Content—is thriving, assuming all different shapes and sizes according to the impulses and desires of its community of author-readers, whether that be long-form video or cell phone fiction.

The plan is for Echo Park Books to eventually be just one of several book imprints available to a thriving online-offline arts & literature community. For now, we’ll mainly be publishing limited edition music, art, and photography fanbooks, chapbooks, and monographs.

Artwork © Part Time Punks

Art Time Punks, the first title under your imprint, takes us back to a time when visual culture and promotions were strictly a D.I.Y. affair. Do you see a connection between that old school ethos and the new school approach to self-publishing and marketing?

There’s definitely a DIY sensibility to book marketing, book publishing, and to social media in its totality. The tools that were once only available to the media conglomerates and publishing aristocracy are now available to everyone, and the rebels are storming the gates, with spectacular results. But I think DIY ultimately is about raw physical materials and elbow grease. There’s a certain transparency of process and a feeling of spontaneity to the best DIY works. Each of the posters that Art Time Punks reprints (250+) was made by cutting, pasting, and Xeroxing—analog art, so to speak. As Michael says, he has “No knowledge of Photoshop and no desire to.” I think this faint luddist streak is common amongst DIY hardliners.

Though Art Time Punks is not itself handmade, the design, paper and ink quality are far superior to your standard paperback. And because we’re running sales strictly through the Part Time Punks and Echo Park Books websites, and marketing through our preexisting social networks, we’re able to avoid the heavy costs associated to distribution, retail, and promotions. We’re cutting out as many middlemen as possible and passing the benefits on to our community. That’s pretty DIY, right?

How did you connect to Part Time Punks? What made you want to make a book on their flyers?

Michael and I have known each other for a few years now. We’ve collaborated on several events and for a year or so he also wrote a column on record collecting for Flaunt magazine, which I edited for many years. We decided to make a book together because I’m a big fan of Michael’s musical tastes and a longtime follower of Part Time Punks. Each flyer of Michael’s is unique, handmade, and serves a specific purpose. They’re like awesome little experiments with form and function. Part Time Punks has a considerable amount of dedicated fans and we thought they might like something like this.

Artwork © Part Time Punks

You’re doing a limited edition of 250, which is brilliant since it will be gone right quick. How do you think that small runs increase an object’s value?

Well, no object has value unless it’s desired, and if there’s more desire for a product than there is actual product, its value obviously increases. The old model of publishing says, “supply it and they will buy.” The new model says, “determine what the people want and supply it.” The latter is made all the more possible by the sophisticated analytics that websites allow for.

We printed only 250 books because we’re interested in creating collectables, in giving the book a sentimental and social value that moves beyond its content and form and yet remains esoteric, i.e. linked to a specific niche community.

I am of the belief that as digital culture takes over, the value of the printed object will increase as there will be less product on paper. What are your thoughts on the future of print, and our relationship to paper-based content production and consumption?

I personally don’t think books will ever go away. But paper-based publishing will have to work hard to keep intimate ties to its community; by necessity it’ll have to serve at the alter of Demand, and be able to move quickly to supply it and market smartly to sell it. (See: Richard Nash ).

Also, the big publishing houses won’t be able to forever depend on blockbuster books to finance their roster. Publishers will have to figure out a way to persist by selling not so many units of a lot more authors. (See: The Long Tail by Chris Anderson )

The democratization of publishing will ensure vast flows of content, good and bad, and which is which will be decided by committee (online communities and forums) and curators/publishers, alike. Similarly, the array of publishing options gives authors leverage in bargaining for better book deals, and the authors themselves will become intellectual properties for the publishing houses to leverage in different ways.

All in all, I’d say it’s an exciting time for publishing. The popularity of reading and writing, as well as interest in book publishing itself, seems to have soared, and though the print world will inevitably shrink in stature, perhaps, as you state, the decrease in quantity will lead to an increase in quality. But it’s seems more likely that the establishment will continue banking on book deals with the New York Housewives for a little longer. All the better for independent publishing!

Artwork © Part Time Punks

Blanche Devereaux
: There is a fine line between having a good time and being a wanton slut.
I know. My toe has been on that line.

Courtesy of Helping Hands

As a former member of the Board of Directors for Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled, Naomi Pitcairn has graciously agreed to speak about her experiences working with this national non-profit organization that breeds, raises and trains Capuchin Monkeys to assist severely disabled individuals with their daily activities. As a simian lover, I could not resist this story, as these little guys show us that compassion, intelligence, and love are not strictly human characteristics.

How  did you get involved in the organization, and what have you done throughout your time with Helping Hands?

Naomi Pitcairn: I met the then, head trainer at a party. The next  week I went and visited her at the program which was in the Bronx at the time.  Then I started volunteering. The first thing I did was take some pictures for  them. I did some design stuff, answered letters, gave a few talks. I did a lot  of the paralegal work. In the end it was mostly meetings, research and  fundraising. I was the animal rights person when I was on the BOD because  I had a lot of connections to that world.

I want to be clear that I’m no longer on the BOD so I am not an official representative of Helping Hands. I am still close to many of the people there though, and continue to support them. I learned a lot from the experience but it’s a relief not to have to fly to Boston for meetings anymore.I agree with the adage: Give, get or get off. Since I wasn’t always able to offer expertise, I had to work really hard, so it’s nice to take it easy after 19 years.

Naomi Pitcairn and Minnie, 1985, Photograph courtesy of Naomi Pitcairn

A fundraiser at the Metropolitan Club, NY. The man is Jim Fowler of Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom", Photograph courtesy of Naomi Pitcairn

The  videos on the site are just amazing. These Capuchin Monkeys are magnificent  creatures, providing both a lifeline for disabled people, as well as comfort  and emotional support as a creature that can communicate on so many levels  with us. Please talk more about the monkeys themselves—what is it like to  work with them? How do they respond to people? Do they understand the  limitations of the people they help?

NP: The monkeys are fun to work with but they take a lot of patience. They are very emotional and can get nervous or upset. They have to feel very secure with their humans in order to work with us. They are raised with people from early on so they think of themselves as people, although they usually enjoy the company of  their own species as well. They don’t feel the same about everybody. They need to know you and have a relationship with you as an individual. There’s nothing as wonderful as a greeting from a monkey who loves you.

One thing we  can guarantee our recipients though, is that once their monkey has lived with them for a while, the monkey will love them above all others. The person they spend the most time with, is the person they will be most attached to. Besides a helper, they also get a highly amusing friend. The monkeys also help other people not just see a wheelchair. Instead, they see this really cool service animal. So, in that sense, the monkey becomes a  bridge to others.

Photograph courtesy of Helping Hands

What are some of the tasks the monkeys are taught to do?
NP: The monkeys can fetch objects (that their person points at with a laser attached to their  wheelchair that they manipulate with their chin). They can fetch a drink or  snack, turn lights off and on, replace a spasmed limb or scratch an itch. The  most important thing they do though, is to replace a mouthstick. This is the tool that most paralyzed people use to dial the phone, turn pages, to  manipulate objects in general. Without it, they are helpless.

How  many monkeys have gone through the program and been set up with disabled  people?
NP: Helping Hands has placed over 100 monkeys with disabled individuals. Not all placements are still active though. Usually due to changes in the lifestyle or the health of the person or monkey.

Photograph Courtesy of Helping Hands

I’ve always held that animals have an intelligence that far surpasses our own, given that they are straightforward creatures. What would you say are the greatest characteristics of these monkeys?

NP: I don’t know if I agree  with you there. I’ve seen monkeys do some really dumb things. The smaller the monkey, in general, the shorter the attention span. This is something we were  always dealing with. You have to win their attention when training them.  Later, when they are placed, it’s easier because they don’t have to do their tasks over and over like they do in training. Dogs are a lot easier to train but don’t have the manual dexterity that monkeys have. The most intelligent animals I’ve worked with were actually birds. Birds are really smart.

Neither  are monkeys always straightforward. They can suck up to you then make you spill your tea when you least expect it. They have agendas, just like us, they get jealous, take sides and also take out their frustrations on weaker  animals. My cat used to hide a lot when the monkeys were around. They would do things like jump on her when she was sleeping. I think birds are more sophisticated than monkeys. Dogs even, can be more sophisticated.

Photograph courtesy of Helping Hands

The thing about monkeys that is most like us is their emotions rather than their intelligence. They get nervous and lonely, they cry, they comfort each other, they have their version of laughing. They are very affectionate, even needy and their expressions remind us of ours. They like to climb up high and then jump onto your head. They wave their arms in the air in the goofiest way. It’s hilarious. You don’t get a monkey if you can’t spend most of your  time with it. They also need to spend most of the day out of their cage or they will be really unhappy. At night though, they will grab a blanket and put themselves to bed.

They are really interested in their environments. They like ripping stuff open. They love pushing buttons. If you’re not careful when you get into an elevator, you will stop on every floor. They watch TV. Not all day though. At Helping Hands it’s just “Wheel of Fortune”, for an hour in the evening. For some reason they love that show.

Most of them hate and fear dolls, although a few have had stuffed animal friends. It’s really interesting to see them react to dolls. If they’re less afraid, they’ll bat it around. If it’s too realistic, they run for the hills.

FINALLY,  although I became interested in HH because of the monkeys, I stayed with it because of the disabled people. I can’t imagine anything worse than being paralyzed from the neck down. The average age for becoming  a quadriplegic is teens and 20’s. This is because young people tend to be the risk-takers. Just imagine being a healthy young person and in the blink of an eye, you can never do anything for yourself  again, for the rest of your life. If you can’t, try sit there and not move your arms or legs for 5 minutes. It’s really hard, and that’s only 5 minutes.  Most people in that situation say they miss their manual dexterity even more than the use of their legs.

Photograph courtesy of Helping Hands

What the  monkey offers them is a small degree of independence. They can spend time alone and not be thirsty or in the dark or with a maddening itch, or be without their mouthstick, which is their lifeline. They can ask the monkey to do something instead of always having to ask a person. These things make a lot of difference. They also provide some much needed laughs.

AND, whatever you do, never dive into the water without knowing how deep it  is. That’s one of the best ways to break your neck.

More on Helping Hands

People are forever asking me, “Where are you from?” whenever I speak with a certain accent, and then they try to guess. South Africa? Australia? England? Charleston? Apparently, I am all over the map, and for the longest time, I wasn’t even sure where I picked up this…….voice. Then one day, I was watching Bette Davis in “The Little Foxes.” Miss Davis was to be portraying a scheming Southern lady, but the only voice I heard was one like my own, a highly affected style that didn’t come from anywhere. Wait. I am wrong. It did come from somewhere unlike any other place on Earth—the diction coaches of Old Hollywood, who spoke their own version of the King’s English.

And then it hit me. I had watched “Sunset Boulevard” just one too many times, and—when the moment is right—I have a tendency to channel the queen of the silver screen herself, Miss Norma Desmond.

Still wonderful, isn't it? And no dialogue. We didn't need dialogue. We had FACES. There just aren't any faces like that anymore. Well, maybe one—Garbo.

Those idiot producers! Those imbeciles! Haven't they got any eyes? Have they forgotten what a star looks like? I'll show them. I'll be up there again. So help me!

Autoportrait by Tamara De Lempicka, 1925

“Just across Tomorrow Mountain
Every girl is Queen of the May
And the kitchens, I’m told, are lined with gold
And there ain’t no bills to pay”

The Perfect 10 is a Total 0
Story by Amanda Yates

There’s a reason why the princesses in the fairytales aren’t named Snow Ashy and Sleeping Fugly—it takes a lot of Pabst for a prince to cross a crowded bar, much less slay a dragon, to pursue an ugly girl. In the storybook world ugly often equals evil. Scratch the surface of beauty in almost any fable, and you will find an ideological value system lurking beneath. Hustling beauty in fairytales or fashion magazines is not just about selling the way something looks, it’s about selling virtue.

In our mythologies of science, beauty is a sign of good DNA. If you’ve got the prettiest peacock feather or the biggest, reddest baboon ass, then you get first pick. This gets a little complicated when translated into human terms. In our society, beauty is goodness. Fat is an eye-catching example; obesity signifies laziness, avarice, and even—gasp—lower class standards. Twinkies and truck driving are symbols of a blue-collar lifestyle. Public personalities battling with their weight have a whiff of the bowling alley about them: Roseanne, Lindsay Lohan, and Anna Nicole Smith. Whereas Kate Moss, who comes from the dingiest part of London, seems elegant, largely because she’s small. Thin says you can afford a gym or an eight ball; nothing screams success like a size 2.

Our obsession with beauty is everywhere the eye can see: models stare haughtily from billboards as grand icons of worship. Their magical elixir of beauty makes all problems disappear, but the thing is, we know it ain’t true—or at least I do. When I was young and beautiful, I was mostly miserable. The older I get, the happier I become. And yet I still buy into the beauty industry’s hard sell. I’d say, conservative estimate, 30% of my income goes toward beauty products in some form. Furthermore, any new wrinkle, breakout, or pound gained causes me serious psychological trauma. So, if we know beauty does not equal happiness; that we love and are loved by the people closest to us despite such imperfections; that underneath the common notion of fat being unattractive is an ugly history of Puritanism, a dash of classism and a bit of ethnocentrism besides; if we know all of this, why do we still cry in frustration and disbelief when our poor bodies don’t conform to mythical standards? Why are we willing to toss aside our reason, forget our lived experience, and believe that being beautiful will make us happy?

All forms of beauty, sunsets, spring blooms, youth, signify something is slipping away. Beauty signifies change, but beauty products offer the illusion of permanence. Fix. Firm. Hold. Mold. Slim. Trim. Thin. Win. But even if we manage to get our skin lightened or our hairline adjusted, beauty just ain’t gonna last. It can’t. And so anyone can cash in on our fears of age, of ugliness, or unworthiness because there will always be a demand for that thing you can never quite hold on to.

But the evil man behind the curtain doesn’t exist. Fashion editors and stylists Crème de la Mer while models drop dead in a never-ending quest to be thin. The Perfect 10 is a Total 0. Billionaires like Oprah battle with their weight. No one escapes.

Artwork courtesy of Out of Print

I was recently introduced to Todd Lawton from Out of Print, and immediately fell in love with their mission: to feature classic covers from out of print editions of some of my favorite books—Fitzgerald’s Tales of the Jazz Age, Ellison’s Invisible Man, and Williams’ Streetcar Named Desire—on t-shirts; and for every t-shirt sold, a book is donated to Books for Africa. Inspired by this love of literary culture, I contacted Todd for an interview. Enjoy!

I hate to ask, what is your favorite book, as it’s too hard to narrow down the playing field, especially when it’s nearly impossible to select among so many genres. So instead, I will ask: Which books have had the greatest impact on your life?

Todd Lawton:  I think the one book that has had the greatest impact in my life has been Treasure Island.  My earliest memories of books involve my dad reading this to me, and it got my imagination going like crazy. Books and experiences like these are what I credit for making me a passionate reader.  If I didn’t find this spark early on I would probably be a much different person today.

What do is the role books can play in our lives? Have their been any specific books that have had the ability to transform your experience, and in what way have they done this?

TL: The list of roles books play in our lives is endless…they change minds, start conversations, put you to sleep, pass time on a tarmac, etc.  One role Out of Print has tried to emphasize is how books can help build communities and change lives.  Being fortunate enough to grow up in a place where books are readily available, it’s sometimes easy to forget the transformative power of a book.  That’s one of the reasons why we have partnered with a charity that helps give access to communities that don’t have things like libraries or school textbooks.  These books improve lives and are effective at helping end the poverty cycle.

Artwork Courtesy of Out of Print

Was the inspiration for Out of Print?

TL:  The idea to start Out of Print developed after realizing that the experience of reading was changing.  We wanted to get people thinking about what they like about reading.  One of the things we like about the reading experience as we grew up with it is the great book cover art.  This is the art that transformed graphic design.  We also like that our shirts allow people to make a statement on a number of different levels—whether they are a fan of the art, or it’s their favorite book, or they just like the lifestyle of reading and want to show it.

How do you select the books you feature on the t-shirts? You mention that the title plays a role in this—how do you determine the titles that have the greatest possible impact on the public?

TL: It’s harder than it may seem to make a book shirt.  The art has to look good on a shirt, it has to mean something to someone, and (probably the hardest part) you have to make sure you have approval from the right people.  In terms of the current line, we tried to appeal to people through classic books one may have read in high school or through more curious titles (like Final Blackout).

Artwork Courtesy of Out of Print

I love the artwork you have selected; it seems like the era of great cover art (be it in literature or music) is behind us in many ways. What is your attraction to the styles of old?

TL:  It feels very real.  The art we have selected were all designed by hand—not on a computer.  Maybe it’s an illusion, but I think you can see more of the artist in this work.

What are some of your dream books to feature in the line?

TL: We’re currently working on our dream books, so we don’t want to ruin the surprise.

I’ve always been stunned when people tell me proudly that they do not read books. Have you encountered this? And what are your thoughts on the movement towards a less literate society, and how do you think we can effectively counter this?

TL: I don’t recall hearing anyone proudly claim not to be a reader, but if I did I would probably have to place them in the category with the other weirdos who don’t like things like chocolate and 75 degree days.

I think it’s very sad that people are reading less.  I feel the responsibility of keeping people reading falls on the people who love it the most.  Whether you’re a teacher or a parent or a friend, you need to constantly share your interest and enthusiasm in good books and articles with others.

Artwork Courtesy of Out of Print


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 844 other followers