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DIY Education – Second Year Capstone

July 21st, 2013

Two years ago I posted on here a declaration of self-education and a strategy to get me started with an autodidactic education program. The strategy didn’t last long, but I’ve been experimenting with different things to accomplish my goals. It took on a life of its own. Then, this spring, a lot of plans hit their climax all at once. I finished my Minnesota Master Naturalist class, got on payment plans to pay off back rent and a debt to the IRS, and I officially started my residential-contracting-via-utility-bicycle business. My brain was, at this point, crammed with unsorted information and experiences. I figured the next step in my personal education should be a sort of capstone project – to unpack and synthesize everything I’ve encountered in the spirit of this project since beginning it. That includes, but is not limited to:

  • Volunteer seed collection and native plant identification
  • Taking a MetroBlooms Raingarden workshop
  • Minnesota Master Naturalist training
  • Taking part in Occupy MN
  • YouTube videos or free online documentaries with Timothy Morton, Slavoy Zizek, Alice Roberts, etc.
  • Filling notebooks with half-baked essays on anthropology and human history
  • Visiting state parks by bicycle
  • Hiking
  • Conversations with naturalists, park rangers, landscape architects and environmental science students
  • Reading (but not always finishing) Small is Beautiful, The Ecology of Commerce, The Expanding Circle, Collapse, Sex at Dawn, Thoughts Without a Thinker, A Primer in Environmental Literacy and the Ecology of Freedom

My second year capstone is a two part writing project.

Part one is a sort of self-assessment where I attempt to unpack the last two years and pick out some key ideas and synthesize multiple lines of thought. This is for myself — as writing practice and as a way of taking stock. I’m going to use it sort of as a cheat sheet for the last two years, or as an external hard drive for my brain.

The second part is a paper putting Timothy Morton’s concept of “The Ecological Thought” into context in terms of ecological stewardship and political economy. I want to focus on some of the conceptual traps we fall into when we consider the intersection between human societies and the natural world, and how the Mortonian “Ecological Thought” turns those traps into new questions. The goal is twofold: to complete a finished philosophical essay and to combine my three focus areas of philosophical anthropology, landscape ecology and nonfiction writing in such a way that all three things feed off of each other.

This essay will be posted here when I’m done, maybe as a new version of my zine, “It’s a good day to face the hard things.” I’m exited to write it, but I first need to read Morton’s book entitled The Ecological Thought, and possibly also Ecology Without Nature. I’m familiar with his thinking through a series of videos and podcasts I’ve taken in. That kind of learning is adequate for forming thoughts and getting a sense of his ideas, but in order to write, I need to read the book.

As soon as this capstone is complete, I will return to the self-assessment and figure out what to do next.


I’m recording and you get to watch.

November 14th, 2011

My vacation from music is over, I’m happy to say.

A long time ago, I started a YouTube channel where I was posting song sketches. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with it–or with the songs–but I wanted to try something different. I wanted to publish the groundwork rather than waiting until a proper record came out for people to hear the songs. I really love recording and don’t consider myself much of a live performer, so that keeps my songs boxed up until a CD release. I kind of envy bands who can test out an early version of a song in front of an audience before going into the studio. I’ve always been a little protective of my work–I’m afraid that if you hear a track that hasn’t been obsessively worked over for six months, you’ll think I’m sloppy and not very good.

But now I think that if you have that kind of attitude you probably wouldn’t even pay attention to my blog or listen to the unfinished tracks anyways. What’s the harm in letting people in on the process, letting them witness the changes, and letting them see not only the work that I put past the gate, but also the stuff that I edit out? I really like rawness, mistakes, sketches, and happy accidents. An unfinished piece usually has a lot of character that can’t be recreated in the final product.

I was initially going to start from scratch and gradually write new songs. When I had a bunch, I would record them. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking–that’s not how I work. The songwriting process doesn’t drive me. I have no interest in writing songs unless I’m recording (or unless I have the right combination of depression and privacy). Writing bass lines, tweaking echo effects, fucking with synth plugins and micing amps are as much part of the songwriting process as playing chords and coming up with words.

So I decided to pick up where I left off and rework the songs from YouTube and record a new EP. Some of them are getting a near-total rewrite. I’m trying to take the folksy edge off of all of them and work them into a layered, echoey, loud, electric landscape. It’s a lot of fun to take something that started on an acoustic guitar and rebuild it from the drum machine up.

I’m also mixing down sketches that I have sitting on my fourtrack, which will probably turn into new songs for some future project. I’m documenting everything I can online: videos to YouTube, audio to SoundCloud, and updates to my recording to-do lists get automatically Tweeted.

My finished recordings are now up on Bandcamp for listening and purchasing. I made a compilation of all my best old songs (entitled Questions Unexplained) which you can get for free as individual tracks, or at a price of your choosing if you download the whole thing. There’s also my last two “studio” records, “Open” and “Exits + Obstacles.” I consider “Open” to be a major artistic success. Erase the 10 years of stress and anxiety preceding it and maybe it wouldn’t have been such a complete marketing failure. Maybe. Anyways, I’m very proud of that disc. Listen to it. Buy it.

As for “Exits + Obstacles,” I think it’s funny how right as I was releasing it, the economy was collapsing. It’s a loose concept record that I wrote as if I was living in a post-apocalyptic, mid-western dystopia. It was pretty easy since I already felt like I was. After listening to both of these records with fresh ears, I realized that there’s this subtle, angry political undertone in my songwriting that wasn’t there before. The royal “we” left my songs back in 2004, and when it came back, it came back darker and more damaged.


The Surrealist Diary Poem

May 24th, 2008

I won’t make a habit out of posting these, but they’re fun. I came up with this idea a few years ago. Write about what you did today (Microsoft Word or similar works best. Notepad doesn’t) then randomly select and move stuff around until it looks like a poem. Clean it up and post it somewhere in the vast infoheap of the interwebs. Today’s:

that james. tracks I did
some work
tried to sleep
broke and loud amps
goes only so far
wants
then made a mess
I still don’t
way to watch a schedule for drums

working one to see and no
now I’m no money
that’s my life.
mix movie.
quiet, yes but have my commy fuck no.
loud amps. and no
but what about no money eyes?
yes, but
I still don’t have my computer


Web Stuff, Work

March 11th, 2008

I added the Archives page on my web site, which so far includes a PDF of the 2003 manifesto, “A Call to Distract.” It will eventually include old exhibit catalogs and text files.

Today at work, I was trying to sand the ceiling in this bathroom my brother did some work in. The sanding block slipped off my hand, so I jumped off the ladder, picked up the ladder and threw it against the wall. Then I started hitting the wall. I’m not going in tomorrow. I’m going to drive around and look for different work. It’ll most likely ruin my whole day.


“Call to Distract” Actually Read by Someone

March 7th, 2008

I got an email this morning from someone who just read my old manifesto, “A Call to Distract.” It had been lying in a notebook since he picked it up in 2003.

“A Call to Distract” was an essay I wrote for a group I was in, Afunctionul, and it’s purpose was to outline our mission of taking DIY, “indie” avenues seriously, and to express ideas I had about what it meant to oppose what you could call “industrialization” in the arts. (I didn’t use the term back then, instead keeping to the dichotomy of “indie” vs. “established” spheres)

Afunctionul never went on to continue the mission that the manifesto calls for. Furthermore, neither has anyone else. Understandably so–basically, I was calling for all misfits to band together. Not easy. Anyway, I’d like to reapproach the subject in light of the comments I’ve received in the email and just some general thoughts I kick around in my head while I’m sweeping up piles of debris or painting the trim.

I think I’ll make an “Archives” page on my web site and make a PDF to put up on it.