This tour is over

Final reports and self-criticism

At the end of week three I was still glowing from my first day in New Orleans. The glow has faded now that I am a couple thousand miles away. The trip is over but it’s not completely gone for me. I look forward to seeing New Orleans again and seeing if the Iron Rail can continue with the energy of the first annual event into the future.

This final trip update has taken longer than anticipated because I’ve been spending the past week sleeping. Traveling for so long, alone, left me exhausted. I can still stumble along but only just. I’ll discuss this more in the conclusion.


The Longest Drive

In the realm of ridiculous ideas driving nonstop from New Orleans to Tucson isn’t the worst one ever (an award that goes to a similar drive from Nashville to Tucson on my motorcycle in the 90s) but it isn’t a good idea. For starters, it took about 20 hours behind the wheel (not counting the necessary in seat naps). Next, and I totally have myself to blame for this, road food is total shit. Finally, and this does go without saying, Texas is really boring.

I was hoping to drive through Texas primarily at night to avoid the boredom of it but barely made it past San Antonio before I conked out. This meant the entirety of West Texas, which is really the worst part, I endured in a bleary haze.

This turned out to be the worst part of the trip not because the drive was so bad (although it was) but because of the ruined plan I had for it. I had this harebrained scheme that during the long drives of this trip I would use a digital recorder to put down my ideas for a couple of writing projects. It turns out that as important as the time and solitude is for this kind of work what is more important is the head space. While I did have a few moments of inspiration during my long drive it paled in comparison to a drive a third has long right after an evening of exhilarating conversation. During that day I mostly finished an essay and notes on a couple of other pieces as long as that.

Obviously the idea of writing something at length while driving was ridiculous but if it would’ve worked it would’ve encouraged me to drive more. Perhaps instead, it’s just encouraged me to have more exhilarating conversations.


Interesting thing about Tucson is that I have done a few different events there and each one has felt totally different. What I know now, but didn’t before this visit, is that Tucson is a town of transients. It makes sense of course, because 110° summer days aren’t livable for the humans but I didn’t realize there was such a circuit of @ who traveled around based on the seasons. There is and they winter in Tucson.

Like a lot of towns, the feedback from my presentation wasn’t that useful for me. While a few people seem to understand what I was getting at, what my motivation was, and that we were on the same wavelength the majority of the crowd seemed highly ambivalent. On the flipside, I was texted by the event organizer right after I left who seem to think that what I said made a real impact and was going to be useful in catalyzing future discussions. That is more than I could hope for.


The Phoenix event was very small and half the people who showed up seem too young to care about stupid shit like infrastructure or conflict. It was the event that the most eyeballs on cell phones of any other event than the one I did on campus. The other half are the people who have been around for a long time in the Phoenix/Tempe area and who I have a fairly long history with. We had a pleasant conversation that only seemed slightly annoying (as measured by eye rolls per minute) to our texting youth.

Then I got to drive home.

EBBCE (aka EB@B)

And the day after I got back our little community threw its own anarchist bookfair. We call it the East Bay Book and Conversation Event but everyone has abbreviated that to EB@B.

Was there to say about a bookfair? It is the best place to see an anarchist that will most definitely (probably) not involve somebody getting arrested. It’s a glance into how vibrant anarchist publishing space is (short answer: not). In the Bay Area it’s a window into just how crazy big city life can make you. Perhaps as a sign of poor outreach this year’s event didn’t kick anybody out (and only had one eviction from a conversation). Last year there were three(ish).

They were probably have as many attendees to this year’s event is last year’s which is strange because last year’s event was seemingly more precarious because there was a real threat of rain all day long. This year, on the other hand, the day was beautiful and a little crisp with no sign of rain at all. Our outreach and general excitement level was much better in 2012. Couple this with the relationship between anarchists and the fall harvest season and the smaller attendance was not a surprise.

Realistically, the space where we hold the event at seemed full all day (ridiculously so last year) and constrains the event far more than our lack of outreach. Perhaps another constraint is that the organizers of EB@B are starting to reflect a different (older) demographic than a lot of the audience. This seemed reflected in the lack of enthusiasm for parties or extra curricular events in general.

Finally it’s worth mentioning that karaoke was a limited success. Only 25 to 30 people stayed around for it but that was more than enough for a couple hours of amusement. I’m mostly inspired to do more karaoke at a better venue with better timing. I do feel like after bookfair events at the venue itself are doomed to failure. I’m going to propose the next year we extend the hours of the bookfair itself.


I’m not sure what to say about the concept of my presentation. Somewhere in the idea of “conflict infrastructure” is something I do think is important but I am not sure that a speech is the way to approach the problem. If I wanted to tell anarchist North America that it’s time to build to last, prepare for internal and external kinds of conflict, and have a sense of humor about it all I guess I could write an essay, maybe a book. But if I want to take people by the shoulders and force them to do the same it gets a bit more complicated, cuz you know… consent and shit.

This is where my head was at about a week into the trip (in Minneapolis). I knew that the difference between saying something and actually taking part in making it happen is the difference between me and people who are better public speakers than I am. I’m not trying to be humble about my technical capacity to memorize a presentation (which I suck at) or be compelling or charismatic (which I don’t) but brutal about something else. It’s not that I think that it’s not possible to be an anarchist and to speak to an audience in declarative statements (you should, you must, etc) but I’m not sure how I can do that. It just doesn’t feel natural and normal to me. I realize this is a strange counterpoint to the fact that it does feel natural for me to be insulting or shit-talking about people that are seen as leaders or inspirational but the difference is humor.

If I could find a way to be funny about declarative statements I’d do that. Maybe a series of ridiculous veiled threats or a commitment to a Bible thumping preacher affect but neither of these appeal to my desire for playful conflict. I don’t hit the metaphor too hard but there’s something about fencing and the idea that the actual act is in the feint within a feint within a feint that I adore. This is distinct from some kind of put-on, as honest as it may be, that I’m just average folk coming off the mountain telling y’all about what I’ve learned, about my country wisdom, my authentic knowledge, my truth that is soon to be your truth or come hell or high water you will pay.

Additionally, I’m not sure that it’s possible to talk about politics in the US. This might seem like a rather jarring transition but it’s how I feel based on the blank faces I encountered during many of my stops once it came time to have a conversation. I think that there is a certain apolitical side to American anarchists that’s more dominant than I would’ve expected or feared.

My (positive) definition of politics is that it’s a practice of seeing the connections between the things we do, the world we live in, and our influence/power regarding both. Mostly I use politics in a negative sense to refer to the act that other do when they use influence/power to affect my/our life and refer to anti-politics as the activity that opposes this effort. But a positive politics is one that engages in questions and experiments with possible solutions rather than hypothesizing what other people should do with their lives. In a real sense it is what differentiates anarchist perspectives from others because ours prioritizes direct experiences (ours first) over sociological theories or good intentions writ large. Anyway, politics is a series of big questions that we should be thinking about in relation but in distinction from topics like prisoner support, corporate malfeasance, and identity.

Probably it isn’t possible to talk about big things with strangers but if it is possible I didn’t accomplish it during my presentation. I also didn’t accomplish much success with being funny or even particularly entertaining. I think the only thing I succeeded at was making a pitch to people who already were thinking along the same lines as I am. I succeeded at talking to myself.

To this end I think that future trips like this will look a lot more like entertainment or story telling than like a political frontal assault. Either I’m not very good at the latter or my audience isn’t capable of transitioning from the world, to a talk, to a conversation with me without a whole lot more preparation.

Or reading a lot more books. 🙂

Do what you will

I wish I had something more inspiring to say than I did 6 weeks ago. I don’t. I am still burned out. I have succeeded at a couple small projects but they were maintenance (upgraded an out of data Drupal to Drupal 6) and not on the big list of major things that Need To Be Done ™.

It is alarming the extent to which I am motivated by crisis and change. There was a recent bit of drama that could have inspired some (more) public name calling and conflict but I just don’t think dealing with these situations in that way is the best strategy (for a non left position)… Because there are two things going on, one is exceedingly boring and irrelevant (a conflict between small-to-medium sized businesses) the other is deeply fascinating to me and worth talking about outside of the pinprick of this particular indignity.

Since the publication of SALA (Social Anarchism vs. Lifestyle Anarchism) there has been a tension (although one of several) in North American Anarchism. What is interesting about this tension is that the one side (the accused) have spent (hundreds of) thousands of words grappling with the implications, motivations, and philosophy of this book. Those who align themselves with its intent never defend it (per se) but instead evoke it like a glowing sword. Like a pistol at a fist fight. Believing that the mere utterance of the word “lifestylist” is enough to start, resolve and end any argument. North American’s are already impoverished: by an education woefully lacking in history or geographical context, by a near cellular level of acceptance of exchange relationships, and by our own geographical contradictions (being in a country that is comprised of at least 3 different cultural bodies).

I mention SALA not because I believe the text to be particularly important but the fact that there is a real conflict between those who share a lot of the same terminology in describing our desired world can’t be understated. For some this conflict boils down to serious disagreements about the strategy we should undertake, for others it is about a (set of) moral compulsion(s), and others about what form anarchist practice should take today. I take a softer (and harder) position. I care less about the particular articulation one chooses to make around their practice, desire, or strategy but much more about the religiousity (or ideological) one has around their choices. Consider this a bookmark to a larger discussion about this topic and enjoy this song (related).

Say what you must, do all you can,
Break all the fucking rules and
Go to Hell with Superman and
Die like a champion, yeah hey!

The Great Lesson IX – I know Daman, Ted & Alec

This chapter featured a few strong minor characters. Three archetypal characters dominate letter 9 and as archetypes I have known, or been, each of them. Here are a few of our stories.

Daman – The perfect student-teacher turned ideological director.

He apparently decided that the only meaningful human activity was the total destruction of the capitalist class in all its manifestations, in the colonies as well as the ghettos. That attitude coincided perfectly with our tendency’s political program…

Perhaps this is a sign of my generation but I have known at least a dozen people who approximate the Daman of this story. I’d like to believe the characteristics were less prevalent in another time but the combination of this period of political ineffectiveness (especially from a radical perspective), the existential confusion people have between sub-culture and reality, and the popularity of certain sets of ideas (Postmodernism, the Situationists, Identity Politics) has made this type all-too-common. Take a boy whose first steps into the world are buttressed with liberal doses of books and now the Internet, who comes from enough privilege to not have to doubt their secondary education, and who is brave enough to be in the club when the fights break out but has no reason to fight themselves and fuck, maybe I’m being too conservative by saying I’ve met a dozen Daman’s. I’ve met hundreds.

But I have stopped becoming close to them. Not because they always disappoint. I am no longer such a purist that I require a lack of disappointment to be friends with someone. I am just less interested in mentoring them. I am happy to meet Daman once he has established himself, but I will not be part of creating another one. They just exhaust me now and odds are about equal that they go one way or another.

The Daman I was closest to just faded out of my life. I guess he got caught on the other side of a burning bridge of mine. I heard later he went from being awkward and pudgy to being quite a looker and a bit of a Lothario. Went to grad school. Swam around in precarious gigs for a couple years and then fell off of peoples radar. I guess he never found a Luisa to make him complete.

Alec – dope dealer who died in battle

During his last weeks here he’d spend hours pacing. He was like a caged animal. He said all he wanted was to help make a revolution, with his gun in his hand, and not to talk about it or read about it or support it at rallies or demonstrations. He apparently met people with similar views, and he started going off to political meetings. One day he simply failed to return. I made no attempt to find him; we were free individuals.

I am including a eulogy I wrote for the Alec in my life

Dear Alec,

We never had a habit of writing letters. I know I was just as much to blame for that since I am just as capable of putting pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard, as you are. Or were. I write you this last letter to remind the both of us where we were when you left, and to understand why you went without me.

When I first entered your social circle I was only 15. You already had a group of ‘rebels’ who you hung out with, but you all were my first. In hindsight it was amazing what a happy group of people it was given the times in our life, and the shit from which we were emerging, but so it was. Most every trope from the coming-of-age movie we all spectacularly see our lives as being were represented in that group. There was the brooding future Nazi who drove us all around. The more generous than you could imagine fat guy was there. There was the troublemaker (that was you, of course), the good kids who didn’t belong with us, the quiet nerdy guy who exposed us to the culture we were entering and the boys who were cuter than wise (that was most of us). I guess I wasn’t as definable at that time in my life, as I was just figuring out where I stood. But, as you know, I had lots of secrets and was pretty good at keeping them to myself.

Other people’s secrets… That was another story.

The experiences that we had are some of the most memorable of that time in my life for me, but your social group became only a part of my social life. You all lived, seemingly, a bit too far away from me, and once the scene had settled into a fixed location I was focused on being there, so that I wouldn’t miss anything. It’s so much easier and more difficult for kids in our town today. Every time I go back I crack up at how much better dressed the ‘rebellious’ kids are. Maybe its just because there is more money, more Internet, more retail, but it also seems like a veneer covering an essential vapidity in what being a misfit is all about today.

We would have had a blast making fun of them, if we were only the right age for it today.

There is a prime thing I take from our relationship that I have never found again. We were both good natured and totally spiteful. It kind of makes me think of sarcasm as being a lost art or something, and it is, but fuck if I don’t have to pad about everything I say nowadays with caveats and apologies just so all the well adjusted people around me don’t get their fucking pants in a bind. Whatever. We each had our own styles of the put down too. That was always a blast. You tended to go for the direct insult tempered with an escape hatch if the victim wanted to take it. You were more directly confrontational than I was. My insults always seemed innocuous, but spoke more deeply to the inadequacies of the target. Usually people missed what I was trying to say until a bit later, but I gave less room for escape. As I am sure you remember, I am much better at that now. That is the one partnership that we had that I will never replace, we were the best tag-team humiliators I have ever met.

But your trajectory through our teens ended up being a bit lower of an arc than mine. I guess that says something about potential, since you have always been seen as having more, but you were always more fully committed to fittering it away. Our one major split came when you started to get more and more involved in drugs and, like with everything else you engage in, you started to gain a reputation for being the biggest bad-ass of drug taking. Great achievement in hindsight, eh? Anyway we were at a part at the Domicile and you had done some ungodly amount of coke and was being very dramatic about it all. I’ll speak to your man drama later, but you were in full effect that night. You pulled out some box-cutter blade and slashed the hell out of your arm. I think it was motivated by removing the tattoo on your arm…

I’ll always remember that first tattoo. In the end you had it covered and ended up with a bit more of a stylish ‘back alley crew’ montage of tattoo’s but your first one, which you got on your 16th birthday and came over to my place right after, was totally fucking ridiculous. Obviously you were entranced by the flash on the biker shop’s wall so you must have picked a #47 or some such, since it was a skull and kind of tough or whatever, but what you ended up getting was what looked like a skull eating spaghetti. It was fucking hysterical, you were the first one of us to make the jump to permanent ink and it was the silliest thing we had ever seen. I even recall, for the first couple of months, you ripping the sleeves off of all your t-shirts to make sure that everyone saw the damn thing on your arm only stopping when you couldn’t stand us all making so much fun of you.

…so you cut your arm in a highly public attempt to cut the stupid tattoo off of your arm. Of course you cut too deep. Of course you could only manage one cut out of the 4-5 that you would need. But you cut pretty fucking deep into your arm, enough so that the bleeding would not stop, which didn’t stop you from staggering around the place like a drunken sailor spraying blood and your issues all over the place, not accepting help from anyone, not settling down (as you were obviously high as a kite and in quite a bit of pain), forcing the confrontation to either stop your shit or we were calling an ambulance.

I didn’t really hang out with you for years after that phase. I moved away, you spent some time in jail, and we both choose our paths.

When we saw each other again it was as if no time had passed. Our partnership was intact with the added bonus that we both had thick enough skins to included each other in our sights. We had much to account for it seems as we each went on and on about the others promiscuity and lack of seriousness but we each needed to hear it. We both had not been criticized half as much as we should have been by loving people. It was too easy to get defensive when the only barbs thrown your was are by the incompetent, the hateful and the people passing through.

But there still was distance. I lived over here, you stayed there, and we were all-to-human. You filled your life with martial arts and your uncritical admirers I with our (priorly) shared counter-culture and then radical politics. This meant that every time we would spend time together we would shake things up, knock the dust off of each others wit and sharpen our tongues, but without presence we stopped growing together. I think we both grudgingly accepted this.

What I cannot accept, and only see now that it is too late, is how much you needed the only thing I was unquestioningly better at than you. You needed a critical friend who wasn’t afraid of you, worshiped you, or wasn’t sleeping with you. At some point something changed, and I would have seen it, but I was there only en absentia, and too much time passed. One time I visited and your life was stumbling along, partial and in the shadow of your potential but not entirely awry. The next time I came you were gone. By your own hand and in your uniquely dramatic style.

What we all expected when you were a teenager you only accomplished 15 years later, surprising us with your patience but not your rashness. You always had to tell your stories of whoa, you had to make sure of your legacy. I remember one time when you had gotten into a fight, was it with metal heads?, you had been beaten pretty badly. They had broken your nose at the very least, which was no amazing feat as you had a formidable proboscis, but the blood was everywhere. You were wearing a white t-shirt covered in it, and it was only after hours of prodding, and a considerable amount of female attention that you cleaned yourself up and allowed the center of attention to move off of you.

This I cede to you lovingly. You were at your best when you were at the center. You weren’t the clown, like I am, you weren’t arrogant about it, but your brilliant potential was enough to make everyone smile. You weren’t an affectionate friend, but I never doubted your loyalty to us. You didn’t become all that would have wished for you, and I imagine you knew this, but you were still twice the person of almost anyone else I have ever met. Our friendship, and my understanding, goes with you to where you have gone.

This circle is closed.

Ted – The Western ideal: Scientist, human, friend

“This is Ted, the printer,”

I am not going to use this as opportunity to talk about my utter revulsion at the Western man. He is a doomed creature that I can’t summon up enough energy to despise today. I have already given him too much time. I am trying to move on.

In that spirit I have gained a respect for the competence of Ted. In our time of social, organizational, structural ineptitude Ted can do something. Call it printing, programming, fixing bikes or cars we have so far to go that just having skills, a skill, is something. If only Ted didn’t get chased out of every group, meeting, or social circle for not being Daman or Alec we might turn something into something real.

This circle is closed and we are on the outside of it.

Status update – module 1 is a green light

I am alive!
I am alive!

It is now a couple weeks since my “brain problem” and everything is looking great. Perhaps I need to sleep a little bit more, but that is it. My hand coordination is within a couple percent of normal. My speech is fine. I am OK. Thanks to everyone who expressed concern in this matter. As I am sure you can understand the situation is scary and inspires reflection on pacing, aging, and life.

Enough of that. I think I am going to work on a stream of stories about the day-to-day-life implication of having a critical or anti-ideological perspective (as an anarchist). All too often in the debased NIRL (not in real life aka Internet) discussions I see the tired either-or of action (usually something like organizing, activism, or WWW (world without windows) type actions) contrasted with complaining, criticizing, do-nothingism. Until we break out of this conceptual false binary AND demonstrate more clearly the interplay of how thinking about a problem and then going about solving it (as anarchists) we will continue to have the horrible retention rate beyond age 25 that we have.

Here is an article that feeds my thinking about this today.

This link comes from the world of “technology entrepreneurship” which might seem like a bad place to find useful information for anarchists and perhaps it is. They are empiricists in the laboratory of capitalism not of a world that may be possible. But… these are people who are intent on a type of experimentation between ideas and practice that is rigorous, reality tested, and less hierarchical than one might imagine. The end game for most of these people is not wealth and then retirement to a chalet while the underlings keep the doors open but, by and large, doing “the process” over and over again. The process (of evangelism, entrepreneurship, and building startups) is the goal.

In technology this process can happen very fast and there are fortunes being made and lost so there is plenty for these people to find interesting and exciting. This is part of the appeal and most of the high profile members of this cabal write about it incessantly. Full stop.

For this discussion, from the linked article is (the article uses medical problems as its example)…

Across the entire universe of patients, the single largest indicator of treatment wasn’t symptoms or patient background, it was the background of the doctor.

My summary: When you go to a specialist you should expect specialist answers. Conversely, specialists speak from their own understanding of reality and since it is so well developed and precise it can often be confused for truth by anyone who doesn’t understand the context of the specialist.

When we are talking about the project of another world, how to get there, what it would look like, the specialists of one approach often, but not always, show their bias. Part of our self education has to include a deep understanding of the motivations of our position, and other people who share it, and the positions of others who we are liable to work with. Not just the alleged political motivations of baby tyrants, scofflaws, or slackers but the history and interests of people that would prefer to read books, talk to strangers, break windows, sit in meetings, or drink to excess as their way to live their anarchy.

The greatest concern I have with anarchists (or perhaps people) is not their “wrongness” but their lack of curiosity. Specialism is another way to say I am right and you are wrong.