All posts by magpie

DGAF: four simple letters to help you be more productive

Everything You Know About Creativity Is Wrong.

I get asked somewhat regularly how I manage my output of creative works, including zines, novels, magazines, albums, comics, photo books, jewelry, tintypes, and stuff no one knows was me so I’m not telling. What’s my secret?

Four letters. DGAF.

Don’t Give A Fuck.

Don’t give yourself deadlines. Don’t push yourself. Don’t be goal-oriented. Don’t cater to or research your audience. Don’t give a fuck. One day we’ll all be dead.
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Template for One-Inch Buttons

one-inch button template for indesign

Awhile back I made an indesign template for designing one-inch buttons. I’m not sure why I never posted it before now. (I’d guess “sloth” as the most likely answer.)

I’ve uploaded the .indd file for InDesign CS6 and the .idml file for InDesign CS4 and later. 35 buttons fit on each page. The outer black circle is the only printing guide, and it shows you where to cut. The green margin is the safe bleed margin. The pink margin indicates the actual edge of the front of the button, while the blue box within that is the safe margin for text and important elements on the button. When you print, make sure you set it to print at 100% size, rather than “shrink to fit.”
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Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park, 2014

I’m afraid there isn’t much “essay” to this photo essay. This summer I went halfway across the country with some photo-shy punks.

I used to hate the National Park system. It tokenizes nature… it lets the federal government say “look, we have nature!” while gutting the rest of public lands. It still does those things and I still hate it for that. But there’s no denying the beauty of these places, and I appreciate the work that they put into making such beauty accessible to people while (usually) attempting to minimize the impact humans have on the area. Hell, if they weren’t in the process of destroying the rest of the undeveloped areas of the country, I could even applaud them for getting humans into specific chosen pretty areas so that the rest of the areas are left alone.

Of course, that’s not what’s happening.

But Glacier is beautiful, even if its namesake glaciers are almost gone. See them while there are any left to see, I suppose.
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Anarcho-Geek Review: The Oregon Experiment, by Keith Scribner

The Oregon Experiment, Keith Scribner

The Anarcho-Geek Review is a new project that reviews pop culture media from an anarchist perspective as well as media created by or representing anarchists.

The Oregon Experiment
by Keith Scribner
2011, Knopf
Review by Margaret Killjoy

Recommended? Sure, why not.

I’m going to cut this review into two parts. The first part, the shorter part, is just my “why you might like to read this book, why you might not.” The second part is a longer analysis of the ways in which mainstream sympathetic fiction is portraying anarchists.

So, The Oregon Experiment, by Keith Scribner. Scanlon and Naomi are a middle class couple that moves to small town Oregon, and soon their American dream crashes into the rocks of anarchists, secessionist hippies, and the repression thereof. Scanlon is an academic who studies radical social movements, Naomi is a depressed “nose” who was forced to retire from the perfume business when her mental health destroyed her ability to smell. Scanlon gets mixed up with Sequoia, a sexy hippie mama who wants to peacefully secede from the US, while Naomi spends too much time a Clay, a depressed, angsty anarchist who hates everything. Hijinks ensue.

It’s a short, entertaining novel with interesting enough characters. I read it, I enjoyed reading it, and it left me awake thinking after I’d put the book down for the night. While the plot focuses on the gulf between academia and radical action, the themes of the book are much more about parenting and relationships, which I appreciated quite a bit. I appreciated the often-realistic and incredibly flawed characters, though the intensity of male desire directed at mothers—on the basis of them being mothers—is kind of intense. Overall, the book made me nostalgic for early-aughts Oregon.

But frankly, I read the book because I care about the ways that anarchists are represented, and I was curious to see how we came across. I probably wouldn’t have given up on the book without that motivation behind my reading, but I probably wouldn’t have bothered to pick it up in the first place either.

I admit I took a weird sort of glee in studying the book. There I was, an anarchist author who researches the ways in which literature represents us, studying a book about an academic whose field of research is radical social movements. And of course, the book itself was written by an academic who researched radical social movements (perhaps getting tangentially involved just as our Scanlon did? I can only guess.).

So how did he represent us? Hereafter in this review I discuss spoilers.
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Leviathan in Snow

Van Life: Weather

In this series, I explore some of the practicalities of living in a van in the United States. For context, I am relatively privileged: white, perceived as male, raised middle class, able-bodied, in good physical shape. My advice may or may not be useful for others in my or similar situations.

I’m one of those stupid travelers who rarely takes seasons into consideration when I travel, so I find myself up north in the winter and in the southeast in the summer with an alarming regularity. Yes, it can get really hot or really cold in my van. It’s rarely unbearable, however.

Curtains

The single most important thing I’ve done for my van is put in thick, multi-layered, light-proof curtains. All the back windows are covered with curtains made out of blackout fabric sewn between two layers of thick, black felt. These are screwed into the wood and/or plastic sills above the windows, and part in the middle so I can tie them back. I’ve got another curtain that goes from ceiling to floor right outside my bed, blocking light and visibility as well as keeping the bed area well-insulated. I bought all the fabric new, and probably spent a bit more than $100 on all of it. One of the best investments I’ve made.

Heat

I rarely sleep with my windows open, because I don’t want anyone able to break into my car as easily as that, and because it seems (to me) to make it more obvious that someone is sleeping inside. I do have three small vent windows that open a crack, which help, but honestly not much. What I’ve learned is to master parking in the will-be-shady-in-the-morning, put the sun shield on the windshield, then pull my curtains tight. The sun and heat will rarely force me out of bed before, I don’t know, 10am. By midday, however, the van is essentially unbearable. I keep a clip-on fan, with a separate battery pack, hanging above the bed, and this gets me through the worst nights or the worst naps. In the future, I think I’ll just get another fan. Some people put second AC units in their vehicle that run off of a battery, but unless I move to the desert or something I doubt this is really necessary.

I do wish I had windows that slid open, and if I did, I’d get screens—keeping out bugs is obviously pretty important in the summer.

If you’re somewhere where it might be socially acceptable to do so, it’s also possible to idle the engine and run the car’s AC to sleep. I would never recommend making this a habit, and I’ve only done it once, myself, when it was 100+ degrees out and I need to sleep during the day, but it appears that it only burns about 1/4 a gallon per hour to do so. Anyone who would give you shit for it might want to realize that if they ever drive 5 miles just because they want to go pick something up, they’ve burned more gas than your hour-long nap.

Cold

If the curse of summer van life is that it’s hard to sleep in, the curse of winter van life is that it’s hard to get up. The answer to winter sleeping is honestly pretty simple: close your curtains, put an extra blanket down on the bed (an amazing amount of cold comes in through the bed platform and futon mattress), then get inside a sleeping bag or two, pull a blanket up over your head, and wait uncomfortably during the few minutes it takes to warm up.

Then, in the morning, you’re all cozy and warm and look over and see your frozen water jug and think to yourself, “damn, maybe I’ll just stay in this sleeping bag and read a book.”

When All Else Fails

Or, you can do what most travelers secretly do in extreme weather: take their friends up on offers of floor space and/or couches.

Other Van Life posts

On Writing Interactive Fiction

What Lies Beneath the Clock Tower: Being An Adventure of Your Own Choosing

In this series I explore the writing and editing processes behind some of the books I’ve put out. Obviously, I am not really an expert on this process, but I’m learning as I go and am happy to share what I’ve figured out.

My first “novel,” What Lies Beneath the Clock Tower (Combustion Books, 2011) is what is known as interactive fiction. Commonly, these books are referred to as Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) books, but that is a trademarked term and the company that owns that trademark does, indeed, defend it. So my book was an Adventure Of Your Own Choosing and I recommend that if you put one of these out you also avoid the CYOA label.

I get asked about the writing process behind that book fairly often. So I’ll lay out what I learned by writing it.

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Leviathan on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Van Life: Money

In this series, I explore some of the practicalities of living in a van in the United States. For context, I am relatively privileged: white, perceived as male, raised middle class, able-bodied, in good physical shape. My advice may or may not be useful for others in my or similar situations.

Spending Money

Money is probably one of the first things on people’s minds when they ponder living in a vehicle. How much does it cost? Most people who move into vans are probably saving money. Me, I’m spending it, because it’s a hell of a lot more expensive than living out of a backpack. But that said, my expenses are pretty low. A good running used van likely costs in the 3-10k range. After that, it’s insurance, gas, repairs, increased cost of food, and the occasional short-term rent.

Insurance: this apparently varies a lot from person to person and state to state. I hear rumors about RV insurance being a lot cheaper. I pay roughly $80 a month, with a clean driving record.

Gas: My van gets about 15mpg. My minivan got 22-23. Other people get better mileage—particularly diesel engines. Some people convert to veggie oil, but that is its own huge can of worms. I personally estimate that it costs me $15 an hour to drive anywhere. This is based on paying $4 a gallon and driving 60mph. In reality, it’s a little bit cheaper, probably $12-15 an hour, but I estimate at $15 when I decide whether I can afford a given trip.

Repairs: This is the big one, and the always-unexpected one. Actually, I can reliably estimate when I will need repairs: as soon as I get a decent paycheck. As soon as I get a decent paycheck, something breaks on my van and eats all my money. DIY work helps a lot, of course, though vans are harder to work on than trucks, because the engines are more compact.

Food: When I live in punk houses instead of in vans, I pay barely anything for food, because we buy in bulk, dumpster, and generally just share and eat communally. But I’m really lazy about cooking for myself, so I eat out a lot. Usually cheap food, like burritos, but not always. I pay more for food living in my van than otherwise—probably twice as much. It doesn’t have to be that way, however. I have a pretty functional kitchen, just no fridge to store vegetables or leftovers.

Rent: What? Rent? This is about living in a van! I know, but if you’re parked in someone’s driveway for a month you might want to kick down for rent and utilities. And if you pay your share, you can often run an extension cord out to your van. Also, when you move to Minneapolis in December, you’re better off subletting a room for the month and parking.

Making Money

It’s hard to hold down a “regular” job while living in a vehicle, particularly if you’re on the move. But plenty of people do it anyway. You can get gym memberships for showers, or have a own shower in your RV-converted vehicle, or “bird bath” in public bathrooms, or take showers at friends’ houses, etc. and then just use a friend’s address for a legal address.

But a lot of people, like me, live in a van because we’d rather be nomadic. Regular work is out. What’s left? Getting money can be tricky, but it’s not impossible. I’ll stick to legal methods of getting money herein.

Freelancing: This is what I do, for most of my work. I’m a freelance graphic designer, photographer, and editor, so most of my work can be done anywhere. Nothing beats settling down in a town’s anarchist cafe to get some work done. If you want to support me, you could buy some of my books. Other people freelance with skills that aren’t telecommuting, like tutoring; teaching music or language classes; dancing; modeling; or housecleaning.

Seasonal work: This is really classy, because it fits the 100+ year old definition of hobo. Most of the time, people work intensely for a few months and then live off the proceeds for the rest of the year. Agricultural work is common at harvest time. Other people work summers at or near national parks, or work in fisheries in Alaska. Apparently a lot of people with RVs do something called workamping (or workcamping… they are two different things I guess?), where they work part- or full-time as campground hosts in exchange for a place to park and maybe some money.

Odd jobs: Odd jobs are your friend. Get paid for the day to plant strawberries or tear down a house. Housesit, petsit, or babysit. Paint some walls. Whatever. I mostly get my odd jobs by letting my friends in own know I’m broke, and they usually let me know if they hear about something.

Medical studies: Some people sell their bodies to medical science. There’s good money in it, sometimes, but it’s not always easy and it’s not always safe.

Crafts: Make things and sell them. I make jewelry and buttons and sell them on Etsy or while I’m tabling.

Other Van Life posts

leviathan

Van Life: Introduction

In this series, I explore some of the practicalities of living in a van in the United States. For context, I am relatively privileged: white, perceived as male, raised middle class, able-bodied, in good physical shape. My advice may or may not be useful for others in my or similar situations.

So… I live in my van. I have for 3-4 years now.

Here’s where you say “Oh! Is it…. ‘down by the river!’”

Which is really a very clever reference to Saturday Night Live and definitely something I’ve never heard before. You’re very original. Congratulations.

Yes, I live in a way that is both unconventional and somewhat cliche. I’m comfortable with this.

Why Live In A Van

For me, van life is actually a step up in terms of stability and longterm access to resources. I’ve spent at least five or six years living out of one backpack or another. I’ve been nomadic more or less my entire adult life. So when I think about the advantages of living in a van, I’m likely thinking about it from the opposite point of view as others do.

  • I live in a van because it offers me a sense of home. I have my own bed. You should see the look on people’s faces when I explain I’d rather sleep in my van than on their couch. It’s as though I’ve told them I’d rather sleep in brambles than in a hotel. But I like having my bed and my home.
  • It offers me a sense of freedom. I know that at any point, if I needed to, I could leave almost any situation: just get in my van and go.
  • It gives me a place to keep my stuff. I’ve got a million semi-professional hobbies, and by living in a van I can keep bins and boxes and bags of tools and supplies and equipment.
  • I live in a van because I like to wander. I like forests and I like cities and I’d hate to have to pick between the two. I also tour a lot, usually as a writer, and a van is obviously quite good for such things.
  • I live in a van because it’s awesome.

What’s Crappy About It

  • Sometimes people break into your van and you’re stuck replacing the window and/or whatever was stolen. Also, very few people steal houses. (Banks do, though.) Also, getting your house towed is awful and stressful. You’ll never take parking lightly again.
  • I can’t stand up in my van—some people can, I can’t. I also have a harder time curbing my wanderlust when getting from place to place is just so easy and convenient.
  • There’s social stigma, which I feel more and more as I get older, but honestly I don’t really care. I’ve been a weirdo my whole life. Now I’m a guy named Magpie who lives in a van and wears women’s clothes. Whatever.
  • It’s probably dangerous. But honestly, I apparently drive as many miles as the average american (15-30k a year), so maybe I’m not increasing my risk of dying in an accident at all. I do spend too much of my time sitting though, what with all the driving.
  • It’s an anchor. If I want to leave the country or even just fly somewhere for awhile, I have to find somewhere to park my van and ideally someone to let the engine turn over once a week.
  • It keeps me from getting a normal-people job. I’m not sure whether this goes here or the “Why Live In A Van” section.
  • It’s a money pit. I throw almost all my money into my van, and then when I run out of money, I run out of van until I get more money to throw into the money pit. But then again, other people do this with their houses, so whatever.

Other Van Life posts

Writing a utopia

A Country of Ghosts

In this series I explore the writing and editing processes behind some of the books I’ve put out. Obviously, I am not really an expert on this process, but I’m learning as I go and am happy to share what I’ve figured out.

Last month I finished my last edits on my first linear novel (since What Lies Beneath the Clock tower is non-linear), a utopian novel called A Country of Ghosts. The book is going to be released this March by Combustion Books, and I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to write a utopia (and a bit about my own process).

I remember the battered, moldy, hardcover copy of Aldous Huxley’s Island I got or borrowed or stole from my high school girlfriend, back when I was probably fifteen or sixteen. More than any book I’d read, it felt heavy with importance–even before I read the first page.

Dystopias are all the rage, these days. Dystopias are safe. You can teach a dystopia in high school because, hey, we all know that fascism is bad. It’s safe to be critical. What’s hard is to offer alternatives. Note that I mean this primarily in the realm of words, rather than action… obviously, it is not safe to act against oppressive systems, and those who do so are to be lauded. Being critical is safe–doing something about it, or even offering alternative proposals, that’s what draws ire.

I’d probably already read and been pretty indifferent to Brave New World by the time I picked up Island. Brave New World was full of bad things happening to people… it was like any book I’d read. But IslandIsland was different. It’s been half my life now since I read it, and maybe there wasn’t that much that stuck with me, besides the call to be “here and now,” the admonishment to really savor your meals and your life alike. But that book felt important, at least to me, at least then.

A few years later, I became an anarchist–because I found a group of people willing to articulate and work for a world without oppressive systems. Many years after that, I learned that Huxley too had been pretty excited about the whole anarchist thing–in the introduction to Island, apparently he’d talked about how the world needed decentralization of a Kropotkin-esque manner.

Then came a bit more than a decade of social struggle, fighting for the earth and for liberty and for a world where we don’t fuck one another over to survive. And when it came time to reflect on what it was I was fighting for, the answer seemed obvious: I should write a utopian novel.

A utopian novel–any book, actually–shouldn’t ever be understood as a blueprint, or a road map. Sure, I’d love to live in the San Francisco of Starhawk’s The Fifth Sacred Thing, but if by some miracle we’re ever in the position to rewrite society, we’d be fools to follow her book over our own lived experiences. This is actually one of the many places in which anarchists have an advantage over other political philosophies: we know we shouldn’t adhere to rules or programs set out by anyone other than ourselves and our immediate communities.

So I didn’t write “A Country of Ghosts” to say “this is what society should look like. Exactly like this.” I don’t want us to ratify the accord of Hron and just assume that what works for 19th-century mountain villagers and exiled revolutionaries would work for us. This is one of the reasons why A Country of Ghosts is set in a fictional world, actually–to reduce any chance that anyone might confuse it for prescriptive.

While I have no interest in writing out a set of instructions for how we might live, however, I am interested in showcasing the ideas of my community. I’m interested in showing the world an example of how we could get along without government or capitalism. I’m interested in showing that anarchism is a viable political system, which, while probably not perfect, has an awful lot going for it when compared to the ecocidal, racist, classist system we live in today. I’m interested in creating work that might help inspire, not direct, revolutionary change.

The challenge left to me, in writing the thing, was to showcase a society without boring the reader to tears. Another reason dystopias are more common than utopias is that a dystopia has a built in sense of conflict, one that immediately resonates with the average reader: being in a totally screwed up situation and wanting to escape or change it. But I, and so many others, do have the experience of being part of defending something beautiful and functional from outside attack–which is a perfectly realistic source of conflict for utopian fiction.

Practically speaking, I had to balance plot with quite a bit of exposition, since I not only had to show the landscape and culture of Hron, I had to explore plenty of its inner workings. I hope that I succeeded–I’m cautiously optimistic.

Other posts on writing: