I used to write a zine called Rivers + Radiators. When you're 25 and still trying to figure out
who you are, sometimes it helps to write it down. Sometimes. One of the dangers of the written word
is its permanence. Sometimes, you think you got something figured out, and then you realize you
don't know shit. And then you realize you already wrote it down as fact.
So now, I try not to have any beliefs that are not met by an equal dose of doubt. But I guess that's
The first issue of R+R was written in one afternoon of dwelling on my transitional state. I just
wrote and it just happened. After that I went on a mission. I got involved with a gallery,
started an art studio, started a relationship, got some credit cards, got some jobs, lost some jobs,
ended the relationship, quit the gallery, filed bankruptcy, and closed my studio. The mission
failed. I looked back at the time since I graduated, and I was shocked to find that I had just spent
as much time out of college as I spent in college, running my wheels into the ground.
This year I stepped down as organizer for the Twin Cities Zinefest. It was the last thing I could
create some distance from. All I have to do now is quit working for my dad and I'll be floating,
personally disconnected from everything that's supporting me and everything for which I have any
responsibility. I'm not sure that this a good thing or bad thing, but I think it's just how it has
Depression can hide itself. It can be channeled through creativity, offset by inspiration or even
canceled by new experience. Like anything else, depression is subject to the overall ups and downs
of life, like sound waves superimposed onto each other.
I never had a problem with it in college, because there was always a way to channel, offset or cancel
it. I forgot about it. But the so-called “real world” isn't so forgiving. Jobs are supposed to
last longer than 6 months, you're supposed to have already picked your friends, and art is for
Sundays and stay-at-home-moms. I had no idea that once school was over, everyone around me would be
so quick to drop into the mold, with me left floating among a younger crowd who still thinks they're
immune to it. I'm told it's just the “traditional midwest,” and that I should move. I don't know.
I had pretty high hopes for myself. I knew that my creativity was the one thing that I could apply
discipline to. Creativity, meaning projects that have a personal significance to me and that I
execute on my own terms. Usually “my own terms” means non-commercial. Not that the stuff I make can
't be sold, but that I'm not working for a market. I was getting consults at a local arts
organization, and my contact there told me that artists work with a backwards relationship to the
markets that support them. That means that instead of responding to a market demand by creating a
product, artists create the product independently of the market and then they have to create a demand
for it to get paid. It's a major flaw of our system (capitalism) that things which don't have an
immediate value to consumers tend to get overshadowed by shallow attempts at commerce. Some jingle
on television generates thousands of dollars while a songwriter playing a show at a bar is lucky to
get $50. Then there are all these awkward attempts to reconcile art and commerce like legislature
appropriations, grants, non-profits, public art programs, etc. And while I don't want to be harsh
towards the folks that are working really hard to do what little they can for artists, these things
are inherently flawed from the start. All we can do is push, and push a little more each time. And
when we get tired, the kids take over and push a little more.
It seems to me that there's more socialist tendencies towards the arts than in most of our society (
take health care, something everyone actually needs, and we gamble for it,) artists need to take a
look at why it needs to be this way and react to it. We want to stare at the horizon, imagine what
might be over there, and then take a step forward, and repeat. The bankers, politicians and lawyers
aren't going to do that for us. We're not going to vote for or buy a better world.
I think about this and I don't have a plan. You just keep it in mind when you have a decision to
make. Should I try to get signed to a label? Should I play shows or make a record? What happens
when someone wants my song for a soundtrack? A commercial? What's better, compromising so I can do
my art full time, or giving myself to a profession that'll destroy me so that my art can remain pure?
Which one lets me live longer? Which one will let me live with myself? Often the easy answer is the
one that's more economically beneficial. But I watched as a teenager as all my favorite bands got
signed to big labels and got promised big careers only to get dropped when the music industry
Earlier this week I sort of hit a brick wall with myself. It's a really long story. To make it
short—three things happened in three days:
1.I vent about everything to a friend/ex. (Someone who knows me pretty well, but at the same time
has some new objectivity/distance from me.)
2.I go on a ridiculous “night journey” to clear my head and regroup. This involves lots of driving
alone and parking in empty humid fields to watch lightning bugs or parking my car off of some
deserted highway rest stop to play guitar at 2 am.
3.I decide that the “night journey” was a huge help for my 19 year old self, but does nothing but
waste $16 worth of gas when applied to my 29 year old self. I decide that uncomfortable social
situations are the new dark highways in my life.
Here are a few excerpts from things I wrote in these three days:
When I was 21 years old I looked out the window of the bus that was driving me to campus and I
realized I was going to die. I noticed the varying ages of the buildings I rode past, and the people
that passed by them. If life is a road, it's a one-way. When you're that young, it's a liberating
thought. It means nothing belongs to you, nothing is really real, and the weight of the world lifts
and what's really real is the temporality of all things, and all of the rules seem silly, the
ceremonies seem arbitrary and most of what we stress out over seems pointless. I rode that wave for
awhile, drifting on the freedom of the random maze, where any direction is just as good, because each
one leads to the same place: where you're going.
When I was 27 years old, and I was drinking at the Red Dragon, alone, scrawling illegibly in a
miniature notebook, with youthful careless kids laughing alongside my mental mess, I realized I was
going to die and it scared the fuck out of me. My sister called my cell phone, and I tried to get
her to tell me what she needed to say. All she would say was, “you just better come down here.” I
knew what it meant, and I drove to the hospital to go see my brother's 39 year-old lifeless body. The
weight of the world—or at least my heavy portion of it—set in. The temporality of all things was
obvious, and all of the rules seemed silly, the ceremonies seemed arbitrary and most of my life
seemed pointless. I caught a glimpse of the end of the maze, and realized that all the exits led to
the same place.
If you're 27 now, stop. Make sure to separate yourself from yourself a little and recognize your
identity as constantly in flux, and realize not only the moments leading up to the present, but also
those leading away from it. Those moments can save you, simply because they haven't happened yet.
All life is is potential, because as soon as something happens, it's gone, only to be replaced with
either a memory or a shadow. Humans treasure both.
I used to write a zine called Rivers + Radiators. Rivers were the easy flow of life and the natural
order of things. Radiators were the compromises, the corrections, and the artifice attached to the
window we look out of. I still like that idea, but it was really just me trying to get out what I
needed to say. Eventually that wasn't so important. I think I'm almost past what I need to say and
into starting to do what I need to do.
I'm not starting any more series, nothing with #1, #2, etc. The world is too complicated to expect
things to fall into place.
I used to hate sports because you had to be “on” all the time and you couldn't let your guard down
or get distracted. Your head and your body have to be together in real time, working in unison. You
have to act as fast as you think, and keep your brain open while you're acting. I eventually
realized that it wasn't only sports, that life itself is like that. Music is like that. You lay
down and you get run over. Seeking solitude is no solution. You can lay down in an empty road and
just starve. Sometimes I think I don't care, like I want to just shrivel away and let the world go
on without me. The thought that stops me from going forward is that I know I'll want to live again,
and I don't want to start from scratch. You're better off struggling as much as you can handle.
Maybe that's not much, but as long as life is an option, it'll do.