Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Problem: Perpetual Mess Machines

RECURRING FAILURE DEPT., APRIL 13 - My eBay store - and the affiliated auction of my old fanzine, Dear Jesus - has come to an end. Despite my careful bookkeeping, the whole thing devolved into a shameful and protracted clusterfuck. Dealing with the pricing bureaucracies at eBay, Kinkos, and Paypal was like negotiating with the East German government. I could never get a consistent per-unit dollar amount on the project, and every month eBay hit me with seller fees that equaled two utility bills. It felt counterintuitive. It's like if you wrench $90 worth of copper piping out of your basement, but when you call the guy at the recycling plant, he tells you there's an $88 processing fee. How badly do you want your two bucks? In my case, the answer is Not So Much. These are mere first world problems only occasionally masquerading as second world problems. There's nothing unique about my situation.

Except there is one thing unique about my situation: I hate my product. The jolly Fedex Kinko's staff made this reality especially awkward, what with their insistent cheerfulness and helpful staff. Years ago, a Kinkos employee actually chewed me out over issues of content. I know the drill. It therefore seems a tad dishonest for these nice people to now ignore the awful smut I must enlist their help in manufacturing. When the editor of San Francisco's MRR politely requested a copy for review, I declined (although this would've been problematic anyway) on the grounds that I don't really want anyone to know about Dear Jesus. But how does one manufacture, distribute, and market something on the extreme DL?

So Dear Jesus is now available through this blog*. I'm doing it without the use of eBay, and it's a print-on-demand scenario, which means the orders could take a few days longer to make. I have no idea how long I'll be making and selling these things. The hassle factor is definitely one large consideration.

The humiliation factor is another. My original hope was that the exculpatory introduction would insulate me from all the bad writing and bad ideas I cooked up 20 years ago. But I know that's not really possible. Each little zine packet I send out into the world is another entity representing a "me" that no longer exists. It's confusing, and frustrating. Even though PDFs of the zine aren't online, the mean spirited imp responsible for it is still out there, an autonomous persona with a seemingly open-ended lifespan. I can choose to ignore him, or I can choose to wring a few bucks out of him. But he - the ghost of me - isn't going anywhere.

NY Times writer Jonathan Dee nailed this phenomenon in January 2010:

Not only can the past never really be erased; it co-exists, in cyberspace, with the present, and an important type of context is destroyed. This is one reason that intellectual inflexibility has become such a hallmark of modern political discourse, and why, so often, no distinction is recognized between hypocrisy and changing your mind.

Again, my predicament isn't special. Many people - millions - find themselves typecast and pigeonholed by their former selves. There's nothing unique about my situation.

And yet, again, there is one other thing unique about my situation: the Fear Of Smell blog. This flattering, well-intentioned site documents a compilation album my record label released nineteen years ago. It's a great record, and although I had no real part in its greatness - besides being in the right place at the right time - I did design a wonderful cover for the second pressing in 1998.

The F.O.S. blog, however, focuses on the covers of the first pressing. I did not design a cover for that run, great or otherwise. Instead, friends and distributors were given markers and hundreds of blank record jackets. It didn't occur to me until far too late that many of these covers would be supreme bummers, and it didn't occur to me until it was really far too late that someone might actually want to document all these bummers. Meaning I now have a website where I can regularly find fresh horrors I have inflicted on the world without my own knowledge, as if I were a naughty amnesiac or a chronic black-out drunk. It's a portal of inexhaustible mortification without precedent. I haven't yet figured out how to make a dime off this particular perpetual mess machine, but when I do you'll be the first to know about it.

* 5/5/11 - screw it, I'm done. No more for sale. What a nightmare.