A Radical Cut In The Texture Of Reality

January 28, 2018

"Where children aren’t trapped mainly in the world of only two adults.”

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I was taken to a school. Over the course of the year I was taken to many schools. So many government and private buildings had been repurposed as schools. This was the School for Free Ideas and Thinking, the one they thought I would be most interested in. The students and teachers all cooked and cleaned together, that was one of the first things they told me about it. But then they told me this was also true of all the other schools. It wasn’t unique to them. Still, I thought it was interesting it was one of the first things they wanted me to know. That cleaning and cooking together was their gateway drug to thinking together. That everything was connected. The students built their own curriculum as they went along, and I found myself there during a semester dedicated to questions of communal living and collective child rearing. From what was conveyed to me via a series of different translators, I feel it was one of the most thorough ongoing discussions on any topic I have ever witnessed. I do not feel they came to any conclusions. Rarely did I ever feel they were working towards anything even resembling a conclusion. I’m fairly certain I was the oldest person in the room. The teachers were ten to fifteen years younger than me and the students were all at least half my age. I would listen to them discuss and think: they’re at an age when everything still feels possible. When I was their age I felt so much more was possible in the world than I feel now and I wonder what happened to me. (Then again, I know I’m just another broken idealist. The greater the youthful idealism, the greater the disillusion when it’s smashed or breaks.) I found myself wondering what it would feel like to be that age and be born into this experiment. You’ve lived your entire life knowing that tomorrow could be the day you or someone you love is taken by a bomb or bullet. But you’ve also lived the past three years surrounded by people who are taking control of their own destiny towards something that you may or may not understand is relatively unprecedented. For you it’s always been like this.

In class, most often, everyone is also sitting in a large circle. It takes me a while to figure out who the teacher is and some days I even guess wrong. And I’m asked why it even matters, why it’s so important for me to single out a particular participant and designate them “teacher.” I don’t think it’s so important but I’m here trying to observe and understand what I’m observing. And it’s definitely not a free-for-all, there are parameters for these discussions and, at times, it does seem to me that someone is leading. And there are age differences and differences in experience, though I also have to ask myself how much such things really matter. As we get older of course we learn things through experience, but perhaps there are other, equally important, things we forget along the way, or forget to relearn, or to unlearn. They say to me: we’re all learning from each other, and this is clearly a fact, there’s no need for me to question it. What I’m calling the parameters have a lot to with ensuring everyone participates equally, that some people don’t speak more than others, and if someone is dominating the discussion you can feel everyone nervously glance at them, wondering how long until they take the hint. I wonder if there is some less passive-aggressive manner they could enforce these don’t-talk-too-much parameters, like with a stopwatch for example, but also see that this suggestion would run counter to so much of what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to make it feel natural, to teach themselves through experience and practice how to have group discussions in which all can contribute equally. It’s definitely not easy.

I’m wondering how to report these discussions, discussions with so many participants. For better or worse I wasn’t recording. I should have written down all their names but didn’t. And, in general, names haven’t especially been the point of all I’ve written so far. I wish I could be back there now, listening to endless youthful reflections on community and living together with care. But I’m losing my grip on the point. Here is some of what I remember and what I’ve been able to piece together from my unfortunately rather scattered notes. I wish I was able to capture more of the feeling of it all, but perhaps what most captures the feeling is how much I wish I was back there now:

“I was raised by one mother and one father. And I think large swathes of my personality come from each of them. But if I had been raised by more people maybe I would have had more choices, more things to learn from, more examples of how to think and live and be.”

“You probably weren’t just raised by your parents. I assume you also had aunts and uncles and grandparents. Maybe also neighbors, teachers.”

“Yes, but my parents were the main ones. My main examples. I can see it so clearly in myself, how my thinking and personality come from them.”

“How would it work? How could you have been raised by more people?”

“Maybe I should let someone else speak. I feel I’ve already spoken a lot.”

“I think it has to do with adults knowing they have to earn the respect of the children. And children having some degree of choice as to what adults they spend the most time with. Or having the choice to learn different things from different adults.”

“But if there was one adult who let the children eat candy and ice cream for every meal maybe all the children would gather around only that one.”

“I don’t think it would take most children very long to realize eating candy and ice cream three times a day doesn’t make you feel very good.”

“When I was a child it would have taken me many years to learn that lesson.”

“We’ve already agreed there would have to be some sort of rules. The question is what kinds of rules can we imagine that would produce the desired results. I don’t think “you’re not allowed to feed children only candy and ice cream” would be a particularly controversial rule.”

“But children themselves would need to have a say shaping those rules. And maybe some of the children would push for their right to eat only candy and ice cream.”

“I want us to get back to the main point. What we’re talking about is not a society in which children can simply do what they want. What we’re talking about is a world in which children can be raised and influenced, can learn from, a greater array of adult experiences and perspectives. Where children aren’t trapped mainly in the world of only two adults.”

“To what extent would the mother and father still be the main force in the child’s life?”

“That’s the question that seems so hard to answer.”

“It could be different for different children. Maybe some children would gravitate more towards their parents and some would gravitate more towards a larger community. But you can see how this would encourage a parent to work to earn the respect of their child.”

“If I were a mother and my child “gravitated towards the larger community” I think I would find it extremely hurtful. These are also people’s feelings we’re talking about.”

“But maybe this is something that could also change: that mother could instead feel happy and proud that her child is getting all the knowledge and stimulation they need to thrive. It’s not only the children that will be changed by these proposals. The adults would be changed as well.”

“I think if we talk about something very simple – like large, daily communal meals – then we could see that these proposals aren’t even particularly radical. Everyone eats together. Everyone cooks and cleans up together. Children included. The children get to meet and talk to all the different adults and also to play with all the other children. And eating together is a way of coming together, of building community. Even if this happened just once a week I think you would start to see its effects. It could happen at the level of the neighborhood, like so many of the developments we’ve seen.”

“I hope we’re talking about more than communal meals.”

“It could be a start.”

“Where does it lead? Isn’t that what we’re here to imagine? To think about? To ask ourselves?”

“One of the things all of this makes me think is that too much choice can be confusing. It would be important not to give the children too many choices. Not to overwhelm them.”

“Every time someone says “the children” I feel confused. I mean, weren’t we all children once, actually not so long ago. Aren’t we “the children?” Shouldn’t we be thinking about what we would have wanted and needed at their age?”

“It’s not only a question of children having more input and influences. It’s also a question of a greater number of adults taking responsibility for the raising of children, of collectivizing the tasks that can most easily be made more collective.”

“That reminds me of the first thing I thought when we started in on this topic. That parenting is hard and we should be searching for ways to make it easier. To make it feel better. Also that parenting makes you feel more disconnected from the rest of the community because you’re so focused on all the things you need to do to make sure your children survive, and we should be searching for ways to counterbalance that.”

“But no one is going to care about a child more than the parent. Do we really think that direct link of parental care should be decentered?”

“Is it really so impossible to imagine a society in which all adults care about all children to the same degree?”

“I actually think it might be.”

“Sometimes it sounds like we’re saying children have more to learn from adults than they do from other children. And I don’t think that’s true. I think they have just as much or more to learn from the other children.”

“I don’t think anyone here is going to disagree with that.”

“I notice we haven’t been talking much about school. About the adult encounters the child has with their teachers at school.”

“Abolish all schools except this one.”

“That’s the kind of self-defeating joke I hope the next generation of children won’t feel nearly as compelled to make or laugh at. But, since I’m from this generation, I want to say on the record: I find it funny.”

“We need schools where, instead of teaching you a series of questionable skills and facts, they actually teach you how to live. But maybe the word for such a place, or such an idea, can’t quite be the word school.”


- Jacob Wren, from the work-in-progress Dry Your Tears to Perfect Your Aim



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January 18, 2018

"The water rushes calmly along as if everything was all right in the world."

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I sit and watch the river. The water rushes calmly along as if everything was all right in the world. I find it almost unbearable that so close to all the surrounding fighting and commotion there could be such a peaceful spot, sitting under the shade of a tree watching the patient flow of the river. But I don’t know why I say unbearable, it was simply the first word that came to mind. Staring at the water I start to calm down a little, which makes me more aware of how much stress I’ve been holding in my body. I’ve never been especially interested in nature. But there is this river in front of me, and it is the first thing I’ve looked at for any length of time in many days where I don’t also feel someone might immediately bomb it. Who would possibly bomb a small river? I start to think about the blood I just washed out of my clothes, about the man who rushed out into the street to pull me from the crossfire. He really didn’t need to do that. He probably saved my life, definitely at the risk of his own, and asked nothing in return. I wonder what he was thinking as he did so. (He was probably thinking how stupid I was to just be standing there in the line of fire. Or maybe that I was paralyzed by shock and clearly needed assistance.) He knows nothing about me and I know nothing about him. But, then again, he’s living in war, must risk his life all the time, purposefully or otherwise. You see someone in danger and simply rush forward to save their life. You don’t think. It’s not a philosophical moment. You have a split second to act and so you act. And in that way it of course is, also, a philosophical moment. I think again, and over again, about that split second moment in which he saved me and his action seems almost like the opposite of how I’ve lived my entire life. Over and over again I stopped to think, to drift, to daydream, to consider, while moment after moment passed me by. I suppose one might say I was daydreaming when he saved my life. Or not exactly daydreaming but paralyzed, which often seems to me to be more or less the same thing. And walking is another form of daydreaming. When I think this way, despite having come here, I can’t help but feel that I still don’t know what I’m talking about. I hope he’s still alive. (But of course he’s still alive, because in this book no one dies.) I feel that already the luck I’ve had is highly improbable. Twice I was dead but each time not quite. Twice I was dead.

Staring at the river, I start to pay more attention to how I’m feeling. I of course don’t feel well at all, like I’ve been poisoned followed by a physical beating. My breathing is labored, most likely from all the dust and debris, but perhaps also from a sense of pure and sustained panic. I have traveled, come here. I am not having a transformative experience. The water flows past me and I watch, wondering so many things at once I can barely think straight. This is a quiet, contemplative moment – perhaps my last one for a while, or ever – and I feel I should use it to put my thoughts in order. All I do is think yet not always in my own best interests. Am I actually learning anything about war, what it feels like to be in the midst of it all. It feels fucking terrible but I must have known that already. I fear I’ve always felt that one travels so far only to learn what one already knew, which is why, in the past, I’ve traveled so rarely. Would I learn more if I spoke to people? Why am I not talking to anyone? Because I don’t want to bother them, they have enough problems without having to answer my naïve questions. Because there’s no one to introduce me and absolutely no reason they should trust me or my approach. Because I’m ashamed, ashamed that I’ve taken this trip in the first place, and don’t want them to find out the reasons I’ve come here. Because I believe, from their perspective, I am the enemy, even though for many other reasons they might not necessarily treat me like one. I sleep for a few hours, then repack my things and continue walking. My clothes are still ever-so-slightly damp but I put them back on anyway, hoping the sun will dry them as I walk. I don’t know why I’m not more afraid that someone or something will kill me in my sleep. In a way, before I came here, I must have believed my thinking was clear. But now I see that my thinking has only ever been confused. I’m completely confused about war (mainly about how to stop it) and about living and dying and desire. Before I came it was clear I had some desire to do so. But what exactly was that a desire for. I know the answer to this question now less than ever.

- Jacob Wren, from the work-in-progress Dry Your Tears to Perfect Your Aim



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December 12, 2017

Some favourite things from my 2017

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[So, yes, I really do love lists. As with previous years, many things on this list were released prior to 2017. The brevity of the last three categories reflects nothing besides the fact that I did not see as much as I might have. I seem to be doing this every year now...]



Books:
The Gift – Barbara Browning
Houses of Ravicka – Renee Gladman
The Estrangement Principle – Ariel Goldberg
As We Have Always Done – Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
This Accident of Being Lost – Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
Sorry to Disrupt the Peace – Patty Yumi Cottrell
Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands – Stuart Hall
From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate – Nathaniel Mackey
Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility – Ashon Crawley
Our Gospel of Regicide – Eunsong Kim
Lady of Perpetual Realness & Other Stories – Cason Sharpe
Dear Cyborgs – Eugene Lim
Rag Cosmology – Erin Robinsong
I have to live – Aisha Sasha John
Crawlspace – Nikki Wallschlaeger
Indivisible – Fanny Howe


Music:
Mich Cota – Kijà / Care
Yves Tumor – Experiencing the Deposit of Faith
Outro Tempo: Electronic And Contemporary Music From Brazil 1978-1992
Poly Styrene – Translucence
Nadah El Shazly – Ahwar
November – Olympia
Carla dal Forno – You Know What It’s Like
Little Simz – Stillness in Wonderland
Group Doueh & Cheveu – Dakhla Sahara Session
Leikeli47 – Wash & Set
Moses Sumney – Aromanticism
GAIKA – SECURITY
Le fruit vert – Paon perdu
The Drums – Abysmal Thoughts
Gigi – Maintenant
The Style Council – Our Favourite Shop
Henry Threadgill & Make A Move – Where’s Your Cup
Kendrick Lamar – Damn


Performance:
Non Finito – Système Kangourou
DIY Haunt – Yen-Chao Lin
The Clapback – Niv Acosta


Film:
Deep Inside Clint Star – Clint Alberta
Random Acts of Legacy – Ali Kazimi


Visual Art:
Wood Land School
Parade of Champions – Michèle Pearson Clarke



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December 5, 2017

A YouTube playlist of 562 videos (and counting). With bonus playlists of tracks by Junie Morrison and Jenifa Mayanja.




I've now made YouTube playlists in 2010, 2011, Japan, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. The above playlist is 562 videos (and counting) which means that this entire thing has now gotten completely and stupidly out of hand.

Every day on the internet I hear new music that I like (or think I like at the time.) But for the most part it doesn't stick. The next day I can't remember what I heard the previous day. And, more importantly, there's new music to hear which overrides the need to look back. (However, much of this music from the past year I have added to this playlist as I go. So this is the record of things I never look back over.)

I am currently living in an apartment with no internet in an attempt to mitigate my social media addiction. When my record player broke years ago I didn't get a new one. Instead I returned to CDs (which for some reason I'm ashamed to admit I prefer.) Most nights I leave my computer at the office and listen to CDs at home. I listen to many of these CDs over and over and over again and therefore they definitely stick. Something I find strange is that much of the music I hear online I don't know how to get on CD. Much of it doesn't even exist on CD.

I was planning to write more about how my music listening life is now so clearly divided between online and offline. But I think you get the idea. Instead...



Walter "Junie" Morrison died at the beginning of 2017 and to celebrate his life and music I made a short playlist of some of my favourite Junie Morrison tracks:





And I also discovered the music of Jenifa Mayanja this year (who is very much alive and amazing) and I also made a short playlist of some my favourite Jenifa Mayanja tracks:





(I wonder if I will actually do this again next year. I keep promising myself I won't do this ever again. Music makes me weak.)




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November 5, 2017

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson Quote

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Kinetics, the act of doing, isn’t just praxis; it also generates and animates theory within Indigenous contexts, and it is the crucial intellectual mode for generating knowledge. Theory and praxis, story and practice are interdependent, cogenerators of knowledge. Practices are politics. Processes are governance. Doing produces more knowledge. The idea is repeated over and over again in Nishnaabeg story and for me ultimately come from the Seven Fires creation story as told to me by spiritual leader Edna Manitowabi and recorded in Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back. Through this story, she taught me that knowledge or existence itself is a function of intellectual thought, emotional knowledge, and kinetics or movement. Gzhwe Manidoo (The Creator, the one who loves us unconditionally) didn’t research about creating the world or think about creating the world. Gzhwe Manidoo created the world by struggling, failing, and by trying again and again in some of our stories. Mistakes produce knowledge. Failure produces knowledge because engagement in the process changes the actors embedded in process and aligns bodies with the implicate order. The only thing that doesn’t produce knowledge is thinking in and of itself, because it is data created in dislocation and isolation and without movement.

- Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, As We Have Always Done



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October 29, 2017

Three Fragments

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1.
When the new generation arrive with their energy and ambition and you become the previous generation and of course you have their respect but of course they are also more concerned with their own trajectory, still fragile, which they believe, perhaps correctly, requires the full force of their attention and energy to achieve liftoff, and you are now the previous generation, you once achieved liftoff, now are flying, but such flight feels anything but steady, and whatever advice you might be able to offer might only bring them closer to your own current precariousness, and they need to make different mistakes than you so they can be a different generation and who are you to them and who are they to you and is it ever possible to know.


2.
Today on the street someone came up to me, said I hate your books, and punched me in the face. He broke my glasses. I previously didn't wear glasses. I've only had them for about two months and can't quite get used to wearing them. Now they're broken and my entire face hurts. After he punched me he ran, as if I was going to run after him. I feel that if he'd actually read any of my books he'd know I wasn't going to run after him. I've never ran after anyone in my life.


3. 
Reading a non-fiction book and encountering a minor character, a character mentioned only in passing, but who is clearly portrayed as despicable, and then gradually realizing the character is based on you.



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October 20, 2017

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson Quote

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Coming to know also requires complex, committed, consensual engagement. Relationships within Nishnaabewin are based upon the consent – the informed (honest) consent – of all beings involved. The word consensual here is key because if children learn to normalize dominance and non-consent within the context of education, then non-consent becomes a normalized part of the ‘tool kit’ of those who have and wield power. Within the context of settler colonialism, Indigenous peoples are not seen as worthy recipients of consent, informed or otherwise, and part of being colonized is having to engage in all kinds of processes on a daily basis that, given a choice, we likely wouldn’t consent to. In my experiences with the state-run education system, my informed consent was never required – learning was forced on me using the threat of emotional and physical violence. In post-secondary education, consent was coercive – if you want these credentials, this is what you have to do and this is what you have to endure. This is unthinkable within Nishnaabeg intelligence. In fact, if there isn’t a considerable amount of demonstrated interest and commitment on the part of the learner, learning doesn’t occur at all. Raising Indigenous children in a context where their consent, physically and intellectually, is not just required but valued, goes a long way to undoing the replication of colonial gender violence.

- Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Land As Pedagogy: Nishnaabeg Intelligence and Rebellious Transformation



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October 18, 2017

"I sometimes say I’m too much of an artist for my own good."

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There are so many different ways of looking at this question. The world seems to be in quite bad shape these days – though this might have always been the case – and art seems like such a weak response when compared to all the overwhelming injustice and looming catastrophe that confronts us on a daily basis. What is a work of art when compared to rising fascism, climate chaos, the constant and unconscionable abuses of racism, patriarchy and capitalism. Art can often feel like sticking ones head in the sand and I have no real proof that it’s not. What’s worse, art can feel like an alibi for humanity. We might kill, torture, bomb and rape but we can’t be all bad because we also make beautiful things like art. This is normally the part where I’m supposed to come up with the counter-arguments: that art can change peoples hearts and minds. But I’m not so sure that it can, at least not in ways that are significant enough to make a difference. There are no individual solutions to collective problems.

So why do I keep doing it then? I have no good answer. I’m simply an artist (of some sort) and that’s what I’m here to do. I sometimes say I’m too much of an artist for my own good. As well, it might also be true that the ‘crisis of meaning and ambivalence towards art that is endemic within the field’ has little to do with such political questions. We live in strange times (and people in every age and era have also lived in strange times.) So many of the ways people have generated meaning for themselves during previous worlds and eras no longer seem to have the required support. A sense of place, connection and community are all difficult to come by today. (I would say that capitalism needs to destroy these things in order to have our labor when and how they need it for the best possible price.) But I also don’t want to romanticize the past. I suspect meaning has been difficult to come by at every point in history. Especially for those who can see through the empty platitudes that are so often used to stand in for it.

Nonetheless, I think these are important questions for art to ask itself. I’m all for an art that asks itself much harder questions, whatever form they might take.

- from an interview with Heather Jones in Contemporary Art Stavanger



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October 17, 2017

that we bear responsibility

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We were all raised in a sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic culture. No one is immune from it's influence. We all have these things inside us. They are equally structural and perpetrated by individuals. Those who most benefit from these power dynamics have the most to lose in their undoing, have the most to gain by perpetuating them, and, at the very least, find it easiest not to see the daily injustices they create and perpetuate. But I think change always begins with seeing the overwhelming degree to which power imbalances and hatreds are part of our culture, part of our lives, part of ourselves. And change is always stunted by denying that problems exist and especially in denying that we are a part of them and that we bear responsibility. The people who most benefit have the most to gain from such denials. Yet for anyone who substantially benefits, so often it feels so much better to say or think 'it's not me', it's not me who is being sexist, racist, homophobic or transphobic. Or standing by and saying nothing while others do. The first step to honestly fighting injustice is seeing the many ways we are part of it, while - if we are well-meaning - finding strategies to never become paralyzed by this fact, strategies which also lead to action.



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October 4, 2017

Jacob Wren / PME-ART in Stavanger, Bergen and Oslo

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Stavanger

Every Song I've Ever Written - Solo
Thursday, October 19th, 2017 / 6pm-11pm
at RIMI/IMIR
Facebook Event



Bergen

Every Song I've Ever Written - Solo
Saturday, October 21st, 2017 / 6pm-11pm
Meteor Festival
BIT Teatergarasjen / USF Verftet
Facebook Event

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Book launches: Polyamorøs Kjærlighetssang & Samferdsel
(Bergen launch for the Norwegian translation of Polyamorous Love Song)
Sunday, October 22nd, 2017 / 1pm
Visningsrommet USF 
Facebook Event

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Every Song I've Ever Written - Band Night
Featuring: Elida + Johannes Fjeldstad + Kvit Skit + Second Pest + Craig Wells & Rudi Valdersnes
Monday, October 23rd, 2017 / 10pm-midnight
Meteor Festival
BIT Teatergarasjen / USF Verftet
Facebook Event



Oslo

Lansering av Jacob Wrens «Polyamorøs kjærlighetssang»
(Launch of the Norwegian translation of Polyamorous Love Song)
Wednesday, October 25th, 7:30pm
Deichmanske bibliotek, Grünerløkka / Schous plass 10
Facebook Event



Also: an interview I did with Heather Jones for Contemporary Art Stavanger


Every Song I've Ever Written is a project by PME-ART



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