Tagged interviews

The Kids are Alright: An Interview with Dawson Barrett

Dawson barrettA whole lot of hours and days and weeks in the last year at the Microcosm HQ have gone into pouring love and effort into Teenage Rebels: Stories of Successful High School Activists from the Little Rock 9 to the Class of Tomorrow. We couldn’t be prouder of the end result, which just came back from the printer. Author Dawson Barrett kindly answered some questions about the book and his vision:

How did your original idea become the book that readers can hold in their hands today?

The story of the original idea is not especially interesting, but the punch line is that Joe Biel and I have some similar political ideas and both think the kids are alright!

The book includes about fifty short vignettes. Some of them are pretty famous (the Little Rock 9, Brown v. Board of Education), but many of them have not been thought about, by anyone, in several decades. They had been essentially lost to history, but the digitization of newspapers has given them a chance to be re-told. The stories that made it into the book were my favorites, but there were hundreds more.

After I wrote the vignettes, Meggyn Pomerleau put the cover together and added the illustrations. I think about half of them are loosely based on actual historical photos, but for the rest she had to work from scratch. And they really bring the stories to life. The book is not quite a graphic novel, but it shares many of the same story-telling advantages.

Who is the book for? Who do you ideally want to read it?

teenage rebels sample pageIn my mind, there are two main audiences for the book. The first is the most obvious. It’s for teenage rebels! I wrote it for young people. It’s their history. So, I hope they find it useful. I think these stories are empowering, and teens are an especially disenfranchised group. My own teen years were an exercise in correctly identifying injustices and then directing my anger almost entirely at the wrong targets. So, I hope young people will read the book and see that it is possible to vent your frustrations in ways that actually make positive changes. The future is in their hands.

The second audience for the book includes teachers and other people who work with youth or who are otherwise interested in being their allies. As I think about it, though, this is really just an indirect route to the first group!

I’m a history teacher, and all over our country, there are serious efforts to re-write the US history curriculum to downplay inequality and protest and instead promote empty patriotism and respect for authority. Those are the actual stated goals of one such campaign. I would love to counter that. My dream would be for high school teachers around the country to find themselves with a few extra minutes left at the end of class, and maybe talk about something a bit more exciting (like, say, a couple of stories from this book!). They are set up to be conversation starters: Why were the students upset? How did they try to make change? Why did they win or lose? How does this compare to your school experience?

Were you a teenage rebel yourself, or did you come to be an appreciator of teenage revolution later in life?

Teenage rebels coverI was a pretty angry (and overly serious) young person, and I went to high school in a very conservative, small, and often small-minded town. Thankfully, I had a few friendly teachers and a very active punk rock scene. My friends and I primarily rebelled by putting on punk shows and through them creating our own social spaces. And that required a lot of organization. Our town couldn’t sustain a music venue, so we had to rent out American Legion halls and do all of the work ourselves—book the bands, hang up flyers, set up and clean up, etc. So, basically, just imagine a 16-year-old with a mohawk haggling with a Korean War veteran over a broken folding chair at the end of the night. That, in a nutshell, was our teenage rebellion.

Those experiences very much shaped who I’ve become, but at that time I had no real understanding of how power works. So, I really wouldn’t call anything I did “activism.” I didn’t find activist politics until a bit later on.

You’re going on tour with the book in July and August. What will happen at your tour events and why did you choose this way to promote the book?

Well, DIY punk tours were a huge part of my life at one point, but it’s now been ten years since my last one. This tour will essentially swap out basements and squats for independent bookstores and public libraries. And I’ll be accompanied by my partner and our three-month-old, instead of a band. I do think the spirit of the tour will be similar, though. The goal will still be to meet new people and see new things. Plus, I think there’s at least a discussion to be had as to whether squats or libraries are more under assault from the powers that be!

Thus far, the talks aimed at teens will be a combination of stories from the book and brainstorming sessions around who makes the decisions that govern high schools, which decisions young people would like to see changed, etc. This is really a new world for me, but teen librarians are awesome. At one event, after my talk, we are all going to make protest posters. At another, there will be a button-maker for protest buttons. I think it’s going to be a fun tour!

Anything else I should ask?

I’m not sure what the question would be, but the answer is that, honestly, the book is really fun, no matter your age. I’ve read these stories hundreds of times now, but many of them still bring a smile to my face. The kids are alright, indeed!

Also, the book makes a really great gift for the rebellious teenager (or teacher) in your life…and for the teen section of your local library…and maybe even the library at your old high school…

This has been an interview with Teenage Rebels author Dawson Barrett. It’s one of a series of author interviews; the last one was with Consensuality author Helen Wildfell. The next is with vegan cookbook author Joshua Ploeg.

The Long Road to Consent: An Interview with Helen Wildfell

helen wildfell and a puppyHelen Wildfell came to us with a proposal for a zine about her experiences learning to build healthy relationships. We liked it so much that we asked her to turn it into a book. The result is Consensuality: Navigating Feminism, Gender, and Boundaries Towards Loving Relationships. With the help of a handful of brave coadventurers and Microcosm designer Meggyn Pomerleau’s illustrations and interactive activities, Consensuality is like a friend friend who sticks with you through the toughest times and helps you always move on to do things better. 

Consensuality is a very personal book, in which you and others share some pretty hard-learned lessons and brave levels of self-examination. Did you know the major themes of the book before you started writing, or did the insights come out in the writing process?

I initially wrote about the topics in Consensuality out of emotional necessity. I was at a place in my life where I needed to reexamine how I approached relationships, and writing was my method for sorting through my own gender and sexuality. As I continued to write, I began to notice that certain emotional themes kept reappearing. For instance, the three R’s in the book (Regretful, Resentful, and Respectful) emerged through the simple act of writing down my feelings.

There were still many more insights to be gained after I began turning Consensuality into a full-length book. I focused more on uniting the themes into a cohesive idea of Consensuality, which eventually led me to realize that consent is more than a concept, it’s a long journey with changing themes. Each time I reread the book, sit down to write something new, or just interact with my partner, I discover additional ideas about consent and how it works within relationships.

Your book is different than most other books about relationships; you don’t offer rules or formulas for having a healthy relationship but share examples instead. Can you talk about why you chose to write this way?

I think many “self-help” books reinforce the idea that there is one way to live life. Acting as an authority on a topic and creating rules for obtaining success can make the ideas in a book appear as some sort of absolute truth. But as convenient as it would be to have a formula for healthy relationships, examples of personal experiences provide more insight into the intricacies of human bonds. It was very important to me that my voice be read as one perspective in the larger conversation about healthy relationships. Including contributors as co-adventurers was also a crucial part of providing a fuller picture of consent. The other authors involved in the book offer viewpoints that extend beyond the limits of my individual experience.

consensuality cat by meggyn pomerleauThe book comes out July 14th. How do you think readers will respond? How do you hope the book will be taken?I imagine that it will be easy for some readers to relate to the experiences and lessons in Consensuality, while other readers may find blind spots in how I wrote about consent. There’s so much to explore when you’re interacting with another person; I know that we are only scratching the surface in Consensuality. Regardless of whether they like or dislike, agree or disagree, with what I wrote in the book, I want the readers to feel empowered to start talking about these issues in their relationships. There are a lot of ideas about consent out there, some good and some bad, but I’m very excited that people are considering consent at a societal level with policy changes and at a personal level with stories about intimate interactions. As people read more about gender, sexuality, and boundaries, I hope they’ll begin to feel more comfortable discussing consent with their sexual partners.

What’s next for you?

The plan is to continue reading, writing, and talking about equality in relationships. I’d like for my next project to start from a personal place, like Consensuality did, and lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how money affects relationships. It was a major issue for my parents, even years after their divorce, and while my partner and I generally have healthy communication habits, the intermingling of our finances is new territory for us. It’s easy to see money issues as something that only irresponsible people face, but the reality is that as long as money is unfairly distributed, it will challenge equality in all relationships. I want to start exploring how individuals can challenge the effects of economic inequality in their personal relationships.

This interview with Helen Wildfell, author of Consensuality, is the latest in our series of author interviews. Our last author interview was with Crate Digger author Bob Suren. The next interview is with Teenage Rebels author Dawson Barrett.

An interview with Bob Suren

bob surenBob Suren’s book, Crate Digger: An Obsession with Punk Records, comes out on June 8th, and advance copies have been immediately charming everyone in sight. The kickstarter-funded book captures the ups and downs of Bob’s life as a legend of Florida’s hardcore scene and a bellwether of the changing music industry. 

Be sure to check out Bob’s youtube channel for priceless Florida hardcore moments of years past. You might also be able to catch him on tour this July if you live…well, just about anywhere in the southeastern, mid-atlantic, or central parts of the US. Best yet, he’s recording an audiobook of Crate Digger, and many bands discussed in the book have given permission to include their music.

1. Lore is that Crate Digger started as a series of Facebook posts. How did those eventually turn into a book?

A: One of my friends, Shane Hinton, who is 14 years younger than me but a gifted writer and college writing professor, told me that the stories were too good to just be Facebook posts. He told me I should turn it into a book but I didn’t think I had enough stories in me and I didn’t know how to organize it. Shane gave me the idea to organize it as a record collection, with the stories in alphabetical order according to the record titles that they go with. I thought that was clever. For a few months, I only wrote once or twice a week, 300 to 1,000 words at a time. Then The ideas started pouring in and I had to keep a list of everything I wanted to squeeze in. Then almost every day after work for a couple of months, I’d try to write a chapter and it came together really fast. Maybe three months of casual writing and then two or three months of hustling. I got exciting as I saw the ideas getting crossed off my list and the writing went faster. The last day I wrote, when I saw the end was in sight, I wrote nearly 8,000 words. That was Easter Sunday 2012. 

Then came the hard part—trying to find a home for it. For about three or four months, I tried big publishing houses and agents. I did get some positive feedback but no offers. Then I gave up for about four months. Then a friend laid out all the text for me like a book, with graphics and formatted pages. That got me really excited and I started looking for a publisher again. For the second time around, I decided to go after indie publishers and made a short list of about ten. The publisher I really wanted ignored me, which I thought was rude. Then I skipped a few names down the list and tried Microcosm Publishing on my fourth or fifth day of the renewed search. Joe was into it right away. After just a few emails, maybe just 90 minutes times, I was looking at a contract. He had only read two sample chapters. I asked him if he wanted to read the whole book first and he said no. By the time I flew to Portland in Aug. 2014 for the final edit, Joe had only read about half the book. He read the second half for the first time with me right by his side. The editing process was fast and easy. I think we only lost about six pages from the original text, mostly redundancies. I was expecting to bang heads, but the editing process made for a stronger book.

2. The book is organized alphabetically—is that how you used to organize your record collection?

A: When I only had a handful of records, I kept them in the order I bought them, with new stuff up front and old stuff in back. Eventually, this method made it too hard to find what I wanted so I went to alphabetical. I used to keep all the unheard stuff in a small stack on my desk until it got cleaned and listened to once or twice before shelving. I once had a job at a public library. To get the job, they made me alphabetize a bunch of books and put a bunch of books in order by Dewey Decimal. I think it was 40 books in all, all scrambled. They said I had the fastest time ever. I think I did it in less than two minutes. They didn’t know about Sound Idea, the dustiest but most well-organized record store of all time. Even the T-shirts and stickers were alphabetized.

bob suren meets henry rollins3. Fan response to your book has been tremendous—do you have any stories to share about how people are reacting?

A: Yes, I have been getting lots of emails from old friends and people I never met telling me that the book touched them, that they can relate to it. I just got a long email today from a guy I never met who had some of the same experiences. I think what makes a good book or a good song is that it is relatable. That’s why all those old blues songs still make people feel good, because the listener knows he’s not all alone. So, there are a lot of relatable stories and a lot of universal themes, what I like to call the Big Stuff. I wanted to put in a lot of the Big Stuff so that even people who don’t know the music can understand. My 70 year old co-worker told me that she didn’t know anything about punk but she went through all the Big Stuff, too. That’s exactly what I wanted to do. 

And, of course, there are stories so bizarre that they could have only happened to me. Yesterday a guy asked me if the story about the FBI agent is true. Yes, every bit of this book is absolutely true. A lot of people from my past have found me on Facebook recently and ordered the book. That’s been kind of odd but cool.

4. You’ve been navigating the music industry as it’s gone through some massive changes. What do you think is the next big thing? Or, if different, what do you hope it will be?

A: I don’t really follow the industry anymore and I am kind of clueless. I never was good at gauging trends. I could never figure out why some bands were big and others weren’t. I just followed my heart and did things the way that felt right. Some of that was successful and some of it was not. I wish good luck to all the bands, labels, distributors and record shops out there. Vinyl is huge again. I didn’t see that coming. I have no idea how long that will last, but most of the people in music are my kind of people and I wish them well. I just don’t want to crunch numbers any more and play the public relations game. I barely even want to go to shows anymore. I go to shows to talk to my friends between bands. I don’t pay much attention to what is on stage, to tell you the truth. I’m not jaded, I am just more interested in other things. If you give me the choice between a three band punk show or bowling, I’ll take the bowling. It’s new ground for me. I’m no longer interested in treading water.

5. What’s the next big thing for you?

A: Oration is going to be part of my life, reading dates and freestyle talking. I have been playing around with the idea of stand up comedy, too. And I have been writing a lot of poetry which I bet already has people laughing but I don’t care. I am not writing it for them. I’m finding poetry a great way to express myself in short bursts with no limits. I’m also very excited about recording the audio book version of Crate Digger because that’s something I have never done. New territory excites me. Ask me if I want to make a quilt and I am going to say yes because I have no idea how to make a quilt. I want to get into voice over work and maybe acting if I can get a foot in the door. That’s a whole new world that I know nothing about and I may be terrible and I may hate it, but I sure want to try.

This has been an interview with Bob Suren, author of Crate Digger. It’s part of a series of interviews with Microcosm’s writers. The last one was with Why We Drive author Andy Singer. The next is with Consensuality author Helen Wildfell.

An interview with Nathan!

If you call or visit our bookstore, chances are good that you’ll meet Nathan Lee Thomas. As Publisher’s Assistant and Community Relations guy, he’s learning the trade of publishing from the big picture to the nuts and bolts, often while sitting behind a barricade of catalogs, Slingshot planners, and new releases. He agreed to answer a few questions for us here.

What are three of your favorite books and what did you learn from them?

1. Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse  

2. Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach  

3. Illusions by Richard Bach 

I share these three with everyone I meet for the first time and take them to the metaphysical section of Powell’s to help them learn what I learned from them: Life is what you make it, so make it a good one :o)

You spend a lot of time in the bookstore, interacting with customers. What has been your most rewarding interaction with a customer so far?

I have to say my favorite interaction by far, and it’s the one I tell everyone, is when a German family came in to the store and after browsing around for a while, speaking German to one another, the father came over to me for help in locating a particular sticker he couldn’t find.

After several minutes of using broken English to try and describe the image to me he gave up in frustration and attempted to overcome our language barrier by exclaiming, “FUCK YOU MOTHER FUCKER !!” while raising his fist in the air.

 Of course, I knew exactly what sticker he was looking for :o)

What’s your favorite place in Portland? What about not in Portland?

Portland: Top of Mt. Tabor overlooking the city :o)

Not in Portland: When I lived in Germany for two years (ironically enough, this did nothing to help me prepare for German tourists here in Portland), I absolutely fell in love with Trier and would take everyone I knew to visit the city. By the time I left Germany, I must have taken a trip to the city at least half a dozen times or more :o)

This is part of a series of interviews with Microcosm workers! The next one is with sales director Thea Kuticka.

In Praise of Human Power: An Interview with Andy Singer

bike dreams by andy singerIn 2013, we published Andy Singer‘s Why We Drive: The Past, Present, and Future of Automobiles in America. Part history, part original reporting, and part sharp, illustrated commentary, it tells a chilling story of why the US is the way it is. There isn’t any other book quite like this one, and we asked Andy to talk about it and his other work via email.

Love what Andy has to say? Check out our superpack of his work.

Why We Drive is a unique book, combining cartoons, text-form journalism, and photographs. How did it come about?

After I did the book CARtoons in 2001, I got invitations to speak at various venues including The Village Building Convergence, bookstores and a few universities. Being a visual artist, I gradually developed a slide talk about the social, environmental, economic and political problems of transportation design in America. I used a mixture of cartoons, photographs and maps because I found it was helpful to give people real-world examples of good and bad urban design. When I got positive feedback from the talk, I became interested in turning it into a book and an interactive website. I still have to build the interactive website but Microcosm helped me create, edit and publish the book. My goal was to explain transportation design issues and politics in a simple way to college students and the general public, as well as put forward a few ideas about why I believe we’re not making more political progress at reforming our transportation system.

How did you start drawing cartoons about bikes, cars, and related issues? What was the first cartoon you made?

I use cartoons as a way to experience and understand life, the way a writer might use words or a photographer might use photos. I make cartoons about everything—personal experiences, relationships, art, philosophy, politics, religion and anything else I am experiencing or thinking about. In college and after college I was trying to give myself as much time to draw as possible so I was trying to live as cheaply as possible. Not owning a car and getting around by bicycle and walking was part of that attempt to live cheaply. 

Starting in high school I was aware that there were too many cars and our landscape was being decimated to provide space for cars, particularly in urban areas. I think I drew my first cartoons or drawings about it in college. They were the drawing the guy being overwhelmed by tiny cars that became the cover of CARtoons and the drawing of the globe surrounded by cars that became the cartoon “The road to hell is paved.” 

When I graduated from college, I sought out the cheapest rooms or apartments I could find. One of these put me next to a freeway interchange in Oakland California. The experience of living there, biking everywhere and reading the book The Power Broker by Robert Caro, changed my life and made me appreciate all the issues associated with transportation. I saw exactly how and why the freeway interchange gutted my neighborhood and how the main obstacle and danger to bicycling in urban areas was cars and drivers. This was the early 1990s when many people were waking up to these same issues. I participated in some of the first Critical Mass rides in San Francisco and the East Bay and started giving them my transportation cartoons for flyers and posters. I also discovered the (now defunct) “Auto-Free Times” and Alliance for a Paving Moratorium in Arcata, California and started sending them cartoons as well. By 1994 it had become a major theme in my work.

andy singer traffic reportMost people in the US still see bicycles as a sport or something kids do. Do you have a lot of awkward conversations about what your work is actually about?

Not really. Most of my friends and family appreciate where I’m coming from. They’ve been around me and see how I live or have ridden bicycles in urban areas and appreciate what that experience is like. Also, everyone in America has driven somewhere and understands what driving is like. Because many of my cartoons are true to that experience, even most car-drivers will acknowledge the reality of what I draw. Now days, city planners, elected officials and many people in the general public are hip to these issues and trying to figure out how to make their cities less car-dependent or reduce the amount of driving in their lives. Since 2008, for the first time in American history, Vehicle Miles Traveled (the measure of how much we drive) has actually gone down slightly, despite an increase in the country’s population. So people are trying to drive less.

Your work covers a lot of big issues like sprawl, climate change, transportation policy, pollution, economics… What can ordinary people with busy lives and not a lot of political access do to address this stuff?

You can try to address it in your own life. You can try to set up your life so you have to drive as little as possible. In so doing, you vote with your feet and your wallet. When more people bike, walk and use public transit, there is greater pressure on elected officials and government agencies to improve these modes of transportation. It thus increases the profitability of public transit and makes cities more desirable places to live. It also helps reduce your carbon footprint and reduces the amount of money going to automobile manufacturers, oil companies and highway agencies.

divided city by andy singerIn a globally connected capitalist world, cities and countries are competing for highly skilled labor—programmers, engineers, scientists, etc. To some degree, these people can live anywhere they want. So San Francisco or my current city in Minnesota aren’t just competing with other U.S. cities but are competing with cities in Europe for the best and brightest talent. Polls and statistics show that more and more skilled people want to live in cities that are walkable, bikeable and have good public transit. Also our population is aging and realizing that they don’t want to be trapped in automobile-oriented retirement communities in Florida or the southwest USA. They also want improved walkability and transit. Finally, there’s been an explosion of obesity in the USA with resulting increases in healthcare costs. Many factors contribute to this but increased amounts of driving and a lack of daily exercise are major factors. City, state and business leaders in the US are increasingly aware of all this. It is part of Gil Peñalosa’s “8-80” message (the former parks commissioner of Bogotá, Colombia) and many other leaders.

So how you live your life has an impact on the larger world. Driving less also frees up more of your time to do other things, like participate in the political process at both a local and national level—in school boards, city councils, planning commissions or even political campaigns. If you don’t have to spend two hours a day driving to work or driving your kids to school, you might have time to help organize a “safe-routes-to-schools” program in your school or get walkability or bikeability improvements to your neighborhood.

One thing you realize from trying to reorient your life and get around using your own human power is that no one is going to help us or save us but us. It’s a do-it-yourself world. If we want to prevent environmental destruction, live better lives, get campaign finance reform, peace or justice, it’s up to us to organize and take action. We are the government and we are the world.

This has been an interview with Andy Singer, author of Why We Drive. It is one of a series of interviews with Microcosm authors. The last interview was with Lisa Wilde, author of Yo, Miss. The next one is with Crate Digger author Bob Suren.

Challenging Stereotypes: An Interview with Lisa Wilde of Yo Miss

lisa wilde illustrated selfieLast month, we felt lucky and stoked to publish Yo, Miss: A Graphic Look at High SchoolLisa Wilde’s nonfiction graphic novel about teaching at an inner-city second chance high school. Since then, the rest of the world has been falling in love with the book just like we did—it’s been getting glowing reviews, and readers are quickly picking it up and keeping it close. I asked Lisa some questions over email about her road to publication and some back story and updates to the stories in the book. 

Before Yo, Miss was a book, it was a series of comics zines. What led you to start making those, and what was the transition to traditional format publishing like?

Yo, Miss is my first book. I’d never drawn cartoons before, and I turned 60 this past summer – all of which fits with why I teach at Wildcat. In many ways, what the school is about (and what I hope the book is about) is confronting stereotypes. In other words, the potential that is inherent in all of us that just needs a little help or the right circumstances to allow it to come out.

In society’s eyes, I have no credibility in terms of making a graphic book, much less getting it positively reviewed. In society’s eyes, most of our students are perceived a little like Ellison’s invisible man—either as a threat or not seen at all. What we at Wildcat try to do is to allow our students’ potential to come out, and challenge whatever stereotype society wants to place on them, along with the stereotypes they may place on themselves.

The idea for Yo, Miss was always as a graphic book. This choice may have been because I was inexperienced, but I also had nothing to lose by dreaming big. And once I started making Yo, Miss, the process was so interesting that finishing it was never in question.

Publishing was a whole other deal. During most of the process, there wasn’t time to think about anything beyond what I was doing. But at a certain point, I realized I wanted to see if I could get this out into the world in some way. I was given Microcosm’s name by another publisher, so I contacted Joe and he asked if he could publish Yo as a series of zines. I said yes immediately, and then went to the Internet to find out what a zine was. Once I found out, I was thrilled.

Joe, for me, was someone who saw my potential outside of stereotypes, and for that I am eternally grateful. And then he took the next risk, which was to publish it as a book. Having Yo come out as zines before it came out as a book was incredibly helpful for me in many, many ways. Between the performances and other promotion, I got a much better idea of how to move this book out into the world, which is something very different than making the book.

What next? Will you be drawing more Yo Miss comics? Will you continue (or are you still) teaching at Wildcat, the second chance high school depicted in the book? Other big projects on the horizon?

What’s up next? I always feel like the air space above Kennedy Airport around 7:00 in the evening – all those planes circling around waiting to land. My second book—Lacunae: a Diary in Pictures—is just about ready to send out. It’s another book with words and drawings, though it isn’t in comics form.  (And unfortunately it’s not up Microcosm’s alley. All the drawings are color, and there are a lot of them.) The images are visceral, emotional and archetypal—kind of a combination of Charlotte Salomon, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Jung. I hope to get the dummy of my third book, Noah and the Boa Dance Round the World (a children’s book), completed by the end of summer. I’m not going to even mention the idea for the fourth book (but it is great!)  My biggest issue is time. I still work full-time at Wildcat – and love it, though (as I described in the book) I am almost always tired.

There’s a tug of war right now about the future of public education in the US. If you were spirited away today to Washington to give policy recommendations to the president, what would they be?

If I was asked to give policymakers advice in terms of public education, I would say three things: 1) use standardized tests as one narrow measure of success instead of the defining concept, 2) do the math and see that standardized testing and technology are not cheaper solutions in terms of improving educational performance (and recognize that their connection to improving performance is also questionable.) and 3) take some of the money poured into standardized testing and technology and use it to reduce class size, increase noncore classes like art, music, dance, school sports, etc., and provide meaningful classroom support to improve classroom teaching.

Because of what has happened with computers, the world is in a seismic shift in terms of using data to inform decisions. However, society is still in the early phases of this shift and too often data is seen as meaningful simply because it is data i.e. a score on a standardized test = what someone knows, whether the test is meaningful or not. Going along with that (and this is why I begin the first chapter with the quote attributed to Einstein) is the idea that things that aren’t easily measured must not be valuable.

If academic growth is the only value for education, society loses.

yo miss coverReading Yo Miss, it was easy to get attached to a lot of the students. Can you share any “where are they now”s with us?

As you probably know, the students in Yo, Miss are fictionalized composites. I did that for confidentiality, but also I tried to be as true to who our students are as possible, and most characters had many models. We have had many students like Danny, the boy who kept calling me “Snowflake.” One student, Joe Garcia (who called Oedipus “stupid”) is now a union electrician, making more money than me. I spotted another Danny model on the subway awhile back. There was a kid sitting across from me, deeply involved in a thick hardback book. It looked like one of our graduates, but the kid wouldn’t look up—he was so into the book—so I couldn’t be sure. Finally, when he reached his stop, our eyes met and it was indeed Keith Wooten—former bane of every Wildcat staff member. Tyrell Bramble, whose poem Life and Times of Young Rellington is recited by Will, was back visiting Wildcat a few weeks ago. He’s now a nurse. However, I don’t mean to give the impression that it’s all positive. Another model for Will—a student who we all loved who dropped out before graduation—was killed by 23 bullets in a gang hit.

Jessica De La Rosa, the model for Janis Diaz (the student who has osteogenisis imperfecta), graduated from John Jay College and on April 16th she and I are going to be at CWE, a branch of City College, talking about the book and the importance of challenging stereotypes. Jessica is an inspiration and a force of nature—foster parenting three disabled children, competing in national rowing events, and promoting disability rights. She is also a dear friend.

This interview with Yo, Miss author Lisa Wilde is part of a series of interviews with Microcosm authors. The last interview was with Katie Haegele and the next one is with Andy Singer.

Meet the Microcosm Staff: Jeff Hayes, Warehouse Manager

jeff hayes music studioMy quest to interview all the Microcosm workers about their work and lives and favorite things has finally reached our warehouse manager, Jeff Hayes, who has been here longer than just about anyone else. Instead of a picture of himself, he chose to submit a photo of his recording studio. For an even better picture of the soul of Jeff, check out his staff picks Superpack.

What do you do here at Microcosm, and how did you end up here?

I like to call myself a “box-pusher.” But it could also be called “Inventory Control” or “Warehouse Management” or even Shipping/Receiving..? I mostly put everything (books, zines, shirts, patches, stickers, buttons, butt-bags, etc..) where it goes, so I know where everything is. Then I constantly count them all, over and over again, to make sure the numbers are correct on the website. And somehow they still get off every so often. I put most of the new stuff up on the website. I order more stuff when it’s low. I pull most of the orders. Sometimes I ship things off. I do a lot of t-shirt folding, re-arranging, box lifting, and a million other things. And I answer a lot of the emails from our wonderful customers. 🙂 

I’m not exactly sure how I ended up here but I’m certainly glad to be here. 🙂 

Inventory management is more complicated than most people realize. What is it about it that you especially get and enjoy? Is there anything that you wish more people knew about this side of things? 

It seems so simple in theory… When we get, say, 20 new zines into the store, I enter the information into our site for the product page (title, description, isbn, price, weight, so on…) then I put the number 20 into the Quantity field. So, it stands to reason that, as our site automatically takes away 1 when someone buys 1, it will go out of stock right when we really are out of that zine in the store. And most of the time it goes just like that. But often times it doesn’t. Because sometimes we’ll sell the last one in our storefront at the same time someone puts in an order on the website, or a few of them could be at a tabling event so I don’t have them here in the store to ship off… There’s so many things that could make that number incorrect. 

I’d say one of the hardest things to keep track of is the shirts. A lot of times the women’s and unisex cuts get confused. They’re actually pretty hard to tell apart sometimes, and the shirt companies often don’t label them correctly or at all. So someone might sell a women’s ME and think it was a unisex ME and they’ll put it in the system that way. So then we will basically have one too many of one and one too few of the other when they run out of stock. I do a lot of arguing with our website. It sounds like I’m just complaining but it’s all part of the job. I actually enjoy trying to keep track of it all. I like it when everything goes according to plan, and I like playing detective to figure out what went wrong. 🙂 

What do you do when you’re not on the clock?

Mostly music. I master and score stuff for Joe’s films, and I make my own music. I have a little home studio that I’ve been building up for a while and someone has to drag me out of it every once in a while. I like to take walks, it’s always an adventure in Portland. 

Favorites! What are you most into right now?

Books: I never have time to read all the things I want to, but somehow I still manage to read most of the Tape Op magazines I get. My stack currently consists of Mad Science, Humor, Modern Recording Techniques, How to Stay Alive in the Woods, Girl in a Band, Carsick, The Infinite Wait, and more… Who knows if/when I’ll finish them. 

Music: Radiohead has been my favorite since forever, and Blonde Redhead and the Notwist are always up on the list, but currently I’ve been really into Portishead, Fenton Robinson, Benny Carter, Curtis Mayfield, and I can’t stop listening to Stephen Malkmus/Pavement. There’s obviously tons more I’m not thinking of. I really like listening to random things on Bandcamp, also. 

Movies: David Cross’s new movie HITS was pretty good. I watched this movie the other day called Tabloid. At first it didn’t look very good but I played it anyway. I thought I’d shut it off any minute but it just kept getting crazier and crazier and before I knew it it was over and I was floored. It was pretty nuts. Oh and Muscle Shoals is pretty great! 

Places in PDX: Well, I reeeeaaallly miss the Vegetarian House, but uhhhhmmm… Purringtons is pretty cool. So is Brass Tacks Sandwiches, Homegrown Smoker, Old Town Music, Trade Up, Control Voltage, The Waypost, Voodoo Donuts, Sizzle Pie, The Doug Fir, Wonder Ballroom, The Abbey, El Nutri, Townshend’s, any of the bridges I can safely walk along, Irving Park, any of the weird little neighborhoods I stumble upon, the list goes on and on and on… Microcosm! 

 Places outside of PDX: The beach. The woods. 

 Snacks: Yes, please! 

This is part of a series of interviews with Microcosm workers. The last interview was with publicist Tim Wheeler.

Memoir, community, and zine tours: An interview with Katie Haegele

The happiest photo ever taken of katie haegeleLong ago, Joe handed me a book and said “you’ll like this.” It was Katie Haegele’s White Elephants: Yard Sales, Relationships, and Finding What Was Missing. I did like it; I still haven’t really gotten over how much. I emailed Katie to ask some questions about her writing and her experiences promoting it. True to form, she replied with her trademark combination of thoughtfulness and profanity. 

You have two books out with Microcosm: White Elephants and Slip of the Tongue, but you’ve also written a tremendous amount as a journalist, writer, and zinester. Can you give us a sense of what sort of writing work you’ve put out there and what sort of themes tie together the many different topics you’ve tackled? 

Thanks for asking! If it looks like a tremendous amount of writing at this point, that’s only because I’ll be a million years old on my next birthday. But let’s see. When I was in high school and college, I longed to grow up to become a newspaper writer. I thought that seemed really glamorous. I still do, actually, and it is, sort of. In the office of a good paper or magazine, the energy is really alive and the people are excited about what they’re doing. I started pursuing that kind of work after I graduated, and I have always considered myself a non-fiction writer of some kind, never a writer of fiction. I grew to love interviewing artists about their work and writing book reviews, and these have continued to be a source of work and income for me. But at some point in my 20s I found that I had more I needed to express than I was able to satisfy with this kind of work alone. So I started making zines of what I called my “personal” writing, and have been devoted to that as a mode of expression for years. Zines are still an important component of my writing life, the place where my mind goes when I need to write something too unusual to belong to a more traditional category (like poem, essay, article, whatever). 

I guess now that I’ve been doing memoir-style writing for several years, important themes that I’ve returned to are ideas about language, memory, nostalgia, and—at the risk of sounding really pompous—material culture. I like looking at different facets of our culture, like the way we speak and the way we dress, and mining them for a deeper meaning. I never get tired of thinking about how objects, like personal belongings that we buy, inherit, or receive as gifts, can be a way to look at so much else in life, including larger ideas like gender expression, family, and home, as well as loss and grief.

You’ve gone on several book and zine tours. How did you organize those? Were they straight-up readings? How did they go?

I’ve done a whole lot of readings at this point, but I haven’t planned too many tours. I’d like to do more. Two years ago my husband (then boyfriend) Joe and I planned a road trip, just for fun, to go see David Bazan play a show in Illinois. Then I had the idea, Hey, why don’t we book some reading dates for the cities and towns we’ll pass through, and call this a tour! (Joe is a writer and zine maker too.) So we did some research online and asked folks we know for help, and booked readings at a cafe, a record store, a bookstore, etc. In Bloomington, Indiana we read at a beautiful little bookstore called Boxcar Books; this was during the summer, and we did the reading on the porch.   

This tour was one of the most fun and rewarding things I’ve ever done, and it went a long way in helping me to get over some of my terror of public speaking. We kept showing up to these different places all sweaty and exhausted and trying to find parking, so I didn’t have the luxury of spending the whole day dreading the reading. I had to find some bathroom and splash a little water on my face, then hop up and do the show. I got better at going with the flow and now have a much more relaxed and confident attitude about performing. When we find enough time and money, Joe and I would like to go to California and do a mini-tour of readings there. 

What are the best ways you’ve found to promote your books and other work? Any tips for first-time authors?

I don’t know how good I am at promoting myself, because I’m not sure how to evaluate the amount of attention any of my writing has gotten and where that attention came from. I do think that publishing my work in mainstream publications has led more people to my zines and books than would otherwise have found them, so to someone who doesn’t already write for magazines or websites, I would recommend doing some of that to coincide with the publication of your book. You can also offer an excerpt or chapter of your book to be published in a magazine or journal, with the permission of your publisher. 

Get on Goodreads, too! I was already using that site, to keep a log of books I’m reading and want to read, when I found out about their Authors program, which is free and really nice. I set up a separate Author account and did a giveaway for my new book when it came out a few months ago. Several hundred people signed up to win a copy, which I think represents mostly people who didn’t already know who I am because folks shop that website to find new things to read. The people who win know they’re not obligated to review the book positively, or at all, but it seems that a lot of them participate in this program with the idea to write about any book they win, and a bunch of folks reviewed mine. Reviews of your book, whether they’re glowing or not, are very important to getting it sold and read. Goodreads has set the whole thing up really well, too; when I log on to use my normal account, I can see a thumbnail of my book along with some information about it, but not the number of stars it’s gotten from reviewers on the site. That way I don’t even feel tempted to peek. I don’t read any reviews my books receive, for what that’s worth, but when one is published (like in a magazine or something) I’ll use my blog to thank the writer for doing it and link to it for others to read. 

Besides all that, I think doing things like selling my zines on Etsy, making my modest little DIY website several years ago, and doing blog projects that are not directly related to my writing but are a creative outlet in other ways (like Portrait of a Closet, which I do with my friend Nadine), has given me a web presence that makes me easy to find. As a reader, I’m disappointed to find some forgotten blog that hasn’t been updated for 4 years when I go looking for a writer whose work I’m interested in. I like getting to know writers a bit through their internet writing—blog, twitter, Thought Catalog, whatever. It’s a good way to get writing practice (and publishing experience, of a kind) and to build a readership. That said, if you’d rather unplug all this shit and keep your head calm and just concentrate on your writing, you have my full support on that too. 

What are you working on next?

I am scheduled to do an illustrated book with you guys next year, which I am very excited about! At home here I’m a member of a print collective called the Soapbox, and I participate in things with them. This month they’ll bring member work to the second annual Philadelphia Art Book Fair, which I didn’t know about last year but looks exciting. I’ve also challenged myself to contribute to at least one comp zine, art show, or other group project every month. It makes me feel so good to send my zines to a library for donation, or contribute a piece of writing to a themed zine—that way, I’m not sitting here by myself hoping that someone will care about my writing. I’m part of a community, and we do things together to share our work with the world. 

Anything else I should have asked or that you want to say?

Just the same thing I always say, like a broken record: If you’ve ever had anything you wanted to write, even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, make a zine! Participating in the culture of zines has brought so many good things into my life, including several dear friends, a lot of really beautiful and interesting pen-pals, my beautiful and interesting husband, even unexpected but very nice “professional” opportunities, such as interviews with major publications. Making zines is the thing that, when all is said and done, helped me to feel like the artist I always knew I was.

This is one in a series of Microcosm author interviews. The last one was with Ben White of the Snake Pit books, and the next one is with Lisa Wilde of Yo, Miss. You could also think of this as part of the Self-Promotion for Introverts series.

Snake Pit Gets Old and other tales: An Interview with Ben White

ben snakepitI’ve read my way through most of the Microcosm catalog, but there are some books that just never jumped out at me—most of them being either graphic novels or books about punk music, two genres that I’ve yet to get a handle on. But when I spent a week at home sick, trying to rest and relax, I decided to delve into the books on our list that I had deemed to be the least suited for my interests—Ben White’s Snake Pit series of comics about his life in punk. I planned to just flip through his most recent book, Snake Pit Gets Old (which comes out on May 12) and then move on to something else. But you know how this story ends: I devoured the entire book in one sitting, and then proceeded to read through the other five books in the series. Then I got sad that there wasn’t more—and worried that there wouldn’t be any. So I sent Ben a request for an interview for our blog, and to find out his plans.

How would you describe your books to a total stranger you met at a bus stop? 
Every day, I draw a comic strip about what I did that day. It’s not supposed to be funny or profound or anything other than a basic document of the day. Every three years or so, I compile those comics into a book, which usually ends up being called funny or profound by other people that are not me. I have been doing this every day for the past 14 and a half years (it’ll be an even 15 years in July of 2015)

I read your new book last week and now it’s kind of hard to write to you because I feel like I know more about you than I do about some of my closest friends, but we’ve never met. Does it ever get weird to have your everyday life just out there in the world that way? Have you made good friends because of it? Do random people come up to you and offer you life advice on the street? 

I never feel that weird about people knowing about my life, because honestly, they only know the things about me that I choose to share. There’s lots of stuff that happens to me that’s not in the books. I have indeed made a ton of friends that started off as fans of the comics and just emailed me or came up to me at a show or something and introduced themselves. A few of these meetings have developed into full-on friendships with some very cool people. Thankfully, the three-year books offer a nice time buffer, so if somebody does try to offer me advice about something, I can say “That happened three years ago. It’s been resolved by now. But thanks for caring.” Smilie face.

pensive snake pitYour drawing style has evolved a lot since you started in 2001, and of course your life has changed, but even more than those things, the tone of the way you talk about yourself and your life is much different. How have your motivations for making the comic changed, and also do you get something different out of it now than you used to?

I learned a lot from those early days. I learned what I should and should not include in the comics, often by trial and error. I’ve made some mistakes, I have hurt some people that I didn’t mean to hurt, just because I didn’t truly consider the ramifications of airing my laundry so publicly. It’s like when everyone just started using social media and they were unable to see the reach of what they would type until it was too late, then over time, they learned how to censor themselves but still share important details. I just learned it on a slower, grander scale. 

What have you been up to in 2 1/2 years since the new book ended? Are you still drawing a daily comic? What projects—musical, publishing, and otherwise—are coming up?

Still drawing the comics, I don’t plan to ever quit. The next book will (hopefully) be out some time in 2016. I’m hoping Microcosm will want to publish it (hint hint!)

Finally—could you settle a dispute we are having at Microcosm HQ: Is it Snake Pit or Snakepit? Also, how did you come by that name in the first place?

The comic is called Snake Pit. My name is Snakepit, because “Ben Snake Pit” sounds stupid. The Snake Pit was the name of the punkhouse in Richmond VA where I lived when I first started drawing the comics. The original idea was for it to be a kinda sitcom starring all of the people that lived in the house, but we got evicted a month or so after I started it so that plan went out the window.

Check out Ben’s Snake Pit books, we’ve got ’em all! This is the latest in a series of interviews with Microcosm authors. The last interview was with Anna Brones, author of The Culinary Cyclist.

Meet the Microcosm Staff: Tim Wheeler, publicist

tim wheeler communes with natureIn my quest to introduce our workers to the world, I sent some prying questions this week to Tim Wheeler, who’s been running Microcosm’s publicity operation since 2012, when he worked from a tiny desk atop a lofted platform atop ten teetering feet of stacked boxes of books. Now you can find him behind a comparatively spacious desk upstairs in our new office, barricaded behind stacks of advance copies of books that haven’t come out yet. Read here for more about Tim in his own words—and you can also scope his taste in his staff picks superpack and a list of his top ten favorite things we carry.

What’s your role here at Microcosm and how did you make your way here? Harrowing tales encouraged.

I mostly do the press and publicity type things for Microcosm—doing my best to make the world know our new books exist. I got here by way of Los Angeles. I lived there for about 6 years, spending most of my time there working in the most corporate parts of the corporate music world. I had more than enough of that and was looking for a change. I, along with my two roommates and another friend, did what most people do when they’re fed up with the expensive, stressful life that comes with living in Los Angeles…we moved to Portland.

I knew there was no music industry in Portland, so, having already been a fan, I jokingly told people I’d just work for Microcosm. After a few months of wandering aimlessly around town for no particular reason, I decided I should spend my time volunteering. I sent a volunteer application to Microcosm and got a job instead.

Can you share some publicity success stories that you’re particularly proud of / stoked about / baffled by?

My favorite type of publicity success is when I contact someone and it turns out that they not only took the time to respond, but that they’re a fan. When it’s something they’re into and looking forward to, it turns from business transaction to collaborative project. When the last Henry & Glenn came out I pitched one of the editors of SPIN, which is a big enough national publication to be a bit of a long shot for us, even for one of our most popular releases. But, as it turns out, he was already a fan, stoked to help out, and turned out to be the sort of dude I’d want to grab a beer with and grill about music and books.

Anyone who’s done publicity work or something similar knows that in between the successes there are a lot of days when it feels like shouting into the void. How do you weather those days?

It’s true, most of publicity feels like throwing books into a dark hole that never seems to fill up or shouting into the void or exercising various editors delete fingers as they ignore your emails. However you want to put it. But I can’t think of a single book since I’ve been at Microcosm that I have felt wasn’t worthy of attention. That, combined with the sheer volume of books and other media out in the world deserving of (or at least looking for) coverage, and the timing/luck required to get them into the right hands, means the ratio of shouting to response is just a part of the job. I don’t usually get discouraged because, for better or worse, the response aligns with my expectations. Sometimes a book will exceed those expectations, and then all the yelling feels justified.

You know the drill by now—share your favorites, please!

bikes bikes bikesa) Place in Portland: I feel like I need to split this into two categories, since Portland is a pretty great city surrounded by a lot of amazing nature. My favorite outdoor space is the myriad of hidden beaches, rocky outcroppings, and tree lined spots along the Willamette and Columbia rivers, but my favorite is actually a little outside Portland. Hog Island is south of Portland on a stretch of river dominated mostly (and unfortunately) by private estates with “No Trespassing” signs on their docks, but Hog Island is a small, uninhabited island close to a sheer cliff on the west bank of the river. Accessible only by boat (or in the case of my friends and I, a homemade raft of scrap wood and metal pieces with my bike strapped to the side), it’s really just a football field sized chunk of dirt with some trees and sandy beaches, but it feels like you’re hundreds of miles from civilization while floating in the calm stretch of water next to it. As far as indoor spaces, Saraveza happens to be my neighborhood bar, one of the best beer bars in the country (which I’m very much a fan of), and full of some really damn friendly people. It’s the perfect spot to hang out for a bit on a rainy day. 

b) Place in the world: That’s even tougher. I think the most I can narrow it down is to the California desert. However many endless miles it is. From Joshua Tree to the Salton Sea to Blythe to that Chinese restaurant in California City. I actually kind of hate the heat, but sometimes it’s important to feel tiny in an endlessly expansive place. 

big empty californiac) Snack food: My favorite foods are of the Mexican variety, but as far as snacks, I can endlessly shovel hummus into my mouth. All I need is a chunk of bread or cucumber or chip or finger.

d) Music genre: I’m not really sure what to call my favorite musical genre. Somewhere in the intersection of old country and new rock and dirty punk and too much booze. Things like Uncle Tupelo on the folk end and Country Teasers/Jon Wayne on the punkish end and Granfaloon Bus on the sad drunk end. But I’m really all over the map when it comes to music. It’s always been the main form of art and expression in my life and, up until Microcosm, my only profession. 

e) Craft/Hobby: As is appropriate for a Microcosm employee, my main hobby (and facilitator of most other things I do) is cycling. Whether it’s going fast, going far, on dirt, camping, freak bikes, socializing, or just avoiding having to drive somewhere, I’m into it.

This is the latest in a series of interviews with Microcosm workers. The last interview was with designer Meggyn Pomerleau.