by Aaron Lake Smith Author
There's nothing quite like the nagging doubt that accompanies a period of unemployment," begins the zine by and for the next 44 pages, Aaron Lake Smith, executive editor for Vice, brings us along on his dark journey into the heart of the failing American empire. Whether touching on the allegorical implications of the Spider-Man/Peter Parker character symbiosis, dreaming about a shameful meeting with a Christ-like Crimethinc author, or just roaming the recession-era streets, Aaron applies everything to the economic slump and does so in prose that is tight, engaging, and downright hilarious.
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Comments & Reviews
"Aaron Lake Smith, who does the zine Big Hands, put out this one-off through Microcosm on the subject of being unemployed—but not unemployed in any glorious, noble, or artistic sense, nor in a punk life sense of the word. No, it deals with the reality of not being able to find work in a recession. It’s about the futility of throwing your resume into an internet vacuum with hundreds of others applying for the same menial job. The feeling of uselessness one gets when they are not attached to the credibility of having a job. The dwindling bank account as one looks for a job all day, then spends their evenings getting wasted and wasting time. There’s a doomsday feel to it when you read it, knowing things aren’t getting any better. Knowing how on point he is when he says, “like some sadistic game of musical chairs, when the music stopped those who were left without a seat went broke, while the rest were stuck in their chair-cages, reluctant to leave awful jobs for fear that they too might end up like the unwashed masses of shopping-cart pushers outside.” Aaron is a ninja of prose. His weapons: snark and wit. After bringing us into his world of penniless horror, he wraps it all up ingeniously with... Crimethinc. This is something that I hope will be a trend: the post-Crimethinc zine. The last portion of this zine is the writer reflecting on his younger days as a Crimethinc kid, wondering if the pseudo-revolutionary diatribes of their literature ruined him and stuck him in this hellhole of joblessness and looming homelessness. Years ago, when Crimethinc was in its heyday, it was a huge influence on a whole lot of punks, radicals, and, certainly, zine folk. Traces of their gospel could be found in four out of five zines you would pick up. Even those most critical of their manifestos were moved by its motivational, fiery language—at least a little bit more than they would ever care to admit. Some quickly dismissed it, others stuck around for a few years, but everybody eventually realized what a load of crap it was and moved on. Most of us don’t want to admit that it had any influence on us at all and will speak no more of it, embarrassed at ever being so naïve, but Aaron is not afraid to look into his past. It really works because Aaron is not criticizing it politically, but just acknowledging it as a huge influence on his youth, then putting it in context with where he’s at in life today. Aaron is truly gifted and a writer in his time."
"In this thought-provoking, fun-sized zine, Aaron Lake Smith tackles the basic shittiness of joblessness (lack of money, lowered self-esteem and even the loss of comfort upon suddenly losing your daily routine), but he also- more interestingly- explores the paralyzing effects unemployment can have on one’s ability to really do anything at all."
"Genuinely depressing ruminations on the debilitating effects of being without work. And the sad conclusion I reached after reading this: being smart and unemployed must be worse than being dumb and unemployed. Because just knowing the word "purgatorial" makes your situation become more distinctively so."
"This is one of those little pocket books that no one does better than Microcosm. You know how you sit at work and think, Man, if I didn't have to be here, I would be able to play in my band, take photos, publish my zine, maker some art or whatever you do? Will Aaron Smith finds himself unemployed and is a little pissed at himself that he doesn't do those things. He intelligently discussed how he is a little upset about how much of his self worth he places in his job. This is a great little book. It takes a detour in the last pages to talk about the hopes that people had at the time of the election of President Obama."
"One writer who has possibly taken a few cues from Mr. Cometbus is Aaron Lake Smith. His “Unemployment” was recently published on Microcosm, and is laid out to look something like a Chick tract, but reads like Holden Caulfield under the influence of Jack Black’s (the writer, not the actor) You Can’t Win, or the CrimethInc. book of anarchist essays, Days of War, Nights of Love. While those associations might conjure up images of bomb throwing radicals or wandering derelicts, reading through “Unemployment” leads me to believe that the writer is a gifted observer with a talent for understanding the absurdities of everyday life, and whatever political ties he may or may not have are completely irrelevant.
What sets Lake Smith apart from what Tobias Carroll referred to as a “post-Cometbus generation of punk rock memoirists” is his ability to balance the silly with the serious. He goes through bouts of guilt that would make any Catholic jealous, and is constantly haunted by the dark shadow of capitalism. Whether or not Aaron Lake Smith is happy watching what he refers to as “the crumpled and fading empire of America” is of no matter to me, but the fact that he documents it so well is what matters."
"Zine writer Aaron Lake-Smith (Big Hands) finds himself unemployed in this one-off issue of Unemployment. Over the course of seven chapters, Aaron contemplates the paradox of his situation (What's better? Free-time, but no money; money, but no free-time) as well as the age-old question of how to survive as an artist in a society that makes that pursuit extremely difficult. Aaron also wishes he could enjoy just one day of unemployment without the nagging dread of what the future may hold. He almost takes a job as a data entry temp but holds out unsuccessfully for more money, unwilling to rationalize working for less than he believes he's worth. Unfortunately, in this economy we're worth what someone is willing to pay us and nothing more.
Chapter Six takes a different track with a musing on the Greensboro, SC publishing collective, Crimethink, and Chapter Seven contemplates the crumbling of the American Empire. Whatever the future holds, Unemployment is a snapshot of a time that is (hopefully!) almost over for all of us."
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"Is it possible to see shades of gray without becoming one?" asks Aaron Lake Smith in this book titled Unemployment, which explores his experience of that state of being. He writes about questions for a lifestyle in which he can be unemployed, creative, and live life without fretting about finding a job every moment, rendering himself incapable of doing or enjoying those activities he dreams about when he is employed. The quote above refers to his fear that it might not be possible to find a real balance in between work, art, and enjoying life - there may be no true freedom for this fellow and many like him. His story is peppered with Black Flag, Morrissey, and Crass lyrics.
While taking the reader on a meandering tour of his jobless day, somewhere in the middle, he talks shot on CrimethInc for a page or so, "The Point of Days of War, Nights of Love wasn't to be a step-by-step guide to utopia and a better world. It was just a catalyst, food for thought to get readers to develop their own survival system - a provocative illustration of some attempts that had been made. But instead of taking the hint and developing our own generational definition of resistance, we just lazily adopted theirs." Well put. Aaron's voice and personal insights always manage to capture my attention, even when he's on a topic like this that's getting played out in every venue and medium nowadays. I googled his ass to see what else he's been up to and it looks like unemployment hasn't got him too down. He's currently at (or probably hanging out near) the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference reporting on the environmental justice activism. Keep an eye on this one. He's got his head in the game."
"You know what sucks? Not having a job. Now I could wax poetic for, like, 30 minutes tops about why unemployment sucks (before the inevitable weeping begins), but I think you should just check out this new ‘zine, Unemployment, by writer/journalist Aaron Smith. Now, being a ‘zine writer seems like a futile undertaking in an age when everyone’s endlessly droning on about the death of print, but it seems like it’s up to the indie guys to keep the literary torch burning. And burn Unemployment does, hitting naggingly close to home as Smith describes the struggle between being a true, D.I.Y. artist and sacrificing your ideals for the comforting glow of a computer screen and a steady income. Makes for perfect train reading when you’re riding endlessly around the city, pretending that you have somewhere to be."
"Punk Rock pessimism best describes Arthur contributor Aaron Lake’s Smith narrative of the anguish of being an aging, unemployed, punk. After receiving a zine written by German squatters titled “Happy Unemployed” Smith is forced to realize that the punk rock fantasy of outsmarting the work-world and eradicating deadtime do not so easily go hand in hand. Unlike the happy squatters, Smith is too old to be a crusty, too ambitious for some sort of career success, and too not-German to suckle off a welfare state.
Published by the zine world’s HarperCollins, Microcosm, Unemployment is formatted in the style of a Jack Chick tract. The story reads nothing like a classic Evangelically-polemic Jack Chick storyline until Smith turns to Crimethinc’s Days of War Nights of Love like the Good Book, and is climactically visited by its messianic author in a dream. The religious turn cements Smith’s pessimism, both for integration into capitalism and the faith that his ideals will deliver anything better.
Perhaps Unemployment’s thematically closed approach lead Smith to release it as a single issue instead of as a regular issue of Big Hands. The punk zine form reminds us of a collective project underway, while Unemployment is the isolated story of an isolated person that is lacking something far more significant than a paying job. It’s the perfect read for urbanites like myself who appreciate allusions to Black Flag and Nietzsche within pages of each other, drinking black coffee, and waxing endlessly about the ugly confines of civilization."