Thursday, December 02, 2010

Permanent Autonomous Zone: A conversation with zine writers Erick Lyle and Jeff Miller

by Matt Dineen

What if our lives were filled with moments of liberation from the everyday? Is it possible to carve out spaces that challenge the dominant logic of the market, where we can pursue meaningful work and actualize our dreams? This most daunting task must begin with conversations between co-conspirators.

At the end of this past summer, I had the pleasure of sharing such a conversation with two writers who were on a tour together with their recently-published books. Erick Lyle and Jeff Miller both come out of the underground zine community and had just released anthologies of their past work, Lyle’s SCAM and Miller’s Ghost Pine. The morning after their reading at the Wooden Shoe anarchist bookstore in Philadelphia, I escaped my stifling wage job—still on the clock—to interview them in a park in West Philly.

Do you guys want to start by talking about the tour you’re on? You did an event here in Philly last night. You’re heading to Baltimore tonight. Can you talk about the idea behind the tour and also your books that have come out recently?Jeff Miller: Originally, the tour was my idea. I’ve been doing a lot of promotional events for the book in Canada and I kind of wanted to break out a little bit. I also feel like there’s not enough cross-border, cross-pollination of zines. Erick came up to Canada in 2008 and we did a couple shows and that went really well. I just thought it would be nice to meet some people in the States, try to sell some books, tell some stories, and travel around a little bit.

Erick Lyle: Yeah, it’s neighborly to get together like this—fostering international camaraderie. Jeff’s anthology came out pretty much the same time as mine. We’ve been pen pals for almost 10 years, so the timing was pretty good. I probably wouldn’t have gone on this trip, honestly, but since Jeff was gonna do it—it just seemed like a good idea. Like, “Oh that would be fun to team up on this.” And the timing was great because I have the SCAM anthology out now as well.

I think what’s cool about this tour is that we’ve read with a lot of different folks, and it’s been all over the map. Like in New York we read with Cristy Road and Mike Taylor who have made zines for years, but also with this guy Colin who does a blog about how he’s gonna eat pizza in every pizzeria in New York City. Or with this woman Eleanor Whitney who writes about art and design, and also food. We are reading with China Martins tonight who has done a zine for years about being a mom. So I think what pulls it all together, what it all has in common, is that it is the underground press; it is indie press. And we’re reading in indie stores, and that this is about supporting underground and independent alternatives. That it’s a vital thing to do, and that there is a community that exists outside of the mainstream that’s trying to continue this tradition of independent stores.

So like last night, we read here in Philly at the Wooden Shoe which is a place that’s been carrying my zine for like 20 years. They’ve got a great new space. It’s better than ever, so it’s nice to see that. Just trying to be a part of that all the time is really important to me. We’re going to Red Emma’s in Baltimore which is a worker-owned place. So that’s pretty cool.

And it’s interesting because Jeff works at a bookstore in Canada. I have worked at a bookstore before, and I’ve seen the corporate tour where the author comes and there’s 2 people. And our shows have been pretty packed, I would say. There is a vitality in the independent scene. It is a real deal. So it’s cool to see that. We’ve put a lot of work into this over the years and work’s coming back to us too. We’re enriching it together.

JM: I feel like one of the best things about being independent is that you’re resourceful enough and economic enough to get around and there’s a community of people that will help you get around and come out and support. And yeah, it feels really good to know that more people came out last night at the Wooden Shoe than come out when we do an event at the kind of corporate bookstore where I work in Canada. There, some best-selling author will read and there’s like 3 people, 4 people. So, like Erick was saying, it is a real demonstration of independent community, and not necessarily just a zine community. I think we’re really blessed to have a lot of overlap with music communities and activist scenes. People love to come out and hear stories. Our lives are so under-represented by current media and current literature that when independent voices come along, people respond strongly and it’s really amazing.

Well Jeff, you mentioned that you’ll be going back to Montreal to work at this bookstore. I was wondering if you could both talk about life after this tour in terms of how you’re supporting yourselves while continuing to create your art and everything?

Well, I recently moved to New York City—I guess it’s been about a year—and, theoretically, it’s the most expensive city in the entire country. Although I moved from San Francisco and I feel that San Francisco is even more expensive in a certain way. So, it’s a hustle. But I don’t know, for me, it’s a lot of tried and true methods; like I steal all my groceries. New York is full of plentiful, dumpstered food. I was just talking about this with a friend at this cafe here. He was like, “Yeah man, last time I was in New York I dumpstered a bike and a bag of weed.” [Laughs] People are so rich they’re like, “I got a bike at home. I’m just gonna throw this one away. I don’t feel like riding it today.” [Laughs] So there’s plenty of excess, and that’s what we’ve been living off all these years. There’s plenty of copy scams to get the zines printed. We go on tour and sell the zines. So that’s a profit. But I don’t know. It’s the same old thing: scraping by, selling writing here and there.

The stuff that’s in this new issue of SCAM was originally freelance journalism that was printed in a newspaper and I wanted to re-present it to the punk scene. It was in the San Francisco Bay Guardian so I knew people weren’t gonna know about it. The usual SCAM readers weren’t gonna see that so I wanted to get it out to the bigger punk scene.

But it’s the same old scam, basically. Making it happen in any way. I just live in such a way that my priority is time, more than money. And that’s always been what SCAM magazine is about to me: the idea that you’re taking your life back, to devote it to the things that you want to do. That’s its own kind of work but it feels meaningful to me. I basically just spend all my time writing and doing things as much as I can for the creative stuff I want to do. And I’m always broke because of it, but I feel pretty good about it.

Oh also, the government of Canada pays me to not write zines. [Laughs]

JM: I don’t understand. [Laughs] Yeah, as far as money goes, it’s always been a struggle. But I feel like when you start monetizing the things that you care about, that’s when everything goes wrong, basically. If I were to say, “I’m gonna put, like, 50 hours into this zine and after I scam the copies I better make 10 dollars an hour.” If that’s your goal then you’re kind of doomed from the start. It’s just not gonna work out for you. So, I don’t know. It’s like Erick was saying, just living cheap and trying to keep as much time free as possible. I have a bunch of friends who are writers in Montreal and some of them have tried to find jobs where they can make enough money so that in the summer they have time to write or whatever. But I’ve always felt like that’s sort of a bad idea. The key, really, is to find a way to live on nothing. It gives you endurance as a writer if you’re scraping by somehow.

But yeah, in the 13 years of doing Ghost Pine it hasn’t been too much of a struggle. When you decide you want to do something you just have to fuckin’ do it and make it happen, despite all the obstacles that get thrown in your path. And maybe now it’s a lot easier just because I know the ins and outs of it through trial and error. And I’m more confident in myself, knowing that I can do it, pull it off and get better. So my advice would be just to accept being poor, strive on, and make whatever you need to make...

The remainder of this conversation is published on Toward Freedom.

Matt Dineen lives and conspires in Philadelphia where he is part of the Wooden Shoe collective. He is also a publicist for radical activists and artists with Aid & Abet booking. You can write to him at: and see things that he’s written and collected at:

For more information about Erick Lyle and SCAM check out:
For more information about Jeff Miller and Ghost Pine check out:

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Big Life Challenges Facing the 20-Something Generation

People in their 20s are taking longer to start careers and get married. What's going on?

By Aliza Bartfield

People in their 20s are taking a perplexingly long time to grow up these days -- at least that's the story we're hearing in the media. According to this narrative, young people are stuck in a phase of arrested development, moving in with their parents more often and committing to jobs and marriages later. Most recently, the notion that young people refuse to grow up is the premise for a widely discussed New York Times magazine cover story, “What Is It About 20-Somethings?”

The title alone is enough to put a 20-something-year-old on the defensive. In the piece, "growing up" is defined by five goals: finishing school, leaving home, financial independence, getting married and having kids. Apparently, we're taking much longer than the previous generation to fulfill these goals, and therefore are failing to enter true adulthood.

While author Robin Marantz Henig concedes in the piece that these milestones can be fulfilled out of order and some never fulfilled at all, she nevertheless insists that 20-somethings are taking too long to grow up. We are “slouching toward adulthood at an uneven pace,” she claims, and this seems to be cause for concern.

The article explores a theory put forth by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a psychology professor who believes that those of us in our 20s are forming a new stage of life. He chooses the term “Emerging Adulthood” for the fickle time between student life and independent adulthood. It’s a unique stage, according to Arnett, that requires careful examination. For 10 years, he has been advocating for Emerging Adulthood to be recognized as an official developmental stage.

Henig explains this would necessitate new social accommodations; attitude shifts and programs to prevent what might otherwise devolve into years of aimless meandering. Proposed solutions include expanding post-graduate options like the Peace Corps or City Year. (Although a year or two of service work may leave one rich in experience, the meager education award of under $6,000 is barely enough to pay for one semester of college. This doesn’t seem like an optimal step toward financial freedom in our 20s.)

The classification of these years as a stage suggests we are less evolved on an emotional level, and maybe even in our mental abilities, than those who are older or went through this time in prior generations. Even if that's true, doesn’t everyone progress emotionally over time? If, instead, we see the odd behavior young people exhibit as the result of economic, cultural and social changes we may have a better shot at some pragmatic solutions.
Read the rest of the article on

Monday, August 23, 2010

Looking Back on Capitalism, in Haiku

By Matt Dineen

In the recent past
before the revolution
everyone worked.

Things were different
work was separate from meaning
work was meaningless.

Back then, some were rich
the rest were poor or in debt
work was survival.

Time was limited
true passions were not valued
they were just hobbies.

Greed and boredom ruled
imaginations suppressed
by clocks and bosses.

One year all that changed
seeds were planted all over
a new world was born.

We refused to work
wild dreams were cultivated
passions were realized.

Money disappeared
and life had meaning again
work was redefined.

We wake up each day
grateful of this great struggle
and what we now have.
Submitted to a collection, a "large-scale reimagining," proposed by Cleveland-based writer and activist Kate Sopko who writes, "We’re in new times now, and new times call for new myths that answer to the times, making sense of the world as we know it. So, I want to start asking people a question: what could you use a myth to explain for you?" Read more on her blog: Stewards of the Lost Lands.

Contact Matt Dineen at:

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Reorganizing the Workplace: Call for Submissions

Reposted from Briarpatch:

Queries due July 2, 2010
How can we reorganize our work - the means by which we sustain ourselves - to be more fulfilling, empowering and socially beneficial? What would a workplace that reflected our deepest values actually look like?
Briarpatch’s annual labour issue, “Reorganizing the Workplace” (Nov/Dec 2010), will explore alternative models for structuring workplaces. This theme is timely indeed, as Briarpatch itself is presently undergoing a shift to participatory economics and balanced job complexes in an effort to organize our workplace in a way that reflects our values of solidarity, self-management, cooperation and equality.
Especially at a time of economic uncertainty and ecological catastrophe, how are people within and beyond the labour movement responding in creative ways that change not just the balance of power in the workplace, but the nature of work itself?
If you’ve got something to contribute to this discussion, then we want to hear from you. We are looking for articles, essays, investigative reportage, news briefs, project profiles, interviews with luminary thinkers, reviews, poetry, humour, artwork & photography that shed light on issues related to workplace organization and activism. We are particularly interested in contributions informed by an anti-capitalist and anti-oppression analysis of labour and the workplace.
We also invite unions and other organizations who could use this issue of Briarpatch as an organizing/educational tool to get in touch to discuss opportunities for shared distribution, bulk issue orders and possible in-kind exchanges.
Possible topics include (but are no means limited to):
  • Case studies or profiles of alternative models for workplace organization, either locally or internationally;
  • Creative responses to the recession, both within and outside the organized labour movement;
  • Experiments in extricating ourselves from the capitalist economy through skill-sharing, mutual aid, bartering, local currencies, etc.;
  • The non-profit industrial complex: the role of non-profits and service provision in social movements and the politics of working in these sectors;
  • Organizing among migrant and undocumented workers, exclusion of migrant workers from Canadian labour laws and barriers to unionization;
  • The crisis of child care in Canada;
  • Challenges facing the labour movement, efforts to reinvigorate traditional approaches to labour organizing;
  • The role of the labour movement in fostering international solidarity;
  • Reviews of relevant books that tackle these or other related issues.
Queries are due July 2. If your query is accepted, first drafts are due August 6. Your query should outline what ground your contribution will cover, give an estimated word count, and indicate your relevant experience or background in writing about the issue. If you haven’t written for Briarpatch before, please provide a brief writing sample.
Please review our submission guidelines before submitting. Send your queries/submissions to editor AT briarpatchmagazine D0T com.
We reserve the right to edit your work (with your active involvement), and cannot guarantee publication.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Seeds of the New

A talk by Nowtopia author Chris Carlsson

"My whole work life, for years, was always characterized by the fact that I was doing something for money but I wasn't
that--I was something else, usually quite a few other things. And I think that's a pretty characteristic experience for a lot of people in the last 20 to the 30 years. It's that our lives are split, in a really profound way, between how we survive in a capitalist world and what we do to feel fully engaged as human beings."
Listen HERE for a recording of a presentation by Chris Carlsson from Setember 1st, 2006, at Bluestockings in New York. Chris is discussing the book he was writing at the time, tentatively titled "The Seeds of the New," which was released by AK Press under the title "Nowtopia" in 2008. The talk was recorded by Stevphen Shukaitis.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Call for Submissions from the UK

Class (still) Matters*
This is an informal call-out for contributions for a zine/pamphlet I am putting together on class, it feels overdue, but also in good time, what with the recession and ever widening socio-economic inequality in the UK (and elsewhere); the use of class by political parties recently to try and win support in the forthcoming election; class stereotypes around how particular ‘classes’ feel about immigration; climate change policies that tend to involve raising prices, which in affect means that working class/poor people are asked to contribute and sacrifice more, but arguably benefit least, but also I am interested in less conventional explorations of class – class as a process, feeling etc.
I am particularly interested in the loose themes outlined below, but I want to know what class means and feels like for you, in your words, pictures or however you express yourself.
-the relationship between economic and emotional scarcity
-notions of the ‘poverty mentality’
-intersections of class, race, gender, sexuality, nationality and so on, and experiences of inhabiting multiple marginalities
-being working class and in academia
-the need to prove oneself
-creativity and class/art and survival – i.e. staying in touch with your creativity when meeting basic needs are a struggle.
-class and the body -how class is worn/felt/affects how you use space.
-class and trauma – I am especially interested in notions of bodily remberance (the relationship between memories and flesh), how trauma lives on the skin and so on
-how you understand class/your class? i.e. is class a position or process, how does education effect ones class location etc?
As you can see this is all very rough, but meant merely as an impression of intentions and suggestions. If you are interested in contributing please contact me at: preferably by mid/late March to express interest or send contributions. In order to include as many contributions as possible I ask that contributions don’t exceed 4 pages. Thanks!
* a nod to the wonderful Bell Hooks and her book Class Matters.

Reposted from Enough: The Personal Politics of Resisting Capitalism