Archive | September, 2009

36 Down, 14 to Go: John Weatherford’s Quest for 50 Books in 52 Weeks

23 Sep

Back in May, we asked John Weatherford about the first four months of his attempt to read 50 books in a calendar year. Our last interview covered his list, his plans, and the difficult mountain of books he faced in the final two-thirds of 2009. We asked him if we could check in when September rolled around, and here we are. John answered our questions about reading during the summer, reading about food, keeping current with the bee keeping world, comparing fiction to famous painters, exploring the world, and finishing what he started.

Dove&Snake: When we talked to you in April, you were at 16 books. Your most recent blog entry shows Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s Long Way Round as number 34. Mathematically, you picked up your pace a little over the summer. Did reading over the summer feel any different than the first four months of the year?

John Weatherford: The big thing in the summer is that there are far fewer distractions than the rest of the year. TV is not really worth watching, and it is so hot outside that I don’t feel conflicted about sitting around inside the air conditioning.

D&S: You’ve read a lot about food. Why is that a subject of interest for you?

JW: I didn’t exactly grow up with good healthy eating ideals instilled in me. Lately, I have been making some changes, so I have enjoyed reading some good, well thought-out defenses for eating the foods God put on the planet for us versus the foods we cooked up in a lab.

D&S: Your blog entry from August 23 is particularly interesting. I’ve got a few questions based on that one. First, you said reading Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire was “the first time this year, possibly in [your] entire life [you] read 2 consecutive books by the same author.” Is there any particular reason you wanted to read two books in a row by Pollan?

JW: Basically, I had two books left by Pollan. After I read the first one, I really wanted to go ahead and finish.

D&S: Also, you mentioned, as a sort of disclaimer for your thoughts on that book, that you “subscribe to several seed catalogs as well as bee keeping catalogs.” How did you find out about them? What made you so interested in them that you decided you wanted them delivered to your home on a regular basis?

JW: I grew up with seed catalogs and plant and gardening books as a fixture of my surroundings. I suppose I wouldn’t feel right without flipping through this year’s catalog each February. I don’t really have a way to put the information to use, but I figure that shouldn’t stop me. The bee keeping catalogs were just a passing fancy. I went through a phase a few years ago where I read a bunch of books about bees and bee keeping. From that came a desire to keep bees someday. It probably won’t happen, but I guess I’ll keep up on the current trends just in case.

D&S: The last question from that entry pertains to the heart of your quest. You identified August as your “late summer slump.” What do you think caused that slump? Have you come out of it yet?

JW: Yes, I am out of it. I think I just got tired of reading. It was bound to happen. When you do things out of obligation they will eventually become a chore, but even that will pass.

D&S: You read two issues of McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern. In your response to McSweeney’s 14, you compared the short fiction in that volume to art you saw in museums when you were a kid in a very specific way: “I could have done it. But I didn’t.” What about the fiction in McSweeney’s left you with the feeling that you could write those same kind of stories?

JW: I really meant that as a complement more than a critique, but it might not have come off that way. I suppose that there was nothing in those stories that would have been outside of my ability to write, but I was trying to say was that even if I could have written them, I didn’t. I didn’t have the inspiration to think those thoughts, I didn’t have the dedication to see them through, I didn’t have the courage to put them down on paper, and I didn’t have the tenacity to see them through to publication. Anyone could paint a Rothko with a little practice, but would you? And would you fully commit to it even if you did paint it? Probably not.

D&S: Have you ever wanted to write a short story? What has kept you from doing so?

JW: I suppose I have, but it definitely doesn’t compel me. I’m pretty visual so maybe if it was a graphic novel or a children’s book with illustrations. I’d definitely consider writing non-fiction.

D&S: You didn’t respond in that same way to the other fiction you read over the summer (two by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and one by Chip Kidd). What was the difference between these novels and the McSweeney’s fiction?

JW: With the Kidd book, I think I felt differently because the author has such a different life experience that there is no way that I could see things from the same point of view as he has. With the Garcia Marquez, I feel like he is operating on a completely different plane that other writers so I sort of feel like nobody is going to touch that stuff. I suppose if anyone could paint a Rothko, then no one could ever have painted Guernica, except Picasso himself.

D&S: You read How to Be an Explorer of the World and indicated that some might not even think it should count in your quest for fifty because it’s a light read full of 59 challenges “designed to increase your imagination, problem solving, story telling abilities, and overall hipster appeal.” Did you act on any of those challenges? What was the result?

JW: No, but I have a few planned to conquer once the year of reading is finished.

D&S: You read a book about your own faith and a book about a different faith. What did you learn about your own worldview, spirituality, and theology as a result of digging in to not only your own beliefs, but those of others?

JW: I’d say I was confronted with the lack of dedication that is expected of me by my culture. If I were a Muslim in a nation governed by an Islamic majority there would be so many more cultural expectations placed upon me. I guess being a Christian in the United States is “easy.” I don’t really like easy. It makes me uncomfortable. The thing is that with all of my cultural freedom, I have to hold myself to a high standard, and I have to live my life to my standards whether I am being called on it or not.

D&S: What do you have next on your list?

JW: I have read two more books since then, and I am almost through a third book on adoption. I am planning on reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies soon, and possibly another McSweeney’s.

D&S: By that count, you only have fourteen left to go. Do you think you’ll be able to get to fifty books by December 31?

JW: I will do it. It probably won’t be easy with the holidays coming up, but I am going to make sure it gets done.

Advertisements

Punks + Archivalists + D&S

19 Sep

Mike Herrera of MxPx fame flew into Tucson to play a small role in Derek Griffith’s D*I*Y. He also has a new band called Tumbledown (instead of MxPx punk, think more in the honky tonk direction), and he shows up in a music video for “Break Out of History” (from Tumbledown’s eponymous first record), which is cut from clips of D*I*Y, wearing the Dove&Snake shirt he dons in the movie.

That shirt belongs to Andy Coley, an intern on the film who purchased the last L in that second run of black shirts, and rumor has it that Herrera signed the shirt after wearing it. We’re hoping to get some confirmation photos of that autograph sometime soon.

Add that to a mention in the department newsletter for the School of Information Resources and Library Sciences at the University of Arizona that came as a result of Matthew Helmke’s short story in Issue No.2 and his subsequent interview on our blog, and we’re getting some excellent publicity* in less-than-expected places. One of the main goals of D&S is to explore culture wherever there is culture to explore here in Tucson, so we’re grateful to both Derek and Matthew for helping us extend into their respective arenas.

*In vastly different circles, we’re assuming. We don’t want to stereotype either fans of country music made by punk musicians or graduate students learning about archiving information, but we believe it’s fairly safe to assume the overlap between those two populations is not large.

Derek Griffith’s Little Plastic Disk: A Filmmaker on His Film

17 Sep

We’ve shown you two scenes from Derek Griffith’s D*I*Y. Here are his words about what went on behind those clips and the rest of the film as it was being made. D*I*Y wasn’t exactly DIY. Here’s Derek’s explanation.

—————————————-

Zoom in: we reveal a high school senior holding a boom-mic above his head. Pan left: a Pima Student dims a 2,000 watt light. Tilt Down: High-top Chucks are strapped tightly to the feet of a Theater Arts student. Dolly Out: A 13-year-old actress stands next to him. Pull Focus: A 60-year-old grandfather claps the slate. More exposure on the audio guy! Bring down the levels on the 8-year-old kid sister. Elementary. Middle School. High School. College. Amateur. Professional. Retired. So what’s missing on this movie set? Answer: DIY.

There is no such thing as DIY (the acronym for “Do It Yourself”) when it comes to success in filmmaking, and the Summer of 2009 was testament to that. A quick glance around the room reveals a movie being shot about the story of a kid who goes about life doing it all alone–but that’s only through the eye of the lens. Behind that lens, however, is a High Definition camera, and behind that camera is something bigger than the movie itself: relationships. We come into focus on our HD monitor and we see many walks of life coming together with the goal of producing a 90 minute film called D*I*Y . But was that really the goal?

On the exterior, yes . In April we set forth with the concept of plowing through a no budget feature film with the idea of possibly creating something ingenious, new, and ripe. A sweet 4-3/4 inch plastic and aluminum DVD to be available on Amazon.com!

On the interior (and in retrospect) no , a shiny disc containing a simple coming-of-age teen drama was not the finite goal. A DVD is actually a tangible representation of relationships being built while on-set, while off-set, and while on the inside-out of an upside down set. If we fade into a bloody crime scene, we must fade out with a happy resolution, right? Well, that’s yet to be determined, but the set on D*I*Y was definitely that of a bloody crime scene at times.

With the chaos that ensues when your audio engineer fills the role of a lifeguard by night, balance easily falls out of whack during the course of three months. Maybe that’s what is so cool about it all. Similar to the landscaper who could double as a producer, the lifeguard could sew. Literally. He came to the rescue repeatedly, just like the piano master did when he stayed behind to wrap audio cables. People came together with swarms of talent. That’s what each and every day was like while filming this little indie flick.

When examining relationships closer, one can spot gems in a crowd. Unique gems. Like the barista who had a knack for maintaining positive moral. Or the Taekwondo teacher who whip-kicked the uninspired. Or the lab technician who could skate backward. Well, she never skated backward on the set of D*I*Y, but she definitely did a whole lot of bending over backward to keep the crew fed. The relationships built blatantly put it all into focus: that DIY is simply an excuse for failure. Do it yourself? Really?

It couldn’t be any clearer that the people and the relationships that made D*I*Y a success. A deleted scene from the movie probably summarizes it best when a crowd of teenage punks chants in unison: “Do it together! Do it together! Do it together!”

Maybe the scene was deleted because the crowd was too robotic, but the bubblegum chewer and the kid who walked through glass and the mannequin thief and the water fight kids and the lurking shadow-walkers and even the annoying little know-it-all brought to life the essence of the little plastic disc.

Extra Extra: An Interview with Matthew Helmke

14 Sep

Matthew Helmke let us publish one of his short stories in Issue No.2. He was also gracious enough to answer some question we had about Morocco, supernatural beings, people who believe in supernatural beings, setting stories down in books, and publishing those books yourself.

——————————————-

Dove&Snake: Your story in Dove&Snake Issue No.2, “A Wife from the Mountains,” is from a book you wrote called Nowhere Else to Turn. What is the basic premise of that book?

Matthew Helmke: The book retells stories of interactions that various Moroccans, who I met firsthand, have had with the supernatural. I published it as fiction solely because I added some details to certain stories to make them longer and fuller, or because I changed some details to protect the identity of the source. All of the stories were experienced either by me with a Moroccan or were told to me directly by the person claiming to experience it.

D&S: “A Wife from the Mountains” mentions something called jinn. What are jinn?

MH: In Islam, jinn are spirit beings that can be either good or bad, may fear God or serve themselves. Like men and women, they are created beings. However, as men were made from earth, jinn were made from fire or smoke, depending on who tells you the story. They will also either go to Hell or Paradise, just like humans, depending on their actions and God’s mercy on the Day of Judgment. Belief in them is pervasive in Moroccan, Arab, and all Islamic societies. They are considered common knowledge, but not talked about terribly often out of fear of reprisal from the jinn who may not want to be exposed. They are different from angels or demons, which are explicitly good or evil.

D&S: How did you first hear about jinn? When you first encountered stories like this, what was your reaction?

MH: I believe the first time I heard of them was from the story of Aladdin, which in English uses the term “genie.” There was also the tv show called I Dream of Jeannie. In those contexts, I reacted as kids usually do to stories of supernatural beings (like fairies, elves, etc.) and simply thought they were a cool addition to the mythical creature lexicon. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that not only do people believe in jinn today, but that some do so quite deeply.

D&S: What was your first encounter with a jinn story in Morocco?

MH: I honestly don’t remember the first time I heard about jinn in Morocco. It was very likely within days of my arrival, as they are mentioned in conversation regularly (both seriously and in jest). We did have a lady that came to the house once a week to help clean, and she would not put hot water down any drain in the house because she was convinced it would anger the jinn that live in the drains.

D&S: How often did you hear stories like those in your book, the supernatural told as matter-of-fact?

MH: These kinds of stories are extremely difficult for a foreigner to hear. Moroccans are generally reluctant to talk about them, either out of fear of the jinn, which all other Moroccans know about anyway, or out of fear that the foreigner will lose respect for the informant and think they are either crazy or superstitious.

D&S: If it’s difficult to hear these stories as a foreigner, how did were you able to collect so many?

MH: The first step involved learning Moroccan Arabic well enough to convince people that they could talk with me and I would comprehend them. This also meant learning a lot of cultural subtext and the meaning of many idiomatic expressions. Second, I had to convince people that they were not going to be mocked, regardless of what they told me. To do this, I would try to build bridges by discussing stories, ideas, and other things I had heard about the supernatural and clearly state that I believe the events we were discussing could happen–not necessarily that they did, but that they could.

D&S: How do you view stories like this in the context of your own spirituality and theology?

MH: I think there are several possible answers to this. First, there are times when unexplained events may have natural causes that are simply undiscovered, so I would be careful not to take every supernatural story at face value. However, there are also things that happen that cannot be explained by any known natural occurrence. What then? I think it is probable that these could have supernatural cause. I mentioned building a bridge with my Muslim friends for these discussions–this is part of the bridge. I believe the supernatural realm exists, not so much in the woo woo, X-Files sense, but in the Biblical sense. I believe angels exist, demons too. Jinn aren’t mentioned in any Christian context, but could certainly fit in as a subcategory of demon. Admitting that I don’t have all the answers and that I believe there is a God, etc., forces me to confront the possibility that there is more to this world than what may be observed by and proven with the scientific method.

D&S: Is Morocco a highly spiritual place? Do most of the people believe in the supernatural?

MH: Morocco is an Islamic country where all but 0.8% of the people are Muslim. By definition, Muslims believe in the supernatural. Morocco is also a place where Islam has been mixed with pre-existing animistic folk religion and other non-standard Islamic practices and beliefs. A belief in the supernatural is pervasive in the society, but not universal. It would be reasonable to estimate that at least 80-85% of Moroccan people believe in the spirit world and that God, angels, demons, and jinn are active.

D&S: How does that belief in the activity of God, angels, demons, and jinn, play out in the everyday lives of Moroccans?

MH: It really depends on the person. The answer would be very different if we were to discuss an urban-dwelling, university educated Moroccan scientist versus a rural, uneducated farmer. I will say that, on the average, people in Morocco are far more open to the possibility of the existence of the supernatural realm than people in America or Europe. For many, they will make a verbal assent to the existence of jinn, etc., but not give them much thought. Many others will make a point of avoiding behaviors that the culture says will offend the jinn, just to make sure they are safe. This is what the entire book is about: exploring the differing perspectives on the supernatural that exist within diverse parts of the culture of Morocco through stories told from many different perspectives.

D&S: What made you decide to set these stories down in a book? Most people would have just kept them as interesting anecdotes to bring up in conversations.

MH: Primarily, there are almost no examples in print of these sorts of anecdotes in English (there may be in French, but I didn’t find any), and I had the permission of my sources to record their stories. Second, these sorts of stories and beliefs are difficult for foreigners to learn about because of the things I mentioned earlier, but they are vital to understand if one wishes to adequately understand, communicate with, and engage the culture. So much of Moroccan culture will make more sense to people experiencing it for the first time or living in it if they have read the book or heard these sorts of stories.

D&S: Where did you look for stories like these in French?

MH: Bookstores, libraries, and online. I’m afraid that most of what I found was rather belittling in tone, and that made it less useful for my purposes. The French literature I encountered primarily took the view of “Isn’t this quaint?” and were attempts to document the beliefs of the “backward, but noble savages.” Perhaps other materials exist in French, but I didn’t have the pleasure of finding it.

D&S: Why did you self-publish the book and not try to go the traditional publishing route?

MH: I self-published the book for two reasons. First, I wanted the book to be accessible to as many students of Moroccan culture as possible and decided to license the book in a special way (using Creative Commons license) to allow people to make copies of it and share them or to make derivate works (like study guides or recordings) without fear of lawsuits (see the book’s license section for more information). Also, I didn’t feel that a major publisher would be interested in publishing a book that wasn’t likely to be a best seller even though the information was of high quality and worth publishing. However, by publishing myself and using a print on demand company, I can list the book on Amazon and make it available and easy to find for people with an interest in the topic (and I’m selling approximately one copy every two days, which is better than I anticipated).

Extra Extra: Images from Kenya

10 Sep

Now that Issue No.2 is out, we’re going to publish a few extras on the blog that relate to the content in the print issue.

Issue No.2 includes the journal entries Kaia Chesney penned while spending a couple of months in Kenya. Kaia also gave us some of the photos she took during her time in Africa.

Issue No.2 {Nobody Wants To Be A Sucker} is Ready to Read

6 Sep

Dove&Snake Issue No.2 Cover

Issue No.2 is finally available. We waited for Keegan Rider’s Whata Cafe art show on September 3 to release it because Keegan agreed to make 15 copies into special editions, and also to let me set up shop at Caffe Luce for the evening. Last night was great. We sold a few zines (some folks even showed up specifically to pick up Dove&Snake No.2), hung out with John and Andrew of Reflective Collective (and the RC wives, Emily and Sara), drank some coffee, listened to shoegaze, heard a couple of girls read poetry*, and didn’t clear out before we heard a little guitar-backed hip hop.

It was the first time we sold copies of D&S at a public event, and even folks who didn’t buy a copy saw the sign (or the shirts) or leafed through a copy of either No.1 or No.2. We’d like to thank Keegan for letting us be a part of his exhibit.

We’d also like to thank these fine contributors for letting their work be a part of Dove&Snake:

John Weatherford, card designer: I** mentioned to John that a face card design involving a dove and a snake would be great for a cover. About a week later, he emailed me the design on the front of Issue No.2. That was that. No more questions about what would be on the front of the second issue. Thanks, John, for taking a quick kernel of an idea and turning it into our first color cover.

Andrea Anduaga, snake enthusiast: The first piece in the zine is an interview I did with a former coworker of mine. She likes snakes. A lot. She even brought a couple to work one day. That was the first day I held a snake. When you hold a snake, you can feel it’s muscles flexing. Snakes feel strong. That day was also the last day that Andrea brought her snakes to work. See, many of us thought it was oh so cool to see a snake at our place of employment. However, a couple of ladies across the hall did not share our views on the experience. I heard that there was a threat of a formal complaint, and Andrea was told not to bring them back***.

That got me thinking about how often people asked me if the name of the zine, Dove&Snake, referred to good and evil. It does not, and Issue No.2 seemed like a good place to address the fact that many people think snakes=evil due to various cultural connotations, but not in the D&S context. Andrea agreed to do the interview as a person who approves of and generally enjoys snakes, and for that we thank her.

Kaia Chesney, missionary: Okay, Kaia is not always a missionary, but in the context of the journals she wrote in Kenya, he was. She spent a couple of months in Africa working in a school and seeing first hand what happens when the church looks healthy on the outside, but is dysfunctional on the inside. When you read through them, you’ll see her fall in love with the experience, discover more than she expected, and have to make difficult decisions that will effect people in that community after she leaves them. Africa is kind of the cool kid’s cause of the moment, but Kaia’s journals stay away from reveling in the idea of going far far away to help those less fortunate and instead confront the reality that help is not an easy thing to give. We’d like to thank Kaia for letting us publish the journals from a difficult time in her life.

Matthew Helmke, storyteller: Matthew lived in Morocco for seven years. While he was there, he collected accounts of the supernatural from people he met. These were not legends or myths. They were personal accounts told as truth. When he returned to the US, he compiled those accounts into a book called Nowhere Else to Turn. Then he self-published that tome.

That was Matthew’s second foray into self-publishing****, and it happened soon after he moved to Tucson and crossed paths with Dove&Snake. Issue No.2 was in the works at the time, and it fit well with the theme of suckerhood. The stories in Matthew’s book (I got a peek at the pre-publication manuscript, so I’ve read most of them already) are told from the perspective of people who believe 100% in the events they are relating, events that include buried talismans influencing soccer matches and genies that can be offended or even married. Some may label Matthew’s narrators suckers for going so far as to believe such supernatural things are true, but Matthew’s narrators may look at those people as fools who have been suckered into believing there are no supernatural forces in the world. We thank Matthew for allowing one of those narrators to tell his story in the pages of D&S.

Alisa Wilhelm, playwright: If you know Alisa, you’re probably thinking that “artist” or “graphic designer” is a much better description of what she does. However, the piece that appears in Issue No.2 is a snippet of real-world dialogue between two friends set down in dramatic form. It first appeared on Alisa’s blog (which is a wonderful little miscellany that is undergoing a transition and does not contain all her archives at the moment; we will let you know when her entries are up once more*****), and we immediately asked if it could fill a page in our second issue.

That’s right. It’s only a page long. That doesn’t stop it from being interesting and enlightening, so we’d extend our gratitude to Alisa for letting her blog entry move into print form.

You, reader: I’m not being trite here. I am not being general either. I’m actually thanking you for allowing me to publish my own work. The last piece in Issue No.2 is a short-short story that I wrote for a special edition of Issue No.1.

I know it’s my zine and all, but my goal is to function as editor and fill the pages with others’ stories and words. I’m not aiming at publishing my own work. In this case, I liked the story and thought it fit into the theme of suckerhood in a way the other pieces did not address. It’s a man reflecting back on a specific moment of being a boy and realizing how valuable that moment is to him out of all the moments of his entire adult life. He’s not being suckered into thinking it’s not important.

I do also want to thank you for reading the zine, paying attention to the blog, commenting on our Facebook page, wearing the t-shirts, writing for upcoming issues, and supporting this literary adventure. I think Issue No.2 is a step forward for D&S (not just because it’s the next issue, but in terms of momentum and progress and vision and all that idealistic kind of thought) and it’s largely because people keep supporting it. Thank you.

If you want a copy of Issue No.2, you can email us at doveandsnake@secondmi.org. We can work out the details of bringing you a copy and exchanging it for money. The Reflective Collective Editions and the Keegan Rider Editions are both $3. We also have some untouched (as of yet, but you could make them special later) editions that we’ll let go for $2. We’ll have photos of the special editions up soon, and we’ll post the items on our Etsy shop soon, as well.

*From The White Rabbit, another local zine. We’ll try and see about doing something on the blog about that project.

**That’s me (Scott Appleman), specifically. The “we” on the blog is sometimes just me, but not always. It’s always Dove&Snake, though. The “I”, however: just me.

***Nicely, but still. The ladies work in a room whose only entry points are a locked door and large window meant to facilitate communication between the ladies and those who require their services, but also to keep them separate. Those snakes were not a threat. And they weren’t poisonous, either.

****His first foray was Humor and Moroccan Culture. That book is now in the national library of Morocco, and not because Matthew gave them one, either.

*****Or you can check back periodically yourself: alisawilhelm.com/blog/