I get a sick feeling whenever I hear reports of people blindly, stupidly lashing out against any Arab they come across. The entire Arab world does not hate the United States (read this). Those people who do wouldn’t necessarily wish that thousands of people would be killed over political, economic, ideological disagreements. Do you know what Arab-Americans are? Americans. Who came here to live and work and love and have families and get to know their neighbors and interact with all of us. And even get jobs in or near the World trade Center or the Pentagon. Anger and frustration and wounded pride over all this is starting to give way to blind racism, and I hope others have the fucking decency to try and stop it, or at least keep it in check as much as possible.
A Little Plug
Eagle-eyed New Yorkers will be able to spot a picture of me on page 52 of the current issue of Time Out New York (the 1/25-2/1 issue, with the ski bunny on the cover). Nothing very glam, just an unflattering shot of me addressing the rapt crowd at the last group meeting of the Brooklyn LiveWork Coalition. It’s a great article, actually, with a broad discussion of the issues at stake with this whole crackdown on loft living here in Crooklyn.
It’s been something of a revelation for me to get so involved with this whole thing. I’ve been spending about 20 hours week (you know, during all that spare time when I’m not scoping or working full-time) donating time to the Coalition, and I even seem to have become part of the leadership. It’s a shock to me because this issue has so easily tapped into some real passions of mine, passions I never really know about. I always saw myself as very apolitical, never getting myself into much of a twist about anything. This time around I haven’t felt any doubt or any apathy. Unlike times when I was faced with gay rights issues or presidential elections or whatnot, I really feel charged about the way my neighbors and I are caught in the middle of this time of adaptation in New York. As the city government reacts to the way life in the city has adapted on its own, I’ve realized that I am actually part of a community here in a way I haven’t experienced before. I started out just making sure I wouldn’t get booted to the street, but as I’ve gotten to know my neighbors and other painters, sculptors, musicians, designers, photographers, entrepreneurs and such I’ve realized that I really give a shit about making sure that we all have a way to continue living in a way that lets us unite our work lives with our domestic lives, uniting what might otherwise be disparate parts of ourselves. Not to mention it would be damn hard to pay for both homes and studios where we could really work.
It’s a delicate balance the Coalition is after. We actually enjoy the mixed character of our neighborhoods, and we want to be able to continue working where we live. As much as we want to bring improvements to these neighborhoods, we don’t actually want to see them overdevelop in ways that make it impossible for us to stay, the way things have gone overboard in soho and Tribeca. Even though North Williamsburg has exploded in recent years, it’s still a long way off from that kind of exclusivity. I think that’s one way that living in Brooklyn may always make things a little easier for us: No matter how much things transform over here, New York’s geography will still concentrate the money and the attention in Manhattan.
We’ll see, I suppose. In the meantime, I have some more meetings to prepare for…
How much god-damned shittiness am I supposed to put up with in one month? I apologize if that’s not the most articulate, informative way to express the extreme aggravation, frustration, loneliness, disappointment, and despair that have been swirling around these last few weeks. Lots of things have sucked — family trauma, financial strains, work nonsense, regular holiday crap, and plenty of guy trouble — and now this fucking article comes along to let me know that I may be suddenly evicted at any point. A threat like this wouldn’t be welcome under the best of circumstances: It really sucks ass right now. It’s not perfect, but I really adore my bachelor pad, and I really don’t wanna get kicked out to the curb just when winter is setting in and my bank account is perpetually overdrawn as I deal with piles of various bills. I can’t even afford to live anywhere but here, much less put together the scratch to actually find a place and haul me and all my crap there.
You know, I was going to write a fun little entry about my sexy new cell phone (‘cuz I lost mine this weekend) and how size envy with electronics is all about being small instead of big and what an incredible paradigm shift that is for luxury items. Maybe I was going to gripe a little bit about how demoralizing it is when guys you really like wind up with one another instead of being interested in you, but no. Now this last straw onto the camel’s back is provoking the crying jag that’s been building up the last couple of weeks. so rather than figure out what the fuck I should do right now, I think I’ll go cry myself to sleep like some fucking baby and prepare for the humiliating ritual of tucking my poor, loser tail between my legs and asking my parents for help.
Merry Christmas kids!
I’m not participating in A Day Without Weblogs. This is not because I don’t think AIDS awareness is important, or because I think it’s a hollow gesture to remove your weblog for a day. On the contrary, I think any effort to shock people out of any complacency is vitally important. I think, though, that I would rather participate in World AIDS Day by taking a moment in this forum to make a call for continued dialogue and continued openness about the issue.
People I love have been deeply affected by AIDS and HIV. It’s touched my family and my friends, and it’s been the cause of grief, anger, and fear. The fear is the worst part, I fear, in terms of how our society on the whole deals with the presence of AIDS in our lives. When people react, ond overreact with fear, it breeds a climate that punishes the sufferers rather than battles the disease itself. I don’t want to live in a world where peope are ostracized and feared because of a health condition, especially one which is preventable and containable. I don’t want to live in a world where compassion and understanding and lucidity are shoved aside by hysteria, suspicion, intolerance, and moral indignation. screw that.
I have friends with HIV, and it doesn’t freak me out. I have a brother with HIV, and it doesn’t freak me out. I’ve even dated guys with HIV, also: sometimes I’ve known about it, and sometimes I haven’t at the time. Either way, I’ve discovered that it doesn’t freak me out as much as I once thought it would. I’m grateful to know so that I have a chance to be a voice of reason rather than fear. What I’ve discovered each time I’ve learned about it is that it doesn’t change who that person may be, or how I feel about that person. The presence of HIV in their lives and mine may sadden me or make me angry sometimes, but it’s not the carrier I mind, it’s the virus. And it’s the way people react to it.
Don’t fear HIV. Don’t fear AIDS. Learn about them. Be smart and compassionate and careful. Prevent the spread of the virus. Don’t make martyrs or victims or pariahs or villains out of the people who have it. It’s not a judgement, it’s a disease. People get it, and that’s a tragedy, but pretending the tragedy doesn’t exist in your world will never ensure that it won’t.
Always Be Prepared
As if I didn’t have enough to do already, I decided to throw together a wee little something about the whole Boy Scouts brouhaha, with a few reference materials pulled from my vast archive of fun stuff.
First, an excerpt from a Boys Scouts of America guide to physical fitness, ©1968:
Another subject about which there is much misinformation is homosexuality. This term is generally used to describe a fixed adult pattern of behavior in which an individual is sexually attracted only to members of his own sex. Many boys before they become interested in girls develop strong friendships with other boys. This is perfectly normal and will lead to many strong friendships for the rest of their lives. It does not mean they are homosexuals or are not manly or will not develop an interest on girls. As they grow and widen their circle of friends and activities, they will become attracted to the opposite sex. If a young man has any questions about this area of friendship, he should certainly consult his parents and spiritual adviser for guidance.
There’s been a lot of hullaballoo about the Supreme Court’s ruling that supports the right of the Boys scouts of America to exclude gays from the organization. Despite my inherent belief that gays should be able to do whatever the hell anyone else can do, I must admit that I’m with the Supreme Court on this one. If the Boy Scouts are willing to stand by the idea that the right to exclude homosexuals from membership is a central part of their mission and their ideological foundation, then they should have the right to do so. The flip side to this is that they have to take a situation that they would probably prefer to ignore and make it a central part of their ideological foundation.
I hope the scouts do make this a big issue, but I really hope that people have the good sense to take them to task for making exclusion — rather than acceptance — a central part of their mission. I hope this is something that forces to the scouts to reevaluate what it is they’re doing. scout literature talks a lot about upholding ethical and community standards, but the organization is acting as if those standards are static, and not subject to evolution or variation from place to place. that’s crap. I wonder if something like this happened to Jewish scouts at some point. I wonder if the scouts will change this as homophobia continues to erode in this country. I wonder if this will cause a splintering of the organization as people involved at the local level who believe in the more humanistic ideals of the organization decide to stand by the gay people they know. I wonder.
I don’t really have anything against the Boy Scouts, except for their reactionary stance on this particular issue. I was a Cub Scout for two years, and I thought it was pretty lame. But I know other guys — gay and straight alike — who had a number of good experiences with the scouts, and think they are better for having joined them. (As a matter of fact, I know guys who had a number of good sexual experiences in the Boy Scouts. Will they have to institute a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy? I wonder.) But I think that now’s the time to ask if the scouts are really doing such good work if their idea of preparing young men to be good citizens is to just out those who don’t agree with them. Or who might — heaven forbid — help them live up to part of their own Oath: “A scout is a friend to all. He is a brother to other scouts. He seeks to understand others. He respects those with ideas and customs other than his own.”
First Things First
A few months ago, when I was knee-deep in my “should I or shouldn’t I” grad school crisis, Adbusters and a few other magazines simultaneously published a reprint of First Things First, a manifesto first written by Ken Garland in 1964. First Things First was a call to designers to take responsibility for the role they played in society, and not just idly contribute to the propagation of reckless consumption. It asked designers to make a distinction between design as communication and design as persuasion, and side in favor of using their skills to improve our culture rather than drown it in a deeper sea of crap.
This made a big impact on me, since it was a clear, passionate articulation of problems I’d wrestled with for years as a designer. This was the reason I’d quit or turned down more than one job rather than produce second-rate crap just because it might sell. This was the reason that one of my professors at Pratt consistently made me furious in class for wasting our energy on a project geared toward producing modular, “sell-as-much-as-possible” crap. This was the reason that I’ve never considered working in advertising. This was also the reason I loved working for public television and teaching. I really believe in design’s ability to facilitate learning and understanding, in ways that are explicit as well as implicit. I love typography and design and photography and stuff, and I want to use them for good, not evil.
Naturally, this high-falutin’ approach regularly comes into conflict with my desire to earn a living. I once had to design a kids’ book that was little more than a perverse attempt to move product by cashing in on public-domain ideas. I still cringe when I think about the time I gave telephone software support to what is apparently a cult. It’s an ongoing battle, and one where I’m not always happy with the outcome, but I think it’s worth the effort to try and stick by the ethical approach.
Wired published a great article that hit me in the same way, even though it wasn’t about my field of expertise. Why The Future Doesn’t Need Us was an examination of where the future of robotics, nanotechnology, and genetic engineering might be taking us, and whether or not they posed more of a threat than an ultimate benefit. This wasn’t a reactionary warning from a Luddite; it was written by Bill Joy from Sun, and looked at both sides of the coin. But it made the same call to scientists and engineers that First Things First made to designers: Take responsibility for the things to which you contribute. He points out that Robert Oppenheimer and the scientists of the Manhattan Project learned this lesson later than they wished they had, and that some of today’s technologies pose even greater threats than the Bomb posed.
It wouldn’t be such a bad idea for everyone to ponder the ethics of their careers, now would it? Maybe that tickle in the back of your brain, that aspect of your job that you try not to think about, is something you should think about. Maybe it’s not such a grey area after all. Maybe it’s touch of conscience.