Jordan Karnes reads at Mondo Bummer !!

From Amy Berkowitz / Mondo Bummer:

Saturday, May 31 is the very first installment of the Amy's Kitchen Organic Reading Series!

OLIVE BLACKBURN is a dancer, writer, and communist from northern California, specifically Half Moon Bay. She is the author of Communism is up there and we are down here but it is happening now (Timeless, Infinite Light).

JORDAN KARNES is the author of It Hasn't Stopped Being California Here (Carville Annex).

KAREN PENLEY feels really at home reading at a thing that is by someone who would name their thing Mondo Bummer. She just relates.

The reading is in San Francisco, email us @ for address.

There's no doorbell, so knock and let us know if you're coming so we can look out for you!

"Doors" at 7
Reading at 8


Amy Berkowitz on Publishing Ugly Chapbooks


Why do you publish works of poetry and fiction in a disappointing way?

I started Mondo Bummer in the winter of 2009, when I was living in freezing-cold Michigan and working toward an MFA. While I was grateful for the full funding package the university provided and for the dear friends I’d made, I was feeling alienated from the poetry program. The story that best sums up my alienation takes place on our first day of workshop. Over the summer, a professor had invited students to email him with recent poetry books they liked, so that he could pick a few of them and have us read them together in workshop. I recommended CAConrad’s Deviant Propulsion, and he assigned it to the cohort.

So it’s the first day of workshop and everyone has their copy of Deviant Propulsion on the table in front of them. The professor opens up the discussion, and my cohort says: “I’m angry that I had to spend $14 on this. This isn’t poetry.” “No, it is poetry—but it’s not literature.” “It’s not poetry or literature. This is filth.” “There’s a whole poem about shit.” “The sex scenes are gratuitous.” “And they’re offensive.” “He’s just out to shock.” Flustered people blushing at the cuss words and the queer sex, flipping furiously through the book they hated so much to point out examples of this or that offense. “Here—page 7! Revolting!”

Finally the professor looks at me and says, “Amy, what did you like about the book?” And I say, “I don’t think my opinion of the book is relevant. If people didn’t like it, they didn’t like it. It’s not my job to tell people why they should like a book.”

I was shocked to find myself in such a stubbornly insular poetry program. How could people care about poetry if they weren’t interested in reading anything other than the kind of poetry they already liked to read? How could I care about poetry when I was only reading the kind of poetry that they liked to read?

As the shock wore off, it melted into low-grade anger and depression. I was tired of being asked to engage with poetry that I found inane and lifeless. And I was tired of feeling far away from poetry that mattered to me. I started Mondo Bummer because I wanted to make a space for the kind of poetry I cared about.

There were two reasons for the super-low production values. First, printing books on my printer, corner-stapling them, and folding them was easy. I didn’t have to buy special envelopes or postage; they fit in letter-size envelopes. But this wasn’t the whole reason. The other reason for the “brilliant, deadpan production values” (thanks, Robbie Dewhurst!) was that I was making a statement against pretension. Against poetry (or literature) taking itself seriously.

Another professor in my MFA program spent the majority of a class telling us that there was only one road to success as a poet: The Academy. “I challenge you,” he said to the class, “to name a single famous poet who’s not a professor.” I was too taken aback to speak, but I was heartened to hear one of my classmates say “Alice Notley” without missing a beat.

So Mondo Bummer was taking a stand against this false and dangerous belief that there was only one road to success, that a poet needed the approval of some venerated institution—a university, an established press—to be a Real Poet.

That’s why Mondo Bummer books are so ugly. Sure, you can be a Real Poet and have a couple collections published by Copper Canyon—and that’s great, they’ve put out some great books. But you know what? You can also be a Real Poet and have a shitty-looking chapbook published by some DIY press that nobody’s ever heard of.

Plus, in my fury, I simply did not have the time or the patience to fold, to sew. I wanted to print those chapbooks and get them out there. In that stifling town where CAConrad was considered a talentless pervert desperate for attention, I couldn’t run to the post office fast enough to distribute copies of his Mondo Bummer chapbook, Touch Yourself for Art.

What would it be to publish in a non-disappointing way? Will you ever do that?

I think it would be hard to publish things in a more disappointing way than I do now, so any slight improvement would push Mondo Bummer in a less disappointing direction. After publishing 41 books, I’m starting to get kind of bored with the format. And we’ve already been experimenting with less disappointing books: #35 is a gorgeous full-color broadside by Paul Ebenkamp, #36 is a multi-author chapbook that’s actually bound like a chapbook, and #39 includes ASCII art. Our current approach is about being open to any ideas an author has about how they want their book to look. What I like about the classic Bummer aesthetic, though, is that it makes people feel at ease with their newly acquired chapbooks. I like it when I hand someone a book and they say, “Oh no, I don’t want to get burger on it!” as they’re eating or “Oh no, I don’t want to fold it!” as they try to fit it in their bag, and I can say, “Come on, it’s a Mondo Bummer, it’s fine,” and they’re like, “Oh, true.” I don’t ever want to totally let go of that.

What connections do you see between baby dolphins and Mondo Bummer?

I was eating a burrito at Taqueria Vallarta the other day (after a reading at Alley Cat across the street), and I admired, as I always do, the eatery’s haphazard collection of murals. That place is full of art. On the walls, on the ceiling. Peasants, eagles, an illuminati pyramid, a guitarist who is possibly George Harrison. The tour de force is the large mural on the left wall: A painting of the Golden Gate Bridge, featuring baby dolphins gracefully jumping through the Bay and a handful of 49ers sort of hovering above the water as they throw and catch passes. It’s clear that the 49ers were an addition to the original bridge and dolphins painting. None of these murals make sense together, but on the whole, they create a rich and gently psychedelic tapestry. In a way, Mondo Bummer’s catalogue produces a similar effect. The books are so varied (conversational meditations on gender, a very strange play about a guy who gets a Q-tip stuck in his ear, poems mocking Rod McKuen that are good in spite of themselves, etc.) that together they produce kind of a cacophony. But in a good way, like the murals at Taqueria Vallarta.

What's the best things you've gotten as barter in exchange for Mondo Bummer titles?

Barter makes me so happy. I love getting surprises in the mail. When I put out Thurston Moore’s chapbook, I got a lot of noise cassettes from Europe! My favorite genre of bartered item, though, is the classic letter-size envelope full of weird shit.

I got one in 2010 in exchange for Kendra Grant Malone’s chapbook that was so perfect I preserved it almost as carefully as if it were a time capsule. The highlights include: a plastic card with an image of a hamburger and perforations so you can punch out guitar picks with images of parts of a hamburger on them, a torn piece of paper with a “failed idea for a story” about a hospital where everyone smokes hundreds of cigarettes and has to guess what's wrong with them, and a Blockbuster membership card belonging to someone named EAT, MY FUCKING ASS.

What are you wearing and how did you decide to wear it today?

I had to get dressed quickly because I was late for work. My favorite jeans are high-waisted dark-wash Urban Outfitters jeans that only cost $11 because one of the seams is weird. I’m wearing a grey t-shirt and a vintage oatmeal-colored cardigan with lace panels that my friend Esmé gave to me. I’m wearing a silver ring with 4 out of 7 tiny rhinestones missing that my friend Anne gave me because nobody bought it at the going-away garage sale she had before she moved to Brooklyn. My friend Claire gave me these faded navy blue Keds and my dad gave me these socks for Chanukah. Finally, I’m wearing a necklace my best friend from high school made. Tasha was helping clean up after Hurricane Sandy, and she was working near a glass bead factory that had been destroyed by the storm. Amidst the disaster, there were beautiful glass beads scattered on the ground. She gave me the necklace, a pink / orange / red bead on a tan string, and said, “This was the best one.”


Amy Berkowitz is the editor of Mondo Bummer Books and the author of Listen to Her Heart. She lives in San Francisco, where she recently started the Amy's Kitchen Organic Reading Series. She doubts the frozen food company will threaten legal action. 


Go Get Em Yall,

Jordan Karnes has been doing this thing for some years now where she sends an email with a a poem in it everyday during the month of April, which is poetry month. Here's the email and poem she sent today, because we love it--the poem, the email, the project overall.


Good morning everyone,


It's already the 23rd! This month has moved strangely, quickly. My computer just autocorrected that to to quirky, which isn't entirely wrong, but not really right at all, either. I am eating oatmeal with that kind of Greek yogurt that's apparently bad for the earth, I think. Also, yesterday was earth day, so that's great. Should I be capitalizing earth? Is it like how we're "supposed" to capitalize internet? 


Anyhow, here's a CAConrad poem for us all. Anyone remember his reading at David Buuk's house a few weeks ago? That was great. Remembering that, actually, just gave me the umph I need for this day, which is also great.


Go get em y'all,




Love Letter to Jim Brodey

                                                                        Dear Jim
                                                                those whose
                                                acid trips were a success
                                                only twice
                                                I've met men who
                                                are high exactly
                                                as they are sober
                                                both became my lovers

                                                both died one like
                                        you died Jim he
                                played music too
                                loud at parties to
                                gather us into a
                                single frequency feel
                                healed for the length
                                of a song

                                                nothing works forever
                                there was something in
                                the air that year Jim
                                and you put it there

                                        a rapt center in
                                           pivot looking
                                                   to face
                                                    love again
                                        learning to
                        accept what's offered
                        without guilt

                                        to be reminded
                                                of nothing
                my favorite day not dragging
                        the dead around

                                                they're looking
                                        for Lorca in the Valley
                                                    of the Fallen

                                        Franco's thugs would understand
                                "developing countries" means
                                getting them ready for
                                mining diamonds drilling oil
                                teaching them to make a
                                decent cup of coffee for
                                visiting executives

                                                if I'm not going
                                        to live like this
                                        anymore I must will
                                        every cell to
                                                        stand away

                                                the History of Madness
                                        725 pages is too much to
                                        not be normal

                                                scorn is very

                                                        I'm vegetarian unless
                                                angels are on the
                                                menu mouth watering
                                                deep fried wings
                                                shove greasy bones in
                                                their trumpets

                                        the cost of
                                                scorn is
                                                often unexpected

                                        I see my fascist
                                neighbor from downstairs
                                "Did my boyfriend and
                                I make too much
                                noise last night?"
                                his glare the
                                YES that keeps
                                me smiling

Actually People Magazine January 2011

Now we're going to post excerpts from old APQ issues here from time to time. They're from a different era, before it was a quarterly. it used to be monthly, when the rule was no design, just cut, paste, print, and send to friends). Here are some ads from the very first issue. We like to make fake websites up in our minds, and I vaguely remember the ipeasant being a chalkboard you could use to communicate, like texting, but a chalkboard. But I think you had to have an iphone to use the ipeasant. And altcupid is another fake website that's dating for people who hate to date. Just for context.  (Oh and the mattress lot is in Portland, OR, fyi.)

Carville Annex in NYC this week

The Carville Annex is celebrating the release of two books at two readings in Brooklyn on March 27 & 29.

Created from a series of writings about her life originally featured in the Carville Annex’s Actually People Quarterly, Jordan Karnes’ It Hasn’t Stopped Being California Here is full of essays that don’t always quite give off the feeling of essays. Throughout the collection, Jordan transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary, the universal into the personal—before doing the exact opposite in the next essay. This transmutation of experience provides the reader with an entry point into essays about taking care of yourself, Anne Carson, coming out to your parents, walking around Oakland, and a trio of men named John, just to describe a few. While personal in voice, It Hasn’t Stopped Being California Here is a sort of contemporary experience that will be familiar to many readers.

This Eventual Future Amazingness is a special edition of Actually People Quarterly, the first of its kind. This Inquiry is interviews and drawings from the realities and possibilities of farm and commune life. The interviews got too big for a typical issue of the Quarterly, so we made this special book. It came from the questions: why do so many of us have a farm / commune fantasy? How can we learn from the people we know about the challenges and possibilities of this life?

These books came out of the same process of asking questions, with very different results. The readers performing here--who have written for the magazine or share a process--have been invited to respond to the ideas within these projects.


Redwood Grove at SF Botanical Gardens March 15 NOON

The Carville Annex is celebrating the release of two books on Saturday March 15 at Noon in the Redwood Grove at the SF Botanical Gardens. Enter at 1199 9th ave, and use this map to navigate to the Redwood Grove. Bring a mug or cup to drink sparkling water with herbs from Little City Gardens! Bring your SF ID to get in for free, or $7 to get into the Gardens.

Readings by Jordan Karnes and Ryan Funk + more surprises!

Created from a series of writings about her life originally featured in the Carville Annex’s  Actually People Quarterly, Jordan Karnes’ It Hasn’t Stopped Being California Here is full of essays that don’t always quite give off the feeling of essays. Throughout the collection,  Jordan transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary, the universal into the personal—before doing the exact opposite in the next essay. This transmutation of experience provides the reader with an entry point into essays about taking care of yourself, Anne Carson, coming out to your parents, walking around Oakland, and a trio of men named John, just to describe a few. While personal in voice, It Hasn’t Stopped Being California Here is a sort of contemporary experience that will be familiar to many readers.
This Eventual Future Amazingness is a special edition of Actually People Quarterly, the first of its kind. This Inquiry is interviews and drawings from the realities and possibilities of farm and commune life. The interviews got too big for a typical issue of the Quarterly, so we made this special book. It came from the questions: why do so many of us have a farm / commune fantasy? How can we learn from the people we know about the challenges and possibilities of this life?

These books came out of the same process of asking questions, with very different results. The readers performing here--who have written for the magazine or share a process--have been invited to respond to the ideas within these projects.

This event is supported by Poets & Writers, Inc. through a grant it has received from The James Irving Foundation.

Jennifer Armbrust on The Feminist Future



What is feminism?

Wow, there are so many feminisms—I only feel authorized to speak about my own personal version. I am interested in feminism as a site to explore how power moves. I am most drawn to a feminism that transcends the question of "women's lib", and instead asks, "How is power distributed—globally, nationally, culturally, socially? How could it be redistributed?"

So, for example, last year I was talking with a friend and I was like, "You can't just have a 'women's movement', feminism is about engaging with racism and poverty and all these other systemic power imbalances." And said friend replied, "I think that's social justice, not feminism." It was so shocking to me because my vision of feminism was borne out of the nineties indie/punk scene and academia, both of which engaged with feminism always in-tandem with class, race, sexuality, etc.

Audre Lorde really hit the nail on the head when she wrote, "There is no thing as a single-issue movement because we do not lead single-issue lives." This couldn't be more true. Now more than ever. We're knee-deep in the internet age. We're entering a one-world epoch, where so many current global and national crises are about the letting go of the long-held illusion of separateness and "otherness". We're all in this together. There is no "them" only "us".

Unsurprisingly, this conversation was happening around the time when Lean In came out, which best I can tell (having not read it) isn't about dismantling existing power structures or even providing a useful critique of them. Rather, it seems to be a book written about a narrative of lack, specifically that women lack access to certain forms of power. And so of course, when you're looking at the world through that lens of scarcity, you're preoccupied with the question of how to get more. In this case more power, prestige, money and validation. What's invisible here are all the assumptions about our collective values. This narrative assumes (and therefore reinforces) that money equals merit, that the world is a pyramid and it's better to be on the top than the bottom, that the problem of equality is just a numbers game and that having more slots filled by women will mark some sort of cultural shift.

So, I've been wondering if maybe the whole thing is upside down and it's not about women not having enough, but rather men having too much. How about a book that explores the current (male) corporate leadership model (and American values writ large) as a failure of excess? I'm interested in what top-tier execs are missing/losing by working long hours, by prioritizing profits over people, and maintaining hierarchical workplace structures. How does this affect them psychologically, biologically, socially and in their familial relationships? I want to know about that, not about how women can slide into their desks. The statistics about how much money women make vis-a-vis men seem to be getting a lot of attention again, but what if the question was no longer, "Are women not making enough?" but, "Are men making too much?"

But anyway, back to the single-issue movement and the question of feminism being about women. Because, of course, you have to ask, who are these women you mean when you say feminism is only about women? Because if a woman who is working under very unsafe conditions at a garment factory in Bangladesh, for her feminism requires an engagement with worker's rights, environmental issues, trade agreements/international policy, American consumerism and so on. And further, if feminism is only for women's rights, what is a "woman" and what are "rights"? It might sound silly, but I'm being serious here.

The idea of imagining a global power shift around and for women automatically leaves out half of the people on the earth. Half! That's so many! How radical would it be if we developed a vision that serves everyone in becoming empowered? If you look at the word empowerment, "em" means within, to have power within. Equality is concerned with the externals of power. But empowerment requires an engagement with the self. How do we create conditions that give people a sense of personal power?  Of agency, dignity, voice and the self-esteem to make wise choices in their highest good?

Right now, I'm really interested in is what my friend Lisa calls feminine-ism. I don't mean a celebration of all things girly or a sexualization of womanhood. I mean valuing characteristics such as empathy, receptivity, nurturance, introspection and gentleness. Eastern thought has long understood "masculine" and "feminine" as principles that extend beyond "man" and "woman". Dislocating femininity from womanhood and beginning to see it as a collection of qualities deserving of reverence serves both men and women in their journey towards wholeness. Our rejection and denial of the feminine has manifested as physical and sexual violence against women, queers and others feminized subjects. It has also alienated us from each other, from the earth and from our own souls. I think that meeting shame and rejection with acceptance and embrace is a big piece of our task at hand. If I might be so bold as to say... I think the fourth wave is feminine.

What do feminists look like?

Human, generally. Though I suppose not exclusively.

How do you think feminists and free baby dolphins relate? (please see Tiny Interview 1 if you haven't already before you respond to this.)

Developing new mythologies borne of our personal truths is absolutely crucial to re-imagining our relationships with each other and the natural world. I think this was what Cixous was saying in the Laugh of the Medusa when she wrote, "Woman must write herself." All of our wisdom, power and knowledge resides within. We (humans) don't need outside validation, permission or expertise to find our truth. Our society (religion, politics, media) tells us every day that we do. This is a a lie. Our biography, our soul, provides us all the answers we seek. Our challenge is to learn how to ask the question and then receive the answer.

The baby dolphins offered a very powerful experience that contained so much truth and beauty that it will undoubtedly provide a powerful touchstone for Katherine and those who shared the magic. We each have our baby dolphins—that thing that takes you home when you are most adrift. Or, if you don't have it yet, it will surely come. The opportunity, which was so eloquently seized here, is to see these encounters for what they are—talismans on our path, helpers on our journey, reminders of our free and loving selves.


Jennifer Armbrust is an artist living and working in Portland, Oregon. She is a graduate of the Evergreen State College (B.A., Critical Theory). A former gallerist and designer, she now runs her own creative consulting studio, Armbrust & Co, where she helps people and companies tap into their passion and purpose to make meaningful work.

To find out more about the Card Carrying Feminist project, visit

(photo credit Ashley Sophia Clark)

Nancy Petrin on Zen Influence, Teenage Dialogue and the Trick of Remembering


What is Zen for you? Why do you 'do' it?

I began Zen practice pretty full on right from the beginning. My husband was diagnosed with lung cancer and died 4 months later. I was 28 and living in Spain and had been there for seven years. I moved back to my hometown of SF knowing one thing. I wanted to work outside. I took classes at City College in ornamental horticulture, that led me to growing food, that led me to an apprenticeship at Green Gulch Farm. I went there for the farming and stayed for the Zen life. I lived there for nine years. As I said in the beginning, Zen life at Green Gulch is pretty full on. The daily schedule starts and ends with meditation and all day long the residents bring the intention to practice Zen teachings to whatever is in front of them. I still try to do this, meditate first thing and bring my intention to live an awake life to each thing that arises. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail. I try to be compassionate with myself in my failings as it makes me more human with others when they fail. 

How does Zen influence the responses, attitudes, and experience of your daily life?

The trick for me is remembering.  Remembering that I am playing out some kind of story line called the karmic forces which blindly push me through life.  It might go something like this: I'm way down the road of some story in my head, then Bing! awareness that this is going on. Then breathe, pause, opening. New beginning. For example, my daughter just got a smart phone. I hate the smart phone. It takes her away from her studies, her reading time which she used to covet, plunges her into mainstream mediocre teenage dialogue that I so carefully kept her from all her life - right, this is where I go in a flash. When I am not able to catch myself, and believe me many times I am not, I go into this story of the smart phone ruining my lovely daughter and all my hard work and become a martyr, a nag, a self righteous know-it-all.

When I am able to see myself in the situation and "shine the light inward," I can engage with her in a conversation, I can play with her and joke around, I can set clear boundaries and lay down the law in a non-triggered way. I guess that is Zen influence, knowing that with a pause, just one breath, I can turn it all in another direction. We really are truly amazing beings!

I would also say that Zen teachings and practice has helped me accept my life and stop wishing for another one.  That's pretty powerful and has been a wonderful gift.  I am not saying that I am no longer lonely, don't slip into fantasy, wish I earned more money, but I don't stay there very long,  usually. "Ok, this is where I am, do I want to do something about it...or not?"

What's the connection or overlap between Zen and baby dolphins?

Joy, playfulness, ease and readiness to ride the waves, just what I find with you, APQ.  And did I mention love. It all comes down to love.

Nancy Petrin.jpg

Sarah Monteiro on "Am I A Capitalist?"

Dear Carville Annex,

Thanks for the kind words about my interview [for the forthcoming Communing / Farming Inquiry]. It's a really good thing to remember our dimensions, which is easy to forget when we believe so much in one of them.

I had this crippling disintegration of my-self this summer as I came to terms with the fact that I both need and want to earn more money. And that in order to do so, I needed to totally restructure my relationship to money itself. I had started to pick up work doing flowers for weddings and it was super odd to discover how much money people spend on flowers for weddings. The first wedding I did, I earned as much money for the event as I do in approximately three weeks of farming. It was exhilarating and disheartening at the same time. In my current flower farm, I have weddings built into the business plan. I'm depending on that work to be the financial spine of my small farm. It's an odd reality to find myself browsing trends on wedding websites. The world in disarray all around me and I'm browsing websites called: Style Me Pretty.

But, I'm trying to not judge myself so harshly. My dear friend and housemate is an herbalist and a big cheerleader for treating yourself well. She told me that earning a fair living wage is a form of self-care. I repeat that to myself when I'm being critical. And at the peak of my crisis this summer when I was standing in the back field of the farm, drinking a beer with Adam, watching the fireflies, I fretted about my new identity as a capitalist. He assured me that figuring out how to earn more than $16,000/year does not make me a capitalist. And that he doubts I will try to exploit people or resources for my own wealth. I think he is right.

I realized that I have this childlike relationship to money. When I heard that C was going to earn 50K/year teaching I thought I would never have to work again. (She thought she could buy me a farm!) When I told my folks about her new gig and impressive salary my mom looked at me oddly and said, You really think that's a lot of money don't you? I felt embarrassed. I stopped telling people how rich my friend was going to be.

The very good news is that it occurred to me that how much I need to live is achievable. I can figure out how to earn $30,000/year - that is my financial goal. For 2016. As you know, Capricorns don't like to rush their goals.

The other week I saw the front page of the sports section of the New York Times. (I'm not really in the sports loop so excuse the half-information I'm about to give, it's unreliable.) The story was about Alex Rodriguez aka A-Rod and how he has been suspended for many, many games (maybe the most ever) for being found guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs. The article had figures about his salary, which I later looked up. A-Rod earns 27,500,000/year to play baseball. This is why I have a weird perception of money. This is why I don't even really know what word comes after billion and just say things like a kajillion or a bajillion. Seriously $27,500,000 dollars every year. (That's a contract for 10 years btw). Frankly, I may not have all my politics ironed out and understood, but that is too much money for any one person to ever need. Why does A-Rod need a kijillion dollars?

Love // Sarah


Christian Nagler's Actual Syllabus

English 100-03: English Composition A

Investigation and Writing

Spring 2014

Thursday 4:15-7pm, Room 20B

Course Description:

Yes, there is usefulness in imagination, in fantasy, but why do we have to restrict its operations to an internal abstract space that might not even exist? The material of this world is the world imagining itself, and us imagining with it (in it) as we conjure it with our senses. Don’t take it for granted that we use our senses. Of course they are always functioning, but we often keep them on the first or second setting, like the settings on a blender or a fan, when in fact there are maybe four or five thousand more settings. It takes patience and a weird endurance to keep turning the settings up, and of course we don’t need to be heroic and turn it way up all the time; but we might as well see what this baby can do. Get it to setting ten or eleven every now and then. Is it true that a fan with a thousand settings is actually a helicopter? Let’s imagine we’re babies that have all language at our disposal. It takes the whole range of what exists -- in time, in scale, in composition, in feeling -- to get our senses humming, aching, and trembling. For lack of a better word let’s call a lot of what exists nature. The huge part of the world that comes into being and grows and changes without much (intentional) interference on our part. An otter goes about its business on the bank of a river, and if we come close enough it might look over, direct its face at us, or it might just slip away. My whole life is the slightest of disturbances to most of what exists (that has a face). But my whole life is never present all at once; it’s just this strange body that shows up on the bank of the river, desperate for a glimpse of an otter. I search with my face. It’s hard to tell if what has no face cares at all. Maybe caring is best done without a face. Is a mountain even a thing? Does it have discrete objecthood? I do agree with the Zen people and the poets when they say there’s no nature. The patterns are not set. They change and really can be anything. Suddenly, the whole world might not even exist at all, right? It requires a fabulous, glamorous attention. We will be the Jennifer Lawrences and Beyoncé’s and otters of attention. Is there a Beyoncé of the otter-world? Is there an otter out there singing something like “I, look so good, tonight, god damn god damn…” Actually who cares about the Beyoncé otter. Don’t get it twisted, any old otter is crown enough for me. There is no nature. But let’s be naive for a little while about nature. Let’s be foundlings in the wilderness. Babies with astonishing powers of description. All ants are going about their business at this moment, right? They're queued up all over and through the earthcrust. We cannot deny that this is the case. Ants are not babies but they are small, relatively. There’s a storm on Jupiter that’s been going for like three hundred fifty years and it’s three times the size of this whole earth. The purpose of science is to make us insane in a beautiful way. It is entirely possible to get eaten by a shark. Just chewed up in a blaze of fear, or in a movie with an ominous soundtrack. Our senses can dream us if we sign a contract with them that allows it. They need to feel like it’s legit, you know?


Heather Sullivan on "What Is A Blog?"


Recently over a tiny sip of whiskey Heather Sullivan told the Carville Annex that she needs to ‘make more blogs’ for Balanced Rock, an organization which facilitates nature experiences for humans, to remember who they are and how they are connected to and a part of nature. Obviously this led to a tiny interview.

What is a blog?  

Blog is short for web-log. I've learned by trolling the internet and by asking as many people as I can, “What is a blog?” It is a website-ish sort of thing that can be really interactive. They are really popular, it seems. Blogs can be an electronic form of journaling for some, a web-site for others. Blogs can be vehicles for sharing information, creativity, and connecting. I like all of those actions. But I prefer journaling with a pen and notebook, and I like facilitating workshops that encourage this form of reflective writing. I really like to write letters and send them in the mail if I can't talk to people face to face, and I love receiving them even more. The word ‘blog’ is quite unattractive. Not sexy. Say it slow. It is a bit like vomiting. BBBBLLLooooggg.

All this said, I am excited to undertake writing blog-posts for Balanced Rock. My aim for 2014 is to write posts that focus on technology-use and its impact on humans, fasting from technology, and the benefits of spending time in nature.

What scares you about technology?

When I received my first email account at the University of Vermont in 1992, I didn't understand it (like I didn't understand what blogs or Facebook or Instagram were). My friends, the Amstutz family, still have this quote of mine posted on their refrigerator:

What is this email thing? Who would ever want to communicate like that??? In fact, I don't think this internet thing is going to catch on.

I was obviously very wrong about the popularity of internet, email, and technology. I have tried to engage to keep up with friends, family and the world. To the surprise of many, I now have an iphone (which gave me a massive identity crisis), a computer, and have even written a few blogs (blog-posts :)). For the longest time I thought people were making spelling errors when they texted me shorthand like R U going? K? Muah. and I would painstakingly (and expensively) type out: ‘Lots of Love’ (LOL) or ‘See You Tomorrow’ (CU2mrow). My English major / journalism / editorial skills did not allow me to abbreviate in this way. It is still quite a challenge.  

I almost fell over in laughter and horror when I learned of the phone app (uggh) that allows one to see the sidewalk below to aid  in navigating while walking and texting. Really? Does this really need to exist? I am not against technology, though resistant to use it at first and often seek alternatives first.

What I feel strongest about is the need to take a break from it every once in a while (or longer) and sit in quiet amidst trees and animals, away from screens and talk face to face with other humans.

What do you love most about the nature?

When people say 'the nature', it makes me laugh and feel a little sad. When spending an unusual amount of time outside like I have had the opportunity to do, the separation between humans and anything else in nature feels exceptionally false. When we put the article ‘the’ in front of ‘nature’, it creates a separation between us and nature.  (Which is the reason I like to add 'the' before blog, internet, etc.)  

I love climbing on rocks and walking in pretty places and swimming in rivers and oceans and learning about plants and animals by observing and being with them. I love watching sunrises and sunsets and getting to know a place in each season. I love learning how landscapes shape people of the area and how the people of an area shape the landscape. I love being inspired by place to write a song or a poem or jot ideas down in my journal (to later be turned into a blog:)). I love how simple and clear everything is sitting by an alpine lake or walking a ridge line.  And I love the time I spend by myself and with friends in the mountains.  It is daily presence. I see part of my work as facilitating and inviting others to these experiences.

What are your thoughts on free baby dolphins?  

I like them better than grossly over-priced ones especially if they are free-range, non-GMO, organic (but really organic and not just labeled that way) regional, and seasonal. Seriously, I think they are cute. I just got to hang out with some near Santa Barbara while I was learning to surf a kayak. They are magical beasts. I hope I answered that question.  


pete brook on useless flair and stuff that works


1. What are you wearing and how did you decide to put it on this morning?

Blue and grey threads, mainly. Smartwool socks. Dark blue straight-leg Levi’s. Blue button down shirt underneath a grey sweater.

It’s a super safe wardrobe choice. I’m wearing it because it’s the same thing I’ve worn for the past five days. My wardrobe is limited. I only have three pairs of trousers I wear with regularity and I don’t even like two of those that much.

I wear the blue shirt because it is a dress shirt. I don’t wear cuff links with it so let the unfolded cuffs poke from the ends of my grey sweater. I’ve got long limbs so it’s nice to have a shirt whose function I can ignore and shape modify to cover my narrow wrists.

It is the shirt I got married in. I am no longer married. Many people have seen me in this shirt. I’ve worn it a lot. It has paint stains from art shows and holes from bike wrecks but I still wear it. It fits very well at the neck. The shirt is functional. It is oxford-weft and sturdy in its construction. Some people think it’s weird that I wear a shirt I got married in (whether I was still married or not). I think it’d be weirder to throw out an adequately functioning shirt.

2. What are you doing in Philadelphia next month?

I’m going to be showing many strangers lots of images and trying to convince them that they should care about how and why the images were made. I’m going further and asking how images might empower us in battling not-so-good-forces in our society.

All the images are about prisons in America. The exhibition is called Prison Obscura. One of my first tasks is to explain that images of prisons do exist and then prepare people to see them. I’ve done the leg work, so the exhibition audience just needs to show up really … with open minds. Next, I need to help people in the gallery sidestep all the cliches and stereotypes that recur in representations of prisoners that they’ve digested over their lifetimes. If I can do that then they might be ready to wonder why we lock up 2.3 million people at a cost of $75 billion per year. And get sad, angry or revved up.

If we are routinely taught that prisoners are not like us and that the justice system is neutral (i.e. unaffected by money and metes out fair punishment) then we end up saying that all those people in prison are there for good reason, that they are significantly different from us, AND that we needn’t care. That, of course, is so so wrong. Photographs are often very good at confirming viewers' bias and reinforcing consciously and unconsciously differences to other groups. In other words, sometimes photographs don’t just depict "the Other”; they can define it. I want to challenge that.

I’ve got some pretty surprising images. Some are colorful. They’re all narrative-rich. Some of them are hopeful. I don’t want to guilt-trip anyone. Oh, also I’m going to lead some workshops in prisons and ask prisoners what uses photographs have for them. I’ll hopefully learn some things about emotional landscapes, memory and share those things with a wider audience. I expect the prisoner-students I work with will have important things to say about the photograph as a material object, which is interesting given in the “free world” most of the images we exchange are bytes and pixels. But, that’s a guess at this point; I’ve gone into prison workshops before and been proven totally wrong in what I expected to hear in discussion.

Also, some prisoners are painting a mural for the gallery.

3. How does it relate to free baby dolphins?

I watched a TV program last week made by the BBC. It had dolphins of all ages in it. They found out that dolphins give bouquets of kelp as gifts and that dolphins have evolved specific hunting tactics in the world depending on the seabed, food, etc. They teach each other. The program also had the first footage of a megapod when more than 3,000 dolphins come together. Dolphins are intelligent and crave stimulation and difference. They are one of the few species that spends their time playing. There’s a type of dolphin called a Spinner and it leaps from the water and twists its body up to 7 or 8 times before hitting the water. Brill.

The program was marketed as one with wicked footage made by cameras disguised as other sea animals (squid, tuna, turtle), but it was a bit of a gimmick — too much time was spend filming the filming; the footage that the “spy cams” got was never as good as just traditional stuff from shore or boat; and it detracted from what were some great stories.

Dolphins have to play! They get depressed if they don’t. That’s the message not the cameras. In Prison Obscura I am saying that prisons are bad; they’re abusive, expensive, foolhardy, ineffective and we need to rethink them. That is the story. The photographs are an aid that let us see (and hear) the message. This is not an art show (I include anonymous images aplenty) and I don’t care about beauty. I think the show challenges the so-called prestige of the white cube gallery and I hope I succeed in demanding different things of the audience. The photography world can be precious sometimes and it can be defensive too. Prisons are only problematic if you’re invested in the unequal society that creates them to such a degree that you feel you’ve got something to lose. If that’s the case, then you got a problem.

Baby dolphins should be where we are heading. We should all want a world in which we can all just play. Unfortunately, power, greed, misunderstanding and hate make crap things like prisons persist.


Alexis Petty On How To Design a Magazine Cover By Taking a Walk


1. Describe how you made the cover of the current Actually People Quarterly.


- Realize you are in Park City with your coworkers, forgot you had to make the APQ Winter cover and you have no art supplies.

- Look next to you and see a cardboard box.

- Search for scissors and find them easily due to Kim's (Fontaines' mom) super good home stocking/organization skills.

- Rip open the box and cut out the letters: E-S-C-A-P-E.

- Look around the house for places to put the E-S-C-A-P-E pieces to be photographed.

- Decide this doesn't feel quite right.

- Suggest a walk.

- Put the E-S-C-A-P-E letters in your pocket and put on your shoes.

- Outside look around and feel excited about the cover and the possibilities: snow=fields of white=negative space=plain paper=a good thing.

- Find a suitable location, arrange the E-S-C-A-P-E letters, take some photographs from different angles.

- Take some pictures of the Fontaines balancing on a rusted pipe looking sporty. Talk about the shoes each of you are wearing that belong to Kim and how you feel like different people in shoes that aren't yours.

- Follow as the Fontaines continue to walk and find another spot to place the letters.

-See an ideal location, this time with more snow (more snow= more white space=more paper=less of a border from the print shop because they can't print full bleed).

- Fall through some loose snow and into some mud. Feel bad about making Kim's Nikes dirty.

- Look back to the ideal spot, bend down and lean forward to place the letters, then take some photos.

- Try to walk through as much clean snow as possible to clean the mud from the soles of Kim's Nikes.


- Plug your iPhone into your computer and download photos to iPhoto.

- Choose two of your favorite photos and print them.

- Bring them to the Fontaines' house so they can make you dinner while you make the cover.

- Cut out A-C-T-U-A-L-L-Y P-E-O-P-L-E from one of the photos.

- Place the letters on the the print of the other photo.

- Feel happy about that place where the A and the two E's blend into the black of the foliage in the background image.

- Write WINTER 2013 on the bottom of the cover.

- Turn on the overhead light and take photos.

- Email yourself the picture that you like.

- Turn the photo black and white with photoshop and increase the contrast; play with the brightness.

- Decide you don't like the placement of the WINTER 2013 type and cut and paste it to the back of the cover, inverting the image so that it becomes a black background with white letters.

- Try to see as if you are looking at it for the first time.

- Email it to the Fontaines.

2. Describe your decision-making, how you prioritized one thing over another.

The whole process is a series of quick decisions responding to a ever changing environments which get more and more specific; macro to micro; the location of Park City Utah, inside or outside, knowledge of printing processes, the lack of materials, textures present, composition, balance, and then the computer work: contrast and brightness, composition and balance and fine tuning any typography.

3. How do you decide when something is finished?

If you've followed this process of not over-thinking things but making sure there is balance along the way you end up with what you end up with and there are no more decisions to be made.

Katherine Fontaine On Free Baby Dolphins


Describe your dolphin experiences.

In February 2011 I was epically heartbroken and wasn't breathing much. I went to visit a person who is one of the soul-mate-baby dolphin-loves-of-my-life. She took me paddle boarding out in the ocean in Malibu. We were in bathing suits in February because that is life in LA. The water was smooth, we were far enough from shore to feel remote, and a group of dolphins started swimming near us. Some baby dolphins were present. They were diving under our boards and on all sides of us. It was one of the few moments I could breathe that year.

Until a month ago, that was the place I went to in my mind to remind myself to breathe.

A month ago I was in the cold ocean a few blocks from my house. It was a magical day where the waves were tiny and the water was smooth. Not many people were out and it was sunny enough to stay warm. I could sit on a board and not even try. I was by myself and eight dolphins came up to me. There were three babies who appeared to be learning to jump out of the water. The big dolphins would leap out of the water so gracefully and the babies would jump straight up and fall back down onto the water. Then the big dolphins would just float for a bit until the baby ones caught up to them and then they would swim together right next to each other touching. One dolphin came out of the water and breathed/snorted water on to my board. That's how close. I was weeping.

When you say the phrase 'free baby dolphins', what do you mean?

I am picturing the scenes I described above when I say that. And dolphins just existing out there as their magical selves. In my mind they are always strong and warm and cozy and exploring. Dolphins are unique in that they choose to breathe. It is a choice for them. They can choose to stop breathing at any time and stop living. (That's what happened to Flipper because he was depressed. See the movie The Cove from 2009.) This is miraculous to me. I wonder if I would have chosen to stop breathing if I could have that easily. The point is dolphins are still breathing. And living in the ocean. And learning to jump. And surfing alongside humans on big floaty boards. Baby dolphins are obviously cute too, because they are so tiny, so that's part of it. But mostly it is about choosing to breathe and knowing I don't know very much and remembering that there are oceans to jump around in. These things feel important to remember because I also remember that prisons exist and corporations and capitalism and drones and people making money off of people being sick. If we don't also remember baby dolphins exist would we all choose to stop breathing? Remembering baby dolphins or being a baby dolphin is the same as staying resilient enough and creative enough to make/be the opposite of prisons.

Describe what you imagine it would feel like to be a free baby dolphin.

I imagine baby dolphins see the ocean in all its magic. They still have faith in and inherently are all the possibility in the world. Which is what I am trying to remember/reclaim: hope and possibility.

Free baby dolphins are the opposite of a coworker telling me ‘oriental languages’ are ugly, they are the opposite of solitary confinement cells, they are the opposite of sending our trash to India, they are the opposite of Michigan's new "rape insurance" law, they are the opposite of FOX news commentator Megyn Kelly clarifying to kids that Santa is white. Those little dolphins just keep on choosing to breathe out there.

P.S. Also, sometimes they make friends with Sperm Whales.