The Operating System

Editorial:: THE OPERATING SYSTEM IS A VERB : Evolve Your Expectations

Intentions and Aspirations:

If you’ve been hanging out by our lockers for a while you already know some of the language by which we define The Operating System. We’ve referred to this… amorphous experiment in co-creation, publication, and community building… as:

soil out of which projects and persons might grow and thrive, as a platform to support creative persons and endeavors, and, in essence, that

“to understand THE OPERATING SYSTEM as merely a magazine would hurt its feelings. The Operating System is a strategy, a process, a community, a creative approach to living life and leaving a trail behind you”

As one often does when mindfully considering something in retrospect, poetry editor Ben Wiessner recently explained that this organization is “something we started to fill a void,” to establish a space both in our physical lives and in our exhausted spirits that made us feel GOOD and EXCITED and HOPEFUL and INSPIRED by the awesome and crazy act of MAKING THINGS to which we were so committed.

Ben, (founding co-editor) Doug Wright, and I all resonated with a need to move towards cooperation and away from competition as the dominant paradigm controlling our choices around art-making.  This required, to a certain extent, the removal of false or limiting divisions/labels, and in turn the encouraging of sharing as well as the offering of opportunities for interdisciplinary play/discovery/freedom.

But first, we put our own expectations of ourselves and others on the line:

What was a “writer”? a “poet”? an “artist”? And what, in goodness name, was a “magazine”?

And furthermore: When did the things that we loved and cherished begin to make us so frustrated and depressed? Why did submitting work to magazines and competitions make so many people feel bad about themselves and their work?  Why had so many of our friends given up their creative talents or abandoned their passions? Why had we almost given up so many times?

And, dammit, what could we do to change all this?

Well, first off, we needed to address value, ownership, titles, and our relationship to “survival.”

For some time now, I’ve been observing in my self and other creative people the blocks, fears, strategic lacunae, obstacles, learned behaviors and prevailing attitudes that cause us to stand in our own way.

We exhibit, across disciplines and mediums, common frustrations. Even once we’ve achieved “success,” we fear the worst – loss of value or recognition, loss of income or other financial support, the fickle tides of popularity. Dovetailing with this are the pressures (both internal and societal) to continue to produce work similar to that which has been popular or successful — and the potential critical backlash that can ensue when we follow our creative impulses across media boundaries or engage in collaborations that are unexpected and/or difficult to categorize or digest.

We engage in this backlash, ourselves, at times, when our grasp on our own potential becomes so tenuous that we reach for its placebo in the guise of taking down others — this recent piece on Beck’s decision to produce his next album as sheet music is a good example. But why?

When expectation and fear of judgement fall away (as I like to think they do in our our collaborative content salons), creators from every discipline happily play together with a variety of tools with which they may have limited to no experience, mastery, or familiarity. Encouraged, we naturally engage with and support each other, discovering the possibilities of personal and collaborative engagement with new materials and other creators.

I spent last night at a panel where Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics, and anthropologist David Graeber, author of Debt, the First 5,000 Years, discussed the future of “Radical Economics,” a topic near and dear to my heart – and central to this conversation.

Ultimately, we’re only going to be able to escape from our current perceptual prisons if we alter our relationship to money/value/currency … and also understand its centrality in our self-esteem: as the origin of our own e-valuation of our “worth.”

We suffer from a perceived “morality of debt” – where we consider ourselves obligated to work. We carry guilt and obligation to our families, to society, to a more untethered concept of “responsibility,” on the one hand. As artists and creative people, though, we also tend to hold a self-defeating candle for the romanticism of the struggling, “starving,” artist. This backwards pride with which we are all too familiar often stakes a notion of hard won battles, a rejection of creature comforts, and a skepticism of “selling out” as in opposition to financial security/abundance.

At times, an ugly haughtiness around “commitment” to artistic endeavor emerges, which looks down its nose at those who go a less extreme road at the, so it’s said, “cost of their art.” But, ultimately, we’re just hurting ourselves with these attitudes, and they don’t originate in creative people — but in a highly regulated, conditioned culture of fear that is necessary for the maintenance of the status quo.

What, oh what, would happen if our children believed they could make a living wage doing what they loved? Who would take the terrible jobs and replicate the dominant paradigm and behave ever so well and obediently? …exactly.

In a recent article for the Guardian, I was happy to read that author China Miéville had dismissed proposed anti-piracy measures for literature, referring to these as “disingenuous, hypocritical, ineffectual” and “artistically philistine”, and suggesting that the time was nigh for “guerilla editing,” wherein remixed books would be readily available. He did, of course, also mention the issue of monetization for authors — given that in our current conditions, such creative freedom would spell financial doom… at least for the ones of us actually able to squeeze a living wage out of this backwards system.

Which we never will, if we keep looking up for sustenance. Instead, we have to find that value here, and grow and replicate it OURSELVES.

How, Exactly?

As a start, by understanding the act of publication as that by which an individual or collective develops and sustains a stream of auto-documentation as a holder (and exchangeable medium of) value. And by strategizing the wielding of creative agency around the act of storytelling.

In the original establishment of this organization not only as a publication but as a strategic platform for collaboration, experimentation, dissemination, mindful process evaluation, dialogue, et cetera, and in the encouragement of others to use it to create value for themselves, the conversation I have most frequently is one concerning our relationship to what “writing” or “publishing” is, as well as whether or not the creative person in question considers themselves a “writer” or believes they “can write.”

The “shoulds” — that is, the expectations of the self in the production of text — differ for self-designated “writers,” or “poets,” and creators who primarily work in other mediums – both are trapped, albeit in different ways. The first set believes they need to make something of a certain caliber in keeping with what they conceive of as their “product,” while the second doesn’t feel that they can create value via language. I beg to differ, in both cases.

As I do in my classroom, I begin with the suggestion that contributors just document what they would say if they were just “talking” to me, on paper – what they would say if we were g-chatting online about the topic, for instance.

In particular where the question of publication is concerned, be it on or off line, there is a need to reframe the act of (non-creative, by which I mean intentionally fictional or poetic etc) “writing” (and all forms of documentation) as storytelling, an essential communication tool for ALL people in the reclaiming of agency, as opposed to something perceived as belonging strictly to (now largely antiquated) disciplinary or professional endeavors, or to the agendas of their associated institutions.

Whether or not you think of yourself as a “writer,” your work/life/process has value – something that magazines have created their value around: the gathering and dissemination of stories, of lives. Writing, ultimately, isn’t something that “writers do” and publishing isn’t a “tool for writers” – both of these are CURRENCY. They are a platform via which each story begins to self-actualize in a form that can be valuated via the documentation, organization, distribution – and appreciation – of each story.

What we seek to achieve in our community work here is empowerment – ultimately, via assisting creative peoplein the discovery of and belief in their creative agency: a feeling that one wields unique and operable value, unlike that of any other, in their own creative production… and that, ultimately, this is enough. More than enough – that this work is essential and necessary, that it provides the world and others with gifts worthy of abundant returns.

In plain English, this means: you don’t need to work in a restaurant or at a desk job unless you want to.

Did I lose you? Going back to the story of the “story”: not only is there a need to reframe writing and understand our leverageable value as creative agents, there’s a movement that’s spreading like wildfire in the social media, entertainment, and business communities – but ironically, it is one in which most “writers” are not engaged.

But people very much like us ARE – I see these people as my other tribe, and here I begin to work to build a bridge.

Current Projects and Future Collaborations:

In field notes, we’ve encouraged community members to mindfully consider their own practices, using participant observation strategies from Anthropology to begin to write as documentation, and realize the value in these words as equal to the “work” we privilege when we focus on a preconceived “product.”

Our field notes series expands tomorrow and in the coming weeks to include epistolaries from new community members who don’t self-define along traditional “creative” lines – in an intentional move to expand our understanding of the term to include those whose choices and actions expand and alter our paradigms. These creators buck the norm using a wide range of tools, materials, and strategies that may or may not be “artistic” – but ultimately, each relies on the same tools of word, image, and sound to share their stories and draw value from them.

We’ll begin by introducing you to Lester Feder and Eric Harberson, two gay professionals from Washington DC who packed up their house, quit their jobs, and left to explore the world, asking questions important to their life and relationship — the viability of their leap depends, and trusts, on the belief that others will value this journey into their own, and human, experience. That both in the topic based conversations as well as the documentation of their journey and its ramifications, there is operable information that others can use and replicate in their own lives.

In fact you might say, in a way, that their projects, After Marriage and (un)Settling Down are lifehacks … and that, perhaps, all our fieldnotes are.

And here is where we can learn from each other the most:

I’d like to posit that there’s a rich tradition of “lifehacking” that has always been synonymous with the creative process, familiar to artists, poets, musicians, dancers, and so forth – even if the term was never used.

A “lifehack” is usually defined as something that we can do to change our life to increase productivity or encourage transformation, to overcome blocks or obstacles — but its origins, in the programming community at MIT in the 50’s and 60’s, was not purely productivity based, but rather the MIT group defined a hack as “a project undertaken or a product built to fulfill some constructive goal, but also with some wild pleasure taken in mere involvement.”

Perhaps, then, we can understand creative production and interpretation as the original “hack.” However, what is unique about the way the media/tech community is approaching the networked world they seek to alter via these methodologies is the use and mastery of scale, as well as the hacker ethic commitment to cooperative ownership (or non-ownership): a recognition and the aligned exponential efficiency of intentions due to an ethic of open source (or “peer to peer”/P2P) sharing of resources and intelligence.

The illusory farce surrounding the “protection” of artists via copyright and intellectual property laws is predicated in a fear-based, competitive system of value that is anathema to the creative process. We have been trained to hoard creative inspiration and production out of fear that we will lose our already tenuous relationship to externally doled out viability and access to life-sustaining resources. The powers that be are (literally) banking on us believing this is the a priori case and behaving accordingly.

But the smoke and mirrors are starting to show.

The sensory, perceptual, meta-and-subconscious information we access in artistic perception and practice is an essential, unmatched resource that we must rely on in our work to break out of the traps of samsara/the status quo/ontological trickery…whatever you want to call it. The strategies and production of our creative classes allow us to see with child eyes and intelligence – something the lifehackers, the world builders, the creative economists desperately need. And we need their scalar, networked, iterative models and tools.

We are all hacking our own Operating Systems – and we hope to bridge these communities to co-create intelligence and empowerment of a type we’ve only begun, perhaps, to think possible.

In the weeks and months to come, we’ll introduce you to the creators at Emerging Leader Labs, Year of Open Source, the Evolver Community, Solaqua Power and Art, Sarapis, and 33 Flatbush (among others) as well as introduce collaborative projects (and opportunities for collaboration) that bridge these paradigms. We’ll focus, too, on innovative crosspollination between these worlds, illuminating the critical work of our fiscal sponsor, Fractured Atlas, the revolutionary social publishing platform, Red Lemonade, and getting excited as the Occupy Love documentary nears completion. As always, The Operating System will continue to bring you inspiring, critical, challenging work across a range of disciplines, and offer you the opportunity to use our platform for engagement in whatever way you might propose. It’s your network, your magazine, your community, your VERB.

As I like to say:

LEVEL UP!

– Lynne DeSilva-Johnson –

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