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On Propaganda & Personalizing

metal type form at Starshaped Press

I watched the election results come in with increasing sickness. I went to bed early and woke up numb. The rollercoaster ride since recalls the early days after my brother died: anger, shock, despair, and overall a grand penetrating sense of pure disbelief.

It’s this disbelief I’ve been sitting with, and asking after from inside out. It lets me know I’ve played a part. A big part. I choose to see, and not see, the world around me. I spend my days wrapped in a sweet liberal bubble that envelopes us here in the Northwest US. I primarily engage with people who share my values and my rhetoric.

Wake to hate

A lot in the world is broken. It’s not that it hasn’t been. This is just a more expedient horror, more squarely in our faces. It’s nearly refreshing to have the hate out in the open. Wouldn’t you rather know? I didn’t want to. I do. I am part of the problem.

I wrote this poem the day after the election:

I wake to hate and
all my body shook.
I cannot see.

I have to look.

I choose two radical courses of action: to be utterly real about how I feel, and to print poetry. The words that strike me the hardest. Poet philosopher David Whyte describes poetry as “language against which we have no defense.” If we’re going to get anywhere, we’ve got to be willing to be vulnerable. Open up. Stop defending.

It’s hard. It’s painful. It’s mighty uncomfortable.

I am willing. I don’t see any alternatives outside of vulnerability.

Practice: antimasterpieces

For years I’ve been making little prints I call ‘antimasterpieces.’ If you know me personally, you’ve probably got at least two of these. Or ten. They’re meant to be unimportant, a note to self on leftover paper, scrap ink, quick and dirty design. Often I do them as exercises when I’m stuck on a bigger project and need to blow off steam. Sometimes they become a mantra for the year and I mail them out far and wide.

I always end up printing more than a few – usually a hundred at least – because beyond the words themselves, my favorite thing about printing is that it allows great generosity and gifting. Because I can make lots of whatever the little thing is that I’m trying to remember. And if I’m trying to remember it, maybe other people are too.

I‘ve come to call this practice ‘personal propaganda.’ I’ve taught a few one-on-one sessions on the topic, and have been getting a lot of requests to facilitate this practice for others. There’s a deep need to reach out in a tangible way. To say, to speak, to hear, to listen.

propaganda (noun)

information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.

Origin: 1710-20; < New Latin, short for congregātiō dē propāgandā fidē: congregation for propagating the faith

I opt for the ‘help’ side of the above definition as opposed to harm. I ask myself what I have faith in, and what I wish I had faith in. Obviously I have faith in poetry’s ability to bring us back into our humanity, to re-see ourselves and each other from a place of openness and compassion. That’s why I print so much of it. In fact, you could say everything I print is propaganda.

But what about the little bits? For me, it’s a fake-it-till-you-make-it scenario. I figure if I print a statement I want to practice and put it in front of myself and give it to people, I’ll be held accountable to that practice. So far it’s worked. Here are a few examples of past personal propaganda I’ve been able to incorporate into daily action:

“Say yes to kindness.”

“Allow the time that it takes.”

“Let go the stress and accept your awesomeness.”

“Whatever it takes MAKE whatever it takes.”

I still fail at these actions all the time. But my awareness is there. How did William Stafford put it? “I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty / to know what occurs but not recognize the fact” (from “A Ritual to Read to Each Other”). These little prints help me recognize the fact. I’ve grown immensely with their presence, and I know they have been useful to many, many people.

This is personal. How can it not be?

Cringe and cry as we may, this is our country, our land, our president-elect. Heck, maybe you’re celebrating. Many people are. This is where we are, this is what we have. What do you have faith in? What do you wish you believed? What makes you hurt the most? Are there words burning at the back of your throat? Hammering in your head? Something you keep forgetting? Something you dearly need to remember?

Most importantly, how does your heart feel today?

My heart is full, and broken up. Tired, and a tiny bit hopeful. I’m printing like crazy. I’m writing double time. And I’m opening up my shop to support your words for the world.

Written & printed immediately following the election, at Starshaped Press, Chicago.

Starting in December, Expedition Press will host propaganda workshops every third Saturday. Two people in the morning, two people in the afternoon. You bring your message for the world and we’ll craft it, design it, set type, and print 100+ postcards together, for you to distribute far and wide. I’m asking $100 per person to offset time, materials, and to keep pushing Expedition’s poetry propaganda forward. Donations beyond that are happily accepted, and discounts are available to those with a burning message and meager means, especially for kids who are willing to put in a few hours to help with shop maintenance projects. Please ask.

And hey! If you live far away and can’t come print in person, we’ll still get your propaganda out there. Send your message, we’ll collaborate on layout, email you a proof to approve, and print 100+ cards and ship them to your doorstep.

One rule on messaging: we won’t help propagate hate.

First day up is Saturday December 17.

You’re only guaranteed freedom of the press if you own one. We’ve got three here at Expedition, and they are at your service.