Everybody Can Do Everything: DIY Days

Ahh. Another DIY Days come and gone.

If you don’t know DIY Days, then simply put it’s a free conference for people who really want to do shit — or, as I apparently said last year, “Make Shit, And Make It Awesome” (via mighty Guy “The Dread Pirate LeCharles” Gonzalez). This is a crowd who doesn’t want to sit on their hands. Who doesn’t want to kowtow to gatekeepers, who has no interest in asking for permission. Many are storytellers, but just as many are the makers of the tools that help storytellers tell their stories. As Guy said yesterday in a tweet, the energy there is different than at other conferences, and because of that, feels more inspiring.

I was afraid I wasn’t even going to make it to the conference, honestly. Night prior I spent awake every hour or so with stomach problems — morning came and I felt hollowed-out. Like a gutted pumpkin. Could barely drink a cup of coffee, ate like, 1.5 pieces of sourdough toast. But I felt better than I did at night, so the wife sent me off with cookies and Gatorade (a good substitute for meth and Four Loko in a pinch!), and I drove to Jersey to catch a train into the city.

On the train, got to hear two strangers have a conversation, which is a thing that I love to witness. A Latino man and a black woman had a long conversation about all kinds of things — Facebook, child predators, gang initiations, how gangs used to leave civilians out of their business, movies new and old, etc. At the end of the train ride, they’d formed an actual connection as like, temporary friends. She asked him his name, he hers, they shook hands. She said to him, “God bless you,” and he to her. It was this kind of neat, connective moment — which, perhaps unexpectedly, sits nicely in-theme with DIY Days.

City was great. Weather was — *mwah* — so good. Fifty-five, sunny. Fuck yeah, Spring. Put your earthen boot on Winter’s icy neck and press down until you hear the crinkly snap of an icicle spine.

Still, got there later than I wanted. Missed Lance’s talk about Storytelling Pandemic, though one supposed I didn’t really need to see that talk given my involvement.

First person I met was Jeanne Bowerman — a truly rockin’ Twitter pimp if ever there was one — and this would unfortunately be my only real encounter with her for most of the day. Actually, this is a theme: I met a number of people and really only got to spend so much time with them. Next time I’m in the city, I need to somehow earmark more time to actually be in the city. Which probably means staying over somehow. *makes note — start collecting couches in NYC and LA on which I can crash* I met Iris Blasi, Caitlin Burns, Nick Braccia, and of course Guy Gonzalez, Andrea Phillips and Jim Hanas. Dave Turner — @electricmeat — is an officer and a gentleman. Jonathan Reynolds — @therealjohnny5 — was not lying and did indeed sneak me a little bottle of 15-yr Glenfarclas. Fortunately, not before my talk.

Some takeaways from the day’s events:

• Data can tell a story, says Nicholas Diakopoulos. Though, to play Devil’s Advocate, does it really? Is that how data is intended? Human nature is such where we must draw connections — in many cases, narrative connections — between two unlike things to find understanding and context. But that also doesn’t mean that human nature is correct. Data may tell a story, but seems just as possible that we create stories out of data, or find data to fit our stories. Or something. Here’s some data for you: I wear pants only 35% of the time. What story does that tell? Either way, engaging presentation with some really awesome visuals.

• Mistress of the DIY Empire known as “Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School,” Molly Crabapple, is awesome and full of snark. She tells you how to deal with haters by imagining that the best and most wonderful artist that you love has, when Googled, someone out there calling them fat or telling them they suck or whatever. You would then respond, “That person is crazy,” which is how you should envision your own haters — as crazy people. Love, too, that Dr. Sketchy’s is basically an art-school version of Fight Club, with “franchises” worldwide. Doubly love that she makes sure the franchises pay their models. Finally, she notes that too many artists spend too much time on the “swoosh” in their logo and don’t get down to business. This is true for writers, too — some writers become so obsessed with [fill-in-the-blank] (platform, strategy, worldbuilding, etc.) that they forget they need to actually write something and then get it out there.

• Brian Newman says that if you get involved in any one issue, let it be Net Neutrality. He notes that the name “Net Neutrality” sucks, and if you want to help fix it, then as an artist and a creative human being it’s your job to help re-frame that problem in a way that people understand it. Because, right now? They don’t. Also, don’t let it be DIY — let it be DIWO. Do It With Others. Which sounds sexier than intended.

• Michael Margolis helps you reframe your bio online — the short form takeaway here is “Character Trumps Credentials.”

• Ted Hope and Christine Vachon had a very organic back-and-forth: love the idea that somewhere in the middle of art and business is where we find the way to get our work out there. Like too that neither producer is afraid of digital work, and notes that some of the work being done in that arena is better, sharper, stronger than what you find amongst Oscar hopefuls. Sidenote: if you haven’t watched it, you really need to check out the SUPER trailer (Rainn Wilson, Nathan Fillion, Kevin Bacon). I want to see that pretty badly — in reference to it, Ted noted that girls are taught to be supermodels and boys are taught to be superheroes, and from this kind of diseased mindset comes the movie. Another true notion: creating art and putting your craft out there is an act of running full speed at a wall and praying for it to open. Sometimes, it does open for you.

• Andrea Phillips — of the excellent Deus Ex Machinatio — noted, in her Ethics of Transmedia talk, that her work has been denounced by NASA. This is awesome in ways that cannot be described. I long one day to be denounced by NASA. That’s good press, right there. NASA’s had it too good for too long. Also, in private conversation, Andrea and I talked about how what’s important in fiction (whether in transmedia or in gaming or in the written word) what’s most important isn’t realism so much as it is authenticity. Stay true to the story you’re telling and the world it lives in. Don’t be so concerned with reality and fact.

• Transmedia is becoming an overused word, say some.

• From Faris Yakob and Brian Clark (who probably now thinks I think he’s Mike Monello), an interesting idea: charge as much as possible for half your time so that the other half of your time you can create what you want to create. Basically, become your own investor.

• From Scott Lindenbaum, of Electric Literature and Broadcastr: “When not monetized, creative endeavors are mere hobbies. It’s crucial we protect them as professions.”

• Further proof why nobody should let me speak out loud to other human beings: I will discuss teabagging and hookers. Thankfully, Greg Trefry was there to balance me out. Greg’s an awesome dude. In fact, he’s the kind of awesome dude who runs roleplaying game sessions for his students and asks me questions like, “How important is it that they get to roll their own dice?”Anyway. I think our talk went well?

Overall, the theme of the day orbited around the democritization of creative tools — where once it was expensive and prohibitive to create music or film or transmedia endeavors, it’s getting cheaper and cheaper. This mirrors the publishing world, obviously — where once big publishers were necessary to do X, Y, and Z, we’re seeing a Renaissance (for good and bad) of DIY storytellers saying, fuck it, I don’t need to pay the gatekeeper, I don’t need to ask for permission, I’m going to do as I like — I can hire my own cover and book designers, I can get my own editor, I can find my own distribution channels online. The trick is, democritization of tools does not also mean the democritization of talent. There is in self-publishing communities the idea that the cream will rise to the top — what you might call “Talent Will Out” — but I don’t know that this is proven yet. Which to me shows that the most important component to balance the democracy of tools is filter. We need more meaningful filters across the ‘Net. Vast procedural filters from Google and Amazon and so forth just don’t cut it.

Final takeaway:

Be energized. Get creative. Find a way to put your work into the world. And don’t let me speak in public unless you want to hear about ramping a mini-bike over 100 hookers.

Thanks, as always, to Lance Weiler for putting this thing together.