Chin Wag At The Slaughterhouse: Interview With Lynn Alexander

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Lynn Alexander created Full Of Crow and stormed the internet with her vision and artistic insight.

She is a great writer and a great editor.

Her unflagging efforts have supported many online writers and built a mini-Empire.

She is a highly energised force on the net who knows her literature and art.

She is also a great poet.

Lynn met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about Royalty and what inspires her.

If you had to pretend you were a Royalist in order to survive how would you need to distort your character to carry it off?

What an odd question. I would probably go into a paranoid panic, hiding my Sex Pistols and Morrissey. In this hypothetical, am I adapting to an installed monarchy, or am I fighting for one? I assume that if they have the power to kill me for dissent that it is in place and I am trying to appear loyal, maybe so I can get cake. Maybe I would sell “I Heart The Queen” t-shirts at flea markets, get a new tattoo.

One of the reasons we beat Brit ass way back was because we here in America have a thing with Kings-although we are certainly used to the senseless squandering of the public purse. We want to at least pretend that we have a participatory democracy and we want to pretend that we are engaged in the process. If I had to pretend I was a Royalist to survive, it would indeed be difficult because I am about as far away from being desirous of a monarchal-fascist system as you can get because in general any model where people are controlled by an entitled power elite seems a step in the wrong direction.

I suppose there is a difference between acceptance, something we all do quite readily, and actively campaigning for it or participating in it. If I had to be convincing, like to secure confidence, I would most definitely start my ruse with the purchase of a fashionable hat.

You’re given an unlimited sum of money to buy an obscenely fashionable hat and indulge a secret vice, what is the vice and what do you do if the proviso is you have to shock everyone you know and how do you do it?

First, the obscenely fashionable hat would be made from the exhumed body hairs of Jim Morrison. A few would be shocked by that.

But that isn’t enough and I want to use the unlimited money for something cool… So let me set up what happens after I get said hat:

We organize the biggest gathering ever, taking care of the logistics- think “Burning Man” or Woodstock, only in the forest. “Building Woman” maybe, where people construct giant vaginas from branches and re-enact their births and honor the earth mother. Whatever. Everyone is naked, natural, no money or clothing or ipods or cell phones. People come as they are for as long as they want. We take care of basic needs, but we explain that their laws and obligations do not apply in this temporary Utopia. We tell them that we don’t take their visa cards or want to hear about Facebook. If they don’t like dinner, they can grab some vegetables and go squat in a corner and make something else. People gotta be chill.

In the center, we erect a circular wall that is wide enough to walk along, perpetually, around. It is too high for anyone on the ground to see who is up there. A helicopter brings ten individuals who are dropped off without having their identities revealed to the crowd. I know who they are. Soon, they know who they are. Some are puzzled, some are happy. One begs to leave.

We spend time together, but every few hours we walk around the circle ledge and listen to what is going on outside. We heckle and holler poetry and stuff. Then I kick one out.

Their identity is known when they emerge, but they have done nothing to be ashamed of. The others can attest to that.

The one who remains is the one who wanted most to leave, and I present the choice to stay or go. The person stays, and now everyone wants to know what is going on in there.

The shocking part is the speculation. Are we doing drugs, drinking, hallucinating, having sex, what is going on? Why the party, why the wall? People imagine things that are crazier than what I can devise, the crowd environment fuels rumors. We have odd things delivered. They know I am wearing a hat made from man hair. An earnest hipster from San Francisco wants to make a documentary but he doesn’t have his flip camera and he’s naked. I give cryptic answers that he has to remember and they become distorted when he repeats them. Like that game- “Telephone”.

The myth becomes more interesting than the truth, which is that mostly we are inside playing scrabble and drinking tea.

I never tell anyone who this person is, in two days I get the helicopter to carry them away, and we continue the party until everyone has enough and misses their clothing and ipods and cell phones and houses. Eventually, only a handful of people are left and they are invited to live in the fortress, which we keep. They become my friends, tribe, family, the Cult of The Twig Vagina Festival. We are described in Wikepedia. Some of the content gets disputed.

Do you think that inasmuch as it is arguable that fucking is done naked so is killing?

No. Clothing is inconvenient. In the one case, it is inconvenient to have it on. In the other, it would be inconvenient to stop and take it off.

Fucking is a means to a connected humanity, killing is the product of it breaking down. To me, killing should be the result of being faced by specific circumstances, such as being unable to defend one’s own life without resorting to lethal means. I don’t buy the argument that humans are meant to kill for territory or resources or even necessarily for food- although that is another question.

Just as clothing renders us less animal, being naked brings us closer to nature, so killing and clothing seem more consistent.

The tarantula is a conditional pacifist. They seem to have resolved this issue to their satisfaction.

Fucking is nature’s consolation prize for having to walk around with the spectre of mortality. We use it to perpetuate ourselves, to feel infinite, to distract us, the temporary antidote to the death chant. It is worthy of our nudity.

If you argue that capitalism has destroyed the social fabric with competition, do you think that real anarchy as exemplified by Kropotkin and based on co-operation is a valid social model or is it no longer workable?

I would love to get into anarchism and Kropotkin with you but find it hard at this point in my mental evolution to be succinct, as you’ll see.

When I talk about anarchism, I generally focus on the relationship between authority and PERSONAL autonomy, even beyond social liberalism, with the elective use of empowered systems in place to intervene in specific ways, namely on matters of human rights or where it is practically warranted by scope.

The latter is often the basis for the justification of authority, things like disaster relief and national security, these are often areas of contention as we can agree quite readily on many of the personal freedom matters. When it comes to the justification of the state because of scope or complexity, it becomes harder to apply extreme philosophies. Some anarchists do not necessarily view their beliefs in terms of absolutes- but rather see power on a continuum where authority is challenged, metered by default, and in need of defense as necessary when rights of groups are competing.

For example- your right to rape might necessarily be curtailed by an authority because I have the right to be protected from rape. The “state” has a specific role that we can defend when pushed. That is different than saying “let’s not have any laws and burn shit!”. Anarchism suffers from some bad p.r. as she is often championed by people who care more about their t-shirt slogans. Do we really want absolute chaos? My fear is that children would suffer the most in such a scenario. And I don’t think that chaos is what we mean, but rather a different relationship with power and control.

I don’t argue that capitalist competition has destroyed the social fabric, as I don’t see us as “destroyed”, I’m not quite to that level of cynicism yet. I don’t know that competition is necessarily the key issue, nor do I think it can be practically eradicated in favor of a cooperative or communal model. In many models that aimed to try, we saw a shift to corruption where the common people were the losers and a new elite took the place of the old. Recall how the descamisado became serf, liberators became monarchs.

What often emerges is an oppressive hold on individuals, replete with exploitation, in the name of “state” that makes it hard to reconcile anarchism with communism. I find it interesting when people try and would love to hear more vigorous debate on this.

A simple way to explain the problem is by example: you can’t force me to grow apples in the name of social cooperation without having a pretty strong boot on my neck. And if I spend the day picking apples while your brother and friends who do you favors stand around, eventually I will lose my motivation and will not see you as my ally but as my enemy. Is that about competition, or the way power corrupts? So the power itself is the issue, and we give up far too much.

Beyond the corruption, the problem with a detached state is that it cannot help but control from afar and with broad strokes, mixing good intentions with social controls that have no merit, a model of authority with control being exerted from the top down, something that might appease the hippie side of my nature because it has the power to redistribute resources to solve problems like poverty but sets off the tyranny alarms. This is the crazy-making area for many of us, myself included.

Do you think that esotericism allows women more scope for liberty?

Not necessarily, because the ultimate goal of liberty is to render itself an unnecessary pursuit. Liberty will just be, without a fight, a state of freedom that transcends that constant challenge. As a woman I also understand that this won’t happen, because the ability to sit back and consider it a battle won is a privileged perspective that we don’t experience.

“Scope”, though, is achieved through maximum universality, something that seems at odds with esotericism, despite the draw of comfort, insulation. We need some security in our nurturing of self, but when you say “more scope for liberty” I think that is achieved through engagement across the broadest of levels, looking outward, not inward, being open and thereby exposing ourselves on a bigger scale. Scope is achieved through boldness, forcing others to reckon and acknowledge, and I think esotericism can involve barriers, or require deciphering that makes dialogue less accessible. You might have freedom in your bedroom or another safe place, but you are hiding, and liberty requires us to confront both the power and shame that makes hiding seem so compulsory.

What are your darkest thoughts?

My darkest thoughts. I’ll pass on a dramatic answer to this because they are quite cliche’. I don’t suffer with much originality.

I think many of us think about death, but are relieved to have moved beyond the obsessive regard we once gave the subject. I had to learn that thoughts are just thoughts, our fantasies and desires don’t make us terrible people, our impulses can be controlled, we learn when we get older to exert more control. Sometimes we even have to laugh about it.

When my mother was dying, she made a joke about ordering a pizza and not being dead before it arrived. Sure, that’s sick, but that was how I was brought up. That is how we cope with “dark thoughts”.

Part of how we process is to learn to live with them, give them a chair at the table. There are aspects that we often come to deny for all kinds of reasons- dignity, shame, guilt. I deny my share. This year, I have had a few things pop up again, like trauma flare-ups. And it sucked.

We all have experiences that stay with us and in aggregate form that layer, that deeply painful place. My way has been to tread with detachment and safety through art, through fiction, and when possible to diffuse pain by laughing about it.

Who has had the deepest influence on your life and why?

The person who has had the most influence on me was my mother, because I wanted to see myself through her eyes, her expectations, her standards- and not my own. That wasn’t her fault, it was just the way that I responded. My father’s love was unconditional and available, he believed that it should be that way. But my mother was a person who always had people desirous of her attention and time, she was brilliant and beautiful and people wanted to be close to her, but it was something that had to be earned.

To this day, I feel insecure in many of my relationships, some going back decades, like my worth is subject to constant evaluation, renewable terms. This explains why I work very hard, people always ask when I sleep. I am not driven to be better because it makes me happy, I am driven to things because I don’t ever feel like I am ok as I am. It’s a rather pathetic mindset. You don’t rest, you give, trying to earn your keep with people because you enjoy having them around and want them to feel the same way.

Do you think that since modern women have rebelled against the patriarchal influence exerted on them they are trying to free themselves from the ways their mothers sold them out?

I think there is tension between what many call the different waves of feminism, but it is important to remember context. In many ways our mothers paved the way and we should remember that, although I believe that critical reflection is important. We have to appreciate what was accomplished but we also have to evolve, and we do this by criticism. We discuss the differences a lot in our circles, and I think some key areas that have emerged in modern feminism include more understanding of diversity among women, privilege, and changes in the way we view the response to patriarchy. I rarely use the word patriarchy, because I want to focus on power dynamics as human experiences, and move away from competing “teams”, which is not to say that these are not very real struggles that need to be defined.

Do we feel sold out, and are we responding? Well, it depends on how you look at it. One problem when we look at oppression is the tendency to either adopt the mindset of the oppressor resulting in internalized self loathing, and lateral oppression where we begin to lash out against our own. I am hopeful that we are dealing with that more now, or at least taking a close look at this dynamic and how it plays out. We can see how it played out for our mothers.

Another problem is the quite invalidating tendency to approach equality with emulation. I am equal to a man, and to show this I will adopt stereotypical masculine behaviors and rally against what is viewed as overtly female? What’s that about, really? I don’t have penis envy, I want pay equity. I don’t give a shit about wearing your suits.

We should make decisions based on need, desire, choice- not because we feel that equality is achieved by either copying “typical male traits” or worse- by hating them. We can acknowledge privilege, sure, but we shouldn’t seek to become oppressors as a response to victimization, that is not empowerment, that is a cycle we need to avoid. If I wear something sexy because I want to, you should not assume that it is to please you. Many women however feel that we are not capable of choosing “sexy” for ourselves, and I believe that we are. I also don’t want to feel pressured to be something I am not to meet expectations and I hate when I see us doing that. This is about self determination though, not about the length of a skirt and I think that we forget that as we latch onto symbols that make it easier to lash out at each other.

That is why I often talk about “covalidity”, that we need to move away from defined gender expectations and also avoid the thought trap that we are “supposed to” eradicate lipstick and burn our bras. I am all about eradicating “should thinking”.

That is part of asserting ourselves, taking that ownership of our lives and our own rules. There shouldn’t be “bad feminists”, and to impose rigidity is to really carry the torch for misogyny, instead of men telling you what to do you now have other women telling you what is right or wrong for you- and that doesn’t work for me. That is very “first wave”.

In my “mother’s feminism” the lateral oppression-women against women- often played out in a distrust of other women and the assumption that any woman wearing lipstick MUST be doing it to please men, the result of conditioning, and the way to rebel was to cast it aside. If you recall, many feminists spoke out against books, films, calling for censorship of ideas because of how women were portrayed in the arts. Censorship is dangerous ground. Talk about how women are portrayed, sure, but don’t get into silencing others.

When you ask if our mothers sold us out, this is what comes to mind, the way many feminist “leaders” not only sold out women as mindless idiots to be protected from books, told what to do, but also the new “rules” about how we should behave that created dilemmas. i.e. If I decide to stay home with my children, I am “oppressed” as opposed to an empowered woman making an intelligent decision about parenting, perhaps in partnership with other caregivers.

Ideally, we learn to act from self determination, mindful of the “male gaze” but with the autonomy to define our own sense of beauty, vocation, parenting roles, etc. Ideally, we can protect ourselves from exploitation but have the autonomy to make decisions about our bodies. Ideally, we can trust one another to be experts of our home and professional lives, and move away from making conclusions about the motives of other women. Live and let live.

Do you think education hides scars or exposes them?

I think most of the time, earnest education that is sought rather than received exposes them.  Exposure makes us more mindful, more empathetic. Exposure shines that necessary light, brings us closer to deciphering things, the more access to information- the better we usually are.

In some cases, education is the mask of propaganda and distortion, and so access is key to transparency.

How has Ted Hughes influenced you and Full Of Crow?

Full Of Crow and Ted Hughes. Well, Ted Hughes once said “a crow would become symbolic in any author’s hands.”

The Crow of Hughes is mythic of course, a reflection of many themes from religion to natural survivalism. Crow is ego, even as he is a “black little nothing”. Crow is an embodiment of something uniquely stubborn, strong and yet- wretched.

As many in small press know, I started Full Of Crow with Aleathia Drehmer, who edited the first few poetry issues. Aleathia and I had some discussions not only about poetry but crows- not only the Crow of Hughes, but crows as beautiful special birds: intelligent, misunderstood animals. It was a discussion about the mythic crow, defiant against the sun, rendered black- “Full Of Crow” that became the title of this new project. That was almost two years ago, and a lot has changed since then. I think the symbolism of the crow is important and enduring, and fascinating.

I have crows on my arm, in ink, in different stages: solitude, reflection, flight, vanishing… these are very much phases of the poet’s work…”full of crow” constitutes a sentiment regarding the need to be bold and strong even when it seems foolish.  We poets are all flying against the sun, we do so because we must.

Thank you Lynn for giving a brilliant and honest interview.

Lynn links:

My web link is http://www.lynn-alexander.com and the online Full of Crow is http://www.fullofcrow.com.  The “dot org” is http://www.fullofcrowpress.org.

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