THE POSITIVE MESSAGE OF NEW AMERICAN ART AND LITERATURE

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The First Step

The very first step toward restarting the ULA campaign is putting together a cohesive, structured team, with responsibilities, accountability, and leadership.

16 comments:

JeffOYB said...

Are you sure about that? Do have examples illustrating why? My view is that a hierarchic approach wouldn't have resulted in anything different in the past ULA incarnation. I don't see our troubles as resulting from lack of hierarchy and structure. We had a classic voluntary zinester structure and it seemed to work great until it fell apart and no amount of structure or leadership would've changed anything that I can see. It seemed like we had a great plan and were executing it. I agree that the plan needs restating but I'm not sure it would look much different. Nearly always people who said they'd do something did it and if they didn't they quit soon after. What's to fix there?

K.I.N.G. Wenclas said...

Jeff, we only had a smoothly operating team in the first six months or so when I was calling the shots and the other orinals were actively involved. The rest of the time it was three people doing all the work, for the most part, most (not all) of the others free riders. It worked only as long as someone was pulling the sled. It wasn't a true team of equals by any means.
There's a great book by Timothy garton Ash about Solidarity which addresses many of the same issues we faced. They were non-hierarchical, yet, for a time, they needed a virtual dictator in Lech Walesa to get things started. Read the book. It's a contradiction, I know. I don't want built-in structures or hierarchies-- but a cooperative group works only if everybody is cooperating.
Historical parallels. The Bolsheviks espoused community but had one guy calling the shots, never figured out how to do it otherwise.
Christians, after Jesus, did have a collection of equals-- but they were all fanatically invested in the team. At that, they still had conflicts, like the famous one between Paul and Peter.
Can a football team move down the field without a coach or a quarterback? That remains to be seen.
Anyway, I'm a writer as well as anyone else who was in the team. I'm beyond the point where I'm going to sacrifice my own writing for those who wish to be just "writers."
But a team of true equals, committed and loyal, I can deal with.

K.I.N.G. Wenclas said...

(Correction: "originals."

K.I.N.G. Wenclas said...

A further thought: There has never been an organization, voluntary or otherwise, that didn't need mechanisms for dispute resolution. It's naive to think disputes won't arrive.
A group can operate by consensus and still have a leader, the leader operating only through the consensus of the rest of the team, subject always to be replaced.
Recall that I lost the support of the team-- but there was NO ONE willing to step into my place and take reponsibility for decisions to be made. Steve was the likely candidate-- but he resigned as soon as I stopped being active for the team!
I took responsibility time and again and faced continual criticism from members of the team.
Or to quote from the movie "Guns of Navarone"-- "Someone's got to take responsibility if the job's to get done."
The success we had-- that we stood out from the pack, over hundreds of other writers groups, was because we were an ACTIVE organization. Websites and a press are needed, but they're a passive part of the campaign. Every writers group has them. They aren't what made the ULA unique.
Just my perspective, I know that some believe otherwise.

JeffOYB said...

If you, me and Pat agree then that seems like enough mechanism! :)

And that's basically what we did before.

I think a problem was that it was mostly a writers group. Out of the Originals there still weren't many successful zinester types -- who could work 'in the black' with a diversity of people and situations. After the early phase mostly writers were added. They didn't do anything because they COULDN'T. They could write. A stronger leader couldn't have gotten any more results from them. And we DID have focus. I don't know of one project that didn't support the others and uplift the Cause.

Disputes did get resolved by consensus and voluntarism, some after wrangling, some more quickly. I just don't recall an occasion when another 'mechanism' would've helped us better than we helped -- or hindered -- ourselves. Mechanisms are as easily abused/gamed as consensus -- likely more so. You've mentioned this many times but being specific would be more helpful.

A forum moderator is thankfully an easy exception: if folks are getting outta line they just delete the discussion, etc.

You posted earlier that if we revive we shouldn't put too much on you or just leave all the work to you. But you're in charge of PR and this is a PR-driven project. Are you saying that someone else should join in on PR? Also, you can obviously run your campaigns as you like. (Unless Pat'n'I think something is haywire. We can be checks'n'balances as before.) Others of us DID participate in noisemaking and campaign generation. (Jackman did a couple good ones, for instance.) I note that nobody put any book publishing/sales work on you nor webwork. Other main players did their tasks in support of the PR and the Cause. Some side-players finked out at bad times but what can ya do?

Do you mean that the Membership/Recruiting role was too much for you, what with the searching required and the info-pack followups? But others did do that role at times. And you were into it. The Web could make that easier today.

Erica Fox sounds like she's into the Forum and Affiliate Development -- maybe she'd like to run with both of those. :) They could both be done via a Forum, it seems. Since we don't know her and vice versa we'd want to pow-wow first of course.

K.I.N.G. Wenclas said...

Well, I appreciate your comments and your viewpoint, Jeff, but you have a rosy-eyed view of the ULA.
Writers didn't participate because they wouldn't, not couldn't. Advocacy is writing.
A unified team pulling together beats a loosely organized one every time. I could give you countless examples from history.
Read Caesar's Commentaries, for instance, his history of conquering, with a cohesive army, the scattered huge tribes of the Gauls. There wasn't a battle that he wasn't outnumbered, but he won every time.
You can't counter reality with wishful thinking.
Here's the reality: that we were outmaneuvered by the other side.
The task of a new ULA would be to create a solid narrative about our cause and our writers. To do this we'd neec talking points, an overarching narrative that every ULAer and every part of the ULA machine would express and exemplify. To do otherwise is to be like a thousand other writers groups.
Creating a narrative is exactly what was done about us-- but it was the wrong narrative. What do you think the Bissell essay was/is about? It contains set talking poinbts and was very effective in branding us as bad/untalented writers. Review after review about his book, when they mention the ULA essay, state this. The Hallberg essay was one instance of many.
But the same false narrative was circulated for years about us by establishment literary people, much of this circulation behind the scenes. The same talking points popped up again and again even when we did gain access-- such as the local PBS radio interview I did in 2007 here in Philly.
Our opponents were more effective in pushing their narrative, largely because we had no set narrative, or at least no effective way of circulating it.
(To be continued.)

K.I.N.G. Wenclas said...

Why does this business of narratives matter? Because the media matters. In the 21st century, the media is everything. An arts group virtually has no existence today outside the media.
You think the ULA campaign was effective. When, Jeff?
In my book we were most effective when we were getting lavish publicity, that if pushed further could've been effective in selling our products.
That publicity came largely from a few scattered actions, most of them in 2001 thru 2003. The early '04 Conclave may have been our peak as an organization. But we were never very organized. I saw this as early as Nov 2004 when I engaged in an action in NYC-- signs and birdhat in tow-- and no one else showed. I knew then we'd never get to the destination.
The Howl '06 affair was a great reprise-- but again, a scattered event amid the rest of the time nothing happening.
The Monday Reports were a great series, but they, of themselves, had no impact. A nice supplementary thing giving us credibility.
Notice that I use the word "campaign" in relation to the ULA. We're not unlike a political campaign-- like the two competitive ones now ongoing. They're busy spinning narratives and counter-narratives against each other, fighting for space in the mass American mind. The difference is that for us, the battleground is the literary scene. We need effective talking points and we need to get those points into the heads of critics, reviewers, tastemakers, and writers.
We need to have a literary philosophy and we need to make a case for our kind of writers and writing. Otherwise we'll be forever falsely branded and dismissed.
Dispute resolution? I proposed more than once a council of five or seven which would act as a decision-making body, overseeing the actions of any Director, say.
But again, do some reading from history to see what others, like Solidarity, or America's own founders, did.
If we're not organized and efficient, and our opponents are, we'll be crushed and short-circuited every time.
The odds against us are ten thousand-to-one, as they are against any writers group. We almost beat the odds once. We can do it again-- with the right plan and with a united team.

JeffOYB said...

"The task of a new ULA would be to create a solid narrative about our cause and our writers. To do this we'd neec talking points, an overarching narrative that every ULAer and every part of the ULA machine would express and exemplify. To do otherwise is to be like a thousand other writers groups."

I think we were darn good about understanding our narrative and talking points. We were well-honed for awhile there. We hit back and were creative yet restrained and presented a new view and backed it up well. You're right: it's why we did stand out.

Then books came late and the rest of the old story...

About the 7 or 8 overseers -- there weren't more than that who were active. I don't recall campaigns that were in dispute. At any rate this body would've equaled consensus since it was all of us who were involved. I can't think of a thing that would've gone better or happened differently with this panel, which we in effect had as it was. The overseers could've seen to it that others went with you in your lonely National Book campaign?

K.I.N.G. Wenclas said...

Yes, but ultimately there was a dispute, Jeff, and we never found a resolution. Just as we're not finding resolution now.
Where's our mediator?
We actually had many disputes. I spent half my time defending myself against internal sniping. Granted, too many people were in the team who didn't belong, and ultimately didn't stay. I also spent too much time on my own blog dealing with demipuppet sniping, but at least that was a kind of noisemaking in-between other things.
You're right, we did have things running well at times. It's why we made gains. But we didn't have enough of it. Our window of opportunity was three years. We made national noise within six months, so we had a chance-- but we also had damaging conflicts right from the start, including from what was supposed to be our lead writer. (Who since has done nothing.) Neither you nor I were the problem. We kept the vehicle going, along with Steve, likely as long as we could. let's consider that a trial run for ULA 2.0.
(More.)

K.I.N.G. Wenclas said...

The question is whether we can get the ULA car back on the road, and how far it can go once we get there.
The fear I have about newbies is they think in terms of a hobby, or a permanent, static thing. The ULA should be dynamic, with a prescribed end point. All out for three years then we all part ways and collect our "winnings," if there are any to be had. If not, we gave it a shot. A large-scale commando raid. The goal? To create the loudest and most important literary movement in the country.
That's a goal anyone should want to sign on to, anyone except the hard core elite.
BUT, it would take discipline and commitment and work. Not the same-old same-old.
The ULA car has been on blocks in the backyard since early 2009. Frank Walsh admirably tried to keep it going. Without an active force like that, the car isn't moving, website or no website.
The question is: Who's going to drive the thing?
You and Pat S. have had the opportunity to pursue your ideas regarding the ULA for three years, while characters like Frank or myself have been battling with the economy just to survive. Yet there the car sits, still on blocks.
With the 9/16 Times letter I at least started the engine, and showed it can still make noise!
*****************
More practically, your dilemma is how you're going to get me back working for the ULA. With you and Pat S. holding virtual veto power over anything I do, that's not likely.
(More.)

K.I.N.G. Wenclas said...

How do we get commitment?
One way is to give people a stake in the team-- which even I never had, not really. Your writers had a stake, but except for Wred and Crazy Carl not the wherewithall to get out there and promote in coordination with the ULA. Again, we get back to having a smooth-running, efficient campaign.
**************
While we mull over our differences, here's a few things to work on.
1.) We can't just present the same ULA we had ten years ago. That's completely unworkable. We'd need a new look, as even Erica Fox suggested in an email to you and me. This means putting our heads together-- all of us, Pat King and whoever is willing to be part of this thing, and deciding what image or look we'd need. I'm not sure myself, though I have ideas.
But to maintain the same look or style would be like Bill Haley and the Comets performing "See You Later, Alligator" at a time the world was engulfed by the Beatles.
2.) Stories. Narratives.
You'd think a band of writers would be able to create stories!
I'm talking about promotional stories.
We start with the story of the ULA, its founding and its wave-making. Here is where the past IS an asset. But we use that past as foundation for a new team. Backstory. The right mix of old and new narratives is key, so this is another area where we can't go at it haphazardly.
I mentioned in an email to you that we can't pretend the ULA was never away. To do that is to throw away a dynamic narrative line, centered around a key scene: The ULA Is Back!
Yes, it's stage-managing, but based on reality. Embracing reality and using it, the same way, say, Elvis's manager made promotional capital out of every happening in his star's life. When Elvis went into the army (see "Bye Bye Birdie" to know what a traumatic event that was!), to coming back out of the army, to the legendary TV comeback after a series of bad movies. You USE the ups and downs, not ignore them.
3.) We're obviously not back-- we still have things to resolve. We're in the talking stage. But this allows us to set up our Comeback, if it happens. To ready announcements and promo materials.
Right now Pat Simonelli should be creating buzz by addressing the crucial questions right on the site. Think: your typical supermarket tabloid. He needs that mindset. "Will the ULA Return?"
"What Kind of ULA Team?" "Jeff Potter and King Wenclas: The Clash of Personalities." Etc.
Always creating drama. Getting stray readers invested emotionally in the team. Building toward an interim peak-- which would be the introduction of a new vehicle or a new team. Creating interest.
"Who Will Be the New ULA Star?"
Yes, we need some new personalities, and have only begun to find them. (Pat King has a possible candidate.)
Part of laying the groundwork for ULA 2.0, then, is creating a Search Committee, recruitment announcements, guidelines. A lot of work. I'd aim for the intro of the new ULA for next spring, at earliest.
Steve, myself, and Doug B. began setting up ULA 1.0 in 2/99. I moved to Philly at the end of the year. We had our founding meeting in 10/2000, I think, and intro'd the team at a kickass press conference at CBGB's in February(?) of 2001. It took work and planning, but we entered the scene with a bang. Then we had three good years of imperfect noisemaking.
NOW, are you and Pat S. on the same page with what I've outlined? (I don't think he's even reading these threads.)
If not, the car on blocks in the driveway ain't going noplace.

JeffOYB said...

Your plan sounds great, as usual!

As regards old conflicts: it seems you're suggesting that they were nearly all inter-personal. I agree. I don't see how a Panel helps resolve such things.

If you describe this Panel better than I'm sure you and Pat S and I could vote on it.

Pat S and I never pretended to be the drivers/noisemakers, but instead as loyal support. We're not in situations where we can move to Philly then raid NYC with placards and flapping eagle sunglasses!

K.I.N.G. Wenclas said...

If we have a small, unified team, we may not need a panel. If/when we get to 40 members again, that's a different story.
I believe we need a front man or leader. I don't know if I any longer have the time or energy for it, and am not the ideal candidate. (I wasn't even the first time around, but our "Zeen Elvis" bailed.) I'd rather be a Sitting Bull in the tent giving advice, then a hard-charging Gall or Crazy Horse in front of the team. But let's see if we all can develop interest in the project and then see.
I have a couple more relevant posts coming, so I hope people keep checking in.

Patrick S. @ RedFez said...

I'm up for a revival. A spring meeting sounds like a good idea. Until then i like PK's idea of a small campaign or two. Plus maybe a Lit Fan 3 with some of the drama mentioned above? The site needs its new permanent home w/ Jeff, and if he would take over updating it at that point, it's fine by me. I'd be ed-in-chief if we start up with MR's and zines again.

I'm not optimistic about finding reliable personnel for a new ULA. Even with the simple lit site i have now, i'm sick of dealing with flakes. I've come across some people that would make natural ULAers, but in the end they wound up being too annoying to deal with or gone off on some weird tangent.

King Wenclas said...

Well, but that's the dilemma, isn't it? From 2000 up to 2008 I tried to keep the ULA in one piece, dealing with volatile but necessary personalities-- not least of which was myself!
I was forced to take more/all of the spotlight when the three original members designated for that backed away from the spotlight. Steve ended up being a great behind-the-scenes guy, but when I first met him I was struck by his swaggering personality. I was more struck by our first zeen babe, a notorious riot-grrl-style zinester. getting her to understand the plan became an impossibility.
I had to be two people. To do the live protests I had to be in a certain frame of mind, but often couldn't easily jump out of that role to play another role as overseer of the team, which no one else seemed capable of doing.
Poets in particular I found difficult to handle, by their unrestricted nature.
What's my point? What makes a street poet an exciting performer isn't what necessarily makes the same person a good follower of any organization.
We had many level-headed people in the outfit-- many bailed, many because of me. BUT, every writers group has such people. The only chance we have is to go beyond every writers group out there in presentation.
I won't say, "In extreme writing," because that seems more and more a dead end. We are such a decadent and corrupt culture that nothing anymore shocks anybody.
I'd rather present the shock of new ideas. Of (real) intelligence and reason, which are rare commodities, especially among postmodern pseudointellectuals of the DFW variety. Confront any of them-- as I have at places like HTML Giant-- and their "ideas" are quickly shown to be empty.
It's a phony scene.
But I'm getting off topic. . . .
(More.)

King Wenclas said...

The question: How do we mesh the volatile and the level-headed into a new team?
The dilemma argues for a more disciplined outfit than we had previously. If we set the plan in advance, this might lessen internal carping and complaints. We can perhaps also insulate the various components of the team, so that everyone's focused on their particular task, guided by an overall democratic council which can make authoritative decisions. IF we have an appeal process, then if a person loses the appeal he/she has no gripe.
These are suggestions only. We can't assume things will go smoothly. We should rather assume they won't go smoothly, and plan for the eventuality.
*************
What I'm getting at I guess is that the team won't move without attention-grabbing writers. Without, yes, flakes of a certain kind. We need to have ways to keep them satisfied yet also on a short leash. It sounds crass, but that's reality.