I met this queer punk kid back in the summer, when he came up to my stall at the farmers’ market and asked if he could have our leftover veggies. It was the end of the day, and a fair enough question, but I was busy with inventory and serving the last minute customers. Which is to say, I was abrupt with him: I pointed to the other punk going down the row of vendors and pulling a massive bike cart, and told him we give everything to that dude for Food Not Bombs, and suggested he ask them about volunteering.
My dismissiveness immediately made him blush, and he started explaining that he knows about FNB and is thinking about getting involved, but just arrived from Halifax and wasn’t sure about how things worked in this town. I cringed inside, suddenly feeling bad for being a jerk. I’m so mean sometimes… I didn’t intend for him to feel out of place. “Cool,” I said with a sincere smile, “Welcome to the West Coast.”
What I wanted to say was ZOMG-I-remember-being-you. And I remember meeting so many others, just like you. Young, excited, new in town, punker-than-thou yet full of angst, easily wilted by a mean femme who should be nicer.
I expected that he’d be gone by the time the rains settled in for the winter, trainhopping back east or riding his bike to Mexico or off on one of the other cliched sorts of punk rock adventures that zines are make of. However, he’s still here: I saw him in a cafe downtown the other day, and stopped briefly to say hi. “I have that stuff you wanted,” I told him, “It’s all ready to go. Call me.”
I’m giving him my silkscreening gear. I’ll be keeping my two wooden-handled squeegees, because they have sentimental value, but he’ll be getting the rest of the squeegees and all the screens, frames, hinges, half-empty ink jars, yards of synthetic silk, and even a jar of photo emulsion that I mixed last year in a half-hearted attempt to start printing again. It’s old, but I stored it in the fridge, so it should still work.
This will be the third time I’ve given away some of the same equipment. Like a cat in a song, it keeps coming back. Typical of island life, I suppose: I give it away when I leave town, then I come home again and the people who received it have decided to move away themselves, so drop it back on my doorstep. Each time I renew my aquaintance with these tools, I get excited about silkscreening… But a little less so, my enthusiasm tempered by growing self-awareness.
This latest house move made me realize that it’s time to let go. Despite the fact that I now have my own room for making lots of equipment- and space-intensive art, I am appalled by how many art supplies I have and I feel oddly restricted by it. It’s like there’s too many things to choose from and instead of actually making stuff I get overwhelmed by all the stuff I could make and so do nothing.
I still love the act of printing, and see a well-executed print as the perfection of simplicity and beauty, but these days I’d rather buy prints from better artists (through JustSeeds!). The truth is I never made great silkscreened art. I mean, I could produce quality t-shirts and posters, but rarely of my own design. I excelled at technique, not artistry. And that’s okay. I did it for ten years, and I have the knowledge. In the past 4 years, I’ve barely touched my silkscreening equipment. The few times I’ve done any printing, I’ve gone back to the simplest, most do-it-yourself, handmade methods that don’t even require much in the way of gear, because that’s the sort of craft I like these days. So, why on earth do I still have all this stuff?
Looking through the boxes, I can see how it is: I’m holding on to it because it represents a person I was, in other people’s eyes, for a little while, a punkity person who taught silkscreening and lived the radical DIY lifestyle. When I started printing as a teenager, that’s who I wanted to become. The accumulated tools and supplies from a decade of developing the craft respresent the achievement of this dream.
Which is funny, because really, if being that person was so rad, then I probably wouldn’t be sitting here writing about it in the past tense: I’d still be loving life in a punk house, working to get by month to month, pouring all my spare time and energy into Food Not Bombs and doomed polyamorous love affairs, and getting ready for a springtime hitchhiking adventure. None of this really appeals to me in the least any more. Well, maybe the springtime hitchhiking adventure: That would be fun.
So yeah, it’s not so much silkscreening gear as it is an idea of myself, and since I’ve moved on, I think it’s about time that my equipment did too: Not because I’m leaving town, but because I’m staying.
As for the queer punk kid who’ll be the recipient of all these art supplies, I’m hoping he’ll stay too. I’m not placing any bets on it, this city being as hard to love as it is, but I’m hoping he’ll at least stick around for the rest of the winter.