From the Publisher: 12 Years

Photo: Lan Gao. Free use Unsplash license.

It’s well before sunrise as I sit here in Seattle. Venus is just coming up over the horizon on this day when the Earth is closer to the sun than any other day of the year. Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians plays while I have my morning tea from a Turkish semaver. My soul should be restless, but I cannot afford to be restless.

The holidays have been difficult. I think about my friends in Japan as they await aftershocks of a massive earthquake in Ishikawa-ken, because they know as I do that nature will kill you without warning, regardless of what scientists and preachers tell you. And, of course, so will other humans. Beyond the spate of generally brainless wars with which our species seems so obsessed, I am concerned for friends in both Israel and Palestine as they hide in shelters, (where there are any) and await the next round of nationalist blather and the inevitable violence that follows rah-rah-rah speeches while decent humans simply want to be able to live and love in peace, hold their friends and families close, and work toward a better world than this one.

On the personal level, my father died on December 29th. I long ago accepted this was inevitable and indeed part of the human process. My heart is therefore steady. But the emptiness remains. Whatever else my father was, he was a passionate devotee of The Seattle Star. He always appreciated me bringing to him the news of the commons, as well as my devotion to plain ol’ capital-A Art, and he never failed to tell me so. I am unlikely ever to find so supportive a reader ever again.

Additionally, I lost my editorial staff in March of last year. Since April the entirety of running The Seattle Star has fallen on me and me alone. While it is far from optimal or enjoyable having to be literary editor, news editor, tech support, ombudsman, and publisher — not to mention professional writer — simultaneously, it isn’t the technical difficulty that is the main problem. It’s the pure fatigue. The absence of any time to step back and consider what would make things any better leads me regularly to a kind of despair about this entire venture. Does anyone care? Do I? Should I even bother? Why?

Amid the chaos and loss, people expect me to bring structure, perspective. I am supposed to sit down and write to thousands of absent readers about celebration. Because there is still much to celebrate.

At the top of that list is the fact that Mickey Mouse has finally entered the public domain. For anyone interested in the commons, or even in Creative Commons, this is a massive event. When it comes to the corruption of art and the grift of sealing off the public domain for private gain, the Disney Corporation has been Public Enemy #1. Anyone who wants a capsule summary of their dreadful effects on human culture is welcome to read any number of articles on the subject of copyright extension, or if you have a stronger stomach, How to Read Donald Duck by Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart ought to suffice.

With the original version of the character from Plane Crazy/Steamboat Willie–Mickey 1.0, if you will–entering the public domain, it at least becomes possible to do unauthorized parodies, or even the most basic legal sharing of a 95 year old cartoon character. I am not optimistic enough to say that this will lead to a complete revolution in art–indeed, I would argue its cultural effects will initially be minimal, just as they would have been if the copyright had expired in 2003 like it was supposed to. But at least I can witness the reduction of completely ridiculous and trivial lawsuits by an evil corporation bullying private citizens for trying to entertain their children.

Too, I have this last year received more literary submissions than ever before. So many, in fact, that most of my time is spent reading at the expense of my writing. Fortunately most of this material has been exceptionally high-level, so I do not feel that my writing has been missed.

Also, with the end of official quarantine performing arts spaces have started to refill. A strange consequence of this is that I have been asked both to read and introduce literary readers. As a result, I have performed on stage this year more than I have in the past ten years combined.

For all of that, I still feel incomplete. There are so many things I’d love to do with The Star that I simply cannot do alone. As technology moves away from general websites to ever more specifically targeted apps, these apps rely upon narrow concentration, mostly on increasingly trivial video. And while I like broadly sketched satirical tropes and pretty people shaking their stuff as much as the next person — indeed more than most people — such material hardly promotes discursive argument or high-level thought. Neither does receiving only input from like-minded friends, followers, and commercial bots. But I am far from able to anchor this social drift all by myself.

In this presidential election year, I am uneasy about the inevitable conjunction of large language model AI, surveillance capitalism, and political targeting, and the resultant injury to democracy. This simply must be resisted, even if it generates massive income for Super PACs who allegedly share my views. Sharing my views is not enough. There are higher principles. But as technologically connected people grow ever more restricted in their ability to receive “news” that does not come from people outside of their tribe, journalism’s power to stave off the harm of private influence over public policies continues to wane. The availability of truly different contexts and points of view with which to engage the world wanes with it.

Art is humanity’s brightest way out of that narrow-minded darkness. Art’s entire purpose is to provide new contexts and new points of view, even upon the most eternal matters of humankind. Through TeenTix and other programs I am blessed to work with adolescents and teenagers. They convince me that things I care about — theater, photography, social discourse, peaceful anarchy, actual critical discussion — are still worth caring about. They care about them too. Art still helps them clarify their thoughts, and their visions of the world. It may be different art from what alleged adults choose to value, but then the world they must navigate is different. Art still matters.

In that regard, I am not sad about publishing so little non-fiction and publishing so much art instead over the past year. I only wish I could reach more people. I only wish I had more support. My goal in 2024 is to fulfill at least those wishes. I have other wishes, of course. But those can wait.

Here’s to another year.

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Omar Willey was born at St. Frances Cabrini Hospital in Seattle and grew up near Lucky Market on Beacon Avenue. He believes Seattle is the greatest city on Earth and came to this conclusion by travelling much of the Earth. He is a junior member of Lesser Seattle and, as an oboist, does not blow his own trumpet. Contact him at omar [at] seattlestar [dot] net

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