So okay, it's almost official: starting hopefully sometime this week, as soon as I get the details worked out with my site host Jimi, I'm firing up operations again for this arts organization I've been tinkering with since 2004, the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography (CCLaP), this time under the new URL cclapcenter.com. As longtime readers know, in fact, this will be my second serious attempt now at starting things up with CCLaP, the first occurring under a different plan last summer, and which was actually going quite well until its promised outside funding was essentially yanked at the last second. That's what I get for relying on an external investor, I suppose, although entrepreneurial friends of mine like Wendell III tell me not to indict all investors as assholes just because of one bad experience.

In any case, after a half-year hiatus to get over my anger and recharge my batteries, I'm now ready to take another crack at it, and am still sufficiently spooked enough by the concept of external investors at this point to go an entirely different route this time, and to pay for CCLaP's build-up myself out of the profits of each project done under its name. So that now changes CCLaP's focus as well; that instead of last year's focus on creating a community of artists and fans, with me as a low-profile yet central administrator holding things together, this time the focus is on showcasing the most legitimately brilliant unknown artists I can find, and of outputting as much artistic criticism as possible so that you all will know what I mean by "brilliant unknown artists" in the first place.

In the end it may not seem like too profound a change, in that the center's activities themselves stay almost the same -- as before, CCLaP v2 will have a blog updated multiple times a day, a Flash-based virtual photography gallery, and eventually a publishing program and live-events schedule. The main difference, in fact, is in how I'm approaching these activities as the central administrator of it all, as well as the guy in charge of selling the whole thing to the public: that before, the idea was to publicly de-emphasize my role as much as possible, in that the focus was to be on the community being formed, while now the idea very much is to build a "cult of personality" around myself (like I have with this personal site over the years), and in turn to string CCLaP's activities and featured artists around that. As I've mentioned here before, under this new way of approaching things, what's of most importance now is to establish my credentials as an arbiter of underground culture; to publish a lot of criticism, for example, do a really good job with the virtual gallery, basically convince as many people as possible why they should give a fuck when I recommend an artist they've never heard of (and why they should pay me money for the experience, by buying CCLaP's merchandise and making donations).

That's what my "Movies for Grown-Ups" series of essays at my VOX account right now is about (which will be moving over to the CCLaP site when it opens), is to help establish exactly what I like in my favorite artistic projects, and why I like it; I'll be greatly expanding that then at the CCLaP site itself, including weekly reviews of just-published novels, daily showcases of interesting photographers at Flickr, etc. Pssst -- I'm looking for books to review, especially self-published ones. Drop me a line at ilikejason [aatt] gmail.com to obtain a physical mailing address, or do something even simpler and just email me your electronic book. That said, I won't be reviewing every book I receive, especially if it ends up sucking; as longtime readers know, in fact, in general I prefer not to publish negative reviews at all, but rather concentrate on promoting great artists that most people have never heard of.

I'm hoping, then, to add a weekly podcast to the activities as well, a mix of audio and video reports, that will also be a mix of original interviews and local event recaps, something for example I pray to be even half as sharp as CoolHunting.com (i.e. I will be ripping off their look on a regular basis -- thanks, CoolHunting!). And yet again, this is done for the same purpose as the critical essays, to establish myself more in the eyes of the public as someone whose opinions and tastes they should trust, and should take a gamble on sometimes as well. Hey, I'm sensitive to the various ways CCLaP v1 failed last year, other than the ways that weren't my fault; I haven't forgotten, for example, that I was able to raise barely any money at all through public memberships, and that this can be chalked up mostly to what we're talking about, of the public not trusting enough in my abilities to be parted from 50 of their dollars. As regular readers know, I'm not exactly afraid of failures, and in general see them as an opportunity to learn and grow; and this is simply one lesson to be learned from last year, that I need to establish my reputation as a critic and administrator more, as well as get more actual projects finished and presented to the public.

In fact, that's probably the most basic lesson of all that I learned from last year's experiences -- that even tiny electronic-only plans that cost nothing to produce, but that are actually completed, are much more highly regarded than big plans that exist only in the hypothetical, no matter how many other small projects you've already completed in the past and can point to as proof that you can pull off the big ones as well, if only someone with money would simply give you the chance to do so. It's why CCLaP's goals this second time might seem so much more modest -- to publish only online this summer, for example, to do no live events at all (except possibly a few social-only ones), to concentrate more on things like the podcast that I can do with equipment I already own. In a way it's a disappointment for me, a step down in ambition from what I was trying to do last year, which was already a few steps down from my original grandiose plan in 2004; but then again, the 2004 plan required $100,000 in startup money, the 2006 plan $5,000, and this year's plan nothing. Finally, a budget I can afford!

And of course if you're paying attention, you can spot another big change that all of this means, a change more troubling in nature -- that this time I need to be far more selective over who I feature and recommend through CCLaP, that my job now consists of saying no to a lot of artists instead of saying yes. Which, again, is simply the nature of the beast: that before, this community of artists and fans was going to determine what and who CCLaP considered "cool," with me being the mostly unseen hand gently shaping this vision; but now, CCLaP will be much more a personal reflection of what and who I in particular find "cool," with you either buying into that vision or not (and adding to/shaping the conversation via blog comments, guest entries, social events and the like). So like I said, that's going to involve me having to say no to a lot more artists than before; to refuse to review certain books, not link to certain websites, not publish certain authors. It's not a big deal now, of course, because CCLaP isn't even open yet; as the center develops a bigger and bigger public profile this summer, though, I bet this'll become a bigger and bigger issue.

So anyway, that's the story for now; and hopefully by the time this fall rolls around, the things I just mentioned will have been successful enough for me to have put together around a thousand bucks, which is roughly what I need to publish CCLaP's first paper book (that is, once you figure in the advance I will be paying my first "signed" author, pretty much a necessity if I'm going to attract someone superlatively good). And hopefully at the same time, by then there will be enough of a local audience built up to support a regularly recurring show in Chicago as well; not the full schedule attempted last year, but more like how Jessa Crispin does it over at Bookslut.com, one show a month or whenever I can afford it. You know, just a more organic growth to CCLaP's activities this time, instead of first coming up with a big plan and then saying, "I need a check this big to pull this off, and you'll get your money back in a year." I'm still in theory interested in doing it that way; it's just that I got burned too bad last year to want to pursue such an option again right now.

Okay, so that's the news for now, and I do hope you'll be able to join in starting hopefully later this week, or whenever it is that we can get the new URL pointing to the right server space. Don't forget, that new address is cclapcenter.com; please spread the word!

- x -

And some random notes as well, as long as I'm here...

--So yes, all of this brings more official news as well, although I suppose most of you who used to follow along have pretty much already guessed: that I will be putting my Second Life blog, In The Grid, on hiatus for the rest of 2007, and probably won't be having anything at all to do with Second Life again until at least winter 2008, if ever. And this frankly is not just because of re-activating the arts center, although that's a big part of it; and not just because it's summer and I'm spending a lot more time outside, although that's a big part of it too; but also because the SL client software has just finally gotten too big and unwieldly for my home computer, a Mac Mini Intel. And damnit, I just bought the thing brand-new a year ago, a year ago, specifically to play Second Life, and I'm still as unemployed and broke as I was at that point, and I just absolutely cannot justify buying yet another new computer right now just to play, not when my Mini works just fine for each and every other tech thing I do in my life, from BitTorrent to video-editing to podcast creation and more.

And all of this, frankly, presents a huge sticky wicket when it comes to Second Life's biggest selling point, the thing that both its founders and its most passionate users are always arguing -- that Second Life is no mere game but an entire new reality, and a profound new paradigm shift in human interaction, and the Great Leveler of Populations, blah blah fuckity blah. But let me tell ya, Second Life ain't the great leveler of anything if you have to be middle-class and with a ton of discretionary income in order to even be there. If that's the case, then what you've got on your hands, my friend, is a videogame, and you can take all that hippie crap about "new communication platforms" and park it on a shelf at Best Buy next to the latest expansion pack for World of Warcraft. I think there's more and more non-gamers starting to realize this, in fact, and starting to realize all the hidden costs that come with being a Citizen of the Metaverse (the broadband bill, the regular computer upgrades, the endless video cards if you're on Windows); I'm not sure what exactly it means for either Second Life or Linden Lab (owner of the game), but I do know for sure that the MMO Bubble has definitely burst, or at least for me. Anyway, I know a lot of you were fans of that blog, so I hate to have to announce its medium-term closure; but that's just sometimes how it is, I guess.

--Oh, and speaking of special projects....If you're reading this in some other form besides the desktop version, you might not know yet that the special new section of my site just for my bike maps is now open; you can find it at jasonpettus.com/maps/. And that's all still going really well, to tell you the truth, not just the maps themselves but the biking in general; those who read my other personal journal, for example, will know that this Memorial Day I actually pulled off a 24-mile (39 km) ride, now officially the longest I've ever gone in my life, from my place in Uptown to the southside's Hyde Park, almost entirely along Chicago's 18-mile lakefront bike path. Although that might not be the best example, because I actually overdid it on that one; that for the first several hours of the following morning, I couldn't actually get my legs to work, which was quite the creepy little body-snatching experience indeed.

In fact, I can definitively state that the best workouts I've had yet this summer, the ones that seem to have done my body the most constructive good, are the ones for which I took my time and simply enjoyed all the details that came along the way. I've been thinking about this a lot recently, to tell you the truth, because of course when you spend as much time on the bike trails as I have this month, you're bound on a daily basis to run into that other kind of bicyclist; you know, the one with the thousand-dollar titanium racing bike, who spends their entire morning doing endless wind-sprint loops in a Lycra jumpsuit, up and down and up and down the same five-mile section of the path, with this gritty look of torture on their faces and a naked contempt for all those other cyclists actually enjoying themselves at a nice leisurely pace.

And every time I see one of these people, I can't help but to think, "Jesus, how...American." You know? Americans are the only people I know who can take something as inherently fun and carefree as stretching one's muscles under a warm sun, and turn it into a joyless daily chore that relies on external inflated expectations and the spending of obscene amounts of money. I mean, just look at fitness centers, you know? Only Americans could come up with something like that; with taking something that can be done for free with great joy while outdoors, and turning it into a grim daily responsibility done inside a windowless room after paying thousands of dollars just to be let in. But then again, I've been on a bit of an anti-consumerist kick lately, so maybe it's just me.

Anyway, my point is that I'm not one of these people; that as far as I'm concerned, the main point of bicycling to my destination in the first place is to simply enjoy the ride, and to revel in the buildings and people and pets I'm passing, to celebrate the fact that I'm outdoors and part of humanity and a small cog in this immense clockwork we call the city. As my Memorial Day trip proved once again, where things go wrong for me is when I get too ambitious, when I schedule a bike trip for more goal-oriented reasons than to simply enjoy the ride. It's an important lesson to heed, I think, one I'll be paying more attention to as the summer progresses.

--And finally...

Yes, I'm aware that I've recently been much more of a bitter little self-righteous prick than usual at my two personal journals, which was frankly already more than I probably should be. I've been going through a whole struggle this spring and early summer, in fact, a much more striking misanthropic streak than I'm normally used to, which I've been having trouble coping with and getting over -- just this overwhelming suspicion of exactly how idiotic most human beings in actuality are, and how ultimately it doesn't really matter whether the mouth-breathing swarms live or die or get exterminated like cockroaches by a charming despot or what. And in this, my old hero Wendell the Third has come through once again; he's got me reading Buckminster Fuller for the first time, as a matter of fact, who for those who don't know wasn't just the inventor of the geodesic dome, but who was also an eternal optimist about humanity who dedicated his entire adult life to figuring out how people can be happier. And his work so far is inspiring, I have to admit, and actually makes me believe in humanity a little more each time I read another chapter; although I also have to admit, I wince and roll my eyes a little every time he uses the phrase "Spaceship Earth."

Anyway...yeah. Yeah, yeah. I'm dealing with a lot of abstract anger towards human beings these days, and I know that it's reflected in what I write about at my personal journals. And I'm also dealing with trying to get over this anger, because it's something I sincerely don't like about myself, and something as well that's a sincere impediment towards getting my arts center off the ground; because let's face it, no matter who you are, no one likes dealing with a bitter little asshole. As always, it's a journey, one with its ups and downs, one with its successes and failures. I feel like I'm failing a lot more than succeeding these days, when it comes to this particular subject; but that when it comes to other subjects, like my almost supernaturally successful attempt to quit smoking this year, I'm doing better than I ever expected. (87 days since I've had a cigarette, believe it or not; and yeah, fuck you too, while we're on the subject.) As always, I'll keep muddling along as I deal with these topics; and as always, even though I don't publicly express this much anymore, I am sincerely glad that you've chosen to follow along, and to check into the site on a regular basis to see how the struggle goes. I know that I rarely respond to fan mail anymore, simply because I don't know what to say anymore, now that I'm no longer pursuing a career as a writer; nonetheless, I'm glad that a certain amount of you still apparently enjoy what it is that I have to say, and I do appreciate you stopping by and checking out what is often anymore just a bunch of insane babbling.

Okay, that's enough for today. See you later.

Copyright 2007, Jason Pettus. All rights reserved. This was published under a Creative Commons license; click here for details. Contact: ilikejason [at] gmail [dot] com.