The stones hang over our heads

#28
İpek Çınar
About More

In my last year at college, I had discerned how easy it was to reply to the question, "So, what are you doing". "I am a student" was a perfect reply. I knew that I would lose this reply very soon. Moreover, I did not want to find another answer yet. These days, I am about to celebrate almost the second anniversary of my graduation. And I have a sincere reply to this question which is not brief and or clear: "I studied political science in METU. However, I had known that I wanted to express myself with photography even before I applied for this program. Now I do some work related to photography and literature as a freelancer. Sometimes I am getting closer to what I like to do, sometimes getting away from it. But one way or another, they are always related to photography and literature. And the subjects I am working on change almost every week."

Writing this text is very related to what I like to do, for instance. Being an editor and working on this issue of Orta Format that focuses on the sustainability of independent organizations is almost just my thing. I am terrified as I think of a zillion problems, vicious cycles, and contradictions that I want to talk about in this issue that we have been thinking and working on for months. I cannot separate the problems that I personally suffered from the sociocultural ones we have experienced collectively. After all, the structures that we call as collective/initiative arise out of the needs and wishes of the individuals, don't they? 

So I need to talk about myself for a while. If the question, "What are you doing?", is asked in a stage that I can reply longly and melancholically, I would add the following, probably: "I am one of the many young who have been educated in a successful university, and supported by their middle-class family." In fact, I would represent myself as the voice of my generation: "I was one of those who had started to attend to photography, painting, and or music through the university clubs, courses, and independent initiatives. I can say that my vital needs as sheltering, nurturing, and education are not yet fully covered by me. I am quite aware that it is a luxury.  

My aim is not to show what we deal with as an ideal and lily image. It is just the opposite: When it comes to art-related issues, it is very wrong to start to idealize the artworks or the artist. In that case, we place the art among ideals and consider its all earthy needs as sauciness, a decay that does not fit its image, a betrayal against its glory. Moreover, we sometimes experience an illusion that art workers can handle everything with their compassion and creativity to their own production. Isn't it a little unfair to put this romance on the shoulders of people engaged in art? 

 

- Imagine a stone as big as a great house; it hangs, and you are under it; if it falls on you, on your head, will it hurt you?

 

This question, which seems irrelevant, has stuck in my mind while I was working on this text. A falling stone as big as a great house symbolizing fear rather than hurt hangs on top of art-related people and organizations. This stone is formed by financial concerns, time management, and organizational problems, as well as production blocks and courage. Every time I remember it, it fills me with the fear of the pain it will experience. The feeling of anxiety felt at night. As I write these sentences, I have to remind myself again and again: These problems are not romantic. These problems are not romantic. These problems are not romantic. These problems are as tangible, intense and hard as in any business.

The basis of this issue was formed around the components of that stone. Most of us are working in different sectors, on the one hand. And we make productions through independent initiatives or individually on the other. We love our production, and we are good at it (or at least we try to improve ourselves.) However, we do not receive recompensation for our works enough; on the contrary, sometimes we think that this claim is a wicked desire that defiles the spirit of independence. That created the first obstacle to sustainability, and then the first vicious circle. Because this attitude which can be adopted in college years, suddenly turns upside down in business life which brings some requirements such as earning money and overspecialization. For example, as the editors of Orta Format, we have not aimed to earn any income from the magazine for the last eight years and spared all support such as small sponsorships, funds, and book sales to the royalty of our authors and translation. These eight years, which last the founding editors' and then my student years, were the times that we could decide much more impulsive and easily. However, after graduation, the occupation of life led us to the first vicious circle. Due to other duties we have to do, the time that we spend for the magazine is gradually decreasing, we cannot create the content that we wish, and we lose our enthusiasm day by day. In order to hold enthusiasm for the magazine, we firstly should have sustained ourselves as editors. We have not discovered that until the last two months. The reason was maybe the naive character of us and or our rooted disbelief for another solution in Turkey. I do not idealize naivete.  I do not idealize naivete.  I do not idealize naivete. Does love always deteriorate as money is involved? At this point, the romance comes into play again, and it feels as if every monetized business smells of trade. However, as a bachelor of political science (and public administration), working at the bank during the day and doing the thing that I love at night does not make my job purer. 

When we put economic issues aside, we bump into a new problem. Because if one of the biggest problems of carrying out the initiative is economy-based, the other is the difficulty in determining an organizational model suitable for the organization and agreeing on that. Of course, it is not new information that every method adopted has pearls and pitfalls, but when it comes to organizational structure, every modal contradicts one another: The necessity of the division of labour and the difficulty of defining jobs, the workload fall on a few people and the challenge of organizing a crowded team, the uncertainty of horizontal organization and raw feeling of vertical organization. 

The main problems of the organizations carried out with the effort of a few, that is 1-2, people generally arise from excessive workload per individual. For instance, as the two editors of the Orta Format, we determine the content, communicate, edit, prepare the texts and images, upload them to the web site, publish the magazine, distribute it, and reply to the feedback. Although it is an advantage that we are workaholics who do not complain about the workload, this structure, which we are sometimes limited to our ideas and solutions, can cause our enthusiasm to disappear. A new one that breaks the routine always seems more exciting. 

In the meantime, I would like to state that my preference to give examples from Orta Format is mostly related to our decision to make this issue, but it is not my only initiative experience. For example, the first problem that appears in my initiative experiences involving more people is the challenge of organization. The definition of mental load in feminist literature can also explain the organizational structure of crowded initiatives. Unlike the physical tasks that can be defined while working on a project, the mental load tasks such as organizing and planning are usually ignored. Or the person who carries that load is accused of being patronizing. In this sense, initiatives are similar to traditional nuclear family structures that the mental load is mostly undertaken by the mother. In the initiative, we can easily establish a structure that some people undertake mental-loads such as organization and control mechanisms, while the others wait for the new tasks. Or the chores that nobody wants to do are usually done by the person with the highest sense of responsibility. Some people struggle with tasks that do not seem to be related to the main production such as printing the poster, meeting the needs of the venue before the event, searching for a company for billing. (Of course, I advocate the necessity of being organized, but I think it should not be forgotten that organization is also a work task.)

In an organization where almost everyone volunteers, there is not much way to persuade people to do things they do not like or they get bored. Even the word, persuasion, is odd. Although the solution seems to be a more systematic structure in which all work items are listed and shared, there is also the danger of alienation to the whole structure. But, if the work items per individual are changed periodically by an established rotation, what would be the technical work items that cannot be done by everyone? Or, who will organize the rotation? What about the organizer's rotation? With more and more technical details, there is no need to remind not to romanticize things anymore, because there is no crumb of romanticism in this structure. Well, why should I bear so much trouble in this structure that I exist to enjoy first of all? This question bristles with anger, and it is hard to solve. However, it can only be solved by supporting each other, by taking initiative, and above all, by being friends and taking responsibility for each other's psychology and mental health.  

Of course, there is no such world where all these solutions can be applied smoothly. In daily life, where all of us are struggling with dozens of troubles, thinking of all these issues individually and collectively at the same time corresponds to an epiphany moment that can be called a miracle. I absolutely do not approach productions or initiatives as impersonal structures. 

I think the fact that we still have the energy to sustain Orta Format after all this time is because we have gropingly found these ways, we are good friends, and we have bestowed to let go sometimes. What we gave up for this is the title of a different organization that we can get if we hold things tight. If we did this, maybe we would have noticed these things much earlier. Probably the structure that can sustain its editors that we are trying to establish today (which we are far from achieving for now) will upset the balances, and this text will revise itself after a year. It is possible that this load, which we are currently under, will lead the magazine to a better point or the decision to terminate. Yet, being an initiative also includes this kind of a bargain. Even though I do not want to end this article with an illusion of happiness like "And they lived happily ever after," I guess we have to convince ourselves, too: As soon as we think we run out of steam, we still have a little bit of energy. As soon as we think that energy is also over, we still have even a little bit more. If the stone has not fallen on us.