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The story you're about to read is no less than the most epic example of hipster ownage ever catalogued on the internet. Were there a Richter scale of hipster ownage, this story would rank somewhere between "the systematic shut down of every Salvation Army in the nation" and "having daddy's credit card taken away." This story is like a hand-calligraphied note signed by both TV on the Radio and Animal Collective telling you how fat you look in that American Apparel unitard. It's just that good.

And subplots? Holy Crap, I felt like I was ironically watching Melrose Place! Which drink will he choose in the suspenseful bar scene - PBR or PBR and a shot? Will the gang think my undercut looks cool? Will I finish my quirky banner in time for the day of the big fashion show? I envy you people for not yet knowing these answers.

Now that I've got the attention of your sick, train-wreck-loving, ADD-addled minds, let me tell you what else this story is about: it's about balance and limitations. The balance we crave when we feel we've been wronged and the human limitations of emotional response.

This story is broken into two parts. In part one, I'm thrown in the mud and come out looking transfigured. In part two I pursue righteous justice, with spectacular results and myriad regrets. I encourage you to listen to the audio version, as all my stories are written with a listening ear in mind. Please turn off all cell phones and keep your hands inside the trolley. You're about to embark on one bizarre ride.

Part I: The Epiphany
Part II: We Know You Know I Know
Part II, section II
Part II, section III
Part II, section IV

Part I: The Epiphany

The saga started as most of my failed ventures do – on craigslist.  I was searching the art section for potential jobs when I came across a posting from a clothing company called Seasick Mama.  They were seeking out artists of all fields, looking to commission some for tee-shirt designs.  In turn, the artist would get a designer shirt to their credit and a percentage of the shirt sales. 

The ad seemed tailor made for me.  I had just spent the past year and a half doing all my artwork on clothing, combining mixed media and poetry with broken down clothes to make something I called “anti-slogans” (you can see examples here, here and here).  I composed an email linking to samples and hoped for the best.

It took a week to hear anything from Seasick, but when I did it was encouraging.  'Mama said the work was beautiful, appealing and had a lot of potential in it.  She even posted my work on her blogalong with other artists, asking people to vote on who they liked best.

The situation couldn't have been better for me.  I sent an email out to my mailing list, about 300 or so friends and close relations, directing them to the site and asking them to vote for my work.  Problem was, the voting program uploaded by Seasick was busted.  I got thirty emails back informing me as much before I replied, reassuring the troops that the voting would be fixed soon.  I emailed Seasick about the problem but never got a reply.  The voting was never fixed, and two weeks later I got a rejection email:

Hey There!

I just wanted to personally Thank You for your Seasick Mama Artist submissions. Your work was beautiful in many ways, but unfortunately we are unable to further consider you for the position here at Seasick Mama. Please don't get discouraged or disappointed. I wanted to offer you another amazing opportunity through Seasick Mama. It is the Seasick Mama Artists Grants we distribute multiple times every year. The application is available online. To apply you just download and resubmit the application, with some of your finest images, sounds, or videos. It's fast and easy, and all grant winner receive $500 cash and a limited edition t-shirt collection sold online (all proceeds go directly to the artist!)..

I wish you the best of luck.. There is a link at the bottom that will take you directly to the application!

Seasick Mama
The Seasick Mama Artist Grant

Needless to say, I was a little disappointed.  It wasn't the rejection that bothered me so much as getting my supporters mobilized just to have their efforts frustrated.  You can only sound so many false alarms before people start tuning out. 

It was in this email that I first noticed one of Seasick Mama's tragic flaws: her proofreading skills.    In retrospect, this was one of her better efforts, but at the time the missing 's' from “all grant winner” seemed too painful to go unmentioned.

Now I've been on the internet as long as you have, maybe longer.  And I understand correcting internet grammar is a futile effort, seen as a hostile action rather than a helpful one.  But I figured two things: 1) It's meant to be a professional letter, not a forum post, so she might like to know and 2) I'm not interested in the grant competition, so what's the worst that could happen?  The whole concept seemed off, anyway – giving a one-person company $10 dollars in the hopes of winning $500.  Looking back over the blog posts, it seems the submission deadline came and went and no winner was ever announced.

I sent the following reply to Seasick:

Someone may have told you this already, but you forgot the 's' in 'grant winner'.  Just thought you might like to know.  Best of luck with submissions.

Four minutes later I got this back:

may be eye can pay u too bee my editer in sted?

Apparently I had hit a nerve.

When I sent the email I wasn't anticipating any reply from Mama, much less phonetic insults.  I figured she'd either take the proofreading and change it accordingly or think me a dick and leave it at that.  Thus began my long journey of mindfulness with Seasick Mama, her acting as the universal antagonist and me trying to witness my emotions and reverse her intent. 

It was not easy initially.  This first, visceral response left me bitter for hours.  Eventually I replied “Just trying to help you out, best of luck regardless,” but I didn't really mean it.  I just wanted to cut my losses with this woman, who was already flouncing her power with the grace of a fifth grade bully.

The next day I got an email from her titled “I thought this might interest you”.  The email was a press release about the benefits of the artist grant, including the $500 dollar prize, the designer tee-shirt, the Seasick Mama art zine and a two page spread in W25 magazine (www.W25mag.com).  As far I as I can tell none of this came to pass, but at the time the meaning was clear: “Look at all the things you could have had if you had just stayed on my good side.”

It was easy for me to observe my emotions.  I was angry.  I was angry and there was no sidestepping it because I had already swallowed the bait.  My reaction was a primal one – to “get even,” to somehow inflict the anger I was feeling on Seasick.  Fortunately for me, the situation provided no easy opportunities.  There was no power available to me as a rejected applicant and no matter how bullied I felt, I knew name calling or expletive-laden emails would bring no satisfaction. 

There are many drawbacks to email communication, but one virtue is the reflection time it affords.  When you get angry in-person or on the phone, you're much more likely to react rather than process, to “get even” rather than understand.  Knowing that I had already fully swallowed the bait, fully taken on this negative energy, and seeing my options for reprisal were weak, I was blessedly forced to consider the high road.  And in reflecting on how to best reply nicely to her email, something of a small miracle occurred, something I had never experienced in my life.

I was at work, thinking of how to word the short email and a phrase popped into my head: “I hope everything you're searching for finds its home with you.”  And I realized immediately that I meant it.  I wanted the best for Seasick Mama because why wouldn't I?  Where was the joy in wishing her ill?  Where was the love in knowing she's angry?  Where was anything I valued in plotting her demise? 

My initial reaction had been to seek an emotional, animal justice, willfully blind to all the infinite variables that make us behave as we do – make us write and say the things that we do.  Infinite variables that, as humans, we can perceive exist but will never hope to understand.  When I stepped outside my reactions, I saw only her humanity striving for the unknowable, swimming in a world consumed by oceans.  I wanted the best for Seasick Mama because she's human, just like me.

I immediately felt a rush of good feeling swell in my body, as though a dam had burst in my chest.  I had felt this good before, but never under such circumstances, and never without external stimulus.  I've felt the joy of artistic creation, but this was different.  This was purposeless contentment, spawned by nothing but my own thought process.  The euphoria lasted over two hours before it faded.

The experience made me realize that the energy our world gives us is not static.  It does not have unchanging negative or positive principles.  When I received that email under the circumstances I did, I took on a heap of negative energy.  When I forced myself to synthesize it rather than eat it, it exploded like a star burst in my body.  I can't claim that I've mastered a method of conversion, I just know what my body tells me is so.

I received no reply email from Seasick.  I was fine with that, as I had nothing more to say to her and I wanted our last interaction to end on a personal high.  I stayed clear of her website for three months, respecting her role as the universal antagonist.  Life without Seasick was going just fine until the fateful night of June 22nd. 

Part II: “We Know You Know I Know”

On the evening of June 22nd, I opened my laptop and found I had nothing to do.  I'm sure you all know this feeling: drawn to the computer by habit, having checked your mail fifteen minutes before, cycling through your regular websites to read the same headlines over again.  It was during this session of zombie-searching that a thought dawned on me: why not check Seasick Mama's website?

Instantly I knew this was a bad idea.  Why risk exposing yourself to the universal antagonist?  But it had been three months and zombie search was upon me.  Zombie search unthinking.  Zombie search crave new content.  I went to her site.

Gracing the front page was a new contest by Seasick Mama - a six-word story contest.  The aim was to write a six-word phrase that either 1. reflects your recession experience 2. Reflects your life in NYC or 3. Reflects your life as an artist.  The winner would get their story on a shirt and a percentage of the shirt sales.  You can find the original post here

Now here was a great idea.  Easier than a haiku, accessible to artists of all backgrounds and easily translatable to a shirt.  It's the perfect, bite-sized info snack for our ravenous zombie-search.

That's why I thought of it myself.  In February.  When I first started posting six-word stories on my website.  I figured it was a simple yet interesting way to do weekly content updates.  The first time I contacted Seasick three months previous, several examples decorated the top of my news page.

I was immediately sucked in yet again.  The dots were all too connectible for me to react otherwise.  The first thing I did was call up my friend Jacob Flaitz, as it's no fun being incredulous alone.  From this phone conversation, a primordial brine of indigence, enthusiasm and schoolyard revenge, a phrase came from Jacob as effortless as breathing, binding our fates to that of Seasick Mama.

"We Know You Know I know."

It's not just a phrase, it's an incantation.  It's voodoo.  It's adamant and sentient; it's sexy 'cause it's plain.  With kaleidoscope perspectives and implied accusations - a knowing heartbeat, an honest answer, a celebrant's refrain. 

It was too good not to send.  I knew this might mean a declaration of war, but the crime seemed too blatant and the wording so right.  When the universe gifts you a message like this, what choice do you have but to see where it goes?

Six Word Stories: the contest
We know you know I know.

Two days later, a reply:


I really like your six word story. I posted it on the website. I also noticed you did a similar thing. Great minds think a like.


It was masterful flanking, and I felt like a fool.  How was I to claim she took my idea now without resorting to pettiness?  I realized then, as with our last encounter, that I never held the power in the first place.  All I had was a six-word sermon, cryptic and useless as proof.  As with three months earlier, I was forced to consider my powerless options rather than indulge my sense of knee-jerk revenge.

Unlike last time, there was no white light or choir of angels when I came to accept my situation.  After all, the idea wasn't mine to begin with: it was Ernest Hemingway's, and it probably existed before that, too.  Seasick's contest wasn't preventing me from doing my own six-word stories - the project's had two different aims.  And besides, she seemed to like the idea.  I was closer to getting a shirt made than I ever was three months earlier.  She was either playing ignorant, didn't get my jab or genuinely didn't steal it.  In all cases, she was making way more out of the idea than I ever did, and it looked like I might benefit.  I wrote this reply:


Thanks.  It's funny where the mind gets its materials.  Me, I got the idea from an NPR story where they were asking listeners to call up with six word stories on the economy (I didn't call up, but my thought was "tighten your belt, boil the slack").

It reminds me of an article I read not too long ago.  Have you ever heard of a singer-songwriter/artist named Jeffrey Lewis?  He's real good - a Brooklyn local, but known to the Indie world at large.  He's written some Op-ed pieces for the NYT before, including one about where songs come from in the ether of one's mind.

An excerpt: "All aspects of creativity are basically reconstituted bits and pieces of things we’ve seen, heard and experienced, finely or not-so-finely chopped and served in a form that hopefully blends the ingredients into something “new.” The ancient Greeks seemed to know this, expressed in their belief that the Muses of creativity were the daughters of Mnemosyne, Titan goddess of memory."  the article, if interested.


After that, things went really well for several weeks.  Seasick put "We Know You Know I Know" in big, bold Helvetica at the top of her contest page with my name underneath.  Below that were 40 or so other submissions from various artists, some of them quite good.  There was no confirmation that I was a winner, but you gotta feel good about your chances when your words are in big font.

The first sign of trouble can be traced to July 8th, though I didn't care a bit when it occurred.  It's a blog post on Seasick's site - a press release for the show titled "We Know You Know I Know," and was the first example of the words appearing without any mention of my name.

On July 22nd, a similar press release goes out, this one targeted at local Brooklyn websites and publications encouraging them to enter.  Again "We Know You Know I Know" is the focal point and again no credit is given.

Still none of this is a real concern to me until the contest winners are announced in early August.  The show title is officially "We Know You Know I Know."  The winners, with the exception of Williamsburg band/hype machine Peru Ana Ana Peru, are all publications.  My name and website exist nowhere in the post.

1. Article Magazine
"On a wing and a dare."

2. Chief Magazine
"Sex sells, booze sells, nothing else."

3.The Worlds Best Ever
 "I'll Become The World's Best ______ Ever" 

4. IMPOSE Magazine
"Smoke Weed Every Mother Fucking Day."

5. Design For Mankind
"I can't pay my phone bill."

6. Peru Ana Ana Peru
"For free stickers, go to lebanon."

7. Cabinet Magazine
"Curiosity never ever killed a cat."

8. Ins & Outs Magazine
"Don't cash that check 'til Thursday."

Now I get concerned.  What troubles me first is the lack of credit, especially when everyone else is credited amply.  To have your name beside your words every step of the way until is starts meaning something is troubling.  What makes me doubly wary is I'm the only artist left in the exhibition - and giving winning submissions like "Smoke Weed Every Mother F*cking Day," I don't think quality was the deciding factor in picking winners (no offense, Impose magazine).  It appeared what mattered was notoriety, and all the artists whose submissions were used to build the legitimacy of the contest were discarded once bigger names came calling.  I suspect Jacob and I survived only because our phrase had been used so heavily for promotion.

And this promo use beyond contest parameters was my final concern; not because I disagreed with the phrase's use for promotional purposes, but because all of the sudden it was the figurehead of a clothing line without consent, credit or consultation.

It seemed were were being distilled from our story.

I was still far from panic mode, though.  All I wanted out of the situation was the sense that Jacob and I had some input and control over our words.  If we could get at least a citation next to the phrase, we'd be back on track.

The same day as the blog post, I got an email from Seasick asking me to send a black and white logo of my website to her.  I took it as an opportunity to casually ask about citation:


couple questions:

1.  Is a gray background acceptable?  I have two versions drafted, but it looks better with a gray backdrop.

2.  No web link love on your post about the show?  Did I do something wrong?  Like, erased one of your DVR'd shows or maybe unwittingly took your taxi?

I know it's a corny-sounding email, but I wanted to keep the tone light between us.  I saw no point in getting forceful over so easily a rectifiable problem as adding a name and link to a blog post.  Also, I was hopeful that this project would lead to future Seasick Mama - Mike Varley collaborations.

Seasick's reply:

1)  Black or white son. Send .jpeg.

2)  you will have web link love once the website is built for the show. thats why i need a logo and a description now.

The reply set my teeth on edge.  Why be so dismissive to someone whose words you were basing your entire show on?  I couldn't understand, but I wasn't ready to make waves.  I sent her the logo and thanked her for clarifying, assuming all would be righted with the official show page.

I went upstate for a few days for a wedding, not bothering to check Seasick's website until I came back.  Seasick made an interesting post around that time, August 13th about some struggles she was having  of her own with clothing company Forever 21.  Apparently, she believed her idea for shirts with braziers printed on them was stolen from her by the company.  Whether or not this was true, she was quite upset with the notion of having an idea taken from her.  The incident provided an interesting frame for what was to come.  You can see the post here.

When I came back from Syracuse, the show contest page was up as promised.  "We Know You Know I Know," hosted by Seasick Mama, with the contest winners logos at the bottom, and the more noteworthy logos in color.  I notice one logo, L magazine, that wasn't on the earlier list of winners but appeared a winner now.  I also noticed that my name or logo appeared nowhere on the page.

I spent a couple of days considering what to do.  I still didn't want to make this a big deal, but thoughts of future collaboration were dying fast.  Around this point, my phone conversations with Jacob go from periodic catch-up calls to daily Seasick briefings.  We had long ago learned our lesson from the "We Know You Know I Know" prank being turned on its ear, and were now concerned not with getting even but with getting justice, doing so in a way that encouraged Seasick to be the agent of this justice.

If there's one thing this saga has made me think long and hard about, it's justice.  More than violence, more than sex, our culture is steeped in justice.  It's the heartbeat of our movies; it's our answer to every tragedy; the lawyers that comprehend it comprise our ruling class.

The prime reason you've read this far is  your appetite for justice.  This story bears the markings of an epic tidal wave, primed to crush a fashionista swelled with self-entitlement.  You feel the water pull the sand between your toes and out to sea.  You're bracing for the pleasure of universal order.

In Part I we touched upon the allure of animal justice - the desire to "make even" based solely on feeling.  From here out, we'll be speaking of human justice - the protections of law our society affords us.  In retrospect, the only difference I can see is one comes with an instruction book.

On August 20th, ten days after I submitted my logo, I sent Seasick an email:

Hi Seasick,

Please explain why I am again not included in promotion for the Sept. 19-20th event.  You're using my words heavily without giving me any credit, and it leaves me with doubts as to whether I want them included in the show at all.  I hope this is just an easily rectifiable oversight.

I look forward to hearing from you; in the meantime, good luck with show prep.


I received this reply:

it's because your the LAST statement I'm waiting from. I need your words on who you are and why you are.

Sent from my iPhone

Did Seasick ask me for a website description in the initial email?  Yes, and I neglected to provide it.  This does not account for why she didn't contact me immediately about it, or when she was putting the site together and realized she couldn't put my logo up, or in any of the subsequent ten days the show page was up before I contacted her about it.  This also does not account for the continued use of the phrase beyond fabric decoration without so much as a name given, less a logo.  And sadly, it does not account for why my honest concerns were met with caps lock hostility and perplexing blame deflection.  All it added up to was a sorry conclusion: it was clear I had not won a contest.

Yes, I had not won a contest.  I knew this from experience as a past contest winner.  When I was eleven, I won a Babe Ruth trivia contest on the occasion of Babe Ruth's 100th birthday.  It was sponsored by Babe Ruth Little League Baseball, and they gave me an all expense paid trip to that year's World Series.  I was flown to Abbeyville, Louisiana, home of the world's largest omelet skillet.  I threw out the first pitch of the opening game and posed with a Babe Ruth impersonator.  They had a banquet dinner and I sat at the head table; I was offered speech time, which I declined.  They drove me around in a top down convertible to wave at the head of the closing parade.  I am making none of this up.

So it was clear from past experience that I had not won a contest, because contest implies accommodation.  It implies honor.  Your efforts are held up and celebrated, not marginalized, not appropriated.  This was more like finding squatters on the abandoned family farm.  An opportunity exists for all parties involved so long as discussion is civil.

It was time to get my legal ducks in a row; justice demanded it.  While I wasn't prepared yet to threaten Seasick Mama with legal action, I wanted to know what I was talking about if it came to claims of ownership.  I contacted my Uncle Joey, who I knew had friends in intellectual property law.  He sent me the contact info of Steven Barrese, who was nothing but a great guy every step of the way.  We had a short exchange on the phone, after which I sent him a "just the facts" account of the Seasick Saga up till that point.  I asked him his advice on how to proceed and he told me what I had already planned: to email her back with my concerns and ask to speak over the phone.

During the time I was busy getting in touch with Steve, there were several days of radio silence between myself and Seasick.  I was preparing my reply to her when I received this email:

dude, send me a bio/description of yourself so I can put a link up for you.

attached, me wearing you.

attached was a photo of Seasick in a "We Know You Know I Know" tee-shirt, which I will not include for reasons of privacy.

In theory, I could have sent her the website description and acted as though nothing else had happened.  After all, what had I ever wanted besides the tee-shirt and some credit?  But by this point, it was too late for me.  Even this email, the tamest in the set, now seemed an affront.  The casual "dude" seemed condescending, the tee-shirt was in production without any sort of contract.  Jacob and I agreed: the tee-shirt alone wouldn't satisfy.  What mattered now was balance.  We wanted magnanimous justice.

This was the reply I crafted:

Dear Seasick,

Here's the site description:
“Art, writing and politics. All the news that's fit to spit.”

Now we need to work out the contract for this phrase. The usage of “We Know You Know I Know” has gone beyond what the initial contest rules stated. Its been used in advertisement, press releases, and is the title of the show. As someone who is trying to make a living off intellectual property, I hope you can see why this is concerning to me.

I believe the phrase has outgrown its initial compensation, “A percentage of [the shirt] proceeds,” simply because it is no longer just a shirt. It is the mission statement of your new clothing line, and should to be treated as such.

Rest assured, this is not a ploy to cash in: if it sounds so, it's only because I'm trying to be precise in my thoughts. At the same time, I want to be compensated according to how my words have been used. I'm very confident we can come to an amicable agreement on this, respectful of each other's positions as employer and contractor.

Now we can continue this through email or we can figure a time to talk on the phone. Given the relative nearness of the show date, the phone might be better so this matter can be settled and you can focus on other things. Does sometime this weekend sound good to you? In the meantime, we can hash out some general ideas through email.

Well done on the shirt, by the way. It looks great and it's not gender specific. Talk to you soon.

Mike Varley

I was confident that this email would not be dismissed.  Where lighthearted inquiry and succinct concern had failed, surely honest, thoughtful appraisal would succeed.  I felt a little bad stating her failures so plainly, but I had to get through to her the gravity of her actions.  The eight hundred pound gorilla could no longer be ignored - Seasick would have to address the problem directly.

It had taken five days for that email to realize life.  Five days between Seasick's "You're the LAST statement I'm waiting for" email and my eventual response.  In that time, I had discussed the situation in detail with Jacob, pulled the opinions of other friends, taken the time to learn my legal rights and reflected heavily on the best way to express my concerns in an assertive yet thoughtful way, taking care to leave the door open for further dialogue.  Five days before I hit that fateful send button.  In twenty-seven minutes, I had my reply.


The contracts are being dispersed shortly. But in a nut shell, your compensation is having your creativity be exposed. (Printed on a large scale canvas (for display), into prints, and onto t-shirts.) Percentage of the proceeds are still being decided. Your compensation is the result of the weekend.

Seasick Mama is a small company, so there is no budget to compensate you for your six words that you submitted (which Seasick Mama now has rights too) to an exclusive contest. Your words are being hung with some "big dogs" here in Brooklyn including, Peru Ana Ana Peru, Article Magazine, L Magazine, and TWBE, all of which understand the circumstances of the show, having fun--and enjoying the opportunity Seasick Mama is giving them.

I hope this helps. We can talk soon. I am swamped with work.



I was floored.  Of all the countless reactions I had anticipated from Seasick, strong arming had never entered my orbit.  Consider all the remarkable things this email aims for:

--Attempting to shift notions of compensation from "money" to "exposure" after months of touting how profits will benefit the artists.

--Reserving the right to withhold compensation terms until after she sees how well the show does, essentially assuring the weakest deal for the artist.

--Implying how I'm a nobody compared to the "big dogs" that I'll get to hang with at the show, including L magazine, who didn't actually win the contest but was big enough to be included after the fact.

--Telling me how grateful I should be for the opportunity she's providing while ignoring that the opportunity was built using what I provided her.

--And finally, claiming rights to the six word story Jacob and I created without any grounds for doing so, other than the illusionary sense of ownership that comes with using someone else's property again and again.

I was wrong in thinking Seasick would be forced to address the problem.  In fact, her email hardly qualifies as a reply.  It's more a physical reaction, like baring teeth to ward off danger, and because of this perhaps I should have been more understanding - more willing to give slack and find a gentler response.

But justice is not understanding - its Scales can't quantify feeling.  I desired now only a balance of power, and the slack I'd already given was enough to hang her by.

I contacted Steve Barrese again to make sure her claims were illegitimate.  He asked me if I was positive there was no contest fine print or agreement I signed.  I was sure, though the boldness of her claims made me almost doubt myself.  I asked Steve for the particulars of the law so I could relate them to Seasick.  He obliged.  The following is my email:

Dear Seasick,

I encourage you to take the following seriously, as it is not my guess on the law or my opinion of how the law should work.  It is the actual law, as related to me by my legal council Steven Barrese, a specialist in intellectual property.

I became the copyright owner of "We Know You Know I Know" as soon as I created the work.  I am not your employee and this is not a "work for hire" situation, so the copyright does not automatically transfer to you.  We both know at no point did I sign a contract when I entered the contest, nor were there any clauses or disclaimers on the contest website.  But even if there were clauses hidden somewhere on the website, there is still section 204 of the Copyright Act, which states that a written document signed by the copyright owner must exist in order to transfer rights.  This document does not exist.

Now that the issue of rights is beyond question, we can discuss terms of compensation.  As I said in my previous email, I'm not interested in making this a cash grab.  I appreciate the trials of a small company and sincerely admire your ambition - it's what drew me to your website in the first place.

In turn, you must appreciate the struggles of a working artist.  I take my creative output very seriously, as an artist must if they want to succeed.  And as you mentioned in your last email, this show is a big deal: a venue in the heart of Williamsburg with lots of foot traffic expected and an impressive cast of Brooklyn publications.  This is a big opportunity, and I can't afford to sell myself short.

So here are three potential compensation plans:

Plan One
--A $500 dollar fee for all uses, past and future, of "WKYKIK" for advertisement, press releases and as the title of the show.  This is payable over four months ($125/month)
--5% of the total profits from the Sept 19-20 "We Know You Know I Know" show.
--15% of profits from all "WKYKIK" sales.  This includes the weekend of the show, any internet sales and any in person transactions.  Any expansion of the "WKYKIK" line will fall under the same 15% guideline.

Plan Two
--$500 fee over 4 months ($125/month)
--10% show profits
--10% "WKYKIK" profits

Plan Three
--A $375 dollar fee, payable over three months ($125/month)
--10% show profits
--20% "WKYKIK" profits

In all scenarios, I still retain copyright ownership.  Also, proper credit for the work must be attributed at the show, on the present "WKYKIK" website and on subsequent web pages where "WKYKIK" is sold.  Credit in all instances entails nothing more than a name and web address.

Transparency is also important.  Along with the royalty checks, I'd like to see documentation supporting the profit figures you come up with in order to ensure accurate compensation.

Consider the options and figure out which plan is most affordable to you.  I am open to consider any input you might have.  As I said last email, we can discuss this over the phone if you like.

If you choose not to accept these compensation plans or if we cannot find a mutually agreeable arrangement, I will be forced to ask you to cease and desist in all uses of "WKYKIK."  The shirt, advertisement, press releases and show title.  Failure to do so will incur severe penalties.

Again I state: please take this seriously.  I do not wish to pursue legal action further than having a contract written up, but I will do what I must to uphold the integrity of my creations.  I pursue this not with a vengeful heart, but with an inescapable sense of justice.

I await your reply.

Mike Varley

That sense of satisfaction you feel is justice being served.  How else can you explain the thrill in the phrase "Section 204 of the Copyright Act?"  It holds the same power as the golden rectangle in art of the perfect three minute pop song.  It's unconscious mathematics at work in your brain, reveling in the pleasure we humans take in balance.

And all in a way I perceived to be fair.  Never a low-blow or name call, never an unscrupulous move.  I offered every opportunity to work as a team, and each rejection and insult made my lust for justice grow.  This email was the gavel that handed out her sentence.

And as for that sentence: A few hundred dollars fee spread out over months and a cut of the shirt sales.  The shirt percentage was already a given, so that seemed fair, and the fee was no more than what she offered as an artist grant several months previous.  It was very generous.  And let's be clear: part of what made me enjoy my justice was my sense of magnanimity.  As I said in the email, " I pursue this not with a vengeful heart, but with an inescapable sense of justice."  I wanted her to understand that this was an act of charity.

There was no immediate email reply.  I went to the store to get some groceries and when I came back I found four missed phone calls from Jacob.  In the span of forty minutes, every trace of "We Know You Know I Know" was wiped clean from all of Seasick Mama's internet personalities - her website, her twitter, her facebook and all.  In its place a new phrase, sent from the universe surely as Jacob's initial six word Odyssey.  In bold black and white, filling up my web browser, daring me to question my eyes.

"Don't Become the Things You Hate"

I could never say it better than Jacob in that moment:

But the irony doesn't stop there. This statement -- the new title of
her show: "Don't Become What You Hate" -- could not fit better as
punctuation statement to end this saga, as it reflects perfectly (as
if it were a divinely inspired joke) the way we must both feel. Not
only the way that we feel now, but the way we've surely felt all
along. In her attempt to reflect her own feelings, she is projecting
our feelings unto us.

This is to die for.

Shortly thereafter I received Seasick's email reply.  it was economical - a three word story, if you will - not very original but full of feeling:


Right then, at that moment, I couldn't have been any more on top of the world.  What I had lost in tee-shirt profit cuts and advertisement fees I had gained in gory justice and Seasick profanities.  I felt principled.  I felt strong.  I had treated our emails like chess moves and she had thrown the board on its side.

Seasick's backlash didn't end with the email.  She went straight to her blog and posted my letter - you can find the link to this here.  I won't repost her words since it wasn't a direct correspondence, but the gist is this:

She starts by reiterating that the event is a fundraiser and a benefit, citing the recession as the reason for fundraising.  She then denigrates "We Know You Know I Know" as some worthless phrase submitted to her by an 'artist.'.  Her ultimate claim is that I was out for the most money I could get for my six words, in this paragraph referred to as a minor stroke of brilliance.  In the end, she suggests that only Charles Bukowski could get away with such outlandish demands, and I was not Charles Bukowski.

The comments section started out supportive for Seasick, including one anonymous man who wished to break my legs.  Overall, though, the commenters decided to side with me.  Granted, some were friends who knew the saga and posted without prompting, but there were other people I didn't know who read between the lines.

My favorite was a poster unknown to me by the name of 'bill-f'.  By the time of his posting, Seasick's claim that the event was a fundraiser had been revealed as a sham.  Bill-f starts by quoting the website section that details where the money is going:

"Proceeds from the public's support will benefit the pockets of the writers". That's your quote. How is this a charity event? Why don't you just admit you screwed up & pay the guy? You didn't seem to like it when Forever 21 exploited your work but its somehow ok when you do it to someone else? You really need to grow up. Most of the posts you're making make you come off as a selfish brat. Not only are you hurting your own reputation, but you're hurting the reputation of all the other people involved in your "charity event".

It was all too good; I was practically drooling at the mouth from overstimulated ego.  But Seasick had one last message for me.  It was a link to a British art exhibition from September 2008 .  The event was titled "You know, I know, He knows, We know."  The message underneath said "feeling happy now?"

There was one friend who advised me not to send a reply.  I ignored him.  In my shining armor righteousness, I felt I could help her understand exactly what went wrong - teach her how to avoid such disasters in the future.  This is my final email to Seasick:

Dear Seasick,

Starting with your link: "You Know, I Know, He Knows, We Know."  Basically what you're implying is that this group has trademarked repetition of the word "know."  Remove that and we have two phrases whose meanings are different, appearances are different and purposes are different (art exhibit title vs. tee-shirt design).  It'd be no different to say Miranda July has a case against me for "Me and You and Everyone We Know."

But the more important part, "Feeling happy now?"  I'm not happy at the way this went and I'm not happy watching you struggle with this.  If my aim were to make you suffer, I would have waited until three days before the show to make my concerns known.  My aim was collaboration - yours was control.  When it was clear your intentions could not be shifted, I was forced to show you that your control came solely from my consent.  For reasons I will not venture to guess, this arrangement was unacceptable to you.

The problem, of course, is that your company's whole mission statement is collaboration.  Power to the artists and whatnot.  I hope you can see from your interactions with me that you haven't yet mastered this goal.  You need to do one of two things: be mindful of involving artists more in the process or take the appropriate legal steps to have collaboration on your terms.  I could give you advice on the first suggestion, but given previous reactions I imagine you'd rather stab me than listen to my thoughts.

You should know that I'm seriously considering making a "We Know You Know I Know" shirt, as I've always thought it a good phrase.  You should also know that, as a writer, I intend to craft these experiences into an essay.  It'd be really great if we could find a happy ending instead of the ending I'm forced to conclude with now - disappointment and defense against accusations.  We both live in Williamsburg, we're practically neighbors.  It'd be nice if we could work something out.

Mike Varley

Of all the emails I sent to Seasick, this is the only one I wish I could have back.  It doesn't matter my good intention or that any of these words was within my right to say.  I read it now and all I see is sanctimonious gloating.

If I had taken just one step back and considered her email, I would have seen in her myself from all those months ago.  Back when I was struggling and powerless as she was now, trying to find a way to even the score.  How quickly the me that had 'seen the light' disappeared once the power had shifted!

I could blame a lapse in memory if I didn't recall so clearly how good it felt to know I wished her well.  No, something had blocked that memory from view, slowly but surely like an eclipse, and in my reflection only one answer comes to mind: the problem lies in nothing less than justice.

Once the notion of justice is in you the things that seemed important recede, replaced with a craving for balance.  You desire order to the universe, and in your passion it appears that order is dependant on the fate of the culprit.  They must rectify their wrongs or face punishment.  It's no concern of yours that balance is based solely on perspective, something you control at any moment without influencing others.  To bend them to your will is to prove your reality right - to show them that not only are you right but they're wrong.  And you, in your infinite knowledge, must teach them they're wrong.

The best that justice can hope for is to be completely sterile.  In a black and white world where humans don't exist, justice runs like the trains in fascist Italy.  But there exists no scenario where justice works like this, as my case very obviously shows.  I see now that justice, wielded emotionally, is no less brutal than a cudgel.  Not only can you inflict serious pain on others, but you can do so cheerfully with your rights as a citizen.  The law makes sadists of us all.

Perhaps the worst part is, when justice removes the messy humanity, it cuts out the good parts, too, like compassion and empathy.  These are the traits that allowed me to get over Seasick's initial disrespect.  They're also the virtues I clearly lost as the story slowly progressed.  What replaced them were well-crafted emails with plenty of escape clauses but not the human touch that would compel Seasick to chose them.  There's nothing in her behavior that suggests she would have responded to a more human touch - likely she would have just stepped on me.  But I lament the fact that I turned to justice so easily and I'm frightened by the pleasure wielding justice emotionally gave me.


I never heard back from Seasick after I sent that email.  I followed her site for a few more days and watched the rebranding effort underway.  In just two days, Seasick had made a 35-foot banner with "Don't Become the Things You Hate" on it and hung it from her apartment building to promote the show.  A friend of mine suggested she's the type of person that's best motivated when trying to prove someone wrong.  At this point, I'm back to wishing her the best in all her ventures.  I just hope I'm the anomaly in her business relations.


The weekend of September 19th-20th, 2009 is the weekend of the "Don't Become the Things you Hate" showcase.  I had some wild ideas as to what to do for it, including this one I sent to Jacob immediately after I received the email where Seasick told me about the "big dogs":

20 people deep, all dressed in "Big Dawg" shirts I made myself with a stencil.  We start around six and get all liquored up, prepping for 8.  Cameras are brought.  I give a brief description of the situation as we're rolling in.  Everyone comes in barking.  We might have a boom box playing something - maybe Prince's Party Man a La joker in Batman, maybe Lil' Akon's Big Dog http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28GGHras2Xk

We introduce ourselves to Seasick; nothing fancy, it'd be largely dependent on where we were with the phrase at that point.  We'd be no more than two minutes.  I'd yell "Big Dawgs, Roll Out."  From a garbage bag I'd been carrying all along I'd start tossing chap books of the Seasick saga - or maybe just flyers, with a link to my website for the full story.  We come back and have an amazing party.

It would be the stuff of legend.

Thankfully, Jacob immediately refused to participate.  Then I planned to Xerox chapbooks of the saga and hand them out free at the Bedford L stop.  I soon realized that was just another power play perpetuated childishness.  Finally I thought about printing out the story and handing it to her at the event, but again, she was liable to freak out and I was past causing her pain.  As I write this now it's September 18th, and I'm still up in the air about whether to go.


A question I've struggled with is why write this story at all if I no longer wish Seasick Mama ill?  I make a lot of bold suppositions regarding her business practices and her emails paint her very poorly.  I think the answer is that the story is not about her but me and my struggles with understanding my own failures of conduct.  To tell that story without exploring what motivated me is like performing car inspections without opening the hood.  I don't harbor ill will, but contrary to Seasick's opinion, I'm an artist, and I won't be denied exploring my experiences.

This is a story of balance and limitations.  In writing these words I've come to find balance, but please keep in mind my gross limitations.