Amy Oden is a Washington, DC musician, grad student, and filmmaker. Her recent documentary From the Back of the Room explores women in DIY punk, considering such issues as sexism, motherhood, sexuality, activism, and more—encompassing a broad take on the role women take in the scene. While Oden is game for talking about gender issues at any time, we opted to give her a break from the film’s subject matter to talk about other DIY topics.
Demystification: A Lesson in DIY
Over the past fifteen years, my personal romance with DIY culture has waxed and waned. Participating in this community has enabled me to find political inspiration, given me the ability to travel, and taught me productive uses for my anger at an unjust world. I’ve also had my heart broken more times than I can count, when people’s actions have fallen short of what their words made them out to be. Growing up in this community, I’ve learned to focus my energy on the things that I find fulfilling or redeeming about it.
Doing it yourself forces you to keep learning. Yes, doing things in a DIY capacity can be revolutionary and anticapitalist/anticorporate, but the other half of the equation is demystification. When I say demystification, I mean being accessible and honest about the things that you are an “expert” at. Ability, skills, and ideas can only be spread if the people who are “experts” at certain things are willing to share their experiences.
Becoming an “expert” at something really just means that you’ve had the time and resources to focus on it – which is a privilege. If you’ve had the privilege of being in a band, booking shows or fests, or touring – it is unbelievably valuable when you take the time to break down your experiences for other people. I can’t think of anything less DIY than refusing to share skills or information, or pretending that the things you know how to do are really all that difficult. The attitudes that I’ve seen some people have regarding records, gear, audio recording, or even booking is totally antithetical to everything I know about DIY culture.
DIY also means asking for things if you need them and trusting your intuition. If you want information, go looking for it. If you never ask for advice or help, you’ll never meet other folks who are doing the same things you are. When I started booking shows, playing music, touring, shooting films, and planning fests, I had no idea what I was doing. Anyone you meet who is a guitar god or a total legend in their field had no idea what they were doing at one point. Don’t forget that. Also, “I don’t know that band” is a sentence that I’ve seen people scorned for uttering. If someone gets uppity with you when you try to engage them, know that it’s not you: it’s them.
Skill shares and conferences are both activities that are conducive to the flow of information in a nonjudgmental setting. Something as informal as telling people you like to come over and swap ideas can qualify as this, by the way. I’ve been unbelievably fortunate in my ability to be surrounded by a local community in D.C. that values this kind of thing. The point I’m trying to make is that we all have larger capacities for action than we realize.
Teaching one another can also help us hone our own skills. Once you’ve done a particular thing enough times, congratulations, you’ve become an “expert.” Realize that your skills and ideas can be assets to the larger community if you choose to let them. By simply and honestly sharing things with one another, we’re enabling other people to follow their hearts.
On that note, feel free to send me any questions about documentary film, festival organizing, or gender studies. I’m always stoked to connect.
Amy can be reached at amy @ fromthebackoftheroom . com.