Saturday, January 21, 2017

Women's March

What a thrill it has been to watch live video of the Women's March on Washington, D.C. today. And live video and photos of the sister marches all over the country and the world, even in Antarctica! I saw joyous, strong, peaceful protests everywhere I looked. At noon I was silent, and during a part of the march, I "marched" a 2-mile trek on the local hiking trail, as it is 60 degrees and sunny here in globally warmed central Illinois today, smiling at my fellows humans and dogs. So many friends and strangers were marching in so many cities. Thank you all. And thank you, Shepard Fairey, for these peaceful, hopeful protest posters. And now I'm off to see Hidden Figures, another form of peaceful protest. (I think Hollywood listened.)

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Public Library

I've been reading the short stories and the italicized interstices of Public Library and Other Stories, by Ali Smith. She's the delightfully random writer of The Accidental, about a woman who walks into a house. Ali Smith is in love with words, books, libraries, coincidence, connection, and the imagination. Between the stories, she tells us about the assault on libraries in the United Kingdom, and here is a BBC News article with the current statistics on that. Many libraries were closed, many people lost their jobs (and were replaced by volunteers) and many people lamented the loss of libraries they loved.

In the context of Brexit and post-truth America, I was struck by what writer Sophie Mayer told Smith: "I believe libraries are essential for informed and participatory democracy, and that there is therefore an ideological war on them via cuts and closures, depriving individuals and communities of their right to knowledge and becoming on their own terms." This coincides right now with the fears and worries about the end of democracy in America due to the lack of an informed citizenry.

Smith also includes comments by Richard Popple that coincide with our current concerns for our most vulnerable populations here in the USA. Popple says, "Libraries are, at heart, helpful and kind providers. It is hard for those who perhaps don't feel the need to visit their local libraries to understand what a vital service they provide for communities and individuals who do--and those who do are often the most vulnerable." I feel so lucky both communities in my twin-city home are talking about new libraries, and have already renovated and expanded to fit the changing times and needs, ever since I first used the library and since I first worked in one in my college summers. I hope we never head toward cuts like those in the UK, but these days any bad thing seems possible.

Back to Sophie Mayer, whose list of weapons used by Buffy the Vampire Slayer includes a library card. "Libraries save the world, a lot, but outside the narrative mode of heroism: though contemplative action, anonymously and collectively. For me, the public library is the ideal model of society, the best possible shared space, a community of consent...." I love that, "a community of consent" as a truly participatory democracy. And isn't there a Librarian Superhero yet?! 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Baklava for Breakfast

It's true that during the holidays, I once had baklava for breakfast. Pistachio baklava from Mid-East Pastry Delight! By chance, that was the day a poet friend asked on Facebook what was the last thing you ate, as that would be the name of your new dog. My new imaginary dog is named Baklava!!

The holidays were a lovely, warm, game-playing, yummy-eating time for family wamily! Yay! Followed (or accompanied) by bitter cold and resumed terror in the world and in American politics. Sigh...

Sometimes I escaped, as I am wont to do, by reading. I read a bunch of nonfiction and a bunch of fiction, and in 2017 I have started a hard-copy reading log in a notebook that looks like a giant yellow library card. (I have socks to match.)

A fascinating coincidence: Harriet Jacobs. I read about her in Trainwreck, by Sady Doyle, and it would seem to me that she is a model for Cora in The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead! They both hid in an attic, as did Anne Frank.

Another coincidence: Rosalind Franklin. I love her because I love the double helix of DNA, and she was an x-ray photographer whose work helped establish the shape and structure of DNA. This winter I'll be working as assistant director on the play Photograph 51 by Anna Ziegler, about the pertinent photograph and the scientist herself, and I am currently reading Hark! A Vagrant, by Kate Beaton, which contains this fabulous cartoon about Rosalind Franklin that sort of encapsulates the play. (Likewise, thanks to Kate Beaton, I don't need to watch the rest of The Borgias television series. But do come see the play Photograph 51 at Heartland Theatre, in April. It is very well written and Franklin's character is a delight. I hope Ziegler and Beaton have talked!) I had already read Step Aside, Pops, another set of Beaton history, literature, & mythology cartoons, because it was available first at the library. And I devoured Swing Time, by Zadie Smith, a favorite writer of mine.

Once I emerge from reading hibernation, I'll be working on behalf of local politics as a Democratic precinct committeeman (person). Because that was one thing I could do after the horror, the horror of the recent election.... And here is my imaginary dog, Baklava.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Tally Ho

While some people are still counting votes, I am tallying up my rejections for the year. I have not sent out very many submissions this year, compared to some other recent years, but an acceptance today was a spur to do the count. So, in 2016 I sent out 27 packets, got 9 acceptances (of 12 actual poems, including 2 reprints in anthologies) and 14 rejections. It never quite adds up, due to carryover from past years. I have 11 pending submissions in the 2016 file, and some carryover all the way back to 2014, but I am counting those (in my mind) as rejections even though I never actually heard back from three publications. (I won't be sending to those 3 again.) It is much easier to tally things up when I send out fewer submissions, but much harder to get 100 rejections!

Meanwhile, I have begun sending out this year's Christmas cards and letters, a gradual process, and keeping track of that, too. I love to get actual mail, and I hope some other people do, too, and I am using a combination of leftover Peanuts Christmas stamps from last year and the beautiful Fund the Fight Find a Cure breast cancer research stamps I buy regularly in honor of my cousin Margie. When I run out of those, I have flower stamps and Wonder Woman stamps. I just have to remember to leave them out for the mail carrier or drop them in the mailbox in town. My brain remains both scattered and full these days, ticking things off and being ticked off since November 8. Sigh....

Not to be a tally ho, but I've also started tallying up my annual expenses, etc., preparing for tax time. It's been a big year for donations, thanks to the election, as that was one small thing I could do in response, over and over again, donate to worthy and beleaguered causes. Double sigh...

Plus, I am peeling stickers off an Advent calendar just for fun. (No chocolate is harmed in this harmless, chocolateless, alas, activity.)

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Sixth Extinction

This gave me pause: "If you want to think about why humans are so dangerous to other species, you can picture a poacher in Africa carrying an AK-47 or a logger in the Amazon gripping an ax, or, better still, you can picture yourself, holding a book on your lap." Wait, what? I'm as dangerous as those other guys? Yes, according to Elizabeth Kolbert in The Sixth Extinction. Kolbert identifies this period of species endangerment and extinctions--there have been five previous extinctions--as the one caused by humans. One of the most famous extinctions was caused by the meteor that hit the earth and killed the dinosaurs. That was an outside force; the other extinctions have had internal causes associated with climate, weather, and geological change.

So I did picture myself with a book in my lap, hers! She and the scientists and naturalists she interviewed and went out into the field with agree that humans are trouble for the earth, basically starting with the industrial age but also because of our ability to use signs, symbols, language. "As soon as humans started using signs and symbols to represent the natural world, they pushed beyond the limits of that world." She quotes Michael Benton, a paleontologist,* as saying, "In many ways human language is like the genetic code. Information is stored and transmitted, with modifications, down the generations. Communication holds societies together and allows humans to escape evolution." That is, evolution, like our democracy, has some natural checks and balances. We've thrown them out of whack.

And it appears we've thrown our democracy out of whack, too. I couldn't help but make the political comparison when I got to this paragraph in The Sixth Extinction:

"The one feature these disparate events [the previous extinctions] have in common is change, and, to be more specific, rate of change. When the world changes faster than species can adapt, many fall out. This is the case whether the agent drops from the sky in a fiery streak or drives to work in a Honda. To argue that the current extinction event could be averted if people just cared more and were willing to make sacrifices is not wrong, exactly; still, it misses the point. It doesn't matter whether people care or don't care. What matters is that people change the world."

Kolbert means that, no matter what we do, we do change the world. If we step outside of our place in nature, or in evolution, we can (and did) screw things up, endangering many species, including ourselves. What I see in the current political context is that some people could not handle the rapid rate of change and feared extinction of the status quo, an old way of life, with them at the top. They feared there weren't enough resources if we shared them--power, freedoms, security, jobs, human rights. Alas! I did love this book, which was published in 2014, from the woolly mammoths to the giant rats that may inherit the earth. In 2016, it is even more frightening to consider.***

Now, the weirdness of memory: I kept thinking I had seen Elizabeth Kolbert on the Colbert Report talking about her book, and that she was Stephen Colbert's sister. But why, then, did she spell her last name with a "K"? Evidently, I had remembered seeing her, as Wikipedia reminds me, on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, way back in 2014. The Elizabeth Colbert I was remembering as Stephen's sister with the one from Clemson, who ran for office in South Carolina, way back in 2013, Elizabeth Colbert-Busch. My brain is losing some cells and twisting the other ones together.** Sigh....

What matters now is that people change the world.

*like Ross, from Friends
**like the double helix
***like a giant orange rat