Saturday, March 10, 2018

A Post on Hope

Several topics have been simmering on the back of the cooker, and I’ve let them set in favor of mouthing off on breast feeding and healthful cooking over on Quora. But the steam is building, and morning conversations over coffee are actually drifting toward a vague optimism brought on by recent events. I should note, however, that one of my recent responses on Quora outlined Elizabeth Fisher's take on human evolution (Woman's Creation), in opposition to most popular conceptions of how "civilization" came about. So I haven't completely taken leave of the real world in favor of espousing utopian notions about eating and child-rearing.

At any rate, the Beloved Spouse and I have been musing that despite the sheer awfulness of increasingly horrific revelations and events (sexual harassment and assault, yet another school shooting), it’s as if the responses to them indicate the possibility of actual change.

Sociologists and economists call the accumulation of particular conditions, those that effect change when they reach a kind of critical mass, “tipping points.” And as we watched the avalanche of women coming forward to call out abusers, and the formation of the “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” initiatives, we began to wonder if, at last, patriarchal attitudes about women would begin to shift.

After the shootings in Lakeland, Florida, and the voluble response from students who survived, and the birth of a new “Never Again” movement, we wondered if now, at last, some meaningful gun legislation might be possible.

And then, a bit late on the scene in one way, after the shootings of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York and the birth of “Black Lives Matter,” the phenomenal reaction to Ryan Coogler’s film, Black Panther, seems to offer an alternative vision for African American kids. Imagine being a little black kid in America having this new, Afro-futurist, anti-colonial conceptual framework to grow up within: from the projects to Wakanda, where Africans are prettier, smarter, more accomplished, and technologically superior to their would-be exploiters.

In a way, “Time’s Up” had its hero(ine) movie last year, with Patti Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, and its sequel will actually put into practice the changes brought about by the movements that have been so prominent in recent entertainment awards shows.  Time magazine's naming "The Silence Breakers" as its Person of the Year punctuated the moment, but certainly didn't put a cap on the momentum.

Of course, the ranks of naysayers and deniers are swelling as I type. (I began working on the post about two weeks ago). Even as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School survivors spoke out against the lassitude of lawmakers, and planned a march on Washington, their integrity and intelligence were (and still are) being called into question by the very folks who haven’t had the courage to formulate laws that could have prevented the deaths of seventeen people—in this most recent of so many massacres.

Still, I have little doubt that these kids will succeed in making their voices heard. As long as they can keep reminding all parents that their children could be next, they might be able to get the political backing they need to enact commonsense gun legislation. There is no earthly reason for anyone who is not an active service member to own an assault rifle. People who use them for “hunting” are not hunters. They are simply killers.  And that’s what these kids want: to ban the kind of guns that were used to kill their classmates and teachers.  One test will be the outcome, on March 24, of the March For Our Lives events. I do indeed hope that this effort results in an overwhelming response all over the country, and that those in power finally realize that their time is surely up if they don't do something now.

Maybe time’s up for lots of things: gun worship over common sense; misogyny and inequality; culturally embedded racism. I won't add de-nuclearization to this list, because I'm highly skeptical that anything will come of talks with North Korea, even if they do occur.

My natural pessimism and lack of faith in human intelligence do not need to be reinforced by yet another opportunity lost. I can only hope, thanks to a mythical, disobedient woman: Pandora. After she unleashed all the miseries our species suffers through (by exercising native curiosity), hope is what was left. Action born of hope holds the promise of doing profoundly more than politicians’ thoughts and prayers and platitudes—as long as those same politicians and their enablers don’t manage to convince us that the Silence Breakers and the Black Panthers (both old and new) and those who walk away from Lakeland can’t fulfill that promise.

As I was wrapping this up, I began to think of Wendell Berry, whose poetry always seems to inform my ideas about home and place--and hope. I searched the web for text of "A Poem On Hope," and found a YouTube video of Berry reading the poem himself, for an episode of Moyers & Company.  The very first lines evoke the difficulty someone my age has in allowing for hope in a troubled world: "It is hard to have hope. It is harder as you grow old . . . ." It's even harder when we so frequently see the bodies of the young being carted away from schools after yet another incident of unfathomable violence.

Difficult, yes. Increasingly so, it seems. But not impossible, if we remember, as Berry does, that "The young ask the old to hope."

And so we do.  

Image credit: I couldn't resist illustrating this post with one of Dante Gabriel Rosetti's drawings of Jane Morris as Pandora--via, as usual, Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Seventieth Solstice

There is something quite wonderful about being born on the winter solstice. Some of those born in December rue the fact, due to the proximity of Christmas and other holidays. My sister is especially unlucky in that regard because she was born on Christmas day, although, as a devout Christian, she probably doesn't mind. But for me, having arrived on "The darkest evening of the year" (as Robert Frost so memorably put it in "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening") has always seemed appropriate. I've long been interested in science in general, and in planetary sciences in particular, and the solstice is really what all the celebratory fuss is about anyway this time of year. In fact, according to an article in today's New York Times, were it not for the winter solstice, we probably wouldn't be here at all.

Five years ago, in 2012, I was happy to announce to my students (some of whom were alarmed by the promise of the end of days) that the only thing of any real importance happening on December 21 was my sixty-fifth birthday. The Maya did not, in fact, predict the end of the world on that day. Most cultures do celebrate the moment of "sun return" in some fashion, and others mold their calendars to include the moment, more or less. So the birth of Christ, for which there is no good information about an exact date, has traditionally been celebrated on the Roman date for the solstice, December 25.

The solstice marks the gradual return of longer days and shorter nights, leading up to the vernal equinox in March, the beginning of spring, and the path to the summer solstice. Daylight Savings Time, of course, throws a sabot into the machinery, but it's over before December, making the longer sunny minutes all the more important. I keep hoping that DST will go away eventually, as some states are trying to accomplish already, so we don't have the additional, artificial adjustment to make and can just go by seasonal changes.

My seventieth solstice celebration began last Saturday, when family gathered at my daughter's house. Her significant other shares the birthday with me, his fortieth, so we were joined by some of his family and my son, who flew in from Seattle. On Sunday, we all joined over sixty friends (including some of my favorite former students) at a local draft/movie house to watch The Last Jedi. My incomparable, amazing daughter had been planning this event for the past year, and it was quite a bash. Included in the group were the friend/colleague/teacher who inspired our interest in Continental philosophy, along with his travel writer/filmmaker wife and their amazing daughter, and my oldest friend in the world (whom I hadn't seen in over fifty years) who happened to be making a road trip from the east and whose arrival coincided with the festivities. A smaller group congregated at our house later for more conversation and conviviality, providing a pleasant end to a memorable weekend.

The year has been a good one for some of my more distant friends, and my California family managed to escape the Lilac fire in Oceanside by living just outside the mandatory evacuation area, so despite our own lack of optimism about the state of the nation, things--as old Jews like me are fond of saying--could always be worse.

I should also mention that this solstice is made even more significant by the retirement from teaching of The Beloved Spouse. What optimism we can now gather is buoyed up by the fact that the current national lack of success in fostering education will not continue to rule our lives. The last twenty years have been more trying than rewarding, and we're now looking forward to doing what we haven't had the time or energy to do until now.

It thus seems fitting that Skywatch Friday occurs at just the right time to share a photo I took on December 21, 2014 on our last trip west, near Midland, Texas. There we spent our first night in our new "old" trailer, bought in anticipation of the retirement that is here at last.

So happy holidays, everyone; have a felicitous Sun Return.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Looking Backward, Going Forward

As I begin to transform my old website Owldroppings into a more complete exploration of the concerns that show up in this blog (which will become a component of a newly realized Owl’s Farm: The Website), I keep running into questions about what I really want to think and write about.

After all, I’m about to turn seventy, an age I never thought I’d reach. So what does a seventy year-old former academic, wannabe political economist, sometime philosopher of technology, lapsed archaeologist, retired art and design history teacher, and compulsive writer do with what remains of her life?

Early on in my musings I realized that I want to stop being so grumpy. Even though I don’t have grandchildren, my siblings do, and so I do have a small genetic investment in the future. It might behoove me, therefore, to begin to consider better alternatives than seem to be available in the present political moment.

Owl’s Farm: The Blog has always been about utopia. It was inspired by two of the best utopian thinkers I ever ran across: William Morris and Yi-Fu Tuan. Morris was a celebrated designer and an early socialist, and Tuan is a humanistic geographer with a profound understanding of place. Both developed creative visions of the notion of home, which led to my explorations into its many meanings.

As I searched for a focus for the new iteration of the website, I realized that it still had to be about education, and should still embody the “teaching philosophy” I was required to articulate for my annual evaluations as a college instructor.  But it also needs to spend less time on the current state of education and more on locating what could improve it—especially since there are good models available.

In addition, instead of just complaining about current economic conditions, perhaps I should focus on locating bright spots on the horizon, like alternative energy solutions or promising community developments.

The website should also continue to provide resources for the curious, since former students still occasionally use it for the links. I’ll also archive my topical essays for courses I taught (not just art and design history, but philosophical perspectives on food, anthropology, culture, and the Arts and Crafts movement), and see if I can stay on top of issues relevant to them.   

All along this blog was meant to be an adjunct to my novel, More News From Nowhere. That, too, is in the process of being revised somewhat—now that I have the time to revisit its reason for being.  As a lifelong interdisciplinarian, I want to use the novel (and others in various stages of development) and the blog(s) as outlets for the results of curiosity. It’s often difficult to compartmentalize my many interests, but occasionally I can focus on a single aspect (museums, for example) and develop lines of inquiry that can be labeled. Hence: Owl’s Cabinet of Wonders. Other attempts (like The Owl of Athena, a blog on educational concerns) kept leaking into The Farm, and so were abandoned (although they, too, will be archived on the revised site). 

The ultimate aim now is fun—as much as is possible in this moment. I’m too old to keep wasting time being a complete curmudgeon. I can’t promise that I won’t ever go off on another grumpy rant again, or that sarcasm won’t sneak into my commentary on life, the universe, and everything. I am by nature a cynic, in its original sense. I’m dog-like: suspicious, reluctant to trust without reason (see my post from The Owl of Athena on the topic). But also both faithful and curious, and willing to explore new ideas and approaches.  

And yes, I can be a cranky old bitch. But I’ll try to do more Frisbee chasing and romping around in the garden, and less pissing on the flowers. I hope what I’ll have to offer is interesting, entertaining (in a very broad sense of the word), thoughtful, and educational. I also hope it will provide a sense of hope for the future, and tools for building more of a eu-topia than an ou-topia. I’d rather that we move toward a good place than continue to imagine what can only be a no-place, a place possible only in the imagination.

Wish me luck.

PS: is “live” but practically devoid of contact. Design work will progress as I have time, depending on concurrent pursuits.

Image note: The photo is of Mount Whitney, taken in the Alabama Hills outside of Lone Pine, California, during our winter trip in 2015/16. Whenever I stayed with my Grandmother, I could see a more distant version of this image from her living room window.