Saturday, December 06, 2008

don't you worry about the atmosphere

much has happened since i've last posted here. i've written drafts of things multiple times but either never finished them or finished them and didn't feel like posting them. it's been one of those times. but i'll break the silence and let you in on a few thoughts and experiences.

as andrew bird says, "i know that it's starting to get warm in here, and things are starting to get strange." but it will be okay when we "meet someday in the crumbled financial institutions of this land" because "there will be snacks." i guess it's reminiscent of one of my favorite books from my childhood, one that my dad would read to me, using funny voices as he said, "lean over, fatly. the pig leaned over fatly." the story is appropriate because it addresses crisis--financial, or in this case environmental--in an interesting way (and i care because in my scholarly life, i study the rhetoric and literature of environmental crisis).

i highly recommend checking out or purchasing the book however you can (i've bought three copies in the last few years so that i have a copy everywhere i might want one), but until you get your own, this synopsis will work very nicely, thank you. euphonia was an older lady with a broom (named briskly), a pig (fatly), and a boat (mary anne). one day the creek in front of her house flooded, but rather than sitting around "hollering for help," euphonia, the pig, and broom got into the boat and took off down the creek, picking up new friends (a skunk, some chickens, and a bear) along the way. at the end of their adventure, they found a picnic where everyone was taking a pragmatic and hopeful approach to the natural disaster: they were having a picnic!

before i get back to the meaning of the book, i should say a couple things about that last sentence. first, there were tons of dissertation references in that last sentence, and second, at my brother's recommendation, i just started reading ted steinberg's history of natural disasters, and their relationship to human behavior: especially interesting is the section on the deadly floods of rapid city in 1972. the creek in front of my family's place in the black hills flooded a couple times this summer, to great effect, with water sashaying down the creek, carrying bridges, sticks, and other stuff downstream. not sure there was a picnic, in 2008 or 1972. but i guess that leads me back to the point: crisis, and in this case financial. that's what people are thinking about a lot right now (if i were a little smarter, i'd be writing my dissertation about the literature of financial crisis rather than environmental).

so welcome to a recession of some sort, which is a grown-up (and therefore less fun) version of recess i guess. it's when people get a break from work to play outside, right? wow, i didn't plan that out, and it came out irreverent, perhaps to the point of being callous and hurtful. i apologize. what i really mean to say is that things aren't good for a number of people--especially those who have lost their jobs--and they might get worse before they get better. and people's coping mechanisms are wide-ranging: working harder, doing nothing, reading fantasy books or watching reality tv, becoming cynical, depressed, naively optimistic, anxious, maybe even violent.

but what about the responses described by andrew bird and euphonia and the flood. will there be snacks or a picnic at the end of the recession? that's kind of what i'm banking on lately. i'm hoping things get better soon, but here's the thing about hope: it requires action--hopeful pragmatism as i call it. i'm working on a dissertation chapter on scott russell sanders' book hunting for hope right now (once i'm done with it, i'll be mostly done with my dissertation), and though i have much more to say about the book if you ever decide you want to read my literary/rhetorical criticism, the short version is this: finding hope in our life doesn't have to be entirely dependent on global economic systems, and the crumbling financial institutions bird mentions. and living in hope means making the best out of the situations and crises we encounter: enjoying the flood as much as possible.

please note that the scale of the disaster is key here: a flood can be fun, but it can also be dangerous--people die, whether it's in south dakota in 1972 or new orleans in 2005. the message though is that finding and enjoying the good things in life--family, food, fun, time spent together, working and playing--doesn't have to be dependent on things beyond one's control. our lives are certainly influenced by things like recessions and floods--sometimes in terrible ways--but small floods and recessions (let's pray this one is small) offer opportunities to step back from our everyday lives and either work together, play together, or somehow celebrate what we do have--picnics, dancing bears, a band, and pigs eating fatly. and the story of euphonia and the flood might even have an important message for people in times of economic or environmental crisis: reconnect with your neighbors and local food systems.

does this mean we shouldn't worry about the atmosphere, or some other crisis waiting in the wings? unfortunately, no. in fact, this might be the most important time for us to worry about the atmosphere, to redevelop our energy grids by investing in green-collar jobs, mass transportation systems, our countries' infrastructure, and solar/wind energy systems. and while we're working on responses to financial crisis and the atmosphere, while we're bring together science and engineering, business and politics, we can't "let the human factor fail to be a factor at all." we need stories, storytellers, lovers, friends, family members, snacks, and picnics, and if my impertinence can be forgiven one more time, i think we should strive to make this recession a little more like recess. i think that might be our best survival kit, our best equipment for living in crisis.

tables and chairs by andrew bird

if we can call them friends, then we can call them on red telephones
and they won't pretend that they're too busy or they're not alone
and if we can call them friends then we can call
holler at them down these hallowed halls
but just don't let the human factor fail to be a factor at all

don't you worry about the atmosphere or any sudden pressure change
cause i know that it's starting to get warm in here
and things are starting to get strange

and did you see how all our friends were there
and they're drinking roses from the can

and how i wish that i had talked to them
and i wished they fit into the plan

and we were tired of being mild
we were so tired of being mild
and we were tired

i know we're gonna meet someday in the crumbled financial institutions of this land
there will be tables and chairs
there'll be pony rides and dancing bears
there'll even be a band
'cause listen after the fall there'll be no more countries
no currencies at all
we're gonna live on our wits
we're gonna throw away survival kits
trade butterfly knives for adderall
and that's not all
there will be snacks

so don't you worry about the atmosphere