Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Twelve Days of Oscars, Day 1: Sound Mixing and Sound Editing

Welcome to the Twelve Days of Oscars! That's right, we're just twelve days away from my favorite special occasion of the year, the Academy Awards. Let's spend these last twelve days of Awards Season having a look each day at some of the nominees! This is not even close to a judgment-free space. Laissez les opinions rouler!

First, a brief check-in: how am I doing this year with my progression through the checklist of nominees? Well, as of the day the nominations were announced (another special occasion - I always take that morning off work) I had seen 9 of the feature-length films with 33 still to go, plus I had seen none of the shorts (five each for Animated, Documentary, and Live Action shorts). As of this writing today, I have now seen 25 of the feature-length films with 17 more to go. Progress! I also still have to see all the shorts, but the Live Action and Animated have only just arrived at Landmark Century Centre this week, while the Documentary Shorts come to Music Box starting this weekend, so those will be attended to over the next week or so. (Those are Chicago-specific references, and obviously peeps elsewhere will find them unhelpful. But you know. Check your local listings, eh.)

Right then. Let's begin with two categories that are related to the point of being indistinguishable for many an Oscar pool ballot-filler-outer, and which this year are EXTREMELY closely related in that they have the exact same five nominees. I refer, of course to Sound Mixing and Sound Editing.

Sound Mixing: Baby Driver, Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk, The Shape of Water, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Sound Editing: Baby Driver, Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk, The Shape of Water, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Most years, those categories have three or four of the same nominees and we can try to use the one or two different noms to help our friends understand the difference between the two categories. Not this time! But this does make it exciting to maybe place a side bet on whether the same one will win both awards with the exact same competition... 

To review, sound mixing is basically the soundscape of the film - the final mix that you hear, the levels of everything, a kind of overall masterpiece of finessing the sounds. Sound editing can be thought of kind of as sound effects - what sounds did they make and create to put into this movie? Yes, both categories do post-production work, but they're different jobs. Even though this year they are the exact same nominees.

I don't feel particularly passionate about these categories in general, even though I have done my share of audio work in the past, both in live theater and in radio jobs, but I appreciate them, plus I've seen all of the (same!) movies nominated in them, which is why I began with them today, this first of the Twelve Days of Oscars. So, let's consider.

I'm immediately eliminating Dunkirk from contention for Sound Mixing because I spent a great deal of my time watching that flick asking, "What did he say? What? Huh? I couldn't hear. I couldn't understand."  (Note: duh, I was watching it at home on DVD and would never dare to utter those or any other words out loud in a theater and neither should you, obviously.) On the other hand, Dunkirk had a lot of Sound Editing and effects that might deserve an award.

The Shape of Water has a really good chance of winning these, especially if it's going to win a bunch of other stuff, too, like Directing and Screenplay and - who knows? - maybe Best Picture. I personally find the film to be visionary and well done but so not my thang at all, but that's nothing against the Sound Mixing chances of it. Sound Editing, though? I don't think it was that special.

Blade Runner 2049 and Star Wars: The Last Jedi are interesting to consider here. They're such big, bold action flicks that are very much made of their cool effects, not just in sound and visuals but in building alternative worlds to immerse us in for two hours. Are viewers jaded because however many Star Wars films later we just expect it to be well done at this point, dismissing the Sound Editing skill in making sounds for all those spaceships, fake planets, lightsaber fights, and the like? What about the many different life forms/A.I./technology bits of Blade Runner 2049 that were rendered so realistically as they spoke to us?

Baby Driver, which is a bit of a different ride, does what I thought were stellar, emotionally magical things with the music and remixes woven throughout it both as sound effects and plot points. It definitely has an intriguing and I thought fantastically successful soundscape, and that is why I'm hoping it wins here.

So, I think  Baby Driver is my pick for Sound Mixing, and what the heck, Blade Runner 2049 for Sound Editing. If nothing else, I will defiantly keep reminding everyone these are two different awards and do my part by picking two different movies!  No, seriously though - I'm not saying it's wrong to want the same movie to win both of these. But I do have two different picks.

What do you think? What struck your ear when you watched the five films nominated in these two categories?

Monday, January 15, 2018

I Need to Read More Black Authors

It's MLK Day, a holiday to honor the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It just so happens that on this particular MLK Day, the first since drumpty-the-vile-twit's inauguration, I mean usurpation of the White House, one might feel a little depressed, either when one contemplates the racism emanating from the mouth and thumbs of said vile twit or when one just looks around one's society at all the work still left to do in the attempt to secure freedom and justice for all.

But. As they say, start where you are.

Where am I? As usual, reading, thinking, and thinking about what to read.

This morning I posed the question of what would be a good Martin Luther King Day read -- something by the man himself, perhaps, or some books that increase understanding of what black people have suffered in U.S. society, what injustices have gone into creating and perpetuating the racism we still practice, what power structures are in place, and so on. A couple of days ago, I posted about the writers from "shithole countries" whose books I've read over the past year and asked my Fbriends what authors not from Norway they have been reading since the occupation began. Last night, as I thought about what book to read next, I decided to make a conscious effort this year to make sure less than half of the books I read are by white male authors.

Today, these thoughts led to curiosity about the exact numbers, of how many authors I've read are white males and how many are not. Luckily, we have Goodreads! Which means I was able to sign in to my account, where I've tracked the books I've read since joining the site in 2008, and go ahead and count 'em up. First, I did a quick tally for the 46 books I read last year, calendar year 2017, and it was: White Guys: 16, Not White Guys: 30. That's not so terrible, I thought (other than the fact that I read only 46 books last year, but that has already been addressed and my New Year's resolution to get back to higher number-of-books-read-per-year levels has already been enacted, fear not), and I was a little proud of myself that I had read more authors who were Not White Guys than I had read White Guys.

Pride, ya know, goeth before the fall.

I then checked out my 2016 numbers. First of all, I read only 42 books that calendar year, which is even lamer than 2017 but we all know how distracted I was by teaching...or drinking...or being driven to drink by teaching during 2016. Or by Quincy coming from China...or by the Cubs' World Series...or something. Anyway, that year it was White Guys: 15 and Not White Guys: 27. Still a similar ratio. Let's have a look at 2015, with 54 books read. White Guys: 32, Not White Guys: 22. Yikes! Now, to be fair (although why should you be?) you could recall that that was the year I read about ten books of Edwin Arlington Robinson poetry -- basically all of his poetry I could. *What do you mean WHY he won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry three times people THREE and I had to read his collected poems for hundreds and hundreds of pages and ... yes, I said "had to"*  But even though that's just one White Guy taking up ten slots, it's also ten slots that didn't go to books by Not White Guys. So anyway....

Clockwise fr top left: Danticat, Colbert, Achebe, Adichie, Coates
I know -- we probably all know -- that in general I read a fair amount of books by women. But guess what -- the majority of them are white. Damn it.

After checking out these initial numbers, I decided on this particular Martin Luther King Jr. Day to continue perusing my Goodreads "Read" shelf to see how many black authors I read last year, in 2017. The answer is: five.

In case you're interested, they were Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Brandy Colbert, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Edwidge Danticat. One of them I had read before last year as well. Two I had been meaning to read for quite some time. But, well, that's not very many. Five black authors out of 46 books read. gets worse. In 2016, I read one. (Assata Shakur)  In 2015? One. (Maya Angelou)

Yes, I've read authors from a variety of countries and of a variety of ethnicities and races, this year and last year and every year. And yes, I've read as many writers who are Not White Guys as are White Guys. But I need to do a whole lot better.

I mean, it's one thing when you sit in your canon-driven literature classes and read a lot of old/dead white guys (although to be fair -- and this time, I will be, to my teachers -- I was actually exposed to quite a lot of Not White Guys over the years, in my English major classes, I daresay at a better rate than in some of the rest of academia....) but now in my "real" life I am not beholden to a syllabus. I can read whatever I want by anyone. So. Why don't I read/haven't I read more black authors?

Now, I do love me a reading project. A lot of my reading projects are list driven, and a lot of those lists tend to get populated by some of the same Old/Dead White Guys over and over again. Just to name three of my life-reading-projects-in-progress, the Pulitzer-winning fiction, the Modern Library Top 100 Novels, and the 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die feature no shortage of White Guys. Still, there ARE other races and genders on those lists. And I don't JUST read books from those lists (obviously, or my projects wouldn't take me so long), so I do read other novels. But I pretty clearly need to start some kind of African-American novels project. Who's got a list for me?

And this is not to mention my oh-my-god-it's-been-going-on-so-long-but-is-almost-finished Prez Bios project, launched during the Dubya administration, in which I've been reading a biography of every U.S. president in order to see where we went wrong. I've made it through all the men (White Guys a-plenty!) up to Dubya himself now, and the vast majority of the biographies have been written by, you guessed it, White Guys. White Guys write a whole lot of our history. It's just, like, totally in their hands.

What are we all going to do about that?

All of your suggestions are welcome - suggestions of novels written by black authors, suggestions of non-fiction written by black authors, and suggestions for how we can all do more to speak truth to power, fight entrenched injustice, and keep working toward freedom and making Dr. King's dream a reality.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Oprah and the 2020 Vision

Well, I wasn't exactly plotting this as my Happy New Year! post, but since there are about fourteen different arguments I'm involved in on various Facebook threads regarding this topic, thought I might as well weigh in here for all and sundry...

We're here to talk about the Golden Globes, Oprah, and the trending idea of "Oprah for President."

First and foremost, it has come to my attention that a significant portion of y'all, whoever y'all may be (feel free to mis/interpret that to include yourself or not - I don't really care), missed the set-up in Golden Globes show host Seth Meyers' opening monologue. Just last night I had to explain this to someone in a bar who had no idea it had happened. I'll explain it again here, because if you're coming late to the party and claiming that the #Oprah2020 response to her lifetime achievement award acceptance speech is half-baked, you should probably know that you are the half-baked one, in that you have only been served half of this entree. To wit:

-In 2011, Seth Meyers and Barack Obama famously roasted and jabbed and mocked TheDonaldTrump at the White House Correspondents Dinner, where rich and powerful people do that to each other annually (usually including the current president, except not this past year because we don't currently have a president, just a usurping twit), and since then there has been a kind of ongoing half-joke rumor that Seth Meyers pitilessly mocking Trump to his face about wanting to be president is what cemented the decision in TrumptyDumpty's mind that he'd run. Is it true that Seth Meyers' words had that effect on Trump? Don't know/don't care. But it has been a recurring theme since then to ask Meyers about it in interviews (see, e.g., him on Fresh Air) and for him to half-jokingly/half-wistfully say maybe he accidentally is responsible for the disaster through which we're all now living. Ha.
-At the Golden Globes this past Sunday, January 7, 2018, Seth Meyers referenced his "responsibility" for #TrumptyDumpty and said that he doesn't know if it works, but just in case... and then he riffed along these lines: "Oprah, you can NEVER be president! You should not run in 2020! Tom Hanks, you can never ever be vice-president! You're too nice!"  Reaction shots of Oprah and Hanks in the crowd. Laughter all around. Then, Seth Meyers staring into the camera: "And now, we just wait and see."

Get it? It was funny, and brilliant, and spot fucking on, as comedy should be.

So if you missed that, you missed the entire planting of the night's seed, as it were.

Anyway, then later in the evening Oprah got the Cecil B. DeMille Award for her outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment. Remember when Meryl Streep got that award last year? I sure do. See, e.g., this most wonderful of Tweets. In keeping with the evening's/Hollywood's/the world's life moment theme of #TIMESUP and declaring a new day in terms of the shite women must endlessly face, especially when they dare to have power or have their voices heard (see, e.g., Hillary Rodham Clinton, you goddamn vast right-wing conspiracy that has absolutely ruined for the rest of us what could have been a perfectly nice life), Oprah gave a rousing speech that many, many, many of us found moving and inspiring. Because she is, among other things, moving, inspiring, smart, experienced, a leader, a visionary, talented, philanthropic, gutsy, bold, powerful, eloquent, life-affirming, and - not to be missed - a black woman. You're goddamn right I'd be happy to hand her whatever job she wanted.

I highly doubt she wants to be president. Neither does the unstable, decidedly non-genius, usurping twit currently pretending to do that job.

I am not starting or joining any #Oprah2020 campaign.

No, I don't think we should be plucking our presidential candidates out of the "world of entertainment" - see, e.g., Ronald Reagan and Pat Robertson, two such pluckees who should never have been presidential candidates.

But y'all (again, if you're not part of that y'all, don't take it personally, but if you are, please take it VERY personally indeed) made Hillary Rodham Clinton, one of the smartest and most qualified presidential candidates of all time, run against just such a pluckee and you acted like he had any business being there. Any of you who did that -- any of you who ever for so much as one second pretended he had a legitimate claim to being a qualified presidential candidate - goddamn you to hell.

All of the racism and misogyny that has built this nation has led us to this moment: we have an actual usurping twit unstable "button"-wielding cretin in charge of actual things, and instead of being outraged about that this week (and every week), you want to point out to me that it is ridiculous that people are hashtagging #Oprah2020.

Yes, it is ridiculous.

Your bed is made. Lie down.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Half Birthday Checkup

November 13th is my half birthday -- six months since my actual birthday, the halfway point of this particular year of life -- so I decided it is a good time to check in with my goals and the things I was thinking about last May that I wanted to accomplish during this year.

I'm super into both New Year's Day resolutions AND new birthday year resolutions. I love the symbolic calendar-induced fresh start and I love making plans and lists and figuring out all the things I want to do. Careful readers of this blog/people who know me well understand that I tend to enjoy and excel at planning FAR more than executing, which is admittedly problematic...and which is part of what necessitates this half-year, half birthday check-in. 

I am well aware that there are many of you out there who scoff at New Year's resolutions and the like, with retorts such as "It's just a day on the calendar. You can set goals any day of the year. You can make changes any time."  Well, that's exactly right. So, do you? When you show me your awesome list of "March 8th resolutions" or "random Friday in September resolutions" and all you've done to achieve them, then you can feel accomplished. In the meantime, why make fun of my new calendar year and new birthday year dates? 

Anyway, today we are going to check in by opening up the journal and seeing what sorts of things I wrote last May 12th, 13th, and 14th, i.e., the day before, day of, and day after my birthday. Scary stuff, opening past journals, especially when they contain stream-of-consciousness morning pages, as these do. But, let's see what we find!

On May 12th I said that I wanted to:
- Heal our dying houseplant.  NOPE. FAIL. I re-potted it and everything and it just ended up dying and I felt sad because Brian and I got it a long time ago together and it has moved with us a bunch and now it's dead. 
-Go to five High Points this summer.  NOPE. FAIL. Totally took about sixty-five other road trips though (I'm exaggerating, but not by much) that are the main reason this goal got pushed aside. 
-Do 5Ks in June, July or August, and September, and then a November Turkey Trot. PARTLY ACCOMPLISHED, PARTLY FAILED. Could still do a Turkey Trot 5K and am eyeing the Santa Hustle.
-Go see more live music and shows. HEY! I FOUND ONE! ACCOMPLISHED! That's all I'did all summer, it felt like. And has somewhat continued through the fall. 

Then, on my actual birthday, the 13th, I was apparently way more into musing about the past than looking ahead, with paragraphs about the last birthday I went out to dinner with both of my parents, a digression into if/when/how my journey out of being a churchgoer would have been different if I had gone to Amherst, Oberlin, or Yale, as I wanted to do, and then this gem: "So many regrets. But how can we know what to regret?"  So that was my birthday head space, yikes! 

As for what I thought about doing in the year to come, I wanted to:
-"Read and read and read"  NOPE. I have not been reading much this year AT ALL and it sucks and that's how we all know something is wrong.
-Succeed at my Habitat fundraising. YES! ACCOMPLISHMENT!  Except then I didn't get to go on the October build and will be doing a Habitat trip next spring-ish instead, but I did raise the money for Habitat. Yay, Habitat. 
-Stay on track paying off credit cards. UM. NO. Unless paying health insurance premiums on one's credit cards counts as sound financial strategy? No? Huh. Shame, that. 

I did enjoy my birthday this year, though. We had a private yoga practice in the park, led by one of my favorite Chicago yoga teachers, with me and a couple friends, and then a group joined for dinner at our beloved neighborhood bar and grill spot for a birthday book swap. Maybe that cheered me up a bit for the next day's journaling? Let's see what I had to say on the 14th....

Regarding birthday yoga: "I am so grateful to the ladies who came and I feel so much gratitude to the universe, the sunshine, and the beautiful expanse of blue sky that was over my head - incredible."  Wow! That's a better mood. A little hippie-dippy, even. And, any goals, there, older and wiser Linda? 

-Be a better friend and do better at maintaining friendships.
-Plan a summer barbecue.
-Hang out with people enjoying life and just being
-"Every day I want to read read read" cropped up again.
-And then this articulate sentence with my plan for the year: "Write read yoga guitar baseball music." Which may make you think, "Wasn't she doing that anyway? Aren't those things always what she's doing?" Well, yes. Which tells me that over my introspective birthday weekend I didn't think I was living enough of my life. 

Looking at this last list, I'd give myself a solid two and a half accomplished. Actually probably three, but that's one plus one plus half plus half, not one plus one plus one...  (My real friends got that allusion to Clue, right??!?!)  

It would seem that in the next six months of this particular year of my life, in order to meet all my goals, I need to read (read read read read), pay off credit cards, visit more state high points, finish my "Five More 5Ks" plan, and be a better friend. Well. Let me get right to it. 

But I can't resurrect the dead houseplant. I'm sorry. Bringing things back from the dead is decidedly not in my job description. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

"...And the wisdom to know the difference..."

The picture below is of a column I read in this week's editorial pages that I find absolutely incredible. Incredible, as in, not to be believed. Because I cannot in fact believe that someone wrote it and seriously thinks he has written a reasoned argument, which he decidedly has not done. Now, people can and obviously do disagree about whether to pray, ever. That's not what we're here to discuss. I'm here to remind you that the editorial page is a place for all sorts of topical opinions, but the point of writing and getting an opinion piece published is to offer some support for your opinion, some justification for it, some arguments in favor of it. Here Mark Davis has failed mightily.

I took a photo instead of linking to avoid giving him more hits.
First of all, he doesn't even really get the premise right, as he fails to address a major part of the "Thoughts and prayers!" problem. His argument here, which he fails to support, is that those who respond to a gun tragedy with calls for "Thoughts and prayers!" are not "doing nothing."  But his premise is that those of us mocking the predictable unleashing of calls for "Thoughts and prayers!" are mocking the idea of thinking and praying in response to a tragedy.  He criticizes our "open scorn for those expressions of faithful support" but seems to miss his own point -- that it's those empty "expressions" of faithful support that are being scorned - a Twitterverse full of those expressions, Facebook comment threads full of those expressions, a chorus of "Look, I'm praying too! Count me in! Prayers!" that rings so shockingly hollow and counter to anything I was ever taught about how to be a Christian that I can't believe anyone can take themselves seriously in church the next Sunday. "Look at me! I'm praying! Count me in!" It's a little pathetic. Mocking the "Prayers!"-as-a-comment cliche is hardly the same thing as mocking a sincere person's prayer, and not addressing this distinction is a major failure in the premise of Mark Davis' piece here. 

But. There's also the whole failure to support his argument. He claims that the Thinkers and pray-ers! are not "doing nothing" in response to gun violence. So, what are they doing? Well, according to him -- check out that second-to-last paragraph -- they are addressing the issue "through the lens of a fallen, sin-stained world, calling on God to redeem it, and each of us." 

Oh. I see. Your response to very real bullets in a very real harmful situation killing very real people in very real numbers with very real frequency is to cite an imagined being (easy there, believers -- I didn't say "not real," I said "imagined," as in "conceived of") that you can't see or sense with any of your other earthly senses but can only believe in with faith, and that's "doing" something? What? What are you doing? All you've done is state your beliefs (the world is "fallen" and it is "sin-stained") and pass the buck ("calling on God to redeem it"). 

And this guy and his evangelical ilk made fun of Hope and Change as a slogan? Guess their house of worship is a glass one. (By the way, I made fun of "Change!" as a rallying cry in 2008 too. Because it's stupid. Not because I would have edited it to be "God, change us!") 

The other problematic non-support of his argument is a real doozy. He spends most of this editorial lambasting people who want to respond to a gun tragedy by addressing guns (in other words, logical people) and calling us things like the "gun control chorus" and the "preachers of the Gospel of Gun Control."  Oh, the religious imagery! I kind of like the idea of this bizarre-o Church of Gun Restrictions that he invokes. If that existed, I'd pop in for a service, maybe even get a regular pew. Non-violence is one of my things. What can I say, it's just that loving, compassionate, milk-of-human-kindness in me. I hear Jesus and Buddha and some other guys were into it also. 

But anyway, as our fine opinion writer here insults what he calls our "derisive intolerance" (um..?) he actually writes "But equally absurd is the belief that there is something magical Congress can do that will prevent the next Las Vegas or the next Sutherland Springs."  Yes, that's a sentence he wrote, followed a few paragraphs later by his assertion that he, on the other hand, is doing something by offering "Thoughts and prayers!" and, get ready for the money quote, "That has more power to prevent further tragedies than does any new wave of laws." 

You know why you can't reason with someone like this? Because you can't reason with someone like this. Reasoning, as in the process of forming arguments using logic, as in using the power of thinking in orderly, rational ways -- this guy is not signing on for any of that. Nope. Rather, he is going to go out there on record as chiding people who think "there is something MAGICAL Congress can do..." when according to him, duh, obviously, sheesh, the answer is to let God do something. 

I'm sorry -- which one is actually here on Earth with the power to regulate interstate commerce? Which one can pass laws (actual ones, on the books -- we don't need #1 fan Annie to tell us about a higher justice right now)? Which one regulates? Which one is SITTING THERE GETTING PAID TO PROMOTE THE COMMON WELFARE AND PROTECT THE CITIZENS OF ITS NATION?  

And which one is, you know, supernatural? As in, not perceived by our natural senses? Otherworldly? Dare I say it - magical? 

My astonishment that this editorial exists, was written, and was published is matched only by my dismay that I really shouldn't be that astonished at all. 

In the 1993 film Shadowlands, C.S. Lewis, portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, offers a great response to his liberal academic colleagues who question his reliance on prayer. How will prayer accomplish anything, they ask, being the snooty disbelievers that they are -- how can you change God?  C.S. Lewis replies, "Oh, it doesn't change Him. It changes me." 

Well, in that sense, maybe this Mark Davis guy and his fellow Dallas media voices, NRA loyalists, and Trump-lovin' evangelicals could definitely use a few more prayers -- and I hope they can change.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Does anybody every really know what day it is?

Longtime readers will recall how absurd I find Chicago's inability to celebrate anything on the appropriate date. When we moved here initially, in 2010, I was mystified and then just annoyed because this city never met a holiday it couldn't commemorate two weeks before or after the date on which the holiday falls.  Well, they're at it again. I'm looking for some 5K races to do in upcoming weeks and I'm sure glad to see there's a Monster Dash on Oct 21 and a Turkey Trot on Nov 4. Why, Chicago, why??

Calendars, y'all. They work. 

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Terry Talks the Talk and Walks All the Walks

We need to talk about Terry Tempest Williams now. After you read my blog, run, don't walk, to your local bookstore and buy one of her books. Yes, you could "just go on Amazon" (shudder - does it have to be Amazon? Bookstores do have web sites, you know) but I'd like to think you might not
want to make this purchase from Amazon, if you think enough about all that Terry Tempest Williams is. So let's talk about her. Settle in. Get comfortable. But also? Get uncomfortable.

Get uncomfortable, yes. Why do I say that? Because it will be to your benefit to get uncomfortable once in a while.

And it could possibly be to Earth's benefit as well. That's one of the points TTW made Wednesday night in her author appearance at Women and Children First bookstore, where she discussed  The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America's National Parks and the current state of the country, humanity, and the planet. She was talking about her recent semester as a visiting professor at Dartmouth and the toughest class she ever taught, she said, because of the way the people in the classroom challenged her. She described a classroom in which she was accused, sometimes rightfully, of not understanding young activists as much as she should or of needing to learn more about what it means to be queer, which she did, and in which people sometimes said things like, "All this talk of sexual assault is irrelevant to my life" or "My brown body does not matter in any of these books you have assigned." But, she said, instead of rupturing, they kept at it, and she learned from them, and they learned from each other. She said that she told them on the first day "This is not a safe space" and if they were looking for that they were in the wrong place. It was a supportive space - but not a safe space, because writing is not a safe space. (<--her words)

Also, our world is not a safe space right now. (<--my words)

But writing, among other courageous acts of resistance, may help us.

It would be hard for me to overstate the value of Terry Tempest Williams' words. Others agree with me. See, e.g., this bit of a book review from The New York Times. (right)

At the bookstore appearance, TTW talked about the land in Utah, her homeland, which she described as a formerly rich desert that has been mined so much it now looks like an exposed nervous system.

During the Q&A period, a young audience person from Florida asked how to cope when, in the young person's lifetime, the Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Park disappear underwater. "Don't look away," Terry said.

I think that's what we all do so damn much of, looking away. Because:
-It's uncomfortable.
-It's hard.
-I can't do anything about it.
-I just can't deal.

Click click click click click click ...

A frenzy of looking away. Our looking away takes many forms, and we can talk about some more of those in a minute.

Like many people, I first came to Terry Tempest Williams' writing with Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place. It, and she, were big in the circles I ran in when I was 18, and I looked forward to reading it when it was assigned in my Women in Literature class taught by the inimitable Cecilia Konchar Farr during her last semester in Utah (that's another story for another time). I was in the small group that did our semester project on Refuge, and that project became a pilgrimage to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, a class presentation done in the style of a church program (you'll understand why when you read the book), and then a protest demonstration. Cecilia dubbed us the "Refuge Radicals." You can see how all this is maybe a formative part of me, or perhaps an early recognition of all that I am.

But it's not about me--Refuge has spoken to so many people, with its tale of family, cancer, Earth, birds, cycles, destruction, and how we can go on. Terry Tempest Williams talked in this bookstore appearance about her Chinese translator of Refuge. TTW just recently got back from China. ("Beijing air," she said when she interrupted her reading for a small bout of coughing. "Also Salt Lake City air," she added.) The Chinese woman had commented that Terry's work was becoming more political and needed more beauty. Terry countered that that translator's work could maybe use more politics and less emphasis on beauty. They laughed. They are friends. They are each doing what they can, courageously.

We can be both compassionate and harsh. AT THE SAME TIME. I thrilled to hear TTW say that. I know that, and I know what it is to be put in a box, to be told if I'm one I'm not the other. Now, she clearly has a demeanor that would never be mistaken for mine; I'm sure you'll find her gentler, but don't you go thinking that she is not fierce. She fights, and with her life's work as a writer and naturalist she has fought and fought and fought for this land we are trampling, we the human race.

What are we racing toward?

Whatever it is, I don't think you need to worry about people's feelings getting hurt when I say things to them about the destruction on the path. To know me is to know that of all the possible motives for words and actions, wanton malice isn't mine. Maybe when someone says something "intense" we can benefit from hearing them instead of wishing they would speak the way we would have them speak.

"Smile." "Be sweet." Nah. Let's get uncomfortable. As TTW reminded us, we need to have the courage. Writing. Listening. Saying "That's bullshit."  Saying "Thank you, I understand you now. I've heard you."  ALL of these are necessary if we're going to have any hope whatsoever of saving our planet from human-wrought death and destruction. (Humanity itself, it has to be said, may not be worth saving.)

I know, I know, you think humanity is special, unique, privileged, chosen, blessed.  If you had heard Terry Tempest Williams talk about the bison she recently saw in Yellowstone, I think you might have shed tears along with me. I don't feel entitled to retell her story -- I hope you can hear it from her someday -- but I will tell you that in it, bison were grieving the loss of one of their own, and TTW reminded us that we are not the only species living, breathing, and grieving here with loved ones. My own deepest wish in this world is that you, each of you, each of us, will join in opening the cages and letting each being live the wild life it was meant to live. You might not be ready to listen to the trees and hear their message, as TTW did; you might not be ready to know how much the land matters, more than you are prepared to admit (she can help you, though). But I expect you to try to do better. And to not look away.

It's uncomfortable. It's hard. I can't do anything about it. I just can't deal.

It's uncomfortable to think about how much animals suffer because we, unlike the wolf Terry Tempest Williams observed in Yellowstone, don't go in for a quick kill with our jaws at the throat. We have a slow, laborious, monstrous industrialized meat process, from factory farm to slaughterhouse line where they are herded and trapped on conveyor belts, watching their fellows be killed in front of them, held tight with no escape possible, because we don't care how many billions of people there are -- we demand large animal livestock meat for all of them. It is one of the most environmentally irresponsible things we do in addition to being cruel. Do you think about this when you plan your meat menus? Or is it too "hard" to eat meat just once a week?  "Don't look away," Terry Tempest Williams said.

It's hard to live without:
-hot water
So we live a life of fossil fuel consumption. But we can think about it.  How else are you going to get better? Don't look away.

People tell me they love rabbits. Their child loves rabbits. And so what do they do? Get a "pet" rabbit, and lock it in a cage. Alone. A rabbit, for merciful god's sake, alone with no other companion of its species, locked in a cage.  How DARE anyone cage an animal as a pet? Where does such almighty hubris come from?

I expect better of you. I expect you to not look away when your friend/neighbor/associate puts a sentient being in a cage, or declaws a cat to "save" their precious furniture. It's furniture. An object you purchased, and you think it's better than a life. A living body. I expect so much better of humans, and I am so disappointed.

You can't do anything about it? Well, you can not look away when sentient beings suffer so that you can have:
-a Coach bag

You just can't deal. But you sure can upgrade your smartphone! The planned obsolescence of technology rapes the earth. That's a fact. Don't look away from it.

Milk. Ye.Gods. Milk, seriously, is one of the most grotesque things humanity does. No other species suckles at the breast of a different animal unless it's a unique, life-threatening emergency. Humans, though? We've got an entire industry, a multi-million dollar industry, with one of THE most powerful lobbies known to man (and they are, largely, men with that power), that has you 100% convinced you need milk for nutrition (you don't), that if you've "got milk" you're all set (for being overweight and higher cancer risk, maybe), that milk does a body good (whose body? not yours, not the raped mother cow nor the calf taken away from her who was entitled to the milk her body produced, not the imprisoned body kept captive and not moving while it is milked, day in and day out, like a machine, by a machine, for years, just for your cereal and your latte in which you could replace the dairy product with soy milk, almond milk, oat milk, hemp milk, rice milk, cashew milk...)   DON'T look away! Don't! Look at this. Look at your part in it. Look at what it says about our (lack of) respect for the animals and the land.

Terry Tempest Williams didn't say anything about milk in the bookstore. I'm just demonstrating that we are participating in the destruction of our planet, on both micro and macro scales, daily, because of our sheer disregard for the lives all around us - of trees, grassland, cows, wolves, national name it.

With tears in her eyes, she answered the question about how to cope with the loss of our planet's land by saying, "I don't know. But don't look away."

This is my testimony. I'm not telling you to never consume an animal product. I know that life is suffering. I KNOW this is true. And I've read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. Have you? I understand what it means to be a species on this planet. I don't think humanity quite does. The other species seem to understand that they aren't the only goddamned species. (And if god had any sense, he would damn us, I believe, humans being the rotten lot we are.) (I mean like if he existed and stuff.)

I am telling you you should read TTW's book about our national parks and think about what it means that we have an occupying U.S. administration actively dismantling any protections our public lands have.

You will now be able to go hunt grizzly bears. That's apparently how we "make America great again." It's an absolute horror show.

TTW praised Aldo Leopold and the Leopold family, who have tracked the changes for years and demonstrated that the climate is changing and altering the landscape. Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac (so Midwestern!) is another book I read as an English major, as I was entering the world of Terry Tempest Williams, Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, and all the Western naturalists who made me understand how much I loved my Arizona, Southwest, and West homelands, who made me see how much the "empty" lands and open spaces can teach us. All these writers have been warning us about the ways we're changing the climate, the landscape, the planet. For years. Listen. Let's not look away.

Terry Tempest Williams and I come from some of the same places, both geographical and religious. We have both grappled and questioned, each in our own ways. One thing our upbringing taught us, though, is the power of bearing testimony. It's remarkable, really, that a religion most people see as "cult-like" (it's not, and we'll have that discussion another day, too) actually hands over the bulk of the church meeting, once a month, to whoever wants to come up to the open microphone. Well, this Earth we're on needs a giant testimony meeting right now. Don't tell people to be quiet and "avoid politics." Don't look away. Don't tell people they're "not being nice." Don't worry about offending someone when you call them out on their behavior. Don't think of it as inappropriate to remind someone that by their lifestyle they're encouraging sweatshops, imprisonment, torture, hideous slaughter, trafficking, death, endangered species, and the flooding of our planet (Noah's ark, anyone?) I can't think of anything MORE appropriate than issuing the warning, loud and clear, from every bully pulpit - social media, face-to-face, or whatever else you can get your hands and vocal chords on.

This is my testimony, and I say it in the name of all that is good and holy in this universe: we've got to think about the land. We've got to think about Earth. We've got to think about the other species on it. Humanity might be doomed, or you might have a slight, tiny, glimmer of a chance. It would help you if you start listening to and understanding the likes of Terry Tempest Williams.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

This was the folk-music-icons weekend that was

Back in the day, by which I of course mean the late 1980s, I accumulated a few pen-pals. Yes, pen-pals -- remember those glorious days, of sitting down with pen and paper, writing a letter, and sending it off to your new "friend" who lived in another state or another country? I loved that hobby. Only one of my pen-pals lasted for years and years of correspondence -- she and I had quite a bit in common and a lot to say to each other, and even ended up both living in New York City at the same time years down the road and getting to meet and be friends in real life, which was in itself amazing. However, this particular story isn't about that pen-pal, but rather about a fleeting pen-pal with whom I briefly wrote letters and then lost contact forever but who, nonetheless, had an impact on my life through the act of sending me a particular cassette tape.

This particular fleeting pen-pal was named Nancy (I think? that's how long ago and fleeting this was) and was, again I think, from Oswego, NY.  I do hope I'm remembering that correctly and not mixing her up with someone else. Anyway, the fleeting pen-pal in question and I decided we would exchange tapes, and we sent each other lists of the albums that we owned and then let each other know which of the other person's we wanted and copied them onto blank cassettes and sent them to each other. (I know, hello, copyright laws, anyone?) We were young adolescents still with a manageable amount of albums, and I can't tell you what the hell else she sent me or what I sent her, but I very specifically remember one dark brown Memorex cassette she sent to me that had on one side a copied Cowboy Junkies album and on the other side Indigo Girls.

I even remember exactly where I was when I was looking at her letter with her list of albums and thinking, "Cowboy Junkies. Indigo Girls." I didn't really know what their music was going to be like -- anyone whose hit songs I knew and loved I had probably already acquired via Columbia House Record & Tape Club or from Sam Goody at Metrocenter mall, so browsing her list was a chance to try something new I wouldn't have otherwise stumbled upon. And this was the mother lode.

I played the hell out of that 90-minute, no-longer-blank cassette. I played it at home, in my parents' cars, and anywhere else I could get it in a tape deck. I loved those albums fiercely, and -- good future copyright law student that I was -- I eventually bought both of those albums properly, thus giving the artists and record companies their profits and more importantly getting my hands on the liner notes. And needless to say, that simple act of being intrigued by my pen-pal's album list -- I can still vividly see it in my mind's eye, can perfectly visualize her handwriting -- launched me on my lifelong Indigo Girls love and fandom.

What if I had never exchanged those handful of letters and cassettes with this random girl across the country? Would I have come to know Indigo Girls and Strange Fire, and then later, Nomads*Indians*Saints and Rites of Passage and all the rest? When? Would I have been too late? I once read a piece in Psychology Today that said studies indicate that the music you listen to during that adolescent time, like toward age 14 or so, resonates more deeply with you than anything you ever listen to in the future, no matter how much you like what you come across in the future. And among the cassettes I spent those early teen years playing over and over were Indigo Girls, Bob Dylan, R.E.M., Simon and Garfunkel,  Cowboy Junkies -- folkies who still speak volumes to me today.

I bring this up because some remarkable things happened this weekend. Tonight, Sunday, I attended a concert at the Chicago Theatre: Four Voices - Joan Baez, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Indigo Girls. When this tour was announced a few months back my breath caught and I thought, this! This is something I cannot BELIEVE I am going to be able to witness! Now, of course I knew that they were all friends, and I know about Mary Chapin singing backing vocals on Amy and Emily's album and Amy and Emily singing backing vocals on Mary Chapin's around 1991, and I remember when the Girls performed with Joan Baez in the early mid-1990s for a benefit and she thanked them for letting her be an Indigo Girl for the evening and called them young whippersnappers, and I own the CD (yes, I eventually moved from cassettes to CDs) from the benefit where Indigo Girls and Mary Chapin and a bunch of other artists all performed with Joan Baez and planted roots for this blossoming friendship so I've heard them harmonizing in pieces and knew of their crossing paths but THIS - a tour called Four Voice, with lots of dates, coming to my town, playing cities near me - it was amazing news.

And it was an amazing concert, needless to say. There are so many highlights, and perhaps I'll tell about more of them in another post, but here let me just assure you that among the evening's joys was the final song of their main set, a cover of a particularly good, particularly relevant, Nobel prize-winning even! song that with their Four Voices became THE best performance of a song that I have witnessed being performed live, ever.

But there was also another little thing that happened at the beginning of this weekend. On Friday night, it just so happens, I saw Cowboy Junkies in concert at the Old Town School of Folk Music. For whatever reason, I had never got a chance to see them in concert before this weekend. Unlike Indigo Girls and Mary Chapin Carpenter, whom I've seen multiple times (Indigo Girls, dozens), I somehow had missed out on the Cowboy Junkies until just this past Friday. There was Margo Timmins, in all her fifty-something glory, and that voice! That achingly lovely voice, with all those heartbreaking, swirling Cowboy Junkies songs. That was the opening of my weekend, and then it ended with this other collection of voices, including the legendary Joan Baez, up there showing us what incredible things words and music can do.

And I thought, how odd, how odd indeed that my weekend was bookended by incredible, life- and music-affirming concerts featuring the two bands that were on either side of that blank cassette sent to me by pen-pal Nancy from Oswego, NY nearly thirty years ago.

And I thought, how beautiful, how beautiful indeed that we are gifted with time on this planet where we can make and share our art, where we can hoist our visions onto the world stage and where we can tuck recorded sounds gently into an envelope with a bit of extra postage and let them be carried across the miles to someone who needs to hear them, or where we can now just upload them with a few quick finger taps on a keyboard.

In spite of all of the hard things, and the misery that Margo openly jokes about (wondering aloud to her audience why anyone would come to a Cowboy Junkies concert expecting to hear happy songs), and some of the political happenings that Joan, Mary Chapin, Amy, and Emily talked about and sang about and alluded to, and just despite the ever-ongoing struggle -- in spite of these things, my god but isn't there some beauty to be found out there, to be brought into our lives thanks to the random simple chances we come across?