it’s the 1-year anniversary of
this blog (huzzah?) --
and the climate crisis
is still happening! . . . who didn’t
get the memo??
australia, for one; + kenya,
indonesia, poland, argentina,
among elsewhere . . .
i, like the daily show and facebook,
have striven to offer a novel
news delivery mechanism,
broken up into line-sized chunks;
now if only
everybody read this blog, the
scales would fall from their eyes!
ok . . . so:
i.) news of the wet:
melbourne’s 1st 4 mo. of 2020
their wettest since 1924:
giant sinkhole makes
for one easy hole-in-one at
suburban park (& it’s cold there);
desert locust outbreaks, product of
unusually wet winter in arabia,
have spread well into africa; now,
they’re starting to breed in kenya:
new swarms should be ready
by harvest-time in june, july;
recent downpours help them thrive,
also wash away insecticide;
+ 116 people dead, 100k displaced
flooding in n. jakarta
& aceh, too: 2000 homes inundated;
deluge in gujarat: “these rains
will ruin the standing crop. chickpeas,
wheat and mung are ready for harvest.”
in fiji ongoing floods; villages in
s.w. alaska prepare to flee them;
killer flash floods in somalia (again);
but how to get relief supplies to
people w/o sending coronavirus, too?
ii.) news of the dry:
“the drought the czech rep.
has experienced since 2015
is the worst of the last 500 years,”
sez the scientist; “simply
catastrophic,” sez the govt. minister
& poland’s water supplies drop
to egypt’s level; farmers “panic”;
country’s biggest wetlands on fire . . .
& in s. america, world-famous
iguazu falls is now iguazu trickle,
there between argentina & brazil:
river 13% of its normal self; &
the parana at lowest level in 50 yrs
“leaving ships stranded,
hydropower production slashed &
argentine officials worried
about whether water for drinking &
hand-washing will hold out during
the covid-19 pandemic”; see,
the rainy season weren’t so rainy:
& water vapor from rainforests
doesn’t collect & drift south
if you cut the forests down;
so: they use trucked & bottled water
there, next to the river
& 4400 acres burning in yucatan;
& yeah it’s still burning in siberia
(just assume it will be until
further notice, if last summer
was any indication);
99 f in vegas (ties apr record);
drought in n. island of n.z.;
i could go on,
and it will
Some writers believe in writing — really believe — as the religious enthusiast believes in the Next Life: it is all that matters. You eat, sleep, breathe, get dressed, make love, and tend bar, but you do it as a writer does. For these lucky few, creating literature excels, exceeds, and renders null the assaults of the actually-existing, empirical, material and social world. To the extent that they address that world, it is via writing alone (and maybe a little self-promotion, here and there). The true believers are not people who write, they are people who are writers. Their identity and vocation is literature, in the same sense that the Cistercian monk’s vocation is praying: it’s all that really matters. They may pay attention to economic inequality, ecological breakdown, or racial oppression, and may have opinions about those things; they may even write about them. But outside of that, it is, strictly speaking, none of their business — not any more than, and indeed less than, the non-writer.
I have never been able to sustain such a faith. I’m no Rilke.
For the past few years, I have been trying to “organize” faculty on campus to shore up faculty rights. I’m especially concerned for non-tenure-track faculty, who really are the “new faculty majority”: they account for the majority of student-credit hours at my institution, for instance. Anyway, despite the tedium of drafting policies that will be sliced, diced, or rejected; the difficulty of galvanizing people to join in; and the sometime nerve-wracking nature of opposing administrators, it really has made me feel better — which, I think, has made me feel better about writing and teaching.
All very well and good, Joe, but there are bigger fish to fry and mountains that need scaling (and fish that need scaling, probably): more people out of work than in 1932; more US deaths from a virus than in the Vietnam War; a pandemic that may or may not be in the process of being brought under control; millions of people without access to health care. And overarching all of these, like the 500-pound sword of Damocles, there’s the climate crisis.
But faced with those challenges, like a lot of people, I freeze up. Give me time, I need to figure it out. I try to be supportive of the Sunrise Movement young ‘uns, but they’re trying to figure it out, too. There’s no XR chapter here, and starting one would pretty much be a full time job, which I’ve already got one of. And of course, direct action would mean getting arrested, processed, time in jail, waiting; it probably would mean getting my bunged-up body more bunged-up. All of which is off-putting.
And writing is just so . . . comforting. There is something predictable and reassuring about going to your desk at the same time (more or less) every day and creating something new — even if it is about the Terrible Shape the World Is In. It feels like action — that dopamine-dispensing, ego-gratifying kind. Indeed, I am struck by how similar my current routine is to what it was before the lockdown. I write. I read. I interact with students. I go to meetings. And while the relative lack of physical contact is taxing, the routine itself is, if anything, even more comfortable, since I rarely have to change out of sweats.
ok, i’m overwhelmed.
i’ve got to stop clicking
apple news every 2 hrs
or better yet, envision
how shutdown might change
the world for the better --
people will want more time
w/neighbors & family, less
time working & driving; will re-
fuse to go to back to work
unless the 1% are taxed again;
we’ll get so used to less
traffic we’ll want car-free streets;
welcome foxes and hedgehogs
to our residential neighborhoods;
we’re now so used to clean air
that govt’s will have to
shut down coal
yeah. hold that thought.
internally displaced by
x-treme weather in 2019 (not
counting those who migrated
& now we must pandemic-distance
but how to do so in gymnasiums or
church halls as makeshift shelters?
or on the buses taking us out of
harm’s way? or in refugee camps,
w/o enough water or soap?
now is not the time
to have a natural disaster, if you
can help it; definitely don’t
need medical care . . .
but siberia is on fire again, w/
abnormally warm weather; also,
> 100˚ temps + windstorms in
in sarawak; & in são paulo,
deluge last month, drought this:
10% avg rain for last 27 days; in
yemen, “countless families have
lost everything”: no dolphins in those
flooded streets; floods, too, in
kenya, rwanda, & vietnam, where
7k acres of cropland destroyed
& o yeah the locusts have made it
“third-world problems”? think again:
mandatory evac’s in canada’s
oil city, mcmurray, alberta (deluge);
residents in evac centers must
socially-distance in company;
& in b.c., scorched earth now gets
swept by snowmelt, turning creeks
to rivers that “eat out the sides
of banks & pull down dirt & stumps
creating a mud bog that
flows down the stream”; one city
commissioner calls it the single-
largest flood in his area in
200 years (tho how he knows . . .);
while in germany, 5% of avg rain
& the rhine is drying up . . .
plus: the earliest-ever tropical
depression forms in the pacific]
in my head i hear “imagine”
by dead john lennon playing.
don’t let a good crisis go to waste,
they say. ok. . . . so say
i’m not overwhelmed.
what do we do then?
My neighbor the Nazi has a new yard sign: “THIS VIRUS IS FAKE.” Not a surprise that he'd think so: this is the same guy who put up a sign reading “ISLAM TEACHES PEDOPHILIA” a couple of years ago.
But, as we have seen, a lot of like-minded volk share his disbeliefs. Or have convinced themselves that they do. Unsurprisingly, it turns out a lot of “coronavirus deniers” are also climate-change deniers. And why not? If you don’t see it happening in your house or your neighborhood, why should you believe it? I mean, especially if it’s inconvenient or expensive — or if you just don’t feel like it?
I just re-read the “Airborne Toxic Event” chapter of Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise (1985), and I was surprised how current it seemed. The protagonist-narrator, J.A.K. “Jack” Gladney, along with his family, have fled an environmental disaster that is only described as an “airborne toxic event.” The chapter takes place at a large emergency shelter, where they and lots of other refugees are ensconced. “True, false, and other kinds of news radiated through the dormitory,” he reports, and reflects, “No one thing was either more or less plausible than any other thing. As people jolted out of reality, we were released from the need to distinguish.” If the real/fake distinction seems unpalatable, we go for the simulacra. It seems that “reality” here means one’s immediate, everyday reality — like leaving your house to take your kids to soccer practice, or shaking hands. Instead, the characters drift in a float-tank of uncertainty — disoriented, but not entirely uncomfortable.
That uncertainty includes the nature of the “toxic event” itself: “it’s colorless, odorless, and very dangerous, except no one seems to know exactly what it causes in humans or in the offspring of humans. They tested for years and either they don’t know for sure or they know and aren’t saying. Some things are too awful to publicize.” White Noise was written in the waning days of the Pre-Internet Era, before the proliferation and availability of all kinds of media outlets. Nowadays, no story is too awful to hold back, whether it’s true, false or some other kind. (David Wallace-Wells’ essay “The Uninhabitable Earth,” with its worst-case scenarios described in excruciating detail, is perhaps the most prominent case in point, when it comes to the climate crisis.)
But uncertainty has persisted, even increased, with the explosion of “information.” No one knows exactly what coronavirus causes in humans (strokes? disorientation? loss of smell and taste? déjà-vu?). No one knows for sure what climate chaos will cause in their offspring (heat stroke? forced migration? penury? generalized misery?). Both the virus and the climate are invisible — unless of course you see your loved one fade and die, or return to find your cyclone-scoured island half-submerged. But otherwise, it’s all at a distance, apprehensible only through report — news report, rumor, or rumor masquerading as news. It might have all been filmed on a soundstage in Hollywood, like the moon landing. I’m not sick. My house isn’t underneath a mudslide. Just pick the flavor of information you want your brain to absorb, and click. “Maybe it was prissy to be quoting statistics in the face of powerful beliefs, fears, desires,” Jack reflects. There’s no convincing somebody who’s convinced already. And who isn’t already convinced of something?
Jack is the only family member who has risked exposure to the toxic substance — for 2 ½ minutes, while he got out to pump the gas. He asks an authoritative, offical-looking person:
“Am I going to die?”
“Not as such,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“Not in so many words.”
“How many words does it take?”
“It’s not a question of words. It’s a question of years. We’ll know more in fifteen years. In the meantime we definitely have a situation.”
“What will we know in fifteen years?”
“If you’re still alive at the time, we’ll know that much more than we do now.”
When it’s all over, we’ll know what happened. After two weeks of declining numbers, we’ll know the number of cases is trending downward. If we have ten years to save the earth, then we’ll know in ten years whether that was correct or not. Or not. In the meantime, the official speaking to Jack patronizingly reassures him: “‘I wouldn’t worry about what I can’t see or feel,’ he said. ‘I’d go ahead and live my life.’”
Many people are taking this advice, with regard to the virus. And as far as the climate crisis goes, most Americans are doing one but not the other: that is, worrying about it and living their lives as they always have. Same carbon footprint, same clicktivist political inactivism. The destruction of the world as we know it may or may not come about in 20 years, therefore it is both true and false, like Schrödinger's cat. So, what? Me worry?
Of course, there are some people who are so worried they are blocking traffic, canvassing neighborhoods, learning to preserve food, forming mutual-aid networks, pressuring officials to improve infrastructure. That's really great of them. But seriously, I don’t have time for that stuff. Do you?
“Men believe what they want to believe,” Caesar said, describing how he defeated the Gauls. I’d say the same goes for other genders, too. Jack thinks about the “tabloid future, with its mechanism of a hopeful twist to apocalyptic events” — that UFOs or Bigfoot or FEMA or somebody will bring about an era of peace and love (and safety). “Out of some persistent sense of large-scale ruin, we kept inventing hope.”
And how better to do so than thinking about kids. They’re our Hope for the Future. The chapter ends with Jack watching his sleeping children and experiencing “a moment of splendid transcendence. I depend on my children for that.” He crawls onto the air mattress “feeling selfless and spiritually large.” Surely there is some colorful social-media meme at hand — something with pictures of kids. Something that will leave us feeling fulfilled and reassured, while asking nothing of us in return.
americans rebel against laws
of physics & physiology:
we won’t let our freedom be
limited by so-called “nature”
(“c’mon, boys — let’s get it!”
“wait — where’d it go?”)
maybe nature’s god — maybe
ho hum. 4-23 in lawrence, ks.:
hi 75 f, norm 69
lo 52, norm 45 (not bad, but in
keeping w/this sudden spring);
precip month-to-date: 1.86”
norm month-to-date: 2.68
hottest year-to-date in 8
florida cities: july weather in
april (miami 97f); + gulf coast
drought; but wettest y-t-d in 6
tennessee valley cities, which
is saying a lot after 2019 (e.g.
birmingham, 6” over record:
they’ve had 37.43” y.t.d.;
we’ve had 8)
& another 7 killed, dozens hurt
by newest round of southern
while cuba’s reservoirs > 50%
capacity (biggest at only 11);
morocco’s harvest ↓ 42%;
limits on grain exports
the dry the dry the dry
(& the verse-chronicler
must be just as relentless)
poland’s on fire (15k acres)
khazakstan’s on fire (2k acres)
nederland’s on fire (420 acres)
+ 4k evac’d; 18 shelters
(only 50 each b/c well u know)
derbyshire’s on fire (4 sq mi)
scotland’s on fire, in parts
(think of this as a catalog
of sinking ships)
ukraine no longer on fire --
and busted reactor unburnt --
only smoking wasteland of
lake victoria burst its banks
in kenya, 32k displaced; another 50
houses washed away in tanzania;
& the cloud of smoke from
australian bushfires in dec.
has circled the globe several times
& we’re not flattening the curve
of temperatures (or wealth)
& we are not pro-gress-ing . . .
so time to hit the streets!
if you can’t see it, it’s a hoax --
don’t let “experts” & “instruments”
& the so-called “scientific method”
or “evidence” or “rationality”
keep you from working or shopping
or driving or shooting or
(o lord thou pukest me out)
burning burning burning
I’ve been reading Piece of Cake, by Bernadette Mayer and Lewis Warsh. Or had been: more on that in a moment. The couple wrote the book over the course of August 1976, each in turn writing the “entry” for alternating days; but the book was only published this year, in an attractive illustrated edition from Station Hill Press. Mayer and Warsh are best known as poets, but Piece of Cake is written in prose, detailing the daily happenings of the 30ish couple raising their infant daughter, renting an apartment, writing, not writing, etc. Occasionally there’s a charming or racy flashback. And there’s the occasional passing insight which may oft have been thought but might or might not have ne’er so well been express’d: “That was a year ago and all those states of being alive in the moment are just facts now, recent memories.” And the occasional droll aside: “The trick to dealing with shopping centers is to ear a hat so your soul doesn’t escape through the top of your head.”
Ah . . . shopping centers. It was a simpler, more innocent time. There was bad inflation, but not 20% unemployment. There was Legionnaire’s Disease, but not COVID-19. There was a Republican President, but not for long. The American worker was just beginning their steady pauperization, their unending drop in real wages.
Piece of Cake is the perfect bedtime reading: interesting enough to want to read, but not so interesting that it will keep you awake. I was mildly enjoying its clement quotidianess; it made for a welcome relief from the unremittingly gloomy news of the day.
That is, until I read this line: “Ray and I discussed the names of antimacassars and tidies when we saw some today in their room at the inn.”
Something snapped. “This is bullshit,” I said (aloud) and tossed the book aside (literally). “Who are these assholes?” By which I meant: tens of thousands of people are dying, tens of millions are out of work, and all they have to talk about are some bourgeois victorian doo-dads at a bed and breakfast?! They don't seem to be getting up at 6 am to go to work while wearing a face-mask, that's for sure. I guess this was how leftist critics in the 1930s felt when they read Wallace Stevens or Sherwood Anderson: What the hell does this have to do with anything??
From a purely rational point of view, this reaction is . . . well, irrational. And unfair (esp. since I haven’t been able to finish the book!). Mayer and Warsh in 1976 can’t help it if the world isn’t falling apart around them. They live in a charming Massachusetts town, but are in with the in-crowd in New York. They seem more or less happily married and have a healthy baby girl. They aren’t rich, but they’re getting along. They’re young, gifted, and white. Why should they be like Jethro Bodine on the Beverly Hillbillies, who, when he wanted to be an artist, went around hitting his head with a board because he “hadn’t suffered for his art today.” No reason — that’s why.
Did they realize those were the good ol’ days, as a song of the time had it? Probably not. Did any of us realize how much better we had it in January 2020 than we would in April 2020? Probably not.
And do any of us imagine we might look back on April 2020 with fondness? The possibility of waves of pandemics in the coming months, on top of the waves of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, landslides, droughts, wildfires, mosquito-borne diseases, human displacement and hunger that are steadily increasing, makes me think it’s possible. It’s very likely that by the time the economy recovers from the coronacession, we’ll be entering a new, permanent recession — due to crop failures, disrupted transportation, displacements of people, and costs relating to property damages, sickness, and deaths; and these things have a way of intensifying one another.
I suppose that, taken together, is what made me bridle at the very mention of antimacassars. Shit’s getting real. And Realer. But reading Piece of Cake, one discovers that there is in it after all, a place for the genuine, a la 2020. For instance, Warsh writes,
I know that feeling self-sufficient leaves one vulnerable and dependent on things going smoothly and that, almost as a fact of life, things do not go smoothly indefinitely. The high for this day was a hundred and eight in 1918.
Or this meditation, on the very topic of this meditation:
For a long time I couldn’t believe the past was dead or could die. I saw each experience as a “still life” somehow preserved in time. Cauterized. What had happened in the past was still going on and I was a memory, as well, in your life, as you were in mine. “I’ll keep it with mine” was a favorite song. The moment, each individual moment, extended towards infinity, like a spiral staircase inside the heart.
Whatever the emotional or metaphysical case may be, it’s certain that the present experience will be cauterized inside all of us for a long time to come. The past isn’t dead: it is coming to life all around us, like frozen microbes awakening from the permafrost, extending onward like a double-helix. It is living in our bodies as trauma. Hopefully, the feeling of being burned will stick. Hopefully, we’re learning anything.
another earth day,
another earth dollar
another rollback of enviro regs
& no way will we get out
of this economic hole unless
carbon corpos are disgorged
of profits, & the six rich people
who own half the world
face another revolution
not to mention preparing for
further effects of global heating
which will cost some money,
maybe the women will march
like they did in france in 1789
only this time at the corpo hqs.
of amazon, koch industries,
saudi aramco, halliburton,
exxonmobil instead of versailles
— & keep em shut
or make em pay up
emissions go down,
but the climate still goes
wonky — mother nature is not
giving us the immediate re-
inforcement we need . . .
bad mother nature bad!
but 2019 was hottest ever
year in europe (it’s official);
scotland temps = 10˚ c > avg +
wildfire near glasgow; “britain
on course for hottest april in
361 years”; forest fires in nature
reserves in nederland; & get this: cesium-137 in norway from
forest fires near chernobyl;
italy’s warmest season since
1800: rain ↓ 61% since feb;
can’t mother earth see
we’re busy?? like, we have more
pressing matters to --
as 56 die in d.r.c.: lake
tanganykia won’t hold all
the water coming down;
in kenya 12 drowned or
crushed & 400 families dis-
placed (& more rain coming):
“people living in landslide-
prone areas should be
vigilant” . . . yeah. no shit . . .
6 dead in landslide in rwanda
& mother nature is not letting
up on yemen: cholera, covid,
civil war, & now much of country
awash; 10 flood deaths;
killed 56 in last month &
& n.s.w., despite all the down-
pours still suffers x-treme
drought: "it's extremely
worrying, bordering on
despair,” the agronomist sez
(& now the locust plague
is starting there, too)
mother earth: send
s.e. u.s. faces wave after wave
of killer tornado swarms; while
emerg planners too preoccupied
by viruses to think about coming
hurricanes; hotter than ever
in april in miami; drier than
ever start to april in seattle;
so let’s celebrate virtual
earth day — here’s to our
So, I was going to write something really, really intelligent about these poems from Janice Lee's series Separation Anxiety. When I first read them, I thought - "Aha! She's writing about the climate crisis (and related spiritual malaises)." Well, now I'm not so sure; though it does seem to have to do with that dead-soul feeling you get from looking at Americans too long. At any rate, it's been a long day of students who've lost their jobs, parents who've lost their jobs, students' relatives with COVID (or other horrible conditions they can't get treatment for); not to mention the anxiety and depression that were epidemic even before the epidemic. So, I'm just going to recommend you read these poems and look at the picture I took of switchgrass on the Baker Wetlands in Douglas County, Kansas, U.S.A. today. We'll be back for Weather Wackiness Wednesday.
remember “peak oil”? . . . ah,
it was a happier, simpler time.
but goldman-sachs sez
we may be there, as the “global
missions” curve flattens . . .
more fires circle chernobyl, w/
kiev choking in smoke;
aukland in “1000-yr drought”?:
hasn’t happened yet thanks to
the parana r. is 5x > norm @
rosario, argentina: dredgers
autumn in brisbane: temps
should be dipping; but not a
chance: 93 f friday;
sugar prices ↑ as thailand
water levels ↓
(that’s really how it works:
it’s as simple as all that);
driest spring in 60 yrs in italy
& france + locked-down
field workers; while droughty
calif., fla., s. texas = produce ↓ +
supply chain disruptions in plains
(read upside-down trucks):
most snow ever in april
in neb., iowa, colo. (9-13”), all
of which means food prices ↑
e. congo flood toll:
25 dead, 45 injured
3500 homes destroyed
1k families (10k people) dis-
placed; bridges sluiced away,
preventing aid shipments;
flash floods in w. kenya uproot
trees & houses & police station,
all into the drink;
the clowns protesting lockdown
want to get us rolling again, get
us spewing again, get that
curve curving again, making
america again, moving fast
Or the unknown unknown that is is. How we must assume continuity in order to proceed. If your love is like a red red rose, you’ve seen a rose. You’ve seen a love. But this ain’t no party this ain’t no disco this ain’t no foolin around, as the poet says. This is is. With a vengeance — when Rudolph the Red Red Nose shatters in a million pieces when you look at him, you’ll know. Write a sound-poem: make sure it will break a wine glass like a memorex. If you write about “The Seasons,” make sure you know what they were.
The White Bear slowly approaches, travelling southward, bent on freezing the earth (or maybe just raiding the dump), and meanwhile we find it hard not to write about something. Gloves, masks, tubes, mini-death-stars, AK-47s at the capitol, 2 metres, 10 minutes, 5000 litres per trip, 40 celsius as long as you name it. But we left our active verbs at work, and here we are. Catkins dance, buds bounce, tulips bloom, we write, and it revises.
Change looks so much more cinematic when it acts fast — after two weeks of this, the kids are used to it. It is what it is. We adapt, we accept, we wait, write, repress. Repass that last millstone marker. When the roses come out in June, this will all be past. Just another bug to smite, another breathless telling of the jangling racket of time.
I'm a writer & teacher in Lawrence, Kansas who actually believes the scientists. I wrote a book of poems called Of Some Sky that seems to have something to do with all this.