If artists are the antennae of the race, and writers and thinkers are also artists, then a vibration some are receiving and beginning to transmit to the culture more broadly now is new in the history of our species: the world is dying.
— Christy Rodgers, “Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Grief, Acceptance: The Five Stages of Ecocide”
I’m digging what some of us artists are doing to act as narrative catchments, looking deep into the well of humanity’s general self-delusion and hubris. This is on the heels of heading from the Central Oregon Coast to Portland, to attend an Oceans conference at Portland State University in downtown Stumptown Sunday afternoon.
Patience here, dear reader, since I am also part of a grand global transformation, though time and again I have written over the decades that I get it and got it at a very young age —
- capitalism as a system of penury, pollution, trickle down insanity
- the rapacious quality of narcissism of the Western world (me-myself-and-I consumerism)
- the despoiling of soil, land, air, river, ocean water by collective madness of money making
- misogyny which has hitched the world’s girls and women to the shackles of male stupidity and sexual violence and forced birthing
- war lords, even those hiding in Sweden or Switzerland, becoming the Mafioso of the world, full stop
- the capturing of a free thinking press and evisceration of holistic education by privatizers and corporate overlords to create the Orwellian maxim of, lies are truth, war is peace
So, with my fiance and her daughter — OSU chemistry/physics undergraduate — we headed to a mild conference (tabling non-profits do not make a conference) to also listen to celebrity diver-scientist, Sylvia Earle, aged 83. We’ll talk about her Mission Blue. We’ll talk about this hopey-dopey thing she promulgates. We’ll talk about her down-dumbing to audiences. Later. And I paid for tickets, which is something I have rarely done in my 62 years on the planet.
Yes, the guilt of using up fossil fuels, clogging the road system and sending water vapor and CO2 into the atmosphere to hear someone I have already heard elsewhere in another iteration of my time as community college teacher and sustainability leader.
How difficult was it for me to NOT open my mouth and start railing against this celebrity culture before the talk — and expose a 21-year-old hopeful undergraduate science student to negativity — and then spew out my prophecy of … this is just going to be another white person-attended milquetoast thing with dyed in the wool democrats and Obama lovers again not even attempting to stammer that capitalism is the evil, war is the tool for this evil, magical thinking is the conduit of this evil, and chaos in all forms of discourse/thought/ community its product?
I’ll in a future piece nuance and dice and parse what Sylvia Earle’s talk was — a refitted talk that she’s done for decades — and how that crowd in Portland did in some sense send pulsating streams of bile into my throat as I felt like the one and only one who was disturbed by the lock-step cult of celebrity thing going on in that big PSA pavilion, one big basketball arena that was burping up so much air conditioned streams that dozens of folk scurried around looking for sweaters and coats to keep from blue-lipping themselves into a stupor.
I’ve been here before, running talks with the likes of Winona LaDuke, James Howard Kunstler, David Helvarg, Bill McKibben and others. I was the thorn in the side, the lightning rod, the agitator, the one person who took the discourse away from slanted academic or literary bunk and platitudes, toward a more militant rhetoric, one where revolutionary thinking had to set the stage. Some guests were uncomfortable, and audiences, too but many speakers and others I interviewed or MC-ed for responded deeper than they had ever in public, many have told me. I even took them to the studio and interviewed them on my old radio show. Here are a few captured on my blog, PaulHaeder dot com.
Too-too many times, the rank and file wherever I practiced as teacher, journalist, social worker and activist have demonstrated their partial or complete colonization (where I ticked off the issues in the list above) which has assisted in depositing magical thinking and elitism and exceptionalism into the very fiber of the average American. Including many of the people who I rub elbows with!
The stage was set, Sunday, and we were there, a few hundred captives, held to the standards of this organization that sponsored the event — SAGE, Senior Advocates for Generational Equity. There was a choir, and there was a forced “all audience members please stand up and sing” moment, Hallelujah’s, and there were no young people on stage, no haggling of ideas, no argumentation about how criminal capitalism is, and our war economy (Earle is a capitalist and military supporter), no debate about how we do in fact help save the ocean, no hard-edged and outside-the-box discourse and presentation.
Much more on that later — the concept of a Sylvia Earle even headlining a “world oceans day” anemic event, and the obvious lack of hard-hitting discourse and thought on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
Below is a piece I wrote, specifically for Oregon Humanities magazine, a call out for manuscripts to work with the theme, adapt.
For the Summer 2019 issue, share an experience about conforming in response to some sort of pressure. Tell us what it takes to alter and revamp a system that needs to change. Explore a historical or current event that shows the process and outcome of adaptation.
No, this isn’t an angst riddled preface to the piece that was NOT accepted for publication, which also would have had a small check involved. I was told by the poet laureate of Oregon (K.S.) to not expect a big huge hug when sending in my submission, implying that the staff — editorial people at this non-profit, Oregon Humanities — have their own little dance to the beat of a different literary drummer thing going on.
I get that, these non-profits staffed by some pretty middle of the road peeps, or culture wars warriors, or people who have a set and proscribed middle land of what they believe is music to their ears or what would be acceptable stuff for their funders’ and readers’ sensibilities.
Therefore, the rejection letter I got yesterday, via email, with a couple of typos in the body written by the editor of this magazine, was expected, but like anytime I attempt a corn-artichoke-green chile-vegan cheese souffle — and it’s definitely putting in all that energy, using all those well-handled ingredients, shepherding all the care and the oven acumen — when the souffle comes out floppy or semi-deflated, my hardened heart still skips a few beats and I want to kick the cast iron ceramic pot into the woods hissing and steaming.
Same with a rejection letter! Err, make that plural. Dozens of them. In the hundreds. Even after 45 years of rejections, I feel the bile bubble up! Then I remember how much I hated that masters of fine arts group of people I have intellectually intercoursed with over the years!
There is good writing out there, just not much of it coming from MFA programs. What may have provided an engine for a genuine attention to craft, fifty years ago, Rockefeller Foundation notwithstanding, has withered and left an enfeebled cult of pseudo expertise. For the genetic disposition of creative writing programs is linked to the paradoxical stigmatizing and entitlements of University attendance. The goal of the CIA and State Dept is one thing, and we’re talking less than best and brightest here, and the ideological imprint is actually probably minor, but the unintended vaccinations of rationality, the ingesting of sociological and a generic lexical sensibility is significant. Art that has lost anger and moral obsession, has left a low stakes hobby culture of career minded ruthlessness coupled to creative flaccidity. The work is constrained in the same ways, psychologically, that allows mute absorption of all aspects of the Spectacle. The concrete and specific becomes generic by a rational process of observation that brackets the irrational and working within the institution is a tacit acceptance of the hierarchies of the system that desires to kill off dissent and opposition, and that means killing off the impulse to question. The white supremacist establishment shares the structural dynamics of the University. MFA program as Pentagon. Now there are exceptions, I guess. But creative writing largely, following the lead of the Iowa Writers Workshop is in the business of staying in business. — John Steppling
The compulsive repetitive nature of mass marketing has gone a long ways in the training of perception. But it is the mystifying of repetition, the pretense is of difference. And this seems crucial. The liberal white class, the people who run institutional theater, and University programs in writing, believe largely in a marketed reality within which stories of individualism can be played out. Clear cut the forest, the better to inspect ‘psychology’ as it is operative in each ‘character’. This links also to my last post and this idea of mastery. You cannot master the forest, without mostly cutting it down. The sense of space: that theatrical space, linked to an ‘off stage’, to an elsewhere that is unconscious, is by its very nature submissive. The submission allows for that walk in the forest. That walk is creative and it also the discovery of a path. The Situationists used to say, get a map of Berlin and use it to navigate yourself around Milan. — John Steppling
I’ll shift out of the woe is me thing, and discuss quickly what just took place on Dissident Voice Sunday, a Christy Rodgers piece, “Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Grief, Acceptance: The Five Stages of Ecocide.” I was opening up DV, when I found Christy’s powerful piece, and read it, because I was not able to settle down after watching on my free Hulu, If Beale Street Could Talk.
She covers the so-called stages of grief — Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Grief, Acceptance — as we collectively and individually confront the great dying, and confront all those feedback loops and lag times and tipping points to our rape of the world as they are now being played out as the chickens coming home to roost. Fricken Chaucer: Some six centuries ago, when Geoffrey used it in The Parson’s Tale:
And ofte tyme swich cursynge wrongfully retorneth agayn to hym that curseth, as a bryd that retorneth agayn to his owene nest.
— Geoffrey Chaucer, 1390, The Parson’s Tale