Monthly Archives: November 2009

maps and lessons


Am I basking in the Sea of Knowledge? Or lost in the Foothills of Confusion?

Last Saturday in Estacion Palabra I re-read The Phantom Tolbooth and most of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I literally gasped when I saw “Tolbooth” on the shelf. This was one of my absolute favorite books growing up, the rare children’s fantasy world novel that stands alone and isn’t part of a trilogy. I love any book that has a map in the opening pages, period. “Tolbooth” really does a wonderful job of capturing what it feels like to be a kid whose childhood is defined by books. The movie critic in Salon sums up this feeling very nicely in a recent review:

I’m not talking about the overrated notion of “being returned to a sense of childlike wonder,” or anything like that. I’m talking about a movie that captures something even more intangible than that, the very texture of an experience… the quiet, intense joy I felt as a kid, first poring over illustrated details in picture books (the nooks and crannies of Beatrix Potter’s rabbit warrens and mouse houses, for example) and later in the semi-fanciful, semi-naturalistic details to be found in Kenneth Grahame and A.A. Milne and Dahl.

“The Phantom Tolbooth” is just so unique is so many ways: how can you not love Subtraction Stew? Or jumping to the Island of Conclusions? When Milo was lost, winding his way through the Doldrums, and managed to escape by thinking hard (i.e. putting his brain to good use) all I could think was God, what a valuable lesson for me at this point in my life. This past week has been a little difficult for me because so much of it has been pure office work. I mean, I managed to get a lot of work done on projects on my workplan, all with fancy, scary sounding titles like “Operational Cost Analysis” and “Interest Rate Calculation/Verification.” Next week I’ll definitely be out in the field meeting clients again (I’ll probably end up missing the office!). But humans were truly not made to be shut up in offices, hunched in front of little computers all day. Thank god I enjoy my co-workers and feel like the work I’m doing is actually important and has a point to it; otherwise, I can see why office jobs could be a slow, droning form of suicide for many people.

It was fun to re-read the Eggers book too, which I hadn’t touched since 2000, the first time I read it. I was in summer camp at CTY at Skidmore College in New York. I remember feeling very impressed that my creative writing teacher knew Dave Eggers. Anyway, I LOVED the book. I was convinced it was completely and utter genius. I carried it around with me everywhere. I read it lying on my stomach in the grass, hanging out with the goth kids as they talked about Smashing Pumpkins and drew things on their shoes with black marker. I think I may have even cursed myself a couple of times and my apparent lack of talent: “why can’t I write like Dave Eggers?!”

Well… I’m really glad now that I *don’t* write like the Dave Eggers in AHWOSG. (I don’t mean this as a diss!) Now that some time has passed, this book stands out in stark contrast to everything he’s written afterwards (“Velocity”, “What is the What,” the Katrina book that looks really interesting). So much of it takes place inside twentysomething-year-old Dave’s head, which can be an intense place at times.

I was really afraid upon picking up the book that I was going to absolutely HATE it, kind of like the people who watch The Graduate thirty years later and realize that Benjamin Braddock is an absolute dud and that Mrs. Robinson is truly the only likeable character. However, my fears were rapidly assuaged once I read the description of how Dave’s younger brother used steak knives to cut open bags of pretzels, or the classic MTV Real World application interview. The “Dave” character is just intensely trapped in his head, painfully so at some points. However, although it can get a little claustrophobic at times, I think it’s wonderful and incredibly honest. It feels extremely 90’s. The 90’s was a very “Me” decade, wasn’t it? Everyone wanted to be introspective and painfully honest, Little Earthquakes-style.All those female-singer songwriters, Kurt Cobain strumming his acoustic guitar and singing about his pain. (My sister writes more about the theme of exposure in AHWOSG here.) What do we have now? A global melting pot, I guess, with M.I.A. and people wanting to get back to their gardens.

There is a ton of death and decay in this book. This is not a fun-hearted, haha, fun and games book with ironic slackers cracking witty comments (though there is some of that). I thought this book was hilarious when I first read it; this time, I found it incredibly sad (maybe this is just a sign of how I’ve gotten older. This book is filled with death and injuries: friends, parents, family members. More than anything else, the main message that stuck with me after re-reading this was how Eggers seems to be saying Life is crazy, and it’s really hard to make it out alive and unscathed.

It was a good reading choice at this point my life, in a week where two girls from my college were hit by a car in Portland, on a street that I myself have biked past many a time, almost every morning in fact from January to May on my way to work at the elementary school. One of them was killed and the other is in a coma and apparently it’s increasingly unlikely she will wake up. I didn’t know either of them, we were nevertheless connected through friends-of-friends the way that everyone is in a small school at Reed. One of them was friends with my older brother; I had a class my senior year with the other girl. She was actually one of the first people I ever talked to at Reed, shortly after some kind of assembly had finished and we were all filing into the cafeteria and I was freaking about not knowing anyone so I just started talking to the girl in line ahead of me about our outdoor wilderness orientation trips. I don’t think we talked ever again after that. And now she’s dead. That… that makes me sad.

Isn’t that crazy how people can just DIE, just disappear completely off the earth?? Think about it: you’re crossing the street to go to Fred Myer, and then in the next ten seconds you no longer exist. The Internet especially makes things weird, because you’re leaving behind an online record of yourself. Your Twitter, facebook, livejournal account will suddenly become like these untouched statues, your last footprint on earth. It’s terrifying, though maybe you could also think of it as reassuring… maybe. I’m not sure what lesson I’m supposed to end with this. Try to live in the moment, I guess. Or as I said on the phone with my dad, “you gotta enjoy your steak tacos when you have them.”

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Filed under death, Mexico, non-fiction, Nuevo Laredo, Uncategorized

Quotes from “The Savage Detectives”

bolanoAfter re-reading “The Savage Detectives” backwards (starting with the last chapter in Part II and reading all the way to the beginning, then reading Part III, and finally Part I), I was going to write something really epic and intelligent-sounding that would summarize all of Bolaño’s themes. Like MADNESS and LITERATURE and YOUTH and POLITICS and DEATH. Dreams, light, windows, understanding, the lack of meaning, searching, traveling, food, creativity, art… I could go on. Then I decided what I really wanted to do was just post my favorite Bolaño quotes that I underlined while reading.

All quotes are from  “The savage detectives” by Roberto Bolaño; translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer. New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007. Starting backwards from Part II:

Like so many Mexicans, I too gave up poetry. Like so many thousands of Mexicans, I too turned my back on poetry.
We’re not doing it for you, Amadeo, we’re doing it for Mexico, for Latin America, for the Third World, for our girlfriends, because we feel like doing it.
And the one who was reading raised his eyes and looked at me as if I were behind a window or he were on the other side of a window, and said: relax, nothing’s wrong. Goddamn psychotic boys! As if speaking in one’s sleep were nothing! As if making promises in one’s sleep were nothing!

I saw them as if through a window, one of them with his eyes open and the other with his eyes shut, but both of them looking, looking out? looking in?
I shuffled over to the switch and turned out the light.

All languages seemed detestable to me just then… To say that know is silly, I know. All those languages, all that whispering, simply a vicarious way of preserving our identity for an uncertain length of time. Ultimately, I don’t know why they seemed detestable, maybe because in an absurd way I was lost somewhere in those two long rooms, lost in a region I didn’t know, a country I didn’t know, a continent I didn’t know, on a strange, elongated planet.
He had lost something and he wanted to die, that was all.
He was telling his own story, a story that made no sense, telling it over and over, with the difference that each time he condensed it a little more, until at last all he was saying was: I wanted to die, but I realized it was better not to.

One of those things that drove me wild, the ability of human beings to adapt to anything, instantly.
I’m basically a fighter. I try to stay positive. Things don’t have to be bad or inevitable.
I’m sociable, a person who likes to be happy, and where do you find happiness if not in people?
It still seems impossible to me that anyone, no matter how much he read, could’ve read every book in the world. There must be so many of them, and I don’t mean every single book, good and bad, just the good ones. There must be stacks of them! Enough so you could spend twenty-four hours a day reading! And that’s not to mention the bad ones, since there must be more bad ones than good ones… That poem is total bullshit. Neither of those things is possible.
I asked him… what a person was supposed to do after reading everything and sleeping with everyone, according to the French poet, of course, and he said travel, go away.
I felt free, that was the main thing, and I also felt loved, embraced, protected, I felt like I was a worthwhile person and that made me happy.
What matters is your son and your health. Worry about your son and worry about your health and stop getting yourself in these messes. It’s hard to believe that such a smart guy could be so dumb.
At that moment I even understood, or thought I understood, all of Arturo’s insanities, the crazy things he’d done and the things he was about to do, and I would’ve liked to go to Africa too that night while we were watching the sea and the lights in the distance, the little trawlers; I felt capable of anything and especially of leaving for somewhere far away.
How could it be a good novel when it was just one sentence repeated over and over again? That shows a lack of respect for the reader. Life is shitty enough without being stuck buying a book where all it says is “All work and no play…” … Your common sense amazes me, Teresa, he said.
I think I talked to him about life’s responsibilities, the things I believed in and clung to in order to keep breathing.

The writers of Spain (and Latin American) were generally from well-to-do families or families of certain social standing. As soon as they took up the pen, they rejected or chafed at that standing: to write was to renounce, to forsake, sometimes even to commit suicide. It meant going against the family… Today… they tend to use writing as a means to move a few rungs up the social ladder.

(500) I felt reasonably happy, I kept busy, I watched things, I watched myself watch things, I read, I lived a peaceful life. I didn’t produce much. That may be important.
(503) Life (the specter of life) is constantly challenging us for acts we’ve never committed, and sometimes for acts we never even thought of committing.
(510) [During the scene in which Belano duels with the critic] In a brief moment of lucidity, I was sure that we’d all gone crazy. But even that moment of lucidity was displaced by a super-second of super-lucidity (if I can put it that way) in which I realized that this scene was the logical outcome of our ridiculous lives. It wasn’t a punishment but a new wrinkle. It gave us a glimpse of ourselves in our common humanity. It wasn’t proof of our idle guilt but a sign of our miraculous and pointless innocence. But that’s not it. That’s not it. We were still and they were in motion.

(480) it has to do with life, with what we can lose without knowing it, and what we can regain. So what can we regain? I said. What we lost, said Norman, we can get it back intact.
(482) and then all of a sudden I understood everything. What was there to understand? I said. Everything, the most important thing of all.
(484) No matter how I tried, I couldn’t get anything clear.. It was all vague and depressing…. Everyone riding on the metro at that time of night seemed sick. She went one way and I went the other.
(488) Where we really want to go… To modernity, Cesarea, I said, to goddamned modernity… The search for a place to live and a place to work was the common fate of all mankind.

(466) You pay poets, it was said, with the money you make from crooked business men, embezzlers, drug traffickers, murderers of women and children, money launderers, corrupt politicians.
(467) Belano, who buried himself in a world where everything stank, where everything stank of shit and urine and rot and poverty and sickness, a world where the stink was suffocating and numbing, and where the only things that didn’t stink was my daughter’s body.
(469) I realized what Arturo Belano had known the moment he saw me. I was a terrible poet.
I sought peace and I didn’t find it.

(474) We’re all alone and we’re lost.

(435) We weren’t writing for publication but to understand ourselves or better or just to see how far we could go. And when we weren’t writing we talked endlessly about his life and my life, although sometimes Arturo told me stories about friends who had died in the guerrilla wars of Latin America.
(436) I never met a Mexican who knew how to rig a phone, maybe because we weren’t ready for the modern world. The rigged telephones were easy to tell by the lines that formed around them, especially at night. The best and worst of Latin America came together in those lines, the old revolutionaries and the rapists, the former political prisoners and the hawkers of junk jewelry.
(438) One night I met the devil. That’s all I remember. I met the devil and I knew I was going to die.
(440) Any little thing made me cry. A house seen from the distance, traffic jams, people trapped inside their cars, the daily news.
(445) I asked her what life was like in Los Angeles and she said that it was different every day, that sometimes it could be very good and sometimes very bad, but if you worked hard you could get ahead.
(446) I was going to ask whether she was alone when she died but then I decided not to ask anything.
(447) I knew immediately that they would buy the house and right there in the yard, without taking off my gloves, standing there like a pillar of salt, I decided that the time had come for me to leave too.

(400-401) When I got home everything had changed… I got depressed and didn’t know what to do… No one knew me and I didn’t know anyone.
(404) [I think this is probably my favorite quote of all… I love his descriptions of food!] Very hungry and very much like crying and very happy. And I rushed into the kitchen and in the kitchen were two men and a woman, who were talking animatedly about someone who had died. And I took a ham sandwich and ate it and then I had two gulps of Coca-Cola to wash it down. The bread was somehow dry. But the sandwich was delicious, so I took another one, this time a cheese sandwich, and I ate it little by little, not all at once, chewing carefully and smiling the way I used to smile so many years ago… I heard what they were saying, they were talking about a corpse and a burial, about a friend of mine, an architect, who had died, and at that moment it seemed appropriate for me to say that I’d known him. That was all. They were talking about a dead man whom I’d known, and then they started to talk about other things, I guess.
(406) In a burst of utter Mexicanness, I knew that we were ruled by fate and that we would all drown in the storm.
(406-407) I set out to dissect what had become of my youth. And I concluded that everything had to change, even if I wasn’t sure just then how to go about it or what path to take.
(408) Life has many wonderful moments, and they come in all shapes and sizes.
(415) We aren’t given much on this earth. We have to pray and work.
(416) There’s nothing like traveling to expand your horizons… When I was done traveling I returned convinced of one thing: we’re nothing.
(417) I was missing a purpose or the purpose. Or what amounts to the same thing, at least from my perspective: I want to understand the phenomenon that had jump-started my fortune, the numbers that hadn’t lit up my head for so long, and accept that reality like a man.
I realized I was probably never going to understand the true nature of my luck, of the money that had rained down on me from the sky. But like a good Chilean I refused to accept this, that there was anything I couldn’t know, and I began to read and read
(418) I would keep reading, without letting myself rest, as if I were about to die and I didn’t want to die before I’d understood what was going on around me and over my head and under my feet.
(420) The heart of the matter is knowing whether evil (or sin or crime or whatever you want to call it) is random or purposeful. If it’s purposeful, we can fight it… If it’s random on the other hand, we’re fucked, and we’ll just have to hope that God, if he exists, has mercy on us. And that’s what it all comes down to.

(390) Laura asked me, pretending as if she didn’t know, how the young poets of Mexico were faring… I lied, saying: they’re fine, almost everyone is publishing, the earthquake will give them years of material.
(393) I would think about my next article, about the story I was planning to write… and the time would fly… I can only write about things I feel connected to.
(396-397) [Amadeo looking in mirror:] I was still myself. Not the self I’d gotten used to, but myself.. I could separate myself from the confounded quicksilver of the mirror I was leaning against.. my fingerprints lingered like ten tiny faces speaking in unison and so quickly I couldn’t make out their words.
(398) I’ve never understood a goddamn thing… It’s a joke, Amadeo, the poem is a joke covering up something more serious… I fell into a doze as, like Pedro Paramo, they wandered the hell of my house, or the hell of memories my house had become.
(399) There is no mystery, Amadeo.

(374-375) There’s no such thing as purity, boys, don’t fool yourselves, life is shit
(375) I can’t help thinking that the poets and politicians, especially in Mexico, are one and the same… But back then I was young, too young and idealistic, which is to say I was pure.
(376) But then something very simple happened and everything changed.
(377) smoke a cigarette and think about postcoital sadness, that vexing sadness of the flesh, and about all the books he hadn’t read.
(379) I saw our struggles and demons all tangled up in the same failure, and that failure was called joy.
(382) He’d ask me about my life, and I’d ask him about his life, and we might talk until two or three in the morning, about things that had happened to us and the books we’d read.
(384) Why don’t you write anymore, mana? I asked her once and she answered that she just didn’t feel like it, that was all, she just didn’t feel like it.
(386) After death of Luscious Skin: I couldn’t take the day off either, because we’re swamped at the office.

(370) I felt pity too, and I knew I was in love.
[Another great description of food!] Usually they were complicated or sometimes they were simple but they were always tasty.
(373) everyone who leaves Mexico ends up coming back someday… his conclusion was that everyone was slowly but surely going insane.

(350) One of those apocalyptic Mexico City mornings
(352) History in the making, as they say, one endless party.
(355) All poets get lost at some point or another.
(357) Ah, the lives you writers lead.
It was as if he were saying: we revolutionaries smoke strong tobacco, real men smoke strong tobacco, those of us with a stake in objective reality smoke real tobacco.

(359) Do you know what the worst thing about literature is?.. That you end up being friends with writers.
It sounded like Borges, but I didn’t tell him so.

(360) don’t worry, the poet doesn’t die, he loses everything, but he doesn’t die. What thou lovest well remains.

(341) like the shitty revolutionaries who cash a government check every two weeks
(342) madness is madness is madness, and sadness too, and at the end of the day the three of us are Americans, children of Caliban, lost in the great American wilderness, and I think that touched me, to see a spark of understanding, a spark of tolerance in the eyes of that powerful man… in that fraction of a second I thought: everything is all right, I hope everything will be all right.
(343) talking about LITERATURE, talking about POLITICS, at the gates of paradise.
(348) They really seemed like two extraterrestrials… their look seemed modeled on the hackneyed archetype of the young leftist poet… Limp dicks.

(318) I knew everything, but I didn’t know anything.
(325) What were you doing in Israel, Heimito? I told him. Searching, searching.
(334) finally he said that he didn’t understand any of it. What’s to understand? I said. He looked at me as if I’d said something idiotic, as if I were too young to know what he meant, and didn’t answer.
(334-335) the math teacher called them parasites, saying that they were the kind of element that paralyzes society and keeps a country from every making any progress. I said that I was just like them and he replied that it wasn’t true, that I studied and worked whereas they didn’t do anything. They’re poets, I argued… Lazy slobs is what they are, he said. … I felt empty and irresponsible.
(335) Everything he and Belano had meant to me was too remote now. He talked about his travels. I thought there was too much literature in his telling of them.

(152) It occurred to me that it was all a message for me. It was a way of saying don’t leave me, see what I’m capable of, stay with me. .. But that wasn’t what I meant to say.
(154) Literature isn’t innocent. I’ve known that since I was fifteen.
(246) Ulises reading in the shower
(314) Ah, what a relief to come into the light, even when it’s a shadowy half-light, what a relief to come where it’s clear.

The window of Bolaño’s literature helps me see myself more clearly…

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Filed under Bolaño, books

New Look, New Site, Same Blog

I’m working on trying to make this blog look more professional, which mainly involved exporting it from Blogspot to WordPress (which seems to be where all the cool kids hang out and blog these days). I wish I could go back through all the old entries and edit them: re-align the pictures, correct grammar and misspellings, rewrite poorly worded sentences, etc… but I really don’t feel like that would be a good use of my time. So, instead of focusing on the past, let’s look forward to the future! I hope you’ll all bear with me in the meantime… :)

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Filed under future, mission statement

ishmael: thinking about gardens

It’s Week 5 (beginning Week 6) here in Nuevo Laredo, which means my time here is rapidly approaching the half-way over mark. TIME! How do we go about measuring and conceiving it?? Every week that passes, I greet with astonishment: “Gosh, I can’t believe I’ve been here for three weeks. Holy cow! A whole month in Nuevo Laredo! Hijole. Five weeks, over as quickly as it came…”

I’ve been a little obsessed with time lately. Time management of the present moment, how we conceive time and how we measure it personally. It’s been a theme this year of mine, to flip through old journal entries and feel fascinated as I read what I did on the 2nd day of last month, two months ago, six months ago. Man, how crazy is it that I can read journal entries from 2006, or god forbid, 2005 or even further back than that, and recognize this distinct “voice” I had, as though I were reading a narrator in a novel! Within that recognition is also the acknowledgment that this voice of 2006 and backwards is no longer me: it was me, but it is no longer the voice that I use now. I guess this means in ten years, when I’m reading this blog entry (I wonder how that is going to work, exactly) I’m going to be freaking out even more.

The main event that got me thinking about time is fairly simple: I watched The Full Monty, the amusing British comedy lent to me in a stack of DVDs by my boss. The last time I watched The Full Monty was in 1997, when it first came out, when my sister and I were first really getting into seeing movies and renting them from blockbuster. Twelve years ago, I was twelve. When I was twelve, I couldn’t even SAY the sentence “I remember twelve years ago when…”, because I would have remembered nothing! So this is one of the first times in my life when I could say “I remember twelve years ago…” What is it going to be like to say “I remember thirty years ago”? Or forty? Fifty? That was the main thing I wanted to ask my grandma, when she was showing me old photographs of her with her high school boyfriends. Did you ever think you would end up here Grandma? I wanted to say. Did you ever think you would be a Grandma? Did you ever think you would be eighty-five? Time, dude. It’s a puzzler.

What else did I do when I was twelve? I was in sixth grade. I saw Titanic. I got really into reading all the movie reviews in the New York Times. I remember playing a game with my sister, where we would go to a page and then we would have to pick the one movie out of all the adds listed there that we wanted to see. (During Oscar season this game was fun, once February and March hit it definitely became an exercise in the lesser of two evils.) I guess I would say sixth grade was the time when I sort of became aware of culture, popular culture, and began wanting to integrate myself into it. Sixth grade was also the year I bought my first CD (the Titanic soundtrack—thanks, Mom!). I think it was also the summer before sixth grade that my sister and I first began buying music for ourselves in the form of cassette tapes: the Backstreet Boys, Hansen. Cassette tapes, dude!! Fortunately, we bought a cassette tape of Grammy nominees of ’96 and Paula Cole, Fiona Apple and Shawn Colvin were on it, and our path for preferring sensitive female singer-songwriters with pianos or guitars seemed to be set.

Another thing I did in sixth grade was read Ishmael. My brother was reading it for a class of his—social studies? World History? God knows, some hippie Canadian teacher assigned it to him. I always read my older brother’s books and textbooks; I read one huge English Lit textbook of his from cover to cover, starting with Milton and ending with the play version of The Diary of Anne Frank. Reading “older kids’ books” always felt tremendously exciting to me. I would always sneak into his room when he wasn’t there and read them while lying on my stomach on his bed, my chin hanging off the edge and the book on the floor (I still read like this sometimes, but it makes all the blood rush to my head).

I was definitely way too young for Ishmael at the time. I think the only part I really “got” was the part about the creation myth, in the first 40-50 pages. I thought that was really clever, when the jellyfish said, all proudly, “And then, there were jellyfish!” as its conclusion to its story about the creation of the universe. It was an eye-opening moment, to say the least. I’d definitely never really thought about the world like that before, that we had a specific way of narrating about our place in the world. Even during Humanities 110 class, years later, in between the slides of the Greeks and Romans projected at the front of the auditorium, I would still think every once in the while “and then there were jellyfish…”

So these were some of the things I thought about while re-reading Ishmael in the Estacion Palabra reading cultural center, while little kids shouted and whooped while making Halloween decorations in the children’s sections. At some point a girl dressed up as a pirate walked up to me and offered me candy; I took a green lollipop which broke as I was trying to unwrap it (I ate it anyway). I rushed through the last 60 pages in fear that I wouldn’t be able to finish it before it got dark; I wanted to walk home while there was still some light outside.

It was a good book, and I enjoyed reading it. Ishmael places an interesting emphasis on how the control and use of food supply is so important for defining culture and the formation civilization. It feels very much ahead of its time for a book written in 1992, especially Quinn’s commentary about First World farmers fueling Third World population explosion. It’s missing the specificity and urgency that Michael Pollan brought to the argument, but it’s definitely there. It feels very relevant.

It’s an interesting book to read at this point in my life, as well as in this point of history. I love reading the articles about food and good eating and urban farming and agriculture that seem to be consistently appearing on the NY Times and Salon and Slate and so on… When I walked into Powell’s to buy The Wings of the Dove and The Brothers K and other huge books to lug along with me to Mexico, in the front displays there was book after book about permaculture and bike riding and green living and good eating. It made my heart feel really warm. It made me want to believe that our consciousness is changing, that a very definitive, clear shift is taking place… I don’t want to think that it’s just Portland, either (though Portland is definitely a place where a lot of good things happen!)

I also think it’s interesting how Ishmael focuses so much on this idea that things can’t continue on this path for much longer, or else we’re pretty much doomed. Doomed in what sense? The apocalypse is pretty scary to think about (I can’t watch zombie movies for exactly that reason) but I find it SO interesting that the more people I meet who are interested in things like gardening, permaculture, gathering culinary mushrooms and sustainable development also seem to be very much comfortable (not sure if that’s the right word? Aware, maybe) with the idea of apocalypse. I could go on a rift about apocalypse that adapts themes from my postmodern fiction class, but I think I will leave it at that and take it up in another blog entry.

The last thing I want to say about reading Ishmael is how freaking interesting it was to me to read this book and be like yup, this is definitely how I feel; yup, this is definitely a conclusion that I’ve reached. Consuming the world as our prison industry that keeps us trapped: check. Man belongs to the world instead of the other way round: check. Human settlement isn’t against the law, it’s subject to the law: check, check. Teaching is enough, you can’t begin anywhere unless you begin changing people’s minds: triple check unto infinity. I would even go so far that you can’t begin anywhere unless you begin changing your mind. Oh my God, how can I possibly go about helping others unless I know how to help myself?! I think more than anything, this is the biggest lesson that I have learned in the past three years. It sounds so basic and self-explanatory, right? And yet, it is really revolutionary, but once you begin practicing kindness to yourself, it proceeds to open the door to oh so many other things…

I also REALLY liked how Ishmael tried to be positive at the end, so that I wasn’t left with this feeling of “Great, we’ve messed up this planet and now we’re screwed, start building the bunker.” Instead he does a good job of trying to make us feel good. He mainly does this by saying that we need a new vision of ourselves that’s more inspiring that being scolded about how we need to recycle more and pollute less. Somehow, it’s more helpful to view all of this as necessary. This lesson can be personal: If we didn’t go through all of this, then we wouldn’t have learned. It’s more helpful to think that humans needed to go through all this, to be “the first species to experience it without being the last,” as Quinn puts it, in order to KNOW how to do things DIFFERENTLY. So instead of beating ourselves up about the past and thinking we’re screwed, instead we can LEARN from our EXPERIENCES. How’s that for constructive thinking?!

What I like best about this mentality is how well it works in regards to viewing ourselves as individuals. We can view our flaws and mistakes as these terrible things: “God, I’ve messed this thing up, this one side of my personality is like this, so now I’m basically screwed!” But instead of this vision of ourselves, we can have a vision of seeing these flaws as necessary. If you didn’t have these tendencies, then how would you learn? And you can always learn. Now is never a better time.

The one last thing I want to say is that I found it incredibly ironic how after reading this book I went home to my apartment ate some ramen, the only food available in my apartment. Definitely not part of the Slow Food movement. But I figure that you gotta accept the gifts that are available to you… There’s a time and a place for certain things. For example, in Portland, I can learn about gardening and permaculture and botany from Corey, who has really been quite influential and formative in setting me down this path. Oh, to date a botanist…
Urban gardening in Nuevo Laredo appears mostly in the form of papaya trees in people’s front yards. Homegrown chiles are definitely the most popular.

Some songs about gardens:

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Filed under apocalypse, gardening, nature, perspective, time