Monday, August 22, 2005

Submit! Posted by Picasa

Bill Nericcio, who will lead this semester's fall seminar on "Chasing Derrida: Lights, Camera, Writing," is the web whiz who whomped up this fine graphic for the Fall Crisis Carnival Conference at SDSU. If you have a hankering to tell the academic world about how you reach the people, please get in touch with us. Email Cathy at:

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Pointing to the Good stuff

Wood S Lot has a link on his page to some good writing by my favorite desert writer and the online magazine Killing the Buddha, new to me, with the properly irreverent, yet reverent attitude towards religious experience. Charles Bowden's Entrance Wound starts out just right:
Come with me and we will sink into our pleasures. No, we won’t do a line or have a toke or open that bottle. Those things are nice but they never go far enough. The nose goes, the weed takes too long and the liver must be considered, don’t you agree? This time we will get ripped and it will not be an idiom or a metaphor. This time we will take a harder drug, one denounced by the authorities.
Ah yes, the old drug awareness metaphor, livid and vivid for me and yes, I agree, Chuck. I'll let you figure out how Bowden gets from there to here:
The mesquite lives for centuries and we come and go with our cigarettes and coffee, and the mesquite rolls on and on as we pass through from womb to grave. The tree is stark, all bent and gnarly, and fails to make good wood for lumber. There is no straight to it, just this twisting and turning as it roasts under the sun. The grain is close and dark and runs to rich reds that rouge our eyes and make us envy. When burnt, the smoke is acrid, yet sweet, and hangs over our lives as incense for a church we cannot name and a faith we cannot fathom.
But you probably have to have a warm fuzzy feeling for spiny pleasures of the spirit. I do.

The site is good, too. An article about the spirituality of hopelessness, as expressed in a church newsletter contribution called My Kitty, is superb. And the magazine focuses on cooking, too!

Thanks, Terry!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

dream on

I met a guy on the bus the other day who is following his dreams. He started paying attention to them when he found himself driving down the freeway and woke up; he realized he had been sleepwalking and actually got up and started down the road in a dream, and in reality, too. When he woke up one night from a nightmare about pulling his wife out of a flaming car wreck and saw he was pulling his wife out of their bed, he woke up to the need for help. He has gone to all the famous sleep therapy centers, including the ones here in California such as Stanford, but what has really started to show some promise is a California therapy straight out of the fruits and nuts category: ambient light acupuncture and meditation, delivered by a Chinese-American New age therapist in his Mission Valley office. My sleepwalking bus buddy is an Aisan-Fusion chef from Sun Valley so he is no stranger to cultural mixes or to continual reevaluation of his paradigms. The experience with his dreams becoming some sort of dysfunctional reality has cause him to reevaluate his path in life, too. He's thinking about selling his house, buying an RV and heading south before he gets too old to enjoy it. We were talking about our life paths, and he said "you seem like you're following your dream--at least you aren't cooking anymore," and I had to agree. I have given up the pan for the pen, the kitchen for the classroom, and I'm doing it before I get to old to enjoy it.
Henri Rousseau, "The Dream" (1910)
I am followint some sort of dream, and he is getting set to follow his, just as soon as he gets that dreamwaliking thing under some sort of control. What this little interchange that happened as we rode to the nether regions of North Park has shown me is that we all follow our dreams whether we want to or not, and if we ignore the unstoppable route laid out by our prescient minds, it doesn't matter; our minds will take us there anyway. Might as well go with the flow, or in this case, stay on the bus for the full ride.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Atomic Guilt

Yesterday I wrote about sin, but the horrendous anniversary marked by August 6 boggles my soul. I'm sorry. Please forgive us

1945, over Hiroshima, Japan. 150,000 dead after a minute or two
"Mother or Murderer, you have
given or taken life—
Now all is one!"
Dame Edith Sitwell, "Poems for the Atomic Age"

And we, as readers and writers, look to the works of our creator for, once again, natural forgiveness. At least that what it sounds like John Hersey is doing in his description of the wildflowers blooming in the aftermath of The Bomb:

"Over everything—up through the wreckage of the city, in gutters, along the riverbanks, tangled among tiles and tin roofing, climbing on charred tree trunks—was a blanket of fresh, vivid, lush, optimistic green; the verdancy rose even from the foundations of ruined houses. Weeds already hid the ashes, and wild flowers were in bloom among the city's bones. The bomb had not only left the underground organs of plants intact; it had stimulated them. Everywhere were bluets and Spanish bayonets, goosefoot, morning glories and day lilies, the hairy-footed bean, purslane and clothbur and sesame and panicgrass and feverfew. Especially in a circle at the center, sickle senna grew in extraordinary regeneration, not only standing among the charred remnants of the same plant but pushing up in new places, among bricks and through cracks in the asphalt. It actually seemed as if a load of sickle senna seed had been dropped along with the bomb."

The thing is, we're still doing it. No forgivness for us yet.


I went up to Iron Mountain the other day and saw a patch of these fire-following beauties on the hillside. The flowers reminded me of my roots in eco-warriorhood over ten years ago. Or rather, I thought the pretty little flowers reminded me of something important; as I looked at them they looked familiar somehow, like a friend met in the street who is out of context and consequently, out of place in the complicated network of connections that make up a human being's neural address book. Terry reminded me of the connection to the past: the fight over the vernal pool habitat near Carmel Valley led by Isabelle Kay, an area called Arroyo Sorrento or Carmel Mountain. Thinking about those flowers rekindled the memories of the fight over San Diego's Multiple Species Conservation Plan, an exercise in negotiating away nonnegotiable items such as San Diego Mesa Mint (below, courtesy High Country News in a great article about the MSCP), a kind of life we probably won't ever see again, one of God's creations we have bulldozed.

As I rode past Carmel Mountain the other day I remembered again the lost past, the world-encompassing futility that accompanies the loss of a whole landscape, even if it is only a square mile or two. Arroyo Sorrento is now a cookie-cutter housing development that maintains vestigial remnants of its agricultural past in struggling small habitats such as Seabreeze Organic Farms, and nonfunctioning scraps of natural ecosystems unable to support vernal pools and other endemic habitats that the Creator put on the planet not for us, but for other lives with whom we share this plane of existence. I remember the feeling I got as I played my own little part in this process, and I don't like remembering that sin.

The Mesa Mint, Fairy shrimp, California Gnatcatcher, and other species threatened with extinction don't seem like a spiritual problem to us but a scientific or technological one, or to put it socially, a cultural problem. The idea is this: we human beings should be nice to the ecosystem because it would be bad news for us if we aren't nice to it; replacing irreplaceable forms of life with completely replaceable and aesthetically tacky business propositions like the one pictured to the right is bad for the "environment," which we humans defines as a management system organized for our benefit. Failure to maintain this system in this paradigm is not a sin, although it could be a crime: bad social policy done out of ignorance or misplaced motives.

In the kind of paradigm described above, losing a species would be a mistake, possibly a crime, but not a sin. Sins make us feel guilt and shame, and I suppose there are people who do not feel guilt and shame at the loss of one of God's natural works, but I'm not one of those types of people and here's how I know: I still feel ashamed when I look at Arroyo Sorrento and when I remember the patch of Canchalagua that no longer exists, that I helped destroy. It's the same kind of feeling that accompanies any other type of sin described in the ten commandments, the same kind of guilt and shame, and I've learned to trust those feelings, and to recognize within myself when I have sinned.

But part of the system of human existence, as I have come to understand it, includes a god-given component of forgiveness; we can be redeemed, and our sins forgiven. We like to think this is because we do the penance, or some other kind of good works to make up for our foibles, but what I have come to understand is that it is completely out of our control; the management of forgiveness is an enterprise of the spirit, a god-centered and god-powered thing that we, if we are lucky, get a glimpse of once in a while. Ecosystems, too, can forgive sometimes; the diversity and will to live of some species overrides, if we pay attention, our mismanagement of the ecosystem. Little miracles occur, like the spray of purple blooms I saw the other day miles from the site of my sin, the ones that have survived the bulldozer and the wildfires and somehow, in their delicate burst of natural mountainside beauty, forgive me with their blooms.

Photo by Ken Bowles, San Diego County Wildflowers