Exotic Rage

Peacocks inspire in me an uncharacteristic callousness. It’s their growing ubiquity, their casual destructiveness, and the mere fact that they are of the avian persuasion.

I am not a bird person. Modern dinosaurs, especially larger ones, make me uneasy. Although if I’m honest, the frantic sound of a hummingbird speeding past my ear inspires a similar terror. That Daphne du Maurier story had an impact, just as the goose that bit me when I was a toddler did: birds, if they organized around a shared realization, could wipe. Us. Out. Just think about all their pointy bits! And, get this: they can fly.

But back to peacocks. Many Americans might consider these Indian natives to be gorgeous, and sighting them a rare treat. These same people would consider me lucky to live in an area that boasts so many “wild” ones. Step out the door on any given morning and you’re likely as not to encounter a flock, milling about the streets or snacking on lawn bugs…or people’s gardens.

Not being florally inclined, it’s more their shit that gets to me, as it gets to everywhere. Plops of excrement litter the porch, the lawn, the driveway, the street, our shoes. Outdoor furniture becomes unusable.

And their numbers are only growing. A city ordinance makes it illegal to render these birds road kill. They squawk at all hours and reproduce with impunity. When you hear stomping on the roof, guess who?

peacock

Evil Incarnate

My parents were visiting a few months ago with their dog, and one day they let him chase a male bird off the lawn. The sound of terror that enormous bird made as he took flight, barely escaping the dog’s eager jaws, filled me with a surprising amount of glee. Surprising because I’m more of a “live and let live” type when it comes to fellow creatures.

Not so peafowl. (Nor ants that deign to enter the house and make a meal of my leftover naan–a related story for another day.) Peafowl’s creeping invasion of the neighborhood–the entire geographic region, really–and their entitled attitude has turned this vegetarian animal rights proponent into an urban hunting advocate. I wrote two theses on animal-human relationships, and will always argue for the inclusion of other species in any cultural relativist ideological framework. But when it comes to coexisting with peacocks, Let’s cull the fuckers, I think more often than I’m comfortable with.

I suppose this means I’m only human, and not immune to our culture’s propensity to draw stark lines between ourselves and other animals. How long until these iridescent dinosaurs’ protected status allows them to completely take over?

It’s us or them.

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Filed under Animals, Contemporary, Why Can't I Eat My Dog?

Wait! Before we eat…

Amateur food photography is nothing new. What else can be said about the now mundane practice of pausing before a meal to document it so the image can be shared and admired? Perhaps nothing, but I’m going to share the following experience, anyway.

About a month ago, I treated myself to a day at the Huntington Library. After wandering the gardens and visiting the Reformation exhibit, I decided to have some lunch in their upscale cafeteria. I took my tray outside to what I’ll call the veranda, because I like that word, and sat happily alone amidst people of various ages. That day there was a high school group visiting, probably a private school judging by their uniforms. The girls wore sweaters and skirts. (What’s with private school uniforms and skirts? Beyond the scope of this post…)

So there I sat, eating a passably tasty veggie wrap and enjoying the fresh air and the murmured conversation that filled it, when into my field of vision walked a trio of private school students with their own lunch trays. They selected a table at the edge of the veranda that overlooked the gardens, set down their trays, and sat. But as soon as they had done so they were standing again, each of them taking a step or two backward with their smartphones held aloft, attempting to properly frame their respective meals. After taking satisfactory pictures, they sat and proceeded to eat.

I took out my notebook and made a sketch of the scene, along with a few notes:

Huntington lunch man 2018

Daily documentation — visual — as cultural practice. The three girls photographed their curated collections of comestibles, making the quotidian significant, adding a layer of ritual (visual documentation) to another type of ritual (meal sharing), which will in turn be ritually disseminated on social media (sharing of the visual documentation of meal sharing — nay, meal plating).

Or does the ubiquity of such a practice mean that the quotidian is just that, and layering these rituals temporally is no longer in itself significant? When so many snap pictures of their food to share them in the pursuit of technologically mediated attention, is that not simply a mundane cultural practice?

No less meaningful, but meaningful in a proscribed, ritualized way.

I suppose I mean to say that it’s no longer art.

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Filed under Art of all Kinds, Contemporary, Technology

Sabbatical

What does it mean to take a sabbatical when you’re self-employed?

I suspect the meaning is amorphous and will alternate between clarity and obfuscation both in the moment and with hindsight.

Regardless, a sabbatical is what I’m embarking upon for the foreseeable future.

What that means for this blog isn’t much. After all, my posts have become irregular and will likely remain so, with perhaps a shift in focus and longer moments of digital silence. But what else is new?

This post is mostly for myself. To mark the moment I’ve chosen to pin the beginning of this break from paid work, the transition to domestic concerns and volunteer commitments. And hopefully, with time, sincere reflection that casts light on a potential path toward what will come after. Many possibilities swirl, but I’ve given myself permission not to attempt serious exploration or ordering of them quite yet. What lies immediately ahead requires more of myself than I suspect I’ve ever given over, and I want to be present with that experience before I cast my mind into the uncertain future.

Is that vague enough?

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Children’s Literature and Material Culture

I wonder how many other people’s gateway into a fascination with material culture was sparked by the Little House books. Or similar historical narratives that involved a lot of details about daily living, homemaking processes, etc.

As long as I can remember, I’ve felt that objects have a particular power and contain multiple meanings. “It’s only stuff” was never something that resonated, and I struggle to give that statement weight to this day. Because stuff is hardly ever just “only” itself. Objects can transport us to the past (our own or an imagined someone else’s), to different cultures and ways of being in the world. Time travel made manifest.

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Filed under Childhood, Historical, Nostalgia

Currently Contributing to my Brain’s (En)lightening Storm

Thinking about the larger structures that inform our everyday experiences has sent me into epiphanic raptures since at least my early college days. In the past few weeks, I’ve encountered several works that take a systems view of the pressing issues of our time. Taken together, they seem to coalesce around imagining what comes next for society and planet. At the very least they have all set my brain alight. I hope some of them do the same for you.

Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins.

A sample quote ~

We are stuck with the problem of living despite economic and ecological ruination. Neither tales of progress nor of ruin tell us how to think about collaborative survival. It is time to pay attention to mushroom picking. Not that this will save us–but it might open our imaginations.

I first encountered Tsing’s work in my Intro Anthropology course, where we read In the Realm of the Diamond Queen. This helped us understand post-structuralist ethnography. Two years later in our “Commodities and Human Agency” course, I read parts of what was then her most recent book, Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection. From Tsing, I learned about the critical value of studying the margins: of society, of economies, of history. Mushroom goes even further into this poststructuralist marginalia, incorporating multispecies perspectives into her meandering, riveting storytelling. She leans into the interconnection and impossibility of synthesizing competing narratives, recognizing the whole as mutable and somewhat unknowable. But always worth investigating. Her work, like much of the other work I’ll discuss in this post, allows me to envision a future worth creating and living.

The Next System Podcast on Capital Bias

Specifically, an episode about capital bias and transitioning to an economy driven by worker-owned enterprises. Marjorie Kelly reminded me why I got involved in starting a food co-op five years ago, and why Marx & Engels’ work on capital and labor is still relevant today. She challenges us to rethink the relationship society has with capital, and imagine how it might be different.

“You don’t eliminate capital any more than with feminism you eliminate men–you just change the power relationship.”

Kelly’s work on generative design and capital bias, not to mention The Next System’s larger project, accounts for causality and interconnectivity in our current state of economic inequality and ecological upheaval, among other seemingly intractable systematic problems. That people are committed to working through them gives me hope, and inspires me to join them in whatever ways I can.

Recent Reporting on Artificial Intelligence and Automation

Speaking of work and our ever-transforming economy, I was struck by two articles that dive into the implications of technological innovation: Mother Jones’ “You Will Lose Your Job to a Robot” by Kevin Drum, and The New Yorker’s Dark Factory by Sheelah Kolhatkar. Optimistic these stories were not. But they do important work in further sounding the alarm about where AI and automation are leading our economy and society as a whole, and the fact that perhaps we should be putting policies in place to protect people and their livelihoods. Worker co-ops could be part of the solution, as could universal basic income.

Upstream Radio on Universal Basic Income

Upstream focuses on the social determinants of health, which means their work covers all sorts of fascinating topics, from climate change to the prison system to foodways to education. Its recent podcasts (or “documentaries,” to use their term) have tackled the various models of universal basic income and their potential effects on society. Like The Next System, they imagine the paradigm shifts necessary to enact more livable futures. Also like The Next System, their optimism inspires some skepticism: how on earth would our globalized economy shift away from capitalism? But they have intriguing ideas, and I’m willing to listen and learn whether some of them might be applicable.

Secret Feminist Agenda on Whatever it Damn Well Pleases

Hannah McGregor, co-host of the essential Harry Potter podcast “Witch, Please,” has a new show wherein she addresses current events, pop culture, academic topics, and much more via a feminist lens and in collaboration with intelligent guests. Secret Feminist Agenda has helped me rethink laziness and productivity, parenting, academia, accepting when work is “good enough,” how women are socialized to be cogs in a machine that extracts our labor for very little compensation, and most crucially, how to resist this by living differently in the world. It’s truly a balm in a world that is chaotic and overwhelming.

Hurry Slowly on Rethinking Work as a Sustainable Practice

Speaking of pushing back against the exhausting status quo, the podcast Hurry Slowly is interrogating the ways in which we can slow down and get more meaning out of our professional and personal lives. Guests share different workplace models that value a separation between life and job, reasons to limit smartphone use, and how to engage with nature as a restorative force. The overarching idea is to make a person’s productivity sustainable, and the strategies presented in these episodes are ones I plan to hang on to as I contemplate my future career moves.

Science Vs on Renewable Energy

Finally, I’d like to plug a recent episode of the podcast Science Vs, which asked whether it was possible to achieve 100% renewable energy. Far beyond renewing my desire to get more involved in combating the myriad ill effects of climate change, one of the show’s guests provided validation of my (admittedly rare) propensity to harbor hope for the future. When asked whether he would have children today, energy economist Jim Sweeney had this to say:

Absolutely…I’m not going to give up on the future because there are challenges. There are always challenges. I was born in World War II; my parents had children. So I don’t see that there is any reason for believing that we’re going to go to hell in a hand basket. We will have challenges there is no doubt about it.

All of the readings and podcasts listed above have reinvigorated my desire to go deep, learn more, and look for solutions to some of the major systemic problems society faces. I want more of the work I do to be geared toward building a future that values people and planet. There are many things to work on: climate change, economic inequality, educational access, gender equality, racism and xenophobia, environmental preservation–you name it, it needs some work.

Now to pick something and get started…

 

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