Electoral Optimism

It takes zero anything to know that this election season in the US is absolutely of the worst kind. Things have been said and actions have been acted that debase the whole idea of America, human decency, and general good things. It’s ridiculous to think of this Presidential choice as a case of the lesser of two evils, but it’s significantly less than ideal nonetheless. My choice was a very simple one, but I’m not left feeling particularly positively disposed toward politicians and the American electorate.

Yet, in spite of everything, I remain an electoral optimist. I can’t shake the feeling that when I vote, it matters. In Washington State, we vote by mail and I cast my ballot on Monday. There were plenty of initiatives, county charter amendments, local and state officials, and, of course, a few federal offices to vote on. Mostly, I didn’t have too difficult a time coming down on one side or the other, and I had some congenial conversations with the parentals about raising the minimum wage and the proposed state carbon tax (both of which I support, FYI). And, when I sealed my ‘secret envelope,’ I felt important, like I had done perhaps not everything that I could have, but plenty. Maybe not persuaded but at least talked.

This is a feeling I’ve always had. Growing up, not that I followed politics really at all, I never had any doubt that participating in democracy would just be the coolest. And it is. I don’t get people who don’t vote (or don’t even register). I mean, maybe you don’t vote for every item on the ballot if you’re truly unsure or haven’t done and research, but like come on. It’s so important and doesn’t really take that much time. And maybe it’s a bad position to have, but I definitely think that it’s better to take a chance than to totally abstain. Stand for something, right?

I hate kind of a lot about our political system and just politics in general. But i cannot countenance the thought of not even trying. It’s not uncommon to hear that you’re not allowed to complain if you don’t vote (100% true) but you also shouldn’t really participate in anything because you’re so lame. Didn’t vote? Don’t go to public school. Didn’t vote? Don’t drive on public roads. Didn’t vote? Don’t receive or send mail through the USPS. Didn’t vote? Don’t tell me because I don’t want to hear it. Remember that time that huge group of people substantively changed policy for the better by not voting? Me neither.

People who know me know I’m really not patriotic. But I am civic. As a citizen of a place where the government is up to the citizenry, I may not be the most engaged but I recognize the importance of at least performing this most basic task. I connected every arrow on the ballot because I expect things from my government and I want them to know what I expect, even in the smallest way. If I can have my input, I definitely have the right to complain. And maybe someday I’ll become more engaged and active but for now I’ll settle for voting and having conversations with people where I articulate and defend my beliefs.

Because democracy, freedom of speech, and buzzwords.

Vote.

The Reason for the Squash Season

This post will not be a litany of things that should not be pumpkin spice flavored. I have nothing against pumpkin spice flavoring; I recently saw pumpkin spice Life cereal (my favorite) and I kind of want to try it. My question, though, is why pumpkins? There are so many varieties of squash ranging from the interestingly non-seasonal zucchini to the I’ve-never-eaten acorn. Is it the size? Like, were they of such propitious proportions for the pilgrims that partaking of a single squash amply satisfied all? This was my first hypothesis, thin though it is, before I set about doing some reading.

(As an aside, it doesn’t really matter how thin your first hypothesis is. The point is to continue to the reading stage, in pumpkins as in life.)

I admit that reading Wikipedia does not really constitute actual research, but a casual perusal of the Wikipedia page for pumpkin immediately elucidates a few important facts. Firstly, what most English speakers call pumpkins are of a few different cultivars that generally hold to the round-orange description; Australians and Kiwis apparently use the term more broadly for all winter squash. Also, the pumpkin is distinctly an American (in the continental sense) fruit–yes, fruit 😦 –though it is now grown on every continent except Antarctica. The oldest evidence of pumpkins, indeed, is from Mexico.

Now, as far as the whole holiday angle, there are a few things. I vaguely recall reading this many years ago, but I’ve now gotten my Wikipedia refresher: carving vegetables in autumn is like a long tradition in the British Isles. Why? I really have no idea and I’m not certain I have any particular desire to know. Typically, the vegetables in question were turnips and rutabagas (aka swedes, but that’s another issue that I’ve talked about before). When migrants from those islands arrived on this side of the Atlantic, they were just like, hey these pumpkins are super plentiful and much larger, let’s carve them instead. And for a long time, the association was very much the harvest season in general and became particularly connected to Halloween gradually through the years. The whole pumpkin spice thing I think really is down to Starbucks but that’s neither here nor there.

In conclusion (of this very brief overview without much actual research to back it up), the pumpkin was a handy means for early settlers in the English American colonies to continue a harvest tradition of carving plants. The connection to Thanksgiving (which I guess is sort of coincidental?) strengthened the association and, somehow, also Halloween something something. And then Starbucks and here we are. Not sure that that explanation would satisfy anyone’s genuine curiosity, but it’s plenty for mine.

Also, since I’ve been a trifle remiss in my cat duties of late, here is a brief update on the cats.

Aren’t they just lovely?

Not much else to report from here, things are going about as one might expect. Nothing too exciting. But there are worse things. I’m rewatching The Shawshank Redemption with some people, what a good movie. It’s real real, if you know what I mean. 10/10 can recommend. Anyway, until next week I hope you do something with pumpkins or maybe other squash because let’s spread the love, yeah?

Can Robots be Orphans?

Okay, you may know that most of like junior year of high school I thought I was going to major in linguistics. Specifically, historical and comparative linguistics (like, I sort of really had things planned out). Obviously, that didn’t pan out. But I remain generally fascinated by language and I love learning little quirks and things (and I’m still trying to become at least proficient in a second language, but that’s another story).

Anyway, near the beginning of first semester Russian, we learned the verb работать (raBOtat’) which means to work. My professor told us that it comes from the same Slavic root as a similar Czech word meaning forced labor that was used by the Čapek brothers, particularly but possibly not originally by Karel, in the play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots). They invented the word robot. So that’s pretty cool.

Additionally, the proto-Indo-European (the term to describe the theoretical language spoken by basically everyone from Ireland to India before languages diverged) basis for robota/работа is also the root, meaning to change from one state to another, for orphan. You can read more about it here. Thus the question posed at the beginning: can robots be orphans? Probably not, at least in the strictest sense, because of the whole they’re not alive and so don’t have parents thing. But I guess if their makers abandoned them, they’d be sad about it too. And who’s to say whether or not they dream of electric sheep.

All this has basically been to say: I have a job! It’s just a part-time seasonal position in retail, but money’s money so I’m not complaining. My job could 100% be performed by a robot, and I feel like it might be in some parts of the world, but I don’t mind the work and I’m finished about the time most other people’s jobs are beginning so I still feel like I  have a lot of free time. I may be job shadowing or something in the mid-future, we’ll see. Just trying to keep occupied to have things to say if ever I get an interview for a job in my actual field.

So that’s the news of the week, I started last Friday and, you know, it’s been a big thrill. Not much else has been going on in my life,  but I’m kind of okay with that. I’d love to be getting a move on, but while I’m here I’ll echo what I said when I arrived in Ireland: bloom where you’re planted. Other things are things (coughtheelectioncough) and they’re not terribly uplifting and they certainly don’t tend to inspire great confidence. I just watched V for Vendetta for the first time on Tuesday and wow. Firstly, I really liked it. Secondly, how terrifyingly topical. Wow, I tell you what, wow. Fascism is the worst.

The Wikipedia page on R.U.R., after describing the plot which involves a hostile robot takeover and the extinction of humanity, says that the play is “dark, but not without hope.” That is a direct quote. I haven’t read/seen the play, but if the extinction of humanity can be portrayed as dark, but not without hope, maybe there’s something to be said for humans after all. Maybe, just maybe, we’re a little better off than sad orphan robots (if it’s possible for them to exist).

Maybe hope is for the dark times anyway.

 

Grey

Living where I have lived, I am very much accustomed to rain. I watch the rain sometimes, observe it truly. When I’m alone and quiet, it sends shivers of awe and comfort down my arms and across my back. Sitting here at my desk, I want to crawl out of the window and dissolve. I ache to feel the rain. Not to stand in it, but to be of it. To be gloom and understand that it is in fact life. To be grey and know that it is the heart of color. To be chill and damp and yet fiery and alive. To move through the world, to caress it, as the rain does–sometimes with fury, sometimes with the greatest gentleness. I imagine myself falling from ineffable heights, a small voice in a vast chorus, plunging through the air to land with delicate but insistent force. I can feel myself soaking into the earth, giving of myself to the trees, and somehow, miraculously, returning to those same dizzying heights to begin the journey afresh.

I enjoy reading with all the lights out, all the more when there is a faint drizzle outside. During the day, the sky provides ample illumination and I suppose it saves some meager amount of energy. Something magical happens to books when read in slowly gathering dark, as though the visual passage of time also makes other unseen things visible. The overcast sky casts a gentle darkness as much as gentle light, creating the lengthening but diffuse shadows of afternoon approaching evening. In this, the living nature of the grey is most apparent: that it gestures and beckons, encouraging a rising certainty that dreams are echoes of the real world, only wanting a little belief to make them substantial. Something about the half-light, or more accurately quarter-light by this time, kindles my heart to a fever pitch, stoking a desire of no particular aim other than expressing an achingly intense longing for more. More from my life, more of this mysterious grey, more of the stunningly immortal thrill of the raindrop’s descent.

When I finally give in and tug on the chain of my banker’s lamp, its greenish glow seems to indicate that the source of its light is more spiritual than electrical. Contrary to trope, though, its illumination is not a light of hope or truth; it simply sees and in the seeing knows. Unfortunately, the darkness outside seems to know too, so I’m left trying to reach backward toward the grey in hopes that it will teach me. Once grey, I’m nearly certain, then I’ll know too and I’ll leave this nebulous Almost behind. Somehow, the grey will illuminate more than a clear blue ever could. But for now, the grey is gone, the sun has set, the rain has been reduced to a dull murmur on the roof, and I’m sitting here in my little pool of light hoping for another grey and rainy day tomorrow. I’m gripped by the fear that wanting more is selfish and insatiable. I see my face reflected in the window but turn away without making eye contact.