Being Good Ancestors

This post has a few different threads going on and it might jump among them in such a way as to make for awkward reading. As it contains no life updates, you may be tempted to give this post a miss. I ask you, forbear.

Today, I have many thoughts for you. Thoughts for a time when the world, it seems, is in great peril. Thoughts for you and for me, when it feels like we’re failing in all of our efforts to be the change in the story of our earth. The story is already written, I’m afraid, but it is not yet complete. Ruminate a moment, then, not on the change you want to see in your life or in the world as we see it. Cast yourself a hundred years–a thousand years–into a future built as you might wish it for a beloved posterity.

I was reading an article some time ago, nothing particularly moving or anything but the author used a phrase that I found very arresting. I don’t know if it’s common parlance in environmentalist circles or what, but it’s really something. The author said we were not, and encouraged us to become, good ancestors.

Ancestor, for me, has two main connotations: ancestor veneration (typically in the East Asian sense) and like neanderthal/cave man/Australopithecus whatever (as in last common ancestor, obviously I’m not a science person). I don’t typically apply it to myself. Though I don’t anticipate having children (who knows, life is mysterious) I will, regardless, be the ancestor of some people. I already have a niece. How are they going to think of me? Or even in a general sense: what will people think of my generation, several generations hence?

I also heard an interesting analogy the other day and I think it’s relevant. They were talking about police brutality and such, and a defender of police said that a couple of bad apples shouldn’t make you hate the whole profession. The person responded by saying that they don’t hate the whole profession but it doesn’t matter if every single apple is a good apple if the barrel itself is rotten. In other words, our system doesn’t fail–it’s meant to operate in an imperfect, categorically unjust way. We need a whole new barrel.

Relating to ancestors. It’s not enough to raise good children–give them a moral compass, a backbone, the milk of human kindness–if the world we leave them sucks. This applies to the environment because of course. But it also applies to the systems of our society. I think it entirely misses the point to try to plant courage in the coming generations so that they can face challenges well. Of course we should do that, but we should also mitigate the challenges they will face as much as possible!

It makes me think of Harry Potter. Surprise. A lot of people have noted how the series has set up a generation of activists. Ideas like Dumbledore’s Army and the failed Ministry of Magic planted the impetus to incite young people to take control of crises instead of just taking the world as it is. Consider this: Harry’s parents and the original Order of the Phoenix, essentially lost. Voldemort would have continued a reign of terror if he hadn’t unexpectedly died (kind of). In the wake of his disappearance, did society change at all? Did people become more accepting of people with mixed magical heritage? Were systems put in place to ensure that someone else could not come along with the same ideas again? Did human society reconcile with house elves, centaurs, and other magical creatures?

Obviously, it’s heroic to fight evil forces. But, while Voldemort was evil in and of himself, he also represented a strain of evil present in society at large. And it seems to me that those older characters just let it lie. Brought up their children to be kind, but didn’t really fight systemic injustice. Hermione (because she is incredible) makes this her life’s work in the epilogue. Because conquering a villain, in some ways, is the easy part. Building a new world is hard. But if we want to be good ancestors, it’s necessary.

We mustn’t fight a villain and then rest on our laurels. In the words of the Constitution of the United States, we ought to build a new world “for ourselves and our Posterity.”

All these thoughts were compounded by another article I read just this week whose main thrust was this: if we look at the likely span of future humanity, there are literal quadrillions of people who have yet to be born and, it stands to reason, those lives are a significantly weightier moral object than present day existence. Bearing that in mind, everyday acts of altruism, the writer argues, can and do make a difference in forming and reforming the structure of our world.

I want to live life in such a way as to have a positive impact on the quadrillions whom I will never see. I want other people to want that, too. I want people to vote, organize, protest, and work hard for justice. I want people to protect those who need protecting, to advocate for the rights of all, to refuse to be part of a system that systematically dispossesses and abuses and denies humanity to those who are most vulnerable.

Basically: be good, do good, change the world. May the light of history shine kindly on our efforts in the ages to come.

Water

When last I visited my friends in California, it was mid-August and mid-drought. Things were, for lack of a more descriptive word, dry. This time around, things have exhibited quite a bit more life. Driving down to the Sacramento area, I passed over actual, visible rivers and lakes. Then, driving toward the East Bay (a term I wasn’t familiar with until I went there), I drove along the Delta (another recently-learned placename) to see an abundance of green things and water.

I think I’ve said this about myself before, but I am most assuredly a salt water person. It hardly counts as swimming if you don’t dry with that half-delectable, half-awful feeling of saltiness in your everywhere. As one of the books I taught this past year puts it, “There are saltwater people, and freshwater people. Then there are some who don’t even know enough to fall in love with the water.” I suppose you’re entitled to enjoying your own form of water whether it be lakes, rivers, pools, or the sea. As long as you love it.

The drive was absolutely wonderful. I took the scenic route through Oregon, driving down along the Cascades and seeing all the peaks. I entered California and drive like all the way around Mt Shasta before rejoining I-5.

Anyway. It was an absolute pleasure to catch up with friends. Long talks that were as much about catching up as just existing in proximity for a sec. Some conversations that were weighty. But all good things.

The weather, of course, was still much too hot. Because it doesn’t take much for hot to become too hot in my book. Even so, it’s hard not to enjoy sun. And there was some downtime that involved reading in the sun which is possibly one of the most important ways yet invented in which to pass the time.

This morning, early, I’m off home again. One advantage to having nothing but time is being able to jet off to visit old friends. It’s something I’m trying to appreciate in the midst of the general stress of being aimless and income-less. As a friend said, you don’t often have times in your life when you have nothing to do, so enjoy it while it lasts. Who knows, maybe I’ll be back down here again before too long.

I’m very grateful for the generosity of my friends in letting me come down. And I’m very grateful for having friends like these. It is a boon that, even if we’re not the best communicators, they know me. They have seen me in vulnerable times. And they still like me.

Without any ado whatsoever, this week’s musical offerings, from my ears to yours.

  1. Victor – Prinze George
  2. Solo Dance – Martin Jensen
  3. Break a Little – Kirstin
  4. Gorgeous – Taylor Swift
  5. Take Yours, I’ll Take Mine – Matthew Mole
  6. Stars Across the Sky – Bien
  7. Океанами стали – Alekseev
  8. Beautiful Mess – Kristian Kostov
  9. Can’t Fight It – Rayvon Owen
  10. Eyes Shut – Years and Years

Don’t Chuck Your Muck in my Backyard

Today was the last day of classes. Like, the last day.

At least, it was supposed to be. But this morning, my only class was canceled (one other being canceled and another not meeting on purpose).

studious_cat

Me (except not at all)

Unless something pretty major changes in my life, I will not be a student in a class at school ever again. How exactly did I get here, again? Not that I’m not ready to be done with this phase of my life. Just…that I’m not quite ready to begin the next. Awks on my friends who have already gotten on with it. Or who are also graduating this year. What are we doing with out lives. It doesn’t help, of course, that the world is conspiring to ensure that I’m unemployed. Would that I had a job. But I’ll keep applying places because that’s really all you can do. Here’s hoping.

Bubba2016-4-7

Also, here’s a Bubba for the week.

Camaro2016-4-7

And a Camaro, looking super intelligent.

Still have some work to do, namely two papers and a poster. And, obviously, my dissertation (but we’re not thinking about that just now). It’ll be grand, right? Anyway, on to the rant of the week.

Yesterday morning, walking to school, it was a beautiful day but a trifle windy. And in that wind, great swirls of trash buffeted my feet and shins. Consistently, walking to school or the grocery store (or really anywhere from my house), I must maintain constant vigilance with each step in order to avoid the ever-present dog poop and occasional human vomit. Also, when it’s raining, the festering piles of partially decayed paper goop. Now let me say, this is not a uniform problem across Dublin and obviously Dublin is not the only place with these problems. But I’m only living in one place at the moment and it’s undeniably a massive issue in my immediate surrounds. It’s also an issue that I’m not really accustomed to.

Growing up, there was honestly not much litter. And certainly not public dog poop just hanging out on the sidewalk. There are fines and signs here, but no one seems to care. I don’t feel like my parents or teachers are loony, tree-hugging envirocrazies, but from a very young age, in basically every situation, I was raised to be mindful of the world around me. I want to say it was drilled into me, but it wasn’t really. Most of the time, it sort of went without saying. It didn’t take any thought to turn off the lights when you left a room, or recycle, or not litter. That was just the way it was done. I mean, not everyone who lives in Gig Harbor is a wonderful recycler and composter and so on but it is, I feel, a prevailing civic mindset. And it just makes me sad to walk down the street and see how disgusting it is. Like, all the time. Of course, I’m not really doing much to help and that’s part of the problem too. I don’t contribute to it, but I don’t help solve it either. Ugh, it’s just dumb. It’s a massive task to solve the world’s environmental issues. But there’s nothing massive about proper waste disposal, recycling, composting, turning off the lights, carpooling, and just generally taking an interest in the place you live.

Anyway. I won’t give you the whole academese blah-blah-blah about constructivism and the power of norms ect. ect. ect. but I will give you an awkward transition.

I didn’t realize that April is actually National Poetry Month (in the US, at least). How unwittingly apropos of me. This week’s selection is a tender sonnet by the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti. I recently came across it and memorized it almost straight away. It’s a response of sorts to an earlier poem (Willowwood–in particular, part III) by her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, quoting a line as the poem’s epigraph. Apparently, the two were rather close and collaborated on a variety of projects. Anyway, this poem is an achingly beautiful reflection of love lost and I’d like to share it with you.

An Echo from Willowwood

“Oh ye, all ye who walk in willow-wood.”

Two gaz’d into a pool, he gaz’d and she,
Not hand in hand, yet heart in heart, I think,
Pale and reluctant on the water’s brink
As on the brink of parting which must be.
Each eyed the other’s aspect, she and he,
Each felt one hungering heart leap up and sink,
Each tasted bitterness which both must drink,
There on the brink of life’s dividing sea.
Lilies upon the surface, deep below
Two wistful faces craving each for each,
Resolute and reluctant without speech:—
A sudden ripple made the faces flow
One moment join’d, to vanish out of reach:
So these hearts join’d, and ah! were parted so.