Sunday, May 10, 2015

Dirty 33

Today is my birthday, and it is what the kids call “The Jesus Year.” 33. The year in which Jesus had his [insert whatever euphemism for ‘greatest accomplishment ever’]. Now 33 is the new 40—a new and earlier mark to freak out about one’s accomplishments and legacy.


Rather than make projections about what 33 will hold, let me turn backward and tell you a story—THE Story—the most formidable, non-tragic, life-altering, and world-shaping event in my plump and full 33 years. In 1993, William Shatner yelled at me in front of a ballroom full of people.


My dad used to take me to Star Trek conventions. It Was His Idea. Kids have the interests of their parents until they don’t. I loved Star Trek. Nature vs. Nurture.


This is how conventions work: walk around Ballroom A in a hotel for the morning, buy/barter/discuss memorabilia, have lunch, enter Ballroom B and cast members give a talk, indulge the audience in a Q & A, stand in line to get your memorabilia signed by previously mentioned cast members, go home happy, having just been in the presence of those that gave you the stories from the final frontier.

 Shatner was the keynote. I asked a question about “The Undiscovered Country.” Significant plot points: There is a shape-shifter (played by the lovely Iman) named Martia. Kirk fights her, she takes one form, then another, turns into her lovely self….. Kirk being kirk kisses her, then she changes into Him, and then he fights himself. And so on.

At the Q & A—I’m 10, mind you—I ask a bull-headed question, in front of the whole room of people, about if that scene was a commentary on his reputation in Hollywood as having a lot of…. Appreciation for his own self.  That wasn’t exactly how I phrased it.

He breathed fire into the microphone. I remember every word he growled at me. Branded into my brain forever.

              Little girl….. stories are just stories….. that is all…. Stories are just stories….

I was 10. Kids are jerks, by design, but he was a jerk, too. What he growled at me weren’t just words. And stories are never just stories.

After that my dad didn’t suggest we go to conventions anymore. He watched Shatner show himself as a jackass—to a ballroom full of people—because of an innocent question posted by a child. Top that? Never! End up in a career studying how stories impact the world? Absolutely!

Friends have said I should just let it go now. I’ve also been told I should write Shatner a letter about that day. Or that I should sue for pain and suffering, with wages lost (because I was so traumatized that I ended up doing a PhD in Rhetoric and Composition and will never make the money I would have made as a veterinarian—which is what I had wanted to be).

Which brings me to my Jesus Year. As an adult, would I have been able to respond more graciously? Would I have the ability to not humiliate a child that idolized me? Golly I hope so. However, I recently acted rather immature.

Coming upon Shatner’s star of fame (in Toronto. Shatner is Canadian), I stepped on it. Hard. I wanted to grind it into dust. He hurt my young feelings. So I made a resolution. I would go home and plant 33 Chard plants. Every time I add high heat to the chard, it will be to his harsh words. The words I’ve been carrying around get to be chopped. I, old pal, Will, sear and steam and stuff and chiffonade the shit out of the chard.

Stories are not just stories, my dear sir. And chard is not just chard.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Dirt and Water



I’m in Toronto right now for NEMLA, writing from a beautiful hotel room with a beautiful view. It overlooks the lake and some crazy buildings that weren’t here last time I visited. The breeze from the water keeps the air fresh. It finally feels like spring.

On the heels of reading MFK Fisher’s Consider the Oyster, I have been considering things of water more often than usual. In that book I learned that a baby oyster is called a spat. How adorable is that! And a mermaid's purse is actually a shark egg pod. That I did not know.

For brunch we had dim sum. It was my first time. We had jellyfish salad. It was my first time. Later I went to the Aquarium. They had plenty of jellyfish there. Help me figure out my feelings about this.
Zoos and Aquariums make me conflicted. I like the opportunities they give for public pedagogy. Kids get to make good memories that they might carry into adulthood.
Those memories might inspire them to make choices that influence huge environmental factors.

Heard one dad say to his kid in a stroller, “mmmm tasty” while pointing at this guy. He’s not incorrect. Aquarium as reminder that the world is our menu?

 Heard another dad answer his kid’s question about this guy, a big ol’ grouper; “Dad, what do they eat?”


“Whatever they hell they want.” Aquarium as reminder that we aren’t at the top of the food chain?

They also teach us a lot about ecologies, and particularly specifics about the human impact on microecologies. Being in the Anthropocene and all, that information is invaluable.

I don’t need to list the downsides and exploitative issues of and for Aquariums. Visit PETA’s website, watch Blackfish, read Peter Singer. There are those smarter than I that explain all of the important things.

I do wonder about the future of Aquariums, and how we’ll use them in future fictions.

If we can’t figure out how to slow and stop the creation of more dead zones and hypoxic sea spots, will we respond by building more Aquariums to create livable conditions for Marine life? Probably not. But what if we did.

We have global seed banks to protect and catalogue that genetic material. We have global projects like the Arc of Taste (from the Slow Food Movement) to protect and catalogue traditional knowledge about food protection. There are reasons for these systems. We lose more information every day.

As we face desertification and nutrient starvation in our soil systems could we reverse engineer water flows from hydroponic systems in Aquariums to rehabilitate our land? Or will we fuse fish-farming systems and Aquariums? 

They appeal to us, nevertheless, because they take us out of our known world in a safe way. They give us a few thousand gallons of our world-as-not-the-world. Real and not real, they show us land lubbers stories about worlds we would otherwise not see.