I got to spend time with my brother and his partner (as well as other good friends new and old) on the Lower Yough this weekend, and I entered the River Bubble. It’s a hard place to leave, whether you’re in it for a day or a weekend or a multi-day experience. Heck, some folks have made it a career, pursuing what I think the cool kids call lifestyle jobs.
The Bubble takes many forms, but a big part of the experience takes form in the people who also choose this way to spend their time. I still have etched in my mind an image that I wish I could have gotten a picture of, but as I ran Dimple I passed a half-dozen kayakers waiting in the eddy behind the rock, ready to head back out to surf. Their facial expressions were maniacal in all the best ways – it was 6:00 on a Saturday evening, they had probably already been on the river for four or five hours, it had rained off and on all day, and they were impatiently waiting for me to move my slow-ass inflatable kayak past them so they could get back out there. I’m hoping they took out just as the sun was setting…
River time is truly a thing…
On the second day the river came up, as rivers do. I want to write something here about the timelessness of river cycles, but I’m a bit afraid that we are fucking up the planet so badly that that quaintness (of the sort that McCarthy uses to help Suttree run away from his life in the novel of the same name) of river cycles seems quaint and hopeless in the face of rapacious late capitalism. Still, since thinking that any of this is about anything other than the Long Retreat is vanity, watching those rocks turn into boil lines (and still possessing the power and skill to run them just like I wanted to) always makes my heart jump just a bit. Barry Lopez talks about his “boatman” on the Canyon’s eyes “blazing” during a rapid, and while the language is a bit hyperbolic and I will utter words of self-deprecation, I want to believe that during those moments my eyes do blaze, even if just a little…
As with all great trips, this one had to end. As I dropped off one of my friends at his vehicle so that he could run shuttle, we did the casual manhug thing and stepped apart. Our final words were pretty typical: “so man, I’ll see you on the Gauley in the fall!” We keep moving on with our journeys, I guess.
Narratives voices in songs? Who would have guessed? Even as a highly-trained literary scholar (yes, my tongue is in my cheek), I remember first thinking seriously about this idea in pop music when Killer Mike identified the racism that makes folks think that his songs are autobiographical while Johnny Cash can sing about a killer and be celebrated as an artist. So I’m not surprised that it took me longer than the average bear to think seriously about how these things work.
In particular, I’ve often been troubled by what I thought was my misreading of a song. I thought that perhaps the songwriters were confused, or I was confused, or something odd was happening. The song – “Man of Constant Sorrow,” best known as being the “hit” song that spurs the Soggy Bottom Boys to pop music stardom in the Coen Brothers film O Brother Where Art Thou?
As I was listening to the Mountain Stage (on NPR of course – all you heathens should check it out) while driving through Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia when I realized my mistake. “Man of Constant Sorrow” gently mocks the first-person narrator who tells the audience his story. It’s not some jaunty (man that word feels so 19th century), happy music used to describe a man’s life as he describes the problems – it’s more a tongue-in-cheek poke at a guy who doesn’t realize that his problems are of his own creation. Even as he sings that he has no friends, his friends in the chorus repeat the line, either proving him wrong or perhaps proving just why he, uh, has no friends. As he sings of his own constant sorrows and all the trouble he’s had, he merely complains, offering no evidence, again allowing the narrator to allow us as the audience to identify the true source of his troubles. The shame he feels (actually, he doesn’t) clues us into just how we are supposed to view the story that he’s telling and his own lack of self-awareness.
A crafty narrative voice? Identifying but not identifying with the first person who is telling the story? Well-played Soggy Bottom Boys, well-played…especially as we examine the ways in which the myths and legends of these United States get crafted, a post for another time.
This post will get a bit political, so hold on to yer hats and stop reading if you’re more interested in travel writing (I will touch on that as well, but…)
I’m preparing to teach a class next spring on mapping the city, a course I usually teach in Rome. I’ve been asked to reconfigure it for our rust belt cities, and moving from the glamor, squalor, and glamorous squalor (or squalorly glamour?) of Rome has been a bit of a haul. Rome after all is self-billed as the Eternal City, and there are no cities in the U.S. that have been around long enough to even be called the Been Here a Long Time City, so there’s a bit of a conundrum inherent in the conversion.
In the U.S., of course, we idealize small- and medium-sized cities much like the one that I live in. My neighborhood is one of those that fits the carefully-sculpted mainstream narrative – middle-class, mixed blue and white-collar, 99 percent white, 95 percent straight. The houses are older, so we all have front porches, which means that I often know more than I want to know about my neighbors’ business. We do have some immigrants moving in, but in general the neighborhood has not changed significantly in forty years. Continue Reading
At Romics there was an entire exhibition hall devoted to e-Sports. A League of Legends tournament had a big screen for all of us who wanted to watch, a FIFA scrum had broken out, and there was some kind of interactive, crowd-based game that my poor Italian wouldn’t let me get the gist of. Several game developers were there promoting their leagues, even if they didn’t have a tournament going on. There were clearly a lot of folks heavily engaged in a lot of gamer action.
I’ve written a bit about this before, but eSports is some interesting stuff, and to see it prevalent in Rome was pretty cool and also pretty interesting from a global marketing perspective.
It’s also a fascinating sport from the perspective of someone in my industry – eSports sells itself as at least as useful from a career development as traditional athletics, if not more so. I’ve heard a couple of folks talk about eSports in a very career prep sort of way, and that administrators and industry reps (I’m looking at you Twitch) talk about how much being an eSports player will enhance a student’s resume and give them experiences that will help them build useful skillsets.
As always, we will see…and of course I have questions…
- Will these sports force the NCAA to rethink its model? eSports are by definition connected intimately with corporate sponsors…
- Will this generation of students overcome (or more importantly, simply ignore) the scorn of boomers and gen xers?
- Will we try to think about emotional consequences, or will we just keep banging ahead, blindly, hoping that things work out for the best?
This is book two of her Broken Earth series, and she’s not kidding about the title of the series – the earth is definitely broken. Unlike many of the fantasy series I’ve read recently this one takes place in a sort of identifiable earth from thousands of years in the future.
- This novel slowed down the action a bit from the first in the series (The Fifth Season, which I seem to have forgotten to review). Whereas the first one went dizzingly fast, not worrying about readerly comfort, this one took a second to allow us glimpses of the past in order to explain (ew) why the planet is so broken.
- It’s broken because of us, of course, but rather than make this series a dystopia Jemisin simply shows how she imagines humans (as well as the rest of the planet) evolving to meet these changed conditions.
- One of the ways that humans have evolved is that some of us (an important distinction) have developed another central nervous system stem, something she calls the sessinapae (it’s always italicized in the novels). This new organ is not exactly explained, but it has a mystical function – it enables those who have it to manipulate earth’s energies directly. The orogenes (the name for those who have this organ) can use these powers for good and protect human settlements from the earthquakes and other massive shakes of the earth’s crust that happen constantly.
- As with all human powers, of course, they’re also used for not-so-savory purposes – control, revenge, and so on.
- These unsavory uses are at the heart of the plotline, as characters try to focus their powers in ways to protect their kin.
- Jemisin neatly doesn’t focus much on the ways in which the planet was broken – this series is not a morality play. We do get the history in bits, though, and as one might expect it’s not pretty.
- It seems that climate change got increasingly more devastating (there are hints of gaia theory here, as the planet tries to shake off us human fleas), and we tried to mitigate its effects in increasingly more drastic ways. The final way we as humans tried to make the planet inhabitable despite these effects involved us somehow moving the moon (I guess in order to eliminate tides, which had probably grown into tsunami-sized events).
- This triggered the advent of the fifth season (the name of the book in the series), a devastatingly long disruption of the sun caused by volcanic ash and featuring toxic air being released from the earth’s crust.
- There are hints that all of this is intentional, but they are just hints, and the agent is the planet itself.
- The communities that survived did so barely, and often had to practice cannibalism to do so, so much so that while the characters talk about the practice with distaste it’s definitely not taboo.
- The orogenes come about because humans tried to adapt to the fifth season. Animal and plant species either died out or adapted in their own ways, and human evolution did the same thing. Our evolution, of course, is far less balanced.
- This is getting way too long, but there’s tons going on here, in addition to being a page-turning read. Jemisin is also offering us a look at how our lizard brains continue to want to divide us into tribes and constantly thwart our best, most idealistic impulses, and she posits a couple of different ways that humans can adapt (including beings called stone eaters that I don’t completely understand, as they seem almost god-like).
- There are also lots and lots of deadciv ruins that are often deadly and that current humans mostly leave untouched.
- I will be talking about this series more – it’s brilliant and fascinating.
A couple of observations:
- 2018 will be interesting in a lot of ways, but I’m particularly focusing on the local-interests vs. national political scene race. We’ve already seen some folks here who are running as either pro- or anti-Trump, even in local races. So far in the primaries those who focused on local and state issues have won their primaries. The general election may prove differently, of course.
- Perhaps the adage that the most ideological wins the primary but loses the general election will be reversed this year.
- In my mind this dichotomy also will show the influence of social media. After all the cautionary tales that have emerged since the 2016 election I think that we will see if those who run nationally (who, I think, will go for big, splashy, chaos-driven social media presences) will defeat those whose social media presences are bland and corporate (and are probably focused locally).
- I also wonder if this is the year that the drown government in a bathtub folks rethink their approach. With the shortages faced by firefighters and teachers (and other public servants), will those who favor eliminating nearly the entire government question their own effectiveness?
- Perhaps their approach was more intentional than I think – by constantly questioning the effectiveness of government in all it does they have set the stage so that I think the public doesn’t believe government is capable of doing a damned thing. That approach might work for regulations that a group doesn’t like, but in other areas it seems to damage institutions that we all rely on, especially schools.
- It’s all fun and games until machine shops can’t find young people who can learn new machines and basic algorithms. The libertarians might want to rethink the importance of public education at that point.
I boated a couple of sections of the Cheat River a week ago, with friends and family. We ran the Black Fork in the early afternoon, the Narrows in the evening, and had plans to run the Canyon the next day. A veritable shit-ton of rain prevented that, but fun was had by all.
Photo courtesy of CU Enterprises
Observations about the area:
- I have an unhealthy I’m sure love of these kinds of areas – lots of outdoorsy folk gathered, lots of obsessions with the wilderness as a place to both play and hopefully show appreciation. I hope I do both, although I try to be cognizant of the ramifications of using where someone else lives as a playground.
- The Cheat area shows the complexities involved in trying to categorize humans. Lots of narratives about the area describe it and West Virginia as a monolith. By now we know the dangers of that sort of reduction, although we keep doing it.
Photo courtesy of CU Enterprises
- I was a bit bummed that we didn’t get to run the Canyon the next day. The water levels, though, thought not a whit about me or my petty desires, at all…