22 October 2015

Lighting the Way Forward

I've been thinking about the Deborah Koons Garcia film Symphony of the Soil, which I saw Monday night at the opening night of the 2015 Flatirons Film Food Fest. I have seen her first film, The Future of Food, a couple of times. It centered on the horrifying dangers of Genetically Modified Organisms in big agriculture. In Garcia's 2012 film, I appreciated the visuals on the topic, but I walked out of the film at the end feeling like I'd just attended a couple of back-to-back college lectures. I appreciated Symphony of the Soil's lesson on the fundamentals of how soil is formed (and dissipated), the difference between soil and dirt, and how plants and soil and bacteria all work together.

The fermentation folks attending and signing books did connect the bacteria in the soil, the bacteria on and in our foods and plants, and the bacteria in our guts and bodies. But I truly feel for those fermentation gurus like Sandor Katz and who are preaching the gospel people used to know but have more recently forsaken. I see the fomenters of fermentation reaching to encompass crowds of recent converts trying to take back their personal microbiomes, and crowds of people still pumping Purex and antibacterial soaps out of plastic bottles, wrinkling their noses, and saying "ew, bacteria." When we first recognized the world of bacteria, we presumed them hostile, just like in one of the original Star Trek episodes. Bacteria, however, turn out to be more like animals. Their risks and benefits to us are significantly more nuanced than early researchers dreamed and the scientific methods available to them at the time could help them understand. 

In my spec Star Trek episode based on this, the Enterprise lands on a planet where civilization is in apparent collapse, most of its people left impoverished on the twin shoals of devastated health and astronomical medical bills. A few people are thriving, however, and they help to reveal the solution to the folks on the Enterprise. That solution is literally right under everyone's noses: The soil and the products of the soil -- and the twist at the end is when they stop replenishing the soil, they start dying and the geniuses on the Enterprise have to remind them of the powers of their own most precious resource: the earth under their feet.

So when I think of what is being pumped into the ground and what leaches into the soil and groundwater when energy companies frack the earth, I am horrified at my own car use. I am horrified at all I do to contribute to that unwavering demand that propels fracking. Films like Symphony of the Soil awaken me to my deepest beliefs and innermost feelings: that each of those tiny little bacteria on those tiny little fibers on all those root systems of our food and foliage underground is just as precious if not more so than the life of each of us humans. Some of us humans are particularly destructive. I worry about the folks who are trying to extract as much value they can from the earth before they die or the earth runs out of resources. It is planetary torture to pump harsh chemicals into the ground the way we do every day. To clearcut rainforests for cattle grazing. And hardly anyone is talking about the dwarfing effects of the billions of cows we grow for food on the planet and its people and our animal population (yes, I saw Cowspiracy on Netflix recently). 

About 10 years ago I interviewed Jim Butterworth about his documentary Seoul Train, which he filmed and produced with a friend, Lisa Sneeth, a nurse working overseas. They had become aware of the plight of the Northern Korean people and wanted to do something that made a difference. They thought about what medium they wanted to work in. A book sounded reasonable, but they realized they wanted to reach a lot of people, quickly, and move them to action if possible. So they chose film to tell the story, and hired an accomplished director and editor, Aaron Lubarsky. The filmmakers took their cameras to North Korea and documented an underground railroad out of North Korea and into South Korea that helped people reunite with families who had sometimes been apart for decades. 

It's true: Film is often the medium that moves me the most. And I am continually grateful to the directors and producers who illuminate my world, even under the ground beneath me. My friend Patti Bonnet (who works with Louie Psihoyos, director of The Cove and the new film Chasing Extinction), Jim Butterworth, Deborah Koons Garcia, Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn (of Cowspiracy) help me see where I need to shed the light I want to see in the world. These  films are guiding lights, my films lumières, rather than films noirs.

The People in My Neighborhood

I was proud of the many things I did that made me feel independent and self-sufficient. I would visit our friends Jay and Vivian in South Boulder with my family, and anytime we were near their house, I would say, sometimes out loud: “If you blindfolded me, drove me around, and dropped me off anywhere in Boulder, I would be able to find my way home.”
This wasn't true of everyone around me, but my father and I always shared an internal compass that gave us a good sense of direction just about anywhere we found ourselves.
It helped to grow up in a place where the Rocky Mountains are directly to the west. Towering slabs of rock looming over the city? Yep, that's west. The mountain range, which we call the Front Range, in homage I suppose to the pioneers who first met the eastern slope of the Rockies on their westward trek. The Rockies run roughly north to south, with the plains flattening all the way out into the midwestern states. Keep the mountains to your left and you're heading north. With the mountains to your back, you are headed east. Mornings, the sun spills into our living room from the east, and in its evening sink into the west casts its mountain-shaped shadow over us earlier than it does out on the prairie.
By the time I was in my teens, I could walk all over town and feel I knew someone just about everywhere. I didn't spend a lot of time in South Boulder, but in Central and North Boulder, I was always passing houses where my classmates lived, where a teacher lived, where my mother had delivered a baby, where we had friends, where a client at my father's shop lived, or where I'd delivered newspapers.
Some of the friends I remember visiting:
My mother's friend Diane, when she lived in an apartment on Grandview Avenue, at the crest of University Hill, between the University of Colorado campus and the Boulder High School campus. I remember persuading her to buy Count Chocula cereal for the event.
My neighbor friend David, who lived about two blocks away and seemed a little befuddled at being dropped in on by an eight-year-old kid. He was a CU grad student maybe, a little older than the people he roomed with. A black widow bite caused David to go deaf in one ear. That was a shock and changed everything for him. We lost touch after that and later he moved away.
And when I'd come to that Boulder neighborhood and say “You could drop me anywhere and I would know how to get home” was I really wanted to be lost near Jay and Viv's house and have a reason to drop in on them.

It strikes me that I did a lifetime of persuading in my first 13 years. 
What did I look for when I met people and right away tried to gain purchase with them? Only many years later I recognized that's how my father worked. Pour on the charm, and then try to extract proof of their commitment to your shared relationship. It was a very presumptuous model for a friendship and it took me a long time to excise phrases like “You have to tell me how it was!” (no, you don't -– that's up to you) from my repertoire.
Did I pin my huge hopes on these friends wanting rescue? Or distraction from my disasterland full of minefields? I wonder how many calls or visits my parents fielded from people whom I started dropping in on to get me to lighten up. Did that happen? Or am I remembering a couple of mortifying occasions that I've blown up into a character flaw in my narrative?

15 October 2015

I Come By It Honestly

This phrase, I come by it honestly, keeps insinuating itself into my mind. (After watching a PBS show about the brain last night, I’m wondering, “What the heck do I mean by that?” Really, I blithely say the phrase comes into my head -- but how does a phrase or a song or a notion heard or read or seen corkscrew itself into a brain? Doesn’t it take someone operating the proverbial corkscrew, a being, me, to think “I come by it honestly” over and over? Or is there no volition but rather a physical phenomenon, a pattern of neurons refiring in sequence to echo something that resonated with my thinking? What in the physical world is an earworm?

As for its meaning, it’s largely a letting of myself off a certain hook: I have inherited from my parents but have been towing (not toeing) a family line until now, a presumption that we’re all these almost Calvinistically virtuous, respectable, and upright people, which turns out to be a façade covering a whole other spectrum of behaviors -- bizarre, addictive, aggressive, abusive -- in our collective history. My broken-off relationship with my father is freeing me to speak out too.

The blog post I wrote about my dog Pig a few years ago is about this. He disappeared some of our animals; some of them may have disappeared to save themselves from him. As low critters on the totem pole, they were most likely to get crushed by my father's brutality.

Today’s Huffpost Politics story about violence against animals as an indicator crime — one that points to other kinds of aggression and violence against human animals, too — gives me great hope and furthers my feeling of freedom. Every time we share this information, we are freer to stand up to bullies. Even bullies with weapons.

More power to us. Clearly, we’re going to need it.