Thursday, May 13, 2010
The Orange Alligator (2)
In response to my last blog, I received an email from my friend Bill Rutherfoord, noting that the orange color of the alligator offering is just the right industrial color for this hazardous moment [of the Gulf oil spill]: he is safety orange. He then went on to say he thinks most people intuit that the enormity of the problem exceeds our technological expertise, as well as our feeble, lying morality. We need help.
This has been my terror from the start--that BP et al. won't be able to fix this. However, saying that out loud, or even thinking it quietly to myself, does not help anything. Which is probably why, last weekend, I was feeling kind of crazy and still am, jittery like those animals who sense the oncoming arrival of a tsunami before it arrives, and become agitated. E-mailing back and forth with Bill, I described some of these feelings to him. How, in my previous dabblings in possible 2012 scenarios [for end times], there was never a specific picture, just intuitions of large, deadly trends all converging. As long as there wasn't a specific picture, the whole thing remained somehow abstract, a surmise. I could bet against myself, hoping that I might be wrong: 2012 was just a nutty Mayan scenario that had been updated for our time. It was not necessarily true.
Unfortunately, the oil spill has brought with it a devastating picture of how the end could happen: seas inexorably fill up with oil. The thought struck with the force of lightning. "I have great faith in American ingenuity," said my Australian friend, Simone Paterson, trying her best to reassure me. "They'll get it fixed, Sooz. If they could put a man on the moon, they can do this." Somehow it seems as if the future of everything now depends on which one of us turns out to be right.
"We have rigged our own oceans, submerged our own futures, suffocated our own progeny, and slide now to our slick destiny. To whom can I cry that twisting off the caps of my beautiful tubes of color I now think of OIL PAINTS as the first two words of a disaster headline?" wrote my painter friend, Jane Vance.
Right now it is hard for me to speak with other people, hard to act like everything is A-okay, business as usual. I feel like Alice, having stepped through the looking glass into a parallel reality. To talk about how I really feel is likely to either wig someone out, or cause them to recoil at what they take to be my exaggerated craziness. Neither seems a good idea. I was put on notice by an old high school friend with whom I reconnected a few years ago. She retired recently from school teaching, and has thrown herself passionately into becoming a poet, taking workshops, master classes, competing for prizes. I sent her the first "Orange Alligator" blog attached to a normal email.
"As for the world," she wrote me back, "would you believe, I've stopped watching The News Hour, just glance or scan through The Times, daily, and catch an occasional NPR bit of news, unlike the way I used to be. I don't know if it's reading and writing poetry that has me so detached from the world, or what. I haven't even read any novels in months, which is also not like me. Oh, well." She didn't mention the blog. She sounded really blissful, if oblivious, while back at home here, I am feeling more and more like Anne Frank, doing the diary thing, while waiting to see if the dreaded Nazis will actually show up. I don't want to destroy other people's happiness or peace of mind. But I am struggling with trying to integrate levels of fear and grief such as I have never known before.
"I'm on my way to bed," Bill wrote me again later, "but suffice it to say that your strong feelings are not irrational. Your inclination to withhold the extent of your anxiety about the state of the world when dealing with seemingly oblivious people is just right...There is an immense learning curve that most people will remain well behind. Hang tough, and continue to watch in your own way. Conscientiously looking at the planet as it sickens is a little like [Marina] Abramovic's endurance exercise where she gazed at, and endured the gazes, of others. Watch watchman watch...The Anne Frank model strikes me as exactly right for this dangerous time, and I too am a little at odds with those who seem oblivious to the gravity of the global condition...People can't be told too much too fast, or they' dismiss it as paranoia."
Ultimately there is no way to know how this "thing" ought to be met, what responsibility any of us may bear in a crime so vast that it threatens the very future we all take for granted. In his new incarnation as agent orange, Virgil, who lives on borrowed Jewish jokiness anyway, suggests I start rubbing my shoes with butter to preserve the leather. And sit on a white cat's third eye.
A former student, Samantha Barnum, commented on the blog: "As I try to think about how to do the most good, promote maximum progress, make the best revolution, I remember that sometimes the smallest gestures can still be powerful. Like sending someone an orange alligator in the mail. It might not stop the Gulf oil leak, but it is inspiring, nonetheless. And so much better than gallows humor."
The mention of gallows humor brings Virgil back again:
How do crazy people go through the forest? They take the psychopath.
How do you get Holy Water? You boil the hell out of it.
What do Eskimos get from sitting on the ice too long? Polaroids.
Gallows humor has its place, you have to admit, especially if it's you on the gallows.