Archive for April, 2010

Things I saw today (on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam)

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar”, every “supreme leader”, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

— Carl Sagan

(via championmess on tumblr)

update 2 May 2010
I happened across more from that same Sagan quote – absolutely wondrous, important, true.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.

Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings; how eager they are to kill one another; how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity—in all this vastness—there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. It underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the only home we’ve ever known.

The pale blue dot.

– Carl Sagan (via gizmodo “The World Would Be Better If Everyone Watched This Video“)

Just because it’s awesome (“all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us”)

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

I got the opportunity to use a quote in conversation to a colleague about a difficult work situation which a friend and former colleague once said to me at the right time:

Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.

– Lord of the Rings

Things I saw today (Ghosts in the hollow, Appalachian heart)

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

I found this haunting video of coal mining towns of Appalachia.

Ghosts in the Hollow from Jim Lo Scalzo on Vimeo.

I grew up in Appalachia in a small town in the mountains of Pennsylvania in dairy and mining country and the landscapes and tumbling buildings in Scalzo’s video are very familiar.

mountains and mist mountains

While our father’s mother was from Dutch high society, our beloved mother’s mother was definitely a mountain person (a ridgerunner vs. a flatlander) and it’s a form of mild family pride that during prohibition she was a rum runner. Quilts and stories and carefully maintained pieces of furniture were passed to us from our mother. Our Mom seems to have endless second or third cousins and if she doesn’t have an existing connection with someone, with her warmth, interest and charm, she easily makes new connections. She dragged us through and I know now, steeped us, in some of the history, art and traditions (she even made us do folk dancing, once filmed for local TV and mercifully, I hope, lost to time). As a lay person and later a minister our father (who is also a lawyer and was DA for 16 years) did the Sunday and holiday services for more than 30 years in a small, underprivileged coal mining town miles away from the main (2 lane) road. Going to the little town with him was always more duty than joy – the dirt roads bumpy, the company houses all eerily the same, only an outhouse (still in the 80s) for the church – the people varyingly friendly or suspicious, contented or unhappy just like anywhere.

The older I get the more clearly I see how the long-term economic and educational disadvantages of the area is a kind almost institutionalized impediment and the invisibility of, or even worse, the disdain directed at its people is a strangely acceptable and open form of discrimination. I’m not sure I can find the words to write about my anger at the sneering contempt and self-satisfaction which masquerades as humor against “hillbilies” and country people with lower socio-economical status (what the hell is so contemptible about shopping at a discount store, about trying to survive and provide for your family when you don’t have much money or are lacking sufficient hipster style!?). I find this smug, privileged attitude disgustingly arrogant and mean-spirited. People who would probably recoil from telling racist jokes still seem to feel free to mock and demean people based on their socio-economic status, appearance or geographic location. (Hmm. ok, maybe I did find a few words after all).

country road country road

When I was younger I couldn’t wait to move away. Both my twin and I travelled to Australia for a year long foreign exchange in high school and out of state for college (both very rare things for anyone in any of the towns nearby). We were raised to speak (no ‘aints’ allowed) and to have different aspirations from many of the people around us. Fairly or unfairly, perhaps fortunately, different expectations were placed on us. We didn’t quite fit in but maybe we weren’t necessarily supposed to – existing within but slightly to the side of things.

Once when I was working at an arts college in Boston I met a friend of a visiting artist, a woman whose book I’d just happened to read. Though raised in Hawaii it turned out she’d spent a bit of time with extended family in another small town near where I grew up. Looking at me perhaps a bit more closely she said: “I wondered if anyone ever got out of that town.” and, at that time at least, I felt a small bloom of pride at making my way ‘out’ to such a vastly different life from where I started – working in a gallery, passing as a city person.

But no matter how many years I’ve lived in cities, because my parents, sister and nieces were there, PA was always ‘home’ and I always feel a great relief and peace at coming back to the mountains. The older I get the more I realize how strongly attached I am to the place and people and, no matter what urban veneer I might have acquired over the years, how deeply I am molded and held by the place.