L/N: June 29-July 4, 2020

Zuihitsu #39

June 29, 2020・Zuihitsu

This piece is about how easy it can sometimes be to become bitter when researching climate change and working on climate solutions. It’s easy to become bitter because of how we conceive of concepts like responsibility and blame and ignorance – however, “playing the blame game serves us nothing”. I think maybe this line can be misinterpreted, so I’ll try to explain what I mean.

Basically, pointing fingers and calling people hypocrites and ranting against older people will not help mitigate this crisis. Why is that so? Advocating for accountability is important, for sure, but just being bitter and resentful towards an abstract older generation or historic colonial power doesn’t do much and really seems like wasting time. I think it’s more in our interests to focus on the present and on things we can actually do and people we can actually see. We also need to recognize that we are all human and necessarily complex, and we are all influenced to an incredible extent by our sociocultural context. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to be angry at an individual person for being ignorant about the climate crisis when their school never taught them about it and their society denies its existence. Rather than being angry, you should try to communicate with them and educate them and work towards positive social transformation. Yes, it’s true that certain people and groups in history have done the most damage to the environment and climate systems compared to everyone else, and the entire field of climate justice is highly essential and valuable, but stopping at pointing blame or stopping at letting abstract bitterness simmer is not helpful to anyone.

A Letter to LGBTQ+ Youth

June 30, 2020・Uncategorized

Because it’s a structured letter, I think this piece is really straightforward and doesn’t need much in the way of explanation. The letter is just essentially trying to convey that it’s okay if your life story as an LGBTQ+ person doesn’t align with the mainstream, publicized, romanticized LGBTQ+ life stories. “As long as you give it some thought and end up in a place where you’re genuinely happy, there shouldn’t be a problem” – this is the main anthem of the piece.

One day a long while ago, I was talking with one of my younger friends, E. She’s a bi-romantic ace, and she’s currently going off to university in the fall. On that day, I had invited her and one of her classmates over to dinner, and during a normal course of conversation I said something about falling in love with my roommate or some such thing – in essence, “coming out” to the both of them really, really casually. A few days later while E and I were texting, that moment was brought back up. She asked me to clarify how I identify, and I asked her in return. I explained why I’d said what I did in such a normal manner, and we talked for a while about how she had also always thought that sitting people down and dramatically coming out to them was a weird thing to do, and how the way I’d normalized it had made her confront some of her own biases and feelings on the subject (i.e. how she’d always assumed I was cis-het).

After thinking that whole affair over, I realized this: for some people, the mainstream stories of LGBTQ+ life just don’t feel quite right. They don’t match up, and in some cases they entirely don’t apply. I started evaluating all the different ways in which my life and my feelings didn’t align with the stories, and extended the mental list over time, pulling from various things I’d read and other conversations I’d had. The end result was this letter.

Now, I don’t really care who reads my work or how many people do. But in the case of this piece, I really hope that it will reach the eyes or ears of a few folks who might benefit from its message.

Collision Course

July 1, 2020・Free Verse・B-side: Prometheus

“Creatures who believe that they are gods are worse than demons,” this piece begins. “Creatures who don’t realize that they are demons are worse than gods.”

Discussing this poem and its B-side really makes me excited. I think that it’s one of the best works I’ve put out recently, and there are a lot of interesting metaphors and other nuances to discover. Collision Course and Prometheus are both in general about climate change and the environment. To start with, here are some of the external references contained in the verse:

  • “you who keeps repeating that ‘the show must go on’”: ‘The show must go on’ is a common English phrase in circuses, theater, other performing arts and general showbiz. Basically, whatever happens, the performers must keep going and the performance must not stop. Here is the short Wiki article on this phrase.
  • “even musicians don’t always realize when the music has stopped”: In the documentary Ryuichi Sakamoto: CODA, musician Ryuichi Sakamoto mentions the idea that music requires peace and balance. He says that in the week after 9/11, he didn’t hear any music at all – but it was only when he saw a young musician one day performing in the street for the first time that he suddenly realized the absence of music in all the days prior.
  • “drawn in by the trap of luxury and ease,/you can’t even see you’ve been caged”: In Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Harari calls things like fossil fuels and agriculture “luxury traps”. The basic idea is that there’s something that seems so incredibly appealing at the time, and you think it will make your life so much better, but when you adopt it there are a ton of negative side effects. Furthermore, by the time you realize that there’s so many negatives, that thing you adopted has completely taken over society and nobody remembers the past or how to go back. Thinking about it now, you can probably name a lot of luxury traps that we’ve fallen into.

Some environment-related phrases or concepts that maybe might not be clear to everyone:

  • “it was the birds who saw the first ripple”: Many birds are indicator species, like canaries in the coal mine, and their presence or distress can be the first signal of environmental harm and disaster.
  • “drowning in chlorine-rinse as it turned into waves”: Chlorine first refers to the use of chlorinated water in swimming pools, but also to how in the meat industry, a lot of meat is sometimes bathed or rinsed in chemicals such as chlorine bleach and ammonia in order to decontaminate them (from E. coli, salmonella, etc.) This is one potential reason why some people decide to stop eating meat: questions about human health effects and not knowing what has actually been done to your purchased products. Here is an interesting article by the New York Times on one example of the usage of ammonia in meat processing.
  • “blinded by the ash-driven sunset outside your window”: When there are more particulates in the air, sunsets and sunrises are generally brighter and a more brilliant red due to scattering of sunlight by those suspended particles. Here is an article by Scientific American on the subject.

Now I’d like to mention some of the other interesting points of this poem.

  • As in many poems, one of the big unknowns is the identity of the pronouns. Almost all the verses speak to an unnamed “you”, which is also described in verse 2 as a seemingly singular “stranger”. The last two short lines add in the first-person “I” and “me”, and the final line describes the “you” as plural (“who among you would listen to me?”). If we’re talking about usage of voice, then I think you can read this poem in a lot of different ways. Is the writer/narrator of the poem speaking to the same “you” the whole time? Is the “you” abstract or an actual person or group? Is the narrator changing? There are several ways you can divide up the verses and see if perhaps there is actually a conversation going on – but if you hear or read the poem as a conversation, you can also see that that conversation is very stilted, the speakers aren’t even listening to each other.
  • The title, Collision Course, is suggested and clarified by the lines “ignoring the ‘one-way’ and ‘no thru traffic’ signs” and “you who keeps repeating that ‘the show must go on’”.
  • The introduction, “Creatures who believe they are gods…” is suggested by the lines “these billions of gods and the spirits who possess them – / can’t you see? you’re powerless!”. Maybe a large polytheistic religion and the general idea of humans being powerless in the face of the divine, but the use of “billions” and the intro lines also hints at an interpretation of humans as possessed gods. I think the intro lines themselves are quite interesting and deserve some thought.

Additional things that are good to pay attention to that I will leave to your interpretation: synesthesia (overlapping of senses), desire to live, mirrors/reflections of oneself, selective sight.

The discussion of some of the themes in this poem, as well as a clarification of overall intended meaning, will continue in the liner notes for its B-side, two entries below.


July 2, 2020・Tanka

Sometimes, because we are eagerly expecting someone, we mistake someone else for them. We might think that somebody in front of us looks like our best friend; your phone might ring with a text or call, and you get excited because you think it’s someone you really want to talk to or haven’t heard from in a long time, but actually it turns out to be someone different. The first three lines of the poem seem very “mournful” and sad and depressing, as though the setting is a funeral, but the final two lines give off a much more mundane feeling – so what exists at the intersection of the two? In what cases is expecting someone and mistaking someone else for them an event that warrants such a mournful tone? And, as in the title, when does it make sense to feel betrayed by your mistake?


July 3, 2020・Free Verse・A-side: Collision Course

Continuing on with the discussion of these paired environment-themed poems.

At the heart of this poem is the reference to Prometheus, a Titan in Greek mythology who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humankind (whom he also created). Here is the Wikipedia page on Prometheus. Some quotes from it that I think are interesting and inform interpretations of this poem:

  • “Zeus, king of the Olympian gods, sentenced the Titan to eternal torment for his transgression. The immortal was bound to a rock, where each day an eagle, the emblem of Zeus, was sent to eat Prometheus’ liver, which would then grow back overnight to be eaten again the next day (in ancient Greece, the liver was often thought to be the seat of human emotions).”
  • “In the Western classical tradition, Prometheus became a figure who represented human striving, particularly the quest for scientific knowledge, and the risk of overreaching or unintended consequences. In particular, he was regarded in the Romantic era as embodying the lone genius whose efforts to improve human existence could also result in tragedy”
  • “After Prometheus steals the fire, Zeus sends Pandora in retaliation… Pandora carried a jar with her from which were released mischief and sorrow, plague and diseases (94–100). Pandora shuts the lid of the jar too late to contain all the evil plights that escaped, but Hope is left trapped in the jar because Zeus forces Pandora to seal it up before Hope can escape (96–99).”
  • “According to the German classicist Karl-Martin Dietz, in Hesiod’s scriptures, Prometheus represents the ‘descent of mankind from the communion with the gods into the present troublesome life’.”

In this poem, the speaker, who is implied to be Prometheus himself, says: “and tell me, / why did I give it to you?” He interprets his giving humanity fire (and perhaps also medicine, science, and the other gifts he gives in some stories) as a huge mistake. With this taken into account, most of the lines in the piece are fairly straightforward. He says “I meant it as a present and you turned it into a weapon,” and “you chased after ‘progress’ / turning on the treadmill to your doom”. He describes watching humanity “pour the gas” in a “perfect sphere” around their “globetrotting feet” – ready to light the earth on fire. In the end, he concludes “you / might as well have stolen from me,” because “I didn’t give you the gift / for you to utterly destroy it like this”.

There are some lines that frame well conversations around climate change: “you build your future out of ash – / and put your children in it because it’s just not your problem,” he says. “You meant the best, but intentions don’t matter”. Finally, he declares, “my mistake. I guess I’ll be the bigger man this time.” Prometheus is not even a man, but he acknowledges his responsibility, shoulders the blame, and apologizes first. He analyzes intergenerational inequity, and recognizes that humans did not deliberately create anthropogenic climate change on purpose, but also argues that that doesn’t matter anymore – responsibility and blame still exist in the absence of intention.

Ultimately, both this poem and its A-side Collision Course reflect attitudes toward humanity’s role – including its responsibility and blame – in the current climate crisis. There’s an emphasis on how we talk about it, both to each other and to ourselves, as well as how it might be viewed from an outsider’s (i.e. non-human’s) perspective. Some themes, such as gods and mirrors, can be found in both poems but exist or are presented in different ways. On the one hand, there is a lot that is ambiguous and open to interpretation, but on the other hand, the messages are clear and easy to understand. I hope that these two poems are useful and provoke thought on this most important issue of our time.


July 4, 2020・Tanka

“Being” can be a noun or a verb; to this poem, which do you think apply? The narrator says in the last two lines, “trying to put into words / something that just cannot be” – but what, or who, is it that cannot be? There are many things for which we find our languages unsuited to the task of expressing or describing them. In the context of gazing into another person’s eyes and seeing your own reflection, there are a lot of different situations one can imagine.

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