Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Apocalypse Gal Considers the Pacific Earthquake

Yesterday was surreal, to say the least. I was up VERY early. Alert readers of this blog may have noticed that I'm often up around 3 or 4, hours that other people might call "the middle of the night," but yesterday, I was up even earlier (O.K., 1:30, if you must know). I have a kind of insomnia that means I fall asleep at the time of night when toddlers are heading off to bed (8 a.m. or so), and I'm waking up between 2 and 4 a.m. Yes, that could be plenty of sleep, but it doesn't account for the nights when I don't make it to bed until after 10--but I'm still waking up around 3 a.m.

But I digress.

So, I was up as accounts of the earthquake and tsunami trickled in. I didn't watch any footage until much later in the day. I went about my day, wondering what was happening (would Hawaii survive? would waves make it to the California/Oregon/Washington shoreline? would the economic world go into meltdown because of the events?). But I was off-screen, and somewhat out of touch. I spent the morning ensconced in a meeting where we discuss (and rediscuss!) things which seem trivial in the best of circumstances, but even more so on a morning when a massive wave heads across the Pacific.

I spent the afternoon on a field trip to the Rubell collection. I rode the bus down there with the students (the teacher in charge had gone down with an earlier class, and I served as teacher-shepherd). One of the students asked me what was going on in Japan, and I was able to tell her (minus scary nuclear reactor news). She listened with wide eyes, and then she and her friend went back to talking about their studenty exploits, while I read The Poets Grimm, something I've needed to do for months, so that I can get down to writing this academic paper that I'm presenting at the College English Association convention at the end of the month.

The art work at the Rubell is always a revelation. And me, without my camera! Yes, it's one of the few museum/galleries that allow visitors to take photos. Happily, the show will be up through the summer, and I can return with my colleague's future classes. The show that's up this year (the Rubell mounts one giant show, and keeps it up through their season), made me want to go home and assemble things out of the broken bits of my jewelry box and the odds and ends of my tool shed.

On the bus back, my colleague and I were talking about why I like more modern art than art of the past. I posited that it's because I have a chance of producing similar art, whereas, when I look at the art of say, the Pre-Raphealites, I know that I could work on my techniques from now to Doomsday, and I will never be able to do what they did, unless I could quit my full-time job and devote myself to realism.

Of course, some of the art on display I'll never be able to do because I don't have space. It made me wonder if I did have space, would I do larger art projects? Or am I just drawn to small canvases?

My colleague suggested that I like more modern art like that which was on display at the Rubell is because it's more cerebral with more to interpret. One of the galleries had several works of art that used eggs in a variety of ways (images here), which immediately made me think of ovaries and all the other possible interpretations. David Wojnarowicz has a piece called I Use Maps Because I Don’t Know How to Paint with lots to consider. The image doesn't do it justice, since if you're up close to the real work, you see images of dollar bills behind the eyes that are loosely sewed shut. The collage includes maps and as I looked closely, I realized they were maps of places of great human rights atrocities (Nicaragua, South Africa) during the year it was created, 1984.

So, yes, my colleague is probably right.

We returned to campus and went over to grab a late lunch/early dinner and a glass of wine. I heard the news on the way over, but the news offered nothing that I hadn't already known when I heard the morning news. It wasn't until later that I actually saw the images from Japan. To say it staggers the imagination is an understatement. If you saw this kind of footage in a movie, you would say it went over the top and wasn't believable.

I felt a slight guilt at having had a great afternoon considering art and enjoying food and wine and having good conversation (and earlier, having had a great writing morning while events were actually transpiring). But having lived in hurricane prone parts of the country (and having seen damage left behind by hurricanes Hugo and Andrew, damage that existed years after the hurricanes hit land), I know that we're none of us immune from the damage that the planet can inflict. Hurricane Katrina knocked over a ficus tree that took up much of my back yard (brushing my house as it came down, but doing no real damage to the house) before it went on to devastate New Orleans. My spouse and I have only just now gotten our house fully repaired after the 2005 Hurricane Wilma damage. I cannot imagine how Japan will put the country back together again, but I know that they will--or people will be relocated. Galveston used to be one of the sparkling lights of the South until a hurricane in the early part of the 20th century wiped out the island; instead of rebuilding, the survivors decided that the island wasn't safe, and they moved.

This morning, I'm reading accounts of a nuclear reactor exploding in Japan. I'm thinking of much older reactor explosions. I don't have as many memories of Three Mile Island, but I do remember the morning that I sat in my dorm living room (the one place that had a T.V.--now, that dates me, doesn't it?), watching the news reports about Chernobyl. Had a nuclear bomb detonated, I'd have had a better idea of what to expect. But a reactor accident? In a country that was notorious for not giving out information? What should I do? I went to class, of course. I'm a good girl and well trained.

I feel a strange lack of panic with these latest news reports, while at the same time, all sorts of quotes for an apocalyptic day go through my head.

Now there's a book title: Quotes for an Apocalyptic Day. Any acquisitions editors who are reading, take note: I could have this book of quotes ready within a week, should you be willing to offer me an advance and a contract.

For most of my lifetime now, I have been expecting the world to end with a big atomic bang. Surely this explosion in Japan is not that bang.

It's probably time to bring this rambling post to a close. For those of you who would like a scholarly, yet accessible, explanation of earthquakes and the geology of the earth, find a copy of Natalie Angier's The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science and read the geology chapter. For those of you who want a theological consideration of the earthquake and a link that will let you donate to a social service agency go to this post on my theology blog.

And for those of us who are creative types, who may feel guilty attending to creative processes while nuclear reactors explode, I'd encourage you to go ahead and create. What else is there to do in the face of chaos and catastrophe? It's the way that humans have always coped.

1 comment:

Hannah Stephenson said...

I know what you mean about that guilt.

I teach a freshman writing course with a social media focus...we talked yesterday about how social media changes the way that disasters happen. Everything feels so much closer. We also talked about that Google People Finder...and how we wish it would have existed during 9/11 happenings.