My contemporaries and I are living in one of the most astonishing periods of human history. When I, a school child living on a farm in the American mid-west, first learned the world had at that time three cities with more than a million people (New York, London, Mexico City), I was so staggered by the information I suddenly recognized the inadequacy of my imagination. Just to count out loud to a million would take a long time.
I have just read a bit about a book called The World in 2050 by Laurence C. Smith with this mind-blowing information: "The world is now more urban than rural, and the century of the megacity
has begun. In 1950, there were two cities with a population of more
than ten million. By 1975, there were three. As of 2007, there were
nineteen, and by 2025, the United Nations estimates that there will be
twenty-seven. There are ninety cities in China alone that have a
population of greater than one million."
The picture above is Tokyo, the world's largest megacity -- as of this writing. These vast cities will continue to grow. Nearly all of them are in the northern hemisphere. The people who were born in these cities -- and will be born into them in the future, cannot produce their own food or water or clothe themselves without involvement with the world of technology and manufacturing. They will be affected by natural phenomena: heat, cold, storms (which are already killing more and more hundreds when they hit). These new generations have more in common with worker ants than they do with farmers like my father and mother who grew a large percentage of their food, who had artesian wells and cisterns for water, who sheltered in a house constructed by my father and his cousins.
As a reader of novels and poetry I think how meaningless will be "I wandered lonely as a cloud," or "I will arise now and go to the Isle of Inisfree," or the road in the woods that diverged and I chose the lesser used one. Psychologically, referentially, people will be divorced from nature. The political implications are enormous, in fact, staggering. And the economics of feeding all these people ... Oh, my ... and I thought my imagination was inadequate 60 years ago!
I was very surprised at the popularity of the film, Philomena,
when I went yesterday for a 2:15 matinee. I stood in line in the very
chilly shade while the large audience at the 12:15 showing left the
theatre (I was at our wonderful, old fashioned art film house, Cape Cod
Cinema in Dennis). It was Saturday afternoon and I suppose many people
were avoiding the shopping madness and the impossible parking at the
mall. From the mumblings around me, everyone was as surprised as I at
being in such a crowd.
The movie with Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, about a search for the child
Philomena had as a teenaged orphan living in a Catholic orphanage, is
an unlikely sort of buddy picture with Coogan as an out of work reporter
who gets caught up in writing a human interest book instead of
something about Russia (his area of expertise). Philomena is about 65,
Dench is 78 (but a lovely and lively 78). The movie seemed heavy-handed
and slow most of the way through until we got to several surprises in
the last third of it. I won't share any spoilers. I was less
enthusiastic than I think most viewers will be; I thought the screen
writing was work-a-day and uninspired. It seems the true story on which
the film is based was too heavy for the writers to make either Philomena
or the reporter people of depth. Plus I felt a certain amount of agism
in the portrayal of Philomena.
Stories We Tell is a prize winning documentary by Sarah Polley, a film maker who isn't afraid of complexity, in fact, needs it and seems to revel in it as she tells the story of discovering her actual paternity. The film weaves real interviews with family members with home movies and with acted scenes from the past as well as some, I think, faux home movies. The honesty and love and searching for words to handle a complex set of emotions is deeply affecting.
Strange to say, seeing this documentary yesterday afternoon was just one part of a 24 hour period in which I heard more family stories told than, probably, I've heard in the last year. Thursday evening at a monthly story slam at the Cape Cod Chat House (my family and I are regulars and addicted to the format), the topic was family. So several people including daughter and son-in-law told stories, as did quite a few other people (not I). At lunch yesterday Patti told me of recently discovering an extended Swedish family that she knew nothing at all about and then after the film, Lili, who produces this class of documentaries, told about recently discovering branches of her complex family and that she'll go to Texas next week to meet members of the family she hadn't known about until very recently.
I'm amazed that these stories all were told in such a short period of time. They are all complex, as Sarah Polley's story is. That she, with help from her two writer fathers (the one she grew up with and the one she discovered is her biological father), produced a very coherent, beautifully edited, beautifully produced film. It won a grand prize at a Canadian film festival (she is Canadian) and was the hit at the Sundance Festival earlier this year. I would not be surprised if it's a nominee for an Oscar and I very much hope Sarah is nominated for an Oscar as best director.
The snow lasted less than 24 hours but beautiful flowers did not pop out immediately. The new header flower (is it a columbine? I don't now wild flowers by names.) was on Wheeler Mountain in New Mexico. It's lovely to remember warm and wonderful days -- even hot ones -- during our vacation, just when the weather here is turning from that lovely period I call "sweater weather" to days when a serious jacket is needed and maybe gloves as well.
Yesterdays documentary film was Time and Tides, one of, I think, three documentary films made about the Scottish environmental artist Andy Goldswothy It was a quiet, meditative film with nonintrusive music showing the artist who works with only natural materials (rocks, water, ice, sticks) and uses only his hands to create-- although for some large commissions like a stone wall at Stone King Art Park in New York many stone masons did the actual building -- but used no mortar. Goldsworthy is a patient, extremely inventive, and often playful man; many of his creations disappear rapidly -- ice constructions may melt in hours, sand constructions are washed away by the tide. But the stone walks and stone shapes like the conical one in the photo might last many, many years. The movie was not didactic about the environment--more a tribute to all the natural elements -- everything was fodder for his imagination. Repeatedly we saw serpentine structures - the wall at Storm King winds sinuously (yes, a stone wall can be sinuous) among a stand of trees. He often drew sinuous designs or made them out of stones or sand. Nearly all his work has natural grace and elegance. It was a beautiful film.
Susan is fairly new to the poetry class. She's an excellent poet, capable of considerable variety of subject and style. She is friendly but she is not one of the ones who chat about personal matters. Yesterday, i.e., just a day after Veteran's Day, she read a long poem that accounted for a boy's life starting at age one and moving on to twenty-one, told in rhyming quatrains in colloquial language that was smooth, flowing and full of intimate detail. We knew the title at the outset "Forever Twenty-One"and most (later some admitted to not thinking ahead to the end) knew what that phrase meant.
Susan read the poem aloud as we do in that class. She reads well, no one reads dramatically in the style of poetry slams -- we are all too old for slamming anyway -- As she neared the end and the boy joined the Army, her voice broke. "I'm having trouble," she said. Another woman quickly said, "I'll read the rest for you." She did. Of course the young man died in the Army. It was a deeply affecting poem. I think everyone was moved, especially by the wealth of intimate details about the child as he grew and then the sense of loss.
The beginning of the discussion was awkward but finally someone said, "Is it your son?"
"No," she said. "I was listening to all the discussion about veterans yesterday and I was moved to write this. I don't have a son." But she had genuinely been moved while reading it. Her feelings about the loss of a young man's life were sincere. "They're all our sons," she said. She did not write a poem that made that didactic statement; she wrote a poem that made all of us feel the empathy she felt that moved her to write so well.
We've had an extraordinarily warm and beautiful autumn. Many trees are still red, orange, gold or bronze and holding onto their leaves. But today the temperature dropped from the 50s in the early morning to the low 30s. Snow began falling just at 10:00 when I went out and continued in a serious blowing spate for two hours. Soft, wet, white, fluffy snow settled on the green and red and yellow leaves and outlined all the branches that had become bare. It was very beautiful although I was not prepared and should have worn warmer clothing.
These two photos near my apartment show the surprised green of shrubbery and the still hardy looking vinca, partly protected by overhang at the very edge of the building. The header picture was another nearby shrub with red leaves. The snow is so wet, it will melt away tomorrow unless the temperatures stay very cold. The blue skies and beautiful autumn days will probably returned like a ballerina taking another bow. But we cannot argue that it's not time for the gray days and barren branches of winter. We who live in this part of the country mostly are happy to have four seasons. Saying goodby to one does not always mean joyously welcoming the next.
I used to bake a lot of bread although I hardly ever do these days. I enjoy the whole process but I am able to buy quite good bread from a local bakery and, being one person it lasts a long time -- so long that,if it's a large loaf, I usually put half of it in the freezer immediately .
Anyway, I was very interested in a bread baking article in the current New Yorker magazine by Adam Gopnik and found his writing fun reading. At one point I said to myseslf, this prose is in nearly poetry - the word "Ozamandias" was the trigger to make me look at several sentences leading up to that unlike name. At the same time, I'd been mulling the poetry prompt for this week's class and was not inspired. The class is so relaxed and open ended that I didn't feel apologetic about not having anything on the prompt. But I really enjoy writing poetry and reading what I write and I'm aware of the idea of "found poetry" which one fines in prose no matter where that prose may be, a passage that can be arranged as poetry -- as it is or with some judacious cuts of phrases that seem unnecessary to a poem.
Once I happened upon "Ozamandias", I read back and saw that, indeed, within a couple of paragraphs was a very amusing poem -- minus a phrase here, a couple of words there. I also went to Google and read Shelley's wonderful poem to make sure it fit -- pondered happily for some minutes m memory of having see the statue (or so a guide said) that inspired that immortal poem. For some more minutes I remembered the whoele afternoon in the Valley of the Kings and the thoughts then and since about that ancient empire and its stunning constructions still moving and magnificent despite three to four centuries of ruination.
So here is the poem I read to my class (with appropriate reference to its original author)
Yeast is really just a bunch
Rooming together, like
Oberlon grads in Brooklyn.
Eukaryotic organisms of the
Kin of mushrooms.
When you mix the little bugs
with carbohydrates –
Wheat is a good one –
They begin to eat up all the
Then they pass gas made up of
And carbon dioxide.
The carbon dioxide makes
The gas they pass makes
And it makes the dough rise.
It puts the bubbles in the
The high heat of the of the
oven simply kills
The remaining little bugs,
leaving their work in place.
The tasty bits of your
morning toast are all tombs
Of tiny dead creatures – the
On a tiny scale.Look on my works, you mighty,
And eat them with apricot
Found Poem --
J. Calender, from The New Yorker 11-4-13
The mid-70s are a surprise! Part of me remains in the 50s -- age, I mean, not decade of 20th century. It's a joy ride, new experiences land in my lap and I've become a better quilter, poet, writer than I expected. It's a rich life for a person never rich financially. Hey, this is what the mid-70s are like!