Posts Tagged ‘Gary Snyder’

War On Global Warming

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

War Warm

Photo by Marcia Sloane

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser May 2013)

“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” Winston Churchill

You have no doubt heard the sobering news that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 400 parts per million, a concentration last seen on earth three million years ago. This means that widespread climatic disasters of heretofore unimaginable magnitude are now a virtual certainty and there is little hope of keeping global temperatures from rising to deathly levels, and soon. Indeed, many scientists think there is no hope of keeping earthly temperatures below those deathly heights.

But if there is any hope of turning things around, only a concerted global effort will do the trick, with everyone on earth doing his and her part to help reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide. However, as of this writing most people and governments and corporations have shown little or no interest in working to reduce the production of greenhouse gases by swiftly and dramatically reducing our dependency on fossil fuels, which entirely underpin our systems of energy production and transportation and agriculture and manufacturing and just about everything that goes on in the so-called civilized world.

Why not? Why aren’t people and governments and corporations working day and night to turn things around when our very existence depends on such a turnaround? I think it is because the imminent threat to our very existence has not been made clear in terms we, all of us, both understand and resonate with. Saying that some invisible gas has reached 400 parts per million doesn’t mean anything to most people, just as saying the bankers and Wall Street crooks recently stole trillions of dollars from the American people doesn’t mean anything to most people. Parts per million of what? How could people steal trillions of dollars and not get caught?

“Western civilization is a loaded gun pointed at the head of this planet.” Terence McKenna

As a watcher of movie trailers on my computer, I have noticed over the last few years that nearly all the new huge budget movies are about people with super powers or super weaponry fighting super dark forces threatening to destroy the earth. In Harry Potter, Star Trek, Avatar, Star Wars, Oblivion, After Earth, Superman, Iron Man, Spider Man, Thor, The Avengers, Transformers, GI Joe, on and on, the super violent good guys battle super violent bad guys, with the fate of earth literally hanging in the balance. I have zero interest in seeing these movies, but isn’t it fascinating that they are by far the most popular movies of our time? I visited a web site that ranks the most successful movies ever made, and with few exceptions the top one hundred movies are all about super people fighting super forces of evil.

I was complaining to my brother about the virtual non-existence of any American movie made in the last many years that I care to see (not counting documentaries) and in my complaint I mentioned the overwhelming redundancy of these good versus evil super hero war movies. To which my brother replied, “Well, that’s the dominant myth that has been running the world, so to speak, for thousands of years—wars of good versus evil fought by larger-than-life male heroes and anti-heroes. We have been entrained for thousands of years to look at everything through the mythic lens of war, which is why we are so easily manipulated into supporting the War on Drugs, the War on Terrorism, the War on…”

And then it hit me: the way to get people to actively participate in reducing greenhouse gas emissions is to declare a War on Global Warming. We must change the terminology, anthropomorphize global warming and climate change and make them our enemies. Remember the millions of victory gardens Americans planted to help win World War II? Why not revive the victory garden concept and add to it victory solar power cooperatives, victory car pools, victory mass transit, victory city planning, victory insulation, victory everything. The War on Global Warming could be the next big thing in American and global politics.

“Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.” Gary Snyder

My fellow Americans, I am here to tell you that the enemies of the American way of life, of life itself, need carbon to fuel their anti-life forces and super heat the planet to kill us all. But if we can cut off their carbon supply, they are doomed. Don’t you see? Those evil forces feed on carbon. If we deny them their food, they will be powerless against us. And if you elect me to Congress, I will make sure that the War on Global Warming is fully funded. Heck, we spent at least six trillion dollars fighting useless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The least we can do is spend that much to defeat the anti-life forces threatening our existence today.

How much is a trillion dollars in terms of our War on Global Warming? For a trillion dollars we could put twenty-thousand-dollar solar energy systems on fifty million houses, and for three trillion dollars we could solarize the entire nation and reduce the cost of electricity to such a low level that electric vehicles and electric transportation systems and electric heating and cooling systems would render the use of fossil fuels obsolete in America. We gave the too-big-to-fail banks several trillion dollars to bail them out in 2008-2009, so don’t tell me we can’t find the do-re-mi to solarize the nation and completely revolutionize the economy.

“What’s the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” Henry David Thoreau

I pitched my War on Global Warming idea to my savvy friend Rico and he said, “Several problems. First, in all those popular super hero war movies and in all media driven real wars we see our enemies. Your global warming anti-life forces are invisible. That’s a big problem. Second, in all those movies and in real wars, the main thing we do is kill each other. That’s what excites people, men especially. Men love weaponry, firepower, jets, tanks, explosions; and all those things require fossil fuels that cause global warming. Hate to burst your bubble, pal, but solar panels and car pools and vegetable gardens and walking to town and riding bikes and insulation and recycling and buying less and buying local just aren’t very sexy. Know what I mean?”

“I do. But what if we characterize the anti-life forces as carbon-sucking vampires? Young people would love that.”

“Can we see the carbon-sucking vampires? Can they kill us directly or only by sucking on our tailpipes and furnaces? Can they be killed with some sort of death ray or light saber or by muscular men blowing things to smithereens?”

“Well, no, but…”

“Then it won’t work. People need to see the enemy, or think they see them. And they need simple solutions. Kill bad guys before bad guys kill us.”

“So how do you think we can make the War on Global Warming work?”

“It has to be sexy,” said Rico. “And in America sexy means lucrative. Can people strike it rich fighting global warming?”

“Well, in Germany the government makes it easy for regular people to sell surplus solar energy for nice profits, and some solar and wind cooperatives…”

“I’m yawning,” said Rico. “This is not sexy. I’m losing interest.”

“What have they done to the earth? What have they done to our fair sister? Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her.” Jim Morrison

I still think it’s a good idea, the War on Global Warming, but perhaps women will have to take the lead on this one. Remember how in Lysistrata the heroine convinces the women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands and lovers until the men agree to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the big war raging at that time? Perhaps if we could persuade millions of American and Chinese and European women not to have sex with their husbands or lovers unless those men take an active role in the war on global warming and…

But the problem there is that women consume as much energy as men and are just as reluctant as men to make changes in their lifestyles and to actively work to reverse…

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” Walt Kelly

How about this? What if we create a volunteer army of people dedicated to reducing the emission of greenhouse gases? An army of global coolers with a motto—It’s so cool to be a Cooler—displayed on T-shirts, bumper stickers, billboards, and featured in the catchy chorus of the Global Coolers theme song. Weekly meetings and educational forums and potlucks and tree plantings and solar barbecues and acoustic dances and parades and solar panel installation work parties will be held to making cooling the planet enjoyable and exciting, and to bring Coolers up to speed on the latest technological, political and economic strategies available to accelerate both personal and societal actions to combat global warming.

And here’s the really cool part about this volunteer army: members will wear totally cool turquoise and burgundy pants and long-sleeved shirts and windbreakers, and totally groovy sun hats with fabulous insignias that identify wearers of such clothing as Coolers, soldiers in the local national global army dedicated to reducing the emission of greenhouse gases pronto. The army will be funded by every Cooler and Cooler-friendly business tithing ten per cent of his or her or their income to the cause, along with generous grants from Google, Microsoft, Oracle, myriad movie stars, groovy billionaires, and eventually the governments of the world.

Indeed, being an active Cooler will be so sexy that women will feel silly being with any man who is not a Cooler, and men will feel weird being with any woman who is not a Cooler. And, of course, nobody in his or her right mind is going to run for elected office if he or she isn’t a renowned and heroic Cooler with the requisite groovy clothes and hat, a totally solar home, an electric car or no car, and so on. Thus the Coolers will take over local state national and global governments, enact appropriate legislation and…voila, just like that we turn things around.

Rewriting Kerouac

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser January 2013)

“Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.” Jack Kerouac

More than fifty years after his novel was first published (in 1957), a movie has finally been made based on Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. I have not yet seen the film, but because the movie was written and directed by Walter Salles, the brilliant Brazilian filmmaker who made the most magnificent Central Station, I wager his movie of On the Road will be beautifully made. I will also wager that On the Road, the movie, will owe much more to Salles’s genius than to the text after which it is named.

“I have suffered a great deal from writers who have quoted this or that sentence of mine either out of its context or in juxtaposition to come incongruous matter which quit distorted my meaning, or destroyed it altogether.” Alfred North Whitehead

Any meaningful discussion of Kerouac’s On the Road must take into account when the book was written and published. The book is a loose-knit rambling account of male friendship set in America in the immediate aftermath of World War II, when automobiles and the advent of suburbia were swiftly reshaping the physical and social landscape of the country and accelerating the breakdown of the social mores that had defined America for generations. Outside of this specific historical context, much of the novel will have little or no relevancy for most contemporary readers.

I think many of the complaints (and they are legion) about On the Road being badly written, boring, misogynistic, juvenile, shallow, and a colossal waste of the reader’s time are the result of readers hoping the book will reveal itself to be a timeless masterpiece, a revelation that will elude the reader unless he is that rare bird who enjoys Kerouac’s speedy chatty name-dropping word flow that is short on plot and continuity and long on…word flow, which in the context of the literary style-revolution of the 1950’s is significant. I think it no coincidence that Samuel Beckett’s highly abstract existential play Waiting For Godot, about two guys hopelessly lost on the road, was written and produced at roughly the same historical moment that On the Road was written and published, both works eschewing many of the structural and grammatical rules that theretofore governed their respective literary forms.

“All our best men are laughed at in this nightmare land.” Jack Kerouac

I first tried to read On the Road when I was thirteen, a paperback edition being available on our living room bookshelf. I was hunting for sex scenes and hopeful of finding them because the cover illustration on the 25-cent paperback featured a sexy young stud in the foreground with little pictures of scantily clad women in the background, including one picture of a couple in bed making love. Racy! Alas, careful skimming of what was to my young mind nearly unintelligible prose, uncovered only a few references to people having sex or having had sex, with almost nothing remotely juicy or graphic or titillating. Even the Mexican whorehouse adventure—a sort of climax to On the Road—was not particularly sexy, but rather pathetic. Fortunately, I would soon discover Lady Chatterley’s Lover and need no other masturbatory aid for years to come.

 “Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?” Jack Kerouac

In 1966, when I was sixteen, I was introduced to the San Francisco Beat poets by my friend Rico, and over the next several years I attended poetry readings featuring Philip Whalen (my favorite), Lew Welch, David Meltzer, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Allen Ginsberg. In retrospect, I find it fascinating that though all these poets owed much of their notoriety to their intimate connections to the world-famous Jack Kerouac, I never heard a single mention of Jack at any of those readings. When I was twenty, and only because I was so enamored of Philip Whalen’s poetry, I attempted to read Kerouac’s Dharma Bums (starring fictionalized versions of Whalen and Snyder) but could not force myself to read more than a few pages, no matter how many times I tried. Then shortly after giving up on Dharma Bums, I learned that Kerouac had recently died at the age of forty-seven from cirrhosis of the liver caused by alcoholism.

“Write in recollection and amazement for yourself.” Jack Kerouac

And so I attained the ripe old age of thirty-two without ever having read any Kerouac (other than my teenaged skimming of On the Road). I was living in Sacramento and very much enjoying the local poetry scene when I was invited to participate in a show entitled October in the Railroad Earth, a celebration of Jack Kerouac and the Beat poets. My fellow readers were D.R. Wagner, Patrick Grizzell, and Bari Kennedy. The format of our show, which became an annual event for many years thereafter, was that we would read works by Kerouac and his Beat poet pals in the first act and our own work in the second act. The readings took place in October in various dives around Sacramento, and for the first few years one of us was assigned to read October in the Railroad Earth, Kerouac’s poetic prose account of riding the train from San Francisco to Gilroy in October.

When I confessed to D.R. Wagner (a great visionary poet) that I had never read any Kerouac and had no idea what to read for the show, D.R. suggested I find a little something in On the Road. So to find that little something I decided to read the book and see what jumped out at me. Alas, if Kerouac’s word flow was largely unintelligible to me as a thirteen-year-old, On the Road held even less interest for me at thirty-two. And so I resorted to skimming, which brought me to a passage in which the narrator (the fictional Kerouac) hooks up with a young woman he meets on a bus—a passage I hoped to perform with some success for an audience of inebriated poets and poetry lovers.

However, when I previewed my reading for an audience of friends after supper one night, the unanimous judgment was that despite my best efforts, the narrative was difficult to follow and essentially pointless. And so, though I knew I was committing a great sacrilege, I spent some time editing the passage, adding a descriptive line here and there, and clarifying the myriad antecedents therein, something Kerouac seemed little concerned with, as if he assumed his readers needed no such clarity.

“It is not my fault that certain so-called bohemian elements have found in my writings something to hang their peculiar beatnik theories on.” Jack Kerouac

When the night of our performance arrived—the venue appropriately a subterranean bar (appropriate because one of Kerouac’s novels is entitled The Subterraneans)—the place was packed with Kerouac aficionados and poets and the special sort of people drawn to such literary social alcoholic events. And as I listened to D.R. and Pat and Bari read their Kerouac selections, I was filled with dread about what I was about to do: read my rewritten Jack to some of the only people on earth who might know that I had dared revise the work of their god. Was I crazy? Well, I was young and arrogant, which sufficed, so I took my turn, read with zeal, and garnered loud applause for my perfidy.

During the interminable intermission, I was approached by an enormous man with a prodigious mustache and a menacing look in his eyes. I braced myself for condemnation, but none was forthcoming. On the contrary, he shook my hand and declared, “You nailed it, man. You got the rhythm of his words absolutely spot on. I could hear the bass line going as you read. Bravo.”

And hot on the heels of the mustachioed behemoth came a gorgeous woman wearing a slinky sheath that clung most pleasingly to her many admirable curves. She clasped both my hands in both of hers and gushed, “Wow, I hate to admit, but I never really got Kerouac until now. I just…he never made sense to me, but as you read that scene I saw everything so clearly, like a fabulous movie. Thank you.”

At the next year’s Kerouac reading, I read Jack’s October in the Railroad Earth, and I didn’t change a word; and as I read that lovely flow of words I really got what Jack was trying to do with language, which was, I think, to sing like a jazz musician, talking and emoting through his instrument of words while staying open, wide open, to the feelings of the moment.