"Write when you feel excited by the prospect. Otherwise, don’t bother. Break your deadlines, default on your due dates, wander in the streets, go to the movies, eat lavishly, fornicate, blaspheme, bless a street urchin, browbeat a civil servant, and when you’re done with these things, if you feel excited by what you’ve seen and heard, then go write." —Rick Moody, The Art of Fiction 166
So there was a new person at our bus stop on Monday morning, which made getting first-day-of-school pictures of Jackson slightly more difficult than usual. I suspect this kid is going to wind up having a very happy orthodontist. (That sounds odd. I mean Jackson, not the new person's kid. Just look at those gaps between his teeth!)
Mayor Greg Ballard, who had been doing a respectable job as mayor, for a Republican, recently signed a contract with a garbage profiteering firm called Covanta which will destroy much of the recycling infrastructure that free-thinking and intelligent people have built here in Indianapolis. The lazy and uninformed (nearly 100% overlap if you put that group in a Venn diagram with the Republican rank and file) will believe the shit that Covanta is shoveling, because they will think that 100% participation in recycling is a good thing (never mind that glass isn't included - oops!). They won't stop to consider that recyclables mixed with garbage might be contaminated and unusable, and they certainly won't take the time to consider the long-term effects of signing over our garbage - until the year 2028 - to a company that burns it and sells the steam produced from that burning for profit.
Although the contract has already been signed, the Board of Public Works still has to approve it; and there is still time to make your voice heard. You can click here to sign a change.org petition, and you can click here to contact the mayor's office directly. More information on this blatant money grab can be found here and here. Mayor Ballard will run for re-election next year, and once the details of this embarrassing environmental about-face are made clear to the voters, he's sure to lose the support of a great many voters he lied to when he said he cared about sustainability and the environment. All those bike lanes and re-paved streets are nice, but it's time to ditch the liar Greg Ballard and send him back to the ranks of the unemployed, where all Republicans belong.
The Abbey Bookshop, in Paris, has launched some kind of Facebook campaign to encourage folks not to buy books from Amazon or any of its lackeys, due in part to the ongoing tussle between Amazon and Hachette. (Just Google "Amazon Hachette," and you'll be up to speed in about 0.36 seconds.) I don't support Facebook, or the way it assimilates people into its collective (especially when those people go about indiscriminately sharing unsourced information just because it sounds good), but every now and then you have to make this kind of exception. So I am sharing a link to the Abbey Bookshop's Facebook page for the Pledge of the Independents.
Amazon's goal of creating a commercial monopoly on goods and (increasingly) services has come to fruition in no small part because they cut their teeth selling books on the magic internets (and culling so much information from their books customers that they very quickly learned how to sell pretty much everything to pretty much everyone) and because they are willing to sell just about anything at a loss, as long as it means that they keep assimilating customers who don't care about anything except how cheap they can get whatever they want. (Walmart does the exact same thing, but with the added bonus of depressing wages in the communities where they plant their discount megachurches.)
Now that Amazon's shareholders have finally begun to bristle at the no-profits business model, Amazon has responded by squeezing yet another of its suppliers, Hachette Book Group. Most of the time when this happens, the supplier in question starts crying and tries to say no, but then is forced by Amazon to take another bump of X, shut the fuck up, and spread its legs. Hachette is putting up something of a fight, and it's starting to feel like they're building some momentum.
I'm not in book buying mode at the moment, but I have made the decision to buy what books I choose to buy from the local indie stores. We're not so fortunate here in Indianapolis to have a great independent bookstore like Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Company, but Indy Reads Books and Bookmamas are not bad - and they can get you any new title that you need. Amazon needs to be made aware that its business practices are unacceptable, and that's why I'm sharing a Facebook link. (And no, the irony is not lost on me that I am sharing information about the shady business practices of one giant internet company by using the product of another giant internet company.)
This is a quick video of Jackson zipping down the brick-lined sidewalk next to the Kirkwood Observatory in Bloomington. I got two videos very similar to this one a few weeks ago when we were in Bloomington; but my timing was all wrong, and the videos were way too long. I tried to edit the better one, but wound up with a clip that took up twice the disk space of the original, despite being about 80% shorter. So...when we stopped in Bloomington this afternoon, on our way back from Mammoth Cave National Park, I was fortunate enough to get the same basic video, in a shorter, more compact version.
Unfortunately, I forgot to get a picture of Jackson in the morning before school yesterday, and Amy had her two-hour choir jamboree that was already in progress when I got back from work at another mainstream cinema - and that left the unwrapping of the present we got him as my only opportunity to get a birthday picture of him for the ol' blog. Our house throws light oddly, and I'm still taking pictures with a point-and-shoot my brother-in-law brought home from the desert about a decade ago - which is a long way around saying that the selection ain't optimal.
Nevertheless, the streak remains intact for at least one more year - and Amy and I find ourselves the parents of a 7-year-old. I still can't quite get my head around that.
I wish I had taken a picture of the driveway leading down from the main street to the gate of the River House, the donated apartment house/complex where we stayed in Panajachel. That driveway was very steep, with standing water near the bottom; and when the vans delivering us from the airport in Guatemala City pulled up in front of the River House, we could see, even in the gathering dark, that it stood behind a gated wall, part of which was topped with razor wire. It wasn’t the first wall topped with razor wire I had seen that day, though the others had been in Guatemala City, which I had both read and been told was quite a bit rougher than most of the rest of the country—and yet there we were, arriving to stay at a place surrounded by a wall partially topped with razor wire. Not that there was anything to be done about it – the drivers were already unloading our luggage from the racks on top of the vans, and one of our trip coordinators was opening the door in the gate to let us into the compound. (I never quite stopped thinking about it that way.) And even though it was dark by that time, it was still obvious, if not quite as dramatic, that what lay outside the gate of the River House was much different than what lay inside, which was this:
That was our first glimpse of what the next week, in part, was going to be like for us in Guatemala; but I had a hard time shaking some of the things I had seen on our way to Panajachel. There was all of that razor wire I mentioned a moment ago, topping the walls of not a few buildings (and other compounds—there’s that word again) we saw on the road from the airport in Guatemala City. Some of those buildings were abandoned and crumbling, and some of them had rebar jutting up along the edges and corners of the roofs. We were told that the reason for the exposed rebar was so that if money were ever raised to finish the building in question, the contractor would have an idea of where to begin the work again, so that the building would retain roughly the same kind of structure it had had at the beginning of the project. There is no system of credit in Guatemala, at least as compared to the United States. If a construction project runs out of money, they just stop where they’re at.
People in Guatemala get by with much less than we do in the United States, but it’s difficult to appreciate the truth of that idea unless you see it for yourself; and once you’ve seen it, it’s hard to shake it. We saw and did a lot of amazing things—and I’m not much for using the word amazing in that kind of context, for pretty much the same reason Sam doesn’t like to say “I love you” in the film Ghost—in our short time in Guatemala; but there was also much that we saw that brought the truth of what it means to live among the middle class in the United States into sharp relief. This is the room where the students we worked on the basketball/soccer court for go to school every day:
They attend school for five hours a day, and public education in Guatemala, especially for the least well off people in the rural communities, generally stops at sixth grade. One morning, we stopped at Nueva Esperanza, a community that had been created for people displaced by Hurricane Stan. There, we were able to see the results of a previous project that Mission Guatemala had completed—a kitchen with cinder-block stoves, seen here being used by a group of women who are making tortillas by hand (in traditional Mayan dress):
You may not think it looks like much, especially compared to what you probably have at home; but it was a major upgrade over what they had before, which was this:
I cannot properly convey the spirit of so many of the people we met during our time in Guatemala. I’m sure they’re not all happy-go-lucky, and maybe many of them put on their bravest faces for us because we were easy marks who were eager to spend money on souvenirs; but there is a warmth and kindness to these people that cannot but alter your estimation of what constitutes a full life, a life well lived.
And yet it already seems far away. We’ve been back for a little over three weeks now, and it was all too easy to slip back into my routine. It would have been very easy to sit back and write a series of posts about everything we got to see and do while we were there, everything our position of relative privilege bought us, to post pictures of mountains, volcanoes, art, the surprisingly touristy streets of downtown Pana; but I couldn’t just look away from what was difficult to see. A lot of the pictures I took in Guatemala are of scenes that would not necessarily strike one as picture-worthy. I wanted to be sure I would be able to remember everything, and what all of it meant to me, because I knew it would fade once I returned home.
I know I won’t forget the six-person tuk-tuk ride, or stepping into a brothel half by mistake, or the Spanish guitar at Circus Bar the last night we were there, or what one of the guys in the group looked like wearing the traditional Mayan skirt his wife had bought for herself, or the way a little boy named Brandon Omar (all of seven years old) ran up to me and gave me a hug out of the clear blue sky the day we stopped in Nueva Esperanza, or the guy who tried to sell me marijuana (“Weed cheap!”), or the beautifully simmered black beans and handmade tortillas and fried plantains that we seemed to eat a little bit of every day we were there. I’ll write about the touristy stuff and post those pictures later. It was the less touristy stuff we saw and did that often made the biggest impression, and absolutely made me want to redouble my efforts to “live simply, so that others may simply live.”