Fall/Winter 2012 : Next
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Fall/Winter 2012 : Next
Oregon Humanities: Fall/Winter 2012
This time of year, my young children forego their usual “live in the now” dispositions and, instead, spend quite a bit of time anticipating the future. From the sweet and scary delights of Halloween, to the lushness and abundance of Thanksgiving, to the bright lights and festivity of Christmas, the rush from fall into winter is a vivid blur of motion from one exciting event to another. Soon after New Year’s Day comes the crash, then the long slog until summer. But every year, we all adapt to the monotony of weekdays and weekends by readjusting our expectations for what minor novelties and joys can be had on any given day.
On October 9, 2012, the New York Times ran a front-page story about a rural doctor who was prescribing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drugs to children who were doing poorly in school but did not have the illness. He assigned them the diagnosis of ADHD so that he could prescribe medicine that would presumably help them concentrate better. He said that if we were not going to make the school system better serve the needs of these children, the medical profession would have to enhance children so they could make better use of the resources at their disposal. Notably, he was not prescribing the drugs to students already getting As and Bs, only to those having academic difficulties.
Easter weekend 2011, I was at the bar of the Doubletree Hotel at Sea-Tac Airport watching a parade of sorts: a six-foot-tall man in a pink tutu was followed by a gaggle of Victorian ladies; one had a small stuffed animal squid crawling across the bodice of her immaculately tailored dress. In quick succession followed two wizards, a Star Wars stormtrooper, and a tall, slender, androgynous figure painted completely white, wearing elf ears and very little else.
This was Norwescon, one of the oldest science fiction and fantasy conventions on the West Coast, a heady mix of geek-out and in-depth intellectual debates. The convention not only has a famous writer and illustrator as guests of honor but also a guest scientist. Run by an army of loyal and energetic volunteers, the convention is one of the most open and accepting you’ll ever see. Everyone is welcome and nothing is strange.
Robert Paarlberg, an associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University and a professor at Wellesley College, is an expert on biotechnology and agricultural systems, and the author of several books, including Food Politics (What Everyone Needs to Know). Food Politics discusses international food prices, famines, government subsidies, poverty, hunger, and malnutrition—issues sometimes overlooked in discussions about the future of our food supplies. Paarlberg was a presenter for Oregon Humanities’ Think & Drink program Future of Food Security in May 2012.
I recently attended a talk by Ira Glass, host of This American Life on NPR, and he said something to the effect of “I try not to predict the future of the radio business, I can only tell you about how it is now.” I liked that as it was a perfect reminder that essaying about the future of music has had a bleak past, and I doubt that anyone in their right mind would care to predict where music is going to be, even by the end of this year. I can only tell you about how it is now.
My family moved from Japan to the United States in 1964, and we spent the next four years moving to a new state every year while my father looked for work. As my younger brother and I started new schools and moved into different neighborhoods, we rarely had other children around us. We were a working-class family, and my parents often fought about money.
But it wasn’t just my parents who were fighting. We left Japan shortly after the Kennedy Assassination. By 1968 America was in the height of the Vietnam War. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April followed by Bobby Kennedy in June. Just that week at school, I had made a collage with cutouts of Bobby Kennedy’s magazine photos and handwrote his quote: “I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” I was inspired by this handsome man who spoke with such optimism.
Seven years ago, during that week in every September when summer turns to autumn, my husband and I rented a car to drive the long distance from Oregon to Massachusetts. We drove because we craved the numbing constant of highway and sky through a windshield and because we needed the three thousand miles of slowly changing terrain to digest what we’d already been through that year and to prepare for what the next two months in Boston might bring. Anticipating the drive out, I felt a melancholy kind of excitement. We’d been stuck in hospitals and at home for the first part of the year and the prospect of being in motion, to be driving, to be in control, felt like playing hooky from the heaviness of our life.
Earlier that year my thirty-two-year-old husband undergone two brain surgeries in an attempt to remove a tumor the size of a golf ball behind his left eye, but the neurosurgeon couldn’t get it all out. All summer we’d waited to hear—as one doctor waited to hear from another doctor who was out of the country but upon his return would look at the images of the tumor bits that remained in Brian’s head—if he would be a good candidate for proton beam therapy at Massachusetts General Hospital. In late August the answer came back: yes.
The last year has been one of the ratio as sound bite. Consider Occupy’s 99 percent to Mitt Romney’s 47 percent. Earlier this year, the City of Portland and ad titan Wieden+Kennedy wanted you to consider another: 75 percent. This is the portion of Portland adults without a school-aged child, and, therefore, without a personal stake in helping to fix what some describe as a struggling school system.
Brian David Johnson, the resident futurist for Intel, stood under a bright spotlight in an otherwise dark film studio in northeast Portland in early September. He wrote his name on a paper bag with a black marker, looked into the camera, smiled, and asked, “What kind of future do you want to live in?”
In a cozy corner of the Sexual & Gender Minority Youth Center in Northeast Portland, Bitch Media hosted three book clubs this fall that explored young adult (YA) literature. Though open to all ages, it was primarily adults—many of whom work with youth—who were drawn to the discussions, which were part of a series called “Beyond Judy Blume.”
On September 17, forty southern Oregonians gathered in the Evergreen Room of Taprock Northwest Grill in Grants Pass to dig into the region’s rich history of social movements at a workshop called “History from Below.” Presented by the Rural Organizing Project and funded by a grant from Oregon Humanities, the public workshop offered participants a chance to work with primary source documents from their communities’ past.
Oregon Humanities, in addition to producing its own programs and publications, is also pleased to cosponsor the fine humanities work offered by organizations around the state. In 2013, Oregon Humanities will cosponsor two lecture series that offer Eugene and Bend audiences opportunities to engage with exciting new ideas.
Jo Anne Trow appreciates context when considering history. In 2012, as part of the centennial celebration of Oregon’s suffrage law, the retired vice provost for student affairs at Oregon State University shared her knowledge of women’s suffrage and offered some much needed historical context.
In August we visited our son and daughter-in-law in Lethbridge, Alberta. My husband, my son, and I soon headed to the banks of the city’s Oldman River. As usual, they ventured to the edge of its cobble beach and began the family ritual of evaluating and choosing the “just right” stone for skipping. Each picked, wound up, and winged his smooth, flat stone across the placid shallows. Six, seven skips. They practiced father/son synchronized stone-skipping, crossing the stones on the water, inscribing a giant X. We imagined a new event for the 2016 Olympics.
Next birthday I reach seventy, a milestone that gives me uncomfortable pause. Not that I have ever been captured with aging angst.
I can still see the sign taped to wall at Silverton High that blared, YOU MUST REGISTER FOR THE DRAFT BEFORE YOUR 18TH BIRTHDAY! It was a reminder of what might be next for me—a war we watched unfolding in black-and-white jungles on our Magnavox, a war I feared I might wind up in, returning home in one of those black bags we saw on TV.
At moments of change Next allows me to consider what has happened or what experiences have brought me to where I am. Next allows me to anticipate, plan, and communicate what is yet to come. Next gives me space to dream of tomorrow and even the end of the week.
We might be moving.
We don’t know.
We might live in this apartment, where my daughter was born, for another year … or we might be overseas, with our books slowly following by ship like so many jolly right-to-left tars, by the end of the month.
As I start another new semester I’m once again a fount of optimism. We will do amazing and virtuous things, I tell my students. Careful and nuanced thinking will emerge from our conversations, transformative insights will erupt from the magma of our brains. And we will complete this course wiser, more curious, more compassionate, better people. My exact phrasing leans more on words like critical and engaged —but that’s just a rhetorical choice. And it is a class on rhetoric, after all, which if I were really being transparent with my students I would tell them means it’s a class in ethics. We are here to help one another figure out how to live.
In 1988, Kim Stafford’s brother, Bret, committed suicide. He left no note. In this memoir, Stafford, director of the Northwest Writing Institute and literary executor for the estate of his father, the poet William Stafford, remembers his brother’s childhood and grapples with the mysteries of his adult life. “My intent is to tell this history,” Stafford writes, “not of a suicide, but of a life that should not be hidden.”
Joe Sacco, Portland’s renowned reportorial cartoonist, and Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Chris Hedges explore America’s “sacrifice zones”—“those areas in the country that have been offered up for exploitation in the name of profit, progress, and technological achievement”—from rustbelt New Jersey to impoverished Native American communities in South Dakota, in this illustrated polemic against the excesses of the free market.
The jacket copy of this collection of short fiction from the editor in chief of Propeller Quarterly reads, “These stories are about men, women, buildings, and words.” And so they are. DeWeese’s characters—a nihilist architect who buries buildings, a teenage boy who finds comfort for the indignities of adolescence in Le Corbusier—find their inner lives reflected and affected by the spaces in which they live.
Esther, a freshly orphaned eighteen-year-old Chicagoan, arrives at her cousin’s ranch in southeastern Oregon at the end of the nineteenth century to find not lush fields but “miles of gray plain roughened with brush.” As she learns to love the barren landscape, she finds herself caught up in a violent conflict between sheepherders and cattlemen over the high desert’s grazing land and scarce water.
This ecological history by Lissa K. Wadewitz, an assistant professor of history and environmental studies at Linfield College, examines the often fractious relationships between among salmon migration patterns, indigenous fishing practices, and European-imposed political boundaries around the Salish Sea in Washington and British Columbia, and the ways those borders have affected salmon fishing in the Northwest.
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Oregon Humanities magazine examines topics of broad public interest from a variety of perspectives and approaches. Recent issues of this publication have focused on stuff, nostalgia, and civility. Through good and thoughtful writing, Oregon Humanities magazine enriches our understanding of important subjects and stimulates conversation and reflection among readers, their friends, families, colleagues, and neighbors.
Brian David Johnson is a futurist at Intel. His book Vintage Tomorrows: A Historian and a Futurist Journey Through Steampunk into the Future of Technology, coauthored with James H. Carrott, wil be published next year by O’Reilly Media. He is featured in Oregon Humanities’ Bring Your Own video series. This essay was written on a 747 somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.
Dave Allen is director of interactive strategy at NORTH, a branding agency in Portland. He is also an adjunct lecturer in digital strategy at the University of Oregon, as well as the founding member and bass player of the UK band Gang of Four.
Dmae Roberts is a Peabody-winning radio producer and Oregon Book Award–winning writer. Her work has been on NPR and published widely. She is a USA Rockefeller Fellow and received the Dr. Suzanne Award for Civil Rights and Social Justice from the Asian American Journalists Association. She lives in Portland with her hubby and twin kitties.
Eric Gold is a freelance writer in Portland.
Jill Owens works in marketing for Powell’s Books. She enjoys interviewing authors as part of her job and for publications like Oregon Humanities.
Margaret Malone’s work has appeared in The Missouri Review, Swink, Coal City Review, latimes.com, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a 2009 Oregon Literary Fellowship and a 2011 Oregon Arts Commission Individual Artist Fellowship. She lives in Portland with her husband and son.
Mott Greene is a historian of science and technology. He was an Oregon Humanities Think & Drink presenter earlier this year for a program about the future of human and artificial intelligence. A former MacArthur Fellow, he is affiliate professor of earth and space sciences at the University of Washington. He admires Portland’s civic life and wishes Seattle could figure that out.