The Shaggy Coat Of Banality

alexievich

I was sitting around in the auto shop the other day and picked up a used copy of The New Yorker that was already folded around and opened to an article that I started reading about who’d won the Nobel Prize in literature. And I stopped reading and took a picture of it on my iPhone not far into it when the winner, Svetlana Alexievich, was quoted as saying, “We live in an environment of banality. For most people, that’s enough. But how do you get through? How do you rip off that coating of banality? You have to make people descend into the depths of themselves.” And I starting thinking about the news I’d read earlier that morning through Google news; and how Douglas Tompkins, I had read about the next day, had been killed the day before that on December 8 in a kayaking accident in Patagonia, an eco-baron who wanted to save hundreds and hundreds of thousands of acres of forest by buying them up so that they’d be preserved forever, spared the onslaught of industry, development, and technology.

I read about the daily murders, and the daily bombings, and the blowings-up. And I had looked over noticing how in the last weeks the headlines had shifted from money and earnings and accounts of money and earnings, to the next scene of carnage and murder in California or Paris and so on, and that money and politics had seemed to drop pretty much away from them. And I thought about how the murder of John Lennon on December 8, 1980, sitting around the auto shop that same day thirty-five years later, hadn’t been anywhere, how when he was shot and killed on 72nd Street and Central Park West then, this didn’t even come up.

A friend of mine and I had been trading newspaper articles that we read online for years. It began with a line I read once by Noam Chomsky that you had to read a news article to the last line of the article, that you had to do this to really understand it. It was there that you got what it was really all about. And last lines we read proved to be great. They were really doozies at times. They spelt out there exactly what the writer meant. Everything worked toward that last line, and if you didn’t read an article to the last line you didn’t get it. For years and years we’ve been sending each other these last lines in emails, with just the smallest and often most obscure commentaries we choose to make on these lines, as well as the links to the online articles themselves.

Over time this had changed between him and me to the reading of news not for the news’ sake, but from our reading these articles from a position of their complete banality. Embedded within news, if you read the news well, we found that there was this incredible preponderance, if you will, of the most unlikely kinds of language being used in places that you would never ever expect language to being used that way actually being used that way. For instance, in a story about a man who’d drowned in a local river, there’d be some friend in the article quoted as saying something like, “He’d been fishing for trouble for the last five years.” How could this happen? We, my friend and I, didn’t want to know that exactly, but we were keen at how often this happened. I mean, beyond just its being a self-conscious easy-play with a cheap pun, as is common and on purpose in sports headlines and articles, we found these totally inappropriate metaphors being used all over the place. So, it made the comedy of the banality of the news worse, in a way, but in another way better. Why? Because we never had to feel it. Why? Because there really was nothing left to feel. Not with writing like that. Left or right, patriotic or terrorist, political or familiar, news was never actually news. It was something else entirely.

So when I Googled The New Yorker magazine at home over the next few days and read the account of a woman describing the pieces of her husband’s body falling apart, which article I had begun and put down in the auto shop, I did feel what Alexievich had meant, I think. (This I let myself feel somehow trying, or at least trying to push to the side that everything printed in The New Yorker is entirely banal and commonplace. This is because first off, the writing reduces everything to a level of coffee table-, or at most coffee shop-banality; and, secondly, the intended readership is the readership of the self-minded, and self-appointed intellectual guardianship of the bourgeoisie, whose lifelong performance of book-and-magazine reading complements and likewise fulfills the living definition—both urban and suburban—of being the very working expression of that banality.) Alexievich simply interviewed people whose life experiences from Chernobyl to Afghanistan, are absolutely true and unimaginable, and copied out longhand, I read, these interviews, and turned them into books.

Some people in Russia, where Alexievich has lived in a tiny two room apartment much of her life for years, don’t say she’s even a writer. Others say she’s invented a new literary form. I probably remember the day John Lennon died because it’s the same day my father had been born, and I remember that, and they had happened to come together. So, for me they were fused, the way realistic irony makes that happen sometimes, not because I have a particular memory for those kinds of things, or a sense of memorabilia for the Beatles. I remember in college a professor of mine had said to me offhandedly one day once that the only place left that people felt terror in their lives anymore was in their dreams. All this, like a fairy dancing on the head of a pin, had also made me think of that, it struck me.

Planet Nanny Earth Takes Care of Herself

brooklyn truck trash

What fill up rain barrel of water? Raindrops. Every person who alive is only raindrop. All person filling up rain barrel. This barrel of life. So long barrel good, life good. When barrel weak and tired, human life it in a great jeopardy. Anybody own this barrel? Cry it out! Anybody own this barrel! Without a raindrop in it, what use is a barrel? Without a barrel full raindrop in it, what purpose has rain barrel got? The barrel, people, need the rain and the raindrop we all need the barrel. We are all on planet. We on a rain barrel call planet Earth. It contain us all. What kind use it got without us people? It got some! For many many million year it got stuff growing on it! Mildew in your wet shower towel you throw in corner, mold in shower you no scrub for so many week in row, old kitchen sponge you too lazy and cheap change, flake of wet skin come off in between toe, there all kind of life everywhere you find. But human life, it a special kind of it. It know it mildew. It know it tiger. It know it slow slow grouse in wild laurel bush puffing out all feather.

Planet do quite quite well without human being animal long long time before you up running around swimming pool on two legs getting chased by a mother who catch you, throw you in, and break open by accident your chin on blue cement side of it. Other animal never remember it so clearly, never tell it to be love story. Other animal only see a danger in it. Human being animal very complicated. It can see a love in a danger. It kind of animal who know what mean being sometime very very cruel to each other being very very kind to each other. Sometime too kind! We actually way too smart sometime for our own good. The planet Earth it contain us and we special animal people, we give it special purpose. We create on it love. We create on it picture on cave for other people animal to see tomorrow. We special because we think about tomorrow. We always do. We sad when people die because when they die we remember there really is tomorrow. So we have sorrow. So we have joy. We mix together two sorrow and joy and we make beauty. Can who else make this? Spider web very beautiful. You think spider done and think about how beautiful trap it make? Beaver house very beautiful. You think when done it swim to shore and go flap! flap! flap! with broad broad tail to say like whoopee! To self? You think bee go wiggle each other how pretty hive look when you think about it? You think bald eagle couple up high in tree with enormous nest built of branches ever go over how majestic a view they got or how they so majestic looking themselves up there in it? You think acre after acre after acre blue spruce with thin white poplar tree poking through in place ever know about how peaceful peace of self is? Why we think dolphin happy when jumping and jumping and jumping with ship on side? Or mother monkey take care of baby monkey picking out bug in hair? It because they more like us! Of course! You know that already! We see some of own happiness and care and love in other animal. More like us, more we see.

Without a human being animal, rain barrel Earth just interesting kind of shape with all kinds interesting thing growing on it all over place. It will still be interesting, but not so special. It why it so important to be taking good care of rain barrel. How sturdy the rings it got? Very sturdy. But all chemicals and heat human animal people put up in air, very bad for what hold it together. Ozone apart. Greenhouse effect. Thermal pollution. You think factory in China that make my shoe very good and cheap there good? No. They bad. They make rings of planet weak and rusty. You think all garbage put in ocean day and day and day, or bury in ground place where not many people live close, or burn and burn and burn is good? No. It also bad. It pretty obvious! We all know it! All this make wood of barrel rotting. Some slats they very bad already. So far, people, it ok. But once barrel go, it go! All water in barrel it flood all out. It ruin everything and go everywhere all over the cosmos.

It why now people we need pay attention, people, to care of planet earth and repair of it where we can to our mother barrel. It only one we got! It great big treasure chest. We already it jewel. But we digging out of treasure chest and into it same time. This really very crazy to do! What we looking for we don’t got? It in us. We the treasure. We the sparkle, we the shine; we would glow and shimmer. What give a moon it lustre and a sunshine it smile. That what we do! All that shine and glow already in us! Next time you see raindrop, make cup with hand. Catch that little raindrop, and remember as you close hand now that it all raindrops who fill earth with life. Without human animal raindrop already sparkle. With human being animal it also very very precious.

Truth is: World ok without you. World ok without me. World ok without people. Then it just world. I see sometime purple bumper sticker it say: SAVE OUR PLANET. I alway want peel off. It not about planet. It about people. When I grow up, planet great. We go McDonald™ and when everybody done, we put all garbage in big white McDonald™ bag all food come in. Then roll down side window and throw on highway. It normal. That what a highway shoulder suppose be used for. It like a white tumbleweed rolling. Big bunchy white McDonald™ bag, and I feel so lucky I one who get to throw it out. It best part McDonalds™. You think earth care about people garbage? Not really! You think ocean water care about chemical drum we dump there? Not really! You think state Arizona care about nuclear bomb explosion underground? Not really! Earth don’t care. Earth like big nanny. Earth no matter what it take care self. We mess up nursery, throw round toy and break all sort things, scream and yell. We take off diaper and throw round room. We swear at each other and use very very vulgar language. Planet Nanny Earth, she don’t really care! She take care self! She got a job no matter what! Long as she got a planet, she got job! Who on it, it don’t really matter her.

(Sergey Gashchak/Chornobyl Center)

“It shows I think that how much damage we do,” said fellow co-author Jim Smith, an environmental science professor at the University of Portsmouth. “It’s kind of obvious but our every day activities associated with being in a place are what damages the environment.”

“Not that radiation isn’t bad,” he added, “but what people do when they’re there is so much worse.”

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