Month: June 2015

Proust on Neurotics

“Submit to being called a neurotic.  You belong to that splendid and pitiable family which is the salt of the earth.  Everything we think of as great as come to us from neurotics.  It is they and they alone who found religions and create great works of art.  The world will never realise how much it owes to them, and what they have suffered in order to bestow their gifts upon it.”

From The Guermantes Way, trans. C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, p. 413-414.

Proust on Telephones

“It is she, it is her voice that is speaking, that is there.  But how far away it is!  How often have I been unable to listen without anguish, as though, confronted by the impossibility of seeing, except after long hours of travel, the woman whose voice was so close to my ear, I felt more clearly the illusoriness in the appearance of the most tender proximity, and at what a distance we may be from the persons we love at the moment when it seems that we have only to stretch out our hands to seize and hold them.  A real presence, perhaps, that voice that seemed to near–in actual separation!  Many are the times, as I listened thus without seeing her who spoke to me from so far away, when it has seemed to me that the voice was crying to me from the depths out of which one does not rise again, and I have felt the anxiety that was one day to wring my heart when a voice would thus return (alone and attached no longer to a body which I was never to see again), to murmur in my ear words I longed to kiss as they issued from lips for ever turned to dust.”

From The Guermantes Way, trans. C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, p. 175

Feed by M.T. Anderson

FeedA few weeks ago I was having dinner with someone who has traveled widely across the world.  She said that the worst city she has ever seen was Manila, in the Philippines, where slum-dwellers literally live in gigantic piles of trash.  It’s not their own trash.  It’s trash that gets shipped there from developed countries. The Philippines is so poor that they are willing to accept payment for converting areas of their country into massive landfills.

I was shocked to learn this.  I had never heard about it before.  I am an American concerned about preserving the environment.  I know that our relatively small population consumes a disproportionate amount of the world’s energy and produces a large percentage of its trash.  But I had no idea that, to keep our own land nice, we (and not just us–the linked articles also cite Canada and Japan as culprits) take advantage of poorer countries to use them as landfills.

It is just this sort of ignorance that Anderson addresses in Feed.  In one part of the book, the main characters visit a farm where filet mignon grows on bushes.  “It was really interesting,” the narrator says.  “I like to see how things are made, and to understand where they come from.”  It is a funny but sad moment.  It’s not hard to believe that some children today probably believe that all things come from Amazon.

Feed is a deeply troubling, upsetting book.  It is hard to read.  But anyone who consumes and throws things away should read it.  It describes a world where the moon is littered, all the forests are all cut down (air is produced by air factories), the oceans are completely dead, and even the suburbs built above the ground are slowly becoming toxic.  It is a world not far removed from our own, if we continue to live as we presently do.  Every day we use a vast array of products, each coming in its own disposable packaging.  We have no idea where it comes from or where it goes once we toss it away.  Most of us don’t care.

The worst part is, even if you are aware of the problem, what can you do about it?  Over the last few months I have been troubled by thinking about how many things we throw away.  Take a morning bathroom routine.  Most of us take ten-minute showers, using gallons of heated water.  Our shampoo, conditioners, and body wash come in plastic bottles.  We shave using disposable razors.  We floss and brush our teeth.  Flushing the toilet uses 1.6 gallons of water if you have the latest, most efficient model; it can use up to 7 gallons if your toilet is old.  And then there are the optional products–makeup, hair spray, sunscreen, lotions.

All of these come in containers that we will throw out.

Our society is structured around wasteful products in such a fundamental way that average people cannot simply choose to stop using them.  If you don’t take showers with shampoo, you’ll be an outcast for having greasy hair.  Same if you don’t shave.  We need to eat, but all the food we can buy in the grocery store usually comes in some sort of plastic.

It has always amazed me that people don’t seem concerned about human extinction.  When bacteria in a petri dish consume all the food in the dish and become engulfed in their own toxic waste, they die.  Humans aren’t some exceptional form of life that can live through such a scenario.  There are now 7 billion people on this one small planet.  The sum of our daily collective actions matters.  Unless we come up with solutions for reducing our impact, we are headed for oblivion.

New Fiction: Peanut Butter

I have new fiction today up at Tower Journal.

There were four ways to kill someone with peanut butter.     Beth had listed them herself.  So it was practically her own fault, Anna reasoned, that the last way was so easy.

Gym was the best time, when she had easy access to Beth’s lunchbox. In the midst of the dodgeball melee, Anna frowned, rubbed her stomach, and muttered to the male gym teacher about a certain time of month, earning a blush and unlimited bathroom rights. On her way to the lockers, she paused to watch Beth run from a boy who slung ruthless dodgeballs at the weak. Beth escaped him, but she wouldn’t escape this.

Anna crept into the changing room and opened the locker that she shared with Beth. She opened Beth’s backpack, unzipped her lunchbox, and took out one of the two hummus sandwiches, tossing it into the trash.     She replaced it with the decoy from her own lunchbox. She’d made it to look just like Beth’s: wheat bread, neatly folded plastic wrap, hummus smeared around the edges to disguise the peanut butter.     She shoved the sandwich into Beth’s lunchbox and zipped up the backpack. She slammed the locker shut and left.

Read the rest of the story over at Tower Journal’s Spring/Summer 2015 issue.