Sunday, October 25, 2009

472. Summary of the Marine Life Protection Act South Coast Conference in a Ditty Poem "Part of the Process"

"Something's Smelling Fishy" about the Marine Life Protection Act South Coast process. Well, everyone has the right to be skeptical, but what I experienced for three days straight (October 20-22, 2009) and the last year as the Fisheries Information Network (FIN) "objective notetaker" was my own perception of overall fairness.
"Something's Smelling Fishy" about the Marine Life Protection Act process. Well, everyone has the right to be skeptical, but what I experienced for three days straight (October 20-22, 2009) and the last year as the Fisheries Information Network (FIN) "objective notetaker" was my own perception of overall fairness.

About the images above. Well, the day after the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) meeting, I collapsed, endured a panic attack, a migraine, and an overall mental breakdown, largely alone in San Diego (I have been holding my mental breath far too long!). I had to call my mother and she told me to solve my head ache with garlic. Her voice and her voice alone soothed my aching head and calmed me down to some degree. I guess it goes to show how too much information and swaying stability of "rocks" can affect me. Filming the BRTF meeting was simply overwhelming and reduced my mind to a state of complete open vulnerability, and the slightest sway of a feather could have made me fall apart.

The next day (Saturday), Jules take me out on a boat ride, and I became trained in pulling up crab and lobster traps. I had no luck in catching any lobster *sigh.* The day out in the ocean and letting go of all reality on land was a significant healing process, clearing your head of all unnecessary crxp. While on the boat, I gathered some film and took some pictures, and quite a few pictures were devoted to the glorious montage of food-quality salmon heads from Washington state Jules used to lure lobsters to his traps. Despite the blood and gore of beheaded fish, I composed some interesting images, like the one above, and then pondered on the symbolism in relation to the MLPA process. By the end of the day, any remains of head aches and puffy eyes were gone.
PDF version of above poem can be found here:

So, given my circumstance of being in "vulnerable, information overload," upon walking away from the BRTF meeting twice into the wee hours of the night, I started crafting a poem/song/ditty "to make sense of it all" that expresses the fisheries perspective I have come to appreciate and embody during this entire biopolitical ordeal... which is of course called "Part of the Process."

When enduring through the BRTF meeting, a few songs came to mind, one invented by someone else, two invented by me, and the third song is above, in the process of being crafted. During the protests out in front of the Long Beach Hilton (off of Ocean Blvd.), I was surprised that the protest was rather "silent," besides some cheers and boos and car honks. There was no song, no tune that was being chanted by the myriads of protestors (totalling 100?) to embody their thoughts, their experiences with the MLPA process. And so I decided to take a stab at it, though I am not sure whether I was successful.

The first song that came to mind was "Oh, I think I smell a Raaaaat... Aow! I think I smell a RRRAT!!!" By the White Stripes. Most appropriately.

The second song that was playing in my head was one of my own invention. "Who's gonna know anything anymore?" which I documented on
Blog 406. Basically, the song's about how no one has all the pieces of the puzzle, and when trying to put all the pieces together, a few "clowns oversee the black catch of my juggle"--individuals in power try to make the best possible decisions based on their relative knowledge level... or relative ignorance level. It's a short ditty.

The third song that came to mind was "Roll Over Me," as written in Blog 444, which is a song about how journeys out on the ocean have "healing qualities" that "roll over" complex, paradoxical thoughts and states of existence in one's mind. Healing qualities: always changing, multi-variate adaptation to reading the conditions, bringing home fish of fruition, washing over inna-rifting fissions, trying to not drown in oneself, having shared company with the ocean, running away from stupidity of human problems and artificial boundaries-imprisonments.

The fourth ditty-song is the one above, entitled "Part of the Process." First off, I will say writing poetry is powerful such that (1) it can summarize overwhelming experiences (2) it allows me to be metaphorically vague when bitterly referring to certain people, behaviors, or organizations. A few major factors that made me craft this song: (1) I was overhwhelmed by the scale of the MLPA operation, so many people, so many stakeholders involved, that I felt that the weight of any particular voice could be easily drowned out (2) the paradoxical value systems of fishermen "kind-hearted hunter" who is willing to "compromise, take some, set aside" "all in moderation, including moderation itself," trade-offs "conservation" and "socioeconomics" can exist within the hearts and minds of one individual (3) fishermen have deep-rooted mind-body and human-environment connectedness through the pursuit of hunting and being regional naturalists (4) acknowledgment of the sickness of the land, cumulative activites leads to declines in fisheries and ocean health (5) who are the puppets and strings in the process of setting aside waters as MPAs? "greens" are people motivated by monetary strings, "blues" are people motivated by internal passions "streaks of optimisms and wells of pessimism" and loss of jobs and identities (6) "organisms on maps" or the marine protected areas started taking shape, but we had to cut out a few sets of lungs and legs to do it, the process of short-term loss, withdrawal (like stop cigarette smoking) for the risk of supposed long-term gain (7) despite this elaborate process, the people in power lay "final stamps" and to what degree of control do we have in predicting the final outcome? (8) and being a part of this biopolitical process (corporate hotel room conferences with masses of people), have we become removed from the process--the process of being in tune with ourselves and the land around us? Contradictory, eh? I'm sure, as I continue to write about my experiences at this conference, the FIC/FIN meetings, and the MLPA south coast process, I am sure I will find other themes to incorporate into this ditty/poem. At least I think this is a good start for now.

Friday, October 23, 2009

471. Poem / Song "Everything's Good / Everything's Fine / It's All in Your Head / It's All in Your Mind"

Well? What can I say? I wish I could erase my memory. Starting around 10pm last night to around 3pm this afternoon. I really wish I could. This is the first time I ever wanted to erase my memory in my life--the whole Eternal Sunshine model by Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry. Because I felt momentarily devastated and abandoned... simply because I existed in such a vulnerable, post-traumatic state from the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) conference on negotiating marine protected areas in the south coast. I really have to say it was a short period of time, and I will have to be open to reliving this fragment of my life twice, starting from scrap, all over again. Open to experimentation. It's hard, especially when there is no change of environment. The truth is that in between 10pm and 3pm was a state of existence that was contradictory and inconsistent to the ENTIRETY of EXISTENCE of the past year or so. The inconsistency was derived from unstable, volatile emotions. It's not even worth thinking about; it's simply a "my bad."

Back in August 11, 2008, the day before Txriel and I went on a Santa Ynez Mountain, Painted Cave outing for my birthday, I was in a panicky state of mind, not really sensing that I was slowly becoming abandoned.... I invented a silly little song that actually keeps coming back to haunt me. I probably have sung this song in my head about a hundred-and-one times since that stressful day before my birthday in August, and I found myself singing it today, as I had suffered through a panic attack and a migraine, my first migraine since I was 11 years old. Upon convincing myself to get home from Kinkos with this migraine, I started to sing this song softly to myself. After taking three advils and falling asleep on a couch, I woke up feeling better, more functional.

Since this poem/song seems to be a recurring theme in my life, though it was invented in a time of stress and the end of a small era of surrealistic reality associated with MaleCaseStudyAnonymous, I still have come to realize this tune has withstood the test of time. I even shared this song with Jules, and he actually liked it--a surprisingly positive response! I always thought this tune to be silly... and maybe a little to simple... but somehow no one seems to think so!

After looking at this song, it still seems incomplete. I feel there could still be two more stanzas and a main chorus. Well, when I get into that "right mood," I'm sure my mind will drift back to completing this piece.

Everything's Good, Everything's Fine
Everything's good.
Everything's fine.
It's all in your head.
It's all in your mind.
You think something's wrong.
You think something's bad.
And you don't even realize
All that you have.
So stop poooty-hooo
And change your ToDos.
And so stop dribbling
and change your Routine....

Thursday, October 08, 2009

488. Vic's Strange Days on Planet Earth... Resolving a Very Ancient, Tangled Knot

December 8, 2009. Today is a certainly a day worth blogging about. I have been carrying with me some very deep-seeded anxiety and fear in regards to a relationship with a potential Ph.D. committee member at UC Santa Barbara, and somehow all of this anxiety had been released through a great conversation... and some third party help....

I had not been productive in the morning. I was trying to adapt my novella The Mountain's Last Flower (MLF) into a stage play, but my mind kept swirling in out of control thoughts. For some reason, I felt like I was walking toward my deathbed. I was figuratively ready to commit suicide--just figurative folks, FIGURATIVE! I really felt like I was venturing into a black box. I had not interacted with this professor since June, and it's now December! I was supposed to meet with him in July... never happened... I was in the Road Trip Nation spirit of I can do whatever the hxll I want with my life. I should choose the people I desire to be around... life's too short to create problems that don't need to exist. And then the beginning of fall quarter, all I did was romp around and find a whole fall-back committee before I returned to this professor.... I honestly thought the meeting was going to be short and sweet and it was going to be about "I think out of my own best interest, it's good to have a marine natural scientist" which implied the whole "I don't want you on my committee." But then, after walking out of the meeting (yes, I did survive!), I came to realize that this wasn't the problem at all.... The problem had to be addressed and resolved in an informal transaction, an informal agreement in code of conduct....

Okay, so back to the drama! I was driving in from Ventura and as soon as I was considering to do a quick jog, I receive a strange phone call. The meeting was at ONE pm!!! It's 1:24 pm. OH SHXT! I honestly and sincerely thought it was at 2pm for the last week. I think that my biopsy and scalp-mole appointments really screwed me up in terms of scheduling and my overall perception of time. The STAGE competition's not helping either.... The graduate advisor put me on phone hold and then she said just come on down... don't worry, stay composed. I had all these negative, pessimistic thoughts, these doomsday disaster thoughts... the very thoughts that partly fueled the novella MLF. But then I thought about all the people behind me. I thought about how my dad and mom loved me... and my sister... and Jules and Shannon and Oscar and Hector and my housematies and then I thought how Randy might consider this scene to be perfect for the next hilarious film and I thought how Jorge Cham might make a cartoon out of the meeting and then I just felt like I had this whole social sphere of people who would still love me no matter what happened at this meeting that I felt... I wasn't alone... though I didn't feel any better. It was a chronic disease of endlessly swirling pessimistic thoughts, as if I were stuck in a prison cell... and the prison cell was ironically inside a university....

I arrived to the graduate advisor's office and she was cool with me. I thought that I pissed off everyone at Bren because I was late and screwed up with the timing, but it seemed like no one really minded... it rolled off their sleeves... but still I feel ashamed. That was totally unprofessional in my part. But heck, what the hoo haa, I'm an absent-minded science-artist-a-masomething-or-other so slipping of thought with appointments is... well... may be a sporadic problem in my life....

So, we go into the professor's office, just the three of us... and I tried to start talking, fumble, fumble, fumble... I was going straight for the meat... but then the professor piped in and showed us some beautiful posters of landscapes found in the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). A few representatives visited to school to establish relationships... maybe future masters group projects and future employment of students.... Well, that's always a good gig. Who's hiring nowadays anyways? I didn't know the BLM actually owned sea rocks. Like those rocks that stick out of the ocean like along the Oregon coastline? I thought it was owned by the birds, because they certainly put their marks on them. Guano rocks I do call them.... So the birds and BLM own the rocks, I'll be!

And then the prof asked the "magic question" of "How are things going?" Which is just a wonderful diversion from the point... and then I just rattled off about MLF and the MLPA process and writing and Roadtrip Nation and AAAS Pacific Division and UCSB's STAGE and key features of my life from June to December and that was a lot of fun to discuss. He's the first academic person I told about the STAGE competition... and my participation in it.... So now that I told someone potentially on my committee... I feel a lot more obligated to participate... and do a VERY GOOD JOB!

I think one of the most interesting things we talked about was about the MEDIA'S representation of reality. And what is my role in the spectrum of multi-media storytelling? The basic issue is that media representation of the southern California Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process in my opinion has been very fragmented, choppy, and overall disorganized... including sensationalizing the very WRONG and INSIGNIFICANT things. The case in point is at the last Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) meeting... November 10, I think... there were major journalists and photographers from the southern California region (I even was able to speak to some of them!), and I discovered a day or two after the meeting that over 50% of the news articles used the hook of a pseudo-wanna-be-fist-fight quibble of two minor audience members (not major Regional Stakeholers) that lasted a couple of minutes around 11 am in the morning... and it seemed like they totally ignored the notion that there were 300 and more people sitting in the room for over 8 hours, peacefully participating and negotiating toward the end goal of an Integrated Preferred Alternative for marine reserves. It seemed like none of the news sources focused on the notion that after a year's worth of labors, the fisheries representatives walked out of the room NOT pissed off, no one seemed pissed off. And that all the fisheries reps and I-team staff and conservation reps and scientists meandered off to the bar afterwards and sat down and all schmoozed amongst each other with some alcohol to pacify their brains before they drove home. I thought the bar scene was epic. The journalists didn't pick up on that. I guess they don't see "THE LACK OF CONTROVERSY" or "PEACEFUL NEGOTIATION" as "REAL NEWS." No, they want to see fist fights and blood and guts and name-calling, mudslinging. My gosh, if they wanted to see conflict, the journalists should have been loyal, sticking around for the whole year, because they would have found incredibly rich conflict of values and ideologies inside each and every single stakeholder.... For example, fisheries groups having to grapple with the compromise of conservation with socioeconomics in a very major internal ways.... So, besides my dad wildfire ecology research, this MLPA situation has really made me come to realize the sickening state of media reporting. But the prof mentioned how some media sources do have credibility... The Economist, Scientific America, Discover, to name a few.... I said flat out that in the spectrum of multi-media storytelling, I can't be an ADHD journalist just filling up space on a paper and only committing to a project for two hours. I think having a long term perspective, such as my involvement in the MLPA process... is vital to representing a truth that is very difficult to capture in a 700-word slapped-together newspaper article.

So, I'm not sure whether all of this was necessary, the answering of the golden "How's it going?" question... was I beating around the bush? Or was it a necessary way to ease into getting to the point, versus going cold turkey to the meat. Anyhow, that's where it ended up. The Committee Issue. That's where I started to stumble again.... So, I am choosing a committee... and throughout the summer and this quarter I have received so much academic and stakeholder support for this MLPA documentary that I thought it's probably a really good idea to have a marine scientist on my committee. This prof is more biogeochemistry / remote sensing. And the second issue is, I came to realize that the people on my committee I need to be "100% open" with. At first the professor read this comment as this: "Your Ph.D. committee members can't be your 'friends.' It's a professional relationship and they can help ease you out into the real world." But that was not what I meant. What I meant was that since I am pursuing a Ph.D. in environmental media, I am generating narrative stories. One rule of science and scientific writing is that you do NOT express any overt emotions in the writing. But the fundamental drivers of narrative (and art in general) is emotions and visceral motivations. So, in order for me to function as a graduate student, I will need a committee who will allow me to put my EMOTIONS on the table, not just my logic. I will need committee members to acknowledge that I have this very sensitive, fragile ego that can easily get smashed, and that if it does get smashed or confined in any way that I will not be able to function and generate the work in order to achieve what I need to achieve for a Ph.D. So, I need committee members to be okay with that. And I need committee members to be supportive and constructively critical, not pessimistic and antagonistic. The professor acknowledged this notion right away, and mentioned it was well put: (1) for a committee, you need people who are the "best of expertise in certain fields," (2) but in addition, you need committee members to provide a supportive, emotionally stable environment that can promote mental growth and the creation of art.

PERFECT. GREAT. We are on the same page. Whew. It was such a fundamentally simple notion that can be the fundamental assumptions for a new informal contract of interaction, right there. Erase the bad. All the bad. The very bad past. I had to clarify this "bad past" with the professor. I stated that in the beginning our interactions were antagonistic, and I felt were like figurative sword fights [father]. And that this type of relationship actually made me depressed, instilled a great deal of fear, and stifled my creativity. I don't operate under these conditions. The prof acknowledged this as well, but in the beginnings I didn't have much product and he didn't know where I was heading, but now I have a lot of projects behind my back and he has a better sense of where I'm going. And our interactions had improved since this January of 2009.

So, ya, that is where we are at now. We had to end the meeting because the professor had to teach a seminar, and the graduate advisor had to go to another meeting. So... even though my initial goal was to eliminate a prof from my committee... I left feeling confused... softened... and realized that I needed to merely clarify my own psychological needs. Expertise + sensitivity. I'm a flipping female. I'm a softy. Yes, I'm very guilty. I know a lot of science, but my mind's heart is very very very vulnerable. Oh well. So the people on my committee have to know that. Maybe I should have given them a Disclaimer Sheet About Victoria. I think the profs need to do that to. So we can expose our quirks from the get go.

I left and had some anticlimactic moment. I went into the graduate advisor's office and came to realize that this massive entangled knot deep within my mind, my interface of logic and my emotional center... had been fundamentally nearly 100% dissolved... cleared... within a few seconds... maybe a minute. That this tangled knot of negative energy had been released... And now I have a segment of my mind that's freed up to do other things.... Coolio! The prof also suggested that if I needed a little more time to resolve a committee... don't worry about it.

The graduate advisor said that I handled the situation very well... and I felt kind of bad... I hope she was amused by all this quasi-beating-around-the-bush discussion.... The graduate advisor said to think about how "naughty cats get sprayed." Snuff out problems from the start. Don't let them dwell inside you, because then they rot and become overly massive mental tumors. I'll say. I told her that my grandfather died around the same time there was a quibble. I couldn't deal with it, and I took the experience overly personal. Now I know how it feels when life throw too many problems at you all at once, and your mind has no capacity to deal with it all together, and so many problems start to grow like tumors in your head, blocking your capacities to function better. Now I know a little more the life of my grandfather. Too many drastic problems thrown at him all at once. Thankfully the scale of my problems are minor compared to his. I miss you, Ray. It's all good.

I left the Bren parking lot and was surprised I did not receive a parking ticket. Yes, it was a good day. I went jogging in the sunset in Goleta, and I saw a supplemental image to The Mountain's Last Flower, equivalent to the end of one of Calvin and Hobbes books: instead of Calvin and Hobbes in a big hug... even though Heisen and Gonzo had all this antagonism and turmoil in the story, I saw them give each other a big hug. And they smiled and the caption said "Isn't it just all in our heads?" Truce!

Well, now I have one other major PESSIMISM in my head, which will be elucidated in a peacock-bowerbird story.... I started to think that a major part of my Ph.D. will be answering the question "WHY I DO NOT BELONG IN A CREATIVE WRITING DEPARTMENT."

470. Roadtrip Nation Briefing with the Barry Spacks Creative Writing / Teaching Interview, Santa Barbara, California

Before all the hubbub of Extras and Central Casting, Shannon and I had a spectacular evening interviewing my poetry professor/writing pal thee-one-and-only Barry Spacks! He's been already embedded in my brain... and my blog... and so I call it, attempting to acquire the "Barry Spacks" consciousness, which includes unboundedness, succinct artfulness, and telling stories for the sake of storytelling without butchering the story (and poem) for the message. Aka preachy used-carsalesmanesqueness for the environment. Thoughts lingered the day after as I unwillingly stormed into Los Angeles to sign up for Central Casting (it's not that I didn't want to do it; I just felt overwhelmed... didn't want to do it that particular time and day...).

Shannon and I ventured into Barry's and Kimberly's cozy little Victorian home off Bath Street in downtown Santa Barbara... and I was finally able to see his office den, which is riddled with very cool art I had NEVER seen before--Barry had not placed on his website (there's one I particularly liked, playing on the notion of an inner universe and an outer universe, boundaries of order and chaos). I remember seeing the livingroom scene. I remember Barry being interviewed about the craft of teaching poetry to the local Cable Channel and I was like--we need a NEW setting. The sun was setting quite fine and there was little light left when Barry and Shannon settled in the kitchen, on a bench, with really cool figurines and cacti and buddha-like wood carvings in the background. Maybe a little cluttery, but interesting all the same. It represents Barry.

I have about 1 hour of interview footage and some B-roll. Perhaps I need to get some footage of the house--external B-roll, perhaps a later time. I remember showing up early, sitting in the car, contentedly delving into "Dead Cities" by Mike Davis, two key chapters on impact tectonics and "a natural history of dead cities." It's fine writing, but I would have to do a lot of "fact checking" in order to verify the validity of the prose.

But anyhow, Shannon was a superb interviewer as usual, and Barry had some very crucial points to make that are guarantees to be included in our Roadtrip Nation film.

(1). Major quote of the day. The most important thing I need, besides breathing, is to have the right to be creative, every single day. And Barry is fortunate he is able to squeeze creativity time, every single day.

(2). Major drivers of storytelling: message driven, or story-telling driven. Learn how to tell stories for the sake of telling stories. Messages can be there, but don't bombard with messages like meteor impacts with a sacrifice of the art! Major issue with environmental-related storytelling. (Need to balance message with storytelling). (Sierra Club storytelling junk mail used car salesman letter I received).

(3). Barry's a skeptic as to whether people can easily be scientists and artists, all in the same head. And, me, I, Victoria, am some form of guinea pig to see if I can get away with BOTH. Barry said that the writing style of science is so strict, so exacting, so precise, so lanuage-tecky, so robotic, that he is not sure that if scientists can easily start learning how to write poems, which require a mentality and looseness about the field. Barry actually recommends scientists to PAINT rather than do CREATIVE WRITING in order to get into an "artistic mode." Though, a scientist going into creative writing does have some BENEFIT. They have a greater repertoire, inventory of metaphors that are not necessarily common or accessible to the public. So, scientists in their tecky, specialized worlds have an opportunity to bring new material to the creative writing process. Most creative writers only tap into "the great history of American/World writing," they don't outsource in terms of their experiences and subject matters.

(4). A beautiful metaphor. Most writers/individuals in America are focusing on ME ME ME. Self growth and self development until the self becomes the center of the universe and there is no other universe out there. But what Barry emphasizes in class and in writing in general is to take this big ball of an "ego" and scrunch it and smoosh it down to a little blue gem, and then smash it with your foot, and watch the dust blow away in the wind. (But why is the gem blue?) If you are a true writer, the sense of self completely vaporizes and you become the system to which you are writing. FORGET THAT THE SELF EXISTS AND YOU BECOME THE SYSTEM AND THE STORY ITSELF. That's a trip. I can do it easily. When I was high school I was practicing this all the time. I had no sense of self. I was everything around me, but not my self. Then because everything around me had pulverized me into an anorexic stick, I had to invent this concept of self at age 17 just to survive and realize that I cannot be at the whims of my surroundings all the time. But then again, my sense of self has developed to be very relativistic, more so what is my place in this universe and society? The relative self in light of the evolution of the universe and life on earth. I feel very small... now by default. No new epiphanies here. But I suppose, intrinsic to my own personalities, and given a non-disturbing background, I can very easily forget that I exist and become the things that I am writing about. As I told many people, when I am writing a story, I am experiencing it. I am seeing it. I'm going through the emotions. I am experiencing it. This philosophy is associated with Buddhism, I think. Barry's affiliated with Tibetan Buddhism? I think, as well as works a little with Zen Buddhism and Koan-stuff.

(5). I learned that potentially a very easy way to get out of service in the military is to state that you wanna be a "poet" when you grow up. It worked for Barry back in the day!

(6). Barry and I are both prolific ramblers, so I guess it's very good that Shannon was there, and she was interviewing, because if it were Barry and me... well, it's dangerous... black hole phenomenon of human conversations.... Black holes are cool though!

(7). Having participated in theater, Barry considers himself a "performer" when he's teaching. People don't even realize that teaching is a performance practice and study.

I lost an orange clamp.

And another final key point that Barry made is that ... he recited a poem to us. It was about a mountain, and how sometimes we are given knowledge--as if we were being spoonfed--and sometimes don't we wish we simply didn't know? The poem reminded me of the brutality of those car GPS units like "Constance" in Mark the photographer's car. That machine made the process of driving and exploring a totally mindless, mechanical experience, and there is no sense of spontaneous adventure otherwise. Sometimes you wish there were no grid there. No grid left. No grid at all! You could re-invent the universe all to your self! Who wants all knowledge at the finger tips? Invent your own worldly map!

After the interview, I talked with Barry one-on-one about our novella-sharing. It was very-much-needed advice! This is potentially our next subject of discussion! And then I went to find Shannon and wished Ben happy birthday at Sharkeys downtown Santa Barbara. The bar was empty for once. And then I had Freebirds and went to bed. Zzzzz....

469. Graphic Illustration / Cartoon Entitled "The Roots of Creativity"

"The Roots of Creativity" Biologically Incorrect Cartoon Featuring Terra, Buz, the Fishies and the Birdies. Without a black frame.
"The Roots of Creativity" Biologically Incorrect Cartoon Featuring Terra, Buz, the Fishies and the Birdies. With a black frame.
"The Roots of Creativity" Biologically Incorrect Cartoon Featuring Terra, Buz, the Fishies and the Birdies. With a black frame and titles, captions.
The Adventures of Terra and Buz continue and live on!
Throughout the summer, while writing "The Mountain's Last Flower," I had recurring thoughts and visions about other subject matters I couldn't even touch... because it wasn't along the lines of my (rather depressing) train of thought for advancing the tragic story. I had this vision above a few dozen times for sure, and I had sketched it out on pieces of paper perhaps at least three times or so. And then a certain event occurred this past Monday in which I was tardy for Jules and the initiative of his zen meditation of lobster-baiting-and-fishing, and I left San Diego feeling sooo wretched about myself and my priorities and my very bad habit of having a difficult time to break myself from my work to a point that I disappoint other people... including Jules and my sister Jen Jen.
And I still feel horrid to this day, but this horrible feeling ultimately wanted to be expressed in positively reinforcing warmth about the continued, adventurous relationship of Terra and Buz. The image series above emerged quite rapidly and clearly when drawing into the weee hours of the night at a Kinkos near by Sunland, which finally closed at 11pm, and I finally peetered into Santa Barbara after several sleeping pitstops. Sigh! I hope Jules likes the images!
With these images, I intended the resulting image to be a little scrappy with its pencil sketches. It adds a home-madeness effect to the images!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

468. EXTRAS, EXTRA! The Central Casting Experience, Past and Present! (Bonus Scientology Adventure Included)

Today I "dragged" myself into Central Casting in Burbank, essentially a great starting point for experiencing the "on-set" major motion picture scene. I was first introduced to Central Casting by my cousin Mike Dillin, who informed me that all extras on the movie/television sets he had been working on were all in the loop of Central Casting. There really aren't too many other legitimate ways in order to be "surrounded by greatness" in Hollywood. There are so many cluttery scams found on the internet--all these agencies that will supposedly book you on major motion pictures and other venues, but about 95% of them are money-grubbing scams. I fell victim to a couple of them actually.

Central Casting is off of Olive-Flower Street in Burbank. I ended turning off of Verdugo St in order to finally found Olive. I bugged my father quite a bit for the directions--bad me--I didn't do my internet homework before! The strange thing is today I didn't find myself venturing too deep into "memory lane" of my previous Central Casting experiences... perhaps because they weren't exactly of too much worth for reminiscing.... Last time I was at Central Casting, I believe it was around the Spring of 2007, when I was doing some elderly-caretaking-house-cleaning-work in Orange County. I just came out of the money-grubbing pseudo-Hollywood experience of Barbizon, and I was finally going to take some initiative and sign up Central Casting. It was also right around that time in which I went to Randy Olson's production/film/studio across the street from Paramount. I was very nervous and jittery at that time. I was on leave of absence; doing things that were "intuitive" to me, but I didn't know where I was heading. I didn't know whether I was going to return to graduate school. And in terms of my "buffet" of artistic experiences, film-making was the last pit stop.

I found Central Casting and was overly conscious about preparing my hair and my make-up-plaster-bullshxt-foundation they call it? Well I wear foundation not from a self-beautification perspective; I actually plaster foundation for the purpose of MATTING MY FACE--ultimately a photographer's perspective. The foundation color is rather dark. I remember approaching the building of Central Casting which seemed like it was out there in the "behind-the-scenes" streets of Burbank--not much showiness to them feeling so important and excited--I would finally have the opportunity to be exposed to the Hollywood scene--directly--with my own eyes! And then when I entered the room, I encountered 200+ other people who perhaps felt equally as important, but then as soon as they encountered the masses of people who were signing up, suddenly they felt like they were "part of the herd," and perhaps the experience isn't as glamorous as they thought.

Just as today, we received a brief orientation to the paperwork. We had to fill out a basic profile form, a W-4 (claim 3) and an I-9 (SS + Drivers License). I did a lot of guess work in terms of my dress size, waist size, chest size... all those sizes I don't necessarily want to know. I was prepared today and filled out the form with my own pen--their remainder pens were all out of ink, essentially. And then being in the back of the room, in terms of registration I was close to last to be registered... well maybe more so in the middle. First set of people who go in line to be registered were the dregs from the previous registration period--they forgot their SS or other form of identification and had to wait in line... TWICE. Second wave of folks to get in line were those sitting on the table. The third wave included "us folks" in the back of the room. And the people who got the dregs were in the catty corner of the room by the photo booth. Poor them.

So, we had a lot of time to kill. Today I forgot the line was to be a line as long as the Disneyland log ride in scorchig 100'F weather; I should have brought Mike Davis' "Dead Cities" to read to pass the time, but I wasn't in my full faculties today. I didn't jog. I was feeling hyper and dirty. I knew that Central Casting only took a half-body shot of me, so I didn't even care what I was wearing on the bottom half of my body, which was jogger shorts. The line was moving as slow as ever, so all I could do was kill time by talking to other people around me. I met a rather shy girl who was an English/creative writing major just graduated from USC (probably in major debt) who's signing up for work as well as applying to be a substitute teacher. There was another talkative guy who did a dating reality show that twisted his info as presented to the world. And then toward the end I met this guy by the name of Dwight Andrew Galbraith of Bluff Entertainment, and this guy knows the ins and outs of Hollywood. He provided a lot of advice and tips, and maybe I'll be able to do some volunteer production assistant-related stuff associated with his work. Well that's good. I felt like I got a score. I met someone who may be able to help me some time with my future experiences. I shall enter this information into my Contacts List and Facebook. He helped delineate to me the boundaries of Cinematographer--mainly the dude who sets up shots and controls all the lighting. May have a few to hundreds of guys working under you, depending on how small or big budget the film is.

BRIEF MENTAL INTERRUPTION FROM FACEBOOK: MAN! I'M SO BUMMED! I COULD HAVE BEEN A DODO BIRD AT THE SCIENCE CENTER! I COULD HAVE BEEN A DODO BIRD! But no, we are interviewing for Roadtrip Nation. I responded to Ty letting him know that if this EVER happens again, please let me know, because I am actually qualified with my height! It's SOOO way better than being a Disney Character, like Pinnochio or something.

Okay, the other surprise is that Central Casting did not make me pay $25 dollars for re-registering. Bless them and the trees! The money now goes toward gas. The last time I was stuck in the line back in spring of 2007, I ended up talking to some teenage girl from Arizona and her mom, who both had great aspirations to become the "next big thing" in Los Angeles... just like everyone else in the room. Zooming back to today, there were two people who stuck out of the crowd of "ordinary people" (including myself). There was this lean African-American lady and her man of equal height, both color-coated in orange. She was wearing a colorful dress that had an American interpretation of African art-design patterns. Her face was of optimal mathematical proportions for top model beauty. I didn't know why she was signing up for Central Casting. I think she should have signed up for an acting/modeling agency/management company. Her beauty is so radiant so distinct, she'll be picked out of the crowd in no time. That woman was definitely one of those type of people that if I saw in the grocery store I would just go up to her and say I'll make a portolio and Zed card for you, free of charge, just for my own portfolio building aspect of things.

The first time I went to Central Casting, I felt that I didn't really meet anyone in particular who could advance my own internal growth and pathway to life, so at least this time I met Drew. The problem is last time I was a sucker. As soon as I vulnerably left the Central Casting building (after all the form signing and picture-profile taking), I was given a "free acting workshop" voucher. It was very obscure in concern of what this was about but this voucher turned out to be affiliated with "The Hollywood Church of Scientology." Gxd forbid, I dare say... I fell off a log and started venturing into a bizarre culture. I was naive enough to go out to the free workshop. I had been by that Scientology Church off of Gower (101 or 5 freeway?). A geology grad student at UCR by the name of Dave told me how his brother lived across the street from that church. His brother wrote screenplays as well. I first went there because apparently there was a bar across the street from the Church/Hotel where Robin Williams showed up and hung out.... I've always wanted to meet Robin Williams. Sigh. So, I already had initial curiosities about the church, and then this time I took curiosity to the next level. "Free" is the sucker in to becoming a money-dumping "convert" to the "bridge" that leads to "infinite freedom or enlightenment." I'm paraphrasing tremendously. The Church of Scientology is a rabbithole for curious and very VULNERABLE souls (post trauma, without direction), but if you get to deep, I have a sense there is no way of getting out.

So, I went to the acting workshop eh? It was very useful. We leared the ARC principle. Affinity. Reality. Communication. aka positive emotions, positive communication, building common positive reality. Essentially a mimic of a triangle I have created for myself. Emotions/values. Language. Cognitive maps. They all feed off on each other in a complicated web. The other aspect we discussed is the notion of expressing problems and realities through "building blocks" or these "non-designated cubes." So, it was about transferring your language mind into a "building block" visual mode, and life is essentially about playing a game of chess. There were a few other key elements that were useful from Scientology, like their own matricized version of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, but what really bothers me is why are all these philosophical/practical/scientific tools tagged with other incorrect myths, housed in a bureaucratic institution of religion?!! That bothers me tremendously. I can see why Tom Cruz, John Travolta, Barbara Niven, and several other artists resort to Scientology because there are several basic tools and exercises that can foster the creation of art, but other than that... there's a lot of money-grubbing hoakiness to the whole seen. Overly pushy niceiness. Plus they OVERLY glorify L Ron Hubbard to a point of godliness. He's the one who said (paraphrased) "If you want to make a lot of money, invent a religion." And so his money-making venture is coming full circle! (There was this stupid cat analogy, the reality of a cat, mental image in your head, whatever).

So, for EXAMPLE, I was so pleased by the free acting workshop (plus they gave me all these free books and brochures that were to inform me of the basics of Scientology) that I paid a measly $35 for some course in "personal efficiency." They keep prices very VERY low for newcomers. I actually met a prize-winning science fiction writer when I first began the course. I never finished this personal efficiency course, and never INTEND to... BECAUSE... (1) they were pushy about my own personal habits, for example, they said to eat a good meal and have good sleep, and I couldn't consume any food while in the course, which violates my own personal habit of gum chewing and candy-slurping and jaw clenching and (2) the personal efficiency course required a LOT of WRITING. And the questions were forcing me to write certain answers that were forcing me to wire my brain in a way I DID NOT WANT TO WIRE IT. I was strong enough to say that I already have my own personal philosophy. I am not going to let these people make me WRITE WHAT THEY WANT ME TO WRITE and ESSENTIALLY BRAINWASH me. (Some UCSB course took a group of students to have a tour of the place for a religious studies class) (I had to take some Scientology personality test, personal improvement test).

Even though the Scientology folks kept pestering me for months on after (even Txriel was annoyed by my bothersomeness with such things)--with phone calls and junk mail (even to this DAY!) to follow up with my Personal Efficiency Course and to extend beyond my free 6-month membership and all these expensive Flagship cruises and the like... I just had to cut the strings and distance myself. And so again, I experience a certain cult of people, a certain organization, and I take what I want from it and dump all the rest as dissolved bullshxt. Enough experimentation there!

What a curious, naive, vulnerable sucker I am! At least in this case, my White Stripes Instincts "Ohhh, I think I smell a raaaaattt, Aowwwh, I think I small a RAT!" kicked in just in time before things became more weird and perhaps inescapable to my monetary-debt bridge to infinite freedom. There's a lot of bad PR surrounding the Church of Scientology. I think the whole group is banned in Germany. Anyway, I just scratched the surface with this adventure, but it's a starting point. I have more details at home.

The one thing I was impressed with though was this little hoaky Scientology "e-meter." I had that e-meter done to me once, and when the dude operating the meter asked me questions, there was no movement of the "needle." Then he asked me about my current job, which was caretaking arthritis-wheel-chair-ridden Momma in Mission Viejo, that needle SPIKED as if I were just electricuted, except I was electricuted by my own INTERNAL ANXIETY! I think that experience was one of the last straws for my quitting that job. It certainly was a sign. Besides, Blue Horizons summer 2007 was coming up. That program saved my life, physically, mentally, emotionally, holistically-spiritually, whatever.

Well, TALK ABOUT A SIDE-TRACKING EXPERIENCE! The Scientology diversion was indeed an ephemeral time-hog in my life. I feel sick even thinking about it. Other than that, back in spring of 2007 I left Central Casting feeling pretty empty, with the question subliminally haunting me, "What's next?"

Maybe it was a week or so, but I finally called in the non-union hotline and I excitedly booked my VERY FIRST extras job. I found out later it was a Cattle Call for Made of Honor starring Patrick Dempsey (who was surprisingly very short). I was to be an "airport chick" hanging out at an abandoned airport with a thousand other extras (and a few cool production assistants). I think it was a 12-hour work day. That day was so fun. I met so many interesting people, including a guy who was the "stunt man" for Danny DeVito. He's about the same size and has some similar facial features. I also met a couple of musicians--singer, piano player--and just an overall intriguing group of people to chill out for the day. I was getting used to the notion that all I had to do was sit around, do nothing, blend into the background, eat lunch, and... DO NOTHING. And I got paid 100 dollars a day to do nothing. It's pathetic. Pathetically cool. And it came to me, I started to understand why the great Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) frustratingly complained about film-making. You sit around all day for 12 hours only to have 30 minutes of disjunct filming and acting. And then, upon returning to the Royal Theater in Britain, Patrick Stewart becomes involved in 3.5 hours of NONSTOP ACTING! He loves theater much more in its dynamics.

The second time I was an extra was an even COOLER EXPERIENCE. Two months later, I called in the right time for a Cattle Call (right before a jog in Lake Forest by Lillian's house) for Made of Honor AGAIN, but this time was awesome because it was the BIGGEST HALLOWEEN PARTY I had EVER been to IN THE MIDDLE OF MAY at OCCIDENTAL COLLEGE. I dressed up as a hippi punk rocker with a rainbow wig and received full attention from one of the make up artists. I was first in line. She added sprinkles and little peace signs to my cheeks. I even received a "special stamp" so that I could receive the union fancy food over the sack lunches. I felt sooo special! I met this guy who was dreadfully good looking and he actually started talking to ME of all things and we hung out for the day. He was a dude with a guitar and he had some good music tracks but I just felt that they didn't raise above the bar--they didn't evoke the chilling or warming emotions of Alexi Murdoch. I don't know where this guy's at. He's one one of my myspaces. He's from the other side of the country trying to make it in Hollywood, like everyone art. I met this African-American dude with a really cool American Judge outfit and he had an opportunity to interact with Patrick Dempsey (who wore an OJ Simpson mask at the party). This dude received formal education in acting from California Academy of the Arts?!! So he was a blast to talk to. I also remembered hangin out with 5-6 cheerleader-types who received SAGs from this cheerleader teeny bopper film. I even received a card from a production assistant who was providing me some advice, and I tapped into the mind of a SAG/union actor who gave me a lot of insider politics/scoop of Central Casting, and when it's best to call it. I also received advice from this cro-magnon dude who signed up for Extras Management, and he said he was managing to make around $1500-2000 a month as an Extra (mind you, this was BEFORE the recession, when Bush's croanies still kept this country in superb delusion).

Ephemeral, fun culture (of mostly single people, movers and shakers) of meeting and greeting with random people who were all living life on the edge, and most of them had their own personal creative projects they loved to share with other people. All of them held the American Dream of becoming the Next Big Thing... but I think that Dream sucks because you become the puppet of many corporations. That dream of becoming "famous" comes with a huge sacrifice of your own personal freedoms and ethics... unless you are Michael Moore or Randy Olson. Not too many of those around....

So, about a year later, when I had returned to UC Santa Barbara (I think I was struggling to get into UCSB), the film Made of Honor was released as a DVD, but never hit the movie theaters. It turned out the Halloween party was completely edited out... oh dear, let's just be politically correct! Whatever. I picked up the DVD and read the back side... oh lord, it's a totally cheezy slime-bag date flick. I felt appalled about being a part of a project that had no motive of responsiblity beyond the notion of cheap-thrill entertainment. WHAT TRAGEDY!

I didn't participate in Central Casting for two years. Two year hiatus. School swept me off my feet, perhaps in a good way. But then suddenly, I had a motive. AND A VERY SPECIFIC MOTIVE. I had this great fondness, great subdeityness of Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman after Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind sunk deep into my psyche--illustrating that the environment is a construct of the mind (with its special effects). Then watching huge chunks of Adaptation, then watching The Science of Sleep, blips of Be Kind, Rewind (trying to make creativity and community building accessible to the world at large, he's a humble person of the masses, for sure, there's not a snoot of snootiness about his air in all interviews, written and filmed, just a playful child, never grew up and society allowed him to never grow up) then the Human Behaviour music video, and then DECLARE INDEPENDENCE, my mind started going NUTS with creativity! My dream of meeting and having a civil conversation with Michel Gondry became bigger and bigger and bigger and more magnified, as his own work had trickled deeply into my own psyche. He has become a part of my thought processes and yet all he has been to me are pixels on a screen, an electical box. There's no interactivity. I cried several times, perhaps 15 times over the last 3 years, with a deep, inner yearning to interact with Gondry, to even merely verify that he is real, so that I can just stare at him in the face, shake his hand, and come to the simple epiphany, "If you can do it, then so can I." I found out as a teenager he wanted to become a scientist, but never went to college... and did all this art stuff. Largely self trained in pragmatic skills rather than bullshxt university theory. GO GONDRY! Three prominent pieces that I wrote, am currently writing that are DIRECT INFLUENCES off of Gondry's work is "The Peacock and the Bowerbird" (imagery from Declare Independence provoked the onset of writing the rough draft, which is an eleborate theory of the cycle of human communication to me) (rough draft sitting in my computer, as we speak), "Origins: Be Kind, Rewind" (a song/poem that used the title words from his indie flick) and "Catch Share," a short story that I wrote I have submitted to several literary journals. I included Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman in my devotions, because I felt that the story was a different theoretical spinoff of surrealistic, intellectualized human relationships from the Eternal Sunshine movie.

So, as you can see, internally I am ACHING. Deeply aching. Hours of internet searches, reading blogs and stories about Gondry and Kaufman. It's just not healthy. It's not an obsession, of course. It's just a longing to meet the colleagues who dramatically influence your own personal work, just as Dr. Jeremy Jackson made me cry from his collaborative Historical Overfishing paper. I need to meet the people who have ALTERED MY TRAIN OF THOUGHT. It's inevitable! The problem is, in academia, it's easy to track professors down. In Hollywood, film directors are surrounded by producers and big actors and publicists and journalists and the likelihood of ever having any ability to reach these people in a capitalist, closed-ended universe of underground Hollywood is close to zilch...


... within the last few months Michel Gondry had SEVERAL FREE PUBLIC APPEARANCES upon the release of a second collection of videos (I have his first video collection set; I haven't watched all the flicks). Gondry has made himself quite publicly accessible, but every single time I was either uninformed or just couldn't make it. I have been ripping my hair out! Maybe that's why I received two gray hairs this summer! I made a retroactive realization that I am ten miles from Michel Gondry when ComiCon was occurring in San Diego. This guy, who's largely in New York and France; it was the first time I realized I was within TEN MILES of this living tourist attraction! Oh, what agony of such an epiphany! I just can't take it anymore! I need to meet this guy!

Then there came Roadtrip Nation. I have craved to meet so many inspirational people and somehow Roadtrip Nation has allowed me to obscure the pixel-screen boundaries between me and my heroes, to finally make them real. Two people I NEEDED to interview or nevertheless meet BEFORE Roadtrip Nation is over is Michel Gondry and Pete Docter (Pixar). I had several interactions with Gondry's publicity team at ID-PR and I finally received an email response. I had no nerve to open it, check it. Because I know what it's going to say: Gondry is busy filming The Green Hornet. He can't hold extensive interviews right now. And then I was trying to figure out a way how to get on the set for The Green Hornet. I had IMDB Pro for 14 days and so I randomly started calling production assistants listed on the crew, asking how in the hxll did you get this position? I want to help / volunteer! What do I do? I even called a division of Sony Casting to get access to the production company information to see what I could do to help. I chickened out and never called. Chicken Vic!

And then, as my mission became more narrow and determined and focused, I talked to Cousin Mike who actually knew the director for The Green Hornet, he even texted her a hello and friendly phone exchange. I checked again and the Central Casting director shifted to a new lady. I called her in directly and left a message on her answering machine, stating that I was a Ph.D. student at UC Santa Barbara and I was intended on volunteering for The Green Hornet but was advised to contact you in terms of becoming an extra background actor.

And lourdy of all lourds all mightly greatness, a nice youthful voice contacted me Friday evening before I jogged (meeting up with Julie for the evening) stating that I could be on the Green Hornet, so easy and just like that; all I have to do is re-register at CC and call this number, and low-and-behold, I'm squared away! I jumped up and down and felt so happy; it was a moment in which I was wondering whether I could recall how happy I was--like getting the NSF Fellowship or joining the UC LEADs program? I was happy, I jogged so fast my usual Goleta jogging route, but is was more like I was sprinting (I'm lifting a heavy weight off my chest, for sure!), but then I was calm... and I didn't really tell anyone about this monumental feat of founding an avenue to finally see in the flesh one of my heroes, Monsieur Gondry. Michel, mon beau, some day mots qui vont tres bien ensemble, tres bien ensemble... variation of Michelle, Ma Belle oldies song. I no longer have to sing in mourning isolation, but in immense anticipation!

The Gondry/Kaufman Rabbithole in My Head is so deep, I don't think I can get into anymore details! I'm sure they will reveal to me once again, in due time....

So now, here I am, again, today, with everything coming full circle. The avenue of Central Casting opened up in the past and being re-inforced today, but now, I have a very specific-full-fledged mission. "Success in Hollywood" is a repulsive, artificial American Dream. There is no such thing as "success in Hollywood," but what is REAL is the forging of deep, strong bonds with individuals, and how these deeply committed bonds fabricate a novel reality and build a community of creation around you. And the outcome is a film, a book, a whole campaign, a whole new universe. And it spreads... and then somehow... you get money for it... and the byproduct of it all is the digusting label "success in Hollywood." It should be the passion and pursuit of friendships--soulmates--of higher consciousness. And that is the only thing that is truly real.

When I entered the cattle call room at Central Casting, I felt more calm and composed. All the other people were just other people. They were no longer my concern. I no longer felt vulnerable. They were background actors to my mind, because I set foot into Central Casting with a VERY specific mission. And I need to be motivated by the topic of the project from NOW ON. I left Flower Street coming to realize that across the freeway is a very pauche side of Burbank, and that my sister Jenny and friend Lauri were only about a 15-minute drive away. I'm starting to feel like home, even with Central Casting marked on my cognitive map.

If I want to elaborate this Central Casting story of mine, with images and details and the like... I have a plastic bag and folder full of information to tap into, back in my home in Riverside.

Monday, October 05, 2009

467. Pitch for My Ph.D. Thesis to Pass Around: Adaptive / Integrative Storytelling in Science and Society: Case Studies in Human-Environmental Systems

Figure 1. Questioning the Role of Science in Society in Concern of Human-Environmental Problems (Promotional Cartoon to Decor Any Open-Minded Individual's Office).
Figure 2. Ditto. This cartoon is also present in Blog 363. Initiating my first correspondences with my Gonzo Science Hero... John Bohannon!


So, I have to turn in the dreaded "Form 1" for my Ph.D. thesis at the Bren School at UC Santa Barbara, and I have to write a blurb about what I will be doing for my Ph.D. aka some form of "meaning of life" statement. I tried to summarize my work in a couple of pages, but it didn't happen. It's 7 pages now, but at least it's BARELY COHERENT ENOUGH, BARELY COHESIVE ENOUGH so that the professors I will be talking to can have the basic gist of where I'm heading. If I didn't have a 15-second elevator pitch, I would ask people the question, "What is the definition of science when humans/scientists consider themselves a part of the experiment? A part of their systems of study?" Welcome to my rabbithole, plain and simple.

I had a very hard time writing this document... this "pitch".... I tried to start writing it back in Sebastopol... maybe over two weeks ago... but without much luck. I think I needed some initial advice, input, feedback from my friends in Santa Barbara, like Shannon and Julie.... I think I have had enough conversations throughout the entire week to feel confidence to crank out this little blurb that barely scratches the surface of the rabbithole I've dug myself into.

I came to realize I NEEDED this document before I start spreading my Mountain's Last Flower novella like a disease across campus... more so to a carefully handpicked crop of professors who I may or may not ask the "Will you marry me?" aka "Will you be on my committee?" question, forming solid molecular bonds of an intellectual family around me (ugh, the stress!). My advisor Oran gave me some really COOL advice. He told me to engage in several conversations around campus, but ask the question politely, "If asked in the near future, would you be willing to be on my committee?" So, the first round does not require commitment whatsoever... so you don't drop a bombshell. Whew. Good move.

So here I go, dropping some kind of half-xss bomb on a bunch of people around campus--people who don't necessarily deserve it--I really feel like I'm giving people a hazardous construction site for a summary of a project... but I suppose I need to provide more elaboration since my project's so interdisciplinary. Maybe in this case, it's better to show a "promising work in progress" than a "turd fancy wrapped with a bonus bow tie." Eh? I think my conversations with Mike Davis further encouraged me. Thanks to all my friends and professors the last week for encouraging me! All I need right now is nothing but "positive momentum." Same with Jules!

466. A Phenomenal Interview, More Like Casual Conversation with Mike Davis (Ecology of Fear, City of Quartz, and Human Environmental Writing)

Well, well, well, what can I say? Roadtrip Nation is changing my life. Surprise?! Perhaps not. Yesterday, Shannon and I had a totally outside-the-box interview with Mike Davis (most well known for Ecology of Fear, City of Quartz), and I am not exactly sure where to begin... and most certainly... this cannot... and will not end. Here goes my stream of consciousness: There's the beginning aspect of things, like here I am sitting at this neo-cool-looking house in a nice neighborhood within the noisy flight path of the San Diego airport, staring at THEE Mike Davis, like the one who wrote all those books, and is this MASSIVE name in environmental writing, the "MacArthur Genius Dude" and so many other accolades in which society acknowledges his ingeniousnessessessess, who by default combines issues of social and environmental change (when most of the university is used to divorcing such topics)... well to say in the least, we both agreed that the university is full of bullshxt theories all around, let alone pin-headed specialists who don't have much context in terms of what the hxll everyone else is doing outside of their narrow field of study. But here I am... here I am... having this casual conversation with Mike Davis.... And I'm just jittery inside thinking this CAN'T be happening, this is a special moment in my life right here and now. I worked very hard in my own self development to reach this moment to come to FULLY APPRECIATE and have the the ability to RELATE to the works of Mike Davis.... Pretty soon, Shannon and I came to realize that he's one of those MacArthur folks: not only his mind is a massive encyclopedia of the history of environment, history of science, history of social movements, and WHO KNOWS what else, but his mind has the capacity to SYNTHESIZE and ORGANIZE these concepts. He has the best of both types of intelligence. For me, I don't have much of an encyclopediac inventory, but I have synthetic capabilities.

I have probably met three or four of thos MacArthur Fellow types, and honestly, they have brushed me off as if I were a piece of snot or the unwanted overly eager graduate student mosquito they thought I was going to suck their blood.... but then to think that Mike Davis was so excited to meet me just as I was so eager to meet him! I think we both feel we're in this odd fringes region of the university--synthetic thinking doesn't have much of a place in academia anymore--and we're just kind of at the fringes, looking at this circus arena, this zoo, and trying to make sense of it, not only in academia, but the context of the university in society. We're both frustrated with the lack of history of science and science writing programs in southern California. Most of them are in northern California. We're both frustrated that the university has made such a huge effort to deny and strip the socioenvironmental context of scientific pursuit and human-environmental change. And a bonus, Mike feels that the Endangered Species Act is doing a major disservice at managing ecosystems at landscape scales. Okay... lots and lots... and lots in common... lots of literature sharing to do.

Gosh, I am just scratching the surface.

Mike Davis discussed quite a bit of his history--and his professional career. He claimed the job title as "activist" and Shannon and I were puzzled, like... that kind of job description doesn't exactly exist in today's world. He ended up marking "disobedient writer" in our quote book, and that seemed to make a lot more sense. Mike was born in Fontana (so was I), raised in San Diego in a "blue collar family" as he called it, and had difficulties... he had to stop high school for a while and join the work force. His experiences as a laborer had a profound impact on him and his thinking. Mike went into detail of his time working as a truck driver and laborer for a furniture company that distributed its goods all across America, and he had been directly exposed to issues that are mostly "behind the scenes" to the rest of our eyes. He never finished a Ph.D. in history at UCLA--not exactly sure why--but it doesn't even matter because he has had so many professorial appointments in so many types of departments over the years (Geography, History, American History, Architecture, Pioneer Mountaineering Writing Class, now "Creative Writing" at UCR, an odd appointment for him, because he's never taken a creative writing course, he's learned through self discipline, plus a career in the publishing industry in London? he describes himself teaching classes he knew nothing about initially... )--he essentially is Ph.D.ed but in a more informal way. I could say he's had more of a profound impact on several disciplines than most other professors.... So, he's done his part, I'd say. So, at one point, when he was doing this back-breaking labor in a furniture company (in his forties?) he had an appointment to teach urban planning for one day at week at UCLA, and it was a very bizarre experience he had. He was paid more for teaching an urban planning class at UCLA than he was for all his work in the furniture industry! First of all, he came to realize how manual and physical labor is highly undervalued in this American Society and how people in the university sit on their butts and not necessarily have real world experiences, create weird theories on how the world works, and they get paid much more. Mike doesn't mean to overly romanticize manual labor, but he felt that he was contributing much more to the world by moving a box from point A to point B than sitting in a classroom, telling stories to students. HE FELT THAT HE WAS A PART OF THE PROCESS, AND THAT HIS EFFORTS CONTRIBUTED TO EVERYONE ELSE'S EFFORTS. And that is a fundamental concern I have about the pursuit of science... and the role of science in society. THE REALITY IN THE OUTER WORLD versus THE REALITY IN THE UNIVERSITY are so dichotomized, so black and white... it's so traumatizing... I would just have to sit and laugh... no wonder why my Ph.D. question is "what's the point?"

That story was a huge moment for me. I look at my own life through the lens of Mike, and I see parallels, lots of parallels.... I was a high school geek who worked her xss off and went nuts at Del Taco cleaning bathrooms and mopping floors over a month. Manual labor had a profound impact on me. Why was my high school experience so dichotomized from real world work? How come real world manual labor only required me to exercise about 3% of what I had come to input in my brain? Why do I have high affinity for laboring fishermen and lesser affinity to math modeling, office-quarantined ocean-marine-biology teckies, the glorified scientists of society? Where has science gone? There are hardly any "naturalists" "outdoor field scientists" anymore, in ecology, evolution, AND the Earth Sciences. It's a dying breed, dying to tecky work and modelers who can barely have a grasp of reality. Computers have put science in the mental stone age.... Okay, same old stuff. Same old stuff. I'm preaching to the choir. But I've got a new choir member. Mike Davis and I agree... agree... agree....

Mike's affiliated with socialist groups / Marxism. I HATE being affiliated with ANY political group. I like to consider myself a BIOLOGIST figuring out the intrinsic, natural science underpinnings of human behavior and the constructs of society. Hence, this blog, this human society is biologically incorrect! I think that humans are completely detached from the notion of being biological creatures, detached from their local landscapes. I think political constructs are artificial, with no discrete boundaries. And my being a scientist, I don't like that. My take on America and many European countries is the concept of "degrees of freedom" and "degrees of constraint." Every country needs a socialist baseline of stability and degrees of freedom in order to invite an invitation to playful competition driving innovative change. If the basic needs of the vast majority of the population any society are not met--air, water, food, overall internal and environmental health, family, shelter, safety--then the society is by default UNSTABLE and is vulnerable to REVOLT/COLLAPSE. I think there needs to be a threshold of people who are impoverished to lead a revolt against those who have control of most of the resources. "When the rich are too rich and the poor are too poor, there is going to be rebellion." Good Earth material, amen. I remember the Wikipedia stating that perhaps the next ideal form of society is small-scale, decentralized, local systems. Everyone can know each other, treat each other well as an instrinsic checks-and-balances system, and that all transactions are local and attached to the regional landscape. This certainly makes sense to me!

Some other things we talked about. Since Mike is an "activist," the notion of having a "job" never really hit him until his forties, because before then, it was all about being an activist--changing things. Mike was involved a little bit in the riots in Isla Vista in the 1960s (burning of the banks) a bunch of rioting student surrounded by police throwing tear gas at people. Students would be revolting and surfing, and they would be crying while they were surfing because of the tear gas. It was a landscape unimaginable to me. Isla Vista is more like an MTV riot nowadays than a riot with the anti-war movement. Mike Davis said something profound--I am paraphrasing him--"Cross-generational discussions are very difficult to engage in. I don't know how anyone in my generation could even have the nerve to give the younger generation any advice on how to define their own roads to life, because of all the problems that we have contributed to and dumped upon the younger generation. Technically, I'm not supposed to be saying that, but that's why I'm here. Saying things that I'm not supposed to say." I'm shedding a tear. That's probably the coolest quote I have so far for Roadtrip Nation. Mike's just making me more determine to succeed. Mike said he's all about "Question Authority," just like my advisor Armand; he has that bumper sticker on his car. I thought it was weird, because he was and still is my authority, and I follow him around like a puppy dog. The bumper sticker somehow made me trust Armand even more.

Mike discussed a few progressive universities in Europe that are transforming their curriculum in which professors' lectures are taped, made free for all, and then graduate students would have small-scale discussions with groups. It would eliminate the problem of 600 students to 1 professor problem. I told him that this experience in the university is downright "demeaning," and I had to supposedly plee for a "learning disability" stating I could not funciton in these classes due to high anxiety. I think the environmental context created this anxiety, and as soon I was out of these service classes, then my grades went up.

Mike is actually kind of shy about "interviews." He's had the BBC England come to his house a few times so he could be the expert authority about Los Angeles. BBC England has created stereotypes of Los Angeles and California, and these stereotyping stories have not changed a bit over the last 20 years. He stated that French media is more edgy and progressive. Makes sense with Michel Gondry and all. Mike apologized a couple of times, "Sorry this isn't exactly the interview you were expecting, huh?" I classify this interview as "outside the box" along with Randy Olson--probably the two most impactive interviews Shannon and I have conducted.

So, then Mike and I came to the subject of writing. He said that he learned how to write in his thirties, and it was a very VERY painful process. He thinks that creative writing programs are a bit futile in terms of the concept of someone teaching someone else how to write--people train themselves. I agreed, but I stated that my goal is "to teach people to teach themselves." That I think teachers can do phenomenal things if they help students, encourage students to ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS, AND FRAME THEIR MINDS TOWARDS THE PROTOCOLS OF CURIOSITY, then teachers do have a service in shaping, influencing young writers. Many creative writing classes involve getting together in a circle and everyone reading their blurb and then critiquing, starting with the schmooze of "what I really like about your writing...." People are so into complimenting each other, and no one is willing to listen to an honest, harsh critique. Mike Davis had an ultimate metaphor for schmoozing fragile writer egoes: going to a construction site with a hazardous building situation HALF DONE, and then you start to critique, "What I really like about your project." Same thing with writing. Mike sees writing as a visual building block game, just as I see it! I'll give you my two cents, eh? Mike said that many undergrads at UCR are interested in science fiction, fiction, romance fiction. Most graduate students are interested in fiction. And if there's ANY nonfiction, it's MEMOIR. There's NO SCIENCE/ENVIRONMENTAL WRITING. No training about how to tap into your surroundings. Geeze goodness. Pathetic. Mike said when he was in his twenties (his students are mostly in their twenties), it was an outrageous, perhaps SELFISH notion to even consider writing a memoir. Who in the hxll has an interesting life? Mike--even in his sixties--is not even willing to touch on the notion of a memoir of his life.

We complained about how science/environmental writing was non-existent in southern California universities, let alone ANY history of science courses. But then, how can we train people to do science writing then their jobs are vanishing into the dark side? I told him my approach is that this society does not need science journalism per se, but this society will always need SCIENTISTS. And that the goal is to train scientists (with pertinent research topics) to become better storytellers at the interface of diverse audiences inside and outside the university. And Mike agreed that's the way to go. I have two endorsements for an experimental science/environmental writing course: Mike Davis and Randy Olson. I need one more official sponsorship and then I will go to Bruce Tiffney and Claudia Tyler and ask them if we can set this up. I'm not exactly ready yet. Mike's shaken my internal tree, I have to figure out where I'm at right now. Mike asked me whether jobs exist in "environmental media"? I said basically, NO. I'm going to have to fight for it. I'm going to have to convince people that this is a worthwhile scholarly pursuit. Good luck to me!

Mike's currently teaching a landscapes and writing course, in which he states it's very experimental. He was really excited to hear that I was interested in sitting in! Woohoo! He says it's an interesting crop of students. I think on one of the first days of class, Mike went into depth on the first geologic expeditions of the Grand Canyon (1850s? 1870s?) and how these three geologists (Powell, and two others... my meager memory) went through these amazing analyses of the region. They had to invent so much terminology just to describe what they were seeing, for example, the Great Unconformity. Mike discussed the evolution of the researchers' observations over time. How SCIENTIFIC ILLUSTRATION was MORE ACCURATE than PHOTOGRAPHY back in the day--the role of scientific illustration! And the emotional thrill of these adventures! Back in the day, the Grand Canyon was indeed the wild west for geology. But to re-experienc the thrill of exploration, no one has implanted any pre-existing perception of the land, and you are to craft your own conceptual understanding of the Grand Canyon from scrap? INSANE! Mike said that the writing/landscape course is like a geography course rehash, but with its own twist... but no one needs to know that!

Mike was kind of interested in my dad's background and I told him how my dad backdoored into the university. Everyone in the family was pretty geeky and academic oriented. My dad hated school period; he self trained himself in vegetation and climate through observations and experiences as a child in the San Gabriel Mountains and then in an accidental field trip, my father made some observations of the vegetation zonation and the professor's jaw dropped and the next week he was hired. My dad as an undergrad was pioneering in aerial photography analysis of the vegation of southern California. Pretty crazy stuff.

Mike Davis really loves the work and adventure of field scientists, but he also discussed how even these scientists have their own departmental pirrhanna situations. Ha! I would know. Mike also made a point in terms of a shift in his writing career--He received a large advance from a New York publishing house to discuss the Los Angeles riots, and he had several contacts that would make an amazing story discussing the social injustices in Los Angeles, but he came to this point realizing, why he should be the one who has the right to tell the story about the difficulties of these people's lives? Such heart-wrenching stories! And then he fell back to his true passions for SCIENCE. And that is when he not only explored social problems of Los Angeles but also the biophysical problems of the design of Los Angeles, and how the social and biophysical aspects intertwine.

There was lots of discussions of strange, exotic places all over the world. Mike is currently writing a teenage adventure thriller series on scientific expeditions to really whacko places with unthinkingable ecosystems. The things you're trying to conserve are the things that will kill you--poisonous snakes for example. In a certain way, Mike is publicizing certain regions of the world that receive very little attention. He's totally enamored with Greenland, east Greenland. He told me one place I need to see is Greenland. Strange--most people tell me to go to the tropics. There was a lot of discussion about the Enuit people and their relative isolation from the rest of the world. 100+ names for types of snow. Geeze. The aspect that stuck out of my mind is how the people were "craving for winter" not summer. Because in summer the bugs eat you alive. There are interesting dynamics with sled dogs--somewhat "brutal" relationships in terms of dominance hierarchies and maintaining pack order. You must keep the the dogs partly trained and partly feral to maintain social organizaiton among the dogs and their masters.... The list goes on.... What can I say? Mike Davis is a very well traveled man.

Mike had this idea of doing an "Environmental Impact Report" of Los Angeles. HA! I told him about the quote from Aldous Huxley, "The most populous City is but an agglomeration of wildernesses." Doing a complete local and global EIR impact of Los Angeles. Where all the food comes from, the materials, and where are they dumped out. That would be INSANE! Such a cool idea! I asked him if he was going to do that--he says his writing gigs come and go with his appointments. He seemed very excited at the topic, but perhaps at the moment a bit time strapped with alternative commitments. But GREAT IDEA! Ha! And in Question Reality, I was trying to write a summary report on humans on planet earth for the Decapodal Pogostickapoids! Same idea....

MAJOR DRIVER FOR POST APOCALYPTIC SCIENCE FICTION STORIES THAT STAY TRUE TO THE SCIENCE--IMAGINING "SUCCESSION" IN A CITY. THE FIRST MOUNTAIN LION THAT ROMPS THE STREETS. Does "nature come back" as is... or to what degree of alteration? We discussed that, post war, post disease, it's different. I told him about the issues of reforestation in Costa Rica, same principle, secondary types of communities returning to once originally rainforest, then abandoned pasture, agricultural landscape.

Mike and I discussed how American science has framed biology and evolution in a VERY POOR WAY. For example, "Organisms adapt to the environment, rather than organisms mold the environment. Organisms as a geophysical force on this planet." Hands down agreement. Secondly, as an aside, I told him I removed the words "nature" and "culture" from my vocabulary. I said those words created ambiguity and problems of discussion on clear ideas. He agreed, good move. And thirdly, I told him that American evolutionary biologists frame evolutionary studies from the the point of view of COMPETITION. Like some kind of capitalist version of evolutionary studies. And that Russian approaches to evolution have seen more of a SYMBIOTIC-COLLABORATIVE approach to evolution. Goes along with socialism quite well. Hence the evidence of social context for driving scientific frames of reference. Mike Davis gave me a Vernadsky (sp?) book to read "The Biosphere" a biogeochemical perspective, and then I told him about Andy Knoll's research paper on "the geological consequences of evolution."

Joke: "Men are linear. They can only do one thing at a time, whereas women are more multi-taskers." I heard this claim twice. I'm not too sure if I agree. I can multi-task when some things I do are automatic knowledge, but I don't necessarily agree all men are linear. Take for example, my dad. He can drive safely and look and describe all the trees around him--to the chagrin of my mother! And then there's a famous music composer--Chopin, I believe--who had the ability to tune and process 6 different conversations at a party all at once! I CAN'T DO THAT! That's overwhelming! Wish I could!

I think Mike Davis is science writing but BEYOND science writing. Science writing plus IMAGINATION. For example, science fiction that does justice to science--post apocalyptic stories and such. Man wiped out from the world, what would happen? As Seth said, "The bad news is the world is going to hxll. The good news is that the world will be a much better place afterwards!" That's good for me because I got this whole alternate reality fiction streak in me! Imagine succession, small to large. Reverse engineering, like playing jenga with an outcrop.

RANDOM FACTS: Mike said Wallace was one of the best self-trained scientists ever, but he went onto the spiritual side of things. Lots of British laborers, mechanics and craftsmen, supported and advocated for evolutionary theory. Used word epistemology several times. Mike's totally into igneus rocks and geomorphology. My fetish is for sedimentary rocks and fossils. Powell. Dutton. McPhee. Powell expeditions. Rediscovered emotions. Climate models and climate field scientists are in TWO SEPARATE UNIVERSES. He claims he doesn't write to change the world? Then what for? Yes he does, doesn't admit it! Polar Federation. Affiliates with landscape art and classical geology. Top rated science writers are at Science and Nature, but Science is mostly dry and NONEDITORIAL. Nature has more EDITORIAL. And the Lancelet is VERY EDITORIAL medical journal. Mike Davis is concerned about how the public has a perception of scientists but NO ONE HAS A GRASP OF THE BEHIND-THE-SCENE CULTURE OF SCIENCE. Mike Davis says that there is no frontier for science writing to educate the general public, but there is a frontier for science writing for political/social change. That's where I come in. Amen. Same for Miller McCune. That's why they're different! That should be exposed, how knowledge is not fixed and debated all the time! Old fashion geography where natural and social sciences meld together. Klamath, Siskiyous, Eocene. Self-trained scientists. Unified Interdisciplinary Scientists, not many of those anymore. Russian interpretation of evolution as cooperative survival. Anti endangered species act. I told Mike Davis my first paper was on SCALE AND METAPHOR as drivers for narrative in science and social-environmental change. Mike Davis added "metaphors that don't lose their meaning in simplification." That's the magic of great science writing. Darwin's metaphors are very powerful in our everyday lives. Wallace-Humboldt, founders of biogeography.

I think I'm recuperated from my intellectual drunkedness from last night. I ended up talking to Mike Davis into the wee hours... 11pm.... I am so excited! His wife Alessandra is an art professor at Mesa City College who is doing hands-on art exhibit courses (museum studies) and his two twins are a riot. The boy loves rocks and the girl loves animals. They have their own taste for things!

I was really honored Mike said he would read "The Mountain's Last Flower" and give it an honest critique. I told him I was up for trading, and he asked me to read and honestly critique two chapters in Dead Cities. I teased him saying that this book is already "fixed" and "set in stone"! But no, what about an honest review? Who has given an honest review?! I'm SOOO excited!