Sunday, October 1, 2023

Celebrating anthropomorphism.

The things you get to talking about with friends on Facebook. Or maybe it's just me.

This week, somehow I ended up in a several-days-long Facebook chat with friends from Kevin's Watch about religion -- which to be honest, isn't that unusual with this crowd -- but then I steered the discussion into animism. 

Niceldeas | Deposit Photos
I was primed for it: I'm taking an online class right now on Pagan metaphysics, and one of the modules is on animism. Here's what we've been taught: Animism starts with the idea that whatever it is that animates humans also animates everything else -- our pets, of course, and other animals, but also plants, rocks, rivers, mountains, our earth, other planets -- everything. But it goes further than that. It suggests that all these things aren't just alive; they are also persons -- persons with whom we can form a relationship.

I discovered some time ago that I'm an animist, partly through my Pagan studies, but also by delving into so many Native American myths. Many tribes have a different attitude from that of Western civilization when it comes to the land. We have historically seen the earth and its resources as Jehovah's gift to us, to use for our benefit -- even to exploit. By contrast, Native Americans generally see the Earth as our mother, and the animals and plants that live here with us as people in their own right, whose qualities are wisdom that we could do well to emulate. These Natives believe we are here not to exploit Earth and her resources but to be good stewards of them. Which is one of the attitudes that made Europeans think, when they first got here, that the Native Americans they met were uneducated and naive -- in other words, ripe for exploitation. (I hope I've gotten some of this across in my novels.)

Getting back to the conversation this week: It then took a turn into a discussion of how we're not supposed to anthropomorphize things. Say you hear one of your cats using the litter box, and then notice that one of your other cats is also paying attention -- and is actually lying in wait to pounce on the poor boy when he gets out of the box. He does, and she does, and he freaks out and dashes down the basement stairs, and she saunters away, her practical joke played. Oh, all right -- it was Pumpkin in the litter box and Squeaker who was the jokester. And the whole thing was hilarious. 

But when I recounted this some years ago, I was admonished by someone for anthropomorphizing Squeaker's behavior. I thought the concept was ridiculous at the time, and I still think so. But this week, in remembering this series of events, I came to a realization: Humans, in our hubris, have it backwards. It's not that we attribute human emotions to animals -- it's that every living thing has the same emotions. We know when our pets are happy to see us and when they're jealous of the attention another pet is getting. We know when a wild animal is angry or afraid. We are learning that trees take care of one another, feeding resources through a mycorrhizal network underground to an ailing neighbor tree. We recognize these emotions because we have them, too.

But we can't admit that to ourselves. If we did, it would make humans, Jehovah's chosen ones, equal to every other species on the planet, including the rivers and trees and mountains and the planet herself.

As an animist, I believe we are all equal. We are all persons. And every person deserves respect.

So I've decided that anthropomorphism isn't an actual thing. It's certainly not anything we should avoid doing. In fact, I think we should do it more often. Let's celebrate our similarities so that we're less likely to treat the Earth, and every person on her, as "less than human".


These moments of bloggy equality have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

Sunday, September 24, 2023

New art in town.

Well, not new new. But it has a new home. The Vladem Contemporary Art Museum  -- more precisely, the New Mexico Museum of Art Vladem Contemporary -- opened this weekend. The original facility is right off the historic plaza downtown, and while it often shows contemporary works, it turns out they have a lot more in storage that they haven't had room to put on display. So several years ago, the state agency that runs the museum bought an old warehouse in the Railyard and converted it to this new facility -- thereby annoying local folks who objected to the destruction of a mural that celebrated Santa Fe's multiple cultures. The mural has been recreated inside the museum, but some locals are still ticked that you have to go inside to see a scaled-down work of art that you used to be able to see from the street.

Anyway, I stopped by the members' preview open house on Friday.

The inaugural exhibition is called "Shadow and Light". I'm not a huge fan of contemporary art, and frankly some of the work I saw in the downstairs exhibit space was terrifying (take a look at these pants made of straight pins!). Although maybe I was just hungry. After a stop at the hors d'oeuvres tables, I found some stuff upstairs that I liked better.

This, for instance. It's called Cu:C and it's by Susan York. It was actually commissioned by the museum for this corner. It's made of two squares, one graphite and one copper, and the description on the wall encourages the viewer "to ponder whether they interrupt space or are integral to the building." 

Lynne Cantwell 2023
To be honest, it was fairly crowded in the gallery, and I kind of wondered whether I could fit inside the squares and take a break from the crowd. Probably would have gotten thrown out of the museum, though.

This one, by Emil Bisttram, is called The Archetype. Bisttram was a theosophist, according to the info on the wall next to this work. I loved the colors and the way the artist worked in the mystical symbols. 

Lynne Cantwell 2023
My absolute favorite piece in the show, though, is this one, by Yuyoi Kusama. It's stainless steel and urethane and it's called, appropriately enough, Pumpkin
Lynne Cantwell 2023
The card on the wall says, "Kusama's polka dots, while playful and humorous, force viewers to negotiate between the real and the surreal as they experience the work." This is how contemporary art goes off the rails for me. It's a polka-dotted pumpkin, for crying out loud. Can't I just enjoy a bit of whimsy?

I mean, if reality is what you're after, the rooftop terrace offers a great view of downtown Santa Fe. 

Lynne Cantwell 2023
The Vladem is in the Railyard, right next to the Rail Runner station (the commuter train that runs between Santa Fe and points slightly south of Albuquerque). If you're coming to Santa Fe anyway, or if you're a fan of contemporary art, it's worth checking out.


These moments of artistic blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. (I mean, it's a pumpkin. Lighten up!)

Monday, September 18, 2023

"Pretend we're not home!"

tonodiaz | Deposit Photos
Oh hey, sorry, guys. I owed you a blog post last night, but I got to chatting with a friend on the phone and the evening got away from me.

One of the things we talked about is worthy of a blog post, though. (Which is good, because one reason I didn't rush off the phone last night was that I didn't have any ideas for a post.) We discovered that in both of our families of origin, it was not weird to show up unannounced on the doorstep of some relative or family friend. And they were always happy to see us. Always! They'd pull a coffee cake out of the freezer and make a pot of joe and make up the spare bed for you -- or if they didn't have a spare bed, they'd insist that you sleep in theirs.

Does anybody still do that? I mean, we visit friends and family, sure. But nowadays, we text or email first and make sure it's okay to come.

I know some of you younger folks are astonished. "So you'd just, like, show up? And they'd open the door and let you in? I know you didn't have email back in the Stone Age, but couldn't you at least call?"

Oh, you sweet summer child. Long distance was expensive. This Washington Post story from 2004 said that in 1920, it cost $250 in 2004 dollars to make a ten-minute call from New York to Los Angeles. By 1998, the cost for the same call had dropped to 50 cents. But the price didn't fall all at once -- it stayed up there for a long time. In cruising the web for some figures just now, I was reminded that there used to be tiers of long-distance prices -- daytime calls were the most expensive, evening rates were lower, and if you could stay up 'til the wee hours, nighttime rates were the least expensive. I absolutely remember waiting to make long-distance calls until after the rates went down at night. So no, you didn't just pick up the phone and call somebody. 

That 2004 WaPo article is reminding me how much the communications landscape has changed over the past 20 years. Remember the "Baby Bells"? The regional phone companies were created in the wake of the breakup of AT&T (once known as Bell Telephone) in 1982. AT&T used to have a monopoly on telephone service across the United States. But in '82, the behemoth agreed to end a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department by spinning off its local phone service into seven regional companies. A few mergers later, there were just four: Verizon, SBC, BellSouth, and Qwest. Not only did they own local phone service, they started selling their customers long-distance package deals. And they also owned chunks of the spectrum for the nascent cellphone industry.

With every innovation, long distance got cheaper. Now, almost everybody has a cellphone -- and with so many cellphone packages offering unlimited minutes, we're to the point where the term "long distance" has pretty much lost all meaning. Talk is cheap; texting and data are where the money is!

Anyway, getting back to my original point: I think it's more than the communications revolution that stopped people from making spontaneous visits like the ones we remember. While phone calls (and texts and emails) are cheap today, gas is a lot more expensive. Plus people today are just busier. We are not home a lot: we go to the gym, take the kids to sports practices and games, go shopping, have spa days. A day with zero commitments is a rare thing, both for the folks with a yen to get in the car and go visiting and for the folks who may or may not be home when they get there. Who wants to spend a ton of money on gas, only to find out you made the trip for nothing?

And I haven't even mentioned the complications of "don't come in -- the house is a wreck" and "shit, I never wanted to see this person again -- pretend we're not home!"

Not to mention how COVID put the kibosh on everything for a few years, and we're all still recovering from that. 

So was it better in the old days, or is it better today? I'm not sure. What do you guys think?


These moments of bloggy reminiscing have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe! 

Sunday, September 10, 2023

When a book becomes the Foundation for a different story on screen.

ra2studio | Deposit Photos
Does this keep happening to you? Because it keeps happening to me: A book you read and loved gets made into either a movie or TV show; you wait with breathless anticipation for the premiere; and when it finally arrives, you realize as you watch that the story isn't quite the way you remember it.

Silo was kind of like that, although it stayed truer to the Wool series than many adaptations I've seen. It helped a lot that the author of the series, Hugh Howey, was heavily involved as an executive producer of the show.

Dark Winds is a lot like that, as I blogged about a while back. Anne Hillerman, daughter of Tony Hillerman, who started the Leaphorn and Chee mystery series, is an executive producer and has written several books of her own in the world her father invented. And yet I didn't recognize much about some of  the main characters except their names. Would the Joe Leaphorn created by Tony Hillerman have meted out justice on B.J. Vines the way Joe Leaphorn did in the final episode of this season? I tend to think not (in fact, he didn't).

And so it is with Foundation, the classic multivolume sci-fi saga written in the 1940s and '50s by Isaac Asimov. I read the series some 30 years after they were first published and have never re-read them. Still, I remembered enough about the books to think about watching the series on Apple TV+. When Silo's first season ended, the second season of Foundation was about to begin, and I had time to catch up on season one before the second season finished its release.

So there I was, watching the first season, and thinking to myself, "Who is Gaal Dornick?" and "Wasn't Salvor Hardin male?"

Yes, indeed, Salvor was male in the books. So was Gaal -- and he was not a major character, which is why I didn't remember him. Then you've got Demerzel, the right-hand robot to the Cleons on Trantor, who's female in the series but male in the books (he was a sort of alter ego of Daneel Olivaw, the character who tied Asimov's Robot series into the universe of Foundation). And speaking of the Cleons and their weird way of keeping the empire all in the family -- that wasn't in the books, either.

So what gives? Are these people just trying to confuse me?

Nah. They simply updated the series for today: changing some characters' genders, throwing in some special effects, and -- to my delight -- imbuing the characters with more emotion than they had in the books. I've been known to say that Asimov was a brilliant man, but he couldn't write dialogue to save his life. I think now the problem is that Asimov didn't give his characters much emotional depth; it wasn't that his dialogue was wooden, it was that his characters were.

Anyway, late to the party as always, I am just now learning that Asimov's literary estate was one hundred percent onboard with all these changes. (Asimov's daughter Robyn is an executive producer of the show.) Showrunner David S. Goyer says, "Robyn Asimov and the estate completely embraced it. They said that Asimov himself would have embraced that and they were absolutely comfortable with that."

That's all well and good. But what about the fans who loved the books and wanted to see a TV show about those stories? Goyer makes the excuse that Foundation was written during the Cold War, so things needed to be updated. Except that didn't seem to trouble Peter Jackson when he made the Lord of the Rings movies; those were written during World War Two and the postwar years, and yet Jackson didn't feel the need to take as many liberties with Tolkien's story as Goyer has with Asimov's.

Does it sound like I'm mad about the changes to Foundation? I'm not. I'm enjoying the show. I guess maybe I'm in the sweet spot -- a person who remembers enough about the books to be interested in the show, but who doesn't remember enough about the books to be angry or sad or disappointed about all the changes. To me, it's kind of like this show is "the further adventures of Hari Seldon" or something. (Hari, by the way, was not nearly as much of an egotistical jerk in the books. That's one change I am disappointed about.)

I'm kind of getting to that spot with Dark Winds, too. I'm starting to think of the TV show as a story about people with the same names as the characters in these books I've read. 

At least that attitude saves me from feeling the need to throw things at the TV.


These moments of adaptive blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!