Monthly Archives: June 2009

Mother Earth: Not Just Mars in Drag

rust recycle

The Green movement, not unlike any other call for societal change, is propelled by one gallon of science, a pint of conscience, and two (or three) loads of bandwagon (what ultimately makes it a movement). This bandwagon–I’ll call it a “band-station-wagon” (maybe one of those mythical Chrysler electric vehicles), features a panda bear high-fiving a sea turtle on one side and a smokestack in the shape of a flower on the other, and it’s packed as tight as a clown car with well-meaning citizens who are as afraid of being associated with the “other side” as they are concerned for the environment.

You’ll find me somewhere in the backseat smoking an imaginary cigarette dreaming of a tobacco hybrid that releases zero-tar, oxygen-rich vitamin smoke when it burns.

 As more passengers come along for the ride, cliques arise, factions form, and we sometimes find ourselves at odds. Environmentalists pushing renewable energy and energy independence applaud bio fuels and Brazil for their sugar cane diesel while the conservationists worry that the proliferation of sugar cane fields will encroach into if not destroy precious rainforest in the process. Electric cars reduce emissions in the city, but the electricity needed to recharge the battery is generated most likely at your neighborhood coal or gas burning electric power plant, not to mention that the manufacturing process for the batteries is not that environmentally friendly.

All the while, Papa Gore in the driver’s seat tries to convince scientists that the “warm up” isn’t just a statistical spike in the standard warming-cooling cycle from the last ice age. Even the zero-emission vehicle I helped develop as a proof of concept, a ’67 Volkswagen beetle (yes, again with a Volkswagen, Fahrvergnügen!) transformed to run on the expansion of liquid Nitrogen (“the cool car” we called it) would only truly be “green” if the energy expended to liquefy the Nitrogen were to have been generated using solar power or some other green fuel (reducing the “cool car” to simply an inefficient method of storing solar energy to use later).

And, a quick poll of fiction writers would suggest that while the majority profess a green leaning tendency, many of these same writers would still rather see their work in a print journal than an online lit magazine or e-published, even if the electronic publication might be seen by far more readers than the print, even with the rising quality of online publications. We still want our contributors’ copies. We want to display it on our shelf. It’s an object d’art, something that can’t be “unpublished” because the website didn’t pay their domain registration or the editors decided they would rather change aesthetic course and truncate part of their archives. POD technology solves many of the environmental concerns, but to some, POD technology has become interchangeable with the term “POD publishers” some of which have soiled the POD abbreviation making it almost synonymous with a vanity press. Electronic submissions reduce waste, but so does recycling.

Technophiles have been predicting the demise of books (printed material in general) for nearly two decades now on the basis that printed material is no longer an efficient method of storing data (even less so than a papyrus scroll by comparison to digital). But the publishing industry moves at a glacial pace (just ask any writer who has ever submitted any material anywhere or has waited for their book to finally hit the shelves). It is true though that the proverbial writing has been scrawled on the stall of the literary restroom (years ago in fact). Newspapers are now closing up shop, or converting to online formats (as even the NY Times has projected in five to ten years), and libraries are converting to electronic reference materials. People of a certain age still claim printed material is easier to read, but the upcoming generations have become much more accustomed to the electronic format. Imagine these receding glaciers we hear so much about in global warming sermons. The ice is printed material. The rocks are electronic. Kindle and his future siblings have arrived, certainly for convenience, but also to reduce mass-market bulk waste.

That leaves the books and literary journals as works of art in their own right–their content and their bindings. Just as artists still paint with brushes and oils on a canvas cloth, books will find a rightful place in the arts. As an avid lover of books, their smell, the feel of them in my hands, even the weight of the pages as a metaphor for the content, I am certain books will endure. Who will read them? Who knows?

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The Weather is Here.
Wish You Were Beautiful.

At the risk of having my “green” card revoked, I will admit that I’ve always enjoyed driving my car, preferably a five-speed junker from another decade, a car with stories to tell. Even in Europe where a grid of passenger trains connects the rural crevices with the urban armpits, I clung to my road-tripping ways by purchasing, from its ninth owner, a Volkswagen camper van that had already clocked over three hundred thousand miles and chewed up two engines all under one coat of paint–the factory sunflower yellow had turned to Melba Toast umber by the time I got it. That van had an almost indescribable odor, like a Rif Valley hashish lab masking the scent with pine needles and vodka, all underneath the scent of something I’ve always called the “Volkswagen smell” (anyone who has ever owned an old Beetle will know this right away).

The van also came with a spectrum of stains on the carpet, rips in the seat, and, of course, a collage of stickers so thick on the back that I was positive people followed me just to finish reading them (or they were following me for other, more sinister reasons).

These stickers were a patchwork life story of the van in countless languages: stickers from camping sites, cities, beaches, almost everywhere it had been in twenty-plus years. My favorite was a faded bumper sticker featuring a man under an umbrella peeking over the top of his sunglasses on rainy beach. It read: “The Weather is here. Wish you were beautiful!” That play on the famous “wish you were here” postcard ranks for me in the upper echelon of all bumper stickers, in the rarified air of “Gas, Grass, or Ass, nobody rides for free,” and “If you’ve seen one nuclear war, you’ve seen them all.”

On a trip through Southern France, the engine threw a rod, just outside San Tropez (not an inexpensive place to break down), where she was put to rest, finally ending her road tripping days.

I suppose I could write what I would call a “Tales from the Van” creative non-fictionesque alter-egoist semi-humorous memoir (among other hyphenated modernisms that seem to fit), but what fun would that be. I’m much more interested in what happened in the van in the twenty years before I got it. Writing platitudes be damned. “Writing what you know,” translates for most into “Writing what you think you know,” which as it turns out, is often off the mark.

Perhaps the story begins on an automotive assembly line in 1974, or better yet, the birth canal of Mother Volkswagen.

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