February 1 is the beginning of Black History month in Canada and the U.S.

As a student in the 1960s I asked a black professor what he thought white people should do during what was then called “Negro History Week.”

His reply: “Keep your mouth shut and listen. Get your own shit together.”

“The Backsides of White Souls” is my attempt, having tried to listen, to get my shit together.

 

>> To read the essay click: “The Backsides of White Souls,” CNQ.

>> To read a dialogue about the essay’s writing and editing click: “Sleeping with the Author,” TNQ (The New Quarterly).

 

I know many souls that toss and whirl and pass, but none there are that intrigue me more than the Souls of White Folk . . . I see these souls undressed and from the back and side. I see the working of their entrails. I know their thoughts and they know that I know. This knowledge makes them now embarrassed, now furious. —W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Souls of White Folk,” 1920

“When it comes to fighting against white supremacy, it’s not just what you stand for, it’s who you sit with.”   –Jamaya Khan, Maclean’s, August 16, 2017

“Now, mind, I recognize no dichotomy between art and protest.” –Ralph Ellison, Paris Review, Spring, 1957

 

For further reading on the contribution of white women to racism read “The Women Behind White Power.” Better still, read the book on which it is based: Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy by Elizabeth Gillespie McRae.

 

“Truth Be Told,” ice sculpture by Nora Ligorano & Marshall Reese

After my last post about the pope’s view of truth, fake news and lies, my son Bryn, born and bred on Big Questions, played the devil and wrote:

BSG: ​Are you suggesting that no mortal human can ever speak or know ‘the truth’? That we’re all just guessing? What if one of our guesses is ‘the truth’, and God has a little checklist with all the Big Questions & answers, and whoever guesses one right gets rewarded in (or punished) in some manner?

Or what about scientific facts: water boils at 100 degrees. Isn’t that ‘a truth’ that was discovered and is now professed by humans?

RLG: You are raising two questions, one about God, the other about truth. If God, in fact, has a list of questions and answers, none of us can see it. I wouldn’t believe anyone who claims to have taken a peek at it.

Pascal argued that humans should wager in favor of God. If He exists and we don’t join up, we’re in trouble. So, for ass/soul-covering purposes, it’s best to bet on God. But what kind of a god does that imply? A heavenly father who rewards guessing, betting, and ass-covering? My dad wasn’t perfect, but he was fairer and more compassionate than that.

I’m not really saying there is no truth, only that no one, including clergy, politicians, or scientists, has a monopoly on it. I’m also saying that every uttered truth comes from a perspective. In quantum theory, this is called the observer effect. The observer changes–at least somewhat–the observed. I’m certain this effect is true about social interactions, social truths, but quantum theory holds that it is also true of physical interactions.

Water only boils at 100 degrees if you participate in the social convention called the metric system. If you live in a Fahrenheit country, water boils at 180 degrees. Right?

 

As I await Bryn’s reply, The Daily Beast reports on an art show containing a 3000-pound ice sculpture by Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese for an international Art Action Day. The sculpture, “TRUTH BE TOLD,” has, unfortunately, melted already, along with other ice sculptures: “DEMOCRACY,” “THE FUTURE,” “MIDDLE CLASS,” and “THE AMERICAN DREAM.”

 

 

“Three Places I Never Went” by Paul Antick, who is a founding member of the Terror and the Tour research group and co-editor of Liminalities’ Terror and the Tour special issue. His recent contributions include, “Bhopal to Bridgehampton: schema for a disaster tourism event,” in the Journal of Visual Culture. Antick is Senior Lecturer in Photography at the University of Roehampton, London.You can find some notes about the video here.

Think of Antick’s videography as slow food. It’s the work of a photographer. You will need to practice meditation to watch this remarkable video.

I’ve been riding the Iron Horse Trail for years. In 1997 Kitchener-Waterloo drizzled a ribbon of asphalt over an old rail bed connecting the twin cities. Since then, we fine, upstanding citizens have been practicing–ambling, walking, riding, jogging.  I say “practicing” because for some of us this is lifelong learning, and because some of us aren’t especially adept at it. So practice it is.

Some mornings I grumble at the thought that the trail calls. Should a trail “call?” It has friends enough. The neighbors are out there walking, biking, jogging, slicked out in sweats or pooping their pets. Others of us, early or late in life, trot out our iron horses: bikes, wheelchairs, strollers.

trotify-horse-bike-silhouetteI bike. When people ask why, I say “to stay alive, why else?” I mean it. Secretly, I’m lazy. One of my Dutch students initiated the Walk of Wisdom, a circular pilgrimage around Nijmegen. It’s 136 km. I’d never make it. That’s why you have enterprising students students: so they will walk the walk you could only talk.

Unlike the trail up Boulder Creek Canyon, the K-W Iron Horse Trail is flat, reminding me of the terrain around Nijmegen. (Ah, for one of those fine Dutch bikes, which I still can’t afford!) The flatness of the Iron Horse is, I suppose, easy on aging hearts and muscles, but flatness also provokes anxiety. I grew up in the high dry, dusty plains of eastern New Mexico, and I’m not fan of flatitude. In western Canada, they call these level expanses prairies. As a kid, I imagined prairies were places for prayer. Places where people asked God to help them escape to the mountains. Mountains and coasts are holy. The great continental mid-section is safe.

An iron horse is a train. If  you’re not too young, you know this already.

“Horsing around.” Did you use that phrase as a synonym for “play?”

“Ironing:” what we used to do to our clothes before stay-pressed and no-iron were invented.

“Ironing your horse:” nailing shoes on it. By pounding them through an iron shoe and then through the horse’s “nails,” you render the poor beast roadworthy. In the process, of course, you damage the hooves. Take your pick: asphalt damage or nail damage.

I imagine animating the Spirit of the Iron Horse Trail. Raising it from the flatlands of the urban imagination.

I revel, conjuring an evening of processing and parading, of candle lanterns and steampunk horses, of kids inventing new kinds of horses.

Steampunk Iron Horse (cut paper) by Phillip Valdez

Steampunk Iron Horse (cut paper) by Phillip Valdez

War Horse by Larry Agnello, Assemblique.com

War Horse by Larry Agnello, Assemblique.com

I went to an Iron Horse Trail town meeting and could find no compatriots. I wanted to reimagine the trail, conjure its spirits, fill it with masked processions, have funeral processions down it, dance down up, have a yearly contest to build an Iron Horse Trail horse. But most participants wanted to enhance safety, make the trail wider, and post courtesy instructions.

Within a few months the trail was widened to accommodate Catalyst137, “The World’s Largest Internet of Things Manufacturing Space. I love technology, even the technology of machine horses. But, damn, I wish we would stock the trail with imaginary creatures. This ain’t Silicone Valley, although the city mothers and fathers wish it were.

Susan talks about downsizing. I’m not ready for such a move even though people our age are doing it. For one thing, it would cost us more, not less, to move into a condo. For another, I am still capable of maintaining the house, so enjoy it. In a condo I’d have fewer reasons to get up out of this fabulous writing chair. Even if you have only lived in a bachelor apartment, after a year or two you realize how much crap you accumulate. When I’m tired of moving it around or dusting it, it’s crap. When I’m enjoying it, or even when I think I might use it in the future, it’s a resource, a comfort, a prized possession. We’d have to dispense with several truckloads of stuff. Even if we’re still physically capable of packing, lifting, and dumping it all, why go to all that trouble until you have to? Susan says that means it’ll all fall to her.

This morning, with Susan out of town, I started going through slides. Most are pre-Susan, so she doesn’t have any interest in them. If I were sorting family photos, pictures you can hold in your hand, she would care mightily.

Old slide: Dad, camera in hand

It’s easy to feel sad, then get angry at Kodak (let “Kodak” stand for all electronics manufacturers that build obsolescence into their products).

Old slide: Mom, camera in hand

Kodak spawned the slide-tray technology that lured us into shooting slides instead of pictures. Since slides were shown on a screen and were bigger than 4″ x 6″, they were more dramatic than photos. The lights went down, and the family gathered. We dads bought into the notion that photos and slides were “memories.” But gone are the days of slide projectors.

Most of the time, in the cosmic scheme of things, it hardly matters that you are always falling behind the technological curve. Some categories of slides were easier to dispense with than others. Buildings, gone. Colorful flowers, gone. Sunsets, into the bucket. What a lot of landscapes, into the trash. How easy it is now to let go of them. Their beauty is of little consequence as you circle the edge. Even vacation slides were not all that difficult to toss. Vacations were just vacations unless something significant happened to the family during one of them.

But when technological change costs your family memories, that’s immoral. Having to toss slides (last year it was CDs), I began to realize that they were semblances of memories, not memories. They were memory-triggers, mnemonic devices, not actual memories. Still, as I put slide after slide to death, it felt like, “Ah, there goes my old life, my pre-Susan, pre-Cailleah, pre-Bryn life.” It felt good to trash some of those slides, but others hurt. So I projected a few of the slides onto a rusted only screen, then shot them into digital eternity. But what suffering my kids will have when the technicians trash jpgs, not eternal after all.

Old slide: Ron hand on TV camera