Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2016, pt. 3: Andrea Hairston

Books To Dream By
by Andrea Hairston

I hunker at my desk, writing away, slogging through edits, making less sense, not more. Democracy is on the line. Who we are and could become is uncertain; who we once were is under assault. Yes, even the past is at risk. I feel it slipping away from me. The stories we tell on ourselves matter. The narratives we construct are policy. The actions we take are based on the stories we make. It’s tempting to feel bleak, pointless, defeated. (What the hell am I writing?) Yet, I know we need good stories, true stories. We hunger and ache for the inspiring plots we can make out of this or that disaster. The melodramas of the moment are so compelling, so thrilling and appalling, so filled with good guys and bad guys, and delicious, outrageous, outsize lies! Oh the spectacle! Oh the drama! Glitzy, adrenalized, stupendous lies bombard us, occupying our minds as we react and mount rebuttals. The master of disaster stresses every aspect of the system, never letting up, nagging and jagging at three in the morning. Who can think without thinking of him? But I remember. We have survived already. We’ve been living post apocalypse for a long while. Disaster is just not evenly distributed.

I wake up. It’s actually three in the morning, and I am not writing. I’ve been stuck in a bad dream, a writer’s nightmare, and even though I’ve regained motor control and breath control, it still feels like I am stuck in that bad dream. Demons are sitting at the foot of my bed. They are laughing and snarking and doing demon things. It’s dark. I don’t have my lenses in. They could just be shadows, howling with the coyotes, and the bears are up too. It’s a warm night for winter. My phone glows with the storms raging across social media. Truth is getting blasted, displaced by the melodramas people are willing to believe—melodramas they’ve been primed to believe. Complexity is being savaged by feel-good denial. Anti-intellectualism has gone viral. The world as we know it is always coming to an end, but at 3:00 AM I have to force myself not to check for an update. What good would that do at 3:00 AM—better to go out and play with the bears and howl at the stars. But I am not invited to that party.

So I finish the chapter of Super Cooperators I started earlier—a book I’ve already read about the marvel of our biological altruistic nature—we—mammals, bacteria, birds, trees, insects, fish, et. al. are marvels of cooperation. I am thoroughly engaged as Martin A. Nowak ranges through mathematical evolutionary biology, game theory, cultural studies, computer science, the prisoner’s dilemma: Should you stick it to your opponents or trust in mutual cooperation? Over the long haul, those who cooperate flourish, but I’m old. Do I have a long haul?

Of course I do. I am part of a long haul. This book fills my minds with questions. I fall asleep on the image of ancestor rocks, rain, bacteria, slime molds, and creatures swinging through trees, cradling their babies, offering the magic and wonder of life to the universe. Future generations tug me deep into dreams, into possibilities. Super Cooperators is a book to sleep with. So is Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer and Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans De Waal. Too often we act as if what we know is what there is to know. A book of stories, a book of actions, a book of insights, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants challenges us to examine and expand our ways of knowing the universe. So does Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? These are books to dream by!

Andrea Hairston is the Artistic Director of Chrysalis Theatre and has created original productions with music, dance, and masks for over thirty years. She is also the Louise Wolff Kahn 1931 Professor of Theatre and Afro-American Studies at Smith College. Her first novel from Aqueduct Press, Mindscape, won the Carl Brandon Parallax Award and was shortlisted for the Phillip K Dick Award and the Tiptree Award. Her second novel, Redwood and Wildfire, published by Aqueduct in 2012, won the James Tiptree Jr. Award as well as the Carl Brandon Kindred Award. Aqueduct released Lonely Stardust: Two Plays, a Speech, and Eight Essays in 2014 and published her new novel, Will Do Magic for Small Change in Spring 2016.

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