paper swimming pools and fear of the future

Soundtrack in my head:  Dar Williams, “Mortal City”

In my last “paper swimming pools post,” I wrote about how I, as a child got over the fear of deep water through play—making “swimming pools” out of paper and having little toy figures “swim” in them until finally, one day I got my courage up and jumped off the diving board.  In this post, I will write about other fears—and not necessarily of the childhood variety.

In junior high and early high school, I learned that there were (at the time) enough nuclear weapons to kill every man, woman and child on the earth five times over.  I became fascinated with the notion of nuclear holocaust.  Like my mother, I was already reading a bit of science fiction, and I became fascinated with near-term, post apocalyptic science fiction.  However, as I did so, I also became more afraid that this science fiction could become reality.  I found myself worrying about the day that those sirens might start going off, and I’d go to sleep at night with the blanket pulled up over my face as if that might somehow protect me from the blast, heat, and radiation.  “The Day After,” a 1983 made-for-TV movie that created a “what-if” scenario about nuclear war, only reinforced fears I already had.

I was on the high school newspaper at the time and I interviewed a student who was involved with a nuclear disarmament group at school.  I remember asking her whether getting involved in the issue made her more afraid of nuclear war.  She said that it did at first, but then she felt less afraid because she felt she was doing something about it.  I found that to be true when I myself became an activist at college a year or so later.  Our nuclear disarmament group would bring lecturers to campus and hold rallies.  We held “die-ins” timed with the monthly testing of the emergency sirens where we’d drop screaming to the ground as if dying from a nuclear blast, and trace the outline of our bodies on the sidewalk with chalk.  

Unfortunately, the list of potential things to be afraid of has only grown.  At the end of the 80’s, we began to hear more about the environmental crisis.  In the mid-90’s, I found myself worrying that globalization’s “race to the bottom” would have us all working in sweatshops, or perhaps even cause the economic collapse of the global economy.  Starting with 9/11, I found myself worrying not so much about terrorism, but the prospect that the government might use the prospect of terrorism to impose martial law and worse.  Now there’s a lot of renewed talk about global warming. And as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I have reasons to believe that recent rise in energy prices is just the tip of the iceberg, and that we could see more shortages and dislocation as a result.  Then, there’s a lot of talk about avian flu or some other superbug causing millions of deaths worldwide and perhaps even shutting down economic activity for months.  

The extent to which any of these apocalyptic prospects are realistic is subject to debate, (and a few of this things I do have some skepticism about) but there is no doubt that we human beings have created a capacity to destroy ourselves that is unprecedented in history.  Maybe us human beings will find the capacity to successfully combat global warming or energy shortages—certainly we are capable of it–but right now, my bet is that things will get worse before they’ll get better.

Most people respond by not responding.  The reaction is denial, resignation, or just deciding that it’s not polite to talk about the 800-pound gorilla sitting in the room.  I can’t hold that against people–it’s all too easy to do.

There are also people who go to the opposite extreme—who look at every hurricane, earthquake, major wildfire, and civil disturbance as further proof that the end is nigh.  I’ve even seen people use that fear to manipulate others into blind obedience of religious doctrines and authorities, and certainly our government has been guilty of the same thing.  I find such practices despicable.  

It’s heartening to know that we’ve appeared to be at “the brink” many times without crossing over.  At the same time, it would be foolhardy to think that this will automatically happen in the future.  

Looking back, I realize that a lot of the choices I’ve made in life have been influenced in part by worries about the future.  I spent nearly seven years working for the environmental movement, and my twelve-year fundraising career was indirectly spurred by this desire to make a difference.

Yet I find myself these days feeling kind of overwhelmed by what is happening in the world.  I think that my efforts to live simply, communally, and spiritually help to some extent, but I often question whether that is adequate preparation for the challenges that we might face in the future.  Sometimes I feel paralyzed by this fear.

Lately, I think my right brain, the creative part of the brain, has been kicking into gear to deal with these fears. In recent months, I’ve felt motivated to undertake a number of creative endeavors.  In the last few weeks it’s occurred to me that these creative endeavors may in fact be “paper swimming pool” endeavors designed to, once again, help come to terms with the fear within me.  

For example, I’ve been recently motivated to read the book “Dies The Fire,” by S.M. Stirling.  My mother gave me a copy of this book shortly before she died—she was a big fan of the author.  The premise of this book is that a mysterious electrical storm somehow triggers a change that renders all electrical devices in the world useless—suddenly sending humanity back to the Middle Ages technology-wise.  While the premise of the book is far-fetched, the response of characters and human society to the events seems fairly realistic, and gives me food for thought when thinking about the future.  I’m a little more than halfway through the book right now.

There has always been a part of me that likes to dream about new worlds and alternative realities.  Recently, I’ve felt motivated to create a narrative future history, maybe in the form of a novel or short story, trying to map out plausible changes in society over the next ten, twenty and fifty years, and figure out what impact such changes would impact our world politically, socially, and in our day-to-day lives. At first I thought it was just play for Steve’s geek mind, but I realize that I’m quite motivated to be as realistic as possible with it, and this might again be a “paper swimming pool project” without my consciously realizing it.  I don’t know if it will turn into a writing project or be used in some other way.  Maybe it might even be useful in life planning–when I saw the documentary, “The End of Suburbia,” one of the documentary’s participants urged people to think about their careers and what kind of skills and specialties will be sorely needed during more difficult times.  

Weird stuff, but certainly there is no harm in letting the child within the adult mind play with these things.  Perhaps the right brain, the one associated with artistic endeavors and creativity, is the best one to grapple with these issues right now.  Certainly I see no harm in it, and who knows—maybe creative ideas for the future may reveal themselves…

paper swimming pools

Soundtrack in my head:  Ursula 1000, “The Shake”

When I was between the ages of five and ten, I had a fear of swimming in deep water.  I don’t know exactly what caused it. I do remember testing the adult swimming pool after years in the “kiddie pool,” jumping in and being shocked to discover that the water went up to my chin, and that kind of freaked me out.

My parents enrolled me in swimming lessons.  There were four or five different classes for different levels of skill, and I ended up having to repeat a couple of the levels.  I remember at the end of one class, we were told to hold onto a rim at the edge of the swimming pool and move, hand over hand into the deeper parts of the pool.  We went all the way to where the diving boards were, and I was absolutely shocked to discover that we were now in twelve feet of water.  To me, twelve feet might as well have been a hundred feet deep, with unknown forces ready to pull me to the bottom. While other kids gleefully jumped off the diving board, I got out of the pool as quickly as I could, feeling anger and dismay that the parks and recreation people would subject us kids to such mortal danger.  
Over the next few years, I responded to this fear of deep water in an interesting way:  I decided to make paper swimming pools.  It was a form of play for me—I was able to act out jumping off a diving board in the same way that the toy castle my parents got me allowed me to act out scenes from medieval times. 

I took several sheets of typing paper and laid them out on the floor like tile so that I would have a large area covering much of the floor of my bedroom.  Then I would draw lines marking the edge of the swimming pool.  I would carefully mark the depths of water on the side of the pool just as they did at the public pool—3 feet, 3 feet 9 inches, 4 feet 6 inches, etc.  Then we’d get to the treacherous depths of nine feet, twelve feet, or sixteen feet, and I’d draw a diving board, and perhaps even a high dive.  Then I’d borrow the little Playskool people from my sister’s Playskool house and have them toddle away in this pool.  Step by step, I’d get them to make their way into deeper and deeper water until finally I had the Playskool people jumping off the diving boards.

My mother would tell me years later that she found this exercise fascinating.  At the time, she was starting to go back to school to get her master’s degree in social work.  To me, this was only play, and I didn’t think or rationalize beyond that, but she realized that through my play I was figuring a way to deal this fear.  

During the summer I turned ten years old, I finally decided to take the plunge.  One day, I walked to the edge of the diving board sticking out over sixteen feet of water.  And then I stepped off to the side.  The guard blew his whistle because he didn’t want me to jump to the side of the pool, but it did not in any way sully my triumph.  I jumped off the diving board again and again, letting myself bounce higher and higher, do cannonballs, and yes, even dive into the depths of the pool.  A couple weeks later I got the courage to go off the high dives, and by summer’s end, I’d even mustered up the courage to jump off the five- and ten-meter platforms.  A fascinating example of a child unknowingly creating his own therapy through play, indeed!

I guess I thought that I would stop having fears once I grew up…

ya hey dere, BBC… have some cheese curds

Soundtrack in my head: Sufjan Stevens, “All the Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands”

Wisconsin’s primary was today, and I found it amusing to find that BBC’s international website gave a lot of attention to it. They even had a special section entitled, “In Pictures–Wisconsin Votes.” It wasn’t exactly the most exciting photo essay–it was basically pictures of polling places, snow, and the snow outside of polling places.

Since I live downtown near the campus, a high percentages of voters in my neighborhood are students. That means they have to register to vote, since most students have not lived in the neighborhood very long. It’s nice that Wisconsin allows same-day voter registration at the polling place itself. Today, that meant really long lines.

But because I was already registered, I got to bypass the long lines. As I walked by the students waiting in line, I wanted to tell them, “No, really, I don’t have special connections, it’s just that I’ve voted here before.” I’ve paid my dues. I make it a point to vote in every election–local or national. Sometimes I’ll show up after work and only be voter #58. Today I was voter #934. I found it heartening, and was glad to see that so many cared. I just hope everybody got to vote who wanted to…

To our esteemed BBC correspondents covering the primary election here in Wisconsin: You are welcome to the Leinenkugels in the fridge. (I don’t drink anymore anyway.)  Just remember that they are supposed to be consumed while cold.

just how bad is the weather in wisconsin?

Soundtrack in my head:  The Telescopes, “Celeste”

The weather is so bad in Wisconsin that even the local Doppler radar decides it wants to go a to warmer climate.  I kid you not.

I was online yesterday during our nasty freezing rain/snowstorm.  (For those of you not in Madison, it was so bad that the Madison Metro stopped running its buses after 8:30 a.m.  Anyway, I have this widget program that shows the Doppler radar for the state, and so all I have to do is click on it and it will show me a map of Wisconsin and parts of surrounding states, and show what weather systems are coming through.

Most of yesterday, it was showing Wisconsin engulfed in bands of green, pink and blue, signifying rain, freezing rain and snow, and it just kept coming and coming and coming.  Then later in the day, I clicked on it again, and to my amazement it showed this:


If you look closely, you’ll see that the image is not of Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest, but Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.  You can see the little icon that says “Wisconsin Doppler!” and it’s only supposed to show Wisconsin–it’s not like there’s any menu that lets you see other parts of the country.

It’s almost as the Wisconsin Doppler radar said, “You really DON’T want to know what’s going on in Wisconsin right now, so I’m going to show you Louisiana instead.”  Or it was saying, “The heck with it!  I’ve had enough of this bad weather!   I’m moving south!”

Lacey, I think I can see you thumbing your nose at me from Houston. 

the pitter-patter of…uh-oh

Soundtrack in my head:  The Primitives, “Summer Rain”

I woke up this morning to the sound of pitter-patter.  At first I thought it was the mouse that accidentally crawled onto my bare foot late last night as I was typing away, scaring the bejesus out of both of us.  I thought, “Oh, no, not again.” 

I listened more closely.  No, it was too consistent, and it was coming from the windows.  It’s raining out, I realized. I lay down in bed listening more closely.  It was a pleasant thing to listen to while still lying in bed semi-awake.  It reminded me of lazy summer mornings.

Then I realized it was February.  I thought, “Oh no, not again.” 

I pulled the curtain aside and looked outside.  It did not look pretty.  It was raining out, and the streets were covered with a layer of slush.  The three-foot-high snowdrifts were mixing with the rain and turning the sidewalks into slushy canals two to three inches deep.  The few pedestrians who were on the street were trying to find solid parts of the sidewalk to walk on as if they were looking for rocks on a shallow lake.

I checked the Wisconsin Doppler Radar on one of the local TV stations’ websites.  It did not look pretty.  There were big diagonal bands of green, pink and blue engulfing the state.  Green means rain and blue means snow.  As for pink?  Pink is not good.  Pink means don’t plan on driving. Pink means freezing rain, or a mixture of rain and snow. The radar loop showed the diagonal bands travelling lengthwise from southwest to northeast.   Madison was just crossing from green to pink and would stay pink for a while.  And seven to ten inches of snow are predicted for later.

I hated to part with my Sunday morning routine.  It actually has been a few weeks since I’ve been able to take bus to the Bay Creek Neighborhood to enjoy coffee and journal-writing at a cafe, followed by devotionals at the nearby Baha’i Center.  But there’s a Baha’i dinner and devotionals event just three blocks from me tonight, so I figured that it would make just as much sense to go there instead, and not mess with getting my boots wet. 

Then I got a phone call from someone with the Local Spiritual Assembly notifying me that devotionals at the Baha’i Center would be cancelled.  This was the second week in a row devotionals were cancelled–last week it was due to sub zero temperatures and predicted wind chills of -40 degrees.

Later on this morning, I discovered that Madison Metro pulled all its buses off the road at 8:30 a.m.  This surprised me.  If it weren’t for the devotionals being held for me three blocks from my house, I probably would have braved the weather to come down there.  I didn’t even think of checking the Metro website to see if buses were still running.  They stopped a half hour before I would have ventured out, so I would not have sat there out in the rain or take the bus only to be unable to get home. 

Freezing rain and ice storms are weird.  They usually aren’t accompanied with dark clouds or thunder or high winds. When looking outside, there isn’t anything that really suggests that they might be dangerous. They kind of creep up on you.  In many ways, they are more insidious.  Before you know it, ice covered branches are falling down, it’s next to impossible to drive or walk outside, and you have power outages. 

So I’ll stay inside, grateful for the heat and the comfort of home.  This winter has set record snowfalls for Madison  and I’ve had to contend with some bus stops buried under three feet of snow.  Yet, despite bitching and moaning about winter earlier this year, I’ve gotten to a point where I find myself basically just accepting what comes along.  Maybe it’s because the frequent snowfalls make the landscape turn white again, instead of the ugly gray and black hues that dirt and pollution impose on the snowy landscape.  Then again, co-workers have told me they wish they could take the bus like me instead of drive, and I’m inclined to agree…

all i want to know is, are you kind?

Soundtrack in my head:  Grateful Dead, “Uncle John’s Band”

Here it is, Valentine’s Day, and everyone talking about love.  Usually, it’s the romantic kind people talk about today, but considering that I’m currently unhitched in any way, shape or form, I find myself also thinking a lot about other types of love, such as the love of one’s neighbor and of humanity.  

In this blog, I am a strong advocate of Internet freedom and I oppose any effort to control or censor Internet content in any way.  By the same token, I have also spoken out strongly against using one’s blog or other medium—either electronic or otherwise—to inflict humiliation on another human being.  I spoke out most strongly against the public humiliation of former astronaut Lisa Nowak.  It was bad enough that the Florida authorities and the media humiliated her with the sordid yet unnecessary details they chose to reveal about her.   But the sheer volume of people making fun of her and make jokes at her expense was unreal.  A large source of this humiliation was the blogosphere that I otherwise would normally be quick to defend.

The other day, I happened to click on Lisa’s Chaos (no relation whatsoever to the astronaut) and saw this little tag that said “Kind Blog” and I had to click it.  On it was a statement saying the following:

“By posting this badge, I’m declaring that in addition to humour, intelligence, wit, sadness, snarkiness, passion, exuberance, peace, stillness, excitability, anger or any other emotion you may witness on my site:

“1)    I will never intentionally hurt other people, whether I know them or not, whether they blog or not, whether they’re celebrities or not, either through my words or my images. It’s just not my style; and

“2)    I hope that by the time you’ve clicked away from my site, I’ve helped in some way to make your day just a little bit better.



I think this is great.  I could not have found a better set of words to express what I think, (though I prefer the American spelling of “humor”) and I like that this notion is being pushed not through force, regulation, or the rule of law, but through example.  So I decided that this tag absolutely had to be on my website.  I would also recommend this to fellow bloggers—fellow Baha’i bloggers in particular, but really any blogger who cares about how they affect others, and what kind of world they are creating through their actions.  

Plus the tag looks cool, increases the palette of colors on this page, and provides a nice, chill counterpart to the big honking “Save The Internet” tag that I also keep on my site.   Any other bloggers want to join me in my “fashion statement?”

go ahead, make my day :)

Soundtrack in my head:  The Telescopes, “Flying”

I was surprised to learn that Sus in Milwaukee awarded me a “You Make My Day” award. 


The award came with some instructions:  “Give the award to 10 people whose blogs bring you happiness and inspiration and make you feel happy about blogland. Let them know by posting a comment on their blog so they can pass it on. Beware you may get the award several times.”

You know, us bloggers type and type and press the “Publish” key sending our words into God know what realm, wondering who’s reading and why and what difference does it make anyway.  (For me it’s an addiction—that’s my excuse.)  I think a lot of us like to fool ourselves to thinking that our scribbles of idle fancy and self-important treatises will somehow make a difference in the world and in other people’s lives.  And the most bizarre thing is that this is sometimes quite true…

Accordingly, I’m passing the award on to LaceyLeila , Kelly, Rachel (with or without the pink beehive wig), Sholeh, Wendy (sibling unit 2 of 2), and back ‘atcha to Sus. You all make my day every time  you post. 

Check my links for other blogs worth reading.

what if a badger saw his shadow instead?

Soundtrack in my head: Badly Drawn Boy, “The Shining”

Jimmy the Groundhog did not see his shadow today in Sun Prairie, so that’s supposed to mean an early spring. (For non-Wisconsinite readers to this website, here is a previous post about the Jimmy vs. Punxsatawney Phil debate.)

In reading about the history of Groundhog Day, I learned that German immigrants brought the tradition to Pennsylvania. Except that in Germany, the bringer of the news was not a groundhog, but a badger. The “badger day” tradition became “Groundhog Day” here because badgers could not be found—they are reportedly not native to Pennsylvania.  However they are native in the Midwest and West.

Given that the badger is the mascot for the University of Wisconsin here in Madison, it makes me kind of glad that the folks in nearby Sun Prairie started the “Jimmy the Groundhog” tradition so that local people could have their own rodent to rally around.  Imagine what would have happened if some school spirit boosters had discovered the badger’s traditional role on February 2nd and tried to take advantage of it. Here’s what might have happened:

“It is a chilly day early in the morning this February 2nd here in Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin, where just in a few minutes, the festivities of the Budweiser Bucky Badger Day will begin. A crowd has gathered around the fifty-yard line—on hallowed ground normally tread by Badger football players. But today we instead have a large mound of dirt where Bucky Badger has comfortably burrowed himself. Approximately 50,000 Badger fans are waiting to see him emerge from the ground to determine whether spring is coming soon or whether we will have six more weeks of winter.

“Wait! We see some movement under the ground. Could it be? Could it be? It is! There’s Bucky—he’s making his appearance. And…he sees his shadow! Wait! How could that be? It’s cloudy out this morning.  How could it–oh, it’s the flashbulbs from the cameras. So it looks like—yes it’s now official—Bucky Badger does NOT see his shadow. Repeat: Bucky Badger does NOT see his shadow. We’re looking at an early spring! The crowd goes wild, as everyone lifts their cups of Budweiser in a toast to Bucky and the news he brings for spring! What an exciting day here in Madison, Wisconsin!”

Yeah, it might not have been pretty.