Day 340 5/31/14: No Limits, No Future

images-3Please sign this petition to ask the European Commission and Regional Fisheries Management to put limits on shark fishing. According to the Shark Trust, three of the world’s top 20 shark fishing nations are European (Spain, France and Portugal). Current laws allow many shark species like short fin mako to be caught in unlimited numbers. Many of these sharks aren’t caught for meat. Trawls, long lining, and gill nets catch huge numbers of sharks as target species and as bycatch. One longliner can deploy up to 200 longlines in one set–lines that contain some 3,000 hooks and stretch for 60 miles. Without placing limits on the numbers of sharks caught, these destructive fishing methods are putting more pressure on animals whose numbers are already falling rapidly. We need to support the adoption of stricter laws for catch limits in Europe to prevent a collapse of Atlantic shark populations.

Thanks for adding your name & sharing this petition!

Day 338 5/29/14: 10 Fascinating Facts about Overpopulation

Tonight I was lucky to attend a talk by Alan Weisman, author of The World Without Us and most recently Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?

Here’s a few illuminating things I learned:

1. The world’s most effective form of contraception is the education of women.

2. Every four days we add one million people to the planet.

3. 40% of the non-frozen land on this planet is devoted to feeding one species: humans.

4. Debunking the myth that a decreasing population means a withering economy, Weisman cited Japan as the country that can teach the world how to “shrink and prosper.”

5. Japan is also the world’s largest producer of robots, some of which are designed to fill in gaps in the labor force and care for the country’s elderly population. Some of these robots are able to help elderly people into wheelchairs or into bed, but dealing with bathroom-related issues remains a challenge.

6. Some of these robots resemble giant teddy bears.

7. To provide and disseminate universal contraception care would cost about $8 billion dollars annually, the same amount we spent daily in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

8. In Pakistan, abortion is punishable by death. Every year, 400, 000 women in Pakistan undergo dangerous, illegal abortions.

9. If universal contraception were available, the number of worldwide abortions each year would drop from 40 million to 14 million.

10.  While “There’s no condom for consumption,”* lowering the number of people who consume is within our power.


*Weisman attributed this snappy saying to Paul Ehrlich, author of the controversial 1968 book “The Population Bomb.”

Day 337 5/28/14: The World’s Greatest Shark Painter?

APEX2A while back I posted a shark painting from Dave White’s Apex series, but today I went to see White’s show at the Gusford Gallery on Melrose in Los Angeles.  White’s 12 oil paintings of white sharks in motion are the most dynamic, beautiful and haunting shark images I’ve ever seen. Maybe it has something to do with his use of color (the purple stains that evoke both bruises and the color of the cosmos), but in “Apex,” White has tapped into that eerie eternally shape-shfting beauty and horror, grace and force that is the great white shark.

Each one of White’s numbered fish (“Apex l-XIII”) has a specific presence, personality and gravity. Like their real-life counterparts, they are perfectly, serenely adapted to their element. Composed of  light and dark blues and purples, with energetic brushwork and blobs of black and white, the texture is thick when evoking the mass of the animal that has been alternately described as a “tank,” “freight train,” “submarine” and “bus.” But this heavy color is often balanced by a thin sheen near the gills and along the back that evokes both the  massive shark’s surprising elegance and light filtered through the ocean’s surface.

Up close the skin of these sharks comes alive with a fury of thin lines, swipes, surprising dots and splatters that recall the chaotic scratches and battle scars that mark shark snouts in the wild. Each shark bears a unique mouth. “Apex V,” for example, has a grinning of unsettling pink maw somewhere between bubblegum and flesh. Michelle Schultz, Gusford Gallery’s warm and helpful director told me that patrons had dubbed “Apex V” the “Finding Nemo shark” on account of his smile. “Apex VII” and “Apex X” (shown above) have gobs that look like microcosms of the sea itself, the teeth like frantic white caps or the sails of doomed vessels. And the eyes! Ringed with half circles of lavender, or a hair-thin line of white, these aren’t the  “lifeless doll’s eyes” of Quint,  but orbs animated by a much more enigmatic intelligence that marine biologists have struggled to define.

Perhaps because “Apex XI” has blue and white skin like the Milky Way, I imagined sleeping on the gallery floor with all of these sharks floating above, their long drips of color seeping into my dreams.

“Apex” ends June 21, so if you’re in the Los Angeles area go, go! And if you’re not near L.A., it’s worth a pilgrimage, not just for shark lovers but for anyone who enjoys great painting.  


Day 335 5/26/14: Trigger Warning: Soft Rock

UnknownThere’s been a whole lot of hoopla lately about trigger warnings, those cautions about potentially traumatizing content (sexual abuse, colonialism, racism, etc.) in books or movies or on websites. Now that UCSB students have asked their professors to include trigger warnings on their syllabi.

What I find baffling about this is that for the “hypersensitive” among us, the entire world is a trigger. Advertisements, trees, the sound of church bells, the font on  a candy wrapper, the particular way the sun slants on a garden wall, the sound of dead pine needles underfoot, the sound of gum ball machines, thrift store smells.Depression-prone people tend to fall easily down memory holes. They let a single melancholic moment metastasize into morose delectation. Songs are the most irresistible and potent memory spells ever conjured. Vanished pleasures, deep sorrows–even the most banal or obnoxious song can evoke a soul-altering tragedy. Case in point: Bread.

Today I was waiting for my spin class to start. As the previous class wiped down their bikes, I could hear the earnest opening of “Everything I Own,”  Bread’s 1972 hit, except I guess it was NSYNC’s version. This song, like the way-more-wrenching Nilsson tear-jerker “Without You,” always reminds me of the death of my 19-year-old sister Julie in 1973. I was really young then and Top 40 helped me mourn. Love songs became larger–encompassing other forms of grief and loss. Although Julie died over 40 years ago,  music always makes her loss more present than any photograph or letter. The memories aren’t just visual or aural, but physical, as if all the places and states of being live quite literally inside my body. The rising “I would give ee-very-thing I own,” makes me see again the rolling green fields around our house, the aching feeling of listening to Top 40 in the car while the New England landscape rolled by, and thinking of the childish bargains I would make if only I could have Julie back again, or re-living the last time I saw Julie when my parents drove her to the hospital and all the things that I didn’t or couldn’t say to her.

Waiting to go into spin class I felt startled by the song, but not ambushed by childhood trauma. Maybe if I was already depressed about something else, I would have been more vulnerable. Maybe if it had been Bread and not NSYNC, I would have meandered down the familiar, beautiful, wrenching path toward that deep sadness that is always there. Julie’s death can always be conjured if I so choose along with a million other sadnesses, losses, anxieties, unresolved obsessions. “The shit,” my first therapist said, “is always there.”

I know that all trauma is not created equal. The earnest, eerie refrain of nostalgia isn’t the horror of the combat vet with PTSD. Once triggered, certain traumas are immediately physical and terrifying. But even so aren’t we all ultimately responsible for our own healing whether it’s finding a shrink or a meditation practice or writing or love?  The world will never cater to our particular wounds or losses. Shouldn’t a blanket warning about potentially upsetting book or movie be enough?

I used to be very vulnerable to memory. If a sad song played, I had to relive whatever it summoned. I had to feel the agony of lost love, death, lost time. It wasn’t so much a decision, as what David Foster Wallace might have called a “default setting.”  Not being pulled in the direction of every thought, memory, song was something I had to learn. Unless I really want or need to remember, to renew a memory for fear of losing it or unless I am writing something and need to remember deeply, I find “catch and release” a nice motto to live by.

When I checked Songfacts for more information about “Everything I Own,” I learned that David Gates wrote the song not about a lost lover, but about the death of his father. I also noticed that beneath the usual trivia about chart positions and things like that, a few people had posted their own personal memories of the song, many of which seem pretty traumatic. Alcoholism. Sexual Abuse. A lost sister. For many the “you” in the song is God. For these people this song has become a memory about not just about the trauma itself, but a reminder of their own survival, a way of creating perspective, marking time.

I feel curmudgeonly. I want to write something about today’s kids needing to “toughen up.” Life is often brutal and the best literature is often unsparing about this truth. If Nabokov or Baldwin or Achebe or Fitzgerald evoke trauma and pain, think about what they actually might be saying about racism or pedophilia. Maybe they aren’t so much triggers of trauma as catalysts for deeper understanding. If a Bread song could initiate a contemplative exploration of childhood grief and loss, just imagine the power of Virginia Woolf.



Day 334 5/25/14: Empty the Tanks 2014

Yesterday’s Empty the Tanks protest at $eaWorld San Diego was a resounding success. Since 1989, I’ve attended demonstrations ranging from anti-vivisection rallies to marches through Beverly Hills on Fur-Free-Friday, I have never seen so many “normal” families turning out to support animals. I’m not saying that demonstrations are usually populated only by frothing, paint-throwing extremists—far from it. But yesterday’s crowd, though enthusiastic were quite well-behaved, so much so that the event organizers had to exort them through bullhorns with a COME ON! to sustain chants of “Boycott Seaworld!”

The crowd of over 700 held signs reading THANKS, BUT NO TANKS (a personal favorite of mine) included many children who sat on the grass with large black markers drawing whales inside goldfish bowls with awkwardly incisive declarations like: SEA WORLD? MORE LIKE POOL WORLD! Kids, of course, are all over youtube speaking out against orca captivity and getting busted for protesting the SeaWorld float at the Rose Parade, so I wasn’t completely surprised. It just felt good to know see that despite all of SeaWorld’s toothless arguments to the contrary, this is no fringe movement of “Blackfish”brainwashed weirdos, but evidence of a major shift in consciousness about animals in captivity and animal rights in general.

As I stood with my friends Connie and Gail on the side of the road, I chatted with Cassidy who’d driven all the way from Phoenix to attend the protest. A middle school speech teacher, Cassidy talked about finding ways to integrate Blackfish into her class discussions, and how she’s educated some kids about the reality of SeaWorld. Across the street, Sea Shepherd volunteers handed leaflets to families entering SeaWorld and I thought of late summer when the circus would return to Anaheim with its chained and swaying elephants and the tigers pacing in their cages. Beyond the road, I could see the tall turquoise tower of the SeaWorld roller coaster.

“Isn’t it weird,” Connie said, “to think that beyond that ugly parking lot beyond the roller coaster, there are actually whales?”

How surreal and nauseating to know that beneath the shrieks of delight from the park rides, beneath the surface of the water,  killer whales were swimming in pools. Maybe they were blessed out or hallucinating on the valium dispensed to them to deal with the stress of captivity or the grief of having their children sold. Maybe they were on antibiotics to heal the infections they suffered when other whales attacked them. Maybe they were just floating, waiting for the same stupid show to begin again.

And I thought for the millionth time, of the words of the activist who’d gone undercover at the circus, where the elephants spent 23 hours a day in chains who traveled from town to town in box cars, who suffered cigarette burns and hooks and baseball bats: “I still don’t know how they conceive of time.”

Things don’t change fast enough for me. I want revolutions, epiphanies, coups. I don’t want incremental shifts in human consciousness or one step forward and three back. But then there’s the persistent miracle of Blackfish, the children with their signs, the crowds of activists that keep growing. It feels good to be a small part of that change, to feel it actually happening.