Sunday, July 31, 2011

Luco at Onkalo

The prison guard, her father, and her husband watched a movie called Into Eternity about the Onkalo nuclear waste storage facility in Finland. The movie explores various subjects ranging from how long it will take to build and then bury (at least another hundred years or so. They think to fully seal it around 2120. I will have been long dead by then. And so will you), how to warn future generations (if they are even around to warn, I assume you are not surprised by my lack of optimism regarding this), and the film, through this exploration, calls into question the use of nuclear energy.

Before this film, I did not have a clear opinion on this subject. After watching the film, I regret to say my ignorance has been replaced by ambivalence - regret because ignorance is so much easier a state of mind to tolerate. Regret because this is yet another weight added to my thoughts. Regret because I have always hoped that through intelligent exploration of an idea, I could come to clear conclusions. This has been a disappointment to me more times than I can even remember - that failure of intellect to make sense of the world haunts me. Wakes me in the night from any small peace I may come to in dreams. Keeps my brow forever furrowed.

Because if we cannot think our way to an answer, what hope is there for us? 

Onkalo means hiding place. Or cave. Cavity.

It is being built deep into the earth. Watching the film, I noted the earth movers and the humans operating them, tucked away into the bedrock, illuminated by fluorescent lights. For some reason I was surprised by that, the fluorescent lighting. I was struck by it.

Maybe because it is so alien to the dark.

One of the most interesting and frightening questions that the director (Michael Madsen) asks is how can we warn those who will come after us? What will keep them from thinking they have discovered our secrets? Our magic? How can we know how they will interpret this hidden place, this cavity carved from the earth?

The movie addresses an anonymous person-of-the-future. This person is asked and asked again how she will perceive Onkalo. She is treated tenderly throughout the film. One is made fully aware of Madsen's grief, of his own torment.
Because humans believe it will take over 100,000 years for nuclear waste to break down. And an elegant point made in the movie is that nothing human-made has yet survived that long. So we wager on a hiding place, disregarding our and the earth's tumultuous nature - disregarding the tumultuous nature of existence, and then we say what? That everything will work itself out? That our plans are infallible, although they have never been infallible before? Do we tell ourselves that for television, light at night, movie screens, hot water - that for all this and everything else that which we risk is worth it? 

And what do we risk, reader?

What do we risk? What is at stake? What is that gamble - what object (d'art or otherwise) do we place upon the table?

It is our survival. It is all that is verdant and urgent and impossible - all that is chaotic and beautiful (an overused and insufficient word if ever I used one) and, in the end, important. Although perhaps I err when I say we. It is you, not me, who makes these decisions.

It is you who have said this is what we want. It is you who have taken the entire world by its throat and strung it up, and for what prize? A string of pretty lights, kept bright late into the night. The comfort of a computer screen, connecting us until that day when perhaps the water pools fail, or there is another natural disaster and we are plunged, and I mean the verb intensely, plunged into a human-made hell. Miracle of science. New world order. This is how technology reaches into our veins and tugs us, perhaps at times reluctant, into Huxley's Brave New World and then beyond it.

Perhaps that is too cliche. Perhaps I have veered too far from my movie review. I was going to tell you how many "thumbs up" I give this film. I meant to tell you to pop some popcorn. I meant to remind you to melt the butter. Instead I've wound my way around to this sad, stupid, done done done cliche. 

Do you still want to know how many thumbs up I give it? Even after all this?

I do not have any thumbs.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Luco & Bufotoxin

The day before yesterday I was almost rid of the dog forever. He was let into the Outside, and came back foaming at the mouth. The prison guard's husband roused the prison guard from bed and she wiped the dog's tongue with a wet cloth, sweeping back and forth while the dog gagged and squirmed and tried to scramble out of her grasp.

On most days I would have been filled with joy to see the dog in this situation. On most days I would be happy to lose him permanently, whether to the Outside or to death, although perhaps I am getting older and thus more subdued, because I no longer actively wish him dead.

Until I see his face. The prison guard's father calls the dog "the blob," and I personally could not more heartily agree with that assessment. His face drives me down a loathsome spiral wherein I question the meaning of even pretending to shuffle through life, my head down, ears flexed back, a deep, quiet growl filling the air around me.

And then again my mood is changed when I think of these toads. They are Cane Toads (Bufo marinus), although down here they are referred to as "Bufo Toads" (which is really quite silly; bufo is Latin for toad, so people are basically saying toad toads). They are quite dangerous. Poisonous. They secrete a venom called Bufotoxin - a toxin so strong it can kill cats, dogs, and even humans (I suppose they must be rather small to expire from this, but one can never really be too safe).

Behold: the Cane Toad. They were brought to South Florida (and other places as well) purposefully; they were meant to kill the insects that devour sugar cane. It just reminds me of how often the good intentions of humans and other animals result in at least unexpected consequences, and sometimes even tragedy (whether or not the dog's death would have been a tragedy is a debate I am not quite prepared for, reader, so I will acknowledge that it is possible that it would be seen in such a light).

Some people lick the toads. Some dry their skins out and then smoke those skins. They do this to experience the hallucinations and disorientation brought on by the bufotoxin. I suggest instead these rather obviously desperate people spend a day with the dog; nothing has been more proven to cause hallucinations and disorientation than extended time alone with ce monstre.

I digress. Cane Toads are nocturnal. They are disgusting. They are an invasive species, but then again, are not we all?

Where is my home town? Planet? House? Maybe I am no better than the Cane Toad, slobbering noxious poison all over the Internet instead of all over the dog; perhaps it is the same thing. 

Do not ask me, I am just a crack in the sidewalk. A number on a mailbox. A leaf blown down the street. A fragment of a photograph.

Ask, instead, the dog, that generous giver of answers. That being who knows only that which is easy and instant, like the taste of salt, meat, and like the soothing feeling of being pet; he who does not grapple as I do with these questions. With the urgency of poison. Alienation. Invasive species. He who does not notice he is foaming at the mouth, who lives only and completely in the moment, wagging his tail idiotically, begging for another piece of cheese.

Ask him and he will tell you my home is here with him. In this prison. Locked forever inside. Perhaps I will inquire into whether or not he can bring me a Cane Toad.  Maybe my salvation is the delirium of bufotoxin. 

But as always this seems too easy. If I do not struggle with these questions, who will? If I do not admit to you my ambivalence about "the blob," then I am being intellectually dishonest. I will say this; if he had died, I would have felt his absence. If he had died, I would not, as I would have previously supposed, have laughed with joy.

The Cane Toad seems to me a metaphor for all our struggles; we are sometimes terrible to each other, causing violence and suffering, and other times when we are trying our best to be good, we do the same thing. How can we know the consequences of our actions? Good intentions are not enough to make the thing we do itself inherently good. Good intentions in the end, perhaps, only make us look more the naive fools. Willing to bet on an unknown. Willing to put our effort into that which we cannot comprehend.

Like the Cane Toad and all our beautiful and beneficent trust that this would finally make life better. Or like plastic, the miracle of technology which will eventually kill us all, disintegrating into smaller and smaller pieces, but never actually fully deteriorating; our bodies will fill with plastic and we will choke and gasp as the creatures in the ocean do now, and we will know then how sorry we have made ourselves over convenience.

But what do I know? I am just a tick on the dog. A toad in the yard. A hand on the clock.

A tubby cat door.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Luco and Mingus

Mingus and I have a share a deep affinity for the sink. It is the one place in this prison that he and I commune, allowing the droplets to roll down our backs, shaking from the water's very welcome chill. Sometimes as we bathe we share secrets. Other times we laugh together (yes, laugh), over the imprisoned lives we share. Once in a very rare while he weeps with me; struck by an understanding of meaninglessness, of how we are alone together, we cleave to each other.

What secrets do we share? His fear for the feeling of tiny lizard bones crunching in his mouth, and his enduring obsession with catching and eating them anyway.

My fear of the dog's teeth, that sharpness, the rabid look in his eyes when he chases me.

Mingus' fear of being left alone - he has dreampt we all left the house, left him, moved all the furniture, his cat food and cat toys, never to return. He told me he nearly always awakes from this dream screaming into his pillow.

My fear of escape. My desire for escape. Both emotions held together in the same quivering heart, like a twin egg yolk.

Our shared fear that Fremlin will one day rise, walking on two legs, tip her hat (which she will have inexplicably donned), and walk out the front door, perhaps puffing on a cigarette. I cannot tell you why we share this dark vision, only that we do, and it brings us nearly to hysterics when we describe to each other the scene.

And as I said before, we sometimes laugh together, ruminating on the dog's behavior, perhaps, or detailing some asinine thing Fremlin said to one of us. We laugh and I feel for a moment I have a friend. A companion. Another creature who understands me. Who bears being around me, no, who likes to be around me. A creature who even seeks my counsel.

I read Fremlin's (thief! Blog burglar!) entry the other day, and I see she feels much the same way. But I can tell you this; their rapport is nowhere near as intimate as ours. He is nice to her out of pity. 

I do not mean to sound the bully; my aim is that you should know the truth, at least as well as I understand it. Mingus is my friend. Fremlin is really more like a shade, a shadow, a ghost we sometimes see streak through the house as she runs in terror from the dog (who, in all fairness, usually does not pursue her [and when he does, it is never with the cruelty with which he chases me]).

Although, it is true that inevitably Mingus leaves the sink before I do. And I am left alone, licking the water off my whiskers, wondering what I said to offend him. 

Sometimes when he leaves me he goes to her. Lies down on their shared bed. Dreams whatever dreams he has with her. It makes me sick to think about it. Maybe he is actually friends with Fremlin.

Maybe it is me he pities.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Fremlin's got Something to Say

Please don't speak too loudly. Luco doesn't know I'm on here. He left his blog logged on (it's kind of funny - I just saw a tweet he did about not doing that), so here I am, after coming upon it quite innocently. I mean, I was just trying lie on the couch while the dog is out for a walk.

Why the italics? 

Luco sometimes discusses his ill will for the dog, and so perhaps you've thought to yourself, ah, now there's a feline who abhors another animal. Not so, reader; please allow me to disabuse you of that idea. Luco's sentiment doesn't even touch mine; if his loathing is a puddle on the street, mine is all the oceans worth.

Do you know what it's like to live with the dog? Do you want to know? Let me give you a list: The dog

1) owns the living room apparently, and will not suffer me to enter it,
2) eviscerates small, squeaky toys that often rather look and sound like me, 
3) has an odd shaped, evil little head - his forehead alone is enough to fill me with revulsion (and I'm not usually such an aesthetic fascist!),
4) comes into my room and barks a horrible, shrill sound, hoping to drive me mad,
5) offers me no end of torment; if I try to scuttle into the kitchen, he is at me, teeth gnashing, horrible forehead in pursuit, tiny deer legs slipping on the laminate,
6) once, in a deeply phlegmatic tone of voice, he told me that I would  be good "for eating because your soft fur and the crunch crunch crunching of yummy!" - try not to be discomfited by that,
7) has dog food that smells of meat, venison to be precise, which I have not had in years, and which I covet with intensity,
8) smells of saliva and feces,
9) has completely taken over the prison guard's affection (I don't actually refer to her this way, but I thought you'd appreciate the continuity - to me she's Mary, bringer of cat nip, petter of heads, but that's really neither here nor there),
10) delights in causing pain, torment, anguish, and myriad forms of suffering - he is, in short, a monster.

Sometimes I feel I can't bear it another day. His tyranny. And the great love all the others feel for him (even Luco, who won't converse with me, much less be friendly, will ask the dog his thoughts on matters of great (well, and little) import.

Why am I forsaken? Is it because I'm older than all of them? I'm fifteen, I think, which, okay, makes me rather middle aged, but I can still "hang out." I'm "hip" to the "lingo" of the "kids." See? And I have interesting ideas! If only they'd consult me....

Luco wonders what is the worth of existence, where the meaning is, and if he'd just speak to me, I'd tell him. I'd say questions of meaning and meaninglessness are foolish - a distraction from the real work of life - I'd say that we create our own meaning out of our relationships with others - out of the thoughts we have and the works of art we produce - I'd tell him to stop being so morose - that being alive is a beautiful privilege (and yes, a great amount of suffering is involved, but who are we to believe we are above [or below?] suffering? And how does that take away the significance of actually being alive? And what of the joy that comes after the sorrow? The millions of rustling birds that fill my throat when I think this is my life).

But he won't ask me. And I'm not about to go up to him out of nowhere and offer. Mingus is okay though. That guy is pretty nice. He's the only one I let close to me.

I have the one friend.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Luco's Credo

In this picture I am reading with the prison guard; what I try to do is help her see when she is wrong, help her understand what is most important in a text, and what the students should be taught. I take great care in allowing her to believe she has come to these conclusions herself; I want her to view herself as a good instructor, but really it is always me, whispering into her ear, gently pawing the page on which the most relevant text lies glowing, waiting to be unearthed and breathed into the many young minds she teaches.

This is my duty as a cat, as her cat (as she is my prison guard). It is what I live for. It is what aids me in tolerating this prison. If not for each other's betterment, why exist?

She taught her class an essay today which is titled "A Carnivore's Credo," and it is by Roger Scruton, which touches lightly on what I am saying. Of course the essay is about why humans should eat animals, and honestly I have no opinion on this as long as I am not on the dinner plate; I myself enjoy meat, and while the prison guard is a vegetarian, this does nothing to move me (as I know her to be a creature much in need of my help, how can I seriously ponder adopting a choice she's made? That would be like letting a baby walk the dog - although perhaps this is a way to rid my life of him. How could a baby keep him from running off?).

My apologies for the digression. Scruton writes: "I have a strong urge to place at the very center of the subject, especially since the subject is our relation to the natural world, another aspect of human [and feline] nature, often left out by the standard treatments of ethics: namely, piety. By this I mean a disposition to acknowledge our weak and dependent state and to face the surrounding world with due reverence and humility."

He continues to use this concept as an illustration for how humans should interact with other animals (and I do mean other animals. What are humans if not awkward, noisy animals?) and as support for why he believes humans should eat meat.

Would she have known this is the heart of the essay without me? Would she have found it? I would like to believe that she would have eventually, maybe after a dozen readings, realized the import of this concept, but I cannot say this for sure. She is at times an empty headed creature.

Perhaps you think me cruel. You do not, however, realize what I must endure day after day in this prison to which only she (well, and her husband, but you see my point?) holds the key. I must rebel. I must denigrate. And I must do both even as I guide and care for her.

Please do not mistake me for an egoist. This is simple and true piety - the kind that Scuton describes. Without her, how would I define myself? Although perhaps I could have more humility....

I am but a weak willed cat, struggling in vain to find meaning in meaninglessness. I fail and fail and fail and fail to be an articulate writer. I cannot resist temptations like wet cat food, tuna fish, cat nip, even though I am aware they are not beneficial to me. I stare and stare at the front door, but cannot open it. Oh, myriad other faults rise up inside me.

And I can never find respite.