Saturday, December 20, 2008

When museums are the messenger and art and niceness heals

I went with my old friend Brooke Richardson, visiting from Seattle, to the Climate Change exhibition at the Museum of Natural History. Humanity's impending doom was presented in well designed videos, maps, exhibits, and interactive kiosks. We were exhorted to change our ways. I grew increasingly depressed and by the time we got to the ruin of the oceans I was muttering it was high time a new plague, asteroid hit, World War, or erupting caldera came along and reduced population. No, no, I said to myself, no this isn't the answer. No mass deaths, no genocide. What about voluntary sterilization programs, education, green technology, and planned parenthood--China style? It'll help. Mostly I think humanity is like the Norway rat, we leap ship and find an island, eat everything in sight, turn it into a wasteland of our waste, and once it is barren we swim to another site to populate, pillage, and all too often perish in as our colony collapses. On and on and on. How do you change the essential selfishness of the human animal? Me me me. The Bush years were all about denial and selfishness. Then bridges collapse, reputations, and economies; lies and pretense make for weak infrastructure.

Even if we make energy efficient machines and dwellings, cut our consumption of energy in half, what happens when the world's population doubles again in 30 or less years? Half as much energy with twice as many people, equals same problem. How do we get the Christians and Muslims and others to agree to small families? Their religions generally say beget and beget. Supposedly we are rational cooperative beings, building temples, universities, bridges, ships, airplanes and space stations. Not to mention nations. And smart, we build medicines, machines, and ideas and ideals--like justice systems and operating systems. But we are also very very short sighted. Look at the rat. Humans developed an instinctive aversion to them for good reason--they do carry plague and generally chew things to bits. Maybe the environment will likewise develop an anti-human response, at some point the colony poisons itself and nature adjusts...

So to recover from the gloom, Brooke and I spent a giddy half hour holiday shopping in the museum's delightful gift shop. He is looking for a cool snow globe. And it was snowing outside. Seattle isn't known for snow...

I went to Barnes & Noble and bought myself a book on how to write and draw a graphic novel. This is how I made the selection. In the graphic novel how-to section, on the floor, sat a collection of awkward young black clad people with sketch books. They all had that social introvert hunch of shoulder. Ah-hah, I thought to myself, experts. "Excuse me. What book would you recommend for someone like me, starting out with this?" To her credit, the young woman with a ring in her lip didn't give me a scoffing what is granny doing in my world look. She told me one of her teachers had recommended one, and it was very good, she searched the shelves but didn't find it. I thanked her and wandered to the new books section. And there was a 15 week course in book form on comics/graphic novel/manga: Drawing Words & Writing Pictures by Abel and Madden (it is to graphic novels what Uri Shulevitz's great how-to Writing with Pictures is to writing and illustrating picture books). I flipped it, looked just right, went back to my expert, held it up, said "is this it?" and she nodded vigorously. "And, by the way," she told me, "get a sketch book that flips open at the top, not the side." I wished her well and went to the cash registers.

Once I had my turn to pay the cashier, who looked delicate and strong like a ballerina, she picked up the book and said, "Oh! this book is good. My sister does this, I am so proud of her." And we had a nice chat about it. She even gave me a link to her sister's work.

I staggered through the slush and sleet to a bus stop. A woman soon joined me. We waited. We waited some more. "Do you know if the subway is running?" I asked. "No, there's a fire at 96th that's why I'm here." We waited some more. "I'm going to hail a cab I'll give you a ride if you are no further than 109th." She looked at me dubiously, sized me up. I didn't look like a serial killer I guess. Then by great good luck someone exited a cab a block away and I was able to flag it down. On our trip up we discovered we had the same landlord and managing agent. It was wonderful to discuss in depth our feelings about their taste and ethics. At her stop I told her she didn't owe me any money because I would have hailed the cab anyway. It just felt good to be nice to someone after wishing mass death and destruction on the human race.

No comments: