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Temba, his arms open

wakanomori announced last night that we had to watch a particular episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called "Darmok." It had come up in a discussion of Japanese poetry translation--relevant, because part of what makes translation of Japanese poetry difficult is its reliance on shared cultural references and metaphors to convey meaning, and the episode is about the Enterprise's encounter with the Children of Tama, an alien people that the Federation has never been able to communicate successfully with. The universal translator is no good, because the Children of Tama communicate entirely in cultural references and metaphors, and these are unknown to the Federation.1

The aliens beam Captain Picard and their own captain, Dathon, down to the planet El-Adrel, where Dathon assiduously repeats pertinent cultural phrases ("Darmok and Jalad, at Tanagra," "Temba, his arms open," "Shaka, when the walls fell"), trying to make Picard understand.

The way in which understanding finally dawns, and what happens after that, is very effective and moving and involves Picard reading from the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Picard remarks at one point, "In my experience, communication is a matter of patience, imagination. I would like to believe that these are qualities that we have in sufficient measure." Those words of hope and confidence filled me with pathos, thinking of where the world is today.

Anyway. It's a good episode. I recommend it.

1 As the tall one observed, "They talk entirely in memes." Unsurprising, then, that the episode has generated memes of its own--like this one, featuring Winnie the Pooh and Piglet.

I'd join one too

The work I've started to do with the kids in the nearby city led me to this video on gangs from the National Gang Center. Although it's got some drawbacks (the overall analysis strikes me as... obvious? But what do I know; it may be that these are points that bear stressing), one VERY strong thing it's got going for it is the comments from actual former gang members: powerful and heartbreaking, not to mention enraging on the young people's behalf.

Raul, for instance, describes being in fifth grade and having a teacher catch him rolling a blunt and telling him he had to leave the classroom.

We started exchanging words, and then she's like, "You're not gonna do nothing 'cause you're a little kid; you're not that type of kid." I told her, "You want to go there?" and she's like, "You want to try me?" So that's when I decided to get a book, and I threw it at her. And then she called the cops, and then the cop came and put me in handcuffs.

That's right. He was in fifth grade and he ended up in handcuffs. A ten-year-old child.

Marion describes how important a father's love is to a young man.

Not having my father around was a very hurtful thing because, you know, you want to have your dad and your ma around, but especially dad, because that's your biggest role model, your biggest idol as a child. That's the one you look to to teach you how to do different things as a man to become a man. So, me not having that around kinda like pushed me out to get the love from guys in the street. Not to say that it was necessarily that positive love that you look for, you know, that you want, but I was talking to a man, and any time a man can teach you something, a child something or a young man something, he's going to pay attention.

Karlo describes having to take care of his little sister.

It was just me and my little sister. I would just try to provide for my sister 'cause my mom was never home. So I'd cook for my sister, I'd clean for my sister, you know, wash her clothes, I washed my clothes, and just stuff like that. You know, we just started growing up together. And I mean, it was hard for us because sometimes we didn't have food in the refrigerator, and that's why I started selling drugs and doing what I did.

Iris talked about losing her love for school. (You can't see this in the still, but she has the most expressive face. There are her words, but then her face says even more.)

Elementary school? I used to love school. I used to always wanted to go because I didn't experience it while I was little, while my mom was locked up. So when I used to go to school every day I liked it. And then, in middle school, that's when I didn't like school, like, I don't know, me and school don't get along. I didn't like school, I didn't like the teachers, I didn't like nobody, you know? Like I always wanted to be by myself. The teachers didn't care about me neither. They used to tell me I wasn't gonna be nobody. They said like, "You're just gonna be nobody. You're gonna be pregnant, you're gonna have kids." I'd just be like, "Okay."

Karlo describes the guy--a gang leader--who took him in when his mother kicked him out:

There was this one time when me and my mom--she was just fed up with me. It was during Hurricane Ike, and my mom kicked me out the house, you know, and I ain't have nowhere to go. I just had a backpack on my back and a duffel bag, and I seen the leader out on the corner street, and he was smoking a blunt and stuff, and he was like, "Man, where you from?" You know, I never met him or talked to him or anything, and he's like, "Where you from?" And I'm like, "From Houston," and he's like, "No, I'm saying, what's your bang," and I'm like, "Nah, I don't bang nothing."

The guy asks him about his bags, and Karlo says he's been kicked out and was heading to the park, and the guy invites Karlo to stay with him:

He's like,"Well, you could stay in my house if you want. I got an extra room." And I'm like, "Man, I appreciate it," and he let me inside his house. And we was going to the same school, too, so we would go to school together in the morning, and I would hang out with him at lunch. He helped me a lot ... With him, it wasn't always just about gangs, you know. He gave me advice, like, "Man, why you stop playing baseball?" You know, like, "Why don't you try harder in school?" "Why won't you get a job," You know, like, "Don't mess with these drugs." That's why I appreciate him, you know? Because he brought me from nothing to where I am right now.

So, yeah. When parents and teachers and society at large aren't doing what they're supposed to, and someone comes along like that--I'd join a gang, too, in that situation.

The good news is that only around 10 percent of kids who join gangs stay in them for more than three years. All the young people in this video have left gangs and are doing good things with their lives right now.

I saw the beautiful image below--straight out of a children's story or a fable--on Facebook, but with no attribution. Some clever photographer had caught this moment of convivial interspecies refreshment, but who?

Fortunately, these days, you can put a photo's url into Google Images and search it out, and by doing so, I found it was by Toshiyasu Morita, a photographer who mainly makes portraits of cosplayers--but who also likes to photograph hummingbirds (and their bee friends).

Its original location on the interwebs is this post on Audubon California's blog.

So now we can make up stories about this hummingbird and those bees, and we can thank Mr. Morita for capturing the moment and sharing it with us.

at the intersection

At more and more intersections, especially ones with multiple lanes of traffic, there are people holding up signs saying they're homeless and hungry and asking if you can spare anything. When traffic is moving, cars are speeding by. When traffic is stopped, though, I guess some people must give, otherwise no one would bother asking.

I feel even more conflicted about this form of panhandling than I do about other forms because it seems dangerous, mainly for the person begging, but potentially for others too.

I've never seen anyone give anything to anyone, until yesterday. The light was red. We were in the left lane, right next to the panhandler, but were resolutely ignoring her. (Usually it's a older man there, but yesterday it was a young woman, all bundled up.) Then the car next to us in the right lane honked. The white-haired woman in that car rolled down her window and called to the panhandler, holding out a ziplock bag containing two water bottle and a sleeve of crackers. The panhandler crossed in front of our car to get to the woman with the bag, smiled and thanked her, and walked back to the island between the opposing lanes of traffic, all before the light turned.

That moment of exchange seemed just . . . good. Both women seemed happy. Putting everything else aside--and I know we can't really do that, but--if you ask, it must be consoling, heartening, warming, any number of other good things, to have someone respond. And the older woman didn't just happen to have that stuff in her car; she must have prepared the bag in advance. It must have been wonderful to help someone, even if just in a small way.


I'll have a story coming out eventually in Not One of Us in which a stone is enlisted as a therapist. I sent the story to oiktirmos (we had been corresponding about stones), and he sent me a wonderful article from the Seattle Times about stones being used as confidantes by heroin addicts in Kyrgyzstan: "Addicts in Kyrgyzstan Fight to Break Heroin's Grip, Armed with Stones."

The stones not only accept the people's confessions, they also take on all the negative things that the people associate with their addiction. Then, after a month of treatment, people walk to the top of a hill and throw the stones down it:

About 5,000 addicts have thrown their stones at this place over the past decade, according to the clinic, forming a heap representing those thousands of stories of pain and struggle with addiction. Not all the rocks were thrown there by addicts, though; local residents with problems unrelated to narcotics also heave rocks at the site.

The article mentions a legend of the area, also related to rocks. The conqueror Tamerlane, leaving on a campaign, instructed his troops to bring a stone and drop it in a particular valley. On the way back, they were to retrieve a stone. The stones left over represented those who had not made it back from the campaign.

All in all, an interesting story. Many thanks, Oiktirmos!

I leave you with some images from a Japanese museum of stones with faces. (Source is This Is Colossal)

This one is labeled "Presley"

across this powerful river

I've started volunteering--just a little bit--helping high school kids with essay writing, both at my town's high school and in a troubled school district nearby. The kids at my local high school are relatively privileged (but still so various--one told me about moving from Maine, another about his Soundcloud page, another about being the child of Indian immigrants), the other are in a program for kids struggling to graduate for one reason or another.

That second bunch of kids--I love them so much already. They've picked some excellent research topics. One wanted to write about how miscarriages affect fathers (his girlfriend had a miscarriage). Another wanted to write about school lunches. Another, with Tourettes, wanted to write about Tourettes. Another wanted to write about the effect of cellphones and other electronics on kids in elementary school.

I want these kids to have the same chances that the kids at my local school have. They have so much good stuff to share with the world.

Here's the mighty Connecticut River. Just across it, over there, is where those kids go to school. See the water spurting and pluming through the dam? The city generates electricity from that.

Here are geese in the shoals.

And here's the view further down the river--well, two weekends ago. Most leaves have fallen now.

Here is graffiti under a bridge that crosses the river. Do you see the "RIP" on a piece of wood in the foreground? The dates were 1993 to 2016. My younger daughter's age.

Wake up, this graffito tells us. Are you sufficiently awake?

November magic

Today I'm going to meet an LJ friend in person. This never, ever gets old. So many friends here have become people whom I see out in the wide world too, and I love it. (Others I still know only online, but I count you as true friends, too.)

Yesterday I went to get some apples, to have some fresh fruit to offer. At the orchard, they'd moved some hives onto the loading dock, and the bees were buzzing around, glinting in the sun, and the fragrance! Sweet, sweet beeswax. It was marvelous: November, with bees and beeswax, in the sun. Momentary magic.


(The icon's a crow, not a starling, but)

The other day I went on a long run in the late afternoon, and at the end, was passing a field, and the starlings were congregating there for the evening, and they did that thing--small groups joining one another, sinking, then lifting, and others joining them, and others, and the setting sun was shining through their wings so they looked golden, while the birds themselves were black, and my heart lifted right up with them.

I use my very old (used to be my daughter's) cellphone as a stopwatch, and it also has a photo function, so I tried to get some pictures, which then I tried to enhance so you could get some hint of what I saw:

It was a brief, wonderful gift, seeing that, being part of that.

Ashitaka's words

One of my heroes is Ashitaka from Princess Mononoke. In this scene, from after the death of the forest spirit, San speaks in desolation, and Ashitaka answers her:

San: It's over. Everything's over. The forest is dead.

Ashitaka: Nothing is over. The two of us are still alive.

It's true. So long as we're alive, nothing is over. The good things I (or you) wanted to do yesterday will still be good to do tomorrow. If anything, the kindness and hard work you (or I) offer today and tomorrow and the next day are even more important now than they were before.

It's not as easy as just saying the words, but I do want to try. And I want to keep you company in your trying, too.

Sunset on I-90

I was on the road Friday and Saturday, and this beautiful sunset happened in front of me:

First hints

Sunset on I-90 W 5 Nov 2016

Our beautiful star, low on the horizon

Sunset on I-90 W 5 Nov 2016

The gauzy sunset sky

Sunset on I-90 W 5 Nov 2016

Golden mist rising on the sky ocean

Sunset on I-90 W 5 Nov 2016

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