Tuesday, January 24, 2017

I'm speechless...

and yet, I have a lot to say.
My brain has been racing all day in attempt to express my heart's various emotions- news from Trump's latest Executive Orders, the nostalgia of traveling home, the mixed joy of being welcomed by 80 degree weather in January, more news, and the shock, anger and devastation that comes with it, curiosity for what our future generations will be left to contend with, hope, lack of hope, and inspiration in strange places.

I couldn't even pour through all the saved articles and responses from my affected friends, colleagues and professors without needed to write a response.

Mid-day I glimpse that Trump banned the EPA from using social media to talk about Climate Change. This is censorship and propaganda. I'm thankful for social media and live reporting and sensible people, and a college degree (in Environmental Studies) and having friends as scientists so that I can stay informed, but I realize not everyone has that, and many will be, or already have been, swept up in Trump's positive affirmations and "alternative facts". (An interesting report on EPA-related 'civil servants' and their resistance, here)

On the way home, driving through the traffic-saturated streets of Austin with my mom, who I hadn't seen in 8 months, I overheard that Trump halted EPA related funding. Before I make it home, I hear friends' worries about graduate school funding-- from current and prospective students. I wonder if I should apply to that school in Britain before it's too late...

We drive through an ever-changing Austin. An area I always called home, but hardly recognize. Where there were once acres of land with vast swaths of wildflowers, there are For-Sale signs promising future developments, or current shopping megaplexes and housing developments touting the names of the space they've destroyed.

Happy (and Hopeful) and Warm
At Home, with the news blaring reports of a segment, "Trump's First Days in Office," I'm thankful I don't have a television. Until I realize I have the privilege to sit down with my mom and watch a PBS special about Rachel Carson, the famed author who both my mom and I read about in our Environmental classes. Carson always knew she would be a writer, and couldn't remember a time she didn't love nature, all inspired from her mother. I wonder if my mother's spiritual connection to the Earth was a key to it's impact on me, if I have a weird connection to the world, or if everyone has an innate understanding of the Earth ingrained within them, however suppressed it may be. Perhaps it's all three, but I hope and believe that everyone can appreciate the aesthetics of our Umvelt.

I walk outside in a t-shirt, as the sun it setting. Several deer hear me and spring out into the juniper. Another snorts, stamps his hooves and runs the other way. I am touched to the soul by the sound of the crickets, a familiar chorus that reminds me of Summer and of Home. I inhale the wholesome, bitter smell of tannin, walking right up to the Live Oak until it's leaves are to my lips. I kiss it, hoping that the Greed and fury of Capitalism won't buy out every old Oak and prickly-pear patch.
I admire the slight squish in the ground, and the abundance of green popping through-- an early sign of Texas Bluebonnets... and I wonder if the children born today will every get to walk among wildflowers.

I am shocked, but not surprised, by the news I heard today. And although I'm speechless, I have a lot to say. Hopefully it will be organized, and argued with facts, and encourage discussion.
But for today, here's all I can do.
1) Take care of self- A lot of sickness/flu things are going around. As a doomsday pessimest, I'm always wondering if this is it-- the last great epidemic that wipes us out. At the very least, we should stay as healthy as possible. Know that every ounce you put into your body is your fuel, and if it's tainted with pesticides or chemicals, those things can add up (thanks Rachel Carson).

2) Stay informed (and/or get educated). I intend to spend more of my free time re-reading history, as it's never been my favorite subject, and staying up to date on Environmental research, and whatever they're calling Climate Change now that Trump has basically banned that phrase.

3) Stay hopeful. The Rachel Carson documentary was very appropriately timed. There were many parallels between the Government Propaganda of the 60's, and what Trump is trying to do now, particularly with the influence of industry on the Government.  At one point today, I lost hope. "Greed will prevail" I thought, trying to hold in tears watching Rachel Carson fight for environmental awareness. But then I saw all my friends fighting back, signing petitions and educating one another. So, I still have hope. I also have faith in many environmental organizations that I have contributed to in the past, that I'm about to fund more. Hopefully they can reach farther than I can.

In my recent travels through the Midwest, I listened to a lot of public radio... much of which didn't share my opinions. One radio host complained that the Right weren't fighting as hard as the Left. That was a bit surprising to me at first, but I think it comes down to this-- when you have nothing left to lose, you fight. When you're so broken, you're angry, you fight. At this point, I feel there's nothing to do but fight. Fight to keep public lands. To prevent oil spills. To have half an Earth left for future generations (I'm being hopeful there). That speaker's Republicans aren't weak. They just aren't (as) angry.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2017: The Year Of... Data?

I have struggled with the Happy New Year sentiment this year. I'm not sure why I'm feeling like such a scrooge about it... I remained an optimist through even the tougher times in 2016.
For some reason, I'm always more excited about even years than odd, though that has nothing to do with the outcome of the year.
Perhaps my anxiety comes from not knowing what this year will bring. Although I have reveled in the transitions and impermanence of my life, career and activities for the last ten years... the curveballs this last year threw at me, has left me nervous for what could come. To be honest, I'm half expecting nuclear fallout, unfixable environmental destruction or complete societal shutdown if not all of the above, or worse.... but I'm going to quiet my apocalyptic fantasies for now, and focus on my theme of the year... data.

I'm sure it seems weird for a hippie tree-hugger to devote a year to data. What does that even mean?

I listened to an eye-opening podcast by Ted Radio Hour called Big Data Revolution on a recent drive from Detroit to NM. The podcast was packed with information about where our data is stored, how much data we're currently using in our every day lives...and what the future of data storage is going to be like. That part was particularly scary for me. If I had my way, I would live on an island away from electronics and fish and build and play in the sun. (Coming from someone who has never eaten caught fish...) But I have been forced to adapt to this world of ever-expanding technological "advances," in our rapidly growing population. It frightens me to think about. One concept of the talk was how much data is being collectes about our decisions by our devices, amd the very realistic advances in advertising, insurance, and career possibilities that will come of that. It's certainly worth a listen.

So "WHY is Data the theme of your year?" you might inquire.

Cause as much as I'm a luddite-- I love making lists, collecting and organizing data, and then illustrating it. The last part I'm just learning about myself. In the last few months of 2016, with the aid of my therapist, I've begun to illustrate the things I couldn't communicate. As a visual learner/processor, I typically translate everything I read or hear into images. Now I'm teaching myself to illustrate those images onto paper. It's more difficult than it may seem. An idea may seem so clear in my head, but when I try to translate it into 2 dimensions, I have to really concentrate on what goes on which axis, or what is designated by colors versus shapes.

Image result for left brain right brain
My brain is a healthy mix of data collecting/list-making left and abstract, color-rich right. Maybe 60/40. 

Two resources have helped inspire me to do this.
1) A book I got for Christmas (thanks mom) called The Best American Best Infographics of 2016. Full of beautifully represented data-- and from all areas of the world. From Super Bowl stats to Political progression to forest density decline-- these are some choice graphics that illustrate hard to understand concepts or ideas. While informative, they are a bit overwhelming, although this book pointed me to:
2) Dear-Data: a collection of post cards that two graphic designers illustrated every week for a year, on the back of a postcard they sent to each other. The result is amazing, accessible and inspiring.

So my hope for this year, is to work on the way I illustrate my brain, for my own understanding as well as my ability to teach other visual learners. But I'm also hoping to collect some DATA about myself-- from how often I wash my clothes to how long I can hold a handstand. It might seem a silly thing to do amidst what I perceive as political peril-- but I think that keeping track of the mundane little things may provide a comforting context for our ever changing world.

Stay tuned... AND-- if you have any advice for classes or resources to learn more about graphic design. I'm certainly not looking to become a graphic designer, but I have such an interest in data visualizations, especially non-electronic... if anyone has ideas.

Happy 2017?