Halos and hope
“Ah, ah beats our lungs and we are racing into the waves.
Though there are worlds below us and above us, we are straight ahead.”
—from “Ah, Ah,” by Joy Harjo
I kept trying to write a post about hope and then I couldn’t write about hope because I’m not a hopeful sort of person but also try to avoid the pit of hopelessness because there be dragons there, and not the justice-seeking young dragons in Wings of Fire but the Smaug kind of dragons that want to eat your ponies.
There are these two quotes that chase each other around in my head on a regular basis: “Hope is a longing for a future condition over which we have no agency,” and “We are exploring the deep ethics of optimism.” Somehow, in whatever world my mind lives in, it in some way believes both. They fail to cancel each other out even though it feels like they should. I run into people’s hopelessness all the time these days, and sympathize because I feel it, too, and yet . . .
. . . which is why I keep looking for new words, fuller words, revitalized words. Re-storyfied words, and worlds.
Pictured above is a sun halo, an effect created by the refraction of light through ice crystals. (A fuller explanation of these, along with light pillars, was given recently by Mike Sowden in his very fun and informative Everything Is Amazing newsletter and accompanying Twitter thread.) The first time I saw one was five or six years ago in almost the exact same location, though that one was even larger and more distinct. I can still feel the cold weather and ice in my face as I stood staring at it, thinking what my reaction would have been to this phenomenon several hundred or thousand years ago. It was so enormous, and even knowing I could go home and search online for a scientific explanation, I couldn’t shake the feeling of some kind of celestial act, something aware of me, coming for me.
It wasn’t, though. It was just there, the light and my eyes and the ice in the air telling my mind that something other-worldly hovered above. Terrifying. Glorious.
I recently listened to an interview with Pat McCabe, a Diné writer and activist, on the What Could Possibly Go Right? podcast that reminded me that I find hope, and much more, in thinking that shifts my perspective. Talking about the recent year’s social justice stories, she said that there was a phenomenon of “co-witnessing” she’s been noticing—a shared seeing of acts that were once hidden or more easily denied: “There’s something about this co-witnessing that is retelling the stories for us. . . . giving us impetus to take bigger risks in relationship, bigger risks in generosity.”
On the same podcast a year earlier, Sherrie Mitchell posited a question for the listeners that seems fitting to walk into this year with: “Whatever it was that kept you from waking up until that moment—you had lived your whole life in a world where these things were going on all around you, and you had not been able to see them until that moment of awakening—so what was it up until that moment that prevented you from waking up? Because that’s where our work exists.”
Life is full of sorrow; life is full of joy. With hope or without, we can always work to create something better.
Bonus photo: Same day, same sun halo, with a light pillar and sundogs, from a different part of the mountain. I cannot get over how incredible these are. Photos don’t really do justice.
Some stuff to read, listen to, or watch:
When posting the recent walking composition on crows, I forgot to include “A Murder of Crows,” a beautiful personal essay by an old friend, Mary Petiet, on crows, loss, and one of the best cats I’ve ever known (and my life has known many, many cats): “There is something to the ancient idea that information can travel on the currents of energy circling the world to manifest in subtle, easy to miss hints. Everything is connected and everything holds a space.”
From the Grand Canyon Trust, “The Voices of the Grand Canyon,” a website dedicated to re-storying the Grand Canyon area with the histories and connections of Native societies that have lived there “since time immemorial.”
Olga Dobridova writing in MIT Technology Review on Russia’s decades-long history of destroying the Volga River: “The technocratic, goal-oriented thinking of the time had no patience for polite objections from scientists or anything that could interfere with industrial development.” (This report is part of the Review’s current issue on water, and every article in it looks fascinating. But you need to be a subscriber to read all of them.)
Henry Wismayer in Aeon addresses the quandary of travel and travel writing, a subject I grapple with privately a great deal, having been devoted to both for much of the early 2000s and in recent years finding myself increasingly unattracted to it (though Colin Thubron can still draw me in): “For while I balked at ‘influencer’ superficiality, I also appreciated that my travel writing was just a more sophisticated version of the same tendency. I wondered how many other people might have been using travel in a similar, medicinal way – to curate a narrative, sometimes at the expense of subjective joy.”
Maia Silber writing in Psyche on what the early-1900s debate between Walter Lippmann and Upton Sinclair tells us about how ownership of media shapes our accepted societal, political, and economic narratives: “But Sinclair also got something that Lippmann didn’t want to admit: the agendas of a few men did shape the operations of complex organisations, if imperfectly, indirectly, and with inconsistent results.”
From Dark ‘N’ Light magazine, “Dance with Gravity,” a video honoring the Shena Board, an ancient Persian warrior training tool, and its modern iteration in the Earth Board. An article explaining some of the myths and legends in the video accompanies it.
In Locus, Cory Doctorow articulates one of the reasons I enjoy science fiction so much (but didn’t realize it): it’s an inherently Luddite genre—seeking to determine what technology is for (usually, to serve power/capital, vs. serving humanity, which was also the Luddites’ main focus). “The Luddites did what every science fiction writer does: they took a technology and imagined all the different ways it could be used – who it could be used for and whom it could be used against. . . . That is many things, but it is not technophobic. Using ‘Luddite’ as a synonym for technophobe is an historically insupportable libel.”
And in keeping with the sun halos, here’s an explanation and accompanying diagram of a copy of a 1535 Swedish painting of a sun halo hovering over medieval Stockholm.