Catch-22 or the Starfish Story? A Trashy Tale

First of all, my northwestern friends–yes, I KNOW “seastars are not fish.” But most folks know that sweet story of the guy saving stranded seastars by tossing them back into the ocean, and in that story they’re “starfish.”

That story’s moral: in the face of huge, inexorable challeng, making tiny, individual change is still worthwhile.

I THINK this is that kind of story. Although for a while there, it felt more like the penultimate chapter of Catch-22. (Spoiler alert: if you’re intending to read Catch-22 and just haven’t gotten around to it yet, you should stop reading my blog right now.)

The whole thing started a couple of weeks ago, when I noticed a large mass of debris floating near the rocky edges of Iceberg Point, part of the San Juan National Monument which I’m grateful to call my big backyard. I contacted our wonderful Monument and BLM people and hoped for the best.

Days passed, and still the debris floated. But you could see it was degrading into bits.

After a week, the large chunks disappeared. “Oh well,” I thought, “they’re someone else’s problem now. But somebody oughta get that small stuff.” Then…”Hey! Great excuse for a paddle excursion!”

I had it all planned: net, garbage bags, wetsuit, gloves, tide chart. Then the smoke from the west coast wildfires sent our air quality numbers up near 200 and our ocean under a thick blanket of scary-looking, cold smog. (Think “The Nothing” from Neverending Story.)

By the time the skies and my calendar cleared, another week had passed. But finally, FINALLY, I was on my way. Oh, that felt good.

Here I come to save the day!

Up close, I found that the barbage gyre was–of course–styrofoam, and most of it had–of course–already crumbled into those tiny, hellish bits. Actually, MOST of it was probably already in the bellies of marine life testing the flavor of those white things. That thought spurred me through the messy task of circling and scooping the gyre.

Yesss!!!

After about 25 minutes, I had all I could gather (not to mention fit into the trash bag stuffed between my knees). MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. Then I looked toward the shore.

Uh-oh.

Here’s where Catch-22 came in. See, through 30 chapters, we have Yossarian wrestling with flashbacks, hinting at the scene behind his PTSD. Not till the second-to-last chapter do we see the scene in full: Yossarian in mid-flight, trying to save the life of his bombardier Snowden, binding Snowden’s leg wound and comforting him as he whimpers. Only when Yossarian’s first-aid task is complete does he discover…he’s treating the wrong wound. The real injury, the one that’s killing Snowden, is deep, internal, and entirely beyond Yossarian’s ability to cure.

Those big chunks of marine garbage? They weren’t gone. They were just lodged in a cove, slowly breaking into more and more horrible bits for idiots like me to scoop.

Shit.

There was nothing I could do in my weenie little boat. To salvage some sense of accomplishment, I balanced one floating chunk on my prow and paddled home, deflated.

You’re not the boss of me, garbage.

But! Let’s get back to the starfishy side of things, shall we? I happen to live on an island whose unofficial motto is, “Come For the Scenery, Stay For the Community.” (OK, that’s my PERSONAL motto; I don’t think anyone else says that. But they could.)

I got back on the email. Two days later, I and my BLM friend had organized a small crew to go after that cove-garbage from the land. Our most intrepid member, Mike, donned a drysuit and went after the junk from the water.

Waiting for Mike to get his drysuit on, and feeling grateful not to be Mike.

Most chunks had to be hauled with ropes. I got the smaller bits, like this sail.

I can’t even tell you how satisfying that work was. Well–maybe I just did.

Hey, anyone missing a large sailboat?

Next day, true autumn weather moved in and the sea turned nasty (but beautiful–like a Nasty Woman). We knew we’d acted just in time to prevent the total disintegration of that garbage pile.

We also knew, in the grand scheme of our poor ocean, what a minescule gesture our work had been. You don’t need me to tell you that either. The wound is deep, internal, and possibly even beyond our ability to cure.

But, like the rescued seastar–our work made a difference to that place. And to us. Nothing like a tiny dose of action, in the face of global pandemic and potlitical instability, to make you breathe a little deeper.

Finding Empathy in Smoky Air…and Children

You know that phrase, “Be careful what you wish for?”

Yeah.

Below is the chorus of a song I wrote several years ago, about the experience of living on a small, peaceful island while the rest of the country struggles:

No man is an island, let that be my prayer

No matter how alluring be the shore.

Keep battering my senses, O you ocean of despair

Till that landlocked pain is pounding too hard to ignore.

I wrote that song in response to the death of Philando Castile, or rather, to the jury’s response in refusing to convict the policeman who shot him in front of his family. But these days, as smoke from the terrible mainland wildfires keeps us indoors day after day, “that landlocked pain” takes on a whole new meaning.

If you’re wondering why I’m not inserting a photo here of our apocalyptic skies, it’s because I don’t want to record them for posterity. Too depressing. So just picture mountains rising behind an ocean view, and then picture that lovely scene disappearing into grey nothingness.

It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in the effects of climate change before. I didn’t need convincing. But “believing” isn’t “feeling.” Real empathy, I think, requires some residue of that pain to lodge inside a person, like tiny particles in the lungs.

So I’ve been thinking about empathy–where it comes from, how we can better stimulate it in each other. And that’s when I ran across this article in a new publication on my island, “The Lopezian,” written by 29 year-old Lopezian Terrell Carter, pictured (literally) here:

(image courtesy Terrell Carter)

As you read Carter’s article, I’d like you to notice two things. One: how, indeed, “no man is an island,” and the deepening divide of mainland America is present even in our bucolic community. And Two: the natural-born empathy of young people this reporter evokes as they respond to the attack on the Say Their Names/Black Lives Matter memorial that occurred on August 12.

Meanwhile at the Skatepark…

Local youth react to vandalism across the street

By Terrell Carter

September 5, 2020

Transcript of audio:

[00:00] Intro music

Terrell Carter: This is The Lopezian: Phase Two News. I’m your host, Terrell Carter. In this issue, we turn now to the Sheriff’s Report.

Newscaster: On August 12th, the San Juan County Sheriff’s Log reports that a Lopez Island man was arrested and lodged in jail on several charges after reportedly vandalizing Black Lives Matter signs near the Village using an excavator.

Terrell Carter: Following now are reactions to this incident as recorded across the street at Lopez Skatepark.

Penelope (age 8): I know that one guy tried to lawn mow them down.

Reporter: How do you feel about that?

Penelope (age 8): I don’t know. Just like that wasn’t a right choice.

Clark (age 11): Knocking over signs is just rude.

Davis (age 11): People just, like, wanna show that they support something.

Clark (age 11): Yeah. They make too big of a deal of it. It’s just unfair, it’s mean, and rude.

[1:02] Connor (age 13): Is there any reason that they broke the sign?

Reporter: The first sign was a Trump sign that got defaced and then in response the person who owned the sign trampled over some of the Black Lives Matter signs.

Connor (age 13): Alright, uh, so I think you’d be pretty mad if someone destroyed your sign, and especially because it’s political, everyone has different opinions about it, so, it’s not right to break someone else’s property if you don’t agree with it, uh, but it is definitely wrong to uh, once you got your property destroyed, to go and break someone else’s property. Two wrongs don’t make a right and, uh, they shouldn’t have done it.

Liam (age 10): I don’t think it’s right. Because it’s kind of considered destruction of other people’s property and also if, like, somebody worked hard on it and you vandalized it, that would just be really mean.

[2:00] Reporter: Have you ever experienced uh someone destroying property or witnessed it before?

Liam (age 10): Um, well if you’re counting toys then yes. Sometimes my friends build really cool builds with Legos and other people destroy them. It’s kind of frustrating because like, when you’ve worked hard on something and then it gets destroyed.

Reporter: How about if you disagree with what’s on the sign, what then?

Liam (age 10): I won’t vandalize it. I’ll just think it in my head.

Jesse (age 14): Aren’t all those signs memorials?

Reporter: Yeah

Jesse: Aaagh. I mean, I guess, I’d say like one is like a memorial that is put up in respect of someone who lost their life. Another one is like a sign for a political party. I think that, yeah, vandalism’s bad but…they’re memorials! If there was a sign that was up for like, you know, part of my family, and, like we had a sign up, that would be, I would be devastated if someone out of spite knocked, knocked it over.

[3:16] Eloise: If they’re memorials, that’s for someone who’s dead. We should give them, we should give a lot of signs respect, but we should give them more respect because, like, they’ve lost their life. If we knock them down, that’s extremely rude.

Penny (age 7): It’s unfair that, like, white people and black people are treated different. And I think they should be treated equally. It’s just really unfair. And really sad at the same time, and like, a lot’s going on already and having the people kill other people, black people, is not helping it actually at all. It’s making it, Coronavirus, go worse. Cause then we’re losing people and it’s just unfair, unfair, unfair.

[4:21] Newscaster: Following the incident, the man involved was charged with two counts of reckless endangerment and one count of malicious mischief in the third degree. He pleaded not guilty on September 2nd and stands trial at San Juan District Court at 9:30am on Wednesday, October 14.

Terrell Carter: But the story of the signs doesn’t end there.

Reporter: Over a hundred people came together to help repair the sign. They put it back together. Uh, I’m wondering how, how that makes you feel hearing that?

Jesse: Yeah, that’s, that’s kind of epic. It’s good to see communities working together to…to…

Eloise: …to improve mistakes.

Terrell Carter: A ceremony to transition the signs and to speak the names of those honored will take place at the Community Center lawn tomorrow, Sunday, September 6th, at 12 noon. Everyone is invited to attend in support of Black Lives Matter. [05:25]

Images of POC killed by police created by multiple Lopez artists; memorial created by a small group of Lopezians; image provided by Terrell Carter

No man is an island, indeed. Those kids in this article understand that better than most adults in our country. Now, what can we do to make fresher air for all of us to breathe!

My Favorite Catalog is the One I Don’t Receive: Do You Know About Catalog Choice?

Do you love receiving unsolicited catalogs in the mail? Then by all means, don’t read this.

You know that scene in “Dead Poets Society” where Robin Williams’ character makes his students rip the intro out of their poetry textbooks?  “Begone, J. Edwin Pritchard!” “I don’t hear enough rrrrip!”

That’s who I think of when I use Catalog Choice to rid myself of the disturbing wasteful downright stupid unwanted catalogs clogging up my mailbox. “Begone, ‘Bed, Bath & Beyond’! Never darken my doorway again, ‘Jockey’! ‘ Walmart’–I said good DAY.”

I LOVE Catalog Choice. I love knowing I DO have a choice, and a method, of reducing the amount of costly junk mail swirling around me–and when I say “costly” I’m referring to the whole process, from cutting down the tree to my fellow citizens having to haul all that recycling off our island.

Never tried it? Here’s all you do: Go to catalogchoice.org and create your profile. It costs nothing. (They do ask for a donation, but again–your choice.) From there, every time you receive an unwanted catalog, all you do is log in, type the name of the catalog you wish to divorce yourself from, enter the codes printed on the back of the catalog, and–hey presto, it’s out of your life. (Catalog Choice even includes a way for you to report bad catalogs who refuse to listen to you the first time and keep showing up, though this hasn’t happened to me yet.)

Of course there are those catalogs with whom I enjoy a happy, lifetime relationship. (Talking to YOU, REI–and thanks again for opting out of Black Friday.) I would never “Catalog Choice” them out of my life. ‘Cabela’s’? No thanks. But ‘King Arthur Flour,’ you can snuggle on over here…

REIphoto1

We probably all have more “losers” than “keepers” when it comes to catalogs. Want to share your top 3 keepers? I’m listening. (But for the rest–tell ’em to get lost.)