Journalist Gracy Olmstead examines modernism’s legacy of sterile efficiency and the anti-human spaces it spawned:
But in modernity … we chose to dispense with precedent and tradition. We decided to distrust the “spooky wisdom” of the past—whether it had to do with old-fashioned agrarianism or dense walkability—and instead start from scratch, inventing our own way of doing things. Thus, freeways cut through the core of our cities, severing neighborhoods and communities. Suburbs sprung up around cosmopolitan centers, fashioning their own car-centric rhythms and culture. Farmers, meanwhile, were told to “get big or get out,” to trade diversity and sustainability for homogeneity and profit. Small to midscale farms steadily lost land and resources to their larger, industrialized counterparts.
The “spooky wisdom” she writes about is a term borrowed from quantum theory. It refers to intuitive insights that work even though we can’t fully explain WHY they work. Olmstead offers examples from ancient cities and rural communities whose designs not only fulfilled profound human needs but have survived and thrived over long centuries. Her great-grandfather, she notes, resisted the efficient yet inhumane practice of “confined animal feeding” on his small farm because providing open pastures “made the animals happy and kept the land pretty.”
I’ve long believed that our longing for beauty rises from our deepest needs and provides crucial guidance in meeting those needs. Our yearning to interact and enjoy nature and other people has been pushed aside in favor of gratifying material wants. In the mad rush to get there faster and consume more and more, we’ve managed to sequester our bodies in polluting cars or in the shadows of towering buildings. And we wonder why we feel so isolated and small.
However, some hopeful currents are stirring, from the return to small, sustainable agriculture to walkable greenways in our cities. Nature tends to be self-correcting, and I believe the pain inflicted by modernism is a signal we as a species are finally responding to.
I recently wrote a guest post for Sue Vincent’s wonderful spiritual, art, and folklore site. My post focuses on a topic I find myself thinking about more and more:
Countless online and printed articles have wrestled with what has become the most troubling question of our age: What is happening to us?
The cascade of electrons and ink aimed at this question underscores our growing realization that many of the sources of order we once relied on, from governments to churches, are coming apart. Individuals are coming apart, too. Despite our material opulence and abundance of sexual choices, we’re depressed. People are increasingly alienated from each other, divorcing at record rates, and respond by insulating themselves in electronic diversions and pills. Many commentators have attempted explanations, but I think no one has attacked the question more directly and honestly than anthropologist Helen Fisher in this interview with Krista Tippett:
Ms. Tippett: Right. We don’t have those extended circles of people who know them.
Ms. Fisher: … Serial pair-bonding is probably basic to the human animal, series of partnerships. But what is really unusual, for me, is the loss of local community. We have extended communities — we have our internet friends; we’ve got our work friends; we’ve got our people who we exercise with; we’ve got people who we go to a poetry conference with — whatever it is. But we don’t have local community.
Read the rest at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo.
“‘Cathedra’ is a wonderful–and memorable–story.”
Susan Shell Winston, author of Singer of Norgondy
My story “Cathedra” is featured in the latest issue of Metaphorosis. It’s free online all week.
Ben Kaplan is a loner who considers himself the best astrogeologist in the Asteroid Belt. But when he’s blamed for the deaths of two miners on Enceladus, Saturn’s most mysterious moon, he confronts more than a threat to his reputation. When a previously unknown species that rules the moon’s sub-surface ocean captures Kaplan, the only way to save himself is to stop the creatures from destroying the entire colony.
In a wondrous yet deadly setting of underground oceans, organic atomic reactors, and sunlit geysers shooting into space, “Cathedra” is a tale about the individual’s quest for identity and purpose within society, as well as one’s connection to the universe. The title and theme came from this beautiful anecdote:
A man came upon a construction site where three people were working. He asked the first, “What are you doing?” and the man replied: “I am laying bricks.” He asked the second, “What are you doing?” and the man replied: “I am building a wall.” As he approached the third, he heard him humming a tune as he worked, and asked, “What are you doing?” The man stood, looked up at the sky, and smiled, “I am building a cathedral!”
This is my first appearance in Metaphorosis, which bills itself as “a magazine of science fiction and fantasy. We offer intelligent, beautifully written stories for adults.” “Cathedra” is hard sci-fi inspired by an article in Astronomy magazine about Enceladus, one of the most promising sites for life in our solar system. (That’s a NASA photo of Enceladus on the cover.)
I want to express thanks to my wife Julie and to my comrades-in-critique at the Charlotte Writer’s Club for their invaluable suggestions and insights. I hope you enjoy “Cathedra.”
The best fiction and writing blog posts from around the ‘net, all guaranteed to make you a literary swashbuckler. Inspired by jack.
Jean M. Cogdell – Write like a professional – get the chapters right
Sarah A. Hoyt – Writing About Death
James Harrington – Character Creation
Brenda Davis Harsham – Top Ten Blogging Rules
D. E. Haggerty – How to get the writing done despite distractions
Cristian Mihai – Building a personal brand as an artist
M. L. S. Weech – Why some covers just don’t look right
Nic Schuck – Getting testimonials