This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.Toni Morrison
I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.
The May 21 issue of Amethyst Review, based in the UK will publish “Praying in the Doorway”.
Boundless, the Rio Grande Valley International Poetry Festival anthology, containing my poem, “The Cat Has Passed On,” is also published this month.
A theme that runs through this interview with Joyce Harjo, U.S. Poet Laureate, is home. We moved to Austin, TX because my wife wanted to go home. California was losing its appeal (cost of living, forest fires, and our direction diverging from the communities we were in). Sitting on the porch of the B&B we were staying in, drinking hard cider and chocolate cookies, Austin felt good.
It has been twenty one years and it is not feeling so much like home any more. Summers have always been rough. This past winter was not easy, though we did better than most. A fire station and two nursing homes are on our electrical circuit and so we had no rolling blackouts. The contaminated water for a few days was a problem.
The political climate has worsened. The Texas Legislature seems determined to prove how small minded and mean spirited they can be to people who aren’t rich, white, and powerful. They are also trying to ram through permit-less gun carry in spite of the opposition of the police. It is unlikely they will do anything to improve the reliability of the electric grid (or the water and sewer lines). It doesn’t feel much like home any more. Hearing some one else struggling with home, is heartening and inspiring.
The “You can’t get enough of what you don’t want/need” principle bit me again last night. My wife and I frequently share a Perfect Manhattan when we go out. Usually we sip it all through appetizers and dinner, occasionally leaving a bit. Last night, the bartender was busy and rushed it. I drank it too fast, mostly on an empty stomach and was a less than excellent driver going home. Sharing a great Perfect Manhattan is enough. A mediocre one is not enough until it is too much.
Interestingly for both of us, most margaritas are this way, even very good frozen ones. I’ve had two truly great margaritas, both on the rocks. Maybe they were enough, I didn’t get a second and don’t recall wanting one.
Inspired by Gary Nabhan’s “Why Some Like It Hot”, I’m embarking on a search for what genetic factors are affecting my health, what my ancestors ate, and how I might change my diet to improve my health. From my reading and my experience, two principals have emerged so far:
- Slow release carbohydrates – whole grains and starches.
- You can’t get enough of what you don’t need – at first this sound nonsensical, then paradoxical. It contains wisdom I’m still mining over 20 years after I first heard it. Simple example: when I traveled I drank the hotel’s coffee, many cups full. At home, I drink good coffee and 2-3 a day are enough. 2-3 cups of hotel coffee leaves me wanting more. Now I carry Starbucks instant coffee. It’s good enough, 1 cup at breakfast is enough and I’ll have another cup or two of good coffee during the day.
“Why Some Like It Hot” by Gary Nabhan, subtitle – “Food, Genes, and Cultural Diversity.” The author is described as an ethnobotanist -someone who studies “a region’s plants and their practical uses through the traditional knowledge of a local culture and people. … investigating plants used by societies in various parts of the world.” For this book, throw in people’s genes. This is a fascinating travelogue of sorts as the author travels the world looking at ethnic cultures, their diets and genes, and how they reduce the survival threats of their homelands and how migration and/or changes in diet expose them to different threats they are not adapted to.
The first chapter, “Searching for the Ancestral Diet,” illustrates his central thesis. It is subtitled, “Did Mitochondrial Eve and Java Man Feast on the Same Foods?” It debunks the idea that one diet fits all, e.g. that all early homo genus ancestors ate the same things. Mitochondrial Eve lived in Rift Valley of Africa about 150,000 years ago and is the mother of 99.9% of modern homo sapiens. Java Man (homo erectus) arose in Asia, 700,000 to 1 million years ago. The earliest fossils were found in Java. Peking Man is now considered to be the same species. Both Mitochondrial Eve and Java/Peking Man are considered ancestors of modern humans. The idea that both of these ancestors were eating the same diet is absurd.
Nabhan journeys to Sardinia, Crete, Arizona and nearby Northern Mexico, and Hawai’i to work with the local people and study how their traditional diet, genes, local weather, diseases, and recent changes to their diet interact. In the Mediterranean and North Africa, malaria is historically the number one killer. One estimate is that half of homo sapiens has died of malaria. The G6PD allele (mutation) protects against malaria, but makes fava beans unhealthy for its carriers. Carriers get lethargic when the fava beans are blooming (“Baghdad fever”). There are cautions in the culture around consuming fava beans and spices or preparation procedure to lessen the effect.
People in desert climates are frequently more susceptible to diabetes, especially when they shift to a Western diet of heavily processed food. Nabhan’s wife conjectured that there was something intrinsic to desert plants worldwide to explain this. He identifies a possible substance (extracellular mucilage that buffers moisture) in Arizona and Northern Mexico cacti, but doesn’t followup with other desert climates.
He worked with native Hawaiian communities in their restoring their ancestral diets and community health, both diet and community.
I found his stories and discoveries intriguing. The communities he describes in the books are largely intact gene pools or with one additional gene pool/ethnicity.
Now I’m left to figure what can I do with this information? I had hoped that “Genes, Food and Culture – Eating Right for Your Origins” would help. It appears to be the same content with a different cover and title. The copyright dates are 7 years apart. If there are any changes, a quick read of the intro and first chapter didn’t reveal it.
I intend to pursue this idea. My wife and I carry the MTHFR mutation that he also discusses. Without methylated folate supplementation, our risk of cardio-vascular disease (strokes and heart attacks) is elevated. I’m 70 and my health is going down slow. What can I change in my diet to improve my health? My ancestors are scattered around the periphery of Europe: the Atlantic side of the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal or northwest Spain), England, Scotland, northwestern Germany (Lower Saxony), Finland, and Eastern Europe. Going back a thousand years or more, my ancestors ate barley, rye, leafy greens, lamb, chicken, and pork. Going back 500 years, the more adventurous may have started eating potatoes, tomatoes, chilis (nightshade family from the New World), and rice, buckwheat, and soybeans from Asia.
Updates as I figure them out.
Sunday, a week ago, I’d never heard of Ars Poetica. On Monday I wrote a poem arguing against Dunya Mikhail’s statement, “poetry is not medicine—it’s an X-ray.” It explained why I wrote and read poetry, sometimes as medicine, sometimes as X-ray. Later that day I encountered the term. The next day, Texas Poetry Assignment issued a Call for Submissions of Ars Poetica (Assignment #8). With some more polishing, I’ll be submitting it.
Midnight Special is a folk blues written from the standpoint of someone in prison. There are many versions. My favorite is Creedence Clearwater Revival’s version (on YouTube, search for “Midnight Special CCR” if the link doesn’t work). As far as I know, none of the band members spent any time in prison or jail. Still, the song feels authentic. I wonder what prison, metaphorical or otherwise, they imagined themselves while singing the song. The studio version on Willy and the Poorboys (above) feels more authentic than the live version here. The latter pushes the beat rather than laying back behind the beat, a more blues sound.
… now that I can dance.” There is some incredible creativity going on in the world. Boston Dynamics, a robot maker, posted a video of its robots dancing to “Do You Love Me”, a song from my youth at the beginning of 2021 (search “Do You Love Me Boston Dynamics” on YouTube if the link doesn’t work). I found out about it through an article in my professional magazine, IEEE’s Spectrum. There’s months of hard work by human dancers, choreographers, and programmers, requiring improvements to the robot’s hardware and software in this two minute video.
In several ways is reminds me of how the COVID-19 vaccine came about so quickly after decades of work by scientists and other researchers. Two years ago many of the vaccine developers were working on cancer cures.