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Reflections on the Passing Year

It has been quite a year. Turbulent change in so many forms. “Interesting times,” as the Chinese say and  their expression, “May you live in interesting times,” is not meant benevolently.

The increasingly strident message from the metereological front, from the derechos and monster tornado swarms  and record-breaking forest fires and blistering droughts of the summer, culminating in Sandy’s direct hit on metropolitan New York, that it’s getting warmer, the air is like water becoming increasingly agitated as it comes to a boil, and this is due to our fossil fuel emissions mainly, global warming is real, and it’s us. My latest reality check, at the Mauna Loa Observatory on the big island of Hawaii in July, confirms this without a shadow of a doubt,  as a forthcoming Vanity Fair piece will make clear. I’ve been brought back into the anthropogenic fold, after a period of skepticism, 104 cyclical astronomical, and air and ocean phenomena also being in play.

The usual quota of horror, concentrated now in Syria, whose Somalization is concurrent with the cretinization and infantalization of Western culture, the youth by videogames, weed, reading anything of any length and substance is something only a growing minority are capable of, their numbers diminishing the younger you go. So the book is dead or on its last legs, like the wristwatch, the camera, the music cd and perhaps even the magazine. We are in the middle major revolution in how we communicate whose result will be that our entire lives- social, professional, sexual- will be contained in a little hand-held unit that will ultimately become an insertible little brain chip. We not looking at more than a few decades before we become total lifeterm prisoners of gizmos, virtual inmates of the virtual.

But rumors of the written word’s demise are exaggerated, I am happy to report after spending a week in November at Hever Castle in Kent, where Ann Boleyn grew up, later extensively renovated and expanded by he Astors. The venu of the Abroad Writers’ Conference, where I did a week of lectures and workshops along with two Pulitzer Prize-winning novelists, Robert Olen Butler and Paul Harding, giving editorial counsel to 11 participants, who all had literary chops and really interesting writing projects they were working on, and their own distinct voices and sensibilities, ranging from erudite to down home salt of the earth, all of us united and brought together by our common love of the written word. It was a wonderful and intense experience. We are hoping to publish the work of two of the participants on DVW momentarily.

The site has undergone a complete overhaul in its design by the brilliant, creative Justine Harari. There are still a few glitches and elipses that need to be ironed out, but it now makes the corcucopia of offerings more accessible, and heightens the awareness of the endless fascination of what is out there, step one in making people care about it, parts of it they may never get to, like the breathtaking rainforest of Kalimantan, home of the orangutan and all kinds of other marvelous forms of life, which is being converted to row after row of oil palm trees. Or the slaughter of Africa’s elephants to provide ivory to the mainly Chinese market, which has been the worst this year since l989 and is out of control on much of the continent, even though the New York Times and the National Geographic had hard-hitting pieces, keeping up the pressure that my Vanity Fair piece helped get going in the summer of 2011.

We are developing a t.v. docuseries based on DVW and also called Dispatches From the Vanishing World with two wonderful ladies in L.A.. More on that as it progresses. Last Look Books is about to bring out its second title, a new edition of my family history,  Russian Blood, with a great new cover designed by Matthiu Issler, a friend of my boys and a really talented young artist. More titles are in the works, including a textbook on literary journalism with sections on nature writing, environmental writing, writing to make a difference,memoir,  ethnography, travelogue with example of each genre from DVW. Brook Thorpe, now organizing conferences in Sydney, has moved on after two years of doing fantastic work for DVW, particularly the launching of Last Look Books. Posters and t-shirts with photos from DVW’s archive designed by Justine will be soon be in the store. So we’re getting there, disversifying and adapting with the times. As the Centrafricains say, “petit a petit l’oiseau fait son nit.” We’re doing what we can, like Wangari Matthai’s hummingbird and we have much to be grateful to our collaborators for DVW’s progress this year.

“Agony and Ivory” won the Humane Society of America’s outstanding printed word award which Suitcase received at a gal at the Beverly Hilton in L.A., where Whitney Houston had o.d.’d a few weeks earlier. In June, Vanity Fair published “Positively 44th Street,” which caused a frisson in Suitcase’s boomer cohort and was variously described by readers as “randomly wonderful” and an “out-of-body experience.”  So there is still an audience for long, thorough literary journalism, and DVW will continue to write and publish it, along with all the other media it is embracing.

These “interesting times” also have positive aspects. There are definite signs of a welcome shift to compassionate in American society. The  Republicans formula, let us white fat cats make more millions  and it will be good for everybody, did not strike a lot of chords with the increasingly diverse and non-white American electorate, and the fats cats have found themselves suddenly isolated and dead in the water politically. A few years ago Harper’s had a big article about the death of liberalism, but it’s back, so let’s make the most of it, because the pendulum is surely going to swing back the other way. Today is the day we find out if we go over the fiscal cliff or not. Last I checked, there was still gridlock. I personally went over the fiscal cliff long ago, and I’m still here, eating three meals a day, doing what I can for the world in the time I have left. Maybe everybody should join me and just go over the fiscal cliff and spontaneously reject the system we have now, which is a democracy corrupted by money and greed and corporate power, the way the Russians spontaneously rejected communism in l989 and the whole house of cards finally came down to everyone’s relief. Maybe we should just scrap the whole thing and start over again with a new more compassionate and inclusive system of governance and of doing business on and with the planet. There are signs that this is already happening, that the next, kinder chapter in our presence on the planet is starting to unfold. It looks like the tragedy of Sandy Hook was the last straw and we may finally make some progress in getting the guns out of American life. What are assault weapons doing in our houses and on our streets but killing more of us than all the casualities in our various wars and terrorist attacks ? The first nations people of Canada, many of whom are living in the most horrible conditions on earth, have started an Idle No More movement. and the people of India are having massive demonstrations about the mistreatment of women in their society in the wake of the 23-year-old woman in Delhi who was fatally gang-raped by six men on a bus. More people are putting their foot down about things that shouldn’t be happening and trying to change them. The Occupation movement seems to be quiescent at the moment, but its beefs are not going to go away, and we will undoubtedly be hearing more from them. So there is a critical mass that could effect the Big Shift to a more emphathetic civilization, as Jeremy Rifkin calls it. (see his great Youtube vid on this). Things are heading in the direction. It’s just a question whether we will get there before there’s nothing left to get to.

In l918 the Mexican intellectual and luminary of the revolution that overthrew the one percent of the day Jose Vasconcelos wrote a prescient essay called La Raza Cosmica in which he predicted that a golden race of mestizos would take over the word. This is already happening in North America and Europe. Here in Montreal, my 19 year old boy is going  with a Trinidadian-Jamaican girl, my 17th with a girl from Guanajuato, and my 15 year old with a girl from Moscow. They themselves are the only White Russian Watusis I know of on the planet, and part of our blended Luso-Slavic-American-Canadian-Rwandan family of seven. Montreal is an exuberant cruclble of la raza cosmica, as are New York, L.A., London, Paris, Hamburg, Berlin. Obama is the main poster boy of la raza cosmica, and he was reelected by it, he’s their/our man. What’s great about la raza cosmica is that it breaks down tribalism and hereditary eletes. It levels the playing field, and this has to happen before the much-bandied word democracy can regain its meaning and cred and direction.

So we are looking forward to what 2013 is going to bring. Last week we had the greatest amount of snow in a single day in Montreal– 42 centimeters. Meanwhile the U.K. is getting record rainfall and flooding whose estimated damage is up to $12 billion. More extreme weather is certainly going to be part of the mix. But what happens long term and short-term, on most of the fronts we are confronted with, is mostly up to us. Will technological fixes save the day ? Putting particles into the polar atmosphere to screen out solar radiation and bring back the Arctic icepack to pre-industrial levels, solar highways that the guy in Idaho is developing, air fuel synthesis (taking the carbon out of atmospheric CO2 and the hydrogen out of the water vapor and recombining them into hydrocarbons– fuel), machines the size of a chord-wood splitter than can be taken around and can remove the equivalent of twelve cars’ worth of carbon emissions a day. Eating right. Positive malnutrition– obesity- is now the most pervasive and deadly form of malnutrition. And our own realization that we don’t need all this stuff, we don’t need to buy and consume all this shit, it doesn’t bring happiness. What brings happiness is being nice, to each other, our fellow creatures, and the earthly home of all of us.

So many things any one of us can do to help the world in these parlous times. The critical mass is there, we just have to come together, and that’s what DVW is here for, to help the wave that is beginning to crest in the zietgeist, to facilitate the urgently needed cultural adaptation. I got a feeling it’s going to be a busy year.