Monday, January 11, 2010

Future Calendar

Next year, it says, we get much stronger

On this date in 1890, a woman assassinated Solotouchin, chief of the Moscow secret police (there are no web references to this guy that I can find, though there are references to the use, by Chris Brown, of the phrase 'solo touchin'). Also, 77 years ago today, 16 peasants and workers were murdered in Spain by the Guardia Civil. That event, my 2010 organizer tells me, is known as the Massacre of Casa Viljas. Just 12 years ago, 25,000 people occupied the construction site of a dam being built on the Narmada River. The proposed dam was part of a series of projects on the river that would wipe out the homes and livelihoods of millions. A people's organization, Narmada Bachao Andolan, organized opposition to the projects. At least three major literary figures were born on this day, as well: Eugenio Maria de Hostos, a philosopher, novelist and true citizen of the Americas (read about him here and here) in 1839, American author William James in 1842, and Alan Paton, author of Cry, the Beloved Country, in 1903.

I learned all these things from, variously, my Half Price Books 2010 calendar, the Peace Buttons on-line calendar, and, as noted, from my 2010 organizer, produced by the Slingshot Collective. I consider such little bits of historical data helpful. The political stuff provides a consistent reminder that people everywhere refuse to suffer indignity and injustice quietly, that the instinct to build community based on humane vision and opposition to authoritarianism is actually written into human DNA. And, though the births and deaths of revered historical figures often come to be celebrated at the expense of the memories of the mass of individuals who built the cultures from which individual achievement sprang, it is nice to be reminded that artistic and creative genius does exist, even if I am also reminded, in the process, that such genius does not dwell in me.

In these calendars there is a sort of half-baked genius. The calendars vaguely suggest stories. But they don't do any of the work of detailing specific stories. To accumulate detail we have to consult other sources, historians, teachers, books, songs, friends, imagination. In his book, 50 American Revolutions You're Not Supposed To Know, Mickey Z appears to have taken some left political calendar of some kind and lavished it with research and imagination. This he does, I am certain, because he believes that what each of us contributes toward progressive change is more important than we individually can ever imagine. To that effect, Mickey Z quotes Howard Zinn:
"[Revolution is] an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a more decent society."

I'm pretty sure that Mickey's z is a self-chosen last name, with plenty of possible references. Z standing alone, for instance, might suggest revolutionary resistance, as it does in the Costa-Gavras movie "Z." Or it might be that Mickey is simply announcing his own subversive intentions, identifying himself and others as a "zigzagger," the human embodiments of Zinn's revolutionary waves. Or, I suppose, it could be that Mickey's last name starts with z, is hard to spell and harder to pronounce. No matter. His book is an act of radical imagination.

Sitting next to "50 Revolutions" on our pile of bathroom books is The Future Dictionary of America(FDA). Let me say, as a person once convicted of malicious destruction primarily on the testimony of a self-described "unemployed lexicographer," that as dictionaries go, FDA is probably on the unreliable end of the spectrum. But FDA is also an act of radical imagination. Edited by a quartet of young (heartbreaking) geniuses, it includes numerous entries that try to imagination a richer, more humane future. One entry written by revered graphic novelist Art Spiegelman reads:
"Geneva Convention [jen-ee'-vah kon-ven'-shun] n. a large annual Spring gathering of cartoonists that takes place in Geneva, Switzerland...The highlight of this convocation is a drawing contest [in which] cartoonists compete to best capture [an] audience's shifting expressions of shock, awe, disgust, prurience, anger and anguish[in reaction to] pornographic video footage of early 21st century American soldiers performing atrocities on Moslem civilians..."

Well, OK, that definition is more of an inspired critique than a vision of a benign future, but I personally see the image of a bunch of cartoonists sitting in judgement of war crime as a bit of alternative futuring. And though FDA has far more critical and satirical definitions of the tired and corrupt normal, there are many definitions of a future world that are as inviting as a warm featherbed in winter.

But what I really want here is this, a calendar based on the good real people aspire to accomplish within the span of their own lives, a calendar that takes such personal visions and reports all the good things that will happen in the future. Like, say, the entry for January 11, 2034: writer Sylvia Waters transmits the completed manuscript of her biography of the first female Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to her publisher.

And I know this happens how? I know this happens because SW told me that is her deadline for finishing the book. And, as we all know, individual aspirations are the tributaries of the rivers that flow to the oceans where the tidal waves of change are generated. Frankly, though I will be 88 by the time the book is finally available to me, I can hardly wait to read it. Further, if there are readers out there who aspire, openly or secretly, to move a certain change by a particular date, please share your dream with me, if you would. Personally, I feel a strong need to see visions, to feed on the nutritional richness of such a future calendar.

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