Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Bear

If I get behind one more logging truck or big pickup and can’t see far enough ahead to pass, I think I’ll scream. The speed limit through Georgia is only 55, and I’m on a two-lane highway through pecan groves and cotton fields, rows of peanuts and planted pines, crossing bridges over rivers and creeks, headed to the writing workshop. I gun the red Prius up to 80 mph to pass the big white Ford F350 in front of me with the large black tarp slung across the bed.

As I get closer, my focus shifts and I notice what looks like a mammoth, black, hairy human foot dangling off the passenger’s side of the truck. “What the heck!” I mutter, doing a double take as my car’s speed increases and I draw even with the truck bed.

It’s not a tarp I’m seeing. It’s a huge, hairy, black body, the head—with red mouth agape—hanging off the driver’s side. A bear. Dead. With a large bullet hole open and angry, a jagged ruby wound in the creature’s huge chest.

“Oh, shit!” I exclaim to myself. “Damn!” I grip the steering wheel harder and feel the muscles in my shoulders freeze up. I suck in my breath and work to keep my focus on the road as I pass the truck and its inert cargo while a great silent wail, a tsunami of hot energy, moves up from below my belly and out the top of my head.

I remember the mantra of Chenrezig, the great pearlescent bodhisattva who, unblinking, views the sufferings of sentient beings throughout the worlds—and I begin to chant his mantra that relieves those sufferings, OM MANI PADME HUNG, OM MANI PADME HUNG.

I wonder how the bear died. Was he roaming alone through what he thought was safe forage, looking for berries or honey? Did he feel the wind through the pines, the wind ruffling his thick fur? What were his bear thoughts in the final moments of his life, before the rifle blasted that hole through his heart? Was he aware, in those last seconds, that something had gone awry in his world? Did he feel a giant stabbing pain when the bullet tore away his flesh and scattered his life force, or he did drop all of a sudden to the ground there in the middle of the forest, with the berries ripening and the bees humming and the wind making its wild music in the pines with autumn coming in? What was the last thing he saw? What strange bear image counted as his last thought?

I’m in Georgia, I remembered. Bear hunting is probably legal here.

I feel like I’ve been shot through the heart.

I wrote this piece at a workshop where we were asked to convey an emotion by describing our sense impressions. Do you know which emotion I'm describing here?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

An Open Letter to Florida Governor Rick Scott

October 11, 2011


Sorry, I just can’t bring myself to address you as “dear.” I hope you’ll understand. J

I just read an article that’s attributed to The Miami Herald in which you are quoted as saying, “How many more jobs you think there is for anthropology in this state? You want to use your tax dollars to educate more people who can't get jobs in anthropology?"

I sure hope you were misquoted, for a couple of reasons. To begin: Every school child learns that subjects and verbs need to agree, and your first sentence reads like an elementary school dropout is speaking. What you should have said was, “How many more jobs DO you think there ARE for anthropology in this state?” But with journalism not being what it once was, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that maybe the reporter goofed here. Stranger things have happened. You’ve probably been involved in stranger things yourself, like that time when you were running HCA Inc. and they settled the largest Medicare fraud case in history for $1.7 billion.

But yeah, I know your mama thinks you’re a good boy. She said so in all those ads you paid for when you bought…oh, sorry…when you got elected governor of Florida.

Now about anthropology. I know a little bit about anthropology because it was my undergraduate major at the University of South Florida; that’s the big school just north of Tampa off I-275, in case you don’t know, because I know you haven’t lived in Florida all that long. I’ll put a picture of something from the school at the top of this article so you can see what it looks like.

This will probably shock you, but I didn’t pick my major to qualify me for a job. I picked it because I loved the subject matter and because it expanded my knowledge about the world and other cultures, and because knowing those things made me a better person and a better citizen of the United States.

By the way, I have to tell you that I love the U.S.A. I was born here—in Texas! where that Rick Perry lives, the one you like so much. My dad served on a destroyer in WWII and my mom was a stay-at-home mom who did the cooking and the housework and baked great pies. While I was growing up, my dad worked in the defense industry and, for a while, in the Federal Aviation Administration. I registered to vote as soon as I was old enough, and I think I’ve voted in every election since then.

Anyway, back to anthropology. Anthropology has a special characteristic that sets it apart from other academic disciplines—the “holistic viewpoint.” What this means is that anthropologists don’t try to understand just one aspect of a culture. Let’s use politics as an example. If I were trying to understand the politics of Florida, I’d examine not just politics but religion, economic systems, social customs, history, languages, health care systems, maybe even the environment, to see if and how each of those things influenced politics. I guess this means I’d investigate whether our politicians were actually representing the people of Florida, or whether they were being paid off by corporate lobbyists to do the bidding of big business. But I digress. J

I loved my studies in anthropology and I graduated with honors. I went on to get a master’s degree in another subject out in California, and I spent most of my adult life working full-time in higher education institutions. No, I never had what you could call a job “in anthropology,” but I sure used what I learned in anthropology in every single job I ever had.

I never made a lot of money, though. I guess this means you will automatically think of me as a failure. But see, that was a choice I made. I wasn’t happy working at institutions where money was the be-all and end-all of existence. I was happier helping people, learning new things, and trying to be of service to the arts, literature, and the environment, because those things are really my passions.

So when you ask “You want to use your tax dollars to educate more people who can't get jobs in anthropology?" I have to answer yes. I didn’t get “jobs in anthropology” but I don’t think Florida’s tax dollars were wasted on me. I don’t think those tax dollars would be wasted on students today, either.

I’ve been a productive citizen ever since I got my bachelor’s degree. I’ve always worked. My education in anthropology helped me to think critically—even creatively—to look at the “big picture,” to appreciate the value of a liberal arts education, to respect people who disagreed with me or held different opinions, to shun labels and sound bites, to think independently, to analyze things, to ask questions and not settle for easy or simplistic answers, and to take seriously my responsibilities as a citizen of my country—including voting.

Oh, wait…something is coming to me. An insight. Could it be…? No. I sure hope not. Well, I have to ask anyway.

Is the reason you don’t want people to study anthropology because you don’t want people like me out here asking questions about you when you run for re-election? And then going to the polls to vote? Now that I think about it, I’m really curious about your answers to these questions.

Looking forward to the courtesy of your reply,

A Word Witch