The Galactic Pot-Healer

Galactic Pot-Healer really is the title of a book. But it’s about a guy who … heals pots (nope, not making it up; although, Philip K. Dick did), not one who uses pot to heal.

It’s a good read. Eerie and wandering, discursive. It isn’t brilliant, and I don’t think it’ll stay with me in the way that some of his other writing has; but not a bad read. [Spoiler alert: I’m about to talk about the ending of the book]. 

There’s a lovely passage that he finishes the book with, though, that I found a little haunting. Perhaps I’m just reading too much into it; but reading about his description of his main character, Joe, looking at a pot that he’s created, I couldn’t help but imagine Philip K. Dick getting to the end of a book (maybe this one?):

In the new, gleaming workshop he stood, the overhead lights flooding down on him. He studied the major workbench, the three sets of waldoes, the self-focusing magnifying glasses, the ten separate heat-needles, and – every glaze: every tint, shade, and hue. The weightless area; he inspect that. The kiln. Jars of wet clay. And the potter’s wheel, electrically driven. 

Hope welled up within him. He had all he needed. Wheel, clay, glazes, kiln …

[makes a pot]

… At last it was done … An hour later the kiln’s timer pinged. The kiln had shut off; the pot was done. 

With an asbestos glove, he tremblingly reached into the still-hot kiln and brought out the tall, now blue-and-white pot. His first pot. Taking it to a table, under direct light, he set it down and took a good look at it. He professionally appraised its artistic worth. He appraised what he had done, and within it, what he would do, what later pots would be like, the future of them lying before him. And his justification, in a sense, for leaving Glimmung and all the others. Mali, the most of all. Mali whom he loved. 

The pot was awful. 

Alternatively, given that Joe is a pot healer, not a potter – perhaps he just really disliked editors?

Marching across the steppe

I’ve just finished Tim Cope’s On the trail of Genghis Khan. I enjoyed it a lot. Partially, for me, that’s because it’s so evocative of an incredibly beautiful part of the world.

Cope tells the story of his journey on horseback, starting from Mongolia, riding across the steppe. It’s a remarkable story; even at 440 pages, that’s only a summary of the three years he spent on horseback, across an incredible number of different landscapes, in different countries, with different adventures.

Cope’s writing isn’t brilliant, but it doesn’t need to be. The story itself, and the experiences that he’s had, are remarkable, and he tells them well, without getting in the way of the story. There are points where he walks a delicate balance between telling parts of his personal history that are inextricably bound up with the story (a relationship break-up early on, and a death that leaves him devastated), but also being discreet at points (he meets some very real characters on his journey).

I found the book quite moving, because it reminds me of an incredibly beautiful place. If you like long riding, or central Asia, you’ll love this book. If you like good adventure travel writing, you’ll probably enjoy it; if you’re looking for writing that’s brilliant in itself regardless of the topic, this may not be for  you.

Justice and moving forward

I read a good article recently, on the murder of civil rights volunteers in the sixties. There’s a lot in there, but one part in particular jumped out at me. The author quotes two different sources, that say

How can we say to the world we’ve changed, when we’ve never dealt with the past?

and that a failure to bring about a just resolution,

… would only further compound the wrong

It’s easy to say, I think, that we should let bygones be bygones. And I think sometimes, there may be something to be said for that. But there’s a cost to letting things go, without acknowledging suffering, without recognising and redressing injustice. Depending on the issue, it can be something fundamental, that shapes how a country sees itself in the future.

I don’t know much about Australian history – certainly not as much as I’d like to. I’m glad we had the apology to the Stolen Generation. I just worry that there are other acts that will echo down, and will need apologies as well.

Interstellar – cheesy but fun

I am one of many people (but perhaps not as many as expected) who’s seen Interstellar recently.

I enjoyed it. It was cheesy at points, and there were some plot points that seemed poorly articulated, or structured.

But the movie carried it through. Visually, it’s spectacular, and has a great score. And the movie manages to carry it through; to take the audience on a journey, to somewhere different, and that’s something excellent.

Articles I’ve been reading

I’ve been reading quite a few longform articles recently; partially because it’s easy to read things on my phone in small chunks of time; and easy to find good material, as it’s collated over at longform.org.

There’s this article on how even class and wealth can’t always protect you against racism. My own (limited) understanding of race, class, and other intersections is very much informed by the excellent things that Ta-Nehisi Coates writes.

There’s an interesting article by an author reflecting on the comments on her own articles (for what it’s worth, I think printing the worst of them and putting them on your fridge is not a healthy way to deal with it). The article (to my mind) flails a little, before settling on a somewhat trite acknowledgement that some comments are helpful and constructive, as well as devastating. A more illuminating piece, I think, is this investigation of how Facebook and other services screen content [trigger warning: some sexual violence and cruelty to animals discussed]; essentially, using cheap labour as a filter to screen the worst content (often with devastating effects on those doing the grunt work).

Then a lovely piece over at Vanity Fair that puts the Amazon/Hachette dispute in context.

Serial

There’s an interesting piece on Serial, a pod-cast I haven’t come across before, over at The Atlantic. Serial is apparently a pod-cast about the work of an investigative reporter writing on a murder case, detailing the work behind the scenes (talking to sources, piecing together a narrative) that goes into stories published in papers.

I find stories and narratives fascinating, although I have no over-arching framework. But there’s a nice reflection on different layers and contexts for stories:

There’s something disorienting, she says, about the way the conversation about the show feels akin to the kind of discussion you might find on a subreddit about Lost. Maybe the ethical implications of this kind of storytelling are less McLuhanian—they’re not so much about the medium being the message—and more about the cultural context that shapes this moment in broadcast. In other words, maybe it has more to do with the show’s listeners than it does with its producers.