Monday, July 14, 2008

53: Science Writing

"As for the Indians, evidence suggests that they often viewed Europeans with disdain. The Hurons, a chagrined missionary reported, thought the French possessed 'little intelligence in comparison to themselves.' Europeans, Indians said, were physically weak, sexually untrustworthy, atrociously ugly, and just plain dirty. (Spaniards, who seldom if every bathed, were amazed by the Aztec desire for personal cleanliness.) A Jesuit reported that the 'Savages' were disgusted by handkerchiefs: 'They say, we place what is unclean in a fine white piece of linen, and put it away in our pockets as something very precious, while they throw it upon the ground.' The Micmac scoffed at the notion of French superiority. If Christian civilization was so wonderful, why were its inhabitants leaving?"
-- Charles C Mann, "1491," The Best American Science Writing 2003, pg 41

Last week, I found myself thinking, on more than one occasion, that I was so glad for the path I chose, the realm of poetry, but if I had to do it over again, I would push myself into the sciences more. Like Chris, I love collecting bits and facts, though unlike Emily, I immediately forget it all.

Part of being "back" is plunging into the comfort of routine. Today: reading library books that are due this very day. Today, I am reading an anthology of science writing, the only year of the series I could find, and I am learning about surgical practice (rehearsal, really), about raising deaf children (I think of Wilt--both of his parents are/were deaf--one has passed away--did they hope he would be too?), and now I'm facing an article on Alzheimer's.

The chapbook manuscript I have been kneading these past few months, as many of you know, is about my grandfather, who passed away last December and was fully lost in this unknown world of dementia.

Mourning is a tricky thing. I have cried over my grandfather, over my grandmother now alone, but I'm not sure if my debt has been paid, so to speak. My friend Emily told me of how Anne Patchett spoke about grieving as a kind of debt to be paid--it can be all at once, it can be gradually. I don't know where I am in the process, and how much of me is at peace for that phrase, "a good, long life."

But I'm looking at this next article, and I've enjoyed all this learning I am doing, enjoyed revisiting topics I once studied in great detail (I was, after all, an American Indian studies minor--the above article was quite an interesting return to many debates in which I had an academic interest but no emotional stake). Maybe that is it: I can learn peripherally, when I don't have so much at stake. This next article would actually be the most helpful of all for me to read. It could be rich with material, with generative opportunities. I need to fill out the collection, to write more, to reduce the weaker poems and replace them with others. I need to approach from other angles.

I need to take a deep breath. I need to continue learning.

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