Public Lands

The Grand Canyon, Arizona. The Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C. The Everglades, Florida. Yosemite, California. Muir Woods, San Francisco.

These are all monuments and parks which form part of the US National Parks System, which was set up by President Teddy Roosevelt and his administration. You’ve probably heard of at least one of these places in the United States, and perhaps you’ve visited.

The national park idea has been nurtured by each succeeding generation of Americans. Today, across our land, the National Park System represents America at its best. Each park contributes to a deeper understanding of the history of the United States and our way of life; of the natural processes which have given form to our land, and to the enrichment of the environment in which we live.

George B. Hartzog, Jr., NPS Director, 1964-1972

Three days ago, President Trump announced his plans to shrink two National Monuments in Utah, after ordering a review of 24 sites across the country via an executive order. As someone who adores the National Parks system, and visited seven monuments and parks this summer alone, I was extremely upset to read this story, especially as a result of the fact that one of the monuments, Bear Ears, is the first National Monument created to honor Native American history, the existence of which has contributed immeasurably to America’s rich tapestry.

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I mean, who would want to get rid of this? Photo: LA Times

But, you may ask, why are you so upset? And what gives you the right to care so much about a country that isn’t yours?

The National Parks System, and the monuments and parks which are encompassed by it, are key contributors to the American landscape. Would you go to Washington D.C. and not visit the Lincoln Memorial? Would you visit New York and not visit Central Park? These particular examples are culturally popular, yes, but the point remains the same: these historical and geographical sites have unprecedented importance. Each area represents a small part of America, a small part of the world’s beauty. As to what gives me the right to care about a country which I do call my home-away-from-home – I care so much because this decision affects me too. I love the States, and in recent years I’ve made sure that I visit at least one public land whilst I’m out there. Being in the open, smoky (at the time) air of Yosemite this summer, hiking very slowly on a fractured foot, was one of the most eye opening experiences of my life. I woke up every morning, without a spec of data, and looked out onto the wilderness. I sat in the lifting smoke from the wild fires and watched Half Dome rock emerge in the early afternoon as a I ate my lunch, a squirrel sitting at my feet enjoying the same view. I listened to Homeward Bound as we drove those twisting, seemingly unending roads up to Glacier Point, round the valley, into the twilight. Those are experiences I will never forget, ones I hope to revisit as soon as I can, and ones human beings should have for eons to come.

This decision to shrink some national monuments is likely to be challenged by the federal courts, but if you’re as heartbroken as I am and have the privilege of being an American citizen, do something. Call your representatives! Call your senators! You can do that here.

The Constitution stipulates that “We the People” have the power. Use it.

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Dusty LPs

My record collection probably tells the story of my life better than I could in words.

Colleen Murphy

My LPs are everything to me. They occupy a corner of my room, a box which is filled to the brim with music and life. My mahogany record player sits on top of them, the volume nob continuously at the highest volume. To many, this seems like an idiotic thing to be sentimental about. We have CDs! Without feedback! Streaming lets you put all your favorite songs, in any order, on that little square of light we call a cell phone!

In short, I’ve been told that records are practically obsolete.

For someone who is currently listening to Paul Simon’s Graceland at a very loud volume, this statement is completely untrue. In fact, it’s this record that brought me back to my vinyls after a long sabbatical.

When I was 14 or so, a group of friends bought me a record player for my birthday. They knew (possibly from the numerous pictures of the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel that were stuck up in my relatively cramped high school locker) that I was mad about the music of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s – I had hoarded my dad’s Beatles and Who records for years, without the possibility of playing them unless I took them to my grandmother’s. That mahogany box changed everything, and helped to mold me into the crazy, sudo-hipster, wrongly-placed-in-this-generation person I am today, aged 18. Precarious and potentially pretentious as it seemed (certainly to my high school peers, who also loved the fact that I do much of my writing on a typewriter), I loved – love – the imperfections that come with playing music on a record player – the intermittent crackling between songs, the uneven mixture of instruments and voice. Even the potential that a speck of dust could float onto the surface and cause the old adage “repeating yourself like a broken record” to become reality. It’s odd, but I actually relish that – hearing the words “losing love is like a window in your heart” over and over again for a few seconds helped me relish and understand those words, and years later they mean more to me than I could have imagined.

And, let’s face it, it’s not just records. I absolutely adore my tape of Simon and Garfunkel’s sublime Central Park Concert of 1981. In fact, I have it on LP as well! Needless to say, the imperfections of the LP and the tape actually make the recording better, and here’s why:

One of the beautiful things about the Central Park Concert, for me at least, is the fact that Simon and Garfunkel made mistakes. Take The Boxer for instance – Garfunkel starts the second line too early, and in the video recording the two men look at each other and laugh. Their music is about the human experience, and that mistake just enhanced that. The record, too, enhances that: the cheering of the audience, the crackling, the air of that summer night comes through the embedded lines of the vinyl. If you close your eyes listening to that record, as I have done on countless occasions, you are there, you are in Central Park. You can feel the heat of the people around you as they embrace the music, you can feel the chill of the Manhattan summer night as the sun loses itself over the horizon. You laugh at their jokes, you cheer, you listen. Such an experience is unparalleled in the recorded perfection we strive for today.

Don’t write off vinyls. They may get scratched, they may be a little fiddly, but when you get it right, they are ethereal and wonderful and perfectly imperfect.

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Beginning Again

My school career is over. Crikey, that’s a surreal thing to write!

But it’s true – last week I finished my exams, gave in my textbooks, asked a few people to stay in touch and left my high school. Sure, I have graduation this week, but the crux of it – hilarious lessons, sharing memes with my favourite teachers, long conversations on the hill, knocking on the staff room door for anything really – that’s all over.

And so, the revolution of adult life, into which I’m diving head first without any real understanding of what lies ahead, begins. It’s rather exciting really!

As a future English Literature student (minoring in History, fear not), I’ve decided to open this new chapter of my life (pun intended) by compiling all the books I have been forced to leave by the wayside due to piles and piles of school books. So, to begin – and his really is just the beginning – —

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (DM – this one’s for you!)

A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel (thanks TJ for the recommendation – nothing like a bit of historical fiction!)

On the Road by Jack Kerouac.

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (again – finally!) 

Palmeras en la Nieve by Luz Gábas.

El Tiempo Entre Costuras by María Dueñas (again – por siempre!)

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr .

So. June 27. Let’s begin… N

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Continued Illumination.

Tonight, I was torn between topics for writing. On the one hand, I wanted to write about the tremendous experience of the March4Women held in London over the weekend (5/3), of which I relished every moment, but I also wanted to write about the beautiful words of Jonathan Safran Foer in his outstanding debut novel Everything Is Illuminated, which I read again, and not for the last time, yesterday.

I decided that I would write about both, because something can be said about solidarity in love and beauty, of living in a world which falls short of what we hope for, but in which we fight for what we believe in.

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March4Women – March 5, 2017 – Tower Bridge

In Everything Is Illuminated, JSF as I will proceed to call him, talks about a young woman named Brod, who is apparently born from the river by the shtetl (village) of his own grandfather’s birth, Trachimbrod in Ukraine. He describes Brod as a young woman of extreme potential, of unprecedented intellect and beauty, and a young woman who possesses the great sadness which allows her to persevere in the way she does. In many ways, the following quote sums up her character perfectly, and I have often returned to it.

“She loved herself in love, she loved loving love, as love loves loving, and was able, in that way, to reconcile herself with a world that fell so short of what she would have hoped for. It was not the world that was the great and saving lie, but her willingness to make it beautiful and fair, to live a once-removed life, in a world once-removed from the one in which everyone else seemed to exist.”

Throughout the novel, we learn that Brod perseveres no matter what. She fights against the injustices that are dealt to her, to her husband, and JSF ultimately sheds light on the contrast of her actions and those of another, who betrayed his best friend and handed him to the Nazis and a burning synagogue in which he, along with the souls of so many others across Eastern Europe, would burn.

Reading those words yesterday, with the tears unashamedly embroidering my face with the invisible paint which etches itself into one’s soul when one reads such beauty, I did not expect that I would feel as Brod does in Everything Is Illuminated when walking across Tower Bridge in weather that would frequent both torrential rain and cold sunshine. But I did, and it was unprecedented. Chanting, laughing, smiling with my friends and with my fellow human beings as we walked through the streets of London, holding our statements and our heads high, I felt that perseverance, that drive to fight against the “once-removed” world we live in. In order to succeed, to achieve, we must fight for what we believe in. We must appreciate every human being for who they are, for what they stand for, and we must work within ourselves and without in order to make the world that which we hope for.

We are human beings, and we deserve truth, equality, happiness and humanity. We deserve enough. And I’m proud to continue to fight for that everyday, and to bring about continued illumination. Are you?

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The Objects.

“We are the shoes, we are the last witnesses.

We are shoes from grandchildren and grandfathers

From Prague, Paris, and Amsterdam,

And because we are only made of fabric and leather

And not of blood and flesh, each of us avoided the hellfire.”

Yiddish Poet Moses Schulstein (1913 – 1981)

There is a room in Washington D.C. in which this is written, set in stone upon the wall. These words preside over a multitude of shoes, a multitude of memories, of those who tread this Earth in those shoes, and who met their deaths in those shoes. As Schulstein writes, they were the last witnesses to the attempted destruction of a race who merely lived in peace among their fellow human being.

Objects played a large part in the Holocaust. The yellow stars bearing the word “Jude” marked those of Jewish descent out from their fellow man, belittling them and condemning them to persecution. Children as young as 3, forced to vacate their homes in order to escape to Germany on the Kindertransport, had to pack a suitcase, choosing from various personal belongings a handful of treasured items to bring with them. Jews across Germany and Poland, including my own family, gave their possessions – sacred cups, books, candlesticks – to their non-Jewish neighbors, in the hope that one day they would return from the hell they were destined for and retrieve them. They smuggled religious items, books, photographs and so much more, in their shoes, in their skirts, in their own bodies. These items all held sentimental value, symbolised their religious belief, and, in some cases, served as motivation to survive.

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The Tower of Photographs in the United States Holocaust Museum, Washington D.C.

The Holocaust was an attempted destruction not just of human beings, but of a culture and a nation that has lived, and will live, for thousands of years. And an episode of the British daytime show Antiques Roadshow, shown on January 16, attempted to show the important role these objects play in our remembrance of the Holocaust. Because, in a sense, these objects were the last witnesses: the last witnesses to a life that has been lost in so many ways, a society that is no longer. To the 6 million we know of and more who lost their lives in the hell that took Eastern Europe during the years 1933 – 1945.

And so we must remember, and teach those who come after us of the destruction, the hope held, and of the importance of the words “never again”.

 

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The Revolution

The 1960s and early 1970s has always been an era of fascination and enthrallment for me. As a child my parents would play the thought-provoking and brilliant music of artists like The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel and others. I have always been spellbound by the writing, both in terms of novels and music, and am forever drawn to the fashion and lifestyle of the era. In short, as many have put it, I was born in the wrong generation.

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970, which I visited last week and is currently visit-able at the V&A, dedicates itself to the era I so adore. To the music, the writing, the fashion, the lifestyle, and most importantly, the revolution of the 1960s. The fight for freedom in essentially every aspect of human life, the fight for freedom of sexuality, freedom of speech, freedom from discrimination, freedom from war, freedom of expression… freedom. “Swinging London” led this beautiful revolution, growing discontent with the status quo manifesting itself in new writing, political activism, music, art, fashion and satire. The imagining of new worlds, Oscar Wilde writing in The Soul of Man Under Socialism that “progress is the realisation of Utopias”.

revolutions-3

Musicians such as the Beatles, the Who, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones, models like Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton, photographers such as David Bailey, writers like Ken Kesey, Jack Kerouac. These people are icons of the era, and along with so many others they revolutionised our world. Music became the most vital form of communication and identification, the central theme of most literature and music reflecting the multi-faceted fight for diversity and freedom. People began to feel music in a way which wasn’t possible before.

Psychedelics, like LSD (which was only discovered in 1943), allowed us to access an entirely new dimension to human thought, making our mundane world sublime, allowing people to break the mould, break from conformity and becoming their own. Bob Dylan famously said “all I can do is be me, whoever that is”, and to me that really encompasses the feeling of the 1960s: unity and freedom to be whomever you wanted to be, with whatever views you believed in.

“Our culture, our art, our music, our books, our posters, our clothing… it’s all one message – the message is freedom.” John Sinclair

Revolution was not refined to the arts alone, oh no. Commerce, for one, grew: international travel became common place, the ‘mad men’ of advertising, as they were dubbed in the late 1950s, shaped our understanding and relationships with invention and growing industry. The film industry also went above and beyond the conventions of Hollywood, content and concepts becoming a lot more abstract, especially visually, as can be seen with some of the Beatles’s later films, such as Magical Mystery Tour. We made some of the biggest revolutionary strides in every aspect of society in the 1960s. And perhaps the biggest, although the least successful in many ways, was the quest for peace.

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Arlington, October 26 1967

France, China, America, Vietnam. Conflict was widespread, and the ability to express new ideas allowed the people to oppose war in a way they hadn’t been able to before. Thanks to television, for the first time young people were seeing history made before it could be censored by their elders. There was suddenly an understanding of the horrors of war, of what it meant to send young men of the next generation, mainly, to their deaths. A sense of unity grew, the Moon Landing in 1969 showing that human ingenuity could achieve the seemingly impossible, and this was reflected in the non violent fight for peace, which emerged in the late 1960s.

“I am a world citizen. All human history is mine. My roots cover the earth. I believe we should know each other. After all, our lives are all connected.” Jim Haynes

These demonstrations for peace, I believe, are truly embodied by the mystical, “mythical” event that was Woodstock 1967. Although it was only expected to draw in 50,000 people, the festival drew over 1 million. Incredible and (I know I’ve said it a lot, but) revolutionary artists performed, like The Who, Joe Cocker and Jimi Hendrix, uniting the audience in something so beautiful. Hendrix’s rendition of Star Spangled Banner was described as “the most electrifying moment of Woodstock, and… probably the single greatest moment of the Sixties”, his use of feedback and distortion to emulate the war-like sounds of rockets and bombs transforming music and our ability to relate to war.

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Woodstock, 1967

Coming out of this wonderful exhibition, I felt inspired, and not just to go home and put on my Beatles and Who records. The message of the 1960s, that of progression and revolution, has not, and will never die out. We can go on living with our eyes closed, “misunderstanding all (we) see”, but the fact is, the words of John Lennon’s Imagine remain pertinent today. The need for revolution remains: gender equality, an end to aimless death. Peace is patriotic. And we all have a responsibility to unite together in our diversity, in our eccentricities. In our humanity.

When you make progress, you can’t just sit down and think it’s over. You must pursue it.

Hang in there.

 

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The List

Yesterday I was at an English Literature Conference at UCL, London. Among the many incredible lectures, spanning subjects such as temporality across literature, sourcing Shakespeare and imagery in performance (with two actors from Shakespeare’s Globe, no less!), there was a panel, with the title “Read this NOW!”.

Each participant had been given a ‘section’ of literature, such as 21st Century (post-modernism) and Young Adult, and was asked to compile a list of 10 novels they recommend. The suggestions ranged from Ian McEwan’s Atonement, Jane Austen’s Emma and Pride and Prejudice and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, to the poetry of Sylvia Plath, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and JG Ballard’s High Rise. The diversity of these lists excited me, and caused me to think: have I read as widely as I think? If not, how shall I begin?

Apart from inspiring me to get going with my own writing, which has, extremely unfortunately, been put on the back burner to give way to the heaps of reading I have to do for my courses, this particular section of the conference led me to write my own list of the novels that I would (and generally have) recommended to others. Fair warning though, I have omitted poetry and plays from this list; these will most likely come later…

(Another fair warning – this was incredibly difficult to do.)

In no particular order…

war-and-peace-lt disgrace-jmc tkam-hl tp-ws twm-ma bop-sz gatsby-fsf fwtbt-eh stoner-jw

And, last but not least… The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, which I could not find an adequate picture for.

Happy reading!

 

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