World Tour – Intermission

I’m sorry to have been away for a couple of days. Like the rest of you, I’m dealing with the Corvid-19 threat as best as possible, but refocusing my efforts into wiping down surfaces, taking an inventory of what we have, what we need, what’s an indulgence, and what we don’t need (like hundreds of rolls of toilet tissue; what’s up with that?) has taken up quite a bit of my time.

The reason I’m calling this post an intermission is not so much because I’m taking a hiatus from reporting on the World Tour, but because I want to focus on something a bit more closely.

Signing at PowellsAfter my talk at Powell’s, we opened the floor to questions, followed by book signing. The questions were great–thoughtful and well-expressed.

There was a young woman in the audience who, from her questions, the polite and slightly tense tone of her voice, and the flyers she placed on a table advertised her affiliation with a Portland-area animal rights group called Free the Oregon Zoo Elephants or FOZE, which describes itself on its website as “compassionate citizens from all walks of life, committed to freeing the five remaining Oregon Zoo elephants from the harsh realities of captivity. We bring to light the suffering they, and all captive elephants, endure, creating a groundswell of public pressure to end the Oregon Zoo’s breeding, acquisition and importation of elephants. Our end goal is the gradual phase-out of the elephant exhibit and the relocation of the elephants to sanctuary.”

I was asked by Powell’s staff if I wanted the flyers removed and I said, “No. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion.” Shutting one another out/off is part of the problem in the volatile arena of elephant preservation (and elsewhere in the world), but I’ll get to that in a moment.

There were those in the audience afterward who referred to this woman as my “heckler.” I want to stress that she in no way heckled me and was, in fact, polite in her questioning. Judging from her expression and body posture, I think I frustrated or annoyed  her, but that was never my intent. I was trying, in a limited venue, to answer her questions as honestly as I could. In truth, I’d have appreciated the time to sit down with her and hear her at length, without judgment, provided she would do me the same courtesy. Unfortunately, there wasn’t the opportunity.

But I’d like to touch on what she asked me, because I think the questions are important. (In fact, I thanked her for bringing them up.) Please bear in mind that I did not record her questions verbatim, but can give you the gist.

  1. The first question had to do with my own feelings about elephants being kept in zoos. I’m generally not what I would call a fence-sitter, but I definitely straddle the idea of elephants in zoos versus elephants not in zoos particularly after writing ELEPHANT SPEAK; not because I’m wishy-washy, but because I’m still forming my opinions. I don’t like the idea of animals in zoos, but can’t deny that those in zoos are not only ambassadors for their wild cousins, but provide valuable biological and psychological information to researchers who (to mention only one case) are striving to eradicate Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus, which can kill an elephant in 24 hours. Caring for them is the big issue, and that encompasses everything from diet to exercise to stimulation to the preservation of herd dynamics … and so much more. Even Roger, who cared for them for 30 years in a captive environment, feels torn. These days, he concedes that if not in a zoo, then where? “When did you last see enough wild to accommodate elephants?” he asked me. “We’ve eaten up their range territories.” Sanctuaries have their place (there are several–three here in the U.S. and three in Thailand come immediately to mind), but can be limited in scope due to available land and, in truth, are far from “wild” since the elephants are still cared for, vetted, and provided with food by humans. And, like zoos, they are only so good as the people (and finances) behind them. A well-regarded wild-animal veterinarian recently shared a horrific story about being called in to consult on an elephant at a North American sanctuary and arriving to find the animal’s feet in deplorable condition. Despite his recommendations, nothing was done. (The facility vet called him, sobbing, because they weren’t allowed to do anything.) In the end, the elephant was euthanized. So the upshot is that broad statements are dangerous: there are facilities (and people) which are good, and others which are not.
  2. Her second question was more of a comment. In my talk, I’d mentioned the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee and she informed me there were other sanctuaries in the U.S. I responded that I knew that, however, the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee was one with which I corresponded quite a bit in my search for information. It their credit, the PAWS Sanctuary at ARK 2000 also provided information and generously gave permission to use a photo of one of their elephants.
  3. Her third question was in a slightly confrontation tone, which is when I realized I was somehow  upsetting her. It had to do with two elephants at a sanctuary in California having been rescued from the Oregon Zoo. She asked if I knew about them and I said that I did, but I did not go into detail at the time and should have.
    Chang Dee 1

    Chang-Dee/Prince as a calf

    A bull elephant by the name of Prince resides at ARK 2000. He was born at the Oregon Zoo on May 24, 1987 to Me-Tu and Hugo, and his original name was Chang-Dee. In 1988, ownership was transferred to Ringling Bros/Barnum & Bailey in an exchange deal for his sire. (You can read more about Hugo, the “Master of Disaster” in ELEPHANT SPEAK.) In 2010, Prince was retired to Ringling’s Center for Elephant Conservation. From there, he moved to PAWS in 2011. So, yes, he has been rescued (although I might hesitate to use that word), but not from the Oregon Zoo. (You can see a picture of the adult Prince on the PAWS website.)

    Tina and Judy

    Tina and her half-sister Judy

    The second elephant is a cow named Tina, who was born at the Oregon Zoo on April 26, 1970 to Rosy and Thonglaw. At the age of two, she was sold to the Vancouver Game Farm in Aldergrove, British Columbia, where she spent most of her life (apart from a brief move to African Lion Safari in Cambridge, Ontario, in 1989). In 2003, Tina’s owners donated her PAWS. Sadly, she died a year later. A necropsy showed the underlying cause to be heart disease, very possibly a genetic defect. So, as with Prince, Tina was rescued (or, rather, given) to PAWS, but not taken from the Oregon Zoo. (You can see a picture of the adult Tina on the Elephant Sanctuary website.)

    The topic of elephants in captivity is an understandably volatile one, but as I pointed out during my talk at Powell’s, unless the different camps are willing to sit down and actually listen to one another in a non-judgmental way, our hopes of finding a solution to the elephants’ survival dwindles. There are many viewpoints. Some are usable, others not so much, but we must come to understand that there is no one answer, no one solution, no one way to solve this problem. And we are throwing away an important opportunity if we don’t step back from our deeply and rigorously held beliefs in order to hear one another, consider another’s perspective, and display a willingness to compromise. Without that, we and the elephants will lose.

G-L-O-R-I-A

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Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

I don’t listen to music while I write, mostly because it distracts me. Let a song come on that I know and like, and my head veers away from the work like a train shunted onto a different track. I prefer things quiet, the only sounds the drumbeat of rain on the roof, birdsong (including the gurgling gobble of Barry White and the Turkettes), or the whispered voice of the wind.

It’s a different story when I lack … not inspiration, per se, but the OOMPH  to set things in motion; those days when that traitorous voice inside says things like “Hey, loser, why are you even attempting this? You don’t have the talent or the skill, and we both know it. Give up, give up, give up…”

I ran into that voice quite a bit while working on ELEPHANT SPEAK. Several times, reduced to tears, I nearly gave up. Who was I trying to fool? What made me think I had what it takes to finish a book like this, let alone see it all the way to publication. That inner voice told me I was spot-on, that continuing was ridiculous. Pack it in. Not only that, pack in all my other writing as well, donate my reference books, get rid of the computer.

GIVE. UP.

Fortunately, that other little voice in my head spoke up. It reminded me of my successes, gave me confidence, and imparted the means to turn my insecurity around and give me the energy and drive to put my butt in the chair and do my time.

How?

It gave me Gloria Estefan.

Obviously, I’ve known about Gloria for a long time. We’re contemporaries (she’s six months younger than me), and while I was slogging through the tail-end of high school, she was making music with Miami Sound Machine. If I’d realized back then that we were the same age, I’d’ve shot myself in despair of ever doing anything with my life.  (Overly-dramatic, you say? Me? Well, yes, sometimes, and I was a teenager after all. If that isn’t the time in your life for a hefty dose of sturm topped with a dollop of drang, when is?)

Gloria’s hovered at the back of my mind all these years, occasionally eliciting a bit of finger-tapping and singalong in the car, and that was about it until the direst of writing days. That’s when I rediscovered “Get On Your Feet.”

See what I mean? (And if you didn’t watch the link, go back and do so.) I defy anyone to not be energized by that vitality. It’s more than the words of the song, it’s the emotion behind her voice: Gloria believes you can do what you set out to do. And I realized so did I.

So I did.

 

 

The Art of Appreciation

img_0567(Caveat: A different version of this essay appeared elsewhere, long ago and far away.)

It’s almost impossible for me to pass up an interesting consignment store, second-hand shop, or flea market. I love trolling for treasure because I never know what I’ll find. Sometimes nothing, it’s true, but more often than not I’ve walked away with something I truly cherish. Nothing expensive, mind you; that’s not what I’m looking for. My eyes are set on those things that speak to my heart.

Bit ago, I was puttering through an area Goodwill when I came across a CD of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic. I bought it on a whim, mostly because of Bernstein’s name. (An aside here. When I was living in NYC many decades ago, the woman I shared an apartment with was given tickets to the NY Philharmonic by her boss. Not having a ready date, she invited me to go along. We dressed in our finest–not all that fine on our budget–and went, not knowing what we might hear or who would be conducting. And Lo, out walked Leonard Bernstein, five-thousand pounds of TNT in a 5’5″ frame. Watching him stride onto that stage was like watching the arrival of God, and I’ve never recovered.)

Anyway, I put the CD into the car play as I drove home.  My God.

All this time later, I still can’t listen to it without spouting tears, never mind finding sufficient words to describe the beauty of this recording. When my husband first heard it, he remarked that it was impossible for him to not think of Hugo Weaving in the movie “V for Vendetta,” and the image of the Old Bailey exploding. (Similarly, those born during a certain time period can’t hear the William Tell Overture without wanting to yell “Hi-Yo, Silver, away!”)

It’s not such a bad thing to connect a piece of classical music to a cinematic image. Oh, there’re those who’d say it is; those who feel that the purity of classical music should be experienced without the crass trappings of Hollywood. For some, though, a movie soundtrack may be their first experience of classical music, and where’s the harm in that?

Case in point: my love of classical music stems not from my mother’s ballet music phonograph records (yes, children, music was pressed into vinyl discs once upon a time), but from Saturday morning Warner Bros. cartoons. Bugs Bunny taught me to appreciate Rossini (“Rabbit of Seville”), Strauss and Tchaikovsky (“A Corny Concerto”), and Wagner (“Long-Haired Hare” and “What’s Opera, Doc?”).  Thanks to Bugs, Elmer, and the rest, I learned about passion and humor, turmoil and hilarity. I suspect watching those cartoons every Saturday also fed into my love of words and desire to write. Thanks, guys! (And if you’ve never seen them, run to YouTube and search them out. You won’t be sorry.)

Back in 2007, violinist Joshua Bell stood incognito in a cold Washington D.C. Metro Station and played six Bach pieces, some of the most intricate music ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million. The performance lasted approximately 45 minutes. Something approaching 2,000 people went through the station in that time. After three minutes, a man stopped for a few seconds, then hurried on. Four minutes later, a woman threw a dollar into Bell’s hat and kept walking. Six minutes later, a young man stopped briefly to listen before moving away. Ten minutes later, a three-year-old stopped to listen, but his mother pushed him along. This identical action was repeated by several other children, although every adult, without exception, forced them to move on quickly. In total, six people stopped to listen for a short while, and 20 gave money as they passed. Bell collected a total of $32. When he finished, silence took over. No one noticed when he left. No one applauded his performance.

This wasn’t a silly whim on Bell’s part, but a sociology experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities . The questions being raised were these: Do we perceive beauty when it’s presented to us in a common place environment, at an inappropriate hour? Do we recognize talent when it appears in an unexpected context?

If not, how much of the  world are we missing?

Whether it’s music or poetry, the ocean or stars, a baby’s cry or the last breath of a loved one, when the opportunity comes your way to share in the mystery, the beauty, hang the clock. Feed your soul.