Tag Archives: Tough Stuff

Looking for the Helpers…

I was spared from any great disasters when I was little, but there was plenty of news of them in newspapers and on the radio, and there were graphic images of them in newsreels.

For me, as for all children, the world could have come to seem a scary place to live. But I felt secure with my parents, and they let me know that we were safely together whenever I showed concern about accounts of alarming events in the world.

There was something else my mother did that I’ve always remembered: “Always look for the helpers,” she’d tell me. “There’s always someone who is trying to help.” I did, and I came to see that the world is full of doctors and nurses, police and firemen, volunteers, neighbors and friends who are ready to jump in to help when things go wrong.

(Fred Rogers, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.   6 September 2004)

The season that is currently upon us, beloved patrons, is one in which we are encouraged to put the needs of others before ourselves, to share what we have without thought of return–essentially, to be humane, as well as human, during a period of the year that is particularly difficult for us as a species.  We give gifts to those we love to show some tangible manifestation of our bond–a display of warmth during the deepening cold.  We hang lights to drive away the darkness of the encroaching winter.  We sing song to remember that we are not alone.  Regardless of your belief system, this is a time of year during which we are encouraged to look beyond ourselves and consider and perhaps even celebrate the ways in which we are bound up in each other.

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Via Cleanfax

 

This year, a great many of our long-distance neighbors in California are facing the process of remembering, recovering, rebuilding after devastating wildfires destroyed their homes, their possession, and killed those they loved.  Indeed, we are breathing in the effects of those fires even here on the other side of the continent.  In the spirit of the season, and in keeping with our policy of providing you information on how to help others most effectively, we wanted to bring you some information about institutions and organizations that could use your kindness and consideration now more than ever.

As reported by the American Library Association, the Paradise California Library is still intact.  Additionally, the remaining five branches in the Butte county system are still operational and have become information centers, offering computers, Wi-Fi, and printers to help displaced residents contact insurance companies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and other agencies.  Butte County Library Director Melanie Lightbody recognized just how critical libraries are to communities in crisis, explaining that “We are more than just a library but a symbol of hope to the community and a community center, which we will be once again.”  If you are in a position to give, Sara Jones, director of the Marin County (Calif.) Free Library, and the California Library Association has established a fundraiser for the fire-ravaged library system. has set up a fundraiser on Facebook to ensure the library system “will have sufficient financial resources to create and maintain a dynamic modern library system,” to replace the books that were destroyed in patrons’ homes, and to continue to assist in rebuilding efforts.

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The Paradise California Library, via Butte County CA

While we are too far away for donations of food, clothing, or other items to be helpful at this moment, money is a resource that can literally change lives.  To that end, here are some institutions that are doing good on the ground in California that could use your help:

Helping People:

  • A longstanding local institution, the California Community Foundation’s Wildfire Relief Fund has offered aid to those affected by wildfires for the past 15 years. Grants have gone to rebuilding homes, providing financial and mental health assistance and helping those affected to get medical treatment.

 

  • The North Valley Community Foundation is a nonprofit organization in Chico that  is raising money to support organizations and institutions providing shelter for evacuees of the Camp Fire. Such locations include churches, fairgrounds and community centers, and all could use support in order to provide the most and best help to those who need it.

 

  • Likewise, the California Fire Foundation is on the ground distributing financial assistance to people who have lost everything in the fires. Through its emergency assistance program, firefighters distribute pre-paid gift cards to help those who need to purchase necessities like food, medicine and clothing.

 

  • The Red Cross is providing both shelter and emotional support for evacuees. You can visit RedCross.org, or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make an automatic $10 donation.

 

  • Additionally, The United Way of Northern California has set up a relief fund for victims. Go to the designated website to donate, or text “BUTTEFIRE” to 91999. The fund will provide emergency cash to victims and aid the United Way in its response to the fire. Businesses and organizations that want to contribute to the fund can call Jacob Peterson at (530) 241-7521 or (916) 218-5424; or email jpeterson@norcalunitedway.org.

 

  • Another organization called Baby2Baby is working to get high-need items to children affected by the ongoing Camp, Hill, and Woolsey fires in California. Help them supply diapers, wipes, blankets, and other basic baby essentials to families in need by purchasing from their registry.

 

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Via Curbed SF

Helping Animals:

  • The Veterinary Catastrophic Need Fund pays some of the cost of veterinary medical treatments for animals injured in the Camp Fire at the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at the University of California, Davis. Injured and burned cats, horses, pigs, goats and other animals are receiving care. Call (530) 752-7024 or go to their website to contribute.

 

  • Additionally, at the request of Butte County, the Humane Society of the United States has set up a longer-term, temporary shelter in Richvale, California, to house and care for owned animals, whose families have been displaced by the wildfires. To donate to the Emergency Animal Rescue Fund, visit their website or call 866-720-2676.  You can also purchase items like food and toys through their Amazon wish list, which will be delivered right to the shelters in need.

 

  • For more information, visit Red Rover’s website to find out how you can help our four-legged friends during this time.
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https://redrover.org/news/cafires/

As always, if this is not a time that is good for you to give, have no fear.  Although reports are stating that the fires are now completely contained, disasters on the scale with which those in California are being forced to deal will take years to overcome.  Your help and support are always encouraged, in whatever form you can provide it.

Thank you for your thoughts, your goodwill, and your assistance.  You make our community what it is, and there is plenty enough love among us to share with those who need it–this time of the year, and always!

Moving Past Lovecraft

For more delightful drawings, visit: http://johnkenn.blogspot.com/
For more delightful drawings, visit: http://johnkenn.blogspot.com/

As we discussed last time, H.P. Lovecraft was a pretty reprehensible human being, but his writing forms the roots of modern weird fiction, a genre that is near and dear to many hearts, including my own.

Thankfully, we read in an  enlightened age, and there are a number of authors at work today whose work builds off, rescues, and redeems Lovecraft’s ideas, giving us tales of imagination, speculation, unsettling truths and wild fictions that are mercifully divorced from the unsavory shadow of their creator.  These authors–and many, many others–have explored the worlds that Lovecraft only hinted at in his books, stared into the eyes of the beasts he described, and did it in a way that allowed all of us the chance to feel a part of these stories.  So come in soon and check out these super, weird, and wonderful authors today!

2760524Octavia Butler: When Daniel José Older submitted his petition to have Lovecraft’s visage removed from the World Fantasy Awards, he requested that Octavia Butler‘s face be used instead, saying her “novels, essays and short stories changed the entire genre of speculative fiction by complicating our notions of power, race and gender.”  While we still have yet to see what the WFA chooses for their new award, there is no denying the incredible impact and importance of Butler’s work.  Though she stated in a speech that one of her first rules for writing was that “I couldn’t write about anything that couldn’t actually happen”, she still used science fiction and speculative fiction to talk about the very real issues of racism, intolerance, and the horror of human’s behavior towards other humans.  While all of Bulter’s works stretched and re-defined the genres of science and speculative fiction–not only for their wildly imaginative premises, but because they featured women as heroines–there are some that are more immediately accessible than others.   For those looking for a good place to begin, I’d suggest Kindred, which features a heroine who journeys through time from her home in 1976 to the pre-Civil War South.  For those looking for a somewhat wilder voyage, go for Dawn, the first book in her Xenogenesis series, which tells the story of Lilith, one of the few survivors of a nuclear holocaust, kidnapped by truly frightful aliens.  For all its strangeness, this book is beautifully human, and simply unforgettable.

2934990China Miéville: Anytime a patron comes in and asks for Miéville book, I break into a little happy dance on my way to the shelves.  His work is so weird, and yet so beautiful that I kind of want to live in the worlds he creates (as long as an escape hatch is provided…just in case).  My first introduction to Miéville’s work was Kraken, which places Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos in the present-day, as scientist Billy Harlow realizes that he holds the key to finding–and awakening–a giant squid who holds the power to destroy not only this world, but all worlds that may ever be.  The story begins with a school trip to an aquarium, and, faster than you can blink, launches into something wonderfully outlandish, and genuinely unsettling, particularly as the humans involve realize just how powerless they are to control the events they have set in motion.  Miéville has always been open about how much Lovecraft inspired his own work, but has also never shied away from the real horrors of his personal outlook–and this is a man who knows of what his speaks.  This essay, examining the roots and the power of “The Weird” in literature is a sensational view into the mind of truly conscious and conscientious writer (my personal favorite part is his discussion of Victor Hugo and the Octopus)–and be sure to read his Introduction to Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness.  It offers a fascinating (and chilling) insight into how Lovecraft reflected his own world view into his fiction.  Mieville’s love of the genre shines through in each of his works, playing with various branches of science, and various elements of the psychology of fear, to make stories that are as exciting as they are unsettling.

2709181 Jonathan L. Howard: It wasn’t long after Johannes Cabal, the infamous necromancer and notorious curmudgeon, first strolled through the gates of Hell that he strolled straight into my heart.  We’ve sung the praises of Howard’s work here before, but for the Lovecraft fan, there are delights aplenty to be had here.  Johannes Cabal himself exists in a world where belief in Lovecraft’s elder gods is real–though generally only amongst inmates at the local asylum.  Nevertheless, the Cthulu song that appears in the first book, Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, is one of my favorite behind-the-circulation-desk songs to hum…which probably says volumes about me.  Additionally, Howard is also the author of Carter and Lovecraft, the first book to feature P.I. Dan Carter, who inherits an old bookstore run by one Emily Lovecraft, the niece of H.P. himself.  Emily is a sensational character in her own right, her strength and her wisdom offering hope for the Lovecraft name.  Meanwhile, Dan’s investigation of a seemingly impossible murder case captures all the element of HP’s work that is worth remembering–that sense of skin-crawling dread in the face of the inexplicable, and the sense that you are nothing more than a dust-speck in some infinitely larger, and more nefarious plan–while still confronting the nasty bits with frank, appreciable honesty.  I have a pretty strong constitution for such things, and I’ll admit, I couldn’t finish this book at night.

The Ugly Truth

A week or so ago, I referenced Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country, and how it deals with some of the more unsavory aspects of H.P. Lovecraft’s personality and writings, and I promised we’d be dealing with this more in the future.

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So here goes.  H.P. Lovecraft was a virulent racist.  And was also exceptionally prejudiced against Jewish people, women, and homosexuals.  He wrote in letters to friends that he supported the beliefs of the Ku Klux Klan, as well as the Nazi Party, even if he wasn’t exactly in support of their actions.  He supported the eugenics movement, which advocated exterminating “undesirable” people from the human population.  He wrote poetry comparing non-white people to animals, which you can find very easily.  I’m not posting the them here, because they make my skin crawl.

Nnedi_OkoraforLast November, the World Fantasy Awards (finally) agreed to change their awards from a caricature of Lovecraft’s face (the award is colloquially known as a ‘Howard’) as a result of a petition begun by Daniel José Older.*  The petition came after several years of protest from fantasy and horror writers around the world–especially recipients of ‘Howards’.  Nigerian-American writer Nnedi Okorafor (photo at left), who won for her stunning novel Who Fears Deathwrote a blog post about having Lovecraft’s face in her home:

Anyway, a statuette of this racist man’s head is in my home. A statuette of this racist man’s head  is one of my greatest honors as a writer…Do I want “The Howard” …replaced with the head of some other great writer? Maybe…What I know I want is to face the history of this leg of literature rather than put it aside or bury it.

china-mieville-at-his-letter-boxFree-For-All favorite author China Miéville (also left) has also weighed in on this debate.  There is no doubt at all that Miéville’s work is deeply inspired by Lovecraft, as well as plenty other greats of the ‘weird fiction’ genre.  But he also has acknowledged that “Yes, indeed, the depth and viciousness of Lovecraft’s racism is known to me…Lovecraft’s oeuvre, his work itself, is inspired by and deeply structured with race hatred.”  He goes on to say:

…I was very honoured to receive the award as representative of a particular field of literature. And the award itself, the statuette of the man himself? I put it out of sight, in my study, where only I can see it, and I have turned it to face the wall. So I am punishing [Lovecraft] like the malevolent clown he was, I can look at it and remember the honour, and above all I am writing behind Lovecraft’s back.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of people who agree with Lovecraft’s biographer, S.T. Joshi, who bashed the decision as “a craven yielding to the worst sort of political correctness.”  There are plenty of people who say that Lovecraft was a product of his times, and that his opinions were the result of an insulated upbringing, or poor education.

But to cling to this argument utterly overlooks people’s inherent ability to grow, to change, and to empathize.  Lovecraft showed a remarkable inability to do either of these, which makes him a man worthy of scorn and pity at the same time, not a figure to be revered.

Lovecraft_tombstoneBut then, what do we do about his books?  Lovecraft was not well-known or well-liked during his own time–he died penniless in Providence, Rhode Island in 1937 at the age of 46 as much a victim of the Depression as the intestinal cancer that claimed his life.  He wrote to a friend about eating expired canned food to survive, and acknowledged that “I have no illusions concerning the precarious status of my tales, and do not expect to become a serious competitor of my favorite weird authors.”  His afterlife, however, has been nothing short of miraculous.  There are region of Pluto named after Lovecraft’s elder god, “Cthulu“.  His face, and his creations, appear on everything from craft beers to clothing to jewelry.  A number of credible and venerated institutions hail him as a father of science fiction, and the “King of Weird“.   Lovecraft’s influence in literature is unquestionable.

In large part, this is because he was exceptionally good at harnessing the very human reaction of fear.  At the heart of all his wildly camp, ridiculously over-the-top stories is Lovecraft’s belief that  “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”  And in emphasizing human’s incredible smallness within the vast scope of a terrifying world (and a terrifying universe), Lovecraft opened up a world (and a universe of wild creatures, gods, and magical powers that have kept our imaginations spinning for generations.

But the other truth is that, when we stop getting all excited about those elder gods and the potential of all those worlds he describes, the fear that Lovecraft is describing is the fear of other human people.  His fear was that of a very ordinary, very nervous white man who blamed his lack of financial and social success on other people, for no other reason than that they didn’t look like him.  As Alan Moore (author of the League of Extraordinary Gentleman) wrote, “it is possible to perceive Howard Lovecraft as an almost unbearably sensitive barometer of American dread….in his frights and panics he reveals himself as…the absolutely average man, an entrenched social insider unnerved by new and alien influences from without.”

220px-Cthulhu_sketch_by_LovecraftSo yes, if Lovecraft’s descriptions of ancient civilizations inhabiting Antarctica makes your imagination sizzle, then by all means, read it.  And enjoy it.  I know I did.  But we can’t afford to pretend that he wasn’t a really reprehensible human being, and we can’t afford to overlook his irredeemable qualities because we like his books. What we can do it realize that literature isn’t like a wall.  It doesn’t have to follow straight lines and right angles.  It’s more like a tree.  Branches can bend and twist, and, eventually, the weak and dead spots can be replaced by new, healthy growth.  There are any number of authors who have used Lovecraft’s ideas and used them to make the science fiction genre into a stronger, brave, and more inclusive place.  Some of them are listed above.  There are a load of others at the Library, and we’ll be talking about them this week.  Feel free to read them, too.  Fearlessly.  That is the best thing we can do to make sure that Lovecraft’s legacy is better than his life.  And better, ultimately, than him.

* A note: The World Fantasy Award is accepting suggestions for its new award until April 2, 2016.