A new Chernobyl

Photographer David Guttenfelder recently won a World Press Photo Award for his work, for National Geographic, on the deserted town of Namie, Japan--which lies within a 12-mile radius of the site of last year's nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. His photographs were some of the most stark and significant images I had seen all year in the magazine--a publication whose lifeblood is excellent photography. Certainly his work, risking his health amid the radiation-affected areas he traversed to collect these images to share with us, deserves such accolades. It also reminds me, yet again, why I love the magazine and the organization, and why I only hurt myself when I let my subscription relapse. (Yes, I'm experiencing withdrawal symptoms today. I haven't had a new issue in almost three months.)

My favorite image of his entire series (there are many more images) is the one of the makeshift rooms in refugee sites like the Big Palette convention center, taken from above. Every time I look at it, I consider each item, the composition of each tiny space, and marvel at how little we need, and what things we keep, replace, buy, borrow, use, throw away. What things would be in my space if I was a refugee? How much of this would be things I was even able to take with me? I am humbled once again by how much those affected by the March 11 earthquake and subsequent trauma have endured and how gracefully they have handled immense tragedy and loss. We do grow so attached to places, to spaces. 

I have provided the original captions for these photos as they appear in the print issue.


[Update}: I just watched this extraordinary documentary from the BBC, on the 3/11 events told from the perspective of children who were/are the victims.

BBC report

Pep talk from mom: find meaning, serve others, survive

Not my mom. Translator Aya Watanabe has been translating tweets coming out of Japan in the weeks following the devastation they have been facing. I found her story, actually, also via Twitter, and she was reading some of her favorites. The translations are obviously longer than 140 characters in English, since in Japanese, far more can be said in the space of one character, and so many of them were quite poignant and in-depth, and beautiful.

This was my favorite.

Mom’s Pep Talk Called my Mom to let her know I survived the quakes. She lives in Kagoshima, on Kyushu Island, a thousand miles south of Tohoku. Thought she was worried about me and wanted to calm her down. Instead of tears, what I got from her was a pep talk. “Know, with all your heart, the meaning of your being where you are, at this timing and age in your life. Do the best you can to serve others.” Mother, I am proud to be your son. I will live through all this.

See more of them here.

Please excuse my protracted silences

It is unbelievable the kind of things that are unfolding right now in the world. We've started air strikes in Libya, and uprisings continue all across the Middle East and North Africa, most recently becoming violent in Syria. (It is rather jarring to think that the tipping point--or rather, the catalyst--for all of this was a fruit vendor in Tunisia.) There was a devastating earthquake--the largest in Japan's recorded history--followed by a resultant tsunami and a nuclear disaster that continues now, though it has stabilized considerably. In the United States, a political drama played out in Wisconsin over government employee's collective bargaining rights. Remember just three months ago when Senator Gabriel Giffords was shot in Tucson? The ravages of a rough and tumble, war-torn, disaster-torn planet have made me feel I've aged a few years in the span of three months. For the first time in my adult life, the news on the radio really does sometimes overwhelm me, I turn it off. Or, the opposite, I listen to it so much that my brain is swimming with thoughts, emotions--things I want to remember, write down, repeat, blog about, research more deeply, share with a friend, not forget. I wrote a few weeks ago on how even though I empathize deeply with people in other parts of the world who are struggling with recent events, I feel so removed, I can't hug the man in the story who is walking his dog amidst what was once his city and is now a disaster site. I continue to feel that way, while also knowing I am not, ultimately, immune from anything. I am human just the same, living this life, and at any moment it could change forever. I live under no airs that I am somehow different. I live somewhere more stable than Libya, maybe, but that does not protect me from the fragility of the world, except that I live farther away from what is now a warzone. Don't get me wrong, I am very thankful for at least that security; in this place, I do not live each day with the worry of a bomb striking my home or my family.

In my own life, there are a thousand things on my mind each day as well. As I said, there are simply so many things happening right now, I think of about ten things I want to get home and start writing about, and when I get home at night, what little energy I have left needs to go to homework--finishing readings, papers, projects, for my classes. It feels like months have passed since I last wrote something down and posted it on the internet. I now have two jobs, one in the history department at Georgia State (which I've had since August) and the other at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) southeast regional records center. We hold any federal bureau's records that they may want kept, until they want them destroyed--and then we do that. We serve the ten southeastern states. It's not a glamorous job by any stretch of the imagination, but it is good extra money and does relate to several big historical and archival issues in my field. I thought I was crazy for taking two jobs, that occupy four full workdays and leaving me far less time for my schoolwork, and I still think I am crazy. I get less sleep, and can literally only find time for the gym two days a week (three if I'm really creative), but now I know I can do it.

Being so busy does make the weeks go by so fast, which is why I feel like it's been years since 2011 began. I've planned a trip to Cuba (my history department job), spoke at my first history conference, read about ten books, started a new job, bought an iPhone--and I really enjoy my life. But it feels like I have been working at the records center for at least six months, when it has really been six weeks. My parents have been working hard to sell nearly everything in their home, including the home itself, and are moving out now, hoping to be done by the end of the month. They will be empty nesters in a few months, when my youngest brother starts the summer program at University of Georgia, and they have downsized considerably into a brand new loft in a converted downtown building in Dublin, Georgia, where they live. My brother Neil (one of two brothers in the Navy) assumed his station at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base a week ago today, where he'll remain for eighteen months. Paul is still on hold up in New London, Connecticut, but he seems happy and content. We have all been so engrossed in our lives, in all the things happening, and also happening across the world.

I think what I wanted to say today is that I have a hundred things I can and want to blog about, put my take on it down in writing, but there is SO MUCH, that it cancels itself out. I don't know where to start, when I get home, and then I think about all the other things I need to get done and how much I really want to just go to sleep. (Or watch Parks and Recreation, the best show on TV.) Especially in this stretch to finals, the next four weeks, I fear an extended absence from this website, but it will certainly, absolutely, not be from a lack of things going on in my mind or in my life. Or in the world, as we have seen.