Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Letter #88 Scarcity and Abundance

Dear Governor Ducey: Scarcity and Abundance

I have a book manuscript making the rounds. It’s about sustainability. I ask, What is sustainable? Golf courses? Individual automobiles? Turtles? Marriage? Life? Sustainabile to an otter is not the same as sustainable to My agent sends it to publishers. She generally protects me from their comments, obviously rejections since no one has offered to publish the book yet, but since I have a long relationship with one of the presses, she did send me their rejection which, although they enjoyed it and my experimental essayistic form, they thought it was too much a memoir and didn’t adhere enough to the form of the essay. So I’m back to revising the book even though I’m pretty sure this is why my agent doesn’t send me all of my rejections. The book was too much essay for one agent. Tonally weird to another editor. I could have 400 versions of the book by the time I’m done. A sad, fractured, book. I’m grateful to my agent for keeping me in the dark.
            I’ve been here before. With the book that’s forthcoming this January, Canning Peaches for the Apocalypse, I had an agent who wanted me to put more Italy in the book, more Wyoming, more chickens. I ended up with a book about Italians in Wyoming killing chickens. That did not go over well. The agent dropped me and I went back to the book, making it a combined essay/memoir collection about peaches and apocalypses, salmon and chickens. There’s still a little Wyoming in the book. No Italy. It’s with a small press who embraces a little memoir and a little essay. In fact, my argument is that the two together, personal narrative woven with research/journalism is the way to make your story important while simultaneously making your research relevant.
            The underlying theme of Canning Peaches for the Apocalypse is scarcity and abundance. In one version of the book, I actually named every paragraph “scarcity” or “abundance.” A lot of the book is about my kids, my daughter being born early, my son being born during the swine flu scare, and the idea that when you have kids, your perspective narrows. Everything—health, wealth, happiness, seems vacillate between extreme scarcity or extreme abundance. Zoe came down with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Babies who were born prematurely can die from this form of the common cold. Zoe developed pneumonia. Her lung sacs wouldn’t inflate. An abundance of mucus. A scarcity of fluids. It wasn’t until we realized feeding her twice as much milk would restore her fluids, which would, in turn, kick the mucus out of her sinuses and let the sacs in her lungs inflate. It took eight days for us to figure out the balance of supply and demand. Who knew her body needed twice as much liquid as normal to fight the RSV?
            I mentioned last week that I love the podcast Freakanomics. I like to know about economies. The ideas behind scarcity and excess, supply and demand fascinate me. I understand that value goes up when supply is low. I also understand there are fundamentally limited, or scarce, resources—or at least that our economy relies on the idea that there are scarce resources. “Money” is scarce, at least in this capitalist system. It has to be for our political system to work. Governments have to fight over whether to sustain roads or sustain schools, sustain the military or sustain the environment.
            But while the things to pay for fight for “tax dollars,” the one thing that is not actually scarce but incredibly abundant, is education. Education, by its very nature, propagates itself. People who can read, read books. Books introduce you to history, make you more empathetic, give you facts that don’t need to be written in quotation marks. They describe the social ramifications of supply and demand. Books in accounting and finance, give you insight into how much scarcity is real and how much is manufactured. Books create books. Teachers create teachers. I understand this is not exactly the Republican dream. And maybe, the sheer fact of its abundance makes education suspect to those deeply invested in our capitalist system. The more you know the more you know and perhaps there are certain things they who are in government don’t want us to know. The first being, that, while education isn’t necessarily free, it’s never going to run out of stock.

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