Category Archives: Pop Culture


Last night I finally saw the movie Interstellar. I had tried to see it when it first came out, but couldn’t seem to fit it in. Now I’m glad I didn’t.

Interstellar begins with a world facing many of the same challenges we find in Parable of the Sower–food shortages, widespread poverty, and a government that has turned its eyes from the stars to the ground, unable to justify money spent on dreams when there are so many problems to be solved in everyday life. And, like Lauren Olamina, Cooper, a former pilot, cannot let it go. His world, he knows is dying, and they are running out of other options. And when coded messages from a “they” no one can seem to identify lead to a covert NASA operation headed by one of Cooper’s former teachers, Cooper leaves everything and everyone he loves–including his 10 year old budding scientist daughter, Murph–behind for the chance to save them.

There are the usual assortment of questions that move the adventure plot forward, including:

  • Can they find a new world that can support life before it’s too late?
  • Will Cooper make it back to his family?

But the one question that the story most pivots around is one of ethics:

Who do we save, the human race as a species or the individual people we know and love?

The adventure is harrowing, as it must be, to keep us rooted to our seats for nearly three hours, and the decisions are difficult heart-rending , as are the emotional impacts on the families back home. And, as expected, the worlds are nothing like they imagined they might be.

Of course, at the end it they find themselves in crisis, and without giving too much away, it devolves into the sort of strange spiritual mumbo-jumbo that we have seen in other epic space movies, like Contact. But perhaps that’s how it is when science started delving into areas so far beyond our comprehension that they begin to resemble God.

And as for that one big question, perhaps if we are either very, very lucky or very, very unlucky, we just might be able to save both.

Learn more about the science of Interstellar.

A Million Shades of White

Yesterday, NYC Midnight announced the winner of their 2014 Flash Fiction Challenge, A Million Shade of White by Swati Daftuar. The challenge had three parameters:

  • Genre: Open
  • Location: An iceberg
  • Object: A lighter

According to her blog, the author struggled with the story, with the prompts–grasping and coming up empty over and over again before the first words came to her. Oh, but when they did…

I heard the world fall apart.

Her story speaks of the end, of our arrogance in believing that one grand gesture could change our course, that one person’s spectacle could make a difference. It won’t. It can’t.

What might is the very process she used to create her deceptively simple parable–to look at the constraints we have been given and to open ourselves to what they may reveal. To remain still and silent as we reach, and reach, and reach again, until what is ours to write or make or build or do reveals itself in a whisper. And when it does, to stand up, to get to work, and to share what we’ve done and what we’ve learned.

Feature Friday: Red Sky

Lately I have been witnessing a shift in the way art is made, from DIY to what wonder tracker Jeffrey Davis calls DIT–Do It Together. Take for example recent works from photographer Cara Walton and poet Brenna Layne whose collaborative series, TempusVolat explores the question:

A photograph captures a moment, but what if those moments could speak?

The answers are both stunningly beautiful and lingeringly haunting. And this latest installment, Red Sky, their response to a request for a piece to feature in our Apocalypse Garden, is no exception. To see the rest of the series and purchase prints, visit the TempusVolat online gallery.

Red Sky
Red Sky ©Cara Walton and Brenna Layne, 2015

This is one example of DIT at its best–a creation that is more than the sum of its parts. And I can’t help but wonder, what if we brought DIT into the realm of apocalypse planning and survival, to the task of saving the world? So many preppers like to go it solo–to protect their hoards of water, weapons, and food. They feel they can do better on their own. But can we, really? I can understand the fear and scarcity thinking that might lead to this conclusion, but I have to stand on the side of safety in numbers and that together we can make a bigger impact, imagine more creative solutions,  and create more abundance than any one of us could alone.

And so, in the spirit of DIT, I offer you an invitation. Red Sky is the first new seed in our Apocalypse Garden planted by a reader. Guidelines and a call for submissions of art, poetry, stories, essays will be posted in the coming weeks.

Will you plant the next seed?

Feature Friday: Los Angeles is Burning

Like the Parable of the Sower, this Bad Religion video is set in a burning Los Angeles. Punk rock has long interested itself in political and social commentary–drawing attention to poverty, unemployment, corruption, hypocrisy, and questioning the status quo. Although often branded as self-destructive, violent, or anarchistic, much of the music reveals truths that many members of the establishment prefer to underplay or keep hidden.

Bad Religion: Los Angeles is Burning from Isaac Woodby on Vimeo.

Parable of the Sower

Parable of the SowerTITLE: Parable of the Sower
AUTHOR: Octavia E. Butler
PUBLISHER: Aspect/Warner Books
PUB DATE: 1993 (Trade)
DISASTER: Climate change, economic disaster

It’s 2024 and Lauren Olamina is 15 years old. She lives in a walled and gated suburb of Los Angeles. Water, food, and money are in short supply, and outside the wall people are waiting, trying to break in and steal the little they have.

Lauren’s father, the local minister, does his best to keep the community safe and together, but Lauren knows their shaky security isn’t going to last forever, and that she’s going to have to learn  everything she can to help her survive on the other side of the wall.

This book details the brutal, stark, reality of a world on the precipice of anarchy and violence, but unlike many in the genre, it’s about far more than terror and loss. It explores subtleties of race and gender, and the slender threads that separate the middle class from the poor, and the poor from the destitute, and the wide gap that separate them all from the rich. It calls out corporate greed, takes a searching look at religion, and asks questions about the morality and necessity of funding space programs while people are starving. But it is also about empathy and maintaining our humanity under the worst of circumstances.

Octavia Butler has received multiple Hugo and Nebula Awards, a James Tiptree, Jr. Award, a Lifetime Achievement Award in Writing from the PEN American Center, a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant, and has been inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.



Feature Friday: Return to the Trembling Heart

On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti just outside the town of Léogâne, just 16 miles from the capitol city, Port-au-Prince. Buildings were crushed, monuments toppled, and as many as 220,000 people lost their lives.

In the face of this disaster, radical arts collective Atis Rezistans and the children’s offshoot Timoun Rezistans that inhabit the Grand Rue, began to transform what was left of their world.

Return to the Trembling Heart: Grand Rue, Port au Prince from Peter Dean Rickards on Vimeo.

The Arts of Survival

Creativity can give us options. Creativity can give us something to fight for. And creativity can help us recover from the worst when it happens. Like in 2010, when Mt. Merapi erupted in Indonesia, monsoon rains flooded the Indus river in Pakistan, and a 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook Haiti to it’s core. Or in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina.

Across all four regions and cultures survivors turned to art to reclaim their homes. In 2011 some of that art was featured in an exhibit called The Arts of Survival: Folk Expression in the Face of Disaster at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

“The Arts of Survival provides a window to the many ways contemporary folk artists use what they know best to respond to natural disaster with vision, perseverance, dignity and imagination-even in the midst of political infighting, infrastructural log jams, and environmental after affects. Through this experience, they learn that the most fundamental power is the indomitable spirit of mankind.”  — Exhibition curator Dr. Suzanne Seriff

In Indonesia, master makers created shadow puppets representing the volcano with fire and ash spewing from it to memorialize the story.

In Pakistan local craftswomen took to needle and thread, creating ralli purrs (quilt tops) from excess clothing from relief efforts into much needed blankets, both for warmth and to raise funds for rebuilding.

In Haiti, street artists pulled scrap metal from the wreckage, transforming it into sculptures depicting the terror they had experienced. Others stitched Vodou Flags or crafted terrifying papier-mâché masks.

Evelyne Alcide, Earthquake!
Evelyne Alcide, “Earthquake!”


In New Orleans, they painted poems on the sides of broken houses, stitched quilted memorials from moldy bedsheets pulled from drowned buildings. One built an entire village from broken furniture, old chain link fencing, and other salvaged materials.

When asked  why, one artist answered:

“My reason for making this is to bring together the human family, so we can get together and rebuild New Orleans, so we can rebuild ourselves and our soul.” Joe Minter

Joe Minter, Rebuild and Restore New Orleans
Joe Minter, “Rebuild and Restore New Orleans,” 2007, mixed media. Photo: Paul Smutko


Feature Friday: @Large Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz

This past December I visited Alcatraz for the first time. The decaying former prison feels haunted. It echoes with each step. It’s cold, and damp and inhospitable, and the perfect place for Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei’s latest installation: @Large, a multi-piece experience that asks us to look deeply into the themes of imprisonment and freedom.

“The misconception of totalitarianism is that freedom can be imprisoned. This is not the case. When you constrain freedom, freedom will take flight and land on a windowsill.”
— Ai Weiwei

As in The City, Not Long After, Ai Weiwei’s work shows us that freedom is worth fighting for, and that art can be an even more powerful weapon than guns in that fight.

To learn more about this exhibit visit

The City, Not Long After

The City, Not Long AfterTITLE: The City, Not Long After
AUTHOR: Pat Murphy
PUB DATE: February 1990
SECONDARY THREAT: Invasion, martial law

Of all the apocalypse novels I’ve read, and there have been many, this is the one most filled with beauty and hope. Not long after a plague decimates global populations, San Francisco has been taken over by artists–painters, writers, musicians, tinkerers, makers–who have crafted along the way a sort of utopia. What they can’t find, or make or grow, they trade for at Duff’s. And all seems well, until a nameless girl comes to town.

I had planned to give you the full run-down of the story, pointing out the pieces that most speak to me, the preps hidden within the story, but I just can’t. Not with this book. Because I want you to read it. With its magic untainted.

What I will tell you is that the book deals with themes that include robotics and humanity, love and loss, art and war, isolation and collaboration, pacifism, ghosts, angels, the consciousness of a place, creativity and freedom, and the costs of peace. It even includes a nod to one of my most personally treasured myths at the very end.

But I will give you this–a quick peek into the poetry of the work:

Her mother had told her about San Francisco. Bedtime stories always began, “Back in San Francisco before the plague…” The stories were odd and disjointed, fragments of her mother’s life. Bright memories of the Chinese New Year’s parade, touched with the scent of gunpowder from fireworks. Remembrances of neighbors: the old woman with twenty-nine cats, the young man who practiced Tai Chi on the roof.

From her mother’s memories, the girl had created her own picture of San Francisco: a place as exotic as Oz, with tremendous hills over which cable cars rolled. She had asked her mother once why they could not go back there. Her mother had shaken her head. “Too many ghosts there. I can’t go back.”

Pat Murphy is an award-winning writer, scientist, and occasional toy-maker. Learn more here.


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