The Genius of the Future Species
A speculative newsletter.
There was a significant period of time on earth before oxygen. It was only the development of photosynthesis—plants feeding themselves and producing oxygen as a by product—that the earth became breathable. Trees developed whole vascular systems, reached for the sun by standing as tall as possible and distanced themselves from the duff every year; they announced their resource by branching out to dance in the wind, and ultimately, became vulnerable to human betrayal for whom they grew extravagant breathing palaces over millennia only to see them cut down in wide swaths. You might even say we humans were the original Artificial Intelligence, having been breathed into being by the exhalations of plants. Our singularity has long ago come to pass. Trees must have been like:
Recently I returned to Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, and I was reminded that the earliest named eon in Earth's history, the "Hadean eon"—à la Hades—was named so for the apocalyptic character of the planet at that time, around 4 billion years ago. It was a time of uninhabitable conditions, extreme temperatures and a world in which the drama of the physical environment was the only one to be had. I say ‘reminded’ not because this was a fact I knew, but because it feels familiar, implying as it does that under earth's most hellish conditions, life was still in the future.
Sagan also says that life may have arisen multiple times on Earth, only to be extinguished before it finally took. To me, what this all means is there is a similar possibility for wholesale change on this piece of rock. Change to how and what we define as life, as progress, that word which started us on the long road to real estate developers and 3.6% growth in a bad year and habitat loss.
In the acknowledgments section at the end of A Natural History of Transition, I thank all the trans youth I’ve known and worked with over the years. Right now, many of those youth are looking to move to a state where they can legally access affordable medical transition and care, and for many that state has been Oregon. Many of those same trans youth are here now advocating for change in Portland and beyond, protesting against more highways and air pollution. And it strikes me that all they are saying, what they have always been saying in their movements and their signs, is that no young person should be forced to live in a way that causes death and suffering. That at the very least, our descendants should be able to look back and say that we escaped the Hadean, finally, even if after much struggle.
What I’m Reading
The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. Originally published in 1961, this is a thick manifesto that runs counter to much of the popular urban planning theories of the midcentury past. Jacobs lambasts the preferences in vogue at the time of her writing, namely the monumental boulevards, grand arcades, and other “beautifying” projects leftover from the City Beautiful movement intended to improve the urban moral fabric. Now that I’ve lived in a city for 4+ years, I feel underread in the history of cities and urban planning, but it’s a strange book. On the one hand Jacobs recognizes that a mix of uses and people is important to the lifeblood of a city, yet she also falls back on thinly veiled racist language of ‘delinquency’, even as she advocates against the cutting off of impoverished urban neighborhoods from natural resources, grocery stores, and more. If nothing else, it’s been a fascinating trip down a tributary of the Long Midcentury Renaissance.
Diode Editions is accepting submissions to their chapbook contest through September. Winner receives $750 and publication, reading fee waivers available.
Nightboat Books is seeking a BIPOC Editorial Fellow. Compensation is $10,000 split up over two years. Deadline May 15.
Ghost Proposal is accepting submissions for its Ultraslant Prize in visual poetry until May 15. Winner receives $250 and publication.
Bottlecap Press is accepting chapbook submissions in all genres, until further notice.
Words Without Borders Editorial Fellowship is accepting applications until May 16. Pays $16/hr. Remote.
smoke and mold is accepting submissions in all genres on a rolling basis to ACROSS / WITH / THROUGH: Trans Writers in Translation, for publication in 2023. This is my current gesture toward hope for the future. You’ll find the flyer below, and please share it with any writers, translators, or others you think might be interested.
Great thought about humans being the original artificial intelligence via the exhalation of trees!