Day 63: This Is Not A Place of Honor

This class, Coping with Disasters, is taught by a professor who also teaches science communication, so she’s very into non-standard project formats, and we were encouraged to make whatever we thought would be interesting for the final. My group decided to do our final project about how nuclear energy/nuclear disasters are perceived by the public as compared to the actual risks established by known science. And me, being me, I decided to add in a part about long-term nuclear waste warnings. Something about all the solutions various committees have come up with to transmit warnings thousands of years in the future when we’ve never built anything that has lasted so long before is just really fascinating to me. All the architecture options look like some really inhospitable temple (not unlike the campus center, actually), and all the written warnings sound more like ghost stories than like normal hazard signs (this is not a place of honor among the best of them). I’m still leaning towards an atomic priesthood as a better way to transmit information, maybe with some carved stones to try and keep the information from drifting, but I also read A Canticle for Leibowitz at an impressionable age.

For the actual bulk of the project, we gathered a bunch of screenshots from movies and tv shows depicting nuclear disasters, as well as a bunch of scientific articles about the actual risks, along with headlines of actual disasters and hung them all from the ceiling, or pinned to a curtain. I also got to write a slightly silly informational pamphlet, put out by a fake government organization about the risks of living near a nuclear power plant as part of the whole ~exhibit we put together.

The slightly silly pamphlet, and just out of frame is the informational placard about long-term nuclear waste warnings. People were asked to design their warnings and tape them to the walls.

I think the professor was amused, and that’s the important thing.

I had a surprising amount of fun just setting the exhibit up; I got to figure out to rig a curtain so it wouldn’t fall down and stick papers to it in a way that wasn’t ugly and also how stick all the string to the ceiling, and it all reminded me faintly of being in theater tech again. One of the other kids asked if I needed help tying stuff and all I ended up saying was: I’m very comfortable with string. Internally, I was trying to decide what if anything would be more helpful to say: that I was the kid who taught other kids how to tie their shoes in first grade despite me not having any tie shoes myself because it’s knots and it’s important, or that I learnt how to tie a bowline with my eyes closed around the same time I was first reading chapter books (again. because it’s knots and it’s important). Or that I did a lot of impromptu rigging in high school theater tech (because we had no money) and also I did rock climbing for a while. Honestly it surprises me when people aren’t comfortable rigging loads under tension while only being able to reach the knots on your tip-toes. That’s just how life goes.

The second half of this class overall was also pretty good; we talked a lot about community responses to stress and trauma and only a little failed to define community, which irks me. Sometimes we used community to mean a group of people whose social graph is highly connected and sometimes to mean a collection of people and sometimes just a place. You cannot convince me a whole city is one community; human brains can only hold about 500 different people with any real fidelity. A city of 100,000 is not a community, you’re looking for some other word. It also gently bugs me when people talk about building community like that doesn’t take a lot of work, especially for the handful of central nodes. Yeah, most people in a community can get away with showing up somewhere once a week for an hour, but someone has to organize that, and that person is the unsung and unacknowledged glue of the whole enterprise. If they leave the whole thing tends to crumble, and the main difference in how communities handle disasters (and other stressors) is that hyper-local organization.

While the class as a whole has been brain-poking and interesting to think about, I’m glad we’re moving on to something else that’s a little less intense. Next up is Migration and Population, which might be in a slightly similar vein, actually. Ah well. I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies earlier this week and it feels greedy and delightful how long a full batch lasts when it’s just me eating it. I’m going to go have another one.

2 responses to “Day 63: This Is Not A Place of Honor”

  1. Our dinners were delivered in plastic grocery sized bags during the pandemic shut down. They were tied closed with a double overhand know. In 2 and 1/2 years, I have seen only granny knots, no square knots ever. Sigh.


  2. Have you seen the play The Children?

    The Children is set in ‘a small cottage on the east coast’, where Hazel and Robin, two retired nuclear scientists in their mid-sixties, are living. A recent disaster at the local power station where they used to work has devastated the area and they live under the threat of radiation pollution. Electricity and water are rationed and they keep a Geiger counter to check for signs of radiation. However, Hazel is determined to preserve some semblance of normality and live the healthiest life she possibly can. So, Robin now farms, while Hazel practises yoga and devours salad. But when Rose, a former colleague whom they haven’t seen for 38 years, suddenly turns up, she disrupts their precariously ordered existence. Rose is determined that they must fix the problems they have caused for the next generation, even if it means certain death. Exploring issues of accountability, guilt, and morality, Lucy Kirkwood’s three-hander presents a very real, post-nuclear world.


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