I’m fighting a sense of angry uselessness brought on by a couple of recent setbacks, both here and in the nation at large.
Fifteen years ago, when I was new to Santa Fe, a well-organized, vocal protest was organized to prevent a project called WIPP: the shipment of transuranic nuclear waste from the endless above-ground dumps at the nuclear lab that is Los Alamos to a remote site in the south of the state: Carlsbad Caverns.
We pointed out that the huge waste-laden trucks would rumble through out small town, with potentially catastrophic consequences in the case of wrecks; the state then built a largely unnecessary highway around Santa Fe so the trucks could pass along it.
We pointed out that according to well-documented studies, the containers the waste was to be stored in would probably begin to leak in a matter of years; we were told they were built to hold for millennia, and even if they did leak, it wouldn’t matter.
We pointed out that Carlsbad Caverns, a huge cave system, is composed of friable limestone, and that any leaks would soon penetrate to the ground water.
We were told it would never happen.
Now, fifteen years later, the containers have begun to leak. The ramifications have not yet been noted; it is still being insisted by the authorities that these leaks don’t matter. Nothing can be done to stop them, whether they matter or not.
Meanwhile the small communities around the caverns must simply put up with the consequences, whatever they may happen to be—very possibly the poisoning of their ground water, over time. Our Republic governor, who hails from that part of the state, is only concerned with furthering the interests of the oil and gas companies that have also despoiled an area that is, in federal-speak, disposable.
So what was the use of our protest?
I don’t know.
I feel a similar frustration about the state of book publishing today, although its ill effects are obviously less dire. A friend who travels abroad more than I do tells me that books stores in Europe are flooded with books by U.S. writers, mainly thrillers and mysteries of no lasting value. (We don’t return the compliment, if it is one.)
Meanwhile I hear nothing but doomsday talk from the publishers here, and the market is swamped with self-published books, which have gained some kind of status since the Authors Guild, probably looking to its own survival, has decided to admit for (paying) membership anyone who self-published screed has earned more than five hundred dollars. Most of us have enough friends and relatives to run up that amount….
And at a reading here yesterday, a man in the audience who said that he has never written or taken a writing workshop or course opined that he was ready to self-publish something and would brook no warning that an unedited book (and I’m not talking about spelling and grammar mistakes alone but about the larger issues of style, tone, content, and worth), unpublicized except through his own efforts and not carried by most bookstores would end up in his basement—where it probably deserves to be.
Except there are no basements in Santa Fe.
The link between what is happening at Carlsbad and what is happening in book publishing may seem tenuous, but both depend on lack of foresight, lack of judgment, and a willingness to push through all rational hesitation.
In short, ego—individual and federal, run amok again.