Picture this: An ice wall is the latest proposal to stem leakage of highly radioactive water from the TEPCO nuclear plant at Fukushima Daichi, a scant 150 miles from Tokyo, where a nuclear emergency has been declared again for the first time since the earthquake and tsunami devastated those reactors and the surrounding prefecture. In what should be the plot line for a B grade dystopian thriller, the water–which workers continue to pump over the unsettled reactor cores to resist further meltdown–accumulates (more than 1,000 storage tanks to date) with no end-game. Now they’re leaking highly radioactive water, containing known carcinogens cesium and strontium, at over 100 times the accepted “safe” levels.

The emergency response? Sandbags, piled around the leaky tank, even though officials admit that much of the dirty water has already leached into soil and will make its way to the sea. And the long game, an underground ice wall to seal off these vast tanks of radioactive water–which ice wall would need to be maintained in perpetuity (or at least for the hundreds of years during which strontium and cesium degrade into harmless forms). This amounts to an electrically-run freezer, sunk into the ground all the way around the reactors and their overflow tanks, forever.

Did somebody just ask, how would that withstand the next seismic event, in a region well known for earthquakes–when this problem arose in the first place due to an earthquake tsunami? And did we remind ourselves as we read this latest slow-wave disaster report, of the many US nuclear facilities built on essentially the same scheme as Fukushima?

I keep thinking, even Vonnegut could not have made this up. Which of course makes me want to go back and read some Vonnegut.

On a redemptive and totally different note, New Directions has revived their Poetry Pamphlet series, which is nothing as lightweight as it sounds. You can support your local indie bookstore even when you order online, by ordering through Indiebound and tagging your particular favorite bookshop.

Poll: what is an ongoing, monthly, day-long writing workshop intensive worth? I was asked to conduct such a workshop several years ago, and we’ve kept the cost to essentially nothing–the fees buy the coffee I supply and my lunch, with a few bucks to spare. Running it is exhausting and satisfying and surprising, and it’s certainly not about the money, it’s about building community, about filling a need. But at a certain point, I can’t afford to do it for free, to give away a day each month, a day that could be spent on editorial or production work.

What do you sell, and what do you give away for free? I give away a lot as a publisher, including books, advice, words of encouragement (with that last one being, or so I hear repeatedly, both the most valuable and the rarest). We’re always trying to make course corrections based mainly on our own histories, what we lacked, what we suppose others need as we once did.

“Desk copies” are complementary books for faculty. Some small presses supply them and some don’t–I’m usually friendly to this practice. Today I received a request for additional copies, beyond the 10 copies they asked for before the book was ordered for their classes. We can’t be a charity for a specific school, enthused as we are to support their use of our books in the classroom. I wouldn’t ask a restaurant to comp me a week of dinners if I was considering asking them to cater a modest event. I wouldn’t ask a clothing store to give me free shirts to try out while I debated whether to buy a dozen of those same shirts. Somehow arts businesses, like a small press, aren’t seen by some of their customers as actual businesses, with all the usual overhead and labor and materials needs.

I’ve watched two Swedish series recently on PBS, one about a policewoman and the other about a female crime reporter. The two actresses don’t look much alike but the characters are defined so similarly it’s startling. The core tension in both series is between family and job–I’m still not seeing this duality utilized as a similar source of tension for male characters–and in both cases the protagonist adores her family, but is dedicated to a fault to her work.

We’ve made some headway over the last couple generations but our daughters still have a long way to go.

One of our beloved authors, Chris Howey, describes herself as a cynical optimist/idealistic pessimist. I could be a card-carrying member of that club.

with love,