An Open Letter to Janet White

Dear Janet,

Remember when I worked for you in the house on Midland Street? The whir of the phototypesetting machine expelling its 40th galley of the week, the aroma of hot wax in the air? The two of us companionably in your small studio, cutting, repositioning rectangles of photo paper and rubbing them down to make a magazine? Remember our conversations those six years, some personal and many philosophical? You’re not much older than me, Janet–15 years. I paid attention to what you said and shared.

You told me once that you were shown a certain film at school. In this film you were taught, explicitly, that the world contained unlimited resources. “The ocean’s bounty is infinite,” the deep-toned narrator set forth as fact, while a phalanx of ten thousand fish flashed by on-screen. I imagine you and your classmates sitting in the darkened room in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, eyes glued to the screen, rapt expressions on your faces. All of this, for humans to take as we were able, as we contrived new more effective ways to harvest and consume. Didn’t your father work for Standard Oil?

In the span of time since you received this message until now, we’ve learned how small the world is, how finite.

You would think that since, in your childhood pilots were already winging high above Earth who could touch the fragility of its protective atmosphere, the filmmakers would have known better than to propagate such lies. I suspect political and profit motives drove the producer. But what drove the teacher to show your class such a myth? Did teachers actually believe that melodious voice?

One thing is for sure: Like the career of typesetter and paste-up artist, any notion of the ocean’s boundless life is now a part of history. My only hope is that eventually, in ages and ages hence, ocean can again be so full of life that a misinformed human might be able to believe for a moment that it could be limitless.

Thanks for listening,

Carol Harley


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