These Times/This Place

Karen Zarker

PopMatters is pleased to bring you These Times/This Place: a collection of essays from various parts of the globe devoted to what the world looks like from this time, in that place, where each writer is standing.

PopMatters continues to bring you These Times/This Place: a collection of essays from various parts of the globe devoted to what the world looks like from this time, in that place, where each writer is standing.

"Happy to Be Here" part two, is the final installment of essays for These Times/This Place. We thought we'd end this project with a smile. Sure, like all the essays in this project, the writers approach their subject in a levelheaded manner: they know their history; they understand the complexity of the world, near and far; their feet are firmly planted on solid ground, so to speak. Still, all things considered, life is pretty good in these parts of Japan and the US, as you'll see in these five essays.

Places in Canada bookend places in the US in this collection of essays, "Happy to be Here", part one. From where we're standing right now, you know, life is looking pretty good. Sure, things don't always go so well, and money is always hard to come by. There's plenty to cause one worry in this world. But dang, the world keeps on turning, the sun keeps on burning, and sometimes, you just feel good to be alive in spite of it all. "Happy to be Here" invokes that enduring spirit of optimism that gets us out of bed each morning, if even we really don't want to go to work that day. It's not all sweetness and light, but it's not so bad, either. In fact, it's rather nice around here.

"'Place' Is a State of Mind" (presented in 2 parts) plays with the theory of relativity: where we think we are, right here and now, depends upon what we make of it. But that changes as we adjust our thoughts, filter our memories, assign unequal gravity to our dreams, needs, and cravings. In Part 1 of this section, our writers question where they are in the continuum of cultural and geographic time-space. Our stories of places bend with the social forces that shape them. Where are we, now? Well, that all depends, see.

"'Place' Is a State of Mind - Part 2" brings you five time/space-tampering essays set in Australia, Italy, and parts of the US.

"This Place Is Not As It Seems" (presented in one part) explores the mysterious aspects of places in the vast continent of North America that one deems most familiar. There is a certain atmosphere to be found in these stories, and like the scent of ozone and the hair-raising feel of electricity in the air before a thunderstorm, the seemingly intangible mystery touches upon your senses. From story-to-story, it rides on the dust flying from the vast, dry ranges of Saskatchewan, it mixes with the hearty smell rising from the fecund undergrowth on the west coast of Canada, and it blows through the brittle sage in the Nevada desert. It rides the jet stream across the continent and drops south to pick up a metallic tang from an all-too-quiet, all-too technologically "cool" suburb in the state of Virginia, and quickly thereafter, one detects the acrid smell of power in the air, so familiar to the powerless in Washington, D.C. Finally, it blows to the edge of land and leaps to the sea, leaving you standing alone on a windy, crumbling coast. Just when you thought you knew a place...

Part 1 of "As I See It" brings you essays set in Ecuador, Egypt, and England, as well as South Africa, France, and the US. "As I See It", Parts One and Two, is a collection of stories retold throughout the centuries — the challenges we face now we've faced throughout the millennia — but they are told with a modern twist; a presumed broader sense of one's place on this fast-spinning, hot planet. In these seven essays of Part 1, you will find critical analysis and historical depth, and life explained with compassion, frustration, and of course, enduring humor.

In Part Two of "As I See It", we carry on the theme of the recurrent nature of the species — and all that implies — from parts of Europe, China, and a well-known town in North America.

In these times, the sense that things have changed post 9/11 runs like an electric current through these pieces, but its voltage fluctuates, casting varying light upon these rich and varied interpretations of living in this world; the telling ranges from serious to light-hearted, spooky to nostalgic. "That place" is the writers' literal terra firma, or, if the place is firmly fixed in the writer's mind, then he/she explores that landscape with a distant speculation, but with no less clarity than if he/she were standing right there, right now. The essays are part cultural criticism combined with personal experience, part reportage combined with colorful travelogue. Given the scattered locale of PopMatters' writers, These Times/This Place brings its readers a variety of essays placed in North and South America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

The 37 essays in These Times/This Place are presented within four themes: As I See It, This Place is Not as It Seems, "Place" is a State of Mind, and Happy to Be Here.

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