Notes from a Sleepless Night

I came downstairs last night for a warm cup of milk to help ease my agitation. Before returning to bed I glanced at the clock on the radio 2:22. What might the meaning of 222 be if no clocks existed at all? What makes this moment special in the mechanistic construct of 222? Sleepily, I wonder, would I stop breathing if there were no 222?  The answer is, of course not, 222 is not my flesh nor blood, nor the sustenance of my life. It is merely a construct. I am reassured as I climb the stairs and roll back into bed mulling over the tragedy of patriarchy and its quest for survival of the fittest and how the metaphor of the Anthropocene succumbs to the destruction of the world. There is no Anthropocene in my mind. It is not all humans that have done this thing. As Utah Phillips would say, “The Earth is not dying, it is being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses.”

I have been following the events at Standing Rock closely; it draws me more passionately than the essayist pondering Anthropocene whose book sits dog-eared and bookmarked on my desk taunting my brain for an assignment not done. As classmates, friends, sons of friends, daughters of friends, and new friends tell us what is going on at the camp. Rubber bullets, sound cannons, medics shot in the back, horses shot, over two hundred pipeline leaks this year alone, but these are not the droids you are looking for, move along, move along, the clock says 2:22, we’ve got a schedule to meet. They call them protestors, though that is not how they are self-identified.

To be a protestor, means you are arguing against something that someone is doing. It frames the power in the hands of something you are against or resisting. One cannot be a protestor unless they are protesting against something. Their very existence depends upon the other calling all the shots, desecrating sacred grounds, pushing toward a poisonous end. This is NOT something you protest. To call it protest is an absurdity, to call it protest suggests there is something inherently reasonable in the building the pipeline, something beyond numerical values of 222 bank loans due, perhaps, money to be made on faulty infrastructure and technology for killing the world some more?

Now a protector, as are the Water Protectors at Standing Rock, they exist on their own accord. Water is Life and they shall protect life, whether the black snake pipeline exists or not. To protect life holds the power of definition in the being and is not determined nor sanctioned by the nature of that which chooses to destroy life. I have been a protector. I am a protector. I shall be a protector. These states of being stand alone in their framing. They are not dependent on the horrific other to exist at all, for protector is a nurturer, a caretaker, of life. Finally Amnesty International is alerted, the UN, too is coming, peacemaker constructs to be sure. Perhaps all will awaken. 222 does not exist. There is no reason for HRC to consider the safety of the workers building the black snake of death. The peaceful Water Protectors are praying. Praying! As the mercenaries from two foreign wars rip down their sweat lodge and shove their faces in the dirt, dogs biting, infiltrators screaming violence. Even as the Protectors are stripped naked and left in jail cells, even as numbers are written on arms and they are shoved in dog cages, Protectors cannot be humiliated because they are not protestors dependent upon your 222 constructs. How can you not know Water is Life?

By 5:35 a.m. my thoughts drift to Universal income vs equal pay. If there was such thing as equal pay there would be a universal income because then mothers would be paid for bringing forth life and not the doctors who extract babies as a product in an industrialized model. If there was such a thing as equal pay to a job well done, the extraction of profits, and dividends, and rents and royalties, would disappear because money is a construct that enables the few to do no job at all, as they suck the lifeblood of the living world. Is it any wonder that zombies and vampires abound in the dominant patriarchal culture? I would prefer a world where those who are killing the world have had the emperor’s new clothes revealed for all to see. If we are to interrupt the construct of the Anthropocene, if we are to protect the only home we have, these men of DAPL need to be contained and their sickness healed. Water is life. There is no life without it.

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It’s Not Just Republican Propaganda Nonsense

An open letter to my moderate liberal challengers

DSC_0228To conflate progressive criticism with right wing attacks is divisive at best, and disables critical dialogue at its worse. It is an authoritarian and patriarchal tool used to silence the much needed examination of neoliberal policies whose hollow rhetoric of caring is corrupted by a close relationship to multinational corporations and their shareholders. It’s a form of political gas lighting, a tactic to avoid deep scrutiny. The irony, of course, is that such analysis is essential to safeguard a democracy against fascism, whereas the conflation merely fosters fear and an “either-or” mentality.

It might be easier for more moderate liberals to see this tactic used within a conservative light. When the rhetoric of war calls upon nationality in accusations such as: “If you don’t support the war, you are throwing the veterans under the bus,” it leaves humane citizens on the defensive trying to demonstrate their care for returning veterans. The ultimate result in response to this sort of shaming is to silence the critique of war’s rationale. In the end, while we are all waving mini flags at parades, people are maimed and killed. The only ones being honored are the military industrial complex shareholders. They continue to accumulate record high profits during the corporately biased reign of either republican or democrat leaderships. These profits are extracted from the blood of war abroad and the destruction of families through economic terrorism at home. The avoidance of criticism condones the destruction of lives. Naomi Klein refers to it as disaster capitalism (Klein, 2007) Levy sees it more as a systemic form of global corporate cannibalism (2013).

Most moderate liberals I know think they are fighting the good fight, and that this justifies the means to an end. In many respects the LBGTQ moral cause on the left and the anti-abortion moral cause on the right (Yes, I personally know good people who believe they are indeed saving babies lives) have promoted lesser evil politicians because these causes have taken on a host of additional riders like fleas. In the end, the ethical morality of the great cause on either side is sucked dry by this infestation designed only for corporate profit, which requires people to vote against their better interests. The corporate bait and switch tricks impassioned people into supporting their causes without scrutiny. The marriage of LBGTQ (and now immigrant) liberation to corporate privatization, in many respects, is the worst kind of conflation. The liberation does not wash the sins of the moderate neoliberal outcomes. It just muddies the water (Harvey, 2016).

These silencing tactics undermine critical thinking. This type of shaming is a most insidious form of bullying because it is often subconscious. I suspect these moderate liberals would be horrified by their role in what Hannah Arendt called the banality of evil. They are posting all sorts of memes on Facebook denouncing anyone who is questioning whether or not they should vote for Hillary as selfish brats who don’t care about the horrendous possibilities of a Trump presidency. Shame on you! If he gets in, it will be ALL YOUR FAULT and I will cut my wrists! (Yes, I really did see a meme threatening self-destruction.) Really?

According to the work of Dr. Brené Brown, shaming has become epidemic (2012). Because of its visceral and emotionally accusatory nature, shaming is rarely confronted or discussed, except perhaps among oppressed communities who understand what it means to spend their lives navigating around the shaming of the dominant culture. This leaves moderately privileged ones (i.e. mostly white middle and upper class men) ignorant because they lack the experiences necessary to anchor their understanding.

That is where the bridge needs to be built. We need more narratives of dissent; not DSC_0036less, for social change can only occur in a culture that hears the full scope of stories. In a moving Rolling Stone Magazine interview with Jane Sanders she speaks of the people’s stories she heard as she traveled the country. Her astonishment speaks volumes. “How did we not know this? Where is the leadership?” (Stuart, 2016). In order to get an accurate snapshot of reality we must listen to a full range of feedback. Not just the ra-ra rhetoric from the stage of the DNC, but the voices of people who walked out before Hillary spoke. But, of course, in order to hear it, we must first understand that we are living in a bubble with a narrow band of experience and seek a broader perspective from sources outside of the dominant narrative.  Lee Ann Bell’s work in Story Telling for Social Justice is a great example of why this is important. We need to hear not only the dominant narrative; we need to hear the concealed stories, the resistance stories and most importantly, the transformative stories of possibility (2010). Bernie Sander’s campaign drew upon every category. In many respects, the magic of the Sander’s campaign is it gives voice to the suppressed needs of a hurting country. We all felt the burn in our everyday life, so feeling the Bern was as natural as drinking a glass of water when thirsty.

The silencing of Bernie Sanders supporters is the exact opposite of what we need right now. We need to hear the concealed stories, the resistance stories, and emerging alternative stories if we ever hope to challenge the dominant narrative. It is our responsibility as citizens to be critical of the forces of neoliberalism. We must interrupt the movement that is driving us off the edge. Our very survival depends upon it, and Bernie Sanders supporters are among the many who have the feedback and wherewithal that democracy craves. Listen to us. What will Hillary Clinton do to combat the forces of neoliberalism? If she can fully respond to that, and demonstrate commitment to undoing neoliberal globalization then we will find solidarity like none other. And, if you are reading this article wondering what the hell is neoliberalism, and then see David Harvey’s essay on what neoliberalism actually is and why it is a significant obstacle to creating the unity we so desperately need. He says it far better than I ever could. And while you’re at it check out Brené Brown’s work. Wagging your fingers is just not doing to any of us any good.

 

Karen Walasek, MFA, M.Ed., is a doctoral student of Sustainability and Education and a Graduate Assistant at the Writing Center for Prescott College. Her focus has been on the role that narrative and rhetoric play in fostering a more sustainable world.

Bibliography

Bell, L. A. (2010). Storytelling for social justice: Connecting narrative and the arts in antiracist teaching. New York: Routledge.

Brown, B. (2012). The power of vulnerability: Teachings on authenticity, connection, and courage. Sounds True.

Harvey, D. (2016). Neoliberalism is a political project: David Harvey on what neoliberalism actually is — and why the concept matters. Jacobin Magazine, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/07/david-harvey-neoliberalism-capitalism-labor-crisis-resistance/.

Klein, N. (2007). Shock doctrine: The rise of disaster capitalism. New York: Metropolitan Books.

Levy, P. (2013). Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the curse of evil. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.

Stuart, T. (2016, July 28). Jane Sanders: Why Bernie voters shouldn’t get over it. Retrieved July 29, 2016, from Rolling Stone : http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/jane-sanders-why-bernie-voters-shouldnt-get-over-it-w431428

 

 

Lessons from the Road

DSC_0228It’s been a year since our summer road trip. We’ve covered thousands of miles since then, punctuated by two frigid cross-country, storm-eluding, highway-closing for Wyoming wind, driving the snow-covered-dirt-road-detour for miles, turn-the-car-on-in-the-middle-of-the-night to warm our metal tent parked at countless rest areas, fast-red-road-country[1]  crisscrossing moves to the farm; all the while remembering, whom this land once nourished.

It’s almost as if it’s taken half the year to catch our breath! Soaking in our rural sanctuary for recovery; and perhaps, to also forget, for a short while, how long and large this beautiful country really is. But even with the hardships of the road, there has been a depth of value to traveling that has settled into our lives, a bit like muscle memory becoming stronger, turning micro trauma into awakened conviction.

We’re living in a socially constructed world of never-stopping and never-ending production. This supreme disconnection from our bodies is rooted in the belief that we are machines to be hammered by the ever-more-powerful extraction of our time, squeezing more-than-a- body-can-give into a predigested work week box. “I think; therefore I am, and I shall overcome this limitation of needs” becomes the mantra of the disposable; as if, Maslow’s wisdom can be erased; as if, even he didn’t go far enough when he appropriated much of his theory from First Peoples.[2] As if, in our pursuit of conquering nature, we have been turned against our own life needs, turned against the needs of all present and future life, ignoring in a great-profit-seeking-denial that we need to eat, sleep, love one another, and rest. And, we need to do all of this in a world overflowing with clean air, land, water and life.

Of course, that denial can easily be re-enacted on the road, like the time we drove from DSC_0014 Prescott, Arizona, to a campground on the coastal beach in one day to save money; the inhumane push through a 112 degree Mohave fraying my body and mind until right about the time we crossed the coastal range in the blackness of night with invisible ravines on her curvy roads. Thrown into an all-consuming panic, I forced Ron to slow to a snail’s pace. In my exhaustion, I could not keep from imagining falling into the abyss. Descartes might say he was right; my thoughts ruled over my imagination so powerfully that had I been the one driving they might have found us the next day at the bottom of a gorge but I would argue, of course, he was wrong.

He was dead wrong. The abyss was a metaphor for how wrong he has been for centuries, and how dangerously far we’ve fallen by following his lead. No one and no thought can control the sanctity of life, because contrary to the industrialized model, contrary to the miraculous advances in medical add-ons and interventions, contrary to the push to homogenize all-things-living into a one-size-fits-all-profit-seeking-DSC_0011commodity; life is not a machine. No matter how much we deny, no matter how many constructs we create; no matter how many wars are lost by someone, nor how many urban paradises spring up out of the desert, no matter how much cool technology Steve Jobs has created, nor how often bible pushers will tell us our bodies are evil; we are not machines.

[1] Fast Red Road is an amazing novel by indigenous writer Stephen Graham Jones. http://www.demontheory.net/

[2]  https://lincolnmichel.wordpress.com/2014/04/19/maslows-hierarchy-connected-to-blackfoot-beliefs/

Taking my trauma to the mountain

I went to the mountains with the overwhelming burden of my failing financial life embedded in my chest. Foreclosure, eviction, overdrawn checking account —I owned the whole ball—and it wormed its way to my deeper places like an alien parasite that grew and waited to burst through my chest taking my last bit of life force with it. It didn’t matter if everything else was going well in my life, that I was in my first year of a Ph.D. program that was expanding my horizons in ways I had never dreamed, that my chronic health issues were fading away due to interventions that no one expected to work so well, that my beautiful family was helping one another in all the nonmonetary ways beyond a mother’s wildest reveries, filled with a love, and compassion that surpassed anything I ever felt growing up. These whole-hearted accomplishments didn’t matter in a world that measured everything by late fees and economic bottom lines, that cared little for my family, or my life… or the precious grandchildren who might become homeless if I didn’t handle things right.

It didn’t matter if I was a casualty of a still looming financial crisis created by others, or if my husband Ron accidentally pushed the wrong button when opening his Fidelity Retirement account that sucked the five thousand dollars that would’ve circumvented all the above personal problems. No, it didn’t matter to our modern world if this single momentary error had created a cascading effect from which there was no normal safety net.

Terms and conditions, do not pass go, it does not matter if you didn’t mean to hit that key, no amount of begging or endless Interactive Voice Response button-pushing would return those funds, nor fix the gap between the financial industry’s refusal to accept any responsibility for service to the living world and the hardship they cause real people, like me.

None of this mattered; at least that is what the heaviness in my heart kept saying to me as I took to the mountain. Like Cheryl Strayed in Wild, I literally took it to the mountain and even walked for a bit on the Pacific Crest Trail, where I discovered a healing, though mine might not be as glamourous as the one Reese Witherspoon depicted in the film. I’m just an average person struggling, but I’m not alone in facing troubling times.

More importantly I am not alone in the quiet shame that isolates and paralyses all middle class people who have taken the escalator down, those who have individually internalized the blame for their downward spiral regardless if it was caused by the out of control recklessness which preceded the crash of 2008. I am not alone facing the financial trauma that has seeped over the land and fallen into the deep crevasses of our lives, dictating death wherever it turns.

We live in a time of blaming the victim, it’s our entire fault because downward mobility was a life choice we all made somewhere along the line. It’s our entire fault because we have some individual cancer gene, never mind the tons of toxic chemicals that are sprayed on our food supply or the chemicals leaching from fracked water into our deepest aquifers to fuel the profits of people who have more money than they can spend in a lifetime. We have internalized all the blame as they have extracted all the profits.

Shaming and blaming according to Brené Brown is epidemic in our culture. Our bodies treat it like trauma. It is a limbic response that no amount of thinking can solve. Check out Brown’s two Ted talks.

Vulnerable Talk

Shame Talk.

It might add a layer of depth, but it’s not necessary, for now. The main point I am making is that no amount of sleepless nights wracking my Ph.D. level thinking brain was going to help me out of this mess. I did not have a thinking problem, and intellectual prowess was not going to help me find my way out. I had a heart condition that only the mountain could cure.

So in spite of all the above looming over our lives, Ron and I climbed in our car on a crisp autumn day and headed toward Little Crater Lake on the other side of Wy’East on a single tank of gas. On the surface it was an assignment for my ecofeminist class, but any fool could tell you I desperately needed the sunshine to heal my soul. There’s plenty of research indicating that nature can heal us, a quick search on google scholar will no doubt bring forth the evidence, but it is not this evidence that we need. We need to go to the mountain and literally let her heal us. In the living world, that supports all life beyond our computer desks and paved streets; I found hope.

Little Crater Lake is crystal clear; its water springs from a deep aquifer escaping a crack in the Earth. The metaphor isn’t lost on me. I sit wrapped in my blanket on a tree stump, breathing in cool air and exhaling my pain. I had no idea how much hurt had been buried. It leaked in the woods, into the ground, and air. My ears rang with the sound of life. I had learned in my sustainability work about grandmother trees who feed the others whenever they faltered, and I imagined that somehow these woods would adjust to my pain and give me what I needed, too.

Feeding me whatever was required, as if the soup of life adjusted because I was there and I was in need. Trees, woods, earth, mountain, lake, embraced me. My most visceral experience began with a quiet and deep acceptance in my chest. The muscles around my heart released and I let go. We sat there until the sun receded, then we sauntered peacefully back to our car.

I wish I could say I recognized immediately the deep sense of gratitude I felt. It did not bubble up to my brain that fast, it’s hard to recognize when you’re experiencing a new lightness. It wasn’t until later when we came down from the hill that I began tallying everyone and everything I was grateful for. I still had no way of knowing how I was going to make ends meet, but the mountain offered me a bubble of relief, a space where a living world acknowledged my living trauma.

Maybe in the course of thanking people the answer would arise. Maybe you can help; maybe not. Maybe if we all vote for Bernie Sanders we can change course from our dead world economically driven model. Maybe we can rally against trade agreements that seek to further alienate us from a living world model, or maybe someone, somewhere will donate a dollar or two to my checking account. I have no idea.

What I do know is I have hope where it did not exist before. I have hope that I live in a generous world, because nature is generous and alive and I am alive in spite of the fact that I live in a culture of dead things evaluated by bottom lines. Bringing the living world back into our hearts means all of us doing what we can to help one another. It might feel a bit like a swan dive into an empty swimming pool, but then I remember that Little Crater Lake is deep and clear and generosity is what makes us alive. I pause and I wonder, what would happen if I offered my Bank of America account number to the world? # 485012933968 maybe nothing will happen. Maybe the answer lays elsewhere, an email with a job offering, cash for selling a car. I only wonder if generosity could keep us all from living on a cold street, in a dead cruel world. I wonder if people who can’t donate a dime could pay it forward in some other way, donating a warm thought to spread whatever they can to whoever comes within their own little neck of the woods.

I don’t think any of us will make it, if we don’t start somewhere. Life is generous. We have to stop thinking in terms of a closed system scarce economic model. Instead, of seeing an oak tree, for example, as wasteful because it drops so many useless seeds that never sprout, if we remember that her acorns feed, and her leaves rot, every year, to make earth. Only when we understand that she feeds a whole ecosystem do we get a picture of something beyond the scarcity of economic thinking. We see an abundant world that begins with our homes and holds an ever expanding responsibility to life. And then I wondered, what would happen if people returned to the national forests and claimed the rights of the commons, our lands, our forests, our Earth, our economic systems and demanded they work toward life itself?

Along with this thought hope sprouted long ears and a bushy tail, as a wolf visited me in my dreams. Amid my tossing and turning with worry, she came. She watched as I scrambled through garbage cans, her beauty shining rainbows across her guard hairs. I stood up and stared at her. And I knew at once. It was time to stop scrambling for trash at the bottom of the heap and time to live life in all of its vibrant glory. I have accomplished so many whole-hearted things in my life, bottom line be damned. You are not the measure of my worth, nor are you the measure of the worth of anything of living value. There was a gleam of something more, and knowing that I will do everything in my power to reveal the emperor’s new clothes of your phantom significance.

There is something rotten in Denmark: transforming life, scholarship, and writing toward a more sustainable paradigm —or —you’ve got the craft skills, now what are you going to do with it?

DSC_0032Anyone alive who is paying attention knows that we are on a crash course toward climate destruction and that the burning of fossil fuels is the key culprit. Any writer who is paying attention to the adjunct market post 2008 meltdown has noticed that adjuncts are not paid a living wage. There are a great many articles on the extractive crushing of the creative class, the war on education, non-whites, women and the environment. Our food is literally killing us as the militarized mindset of ever increasing pesticide use (let’s kill off the bad guys with bigger and bigger guns) is touted as the only way it can be done, but says who? Writers, of course. We are the ones making the culture, but do we take our role seriously enough? Have you thought about it? In what ways does your writing support or enable the paradigms of destruction that are racing us closer and closer to the tipping points of planetary collapse?

When I left Goddard with my MFA certificate in hand granting me all the rights and privileges associated with that degree, I had the gnawing sense that there was something rotten in Denmark. No offense to my Goddard colleagues, professors or even Shakespeare, but it bothered me that one could craft a beautifully articulated blueprint for a dying planet that could be considered a literary masterpiece that left its readers filled with remorse and hopelessness. It is as if in our esteemed postmodern world we were all subjects of some grand cultural machine that we inevitably had no control over. The only thing that mattered to this machine was how expertly we crafted our sentences while passively describing the rising waters of Anthropocene’s doom and gloom. Oops, stop! You used a cliché. You don’t want to use a cliché, that’s blasphemy! And yet the paradigms that promote a dying planet are not blasphemous? How did we get here and do we know what we are doing? Pardon me for drawing unsubstantiated conclusions, but something tells me there’s a disconnect in the mind of writers that has a heavy sprinkling of denial, and it’s not that we are creative dreamers and have our heads in the sky. It’s something far deeper and darker than that. Who among the numerous MFA programs out are there are talking about the responsibility of the writer in promoting social change?

What about that doom and gloom, no-way-out scenario? Is there something disingenuous and inherently passive in those action scenarios that promote a survival of the fittest paradigm, only to pull a bad sarcastic cosmic joke in the end with a “Guess what! Nobody is fittest, nor a hero, and we all die; hearty har, har.” And we call that believable, realistic, or noteworthy, while anything that falls outside this paradigm is Pollyanna, Mary Sue; or heavens forbid, idealistic or romantic chick lit!

In his book, Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff makes the point that the words and metaphors we choose shape how we think. My first stop post Goddard was a M.Ed. in education at Portland State University where I dabbled in rhetoric, conflict resolution, sustainability and indigenous nation’s studies. It was here that I also came across the work of LeAnn Bell in a Storytelling for Social Change class. Bell used storytelling as a tool for addressing racism. She categorized stories as dominant, concealed, resistance, and emerging (or transformative). Most of the stories in popular Western culture fall into the dominant story category. They tell us that those wolves on Wall Street control the world and that our planet is dying and we are helpless to do anything about it. They are the ones that say money is the only thing anyone cares about and life is nothing more than a complicated a con game. If we want to follow the plot twists, all we have to do is follow the money. The concealed stories, of course, if I dare get political here in my professional essay, the concealed stories include those like the ones that Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are telling. The concealed story is the one that David Graeber tells in his book, Debt the First Five Thousand Years, where he reveals how monetary debt and true obligation are NOT the same thing. The resistance stories include those of Black Lives Matter or the ones about that tribe of brave indigenous people in Brazil who are literally fighting for their lives to stop the Bela Monte dam. (http://amazonwatch.org/work/belo-monte-dam

I think as a writer the most important question I can ask myself is “Whose story am I telling?”

Read More at: The Writer in the World

The Scope of the Land: zooming in and out to find real hope

DSC_0036When Ron and I left for our seven thousand mile road trip almost six weeks ago I knew it would change me. It’s something we used to expect from “vacations”, especially back in the day when family vacations were part of the norm and summertime promised a much needed long respite from the trials of K-12. Back in the not so long ago days when it was common knowledge that renewal was a necessary reset period that enables the hard work of childhood; we understood something about living that somehow we seem have to lost. These days we call it self-care, as if the sole responsibility lies within our own scope of action alone. In Prescott, Arizona the autumn callback to school is hallowed by the sonic return of the DSC_0146cicadas. For me back in the New Jersey suburban landscape of my youth it was the sound of the school bus. For me today, staying in the home of a friend in Santa Rosa, California while waiting on some car repairs before finally heading home to Portland, Oregon, it is the calling of my doctoral work. I am renewed and ready, but first I’ll pause to share the results of our, written with revolutions of turning wheels, grand reflective lesson plan for this particular road trip— One that could only be deciphered fully in hindsight.

DSC_0004One of the first things I noticed early on was how badly I needed the break. Even though graduate work is not physically strenuous, the all-consuming mental work is, at its core, still hard work. I already knew our bodies don’t know the difference between mental and physical stress and responds as if it is the same; and yet, there was this powerful cultural voice inside of me that forgot one important fact, I am human. I think in our nonstop around the clock modern life, we are charmed into thinking we are above and beyond anything that resides below our neck.

We spend so much time in our minds strategizing our next moves and hooked up to our varying methods of measuring our own worth that we tend to forget what is concrete, DSC_0034what is real. To be honest, I was a bit surprised that I, of all people, had fallen prey to
the trance of this modern life, the one that fooled me to imagine that I can
push my body beyond all reasonable expectations.

I was once a midwife who knew that bodies needed nutrient dense foods, nurturing care, and lots of healthy restful sleep. It’s ironic that even with my myriad of health issues I am still susceptible to this mind-over-body pair of blinders, the one that ignores my bodily needs for some culturally defined need. It screams false claims that it’s a mere personal choice of how far I can push DSC_0126myself. It insists that a strong will and hard work will pull me through all of life’s obstacles. Yet, upon reflection, most of us recognize; this is all lies. The exact opposite is, in fact, true. No amount of pushing back on the inevitable will get any of us past being a living human, alive upon a living planet that feeds us. With the smallest amount of time for reflection, we know ignoring our human needs won’t make them go away any more than ignoring the cries of a dying planet will avoid environmental collapse.
As we drove across the landscape I drank in the quietness like a thirsty child. The results were far better than any medicine. My cortisol levels dropped. I slept hard and woke up refreshed. By the time we got to the Northern lakes in Minnesota to hear the loons call beneath a full moon, I had lost weight—weight that had previously clung to my bones refusing to leave no matter what diet I tried. It was as if in the chaotic trauma of my workday stress, my body was storing up survival food for the whisper of an extended winter. When I finally found some downtime and  my body relaxed, the quiet landscape having convinced it not to worry anymore, I finally let go of the extra survival package. Suddenly I remembered! It’s not frivolous, or lazy to unwind and reflect on the world. It’s necessary to our survival and well-being. There are studies that have shown the wonderful effects of nature on our bodies. In our packed lives surrounded by nonstop input we can completely forget that we come from the natural world. This road trip changed all that for me. That it took such a dramatically long trip for me to renew is more telling about my stress levels than any other single thing.

DSC_0021Once I recovered from my civilized life, however, the first thing I noticed was how big and beautiful this country is. I noticed the water, or lack of it. I noticed the dark and the stars, and how utterly foreign it felt to reenter an urban world. Edmund Burke might have lamented over the civility lost in order to birth a conservative mindset, a mindset that seeks to define artificially imposed order, but I DSC_0030lamented over the strangely blind cruelty of dead things erupting from a landscape of living things. When we arrived at the skin of Buffalo, New York the GPS went haywire and the car overheated, as if our machines also felt the sudden increase in static and overloaded with the awkward reentry into civilization and reunion with family we hadn’t seen in well over twenty years.

DSC_0071If the first third of our trip’s purpose was connecting with the land and my own body’s needs, the second purpose was connecting with family, both blood and spiritual family. It was an odd punctuation of diving deep, recalling past intimacies and revealing current connections and realities. I could see my own children and grandchildren in the faces of my niece’s children. They, of course, share much of the same genetic history, but the likeness was striking. sunset vineyard crossingAlthough our stay was only for a night, and in some cases as the meeting continued with of other family members, even if only a mere hour or two, in each case, I couldn’t help but feel the strong connection and love bond that is woven into the fabric of our lives. Separation by time and miles is an illusion born of disconnection.

DSC_0109Stripped of our daily social commitments and vulnerable to the uncertainties of open road, each visit was an oasis mixed with unfathomable generosity, gratitude and intimacy. I felt honored and humbled by the connections we were making. Then I was reminded of something that Larry Merculieff had said to a group of Portland State University Indigenous Nation Studies students. Larry is an Aleut native taught both in the old ways of his people and in the world of academia. He told us many wonderful stories, but the one thing that stood out to me DSC_0160was the greeting his people spoke to one another, which translated into English as, “Hello my other self”. It dawned on me how this trip helped me capture the meaning of those words in my body. It resonated with me in both my heart and my head. It became apparent that no matter how bizarre and weird urban civilization seemed, once inside the circle of loved ones, everything became real again. Within us the deep connection between the macrocosm of the land and the microcosm of family grew together. What was hard to reconcile was the in-between world. If you hurt the land you are hurting my family, you are hurting yourself. The social constructs of society are DSC_0032failing both the land and the people. The social
constructs lied to us and tell us its narrowly defined economic view of the world is the only reality. I am not a stranger to the notion that money creates the world, nor the arrogance of those who believe that they make  reality in their own image even as the polar caps
are melting and forest fires are consuming the Pacific Northwest. For the love of land and life, this false notion needs to be uprooted and rearranged. How do we do this so it is the least disruptive to those we love?DSC_0079

The third braid of our trip is the weaving of both Ron and my academic pursuits in sustainability, social Innovation and education. The trip itself has been bookended by DSC_0037two significant conferences. Just a month before setting out we attended the ASLE conference in Moscow, ID. . Although I presented some of my fledgling theories on the link between gender and ecocide in a workshop, the highpoint for me, if I can call it that, was the undercurrent of devastating grief that participants were sharing about wholesale destruction of life on the planet; how helpless students felt when professors revealed the realities of climate change. I think Per Espen Stoknes captures the feeling best in his article, The Great Grief: How To Cope with Losing Our World,  And yet, it was important for me to not only understand the gravity of what was being lost, but to find my way around the hopelessness through to actions that would DSC_0081turn it around before it is too late. My grief turned to anger, like many of us who wanted to string up a long line of trophy hunters whose trite egos somehow think it is appropriate to claim the endangered. But anger like dystopias can only lead us so far. The answer I discovered was in the lovely Soil Not Oil conference held in Richmond, CA. http://soilnotoilcoalition.org/ Thank you, Miguel, for all of your hard work on this one; and for bringing Vandana Shiva to speak.
Vandana’s physicist’s ability to make connections that the so-called real world of agribusiness can’t seem to see has changed my life. The conference was packed with
Miguell and Vendanareal world visionaries like Vandana; activists whose feet were deeply rooted in the soil of the Earth. In one ten minute presentation alone I caught the reality that we really can turn this thing around. Climate change can be stopped. Yes, you heard me right. Climate change can be stopped, if we put the carbon that we’ve taken from the Earth and return it to ground. The real kicker is that it will bring health, wealth and happiness to all those we love. It’s called regenerative agriculture, and it works. The results and the proof are in.  All we need to do now is to dismantle and
rearrange the industrial agricultural model to one that works for everyone. We need to stop measuring success by the narrow-minded and finite perimeters of the commodities market. The landscape and our loved ones are far greater than that. Now that I am at the tail end of this road trip I know where I stand. My internal GPS is fully charged and the path is clear. You won’t hear anymore words from me about our dying planet. The concept of the Anthropocene is already outdated. This Earth is my home. My family depends on it. My grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren will thrive. vendanaAnything less is unacceptable. The great turning is here and now, and we all  need to embrace this reality, we need to return the carbon to the ground. It’s the only reality that matters. All the rest are distractions and lies. The lesson plan is completed, and now all we need to do is enact it. But first, do yourself a favor; take the necessary time to reflect on this, you owe it to yourself, your family and the world.

In Context: the relationships that nurture a resilient future

I wouldn’t be honest if I said this road trip had not begun with any structural or thematic perimeters. Punctuated by sustainability residences at both Goddard College goddard-college-logo in the northeast and Prescott College in the southwest, it should be a dead giveaway, we are writers with activism living in our hearts. Yet even with the obvious focus of the largest periods of rest during this trip, we hadn’t fully embraced the sustainability asprescottpect until we attended the Association in Literature and the Environment (ASLE) conference just a few weeks prior to leaving.http://www.aslebiennialconference.com/

I was presenting my ideas on gender and we both got an earful of wonderful plenary speakers and workshops (including one our favorite indigenous writers, Linda Hogan! http://www.lindahoganwriter.com/) If you have an opportunity to attend an ASLE conference, please do. It only happens every two years, but we learned so much about seeing our work through an environmentalist lens and how we might be able to garner resources among those of like mind whether they are creative writers or not. Did you know there is a category of fiction called CLI-FI as in climate fiction? Just check out some titles at http://eco-fiction.com/ While writer’s are constantly trying to defy categorization, sometimes finding you fit a category you never knew existed is a bit like returning home to lost family and finding a whole culture of support. I’m learning to be careful with my metaphors. I wanted to say it was a goldmine, but then given the recent horrific goldmine spill in the Animas River in Southern Colorado made me rethink the metaphor. For me, that’s the intersectionality writers need to be exploring. In what ways do we support the status quo?

Which brings me back to the other bookend for our trip that I want to bring to your attention before we get into some road stories blogging, in case you might like to plan ahead a little bit and show up. If you are in the area or nearby, please come! Ron and I are honored to play a small role in the upcoming bay area Soil Not Oil Conference featuring Vandana Shiva as a keynote. Although we will be discussing with writers how to change the paradigm in our workshop and would love to see you, the coolest part of conference will be the workshops and presentations by so many great people working for a more resilient future. And so please consider this a public service announcement of our context. We exist, because there is soil. Ironically when we move beyond the catastrophic doomsday scenario that our relationship with oil has claimed for us, we discover we do have alternatives and its roots lie in the soil. Regenerative agriculture is rich with new metaphors for writers, new metaphors for all of us. Come and find out! http://soilnotoilcoalition.org/