Kitchen Table Revolution, Interrupted

On Friday, my Mom and I spent the day in the kitchen talking about a revolution.  Well, we were talking about the state of the world, daring to broach our  fears about countless taboo topics.

What happens when we all find out that Al Gore has been right?  What happens when people really start to run out of water?  How many links in the chain have to break before our global network of food distribution?  How many days of product are in an average supermarket?  For a proud liberal, why do I have a funny perspective on guns that I don’t talk about much?  In what part of the psyche and the spirit should stories like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or Jean Hegland’s Into the Forest reside?

Ach, Marisa!  What are you doing to your dear readers on a Monday morning?  The sun isn’t even up yet and with gloomy thoughts like this you are practically daring it not to rise!

Fear not, if you are anything like Mom and me you will plunge into your seas of worry and dredge up all of your 3 a.m. thoughts even though it is the middle of the day.  But then you’ll get up for another cup of tea and the phone will ring and you’ll pay the cable bill or head to the dentist and you’ll pretty much forget this little dip into the nastiest recesses of your “what if…?” consciousness.

Of course, we all do this.  I, for one, have no idea how I would get through each day, full of all sorts of mundane beauty and banal ugliness, if I was truly tuned into my concerns about the state of our collective future.  It is pretty much impossible to fully enjoy an infant’s laugh if you allow yourself to focus on all the evils that might endanger it.

And so we engage in these impassioned discussions and stir up the sediment that our modern, Western, wasteful lives have created in the riverbeds of our awareness and then we start making dinner.  The conversation I had with my mom was so amazing and touched on so many important topics, it had me wanting to take meeting minutes.  But, I had my hands full with the baby when I was not clearing up the endless piles of clutter and I never got around to writing til right this Monday morning minute.

If I had had the chance to play scribe and record the litany of ills and the faint glimmers of solution would we be any closer to solving any of the world’s problems?  The tragedy of the whole conversation was that, as much as we were both so invigorated to trade ideas mother to daughter and back again and to flow along in the tides of conversation, we really felt pretty powerless.  Talking about Washington’s party politics and the conservative pundits’ maniacal desire to debase our president’s every action and motive left us rather deflated.  We were saved by a gently shaken snow globe of a January day  and by an infant just discovering her voice.  A baby who has not yet had to worry about the lies that the media propagates and the impossible search for truth.

We are not powerless, of course.  We have the loving bonds that allow us to dive deep and surface together.  It is as true that enough of these conversation will change the world as it is necessary to believe that they can.

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Frugality Is Not a Crime

German chapel ornament

When you have to do it, belt-tightening’s no joke. But, gladly, most Americans don’t have to — not even in this economy. […]

If you’re blessed with good fortune in these hard times, you’re not helping anyone if you let frugality chic stop you and yours from having a very Merry Christmas indeed.

I nearly choked on my soy milk when I heard this commentary on Marketplace this morning. It’s yet another story about how resisting the urge to spend as much as possible this Christmas makes you worse than Scrooge – it makes you the scourge of capitalism and the American way of life.

I make no claims about having much knowledge of the economy. Nearly all of my news comes from NPR, and I know that’s not like being a daily reader of the Wall Street Journal. Maybe the commentator, Will Wilkinson, is exactly right and austerity is one of the factors that makes an already shaky economy begin to look even worse.

My issue is not with this interpretation of the the law of supply and demand, it is that we are stuck in a system that can only be salvaged if we acquire more stuff.

Wasn’t it greed that got us into this problem in the first place? How can buying more Gap sweaters in bizarre colors just because they are on sale and your sweetie should have a few more boxes to open make the world any more livable?

Change is a scary thing. Realizing that the global economic structures are being turned upside down and may never look the same again is frightening. Trying to imagine what might come after U.S. domination seems unfathomable for most of us in these fifty states.

Clinging to the very structures that have been proven to betray us is not helping matters. Continuing to shop like everything is normal isn’t the soothing balm the ad campaigns and the radio experts are trying to convince us it is.

detail of our treeWhat if we are choosing to buy less and handcraft more? What if it just makes sense to give to charity instead of purchase a book that your uncle will never give himself time to read? What if this down economy, even if you are yet unscathed, is just the reason you were looking for to ditch materialism and show your family you love them by giving them less clutter, not more?

I cannot believe that this financial crisis is just a fluke of the markets. With all of the internal shifts that are forcing people to look at their lives in entirely new ways, we need our relationship with money and consumerism to be transformed as well.

Our souls need room to breathe. Wouldn’t there be a lot more time to figure out how to do that if we spent less time in the mall and less time dusting our new trinkets?

Our earth needs room to breathe. Won’t easing the yearly December burden of delivery trucks and crowded landfills and depleted resources be the greatest gift you could give to your Mother this holiday?

Open to Change, Receptive to Healing

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What if it’s true? What if, truly, “we are the ones we have been waiting for“?

I have always loved this phrase. First I heard it on the lips of women who inspired me. Then I found June Jordan who first strung those words together in her powerful, earth-shifting poem. Alice Walker gave us a book that borrowed the line for its title. And then of course there was Barack Obama who turned the phrase into a something more than a campaign slogan and made it mean something national and something real.

The election results are a month old now, but all that shiny hope cannot have worn away yet, right? The inauguration is still ages away, so I am sure that we are all just marinating in possibility. Aren’t we?

I ask that question because there is a sneaky little part of me worries that complacency will creep in. And perhaps it already has in some ways. The economy is still sliding downward. Cabinet picks are less sexy than frenzied chants of “Yes we can!” Christmas is coming and there are too many thing to get done in the next three weeks to even remember all that election night champagne

This was not intended to be a post about post-election let down, nor am I trying to let a big old cynical moon eclipse our gorgeous new sun. Our lightning-fast news cycle would have us believe that such musings are so three weeks ago anyway.

I am actually thinking about the changes that I am seeing take root in my own life and in the lives of the people around me. These changes have nothing to do with the political and have everything to do with the personal. Of course, we know that eventually, those two spheres almost always start to blend together

Though I have been practicing Reiki for eight years, I have begun to dedicate myself to the path of a healer in the last year since I have been enrolled in a Healing Arts School. The beautiful sense of wisdom that finally takes root when we find we’re closer to the middle of our lives than to the beginning, combined with what I have learned in my classes, has totally shifted my perspective on the world. I know its been a long process, but suddenly I realize I am able to articulate my interest in alternative health and offer what abilities I have in service to others.

This evolution in the way I can be honest about my belief in our power to heal ourselves and the possibility of finding true wellness outside the strict confines of typical Western medicine has been downright infectious. Trusting in the intuitive power of my hands and others’ desire to heal, I have been able to offer my warm touch to people who never would have been receptive to such “out there,” “new age” ideas. I think this is successful both because I take a quiet approach, casually introducing what I do and what I believe and then allowing people to open up to me in any way they can and because I have new confidence in what I do.

People’s new sense of receptivity has very little to do with me, however. I am just lucky enough to have had the chance to observe it. Something within the individual is shifting. There is the recognition that the road we have all been careening along together is doing us more harm than good and that we need to find a new way.

If we are the change that we have been waiting for, we have to realize that change is here, now. Despite all the chaos in this world, people are finding the ability to open themselves up to new experiences and new wisdom.

How can we access and live this change ourselves and how can be the midwives of change for others?

My Table In the Town Square: Why I’m OK with being a blogger now

The internet is, quite simply, the new town square. Nothing more and nothing less, and in that square, there are utter idiots yelling at the tops of their lungs about crap, but there are small tables surrounded by people having true, powerful discourse. There are people handing out pamphlets. People on soap boxes. And then there are people strolling through, feeling a bit more alive, a bit more connected just by observing.

BlissChick has unwittingly become my muse of late. The above is her comment on yesterday’s post about self promotion, the strange necessity that we creative types have to come to grips with if we want to be heard about the chattering crowd.

Photo by Nathan Berry
Prague Square by Nathan Berry

She paints such a brilliant picture – I can see myself in this square. I want to be one of those people sitting at one of those tables, engaged in the sorts of conversations that change lives. The talk would be so brilliant that my companions and I can tune out the blowhards and the fear mongers and the endless trails of paparazzi fueled gossip.

At the same time, I remember thinking that this is a great metaphor, but I’ve never been a part of a town square like that, at least not in this country. In Europe I think I have been one of those passersby, enlivened by watching the locals acting out their lives in one of those bustling public spaces. Here in the States, however, those town squares, if they exist at all, may fill up for the Fourth of July parade, but otherwise remain a little forlorn, no longer the heart of the community.

It seems like the Internet came in to fill a serious void that we may all have been experiencing for quite a while. How long has it been since we lived in lively villages where expression and relationship ruled the day?dsc008212 Part of me wonders if those places every really existed, until I recall our friends’ more than idyllic village, Dornburg in eastern Germany. There, it might have become a wee bit claustrophobic, but it was incredible to walk the narrow lanes and know that everyone knew everyone else’s name.

Somehow I think I had myself convinced that blogging and all this virtual communication was somehow suspect, that this new means of communication had somehow stamped out a more vivid personal set of interactions. I worried that it was a pale facsimile of something better and more pure that once existed before. In fact, the ways that people communicate has always been in flux and rather than being the destructive force, the Internet gives us new ways to talk to each other that never would have been possible in the confines of a tiny town square. (I never read this book, but the title comes to mind when I start dipping into the topic of isolation and disconnection in American society.)

I know that none of these are new revelations, but one of the main functions of this this blog is help me really understand what might have seemed so obvious but which needed closer examination so that I could truly know. After months of writing in this space it is probably strange that I am only coming to peace with this practice now, but I suppose everything has to blossom and take root in its own time.

What can we do to make the conversations that we have on these far-flung flickering screens come to life in our offline worlds? How can we breath life into all of the community spaces we inhabit?

Self Promotion: The Blog Versus the Big Box Store

The ever brilliant BlissChick sent me a note with some suggestions that might help me bring more readers to my itsy bitsy corner of the virtual world. She made some great points in a gentle and generous fashion that have really set me thinking about everything from my blog platform to my means of expression (long tangly sentences anyone?).

It also got me thinking about self promotion.

A chat with a friend today brought this phrase to my attention. At first it seemed like a real turn off. A bizarre behavior exhibited by salesmen who constantly passed out business cards.

When I realized that maintaining a blog and trying to increase readership is one big game of self promotion I started to feel a little sick. What have I been doing? Selling myself like some tattooed contestant on Rock of Love?

Of course, we engage in self promotion in countless ways – writing a resume, creating a Facebook account, telling others about our trades as healers or carpenters or pastry chefs. There are famous authors out there who wrote in isolation, only being published posthumously, but they are few and far between. Now, the artists and writers we know are also clever business people. If one enjoys recognition for her creativity it often means that the creator is engaging in some very conscious practices aimed at attracting an audience.

When I finally absorbed the shock that this Girl Who Cried Epiphany wants to engage in some self promotion of her own, I could follow my friend through a conversation about the way that this online world is shaping our vision of community.

As a 29 year old who came of age when AOL chat rooms were cool places to be, I don’t have a real perspective on how the Internet has shaped the way we engage in our passions and communicate our interests and talents.

  • What do we gain and what do we lose by typing daily snippets aimed at eliciting immediate responses from strangers rather than shaping a novel that, even if it published, promises to keep readers at arm’s length?
  • Was the spiritual quest more powerful when it was about solitary contemplation and some thoughts jotted in a journal rather than these endless field notes written not just as a record of personal experience, but as a product of some kind to be devoured by others?

Before I go spinning off to ask a million different questions sparked by this train of thought, I must return to this discussion of this grassroots movement to get our ideas and visions into the public sphere.

Is it a little frightening that we live in a culture where everyone needs to broadcast his or her stories, be they about last night’s pub crawl or the antics of the pet chihuahuas or a successful meditation session? Yes, I think it is – if we are just obsessed with spewing the unprocessed content of our lives into the electronic world as a substitute for actually being present.

BUT, I think there can be great power found in this ability to craft our lives and passions into narratives that help both writer and reader understand a little more about what it means to be human, if we do it with a liberal helping of consciousness.

My friend made the great point that, in this age of consumerism, as we watch the rise and fall of the big box stores, blogs and this non-commercialized version of self promotion is actually incredibly healthy and necessary. Bring on the Etsy sites and the late night scribblings – it is our best (and cheapest) way to stand against a monochromatic culture that is sold in bulk at a Black Friday sale.

The Exploitation of Mining for Inspiration

During a long ride this weekend I came across a new Public Radio International program, To the Best of Our Knowledge. They were doing an entire show about sadness and depression. The final segment was dedicated to a San Antonio artist, Michale Nye, who created photographic and audio portraits of sixty homeless individuals troubled by mental illness.

After profiling many of his subjects, the interviewer asked “If you could wipe out mental illness tomorrow would you? … Is there a function for this sort of sadness and pain? Do we need these people in our culture?”

He replied,

I see them as teachers, not as people with mental illness. They are helping us, there is a function. They are helping us understand more about ourselves and humanity. We need them for understanding, for insight, for courage. I found myself being inspired over and over. We need to listen to people challenged in their lives. I remember Virginia Woolf in her diaries said that we need to look at the landscapes of our lives and see that pain and sorrow reveal some truths.

Since Woolf published the descriptions of her suffering and they became part of the literary canon, it seems completely ethical to draw those sorts of lessons from the difficulties she had with being human. I am not so sure that it is fair to speak from a place of mental health and say that people’s whose lives have been ripped apart by unstoppable inner turmoil are necessary to teach the rest of us courage and offer inspiration. Isn’t this the height of solipsism, of deepest egocentrism that maintains that the rest of the world exists purely for our own edification?  Is the artist seeing his subjects as inspirational opportunities rather than real people caught in tragic circumstances?  Is their suffering being justified since it can be made into a chance for us to contemplate the nature of pain and sorrow?

I listened to this story through the filter of a conversation I had with my sister last week. I was trying to comfort her as her childhood friend lay dying of melanoma, but I was failing miserably since there are no words when a twenty-six year old’s life is being stolen away by cancer. Trying to help, I offered the possibility that she had touched countless lives in a special way with her early passing by teaching us life can be woefully brief and that we must revel in each moment we are granted on this beautiful earth. My sister reacted bitterly to this statement by declaring that there was no way that her friend was dying to show a bunch of stupid people that life was precious. She was finding solace in the belief that her friend was blessed to have spread all the love she needed to in a quarter of a decade, that she was a perfect enough soul that she didn’t need as much time on the planet as the rest of us.

Clearly, my sister was looking at the situation with a much finer wisdom than I could summon. Now, I am beginning to recognize the degrees of selfishness that are involved in everything from coping with death to creating art to thanking our lucky stars that we have clear, obedient minds. The stories of others can certainly color our perspective and enrich our own experiences, but we must never reduce another’s truth to a simplistic cautionary tale.

How can we learn to understand the deepest realities of the lives of the women and men who share this journey with us? How do we begin to recognize the fullness of others’ experiences so that we never keep those who suffer from illness or poverty as distanced figures, there only to teach a little something about the treacherous road of life?

My sister’s friend passed away on Thursday. I want to remind everyone to worship the sun at dawn and dusk, but respect its fiery, deadly glory at noontime. But I also ask that you think on a sweet Cape Cod girl who left this world too soon and realize the hole left in the fabric of an entire tapestry of lives.

The Girl Who Cried Feminism

After hearing the rave reviews, we just started watching Mad Men on DVD. After only two episodes I understand how compelling the show is, not just because of clever dialog set in a fascinating time, but because it is like watching a well orchestrated car wreck. Red meat, chain smoking, drinks before noon, these are nothing compared to the devastating treatment that every woman on the show endures. It is like watching a worst case scenario doomsday movie, but then you realize it’s not fantasy. These women could be my grandmothers and they were on the front lines of this seemingly impossible war against militant, but oh-so-gentile, sexism every day.

Discovering feminism in college was like finding out there were new shades on the color wheel. I was born in 1979 and have never withstood a fraction of what women fifty years ago met each day, but I took to the canon of modern feminism like that fish on a bicycle took to water. Exploring my identity as a woman gave me the Goddess, a sense of independence, and inspired my entire academic path. It also armed me against a few of the demeaning pitfalls that mark the experiences of most nineteen year old girls.

Almost a decade later, my feminist edge begins to dull and my sharp critique of the media become a little less strident. Removed from the sphere of activism and late night dorm room rants and now living with a man who teaches me to laugh at my own earnestness, I have shed most of my intense radicalism. Though my liberal backbone remains strong, I find that opinions intended to shock and exclude the uninitiated hold little allure now. I had to marinate in the purest feminist ideals so that I could eventually emerge a woman who could survive in a world that may not be as damning as 1960s New York, but certainly still nurtures chauvinism and enduring double standards.

I cannot be alone in this sort of evolution from blatant f-you feminism to a more internalized sense of power and presence. Two of the most important voices in my feminist education seem to have found themselves on similar path: Sinead O’Connor and Ani DiFranco.

No Man’s Woman” and “Not a Pretty Girl“? These were my anthems and I still need them sometimes to remind me of who I was, of the bits of steal at the foundation of this softer persona I now use to greet the world. Sinead has since had her own odyssey of faith and discovery and speaks to God rather than the men in her life in albums like Theology. Ani just released Red Letter Year, and though I will probably never love her newer music like I did those essential first eleven or twelve albums (yeah, she’s wicked prolific), I still respect what she is creating. The righteous rage still burns, but she looks at the world as a mother now, and as I near that phase of my life, I think I can understand how her anger smolders at a different temperature. The love of a lioness for her cub is much more evocative than rebellion for the sake of pissing someone off, and her music speaks to me in this new space

When I skip the feminist blogs I used to read avidly and instead seek sites about the soul, the environment, creativity, or the politics of race, am I abandoning the feminism that gave me freedom to engage in such topics? Or, instead, can I satisfy myself with the belief that the ideas are integral to my work and that women’s wisdom is working its magic at every turn? Can I find a way to follow my own path without worrying that I forget my sisters who redraw their feminist stripes every day so that the rest of us do not have to?