Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Moon and Stars

A few things have happened recently.

First, I saw a few scenes of Romeo and Juliet[1]. While the whole play doesn’t pack quite the shattering cataclysmic wallop that it did when I was fifteen, the power of the words remains very alive. Theirs is an unreasonable passion. The sheer certainty and urgency of their love screams off the iambic pentameter at a frequency that has resonated in so many different hearts for four hundred years. And now, the weight of all those centuries of hearts is stacked behind the words.

Second, President Obama again shied away from speaking directly and urgently and effectively towards an efficient and sustainable energy source. And all the while, the world's climate seems to grow more and more strange and unpredictable. It is frightening that the powerful are not acting on this growing and certain urgency.

These are both nothing more or less than tragic love stories, really.

We are captivated by the legends and myths and traditions of single answers. We search for Romeo or Juliet, we long for a leader to fulfill all our hopes and dreams.

At her balcony, Juliet asks Romeo to swear that he loves her. He begins to swear by the moon, and she stops him because the moon is inconstant and she worries that his love will “prove likewise variable.”

I think of the moon, variable though it is. When it is out, it is the biggest and brightest and nearest thing in the night sky. And there is a glorious beauty in the moon. Had Romeo and Juliet managed to survive more than a week, I think they would have been glad of all the ways that the variability of the moon is an apt metaphor for love, even eternal love. It shifts, it changes, it grows, it wanes and waxes and changes shape and size depending on time and our own perceptions of where we are in relation to that inconstant moon in its circled orb. Moonlight falls differently on our faces, across our pillows variably by the season, dependant on our sleep cycles and window access. Some nights and most days, you cannot see the moon, but it is always there. There are some loves that are like this.

However, if you are relying only on moonlight, your heart will always have empty nights.

Let us remember and now praise the stars. In their multitude, there is something more like how we accurately we love and are loved. See the patterns of constellations, their form and stories, as a network. Personally, I love too many people and places and things in this world, in too many different ways, for too many reasons, to believe being static, stagnant definition of love. 

Since I learned them, I have found constellations comforting. Out of the vastness of the night sky comes familiarity, resonance, an upside down grounding of something eternal. It is akin to finding a friend in a crowd of thousands. We forget, sometimes, how deeply we are loved and by how many. I am always humbled and overwhelmingly grateful to remember this. Because, too often, we only look to the moon, only for the moon. And, everything is richer and more beautifully complex than a single bright, even brilliant, light.

I think of this in many ways. In how we love each other as humans, in how we look for leaders and figureheads and rescuing heroes to make a better world. At the Martin Luther King, Jr. assembly at my school, I thought of how we easily align ourselves behind one great leader and think less about the collection of unremembered individuals who stood alongside, supported, worked in concert with one person's efforts. That is a constellation of love, more varied and interesting perhaps than the hero who has come to symbolize the passion of many.

It is hard to not just look at the moon if it is large and present, hard to remember the stars. In that light, I was hoping, this week, that President Obama would address the Keystone XL Pipeline in his State of the Union speech and make effective strides towards taking control of our planet's future. There was an opportunity for leadership on a corner of the issue that, when I just checked the forecast, it is warmer in Anchorage than Atlanta. And, while I understand that there are many and complex issues that the leader of our fractious nation would be compelled to address, it is as heartbreaking as ever to not see such the fossil fuel industry’s hijacking of our planet fully acknowledged, named as the challenge to be faced.

But then, again, this was looking too much at the moon and not remembering the stars. I wanted a few words, from one person, to fix everything that is broken. I wanted an external solution, someone to tell me what to do because that is easier than the simultaneous internal and collaborative approach that actually saving the world from ourselves, our unsustainable desires, will entail. I wanted to see the full moon shining, not do the harder work of building a scrappy network among stars. But, no solution, no happiness, no eternal anything comes from a single source. I do not believe in silver bullets any more than I believe in each person having a single, perfect, soul mate.

Again, I believe in the stars, in the networks and movements of people who come together out of love to form a picture, a story, a support system, a movement. Certainly, there will be leaders who speak the right words to wake people up a little. And, thankfully, people will still get up everyday and fall in love with each other, like Romeo and Juliet—hopefully with better results. The moon, these seeming single answers to all our aches and longings, we do not need to fully give up on these entities or the quest for them. But to see them, still, for what they are: part of the light.

We need to realize the richness of the night sky, the panoply of light sources, the variety and angles and stories and actions of how we love each other on this planet. We need to remember our own lights too, that we are stars in our loved ones constellations, that we are the faces and bodies and hearts that the world at large needs. It is hard to loosen our grip on old legends, but this awakened plurality is what is eternal and ever evolving and undefinable, and where all good things will come from. 

[1] Available here, about the 3rd through 6th minute should do the trick. 

(The Lawrence Tree, by Georgia O'Keefe, from

Monday, January 20, 2014

Poe, Dreams, and the Revolution

Edgar Allan Poe is not who I usually look to for inspiration, unless I need to hide an enemy in a wine cellar or undermine the structural integrity of a house. But, nonetheless, I recently read his poem “A Dream Within A Dream” and came away lighter.

“Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?”

Dear Edgar: No. All that we see and seem and dream of can be made real, is being realized.

In the last day, I have eaten meals with a cook, a landscape designer, an academic sustainability coordinator, and a PhD candidate in revolutionary botany. We, all, naturally fell into discussing how to save the world. I used to have these conversations only with the people I trusted most, the people I sensed were already on the same page. I didn’t want to expose the beating heart of my hopes to eyes that might be unfriendly. And so such things grow until one can become sure and brave enough to talk with newly met strangers, friends of friends, about the challenges of the world, and more deeply, the paths and the rewards of rising to those challenges.

The bedrock of my hope about the world is that more people than I can ever know are laboring in a brilliant and wide scope of ways to make a kinder planet. This is something I take on faith, on the daring hope that active belief will make it so, that a host of private dreams are made true through the dint of love and effort pouring from so many hearts into the wounds of the world. To hope that I am part of something so much larger than my own small self is what keeps me sane in the face of all that threatens this world.

It is hard to keep from drowning in despair. Everyone I talk to, old friends and new, knows the gloom and doom of things. We know the climbing counts of carbon pollution, we know where such pollution is entering the world, and we know—with sickening certainty—our own entanglement with these monstrous and devastating systems. It is easy to feel too small and lost in the face of all of that.

Escape, in any way, feels like an impossible and lonesome dream.

And yet, the more of us who acknowledge that dream, the easier it becomes to push on, to think and be positive and proactive about the daunting challenges that lie ahead. 

The power is shifting. there are ever more of “us” than of “them.” We’re living louder, we’re cheerfully helping each other along these paths, through this thing, whatever it is. There is a lot of company to be found, bumbling along in the lessening darkness. Perhaps my world has grown smaller, perhaps I am insulating myself and only speaking to, talking to, those who I can most safely suspect of agreeing with me. Perhaps. But, to take the only page I want from Karl Rove: this is rallying the base. I’ve been told that we only need 10% of the population to have a revolution. This, being brave enough to talk about what shapes the deep why and how take inside our hearts, this is how that 10% come together, how the base is rallied.

What we are doing, at present, is building a support network. We are finding each other, baring our hope and hearts as the only secret handshake that matters. What we do with our resistance and resilience, in practical terms, is still open. We become a web, flexible and porous, the shape ballooning and morphing as the winds pass through, untold threads yet to be spun. The grounding certainty here is that we are in this together, no matter our individual paths. The increasing admissions of support, of our mutual and wheeling direction away from corporate systems of soul and planet pollution, always towards the things that give us joy, I very well believe might be the revolution itself.

Which means it is happening.  No longer a dream within a dream or the wisp of a hope, it is here and it is now. Evermore. 

(Convening ravens graphic from:

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Love and Place

A friend of mine used to teach sex ed. to tenth-graders. Her co-teacher was the Spanish teacher, and the whole escapade sounds like teaching with a romance novel version of Antonio Banderas, complete, as my friend told it, with a sexy Spanish accent.

“I have lived all over the world, in many cities,” the man said to the room of teenagers. “And each city, it is like a different woman. Different colors, different textures, different flavors.”

I worry about the effect of this statement on the students. It is not the sensuality of his words, nor the idea of many loves in a lifetime that bothers me—that’s all great—but, rather, the reinforcement of women as objects to be inhabited by men, as scenery only for the rich diversity of the male experience in the world. As a lady, I don’t take his words to mean that I could wander the world, loving freely among the cities and wilds, but rather that I cannot pick my loves, that I must wait to be inhabited by whoever happens to fall in love with me. 
But, if I can look beyond all that and see more clearly just a human speaking of the ability to love the world at large, I am quite comforted.

And then, I think perhaps it is foolish that I spend so much of my time raking my soul and atlas to find the one true place where I belong, where I might be happy forever. When I think of the people I know and have known, who I love and have loved, never mind all the other pieces that make up a full and good life, it begins to seem a bit preposterous to believe in, to search for my One True Place as thoroughly as a Disney princess waits for her Prince Charming.

Place and love are tied to identity like the veins and nerve bundles crisscrossing from our hearts and lacing around our bones. I love places I have lived with something similar to the warmth and ache that is usually reserved for old flames and lost loves. I return to these geographies often forgetting the challenges, the reasons I’ve left. Old differences remain, usually, and resurface before too long. But, when you don’t live there, the things you could not stand, could not change, these don’t matter the in the same way. You, I, don’t ask for the impossible any longer and can just love what was for the good and what is for the reassurance that the place remains itself. It is love, unconditionally. I feel welcome to return, but sure and grateful that I will leave.

And that is becoming easier, to love where you do not fit, where you have outgrown a place and vice versa. We all grow and change and become actively cognizant of different needs. When I was nineteen, I wanted to live alone in the wilds of Idaho. Today, I crave a home where I can get to the grocery store without a car and where I can run into familiar faces in the produce aisle. In ten years, in two, I do not know exactly what I will want or where I will be.

It is hard to even begin to question the need for absolutes. I believe in the roots and stability of Place, of belonging and commitment to unfolding a better future in community. I still fall a little more into the search for a constant good place to be for a long time than for the butterfly flitting gorgeous and free from city to city.

The difference is that I begin to look for a Good place, rather than the Perfect place. Part of that hinges on wanting a place that needs me, that can receive what I have to give. I have looked for, lived in places that I needed. There is something a bit unequal in that partnership, something that strikes me now as selfish. Or perhaps I have been afraid to be needed. 

But, beyond the uncertainty of offering yourself, in being needed for who and what you are, in finding yourself capable in service to something beyond yourself, there is more sense of rightness, of belonging than anything else I know. The places I have found this, the people I have found this among, are who and where I love unconditionally.

Love may be unconditional, but it is not passive. Always also, in the best and sweetest and hardest and bitterest ways, there is the labor, the sweat, the struggle in bringing out the best in what we love. How, if you love the slant of light across a forest in the place, you had best work on that forest’s behalf. Or if you find the local grammar school quaint and charming, crusade against its closure. How if young people do not actively live in small towns, we will lose these places, these Grover’s Corners and Port Williams and all the other dots on the maps beyond the highways. To me, there is something as deep in that loss as there would be in the loss of all the beautiful cities and sublime wildernesses of the world.

I do not quite know why. But the thought sticks with me, that potential loss that I and others have the power to be strongholds against, as I scour maps and job boards and ask friends and look not for the place I need, but for the place that needs what I can offer it. For now, which is all the happily ever after I want to believe in, this is enough.

Friday, January 3, 2014

In Case of Emergency

“If there’s a fire, I want you all to lose your shit and just totally freak out!” said the fantastic emcee at The Slutcracker a few weeks ago. “And then, I want you to pull your shit together, and get out of here and make sure everyone else gets out of here too. Because sluts[1] take care of each other!”

It was, without a doubt, the best safety message I have ever heard. Usually they just say:"remain calm and make for the nearest exit.” If a building is burning around me, I am highly unlikely to remain beatifically calm. I am actually quite good in crises—I can triage and prioritize and cope and problem solve with the best of them—but there will be at least a few seconds of freaking out. Even if it’s just deep on the inside where I’m panicking.

No one has ever given me permission to freak my shit in a potential crisis before. Or at least, that primary reaction has never before been acknowledged and accepted as part of the show. And I’ve been trained in emergency medical response. But the words go deeper than just funny permissiveness—part two of the instruction acknowledges that even slutty chickens who lose their heads can get it back together and become capable heroes, keeping calm and carrying on.

Recently, I was utterly awed by the ways in which people respond to the real and potential minor crises of living. I thought back to The Slutcracker safety debriefing[2], and how it’s a much more realistic and viable approach to any emergency.

Some friends and I hiked up one of my favorite trails a few days before New Years. It was snowy and beautiful, and as soon as we came above treeline, everyone was ecstatic, and freezing cold. The wind seemed to come from almost everywhere and the blowing snow found its way into the gaps between mittens and scarves and hands and faces. There was a good slick of ice under the snow, and even with foot traction, there were some slips and slides along the trail. Coming up the last bit towards Mount Jackson was particularly exciting—the wind had picked up and was blowing sharp icy wind into our faces, making it hard to keep an eye on where the trail actually went along the fairly bald summit. Being buffeted by wind, not fully trusting if it would be rock or ice underfoot, and only having a vague summer memory of where the summit and the trail went, I was starting to edge into “lose your shit” territory.[3]

Fortunately, my friends are among the greatest and most capable and trustworthy people on earth. I do not mind to be afraid with them. And it turned out that we were all freaking out a little, or at the very least, recognizing that we were in conditions that could get bad pretty quickly. So we huddled together, talked it over, and made a plan to turn around if we didn’t find the new trail in two minutes.

When we stood up, the trail sign and a little cairn were ten feet away.

We hiked down, giddy for a bit with how raw and awesome and utterly gorgeous it had been in the wind, and how relieved we were to have not gone on blindly without talking to each other.

The next day, my sister, a friend and I all got stymied by the deep and falling snow on an unplowed dirt road, trying to get to my sister’s home. When this became truly and obviously impossible, we ran inside, gathered a few things for the night, and drove to another friend’s house. Only one car got lodged in a snowbank, but we managed to push it out without breaking either backs or engines. I came away from the whole experience with a buoyed faith in the practical power of capability in trumping perceived emergencies.

I cannot say enough how beautiful I find capability. The grit and grace of knowing, or of determining what needs to be done with a minimum of dithering and a maximum of daring to believe in a solution, and then executing the task at hand with both joyful confidence and grinning, grim practicality—this is how we respond to the changes of the world. And it is unparalleled joy to find yourself able in such times. Your car is in the snowbank? We’ll push like Sisyphus for you. Your way is unplowed? Come to my house. The trail is unseen? Duck down, come together, and make a plan. Lost your hope in the melee? Borrow mine and we'll look for yours together.

We’ll do well to let go of any expectation of the world remaining the same. We’ll do better, we’ll do best, to instead trust in the ever increasing constancy of our various capabilities. And to surround ourselves with a diversity of talents. This will mean admitting fear and turning back, rather than steaming forward as expected. This will mean work and discomfort and best laid plans going far awry. This will also mean unexpected delight and comfort and adventure as we go along.

I try not to think too much about the particulars of the impending crises of the world, or the ones that are already lapping at our doorsteps. I get mired in the darkness so deep I cannot contemplate a solution that is possible. But the news is daily, hourly, minutely blaring emergency warnings at us all. It is very scary, so we don’t like to talk about it. It is overwhelming and no one has the answer[4]. What no one is saying is: “In case of fire, flood, hurricane, earthquake, civil war, famine, plague, blizzard, locusts, all engulfing economic disparity, corporate ownership of government, mass and minor extinctions, and/or any of the unspecified multitudes of scourges upon the world you so love, PLEASE FREAK OUT! And then, when you’re done, pull yourself together and let’s help each other through this thing.”

Personally, I’m nearing the end of how much I either can or need to freak out. I admit that I’m scared, that I’m not sure where the emergency exits or survival gear or carbon emission extinguishers are as we’re stumbling around in the darkness. But, I know that everyone is more capable and resilient than we’re usually given credit for, that we’re all a little bit the lost kitten in a tree and a little bit the fireman. I think we all need to both be rescued and to rescue. Being freaked out, this doesn’t mean that you cannot be, that you are not already a brave and capable member of the Save the World Club.

If anything, admitting you’re freaked out is your membership card.


[1] “Slut” was here being used as a term of ultimate endearment, recognizing and applauding the audience for joyfully venturing out of normalized boundaries. The Slutcracker is, after all, a burlesque show that tweaks a Christmas tradition into a celebration of human bodies enjoying the heck out of themselves and each other.
[2] Pun entirely intended.
[3] And yet, under the minor key freak-out mode there is often the sweetest sense of ecstasy for being alive in such a situation. I love to feel small and humble and mortal at times and a little mountain snow storm can be a beautiful answer to that hunger.
[4] To the best of my knowledge, there is no single answer. No one, not even Bill McKibben or the Pope, can tell us one true solution to make it all right again. The best we’ve got—and I do believe it is the best—is for everyone to share the potluck of what they’re doing and what they’d like to see. We can all pick and chose and learn what works—bring what you can and eat what you’d like!