Between the devil and the Deepwater Horizon

“Jose Arcadio Buendia dreamed that night that right there a noisy city with houses having mirror walls rose up. He asked what city it was and they answered him with a name that he had never heard, that had no meaning at all, but that had a supernatural echo in his dream: Macondo.” ~ Gabriel Barcia Marquez, “One Hundred Years of Solitude”

Today is the 7th anniversary of the inferno that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig and unleashed the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. In an interesting coincidence, a BP well on Alaska’s North Slope leaked oil and vented natural gas for four days last weekend, until the “Unified Command achieved source control and killed the well.” (Don’t you just love the military language of oil drilling?)

Here are a few facts about the Deepwater spill taken from Wikipedia, that—for me, at least—do little to put it in proper perspective: Continue reading

#whyimarch in celebration and support of the whole community of Life

I was glad to see that the organizers of the Women’s March have issued a position paper. It’s good to have a better sense of the energy bubbling up within and around this event. If the bus parking applications are any indication, this is going to be big. It’s fair to assume that people are coming for many, many personal reasons. The position paper helps us to recognize a shared purpose. And from there, who knows what’s possible?

So it was with a growing feeling of unease that I read down the four PDF pages, point by point, wondering when—and then if—the environment would get a mention. Here we have gender justice, freedom from violence against our bodies, an end to—and accountability for—police brutality, and the end of racial profiling. Here we have dismantling gender and racial inequities within the criminal justice system, Reproductive Freedom, Gender Justice, LGBTQIA rights, and a fair, secure, equitable economy. Here we have equal pay for equal work, the dignity and fair treatment of care workers, the right to organize, the living wage, Civil Rights as birthright, passing the ERA, and immigrant and refugee dignity and rights.

Finally, the last point at the end of page 4, is this: Continue reading

How silence will save the world  

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This guest post is by Lindsay McLaughlin. You can read a bit about her on the “Denizens” page

Our country and our world is in a good bit of trouble right now. We live in what storyteller Michael Meade calls “black dog times”. The tale goes like this:

The Old People of the tribes tell of a special cave where a woman is weaving the most beautiful garment in the world. She is almost finished, but while she stirs the soup in a great cauldron at the back of the cave a black dog awakens and moves to where she has left the garment on the floor. The dog begins pulling on a loose thread of the beautiful garment. Because each thread is woven to another, pulling on one undoes them all. Soon the beautiful garment is a chaotic mess on the floor of the cave. When the woman returns she sits and looks silently upon the remnants of her once beautiful design. She ignores the presence of the black dog as she stares intently at the tangle of loose threads and distorted designs. Then after a while she picks up a thread and begins again to weave an even more lovely cloak, the most beautiful garment the world has ever seen.

The story is longer than this summary, with a wealth of meaningful detail. It was featured in the retreat “Thriving on the Threshold,” held at Rolling Ridge in October. Yet even this abbreviated version of the tale holds nuggets of insight and meaning. One could say that much of the fabric of human culture today is unraveling, and nature with it; our civil society and our connection to all that is meaningful is coming undone, our creative efforts to build a more beautiful world have seemingly come to naught. The story offers hints of what to do and how to behave when the black dog begins pulling on the loose thread and the dark times come around again, as surely they have.

Continue reading

A letter from the future written in the past

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My novel’s heroine was going to be a time traveler from fifty years in the future. I liked the idea of a Cassandra figure, someone who lived in the everyday hell of an unstable climate gifted to her generation by ours. She arrives in New York City in December of 2009, just in time for the Copenhagen climate summit. I had fun with implanted nanotechnology merging powerful databases and communications with her organic brain. And with what she would think of the quaint, primitive technologies we have now. (Actual cell phones! Power cords! ATMs!) Or the things we take for granted that they no longer have in 2059, like sushi, cars, coastlines and forests.

In 2013, I dispensed with the future-world scenario when I realized that we don’t need someone from the future to tell us what climate change does to the planet. We are living it already. My first draft from 2011 has plenty of rookie writing mistakes, but it also has this letter that my heroine writes on her second day in 2009. Despite all the changes this novel has been through, it still forms the DNA of my story. Enjoy this letter from the future written in the past. Continue reading

True wisdom comes not from intellect but from feeling

11.7.15_Horse_620wOn the DVD of the 2000 film, “Requiem for a Dream,” the great actress Ellen Burstyn has a conversation with the book’s author (and co-screenwriter) Hubert Selby Jr. He wrote the novel in the 1970s. It’s an unflinching dive into the hell of addiction, rendered with timeless pathos by filmmaker Darren Aronofsky. Selby tells Ms. Burstyn that he works consciously to get out of the way:

“The ego has to go. I don’t have the right to put me, the ego, between the people in the story and the reader. They should have an interrelationship and experience each other. Because, if you really want to teach, you have to do it emotionally. The intellect can get a whole bunch of information, but it doesn’t turn it into wisdom. And it’s wisdom that we need if we’re going to save our souls and this bloody thing! We need wisdom.”

He also tells her that it took him a year to write one twenty-page story, and after he was done, he went to bed for about two weeks. For him, this is what it took to go beyond telling a story, to put the reader through an emotional experience. Continue reading

Outsider

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There will be times in your life when you feel like an outsider. When it looks like everyone around you, the people you admire and the ones you dislike, belong somewhere. They have this life thing all figured out. They are needed, respected. They matter. Their opinions and insights matter. And they have their ranking systems, their awards programs, their contests and grants and fellowships. They all seem to know how to work that system and be recognized—whether it’s for years of toil on some obscure invention or a brilliant essay dashed off after a flash of insight.

Don’t fall for it. It’s a trick of the light, a smoke-and-mirrors deception. All of us are outsiders and wanderers. The only real lasting sense of belonging has come from cultivating a strong relationship with my inner world. The degree to which you feel exiled, out of place, shunned, is the degree to which you are estranged from your own core of being, your own heart. Continue reading

What’s love got to do with it: whispering into the gale of “transhumanism”

Colors_620wThere are so many TED talks that inspire and amaze me, I forget that the “T” stands for “technology.” I am no luddite, but this conversation has me spooked. Martine Rothblatt founded Sirius XM and generally has a Midas touch with business. As the highest paid CEO in the country, s/he’s also an articulate spokesperson for gender fluidity, having embraced her female identity at age 40 while remaining married to her soulmate for over 30 years. Her story includes a heartstrings-tugging foray into the pharmaceutical industry. Determined to help their daughter survive a fatal diagnosis of pulmonary hypertension, Rothblatt bought a drug patent from Glaxo and set up manufacture herself.

One thing led to another and now s/he and her wife are working with genetic scientists to alter the DNA of pigs, so they can “grow” human lungs for transplant. This is straight out of Margaret Atwood’s Maddadam Trilogy, except Atwood’s animals were “pigoons,” crosses of pigs with baboons. It’s so similar, I do wonder who got the idea from whom. Rothblatt also has a foundation that researches the uploading of human consciousness into computers, and implanting the data into robots that can “learn.” S/he and her wife plan to be cryogenically frozen together. S/he calls herself a “transhumanist.” In the vein of Ray Kurzweil and Singularity, these people are after nothing short of human immortality through technology. Continue reading

On racism, white supremacy and admitting that we need each other

Tree_620wLast, night, I joined in a conversation at my son’s Quaker school about Ta’Nehisi Coates’ book, Between the World and Me. It was a fairly diverse crowd—ethnically, if not economically. Everyone there was well educated, thoughtful and, with one honest exception, liberal. I was especially thankful for the opportunity to listen to two black intellectuals and a Quaker elder who lived in Detroit during the 1967 riots.

We worked our way through various responses to the book, including praise for Coates’ use of the dream as metaphor, which I wrote about here. I appreciated hearing new (to me) ideas from folks I don’t usually encounter. A black man who teaches high school history pointed out that one of the horrors of slavery was not that white people thought black people weren’t human. It’s that they knew how human they were, and were able to manipulate the relationship to get what they wanted from them—their labor and obedience. Continue reading

The redemptive power of “Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist”

3.6.16_Leopard2Sunil Yapa’s novel has a strong structure: a ensemble cast—seven different points of view plus a narrator’s voice–weaving around an actual event with vivid details that rise to the level of mythic symbolism. A billy club stands for the brutality of all authority wielded in violence; a police horse evokes intelligence beyond the petty human; a facial scar suggests menace or heroism; the misty rain sets a theatrical atmosphere. Details like PVC pipe, apple cider vinegar-soaked pink bandanas, swim goggles, and a riot helmet reflecting clouds passing overhead work together in an ominous concert of impending doom.

The story at times feels like passages of the Mahabarata, Greek myths of fathers and sons, Shakespearean drama of mistaken identity, or the Bible’s story of the Prodigal son returning. Perennial activist John Henry is a Moses character, bringing his people to freedom through the desert. Even the simple mention of stores at an intersection—the Gap, Banana Republic, a bank—takes on an End-of Empire feel. Yes, they are actual stores, but they also stand for something far greater, beyond any one individual. They are part of a vast capitalist network of exploitation of material resources and people’s lives and livelihoods. Continue reading

Forced hierarchy pushes everyone down

2001_7.24_Havre-de-Grace_620wI am closing in on that age noted by my parents years ago as one entry point into elderhood: when the U.S. President is younger than me. With Obama, I’ve just squeaked by: he is sixteen months older than me. If Hillary or Bernie win this one, I may be okay at least for another four years. That does seem part of either of their appeal—the wisdom and equanimity they must have accumulated during long, eventful lives.

In general, though, we seem to lack positive archetypes for older people, especially women. NPR’s Ina Jaffe has reported about issues facing older Americans for years, and even she doesn’t have a good word to refer to them. Polls are inconclusive: most older people don’t like any of the usual words. But the problem is more than skin deep: Continue reading