Dystopia reconsidered: from post-apocalyse to pre-apocalypse

Twitter feeds and mainstream media home pages have started to read like teasers for the latest post-apocalyptic Netflix series. No wonder there is a glut of fiction with themes of disruption, chaos and war brought on by unruly, destructive weather, fires and flooding; epidemics; economic collapse; civil wars; displaced populations; oppression; or [fill in the blank]. To explain this trend, as well as its appeal, literary critics have had to come up with some glib theories.

The latest comes from Sam Sacks, writing in the Wall Street Journal’s “Books” section for April 8-9, 2017. He assures readers that “vogues for dystopian literature are usually a sign of national health.” As evidence, he cites the mid-20th-century anxiety about nuclear weapons and the Cold War that produced works like “On the Beach,” and says “they were also the fruits of widespread prosperity.” He wraps up his argument with two neat aphorisms:

“The more people have, the more frightened they are of losing it all.”
“These novels are what happens when a comfortable culture has a midlife crisis.”

This is a shallow, unimaginative diagnosis. It’s like a doctor recommending NyQuil as a treatment for lung cancer. Continue reading

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

Get into the red convertible; you know you want to

There’s been so much written and said about the “inner child” in the last couple of decades that any mention of it is likely to bring on an eye roll. This morning, though, I was visited by a memory that gave me a whole new view of it (or, in my case, her). I’ve had a lifelong love-hate relationship with the creative, childlike part of me. Okay, mostly hate. And shame. Today, I have a new understanding of how unnecessary that has been. And a glimpse of the sweet freedom that’s available with just a small shift.

About ten years ago, I was at a weeklong program at Integral on Sustainability. Among the many fabulous experiences we had was a guided practice called “Big Mind.” This is a combination of Buddhist and modern Western psychological thought developed by Dennis Genpo Merzel to not only “get in touch” with inner voices, but to embody and integrate them. To feel whole. When he invoked the inner child, I became sad and forlorn. Later, I was surprised when everyone else said their inner child was carefree and playful and joyful. Continue reading

In praise of the power of love and human intention to solve problems

Modern civilization faces many intractable and seemingly unsolvable problems. We can be beguiled by simplistic, flashy, one-off moves like building walls or issuing Executive Orders to keep so-called “undesirables” out. But humans have proven again and again that clear thinking, creativity, and cooperation can work wonders. How else could we have landed a man on the moon? Or invented the iPhone? Or stopped spewing ozone-depleting chemicals into the air?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of intention. I’m not talking about films like “The Secret” and “What the Bleep Do We Know,” although I confess to being fascinated by the idea that this whole thing we call life is a game that we are literally making up moment by moment as we play. Today’s stories will not require a mystical acceptance of alternative realities. (You can find explorations of those in other posts here, here, and here.) Continue reading

Polarity reversal: a solstice tale

From the BBC, 19 December 2016: “Scientists have speculated we could be on the cusp of a polarity reversal, which would see North become South, and South become North.”

In preparation for this eventuality, Rand McNally has announced that world maps will be reprinted so that North America appears to hang upside down, putting Florida on top for a change. California will be on the East Coast and New York on the West Coast. Not that it matters much, since both are bastions of the Liberal Elite. Naturally, the Midwest will remain Mid. After years of debate, it will not be renamed the Mideast.

The Southwest will become the Northeast, and Northeast become Southwest. No one will know where to go for leaf gazing in the fall, causing hundreds of B&Bs and New England country inns to close. Likewise, Santa Fe’s shamanic energy vortex will be relocated from the spa lobby of the Rancho Encantado to the Caterpiller Visitor’s Center in Peoria, Illinois. The Visitor’s Center’s top recommendation on Trip Advisor will change from “Fun place to kill an afternoon!” to “I felt so good here; I don’t know why.” 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

Step out of the center and take the wider view

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The last week has played out for some of us as the classic stages of grief. Denial shows up as the change.org petition to get Electors to vote for Hillary instead of Donald, or more ambitiously to do away with the baffling, arcane Electoral College altogether. There’s plenty of anger, too, with blame to make it extra spicy. Luvvie Ajayi lays the whole mess squarely at the feet of white women. Others blame the DNC, the FBI, Breitbart,Wikileaks, the ignorance of certain voters, the gullibility of others, Hillary Clinton herself for running. So much blame, so little time.

Is it bargaining or acceptance that many charitable organizations and nonprofit news sites have seen record donations in the last few days? (Or opportunism that they’ve sent out so many appeal emails?) What category does the Million Women March come under?

After the first shock wave hit, I sunk to the depression stage. From down here, the horizon of acceptance isn’t yet visible. I do see people trying on the reality that this is what we have to live with, so we may as well make the best of it. I’ve entertained that thought, even going so far as imagining that this might somehow, mysteriously, be for the highest good. Who can say how this will all play out? (Sadly, my imagination isn’t up to this challenge.) Continue reading

Triumph of mythos over logos, or, Nate Silver is not all that

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Ordinarily, I don’t get very political on this blog. But these are extraordinary times. To many, the results of Election 2016 are unimaginable. The Day After played out like the inciting incident in a dystopian alternate-reality Netflix series about a dying civilization. Rural voters seem to have acted from fear and misinformation, and not simply willingness, but eagerness, to be lied to and manipulated. Shirley Jackson could not have written better.

Liberal elites, neo-libs, progressives—whatever label we claim—have not just been humbled. We have been brought low. Our country elected, by popular vote, the first woman president. But the crafty Framers set up the Electroal College to give rural voters a chance against urban elites. And, boy, did they prevail. So here we are, literally unable to imagine, using the rational mind, how it happened. I am an avid listener to the 538 Podcast, but not even Nate Silver is smart enough, nor his algorithm clever enough, to make sense of this.

So, let’s use imagination for something bigger than a futile attempt at rational understanding. Let’s tap into mythos, rather than rely on logos. From a mythic perspective, we just handed the reins of the most powerful country on earth, and the one with the largest per capita environmental footprint, to the Trickster god of Norse mythology. Continue reading

Two years (and counting) of dwelling on the threshold

2001_7.29_620wYesterday marked the two-year anniversary of this blog. For the first anniversary, I appreciated the artist, that denizen of thresholds, dweller of the in-between realms. In this political season, I’m drawn to reflect on the circus that is our Presidential campaign season. After last night’s debate once again elicited waves of despair over the future of our country, veteran newsman Bob Schieffer asked, “How have we come to this?” How, indeed.

At times like this, I can think of only one American capable of approaching, let alone answering, a question like that: Kentucky farmer and writer, Wendell Berry. I pull a few of his books off the shelf, feeling better just holding them in my hand. My husband has NPR on in the kitchen downstairs. I hear the cadence of male and female voices hashing over last night’s events, interviewing undecided voters. I cannot hear the substance, only the vibrations of voice. Wendell Berry is all I need now. Continue reading

Imagination softens the hard edges of opposition

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This week brought more videos and news of police shooting black men. These confrontations are as usual shrouded in confusion, misinterpretation, reactivity, bias, and defensiveness. Peaceful demonstrations in Charlotte turned violent, as they had in Baltimore last year. If we inquire into such protests and uprisings, perhaps we can glimpse the frustration, hopelessness, and rage behind them. Given the pervasiveness of racial inequity, one wonders why there aren’t more of them. I imagine similar outrage in Chicago, where the bodies continue to pile up and youth unemployment in some neighborhoods reaches ninety percent.

I was just finishing the following post when these sad, violent events occurred. I questioned its relevance and wondered if I should just put it away. After some thought, I decided that the invitation to embody and embrace opposites might be useful. It could be just the time to seek the awareness hidden behind surfaces, and to assume that all is never what it seems.

“‘Tell them they have to wake up twice in the morning,’ Nyae continues. This means that you should first wake up in the morning and get out of bed. Then awaken your heart: walk out of the bedrock of objects and materialism and into a spiritual world guided by the felt lines of relationships that hold everything together. Now the ropes, rather than the objects they connect, are primary. They are the most important and the most real.” ~ Bradford Keeney

I’m dreaming in a tent under the full moon at a forest retreat. Here to meet the awakening that beckons from the world behind this world. In my dream, a panel van pulls up in an alley behind a building. All the surfaces are hard—buildings, paving, cars, light poles. A man tumbles out. He’s been shot in the left shoulder. My first thought is, he is escaping from criminals, maybe he’s been kidnapped. Continue reading