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

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

#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

Asking WHY is my superpower

A wise friend taught me something yesterday that is so profound, simple, and fun that I couldn’t wait to share it. Her lesson came in two parts. First, we each have a superpower. This is a talent or predilection that comes so effortlessly, we might overlook it, or assume that everyone has the same ability. It’s a familiar idea. Michael Meade, for example, calls this our genius, that spark inside that each of us is born with. It fuels our work and allows us to offer our gifts to the world.

What my friend said next surprised and delighted me. She said, think of when you were a kid and you kept doing that thing that you couldn’t help doing, to the point of driving everyone around you crazy. Your most annoying habit. Your mom, dad, siblings, and peers would tell you—beg you—to stop. But you couldn’t help yourself. That’s your superpower. 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

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

The hostility, power, magic, integrity, and possibility of the threshold

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In preparation for a retreat this weekend, I’ve been reading up on the meaning, lore, and mythology of thresholds. I’ve written about this before, but thought I’d share some fresh thoughts here.

Mythology has many guardians of the threshold, but Janus is the main one. He is the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, doorways, passages, and endings. He is depicted as having two faces, so he can look in both directions – toward the past and the future. The month January is aptly named for him.

Janus symbolized change and transitions, and was worshipped at the beginnings of the harvest and planting times, as well as at marriages, deaths and other beginnings. He represented the middle ground between barbarism and civilization, between rural and urban space, youth and adulthood. 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

Replacing every man for himself with everyone for each other

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I recently dreamed this thought: our country’s mantra is every man for himself. In that light, it makes perfect sense that one of our national obsessions is about the economy. Remember It’s the economy, stupid? Of course we care so much about making as much money as we can, making more than the other guy. We are on our own. Nobody is going to help us if we fall on hard times. It’s all about feeding, clothing, and sheltering our families, first and last. Every man for himself.

When I wrote this in my journal in the early pre-dawn, it looked a bit puny on the page. It was momentous when I opened my eyes, as if I’d been mucking around in the secret stuff of life, that realm where answers live. Trying to catch this dream message is like seeing a landscape all sharp and shimmery after a storm, as if for the first time. I’m so immersed, so indoctrinated in this story that I rarely even notice it. It seems so true that it’s boring. Obvious. Hardly worth stating. But our lives are not only about survival and meeting basic needs. Everyone should be able to do at least that in a just world. There’s plenty to go around, but the story of scarcity makes us forget. Continue reading

In support of fiction that gives voice to the living world

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“There are people who think that things that happen in fiction do not really happen. These people are wrong.” ~ Neil Gaiman

I had one of those aha moments last week about my writing, the kind that make me feel really dumb for not having clicked earlier. The epiphany was triggered by this article by Paul Kingsnorth, asking why fiction so rarely extends imagination beyond the human realm. We would have to set aside the modern story of a mechanical nature in which only humans have consciousness. Instead, consider that the nonhuman world is as alive and aware as we are, which has been the understanding for most of human history.

There’s a lot being said these days about the importance of hearing from previously marginalized voices. And we are blessed with an abundance of writers meeting this challenge from all directions, people like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Mark Haddon, Roxane Gay, Ta Nehisi Coates, Charlotte Wood, and Yaa Gyasi, among others. The living world is the ultimate marginalized voice, you might say. After all, the modern view of human exception and superiority has given us mountaintop removal coal mining, factory farming, fracking, genetic engineering, clearing rainforests to graze cattle, and on and on. No wonder we are awash in dystopian fiction.  Continue reading