Take two sunsets and call me in the morning

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I made this painting last evening during the sunset. We were in Hawk Cove, just outside Middle River where we keep our boat docked. With only a slight breeze, we were able to poke along with the mainsail instead of going to the trouble of anchoring. I was attracted to an amazing bulge of shockingly white cloud erupting from the bank of blue-gray on the horizon. The tinge of yellow and peach from the descending sun would be interesting to try to capture in watercolor.

As soon as I began, circumstances conspired to annoy me. My husband was feeling too relaxed after a nice picnic dinner to steer, so the boat twisted slowly away from my view. Since the sunset would soon be over, he wanted to start the engine and be on our way. As soon as he made this known, I protested. One of the best things about a sunset on water is the stillness that settles over everything. It’s also almost impossible to capture it in a painting, because the scene is constantly changing. Continue reading

Challenging the Dreamers: Ta’Nehisi Coates on the deadly power of stories

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With the fiercely honest, gorgeous language storm that is Between the World and Me, Ta’Nehisi Coates offers no prescriptions, plans or programs. He simply holds up the chipped, tarnished mirror that we call “civilization” to show us what he calls “the dream.” I love this book. It has broken my heart in a way that few books have. It has cracked me open and turned me upside down. To say that it challenges my assumptions about the state of race relations in this country is as far off the mark as saying that Silent Spring is a book about songbirds.

It’s not a long book and yet it contains everything. Worlds, galaxies, histories, ancestors. Having lived for the past twenty-five years in Baltimore, I enjoyed listening to the recorded version, hearing his words in his Baltimore-tinged voice. Even though I’m well aware that his Baltimore was vastly different from mine, a tiny part of me feels connected. So many thoughts, reactions, fears, despairs, and hopes are swirling in my body in this moment—a sure sign that this is one of those books that changes everything. I will listen again and then read it too and insist that everyone I encounter read it. It’s that important. Continue reading

Portland, Baltimore, denial, disruptive change and the stages of grief

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Years ago, I read a little book of philosophy called Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart, by Gordon Livingston. It’s organized into thirty pithy and helpful truths. Number fifteen is this: “Only bad things happen quickly.” I have a little game I play with myself whenever I think of this maxim (which is pretty frequently, even over ten years later). I theorize good things that could happen suddenly, as if even one would somehow undermine the truth of it.

The fact is that many bad things do happen suddenly and catastrophically. Earthquakes, for instance. Living in Maryland, that’s not something we have to worry about. Although we actually had one a few years ago, it was small and brief. What would it be like to have this complacency suddenly shaken by new science, as happened with the recent New Yorker article about the Cascadia Subduction Zone? This unstable tectonic plate off the coast of Oregon and Washington is apparently overdue for a major disruption. Both states boast cities and towns burgeoning with hipsters and tech companies, excellent coffee and vital industry, great music, agriculture, wine, and an embarrassment of natural wonders. An entire civilization has sprung up in the quiet interval since the last earthquake-and-tsunami in January of 1700. Continue reading

“Gone Girl” has me wondering: can’t the good guys win once in a while?

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Two of summer’s greatest pleasures are travel and reading. Immersion into an unfamiliar place or a well-told story offers glimpses of the cultural mood. I just returned from a trip to Oregon, home of the Cascadia Subduction Zone recently featured in a brilliant New Yorker article. I’m incubating a blog post on the power and guises of denial, but it’s not ready yet. On the lighter side, I also read two thrillers: Second Life and Gone Girl. Both are page-turners that linger after dark endings. They also throw some of the more insane aspects of modern life into stark relief. [Spoiler alert: if you plan to read either of these, you might want to stop now.]

Gone Girl, as you likely already know, is a chilling psychological study of a sociopath and the lengths to which our need for love and belonging will drive us. Especially in the first half of the book, the author Gillian Flynn includes well-observed details of the post-recession, post-NAFTA, post-supply-side-economies of Middle America (short version: it’s all in ruins). She also dramatizes the downhill slide of an entire profession—journalism—wasted by computers, the Internet, and the ubiquitous DIY culture. Continue reading

A case for seeing human affairs through the eyes of grace

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“I wish grace and healing were more abracadabra kind of things. Also, that delicate silver bells would ring to announce grace’s arrival. But no, it’s clog and slog and scootch, on the floor, in the silence, in the dark.” ~ Anne Lamott, from Grace, Eventually

Grace is a word you don’t hear much in secular discourse. Last week, President Obama’s eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney was both about grace and full of grace itself. It awakened a memory of a conversation about grace with my father when I was in High School. He was one of those traditional dads who worked and did dad things, so I didn’t have a lot of interactions with him. This conversation about grace was a rarity. Turns out, he couldn’t quite put his finger on it, either. I think he spoke of God’s presence or friendship, and we both enjoyed wondering about it together. That in itself was a moment of grace, a precious heart connection to each other and to something bigger than us.

Human affairs are full of flaws, opposition and contradictions. There never seems to be that one right solution that we can all agree on. And so we wrangle. In interactions with friends about the President’s recent successes, they were quick to point out his many failures and betrayals. It’s true he compromised on health care reform, and I can’t say I understand the appeal the Trans Pacific Partnership, which seems to me like a nightmare for workers and the environment. And let’s not forget, these friends say, about the drone strikes and the “Surge.” I get it, I do. And yet, there’s something we are missing when we argue like this. It’s too easy to find these imperfections. Continue reading

I nominate Pope Francis as the leader of this movement

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“If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.”

I’m going to come right out and say it: I am jazzed about the Pope’s encyclical, “Laudato Si,” or in English, “Praise be.” I’m excited that it’s getting so much attention from all quarters, even the Wall Street Journal and conservative talk-show hosts. I haven’t felt this hopeful about the environmental / social justice movement since “Inconvenient Truth” came out in 2006, or “11th Hour” in 2007, or Van Jones’ brief tenure in the White House in 2009. As Paul Hawken observed in his 2007 book, “Blessed Unrest,” this is the largest movement in the world—and it has no leader.

We do prefer charismatic leaders for our big movements. Hawken helped me to see that this one is just too big to have one figurehead. We won’t have our Gandhi or Martin Luther King, because each of us in this movement is part of the earth’s immune response to an infection, a fever. This movement is an entirely decentralized set of self-organizing systems nested within self-organizing systems the way Nature herself works. And that’s as it should be. Still, I admit wishing now and then for someone to come along. Each time it seemed to happen, we were disappointed. Continue reading

Daphne and the laurel tree

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As with Ariadne, Daphne is usually depicted as a passive actor in someone else’s story, in this case, a contest between two males—Apollo and Cupid. She is a victim who must be rescued by another man, her father. Well, this story is about much more than that. It is a story of transformation.

Daphne was another of those independent, love-and-marriage hating young huntresses who frequent myths. She is said to have been Apollo’s first love. It is not strange that she fled from him. One unfortunate maiden after another beloved of the gods had had to kill her child secretly or be killed herself. The best she could expect was exile, and many women thought that worse than death. Continue reading

Reimagining the myth of Ariadne and the labyrinth

1998_7.19_620wBritish mythic storyteller Martin Shaw says that the stories we most need now arrived right on schedule, 3,000 years ago. This story is a reimagining of the Greek myth of Ariadne that I put together from various sources. (Since this isn’t a scholarly work, I didn’t footnote it, but the references are cited at the end). I told it last weekend at the Restorying the Heroine’s Journey retreat to a circle of women gathered in a clearing in a very special forest in West Virginia. While it is about a woman’s journey to authenticity, it is relevant to men, and to our culture at large.

When Martin Shaw told an old fairy tale to our group seated around a campfire on a rainy summer day at Schumacher College, he prefaced it with a suggestion. Certainly, the effect of a story is heightened in a setting like that, gathered in a circle before a fire, listening to a master storyteller. Reading written words off a computer screen strips out the mysterious process that the collective unconscious works on us, the sensual connection to ancient practices. Since these old stories carry their own power, his advice has a place even here. Continue reading

Does “Nature” need a new pronoun or do we need a new story?

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This guest post is by Duane Marcus. You can read a bit about him on the “Denizens” page.

I saw a meme on social media that suggested we need a new pronoun for “Nature,” a pronoun other than “it.” This got me thinking about “Nature.” Is nature an entity? Is there a thing we have named “Nature”? When we suggest someone spend some time in “Nature” what do we mean? Most would agree that canoeing through the Everglades or hiking the Appalachian Trail would constitute spending time in “Nature.”  Is an urban park “Nature”? Is the beach in front of a wall of million dollar condos “Nature”? Are fields of corn and soybeans “Nature”? How about a street full of weedy abandoned lots in Detroit?

Nature Deficit Disorder is a hot topic these days. Wikipedia describes it thusly.

Nature deficit disorder refers to a hypothesis by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods that human beings, especially children, are spending less time outdoors resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems. So would walking down Madison Avenue help alleviate this? Don’t let your kids do this without adult supervision though because you might get arrested for neglect and child endangerment. Continue reading

Our voices, our power: women’s paradigm-shifting work

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“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.” ~ Audre Lorde, 1984

The resonance of our inner callings with needs and trends in the outer world seems to be gathering momentum lately. In this time between stories, I am being urged, by both interior and exterior promptings, to value my unique voice and speak up more. The signs I get range from encouragement like Audre Lorde’s 1984 speech, to learning from Priscilla Ward’s eye-opening essay about her experience as a black woman, to the fierce witnessing of Nell Bernstein in this interview about her book on juvenile incarceration, Burning Down the House.

At the time of Audre Lorde’s speech, I was just graduating from college, looking to work a year in a firm before grad school. Very much playing the game by the rules. Ronald Reagan as President was busy dismantling the social safety net so carefully woven over the last decades. The Soviet Bloc countries boycotted the summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Feminism had been around for a couple of decades. Though I did not identify as a feminist, I was entering a traditionally male profession, slipping noiselessly if unconsciously through the access hard-won by my sisters before me. Continue reading