Saturday, March 31, 2012

The new adventure

Sanding the interior

Adventure is another of the things that the designers of capitalism didn't particularly value, along with the arts. Maybe I'm beating a dead horse here, by speaking of the things, endlessly, that capitalism doesn't value. Which are, mainly, all of the things that I value. Nature. Beautiful, nourishing food grown by real people that tastes of the earth. Connections among communities. Communities themselves. Art.

Consider the cave painting of Lascaux. No one knows, or remembers, or cares, who were the richest and most powerful individuals in central France during the Stone Age. But everyone knows those cave paintings. Everyone knows the shape of those fertility goddesses. Were those cave painters like me? Like us?

Maybe their parents, too, told them they should be better hunters, better gatherers, better providers for their families. They shouldn't waste all of that precious red ochre dabbing it inside cave walls. What were they doing in there all day anyway? How did such foolishness help them or their village?

Or maybe those cave painters and sculptors were celebrated in their villages. Maybe they were the heroes, the shamans, the high priestesses, the mystical magicians. Maybe it's only cultures that support the artists among them that achieve anything truly lasting. There's no way to know, at least not for millennia. But I have a good guess.

My sister's introduced a new phrase into my vocabulary, the "poverty mentality." I still have a hard time with it. We grew up in a family that lived by the motto: use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without, even though I just heard it put in those words recently. My grandparents didn't have garbage pickup for fifty years, not out of a moral stance, but because they didn't want to pay for it. They burned everything in their furnace (including old tires) that didn't go into the compost (including leftover meat scraps). My grandfather spread old carpet in his garden and used old electrical wire for twine. My other grandmother drilled a hole in an old margarine container to put inside of her coffeemaker so that less of the ground coffee would be sullied by water and would be able to be reused. My mother still hoards plastic water bottles and bags. My father won't get rid of anything, not even broken electronics, which clutter his basement and my mom has to sneak out of the house when he hasn't touched them in years.

I have my quirks, too, things I compulsively hoard. I shore things up against the cold. Against future want. As my ancestors did before. Waste not, want not, I think.

So this whole idea of a poverty mentality? That it could just be me believing that I'm poor? When really my God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and all of the wealth in the universe is accessible to me if only I believe? It sounds dangerously close to a prosperity gospel.

Have you heard of that one, too? Sometimes I make offhand references to things that are evangelical shorthand. A prosperity gospel is what some Pentecostals believe, that all you have to do is go into your local Mercedes dealer and "name it and claim it." I can't buy that. Not the Mercedes, either. I just can't convince myself that if I were to believe hard enough that that $540 million Powerball jackpot could be mine.

What I can accept is a more internal truth about what it means to be rich and what it means to be poor. The truly rich are those who are not parsimonious with themselves or with those whom they love. They believe that God will provide their needs--not their wants, but their needs--and they can rest in that surety. Then they can believe that God also delights in giving them the desires of their hearts. The true desires of their true hearts.

How many rich people do you know who are desperately poor? The Mr. Potters of the world who hoard their wealth and won't throw away a packet of lemon juice? The truly rich are those who don't let their love for money or their fear of its loss be the thing that limits them, their prospects, their future, their hope, their love. God has not given us a spirit of fear. And at the core of my stinginess I find a bitter seed of fear. I'm afraid of ending up poor, starving, in a gutter. Of being at the mercy of friends and strangers. Worst of all, of hearing all of those who believed it couldn't be done say: I told you so.
Through the lacings of the leaves, the great sun seemed a flying shuttle weaving the unwearied verdure. Oh, busy weaver! unseen weaver! --pause!--one word!--whither flows the fabric? what palace may it deck wherefore all these ceaseless toilings? Speak, weaver! Stay thy hand! --but one word with thee! Nay--the shuttle flies--the figures float from forth the loom; the freshet-running carpet for ever slides away. The weaver-god, he weaves; and by that weaving is he deafened, that he hears no mortal voice; and by that humming, we too, who look on the loom are deafened, and only when we escape it shall we hear the thousand voices that speak through it.
--Moby Dick

Thursday, March 29, 2012


In keeping with my ongoing theme of synchronicity, this piece popped on my car radio in the five minutes I was driving to the store yesterday, a precise examination of exactly the dilemma most people like me—artists, homemakers, homesteaders, activists—have to deal with. Yesterday, in the car, burning my fossil fuels, it felt like an answer from God. There are people out there, even if they're in New Zealand, who are struggling to redefine the paradigms of contemporary culture. Listen to the whole thing, if you can.

It's all brilliant. I may have to transcribe more, later, but here's a snippet:
If success means embodying and exemplifying the traits that the economic system values--selfishness, cold rationality, efficiency--then I'm not sure how valuable it is to succeed within it. I don't want to try to fit into the parameters of the market. The market is a human construction. Its parameters should include humanity, all, all of us, everybody. I don't want women's success in a man's world, you know.

I want a new world, which is for everybody. I'll just make explicit what I mean by the system being partial to the construct of white male. And it doesn't mean that because you happen to be a white man you're a sexist racist. It does mean that you benefit from a system which favors the constructs with which you identify.

It makes complete sense that it would be partial to white men, as it is a system designed exclusively by white men, particular men who thought of the population as being comprised primarily of white men as a social class. That's just a historical fact. The way the thought patterns of those designers of capitalism manifest is things like the use of GDP as an overall measure of a country's health.... as much of the economically productive work the market does register is performed by men, while most of the productive work the market does not measure is performed by women. And it extends further to the general social privileging of paid labor over unpaid labor.

Even now, in this current new strong-mandate national government, they would rather have anybody on the DPB or benefits of any kind—they would rather have them off the benefit and working a minimum-wage job, no matter what kind of job it is. Any paid labor is preferable to any volunteer labor. It doesn't matter what you're doing. Like, for example, it's a constant source of struggle for people like me who primarily are focused on things like the arts and activism and social criticism and stuff like that.

Those things are not considered valuable. I always have to have some kind of crappy, minimum-wage service job, which is wasteful and exploitative, and somehow that is considered more valuable than me doing things that I'm actually good at and passionate about. And, of course, millions of people have this same story, and it's not always about being an artist. Sometimes it's about raising your children.

That, to me, is the biggest one, that it is less valuable in this current economic climate to raise your children than it is to have a minimum-wage job—I don't know, pumping gas--and spend most of your paycheck on daycare. It's so backwards, but it is a manifestation of the idea that any paid labor is preferable to unpaid labor of any kind. And in terms of work and income, the neglect is sizable. Over fifty percent of the labor done in the world is unpaid labor.

Dr. Prue Hyman, who I spoke to in August, argues that the distinction between work that is paid and work that is not paid is largely arbitrary, that many jobs which are paid have a counterpart in the unpaid sector, things like agriculture, child care, education, health care, elderly care, management. More than that, quite often, the paid and unpaid performances happen simultaneously, next to each other, in the same place. Parents volunteering in schools, for example. So, how absurd, then, that the paid work has become the basis for our estimations of prestige and status, when half of all the work that's done in the world is unpaid.

Furthermore, an emphasis on paid employment puts a great deal of pressure on single parents to be seeking only paid work. The unpaid work of raising children carries with it fewer and fewer social benefits, and those few that are available are always couched in the rhetoric of a handout, a free ride, rather than as a communal investment in a future of well-raised adults contributing productively to society. I mean, this is simple economics to me. You don't have to take any kind of ideological stance on it. It doesn't have to be from a feminist perspective. It can be pure utilitarian economics.

So I've been talking about reclaiming work done in the home for feminism and feminist discussion. And this ties in closely to what feminist economists are trying to do, which ties into the fact that GDP and the market in general don't take all productive activity into account, and GDP is used to extrapolate the health of nation, and policies are made based on partial information. And the people who are excluded from that information are primarily women, particularly poor women, and women of color. Now, I'm very much against the simple sort of assignations of market value to the tasks performed in the home. I wouldn't want to just see women being paid for their housework. Because most of those jobs, in the paid sector, earn minimum wage or less, depending on where you live....

We have to reassess the fundamental structure of the modern market, rather than trying to fit all unpaid and informal labor into the existing market parameters. Now the process of reassessing those structures should seek to move the conversation away from classical economic examinations of selfishness, scarcity, competition, and efficiency, and towards examinations of necessity, surplus, consumption, and community. --Ana Martino

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

At the border

Talking on the phone today with my bank, I realized, as usual, that the situation is much less dire than it appeared at 2:30 in the morning. They're already disputing the charges, I should get the money back, globalized economy and massive banking leverage and adjudicated insurance claims and credit-card fraud etc. etc. So then I begin thinking about what it means to have my banking information stolen three times in three years, begin to pay attention to synchronicity, begin to believe that perhaps someone in the universe is trying to tell me something. About money.

Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life, goes the saying. But what if you can't earn a living doing what you love? What if pursuing a dream means living consistently below the poverty level, as I have for the past eight years? More questions without answers. Sorry.

I've tried to claim the title of poor. After all, the people I most aspire to be like are poor. I wrote an entire essay about how if we take the call to live like Christ seriously, then we should actively renounce wealth, become poor ourselves, in order to be like Him. “The fox has his hole, and the bird his next, but the son of man has no place to lay his head.” All of the Christians I most respect actively took on poverty—Saint Francis, Mother Teresa, the monks and nuns who vows to be poor forever, pulling the name over their heads like a mantle. Saint Francis even gave all of his family's wealth to the poor and went to live in a cave with birds.

But there's a culture of shame that surrounds the word poor in our culture, as if the poor aren't working as hard as everyone else, or aren't as worthy. We're all equal in America, after all. Just some are more equal than others. If nothing else, these ordeals are teaching me how it feels to live on the edge of security, where one little hiccup in my financial life can send me into a place of doubt and fear, not knowing how I'll pay my bills or how many penalties or how much judgment I'll incur.

Of course, I have an education and a middle-class family and sufficient talent to pursue a six-figure job with benefits and a retirement account and perquisites if I wanted one. Does it make me somehow less of a person that I don't? I argue that it brings me closer to my calling, closer to the noumenal realm of the Spirit. Yet Jesus, when he needed funding, could call up a fish from the ocean with gold in its mouth. But can't I, too? That's the promise—you can tell the mountain to uproot itself with only the faith of a mustard seed. All that's lacking is my own faith.

She's weeping

I'm up at 2:30 in the morning, tapping on my computer keys in a darkened room while my dog snores beside me. I found out today (or yesterday, if you're counting) that the credit cards I had stolen from my wallet in DC, and which I immediately cancelled, were used to clear out my checking account. If you're reading this, you bastard, I hope you know how much your actions have the power to hurt other people. I traveled to this conference to learn how to help people, how to bring money and education and health care to the vulnerable ones who need it most, and I'm repaid with scorn.

It's not a lot of money to most people, maybe. But two months' salary for me, and now I'm again left scrabbling, bootless, on a graveled cliff leading down to a ravine. Yes, I know generally these things get worked out. I hope and believe it will be--but in the meantime, how much time? How many hours spent on hold? How many calls to faceless bureaucrats? How much anxiety and stress and dependence on the kindness of strangers?

Another season, another disaster. I've canceled my last two bank accounts for fraud of exactly this sort--an online database hacked, a credit-card number stolen. It feels like life is this endless wrestle for simple boredom, for peace--for the storms to calm and for clear sailing across a pleasant patch of sea. There's always a sense of blaming the victim. Could I have done more? Of course. I could have backed up my hard drive in triplicate. I could have kept my purse closer. I could have set up a third bank account exclusively for this trip and only carried that card with me, in a money pocket hugging my skin.

But in truth, my only crime was eating lunch at a crowded tourist destination, for flashing my fancy computer in public and making someone believe I had more money than I do. I'm supposed to be blogging with answers to questions, rather than with questions themselves. But sometimes I don't have answers. Maybe never.

This, too, is a part of travel, if this is meant to be a travel blog. All travel involves risk. And not just literal travel but figurative--we're all journeying through life. It'd be easier, sure, to barricade ourselves inside of our houses and never step outdoors. Is the reward worth the risk? Often I believe yes. Some days I believe no.

Tonight, Mr. Rochester lost his eyesight. But he gets his Jane Eyre back. There's a time for weeping and a time for laughing. It'll cycle back around, I know, the meek shall inherit the earth, and it's just money, after all. But it feels like an endless battle, when the yoke is supposedly easy, and the burden allegedly light.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Quote of the day

"Where there is energy to command well enough, obedience never fails." --Jane Eyre

Friday, March 23, 2012

The rainbow is the answer

I've been distant the last couple of days, going through the exhausting whirlwind of meetings and travel to finally end up here, where I get a blessed week of peace and rest with family, time to regroup and recuperate. This event was definitely the bravest thing I've done alone in a while, and while it was vastly rewarding, I'm realizing that the reason I want a career locked alone in a castle turret at a desk is because I'm so self-conscious in the presence of strangers. It can almost become crippling, the insecurity I feel about my appearance, my body, my clothing. No more so than in a strange city, as I was this last week.

I remember days in Chicago when I'd wear a pair of ambitious shoes, how I'd become convinced that everyone on the el was staring at me, as conscious of my wardrobe as I was. But I wanted to wear the ambitious shoes. I wanted to be the cute girl in leopard-print stilettos that all the guys were making eyes at. It's a simultaneous desire to be brave in appearance, to dress in such a way that everyone notices, and then a desperate fear of that same desire, a desperate fear of standing out.

Does everyone feel that insecurity, or is it just me? I notice how much easier men have it, in their comfortable generic loafers, matching their identical suits. They don't have to worry about those decisions. Or maybe they do--maybe I'm selling them short. Then again, maybe it is something completely different for women. Who knows. Teiresias, the only one with experience, said he'd choose to be a woman. So maybe it doesn't matter.

Does it come from being made fun of as a child? Being a dork in middle school and high school? Does it come from switching climates in college, having no clue as to how one dresses for winter, either over-dressing in massive ski jackets bought at Bangkok import sales, or under-dressing, in thin Chinese-print thrift-store shirts, on dreary early rainy gray days in fall, when everyone else had figured out it was time to wear a coat? Or does it just come from being one of these people who's always been more comfortable in the world of ideas, the world of words, and still has absolutely no idea how to move a body through space?

Another DC photograph

Because I'm too exhausted for anything else. I was planning to give a detailed blow-by-blow of the eighteen-hour day of travel, but some cherry blossoms will have to suffice to assuage my guilt and meet my obligation.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I don't know why

Today at the ASHA conference I was more inspired than I expected to be again around people who spend their lives working in developing, by stories from all around the world, people representing the truest American ideals. That's what the USAID is all about, and until this conference, I don't think I'd really thought about what American ideals are, precisely. We bandy about terms like democracy and freedom, but what do those words really mean? True equality, equal access to all parts of our democracy and our state, access to economic opportunity, and education, and health care, and voting booths.

Then, during lunch, I watched the news. Is it something about being in DC, where the shots from the capital are broadcast to the nation, that makes one spend more attention focused on politics? I also browsed around the New York Times as I ate my sandwich, reading the resignation letter from the vice president of Goldman Sachs. It linked to this article from the Rolling Stone. The abstract? These ideals of democracy are being perverted by financiers who believe that greed is the sole American value.

In the article, Simon Johnson, an economics professor at MIT, “compares the bailout to the crony capitalism he has seen in Third World countries,” exactly the kind of corruption we aspiring ASHA grantees are fighting against.

More irony? The mutual fund shares I continue to own, purchased at a discount rate when I worked at a financial institution directly out of college, were taken over by--you guessed it--Goldman Sachs. So, full disclosure--I'm one of the people getting doubly ripped off, both as a taxpayer and as a "muppet."

One of the jokes that my brother suggested, when I was looking for ways to shave money off my travel budget, was that I could bring a tent and pitch it among the Occupy protesters, with whom I stand figuratively if not literally. I'd get free lodging, not to mention bragging rights. I walked right by the Occupy encampment on my way from the Metro this morning. Not only would my budget have been smaller, so would have been my commute.

And on the news at lunch, today is the same day that Republicans announced their plan to lower the corporate tax rate from 35 to 25 percent. When Mitt Romney pays 13 percent, the same exact rate I am taxed on my four-figure annual income, because I'm self-employed rather than being employed by someone other than myself. When Goldman Sachs pays one percent. And the entire ASHA budget (if it doesn't get cut, by those same Republicans), funding American ideals around the world, is 1 percent per year of what Goldman Sachs earns in profits in a single quarter.

Ironic much? It's almost enough to make me wish I'd pitched a tent and waved some placards.

En route from Marion, Massachuestts, to Crystal City, Virginia

450 miles
Wind: SW 10 knots

Another adventure today, another flight across at least some ocean, and south, always farther south, to someplace warmer where cherries and bradford pear are blossoming. I'm here for a conference for American Schools and Hospitals Abroad, a USAID organization.

In middle school and high school, in boarding school, I flew back and forth between Bangkok and Manila four times a year by myself, so getting on a plane, walking through the airport, resting at gates--it feels like coming home in so many ways. There's no rush better than a plane gathering force beneath my body. It's better when I'm going someplace completely new solely for the joy of it, but even with the stress of having to impress DC insiders, being here gives me a feeling of freedom, of release. Travel gives me a little frisson of existential angst, making everything sharper, everything have more color.

Maybe travel is my drug of choice. The hotel I chose was based completely on online research, and when I arrived I discovered it nestled beneath an overpass in a posh district blocks from the Pentagon, so I wandered the streets with hipster urbanites and yuppie joggers, retiree tourists and traveling businessman, and found, immediately, a Thai restaurant where I ate overpriced and inauthentic, but fantastically delicious, duck rolls and salmon curry. I'm going to see how many continents' worth of ethnic cuisine I can stuff into three days. The Cherry Blossom Festival is also starting this week, and I'm wishing I had budgeted extra time for the free Smithsonian museums, or at least a tour of the Capital building. I have to pack in as much culture as possible while I'm away from the Maine woods.

And always I carry with me the guilt. I have friends who have given up travel altogether as a concession to their fossil-fuel consumption, and since those long ago flights from Bangkok to Manila, I still find the view from the skies toxic, somehow--all of the scars we've made on the surface of the perfect earth. It's beautiful from the ground--bike paths and waterfalls and landscaped gardens and soaring skyscrapers--but from heaven it looks like a crawling cancer. More accurately, it's like those possibly benign growths I find on the undersides of leaves. Arcane heiroglyphics carved out by unknowing parasites. The view from the sky, the intricate tracings we've left on the earth, are the same, I suppose. We don't know the damage we're doing. Or if we're doing damage.

It's the yin and yang of all of life's choices, I suppose. I'm here so I can do something to help people across the world, but in traveling here, in taking up my single spot in this hotel room, using this electricity, I'm carving out my own path on the surface of the earth, scarring it.

So again I'm traveling, and I'm going to enjoy being in the moment, being in a place where there isn't a foot of ice on the ground, someplace where I can walk on the actual earth.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Good day tonight

I found another Lenten blog today, which made me feel better about this foolishness that I'm pursuing. He agreed with me, that the primary purpose of the practice is simply following through, that unforeseeable things take place. I'd have to agree, although I'm still not sure what it is this year. But, like my favorite yoga teacher says--repetition is magic. Consistency equals results.

It's about simply coming to the page every day, or to the mat, or to the easel, or the kindergarten classroom, whatever your vocation happens to be. Whatever practice is yours. Of course, as with everything, this is easier said than done. It's so much easier to pull back the sheets and close my eyes and say--maybe tomorrow. Especially at 1:36 am, which is when I tend to be writing. Or when I tend to procrastinate the important parts of my life until.

I've been thinking about the specific practice of relationships. The practice of love, I guess it is. It's such a delicate balance. And the most difficult practice we encounter. I feel the need to quote Thomas Merton wholesale at this moment:

"The best way to love ourselves is to love others, yet we cannot love others unless we love ourselves since it is written, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.' But if we love ourselves in the wrong way, we become incapable of loving anybody else."

Friday, March 16, 2012

En route from Aroostook County, Maine, to Marion, Massachusetts

436 statute miles
38° F
Winds light and variable

Drove down this afternoon to Massachusetts, where it's supposed to be in the sixties all week. Already I can make do in the house without my down vest on, although Shadow is sporting his stress bump already. Sometimes I try to see the drive through his eyes--all the confusing lights as we zoom by Boston, the tunnels where everything goes bright, and then the lights in the distance, and then the strange curves as we exit on-ramps and off-ramps. I may not belong in Aroostook County, but he's a Mainer born and bred. He doesn't even know what the lights of Presque Isle look like, let alone a city like Boston.

On the drive we listened to The Hunger Games, an audiobook that I'm halfway through for a second time, and which is plotted so brilliantly as to make me quail. It's such a brilliant conception, a sort-of The Lottery meets American Idol, and the force of the concept alone keeps the story moving forward inexorably. If you haven't read it already, you should now, if only to keep the ubiquitous movie trailer from stealing your own Katniss Everdeen from you. But maybe I'm just dazed from the road. If it's this year's frigging Twilight, as everyone seems to be saying, then it won't take long before the snipers start taking potshots, pointing out all the flaws.

Sometimes I just love the thrill of an exhilarating plot, carrying me forward, creating an unheretoforeseen universe and its attendant characters, and all the more if those characters are heroic and three-dimensional, but of course more good than bad. Maybe I have some lessons to learn. It's these dark literary novels that haunt me, but the ones that keep me up reading into the night are young-adult fantasy thrillers. What does that say?

I don't know. I'm musing. Hoping Shadow doesn't die of heatstroke in a house where the heat is set above 57 degrees. Or worse yet, in a coastal zone where it's supposed to hit 66 degrees this week. About time to be getting spinach into the ground. Maybe, by the time I get back, all of the ice on our cold frames will have melted.

Your body may be gone

St. John's River

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Be here now

Today's snow

Since it's been brought up in the comments, I've been thinking about original sin--total depravity, in Calvin's words. It's such a difficult thing to wrap one's brain around, Adam and Eve taking a bite from that apple. When I dive down into the intricacies of that moment, it seems like their failure was one of love, of failing to love God, of not trusting him.

I've been diving down into the meanings of these words, or trying to, meditating on them. What it actually means to love another person, to love God—to trust him. To trust that he really has good things in store for you, not bad. How a parent can claim to love a child and then go on and hurt that child. And it happens every day, in subtle ways, even with parents who don't put their cigarettes out on their children's faces. How it feels like it happens, even with God.

So we all bite the apple every day. We all fail to love. And God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love. Love is what he gives us as fear's opposite. When I wrap my brain around these words, I get lost inside of them, but it's like Thomas Merton said—it all twines back to love, like a flame circling its own center.

Like Merton, like the heretic Bell, I say—love wins. Love is what we lost in the garden, what we regain with Christ. Love is what I lose hold of every minute, every minute that I try to hold onto. Here's my hymn for today, by the poet Mason Jennings:

Be here now
No other place to be
Or just sit there dreaming
Of how life could be
If we were somewhere better
Somewhere far
Away from all our worries
Well, here we are

You are the love of my life
Be here now
No other place to be
All the doubts that linger
Just set them free
And let good things happen
Let the future come
Into each moment
Like a rising sun

Sun comes up and we start again
Sun comes up and we start again
Sun comes up and we start again

Be here now
No other place to be
This whole world keeps changing
Come change with me
Everything that's happened
All that's yet to come
Is here inside this moment
It's the only one

--Mason Jennings, Boneclouds

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

We'll ride

Solitary nature

Today's Moby Dick quote of the day:
"Almost universally, a lone whale--as a solitary Leviathan is called--proves an ancient one. Like venerable moss-bearded Daniel Boone, he will have no one near him but Nature herself; and her he takes to wife in the wilderness of waters, and the best of wives she is, though she keeps so many moody secrets."

Monday, March 12, 2012

The good times are killing me

Where are the coyotes?

"Animals are changing, and I cannot tell you why."—Inusiq Nasalik, 88-year-old inuit elder, September 6, 2004

And then this article: The Violence of the Lambs.

Never mind that I was linked to it from an article talking about how facts are stupid—even just a cursory search reveals that he's not lying about the facts: dolphins are coming after us.

Here's the essential quote:
“A question that lately has been getting knocked around a lot in the better biology departments is this: As we intrude on, clear-cut, burn, pollute, occupy, cause to become too hot or too dry, or otherwise render unsuitable to wildlife a larger and larger percentage of the planet, what will be involved in terms of the inevitable increased human exposure to remnant populations of truly wild fauna? Not for us but for them. What sort of changes, adaptations, and responses might we look for in the animals themselves as the pressures of this global-biological endgame begin to make themselves felt at the level of the individual organism? We have in mind here not microevolutionary changes to existing species but stress-related behavior modification, so-called "phenotypic plasticity," the sort of thing we know numerous animal groups to be capable of, though it is rarely witnessed.”
And here's a quote from the Tampa Bay Times, after a stingray stabbed a second human through the heart:
“'It was a freak accident,' said Lighthouse Point acting fire Chief David Donzella. 'We still can't believe it.'
Serious stingray attacks like this one and the one that killed "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin last month are rare, marine experts say.”
Really. You don't say. And they're not the only animals acting weird. Dolphins are downing swimmers in Cancun, and sea lions are attacking Shakira. My favorite story from the article is the monkeys versus humans battle that was staged outside of four water tankers in central Africa. They're after us. They, and the whales have finally figured out that not only are we killing them, but we're killing everything else, too, and something must be done. Animals are shifting as we shift.

Another reference, my documentary of the day: The Cove.

No wonder they're after us. Everything is echoing itself—dolphins popping up in documentaries, dolphins and whales, both of the order cetacea, both marine mammals. Dolphins are just mini-whales, and all I've been reading about are the whales. Whales, whose tails Melville describes thus:
“The more I consider this mighty tail, the more I do deplore my inability to express it. At times, there are gestures in it, which, though they would well grace the hand of man, remain wholly inexplicable. In an extensive herd, so remarkable, occasionally, are these mystic gestures, that I have heard hunters who have declared that the whale, indeed, by these methods intelligently conversed with the world. Nor are there wanting other motions of the whale in his general body, full of strangeness, and unaccountable to his most experienced assailant. Dissect him how I may, then, I go but skin deep; I know him not, and never will.”
So we're slaughtering them, the animals that possess a mystic language. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Can't we all just feel it? At a fundamental level? There's something wrong. We've lost our connection to the earth, to the sea, to each other. We can't stop puffing toxins into the air, and everything else breathing them in. There are too many of us. Unless we stop, and soon, there will be hell to pay, from someone, whether it's more wars for oil or, more karmically elegant, a planet of the apes.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Now that your rose is in bloom

“Capitalism is an inherently unstable system.... Capitalism is notorious for its ups and downs. We have a whole vocabulary to refer to them: booms and busts; recessions and depressions; upturns and downturns....”

“You would expect that we would know this about capitalism's history and therefore not believe that we could somehow manage to escape instability. But over the last thirty to forty years we, as a society, have been unwilling to think critically about capitalism. And it shows. We thought we weren't going to have another crisis like the one we had in the 1930s, or like the one the Japanese have had since 1990. We imagined that these problems were no longer relevant to modern life. So we were unprepared for the mess we're in.”

“So another reason this crisis is so different is that it's coming at the end of a long period of denial. Let me give you an example: When I began my work as a PhD student in economics, the typical curriculum had a course about the business cycle, to introduce students to the history of economic ups and downs in their own country and others. In 2007 the vast majority of graduate programs in economics had no course on the business cycle at all. We thought we had overcome it, outgrown it. We had come to believe that we were in a new economic system, a mature capitalism, and that we had all the mechanisms to control it.”

--Richard Wolff, “Capitalism and Its Discontents,” The Sun, February 2012.

Friday, March 09, 2012

I've been locking myself up in my house


Maybe there is life out there, the force that through the green fuse drives the flower, waking up again. Yesterday broke records, at sixty degrees, the temperatures normally reserved for May. There's carbon in our atmosphere for you. I'm thinking about taking up bicycling again. Maybe I could bike to the grocery store fifteen miles away on dirt roads and come back, at least in the summer.

Today I caught the tail end of a documentary about the dolphins being killed by tuna fishermen, and then I had tuna for dinner. It wasn't intentional--the tuna was leftover--I've been resolving not to buy it anymore--but still, the fact remains. The thing I want to do I do not do. Who shall rescue me from this body of death?

And maybe that's what winter is for. Reminding us that, like the dying god, we too will die. Die and be reborn.

I'm sick of writing about winter. I'm sick of thinking about winter. I'm sick of taking photographs of winter. But still, winter persists. I understand, now, the linguistic urban legend about Eskimos and their 385 words for snow. I could come up with a dozen off the top of my head, most of them involving incarnations of profanity.

But yesterday, I paused on my bridge of ice. I stopped, and I took one picture, of one bud. There it is. The green fuse is driving that force. The dolphins swim through the sea, and maybe they'll figure out what we've been doing to them all of these years and come after us. As everyone knows, Douglas Adams not least among them, they're smarter than us and they've been that way for a long time.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

There's a boat for sale, a 38-foot Ingrid Ketch, down in Baja. It can be yours for the paltry sum of $42,000. These are the things one googles when it's breaking records at fifty degrees in March.

Here's a link:

But no. I'm not complaining about the weather. Today the snow turned brown from the muck underneath it. But I'm happy. I can see sprigs of grass, in places where the van leans up against the front lawn spruce, the tree the internet dish is now nailed to.

I keep reading Moby Dick. I've been reading it for months now. I wonder how many people manage to read it inside of a year. And yet the language is so grand, so precise. And gruesome. The parts where the whales get murdered are almost impossible to read. I read them like I'm watching a horror movie, with my hands over my eyes.

Don't believe me? Here you go:

“The red tide now poured from all sides of the monster like brooks down a hill. His tormented body rolled not in brine but in blood, which bubbled and seethed for furlongs behind in their wake. The slanting sun playing upon this crimson pond in the sea, sent back its reflection into every face, so that they all glowed to each other like red men....”

“...Stubb slowly churned his long sharp lance into the fish, and kept it there, carefully churning and churning, as if cautiously seeking to feel after some gold watch that the whale might have swallowed, and which he was fearful of breaking ere he the fish. And now it is struck; for, starting from his trance into that unspeakable thing called his 'flurry,' the monster horribly wallowed in his blood, overwrapped himself in impenetrable, mad, boiling spray, so that the imperilled craft, instantly dropping astern, had much ado blindly to struggle out from that frenzied twilight into the clear air of the day....”

“At last, gush after gush of clotted red gore, as if it had been the purple lees of red wine, shot into the frighted air; and falling back again, ran dripping down his motionless flanks into the sea.”

I guess we've always had to mutilate living beings for the sake of technology.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

I was lifted up again

I find myself haunted by parables every once in a while. Lately, it's been the one about the elderly widow who loses one of her coins, the coins she hangs on her forehead that say that she was wed. She hunts her entire house for them, for days, for weeks, sweeps out the corners, until she finds the one that was lost.

So I found my data. Every last jot and tittle of it, as I've been promising myself since last October. I don't know if that indicates perseverance or insanity, but I have it back.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The city smells fishy

Ice castles and pink sky

I'm up against a deadline tonight, researching chloroquine and foreign ministries of health.

Did you know you can build your own solar panels? And it's really cheap? Reference this documentary: Burning in the Sun

Also this one, on a completely different topic, corrupt American politics. Still amazing: Street Fight

Snuck in a walk before dark. Today the snow was crunchy and crisp, a fresh layer of ice over a increasingly crumbly interior.

It's supposed to get into the forties this week. At last.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Are throwing knives into the tree

Bringing up global warming the other day got me thinking about capitalism, of which I'm a bigger fan than I let on. In fact, I believe that capitalism, innovation driven by profit, is the only thing that can solve climate change. Case in point is Denmark, where they came to the decision, after the first Iranian crisis of the seventies, that they couldn't be dependent on foreign oil anymore. So they made a legislative change, designating a strict reduction in the amount of carbon emissions.

Thirty years later, cottage industries have turned into engineering conglomerates, and now half of all of the world's wind turbines are Danish. Not only did they create energy independence for themselves, they also created a vast new industry that they now leaders, that they can sell because they have three decades of experience on us. During the global financial crisis, the Danish unemployment rate has hovered around 4 percent. (Reference this Wikipedia page, but a general Google search will tell you all you need to know.)

I believe that's because of capitalism creating favorable conditions for solving a problem. That's the power of a free market. I was a waitress. I know how well it works.

The problem is that our energy market isn't free, at all, because oil and gasoline products are overwhelmingly subsidized. Not just in the support our government gives in cash payments (which they do), but also in the institutionalized support for things like car companies and roads, as opposed to magnetic trains and bike paths. Things that sound like science fiction, but if we actually put any effort behind could become viable solutions. It does require a massive shift, but the expense of not gradually turning the vast ship of state will be much, much greater. If the energy companies had to foot the bill for the true cost of their product, if we had to pay the true cost of our product, traditional energy would be much more expensive and renewable energy would have a much fairer shot, and true innovators and entrepreneurs would be able to develop alternative solutions. Think of the expenses of disaster relief alone, not just in this country but around the world, and if we had to pay a tax for them, every time we hit the pump.

I said: I'm too afraid, too poor, too lazy. And I am all of those things. It took me months to work up the courage to write about this—fear. I can't afford an electric car or carbon offsets or a geothermal heating system or a retrofit of my internal-combustion engine into an electric one—poverty. I barely even write letters to my senators, although if I really believed what I claim to believe I should be running for office and staging protests—laziness.

And yet. I'm writing about it, at last. If all of us could call out the fire-breathing dragon in the room, if all of us reduce consumption and write our senators and raise awareness, then maybe the market will begin to turn.

If I'm honest, my concern about the non-sustainability of American life was, to a large degree, what sent me off on my hiking adventure eight years ago today, what made me move aboard a boat where I could catch my own fish, my own sunlight, my own water. It's what drove me here, to northern Maine, where I can farm and can and slowly build an off-the-grid homestead. It just doesn't feel like enough, doesn't feel fast enough. I still cringe even throwing a log on the fire, thinking of all that carbon dioxide coming from my chimney, though I know it's the best heating choice I can make right now.

Jesus said: sell all you have and give it to the poor. I always have taken him literally, and still do. If only I were brave enough to lay myself bare on the altar of absolute faith. I'm not yet. I'm still afraid, still lazy. It's too easy to sit up late at night in front of my screens. The difficult choices are difficult. To say that I'm doing enough would be lying.

But I'm doing the best I can.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

I'm warm again

Today's snow

I'm still thinking about the art performance last night, enough so to request roasted red potatoes for dinner this evening. I keep ruminating about being at the center of that human conveyer belt. We were supposed to become a human machine, only rejoining community by turning to each other at the end. Meeting each other's eyes and returning to our humanity again. But the unexpected thing that happened was that we were all humans inside of the machine.

The whole night, I couldn't help but be connected to the people around me, every time my fingers brushed theirs. Every time my eyes sought the glove to my right, every time my movements slowed to allow for hers, or I noticed, in my peripheral vision, her motion shift and take off in an exquisite new direction, an elegant hand-flip as she arced her potato. We were human inside of the machine.

Climate change has been haunting me over the last several months, punctuated by the tornadoes last night, this time over Chattanooga where my parents live. I know climate scientists reject such neophyte associations, but no one's talking about the extreme weather patterns, and how they just keep getting more extreme. It was clear in the Bahamas, it's clear here in Maine, it's clear in Tennessee. It's clear everywhere, but we're all blindfolded, handing our dollars to the gas tank, as slow as the sunrise.

The problem is that no one believes in science. Nor does anyone understand how it works anymore, how even Newtonian physics, the bedrock of the Industrial Revolution, is nothing more than a theory, a theory that Einstein disproved. Gravity is just a theory, and this is because proof isn't something science does. Nevertheless, science works, perfectly, as a method of distinguishing between good theories and bad theories, as proven by the brushed-steel machine I'm typing on right now, by the cell phone in your pocket, by the television in your living room, all of which are based on quantum mechanics. Just a theory, but one that works really well.

What science does is establish correlation, collect evidence. And the correlation between carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and global warming is as clear as any. The evidence is irrefutable. By the time they have proof, we'll all be dead.

So what am I saying? It's the same as inside of that human conveyer belt. I'm a human inside of the machine of carbon emissions. I want to break free of the circle, to look at the people on either side of me and yell, scream—let's change things. Let's do something, anything. So why don't I? I'm too afraid, too poor, too lazy. As are the rest of you whose gloved fingers graze mine.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Things are crashing down

Aroostook potatoes

This evening I participated in another collaborative art performance on behalf of a friend Carol, a conceptual artist finishing up her MFA this year. I was reluctant, at first—whatever is going on with me is affecting my desire to be around people and making me troglodytic. Nevertheless, I drove to town as I'd agreed Carol's project focuses on the intersection between art and a farming community, and asks questions about how art and farming intersect. Tonight, we mourned the death of the potato, the central crop of Aroostook.

All 25 of us wore black, standing in a wide circle outside of the Maine Potato Growers' Association, with our hands spread out open. We lifted potatoes from a small coffin and handed them one to another, as slow as the sun rising, until all of the potatoes had been moved around the circle. I'd participated in one of these collaborative performances before (remember when we were roasting potatoes over a fire in the middle of February?) and I knew exactly how cold I'd get, so this time I wore every last piece of warm clothing I had—two coats on top of each other.

At first, I'll admit I was skeptical. What could we possibly learn by handing potatoes around? But we were supposed to move slowly, as a human machine, a living conveyer belt, and over time, over the 45 minutes that we stood together, staring straight into a portion of our city street, I began to sense the intuitive center of the project. At first, my eyes had to find the person to my left or my right, hunting for their hands so that I could trust them with my potato. Over time, I began to have faith that their hands would find mine. The person to my left would deliver the potato to me, and I would release the potato into the hand to my right. I didn't have to look. All I had to do was feel, to trust, to release, to let the potatoes move through me.

It became a spiritual connection, the group of us mimicking the rhythmic movements that used to characterize the farms up here, the industry that is dying moment by moment. The circle connected to the larger circle of farmers. It felt eternal, as if the potatoes could last forever, as if we could stand there forever. And when, at the end, we turned to face each other, it was as if all was whole again.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

The seasons, when they call you

My posts are dense and wordy sometimes. When I am lonely, I comfort myself with words. Today, I feel like the girl in this picture, given everything but trying to hide empty eyes.

Courtney Love, you know me so well.

I'm finding this lenten practice more difficult than in previous years. I believe I have nothing to say. My life is simple now, no more backpacking or sailing, just the things that are necessary to get through the day: dishes, work, food, snowshoeing and yoga for survival. When I have nothing to say, I generally find myself yearning for adventure, which leads to Google searches for Wharram catamarans in Thailand.

I try to remember what Thich Naht Hanh said about the simple life, about saying to myself as I wash the dishes: I am washing the dishes. I am dipping my hands in warm water. I am here in this moment.

I am here in this moment, reaching out across the binary universe, late-night television on mute to my left, K. snoring on the couch, Shadow lapping water, two dirty bowls emptied of fish and rice on the kitchen table. It's such a simple thing, accepting a simple life, accepting the life of this moment and no other. But so complex. If I could really accept now, really be in the cold, in the snow, in the waiting, I'd achieve enlightenment. And I would be tempted by sailboat searches in tropical climates.

But enlightenment's a long way off. The most I can do is move through each day and do the work I'm called to do. It's all any of us can do, and it doesn't feel enough. If I think of my faith, the reason I make the pilgrimage to worship on Sundays, on the days I can convince myself not to hit snooze, it's to remind myself of that. To pray for faith, to accept the life I've been given. None of us get another shot.