The Spirit of Education–first posts

I am now continuing the conversations I held on Transition Times over the years on my new Substack blog, “The Spirit of Education.” I would love it if you subscribed (it’s free)!

Here are my first few posts on the new blog, a sampling. I’m just getting going!

Transitioning from Transition Times to the Spirit of Education

Redesigning Education: Educating for Collaboration and Resilience

Education as a Practice of Love

The Spiritual Dimension of the Climate Crisis

Reclaiming “Magical Thinking” in Education

Please subscribe, comment, and tell me what you think!

The Spirit of Education: first posts of 2023

For a bit, during this transition from Transition Times to my new Substack blog, The Spirit of Education, I will continue to post links here so my longtime readers can find their way to my latest posts.

Please do subscribe over at Substack, it’s free!

Transitioning from Transition Times to The Spirit of Education: A Last/First Post

This is a transition post from Transition Times, my blog spanning the years 2011 – 2022, to my new Substack blog, The Spirit of Education. I hope my longtime readers of Transition Times will join me as I embark on this new exploratory journey: you can find and follow The Spirit of Education here.

In 2011, when I started Transition Times, it was out of a desperate need to find and communicate with what felt like the precious few others who were awake to the climate catastrophe and Sixth Great Extinction. Back then these topics were rarely reported in the mainstream media and no one I knew seemed to be aware of what I felt so keenly, happening all around me. Walking through forests that were growing more and more silent as the songbirds disappeared, I felt so alone in my terrible grief. I reached out the only way I knew how: through writing. 

And I was amazed and delighted to find, almost instantly, a circle of people who shared my fear and sorrow, and were eager, like me, to try to avert the worst disasters—although we were clear-eyed about the reality that these huge Gaian changes were gaining steam year by year, and there was no going back to the placid pre-Industrial Age. Adapt and mitigate were the watchwords, even as we protested the hegemony of the fossil fuel industry at every opportunity and tried to encourage the nascent renewable energy infrastructure.

As I wrote my way through the decade, I wrote about the good things that happened: the joy of Obama winning a second term, the wonderful surprise of the Supreme Court affirmation of gay marriage, the gathering force of environmental organizations like Extinction Rebellion, and the emergence of passionate advocates like Greta Thunberg. 

I wrote about my own ongoing explorations of spiritual ecology, sharing my encounters with favorite authors like Joanna Macy and Andreas Weber, and my growing affiliation with organizations like the Bioneers. I started Transition Times with the promise that no topic would be “too far out” in my quest to understand and find a way through the morass of our time; I explored everything from indigenous spirituality to quantum theory to solar engineering and the psychology of persuasion. 

I also responded, often hotly, to current events—the endless parade of political nightmares and environmental tragedies. And as my form was the personal essay, I shared quite a bit about the ups and downs of my personal life too. 

At times, I talked about how distressed and disillusioned I was becoming with the educational system, the machine in which I functioned as a low-level cog—that is to say, a college professor at a small liberal arts college. My college was founded as an experiment—the first residential early college in the US, for bright 16-year-olds—and it was not only my employer for many years, but also my alma mater. It had sparked the flourishing national Bard Early College Network and was part of the global Bard Open Society University Network, in which I was happy to teach students from all over the world. As colleges go, my college was among the best. And still…I could not shake the growing feeling that we were not serving our students well, and that it wasn’t the fault of our college, but a problem with the entire educational system, from kindergarten on up. 

Everything I read in the conventional educational theory and praxis literature just seemed like tinkering around the edges of the machine, adding a little more oil here or a new contraption there, so that the existing machine could continue to pump out well-prepared workers to join the capitalist conveyer belt—the very conveyer belt that I knew was leading us all over the cliff of climate disaster environmental collapse.

Part of the problem in education is how siloed the different fields of study have become. Environmental issues are discussed in environmental studies classes, but totally ignored in other classes. As a humanities professor, I set out to do what I could to break down this unspoken wall. I had been teaching literature and human rights / social justice classes for a long time, but post-2011, I began to shift towards literature, both fiction and non-fiction, that foregrounded the environmental crisis and climate justice. My Women Write the World class began to focus on books and other media by women leaders in the environmental movement, and my journalism classes abandoned the pretense of objectivity, morphing into communications classes on how to advocate for social and environmental justice in ways that encouraged people to become more active, rather than to despair and tune out. 

In these years, I wrote and published a memoir, What I Forgot…and Why I Remembered, which set my personal life story against the larger backdrop of my time and place, and talked about how my early love for nature had been socialized out of me by my culture and education. The Ur story of that memoir turned out to be about how, at age 8 or so, I wrote a story about a wood nymph named Estrella who gathered a group of animals to try to save their forest, which was being logged. But my child self could not figure out how to stand up to the loggers, so I never finished the story. In writing my memoir, I realized that Estrella is still there, waiting for me to find a way to save her beloved forest. And I am still groping my way towards solutions…but my child’s eye instinct to gather a group together to tackle the problem still holds true. The problems we face now are far too great for any one person to solve alone. 

I have long had an instinctive pull towards creating communities. During the Transition Times years, I founded and led the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, dedicated to creating more spaces for women writers to strengthen their voices as they connected with each other and with audiences. I co-founded and led a small press, Green Fire Press, dedicated to publishing “books that make the world better.” More recently I co-founded an online community for writers, Birth Your Truest Story, also dedicated to encouraging writers of all ages and many walks of life to tap deeply into their creativity and express what is in their hearts. 

In my individual and community work, I realized how important it is to “align the personal, political and planetary,” by which I mean to understand more deeply how one’s own life story is conditioned and shaped by one’s time and place. I coined the term “purposeful memoir” to refer to memoirs that share life stories in the hope of benefiting others, as I had done in my own memoir.

In my latest book, Purposeful Memoir as a Quest for a Thriving Future, I share the stories of purposeful memoirists who have changed the world for the better—I call them “worldwrights,” taking off on the word “playwrights”: playwrights write plays, worldwrights write to right the world. Among the worldwrights I discuss are Joy Harjo, Audre Lorde, Virginia Woolf, John Perkins, Terry Tempest Williams and many more. In this book, I share my “alchemical” approach to purposeful memoir, “saluting the positive and transmuting the negative” in one’s life story. Through a series of writing prompts (I call them “catalysts”), I send the reader on eight “Quests” for positive qualities that we need to cultivate in order to co-create the thriving future I still believe is possible for humans on Earth.

All through these years, I have been dedicated to exploring spiritual, esoteric and mystical traditions, and how traditional and contemporary metaphysical wisdom intersects with cutting edge quantum theory. An instinctive “nature mystic” myself, I was raised without religious training, and that granted me freedom to follow my own curiosity wherever it led me. Knowing that the Abrahamic religions had cut humans off from nature, paving the way for the exploitation and destruction that spawned the current climate and biodiversity crisis, I focused my explorations on other spiritual traditions: Buddhism, shamanism from many cultures, channeling and direct transmission, transpersonal psychology and psychedelic means of opening portals into higher consciousness. 

In a way it feels like I have taken myself through a whole new PhD curriculum in spiritual ecology over the past decade. In The Spirit of Education, I will be trying to synthesize and share what I’ve learned—a dissertation in blog posts, you might say. The Teachers who have impacted me most have been nonphysical, channeled or met on spiritual journeys by individual humans who had the honor of serving as the receivers and transmitters of their teachings. A key tenet, repeated over and over throughout the spiritual literature, is that all humans have this built-in capacity to receive wisdom from Source—we do it every night in our dreams, which function as a kind of Soul-level World Wide Web. But this capacity has not been cultivated in recent generations; these days we are losing the capacity to daydream, and even our nighttime sleep is being disrupted.

The modern educational system plays a major role in shutting down children’s innate creative abilities, turning us firmly away from the spiritual potential of “make-believe” as we are initiated into the secular materialism of “the real world.” We are educated to become producers and consumers of images and goods that feed the profit-driven growth machine of the capitalist system. Even though we know that human consumption has exceeded the carrying capacity of the Earth, the machine roars on, and the educational system continues to initiate young people based on the driving visions of the 18th, 19th and 20thcentury Euro-American corporate capitalist masters, who imagined and then manifested a reality built on extraction, exploitation and the conversion of “raw materials” into money in the bank. 

The dreams of corporate capitalist hegemony now rule our world. But they are not inevitable. 

In The Spirit of Education, I will be exploring the constant interplay between spirit and matter that animates all life on Earth, drawing on the insights of quantum physics as well as spiritual inquiry in my search for guidance that will help us transition rapidly to a life-enhancing society. The focus of education must shift from “sustaining” the current civilization, which has been so harmful for so many, to reimagining and regenerating a new epoch on Earth. I call this new era the Gaiacene—the era in which we humans embrace our role as conscious stewards of life on Earth and channels of the creative power of the spiritual matrix that underlies everything.

Ultimately, my aim is quite practical: I seek knowledge and educational techniques that will give people of all ages, but especially our young people, the wisdom and skills they will need to cope with the challenges of the coming decades.

I welcome your thoughts and suggestions as I set out on this journey, and at every step along the way. The thriving future we yearn for is ours to co-create. What are we waiting for? Let’s go! 

Photo by J. Browdy

All Hands on Deck: Finding our way through to a thriving future

Now that I am a grandmother, the future is no longer theoretical to me—it’s here, it’s arrived in the form of a curious, loving little girl who has come into this world with the same expectation I did—to live a good long life. Born in 2021, she is likely to see the turn of the 22nd century. What kind of world will she be living in by then?

For the past few months, I have been following a splendid online course led by author and podcast host Manda Scott, called “Thrutopia”—the term coined by philosopher Rupert Read to describe a visionary narrative that threads the needle through the poles of dystopia and utopia, offering us instead a practical way through the current conflicts and troubles to a better future world. 

The class has been so inspiring that I am planning to teach a version of it myself, for my college students next spring, and I wanted to share a bit about it here on Transition Times, since that has been my own vision from the beginning of this blog, to chart the transition we’re living through, and find pathways to a brighter future.

You can’t be what you can’t see, and you can’t create what you can’t imagine. 

There is a difference between utopian pie-in-the-sky thinking, and a thrutopian, solutionary approach. The first step of crafting a thrutopia is to take stock of all the problems we face. It is a moment for blunt honesty about the challenges and the very real possibility that we will not find a good way through. This honesty is necessary to galvanize us to the kind of intense, sustained innovation and industry that will be necessary to overcome the obstacles. 

Once having sufficiently alarmed ourselves at the urgency of the present moment, we can train our minds on solutions. Again, this is no time for rose-colored glasses. But it is necessary to give our creativity free rein to imagine what the bright future that could be, and the steps that would be required to get there from here. 

In a thrutopian narrative, we give ourselves permission to imagine a positive future. 

We start with the big vision: humans living in harmony with each other and with the rest of the Earth community, let’s say. 

Then we break that down and start to imagine all the components of such harmony. In my Thrutopia class, we’ll be using the current United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as a framework for the categories we need to address.

In my experience, people are quick to raise obstacles to creative new ideas that involve change. For example, in the wake of Hurricane Fiona, watching the power company crews straining to remove trees, untangle wires, replace snapped wooden poles, and restore electricity, I suggested to my local Facebook community board that it would make sense to find alternatives to stringing power lines on poles, which is such an archaic, 19th century method of transmitting electricity.

A lively discussion ensued, with many people agreeing that it would make sense to bury the lines, and others quick to raise objections: How would we handle the rocky terrain? Buried lines can be hard to repair if flooded. And above all, how would we pay for such an expensive construction project?

I responded to these objections with solutions: On rocky ground or places likely to flood, use close-to-the-ground pipes or concrete bunkers. The federal government could impose a financial transactions tax dedicated to climate change adaptation projects like the all-important task of hardening our electricity, telecommunications and internet connectivity to withstand the ever-stronger storms we’ll face in the 21st century.

Where there’s a will there’s a way.

I have great confidence in our young engineers, architects and urban planners to develop innovative ways to cope with current climate challenges. The question is whether we will find the will to come together and make the necessary investment in our shared future.

The COVID-19 crisis and the great storms of this century are showing us that unless you want to spend your days isolated in a concrete bunker (or flying away to Mars) you cannot escape the impact of the crises now upon us. You can’t build a wall high enough to keep out pestilence or block a wild storm. 

In these early years of the 21st century, there is a prevalent dystopian vision of a return to medieval feudalism—hence the popularity of fantasies like Game of Thrones, which romanticize that period. For ordinary men and women, those were hard, terrible times, steeped in the brutal mindset of might makes right

I don’t want to see a social reset that undoes the progress of the slow development of the concepts of human rights (and now, rights of nature and animal rights) and participatory democracy, which are based on ancient religious creeds like love your neighbor, do unto others, we are all One. 

To find our way through the great transition time now upon us, we have to call upon the better angels of our nature: our moral intelligence and empathy as well as our sheer problem-solving human ingenuity.

While not turning a blind eye to the problems and challenges, we can take a can-do collaborative approach, knowing that we are all in the same great lifeboat, our planet Earth, and we cannot thrive individually if some of us are ailing. 

To those who continue to fret about how we will pay for necessary changes, I ask you to think about this: If we shifted even a small percentage of the funds currently used for weapons and military build-up to designing climate-safe infrastructure, including renewable energy, that would be a huge investment in our shared future. 

All the money for the military and infrastructure comes from taxes. Like Thoreau in the 19th century, we can begin to assert some agency over how our taxes are used. 

I know it’s hard to imagine reducing the military in a time when a dangerous maniac with nuclear weapons is threatening the world. But in the long run, in my thrutopia, the fruits of our collective labor will be used to enhance life, not to compete over who has the more powerful means to destroy life.

Thrutopias are practical, so: Given the necessity of continuing to defend against Putin and other dangerous armed heads of state, how about that financial transactions tax that’s been talked about for years? Why should ordinary folks pay taxes on the blood, sweat and tears of their labor, while the rich who make money through financial transactions pay nothing on the millions they reap at the push of a finger on the keyboard?

To those who say it’s just too expensive to undertake big infrastructure projects (like burying the power lines), I say:

What if your ancestors had said that about building the highways and bridges you now take for granted? What if they had said it wasn’t worth the money or effort to string electric wires out into the country? What if they had refused to invest in the design and implementation of tunnels or airports? 

Our ancestors had a bright and shining vision of the future that could be—the future that we have been enjoying our whole lives. 

Now it’s time to soberly admit the shadow side of our ancestors’ vision: the reality that the Earth can’t support unlimited human consumption of resources, nor can she process unlimited chemical wastes, be they in the form of fossil fuel emissions, plastics or soluble toxins. 

We have had ample time to study the situation. We know what needs fixing. We have a good sense of the solutions. It’s time to stop wringing our hands and fretting about the cost or the effort. 

Instead of obsessing about the obstacles, it’s time to roll up our collective sleeves and focus on the urgent, energizing task at hand: working together to lay the groundwork for a thriving future for our grandchildren. 

It’s an all-hands-on-deck moment. Ready or not, here we go!

On Interdependence Day, Be the Peace You Want to See in the World

Today is Independence Day in the US, a holiday that seems quite grim this year, as the American democratic experiment has never seemed weaker or more fragile. 

For many years, I have preferred to celebrate this day as “Interdependence Day,” a day to recognize that the boundaries that might seem to divide us are artificial—in fact, each of us is interwoven with all life on Earth. 

Just as air, water, earth and fire know no boundaries, there is no real separation among any of the components of our beautiful Gaian home.

That may be true at the level of physics and metaphysics, but in between these fundamental realities there is a zone of choice: we choose to group ourselves into communities of like-minded spirits, to dwell amongst people and in places that nourish our growth and flourishing. 

The challenge comes when the ideologies of these groups clash. I support people’s right to self-organize as they see fit, but not to impose their ideas and worldviews on others—not to do harm to other people or any member the Earth community.

These days, we can’t seem to agree on the definition of “harm.” And so we argue and clash, and the cacophonous discord of our public life grows louder and more harmful, while the goal of peace and harmony seems ever further out of reach.

Many wise teachers say we cannot change a pattern we don’t like by dwelling on it. We can only change it by strengthening our vision of the reality we would prefer. 

So instead of rehashing all that is wrong with America and the world, on this Day of Interdependence I am going to celebrate our growing awareness of how our individual thoughts and actions reverberate out and impact the larger social field.

Though it seems like we are being sucked back into the darkness of violence and separation these days, in fact more and more of us are waking up to our profound interconnection, our awareness of each one of us as a point of light in the vast matrix of our planetary home.

On this Interdependence Day, let the light that you are shine out bright and steady. Our task is not to DO so much as to BE—to be a harmonious note in the collective Gaian symphony, focusing on creating a groundswell of peace on this beleaguered planet. 

Namaste.

Calling on the power of fire…not firepower!

Between the pandemic, the climate crisis, and now a frightening war, it seems that we are witnessing a world on fire. It has me thinking: what is the message of Fire? 

In a word, transformation. 

Fire is a catalyst that can purify, cauterize and heal, as well as utterly destroy.

We are watching the destructive might of firepower as the war in Ukraine is livestreamed into our homes in a horrifyingly intimate way, making the urgency of this moment almost impossible to ignore. 

Throwing billions of dollars’ worth of weapons onto the pyre of war is just staying stuck in the same old cycle that has fueled the military industrial complex for so many years.

The war, like the raging fever of the planet, can only be stopped through a deep inner transformation of the human psyche, a firing up of our collective imagination in service to a better vision of the world that could be. 

First, it’s necessary to recognize our own complicity in the social dream that led to the current state of the world. We have to see how we have allowed ourselves to contribute to, and benefit from, the Empire that fossil fuels built. 

Having come to this reckoning, we can spark our own passionate desire to bring a better world into being through the revolutionary fervor that reminds us that the word LOVE is hidden at the heart of the word REVOLUTION. 

It is time to stop wasting our resources on blowing things up. Time to stand down from armed confrontation, and turn our prodigious human technological abilities to inventions that serve life, rather than destroy it. 

Young men should be working together to solve the problems that confront us in the 21st century, not trying to destroy each other’s homes and families with ever more powerful and precise firepower. 

I am sick at heart over the tremendous waste of life and destruction of human endeavor that plays out in war. What can I do, as I sit grief-stricken and horrified on the sidelines?

One thing I can do is to focus my inner attention on the dream of a better world. I can murmur my heartfelt desires in an unceasing mantra of peace, a flowing river of loving intentions. I can hold my inner light strong against the darkness of greed and hatred, insisting that in my own psychic landscape, at least, generosity and open-heartedness will reign. 

This, what some might call the power of prayer, is a strong force that becomes even more powerful when practiced collectively. 

Great walls come tumbling down, ocean waters part, angels descend, when human beings open themselves to become channels for the pure positive energy of the Life Force that pulses in every energetic and material nuance of this planet. 

I call on Fire to burn away my fear, inertia and resistance to change.

I call on Fire to ignite the Revolution of Love so deeply needed now on our planet.

I call on Fire to kindle the beacons lying dormant in every human heart.

From one heart to another, let the fires spring to light! Let our passion for preserving and nurturing Life guide us in making the right choices in these tumultuous times. 

Namaste, I say: the light in me greets the light in you. And may the light that we generate together illuminate a brighter dawn!

Dawn. Photo by J. Browdy

This International Women’s Day, Gaia is calling on us to imagine–and then create–a better world

For many years, I observed International Women’s Day by organizing a major conference and the multi-event Berkshire Festival of Women Writers in western Massachusetts.

For the past few years, the energy I used to devote to those big public events has been redirected to the quieter, but no less important work of Green Fire Press and my author coaching and writing workshops, in which I encourage and guide writers to send their voices and visions powerfully out into the world. 

This spring, Green Fire Press will launch two new titles, The Radiant Heart of the Cosmos, by retired Mount Holyoke professor and dean Penny Gill; and a greatly expanded second edition of Nature, Culture & the Sacred: A Woman Listens for Leadership, by Bioneers co-founder Nina Simons. Both of these books—by wise, courageous, pathbreaking women writers—offer so much good guidance for how to live strongly in the dangerous, fragmented world of the 21st century. 

My own latest book, Purposeful Memoir as a Quest for a Thriving Future, was just named the winner in the “Writing & Publishing” category of the international Independent Press Award contest, in recognition of the guidance it offers for memoirists who seek to share their life stories as potent good medicine for others. 

As a college teacher, too, I do my small part to bring positive energy and engagement to my students, whether we are studying Mary Shelley’s weirdly prescient tale of Frankenstein or working on crafting writing and speeches that offer positive visions of the better world that could be. 

This year I am participating in a global Teach-in on Climate Justice organized by Bard College, offering a short online workshop on March 31—free and open to the public—on  the importance of our creative imaginations for building bridges to the future we want to live into. 


This International Women’s Day, here’s what I know for sure: All change starts first in our own oh-so-potent imaginations. 

Can we imagine a world where gender—and skin tone, for that matter—is as relevant to a person’s rights as eye color? 

Can we imagine a world where people have the freedom to choose to follow their gifts and their calling, no matter the body they were born into; no matter their nationality, ethnicity, religion or place of birth?

Can we imagine a world in which cultural diversity is celebrated, rather than used to foment divisions?

Can we imagine, and then create a world in which all of the energy, creativity and wealth that currently goes into the invention, manufacture and discharge of weapons flowed instead into devising technologies and social structures that help us live in harmony with each other and the Earth? 

We urgently need to reimagine ourselves as Gaians, created of earth and stardust, microbes and water, animated by the Sun and totally interdependent with all other life forms on the planet, for whom we humans have a special responsibility of care. 

If there was ever a moment when the Divine Feminine was needed in our imaginations, to nourish and cultivate our individual and collective capacity to give birth to a better world…now is that time. 

In the quiet hours of dawn and dusk I can hear Her calling to us in many languages, including the wordless communications of wind and water.

Mother Gaia in one of her many forms. Photo by J. Browdy

She dances through our imaginations in all the human forms she has ever assumed: Isis, Inanna, Madonna, Sky Woman, Tonantzin, Kwan Yin, Tara, Kali, Durga, and so many more. 

Notice that in the Greek and Norse traditions, which have powerfully informed the Euro-American imaginations these last few thousand years, there are no female-bodied goddesses who stand alone in their power. Hera is not the equal of Zeus, nor is Freya the equal of Thor. 

It is time for a new Gaian mythology to take root in our imaginations, one in which the gods and goddesses are not only equal, but united in their focus on bringing love, harmony and fruitful flourishing to the entire Earth community. 

This International Women’s Day, I dedicate myself anew to the task of creating the Androgynocene, an epoch of balance and peace on Earth—one book, one class, one person at a time.

Join me?

Sunflower of Love, by Jennifer Browdy, 2022

Becoming a channel for peace

The events in Ukraine have been triggering for me, as a person of Jewish heritage whose ancestors fled that region around the turn of the 20th century because of violence, discrimination and enforced subservience to repressive overlords. 

Ukraine, now improbably led by a Jewish man, is repeating the pattern of David vs Goliath, with ordinary civilians making improvised explosive devices to try to defend their homeland from invasion by soldiers equipped with missiles and tanks, while children huddle with their families in basements, or join the throngs trying to flee across the borders to uncertain, relative safety.

Squint a little and you can see so many other conflicts that have played out in just this way, since the dawn of human history. Are we doomed to endlessly repeat the cycle of military build-up (keeping the weapons factories humming and the stock market soaring) followed by conflict and the violent imposition of new social structures—rinse and repeat?

Can there be another way?

In the case of Russia vs. Ukraine, it’s been heartening to see big crowds risking their lives to protest the action of their government (just as US citizens did in 1968 (Vietnam) and 2004 (Iraq). Unlike World War II, when there was a clear enemy who deserved to be vanquished, most recent conflicts are wars of choice, fought to preserve or enhance elite strategic interests.  

We may not like Putin and his cronies, but they are just another example of the general paradigm of might makes right, which has been the US stance as well: here at home we tolerate the on-going impoverishment of people and social services in order to support the most powerful military in the world.

It’s the paradigm that needs our attention.

Those who are facing down the guns do not have the luxury of holding space for peace, unless they are willing to be martyrs. 

It falls to those of us on the sidelines to do the hard work of changing the paradigm and fostering a culture of peace.

In 1848, Thoreau famously withheld taxes and went to jail to protest the US involvement in what he considered to be an unjust war. 

In his letter penned from prison, “On Civil Disobedience,” which inspired Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. decades later, Thoreau wrote: 

“If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth — certainly the machine will wear out… but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.”

Listening to Thoreau in 2022, I have to ask: How can I lend my life to the cause of world peace, the creation of social structures that nourish all people and the more-than-human world?  How can I put my gifts—for writing, teaching and encouraging others to give creative expression to their truths—in service to the cause of a brighter future for all of us on Earth?

Thoreau also wrote: “Most [people] live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

One act of liberation that any of us can do, with the basic creativity that is our birthright, is to sing our song! Sing it loud! 

Let the beauty inside us shine through and counter the darkness of that heavy, old paradigm under which so many of our ancestors were forced to live and die. 

We are each being called upon now to become sturdy planks on the bridge to the future, over which our descendants can cross to the better world that is possible. 

Each of us is a vessel for the creative spark that dances with life on this planet. Open your hearts and let that Lifeforce pour through you! 

Let your words and your images become instruments of peace. Reach out and harmonize with kindred spirits around you. Let your chorus ring out, sending ripples of peaceful intentions across the world.

Darkness can only be defeated with light. Every whisper, every murmured prayer, every unspoken positive intention, is an important contribution.  

As Rumi said, “Be your note.” 

Be it now, for the ancestors who are cheering us on, and for the future beings who, we hope, will be blessing our memory in a better time. 

Photo by J. Browdy

Homage to Amanda Gorman: Shine on!


American poet Amanda Gorman reads a poem during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)

On a day that still tingles with the electric pulse of the U.S. Presidential Inauguration, I remain moved and thrilled by the ringing cadences of Amanda Gorman’s finale poem—not only her brave and lyrical words, but also the grace with which she delivered them. 

Afterwards, I wondered: how did the Biden team find this gem? I discovered that it was Professor Jill Biden who recommended Ms. Gorman to the Inauguration planners after encountering her at a 2017 reading

Does it make a difference that Amanda Gorman is a Harvard University graduate? Certainly she seemed at home in the rarified circle of the Capitol, as she did in a 2019 poetry performance for a ForbesWomen conference

She has a poetic passion that is at once gritty and polished. She speaks of herself as “a skinny Black girl descended from slaves,” but also as someone who is part of a redemptive “we,” Americans who will “rise” to “rebuild, reconcile and recover” our country.  

“Being American,” Gorman says, “is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.”

There is no point in lingering in the past, Gorman insists: “We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.”

She imagines what America might be if we were able to “merge mercy with might, and might with right,” so that “love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.” 

Today I am wondering, can America live up to the challenge and the promise of Amanda Gorman’s “bold, fierce and free” vision? 

Can we merge mercy, might and justice to pave the way for love, rather than hatred and division, to become the legacy our generation will leave to the next? 


I have been a professor of comparative literature and media arts at a college for gifted students for more than a quarter-century. I teach courses like “Writing to Right the World,” “Women Write the World,” and “Leadership, Writing & Public Speaking for Social and Environmental Justice.”

I have met many young people who have the passion and even the talent of Amanda Gorman—but few who are able to offer their inspired visions to the world with such grace and aplomb. 

In these latter years of my time in the professoriate, I find myself no longer interested in teaching young people how to write proper academic essays. Yes, I want them to know how to do serious research, and to cite their sources responsibly. But what interests me most is developing three key capacities in young people: 

  • the ability to articulate interesting questions and follow these questions through to interesting, often unexpected outcomes; 
  • the confidence to write in their own personal voice, allowing their idiosyncracies of expression to shine through; 
  • and the poise and polish to present their ideas orally, whether live or on camera, in the strongest way possible. 

I encourage students to explore the intertwining dimensions of the personal, political and planetary in their writing; to write with both a hyper-local and a broadly global awareness; and to see how their personal experiences are conditioned by politics and place—as is every piece of writing, though for too long we have been taught to take the white European male perspective as the invisible, “neutral” default. 

Like Greta Thunberg and Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Amanda Gorman speaks for many other young people, no less passionate but perhaps less able to articulate and convey their passions on a prominent public stage. 

The more those few exceptional ones step forward and lead the way, the more inspired, invigorated and enlivened their contemporaries will become, and the brighter their collective lights will shine out in the world.


It was a brilliant move for Joe Biden, the oldest incoming President of the United States, to invite powerful young women to grace his Inauguration. From Amanda Gorman to Lady Gaga and J-Lo, youthful energy blazed forth on the steps of the Capitol on 1/20/21, insisting that America must live up to its promise. 

While Joe himself looked back to Lincoln in calling for unity, young Amanda Gorman looked forward, proclaiming that “our people, diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful” from all the challenges that have beset us of late. 

She closed with a challenge: “For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

I agree with Amanda: we must be the light that we want to see in the world. We must shine for our friends and neighbors, for our families and loved ones, for all the future generations yet to come.

In the immortal words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Darkness can’t drive out darkness; only light can do that.”

It’s our time, now, to be the light. 

Thank you, Amanda Gorman, for illuminating the path forward with such brilliance, poise and clarity. Shine on! 

American Carnage

January 7, 2021

I feel today like I did on November 9, 2016, the day after Donald Trump stole the US presidential election. 

Dumbfounded that such a criminal act could be allowed to proceed in the USA. 

Shocked and disgusted by the coarse hatred and stupidity on display in the crowds that supported him—the ones who chanted “Lock’er up” about Hillary Clinton, and put journalists in cages in the center of packed arenas, to be jeered at as though they were in some kind of stocks. 

Those same folks turned out in droves for Donald’s last stand in DC yesterday. And they must have had accomplices among the Capitol Police and other law enforcement units, who spectacularly not only failed to prevent the mob from overrunning the Capitol, but were caught on camera practically bowing as they let the criminals in. 

It was chilling to hear one of those self-styled “American patriots” speaking to an NPR reporter on the grounds of the Capitol building, declaring that lawmakers opposed to Donald Trump ought to be strung up and hung on gallows then and there. He went on to sketch out his vision of gallows in groups of four, ready to break the necks of anyone opposed to Trump.

American carnage, indeed. 

Shock and alarm beamed around the world, as people in other countries saw the unthinkable violence taking place in the heart of America, the so-called “leader of the free world.”

Well, I guess it depends on what you mean by “freedom,” doesn’t it. 

For Trump and his brainwashed followers, it means the freedom to bear arms anywhere and everywhere, including schools, malls and halls of government. 

It means the freedom to insist that up is down, that wrong is right, that losing is winning, and that anyone who disagrees with you should be hung. 

The blind compliance of the Trump/Fox/Newsmax/QAnon followers is terrifying. 

We’ve seen it before, in the legions who followed Hitler and sent their neighbors to the gas chambers.

We saw it in the Cultural Revolution in China, where brainwashed followers committed violence and murder, often against their own family members, in the name of their fearless leader Mao. 

We saw it with the Hutus in Rwanda, who murdered their neighbors the Tutsis by the millions when the call came over the radio to do so. 

This is human nature, it seems. A savage mob mentality, lurking beneath the veneer of civilization, can be easily manipulated, at viral speed, by the dark lords of social media.

It is the job of those of us who have the capacity to discern truth from lies to continue to hold that line. No, the 2020 election was not stolen. Yes, Joe Biden legitimately won. 

But how can we heal a society so broken, a social fabric so frayed?

The US is on the brink of chaos. 

We saw it in microcosm yesterday. Imagine if whoever is masterminding this (and I don’t believe it’s Trump, he’s not intelligent enough. Steve Bannon, perhaps?) was able to bring the Trump mob out in multiple cities across the nation simultaneously. Imagine if sympathizers in the police forces, and perhaps even the military, stood by as violence erupted. Spin out that scenario and you see the clear outlines of a civil war that could only be quelled by serious military intervention of the kind that we are used to seeing in other countries. Think Baghdad, 2004. 

There are many today who are calling for Trump to be ousted from the White House immediately, using the 25thAmendment. My fear is that the toady Pence would then turn around and issue him a blanket pardon, which would prevent his future prosecution. Because make no mistake, Trump will be a menace until he is safely behind bars, without access to the Internet. Even then, he’ll become a folk hero, a rallying cry for his mob forevermore. 

It’s hard to know the best course of action for sane heads in America to take today. 

For those of us on the sidelines, watching and listening as the actors strut and fret their time upon the stage, these terrifying, sickening times must just be endured. I wish I could pull a Rip Van Winkle and go to sleep until it’s all over. 

But no. We are here for a reason. To hold firm to our belief in truth—yes, real, actual truth; to insist on justice for all—not just white supremacist fascists; to proclaim that might is not and never will be right. 

If there are angels watching over this sad, sick planet, I pray that they will strengthen the better nature in each one of us.

We surely need all the help we can get today.

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