This International Women’s Day, I Stand for Life

The good news this International Women’s Day has to do with resistance.

This year’s unprecedented Women’s March on Washington brought women and our allies out into the American public square demanding our rights, in a way that hasn’t happened for a long time.

Of course, never in my memory has the top American official, our President, been a man who is a gloating and unapologetic sexual predator of women; a man who treats his wife like a porn star bimbo and believes that serious women who dare to aspire to power are “nasty.”

By acquiescing in a warped political process that propelled this man into power, Americans have become bystanders to his nasty, discriminatory behavior towards women. “Make America Great Again” seems to mean “put women back in their place again”—in the home, making babies and waiting to serve their all-powerful men.

Well, no. Just NO.

Our foremothers did not fight so long and so hard for women’s equality just to see the current generation swallow our bile and tears and accept the rolling back of our rights as free and equal human beings.

Everywhere you look you can see women standing strong against this new tide of injustice.

The powerful women of Standing Rock are now flooding into Washington DC, along with thousands of other Native people and allies, for this weekend’s Native Rights marches. The Native people of America, and indeed the world, are leading the way on insisting that humans stop destroying our Mother Earth, and become her loving stewards.

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Tipis on the National Mall, March 7, 2017. Photo by Kandi Mossett

Although there are so many important issues to focus on this International Women’s Day, for me all of them can be summed up fairly simply: either you love and support life, or you hate and destroy life.

I CHOOSE LIFE.

That means I choose to stand up for children, our precious new generations, who have the right to quality education, good nutritious food, a loving family and community, and a healthy environment.

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My first child.

I stand for the right of every human being to play a meaningful role in their community, and to be rewarded and respected for their contributions. Of course, this means that women should have control over their bodies in every situation, just as men do.

I stand for the rights of animals, who should not be made to suffer…who should not be driven to extinction…because of the thoughtless greed of human beings. I stand for the protection of our environment, for the rights of Mother Nature, without whom none of us could live for even a moment.

This International Women’s Day, I give thanks and honor to every woman who has stood up for Life, sometimes in the face of fierce persecution, sometimes even giving her own life for the cause—like the environmental activist Berta Caceres, who we lost in 2016 because she refused to back down when the loggers and drillers advanced towards her community.

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Berta Caceres

Yes, it can be dangerous to stand up and resist the forces of destruction, to say NO to those who would silence us and reinstate the supremacy of the patriarchy, now rearing up in its most potently savage form: racist, misogynist, elitist, imperialist, extractivist, militarist, corporatist, extremist…these are the times we are living in, and they demand an equally potent resistance movement.

Marching, calling, sending post cards, organizing in our communities, networking with kindred spirits across the globe…all this is necessary, and more.

All our activism must be rooted in a deep sense of purpose, a commitment that must run like sap up our core: the commitment to STAND FOR LIFE.

Every great successful movement of the past has been fueled by the moral imperative to do what is right, to live in alignment with our most deeply held values. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…” was a revolutionary statement in its time, which was shifted by the courageous work of 19th and 20th century activists to include women, people of color and non-landowners under the banner of equality.

We are living in another revolutionary moment. It is a transition time, when if we fail to recognize the intrinsic value of our most precious resources—clean Earth, Water, Air and the life they support—we will soon find our entire civilization swept away by the storms, floods and droughts of Earth recalibrating herself in a massive reset leading into a new epoch.

This International Women’s Day, I vow to stand, as a woman and a human being, for the health and wellbeing of Mother Earth and all her children, human and non-human alike.

Join me.

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Looking for a good place to start? Register for the Pachamama Alliance Game Changer Intensive course, starting a new series in March 2017. It’s free, and it’s a powerful way to connect with kindred spirits who also want to STAND FOR LIFE.

Standing for Love in the Forest of Sandisfield–A Microcosm of the World

Last week I went to a meeting of the Conservation Commission in the little hill town of Sandisfield, MA, which has many more trees than residents. Indeed, it has no “town” to speak of, just roads threading their way through forests, streams and lakes, making it ideal habitat for beaver, coyotes, deer, bear, and many other birds and animals, including the occasional moose.

But now, Kinder Morgan has come to Sandisfield.

For more than a year, the local Conservation Commission, composed of three residents who serve as civic volunteers, has been meeting with representatives of the giant multinational fossil fuel corporation, which has gas pipelines running for hundreds, maybe thousands of miles in my corner of the world: the states of Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine, and on up to the big commercial tanker port of St. John, New Brunswick.

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Kinder Morgan wants to clear a site in the Otis State Forest in order to lay a pipeline loop that will—as I understand it—be a kind of holding tank for liquefied gas, giving surges of gas coming through the pipeline somewhere to go besides down to the depot.

The Otis State Forest project is not about providing gas to local communities; it’s not even about creating increased ability to move gas from one place to another. It’s just about creating a back-up pipe.

And for this glorious purpose, Kinder Morgan proposes to disrupt land directly abutting a section of old-growth forest at the heart of the Otis State Forest, removing a beaver dam and withdrawing about a million gallons of water from beautiful Spectacle Pond.

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The case has been discussed at the EPA, by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and in court for months now. Local heroes Jane Winn of The BEAT News and Rosemary Wessel of the NoFrackedGasInMass campaign, now a BEAT program, have led the legal charge to stop this unnecessary invasion of state forest, and the case is still in court: Kinder Morgan does not yet have the last permits necessary to proceed.

According to Jane Winn, “We still don’t know if any toxic chemicals will be released from the lining of the pipe and there will be no testing of that water.” Jane adds that we do know that Kinder Morgan wants “to tear up and reconstruct a third of the 73 Ceremonial Stone Landscape features in Sandisfield – destroying the spiritual link and desecrating our native history. (Would FERC allow them to dig up part of Arlington National Cemetery and replace it afterward?) This desecration of the CSL features should not be allowed – and the agreement among the tribe, Kinder Morgan, and FERC has not been settled – as much as Kinder Morgan’s representative tried to mislead about that as well.”

Jane, who filmed the entire Conservation Commission meeting, says that the “FINAL 401 water quality permit won’t be issued until March 27 – and could possibly be denied, appealed, or require an additional Alternatives Study.”

Nevertheless, the conversation between the Conservation Commission board and the Kinder Morgan reps last week was chummy, with the main discussion points being what kinds of plans the company has made to contain erosion when—not if, but when—tree felling and bulldozing start.

Sitting across the table from the Conservation Commission folks, in the shabby basement of an old school, the Kinder Morgan rep never looked directly at any of the 60 or so concerned citizens surrounding him. He looked like a nice enough young man—an environmental engineer who had no doubt gotten his degree some 10 years earlier, and gone right to work for industry.

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Conservation Commission meeting, March 2017

As he talked casually about cutting trees and bulldozing wetlands, I had a vivid image of the quiet forest out there in the blackness beyond the fluorescent lights of the meeting room. The owls swooping about in pursuit of mice; the coyotes ambling in their pack, looking for rabbits; the beavers paddling contentedly between the wooded bank and their den, adding some more mud and logs to create a snug home for the new litter of young ones.

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As though it were a steel blade ripping through my own gut, I felt the pain and terror that will come when Kinder Morgan bulldozes over the opposition and starts cutting the trees, gouging up the roots, ripping out the beaver dam. They are in a hurry to start because there are some guidelines (state? Federal? I am not sure) that enjoin them to cut the trees before nesting season.

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American bittern

One resident spoke up at the meeting on behalf of two rare endangered species that he said he often sees at the very pond they are talking about destroying: the American bittern and the sedge wren.

What will they do when they fly in from their migration to find their usual habit a muddy, gaping scar in the forest?

They’ll fly on to some other pond, state officials and industry reps would say philosophically.

The problem is, there are fewer and fewer places for wildlife to go. Why do you think we have coyotes living in cities, bears hanging out in suburbia, moose strolling along highways and train tracks? It’s not because they want to be there. It’s because they have nowhere else to go.

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Snow geese

I thought about this recently when I heard about the thousands of snow geese that died painful, torturous deaths because they landed on a toxic pond in Montana left wide open to the sky by industry. This is a common occurrence; it was only the scale of this particular mass murder that brought it into the news headlines.

I am as complicit as the next person in all of this. I will get up from my desk to heat some coffee on my gas stove. I will drive my car into town for groceries that are produced and procured using fossil fuels. I live with this knowledge every day: that I am part of the problem. Look at this picture long enough, and you see the very clear strands of complicity linking me and my lifestyle with the chainsaws buzzing in the forests, the pipelines snaking over the countryside, the water taps on fire and the rivers, lakes and ponds choking with contaminants and algae.

While it is good to acknowledge the lack of innocence, it does no good to beat myself up with guilt.

The question becomes, what CAN I do?

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Environmental activist Jane Winn accepts an award from the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions

If I have money, I can share it with environmental groups like The BEAT News, 350.org, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, which are working hard through information, organizing and legal battles to hold industry accountable to the public good.

I can work with the ACLU, the honorable news media and democratic political groups to bring down the Trump administration as soon as possible, before industry hacks like Scott Pruitt and Jeff Sessions have a chance to totally wreck the environmental standards in this country.

I can run for office myself, with the goal of putting my values and vision to work at the local, state or even national level.

Jane Winn suggests we all work on the local level to get New England off of fossil fuels.  “The latest study, she says, “points out that we have a legally mandated shrinking need for fracked natural gas. Massachusetts is adding off-shore wind and storage. Towns are starting to aim for 100% renewable. All of us can work toward zero net energy – buy fossil-fuel-free electricity through Mass Energy and add cold-climate heat pumps to stay warm. Use electric stoves. Buy an electric vehicle.”

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Julia Butterfly Hill at the top of Luna, the California redwood she singlehandedly saved from the lumber industry

All very good, productive advice. Nevertheless, what I most felt like doing, as I filed silently out of the school basement and out into the cool dark Sandisfield night, was putting my own body on the line–chaining myself to an old-growth hemlock, let’s say, before I let it be cut down.

I felt like pulling a Julia Butterfly Hill, becoming a treesitter who could save the forest.

I wish I had that kind of courage.

As it is, I sit with my grief and my rage as the Sandisfield scene is played out in small rural towns in every corner of our country and beyond.

Kinder Morgan, Energy Transfer Partners and the rest of the fossil fuel gang have been running roughshod over people and wildlife and the natural world for long enough.

img_1557Yes, we love our electricity, our cars and our warm homes. But now we know we can get all the power we need from the great Source of all of us, the Sun—with a little help from other elements: Wind and Water. We don’t need to rape the Earth any longer to satisfy our short-term human wants and desires.

The tragedy of Sandisfield is a tiny blip in the almost unimaginably huge devastation humanity has wrought on our planet. Still, it’s in my backyard and I care about that forest and the life it supports. If each of us cared and tended for the land around us, our world would be a different place.

The problem of the corporations is precisely that they are too big, too amorphous and unrooted. The managers, board members, financiers and shareholders live far, far from the places they are destroying. They don’t care.

So my heartfelt question is: how can we reach these human beings, who literally have the power of life or death in their tiny, grasping hands? How can we get to their hearts and make them care?

I think we need to get these guys out of their office towers and into the forest.

And I suspect that the strongest thing I can do, with the talents and gifts I have been given, is to try to communicate to them, and all their henchmen and enablers, why it is so, so important—indeed, critical to all life on Earth—that they reconnect with the natural world, open their hearts, and learn what love in action looks and feels like, and the true value of what it can produce.

Love is the simple solution. If we lived in love, and acted out of love, every single problem we face would melt away.

And what a beautiful world it would be.

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Resist. Persist. Risk. Repeat. A mantra for our time.

February again. The sap is starting to rise here in New England. The blue ribbons of tubing snake through the maple groves, bearing the sweet elixir of life down to the saphouses, where the boiling pans await. The first snowdrops and pussy willows gleam, foreshadowing the great greening to come.

It’s been unnaturally warm this past week—almost 70 degrees here in western Massachusetts. We look at each other, enjoying the unexpected warmth, but with dismay and fear lurking behind our smiles. This is not right.

So much is not right in these first days and weeks of 2017 DTE (Donald Trump Era). You know the problems, I don’t have to list them. Each week brings a new outrage, a new shock, a new nadir. Just when you thought America couldn’t sink any lower in the eyes of the rest of the world, there they go again: insulting our allies, assaulting our citizens, making plans to frack and drill the whole globe to kingdom come.

I’m not the only one who foresees a repeat of the 9/11 playbook hurtling our way. It worked before, and although our eyes are opened this time, it will probably work again.

Manufacture an external threat—that’s not hard to do, any number of terrorist organizations would be happy to oblige—throwing the homeland into chaos and requiring a “state of emergency” that suspends all the usual processes of law. With everyone hunkered down in fear, the police state can be implemented and the cowardly Congress will do the bidding of the executive branch. The Supreme Court will stay quiet.

Order will be restored, but it will be the New World Order of the DTE: imperialist white industrial capitalism on steroids, the taxpayers obediently bending over to have their asses kicked as they foot the bill for the military and police to subdue any resistance to the corporate takeover of the entire planet by billionaire business and finance executives slavering over ever-ascending short-term profit.

Don’t like it? They’ll pull out the rubber bullets and throw you in prison—and oh yeah, the taxpayers will pay for that too. Or maybe you’d rather have a taste of what they do to people labeled “terrorist” in their secret rendition sites. Or let’s just get it over with, here’s a real bullet for your trouble. Sweet dreams.

So much is not right here.

The American liberal elite needs to be reminded, perhaps, that the rude shocks of the DTE era are nothing new. Americans of color, undocumented immigrants, people of color all over the globe have been living this nightmare for hundreds of years, ever since the European colonial onslaught began.

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In my memoir, What I Forgot…And Why I Remembered, I faced my own privilege as someone born into the New York City white liberal elite. I opened my eyes to the fact that my generation of urban “yuppies” lived comfortably on the backs of exploited workers, enjoying cheap oil and gas while ignoring the giant devastation of the Alberta tar sands, the Amazon forest, the Nigerian delta or the Arctic. I recognized my own complicity in ignoring the despair of millions of impoverished Americans and my complacency in foolishly imagining that the drones and riot cops would never be turned against me and my children.

I came to understand that I had to use whatever privilege I had, as a well-educated white American woman, to fight the dark, oppressive forces that are seeking to sink our entire planet into a violence, fear and deprivation.

But I didn’t realize, as I was writing that book, that I was standing on the brink of the DTE, a time when the boomerang of climate change would be exacerbated by the takeover of American government, business and military by vile haters and savage oppressors, eager to take sadistic pleasure in the subduing of all dissent and disobedience.

When I finished What I Forgot in 2015, I imagined that the worst problem facing us would be the runaway juggernaut of climate change. That still may be the case: we are seeing the disruption of the climate already, in tornadoes, floods, droughts, disease, loss of glaciers and other sources of drinking water for millions…with vast migrations of climate refugees underway.

But now the DT gang in control of the American government seems maniacally intent on intensifying all of it. Naomi Klein’s “disaster capitalism” is blowing like a violent hurricane across our entire networked planet, and although the generals and ideologues in control of our government may think they can control it, as they did in the past (think Katrina or Baghdad) and make more billions (using taxpayer money) in the clean-up and reconstruction, I don’t believe they will be able to get the climate change genie back into the bottle now.

They may be able to subdue ordinary Americans with their violence and repression, but Mother Earth, once aroused, will sweep their guns and tanks before her like so many toys. She has her own agenda, our Mother, and she’ll do no one’s bidding.

So what is the task for those of us who are awake to the accelerating transition of our planet and the very real potential that we will be living through the decline and fall of Western Civilization?

Recognizing how terribly destructive and horrible Western Civilization has been for the natural world, indigenous peoples, and people of color all over the planet is a necessary first step. We have to recognize and come to terms with the key role America has played in the violence and havoc that has laid waste to so many communities across the globe, destroyed forests, grasslands and ocean reefs and pushed untold millions of beautiful flora and fauna into the dark night of extinction.

We did this. Or we stood silently by as it was done.

And we are living through the consequences now. They’ve taken everyone else, now they’re coming for us: starting with the most vulnerable here in America, and steadily racheting up the violence aimed at anyone who resists or dissents.

So much is not right here.

It’s our job to make things right. We were born in this time for a reason. It is a time of almost unbearable polarity and ever-accelerating change. We have to step boldly up to the challenges, look them in the eye, and link arms with others to take a stand for what’s right.

We might all rather go back to sleep—wake me when it’s over, honey!

But in the DTE, we don’t have that luxury.

Now is our time, and no one will save us if we don’t stand up for ourselves and what we love.

Resist. Persist. Risk. Repeat. A mantra for our time.

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Ghosts of Latin America: Will It Happen Here?

As a student of Latin America, I feel a strange sense of déjà vu lately when I follow the news.

A corrupt, shadily “elected” president putting his cronies in charge—check. An ineffective, corrupt congress with their fingers to the wind, more interested in their own political fortunes than in representing their constituents—check. Wealthy, corrupt businessmen put in charge of all the key government agencies—check. Environmental regulation be damned—check. The press muzzled and threatened for any whiff of dissent—check. And the people, oh yeah, them—they should shut their mouths, tighten their belts and work harder.

There have been many comparisons of the Drumpf era to the German Nazi era. What is less well known is how many of the Nazis fled to Latin America when the Third Reich came to an end. There they took advantage of the prevailing racism and whatever wealth and education they possessed to quickly rise into positions of power in industry and government. They lurked there, nursing their totalitarian fantasies and grooming their puppet politicos, until they were strong enough to start the process of taking over the levers of power and crushing dissent.

Latin America was also a field for the proxy wars between the Soviet Union and the United States, with lines being drawn being pro-business capitalists and pro-worker communists. Often the local people, native and mestizo, were caught in the crossfire between these mighty opposing ideologies, which laid waste to entire economies and communities.

If you want to look for the origins of the big migrations of Latinos northward, this is a good place to start.

As with the current situation in Syria and North Africa, people don’t leave their homes unless they absolutely have to. What would it take to get you to abandon your home and set off on the road with your little children and whatever you could carry? My ancestors did it in the late 19th century, fleeing the pogroms and conscriptions of the Jewish ghettos in Poland and Russia. During the 1930s the Dust Bowl refugees packed up their troubles and left the parched Midwest, heading for California.

We don’t know yet how far the Drumpf people and their Republican henchmen in Congress will go in pushing the American populace towards that level of desperation.

When they take away our health care and make the pharmaceuticals unaffordable, release the loan sharks on us and start taking our homes again; when they turn our public schools into boot camps for dumbed down docility and drug the kids who won’t obey; when they frack our neighborhoods and run oil pipelines through our waterways; when they turn our national parks into mines and hunting grounds—are we going to simply bow our heads and take it?

When they take away funding for the arts and public media, turn the scientists into their private industrial brain trust, alienate our closest international allies and ramp up the drilling, fracking, mining, logging, burning and chemical poisoning that is destroying our planet at an unprecedented pace—are we going to shrug and turn away?

When they bribe and coerce the judges, intimidate the press, militarize the police and start killing our sons and daughters if they dare to take to the streets in protest, are we going to stay quiet?

In Latin America, the repression of those who dared to speak out and organize against the dictators and capitalist bosses was brutal: I’m talking disappearances, torture, decapitations, burnings, destruction of homes…the old Spanish colonial playbook laced with a good dose of Nazi righteousness and American capitalist arrogance.

Will it come to that here? Will the plague of the Drumpf era bring us into another civil war?

Right now the Dow Jones is flying high and things are functioning smoothly enough at the local level. The majority of Americans—who, let us remember, did not support Drumpf–are anxious and unnerved but going about our day-to-day business while stepping up efforts to stay informed and figure out how best to resist.

We know we’re in one of those moments that will be discussed in detail by historians, assuming our civilization comes safely through to the other side of this crisis.

So many questions cannot yet be answered. Will Bannon, Drumpf and the Republicans start a new war, repeating the 9/11 playbook that worked so well to keep the population quiet while providing rich new markets for the military industrial complex?

Will the Supreme Court rubber stamp the new regime’s savage efforts to roll back civil rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, voters’ rights, environmental protection, consumer protection, financial regulation etc. etc.?

Will freedom of the press, freedom of religion and the right to peaceful assembly and protest be trampled on and curtailed?

Will Americans sit by passively and let this happen?

And what about climate change? We’re already seeing the effects more dramatically every month. The acceleration is almost unbelievable. Will Mother Nature intervene, throwing some icy water on the fossil fuel industry’s wet dreams of limitless riches?

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to rise.

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Stop Letting the Days Go By!

One of the soundtracks that has been running through my mind these last few days is “Once in a Lifetime,” by David Byrne and the Talking Heads.

The song was a 1980s anthem to the midlife crisis of a suburban man who has just gone with the flow and followed the usual cultural path, only to wake up “behind the wheel of a large automobile…in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife” asking with angst, “How did I get here?”

The answer, sung almost gaily, is: “Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down, Letting the days go by, water flowing underground….Same as it ever was, same as it ever was….”

Right now our whole culture seems to be asking with alarm, “How did we get here?” The answer is, as Byrne intuited, about going with the flow.

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In my elemental framework for purposeful memoir, WATER is related to the teenage and young adult years, when we are swept into the cultural stream that surround us, and most of us just let the days go by, letting our culture carry us along.

Every so often we hit some kind of snag that causes us to lift our heads, sputtering, look around as if waking from a dream, and ask how in the world we got here.

img_0014We’re in such a moment now, as individuals and more broadly as a society. In my elemental lexicon, we’re in a FIRE moment now, a time of challenge and trials, but also a time when we can tap most deeply into our passions and beliefs.

The question “How did I/we get here?” is a fundamental one to be asking ourselves at this juncture.

That’s why I’m so passionate about encouraging people to undertake the elemental journey of purposeful memoir.

In looking back over our life experiences, and understanding them more deeply in the context of the political and planetary tapestry into which our personal lives are woven, we not only come to understand “how we got here,” but also to start envisioning where we would like to go next.

wif-cover-ebookIn my memoir, What I Forgot…and Why I Remembered, the journey was circular, as I ended up back on the childhood ground of my being (symbolized by the element EARTH) understanding that I had to get back to my original passion for the natural world, which had been worn away by the ceaseless current of the heedless American culture into which I was born.

Here comes the AIR of reflection:

We come into our lives with a purpose that we don’t always understand or fulfill. One thing for sure is that it is never too late to begin, or begin again, to become aware of what it is we are here to do, and move ourselves further along the path towards our destination.

Purposeful memoir is a tool that can help you on that journey of self-awareness, particularly when you investigate your personal life in its full political and planetary dimensions.

elemental-journey-cover-new-smI am excited and honored to be offering my new Writer’s Companion guide for purposeful memoirists, along with in-person classes that will provide the space for shared reflection and insights about the elemental journey.

Neither my book nor my classes are prescriptive. My aim is to open up possible avenues of inquiry, and to get the creative juices flowing, helping you put together the jigsaw pieces of your own life to find your own unique sense of purpose.

Here in the Berkshires I’ll be offering a monthly class, following the book, aimed at cultivating creativity and building community while sharing highlights from our life journeys. You can find out more about those Saturday afternoon classes, offered under the banner of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, here.

Soon I’ll be announcing an online writers’ circle for purposeful memoirists, for those who can’t get to the Berkshires for an in-person class.

I also have various readings and other kinds of workshops coming up, which you can find out about on my website.

And though I’m certainly no Meryl Streep, here is a little video my son and I made, where I talk about what purposeful memoir means to me, and why it matters.

Truly, now is the time, and we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Are you ready? Let’s go!

Marching with Words into the Light of a New Era: Time to Rise!

My friend Barbara Newman described the staged reading she and I will be participating in on January 21 as a “march with words,” and this resonates with what I see so many of us doing these days as we rally together in our homes and community centers, our town halls and places of worship, and of course in the great 21st century town square, social media.

MEXICO - ZAPATISTAS ANNIVERSARYI am reminded of Subcomandante Marcos, who said “words are our weapons,” while fighting what appeared to be a hopelessly lopsided fight in the southern jungles of Mexico–Indians with rusty rifles and bandanas standing up to soldiers with helicopters and bombs. Marcos was one of the very first resistance fighters to use the power of the Internet as a way to sway the hearts and minds of ordinary onlookers, the world over, against local oppressors.

On the other side of the political spectrum, we see the man about to become the 45th president of the United States deploying the same tactics, his every tweet as powerful as any bombshell.

This is a dark time, and yet it’s also a time shot through with the light of the new age that is cracking open before us. Let us be candid and admit that while it would have been a symbolic victory for women to have Hillary Clinton sworn in as President today, her political bent was conservative, in the sense of maintaining the status quo.

What is familiar is comforting, we’re all children that way. Some of us are more adventurous than others. Some of us have nothing left to lose, and so we’re willing to place our bets on a total dark horse like Mr. Drumpf. If Bernie Sanders had been the Democratic candidate, he would probably have won for the same reason (barring major interference from Moscow).

But no use looking backward now. Let’s squint and look directly into the light of the future. Has there ever been a human revolution that has happened without struggle? Have people ever been willing to embrace radical change without having their backs pushed to whatever the wall of the moment might be?

Today in Washington DC a charlatan will take the oath of office as President of the United States. No, it’s not a reality TV show, it’s reality.

But it’s also reality that millions of Americans are energized and activated as never before, as a direct result of the crazy events of 2016. We are “tuned in, turned on, tapped in,” to use the favorite saying of a certain psychic I know.

That same psychic often reminds us that sometimes it takes a strong dose of WHAT WE DON’T WANT to jar us into an appreciation and understanding of WHAT WE DO WANT.

You can see that happening in the outpouring of love for the departing Obamas, in our entreaties to them to stay engaged in public life.

DEM 2016 ConventionBoth Barack and Michelle Obama are powerful orators. So is Bernie Sanders. We will need the power of their words more than ever in the bleak months ahead. We will need words to keep our spirits high, to remind us of the stakes and why we must fight for what we value, even putting our bodies on the line if need be.

It is surely no accident that in the very week that saw a parade of military-industrial complex billionaires coming to Washington hoping to ride Trump’s wave into political power, we got word from the scientists that 2016 was officially the hottest year on Earth since record-keeping began in the 19th century. It topped 2014 and 2015, which were also the hottest years ever in their time.

When I align the personal, political, and planetary in this moment, I see an amazing crystallization taking place. The Earth herself rumbles and roars her discontent and imbalance; political systems that have held for centuries crack and fall apart; and in so many human psyches a deep sense of uneasiness registers, an intuitive sense that something is not right.

Change is not just coming…it’s here. We are living, day by day, through extraordinary times.

I call on all of us to rise and meet the light of change with a strong spine and a resolute spirit.

We cannot go back, we can only go forward. There is a huge opportunity now to go forward into a more perfect union—not just among Americans, but among all peoples on Earth, and to reimagine our role as humans to become the caretakers of our planet, rather than its pirate plunderer-destroyers.

As we cry out against what we don’t want, let’s also use our words to envision and describe the contours of what we stand for.

Peace. Harmony. Generosity. Love.

How would each of these ideals look to you, brought down to the level of your community, your family, your life?

Look boldly into the light of this new era we’re entering, and use your words and your actions to make it so.

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Nova Scotia sunset, 2016

Only Connect! Urgent Questions for our time

Social ecologist Nora Bateson published an urgent blog post this morning, a list of the questions she believes need to be posed in order for global society to shift from our current careen toward chaos towards a sustainable future.

Her excellent questions are (and I quote):

“Education: How can we best cultivate curiosity, information, and learning between generations to prepare ourselves to perceive and respond to the complexity of our world with less destruction than centuries past?

“Health: How can we support health in human beings by making it possible for each person to eat healthy food, sleep well, know that their families are supported, be respected in their community, have relevant contributions (education and employment), breathe clean air, and drink clean water?

“Ecology: How can we interface with the complexity of our natural world so as to create less harm to the interdependence of all living things?

“Economy: How can we shift the economic system so that it is not based upon exploitation of nature and humanity –without crashing the globe into chaos? (note: no one gets rich on this version of economy)

“Politics: How do we get the policy makers of our world to mandate cross-sector information for their decision making processes so that they have the possibility of taking into account complexity?

“Media: How do we get a moratorium on binaries? How do we support public understanding, not trained in perceiving complexity, to become accustomed to it and demand communications institutions deliver cross-contextual information?

“Culture: What is the approach to open the global discussion about the pending fate of humanity? What matters? What are we willing change? How can we survive together?”

She specifies, “The danger we are in is woven across these contexts, so the questions posed must correspond to that transcontextual process,” and “All of the questions…scale from personal, to institutional, to global concern.”

I so agree that ours is a time of questions. In my classes these days, I spend a lot of time working with my students on formulating their questions about whatever material we’re reading/viewing/discussing. The old answers no longer suffice, and the old ways of framing questions are often too simplistic to address the full scope of the complexity and multi-dimensionality of our time.

I tell my students that I care more about the questions they raise in their humanities papers than about their “thesis statements”; and that the goal of their work is all about process: tracing a new thought path by getting into conversation with others about possible answers that can help us all to refine our questions, sharpen our vision, and build sturdier bridges into our uncertain future.

I believe that there is an important category/ context missing from Nora’s list of questions: the sacred.

I have been thinking a lot about the 95% of the cosmos that is made up of “dark energy” and “dark matter”—“dark” meaning that we don’t know what in the world it is. Everything we can perceive represents only 5% of the universe. What is the rest?

My guess is that the vast 95% is related to what humans have been referring to for millennia as the metaphysical, the psychic, the spiritual, the divine.

That divinity is the big “context,” the sacred connective tissue shining through the cracks between each of Nora’s questions. Science has only just realized it’s there, though our mystics and shamans have always been able to access it (sometimes with a little help from the fungi and plant world).

I see Nora’s first and last questions as related, closing a circle. Education must encourage curiosity and questioning about what matters most: the survival of our species and all of our companion life forms on Earth, including the elemental building blocks of life and the vast, largely invisible-to-us micro-biomes that support and enable life on the planet.

If we shift our vision from the foreground represented by Nora’s rightly urgent questions to the background—the vast “dark” energy and matter that we might call the spiritual interconnections of self and cosmos, immanent in every speck of the familiar 5% confines of the universe we know so far—suddenly the questions shift too, crystallizing into a mighty clarion call that can reach around our little planet and unite us all:

How can we live in sacred harmony? How can we most firmly, most productively, most lovingly connect with each other and with All That Is?

I am reminded of the famous quote from E.M. Forster’s novel Howard’s End, when Margaret Schlegel reflects on the “incomplete asceticism” that rules her would-be lover, Henry Wilcox. Margaret believes that:

“She might yet be able to help him to the building of the rainbow bridge that should connect the prose in us with the passion. Without it we are meaningless fragments, half monks, half beasts, unconnected arches that have never joined into a man. With it love is born, and alights on the highest curve, glowing against the grey, sober against the fire….Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die” (Chapter 22).

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At this moment, in the early 21st century, we are poised on Forster’s “rainbow bridge.” We have the potential to “connect the prose in us with the passion,” to leave the beast and the monk in us behind.

It’s time for Benjamin’s Angel of History to turn around, snap out of the trance of the past and look bravely into the glowing, as-yet-unlived future, asking the question that reverberates through the “dark” realms of our cosmos:

How can we connect and truly progress?

 

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The Sound and the Fury of 2017

So now the holidays are over. The splurging is done and the credit card bills are coming in; the indulgences of food and drink are showing up on the bathroom scale; and it’s back to work, back to reality, back to the scariness and dreariness of our time and place.

It’s not been easy to listen to the news this week. Imagine living in a country where the ruling party’s very first act of the year is to try to torpedo their own internal ethics oversight committee. Act Two: throw millions of people off the health care rolls, leaving them to sink or swim on the private market.

We’re witnessing the great comeback of the villains of 2007; we’re back at the mercy of the loan sharks and shysters who created the disaster that nearly sank our whole economy.

And it’s not just the poor who got taken for a ride by all those unscrupulous profiteering leeches; let’s not forget how many middle-class people slid downhill during that debacle. Let’s remember how many of our children are still emerging into this cold Dickensian world as young adults dragging a ball and chain of student loan debt wherever they go.

In 2017, the veils are down and we can see the naked power grab of the billionaires for what it is: a victory of short-term profit-gouging over any longterm sustainable thinking.

The ascension of Exxon/Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to the U.S. State Department allows the worst enemy of environmental health and climate stability to run roughshod over international treaties, agreements and sanctions.

Not that Hillary Clinton was much different. But at least she made some gestures towards respecting international climate agreements. We’re going to look back at those days with nostalgia as we get a taste of what it’s like to live in a world totally in thrall to the fossil fuel companies and their affiliated chemical, weapons, plastics, and agricultural industries. Not to mention Big Pharma and the health insurers, those vultures who profit on the sick and weak.

Every social justice issue we hold dear is under siege now. The villains are in charge, and heaven help anyone who doesn’t meet their narrow ideas of political correctness: male, white, straight, rich, gun-toting, red-meat-eating, Christian, conservative.

So what are the rest of us to do?

Well, we’re not going to curl up in a corner and cry. We’re going to come together and be as loud and abrasive as we can possibly be. We’re going to make noise, get in their way, remind them that their agenda is not a majority agenda in this country, unless they’d like to retreat into their red-state havens and secede from the Union (a little wishful thinking there, I admit).

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We have to give each other pep talks and back rubs. We have to keep reminding each other that no, the majority of American voters did NOT vote for those villains. They may have their hands in the till and their heels on the throats of this country, but they rode into power on the strength of lies and manipulation, and sooner or later, probably sooner, they will be found out and discredited.

In the meantime, let’s be aware of the danger of getting too sucked into the constant 24/7 newsfeeds of the next debacle and disaster.

I try to detach myself from the chatter of social media for at least a few hours a day.

I go outside and try get back in touch with the elements—feel the wind and sun on my face, listen to the trickle of the stream, ground myself on the roots of a great tree.

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This is what matters. This is what is real. The stories we tell each other on the Internet are but shadows of our real lives upon this planet. In virtual reality we are all “poor players, who strut and fret their hour upon the stage and then are heard no more.” Our social media bazaars are full of “tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Most of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes met their deaths by listening too well to the tales of political intrigue of their day.

We have better things to do. We have children to nurture, dinner to cook, pets to play with, songs to sing.

Though the world may look very grim in these dark days of January 2017, we only have to look up, like Dante, and see the stars.

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Looking backward, looking forward, on the last week of 2016

For me this last week of the year is always an introspective time, a time to take stock of the year just past, and set goals for the year coming in.

I’ve gone through other rough years in the past, but I’ve never experienced a year quite like 2016.

The long list of 2016 celebrity deaths (will Carrie Fisher be the last to go this year?) has put many of us in what seems to be a perpetual state of mourning, the passing of each beloved celebrity a way of channeling the deeper grieving we are carrying for so many unnecessary deaths in the wars, shootings, and terrorist strikes of 2016.

And then there is the pervasive grief I feel every day for the relentless destruction of the natural world, as human greed cuts and digs and blazes its way around the globe.

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Looking back, there’s a tendency to cast blame. If only the Democrats had not been so blind to Hillary’s deficits. If only Bernie had run as an Independent. If only the Republicans hadn’t fielded such a moronic bunch of losers. If only, if only. That list could go on and on, and not just in the political realm.

The only use of looking backward is to learn from past mistakes and try to do better going forward, so that history doesn’t repeat.

That’s easy to say, not easy to do, especially when we’re living through times when it seems that all our worst dystopian science fictions are coming true.

There seems to be little to look forward to in 2017, in terms of a brighter future. All the political and environmental indicators are pointing to a continuing slide towards the abyss of totalitarianism, militarism and climate chaos with their accompanying loss of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—not just for Americans, not just for humans, but for all Earth denizens.

img_0495But here we sit on the precious isthmus of time between Christmas and New Year’s, a quiet, dark time when we can pull back from the rush of events and think more deeply about where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we are going.

Our daily choices and habits of mind add up to a mighty river of human activity and awareness. Especially now, in our era of networked human consciousness, what we do—and even what and how we think—matters.

If you could press “rewind” and do 2016 over again, what would you do differently?

But since we get no second chances with the past, here’s a better, more pressing question:

What do you resolve to do differently in 2017?

It’s important to take some time to disconnect from the flood of incoming information, the parties, the glitter, the regrets, the anger and the fear—to ponder the way forward.

I ask myself, and I extend the question to you, too: what will you do in the coming days and months to make Winter Solstice 2017 a more positive time for yourself, those around you, and the precious planet we call home?

Look for unexpected beauty this Solstice Season

This Winter Solstice seems particularly dark to many of us, especially in the northern climes. There is a danger now that as we dwell on the sadness, outrage and fear that bombards us every day through our media, we end up adding detail and strength to what we least want.

This Solstice, join me in aligning the personal, political and planetary as we appreciate the beauty and warmth of our friends, family and Mother Earth. As we welcome and create love and light in our lives and the lives of those around us, including in the non-human realms, we will create the future we yearn for, one precious moment at a time.

Beaming love, courage and light to you all—TWOFOLD!!!

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Solstice suns, Stockbridge MA, December 20, 2016. Photo by J. Browdy
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