Stop the World, I Want to Get Off!

We live in a time when depression and anxiety are at epidemic levels—the so-called “opioid crisis” is really just a symptom of a deeper sickness eating away at the heart of our society. It’s especially disturbing—but understandable—to find high levels of anxiety and despair among the young.

This has been going on for a long time in certain communities—among the urban poor or on Native reservations, using drugs and alcohol to fight the despair is nothing new.

Now it’s spilling into the mainstream—white suburban kids are dying from overdoses, along with their fathers and mothers. This recent report from my home state of Massachusetts presents a chilling portrait of the scale of the problem.


While better treatment for addicts is certainly necessary, it’s crucial to address the the deeper roots of the problem: the physical and emotional pain that drives kids, men and women to seek out opioids, legal or illegal.

This is a much more complicated knot to try to untangle, but the basic outlines of the problem are clear.

  • We need a more vibrant, creative, exciting educational system, where kids look forward to going to school each day because it’s a chance to interact collaboratively with interesting people—teachers, other students, and community members of all ages—and learn life skills that can be immediately put into practice. Humans learn best by doing, not by rote memorization and regurgitation of abstract knowledge.
  • We need better nutrition: getting chemicals and excessive sugar out of our diet and returning to the whole, unprocessed foods that contribute naturally to our physical and mental health. We need to get connected with how our food is produced, and return to gardening and animal husbandry ourselves when possible. We need more time for eating and socializing around the table.
  • We need a basic social safety net for all, so that no one has to worry about becoming homeless if they get sick, or when they get old. Everyone has something to contribute to society, and people should always be able to find rewarding work in their communities that will allow them to live decently and with respect.
  • We need to create more time and space for fun, especially in outdoor activities, or in creative, collaborative culture-making. Despite all the social media, people are feeling isolated and alienated and even the comfort of talk therapy has been taken away by the insurance companies, which would much rather push those pills on us.

To those who would tell me we can’t afford it, I reply: what would happen if we stopped spending more than $600 billion a year (15% of 2016 GDP) on the military, while giving only 3% of GDP to education? What if those proportions were reversed, as they are in many other Western countries?

And yet even as I type these words, I know the politicians won’t be listening. They are too focused on treating the symptoms to pay attention to the causes.

This is as true for dealing with climate change as it is for dealing with the opioid crisis. Everyone is looking for quick fixes that will allow us to continue with business as usual, no matter how many casualties that business generates.

When confronted with an intractable problem, my mom used to say, “Stop the world, I want to get off!”

Lately the feeling of just being along for the ride—and a hurtling, scary, out-of-control ride at that—grows stronger day by day.

And of course, we can’t get off, not alive, anyway.

So how do we deal with having to sit in the back seat while the drivers take us down bumpy roads in the wrong direction at dangerous speeds?

My own response is to focus on what I do have control over.

  • I can weed my garden, spend more time outside.
  • I can eat healthy foods and cultivate mental clarity by cutting back on the distractions of social media and television.
  • I can try to contribute positively to my community—family, friends, the larger circles of positive creative people I care about.
  • I can review my life goals, and set some intentions for the coming years that, with focus and effort, I may be able to achieve.

Most of all, I can set my internal compass to LOVE and try to hold it steady there, no matter the jerks and lurches along the road.


My new online course, The Elemental Journey of Purposeful Memoir, will be launching this fall. Through catalyzing writing prompts, I invite you to consider how you got where you are today, and to envision the future you want to create and live into. Join me!

Occupy Health–Our Planet’s, Our Own–this May Day

It doesn’t take a genius to understand the premise of the new health care law, which is that all Americans should buy health insurance so that the healthy can help subsidize the sick.

I don’t hear anyone whining about the fact that we are all required to buy car insurance, even though many of us, like me, hardly ever have cause to use it.

Health insurance could and should operate under the same principle. If everyone pays their share, the costs will also be shared.

And the so-called individual health insurance mandate will most likely be much less expensive for society in the long run, since it will result in increased preventive care and far fewer expensive emergency room visits.

Of course a universal single-payer system—Medicare for all—would be much better than the “free-market” insurance system that is under discussion today.  But at least having everyone insured, with subsidies to help those who can’t afford to pay, is a good step in the right direction.

The new law also prevents insurance companies from denying people health care because they’re sick, a truly barbaric Americanism, and allows families to continue to cover their children’s insurance up to age 26.  Who could argue with that?

The truth is that our nation could easily afford to cover all its citizens’ health care, and then some, if we took several crucial steps:

  • Properly tax the rich: close tax loopholes, tax financial transactions, make a genuine commitment to closing the abyss between the 10% at the top and everyone else.
  • Shut down the war machine; spend money on butter, not guns—or better yet, on organic vegetables that will keep people healthy.  It’s insane to put so many trillions into weapons aimed at blowing people up, and then throw a hissy fit about government spending on keeping people healthy.
  • Raise the minimum wage substantially, so that people can afford to eat healthy food, live a healthy lifestyle, and buy own their health insurance policies.

We live in a nation besieged with ill health.  From cancer to diabetes to heart disease and asthma, not to mention depression, ADHD and autism, we are a country of chronically ill people.  I blame much of this on the toxic food that has been sold to us over the past 60 years, since the end of World War II, by the industrial agriculture and food packaging giants, which have irresponsibly poisoned our waters, air, soil—and our bodies.

The powers that be want us to believe that the solutions are very, very complicated. So much so that we should just leave it to the experts—go back home and eat some more antibiotic-laced hamburgers, why don’t you, and watch some more mind-numbing reality TV.

Actually, it’s just the opposite. It is not complicated at all, it’s very simple.

We the people pay our taxes so that our government will work for us.  We have a right to healthy food, water and air.  We have a right to health care.  We have a right to expect that our elected representatives, as well as our Supreme Court Justices, will act in our best interests.

Since the Citizens United decision, it has become starkly apparent that corporations, not people, get preference when it comes to rights.  Money talks: they have the billions to buy the politicians and the media, and the rest of us be damned.

Well, enough is enough.  This is exactly where the Occupy movement has to step in and show that Americans have not become the catatonic stooges that the media giants aimed to produce.

We know what’s going on.

We have been so, so patient. So law-abiding.  So earnestly hopeful, with each election, that things would get better.

Things have only gotten worse, and there is no end in sight.

President Obama has done far better than a President McCain would have done, but he is no knight in shining armor.

No one politician can do this on his or her own.

It’s going to take the collective will of a great coalition of ordinary folks to get this nation to focus on what’s really important in this new century.

And let me tell you, it does not have to do with health insurance.

It has to do with climate.

Tonight in New England a bitter wind is blowing, and the temperature is expected to drop to the single digits, with a wind chill below zero Farenheit.  After a week of balmy summery temperatures in the 80s, the blooming trees and flowers are going to get a harsh night of frost.

This is apparently the new normal as regards our climate.  Even if we were to immediately do everything possible to slow down carbon emissions, a ship the size of our planet would take several of our little lifetimes to rectify itself.

So we need to get used to it.  And if we don’t want it to get worse—that is, absolutely uninhabitable for most current life forms—we need to roll up our sleeves and put all our intelligence to work at creating new, sustainable forms of agriculture, industry and lifestyle.

It can be done.

But not while we fritter away our precious time in begging the entrenched powers to give us some crumbs.

No, we need to unseat those powers and dramatically reorganize our social priorities.

It can be done.

May Day is coming.  It must be a day of reckoning, the gateway to a hot summer of the hard work needed to provoke serious, transformative change.

Swept away for the holidays? C’mon, Occupy, Let’s Go!

Looking back over the week, it seems like we’ve settled into some kind of holding pattern. The Occupy protests keep spinning, including a jubilant rally in Boston last night, but there is a feeling that we’re all waiting for the next shoe to drop…the next big push, the next new thing.

This week saw Occupy Foreclosures; next Monday there is a plan afoot to shut down the West Coast ports. The student protests are still sputtering; there is a group of hunger strikers in New York demanding a home for OWS;  and a stalwart group of climate activists has been braving relentless hostility to protest in at the COP 17 talks in Durban.

I’m glad to see all this stirring of outrage and energy.  I’m just starting to get confused by all the different tangents the movement is taking, and wishing for more focus and concentrated action.

I want the 99% to be like a biblical flood that will wash all the corruption and evil away, leaving a sparkling new world ready for re-occupation.

I know full well that’s unrealistic.  It’s not meant to be taken literally.  It’s just the kind of mood I’m in: impatient, restless, tired of the same old same old.

I have that same feeling about the holidays this year.

Are we really going to go through those motions again?  Are we going to fool our little children into believing in Santa Claus?  Are we going to laugh and clink glasses at innumerable holiday parties?  Are we going to go on shopping sprees for presents at the malls?

Again I’m reminded of the band that was ordered to keep playing as the Titanic sank.  There’s a new 3-D version of the Leo DiCaprio/Kate Winslett Titanic coming out soon–as if what we really needed was to watch that horrible tragedy again, in 3-D.

Folks, I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but we need to stop fooling ourselves, we need to get real. If we don’t profoundly change our ways NOW, Mother Earth will do it for us, and she won’t be pussy-footing around.

I was listening to a news report today about how many billions of dollars in damage Hurricane Irene caused back in late August. Then there was the October snowstorm, knocking down trees and powerlines for millions of people in the Northeast.

What’s next?  How bad does it have to get before we stop pouring good money after bad, cleaning up after natural disasters that could perfectly well have been avoided if we focused on prevention rather than on damage control?

We do the same thing with health issues.  We spend billions looking for the “cure” for cancer, when the real issue is lurking upstream, in all the toxic chemicals we’re dumping into the environment and our own bodies.

We know what makes us sick. We know what is making our climate “sick” and out of balance.  We know how to fix it too–we need to start converting to renewable energy as fast as we can, immediately!  All systems go!

And it’s the same with the sociopolitical system.  We know where it’s broken.  Campaign finance reform is not a new idea.  Bank and finance regulation is nothing new.  Social policies that bolster the middle class are obvious.


The Occupy movement has the potential to fire up enough people to get out there and demand change.  The movement just needs to articulate a few clear, incontestably worthy goals, and pour all the creativity of the 99% into finding ways to pressure the ruling class to get the job done–or be swept away.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t much feel like celebrating this holiday season.  I feel like rolling up my sleeves, joining forces with my neighbors, and getting to work.  There is so much to be done, and so little time.

Some good news, for a change….

In a week when everyone seemed mesmerized by the spectacle of the USS Congress ramming right up against that proverbial iceberg, there was actually some good news for the planet.

1. American car-makers backed the new federally mandated emissions standards, requiring cars to get 54 mpg by 2025.  Of course, 2025 seems very far away, but given that longterm target, car manufacturers may very well start tooling up to reach that goal even sooner.  We could still do better, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

2. Mark Bittman, the chef and food writer, publishing in the very mainstream New York Times, advocated that Americans skip meat and cheese one day a week, which would be “the equivalent of taking 7.6 million cars off the road.”  He made this suggestion based on a new report released by the Environmental Working Group, entitled “Meat-eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health.”

Among many other points that document makes, Bittman pointed to one that made me sit up and take note: “A 2009 National Cancer Institute study of 500,000 Americans found that the people who ate the most red meat were 20 percent more likely to die of cancer and at least 27 percent more likely to die of heart disease than those who ate the least.”

3. Dam removal to restore river habitat for spawning salmon has begun in Washington State on the Elwha River!  Hopefully the Klamath River in Oregon will be next. When I read Derrick Jensen’s Endgame earlier this summer, I was struck by how fervently he talked about taking out dams as an environmental goal (along with felling cell towers).

I didn’t think American agricultural interests in the West would ever allow this willingly, making Derrick’s proposal to actually go out and blow up dams seem entirely reasonable as a strategy for getting the job done.  But lo and behold, it is happening this summer on the Elwha River, and maybe once people see those salmon heading upstream again, they’ll open their eyes to what needs to be done on other, larger rivers as well.

It’s not easy to sit by helplessly as the Tea Party makes a mockery of the American bedrock of bipartisan government.  So much is at stake; so many lives, my own included, will be negatively impacted by the economic ripples that come of this summer’s political gamesmanship.  But it does help to remember that it was America in boom mode that wreaked such havoc on our environment to begin with.

Maybe America in bust mode will become more sober, more efficient, less wasteful, and more focused on what really matters: strengthening our connections with each other, and with the natural world.  I don’t think that’s what the Tea Party has in mind for a moment, but who ever said they knew what they were doing?

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