The fine line between self-deprecation and inflated egoism

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I have a friend who is a blogger. Since 2017 I’ve been reading her posts, and have witnessed her progressive changes on both inner and outer levels. When we met, she was a die-hard meditator working at a meditation retreat center on the west coast, trying hard to love it and fit in with the culture. But once we had a few deeper conversations, I understood on a gut level that she wasn’t happy there and didn’t truly fit the peculiar mold of human that could stay at a place like that for any length of time. Sure enough, only a couple months after I left, my friend quit her position, packed up her stuff, and headed southwards to the Bay area. There she hooked up with some people who offer year-long, esoteric apprenticeships for those who desire to meet and work with their wild shadow self through lots of time spent in nature, rituals and circle work. Throughout the year she blogged about her journey, experiences and the emotional rollercoaster she rode throughout.

My friend is a prolific and eloquent writer. She writes from the depths of her passionate soul, and isn’t afraid to be painfully honest in her posts. She’s great at self-deprecation and describing the hard edges of her lived experience, in an effort to give the reader the full expression of her deep and often sorrowful soul life. She’s also quite funny, often irreverent, and sometimes names the tender wounding within our common experience in a remarkable way. Now that she’s gone through her initiation year, she’s changing the focus of her blog to be a guide for those who also wish to venture out into the wild nature alone and unaided. This is admirable and useful information to offer readers. However, she also continues to write her honest-to-a-fault blog posts for her faithful followers. She asked me for feedback about her new direction recently, which got me pondering.

The crux of the dilemma my friend had, and which I think many bloggers also have, is finding the balance between not coming off sounding like an egotistical, arrogant know-it-all, and writing in a way that is so honest and authentic that one ends up disparaging oneself, sounding either depressed, confused, or simply the polar opposite of an expert on the subject. This is an issue in the field of blogging and of writing nonfiction generally. What can be done?

This question begs us to go back to the roots and ask, Why am I writing what I am writing? What is the purpose of this blog at its core? Am I in a position to be an “expert” on this topic? And if so, then just how honest about the whole process should I be? Where is the line between authenticity and loss of respect? Between expertise and arrogance? Between not enough information and too much? The other important thing to consider in all this is, Who is my audience? What are they interested in? Am I writing to please them and keep them coming back for more of my blog posts, or am I writing what I please and if they like it fine, and if they don’t, that’s fine too?

These are real questions that all writers who are serious about their craft (in this case, blog) need to be asking themselves. And it’s good to recognize that the answers are dynamic and will change as you change and evolve yourself as a writer over time. There are several factors to consider around having a blog, such as, is my ultimate goal to have a solid and high number of followers? Do I want to make money off the blog (monetize it), and if so, how and for what purpose? Am I mostly interested in the literary value of the work and wish to offer readers something of value and quality when they take the time to read a post? Or, is my blog mostly for entertainment, news, or a how-to type blog? Then, there’s the question of mission and vision: is my blog a way to promote my business venture, used as a marketing tool? Is my blog centered around a noble aim, like social, racial, or environmental justice? Is my blog a platform for my deeply and passionately held political views? Or do I have a particular cause I am promoting or wanting supported, such as animal rescue, human trafficking, criminal justice or educational reform?

I think it’s safe to assume that most people who take the time to build a blog, write posts, and work to get a following, do it because they feel what they have to say is important to some people. It’s far too easy to compare my blog to another’s and feel that mine is sorely lacking. If I write posts that I consider to be high-quality content, yet only twenty or fifty people read them, compared to thousands who may read a travel, food or sports blog, chances are good I will get discouraged. perhaps even giving up on writing eventually. Blogging is a numbers game, among its other dimensions.

We are living in a world that values material success above all. Our heroes are the people who have made it—they’re rich (obscenely so, usually), physically perfect, usually under 35, and mostly famous. Look online for bestselling nonfiction books, and nearly all of them will be stories of the people who made it in the world, in one form or another. Which is fine, I suppose, except that for me there’s something simply not REAL about all of that. Is the purpose of life, of living, really to get rich, stay thin, ripped, and sexy, and be able to buy your happiness and anything else you want on a whim? Or could it be that there is much more to being a human incarnated on the planet now, a larger story unfolding that we have yet to truly understand?

Back to my friend’s blogging story. She asked for my opinion, so I told her that it seems at odds to have a blog that simultaneously offers expert advice and techniques for wild nature solo adventures, and also tells her personal story of loneliness, anger, fear and sorrow, interspersed with humor and moments of joy and bliss. But I could be totally wrong about that. Readers, what do you think? When you follow someone’s blog, what are you hoping to get out of it? Do you want their expertise? Or their brutal honesty? Or something in-between? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section, if you are willing to share with us here.

 

We need Mary Oliver more than ever

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www.storemypic.com

Mary Oliver left her body this past week, on January 17, 2019. The poet who spent a good deal of her life musing about death has finally experienced it firsthand. I believe she was ready to go and find out what’s on the other side of the veil.

Some have written of her work in less than kind terms, as is always the case when a creative person becomes famous. But for the many fans of her poetry across the world, Mary Oliver remains a beloved commentator of the human heart, keen observer of the natural world, and philosopher of life on planet Earth.

I first became acquainted with Mary Oliver’s poetry when I was in my early thirties. I purchased her book New and Selected Poems (Beacon Press, Boston), at a poignant moment in my life when her words resonated deeply in my soul. That was over twenty years ago.  Since then, I’ve had certain periods when poetry took a prominent seat in my everyday and I’d pull out her volume anew. Her poems never failed to inspire and affirm my experience, as old and beloved friends usually do.

In this week’s New York Times articles about her death, journalists compared her style of nature poetry to Walt Whitman and even Thoreau and Emily Dickinson—she kept good company. But Oliver was fully present in our time, having lived through the majority of the 20th century and the start of the 21st. Yes, her overarching themes were about the dynamic relationship between nature and human beings, and she mostly used first person point of view.  In the poetic tradition, the personal I is the most effective way to carry meaning to the reader. In a world full of artifice, egoism, arrogance and materialism, Oliver was a voice of sanity, reason and heart. Her keen observations were unflinching as she deftly described and questioned our human experience in the face of vast and unexplainable forces. Her voice was at once tender and unsentimental, reminding us of the importance of nature within our human experience.

In these days of ever increasing technology, artificial intelligence, and furiously increasing capitalism which by now is threatening the very existence of life on Earth, Mary Oliver’s deceptively simple, clear-eyed verse is more needed than ever. In her poem The Sun (New and Selected Poems, 1992) she asks,

have you ever felt for anything
such wild love—
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you,
as the sun
reaches out,
as it warms you

as you stand there,
empty-handed—
or have you too
turned from this world–

or have you too
gone crazy
for power,
for things?

In her poem The Ponds (New and Selected Poems, 1992) she marvels at the perfection of the wild lilies growing at the edges of the ponds near her home. She writes

I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided—
and that one wears an orange blight—
and this one is a glossy cheek

half-nibbled away—
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own
unstoppable decay.

still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled—
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing—
that the light is everything—that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

Oliver remains a master of metaphorical poetry. A familiar pattern in her work is to first give the reader gorgeous descriptions of the natural world, and then deftly weave them within the framework of the human experience. I know of no other poet who uses this technique so seamlessly and succinctly. She simultaneously marvels at nature, wonders about the divinity who created it all, and asks us how to reckon with the unfathomable mystery that is our life, our planet, our home. Here is one of my favorite poems,
The Summer Day (House of Light, 1990).

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

In our present, highly chaotic and anxious times, reading Oliver’s calm, forthright and clear-eyed poems brings a sense of grounding, peace and sanity to our souls. Much like meditation and walks in the woods (for those fortunate enough to have woods nearby in which to walk), her poems remind us to be present, to breathe deep, and to be awake to the wonder of life inherent here on our beloved Earth. It is more challenging than ever to maintain sanity in such a world, but Oliver reminds us, through unerringly clear vision, of why we must do so. In her famous poem In Blackwater Woods (American Primitive, 1983) she writes,

Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

You must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

On an ordinary Thursday in January, 2019, Mary Oliver let it go. She let go of the world after holding it against her bones, caressing it ever so lovingly, so tenderly.  I am sure I speak for many others when I say how very grateful I am to her for holding up such a compassionate and clear mirror so we all may see ourselves and our planet reflected within it.

 

The New Faces of Power

The New York Times digital edition of January 14th carries a photo essay of all the women who are members of the 116th Congress. There are 131 women representatives between the House and Senate. As is often the case, the images carry a profundity and nobility that cannot be captured in words alone.

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Representative Deb Haaland, N.M. (from NY Times photo essay, Jan. 14, 2019)
Redefining Representation: The Women of the 116th CongressPhotographs by Elizabeth D. Herman and Celeste Sloman

Despite the chaos ensuing in Washington D.C. currently around the federal government shutdown, seeing these women leaders’ portraits all together gives me powerful hope for America’s future. The women who have taken the mantle of power come from diverse ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, socio-economic classes, and political ideology. Nevertheless, in this auspicious moment of this country’s history, women have stepped into their power like never before. The gender tide has turned, finally, and the United States can now begin to claim its hard-earned place among the rest of the world’s governments for gender equity. No, there is still not an equal number of men and women leaders. Yet this new Congress is a watershed moment.

“These photographs evoke the imagery we are used to seeing in the halls of power, but place people not previously seen as powerful starkly in the frames.”

“Many of these women, spanning generations, serve as firsts in Congress: the first women representing their states, the first female combat veteran, the first Native American women, the first Muslim women, the first openly gay member of the Senate, the first woman Speaker of the House — the list goes on.”

“More women holding elected office is significant not only in that it brings Congress closer to looking like the American population. It also expands the collective imagination about what power can and should look like.”— Elizabeth D. Herman

I hope you will take the time to click on the link and gaze at the new faces of power in Washington D.C. It’s been a long time coming, but feminine power is now unstoppable. Hallelujah!

Help Wanted: Writer

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

I have the audacity to call myself a writer. With my confidence boosted by my recent graduation from university summa cum laude, and a freshly minted minor in professional writing and a new sense of the possible, I’m ready to begin the job search. Oh boy.

So I do what any respectable college grad would do, I go online. One hour on LinkedIn leads to several rabbit holes and job boards. Before I know it, I’m on Indeed, signing up for job alerts to be conveniently delivered to my inbox. The alert—Writer.

The next day, I receive email alerts from my new friends at Indeed. The subject line: “770 jobs for writers” naturally catches my attention. I click the bait and start scrolling. As anyone who has an English degree and desire for paid work knows, there are nearly as many descriptions of writer as stars in the heavens. I read job postings for the following positions (this is the sound-byte version):

Technical writer—underwriter for insurance company—grant writer—proposal writer—software writer/engineer—advertising copy writer—marketing department web content writer—visual storyteller for another website’s marketing department—and that was in the first ninety seconds of scrolling. Lesson learned, I realize that being a writer means a lot of things to a lot of people. Sometimes it’s tough to remember I’m living in the era of hyper-technology, where bots are the first line of defense for actual, live humans that I have faith exist, somewhere.

Being a person who thinks of writing as an avocation, career, passion and creative undertaking, it’s a bit of a disappointment to see how misconstrued and misrepresented the term has come to be in our post-post modern world. We are at the point where pretty much anyone who knows how to type (on a device of any size) can call themselves a writer and get away with it. And while they may be technically correct (no doubt some dictionary definition of writer states “a person who writes words down somewhere”), to my mind, the term writer has much deeper connotations. It’s like a person who can bang out a simple tune on a guitar calling himself a musician. Or someone who opens a can of chili beans and microwaves them with a tortilla and a slice of cheese calling herself a cook. The nuance seems to be lost.

Back to the job search. Clearly, asking the Indeed bot to search for a word as generic as writer isn’t the most effective way to look for one’s dream job. I need a better strategy. So I dive into websites that showcase people doing interesting things with their lives, in fields that sound promising. After a couple of hours, I produce a list. It looks like this:

Categories of Interest

Social innovation, social entrepreneurship, human-centered design

Mentoring, coaching, facilitation, teaching

Leadership

Advocacy

Collaboration

Design Thinking

Governance

Impact Investing

Measurement & Evaluation

Organizational Development

Philanthropy & Funding

Scaling

Technology

These words appeared from searches stemming from the term global movement of change makers. That’s in my wheelhouse: global change, systems change, creating the new world that so many of us long for, and working towards making the dream of a sustainable, compassionate world into our global reality. The tricky part is, there’s no drop down menu of options that includes those words, sadly enough. The bots are artificially intelligent and can’t possibly understand a person like me who doesn’t fit into neat categories or even sectors. People like me have it harder than those graduates who have an easy answer to the question “what’s your degree in?” They can smile and say, “Bachelor of science in Computer Information Systems” or “Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice” and just about everyone immediately gets it. Business Administration majors are numerous, and so are jobs for them right out of school.

That’s not the case for us English majors and minors, however. People seem both intrigued and confused, or worse, slightly arrogant, once you confide that you hope to get a paid job as a writer. Their lips curl ever so slightly, their eyes glassy, and they’ll suddenly need to be somewhere else five minutes ago. What is it about the English language that so intimidates people? A lot of things, as it turns out. Take the average university English department, for example. Within that one department lurk scholars of many English stripes—literature, linguistics, composition and technical writing, creative writing, film and screenwriting, poetry, children’s literature and even graphic novel experts. Within those categories one can find even narrower fields of scholarship, like experts in medieval English manuscripts, 17th century Romantic poetry, or 20th century film noir genres. Specialization is the key to success in higher education. Where does that leave us multipotentialites?

In a world full of marketers, advertisers, techies, financial managers and engineers, it can feel like those of us who are passionate about using words creatively, with heart and soul, for the purpose of inspiring people to think about the world and what we are doing to it, are traveling a singularly lonely road. However, creative writers are a tenacious bunch. When you’ve got something that you feel is important to say, you can’t give up. You can’t let technology bots and content manipulators get you down. You just keep listening, and writing stuff down. The bus patron’s casual conversation with the bus driver on the commute home might just become your next blog post.

With Highest Praise

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http://www.threadless.com

In just a few more days, I will graduate from Metropolitan State University of Denver with a Bachelor of Science degree. The culmination of my higher educational journey has truly been a long and winding road. In fact, it began more than thirty years ago.

On December 14, 2018, I will sit among hundreds of other students in the Denver Coliseum, and listen to President Janine Davidson and others give inspirational speeches to our graduating class of 2018. Then, I’ll get in the queue with the rest, and wind my way up to the stage, as the announcer calls out my name, “Leigh Jardine, Summa cum Laude!” I’ll shake the Department Chair’s hand and receive my diploma holder. I’ll walk down the stairs, giddy, and proudly, in my full dignity, walk back to my seat as the rest of my class takes their turn doing the same.

In that moment, when the announcer calls my name to the crowd of thousands of people who have come to witness our graduation from university, I will realize an achievement that I had given up on long ago. For me, this commencement ceremony will be unlike any other I’ve experienced in life. It marks the public witnessing of my finishing, with highest praise, a journey of learning, growing, and accomplishing a goal that had eluded me for many years.

It seems like little in our modern culture is taken very seriously, or given much respect. The cynicism and practice of “dissing” others is a very real disease of society that has infected people through popular culture in a myriad of insidious ways. For many in western cultures, getting a bachelor’s degree is no more important or special than making it through high school—a means to an end, whether that is a decent-paying job or the ticked box when applying to graduate school. I know there are plenty of young people who only want to “be done” with their academic career so they can get out and start making money, and living a “real life” as opposed to the unreal life they led as an undergrad. My own response to that line of thinking now is incredulous.

Now into my sixth decade of living on Earth this time round, being a university student has been a profound joy. Especially because of the wonderful, self-designed major program I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of, I have had the delicious freedom to pick and choose the majority of courses I took. When some piece of the plan I’d set up with my advisor didn’t feel like the right fit, I’d go back to the drawing board and find a different course or set of courses that did. In fact, there’s a word for students like me: Multipotentialites.

According to the website Puttylike, a multipotentialite is “an educational and psychological term referring to a pattern found among intellectually gifted individuals. [Multipotentialites] generally have diverse interests across numerous domains and may be capable of success in many endeavors or professions; they are confronted with unique decisions as a result of these choices.”

The day I learned that what I’d struggled against my entire life, believing the socially-normative story that people like me are just losers who can’t get it together long enough to “make something of ourselves,” actually had a name and was recognized by some as a positive personality trait, was a turning point in my life. It was true, I’d never been able to stick with one job or career path for more than a few years before getting bored or burnt out, and then I’d begin the process of finding the next new thing to throw my creativity and curiosity into full-speed. For years I thought this was due to a serious character flaw, perhaps owing to my Gemini astrological sun sign, or maybe some dark, undiagnosed psychological problem I’d never been able to overcome. Then, sitting in a room full of other students and professors for a course on promoting our Individualized Degree, we were collectively enlightened to the fact that we weren’t losers or lame-beaus at all, but that we were, in fact, a bunch of cool Multipotentialites!
I went home feeling extraordinarily gratified that afternoon.

My bachelor’s degree is unique. It’s titled “Creative Arts, Women and Nonprofit Studies,” with a minor in English Rhetoric, Composition and Professional Writing. (The minor was already a thing; fortunately I didn’t need to invent that too.) The wonderful irony of me, Leigh Jardine, studying English as my minor, after being a writer my whole life and loving the English language with all its crazy wackiness and illogical frustrations—has been sheer pleasure.  Plus, most of the English professors whose courses I took are my kinda peeps—serious about learning, enthusiastic about English, words, and nerdy about the finer details of grammar, style guides, proper citations, annotated bibliographies, and the history of our absurd and wonderful mother tongue. It was gratifying to be among peers who loved the study of words and how they fit together into coherency.

We’ve all watched celebrities as they stand up at awards ceremonies, reeling off long lists of names, to thank all the folks along the way who helped them achieve their dream of fill-in-the-blank. We all know how tiresome that can be for the rest of us. But, in this moment of near-completion of my personal dream, I completely empathize with why they make everyone suffer through those five-minute-long-thank-you speeches. Nobody accomplishes their dreams on an island. We do it in rowboats, as teams in flow. I have many fine rowers to thank during the past eight semesters at MSU Denver.

The past two and a half years of being a student again have been enlightening in so many ways. I’ve learned a great deal about Millennials, intersectionality, racism, feminism, sexism, and many other isms. I’ve gained a deeper understanding of why higher education is so valuable for the upliftment of our society. I’ve come to greatly admire the work that many dedicated people are doing to lift up those on the margins in our communities and around the world. And, importantly, I’ve come to view the world we live in through a broader lens than I had before. My perspective has widened and deepened as I’ve come to view people in a more humane way than ever before. We are all doing what we can to survive under very chaotic circumstances in our world. I am fully aware of my privilege to be able to study in a peaceful city, to have plenty to eat and nice clothes to wear and to have a warm, cozy apartment I can afford. I’m fortunate to have my beloved daughters living nearby. I’m fortunate to be able to take a reliable bus downtown to campus each day and back home each evening. And I am privileged to possess an American passport. There are far too many in the world who have none of these things, and are suffering greatly in ways I cannot even begin to fathom.

I will be looking up when I stand to receive my diploma. I will also be looking straight ahead toward the future. Right now I honestly don’t know what I’ll be doing with my life in a year’s time. But at this moment, in the middle of December of 2018, in the smackdab middle of my life, I’m feeling fine with beginner’s mind. I don’t have to know, only to trust that I’m just exactly where I’m supposed to be, shining as brightly and showing up as bravely as I can.

On Fucking as a Phenomenon

It’s the end of 2018. Besides an overabundance of absurd political drama, lots of people in our society (that would be America, or Los Estados Unidos) are as concerned with fucking as ever. Possibly more.

Back in the day…when I was a young woman, the word “fuck” was a curse word reserved for times you were really, really upset, or else kids would insert it into their vernacular to try to be cool. “yeah, fucking COOL, man” was a highly popular slang term at the time. But by now, the word “fuck” has been co-opted by, well, nearly everyone under fifty in this society. From little kids who have no clue what the word actually means, to Millennials on the bus, and pretty near everyone in-between.

Others talk about fucking as an activity, sort of like a sport that some follow. “Oh, he was fucking her, but then she let him know she wasn’t into him anymore, so now she’s fucking his roommate.”  The word is regularly used as an modifier: “fucking RIGHT.” Or, the ever ubiquitous “What the FUCK??!!”  Now, please don’t get the idea that I’m a prude or anything. I have personally used or done all that I’ve described above. The issue is that the term is just, mmm, slightly overused by now, wouldn’t you agree?

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image via https://jezebel.com/in-defense-of-the-word-fuck-1555610538

The word itself has interesting roots. According to Etymonline[1], until recently it was

“a difficult word to trace in usage, in part because it was omitted as taboo by the editors of the original Oxford English Dictionary when the “F” entries were compiled (1893-97). Fuck wasn’t in a single English language dictionary from 1795 to 1965. “The Penguin Dictionary” broke the taboo in the latter year. Houghton Mifflin followed, in 1969, with “The American Heritage Dictionary,” but it also published a “Clean Green” edition without the word, to assure itself access to the public high school market.”

There are different theories as to its actual origins, but some good linguistic guesses place it as coming from Germanic and/or Scandinavian words like “ficken. They often have additional senses, especially ‘cheat,’ but their basic meaning is ‘move back and forth.’ … Most probably, fuck is a borrowing from Low German and has no cognates outside Germanic.”[2]

My, we’ve come a long way from the late 19th century, haven’t we! Especially because the word has such popular derivatives, such as fucked, fuck it, fuck off, fucked up, fuck you, motherfucker, cluster fuck, and my favorite (that I just learned from Etymonline), fuckwit. During the 16th century (and probably earlier), the word fuck was considered vulgar English, meaning common, ordinary or of the herd. In 2018, though it’s still vulgar (probably more so than ever), it’s no longer forbidden from either dictionaries or everyday English usage.

Aside from its popularity as an adverb, the stubborn truth is that people in the United States (and plenty of other lands) are absolutely obsessed with copulation. There are probably upwards of about ten million things that humans could concern themselves with, throughout the course of any day. And, clearly some are thinking about some of those ten million things. But. Fucking, the thought of fucking, who is fucking who (or who ISN’T fucking who any longer), and an endless list of the nuances around these base thoughts seem to take up the majority of people’s grey matter.

Is it because humans cannot get a grip on their hormone levels? Doesn’t that start to regulate after about age 25? Or maybe it’s because climate change is hovering over humanity like some stupendous alien invasion, ready to destroy all life upon Earth AT ANY MOMENT, FOREVER? Or, is it possibly because people are really just extraordinarily bored, and obsessing about sex, bodily parts and all things related is a pleasant, harmless diversion?

What if we, as a species, were suddenly able to telepathically read each other’s thoughts whether we wanted to or not? A genuinely frightening notion this is, with vast implications.  I have to wonder if this were possible, would we quickly tire of thinking so very much about sex and fucking—wouldn’t it become passé once it was no longer a game created for our own amusement and titillation, and hyped to the nines by pop culture for profit margins?

Here’s a short anecdote to ponder:  Once, years ago, I met a guy I had gone to high school with. We’d been friends within a common friend group, and I’d always liked him a lot. He seemed like a thinking person to me at the time, and mused on about quantum physics and various other interesting topics that I knew nothing about. We’d been out of contact for many years. Then, in my mid-thirties, we suddenly connected through a mutual old friend. We decided to have dinner and catch up. After a couple of hours of talking and trading life stories over the last fifteen years, out of nowhere, he said aloud, “I wonder what you look like naked.” I laughed uncomfortably, and quickly changed the subject. Eventually, the evening ended and we said goodnight. Needless to say, I never saw him again. That one ill-placed remark completely ruined the evening, and my former fond memories of him forever.

There is a kind of grace to subtlety. Words well-placed, in the perfect moment, have impact. The word fuck used to have a certain power. But now? It’s lost all its former shock. Like so many other overused words, it has no more oomph, danger, or razzamatazz. Same with the continual conversation about the act of fucking. I suggest we start a revolution of thought, leading to a revolution of action. The new revolution will not be based around copulation, the most mundane act in all of nature. Instead, humans might take up thoughts like how to create a world without war, violence, or extreme inequality to while away the hours. Imagine if even a small percentage of people would shift their thinking from fucking to problem-solving, how the world might change. Overnight.

[1] https://www.etymonline.com/word/fuck#etymonline_v_14228
[2] Ibid.

 

 

 

 

The Wild Ride of November

 

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Art by @jrbrook, #GoVote

What a wild ride we are on! It’s unimaginable to me that anyone in the United States wasn’t paying attention to the midterm elections held last week. However, I know that plenty of folks really could care less what happens in Washington D.C., or in their state or local governments.

In these times, I am continually reminded that what’s important to one person is not important to the next. The reasons for this phenomenon are complex—I’m not even going to pretend to be able to answer that one intelligently. I notice it all the time, from news reports to overheard conversations, from classmates’ observations to professors’ lectures, and of course, via the dreaded social media. Our differences are becoming ever more etched in relief, and it’s a constant practice to remember, and also focus on, our similarities. How can one species called homo sapiens be at such incredible odds with itself? And, even more importantly, how can we reconcile all our seemingly vast differences in order to create the new world that so many of us long for?

Last week. Last week and the preceding weeks leading up to the midterm elections were, in a word, frenetic. They were also anxiety-producing and crazy. Candidates’ campaigns reached unprecedented levels of delirium, with a slight edge of hysteria over the weekend before Tuesday’s polls opened.  By late Monday, I was deleting emails hourly; on Tuesday morning I received dozens of emails imploring me to GO VOTE!! Did I have a plan for voting? Did I have or need a ride to get to the polling place? I wasn’t going to forget to vote, was I? Forget?? How would that even be a thing in 2018? I wondered, as I hit delete, delete, delete. Then there were text messages—Support! Go do it! Knock on people’s doors! Text! Above all, Show UP, for Goodness Sake!! Our democracy depends on YOU. The Blue Wave is coming, if you show up and Do The Right Thing.

A super-sized dose of responsibility was heaped upon each and all of us on November 6th. We were hammered by hundreds of organizations to do our citizen’s duty and exercise our RIGHT to vote for the candidates and ballot measures and amendments of our choice. The thing is, it’s not so easy to get a handle on just what exactly we’re for and what we’re against. Watching mainstream media ads certainly won’t help anyone understand the issues or get to the truth of what the candidates stand for. We need a different system, and a whole lot more civic education, period.

Americans know we are collectively living through an age of disinformation, misinformation, false information, and just plain too much information. Some days I feel like everybody and their brother and sister are jumping on the bandwagon and standing up shouting at the crowd. Only by now, the crowd is made up of hundreds of millions in America alone, not to mention the billions of other people around the world who are also watching and listening to the craziness. Metaphors become meaningless against the sheer tsunami of voices competing for our attention on a 24/7 basis.

About that Blue Wave? Megan Garber wrote in The Atlantic, “A “blue wave” that is widely decided, in the course of a day, to be neither blue nor a wave: Here is one challenge of reporting in metaphor. And here is a reminder as well that, at this particular moment in American life, metaphor might be all we have.”

Words matter. Or do they? It depends on whose words, at what moment they’re uttered or written, and also, on who’s listening. As a writer, I struggle with making meaning and sense, with writing thoughts that have substance, with choosing words that cause people to reflect, ponder, and consider things that they hadn’t before. Any serious writer acknowledges that it’s difficult, tedious work. Writers attempt to convey, through small symbols on the page (either physical or virtual) what is inside their mind and  heart, then offers it to the world in hopes of gifting the others with something inspiring, humorous, moral, ethical, or otherwise “important.” Yet, at least as often as not, the writer will fail. He will fail to reach people for any one of a thousand reasons. She will be unable to touch people’s hearts through her words. He will not inspire those he most wants to affect. The game ends in stalemate far too often.

But we writers don’t easily give up. As absurd as it may be, we continue to offer our words, our thoughts, our black symbols on the page out to the world. I recently heard a story of a young man who put out his writing to publisher after publisher, receiving nothing but rejection letters back. This went on for months; after a while he began pasting them up in his apartment as a kind of testimony to his willingness to endure rejection. More than one hundred letters later, his luck changed when a publisher decided to accept his manuscript. Sometimes patience pays off.

Back to the midterms. It hasn’t even been a week since Americans went to the polls, and it’s already feeling a bit like old news. Today is Sunday, 11-11-18, a significant day for many, depending on your perspective. It marks the hundred-year anniversary of the end of World War I. For others, 11-11 is a spiritually important day, signifying a greater influx of light onto our world from the cosmos. For still others, it’s just another Sunday to hang out, drink beer, and watch a football game. Meaning lies in the significance an individual attaches to the object of one’s attention. Cosmic forces coming to awaken humanity, the end of the Great War, or the winners of the football match—you decide.

Here’s an interesting article from New Republic, on how the Blue Wave was built ahead of the Midterms.  https://newrepublic.com/article/152130/outsider-democrats-built-blue-wave.  You can be sure that last week’s wave was only the beginning of a greater storm building between now and 2020, and metaphor will continue as a useful tool for writers in describing the chaotic times ahead.

Thirty Days to Go

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Is it possible to restore true democracy in the United States?

In thirty days, voters will decide who will sit in offices of power in every state of the United States. It’s another nail-biter moment for the millions of us who are beyond disgusted, beyond overwhelmed and beyond nauseated at the havoc playing out on a daily basis by the people in Washington D.C.

Many of us knew we were in for a hell of a ride after the dust settled in November of 2016. The Women’s Marches around the country ushered in the spirit of resistance and pushback against the Trump administration in January of 2017, and the collective call for justice and progressive change has only become more insistent with each passing month. Now the midterms are upon us, with the Blasey-Ford/Kavanaugh hearings fresh in our ears. The noise and brouhaha are deafening, as senators, representatives, justices, politicos, activists, and changemakers continue yelling at each other and at us. Everyone seems to be shouting, THINGS MUST CHANGE!!! But it’s anyone’s guess as to what exactly will change by November 7th.

Every single day now, I receive a long list of emails from many different political organizations, with variations on the same theme. The messages range from “aren’t you furious?” to a somewhat more realistic, even tone.  I get it—we are past the point of nicely asking the current power-elites for anything, anymore. I feel a lot of emotions about the current scene, but curiously furious isn’t on my list. Maybe Naomi Klein’s shock doctrine theory has taken hold, and I’m simply exhausted from the constant onslaught of bad news coming out of Washington. More than anything, I have sorrow and remorse for the current state of humanity’s lowest ebb. There are a lot of feelings just under the surface of my soul, awaiting any slight opportunity to make themselves known—any crack in a conversation to open it to what’s happening in our world is seized by me now.

Meanwhile, others around me also appear weary of the struggle. It’s been a marathon two years, filled with one disappointing battle after the next. I’m certain the constant attacks on everything good, true and beautiful in the world are highly scripted and calculated by certain shadow actors in an attempt to make us all shut up and sit down, as they continue to destroy what’s left of our world bit by horrific bit.

But we have news for them: It’s not working. In fact, it’s doing the opposite—as the damage being done to people, society and our beautiful, long-suffering earth continues, more and more of us are standing up and shouting out. More people of color are running for political office across America than ever before. More women. More young people. The Millennials are up and active, shouting and stomping and rapping for change. It’s a tug-of-war, and both sides are giving it all they’ve got. If ever there was a time to get up and loud about what you see happening in the United States today, now would be it.

This election is one that NO ONE can afford to sit out. Political slogans aside, it is truly a time of massive change, that can only happen if enough everyday folks like you and me take action. Make calls. Give donations. March and protest. Get loud, loud and strong enough so the elected officials in Washington and in every capital house in every state cannot ignore the sound of Americans demanding change. Make sure you understand every single ballot measure, and have educated yourself on where the candidates stand on the issues. Don’t only think of yourself when you tick the boxes. What will the measure mean for your neighbors, your community, and your state? Will the candidate work to protect nature and resources, or plan to exploit them even further? Take the time to do research and find out who is backing them: oil and gas corporate interests? The Koch Brothers? Or have they taken the pledge to NOT take dark money in order to win their race?

We are still The People, and we are still here, hurting. We still have power, regardless of outer appearances. It is time to take our collective power back into our hands. With thirty days to go, there’s a lot to do, and not a moment to lose.

Their Excellencies

This week I am glued to my smart phone, watching the United Nations’ 73rd General Assembly meetings each day. There is a lot going on globally, to say the least.

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President of the 73rd General Assembly Debate

It’s fascinating to watch and listen to each head of state stand at the podium and tell the rest of the assembly about their country, their perspective on world events, and make their plea to the United Nations for whatever is of the utmost importance to their people and culture. It is clearly apparent after only a short time of viewing, that the people in the hall are doing some of the most important work in the world, for they are together creating humanity’s future.

This year’s high-level meeting is unusual in that the United Nations lost the support of the United States, due to the current presidential administration’s political stance. For complicated reasons, the current administration has withdrawn support, including financial, for a majority of UN programs. Speaker after speaker has spoken of the “alarming trend towards unilateralism” and an unwillingness to work collaboratively, pointing towards the United States’ position.

It is alarming, to put it mildly, that the president of the United States came to the UN’s highest level meeting this year, and stated that, according to him, the United States isn’t interested in the rest of the world, that it’s all about him and his agenda for what he thinks is in the best interests of patriotism. Truthfully, I had to turn off his speech after not even thirty seconds of listening, the stuff coming out of his mouth once again souring my stomach to the point of nausea.

But here’s the glorious thing: The United Nations is a GLOBAL platform that offers all member states the great opportunity to be heard by the rest of the world’s members during these meetings. Each autumn, for one week, heads of state, diplomats, and thousands of support team members come together to appeal to one another, engage in dialogue, and work to hammer out a path forward for the year ahead. The challenges are massive. As I listened, I heard the whole gamut of humanity’s problems, from the smallest island states who are concerned about the oceans and fishing (as it is their main livelihood and resource), to the biggest and most industrialized nations who are concerned with cyber crimes and ecological destruction. Heartbreaking stories were told by the leaders of Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. Speeches full of fury and self-determination were given by the heads of the Ukraine and Venezuela. Diplomatic and extremely eloquent speeches were offered by the presidents of Bolivia and Ecuador. Compassionate and passionate appeals were given by several African states. And, some leaders, such as Theresa May of Great Britain, were mostly concerned with free trade and essentially holding on to power and privilege.

Many global leaders showed solidarity with Palestine, and called for legal and permanent recognition of a two-state solution to the fifty-year crisis in Gaza. Leaders appealed for allowing sanctions to be lifted against Cuba, yet again. Dozens of leaders exhibited great compassion towards the millions of refugees and the human migration crises occurring around the world, calling for all members of the United Nations to do more than simply offer rhetoric, and to move into more and greater concrete action.

In this age of fake news and alternative facts, with corporate media showing extremely selective and highly biased news stories to the citizens of the United States, it is really gratifying to be able to hear directly from the world’s leaders about what is happening in their home countries. It is sobering, absolutely, and also exhausting, but exceedingly important for Americans to have the opportunity to watch these important meetings and draw our own conclusions from them.

You can watch live, all this week. http://webtv.un.org/live/

YouTube’s United Nations channel

UN’s website: http://www.un.org/en/ga/73/meetings/index.shtml

Also, see this link: http://sdg.iisd.org/events/73rd-session-of-the-un-general-assembly/

 

Hurricanes, Typhoons and the Future

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Image source: https://blogs.nasa.gov/hurricanes/tag/tropical-cyclone-6/

As you are aware, September is hurricane season in the northern hemisphere. If you are a weatherphile, you’ve probably been following Hurricane Florence this past week as it wound its way west from the middle of the Atlantic towards the Carolinas, making landfall on Friday. Yes, it was extreme, with storm surges, uprooting trees and flash flooding, and about twelve unfortunate people who lost their lives in the storm. Amazingly, the Outer Banks islands of North Carolina were mostly spared, and the groups of wild horses who live on them (yes, there are still wild horses on the East Coast, incredibly), survived the storm and are doing fine, according to Facebook reports. This is good news, since all the major American news outlets reported for days on the possibly catastrophic damage that Florence could bring. It might have been much worse, so let’s count our blessings, right?

Southern Asia, on the other hand, has been hit hard by Typhoon Mangkhut this weekend. Here’s a link to a YouTube video with incredible raw footage of what’s been happening there (you might want to ignore the dramatic music, though).  https://youtu.be/rTQjpnUxp_I

According to the BBC news, (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-45543664) dozens of people in the Philippines have died as a result of the typhoon. In Hong Kong, the effects of the storm, flooding and storm surge damaged buildings and stopped normal movement in the city. Right now, the typhoon is moving across southern China, through the Guizhou, Chongquing and Yunnan provinces. Over 2.5 million people have been evacuated from Guangdong and Hainan Island this weekend. The news report stated that over 200 people were injured in Hong Kong, with wind speeds reaching over 110 mph, and storm surges as high as 12 feet (3.5 meters).  Damage to high rise apartments included smashed glass windows, scaffolding crashing to the ground, metal plates careening through the sky, while on the ground cars and pedestrians were inundated by the flood waters. Many thousands were stranded as hundreds of flights were cancelled, roadways closed, and train service stopped. For the moment, the area has come to a standstill.

We can look at weather events such as these from various angles. One of the most obvious is that of scale. During the past decade, the frequency and magnitude of hurricanes and typhoons have scaled up. This type of upscaling of extreme weather has been predicted by meteorologists using cutting edge technology for the past several years. The science is solid: global warming is behind the increase of events, and their ever-increasing strength. Questions remain: how does the global community cope with nearly continuous extreme weather events, and what are we doing to mitigate their effects, and slow down the trajectory of tragedy in the decades ahead?

The Paris Climate Agreement was signed by world leaders almost three years ago. Since then, under the Trump administration, the United States reneged on their responsibility to keep their emissions under the 1.5 degree (Celsius) warming ceiling, and pulled out of the global agreement. However, state and city government leaders, along with the business community, made it clear immediately following the announcement from the White House, that they were fully still in the Paris agreement regardless of what the federal administration decided. Since that time, a coalition of mayors, governors, CEOs and community leaders from around the world have been working on innovating ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global warming.

This past week in San Francisco, hundreds of those leaders gathered for the Global Action Climate Summit, hosted by California Governor Jerry Brown and a large team of dedicated people. Thousands of people from across the globe attended the event, which was live-streamed for two days via YouTube and Facebook. Here are some links to find out about some of the outcomes of this extraordinary and important event.

https://www.globalclimateactionsummit.org/step-up/

https://www.globalclimateactionsummit.org/

In a high-level talanoa (dialogue) held at the start of the summit, the following statements were made by world leaders on climate change action:

Paris was a great moment of bold and focused leadership; an example of what is possible when leaders are committed to stepping up ambition. But now, to move the vision of the Paris Agreement forward, to turn its words into action, and to deliver results on the ground, the world now needs a new kind of leadership.

We are already seeing this leadership emerging. Those who think globally and for the long term. Those who are convinced and concerned about climate change. Those who put the interests of society in front of their own. Those who are courageous, determined, committed and perseverant. And, above all, those who realize that they need to work together in pursuit of a common goal.

But the fact remains, no single leader will be able to take on this challenge by themselves. To reach a net-zero emissions society, we must move beyond a single company, a single sector or city, or a single country. Leaders from across the world must, within their constituencies and jurisdictions, listen to what science is saying, and translate a global vision into local action. They must make bold decisions, provide the necessary resources and motivate and mobilize the people they can influence to follow-through and deliver.  (https://www.globalclimateactionsummit.org/outcome-of-high-level-talanoa/)

The biggest call to action coming out of the summit was for 100% clean energy by all countries of the world, as soon as possible. This call is being emphasized and encouraged by the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres. The year 2020 came up over and over as a benchmark year: many believe that our world will reach an irreconcilable point with the effects of global warming, if we don’t make some major changes to our energy usage during the next two years. In other words, the time for real, on-the-ground action for clean energy is NOW.

Looking at the footage of Typhoon Mangkhut, (as well as extreme weather events happening every day across the globe) it is unimaginable that anyone living on Earth at this moment would not agree that humanity needs to step up and change the ways we are living. Fossil fuel use is simply killing life on Earth, it cannot be stated in any plainer terms. Positive change is on the horizon, and clever people all around the world are working tirelessly towards a clean energy future, not a moment too soon.