It was one of those perfect, rainy, Fall mornings -- chilly and with the kind of pouring, abundant, luxurious rain that makes the music on the roof that is Mama Gaia's way of saying, "I love you. Stay in bed. Make love and then doze again." Alas, my impatient mistress, the Bramble Bush, called, and I got up and wrapped a shawl over my bathrobe so that I could eat breakfast out on the porch. (We're just days away from the day when I'll have to give this practice up for five months or so, and I'm hanging on to every last day.) I was just warming my fingers one last time on my pottery coffee mug when I saw her: the fox. My fox. Vulpes vulpes. Sweet totem.
That's twice in just a few weeks, and I'm not sure if this is due to the fact that I'm paying better attention or if she and her babies are hungry. She came running down the hill to the South of The Ugly Neighbors' yard, stopped, looked at me, and decided, "Old, stationary, not a threat." Then she continued heading North until my fence hid her. I hoped she might slip beneath the fence (I built it with gaps between it and the ground to allow her free passage), but no such luck. Though I lingered, I didn't see her again. But I'm triangulating on her den and, soon, I'll be able to direct blessings directly there, rather than just generally in her direction.
Then, this evening, I drove home under scudding grey clouds, dramatic and full of seasonal shift. And, flowing like music, flying like magic, appearing like love, came a flock of blackbirds flying South and landing, all together, like laden gifts of carbon, on a still-green tree. Silhouettes of the end of Summer.
How do we go on living on this planet? How does the beauty and the joy and the connection not strike us all the way dead? I was reminded of that sculpture of St. Theresa and the fact that, it wasn't just sex with the god that pierced her. (Well and, of course, sex with the god is a metaphor for what it's like to be alive and in relationship with foxes and being in relationship with foxes is, in fact, sex with the god, and well, you know. It's all real. It's all metaphor. There's always more.) It was how amazingly luminescent it all is, how wonderful, joyous, and painfully pleasurable it is to be alive here, now, as the wheel turns.
May it be so for you. Or, not, no, yes, may it be so for you, even if, sometimes, the joy is, indeed, too much.
Part of the problem is that we've been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming, but did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, US carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.
Or let's talk water. We so often hear that the world is running out of water. People are dying from lack of water. Rivers are dewatered from lack of water. Because of this we need to take shorter showers. See the disconnect? Because I take showers, I'm responsible for drawing down aquifers? Well, no. More than 90 percent of the water used by humans is used by agriculture and industry. The remaining 10 percent is split between municipalities and actual living breathing individual humans. Collectively, municipal golf courses use as much water as municipal human beings. People (both human people and fish people) aren't dying because the world is running out of water. They're dying because the water is being stolen.
Or let's talk energy. Kirkpatrick Sale summarized it well: "For the past 15 years the story has been the same every year: individual consumption—residential, by private car and so on—is never more than about a quarter of all consumption; the vast majority is commercial, industrial, corporate, by agribusiness and government [he forgot military]. So, even if we all took up cycling and wood stoves it would have a negligible impact on energy use, global warming and atmospheric pollution."
Or let's talk waste. In 2005, per-capita municipal waste production (basically everything that's put out at the curb) in the US was about 1660 pounds. Let's say you're a die-hard simple-living activist, and you reduce this to zero. You recycle everything. You bring cloth bags shopping. You fix your toaster. Your toes poke out of old tennis shoes. You're not done yet, though. Since municipal waste includes not just residential waste, but also waste from government offices and businesses, you march to those offices, waste reduction pamphlets in hand, and convince them to cut down on their waste enough to eliminate your share of it. Uh, I've got some bad news. Municipal waste accounts for only three percent of total waste production in the United States.
I want to be clear. I'm not saying we shouldn't live simply. I live reasonably simply myself, but I don't pretend that not buying much (or not driving much, or not having kids) is a powerful political act, or that it's deeply revolutionary. It's not. Personal change doesn't equal social change.
So how, then, and especially with all the world at stake, have we come to accept these utterly insufficient responses? I think part of it is that we're in a double bind. A double bind is where you're given multiple options, but no matter what option you choose, you lose, and withdrawal is not an option. At this point, it should be pretty easy to recognize that every action involving the industrial economy is destructive (and we shouldn't pretend that solar photovoltaics, for example, exempt us from this: they still require mining and transportation infrastructures at every point in the production processes; the same can be said for every other so-called green technology). So if we choose option one—if we avidly participate in the industrial economy—we may in the short term think we win because we may accumulate wealth, the marker of "success" in this culture. But we lose, because in doing so we give up our empathy, our animal humanity. And we really lose because industrial civilization is killing the planet, which means everyone loses. If we choose the "alternative" option of living more simply, thus causing less harm, but still not stopping the industrial economy from killing the planet, we may in the short term think we win because we get to feel pure, and we didn't even have to give up all of our empathy (just enough to justify not stopping the horrors), but once again we really lose because industrial civilization is still killing the planet, which means everyone still loses. The third option, acting decisively to stop the industrial economy, is very scary for a number of reasons, including but not restricted to the fact that we'd lose some of the luxuries (like electricity) to which we've grown accustomed, and the fact that those in power might try to kill us if we seriously impede their ability to exploit the world—none of which alters the fact that it's a better option than a dead planet. Any option is a better option than a dead planet.
Besides being ineffective at causing the sorts of changes necessary to stop this culture from killing the planet, there are at least four other problems with perceiving simple living as a political act (as opposed to living simply because that's what you want to do). The first is that it's predicated on the flawed notion that humans inevitably harm their landbase. Simple living as a political act consists solely of harm reduction, ignoring the fact that humans can help the Earth as well as harm it. We can rehabilitate streams, we can get rid of noxious invasives, we can remove dams, we can disrupt a political system tilted toward the rich as well as an extractive economic system, we can destroy the industrial economy that is destroying the real, physical world.
The second problem—and this is another big one—is that it incorrectly assigns blame to the individual (and most especially to individuals who are particularly powerless) instead of to those who actually wield power in this system and to the system itself. Kirkpatrick Sale again: "The whole individualist what-you-can-do-to-save-the-Earth guilt trip is a myth. We, as individuals, are not creating the crises, and we can't solve them."
The third problem is that it accepts capitalism's redefinition of us from citizens to consumers. By accepting this redefinition, we reduce our potential forms of resistance to consuming and not consuming. Citizens have a much wider range of available resistance tactics, including voting, not voting, running for office, pamphleting, boycotting, organizing, lobbying, protesting and, when a government becomes destructive of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we have the right to alter or abolish it.
The fourth problem is that the endpoint of the logic behind simple living as a political act is suicide. If every act within an industrial economy is destructive, and if we want to stop this destruction, and if we are unwilling (or unable) to question (much less destroy) the intellectual, moral, economic, and physical infrastructures that cause every act within an industrial economy to be destructive, then we can easily come to believe that we will cause the least destruction possible if we are dead.
The good news is that there are other options. We can follow the examples of brave activists who lived through the difficult times I mentioned—Nazi Germany, Tsarist Russia, antebellum United States—who did far more than manifest a form of moral purity; they actively opposed the injustices that surrounded them. We can follow the example of those who remembered that the role of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much integrity as possible, but rather to confront and take down those systems.
That's worth repeating: We can follow the example of those who remembered that the role of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much integrity as possible, but rather to confront and take down those systems.
No, listen: We can follow the example of those who remembered that the role of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much integrity as possible, but rather to confront and take down those systems.
Did you hear that? The role of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much integrity as possible, but rather to confront and take down those systems.
WaPo reports on an interesting study out of Baylor University concerning clergy sexual abuse.
One in every 33 women who attend worship services regularly has been the target of sexual advances by a religious leader, a survey released Wednesday says.
The study, by Baylor University researchers, found that the problem is so pervasive that it almost certainly involves a wide range of denominations, religious traditions and leaders.
"It certainly is prevalent, and clearly the problem is more than simply a few charismatic leaders preying on vulnerable followers," said Diana Garland, dean of Baylor's School of Social Work, who co-authored the study.
It found that more than two-thirds of the offenders were married to someone else at the time of the advance.
That's a pretty startling result. The study appears not to have considered religions outside of xianity and Judiasm.
In the nonrandom qualitative study that occurred concurrently with the survey, survivors hailed from 17 different Christian and Jewish affiliations: Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Seventh Day Adventist, Disciples of Christ, Latter Day Saints, Apostolic, Calvary Chapel, Christian Science, Church of Christ, Episcopal, Friends (Quaker), Mennonite, Evangelical, Nondenominational (Christian), and Reformed Judaism.
That doesn't mean that such abuse doesn't occur in Pagan religions, but it may be more complicated to study.
Before the Altar, bowed, he stands With empty hands; Upon it perfumed offerings burn Wreathing with smoke the sacrificial urn. Not one of all these has he given, No flame of his has leapt to Heaven Firesouled, vermilion-hearted, Forked, and darted, Consuming what a few spare pence Have cheaply bought, to fling from hence In idly-asked petition. His sole condition Love and poverty. And while the moon Swings slow across the sky, Athwart a waving pine tree, And soon Tips all the needles there With silver sparkles, bitterly He gazes, while his soul Grows hard with thinking of the poorness of his dole. "Shining and distant Goddess, hear my prayer Where you swim in the high air! With charity look down on me, Under this tree, Tending the gifts I have not brought, The rare and goodly things I have not sought. Instead, take from me all my life! "Upon the wings Of shimmering moonbeams I pack my poet's dreams For you. My wearying strife, My courage, my loss, Into the night I toss For you. Golden Divinity, Deign to look down on me Who so unworthily Offers to you: All life has known, Seeds withered unsown, Hopes turning quick to fears, Laughter which dies in tears. The shredded remnant of a man Is all the span And compass of my offering to you. "Empty and silent, I Kneel before your pure, calm majesty. On this stone, in this urn I pour my heart and watch it burn, Myself the sacrifice; but be Still unmoved: Divinity." From the altar, bathed in moonlight, The smoke rose straight in the quiet night.
Your home is an outer expression of your inner world. I've found that if I am surrounded by chaos it's difficult to maintain any sort of emotional or spiritual equilibrium. Sometimes all it takes to live a more grounded, more orderly life is bringing some order to your surrounding environment.
. . .
In the process of redecorating I've been cutting back on the sheer amount of crap I've collected over the years--if it's not beautiful or doesn't have personal meaning to me, out it goes! I'm learning not to hold onto objects for the sake of having objects, but to let them pass on to people who might give them better homes. And as I clean out closets and the Goodwill donation pile gets bigger and bigger, I feel more and more free, chipping off bits of the past and carrying them out to the curb where they belong while keeping those treasured memories that matter.
My home is Stickley Mission, rather than Indian Decorative, but I agree with Diane: your home is an outer expression of your inner world. Moon in Cancer, I work v hard to make my home warm, safe, secure, inviting, serene.
I often debate, for fun, whether, if I could afford a cabin in the woods, it would be glass-and-stone-modern, Mackenzie & Childs madcap, or Gumps oriental (probably best reserved for my imaginary pied a terre in San Francisco). How is your dream castle decorated?
Mabon's coming, so quickly that you can almost hear it approaching if you stop, listen, pay attention.
Eternal Spirit of Justice and Love, At this time of Thanksgiving we would be aware of our dependence on the earth and on the sustaining presence of other human beings both living and gone before us.
As we partake of bread and wine, may we remember that there are many for whom sufficient bread is a luxury, or for whom wine, when attainable, is only an escape. Let our thanksgiving for Life's bounty include a commitment to changing the world, that those who are now hungry may be filled and those without hope may be given courage.
Here's my other, second-favorite poem for Labor Day. It's by Langston Hughes.
Well, son, I'll tell you: Life for me ain't been no crystal stair. It's had tacks in it, And splinters, And boards torn up, And places with no carpet on the floor— Bare. But all the time I'se been a-climbin' on, And reachin' landin's, And turnin' corners, And sometimes goin' in the dark Where there ain't been no light. So, boy, don't you turn back. Don't you set down on the steps. 'Cause you finds it's kinder hard. Don't you fall now— For I'se still goin', honey, I'se still climbin', And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
I've done a lot of work in my life that felt a lot like scrubbing splintering stairs. I've done work I didn't want to do, work for which I wasn't really suited, work that I did for no reason in the world except that it paid the bills, kept a roof over our heads, put shoes on my child's growing feet, gas in the car, bread on the table. I've worked for bosses whom I despised, systems that I knew were broken, structures designed to kill the spirit. Throughout all of those times, I focused on how warm and safe Son was, how beautiful was the blush on his well-fed cheek, how well I was investing the money in my plan to ESCAPE.
On Labor Day, may we all send out energy to the universe so that all people may find fulfillment, dignity, and joy in their work.
Out of the mud two strangers came And caught me splitting wood in the yard, And one of them put me off my aim By hailing cheerily "Hit them hard!" I knew pretty well why he had dropped behind And let the other go on a way. I knew pretty well what he had in mind: He wanted to take my job for pay.
Good blocks of oak it was I split, As large around as the chopping block; And every piece I squarely hit Fell splinterless as a cloven rock. The blows that a life of self-control Spares to strike for the common good, That day, giving a loose my soul, I spent on the unimportant wood.
The sun was warm but the wind was chill. You know how it is with an April day When the sun is out and the wind is still, You're one month on in the middle of May. But if you so much as dare to speak, A cloud comes over the sunlit arch, A wind comes off a frozen peak, And you're two months back in the middle of March.
A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight And turns to the wind to unruffle a plume, His song so pitched as not to excite A single flower as yet to bloom. It is snowing a flake; and he half knew Winter was only playing possum. Except in color he isn't blue, But he wouldn't advise a thing to blossom.
The water for which we may have to look In summertime with a witching wand, In every wheelrut's now a brook, In every print of a hoof a pond. Be glad of water, but don't forget The lurking frost in the earth beneath That will steal forth after the sun is set And show on the water its crystal teeth.
The time when most I loved my task The two must make me love it more By coming with what they came to ask. You'd think I never had felt before The weight of an ax-head poised aloft, The grip of earth on outspread feet, The life of muscles rocking soft And smooth and moist in vernal heat.
Out of the wood two hulking tramps (From sleeping God knows where last night, But not long since in the lumber camps). They thought all chopping was theirs of right. Men of the woods and lumberjacks, The judged me by their appropriate tool. Except as a fellow handled an ax They had no way of knowing a fool.
Nothing on either side was said. They knew they had but to stay their stay And all their logic would fill my head: As that I had no right to play With what was another man's work for gain. My right might be love but theirs was need. And where the two exist in twain Theirs was the better right--agreed.
But yield who will to their separation, My object in living is to unite My avocation and my vocation As my two eyes make one in sight. Only where love and need are one, And the work is play for mortal stakes, Is the deed ever really done For Heaven and the future's sakes.
I've always loved the close of this poem: Only where love and need are one/And work is play for mortal stakes. Isn't that what really, really good work feels like? When I'm writing a brief and I really believe that I'm right and the other side is wrong, when I'm fighting for a cause in which I really believe, it's just so damn FUN. When work is play, for mortal stakes. When, in Kipling's words, [Y]ou can make one heap of all your winnings. And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings, And never breathe a word about your loss, those are some of the times when one can feel truly, truly alive.
Maybe I'm wrong; maybe this isn't a general experience. Maybe it's just me. Law is, by nature, a v competitive blood sport and that's a huge part of its attraction for me. I just adore the actual spade work of the law, reading the cases, seeing where the other side exposed its flank, choosing the right word, drawing blood, winning. It's, no doubt, a sign of how singularly unevolved I am that I just get such a rush from it. Writing what I know is a good brief, winning in a way that leaves the other side longing to settle, getting the Court of Appeals or SCOTUS opinion that makes good law for decades and decades into the future, that's almost as good as v good sex, as good as the skilled and knowledgeable cooperation w Nature that is good gardening, as good as cold, crisp air on an early Winter morning, as good as bright stars on a late, late Autumn night. Practicing law often reminds me of a line from Dune: Some days it's melange; some days, bitter spice." But on it's best days, on the days where they leave me alone, let me read the cases, let me play the Glass Bead Game, and let me write . . . on those days, it's such a gift and I have so much fun doing it, I can scarce believe that they pay me to have this much fun.
I'm a woman, a Witch, a mother, a grandmother, an eco-feminist, a gardener, a reader, a writer, and a priestess of the Great Mother Earth. Hecate appears in the
Homeric Ode to Demeter, which tells of Hades who caught Persophone
"up reluctant on his golden car and bare her away lamenting. . . . But no one, either of the deathless gods or of mortal men, heard her voice, nor yet the olive-trees bearing rich fruit: only tenderhearted Hecate, bright-coiffed, the daughter of Persaeus, heard the girl from her cave . . . ."