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My Taichi teacher, Wolfe Lowenthal, asked me to write a book review for our school’s newsletter,  Taichi Thoughts, so I read Brendan Kelly’s book with an eye to implications for practicing Tai Chi.

In The Yin and Yang of Climate Crisis: Healing Personal, Cultural and Ecological Imbalance with Chinese Medicine (2015), Brendon Kelly, an acupuncturist and Taichi student, draws on cases from his clinical practice based in Chinese medicine, and a solid comprehension of key scientific findings about anthropomorphic global warming, to come to a diagnosis of climate change as a symptom of Yin-deficient heat. “Heat,” he explains, “is an excess of warmth and a state of overstimulation, which can eventually cause our internal fluids, or coolant, to evaporate.” Kelly jumps back and forth between the levels of an individual human body, majority US culture, and planetary environmental conditions. This logic is legitimate from a Chinese medicine point of view, which holds that “the microcosm and the macrocosm reflect the same conditions and tendencies, with the only significant difference being scale.” Accepting this premise and Kelly’s diagnosis means most of us are operating with too much Yang, generating too much heat and thus contributing via our very bodies to the ecological processes of climate change.

Kelly spends time detailing both the ways in which too much heat is generated and ways in which cooling systems are failing, hence the specific designation of Yin-deficient heat. Water is the element mainly responsible for cooling, in our bodies as well as for the planet. Critiquing the rapid pace and consumer-orientation of our culture, Kelly argues that “stimulation is not strength; it’s heat.” This got me thinking about the sensations of practicing Tai Chi, especially Wolfe’s frequent instructions about how we are to engage the air: “caress the air;” “treat the air as if it had the substance and weight of water;” “feel the water-like air.” What if, in addition to sensing the air as an element in physical contact with our hands, we considered the air as literally cooling the excessive Yang in our bodies?  A new mantra might be, “feel the air like cool water.”

“Climate change is not just happening in the world around us;
climate change is also happening within us.”

As an introduction to Chinese medicine, I found the book compelling. In particular, Kelly’s description of the interaction of the “Five Phases” (or “Five Elements”) with the Sheng and K’o cycles was instructive. “The Sheng or Nourishing cycle is what allows organs and phases to feed what comes next. While the K’o cycle creates balance by limiting and controlling things, the Sheng cycle is the relationship among the different aspects of who we are that promotes growth – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually” (136). If you want to learn the major symptoms of climate change without perusing the scientific literature, Kelly provides a fair and specific representation. His lessons about the Yin and Yang are familiar, e.g., “By itself, the Yang of doing things won’t lead us to the Yin of understanding our lives.” The unique contribution of his book in Tai Chi terms is his articulation of parallels and successful treatments that will help us “to know within us what climate stability would look and feel like” so that we can help to bring about climate stability “in the world around us.”

Brendan Kelly: ”The Yin and Yang of Climate Crisis“, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA.

Republished with permission, includes minor revisions. Originally published in Taichi Thoughts, Volume 16, No. 3, November 4, 2015.

Subscribe to Taichi Thoughts Internet Journal.

What are working relationships?

Learning, the Permaculture Way was a pre-conference workshop by David Eggleton and me at the 2nd Permaculture Voices conference (PV2) in San Diego. Our session drew about 50 participants, some of whom continued a dialogue that seemed—on the surface—to have a narrow focus but, over the five days of PV2, grew wider, broader and was deepened considerably through Meet-Ups and collaboration with the Mycelium team of facilitators.

Working Relationships

One Day You Will Turn To Sustainability

A relationship that works is a relationship that does well with difference.
(Roger Fisher & Scott Brown)

Resilient Design yields results

Resilient Design yields results

For sustainability to function and endure, the overarching relationship that must function well is between people(s) and place(s). A resilient ability to balance the twin goals of being a Whole Person and living in a Whole Place is the aim and outcome of working well with the differences between peoples and places.

Many permies emphasize living in a Whole Place, so the Meaningful Makeover instrument brings an equal emphasis to being a Whole Person by elaborating the “Care of People” permaculture principle with insights from Stephen Covey (author of The 8th Habit and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).

Creatively identifying the interconnections and interdependencies between the two “paradigms” of Whole Person and Whole Place yields four working relationships that serve as touchstones for life-long learning and permaculture coaching. With the additional half-hour Diego gave us this year, we asked participants to gather in small groups organized by Working Relationship and come up with a guiding question relevant to their journey through PV2.

Two Paradigms/Four Questions

Motivation: a whole heart.

Motivation: a whole heart.

The Whole Place paradigm invokes two Working Relationships: interspecies and interelemental.

The Whole Person paradigm invokes two Working Relationships: intrapersonal and interhuman.

The overarching questions created by small groups this year were:

    1. Interspecies: How do we reconcile/balance our desire to integrate wildlife and net biodiversity (whole ecosystem health) with the human need for a system that ‘produces a yield’?
    2. Interelemental: How do my design elements fit together as a system?
    3. Intrapersonal: How can we become our best whole selves to care for ourselves, our communities, & the earth while at the same time welcoming the reciprocity of those things caring for us, our communities, & our earth?
    4. Interhuman: How do I connect with the right people, how do I properly communicate, and how do I create/find community?

 Working Well with Differences, Interhumanly

Soirée noted some problems with the phrasing of the interhuman question:

I would like to point out that the three-part inter-human question resulted when we were not able to distill the community question further in the time allotted. It’s my impression that “right people” was not intended to imply some people were wrong but rather how do I find people for real connection rather than a passing fancy. [Also] I’m not entirely clear what “how do I properly communicate” meant to the contributor…

Rick pursued a different but related question: “How can I improve community stability?

Our Silences: an installation by Rivelino

Our Silences: an installation by Rivelino

Our Silences: an installation by Rivelino

Our Silences: an installation by Rivelino

During the Meet-Ups and in the Closing Break-Out Session, we talked a fair bit about trying to increase the diversity of future Permaculture Voices conference participants and presenters. One strategy included becoming more aware of whiteness and how it can unconsciously get in the way of inclusion and diversification. More thoughts about how we/human beings can work well with the differences among us/human beings are shared at this Permavoices page. You are also invited to contribute.

permacultureVOICES2015-01-24 at 8.24.56 PM

This workshop at the 2nd Permaculture Voices conference in San Diego will help you plan how to maximize your PV2 conference experience by applying a tool for lifelong learning. Learning throughout your life involves steady investments of attention, time and energy. In this session, you will acquire and work with a set of considerations that set guideposts for navigating intentional learning for as long as you want, beginning with this conference and continuing through the rest of your life. With these considerations and a tool specially designed for PV2, you’ll gain clarity about the choices that brought you to the conference, the choices you have while here, and choices you’ll have henceforth.

David Eggleton, an artist and permaculture designer, and Steph Kent, a sign language interpreter and communication activist, will introduce a system of considerations that merge learning theory with the permaculture principles. We’ll then lead you through a customized worksheet to help you optimize your path through the many rich and exciting opportunities at PV2. Applying the considerations immediately to your conference plan will reinforce their value for the long run while enabling you to get the most from your PV2 experience.

The Imitation Game is impressive in two distinct ways. One is the deployment of cinematic license to dramatically convey what Turing expert Professor S. Barry Olson describes as “the objective truth” about the invention of the counter-machine that cracked Enigma, the Nazis supposedly unbreakable coding machine.

However, Christian Caryl’s criticism isn’t completely wrong: stereotypes about gay men do inform Benedict Cumberbatch’s representation of Turing, and could support homophobic attitudes about what is/isn’t a security risk. That said, Cumberbatch does strike a nice balance between the story of the man and the story of the technology within the constraints established by the script.

In the end, as far as the significance of this film goes, as much as Turing deserves to be celebrated every bit as much as, say, Stephen Hawking, in historical terms it is the computing technology that eclipses the identity of a gay man. This leads to the second, most impressive aspect of the film, which is of a certain metonymy: The Imitation Game is representative of the material birth of postmodernity, in which time and space have been collapsed by the digitalization of communication.

The Ultra project at Bletchley Park brings to mind the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos. Although the film rightfully celebrates Turing’s life and achievement of “the unimaginable,” like most forms of innovative knowledge his invention has a dark side, too. Unlike the development of the atomic bomb with its obviously ethical aspects, the creation of the computer appears neutral. The ubiquity of computing today feeds ambivalence about the ethics of computing which might render its unintended consequences all the more dangerous because of their subtlety.

The dark side of computing is not videogaming or social media or the proliferation of cute cats on youtube or data mining or even threats to privacy or cyberterrorism (because both of these can still be contained, if enough of us act soon and in concert). Nor is it the deep canalization of subgroups being reinforced by targeted advertising, although this may outrank all the others by perpetuating attitudes of ethnocentrism and prejudice. The difficult challenge of computing is the social construction of time as a race that only the fastest can win.

The race of Ultra vs Enigma prefigures Edward Snowden, #Anonymous, and the Lizard Squad, the latter claiming to be ”working to get access to some of the core routing equipment of the Internet.” This cyber/cipher “game” is as serious now to human life and death as it was during WWII, if not more so, with the entire planet at stake. The Imitation Game should win the Oscar for its historical relevance on top of all the excellent acting and flawless production. Imitation champions anti-sexism and anti-homophobia while skirting wide of racism, “the uncontrolled imaginings of the white mind,” which make it a politically safe contender at this volatile moment of “I can’t breathe” and #BlackLivesMatter.

The imitating that Turing and contemporaries created is far more than a game. As a technology, computing has sped up the rate and pace of human social interaction. Turing’s invention was perfectly in keeping with that era of industrialization: radio, telephones and television were spreading information faster and further than ever before, and assembly lines were improving efficiencies and cranking out products at ever-increasing rates. People were (and are, even moreso now) being trained to the clock, not to any natural rhythms of the actual earth or a biological species.

Conceptualizing time and humanity’s relationship to time is tricky territory, not least because science hasn’t yet figured out where time comes from or what it is. “We’re not in a war with Germany, we’re in a war with time,” is the most important line in the film. The meaning of the scripted line is transparent in relation to the calendar and the clock, to the exigencies of battle: factually and descriptively, it is true enough. Metonymically, however, the meaning is deeply representative, even reifying, of the effect of civilization on the modern and postmodern construction of time.

It wasn’t long after the war when Claude Shannon (also a code-breaker) wrote the foundational paper on digitalization. Turing and Shannon were working on different but complementary problems at the same time. Shannon’s application of Boolean algebra is where all those 0s and 1s come from, the key being that all digitized information is forced into one or the other value. This is (so they say) a great boon for copying but there is also loss of variation, at least some of which has artistic value and intrinsic human merit.

Digitalization forces communication to flow along extremely rigid channels. All analog communication, that is, all human communication, has to be broken down into a binary code: either a zero or a one. There is no variation. (Hence, for instance, the return to vinyl for musicians attuned to the richer quality of analog sound.) The unintended consequence now known as the postmodern condition is an effect of digital forcing. Increases in the speed and ability of communication to reach across distances have outpaced humanity’s ability for sane and sustainable cultural adaptation. It’s as if human society has been sucked into a wind tunnel; people find themselves either in the main flow or in the turbulence. Few seem able to find their balance within the onrush, let alone establish positions adequate to attempt healthy and restorative counteractions.

For proper historical context and relevance, The Imitation Game needs to be understood in parallel with Citizen 4. Whether you approve of Snowden’s action or not, you should see Laura Poitras’ film capturing his conversations with journalist Glen Greenwald as news reports unfolded on our television screens and online news sources. Citizen 4 should win Best Documentary because of the time manipulation it achieves in service of art and social justice. Humans now have the means to recognize and record significant historical moments as they happen. Awards aside, to understand what The Imitation Game can teach us about living through this perilous era in human history, it is necessary to be informed about the stakes of cyber-surveillance and cyber-security’s cipher games. The new imitation game (made visible by the Sony hack with its political fallout and economic consequences) not only threatens privacy, real democracy, and genuine social justice, but is also a crucial playing field where humanity’s efforts to evolve enough to avert climate disaster will be determined.

The Imitation Game is more than a good movie; it allows a rare window for comprehensive reflection on the highest stakes of life and living, here and now.


Dominic reminded me that the way we talk needs revision. There is no “solution” to climate change; nothing to stop the forces already in motion. “We have to go through it.” What there are, instead, are ways of living during the escalation of natural disasters. Perhaps, against the odds, if enough of us change fast enough, the living earth will be able to rejuvenate itself and life on earth will persist into the far future.

Note: each subheading links to a summary of Tweets, one for each day of the 4-day conference.

Permaculture Voices is launched

Karl asked the most relevant question: What is the best path forward? Participants at the first Permaculture Voices conference in Temecula, CA spent four days searching out and following their own answers. A star-studded cast of some the living earth’s most well-known champions provided a scientific and ethical framework for the monumental economic, cultural and lifestyle changes required (of North Americans, in particular).

Eating locally grown food is the most obvious feature of permaculture; its discourse has begun to effect public opinion and (some) public policy. However, being a local hero in-and-of-itself is insufficient to guarantee a future for your children and grandchildren. Earth will lose its breathable atmosphere within decades if we persist in delaying fundamental changes in energy consumption and dismantling corporate agriculture.

Action Packed Presentation Schedule

If one wanted to notice, there were visible absences in the conference demographics. People of color, women presenters, and international representation, for instance, were seriously under-represented. Some of these imbalances were aired publicly and grumbled about privately, but perseverating on them would be a mistaken use of energy along the lines of the “feedback loops” Allan Savory refuses to entertain in the mission to let cattle (and other livestock) save the planet. Women (especially white women) need to step up and start doing epic shit (echoing Paul Wheaton and paraphrasing Larry Santoyo).


The more significant yet rarely spoken tension is class and the luxurious privileges of whiteness. Not just white skin privilege (which varies according to social class), but the attitudes of whiteness that celebrate individualism and the myth of independence. It’s damn scary to realize that I don’t know enough people with the skills to help me survive; humbling to realize how little I have to offer in regard to growing food or tending animals; and terrifying to consider that not only is my incompetence not unique but rather it’s the norm. 


Building Urgency: Reaching for Permaculture Velocity

Toby Hemenway illustrated why there are no energy solutions that allow Americans (especially) to continue to consume so much power. We have to stop. Now. It’s really that simple. We have to suck it up and suffer for the sake of future generations. No presenters talked about how to make these transitions on a meaningful scale but I did hear of places (cities and regions) where significant progress is underway. Why not in more places?

There are a lot of excuses to postpone lifestyle change. These (mostly selfish) rationalizations combine with general tendencies of insularity (sticking with one’s own kind) and the drive to take care of immediate family first. The latter is reasonable, but permaculture as a movement can’t stop there. We need more Willie Smits’s and Geoff Lawtons and Allan Savory’s doing good works on massive scales (none of them are American, hmmm) demonstrating and modeling that complexity can be holistically managed and climate change perhaps mitigated by an unprecedented, massively-collaborative surge of homo sapiens seeking to survive.

Reaching for the tipping point

We need better soil for growing food and other critical biomass, and we have to stop the spread of deserts. There are ‘technologies’ – methods, behaviors, attitudes and manual human effort – that can make HUGE DIFFERENCES in a QUICK TIMEFRAME if we JUST START! Biochar is relatively easy and contributes on several fronts. Permaculture principles need to be imposed on all agricultural facilities, asap. Policies encouraging postmodern cattle drives are desperately needed to help reverse desertification around the world.

The thing is that we in the west (and those in the east aspiring to the west’s lifestyle with disregard for its awful consequences) can no longer have it all. We never could, but the bubble of privilege maintained the aura of illusion for a few generations. I admit I’m worried about how well I’ll hold up when my comforts begin to diminish.

At the same time, I’m honored and humbled to be called to participate in the greatest undertaking humanity has ever faced. Geoff, Paul, Allan, Toby, Diego Footer, Nicholas Wooten, Jessica Schilke, Souki Mehdaoui, Ryan Harb, Elaine Ingham, Doniga Markegaard, Nadia Lawton, yes yes even Joel Salatin and Mark Shepard (but I have to ask if you’re playing too close to the monster?), the other presenters and participants, and all the permies in the community house, with each your own specializations, commitments and passions: THANK YOU for your bright hearts, light spirits, and deep compassion for the living earth.


Neal Stephenson said that we’ve now got “350 years of perspective” on the scientific process, and that he is interested in “the attention span of our society” (p. 269, Some Remarks).

Me too.

Twiliocon-developer renaissance 2013-09-19 at 7.41.52 PMLong dialogues are challenging for many reasons. They require perseverance, for one thing, and humility too – because if you stick around long enough you’re bound to encounter perspectives and learn things that cause you to realize some of your own failings and limitations. Thus, long dialogues require courage of a very particular kind. Inspired by some teenagers a few years ago, I began calling this kind of courage “character.” (Specifically #KRKTR, but I will not elaborate upon that digression here.)

Climate disruption and it’s characters

The 2013 scientific report on climate change reiterates  that the “debate on science is over, [the] time to act is now” and another study on the timing of climate change reveals shocking results: ”Regardless of the scenario, changes will be coming soon,” said lead author Camilo Mora. “Within my generation, whatever climate we were used to will be a thing of the past.”

DGR quote from Arundhati Roy  2013-05-08 at 10.00.29 AMDeniers are caught up in the zeitgeist, playing the political and social drama. The Doomers have already given up. Guy McPherson leads the charge, passionately arguing that hope is dead and only love remains. Avowed Doomers have a head start on the rest of us, because they believed the science from the beginning and have been preparing for the collapse of industrial society. Those Who’ve Given Up more quietly immerse themselves in the immediate concerns of self-gratification and accommodating friends, family and coworkers. Cultural creatives are exercising a different kind of imagination, proposing a mythological kind of speculative living that holds out the promise of transformation.

“When we realize we are the planet,
we’ll be more inclined to do what’s necessary to save it.”

 ~ Christian Williams
reviewing Journey of the Universe for Utne Reader.

12% of the Solution: Biochar

Twelve percent is not enough, of course, to reverse the damage to the atmosphere. Taken in conjunction with other large-scale initiatives (whether these are led by government or quarterbacked by leaders in localized communities), restoring the soil of the planet—the earth of the earth—is essential. Using principles of holistic design based in geographical features and natural processes, there is no reason why human ingenuity cannot be turned to the creation and implementation of a greenprint for the planet. The only obstacle is us getting in our own way.

Biochar: For the Roots is the first in a projected series of Greenprint videos. A captioned version is available here. The series premieres at the North American Biochar Symposium: Harvesting Hope hosted at UMass Amherst from Oct 13-16, 2013.

”        ”

Graham started this with an empty quotation: he did not even include a period. The rest of him was right out of a Marvel comic – muscles on muscles. “Hey!” someone shouted from a hospital bed, interrupting the researcher who insisted on summarizing the findings eloquently and thoroughly, armed with a gun and a knife and some matches. ”Two out of three. You’re doing fantastic.”

On the surface, both “Buying My Condo” and “Living Fully” are fairly straightforward, one point following another just like in sign language interpreting, where everything referring to the present is signed just in front of the body. Indicating sequences into the future, however, requires other maneuvers: how then, quickly, could Sylvester McMonkey McBean put together a very peculiar machine?

Must one inquire into the issues that delay or block resolution? Love must be learned, and learned again and again; there is no end to it. The tofu gains much flavor this way, despite those who mock it as an “open -and- shut case.”  I believe, asserted Fletcher, this is a result of suppressing and ignoring – if I am honest, of actively rejecting – my natural psychic ability to ‘see” beyond the physical world.

“We’ll talk later,” Jack said. “We need to get back to the car before the storm pours buckets on us.” There were students finishing at the school for the deaf who wanted vocational training. Many are capable, of course, of comprehending that conservation of energy does not contradict Newton’s laws, and in fact, is derivable from them, and so from a strictly mathematical point of view it adds nothing to Newtonian physics. The Deaf also know about communication.

When animals and humans still shared the same language, the Cree recount, Rabbit wanted to go to the moon. Rabbit asked the strongest birds to take him, but Eagle was busy and Hawk couldn’t fly so high. Crane said he would help. He told Rabbit to hold onto his legs. Then he went for the moon. The journey was long and Rabbit was heavy. Rabbit’s weight stretched out Crane’s legs and bloodied Rabbit’s paws. but Crane reached the moon, with Rabbit hanging onto him. Rabbit patted Crane in thanks, his hands still bleeding. So Crane got his long legs and blood-red head.

Back then, too, a Cherokee woman was courted by both Hummingbird and Crane. She wanted to marry Hummingbird, because of his great beauty. But Crane proposed a race around the world. The woman agreed, knowing Hummingbird’s speed. She didn’t remember that Crane could fly at night. And, unlike Hummingbird, Crane never tired. Crane flew in straight lines, where Hummingbird flew in every direction. Crane won the race with ease, but the woman still rejected him.

All the humans revered Crane, the great Orator. Where cranes gathered, their speech carried miles. The Aztecs call themselves the Crane People. One of the Anishinaabe clans was named the Cranes—Ajijak or Businassee— the Echo Makers. The Cranes were leaders, voices that called all people together. Crow and Cheyenne carved cranes’  leg bones into hollow flutes, echoing the echo maker.

Latin grus, too, echoed that groan. In Africa, the crowned crane ruled words and thought. The Greek Palamedes invented the letters of the alphabet by watching noisy cranes in flight. In Persian, kurti, in Arabiac, ghurnuq: birds that awaken before the rest of creation, to say their dawn prayers. The Chinese xian-he, the birds of heaven, carried messages on their backs between the sky worlds.

Cranes dance in southwestern petroglyphs. Old Crane Man taught the Tewa how to dance. Australian aborigines tell of a beautiful and aloof woman, the perfect dancer, turned by a sorcerer into a crane.

Apollo came and went in crane form, when visiting the world.The poet Ibycus, in the sixth century B.C., beaten senseless and left for dead, called out to a passing flock of cranes, who followed the assailant to a theatre and hovered over him until he confessed to the astonished crowd.

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Hera and Artemis turn Gerania into a crane, to punish the Pygmy queen for her vanity. The Irish hero Finn fell off a cliff and was caught in the air by his grandmother, when she changed into a crane. If cranes circled overhead above American slaves, someone would die. The First Warrior who fought to create ancient Japan took the form of a crane at death and flew away.

Tecumseh tried to unite the scattered nations under the banner of Crane Power, but the Hopi mark for the crane’s foot became the world’s peace symbol. The crane’s foot—pie de gruebecame that genealogist’s mark of branching descent, pedigree.

To make a wish come true, the Japanese must fold a thousand paper cranes. Twelve-year-old Sadako Sasaki, stricken with “atom bomb sickness,” made it to 644. Children worldwide send her thousands, every year.

Cranes help carry a soul to paradise. Pictures of cranes line the windows of mourning houses, and crane-shaped jewelry adorns the dead. Cranes are souls that once were humans and might be again, many lives from now. Or humans are souls that once were cranes and will be again, when the flock is rejoined.

Something in the crane is trapped halfway, in the middle between now and when. A fourteenth-century Vietnamese poet sets the birds forever in the air:

Clouds drift as days pass; Cypress trees are green beside the altar, The heart, a chilly pond under moonlight. Night rain drops tears of flowers. Below the pagoda, grass traces a path. Among the pine trees, cranes remember The music and songs of years ago. In the immensity of sky and sea, How to relive the dream before the lamp of that night?

When animals and people all spoke the same language, crane calls said exactly what they meant. Now we live in unclear echoes. The turtledove, swallow, and crane keep the time of their coming, says Jeremiah. Only people fail to recall the order of the Lord.

They arrived at nightfall, just as lanterns were being lit in the grounds to illuminate the driveway. ”We can make this the ‘summer only’ lunch table,” she said, adapting to the circumstances. I am not allowed to have tattoos yet–which is unfair–so for now, I just draw things on my arms so I don’t forget them. Meanwhile, the fairy king took one last look at his daughter and returned to his kingdom beneath the water, knowing he’d better hang up and start reading.

Stitched together from quotes shared on Facebook for International Book Week.
Some are modified, most are not.
FYI: This event seems to have spawned from the Edinburgh International Book Festival:
Bully for them!


   Life Affirming & Life Enhancing

cows save the planet

It is the stuff of Douglas Adams-style science fiction, but what if it were true? That cows could save the planet? Not by themselves, but with a little help from their biped friends–especially everyone who has ever harbored a herding fantasy or wants their children and grandchildren to enjoy special elements of the natural world.

Large-scale rotational grazing would require a massive leap of imagination and concerted effort of collective will.  Humans–lots of us–would have to decide to choose to salvage a living planet rather than continue to pretend catastrophic climate change isn’t happening. While most people delay, many people all around the world—alone and in groups—are already acting on the decision to try. Read the rest of this entry »

“There’s a context to this. When you don’t have a talent, wear something.”

~  Yossarian

It was the Human Sushi Platter’s birthday party. I had thought of suggesting we sing Hey Jude in order to spread a unique tradition, but admiration for the icing completely filled the space between singing the usual ditty and cutting the cake. This was just after the Chammak Challo, of which we were warned: “It’s gonna be fast, it’s gonna be hectic!”

" live in the company of wise people..." (from the Buddha's "Discourse on Happiness")

“…to live in the company of wise people…” (from the Buddha’s “Discourse on Happiness”)

Which pretty much summed up the party. The early round of appetizers and aperitifs accompanied spirited conversation on topics which ranged from climate shift (if you happened to talk with me) t0 whatever everybody else (the ‘normal’ people?) talked about. Next came the main dishes (a food extravaganza) and more conversations. Eventually this example of “smart partying” (thank you Greg Robie) morphed into

  • a collective reading of the discourse on happiness,
  • concern about who’s on the Human Sushi Platter’s mom’s list of people to buy clothing for (and, later, for whom John will bake),
  • a meditation on lovingkindness (interrupted perfectly by the late arriving Bulgarian and Israeli, about whom it was said, “Just when you’re trying to focus on one thing some lovely people come into your life!”
  • a discussion of socially engaged Buddhism,
  • extraordinary international cuisine (“celery raw drops the jaw”),
  • an Amherst Salon talent show,
  • exceptionally extraordinary cakes,
  • and gifts for the birthday girl. (There turned out to be a butterfly theme. If the game of #KRKTR ever takes off, some massive amount of points should go to the first person who identifies the five people who received butterfly plates from me. Perhaps that’s one of the entry gates for joining the actual competition?!  I’ve got Ready Player One in mind….)

I Got You, Babejack sparrow-attitude problem

The Sonny and Cher impersonation by Hot Mama and Alan followed the impromptu Beat generation-style interpretation by Knightly (fluent in English and French) of a series of satirical rhymes offered (in Spanish) by Rafael. We were treated to poetry from Ogden Nash, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, and The Cat in the Hat.  Not to mention belly dance gyrations, a cautionary tale to “never play with gypsies in the woods,” and the story of a beloved grandmother’s uninvited visitor who was “not only a thief but also a liar!”

Motivated Living

I love my friends’ ability to bring pleasure to each other; such a long night of laughter we had! Do they have the secret of Zizek’s “third pill?” Rather than the dualistic choices presented in The Matrix, Zizek says we need a pill that helps us “perceive reality inside the illusion itself.”

Our fundamental delusion today is not to believe in what is only a fiction, to take fictions too seriously, it’s on the contrary—not to take fictions seriously enough: you think it’s just a game? It’s reality, it’s more real than it appears to be.

Slavoj Zizek

Values and activities of  meaning-making on the verge of collapse

Values and activities of meaning-making on the verge of collapse

The art is to discern which fictions to perceive and thus make more real. Bringing joy in the now is a skill at which my closest friends excel. But the now is always in flux – not just internally (the sway of mood and emotion) but externally too. By external, I’m not just referring to the complications of social interactions such as problems at work, with colleagues, roommates, family members, etc. These constants persist within a larger frame, call it civil society, that is an example of the kind of social fiction Zizek implies. What storyline are we actually living? What function does a spiritualist approach to the now contribute in the aggregate history humanity is producing?

A Reprieve?

When I told Yossarian that I was in ‘semi-blog-mode’ after my initial conversation with John, she pounced. “Sortof? You’re already making our lives hell with these [Facebook] posts every three days – ‘Australia is burning!’” Her teasing validated my decision, although I still feel conflicted, torn between the desire to remain accepted and compelled to keep issuing the warning. After securing authorization from the host, I announced to everyone that I was in the blogzone. No one objected; a few who were new to this gig of mine wanted to talk more about it. Ginger, for instance, engaged me vigorously on the topic of socially engaged Buddhism, and told me about Chris Martenson’s crash course, “What Should I Do? The Basics of Resilience.” Bombi (who admits he is a Part-time Schmoozer) may have just been poking fun at me/my main question when he exclaimed, “That’s the question that needs to be asked!”

“When are we going to become a superhero team that helps save the world?”

Maybe we cannot, or maybe we will not choose to transform together, or perhaps the transformation will occur but in a less-overtly-connected way than I can perceive. Talking with John, who is confident he can survive for a significant amount of time when the grid goes down for good, I was struck by the pragmatics of his outlook, especially when he said that you/I won’t be able to help everyone, that sometimes—for the sake of our own survival—we will have to say no.

Weather. It's coming. (Photo of a supercell snatched from a weather geek's Facebook page.)

Weather. It’s coming. (Photo of a supercell snatched from a weather geek’s Facebook page.)

Not a prospect I am looking forward to, at all. John also reflected on the week-long power outage for many people after last fall’s weird “snowtober” snowstorm. “This was a massive storm,” he said, marveling at the anger of people who clearly did not understand the extent of the damage and expected their electricity to simply be back on already! He recounted what an adventure the extended power loss was at first, comparing it to his “best ever” experience when he was in college. Then he said, “After the sixth or seventh day, it wasn’t fun anymore.”

I understand that ‘the now’ is the only timespace in which our actions matter; and, our behavior in the present correlates with outcomes in the future. Not only this, but our actions now ripple into other beings’ present—their now is our now/our now is theirs, too. This simultaneous co-presence extends beyond “regular contact with monks and nuns [which] is the greatest happiness” to humans whose suffering is directly linked to our comfort, and beyond homo sapiens to all the organisms with whom we share the planetary atmosphere.

Love may indeed be all that’s left. And so the fictions we choose are most meaningfully evaluated by how they interact within this period of reprieve.

When the early crowd at Pat and Carol’s New Year’s Day Open House invited me to blog about the event, I was thinking of the kind of entries that are tagged “group dynamics” – most of them are pure fun, although they can include a serious subtext which was sometimes made overt and other times left at the level of implication.

Then I met Paris.

Borrowed on a whim from the household library . . .

Borrowed on a whim from the household library . . .

Before Paris asked me if I was concerned with global warming and climate change, I had realized that I might be able to use this blog entry to introduce some new friends (with whom I hope to remain and deepen in friendship) to the serious subject that has recently become the main focus of my blogging.

I imagined that I could make this introduction lightly, ease everyone gently into the most disturbing challenge of human existence. I certainly did not anticipate it becoming an overt topic of conversation. But it did – perhaps this was inevitable. (After all these years I should never be able to forget that this kind of blogging is risky).

We were all getting along so well! I hate to be in the position of spoiler. The conversation with the Curious Skeptic about animal intelligence returns to mind, particularly the example of cheetahs being able to be trained for hunting but not for domestication, because becoming domesticated requires “getting along in confined spaces.” And then there was the part about guinea pigs and rabbits as “meal-sized meat.”

Evolution of Conversation: The Beginning was FUN!

“The time has come when men and dragons must talk.” (Leguin, 2001, p. 112)

It was such a great party! I’d guess 100 people may have circulated through, certainly many dozens. I met a fraction of the folk and had substantive conversations with a handful or two. The potluck offerings were continually refreshed, everything was delicious, the laughter was loud, there was even spontaneous music: a stringed instrument soloist and singer who was accompanied on various tunes by additional voices, invented percussion instruments, and – gee whiz! – a few couples dancing!  The mood of the gathering was so appropriately and wonderfully festive! As my conversations evolved, I could not help but think what a blessing to be part of such a high quality in-the-moment-now experience of social interaction, and how necessary it will become to sustain this capacity in the difficult times that lie ahead.

It happened like this: I arrived to a gregarious atmosphere filled with banter. I haven’t blogged an event like this for a long time; doing so was not even on my mind – too much work in the midst of other demands. But soon the teasing had me passing around my “Invitation: You May Be Blogged” business card and folks got curious. Because we were having such fun, and since I was clearly being invited, I thought, why not? A change of pace, a digression to the olden days, a contribution of my playfulness to the spirit of the day… we discussed the ground rules, first names only or chosen aliases, draft to be sent around for thumbs up/down before publishing, was I taking notes? Did I have pen and paper? I allowed myself to be drawn in and took up the familiar role.

Evolution of Conversation: Overview and Background (Boring?)

“Indeed he did not know what weighed more heavily after all, the great strange things or the small common ones.”  (LeGuin, 2001, p. 109)

Cynthia and John quizzed me for quite a while, which gave me a chance to express my motivations and share some of the history of how I began to blog in this style, what obstacles I encountered, whether/how much uptake I’ve had, etc. I explained how I could look at the Open House as a type of communication scene or situation with similarities and differences with other Open Houses. That how we engage with each other evokes identities, because we share, for instance, pleasure in dancing jigs or knowing the hosts through a particular social activity or type of work, etc. That over the years this blog has been a tool for writing myself into being and becoming more the kind of person I want to be: someone who can share what seems important and still retain relationships that are warm, kind, and loving (or, at the very least, rooted in respect).

Evolution of Conversation: Backdrop (Hilarity!)

The initial authorization to write this blog came from Ecarg (the token Klingon) & partner; Pat & Carol, Angelica, Loretta & Jan (of the gender irregularities), Catherine, Carlotta (who had the first toast and sip of mimosa with Cynthia), and John.  Later the Toadchildren, Bo, a Curious Skeptic, Sparker, and Marcia were brought into the fold. Kira is into criminology and cosmetology (among many other interests), James the Brain wanted me to link to his hacker friend’s blog (the search is on, E.L. aka boogledoo, where are you?) They also recommended seven-year-old melybabyxoxo to me but I was unable to locate her blogs on Tumblr. She apparently maintains several, including one on fashion and another on self-harm. (Did I hear that right?) Geez, can we just play another round of Zonk, please! Or how about a ruckus sledding adventure? A meeting of the Ward-Thayer Street Chicken Advisory Council regarding upkeep of the PWDLCP? There were the red sisters, blue guys, and black folk (by clothing, ignore gender!), a crazy cat lady, and myriad more unrecorded minglings within this diverse assortment of colorful characters.

Evolution of Conversation: The Future depends on our choices, now

“Something is happening,” Tenar said. “A great change in the world. Maybe nothing we know will be left to us.” (LeGuin, 2001, p. 111)


Being liberal is not enough.

Being liberal is not enough.

Who said, “This is a miracle,” when he realized I take climate change for real. “Everything is going to die if we don’t do something,” he said. “We’ve known about this for years, and no one is doing anything.” “Wars are bad and they should stop,” he continued, “but we need to look at a higher level, if there’s no planet…” As we talked, he asked me many times if I “really think” people will do something, now, finally? It’s up to us, I said, to make sure that we do.

The urgency has been weighing heavily on me, especially as I read and become more familiar with the extent of how extremely bad things are (and will thus become), how small our chances are already, and how quickly they will diminish beyond any hope at all. Opening these conversations with friends and chosen family in the weeks since I realized the dire necessity of immediate radical action has been discouraging – the denial and reluctance to uproot our personal comforts are entrenched. However, there are also inspirational voices out there, and the opportunity to live truly meaningful lives has never been greater.

Can we inspire each other to greatness?  Megan Quinn Bachman is on the path: “If we don’t get this right, we won’t get another chance.”



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