Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Facing the Storm

I don’t know if it is the paucity of metaphors or my lack of creativity, but over the past few days the same metaphors keep occurring to me no matter the topic of my thoughts; weathering a storm.

Yesterday, a New York Times article called September 29, 2008, Black Monday, and I wonder if it was hyperbole or is this really as bad as the first Black Monday in 1929. I know practically speaking, it isn’t as bad because we now have F.D.I.C. and government programs to protect (most) of the unemployed that F.D.R. created with the New Deal, not to mention the second wave of social supports that came with L.B.J.’s Great Society. But when you’re in the middle of a (insert your own adjective) storm does it feel like Hurricane force winds, or the eerie calm of the eye?

In the carpool ride into work this morning, I said I was very glad I didn’t live in New York City: the streets will be strewn with suits looking for work. That alone illustrates a difference between now and 1929 when that Crash sent blue-collar workers home with no jobs. But this morning both of the other people in the car – one is a headhunter with an executive search firm and the other works at a major environmental nonprofit – said they are both expecting layoffs to happen within the week or so.

So if the financial storm really is going to hit all of us (let the pundits call it a “deep recession” if that makes them feel better), how do people cope? Since I’m a problem solver by nature, I’m going to devote the next couple of postings to talking about what good things came out of the Depression Era and what lessons from that time apply to our current situation.

One thing that I know personally happens when you lose financially, is that your priorities suddenly become crystal clear. Not surprisingly, the same is true when an actual storm hits and destroys all of your possessions; at least the people you love are safe and alive. This brings me back to the storm metaphor.

One of my sweetest memories of the time just before my dad died was of my sisters, mom and I being in a community-produced musical, Carousel. I got to wear my favorite dress up dress – red with white polka dots and a white bib-like collar – and as a pre-adolescent 11 year old, although I was just on the cusp of feeling self-conscious about a love for old musicals, I didn’t yet reject them as uncool. One of the main songs from the movie is “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Thinking of the lyrics always brings at least a lump to my throat if not tears to my eyes, evoking such a happy time in my childhood. Similar to its use in the movie, I often sang it to myself after my dad had died when I needed comforting.

You’ll Never Walk Alone
When you walk through a storm
Hold your chin up high
And don't be afraid of the dark.
At the end of a storm
Is a golden sky
And the sweet, silver song of a lark.

Walk on, through the wind,
Walk on, through the rain,
Though your dreams be tossed and blown.
Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart,
And you'll never walk alone,
You'll never walk alone.

So this is my mantra of hope and faith, that there is good that will come of what so many are calling a catastrophe. I firmly believe that necessity is the mother of invention. I also believe that faith in learning from a situation will pull you through horrible times. I hope many others feel the same.

Love and hugs.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Rose for the Barrell of your Gun?

I forgot I had found this poem recently by the great agriculture advocate Wendell Berry. It soothes me whenever I read it.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— Wendell Berry

You Say You Want a Revolution….

I do, I do, I do! I want a revolution. I want everyone to wake up to the false reality that is our current American way of life and start growing and making their own food! Gawking ignorantly at the financial mess that we’re in (and God knows if they’re even creating a good plan to get us out of it), thinking that $3.85 a gallon is cheap for gas (!!!!), and being bombarded by the increasing negative effects of climate change (um, I work at The Nature Conservancy!), how can I not feel panicked!

I, with my years and years of academic training know that I sound like a freaking Stalinist (and probably fascist depending on how you look at it) with, “my way or the highway” sentiments, but there is a little gnome inside of me jumping up and down, holding its breath and hoping that all of its effort will change people’s ways. The pragmatic, realistic side of me knows that’s no way to create a revolution, but that little gnome keeps jumping and not breathing and hoping just the same. So what’s a 21st century revolutionary to do?

I should preface all of this with a few qualifying notes. First of all, I really want a job in the food revolution and don’t yet have one. So it’s safe to say that that frustration is definitely fueling that little gnome’s gymnastics more than anything. Secondly, I just watched an Italian movie last night about two brothers growing up in the 1960s and how they each handled the political furor of that time. Of course one brother was a leftist radical whose political activities eventually force him underground as a fugitive from the law. The other brother starts out as a Fascist and then comes around to something more closely aligned with his economic interest as he literally watches his home crumble around the ears of his hard working mother and father (Mio Fratello Il Figlio Unico, My Brother the Only Son).

Needless to say all of this rekindled some very dormant revolutionary thoughts and impulses of my own. As I am not shy of reminding people, not only do I share a birthday with Fidel Castro and my birthday horoscope warns of “dictatorial and violent tendencies,” but I was fascinated and slightly infatuated with the leftist violent radicalism of the late 60’s that swept the world (Germany, Italy, Japan, Czechoslovakia, France, the U.S.). While W’s Operation Freedom and the Iraqi War have turned me into a fierce pacifist, I still burn with the fear that one day American life as we know it – politically, economically, and socially – will implode on itself. I hope when that happens that I’m living on a farm by then and can provide a refuge for all of my friends who are fleeing the barrenness that will be the vast majority of the U.S.

So where does this all leave me? Clearly, I’m sure some of you are thinking, she needs to get out more, exercise, enjoy life! True that my friend. But it also makes me wonder, how many times will “bubbles” happen before we realize that this system of bubbles and bursts doesn’t really seem to be working well? It works ok until we bandage it or let it subside – in the case of housing, financial markets, industry booms. But what about things that don’t go away or subside, like climate change?
So, my urban dwelling friends and loved ones, please help assuage my fears and grow one edible thing so that you can reawaken that part of your DNA memory that knows how to produce its own food. Even as we are leaving the supposed growing months of summer, it is still possible to grow things in a pot on a windowsill or even under the florescent lights of your bathroom! Whether it is herbs such as basil, oregano or thyme or fresh lettuce or tomatoes, please take that first step. After all, we all start out with baby steps and look at how far we’ve all come!

Love and hugs!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ruby-Throated Messengers

Saturday afternoon I received a visitor in my sun porch, a feathered friend who can move at the speed of 60 miles per hour. To my delight, a ruby throated, green-chested hummingbird flew in the door of sun porch to try and procure a meal from a pot of geraniums perched on the TV.

It was such a thrill to see him go from bloom to bloom but then my excitement turned to pure horror. Instead of exiting the room through the open door he headed towards the warm sunshine of the enclosed windows. He proceeded to bump against the windows frantically, buzzing up and down until he was forced to rest on the window sill to take a breather. I was so terrified that he’s wear himself out and I would then have a dead hummingbird on my hands. So I quickly grabbed a broom, and tried to “sweep” him out of the porch as I had done to countless bats in my old farmhouse in Cannon Falls, MN. After what felt like an eternity – for both of us I’m sure – he suddenly flew straight towards the open door and out into freedom. I quickly closed the door all but a crack and breathed a sigh of relief.

But this wasn’t the first time that I’ve come face to face with a hummingbird. On several times I have been out in the back yard and one will come zooming up to me and buzz around in front of my face. They spend 5-10 seconds hovering in front of me, no more than a foot or so away. I always talk to them, bidding them good day and wondering what they want from me. It’s not like I’m wearing something red and flower like (they are especially attracted to red flowers for nectar). I wish I could speak the secret life of hummingbirds, they must have such interesting adventures.

While I’m sure my experience with the ruby-throated hummingbirds is not unusual – they are extremely common in the area – I do wonder about our feathered friends and how they have become so bold. Did the prior occupants of the house put out a bird feeder especially for them and their hovering visits are their way of letting me know that they haven’t forgotten that human often feed them? Or do they simply see my hair as something nice for building their next nest? Whatever may be the reason, I’m just glad that I didn’t end up with my own taxidermilogical specimen as a result of the geranium in my sun porch!

Symbolically, hummingbirds are supposed to be harbingers of joy, of the miracle of the moment, which seems perfectly logical to me, since I smile whenever I see these little creatures with their long beaks zooming around or perched overhead on wires. Maybe they really are just reminding me to love life, giving each moment its due as it unfolds.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Trusting Strangers with My Life, Again, and Again, and Again…

Every weekday morning I do the unthinkable: I get into an utter stranger’s car with another stranger and trust that they will not hurt, let alone kill me as we drive across the San Francisco Bay to work in the city. Essentially it’s legal hitchhiking but the more risk averse like to call it by a more innocuous name, rideshare.

Here in the Bay Area rideshare is the name of an informal carpool system that is a boon for both riders and drivers. Near my house, people line up along the boulevard next to the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) Station and appear to be waiting for a bus but in fact cars stop near the front of the line and people get into the cars and ride away.

The first time I actually participated in this bizarre ritual was when I was volunteering for the Slow Food Nation Victory Garden, which was located in front of San Francisco’s City Hall. When I found out that BART cost $7 roundtrip I decided to give this rideshare idea a chance.

At 8:15 am I arrived at the rideshare line armed with a few dollars for gas money, which I thought was the considerate thing to do. To my confusion, there were two lines so I had to reveal my ignorance and ask how it all worked. The woman in front of me gave me the scoop in a low voice.

“Two people at a time in a car. You don’t give gas money because carpools don’t have to pay the $4 bridge toll.” And then in providing her final instruction, she exaggerated her mouth and said, “You get in. Say hello. And then you Do Not Speak! That’s it!”

I was a little taken aback by the severity of my instructions, but nonetheless I was game. I put away my dollar bills and waited to get into a car. One pulled up, I got in the front seat (the least desirable spot), said hello to the driver who responded in kind, closed the door and put on my seatbelt and no one said another word for the next 25 minutes as we drove into the city. It was exactly as my guide in the line had said it would be.

And what do you suppose was my reaction to this odd little culture of agreed upon silence? Joy! Pure and utter joy! I wanted to sing, I wanted to laugh and hug and kiss every person and every tree. I wanted to stick my head out the window as we rode across the Bay Bridge and scream my love for the planet! It was bizarre, even to me, but I was so thrilled to find people so open to trusting strangers that it nearly moved me to tears.

Since finding a paid job, a temporary albeit long term stint, I happily utilize rideshare every morning. As with any routine, I no longer marvel at the fact that I trust random strangers with my life. I’ve learned that another rule of thumb is that NPR news will be on the radio and while reactions to the news (hrumps, snorts, guffaws and the like) are tolerated, they are not invitations to converse. Now and again I get an anxious driver who makes the commute more like a creaky carnival ride with slamming brakes and herky jerky speeds ups in an attempt to best traffic. But on those days, I just look at the Bay and breathe deeply, confident that I will not leave this world in a car wreck on the Bay Bridge.

My initial thought that rideshare was a uniquely Berkeley or Bay Area idea only betrays an innate bias towards my new home (it goes without saying that I’m ridiculously infatuated with this place). Now I vaguely remember that an informal carpool also exists in Virginia and probably many other metropolitan areas.

And while a small part of my Leo ego likes to cling to the idea that the Berkeley rideshare is unique, a larger part of me loves the idea that there are strangers all across this country, climbing into other stranger’s cars and routinely trusting them with their commute and their life. It makes me smile, and if I had a big doggy tail, it would be wagging wildly.

Love and Hugs

Watching the Financial Meltdown on Wall Street and Wondering Why My Heart is Beating so Fast?

In my maiden foray into the blogsphere (I have an incredible urge to shout out "HELLOOOOOOOO" since the "blogsphere" just screams out empty echo chamber) I am finding it quite curious that I am so fascinated and a little scared by the whole Wall Street meltdown. In some ways it feels the same as when metereologists try not to sound too gleeful when a huge storm is about to hit. We all know this is a terrible thing but oh how awesome (dude!) it is. Yet, it also reminds us of how small and insignificant we are.

And the truth is, for the vast majority of people living in America, the meltdown on Wall Street really doesn't touch us. Even if you own a home and have some stocks in a 401(k) or 403(b) your stocks may tumble, but they'll go back up again because the fundamental truth about Americans - despite the hippy movement and various small pockets of communalism - is that most of us secretly want to get rich quick, and stocks are the fairy tale path that we believe will do that. (There is legalized gambling like Powerball or Lotto, but the odds there are so crazy that it's a strange truth that those with the least amount to gamble are the ones supporting that game). But back to the gaping wounds of the financial titans whose bodies are littering Wall Street.

The reason why government and the macro-economists are most concerned about investment houses going bankrupt and the insurance giant AIG falling to their knees and begging for help is that these are the corporations that prop up the credit market. And their downfall worsens what is being called the "credit crunch," the growing scarcity of loans to businesses. This mainly affects large, multi-national corporations and their ability to expand and thus create jobs. However, when you consider that more than half of the people working in America work for an organization that has fewer than 500 employees, plus all of those those people working for the massive corporations and making less than $10 an hour (any fast food restaurant, Wal-Mart, KMart, etc), there are a large percentage of people who are not actually going to be affected by this "meltdown" because they don't have stocks nor does their employer seek large loans for expansion.

So why are the newspapers writing like this is almost as bad as the Great Depression? Maybe it is a need to sell news, and the fact that we're a culture that eats up sensationalization, no matter the content. But maybe it actually is the fact that having hope in what seems like an out of control and chaotic world appears naive and ignorant. But is the world really that out of control and chaotic in your corner of the world? Sure, you may have some doubts about the direction or your life or what the meaning of it all is, but fundamentally, you're probably doing ok. Because the truth is, if we didn't know about what was happening nearly 3,000 miles away (in my case) it actually wouldn't have that much of an impact. Since I'm officially a Californian (registered to vote, got the license plate and all!) I'm going to go with the idea that giving off positive energy, thoughts and feelings is the way to counter the madness.

(I'm pausing a moment here to let the peanut gallery finish jeering and hurling insults as I send them love.)

So this blog will be about all of the wonderful things that I see going on in the world, both on a broad scale as well as all of the small, neighborhood oriented things that people do to change their immediate world.

I'll close my first post by asking you to raise a glass of your favorite beverage (mine being homemade kombucha for now) and proclaiming, "love, hope and smiles to all" as I ride off into the blogsphere on my sparkling unicorn named Magic!

You're welcome to visit whenever you like and for those of you still offgassing pessimism and negativity, feel free to blow into the blackhole I've linked to (it's invisible and virtual as all good magic is!)

Thanks for reading and love and hugs!