What I Meant to Say

Wendy Babiak's Visions and Revisions


Are We Americans Really That Stupid, Or Just Lazy?

The Bike: a human-powered vehicle ready to roll

When Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy (I’ve been told). So I’m trying to stay happy for my kids’ and husband’s sake (riding the bicycle helps…if you haven’t ridden in a while, try it out). But reading the news or, almost worse, participating in conversations online with Americans who are eager to moan and wail and blame but not actually make the changes necessary to improve our relationship with the earth and our neighbors on it, well…let’s just say that I’m facing a choice between despair and rage that is pretty dang close to leading me into some very uncivil statements. And I do try to be civil, even when I have trouble being compassionate and kind. Civility is the least we can strive for in our interactions, I think, though I have failed in that once or twice. Ahem.

Lordy, though, what naysayers Americans have become. Are we so brainwashed by the corporate media lackeys that we actually believe we have no power? Are people so ignorant that they really think there aren’t already technologies ready to put to use to solve our oil addiction? Check out these uber-cool Aerotecture rooftop wind turbines, invented by Bill Becker and his team at U. of Chicago, which are affordable and ready to order for urban use:

If you give a crap (please, give a crap!) about what we’re doing to the planet and live in an urban setting, petition your city planners and/or landlord to install some of these babies!

If, like me, you live in a more suburban setting, see if your local electric company is offering wind power yet, and offer to pay the extra $ to reserve some. We did, and man, do we feel better. We still turn lights off and do without AC, but it’s nice to know that the computer and other electronics (including the fans!) are powered by wind and not fossil fuel. If you’re in a rural setting, look into getting your own turbine. Soon some of these systems may even be usable in suburbia. Now that’s some change!

Another huge oil consumer is the agribusiness. Not only do the tractors use the stuff (and are unregulated re: emissions), but all the pesticides and herbicides are not only toxic, often hormone disruptors, but they’re petro-based (and were originally developed by the Nazis for use as nerve gas…why, exactly, are we letting them spray this crap on our food?!?). And then the food gets shipped all over the globe. So: buy local, organic food. Your palate AND the future will thank you!

Hmmm, power, food…what else do we need? Shelter. What if we could shelter folks and dispose of some of our waste at the same time, like big ugly used tires? Check out this trailer for an upcoming movie called The Garbage Warrior (h/t to Shreveport artist Katherine Usher…I had seen the houses, but didn’t know about the movie):

I like what he says: “If humanity takes the earth down the tubes, I’m dead. I’m trying to save my ass. And THAT is a powerful force!” Yes, it is. Dude’s making gorgeous, funky houses out of earth-rammed used tires (and other “found” materials) that act as a heat sink for passive solar heating. He calls them Earthships. They’ve got other great features, too, like an attached greenhouse where you can grow your greens feet away from your kitchen. Fresh, e-coli-free salad, every day. Yum. Health-care crisis a lot closer to solved.

Another development that would help kill both those birds (the oil and health-care crises, that is) and stop killing pelicans and gulls: HumanCars. That’s right, a human-powered vehicle (it’s actually a human-electric hybrid, so going uphill won’t give you cardiac arrest). It’s operated by up to four people, but one suffices. The CEO, Chuck Greenwood, and I have been corresponding (we’re getting ready to reserve one). A bit from their upcoming press release:

“Here’s the deal, people are enraged enough to consider options like a
human-powered neighborhood electric vehicle just for the simple fact
it represents everything positive about breaking away from the
fossil-generation. What started as an idea and bloomed into a brand is
now a movement and the Imagine is the visual metaphor.”

It’s a vehicle AND it’s a power-station. It stores electricity while it’s in motion (available to assist uphill or to plug in to help power your house when you get home). The kids want to play video games? Send them to the garage and make them get some exercise and store the electricity first. Watch this video of the prototype of the Imagine PS in motion. Steering it is supposed to feel like flying.

Then go to their website and dig around. I think you’ll be excited by what you find (I know I was!). I believe the sedan version is going to offer more weather protection and stuff-toting capacity, as well. The Imagine is getting tons of press in Canada and Asia, where folks are a lot smarter about these things than we Americans. Let’s educate ourselves and see if we can catch up.


Rant Against BP and Other Such Corrupt Earth-Raping Government/Corporate Affliations

We won't like her when she's angry

In my last post I spoke of managing anger in regards to the BP ecocide (I was going to call it an oil spill, but the scale of this goes so far beyond a “spill” that I think I need to stick with the larger term). And managing anger can be a necessary practice in order to create a poetics that does more than simply blame and rail. And it’s certainly useful to own up to our own complicity in order to create the change that needs to take place: ending our addiction to oil.

Continuing the addiction metaphor, it could be said that this crisis is rock bottom, the absolute worst; it should serve to wake the addict (us!) up to our need to confront the addiction.

However, I think it can be healthy to express that anger, too, and in this case I think red-hot anger is warranted. So here I am, getting ready for a rant. Because I watched this video yesterday

and learned a little bit more about the whacked corporate culture at BP. Bill Maher says, well, it could have been Exxon or any other oil company. But wow. The editor at The Atlantic gives an eye-opening (and very wrath-inducing!) statistic: in the time that it took all the other oil companies combined to rack up about 20 safety violations, BP racked up 760. That’s not a typo. I’m not saying 76 with an accidental zero on the end. Seven-hundred sixty. That’s pretty fucked up. And Van Jones speaks about a corporate culture involving porn and meth use and folks from the Mineral Management Service (the government body charged with regulating the oil industry) being LITERALLY in bed with folks from BP. Gross. I mean, I’m all for healthy sexuality. I’m not a prude. But that isn’t healthy…that’s sick. That’s a kind of prostitution-for-obscene-profit, as well as a violation of public trust, and the result has been the destruction of myriad life forms, perhaps even the extinction of some species, as well as the economic devastation of entire human populations. (In all this talk about the problems this is going to present for the states along the Gulf Coast, I’m not hearing much mention about the island nations that are going to be surrounded by it, and on Fox News’ coverage, which my husband witnessed at work, they even removed the islands from their map!) I’d much rather have a common sex worker over for tea than any of the folks responsible for this mess.

Something else that’s served to chap my ass re: this travesty is the juvenile attitude of denial that BP continues to show. Not just the outright lies regarding the scope of the spill, but the flippant comments of some of its representatives, like Randy Prescott of BP who, in response to a concerned restauranteur’s question in New Orleans, made the flip statement, “Louisiana isn’t the only place that has shrimp.”

I have to say, though, that a lot of this is really chickens coming home to roost. The dominant culture of Louisiana (where we lived for almost 13 years) has for decades been one of intolerance, bigotry, government corruption, closed-mindedness, and, most germane to this issue, one of profiting from extractive processes (not just oil, but unsustainable agriculture, as well) while denying their detriment to the environment. The Shrimp and Petroleum Festival in Morgan City, LA, is a classic example of the celebration of such short-sighted industries. Can they really hold it this year? Is their irony meter completely kaput?

But as is often the case with blind justice, karma, the simple law of cause and effect, those who are paying most dearly are NOT those who have caused the problem: all the animals who live in and around the water, and future generations who will not experience the joy that living in their presence grants the human spirit. So yeah, I’m mad. I’m mad at BP, I’m mad at our government that has allowed these transnational corporations to run amok for decades (way, way before Bush et al, ever since corporations were granted 14th-amendment personhood), I’m mad at the American people for letting it all happen, for being so swayed by celebrity watching and shopping malls and happy consumerism that we’ve let all this transpire right under our noses. I’ve felt like a Cassandra for decades, trying to get folks to wake up to the reality that we’ve been creating. I worry that by the time things get this bad, so that anyone with eyes can see the problem, the problem is too big to fix.

So sure, I smile when I see a group at Facebook with the title “Plug the Oil Leak with BP Executives.” I think that if there were truly justice they’d all have their mouths forced open with Constantine’s doohickey and have crude oil funneled in until they were dead, dead, dead. And then maybe have a big stick shoved up their rears so we could roast them on a spit over burning oil and feed the charred remains to the starving pelicans. Lest anyone report me, I’m not actually encouraging this action, just saying that it’s what they deserve. Even this, though, wouldn’t fix what they’ve done.

My only consolation is that, in their final moments, whatever causes their deaths, the neuro-chemical DMT, which floods the brain at death and which, as a powerful hallucinogen, greatly slows the passage of time, will cause them to experience all the horrors they must, at some level, know they’ve earned, for what will feel like close to an eternity. If they want to avoid such a fate, I suggest they remove their heads from said rear-ends and stop trying to spin this, stop trying to profit from the oil flow, and plug the damned thing, and get to work cleaning up what they’ve done.

At Annie Finch’s page there was a discussion recently about poetry and spirit, whether or not poetry is a fitter vessel for spirituality than prose. Partly inspired by that discussion, and following my own vatic bent, and after having channeled Wonder Woman for over a year in a light-hearted laugh at myself and the earnestness of my first book (see, I’m trying to save the world with it, which makes me like Wonder Woman), I recently wrote this, which is going to be my own longpoem (a form Ron Silliman explores in his essay in Annie Finch’s book, Multiformalisms); I’ll be adding post-scripts as they come to me, probably until I kick the bucket myself. But for now:

God Speaks Again, Because Even Though She Loves Us and All,
She’s Pretty Fucking Pissed: I Mean, DANG

Religions: Read them
All. They all illuminate
some aspect of your
multifaceted psyche
ALL of which you ALL
absolutely must be( a)ware.

Just keep them away
except as tradition from
young children. ¡Be sure!
to leave the vestigial shit
in the past: violence
the sacrifice of someone

else’s anything. ¡Take heed!
I’m only going to say this once.

P.S. — And drop the patriarchy
unless you want me
to invoke Evolution
and make a man’s sperm
like aggression, obsolete.

P.P.S. — And if you’d like to
be my scribe, make a practice
of humility:
scrub toilets, tables, the floor
your own dirty mind.

Because seriously, what’s wrong with us? We’ve been worrying about who does what to whom in whose bedroom while the rape of the natural world (not to mention bombing innocent people so we can take their oil) is done in our name. It’s a happy accident that in the above video, Bill Maher switches from talking about the oil flood to talking about the Church and gay rights. (He makes a mistake, though, when he jokes about Jesus hanging around with all men…what about Mary Magdalene, eh? Jesus was one of the first feminists.) Or is it an accident? Because all this is tied up together: our attitudes toward sex (ooh, it’s dirty! can I have some more and then feel guilty, please?), our attitudes toward the earth, our greedy consumerism. Like John Muir says in my sidebar, everything is hitched to everything else, and that’s not just true of lifeforms, it’s true of ideas, as well. I know I tend to chew on the religious idea, but it’s religion that allows, even spurs us, to do so much of what we do, whether it’s cruelty to others or damage to the earth we insist the Bible tells us to dominate. Some would say a better translation is “steward,” and I have to say that if that which gave us the earth to take care of came back and surveyed the results, I’m pretty sure S/He’d be pretty angry. I’ve oft made the comparison to the old stories: if Zeus gave you a magic helmet and you used it as a chamber-pot to piss in, do you think you’d avoid a thunderbolt?

PS — I got the above image of Kali at this cool website.

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Managing Anger, Seeking Silver Linings, Owning My Share: The BP Ecocide

I tried to write a poem today, another sestina-sonnet hybrid. I developed the form a few years ago; the first two are in my book, one as the title poem, the other a poem called “Revelations.” They both deal, in some sections, with violence against nature, though the first deals also with war, and the second with violence against women; both finger religion as a mental toxin encouraging all such violence. The point of both is that all these issues are related. The reading I’ve been doing in Riane Eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade makes clear how all of these issues flow from the mindset we’ve all inherited as part of a global dominator culture, of which patriarchal religion has been a tool for control. (I finished reading that book today, and it’s at the top of the list of books in the page I just set up before making this post, “Rec’d Reading.” The list includes a number of books that have helped me develop a mindset that embraces humanity as one species among many, in desperate need of a new way of seeing ourselves in relation to each other and the rest of the planet. I hope you’ll consider reading them if the BP disaster is leaving you feeling like we need to find a better way…which I hope it has! That’s the silver lining I see.)

The poem I tried to start today, “Accommodations,” is going to focus even more centrally on our relationship with the natural world. I’ve had the list of 14 words (to use one at the end of each line, in the folding pattern borrowed from the sestina) since I left Shreveport over two years ago. But when I sat down today to write the first of the fifteen sections, I just couldn’t do it. I’m stuck, blocked by anger and frustration. (I think I also needed lunch.) And despair, largely fueled by the series of pictures posted at Boston.com, including the one above (click on it to see the whole thing).

I wrote a poem recently attempting to grapple with the BP ecocide (as Michael Rothenberg of Big Bridge aptly called it), using a haiku form. Each stanza was a stand-alone haiku, at least in form, if not in content. I wrote it in response to the call at Poets for Living Waters. One of the stanzas goes like this:

Anger clogs my throat.
I’m mired in helplessness like
an oil-soaked seabird.

The stricture of the haiku form allowed me to distill and control my anger and despair, and own up to my own guilt. Because I do feel guilty. I may not indulge in excessive driving, I may garden organically, I may live without central air, we may buy some local food, but we DO drive, we DO buy food that’s shipped from elsewhere. I live within an infrastructure that relies on petroleum. Period. We all do. I don’t think there’s really one of us who can’t, shouldn’t, in some measure, own this.

What we’ve done down there:
generations will watch it
help it, heal. The scars.

And yes, it will take generations to heal this. The scope of this spill has yet to be grasped. And the scars may well be permanent: there’s no recovery from extinction. In an older, long poem, “Dreaming the Earth,” I wrote, to close it:

Finally, I weep. I weep a sea She can bathe in
a sea of tears of contrition, an ocean
that swallows my soul. Exhausted
I sleep. I dream
we threw out ideas about
boundaries and race.
We see ourselves as one species
among many
each one a voice
in the Divine Chorus.
Never mind how many have been silenced
in the eternal loss of extinction
never mind that we will never be able to ask
the beautiful questions each one was an answer to
we light a galaxy of candles
and forgive our Ancestors
then do our best
to right their many wrongs.

It’s going to take work from all of us. Work, humility, patience. My best friend from high school, Deanna Graff, has been an inspiration to all of her friends, collecting dog and human hair from salons in the city where she lives to make booms to help clean up the spill, working with Matter of Trust. This is something we all can do. We all can do our best to drive less, to walk and to bike, which will be good for our own health as well as the health of the planet. And we can put pressure on our legislators to pass the Clean Energy Act. It will take a thousand little actions, but it will be done. We owe it to future generations to let this be a wake-up call.

Sing, then, all of us.
Sing over the ocean’s bones.
This song of sorry.


Please, Roman Catholic Church, Excommunicate Me

In my last post I said I was a little nervous about unveiling my book because it makes clear that I wholeheartedly reject organized religion. Well, I guess I’ve gotten over it, because for a few days now my FB status has insisted that my next blog post would carry the above title. I do like to keep my word, so here I am.

I was raised in a rather strict, Irish-Catholic heritage, in a parish just north of Daytona Beach (that hotbed of sin), St. Brendan’s, where the Irish Catholic churches sent missionaries (I was 12 before I realized there were priests who spoke without a brogue). We went every Sunday. When I was a girl I was in love with Jesus, whose love I felt returned in the beauty of the natural world. When I thought about what I wanted to be when I grew up, the simple answer was saint. I planned on being a nun until my hormones kicked in at puberty. I’ve completed all the sacraments save last rites.

The adherence to nonsensical dogma like transubstantiation, combined with the flagrant misogyny of the patriarchal hierarchy, and the popes’ insistence on forbidding birth control (despite the damage to women’s lives AND the environment that such a policy causes), had encouraged me to eschew my Catholic upbringing by the time I was in my mid-20s. But it was impossible to completely eliminate something that had been sown so deeply; I ended up on a spiritual quest, due to an ingrained need for the numinous, that led me to explore other traditions, starting with Taoism, to Buddhism, to the Bhakti tradition in Hinduism (a tradition centered on cultivating love), to Sufism (the mystical branch of Islam), and even atheism, all the while practicing an intuitive, earth-centered spirituality. Finally I’m at a point where I embrace a positive (meaning assertive) Agnosticism. (Despite what some militant atheists insist, agnosticism is not the idea that one isn’t sure what is true, god or no-god, it’s not a refuge for intellectual cowards, but an assertion that one doesn’t believe one can know ultimate truth.) Looking at the geo-political paradigm, at the damage our current world-view(s) has (have) led us to do to each other and to the natural world, I can’t help but feel that certainty is at least partly responsible for the world predicament. A little humility would be a good thing. A little “I don’t know,” or “fu jiki,” as the Japanese Zen embrace. Here’s a short poem from my book (originally published in Free Inquiry, the journal of the Council for Secular Humanism):

Before your Grandma’s Funeral

What do you say to the nice old ladies
after your book-worming has taught you

the religion y’all once shared is just
a bunch of stories with suspect origins

like a poor man’s quilt, pieced together
from the brightest and the darkest bits

of the generations who went before
also just guessing and imagining

while the earth shook and thunder clapped
and the stars whirled and flashed overhead?

Seems to me that the myths religions promulgate at best are simply attempts, pre-science, to explain how things came to be. At worst, as explicated in The Chalice and The Blade, they are used to control people and to justify exploitative and dominating hierarchies. I said in my last post that the gylanic (egalitarian in all senses) message of Christ in the gospels was hijacked by the Roman empire to serve its own, quite contradictory ends. The man who did this, of course, was Constantine, a man who had his wife boiled alive, who had his own son murdered, and who force-fed the pagan Celts sanctified bread while their jaws were mechanically pried wide enough to break, until their stomachs burst. That’s mighty Christian, eh? And the Roman Catholic Church as it stands now is the natural flower of this beginning. It continues to encourage the subjugation of women, the rape of the natural world, the exploitation of the poor. Not to mention the rape of children (it seems hardly necessary to include that, as much press as it’s gotten, but there it is).

I remember when I was a docent at the New Orleans Museum of Art. They have a portrait of the Archangel Michael, painted in the time of the colonization (when the natives were being “converted” and used as slave labor) of South America. His stern visage is quite European, and against his shoulder he holds, not the flaming sword of ages past, but the flared musket of the overseer. At the time it was clearly intended to send a message to those laborers when they came to church. Now it hangs in the museum testifying against their exploitation, a potent visual metaphor.

None of this is news, of course, to anyone. So why am I now intent on securing an excommunication? We recently had attempted to rejoin the Church. Our kids were eager to belong to a religious community, eager to have an acceptable answer to the question “What are you?”, eager to have easy access to volunteer opportunities to help others. So we thought we could come back to the church, recognizing that much of their doctrine isn’t so bad when viewed metaphorically (that message in the gospels still rings true). But now this: Female Troubles, Lisa Miller’s article in Newsweek about the Church’s attack on women religious who dare to stand up for other women, or who harbor nefarious feminist ideas. Ugh. At a time when the Pope should be doing all he can to make the men in his organization bear personal responsibility, he’s attacking the women for not keeping in their place.

This is not an organization I can align myself with. Sitting in Mass some weeks ago, I was so emotionally torn it was hard to control the tears. On the one hand, I felt like I’d come home. It was beautiful. Facing a portrait of Mary, I thought, yes, the Church, unlike the protestant sects, has retained at least a little bit of the divine feminine in Mary. But sitting with my daughter, straining to understand the homily of the foreign priest while the eloquent sister sat to the side, not allowed to serve in that capacity though much more able, and hearing all metaphors for the divine delivered in the male gender, I thought, NO! I can’t do this to her. And I won’t.