What I Meant to Say

Wendy Babiak's Visions and Revisions

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Fu Jiki (I Don’t Know)

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?

(first published in Free Inquiry, Vol 27, No. 4)

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Ten Things We All Can and Must Do

Handle with Care

Only someone with his or her head in the sand could imagine at this point that the problems the planet (and all of us earthlings) face are going to be solved from the top down. There is no political solution (although there are certainly things that governments need to be doing, and as citizens we must demand that they do them), but politics being what they are, it’s up to us to make the changes that must be made, from the bottom up, from the grassroots, as it were. Only then will the political will exist for the legislative actions that must happen.

People ask me frequently, when discussing climate change and ecological collapse, what they can do. They’re already turning off the lights when they leave the room and not letting the water run when they brush their teeth. So I’ve been cogitating on it, and I think the following things are what will make the biggest difference, and are doable for just about everyone. Of course we need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, walk and bike as much as possible, encourage our leaders to develop wind and solar power, etc. But here’s what else needs to happen:

1. Become a locavore. A huge amount of land and an obscene amount of fossil fuel are used by industrial agriculture, which uses land inefficiently with monocultures, and sprays it with chemicals made from petroleum, killing the soil and wildlife, and works it with huge, gas-guzzling machines. Then the food has to be shipped around the globe (more fossil fuel!). So eating local, as much as possible, is probably the number one thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint and help foster a life-supporting economy. You needn’t be a purist. But start, and you’ll be amazed at how much of your diet can come from small farms in your own region. It’s also a real pleasure to discover the joys of eating seasonal foods in season, as our ancestors did. Strawberries become an emblem of summer, asparagus an ambassador of spring, as it was for Proust. And food grown from seed saved because it came from something scrumptious instead of something that survived being shipped and stored on shelves simply tastes better. (It’s also better for you.) And food that’s coming straight from the folks who grew or raised it arrives in your kitchen fresher than you can imagine. If you don’t know how to cook with whole foods, learn. It’s not rocket science, and nothing will give you a greater sense of accomplishment (what could be more important?). When I cook, I feel a connection to humanity stretching back into the mists of time. Cooking is really what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom (thumbs and language and even tool use are shared by other species, but bread making is not).

2. Stop Buying Bottled Water; Filter Tap Water, Instead. This is a no-brainer. With a good filter, you end up with a cleaner product than what comes in plastic, and you remove the plastic AND the shipping from your consumer stream.

3. Skip the Paper AND the Plastic. Invest a few bucks in tote bags for your groceries and other purchases, and get in the habit of bringing them with you. I have two compact rip-stop nylon ones I keep in my purse for spontaneous shopping trips, and some vinyl ones that hang near the door for big trips to the grocery. It’s just a matter of establishing new routines. A neighbor simply keeps them in her car. Want a stylish option? They’re out there. Instead of seeing it as a chore, understand it as another avenue for self-expression!

4. Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Old hat, I know. If you’re reading this, you’re probably already recycling. But recycling comes last in this mantra for a reason. It still takes lots of energy and water. Reduce packaging by buying in bulk, by limiting take-out and delivered food, by making your own. And reuse whatever you can, before recycling it.

5. Compost. Any food scraps and yard waste that can be composted, should be composted. Even without so much as a balcony you can do this, either with a homemade worm-bin or with some of the fancy indoor composters now available. Food waste sent to the landfill turns into methane, a greenhouse gas. Composted, it turns into rich soil that your garden or houseplants will love.

6. Grow Something Besides a Lawn. A lawn takes a lot of water and gives almost nothing back. It has to be mowed, often with carbon-spewing, unregulated machines. Plant food trees, flowers for pollinators, bushes to host butterfly larvae, a vegetable garden (it doesn’t get more local than your own yard!). Even houseplants sequester carbon and clean the air.

Biodiversity is beautiful and invites wildlife to visit. Keep just enough grass to give you a space to sit out in the middle of all that rustling, buzzing, humming life. Enjoy your own private Eden.

7. Harvest the Rain. Get a rain barrel and hook it up to your downspout. Or a trug on your porch or balcony to gather the run off. If you’re really ambitious, dig swales and store the rain underground. Climate change means that rain is coming less frequently (but falls harder, when it does come), so it’s more important than ever that we save some for the dry spells. We’ll be getting a rain barrel this spring from our local store, Home Green Home.

8. Reject Consumerism. No more retail therapy. No more conspicuous consumption. Don’t let Madison Avenue convince you that their products offer happiness. No one has ever been made actually happy by buying, even if they do get a temporary lift from it. You end up with debt and guilt and an oppressive amount of stuff. When you do shop, buy from local businesses, local craftspeople and artists. You’ll make friends and discover the presence that handmade things provide. Establish your sense of self in your relationships, your art, your integrity. Not in what you own. Only a fool lets his sense of self reside in something that could be lost in a fire or a flood.

9. Share. One of the ways we’ve gone wrong is by thinking every household has to have one (or more) of everything. We’re surviving as a one-car family because my neighbors let me borrow their cars in a pinch. Snowblowers, mowers, and other tools that aren’t used too often can also be shared. It’s a good way to establish and nurture community, which has been shown to be good for both our physical and mental health (which, of course, are hardly unrelated). When a natural disaster strikes, how much better we’ll be able to respond to it if we’ve already got good relations with the people around us.

10. Rediscover Immanent Divinity. This one may seem less obvious, and present an obstacle to those who’ve been scared off of ideas of the divine by asshats like the Westboro Baptists or the low-IQ America-Is-A-Christian-Nation politicians and pundits poisoning the airwaves (I’m an agnostic about the afterlife, but I’m close to certain that if there is a hell, there’s a special place in it for people who turn others off of spirituality with their cruelty and judgment). But Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” If you learn to see divinity in the world around you, how could you possibly debase it? This is the direction we need to move in, this is the way the rift between our species and our non-human kin will be healed: when we learn to feel the touch of eternity in the breeze, when we understand birdsong as a blessing, when we recognize that with our every breath we confirm our unity with all that is.

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Reprogramming The Doomsday Machine

There’s a lot to love in Kick It Over’s Manifesto, (they’re the young economics students, remember, who are leading a revolution on campuses around the world to reformulate the geo-political paradigm to include a recognition of the ecological and social costs of the modern way of doing business, redefining thereby what makes a successful economy), but my favorite bit is probably the end:

“…we will chase you old goats out of power. Then, in the months and years that follow, we will begin the work of reprogramming your doomsday machine.”

Some of you, gentle readers, may consider “doomsday machine” to be a little strong. But that’s actually just what we’re riding in, right now. Watch this quick little cartoon, probably the most important example of the art ever made, from the Post Carbon Institute:

Did you watch it? We’re hitting that wall, folks, one way or another. Instead of letting that frighten us, why not let it motivate us? All hands on deck, yes.

We finally watched, recently, a movie that, despite my long awareness that we’ve been riding in a doomsday machine, left me feeling exceedingly hopeful. It was Dirt! The Movie, a documentary that manages to entertain while it informs, moves, and motivates. Check out the trailer:

I don’t think it’ll spoil the movie to say that things are becoming dire. Food prices are rising, causing unrest, clean water and clean air are far too rare, and desertification continues at a terrifying rate. But the beauty part is that there’s already a movement underway to fix what we’ve broken. While it may take nature a hundred years to make an inch of topsoil, we can drastically speed up that process with simple methods like composting. If we plant the right things in the right places, start intentionally greening the world instead of cutting things down and paving them over, not only can we restore the skin of the world within ten years, but that restored skin, that layer of soil, lovingly held by roots, will clean the water, and the leaves of the plants will clean the air.

We can turn this ship around. But it WILL take all hands on deck. We have, geologically and culturally speaking, a narrow window of opportunity within which to save ourselves. And I don’t say save the planet. Because the planet will be fine, either way. We either learn to live within our limits, or we die, and the planet will be forced to heal without our help. Earth has all the time in the world. We do not.

My next post will list the top ten things we all can and must do to get us headed in the right direction.


Betwixt and Between: America’s Liminal Period, Or: That’s the Way the Paradigm Crumbles

sun dance

When I was in college, lo these many years ago, I took a course that turned out to be formative for me, called Jung, Myth and Lifestyles (from the same brilliant and big-hearted woman I took my Environmental Literature course with, the poet, literary critic, and environmental activist Nancy Corson Carter). One of the many worthwhile texts she assigned was a book called Betwixt and Between: Patterns of Masculine and Feminine Initiation. It focused on what it termed the liminal (transitional) period of adolescence, when one is neither still a child nor yet an adult, and the rites of passage used in myriad societies to ease and mark that transition. And I tell you this simply to introduce the concept, because I posit that America, as a nation with a very short history, has entered its own adolescence, it’s own liminal period, in which it is no longer what it was, an experiment in democracy, and not yet what it will become. (I’m not the only one who thinks so. Read this interview with Jungian culture critic James Hillman about America and a shift from one age to the next.) I can’t say what America will become (and neither can he), but I can hope that it will eventually evolve into a real democracy, one in which all people are honored and granted the freedoms originally promised in our Constitution and Bill of Rights, with a government truly of the people, by the people, for the people. Currently we’ve got a government of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations. Which has been the case for a long time, well before the Citizens United case that granted corporations the right to spend unlimited amounts of money as political speech, but what makes things interesting, what makes clear that we soon face a national rite of passage, is the fact that people are waking up to this reality.

We’re not only waking up to it, but we’re waking up to the fact that this corporate influence has penetrated our body politic through forceful means. If you’ve read up at all about the corporate corruption of politics, you’ve probably heard about a case decided by the Supreme Court in 1888 granting 14th-amendment personhood to corporations (Southern Pacific v. Santa Clara County). Fascinatingly, this article at Truthout dismantles that bit of common legal knowledge and shows it to be a heist of our system by a rail-road man who took advantage of his position as court reporter (at the time, much, much more than a stenographer), most likely with the encouragement and cover of another rail-road man on the bench, to insert language into a headnote that seemed to grant them personhood. It’s actually not part of the official decision, which intentionally did NOT rule on the 14th-amendment issue; it wasn’t caught and corrected because the justice who wrote the actual decision died before the record was published. So there needs to be some serious revision of our law. It’s going to be interesting to watch how this plays out, since all of the later cases that took that headnote as precedent should be revisited; at the very least, they must acknowledge that the precedent was NOT set, and hear arguments on the matter (and handle all present cases without falling back on that false precedent).

Corporate control of our politics has been part of the geo-political paradigm for over a hundred years. Those who benefit from this arrangement, shareholders or highly paid officers, politicians, and even some workers who choose to sign up to be wage slaves, convincing themselves that it’s for the best (and while we always have more choices than we imagine, I recognize some people have more choices than others), may think that it’s a good thing, and want to keep it that way. But one way or another, it’s going to have to change, and here’s why: corporations are capable of evil human persons simply can’t manage, and they’re killing us and the planet. Seen the cancer rates lately? Imagine what they’re going to be for our children, our grandchildren. How about when all that nuclear waste starts leaking out of its poorly designed containers, along with all those industrial chemicals that turned out to be toxic and persistent?

That article about the 14th amendment (added to the constitution, you might remember, to prevent the return of slavery, to grant human rights to people of all persuasions) started with this excerpt from an address to the Ohio 1912 Constitutional Convention by William Jennings Bryan:

The first thing to understand is the difference between the natural person and the fictitious person called a corporation. They differ in the purpose for which they are created, in the strength which they possess, and in the restraints under which they act.

Man is the handiwork of God and was placed upon earth to carry out a Divine purpose; the corporation is the handiwork of man and created to carry out a money-making policy.

There is comparatively little difference in the strength of men; a corporation may be one hundred, one thousand, or even one million times stronger than the average man. Man acts under the restraints of conscience, and is influenced also by a belief in a future life. A corporation has no soul and cares nothing about the hereafter….

The article, an astounding and important piece of real journalism, is Chapter 1 of a book called Unequal Protection: How Corporations Became People and How You Can Fight Back, by Thom Hartmann (they’re serializing it). I think I’m going to make the $30 donation so I can receive the book version, with the subtitle, “The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights.” Because, as this first chapter makes clear, it IS a theft of human rights. And yes, humans, real, human persons, have been enslaved in this system that has taken from us one of our most basic human rights: the right to clean air, water, and living soil, the most basic aspects, the sine qua non for the pursuit of happiness.

Thanks to information technology (something that’s turning out to be harder to control than the plutocracy might like), people are becoming aware at an exponential rate, and thanks to Wall Street’s hijacking our economy, catastrophes like the BP ecocide (about which I’ve had this and that, etc., etc., to say) and now, (egads!) what’s happening with those reactors in Japan, no one can pretend that these corporations are proper national or world citizens. They take all the profit but own none of the risk. And they risk our very lives, and pay us just enough to keep us from rising up, never enough to feel like free people. And they make a practice of grinding the soul to little pieces so that it won’t speak up against the evil things they do. They cause us to live in fear, of job loss and poverty, of each other.

But God-given (inherent) as liberty is, it’s stubborn. It doesn’t take to suppression forever. Though fear of hunger or violence will keep a people in check for a time, eventually it becomes intolerable and somebody sets themselves on fire on the oppressor’s doorstep and sparks a revolution. I’m not hoping anyone shows up and torches themselves in the Halliburton parking lot. Heaven forbid, especially since I’m pretty sure those hardhearts would be completely unmoved, and our corporate-controlled press would fail to report it (thank goodness for Al-Jazeera, or Tunisia and Egypt would never have thrown off their despots…whether they manage democracy remains to be seen. They’d stand a better chance if they’d listen to their women). As it is, because Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are allies and keep us supplied with oil, I doubt these disturbing pictures of what security forces are doing now to quell the democratic uprising in Bahrain are going to get much press here, unless it’s by citizen journalists.

But there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Anonymous’s hacktivism is a sign of what’s to come: people rising up and using cleverness to overcome corporate might (as well as shutting up guano spigots — a term borrowed from poet Sam Hamill, harsh, but apt, in this case — like the Westboro Baptists, those hatefreaks who picket at solider’s funerals because “God Hates Fags”). The revolution won’t involve guillotines, but email accounts and bank transfers. And civil disobedience, by individuals like Tim DeChristopher as well as organized actions by groups like Peaceful Uprising, which he helped found.

And in the end, it’s going to involve a real change in thinking. Just like we need to move from patriarchy to gylany and from plutocracy to democracy (and I mean real democracy, not just the ability to vote for leaders who turn around and represent the interest of these few, gigantic, transnational corporations…there’s no such thing as semi-democratic any more than there’s such a thing as semi-faithful…what we have right now is a form of corporatism that some even dare call fascist), just like that, we need to start thinking in a different way about what makes a successful economy. What’s righteous is that some of our youth are already thinking this way, and they’re leading their own revolution, all over the world, determined to run the old fools out of their ivory towers. I love the name of their movement: Kick it over.


It remains to be seen what kind of rite of passage we’re going to experience. War can be a rite of passage. In Betwixt and Between, often the masculine rites of passage involved mock battles or real trials like the Sun Dance, on this continent, which involves hanging from pierced flesh until the flesh parts and the young man falls to the ground. I say we go for a more feminine version. More of a blessing by water and pollen than a trial by fire. Let us have a bloodless revolution in which we stand up and make our voices heard, without cease, united in the desire to forge a livable future out of the mess left to us by over a hundred years of corporate dominance.