To my friends

I am thinking about the role of relationships in the market economy, in the world of schooled success. I am thinking about times in my life that I attended networking meetings. About times that I held esteem for someone (or they for me) because of the school I went to, the club they belonged to, or their political or celebrity position.

Those relationships all had the common element of something purchased, something measured, something rewarded, something instant. Shortcuts to belonging- a membership card, a title or certificate, an appearance on tv, a prize bestowed.

These are not the real relationships, the ones that fill me and support me. The ones that grow like a flower or a tree. The real ones are based on tasks that simply require time- listening, learning, understanding, being present, sharing experience, proven resilience.

Up close these relationships are not very interesting. They do not say “Congratulations! You are now formally welcomed to this status” Instead they say, “Can you hand me my shoe?” things mundane, awkward or fumbling.

They are not forced to grow. They are not perfect skyscraper structres in all right angles. They are solid. With fluid interactions fililng in the gaps that are created as they are blown with the wind, dried and then watered, leaning toward the sun, organically grown.


My story: Sustainable

So when you decide that others are not going to make up your story for you, that leaves you with the task of making it up for yourself. I don’t consider myself a very good storyteller, but really, I’m all I’ve got. And I may as well start with something (which I can always rewrite later).

I realized that my criteria for what I like in others’ stories, might also apply to my own story. Thus begins a first draft. I’ll start with “sustainable”, since by its very nature it would keep me around long enough to tell the rest of my story.

Sustainable for me, is not just a synonym for “environmentally friendly”, but a long term mindset. It is a receiving from our connection to the past, and an offering of love to future generations. Sustainable is seeing the overview of a long winding path up the hill, rather than focusing on every dip and valley in the road. It’s not about going cold turkey into a drastic change of persona, but step by step inching steadily toward the person I would rather be.

I know from experience that I don’t respond well to new year’s resolutions, diet commitments, and poorly thought out social obligations. To say I am a vegetarian, or that I will ride my bike to work every day for the next month, would put an end to it right there. I can however, report, that this past year for the first time in my life, I’ve been dairy free for about half the year. This is also the first year that I’ve regularly ridden my bike to work (not every time mind you) but EVEN when it is cold and raining!

I will probably eat another cheeseburger, and most likely take the car to work next time it downpours. I can also report that this year we considered, but did NOT purchase a solar powered water heater, we did NOT sell our gas guzzling van, and we have about the same number of toxic or harmful cleaning chemicals and beauty products as we did a year ago. But life, and growth is messy. There are dips and valleys, and winding paths.

We still have plastic storage tubs and cups in our kitchen, but only a small portion of what we used to. And I have trained myself to hand wash them, rather than put them through the dishwasher. We have replaced about half of our Teflon pans. I have made several attempts at making my own shampoo from natural materials, and using natural medicines whenever possible. There is plenty of room for improvement there, but I am learning. And we have finally saved up and purchased a king size mattress made of local, organic cotton and wool with NO pesticides or fire retardants.

The hardest part I think has be reducing the amount of stuff we have in general. This is not about a simple action like filling up a bag and donating it to charity. This is a fundamental change of mindset. It is linked to my lifestyle, my identity, sense of worth, comfort and goals. A change like this doesn’t happen overnight. It’s right up there with cutting yourself off from high fructose corn syrup and sugar. (This year I’ve consumed less than half of what I did the year before.) Our experience at FreeGeek has given us  hands-on experience with curbing the flow of lead and mercury into the landfill, and has led me to learn more about the other electronics that surround me (cell phones and computer monitors). I am still learning to let go and trust that I will get what I need.

So here I go on my sloppy shopping spree through life, picking up mostly what looks good to me, and passing up mostly what doesn’t, dropping a few things here and there, but for the most part I’m surrounded by stuff that is good, or at least on its way to getting better.

So there’s a story. It’ll probably be different next year. Did anyone read this? I’d love to hear your sustainable experiences- leave me a comment!

Requiem to a Cedar

Cedar Tree

With a whip of wind and a crack of great limbs a second missive was sent. The first had come a week earlier, on the other side of the country, with the roar of a jet engine outside my window as I witnessed the first large tree fall to the ground. For quite a while, wind has always set me on edge. Only this year have I really started listening to trees. I still don’t exactly understand them, but when two large ancient beasts drop themselves in my path, I feel the need to pay attention. Derrick Jensen gave me some subtle hints at how to listen to trees, outside the boxes of conventional language. Later this year I had the pleasure of meeting Julia Butterfly Hill. In the past few months, I have started to make an effort to listen.

There is no right or wrong here. It is open to interpretation. Communicating and listening with any other is by nature very personal. My mother says wind is natural, beautiful and cleansing. I agree, but for me it is also nerve-wracking.

I used to think that flying was exciting and interesting, the ideal cosmopolitan experience. Now I can only think of the mistrust and invasion of privacy at checkpoints, the needless risk of separating oneself from their own perfect place in the earth, and the gallons of jetfuel poured right into the ozone. Jet lag was always talked about something that was either envied (means you’re a real “jet-setter”) or curable. But here I am at 7 a.m. after being awake for two hours and listening to the way jet lag feels. Moving along the surface of the earth we adjust to the space and it makes way for us. Plucked from the surface in a sterile mechanized way doesn’t feel right. Jet lag is the result of being separated from one’s place on the earth. It is separation of mind, body and spirit all trying to catch up with one another, all trying to fit back into the world that welcomes them.

Trees were that way too. When I was young they started out for me as brown thick stuff. Things that needed to be cleared to make way for progress. Warnings of woods as dangerous places that housed nefarious humans and wild animals. They had no names other than “trees, bushes and grass”. I returned to my hometown to see the new shopping mall built on what used to be a golf course, and before that, an Indian burial ground. There are large stretches of land now, where there are no trees. And isolated patches between construction sites where I can count the number of trees, where before I couldn’t see through them. And along roadsides there were beautiful tall brown grasses with tassles at the top. What are they called I wonder?

I watched as our blue jay landed on the broken limb that pointed skyward and cocked his head blinking sideways at the mess of cedar branches. I watched as the crane lowered the broken limb and brushed it against the giant doug fir that was the cedar’s companion for all these years. Wind, trees, jet planes. Is this type of listening simply an interpretation of the facts? Am I just a gloomy onlooker? I do know what feels right and what doesn’t. I am still listening.

Chef Julian

Chef Julian

Chef Julian

A few weeks ago, my son, Julian was written up in the Oregonian for a cooking show that he created. At first I was able to keep up with the comments on the site, and various other blogs that linked to it, but when it was posted on AOL and Yahoo’s homepages it became difficult to digest and respond because of the sheer quantity. Through this opportunity to interface with others who I might never have had the chance the experience has clarified a few things for me.

Yesterday we read through Julian’s emails with a map in hand to see where they were coming from. (There were 107 in the inbox when we checked yesterday. Hah! He always complained before “Mama, how come I never get any email?”) Many young people, many parents with children, and a few older people as well who said that watching Julian’s show inspired them to go out and make their own cooking show, or to take on some other task that has been of interest to them. These emails delighted me because I felt there were others out there who truly heard and understood Julian‘s intent and who shared an understanding of what this was all about.

As to why he made a cooking show, Julian expressed his intent to me, and to the reporter very clearly, “I wanted to have fun.” Those who think he did it  to entertain the public, to create fame or fortune, to please others, to put out a quality cooking show on a national network, or to garner coos of affection will be sorely disappointed.

Others referred to him as “cute”, “a genius” or a “prodigy” or expressed disappointment that he didn’t meet those standards. They seemed to think that the real draw to this video was that Julian is a small, young person doing something that is somehow incongruous to his age. Or that he was somehow exceptional, or claiming to be.

In fact, Julian was doing what all of us have the power to do: decide something is interesting and try it out. This is not an exceptional skill. Everyone can do this.  I am equally inspired by Julian’s choice to wear red pants, or to stay up till 11 p.m. as by the cooking show (though the latter was a bit more work for me).

There were many others who were very concerned for his safety (using kitchen tools, hot stove, standing on a chair, etc.) or his lack of a formal education. I too share a concern for health and safety, and I respect the hard work it takes in many cases to collect a degree, certificate or title. Of greater importance to me, however, is the protection of the innate sense that we all have to seek out what we need, and to protect ourselves from danger. In a real crisis situation, regardless of how many safety features we have installed, or how many degrees we hold it is our presence of mind and connection with ourselves and others that keeps us safe.

For those of you left disappointed, who came looking for something that you didn’t find, perhaps there is still something that you can use: that we are all beings with great potential, empowered to make our own decisions and write our own stories. Go make something in your kitchen. Or go make your own tv show. Don’t worry if you make a mess or if it doesn’t taste good. Clean it up and try again. Or at very least, if something is boring and wastes your time, go find something more meaningful.

PS. For those who are curious,  TVP stands for textured vegetable protien. It is available at Bob’s Red Mill.

Winter day

Julian and Eva

Julian and Eva

Snowing outside today. I picked the last remaining vegetables in the garden- a dozen stalks of frozen celery- very precious green life in the frozen landscape. Contemplating the value people place on things like food, health, and warmth. (Speaking of value, today I just came by the one dollar diet project blog (thank you Julia). Also, I tried out this carbon calculator where I can calculate the damage I might cause on my upcoming trip ( 5000 lbs of CO2 yikes!) and purchase carbon offsets as well.

Kristen’s Media Picks

Eva at the computer

For all you very young media consumers, and the older ones as well, I’ve updated my media picks. Have a look in the sidebar for my favorite books, movies and websites based on the criteria I came up with earlier.

Holiday Gift Ideas

I don’t like to buy holiday gifts. At first it was because I didn’t like the idea of being generous because someone told me to. Now it feels more like an ironic interruption of the interconnectedness we all share. To tell someone to stop what they are doing and “be generous” presupposes the fact that the status quo is about being competitive self-serving individuals.

In addition, I don’t feel comfortable giving anymore with a value attached to the gift. There are so many ways this happens, from the obvious holiday bargains, refunds, discounts, exchanges and sales to the more subtle behavior Christmas shoppers have in rationing out and valuing the number and type of gifts (even homemade or non-item gifts) using size, cost, effort, relation to the recipient, history of giving and receiving with the other individual, social status or obligation as factors in a massive analysis and calculation of what should be given to whom.

And of course, there is the problem that what constitutes giving for many people doesn’t just interfere with relationships to each other, but also contributes to the destruction of the planet we live on. This deceptive linking of “morals and values” with “shopping and consumption” does more harm than good. (Thanks Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping “WWJB?”)

So you might not get a present from me this year. You might. I like giving. I like receiving. I think it is part of what we do when we are all together being true to our needs, taking care of each other and the place we all live in together. But rather than using our energies calculating, analyzing, categorizing, shopping, meeting deadlines, and competing, lets use them to connect with each other, take care of each other, and if we choose to, talk about our needs and wants

Back in the driver’s seat

One thing I’ve noticed in my deschooling process is my shift from helpless victim, to active participant, in many different areas of my life. Perhaps it stems from learning from one’s own heart and guidance that by default puts you in your own driver’s seat. It is reflected in the guidance of compassionate communication that bases interactions on one’s own needs, rather than the actions of others.

It seems, looking back, that my whole world was turned inside out. What to learn, when to learn it, what to value, how to dress, what I could or could not do: all of this was externally presented, and accepted. The ad said “shop!”, and I did, whether I needed it or not. The orchestral film score said “cry!” and I did, whether the story itself touched me or not. The teacher said, “No, not you, we need a nice strong BOY to carry this table,” so I knew I was weak because I was a girl.

It was no more their fault for telling me than mine for believing them. It was about a way of seeing the world that created a helpless, victimized and powerless me.

Things seem a little different now. I’ve noticed several changes in the past year. For example:

  • I’ve piloted an anti-inflammatory elimination diet to seek out the root cause of a rash that I’ve had for the past 15 years. Previously I’d presented my problem to various medical doctors who all gave me advice or medication that did not cure the rash. Now, although I am seeking the help of several naturopath’s and nutritionists, the main expert here is me. I know what goes into my body. I know how I feel.
  • In the past I was always envious of those who were handy and creative, but I knew I wasn’t able to do those things. The only way for me to really make something was pre-packaged arts- hook rugs and the like. But now, after finally getting a sewing machine that works I surprised myself by busting out a whole bunch of stuff from pajamas to bags. I’ve also been having fun watching Make Magazine videos with my son- projects that steer away from the pre-planned safety of a kit and nudge you into practical, daring, and empowering hacks.
  • I was raised as a rule follower, and concerned for my safety, I would gather rules to follow to lead a safer healthier life (Wear your seatbelt, wear a helmet, take a daily vitamin, immunize your child, brush your teeth twice a day, flouridate the water, use antibacterial soap, smoke detector in every room etc.). But now, though I may do some of those things, I am no longer doing them because someone told me to. I am doing them because I know what the specific risks and benefits are, and I am making a conscious choice about what I do in any situation.
  • I grew up thinking that “electronics are too dangerous” coupled with “electronics are for boys” and kept my distance. Recently I’ve started volunteering at FreeGeek with my son, and started asking, well, exactly what part of the computer is dangerous and why? Not only have I learned a lot about my own safety that are not reflected in psas on prime time tv, but also I now have the visceral empowered feeling gained only by tearing apart a desktop computer case with my bare hands and a few tools, when there are no instructions to do so.
  • In the past, I paid my taxes the easiest way I could figure out so I could get the most money back, or the way I knew most others to do it. This year I am trying to be true to what I really feel is important and learn how to minimize or eliminate the taxes I pay that go to fund a war.

I just read that the average American is viewing 142 hours of TV a month– this is the average?! That’s like having an extra full time job! Think of what we could do with that time if we chose to; if we felt empowered.

Julian:Robots as Mama:Love

Shortly before I started writing this blog I was at a point where I wondered if I were to disappear, how my children would remember me… that lady who whined and complained? The lady who spent all her time on the computer?

Later they might say “My mother was always… If there’s one thing my mother really liked it was…” and all the words that came to my mind (I was having a rough day) were really negative (depressed, snippy, nervous, anxious… rules, sitting there by herself, typing on the computer).  Since then I try to fill my head, my world, my days and moments with other things, better things, that I might pass on to them.

Julian is REALLLY into robots nowadays. He draws robots. He built a robot. He watches videos about robots. He reads about robots. Recently we started the book Eager by Helen Fox, about robots.  I was actually getting interested in the story and suggested we sit down and read a few chapters.

“What mama??? YOU want to read about robots?!?” He searched his mind for a moment to think what might be for me, what robots are for him. “It’s not like it’s a book about… LOVE!”

I felt so understood!

Happy Holiday

In the spirit of celebrating neighbors and trust, remembering those passed, and imagining who you want to be. This year we handed out apples (a big hit), art cards, homemade fudge and Chef Julian’s chocolate almond covered cranberry balls.