Small connections

Trying to pay the bills, I decide on my next tactic. Ebay! I will sell all that stuff I’ve hoarded, knowing it must be worth something.

I jump through the hoops, climb the learning curve, and voila! In one short week I’ve made $10.34!

I am at the post office packing the plates into prepaid boxes. I did not bring enough bubble wrap. I look out the window and see the free newspaper stand.

Opening the pages to crumple up, a story catches my eye. About an Oregon cargo pilot who crashed the plane and died. While delivering packages.

I think about the pilot, who was there because of the plane, that was there because of the packages, who were there because of the people sending them.

If it’s all the same, next time, I’ll choose to get my $10.34 by holding a neighborhood garage sale.

Connecting from right here

I remember being taught that I needed to get somewhere, before I could succeed, before I could feel real. That once I crossed a certain point, passed a test, got accepted, became a member or attained a degree, then I would be somewhere where I could really start. But why not start from here? From right where I am.

Look at the parts that are closest to me, by proximity, by relation, by chronology. With whom do I share my space, my time, my heritage, my future? Who are the neighbors on my block, the person in the cubicle next to me? Notice the tree across the street, the books on my shelf, the squirrel on my porch, the sun through my window, the person in line at the grocery, the body I live in? And wonder intentionally, why are there gaps and holes? What parts are most disconnected? What do I want to change?

The place where I am is just right. It is the best, and in fact, only place that I can be. It turns from an unattainable spot on a ledge high above me to a flexible presence that grows organically, and moves as a whole to other unpredictable places. What if I shift my awareness from a remote destination, to the very center of where I am right now? What if I hold that priority, that of connection, above all else? Above accomplishment, above greed, above fear.

I stop finishing a sentence if I feel the link between our hearts drop. I turn down a well-paying job. I take a break even when I am driven to push on. I do strange things, that from the outside may seem foolish, or confusing. I change paths suddenly. I may go for a walk when it is time to eat. I may give you a gift on a Tuesday, and forget about you completely on your birthday. I may do something I said I wouldn’t do, or surprise us both with something I hadn’t planned.

I heard a story on NPR about “confidence men”. They commented that the first appearance of con men in the United States came back in the mid-1800s back when there were still thousands of types of currency. Those who fell prey, were almost always those mesmerized with greed, those who would place confidence in an untruth for the sake of getting more than they need. Con men, they said, took root at the point where the American dream began to thrive, where people dreamed of being successful independently by using their own brains, rather than depending on connection. What if the new American dream were to succeed by being connected, and by working together to get what we need?

Freedom to Choose

As a parent, I do my best to allow my child their own freedom to choose and trust that a child is capable of making the best choices. But also as a person I must make my own choices. And whether I intend it or not, I will serve as a model for my child. Even if I free myself from making choices that control their lives, I am still making choices about our lives.

I might strive to fill my world (our world) with the richest options possible. I might stack the shelves with delicious fresh healthy food. I might line the walls with beautiful paintings, fill the air with joyful songs, and the kitchen with wonderful smells. I might choose to surround myself with other grounded, beautiful and caring people, each a window onto intriguing, lovely and enchanting worlds of their own. I might spend my own time grounded in each step, looking into eyes as a I speak, taking time to care for myself, the people and things around me. As the children grow older, others will vie to place options in their way. While I am in this place of power, what wonderful things can I bring to surround us?

My friend’s life graces me regularly. Her room is full of plants. A meal comes with a napkin, each piece of food colorful served beautifully on handmade plates. Chalk drawings and love notes in the hallway. Photo collages and paintings from her heart. A scarf in her hair and shoes that match, on her way to the park to play in the sun. It is a life created, a life full of little choices she has made. Her son plays joyfully in the middle of it all.

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.