Making Connections

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” ~ John Muir

Worthy of your attention: two films this past weekend that are unlikely to capture any of the big movie industry prizes and yet, taken together, are indeed ‘hitched’ to each other and to the current state of our union. One is set in the nation’s capital and the other, deep in Mike Pence country. I recommend you see both with a group of friends and follow-up with a conversation, maybe more.

trailer-hitch-towbarFirst, The Front Runner, starring Hugh Jackman as Senator Gary Hart and Vera Farmiga as his wife, Lee, J.K. Simmons as Hart’s campaign director, Alfred Molina as Ben Bradlee of The Washington Post, along with a great ensemble cast. Based on the book, All the Truth is Out by Matt Bai, the narrative follows the rise and fall of the senator from Colorado who hoped to challenge the belief that the West had yet to produce a president.  Gary Hart had everything going for him: he was attractive, experienced, smart, and he had good ideas for the country. He also had a rocky marital history that would surprise no one given the times, and one that had not kept others from occupying the Oval Office, before or since.

One take away from the film: Hart, who was leading in all the polls, had the misfortune to be running for president at the exact moment when the media, that heretofore had kept a “gentleman’s” (sic) silence on the private lives of politicians, decided that everything was fair game. If films like All the President’s Men and, more recently, The Post, depict journalism as a noble, even heroic, calling, Front Runner flips to the dark, conspiratorial side you’ll find all too familiar.

Today, the line between news and entertainment has become so blurred in search of eyeballs for advertisers, it’s wise to adopt a healthy skepticism toward even your favorite, most trusted news outlets.  I’m troubled that 60 Minutes gives so much free airtime to the current occupant of the White House. And why always opposite Leslie Stahl? Did we really need to squirm through Anderson Cooper’s interview with Stormy Daniels when the important part of the story was the payoff and possible obstruction of justice? How many New Yorker covers devoted to #45 are enough to keep that much-loved magazine afloat?  The Front Runner argues that the 1988 Hart campaign was the turning point in reporting on politics, and suggests that we, the American public, paid a price and continue to pay it.

If you doubt this, consider the actual footage (shown in the film) from Johnny Carson’s opening monologue about the breaking scandal. Here’s Johnny, rocking on his heels, bringing down the ‘front runner’ by describing the meeting between Hart and Donna Rice on — smirk, smirk  — the party boat to Bimini called Monkey Business. Of course, Carson was soon joined by Joan Rivers and David Letterman also piled on.  By the standards of Saturday Night Live, this is pretty tame stuff. Don’t get me wrong: I think comics like Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and John Oliver, are performing a public service when they mock those in high places for their corruption and lawless behavior in the performance of their official duties. The gratuitous, graphic details of consenting adult relationships: porn by any other name.

Consider also Gary Hart’s announcement of his withdrawal from the race at his press conference, quoted in the film: “Politics in this country – take it from me – is on the verge of becoming another form of athletic competition or sporting match. We all better do something to make this system work or we’re all going to be soon rephrasing Jefferson to say: I tremble for my country when I think we may, in fact, get the kind of leaders we deserve.” For his entire speech, click here.  The film’s last words: Gary and Lee Hart are still together.

Monrovia, Indiana, another masterpiece from Frederick Wiseman, our longest living documentarian (88), runs 143 minutes as if to bring home in personal terms the tedium and minutiae of the lives of Monrovia, (pop 1,063). If you’ve not experienced a Wiseman film, you may find his story-telling approach unusual to say the least: sans narrative, sans interviews, sans music, is it cinéma vérité American style. Made shortly after the 2016 election (with little doubt how the town voted), Monrovia, Indiana brings you into the life of the town (and thousands others like it, by implication) via a fly-on-the-wall view at a town council meeting debating, longer than most would sit still for, one bench vs. two for the library. The camera takes you inside a barbershop, a beauty salon, a tattoo parlor, an animal hospital (alert: very graphic). You’re in the high school classroom among the bored-to-death students, being lectured about the town’s days of basketball glory. You’re in a gun store as the proprietor and a customer weigh the pros and cons of certain models, while a poster on the wall declares: Gun Control Is Holding With Two Hands. You’re testing mattresses with the wife in the gym. You see pigs being marked for slaughter and herded into a truck, a couple of them trying to turn back. You see the impact of Big Ag in single crop fields, pesticide spraying, and massive, labor-saving equipment. Scripture affirms that a wife ‘is subject to’ her husband at a wedding ceremony, and the wedding singer, the only person of color, sings “Always.” More scripture quoted at the closing scene of a funeral, affirms the deceased is ‘at home.’ We observe the casket being lowered, the clods of earth piled on top.

There’s big trouble here in the Heartland, and though the opioid epidemic is not mentioned, you can’t help but think of J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. Monrovia is struggling with water issues; conflict over a new development, though the town needs the taxes; soil-depleting farming practices; restless young; elders, some sick, some obese, some who have ‘run out of gas.’ And this before climate change — heat waves, bigger storms — rolls over this unprepared region and its citizens.

We Americans tend to romanticize our small towns*, and there are many scenes of pastoral beauty in Monrovia, Indiana, as well as a sense of public service, decency, honest labor, and neighborliness among its citizens. For the most part, A.O. Scott’s New York Times review celebrates those qualities, while also noting this is “a slice of red-state America at a time of fierce political polarization.” I saw on the faces a quiet desperation of which Henry David Thoreau wrote, and I wonder when and how it might erupt; where it will take them … and us. I wonder if anyone is really listening within the halls of power once the votes have been tallied, the winners declared. I wonder how any of us might make connections across the political divide that offer and invite compassion and respect.

*There are more than 16,000 towns in the United States with population under 10,000, as of 2015.

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Surviving This, Too

If there is a plot against America, the haphazard shredding of the civil order and institutions is as effective as anything more premeditated. That’s somewhat good news in this sense: the events we witness on a daily basis are obviously not the result of a coherent governing policy. That would require a modicum of competence. Instead, we are in the throes of ad hoc policies whose broad purpose are to comfort the comfortable and inflict further pain on the afflicted. Just pick up a newspaper.

Have you noticed the meme about ‘surviving’ this presidency? I think we already have, because if there is a silver lining to the current state of awful, it is that many of us who woke up only every 4 years to elect a president, have sharpened our wits and stiffened our citizen spines. We’re learning to resist when we can and workaround when we can’t. We won’t be fooled again. Exhibit A: November 6, 2018.

The last time I felt this awake to how personal politics are – and may I say, should be — was in 2000 when my candidate, who had written a book warning us about climate change, resource overshoot, and other threats to human civilization, (Earth in the Balance), was defeated by an opponent who would lead us into a unnecessary and costly war, by the slimmest of vote counts and a truly terrible Supreme Court decision*. By 2008, I didn’t need much convincing to get involved in a well-run ground game in a historic presidential campaign. In 2016, in my home state of Florida, the campaign mojo was missing, to be charitable. But I survived it 😬!

chutes-and-laddersWorkaround, computerese for “a strategy or technique used to overcome a defect or other problem in a program or system,” could be the motto of any number of political operatives that were birthed in the last two years. In addition to Indivisibles https://indivisible.org/, and Women’s March https://www.womensmarch.com/, another new kid on the block is Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Here are some ways they are debugging the broken gun control laws. They are bipartisan. They support candidates willing to stand up to the gun lobby. Instead of taking an anti-Second Amendment position, they advocate for gun safety in the home, citing statistics on suicide, domestic violence, and accidental shootings. www.momsdemandaction.org This organization of smart, young mothers has affiliated with deep-pocketed Everytown for Gun Safety, https://everytown.org/ founded by Michael Bloomberg in 2006. And, if my local chapter is an example, they are the most ferocious, well-prepared canvassers you’re likely to meet.

There’s a reason I focused on Moms Demand Action. Today, for a few scary moments, the significance of these grassroots movements came home to us: the local high school attended by our youngest grandson, went into Code Red Lockdown. All clear now, but for some newly traumatized teenagers.

* Retired Justice John Paul Stevens called Gore V. Bush one of the three biggest errors in his tenure on the Supreme Court.

New Yorker article on Indivisibles: https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/indivisible-an-early-anti-trump-group-plans-for-a-democratic-future

If you’re a Facebook user, check out this page, Done With Guns, started and maintained by Joy Richter Weisbrod after the Parkland massacre.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1013848712101918/

A State of Thanksgiving

My first Thanksgiving was on a Christmas tree farm in Virginia, owned by State Department friends of my career diplomat parents. I was 10, a student at a small private school in Washington, and all I knew about this holiday was that there was a big parade going on in New York City and I wanted to go there.

How did I know about the parade? From the black and white DuMont my father had purchased and presented to the family with a flourish. The Pilgrim and Indian story couldn’t hold a candle to what I was learning about American life and culture from my favorite shows. I had even swapped out the British accent so lately acquired at boarding school in the UK, for my version of an American TV personality.

Thanksgiving on a Christmas tree farm hadn’t sounded nearly as exciting as a parade, but that all changed as soon as we were greeted by our hosts, Jerry and Ruth, and their two daughters, Rachel, 11 and Sarah, 9, who immediately introduced me to a litter of kittens. Instant bonding. Perhaps my father had met Jerry because he was assigned to the Burma desk, and this was his way of making three Burmese newcomers to the country feel welcome. I didn’t know it then, but I was hungry for just such a family, informal, warm and funny, a sharp contrast to my own reserved parents, in fact, to every adult I had thus far encountered.

About the Thanksgiving menu,  I already had an idea — from TV, of course — and I wasn’t disappointed. Well, perhaps a little. Where was the moulded Jello salad with the suspended bits of fruit cocktail? While the ‘ladies’, Ruth and Mum (as she was still called), saw to the turkey, slowly turning a deep golden brown, and the pies cooled on window sills, the plan was for the men and children to take a walk on their property and select a Christmas tree to be felled and delivered to us two weeks hence, in time for Christmas. Dad and I had underestimated the chilly temperatures and wet ground, but soon, in borrowed hats, scarves, gloves and duck shoes, we were off for a long ramble. Raspberry-Jello-Salad-1

It seemed that the family had returned from a posting to Turkey — hence the camel saddle and embossed metal trays — and before long, had purchased this Christmas tree farm with a derelict house on it. Apparently unfazed, they moved into the house, made do for a few months, and began to build a new house next to it. Their future home was a single-story structure with a big open space for the kitchen, dining area and living room, and a central fireplace, the ‘great room’ before its time. The bedrooms had been studded out, but it was still essentially a weather-proofed, wide-open playground. They were merrily camping out, in, while Jerry and Ruth finished up the interior walls and fittings as time permitted. It was impossible to imagine them in cocktail attire or making the diplomatic rounds as my parents did most evenings — “Receiving line, one drink, slip out a side door…”

A wood fire was blazing in the fireplace. A plank of plywood and pair of saw horses had been turned into a table. Though unfinished, the kitchen was operational, and the entire space will filled with delicious smells and classical music. I loved how the smoke clung to my clothes and hair for hours after we left. I hadn’t been so relaxed or laughed so much in months.

As far as I know, no one at this gathering gave a second thought to a family from Buddhist Burma celebrating Christmas — my father was nominally Church of England, while my mother and I were Roman Catholic — any more than this American family of cultural, if not observant, Jews, would take on a side gig as proprietors of a Christmas tree farm. I was relieved not to have to explain my appearance, my background, my existence, for once.

And it might have well have been that Thanksgiving Day, holding a new kitten in my lap, tramping through the woods with my new-found friends, making decorations from the pinecones and evergreens we collected, that I fell in love with America. I like to think that, despite the revolving door at the top, the State Department is still populated by people like our friends, willing to serve in sometimes dangerous conditions, at the whim of the top dogs, presenting a friendly face of America to the rest of the world. This Thanksgiving, I’m giving thanks for that.

I dedicate this poem to the memory of my first American Thanksgiving.

The last piece of pie
Has all the generosity of the first,
All that has gone into its making
By its maker. It wants for nothing,
No embellishments, no frill of whipped
Cream, no scroll of ice-cream can
Improve what is simply a piece
Of what was a whole, yet is wholly
Complete in itself. Taste it
And tell me that is not so.

 

Protect and Serve

At my desk this morning, my first act was to post to Facebook, a black and white photo of my spouse in the uniform of the US Navy, being saluted by his 3-year-old nephew. Though the world I most long for has eliminated the need for armed forces (cheers, Costa Rica!), I am proud of his service to our country, and grateful that he had the good fortune of serving between conflicts. I wish he’d kept those sharp uniforms, too!

Earlier, while still in my pajamas, I finished reading a book my friend, Laura, recommended a few weeks ago — one I heartily recommend to everyone: Michael Lewis’ The Fifth Risk. The book has been lumped together with other political bestsellers du jour, and it is certainly a sharp critique of the current administration. But its main message struck another chord: how well our government (in the capital G sense I wrote about previously) has functioned over time, regardless of the party in power. More importantly, the book lays out a portfolio of imminent risks, now that the true interests and intention of the incumbents have become clear, that is, close to zero in performing their sworn duty to protect and serve the United States and its citizens. Until recently, we have had the government to thank for focusing on activities like: “How to stop a virus, how to take a census, how to determine if some foreign country is seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon or if North Korean missiles can reach Kansas City.” No drama, no optics necessary or demanded.

service

(Photo: Mike Wilson, @mkwlsn)

Lewis, whose other bestsellers include The Big Short, The Blind Side and Moneyball (to mention three that were made into films) is a master storyteller, and if you have been following this blog, I can safely say you will be captivated, possibly even motivated to become more politically involved, by this latest book.  At the very least, perhaps you’ll come to understand as I did that “Roughly half the DOE’s annual $30 billion budget is spent on maintaining and guarding our nuclear arsenal.” We have as much to fear from accidents as from terrorism, it seems. And there’s the NOAA — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — yes, I had to look it up — $5 billion or 60% of the Department of Commerce’s budget and the largest data-gathering agency in the world. Without it, writes Lewis, “… no plane would fly, no bridge would be built, and no war would be fought — at least not well.” In other words, cabinet appointments filled with cronies and loyalists who lack the education, experience, understanding, or even interest in their missions as anything but an opportunity for self-enrichment, is a recipe for looming disaster on an epic scale.

If Veterans Day makes you think of our military heroes — and it should — we might also want to celebrate those unsung heroes toiling away in inner offices, who have done more to protect all Americans than the people we commonly think of as our leaders. I am talking about career civil servants (toward whom I admittedly have a bias) who are mission-  as opposed to money-driven. A few who stand out for me in this collection of extraordinary, dedicated and smart people: former Deputy Energy Secretary, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall who led the U.S. mission to remove chemical weapons from Syria; former NOAA chief, Kathy Sullivan, who grasped the human element in disaster preparedness; former head of Rural Development (USDA), Lillian Salerno, responsible for the $220 billion bank “that serviced the poorest of the poor in rural America.” Yes, those voters.

The Fifth Risk has been called ‘a love-letter to federal workers,” and why they deserve praise instead of the blame usually piled on when something goes awry. Why they deserve a raise and respect. And why we need to vote in people who understand what has always made this country exceptional. Read it at the risk of becoming better informed and more appreciative of what it really means to protect and serve.

Accidental Activist

It’s Election Day Eve, the most important election since I became a naturalized American citizen in 1972, years after I was eligible through marriage, the delay in protest of the Viet Nam War. The Tallahassee yoga studio shootings in the same week we mourned the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, weighs on me, especially as a yoga instructor who signs off each class with ‘Shanti, shanti, shanti, (peace) and a resident of a state where meaningful gun reform has been a non-starter. You do all you can: join an Indivisible group, host a house party for so-called Hot Democrats, canvass your neighborhood, join Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Women’s March, Hustle-remind voters of their duty. And I’ll never understand why so many do not exercise their franchise.

I’m in awe of the commitment and energy of my activist colleagues in these resistance groups. My genetic material is skewed toward civil service, and I inherited from at least two generations a faith in Government with a capital G, as if it were a kindly parent with the responsibility to protect and bring out the best in its citizens. America even more so, I’ve always believed. What other founding documents even mention ‘the pursuit of happiness?’ It’s worth fighting for.

Voting was something of a novelty in my native Burma (now Myanmar). When I became eligible at 18, I embraced it with the same alacrity I had absorbed my parents’ post WWII optimism about the prospects for our newly independent democracy. Two years later, I saw how quickly this could be overturned one dawn in 1962, when we were roused by the sound of explosions in the direction of the university. Within hours of the military takeover, politicians, dissident students, journalists, and supreme court justices, were rounded up like criminals and held without trial for what would be years. One of these was the editor-in-chief of a prominent newspaper, and my much-loved boss. Nothing like this could ever happen here, right? It’s unthinkable.

But then, so was the possibility that the birthright issue could affect my two children, given that their father was an American citizen. Most knowledgeable people (on both sides of the aisle) say this is a phony threat. But in light of the whiplash change we all live with these days, I (and my kids) would be unwise to ignore it.

And yet, we cannot give in to despair. People have been sharing We Are the World on Facebook, and the Jewish nurse who cared for the wounded Pittsburgh shooter wrote a deeply moving article on why and how she felt compelled to do that. On a book tour in the UK, Anne Lamott memorably said, “Earth is forgiveness school.” I share these items because I hope more people might read and even share them, especially the people in my life the least likely to. My ‘friend’ list holds many people I barely know, added in the flurry of my early ‘why not?’ days of social media, about four years that feel like forever. The numerically best response to a post of mine I’ve seen lately is an indication of how hungry we are to lighten up, have some fun, return to normal. We were having brunch with some friends this week, and my ever-playful spouse grabbed the doily on his plate, tore it in half, and inserted it under the collar of his shirt. A borrowed pair of our friend’s eyeglasses and voila! our joyful tribute to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, captured on smart phone and posted. A little explosion of hearts, likes, and comments followed.

Times like these, I think about my friend and Transition Movement colleague, Jean, who is busy creating a spiritual center on the acres of property in another state, on which she and her family launched their dream to live in harmony with nature — permaculture, bee-keeping, to name a couple of their practices. This new direction began with spontaneous community gatherings around bonfires, with music and food, and shared dreams of the future. The family, with a few partners, aims to evolve that into a more formal center and I gladly wrote a ‘seed’ money donation. Recently, in response to an email lament of mine about the state of the country and world, Jean had this to offer: “… perhaps the most revolutionary act is to have FUN.”

This puts me in mind of Wendell Berry’s quote (Manifesto): “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.” I like it so much, I’m using it to inspire the new version of this blog, Transition Tales. Same URL for now, but with content more reflective of where I am now (in Tree pose, on the edge.) The earlier posts and the tags remain for now. It is time for a change. Tomorrow, may it be so!

Staycation: Hidden Gems in Your Own Backyard

Stay·ca·tion, stāˈkāSHn, noun, a vacation spent in one’s home country rather than abroad, or one spent at home and involving day trips to local attractions.

Ours may be the age of travel bucket lists — we’re 76 and 82 — and if that’s your thing, great! We decided to staycate and be footloose in West Palm Beach, about 12 miles south of where we live, and trade our local Walkscore of a meh 21 for something significantly higher. What follows is our version of the 36 Perfect Hours in … format.

Our intention was to experience what gets missed when you’re rushing by in a vehicle: how the locals live; what the world looks like from one of their windows; where they walk their dogs; whether they stop to converse (yes); shop for food; how they enjoy the common space: streets, gardens, parks, galleries. Thumbs up for traffic-calming islands and a slower pace.

Thanks to Airbnb, we found what we were looking for in the Flamingo Park (Walkscore 77) area of West Palm Beach. It came as no surprise that this neighborhood of Mission and Spanish Revival homes built between 1921 and 1928, many of them lovingly restored, has earned a Historic Residential District designation.

So far, we have had mostly excellent experiences with Airbnb, including a long stay in Providence, RI, to which we’ll return this summer. But we’d put Coconut Cottage in Flamingo Park, a semi-detached studio space that once served as our host’s Pilates studio, at the top of the list: pristine, tasteful, with an eye for maximum comfort and convenience, and of course, location. The Armory Arts Center, where one of us once regularly attended life-drawing sessions, was less than a half-mile away. The Norton Museum, soon to close for the final phase of its expansion, was also a leisurely 10-minute stroll away.

As an aside, we are huge fans of Airbnb for some less obvious reasons. We like being part of the sharing economy. We like meeting new people and having an insider’s view of their community. Philosophically, we’re on the same page with Airbnb founders, who recently wrote in an email: We believe that travel is a transformative and powerful experience and that building bridges between cultures and communities creates a more innovative, collaborative and inspired world. Amen!

Day 1: We began our first evening with a short walkabout that turned more into a pause, take picture, stroll, repeat. At a home on Lake Avenue, we stopped to browse the titles at a Little Free Library (70,000 libraries in 85 countries), picking up Mozart’s Starling by Lyanda Lynn Haupt. In its place, I plan to donate Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, found in Pawtucket Village’s Little Free Library last summer. See how that works?

Howie at LibraryNext, Art After Dark, the Norton’s signature program, and currently free along with access to the collection, while the Museum undergoes extensive renovation. The courtyard was offering the mellow sounds of keyboardist, Bashaum Stewart, with vocalist, Brittany Lustig, in a program of pop and soul classics, and an outstanding rum-based cocktail for $5. Art classes and lectures were going on simultaneously. A WPB treasure, the Norton will close July 16, and reopen in 2019.

Friends had recommended the Ethiopian Queen of Sheba, 716 N. Sapodilla, and it didn’t disappoint. Doro Wot (National Dish), a spicy chicken concoction and a vegetable sampler with injera, the delicious spongy bread made from teff flour, was perfect shared by two, along with St. George’s Amber, an Ethiopian brew. Utensils optional. Friendly service, recorded world music, and native artifacts made this a very attractive destination. We’ll be back!

Day 2: Local friends joined us for a neighborhood stroll and breakfast at City Diner, 3400 S. Dixie, near Antique Row, one of the friendliest places around, even welcoming of our friend’s service pup. As former residents of New Jersey (Exit 154), we have pretty high standards for diners, especially their breakfasts. City Diner’s breakfast special: two eggs how you like them, with home fries and rye toast at $5.99 is pretty hard to beat. Décor: 50’s memorabilia. At meals other than breakfast, the scuttlebutt is: order the special, Honey. Walkable from our Airbnb, but in cooler weather.Flamingo house

Closer to noon, we walked off breakfast in the direction of The Armory Arts Center to check out a student exhibit (artist faculty: Deborah Adornato and Sam Perry). We’ve attended Salons here and many exhibits over the years. The faculty exhibits are always worthwhile. Another local treasure.

After a short break at ‘home’ and a cup of tea, we drove down Dixie Highway/US 1 to Lake Worth, to the Stonezek, a tiny indie film house (and Black Box theater) that is a favorite of ours. With just enough time before the 4:15 showing of On the Seventh Day  – don’t miss — (Spanish/English with titles) https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/on_the_seventh_day/, we stumbled upon Victoria’s Pisco Lounge, 806 Lake Avenue (just a few months old, though they have a sister restaurant in Lantana), where a World Cup game was in progress on several screens. The atmosphere said Spain or a Latin country. We shared a Peruvian beer and ceviche (perfect, served in a martini glass), plus the Causita Trio (mashed potatoes with aji Amarillo and lime) topped with tuna, chicken and crab meat salads. As good as Ceviche Arigato on Northlake Blvd., Lake Park. Victoria’s Happy Hour menu is 4-7 pm, and they are open until 2 am, (R U?)

Back to West Palm Beach to the Clematis Street area – somewhat less lively than usual for a Friday evening due to a torn up street in a key block. Our destination was Subculture Coffee, 509 Clematis, for a cappuccino and pastry. This is worth a stop for the ambience alone, but dang! that cappuccino was out of the ordinary. EinsteinSubculture has a great little courtyard that I once considered for a spoken word performance, but this evening it was filled with young people attending some kind of costume event. You can get tacos and some Indian appetizers from the sidewalk café, too. Next door, Longboard’s has given over to Kapow! Asian Fusion, at 519 Clematis. Next time.

Day 3, before check out. Flamingo Park for early breakfast was calling us, this time toward the Armory, where a search had revealed the Grandview Public Market, just over Parker Avenue and the railroad crossing. Here we found great coffee and a bagel at Rabbit, just one of a collection of eclectic eateries. Palm Beach County’s first food hall, we hope for their success. See Palm Beach Post’s Liz Balmaseda.

Next time, in cooler weather: Society of the Four Arts, long hike/bike on Flagler along the Intracoastal, and Antique Row. Staycaters, unite!

Thanks and Thai Food

There’s a little poster pasted to our kitchen wall: Kindness Begets Kindness. It was a gift from its maker who was a speaker at a Secular Humanist breakfast. I don’t remember her name or the subject of her talk that morning, only her kind eyes and smile whenever I look at the poster.

Generosity also begets generosity. In the world I want to live in and pass on to my heirs, these are fundamental principles. Stephen Cope, one of my favorite yoga teachers, offered this exercise as an antidote to despair. Lie on your back and relax your body. Let yourself remember the benefactors in your life. Picture their faces, hear their voices, try to recall in some detail the circumstances in which they helped you, something they said or did or made possible, that caused you to feel — and be — better in some way. It’s a powerfully grounding practice.

I have known the artist, Beju Lejobart, and his wife, Sherryl Muriente, for 5 or 6 years. We met after a reader of this blog passed the link along to her, and she reached out. She, teaching urban design at Florida Atlantic University at the time, was interested in the Transition Movement, recognizing a certain kinship between its core ideas and her work with, and passion for, urban acupuncture. In case it is unfamiliar, urban acupuncture is “… using small-scale interventions to transform the larger urban context…Just as the practice of acupuncture is aimed at relieving stress in the human body, the goal of urban acupuncture is to relieve stress in the built environment.” Source Wikipedia

Sherryl and Beju began attending monthly Transition meetings at the Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth, a city we didn’t call home, but with the help of resident, the late Dean Sherwin, recognized as having many of the small town attributes upon which a self-sufficient, localized, energy-conserving economy could be constructed.

Dean and his spouse, Susan, had been members of Transition Media (Pennsylvania) before moving to Lake Worth, and as members of the Meeting House, were providing our group with both the space in which to meet (for voluntary donations) and their ideas and first-hand experience. Dean was an expert in energy efficiency. Our monthly potlucks drew people interested in permaculture, solar energy, the arts in service of climate activism, simplicity, home-schooling, and home-steading, bee-keeping, to name a few. My interest was pop-up community gardens, in unused urban or suburban plots – a kind of mini urban acupuncture, if you will.

Sherryl’s project, C’est La Via, click here, was a good fit with Transition principles, and many of us were happy to volunteer in a happy, cross-pollination. Many movements for social change start out with extreme generosity of this kind.

A year or so later, in 2015, I am a founding member of Women Aloud, a troupe of women who came together to perform The Vagina Monologues and decided we wanted to keep doing this stuff: have fun and raise funds for women’s causes. Beju volunteered to video tape our second production, a collection of monologues we called, You Can’t Say That! Though we had not worked together for awhile though still “rowing in the same direction” (as Sherryl put it), he was back in my world, donating his services as videographer for yet another show, this one in partnership with Emergency Medical Assistance, an abortion funder, called Hear Us: Our Stories of Abortion.

Although social media had kept us somewhat in touch, we decided it had been too long since we sat down to a meal and shared what mattered to us. That was how we two couples crammed ourselves into a booth at Malakor in the Northwood section of West Palm Beach, talking and laughing over steamed dumplings and nam sod, a delectable spicy, cold salad. In the meantime, Beju’s art has taken off, see www.Dudali.com (Dudali® is a registered Trademark.) Sherryl has become Manager of Urban Placemaking, WPB Downtown Development Authority. None of us had lost our enthusiasm for the arts, community-building, and whistling while we work. Before our 2-hour lunch was over, we had discovered a number of possible future collaborations. Dare I say, stay tuned.

Let me sign off this post after a longish hiatus from blogging, on this note. It has become a lot more difficult of late to be hopeful about our future as a thriving species on a healthy planet. Yet I choose to live as if kindness and generosity beget more of the same. The alternative is not worth considering.

No Gift-Wrap Required

December 4, 2017

Beloved Family,

For many people less fortunate than we, this has been a particularly perilous year. We are thankful every day that we wake up in a comfortable home, in a safe, clean, functioning municipality, with access to clean water, cheap energy, and decent healthcare, not to mention our well-stocked larder and closets, art-filled walls, and crammed bookcases. We are grateful to not be among a population, here and around the world, targeted for oppression, or whose very survival is threatened.

One thing you can say about us Americans is that we are perhaps the most giving, charitable people on Earth. Of course, some non-governmental organizations exist because our own social safety net does not match our great wealth. Nonetheless, I believe it’s safe to say that the state of philanthropy here is one measure of national greatness about which we can all be proud. As JFK said in his Ask Not speech: For of those to whom much is given, much is required.

So much for the preamble; now to the point. We invite you this year and every year going forward, to make your gift to us a contribution, in our name if you wish, to one of the charities listed below.

Here is a selected list of 501C3 organizations, all of them vetted with Guidestar: https://www.guidestar.org/search.

The tax deduction, of course, is yours. And, no gift-wrap required!

International Rescue Committee https://gifts.rescue.org/

Doctors Without Borders http://www.msf.org/en/donate

Partners in Health https://www.pih.org/

Take Stock in Children http://www.takestockinchildren.org/

The Nature Conservancy https://www.nature.org/?redirect=https-301

Thank you, thank you, thank you! Joyous Christmas, Happy Hanukkah.

Love,
Us

It’s Too Late, Baby

Carole King’s Tapestry, the concert based on her album and performed last year in Hyde Park, London, has been turned into a film and opened in theaters across the U.S. yesterday for a one night stand. We bought our tickets in advance online, imagining the show would sell out. It didn’t. In fact, attendance at the Providence Mall Cinema was sparse. As her fans know, King’s album transformed her overnight from a songwriter best known for writing hits for others to a star in her own right. If you missed the show last night, keep your eyes open.

As she launched into her opening number, I Feel the Earth Move, well, I did. Feel the move, that is. It has been that kind of week — New York Magazine’s The Uninhabitable Earth, the Guardian coverage of the sixth extinction, and then this morning, the news of the collapse of the Larsen C shelf, an ‘iceberg the size of Delaware,’ forming a new island. A small piece of the earth. Moving, we don’t know where or what else could change as a result.

For me, these events tend to crowd out the news about the G20 meeting, mounting cries of Impeach!, and anxiety over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions given the current state of our own governance. I know my own diplomat father who spent several months a year as a delegate to the Geneva disarmament talks in the late 50’s, would be turning over in his grave, if he had one. I put my trust in the quiet, behind the scenes, work of special counsel, Robert Mueller, to help bring a shameful chapter of our history to a conclusion.

That said, I found myself weeping when Carole King launched into It’s Too Late and the cameras panned over the faces of the immense crowd (estimated 65,000) of Londoners, many of them young, many of them singing along.  For the same reason, I feel rocked by the sounds of little children in the playground right next to the AirBnB where I am currently living, and when I think about our teenage grandchildren — all children — whose lifespan may expose them to decades of life-threatening hypothermia, water and food insecurity, disease we had thought vanquished, and the breakdown of civil life.  Maybe, as my friend (father, poet and blogger, The Green Skeptic), Scott Edward Anderson says (and not for the first time), “We’re toast!”

I was in the process of pounding out a post more in keeping with Transition Tales (Tip, Tools and Ideas for a More Resilient Future), about how decentralized solar power is bring electricity and positive change to parts of Africa, when Scott’s social media comment attached to the said link popped into the screen.  Usually I ignore these, but I stopped writing and read the New York Magazine piece — “too scary,” “climate disaster porn, ” could spur cities into action or make people feel hopeless” — and that was that for the upbeat post I was working on. Even before the Guardian’s piece or today’s news from Antartica.

So, I put it to you readers: Do you agree it’s game over?  Are we toast?  Is it too late, baby? And if so (given that climate crisis denial is not an option here), what are you doing to keep your spirits up, to press on with your climate and political activism, to keep on keeping on. Seriously, I want to know because it has been that kind of week.  Whatever you care to share, my comment section awaits. I’ll be there, yes, I will.

Reskilling: Why it Matters

If you’re unfamiliar with the term reskilling, perhaps it has a Small-is-Beautiful, DIY, hippie commune, neo-Luddite, back-to-the-land vibe. What you may not know is that reskilling is bedrock for the Transition Movement founded by Rob Hopkins which holds that: “… in a carbon constrained and localized world, communities will have to provide for many of their basic needs which means possessing the skills to do so.”

Of course, basic needs are open to wide interpretation. For some of us, it means fast, reliable Wi-Fi. Some of my most adored people would put shampoo, conditioner and a hot comb on their list of essentials, right up there with waterproof eyeliner (mine!). I kid, but seriously, we are so used to enjoying potable water, hot showers and plug in everything, we don’t think twice about what it takes to produce them, or what happens if they for any reason become unavailable.

I think of reskilling as a way of reclaiming the know-how that previous generations – parents, grandparents, trusted elders — passed down to us, along with values like thrift, making-do, cooperation. If even some of us embrace down-shifting, cutting back on our demands for generated power, it just might give the earth a chance to recover from decades of over-extraction.

A lot of people have been energized by recent events and in my area, weekly demonstrations along the motorcade route to/from the so-called ‘winter White House’ were a thing, along with Town Hall Meetings, and steady pressure on one’s Members of Congress when s/he doesn’t speak for you. All good, all the time. But I believe quieter forms of resistance to consumerism and the damage it is doing, belong in the mix. Reskilling IS Resistance.

So, could you make fire if you had to? Milk a cow? Forage for wild food? Sharpen tools without electricity? How about capture wild yeast to make bread? Mend or repair clothing? Could you distinguish between edible or poisonous mushrooms, or navigate using a simple compass? If these sound like Boy Scout badges, bingo! The point is, there are as many ways to reskill as there are people willing to teach what they know. But don’t take my word for it.

Check out the Firefly Gathering (thank you, Dylan Ryal-Hamilton), in Asheville, NC which begins June 29 and goes for four days. Everything from Archery and Blacksmithing Basics to Zen and the Art of Wood Splitting, over 100 classes and still growing at this writing, are being offered. No one is saying this specifically in the FAQ’s but it seems obvious to me that people go there eager to teach, AND learn. I am excited about experiencing  this event first hand…maybe next year.

More reading on this topic here:

What Is Reskilling Anyway?

Green Hand Initiative. Blogger Clifford Dean Scholz has a stunning article on Navigation.

http://www.skills-for-life.org/

http://greenhandsreskilling.weebly.com/