Unraveling

Waking in the night again and trying to make meaning of everything. Dangerous. I think I must be more of a writer than a gardener. Needing so much to make meaning of it all. But I’ve had a hard time writing lately. I can’t seem to find any words for what has been happening in our world. But I am sitting here in the sleepless dawntime trying to see what might come out if I put my fingers on the keyboard anyway.

I have been a protester most of my life: peace activist, justice activist, feminist activist, anti-racist activist. Perhaps ironically, given the current state of Christianity in our country, it was the teachings of Jesus that first opened my eyes to the problems in how we were living in the United States. I began to see the cracks in the American “building,” who was left out, who was pressed down, who was held under. And on the other side, I was imagining how we might live if we followed our deep values, if we cared for each other, if we cherished all of us. Sometimes I even got the chance to put that imagination into practice.

As an activist, I certainly had moments when I wished for revolution, wished for the whole unjust system to come crashing down. Of course I did, awake to all that was broken in our country. But that awareness meant I also didn’t pay as much attention to the parts that did work for the good of the whole. And now, it seems those are the parts that might come crashing down, might be unraveled. Who could have guessed the Postal Service would come under attack? I never imagined that we might need to defend the Postal Service. Especially now when we rely on it more than ever because of COVID 19.

We know that Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid are also under attack. I feel vulnerable to that personally, because I now rely on Social Security and Medicare to survive in my older age, since I am no longer able to work.  I think Social Security is about 65% of my income, because I am lucky enough to also have a small retirement annuity. But according to SSA statistics, among elder Social Security beneficiaries, 21% of married couples and about 45% of unmarried persons rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their income.  These are not perfect systems by any means. But they at least acknowledge the common reality that we all might grow old, we all face vulnerability to illness, we all need each other.

The thing is, right before our eyes, those in power are bankrupting the best parts of our country for their own personal gain. They are undoing the very idea of government’s purpose to uphold the common good.  Will there be anything left when they are done?

I am reminded of how, in the Work That Reconnects, Joanna Macy talks about the Great Unraveling, “the on-going derangement and collapse of biological, ecological, economic, and social systems,” caused by business as usual in an industrial growth society. It seems like 2020 has become the year of the great unraveling, what with the pandemic exacerbating everything. (And novel viruses are related to ecological habitat destruction as well–but that is another story.) However, this is not really a new phenomenon.

The Great Unraveling may be more apparent today, because of the accelerating rate of change and technological advances in communication, but the living systems of Earth have been unraveling for generations. Under colonial expansion and rule, indigenous, brown, black, and impoverished communities have carried the weight of the unraveling for centuries.

So I don’t know how to make meaning of all of it, how to respond to all of it. I feel the unraveling all around me. Perhaps I have been privileged enough to escape the worst of it before now, and in fact am still privileged enough to have a home, food, even air conditioning in this heat wave we’ve been having in Maine. But I still feel the unraveling all around me.

I usually like to include a photo in my posts, and this is the best I could do this morning: Back in June, the walkway to our front door started to collapse. When I took it apart, and lifted the pavers that had sunk down, there was a huge empty space beneath them. The foundation of the path had disappeared.

Broken walkway This is how it feels in our country right now too. The path crumbling beneath our feet. The foundations of common wellbeing disappearing. Well actually, it feels much worse, but I’m stretching for a metaphor here. And besides, this hole made it difficult for the mail carrier to reach our mailbox, so that’s a link.

Eventually, the walkway was fixable. I finally purchased some paver sand “base” and next layer sand (with curbside pickup), and then this past weekend, I dug out the loose sand, refilled the foundation under the hole, leveled it off with sand, and put the pavers back into place. It was hard work, but doable. Can anyone repair the breach in our country’s foundations?

Unimaginable

Margy and I finally had a chance to see the movie version of the Lin-Manuel Miranda musical Hamilton.  We loved it. I have seen many reviews and commentary on the musical, and I love its capacity to get us thinking and talking about so many issues–I love its lyrical, historical, and political density.  Some commentary is highly critical of the musical, but I love what African-American historian Annette Gordon-Reed has said about how we can love art, and also enter a critical engagement with it.

(First indulge me in one ironic moment about how certain Broadway musicals have so much to say to audiences that can’t afford to go to Broadway. It reminded me of seeing Les Miserables many years ago in a theatre in Boston–my lover’s middle-class parents had given us tickets–and how weird it was to see this revolutionary drama about poor people, side by side with folks who were wearing their furs and jewelry. So Broadway, and most mainstream theater, has never been very accessible to my class location. But I am glad that this one was finally made into a movie.)

Some critics have chided Miranda for making the “founding fathers” more heroic than they were in actuality, and keeping the historical narrative focused on the white elites, despite his casting people of color as these historic figures.  I found myself having a different response. I was thinking about the musical as it speaks to our time, to the situation of black and brown people in 21st century America. The way I experienced it, in the casting of people of color, the revolutionary heroism which has often been attributed to the “founding fathers” is being visually and transgressively applied to black and brown activists of today, illuminating their struggle and their heroism.

I see it in the lyrics (and music) from the song, My Shot:

Hey yo, I’m just like my country
I’m young, scrappy and hungry
And I’m not throwing away my shot…

Come on, let’s go
Rise up
When you’re living on your knees, you rise up

And then the parallels to our own times cut me to my core in one particularly poignant song–It’s Quiet Uptown. We see the Hamiltons grieving the death of their first born son Phillip (who was shot in a duel). And because the characters are people of color, I can’t help but envision the pain of the parents of so many black and brown children killed by police brutality today.

There are moments that the words don’t reach
There is suffering too terrible to name
You hold your child as tight as you can
And push away the unimaginable
The moments when you’re in so deep
It feels easier to just swim down

The Hamiltons move uptown
And learn to live with the unimaginable

The pain is unimaginable, but Hamilton helps us to imagine it. And isn’t that the amazing power of art–to open our hearts and souls to the pain and joy of our different but shared existences?

Of course the musical isn’t everything to everyone–but as an activist who cares about social change, I found it emotionally inspiring and intellectually engaging. Oh, one last thought–if you are like us, and don’t already know all the lyrics to all the songs, it helps to turn on subtitles so you don’t miss a word.

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Phillipa Soo as Alexander and Eliza Hamilton. (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Disney+)

 

Resilience in Portland

Cherry Tree and companion July

[Photo of our cherry tree with its companion plants.]

I really believe that permaculture offers a way to live in this time of ecological crisis. In Portland, we have a wonderful resource for learning permaculture skills, and offering mutual aid as we learn. The Resilience Hub helps people to regenerate the land, grow healthy food, and build community.  In that way, it also cultivates hope. In June of 2017, the Resilience Hub was the sponsor of our Permablitz when over 20 people came to help us establish our garden.

Over the last ten years, the Resilience Hub has become a thriving community organization. This past summer, its founder, Lisa Fernandes, moved on into new, but related work. Lisa’s departure prompted a series of community conversations about the future of the Hub: its assets and challenges, its goals and visions. Margy and I attended many of those meetings, and I was so committed to continue this important work that I volunteered to be on the new Board of Directors. We now have new part-time staff, Kate Wallace as Executive and Programming Director and Benjamin Roehrl as Operations Director. See more about our plans going forward at the website.

BUT–the Hub is at a critical point and needs all of us who care about permaculture in Maine to show up with financial help and renewed involvement. To that end, we created a Go Fund Me campaign, and we are trying to reach our goal in the next few days.  I’ve shared it via Facebook, but thought I would add my blog “audience” to this appeal as well.  Please check out our page, and donate what you can!  And if you are local to southern Maine, sign up to be on our active members list!

We are celebrating with a potluck and party this Thursday, January 17, from 6-9 p.m. at the Hub at 224 Anderson Street in Portland. See more about the party at https://www.meetup.com/maine-permaculture/events/257165312/

One of my favorite definitions of permaculture is “revolution disguised as gardening.”  Charles Eisenstein says, (in his recent book, Climate: A New Story,) in this time of ecological degradation, perhaps the most important work we can do is to care for and regenerate the places we live in, the places we love. (More on that later!) That’s what the Resilience Hub is all about. Thank you for helping us to keep it thriving!