Monday, October 31, 2011

What the world needs now is empathy.

Ever think about wearing another’s shoes, boots, high heels or moccasins?  I think about it more every day as our country destroys more of what is ours; ours as a people throughout the world.

Disturbing pictures of the before and after of Libya and annunciating articles about what the people there will never have again,

I'm sickened when I put myself in a place of such destruction, destruction of and by mankind.  If we’re fighting evil throughout the world, shouldn’t we be fighting every human being who continues to destroy the place "we" call home?  My dictionary defines evil as morally wrong or bad, don’t we have enough of it right here in “our” own backyard?  Is it right that we defend what is "ours" while taking what is "theirs"?

Recently I picked up a book, Humanity On A Tightrope by Paul R. Ehrlich and Robert E. Ornstein, a book about thoughts on empathy.  I have a better understanding now after reading it of what we’re lacking in order to survive as a species and I question whether we can be empathetic enough to survive as one.  Not one under God but one on the planet.

These writers discuss “us” and “them” and what I feel is the duality of our species.  Even in our own little corner of the world when we try talk to others about peak oil, climate change and collapse we hear,  “You’re one of “them”, I can tell.”  As more of us speak openly, sharing information that is factual, we’re told, “don’t’ go there, that’s your belief not mine", or “you’re too judgmental”.  Facts are based on what is real and not on someone’s opinion and judgments are based on opinion.  I guess you could say, "I don't like that fact" and be judging it. But the fact remains, it's still a fact.  Some may argue that it depends on where the fact comes from and whose fact it is so they can justify the lies being told.  The color gray isn't bad as long as you can recognize the black and white on either side of it. 

Cold hearted orb that rules the night,
removes the colours from our sight,
Red is gray and yellow white,
But we decide which is right, 
And which is an illusion?---The Moody Blues

The black and white is the landscape of the history we leave behind.  Why not discuss it?  In order to be empathetic, don’t we need to know the history behind why we do what we do?  Isn’t it our responsibility to understand the difference between fact and fiction?  History like the human race comes in all colors but some things are very black and white no matter what other beautiful colors there are.

Many of us found George Carlin to be funny on stage but those who followed him throughout his career could see the anger and disappointment in his eyes as time went on.  His last HBO performance, Life is Worth Losing, told “us” to pay attention to the different hats people wore, as it may be important someday.

I don’t know what it is that makes people in this country happy when we kill a ruler in another.  Do we really think we’re helping the people there, when we’ve demolished their land to rubble and nothing else?  Let us remember Libya and in a few years look back at how we’ve helped them.  Let us put ourselves in their shoes and ask if we’re all better for it?  I can’t begin to imagine what living in a war zone looks like, as we’ve never had to experience it.  What about innocent children that happen to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time?  Do we ever consider that they could just as well be our children and not just theirs?  Casualties of war is no legacy to leave to any children.

My mom always told us children never to be hateful, so what does it say about mom’s today?  Are we breeding hatefulness?  What hope do we have for children of the world if all they are subjected to is hate?  What religious philosophy goes against do unto others as you would like done unto you?

Empathy may not be the only determining factor of our survival but it certainly will be one of them.  How we feel about others is definitely a reflection in the mirror of who we are.

Can’t say I have hope that we’ll discover the empathy needed to save humanity but I can say that what we’ve done in “our” name has made the tightrope longer and thinner.  Someone once said, “what goes around, comes around” and without empathy it will be here sooner than “we” think. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Picketing Wall Street

       At the end of my last post I briefly mentioned walking away from a $60,000 a year job to pursue a life more balanced with nature and outside of the corporate system we see collapsing before us. 
       My career in the telecommunications started as a telephone operator, assisting customers with phone numbers (Directory Assistance).  I started my career in 1978, which was then the only utility company under American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T) and was favorably called the Bell System.  The good ole days when work ethic meant something and obedient servants did what was expected in lieu of a decent paycheck ($156 dollars a week if I remember right). 
       As a Directory Assistance Operator, these were the days when one had to ask to be excused to use the restroom in between breaks that were of course allowed (we’re talking the late 70’s, it wasn’t that bad), the days when perfect attendance was expected and not rewarded.  I was blessed to have a good union job that would allow me the right to retire after 30 years with a good pension.  Ah, welcome to the Age of Entitlement, and thirty years to the day I retired but not with a pension as I wondered if it would be around as long as I would.  I opted another way out, one that I could use my money when I wanted to…well not without the penalties and the taxes.
       Being raised a “union girl” and remembering the UAW strikes that my Dad went through, I soon became involved with the union and worked for a short time as a steward in the lowest paid position as operator.  Among the many things I walked the line for during the strike of 1988, were the company demands of a “team award” in place of our COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) that allowed those already making more money to make even more while us operators who were the so called “ambassadors” of the company lost equal ground for sustaining ourselves. 
       I remember asking our president why we would give up our COLA when a loaf of bread costs the same for all of us?  His wage increase was already at least 4-5 times as much as what us operators were about to get, (if my memory is correct our raise was 3-5 cents an hour).  And to this day I’ll never forget his response, “we’re more valuable to the company”.  Perhaps there was truth in this, but as I climbed the ladder of success, I saw for myself the real value in all employees.
       I remember writing a letter to the bargaining agents (some women) and having members sign it (which was mostly everyone in the department).  Our voice as the ambassadors of the company needed to be heard.
       Well a long time ago that was, and the outcome was not to our liking as the COLA was eliminated and we proud members of the union accepted the grains left over from the bread.  We’ve come a long way in this circus of “bread and crumbs” (love Dmitry Orlov).
       Or have we?  Now that the rain is falling though bursts of sunshine light up the sky, I’ve had the opportunity to sit at my wheel and spin, something that is near and dear to me.  Most times I’m in the moment feeling the fleece pass through my fingers and watching the twist gently pull towards a bobbin that fills quickly waiting to be plied into a yarn that eventually gets worked into a sweater.  Work it is, but not without reward.  I even get to pee without asking.          
       Today I was spinning and couldn’t clear my mind about “the movement” occupying Wall Street.  I couldn’t help to hear on my National Propaganda Radio station that the CWA (no it’s not the Cattlemen’s Workers of America) was behind the youthful group of protesters who have degrees with no jobs.

     I won’t bore you with my 30-year history but I will say this, I worked my ass off (mentally more than anything else) learning all that I needed to learn to end my career with the highest paid craft position.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not intelligent, but I will admit to having some common sense and being raised by “union folk” meant something to me and I paid attention to detail.
       Though still proudly a retiree and member of the union, I question who these corporate elites are working for.  All of them, are they sleeping in the same bed?  Have the lines become closer or even crossed? 
       The days of walking the picket line in a “right to work state”, (AZ) as well as here in Oregon, are now over for me though I would do the same today if I was working, but only because it’s the lesser of the two evils not because I believe.  Much like that of the Democrats and the Republicans, I wonder if the sheets even get changed between meetings, or if they’re fondly in each other’s dreams?
       As I sit waiting to the day when I am responsible enough to touch my own money without penalty, I have to wonder who is using it now?  How much are “they” allowed to loan out and make on “my money” because the powers to be claim me irresponsible to do it on my own?  How is it for a couple who have lived more like the Cleavers (although with reverse positions) where one of us was home to raise our children with the same work ethic, where we lived mostly on one income and were still giving eggs to the mission and money to charity, who now own their home and property, are not considered to be responsible enough to manage their own retirement, and who says? 
       If I were to join a movement I would be asking some tough questions.  I wouldn’t be counting on my occupying the streets thinking “they” will become accountable.
       As the working class (still) we not only have to walk the line but also walk the talk.  I don’t believe change can happen in the streets until we feel the desire to change in our hearts the way we live everyday.  

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Plant What You Want to Grow, Reap What You Sow

     Don’t know where September went but here we are in October and the rain is falling as I type.  We typically look forward to the first rain though we don’t care for the shorter growing season.  So fickle us humans are!
       Talk of rain is what prompted a fire drill to harvest everything that was close to being ripe as we’re all too familiar with mold.  Earlier this summer we pulled up many of the drying beans as the spring rains lingered on and mold was prevalent. 
       Today we’re halfway through cracking open the pods to expose the beautiful colors of Swedish Brown, Aztec Runners, European Soldiers and Tongue of Fire.  There is no discrimination here, especially when it comes to good food.  Our culturally diverse garden is planted with heirloom varieties from around the world.
       As we sit shelling beans in the afternoon we sometimes forget what we did in the a.m.  Not much time to think about doing we see what needs to be done and do it.  Until now we haven’t given much thought to the work that’s been accomplished and the bounty we’ve harvested so far.
       In the spring our seeds our planted and throughout the year they are subjected to watering, thinning and sometimes singing.  We carefully pull weeds that inhibit their growth and sometimes plant companions nearby them to help attract pests that feed on the developing shoots.  We depend on them to provide us with what we need to sustain ourselves.        
       Even though we’ve entertained guests from many walks of life, we’ve discovered that so few reap any kind of harvest.  Whether its professors and students from the nearby university (many of whom teach), health care professionals who heal, spiritual beings looking for peace and quiet or peak oil activists and writers preaching resource depletion, very few are harvesting a bounty to which they can sustain themselves.
       Most of whom I speak of are aware of collapse but have yet found a way to commit to securing their food source whether it’s doing the work themselves or hiring others to do it for them.
       Not only have we asked teachers if they follow the work of their students after classes but we’ve also asked students what changes they’ve made to their lives with what they learned?  After 4+ years of learning and a couple of R&R years, some say they’re in the planning stages of planting a garden and some are proud to announce they traded their SUV for a Prius.  Though good starts, we still don’t know how much work they’re capable of doing and if they really want to work for food?
       As mentioned in previous posts, many will find it hard to survive if their lives depend on doing the work necessary to plant, grow, harvest and process their food.  One can obtain a certificate or degree towards the many aspects of sustainability and many have, but what if any follow up is done to see how students are using this knowledge.  Do the teachers care what kind of success rate they have?
       Similarities abound between teachers and farmers who search for fertile ground to plant their seeds.  Both must be available to nurture change and encourage growth.  Some teachers put their students in the best position to help them succeed, as a farmer will plant seeds using the most favorable conditions to encourage the best yields.  Unlike a farmer though who has to maintain those conditions in order to see the fruits of their labor a teacher need only plant the seed.  Fertile ground requires care even when it’s not producing; one still needs to cover crop water and weed. 
       As producers of food we track our success rate every year by charting our bounty, here is a sample of what we’ve done in the past two weeks:

Started 5 gallons of Sauerkraut
Canned 28 quarts of Tomato Sauce
Canned 8 quarts of Apple Juice (apples were given to us from people who didn’t want to process them.)
Canned 8 pints of Ketchup
Started and canned 8 quarts of pickles
Cut and dried 35 quarts of tomatoes
Canned 10 quarts of tomato leather (made with a variety of other things, such as basil, kale, celery, onions and garlic.)
Cut and dried 4 quarts of Kale chips
Diced and dried 25lbs of peppers
12 lbs of frozen peppers (cut and removed seeds, mostly Anaheim)
8 gallons of blackberries
2 quarts of herb vinegar
Picked and shelled 12 lbs of drying beans
Picked, dried and froze 10 gallons of hops
Drying corn pulled up and hung to dry (approx. 225 ears)
Onions, pulled and cleaned
Cleaned up 8 garden beds and seeded with clover, fava and vetch
Also planted Fall garden including Lettuce, Spinach, Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Kale, Onions, Parsley, Chard and Bok Choy
Dried and made oils with Comfrey, Arnica and Lavender, picked and dried mint, skullcap, lemon verbena and calendula as well as collected seeds from Celery, Peppers, Tomatoes, Dill, Calendula, Nasturtiums, Chives and Hollyhocks.

       During this time frame we also had 2 Open Houses that we did together.  Though not many came, we still needed to make ourselves available as well as have our home and property looking respectable to sell.
       Maybe at this point you’re asking why we would walk away from a secure food source and for us the answer comes somewhat easy, it’s a whole lot of work for two people.  We built our garden for 4 or more people thinking it would be easy to attract others who see the rain coming.  Now for sale, our homestead welcomes those who are willing to maintain the work that’s already been done.  If we don’t sell, the worse that can happen is watching some of it go back to nature as it was.
       It’s great to hear the thanks for the work we do and it’s always wonderful to see enthusiasm from those who visit.  But, our success depends on others who understand the work that needs to be done, those who aren’t afraid to walk away as is so profoundly stated in “Walking Away from Empire”, a new book by Guy McPherson found here:
       Sometimes I find myself wondering why I didn’t continue working my $60,000 a year job with 5 weeks of vacation.  Afterall with the homestead paid for we could of lived a life of luxury compared to how we got here.  Though I occasionally think about it, I don’t spend much time entertaining such thoughts as I feel it was the right choice to make even if the outcome is not what we hoped for.  We just continue to plant what we want to grow and enjoy the harvest that it provides.