Posted by: terrapraeta | March 2, 2010

From the Archives: Tribal Life

And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right?…Am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself
MY GOD!…WHAT HAVE I DONE?

Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by/water flowing underground
Into the blue again/in the silent water
Under the rocks and stones/there is water underground.

Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime

(Yesterday, of course, being some years ago, now………..)

I had an awesome experience yesterday. Like stepping into another kind of life all together.

But lets start with some background. I have a good friend that is rather conservative… not in all ways, but certainly politically conservative. He and I have had long drawn out discussions about the church(he’s Catholic), about socio-political theory (with me espousing Libertarianism and/or Tribalism), and real time ‘troubles in the world.’ We rarely agree about much of anything.

Yet, back in June, he accompanied my husband and I to Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee. As we were leaving, he announced that his ‘favorite part’ was waiting in line to get in. It was fun… see, we spent some three hours on the road leading into the venue, just hanging out with and talking to people in nearby cars. It was very organic and spontaneous and yeah, bizarre as it may sound, a good time was had by all!

So yesterday… he and his wife have decided to landscape their yard. I have flower gardens coming out of my ears, with lots of very mature perennial, etc, so I offered to give them divisions off my plantings. Easy enough so far. So yesterday my son and I went over to their house to help them lay out the flower beds, cut out the sod and so forth in preparation for planting next month.

It was a lot of work. We outlined and cut somewhere in the neighborhood of 1000 square feet of lawn. Lifted out the sod. Piled it up out of the way. But you know what. It wasn’t work at all. Know why? By the time we were well into the project, they had three more friends and a neighbor come to help. We had food on the grill. Cold beer and margaritas all around. Two hours of intensive work stretched out into four hours of work, play and mutual support topped off with more barbecuing, more beer and lots of good conversation. Best part of all. My son – who grumbles every time I ask him for help in the yard – got sucked right into the project and had a grand old time!

So here is my friend – who thinks my ideas are bunk – actually living out the functional aspects of my ‘ideologies.’ It was simply awesome to take part in… and the best part? That was only the first weekend of work. Next week, we amend the soil and run the rototiller. Weekend after that? Plant trees. And then, we will cap it all off in September when we actually do the plantings.

I can’t wait!

Posted by: terrapraeta | March 1, 2010

Stepping Up

I am the only one to blame for this
Somehow it all adds up the same
Soaring on the wings of selfish pride
I flew too high
And like icarus I collide
With a world I try so hard to leave behind
To rid myself of all but love
To give and die

To turn away and not become
Another nail to pierce the skin of one who loves
More deeply than the oceans
More abundant than the tears
Of a world embracing every heartache

Jars of Clay, Worlds Apart

So Saturday night I went out. It was a pretty quite evening for a Saturday, which I like, and a couple of my good friends were there, as well as other “hang out buddies.” I hadn’t intended to go, but when other plans did not materialize, I decided just to run with it. Actually put on some makeup and jewelry, minded my dress – something I only do on occasion. It was fun. My pool game was half way decent and the vibe was good. I even was considering singing a little karaoke. Go figure.

But then one of my friends, Greg, suddenly grabbed his stuff and said good night. I followed him, caught up with him just inside the door and stopped him. What’s going on? What happened? He gave me “the look.” The look that says I’m very unhappy, something Bad just hit me. I don’t want to talk about it yet. I pushed him a little. He took out a cigarette and held “the look” steady. I said fine, give me a hug and we’ll talk when you’re ready. So that’s what happened. A minute later, our other friend, Ian, looked around for him and asked what happened. I told him what I knew, guessed at some possible causes (totally wrong, by the way) and left it at that. He didn’t. A few moments later he announced that he was gonna go find Greg, because he has been far too down, far too often, recently. (recent divorce and ongoing child custody issues)

So Ian left also, and I sat there thinking. And I didn’t like my thoughts. When Greg pulled a cigarette out as I queried him, it was an invitation to step outside and talk. I let it slide past. I was having fun and I didn’t want to give that up. Ian, being his fabulous, caring self, didn’t think of himself at all. That’s who I am supposed to be. That is who I pretend to be. And most of the time, that is who I am. Last night, I fucked up. So I decided to finish my drink and head over to find them and do what I should have done in the first place. Of course, as I was finishing my drink I looked over to realize that a mostly full beer sat on the table. Ian hadn’t even finished his before running of to take care of business. Pissed me off even more (at myself, that is).

So I headed over to Greg’s place. Sat on his couch and pushed. He was still not talking, though the boys had been there for at least a little while before me. Luckily – in a way – I was wearing a brimmed hat, so I could focus all of my attention on his distress while also avoiding Ian’s eyes. I don’t remember all of what I said, but eventually he told us what had happened. It was stupid… more wild accusations from the new boyfriend, accusations far beyond the pale, completely unfounded and designed to upset him. So I berated him for allowing them to do this to him. We all know that the email he received was designed to upset him and nothing else. So by getting upset he was capitulating. He was allowing them to bluff and win. After a few minutes he finally lifted his head, grinned slightly and suggested a game of cards. Ah, success.

Shortly thereafter, we all stepped outside to smoke, and Ian hung out with me after the others went inside and asked me what was wrong – I still wasn’t meeting his gaze. So I told him. That I didn’t like seeing my selfish side and it pissed me off – not at him, but at myself. He reminded me that we all need that some times and its a good thing to see in ourselves. He’s right again, of course, and I told him so. But even now I am still a bit tweaked. I’ll get over it. I just spend so much time reminding myself not to devalue myself that I sometimes excuse myself for devaluing others. And that can’t happen. Not ever. Some day I’ll find that balance and make it stick.

And then, I also cant help but think – how blessed am I that I have people in my life that remind me – not in words but in action – to be the best I can be. To live up to who I want to be. And that value people the way that I do. My friends are amazing and even when it hurts that is a fabulous thing.

Posted by: terrapraeta | February 25, 2010

The “F” Word

Lucretia walks into a room.
Because she does it’s not the same room
The one she wanted to be in
She says, “Everywhere I go, damn! There I am.”
And I just want to walk away
Won’t you let me walk away sometimes?
Won’t you let me walk away?
Every one of you is fired
I’m just an ordinary guy
And all I want is to be loved – is that so wrong?
Don’t think that I don’t know what you’re saying about me
I hear it all through these thin walls
And I just want to walk away
Won’t you let me walk away this time?
I just want to walk away

Ben Folds, Fired

So once more I find myself unemployed. I probably shouldn’t put it that way – it has been a while since I was in this situation and I have rarely stayed unemployed for long. But even so, this is how it feels. As I find is the case, over and over, when something happens in my life I not only feel the current emotional reactions to my situation, but I feel also the emotions from every similar situation in my past. So my thoughts are drawn to prior experiences of losing a job, or having to walk away from a job, and the complicated motivations driving those previous experiences.

Sometimes, I have spent a lot of time soul searching, to resolve prior experiences so that they do not unduly influence current and future experiences. The time that I spent with “my honey” breaking down my past and his, trying to find a future path for us together, and coming to understand myself so much more fully was very much about letting go of our past. So today I wonder if I have more of this to do. But honestly, I don’t think so.

Last week, when the difficulties at work arose, there is no doubt that my emotional response was heightened by the similarities between my relationship with my most recent boss and another I had some years back. So part of the anguish was residual. But rather than that residual pain driving my choices, I think it helped me to understand that I could not, should not, attempt to internalize that pain, nor pretend that it was less important or less real than it actually was. Because in my prior experience once the betrayal occurred, there was nothing I could do to stop the process of disintegration. I tried. I failed. It merely hurt me more. So this time I was able to stand up, expose the depths of my feelings and allow the situation to unfold naturally. This is probably why I ended up fired. Because I did not hold back or pretend that everything could be okay. Not without significant contribution from them toward healing. They were unable to make that contribution and so I no longer work there. Perhaps, in some months, we will be able to talk and even be friends once more. But if I had hidden from them how serious the situation was, for me, then we would have descended the spiral until there was nothing left between us.

Dave, today, wrote about people he has met, and spoken with and actually been attentive of: how they all seem to be “broken” and asks if we all are. Yes. I’m certain we are. He writes:

We have all been conditioned, by parents’ reprisals, by the school system, by peer pressure and by the work world, to hide what we feel, to suppress it, to take on a more stable and mature persona than the one we really are. We assess people as a result by their demeanour and their appearance, by what they do rather than who they are underneath all the gunk they have taken on to act out the identities expected of them, the only identities tolerated in this harsh, homogeneous and judgemental society.

That is truly the core of it, I think. We hide ourselves away, ofttimes even from ourselves. We pretend we can deal, we pretend we don’t care, we pretend that we are on it and got everything covered. And each time we do, a little bit more of who we are dies. When part of our self dies, I don’t think there is any way to bring that part back. Yet when we begin to develop authenticity in ourselves, with ourselves and with the world around us, other, unknown parts can emerge and we can, eventually become “whole” again, even if it is a different whole than it might have been at a prior point in our lives.

Relating it back to my experiences this week, one of my strengths, particularly in the eyes of my employers, has always been my “cool head.” I rarely get angry. I rarely get stressed out, especially by my job (my breakup with Eddie occurred during the time I was employed on this job. Both of my bosses, and several of my coworkers saw quite a bit of the anguish that I experienced during that time. But it did not affect my work – my work was, in many ways, my sanity. The casual interactions with my customers serving to bolster my mood, distract me from things I could not change, and ultimately, keep faith in myself. And so, when the explosion occurred between my boss and myself, they saw the other extreme of my personality; the honest, deep emotions that such extreme circumstances evoked in me. I think, partly, they let me go because they were afraid of the damage those deep emotions could do to me. In reality, releasing those deep emotions, letting them witness my pain, was a healing step. But just as honestly, if nothing changed, then the emotions would also never heal. So they were probably in the right, whether for the right reasons or not.

Dave closes the article by asking:

How do we do that? It has taken a lifetime of practice to appear to become (and to the point we have taken these false identities seriously, to really become) someone we’re not. What ‘healing’ practices will it take for each of us to become who we really are? In this world where money is valued too highly and time not highly enough, can we even make enough time for such practices? What will others think and say and do if we start to become our true wild selves again? Will they fight us or follow us? Is this the first step, perhaps the only needed step, to walking away from a civilization that no longer serves us and which is destroying our planet?

Long time readers should already know some of my answers to these questions. I have written about my own process of coming back to myself. I did have an advantage; once upon a time I was my true self, although much more timid, lacking the self confidence and trust that I have since found. But it was (and continues to be) a long process. A difficult process. A path that no one else can help us travel – although certainly having people that love us enough to be supportive and at least attempt to be understanding does help. But yes, I think that as individuals, this is the single most important thing we can each do to move beyond civilization. It is not the only thing, but then, I have yet to find myself surrounded by others that have done this. So mayhap the combined effect could be inconceivable. I am absolutely certain that a group of people working toward community that have done this would be light years ahead of communitarians that have not.

My posting may be a bit unpredictable over the next couple weeks. I find myself somewhat cast adrift at the moment. I feel the need to get another job post haste. Yet, I have also applied for and expect to receive unemployment. I have a good job on the horizon, that may not come through for a couple months, and I hate the idea of taking a job and then leaving again in short order. But I also hate the idea of sitting at home for an extended period. Yet my son comes to visit in a few weeks and wouldn’t it be nice to not be working while he is here? But then would I be able to justify spending money while he is visiting? Issues I need to resolve in my mind so that I am not so scattered. So bear with me – I may post a lot, I may only post a little, but I will get my head together and get back on top of things before long.

Cheers!

Posted by: terrapraeta | February 23, 2010

Into the Hands of the Gods

Somedays won’t end ever and somedays pass on by,
I’ll be working here forever, at least until I die.
Dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t
I’m supposed to get a raise week, you know damn well I won’t.

Workin’ for a livin’ (workin’)
Workin’ for a livin’ (workin’)
Workin’ for a livin’, livin’ and workin’
I’m taking what they giving ’cause I’m working for a livin’.

Huey Lewis and the News, Working for a Living

The last week has been a really rough one in my life. Yesterday, I gave notice at my place of employment. Although I have nothing lined up to replace it, the situation had deteriorated enough that Ifelt that was my only option. After that, I sat down and talked with my bosses for a while. I hate calling them that — these are people that I am very fond of, that have done a lot for me in the time I have known them. I would like to think that I have done a lot for them as well, but perhaps that is not how they see it. In any case, after thinking long and hard last evening, I sat down and wrote a letter to my boss, explaining where I am at and how I feel about the issues between us. Perhaps this will help her to gain a different perspective, or perhaps my resignation will stand as it is. Follows the letter, edited to remove names.

I’ve been thinking intensely since our conversation on Monday. And I think it is important for me to explain those thoughts to you, where ever we end up in the long run. Simply because communication is important to me, and I think that has been the core of the problems I see having developed between us.

Last year, when you made me a manager, it seemed to me to be very much like M or D – I was filling the role of shift manager, minding the front of the house, responsible for the day to day operation while I was there and dealing with voids, change and so forth. This quickly changed, first as I took over doing the morning paperwork, then took on responsibility for hiring(and firing) my day shift people. This progressed to J and I sharing out the full load of covering all the management shifts each week and I began to think of myself (and I perceived being thought of by others) as more of “assistant manager” — J’s partner in running the restaurant under your directives.

As such, I took on more and more responsibilities. I began monitoring labor costs, being more involved in back of the house operations, making decisions about stocking levels (ie produce, desserts), and even involving myself in that project to determine our cost of goods, pricing structure and so forth. One of the things I worked very hard at was to try and improve communication(and therefore relations between day and night shift). Repeatedly I have made efforts in that area and every time I have, the response has been anything from “no we can’t do” whatever it was, to getting yelled at for my efforts. That has been disappointing, and sometimes very frustrating, but I have continued to try different strategies to accomplish the goal. Because I feel very strongly that getting the entire staff on the same page and working together is not only a worthy goal, but in the long run vital to the continued successful operation of the business.

You know my history. You know the experience I bring to the table. Not only in restaurants – of which I have seen many different operations with both good and bad aspects – but also with small business. During my years in accounting, I worked with many dozens of small businesses, mostly failures, but a few real success stories. I have tried, time and again, to bring that experience to the table, to make suggestions to you and C, to point out things that I see that could be done better, or done at all. Yet time and again, I have been ignored. Now, obviously, this is your business and you need to make the final decisions, I am not disputing that. The reason I bring it up is that I have felt like regardless of the fact that you know of my experience, you continue to see me as just another server, and in some ways a “kid,” when I am neither. You have not necessarily thoughtfully considered my suggestions and decided against them. Rather you have dismissed them out of hand. Thus, more frustration on my part.

With all this in mind, I do not see my value to the restaurant (or any employer) as a laborer. I see myself as a professional. I am very good at my primary job: serving your customers. We all know this. I am also very good, and very dedicated to my secondary and tertiary duties: however you want to prioritize them. I never leave customers unattended, I never leave tables uncleaned, unless I am actively serving customers. Once the customers and the dining room are all taken care of, I make sure that the line and salad bar areas are clean and stocked. And I always make sure that the paperwork I am responsible for is done and done accurately. Beyond that, when there is a problem with the paperwork, I am usually the one that can figure out that problem is, if it is a bookkeeping error. I have been there for you time and again, when there was a computer issue to deal with. Not that I have always able to correct the problem, but I was at least able to tell you if we could correct it, or if you needed to go to an outside service provider. This is the value I see myself bringing to you and yours.

That said, no, I am not the most diligent when it comes to busy work. Get me in the right mood and I will dive into various cleaning projects. You’ve seen it. I will find things to clean and scrub that no one else has even noticed. And I will be on it for days until my cleaning jag wears out. But I don’t do things simply to appear busy. Wiping a shelf that is not actually dirty may “look good” but it is not actually accomplishing anything useful. And to me, that’s a lie. Now, of course, there are things there that can be done and be useful. I have been far more lax the last couple months than I should have been and for that I apologize. The tension I have been feeling between us, and the general bad feelings throughout the staff have been affecting my job performance. I also have had some personal things that have been affecting my attitude. For all of this, I can only apologize to you. I should have done better. I do have to make clear, however, that my idea of “doing better” still does not fit your image of always moving. For the reasons I just explained. And I won’t try to claim differently.

Another thing we discussed yesterday was my lax attitude about policy enforcement. There are a couple of levels to this. First off, I really am not any more likely to let things slide than J. It’s simply that you see it on the day shift, whereas you are not around in the evening. How many times have you told me you don’t go in there in the evening because what you see pisses you off? And I have, intentionally, let J’s standards inform my own. But, sometimes that isn’t it: sometimes I simply don’t see what is before my face. My head is elsewhere – on the customer I am serving, the project I am working on, or even something personal that intrudes on my thoughts. This is a failing of mine, and I am aware of it. I just haven’t solved it yet.

More specifically, you have been upset with my favoritism towards T. I know you believe this is because we are friends. In fact, we are friends for the same reason that I show her a certain latitude. It is because we have the same work ethic and the same way of prioritizing our work. She, like I, never ignores a customer as is so common amongst some of the other staff. She never leaves tables uncleaned, unless she is serving customers, she cleans up the back once the front is in hand. She makes sure the stocking is done and she will find herself cleaning projects when business is very slow and she is needing something to do. Beyond that, she works with me to make sure the customers are taken care of, and like me, she makes the effort to maintain a team spirit, a team effort between the front of the house and the back. When we work, the line is never a battleground. (With the one exception of E mouthing off in a completely disrespectful and inappropriate way, last summer) I have gotten on her about being on her phone, or being negligent about the dishes, and various other things. Perhaps not as often as you like, but it has been done., and she has been responsive. If, on the other hand, she has been disrespectful towards you, then this should have been addressed, and I would have had nothing to say about it. That is unacceptable. But I have never seen it, so I have never addressed it.

Every person that I have worked with at the restaurant over the last year (again, with the exception of E) – those that have worked with me on a regular basis – day shift and back of the house, respects me. And so when I tell them something needs to be done, when I tell them they need to get off my clock, when I tell them pretty much anything, they respond. This is why I could send the boys home without too much grief. This is why we work together well. Yes, I protected the boys sometimes, but largely that was because when I spoke, they jumped. Always, every time. Weighing the positives against the negatives, I worked very hard to keep their heads in good place, enjoying their job and keeping on top of what needed to be done. A positive work environment could have made all of the difference, but we haven’t had a positive work environment for most of the time I have worked at the restaurant. My efforts have helped, occasionally, but generally the moral of the whole place is always just a step from disaster. And you know as well as I do where that comes from.

The issue you are facing with D is very similar to the issue with T. Yes, he has a hard time switching from one set of procedures to another. Sometimes he screws up – and usually in ways that we – you, I , whomever – cannot fathom. But when it comes to diligence, he is right there. And frankly, when it comes to simply working the line, he is very good, if sloppy. He and I could run that whole place, day shift, by ourselves for nine months out of the year, if we both worked every day. Again, its weighing the positives and the negatives, and only you can do that. But sometimes I think you fixate on one or the other, based upon the most recent occurrence, and so you never see the whole person, the whole employee. Instead you see one of two caricatures. D is not a saint, neither am I. Nor are we worthless, lazy or incompetent staffers. We’re both a little of each and only you can weigh our measure. But please look at the whole picture.

This is who I am, this is the value I bring to the table. I won’t change who I am for love or money or anyone or anything else. I am a far cry from the perfect anything. If who I am and the skills and attitudes I bring to the table are not “good enough” for you and your business, then I should not be working there. And that has been the message of the last week. That I am simply not good enough. So I should move on. If however, the things I say here mean something, if you see this a different way than you did before, then we should talk and see if there is a way to move forward in a positive way for me, for you, and for the restaurant itself.

Posted by: terrapraeta | February 19, 2010

From The Archives: Vision Change

Life is bigger
It’s bigger than you
And you are not me
The lengths that I will go to
The distance in your eyes
Oh no I’ve said too much
I set it up

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough
I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

REM, Losing My Religion

Some years ago, I was an active participant in the Ishcon.org forum: a forum dedicated to discussing and expanding upon the ideas set forth by Daniel Quinn

IshCon also sponsored conventions, for those of us like-minded to get together, meet, discuss and expand upon the ideas in person. Developing relationships, community skills and so forth. I wrote, last year, about the first of those conventions that I attended: Ishcon 2004. Later that same year, I had a weekend meetup at my home for some of the (relatively) local friends I had made at that convention. That same weekend, the site was shut down after a conversation exploded. The issue was Derrick Jensen.

Repeatedly, fans of Jensen had gotten into shouting matches with other Ish participants about “blowing up dams.” Now, after reading Jensen, I have a different view of those conversations, but at the time, the focus of DJ’s fans seemed to be very much about violence as *the* answer. This disturbed Chris (IshCon’s administrator and conference facilitator) and many other participants as well. We were not about violent revolution, but rather, primarily about vision change. Being the change. A Third Way. Chris was one of those attending the weekend get-together, and so we discussed the issues of violent discussion and censorship a fair amount that weekend. When all was said and done, and the forum was reactivated, I wrote and posted the following. (IshCon no longer exists, when Chris decided he no longer found value in running the forum, we built a new site: IshThink.org. IshThink has never become what IshCon once was, but still we discuss things there at times, and some of the original core group still find some usefulness in it.)

ISHCON: Helping people in search of a new vision to find each other.

Anyone that logs onto Ishcon.org will find this statement at the top of the page. But what does it mean – ‘in search of a new vision.’ What is vision change? How does it work? When we discuss ‘Changing minds’, what is it we are discussing?

After the upheavals of the past weeks, and the subsequent closing of the forums I began to really consider these questions. I asked myself how this core concept reflected on the needs of the community itself, and the needs of the individuals within the community. Can we justify any sort of censorship? Do we want to?

Of course, I have always been staunchly opposed to censorship in any form. Yet I did feel, to some degree, that the recent trends within the forums threatened the community and its mission. So some serious soul searching seemed to be in order. Where do we draw our lines and how do we explain what those lines represent? How far do we go to defend the community from being twisted into something diametrically opposed to what we set out to create.

Daniel Quinn has likened the Ishmael ‘movement’ to the Industrial Revolution. As a metaphor it is somewhat effective. Unfortunately, the metaphor falls short in many ways. It does not give us a personal sense of what we are doing or how our actions fit into the whole. Particularly as it relates to vision change itself. I finally realized why – the Industrial Revolution was NOT a vision change – it was a technological change, brought about by the mental inspiration of thousands of individuals.

So I looked further. Is there any example of a true vision change in our history –something that can provide us with a model that, while wrong, could be useful? I believe I found one, and this is what I would like to share with the group.

All of us are more, or less familiar with Christianity. However we might feel about the church as a modern institution, the origins of the movement represent a unique period in time. The Roman Empire was in its glory days, the rabble rousing of yet another Jewish holy man was merely an irritation that could have no lasting effect upon the monolith of civilization itself. With the death of Jesus, that should have been the end of the whole thing.

With the death – and possible resurrection – of Jesus, his followers continued to spread his message. However, it was a message much like others spreading through the ancient world at the time. Perhaps his teachings were particularly well formulated, and well expressed, but fundamentally, it was no different than any other. It would have passed away and been completely unknown had a Roman Centurion in pursuit of the disciples not interpreted a case of heat stroke as divine intervention.

The Centurion, of course, was a Saul of Tarsus, thereafter to be known as Paul – and eventually St Paul, the Divine. Now, the conversion of Paul was, in many ways, in direct opposition to the remaining disciples of Jesus. They sought to spread his ideas. But for Paul, the importance wasn’t in Jesus, the man, and the ministry. For Paul, the importance lie in ‘The Christ.’ In some way, his experience instilled in him a new vision. A vision of Salvation, of ‘God’s love through Christ.’ He set out, not to reform – but to transform.

Now, jump ahead fifty, a hundred years. The Good News was spreading throughout the Empire. Slowly at first, but nonetheless, it was gaining converts. These people faced terrible persecution, death, torment at the hands of the Romans should they be found out. ‘Feeding the Christians to the Lions’ is not a euphemism. Yet they persisted, and they continued to gain ground. Why was this?

“The man in the street who first heard Jesus’ disciples proclaiming the Good News was as impressed by what he saw as by what he heard. He saw lives that had been transformed– men and women ordinary in every way except for the fact that they seemed to have found the secret of living. They evidenced a tranquility, simplicity, and cheerfulness that their hearers had nowhere else encountered. Here were people who seemed to be making a success of the greatest enterprise of all, the enterprise of life itself.”

–Huston Smith
The Religions of Man p.427

This was the very heart of vision change. Vision change cannot be hampered by physical force any more than it can be accomplished by physical force. If the early Christians had met the Roman persecution with physical force, there is a good chance that the Romans would have, in turn, completely destroyed the church and everyone that had any knowledge of it whatsoever. That is not a stretch – there were several times in that early history that church was nearly destroyed. Concerted effort by the Empire would have made all the difference.

Instead, the Early Christians conceived of martyrdom. Did these martyrs do anything to help spread the word with their deaths? No, probably not. But it certainly did affect people to see them facing their deaths with Joy and Defiance. And it instilled that much more defiance in those that lived on. It allowed the church* itself to increase conversions rather than loose them.

Two hundred years later, the Empire turned to the Church. Constantine used the early Catholic Church and many other churches to create a single unifying religious foundation in the Empire. As an Empire-saving device, this turned out to not be enough. But for the church, well, as they say, the rest is history. Empires have come and gone – and the church has been tested, divided and even split asunder. Yet it still stands today.

Now, we need to be careful to not take the metaphor too far. Catholicism became, in time, a monolithic, authoritarian and complete corrupt organization Then came the Reformation – and eventually hundreds of monolithic, authoritarian organizations. Throughout European history it has played a role that is diametrically opposed to the ideas and motivations within the Ishmael movement. The entirety of Christian religion is perhaps, the single most important source of the ‘One-Right Way’ meme in our modern world. This is certainly not a model that we want to follow, from beginning to end.

But what this model does provide, within the microcosm of Rome in the first two centuries AD, is a model of what vision change looks like in a society. How it functions, how it spreads, and how it is virtually immune to physical intimidation or enforcement.

So my proposition is this. Let us be ‘people who seem to be making a success of the greatest enterprise of all, the enterprise of life itself.’ And let us not be afraid to say that there are wrong choices for us to make. As a community, if our goal is vision change, I find it completely appropriate to say that we will draw a line in the sand. The line reads thusly:

Any individuals that propose to interfere, or in fact interfere, with our efforts to enact vision change – to be successful at life itself – have no place in our community.

This does not mean that we enact harsh censorship, or that we refuse entrance to those who disagree. But just the same, as individuals we can stand up and say, No, you are disrupting that which we are trying to build and we won’t let it continue. Whether we address problems as individual community members – which is how we have dealt with every other disruption in the past – or whether it takes a further step as has occurred this weekend, as a community we have EVERY RIGHT to stand up and defend OUR community.

Perhaps our Reformation has come upon us. Perhaps a split is inevitable. But is that really a problem?

*NOTE: When speaking of ‘the early church’ it should be noted that there were, in fact, hundreds of Christian churches in ancient Rome – each with slightly different visions and intentions. The Roman Catholic Church was, at that time, rather small and unimportant – until Constantine choose it to negotiate with (probably due to its hierarchical structure). This may be important to recognize in that any movement that is ‘brought back into the fold’ of modern culture may follow the same path.

Posted by: terrapraeta | February 18, 2010

From the Archives: Empowerment

Most people think,
Great god will come from the skies,
Take away everything
And make everybody feel high.
But if you know what life is worth,
You will look for yours on earth:
And now you see the light,
You stand up for your rights. jah!

Get up, stand up! (jah, jah! )
Stand up for your rights! (oh-hoo! )
Get up, stand up! (get up, stand up! )
Don’t give up the fight! (life is your right! )
Get up, stand up! (so we can’t give up the fight! )
Stand up for your rights! (lord, lord! )
Get up, stand up! (keep on struggling on! )
Don’t give up the fight! (yeah! )

Bob Marley, Get Up, Stand Up

Over the last several days, I have read and discussed a few separate issues that all have tracked back to a single fundamental idea that I have been developing. I expect that I will take some heat on this one…. but I honestly believe that all of our assumptions and beliefs about our lack of power over our own lives, jobs, governments etc are fundamentally incorrect.

Let’s start with a reference. If you haven’t done so yet, I strongly recommend reading The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. He deals with a slew of issues, basically discussing how and why new ideas, behaviors, trends, fashion and so forth move through large populations. The specific case I want to reference addresses the response of city folk to crime on the street.

I don’t have the book in front of me, so bear with me as I try to paraphrase from memory.

Imagine a case where a woman on a city street is being attacked. That particular segment of street is overlooked by a dozen windows, people are generally home (and the neighborhood knows it), and the woman is screaming for help. In this case, it is likely that no one will respond to her cries. Horrible, isn’t it. Makes us proud that we aren’t inner city folk. No… wrong moral.

Now, imagine that same woman being attacked in a deserted alleyway and a single person comes walking by. Chance are, in this case, that single person will be a ‘hero’ for responding to her plight and rendering whatever aid possible. But again, this is not the moral of the story.

What we find in studies of group dynamics, is that our human ability to take action in a crisis (or take responsibility for another) is severely hampered by the mere existence of other individuals. The thought process falls somewhere along the side of ‘someone will help…’ whereas, when we are alone and it is apparent that no one else can respond, we will generally step up to the task.

Interesting, no?

So apply this to politics. Why are people, in general, so convinced of their powerlessness? Because they compare their ‘power’ vs the great mass of humanity that is not them. Seems reasonable and rational, but I propose that, in fact, it is absolutely the wrong conclusion to make, for all of the wrong reasons. Let me explain why.

    1)Only an individual person can ever make a choice. Governments can not make choices, corporations can not make choices, Book Clubs can not make choices. Only the individuals participating have that ability.

    2)The first choice anyone makes in any situation is the choice whether or not to accept responsibility for a given situation. Do I help, or do I considered it somebody else’s problem?. No choice is still a choice.

    3)Any choice to act will always have consequences greater than the choice itself. This may not be as obvious as it appears, so I will explain. Making the choice, has a consequence: the action, and the direct consequences of that action. But there are also secondary (and perhaps tertiary, etc) consequences. One indirect consequence might be to empower others to act, as well.

    4)“The Tipping Point,” itself, refers to the amount of change necessary, in any group, to create change for the group as a whole. It is the point where a new fashion becomes fashionable, the point where an idea becomes the ‘assumption’ rather than the ‘controversial new thing’ and the point where all of the neighbors on that street come rushing out to help the woman in need.

So what is the tipping point for personal empowerment, itself? How many people in this country are required to change our political landscape from one of elitists playing both sides against the middle, apathetic citizenry and complete lack of personal empowerment, to one where everyone participates, everyone takes a stand and everyone knows that their opinion matters?

I don’t know the answer to that question. The system is too complicated for me to make a projection. But I do believe that the only way we will ever get there is by individual people making a choice to take responsibility and voice their opinions, take action, be involved. More importantly, I do believe that if enough individuals do exactly this, we CAN make a difference, be the change we want to see in the world.

Posted by: terrapraeta | February 17, 2010

From the Archives: Of Dogs and Kids and Birds…

Nestled
in your wings my little one
This special
morning brings another sun
Tomorrow
see the things
that never come
Today

When you see me
Fly away without you
Shadow on the things you know
Feathers fall around you
And show you the way to go
It’s over, it’s over.

Neil Young, Birds

Obviously, from the very first words, I wrote this some years ago. It was probably the very beginning of me really starting to see the natural bounty around me and relating to it *differently* than I ever had before. This week, I’ve been looking for spring more and more intensely, so it seemed like an early summer story of plenty was an appropriate article to post. Tomorrow I will try to get my butt back into writing mood, but for now… dogs and kids and birds………..

My family moved into a new home last July. Shortly after we arrived, we discovered a nice patch of black and red raspberries in the back yard. Each day, while the berries were ripening, my son and his dog would head out into the yard for a mid-day snack of fresh berries.

This year, the berries are starting to ripen again and kid and dog have gotten right back into their routine. (sidebar – have you ever seen a golden retriever(or any large carnivore) attempt to pick raspberries off of the vine? Try and imagine it! I dare you :))

Yesterday, my honey went out and munched on some berries. Ok so far. But then he comes inside and asks me for a basket.

“A Basket? Why?”

“Because there are more berries out there than I can eat, so I need a basket to put them in?”

So he takes a bowl outside and spends the next twenty minutes picking raspberries. I point out to him that he could leave some for the birds. I believe he was kidding (or he thought I was kidding) for his response was simply “No.” He brings them in, sets them on the counter and then goes about his business.

At dinner, I put the berries out – my son and I eat about half of them. Of course, at one point Ian spots a bug and that kinda freaks him out. He wouldn’t think anything of it if he saw a bug while picking berries. But somehow, at the dinner table its different.

So now, today, there are no ripe berries for dog and kid to go pick. I have a half a tub of slightly rotting, almost molding berries in my fridge. No one will eat them. The birds got ripped off. The kid and the dog got ripped off. And the old man wasted twenty minutes of his day.

Huh. Its a strange way to live…

Posted by: terrapraeta | February 15, 2010

From the Archives: Childhood Ethics

Through early morning fog I see
Visions of the things to be,
The pains that are withheld for me,
I realize and I can see…

That suicide is painless,
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it if I please.

The game of life is hard to play,
I’m going to loose it anyway,
The loosin’ card I’ll someday lay;
So this is all I have to say…

Mike Altman/Johnny Mandel, (MASH Themesong) Suicide is Painless

When I was a child… probably nine or ten… I watched TV miniseries with my folks: [u]Masada[/u]. I would assume that everyone knows what it was about, if you don’t remember seeing it yourself, but just in case, Masada was a Jewish fortress where the final battle between the Jews and the Romans played out in AD 73. When the Jews realized that they were going to be overrun, they chose to commit suicide rather than allowing the Romans to enslave them.(more)

Having grown up in a secular household, I knew nothing about the story prior to watching the film. I was quite drawn in. And I didn’t know the end, so of course I believed that the Jews would be triumphant. After all, they were portrayed as the ‘good guys’ in this conflict. Imagine my surprise and emotional response when I saw the end.

There is a reason, of course, that this memory has been haunting me lately. Its not the film, itself, or the events it portrayed. Rather, its the conversation that took place afterwards. I watched the film, I sympathized, and I understood why they did what they did. It was horrific but it was also a choice I could see myself making. Then my dad tossed out a comment about how WRONG they were. There was absolutely no room for consideration. No room for circumstance. No room for understanding. You simply do not commit suicide, period.

I was shocked. I disagreed. How could he say that? Death or Slavery? That sounds like a choice to me. And a choice that I would absolutely consider. But of course, I was nine, so my thoughts on the matter were completely juvenile and irrelevant. The conversation did not progress and I was left somewhat bemused.

So I have two questions. How does a child come to have a view of the world that is diametrically opposed to the view of their parents? And, however it happens, is this a fundamental part of our nature. Are we born with some sort of natural proclivity towards certain ethical beliefs?

Now, it does occur to me that I may know the answer to this one. As I said, I was raised in a fully secular household. Yet my mother was raised Lutheran, my father Southern Baptist. Although they turned away from those teachings, obviously remnants remain. Is that the answer, though? It may answer the question ‘why did he feel that way’, but I’m not sure it gets me any closer to why I felt the way that I did (and do).

As I grew up, the disagreements increased. His respect for my view hasn’t – but that’s another issue all together. (He has gradually come to respect my intelligence, but his respect for my opinion has never changed.) I have a fundamentally different view of the world from my parents. Politics, economics, religion, family ‘values’…. whatever the topic we are virtually diametrically opposed.

I would really like to understand why. Maybe it is a pipe dream, but it seems that IF I understood the why, I might be a step closer to closing the divide. Not just with them, but across the board.

So if anyone has similar moments in their past, I would love to hear about them. Perhaps enumeration will allow us to formulate a theory. Or if anyone has a theory already, then please….

Posted by: terrapraeta | February 12, 2010

Neo-Tribalism ReVamped

Show me a smile then
don’t be unhappy, can’t remember
when I last saw you laughing
if this world makes you crazy
and you’ve taken all you can bear
you call me up
because you know I’ll be there

And I’ll see your true colors
shining through
I see your true colors
and that’s why I love you
so don’t be afraid to let them show
your true colors
true colors are beautiful
like a rainbow

Cyndi Lauper, True Colors

Last week, Leavergirl posted another article on community. She and I mostly agree on the generalities of community and this post was no different. She says:

Myself… I accept wholeheartedly my inner need for kindred spirits. But I am not looking for people who are zealous and single minded in the pursuit of shared objectives or ideals. The people I want to be with are folks who are willing and able to do the following:

    be kind to me when I am down
    comfort me when I am ill
    teach me when I am ignorant
    form a circle of loyalty around me when I’ve screwed up big
    share my joys, my puzzles, my grief
    help me thrive
    open up to my efforts to connect deeply
    let me be in solitude
    respect me for who I am, not just for the work I do for the group
    show me how to be part of something wonderful in the world
    and expect the same of me

In response, I fell back on my decade long understanding of neo-tribalism a la Dan Quinn. I told her that there was something to having a shared goal – that “making a living” together was the glue that made it all work, at least in its initial stages. It was one of those comments that I did not even really think about, its become so much a part of how I see the world.

But then JimFive pipped up and questioned that assumption and now I am thinking about it. He wrote:

I disagree with your commune comment, because I think you have it backwards. Creating an artist colony or a permaculture farm community seems exactly the type of things that the failed communes attempted. They brought a bunch of people together to build a thing and, when that thing failed (either to be built, or to achieve the fundamental goal), the group of people scattered. They scattered, as vera is pointing out, because they were committed to the thing instead of to each other. They were building a monument, not a community. (I think that Intentional Communities are exhibiting the same tendencies as well)

I think a group of people whose goal is to help each other thrive regardless of method is a much stronger group than one created to build a thing. I am going to point to street gangs as my example here. Their only goal is to help each other survive another day. They will do whatever it takes to help each other out. And they command tremendous loyalty from their members.

To make the hypothetical question more personal, if your permaculture farm isn’t working out for the group (for whatever reason) are you willing to give up your ideal for the group, or will you try to find another group and keep the farm?

Interesting question. Perhaps this is part of what I have been reaching for with my “Unintentional Community” idea. I have been thinking in terms of people with shared interests and complimentary skills getting together to do something. But that, really, is exactly what the IC’s are already doing. Perhaps a bit more formally, but nonetheless. The truth is, every person has an assortment of skills, and learning new ones is not terribly challenging. Hell, I’ve been learning a lot about foraging and wild plants this last year. For no particular reason save that I was interested. But friendship, caring, relationship — that really is key.

In fact, now that I think about it, the potential community situation I was looking at for this summer – the tipi, permaculture gardens, soda business and so forth (not gonna happen – but that’s another story) – that was totally unintentional. I had ideas of things I wanted to do. The boys had their own things they were working on. But combining the different paths was totally compatible and had the potential to begin to create a social and economic “complex” that could have developed into something much larger and more…. complete if things worked out well. Too bad it is not gonna happen, but frankly, the reason it fell apart is because one of the boys involved was, perhaps, not as trustworthy as we hoped. Ah ha!

So where does all this leave me? I guess, ultimately, I have finally come to the realization that building the community I want is less about the tools, the ideas, the visions, and more about place and person. Subconsciously I have always known that, but now I have finally gotten completely comfortable with it on a conscious intentional level. This will be about people I care for, first and foremost. Everything else is negotiable.

Posted by: terrapraeta | February 11, 2010

Peer Polity

Johnny’s playroom
Is a bunker filled with sand
He’s become a third world man
Smoky sunday
He’s been mobilized since dawn
Now he’s crouching on the lawn
He’s a third world man

Soon you’ll throw down your disguise
We’ll see behind those bright eyes
By and by
When the sidewalks are safe
For the little guy

I saw the fireworks
I believed that I was dreaming
Till the neighbors came out screaming
He’s a third world man

Steely Dan, Third World Man

I want to talk some more about yesterday’s topic. John Michael Greer has posted his latest installment on the future he suspects is approaching. He proposes that the US will fall into third world status over the next few decades. As a metaphor, I think that is a useful way to look at it. However, I have some concerns that he is also missing The Big Picture.

I wrote a few weeks ago about Toby Hemenway’s suggestion that breadbasket nations will not see food shortages or famine in the near term, simply because they are breadbasket nations and can function on less than we have been producing. A large part of his argument assumes that the government will do what is necessary to make the transition from oil-based agriculture relatively smooth and functional. As I wrote then, I have some concerns about whether that can honestly happen. If, as Greer suggests, the government and US status in the world economy are the first things to go, that merely increases my concerns. For what defines a third world nation more clearly than the fact that control of productive capacity is instituted from outside, based on the needs of other nations and other peoples? That could make for ugly circumstances, americans reduced to growing cash crops for others, while we, here at home, starve. I’m not going to get haughty about it, however – after all we have been doing exactly this to Africa and others for the last fifty odd years. There would be a sense of poetic justice in the event.

My question, actually, is whether there would be a nation left to impose such things on us, once peak oil has come and gone. After all, one cannot be a “third world nation” unless there are first world nations available to exert control over internal policy. My first thought – though I do not like it much – is perhaps, for a short while, this could happen. The question relies on when the US finally tumbles. If, as Greer suggest, over the next couple decades we finish becoming a third world nation, and if, as current projections by the DOE suggest, oil production has not yet peaked and will not peak for at least another decade, then yes, the US could become a de facto third world nation. (I am, as always, suspicious of DOE projections, when so many statistics have been modified for political reasons.) Currently, we produce less that half of our annual consumption and consume more than ¼ of the world supply. If, in the near term, we were to be shut out on oil imports, or gods forbid, our own supplies were to be taken away (likely, as a third world nation), then certainly there are nations (China is my first guess) that could build an empire off of those supplies. Not for long, but perhaps long enough to maintain the global peer-polity system for another several decades.

If, on the other hand, the US government manages to hold onto global political influence until well after the peak, I doubt there is much chance of another nation stepping into our shoes. While our own fall will still free up resources for other nations, the impact of US collapse is likely to take the rest of the peer-polity system down with us. After all, if China is suddenly able to ramp up production but, at the same time, losses its primary customer, what will that do to world economics? (In fact, I strongly suspect that the reason US influence is still relatively strong is that most of the rest of the world believes that when we go, we will take the rest with us.)

Now, let me stress, I have very little understanding of economics, so most of my thoughts on this cascade effect are based on the essays of other writers whom I trust. As such, I cannot give a cohesive argument on the economics at play. But I have read enough that I am confident in suggesting that these are questions that should be asked.

In his essay, Greer also suggest a possible return to empire based on wooden sailing ships and cannon fire (a la Spain in the seventeenth century). I think that version of future history is naive. The resources that Spain had access to in the seventeenth far exceeded anything that we will see in the mid-range future. Greer has argued that the US will be unable to wage wars of conquest as we slide down this slope, merely because we will not have the resources to do so – to suggest that other nations, also experiencing declining resources will somehow be able to do what we cannot does not make any kind of sense to me.

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