Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Made Visible

Mmmm. It’s an almost perfect Columbia River Gorge day today. We had rain showers. And periods of sunshine. The air is clear and crisp, with mist rising above the dark green sides of the gorge, rising until it is indistinguishable from the clouds, becoming clouds, I suppose. Does mist have ambition to be a cloud? Rain? Snow? The snow dusts the higher elevations of the gorge like powdered sugar on top of a conifer cake. Still feels like winter. Yet the cottonwood trees are all leafing out. Their leaves are lime-colored and tender-looking. The osprey are sitting in their huge nests alongside the river, slow-cooking embryos into bird babies.

Yesterday we had to go to town. It was beautiful then, too. Storming one minute, sunny with rainbows the next. Kind of like life, babies. As I was coming out of the library in the Hollywood District, a man came in the same door I was leaving from. I stepped out of his way. He looked at me and yelled, “Fuck you, too, for letting them rape my neighborhood.” It was hailing and raining outside, and Mario had gone to get the car because I had forgotten my hat and scarf and it was cold. A few seconds before my encounter with the man, I had been standing by the window watching the downpour and talking with another woman. We talked about the winter that never seems to end. Wondering when the locusts were coming. Then I saw our car and I started outside. Met the man. “Fuck you, too, for letting them rape my neighborhood!”

I thought he was probably schizophrenic and wasn’t actually talking to me. I looked back at the woman I had been speaking with and I shrugged and said, “Okay.” And I laughed. The woman looked afraid. So did another woman, younger, who sat on a bench near her. I started outside again. I could feel the warmth from the library entranceway and the fresh coolness from the rocky rain blending for a moment. And I heard the man say, “Don’t laugh.” So he had been talking to me, he was noticing me. I had my back to him and it flashed through my brain that this was how people got killed. In a moment like this. By a crazy person. An angry person. I didn’t like having my back to him. I sensed he was coming after me. I knew he was going to try to hurt me.

I ran. I ran into the hail and rain and I got into the car. Safe. Safe. Safe. Locked the door. Then I looked to see if the man had followed me. He hadn’t. He hadn’t followed. Mario drove away.

I was all right. Nothing had happened.

It made me wonder though: What had I done to allow the "rape of my neighborhood." Or what hadn't I done. How had I acted or not acted? How responsible was I—were all of us—for the state of the world.

Mario and I drove through the storm toward home. Huge blue-black storm clouds hung over us like magnificent paintings in a sky gallery. Ahhhhh. We had the radio on. Someone recited Kahlil Gibran's quote "Work is love made visible.” I’d heard that quote before, but it hadn’t really resonated with me. This time, this day, it did.

I said to Mario, “Wow. I think maybe that’s what I do with my writing: try to make love visible.”

“I know it’s what you do,” he said. “That’s why I was so sad when you said you were quitting.”

We drove through a tunnel just then. Into a kind of golden darkness. A noisy silence. Rumble. Then into the stormy light again.

Love made visible. As I thought about it, I knew that was what I did with my writing. It was what I did when I was a community librarian. All the work I did was an expression of my love. I remembered when I first heard that quote years ago, I imagined people slaving over widgets, cotton fields, office computers. How was that love made visible? I had wondered. I associated the word “work” with drudgery, unhappiness, this thing we had to do to stay alive. I’ve always been aware of how lucky and privileged I am to have the choice to try to make a living doing something I love. We should all be so lucky. So when I heard that quote before, I thought Kahlil Gibran must not understand what work is.

Yet now I wondered if maybe I should adopt a more catholic definition of the word "work."

My writing is work. I love my work. I love the creation process.

Some of my writer friends think it’s silly that I consider my writing to be my art, that I think of it as something that is sacred to me. Writing is something that sustains me, it is one of the ways that I communicate with the world. For these friends, we put words on paper. That's what writers do. Period. That’s all right. They can do that. I think that’s wonderful for them! Me? I’ll be the story shaman. It is my work.

Love made visible.

I’d like my entire life to be love made visible.

When I got home yesterday, I read an interview in Alternatives with Gary Holthaus, a sustainable agriculture activist. It was Part 2 and I hadn’t read the first part, but the person conducting the interview summed up some of the things Holthaus had said previously.

“Are you saying that the best course may be to leave that which is unsustainable to its inevitable fate? In other words, not spend a lot of energy fighting the giant institutions and corporations because they are, by definition, unsustainable and will collapse anyway, of their own weight? I’m thinking of Cargill, Monsanto, ADM, and the others. They buy the politicians, and they’ll write the Farm Bill as they please. But never mind them, let’s get to our work, which is about sustainable local and organic food, building up the soils, and teaching people about urban agriculture that works. Is that what you’re getting at?”

Holthaus answers, “Absolutely. It’s about finding out how to feed ourselves healthy food, and to heck with those other guys. I’d say to heck with Congress, we can ignore them, too. We can ignore the Farm Bill, we can do fine without Monsanto—in fact we’re going to have to learn to do that.”

I thought, yes, yes, yes! I’ve been an activist almost all my life, starting back in elementary school when I tried to protect the killdeer from the insane boys who crushed the birds eggs with hysterical delight. Most of the time, I’ve been fighting corporations, big businesses, big governments. I end up defeated; these entities end up energized by my defeat; and nothing is accomplished. The problem remains unsolved.

Holthaus goes on to say, “We’ve got to change our world-view. The difference between a sustainable agriculture—or sustainable culture—and one that’s commodity-driven and short-term is a difference in world-view. Only when we change the story we’ve been telling ourselves about how the world works can we transform the culture. That’s what we have to do.”

Of course he’s right. So much of our efforts have been based on bringing down the big guy or becoming part of the big guy so we can transform him. That ain’t working. It ain’t gonna work. We have to go on without them, almost as if they didn’t exist. And we can’t feed them, of course: We can’t buy their chemicals; we can’t buy their crap. We can’t use it. We must change our world-view and change how we act.

The root of the word “work” means “to act.” If work is love made visible, then isn't any act, any action, love made visible, too? Is it love to spray chemicals into the air and on our lawns? Is it love to create warfare in our homes, communities, and nation? Is it love to support businesses that aren’t sustainable? Is it love not to act?

I’ve talked many times about how we each have a responsibility. We each have some ability to respond: responsibility. Only you know what that means for you. But we can’t sit around wringing our hands. Step up to the plate, man, and swing, batter, batter, swing! No excuses.

Holthaus says that information will not save us.

“For instance, we’ve known about global warming for the last three decades,” he says, “and it hasn’t changed our behavior a bit. We’ve had all the information about the end of oil for three or four decades: hasn’t changed our driving. We aren’t going to win this with arguments—arguments just create defensiveness or aggression.

“No, the most powerful tool we’ve got is to change the story we’ve been telling ourselves. That old story is as toxic as it comes—‘bigger is better’, and ‘if you can’t get big, you’d better get out’. That’s the story of agriculture in the last fifty years. ‘Chemicals can fix anything’—they obviously can’t....The story we’ve been telling ourselves is about speed, growth and chemicals. It’s destroying us.

“The new story is about compassion instead of condescension or indifference. We are in this together, and we are going to take care of each other—not competition, but cooperation. Somehow or another we’ve got to find ways to spread that story, and we’ve got to spread it fast.
“One of my optimisms is that, we’re gonna multiply smallnesses, instead of encouraging bigness. Think about how rural America would look now if over the past fifty years we’d been encouraging smallness instead of ending it. We’d have lots of small farms, which inevitably give us prosperous small communities. And those prosperous small communities would be feeding us, and we wouldn’t be dealing with the urban sprawl, and all the problems that brings. That’s the story we need to tell and get out there.”

Multiply-smallness. Ain’t that a grand idea?

Love made visible.

Holthaus says we’ve got to change our story. Do you understand what that means? We must all be story shamans. You, me, him, her, us. Us. It has to be about what we teach our children and what stories we continue to tell ourselves.

This is the long way of saying that I've decided I am not going to quit writing. I’m not going to quit telling my stories. I'll keep doing it, keep writing it my way.

With love.

Made visible.

May You Work in Beauty!



Anonymous said...

Having lived in the "City of Roses" for about 36 (off & on) of my 58 years and traveling often by public transit,at all hours, Kim.... I've experienced it all & you have my sympathy.These poor disturbed people are the result of our government's inability to care for it's own while waging war (covert & shock and awe) on other people/countries.It is just incredibly sad. It's nice you were able to turn this around to focusing on beauty on your trip home because stuff such as this "poor crazy man" can really eat at your soul. We can only hope for some changes in everything come November.Fortunately you have a green oasis up there to retreat to.

VQ said...

One gentleman I sent this post to replied..."just in time for May Day, one of the finest expressions of truth I've seen lately". I read it by phone to another fellow, every word sounding like my own voice, pausing to allow the surge of emotion to subside enough to permit me to continue. And the weighted silence after. We are your community, you are mine.

All work copyright © Kim Antieau 2008-.