Ok, Breathe.

Sharon April 24th, 2008

So my last post kinda hit a nerve.  I broke 100 comments for the very first time (thanks for the lively discussion on nuclear power, guns, veganism and tomato plants), and made the top links at Savinar’s LATOC, the Automatic Earth, Energy Bulletin, etc…  Can I just make one little complaint – I asked, nay, begged y’all to argue me out of this belief, and almost no one argued the basic premise at all.  I really, really wanted someone to persuade me that things aren’t really going to hell in a handbasket. 

Given that that doesn’t seem to be happening, what to do?  Where do we go from here?  I have compiled a list of suggestions, most of them fairly obvious.

 1. Take a couple of deep breaths.  Yes, this is a scary thing.  Yes, this is a terribly sad thing.  Yes, we have every obligation to bust our behinds to do what we can to mitigate the disaster unfolding before us.

And yet, let’s also note that this current crisis was 150 years in the making and had the participation of a lot of people.  You didn’t do it by yourself, and you aren’t going to fix it by yourself.  You are potentially more powerful than you think – but no delusions of grandeur here ;-) .  The world will not fall apart if you take a short break.  Remember, we are the last fairy godmothers in line at the Christening.  We can’t make the curse go away, we can just soften it a little.

So take those deep breaths.  Go out in the garden and sit in the sun for a bit.  Read a book – and not a book about peak oil or food, a trashy novel – no high art allowed.  If you are a chick, and you haven’t read Georgette Heyer’s _Venetia_ or _Faro’s Daughter_ do.  If you are of either gender, and like mysteries, read Barbara Hambly’s _A Free Man of Color_ and the sequels.  Tom Robbins is permitted, and if you are a Sci Fi geek Lois McMaster Bujold (stay far, far away from the horrible ones about Fawn and Dag, though), Connie Willis (my favorite is _Bellweather_ or Neil Stephenson.  But stay away from “the earth is destroyed by a giant baseball bat and a few survivors must fight off drooling zombies…” stuff.  This is denial time. 

 Rent a movie.  I suggest a pre-1950s comedy, preferrably something with Cary Grant.  “His Gal Friday” “Desk Set” (my favorite of the Hepburn-Tracy flicks), “The Thin Man” or the perfect, glorious “A Night at the Opera.”  Nothing that reminds you of our present crisis – no “Modern Times.”

Have a beer or two.  Throw or kick a ball with your kid or some borrowed kid from the neighborhood.  Pat your seedlings.  Pet your dog or cat or guinea pig.  Hang out with friends and talk about trivial things.    Do something life affirming for a short while.

And then, get back to work on the same things – because in  a way, it doesn’t much matter if I’m right or not – the answer to how to do deal with a fast crash or a slow crash is the same – live differently, help other people adapt to living differently, grow food, enrich soil, share, talk to the neighbors, help each other out, take care of yourself and your own, give what you can to those in need, meet as many of your own needs as you can, keep services alive for those who are most vulnerable, speak out against injustice, do what good you can, and try and stop what evil you can, love one another, take pleasure in what you have and find a way to hope for the future.  Above all, to paraphrase the words over the Holocaust Museum – DON’T BE A BYSTANDER.  Be in your world, as deeply as you can, as bravely as you can.

2. Do not start panic buying food, especially rice.   Does that sound strange, coming from me?  Over at the breaking news page of LATOC you will see a lot of articles about food rationing hitting the US.  You may also see, if you look here that food rationing panic drove rice prices up to a record high overnight.  And while I’ve written that I don’t think poor people buying rice at reasonable prices is hoarding, and should not be primarily blamed for high rice prices, a lot of well fed Americans buying rice suddenly because Costco (btw, you heard it here first) is limiting purchases *is* bad for the world’s poor.  So don’t buy rice right now.  Take a deep breath again, and recognize that you and I will always be able to outbid poor people for rice, and that part of why food storage buying made sense is because my audience was so small – everyone wasn’t doing it.  When the problem was not acute, buying rice for your family made sense.  Now, it is acute, and it is more important to do what we can to help the poor.

Does this mean you shouldn’t store food – no, you absolutely should, but don’t contribute to the drive up of rice prices.  By oatmeal, plant potatoes, buy quinoa – but not big sacks or pallet loads of rice.   Forgo CAFO meat, and eat only meat, milk and eggs that is raised on pasture or with minimal human food grain use.  Send the money you would spend on that stuff (or on soyburgers – buy whole black soybeans and eat them instead) to the relief of the poor.

3. Add another row in your garden, or a bed, or something, and donate it to your food pantry.  Grow more food if you can.  Ask a neighbor if you can grow on her lawn, or your boss if you can plant vegetables on the corporate greenspace.  Push the limits of agriculture and local food as hard as you can.  Talk about food – make sure people understand that this is about who eats.

4. Get the hell out of your car.  I know this is hard – I live in the country – everything is far away.  But do it anyway – I bet you have a couple of trips you could skip.  Find a way.  Not warming the planet and not buying ethanol are too important.  So find a way.  We dumped our van, we’re now the proud owners of a tiny, high mileage compact car not officially designed for 6 people, 3 in carseats, but we can do it – and the less we drive, the less I have to sit crammed in the middle.  Making your car freakin’ uncomfortable is an excellent way of creating incentives to drive less ;-) .

5. There’s a good chance you’ll never build your strawbale dream house, start up that intentional community or buy a farm.  You may well be adapting in place.  So if you have been waiting to do things until you were where you want to be, start acting as though you might be in that place.  It is time to decide that home now is home.  Maybe you won’t have to stay put – but a lot of us will – or we’ll be moving onto someone’s couch.  Or someone will be moving onto yours.

 So use the yard sale season to get some extra blankets, and prep the couch, the guest room or whatever.  Think about how the kids might double up.  Accept that where you are may be your world for a while, and make it the best place you can.

 Build community – even if your neighbors are assholes, they are your assholes now. ;-) .  Get to know them, and get to know the power structures in your town and region – see what you can get started.  Talk about food security and Katrina and start developing a plan.

See the opportunity here to push harder, make more change, get more involved.  Run for something.  Give that talk at your church or community center.  Yes, I know you don’t want to.  Do it anyway. 

6. Triage.  If everything collapsed today (and no, it isn’t going to happen, so relax a little – I swear on all that is holy you have at least until Sunday ;-) ), where would you be?  Your community?  Your family?  What could you accomplish, and what can’t you?  Write it down. 

Next, take a look at what you would want to accomplish if you had a couple more years and some money.  Make a list.  I’m going to bet that there are some duplications on both lists – that is, there are things you have to do that you want to do anyway.  Guess which things are now numbers 1 and 2 on your priority list.  Maybe you still won’t be able to do them – but at least you know.  And maybe you will. 

But think it through.  I know, it isn’t much fun – it is far nicer to ask “what do we want the world to look like.”  But just in case, have a plan for fucked up too.  If you need guidance, I would encourage you to read Dmitry Orlov’s articles on his life during the Soviet Collapse, and to read his book as soon as it is available - it is terrific. 

 Of course there’s more – health care, transport, education…but start here.  Breathe first, then get to work.  Yes, things are falling apart rapidly, we’ve acknowledged it.  But then again, your life is different from yesterday now…how?


65 Responses to “Ok, Breathe.”

  1. Idaho Locavore says:


    I’ve seen your comments on other blogs and on other boards. I don’t quite know yet what your game is, but one thing I do know – you are one of the people who totally pegs out my “bullshit meter” every time you post.

  2. yooper says:

    Idaho Locavore,

    No game here. I’m not playing any games. My message isn’t for everyone.

  3. Idaho Locavore says:

    Yooper, then I think you owe Sharon an apology. That was totally condescending and uncalled for.

  4. Deacon says:

    Planned Destruction of America

    What we are facing in 2008 is a Third-Way (socialist/
    communist/capitalist) conspiracy to equalize the world’s
    economies, as preface to installing one-world government;
    a plan hatched during the 1940s GATT formulations.

    Keep in mind that there is no PEAK OIL crisis—only a
    decades-long, purposeful cap on searching and drilling and
    refining for oil, in order to put the world in crisis-mode.

    Using food to produce fuel is part of the conspiracy to
    generate food riots, in order to destabilize governments;
    and this so-called “war on terror” is also part of the
    secret plan, although its primary beneficially is Israel
    in the exchange of blood and treasury for oil–as payoff
    for protecting Israel from an ever-threatening, encircling
    Islamic Arabism.

    Oil is payoff for the West’s efforts at providing PROXY
    COMBATANTS for Israel–for protecting Israel from expanding,
    encircling Islamic Arabism; a Jewish nation-state having
    supporters throughout the West willing to destroy the entirety
    of Western civilization for Israel’s sake.

    That’s the gut-wrenching truth of why Western democracies
    are sacrificing blood and treasury in the Middle East; especially
    the U.S., which has enough off-shore and on-land oil reserves
    to last 300 years at her present rate of consumption, and
    which reserves were PURPOSELY capped and/or not drilled
    because Israel’s supporters poured millions of dollars into
    ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT groups’ coffers, to work at
    keeping America from oil/energy independence and tied to
    Israel’s interests in the Middle East. That’s the truth you’ll
    NEVER see nor hear reported in Western mainstream news
    media, because Israel’s supporters control what’s fit to be
    said or printed about why the West wars with Islamic

    “Because many nations’ agricultural production
    will decline under NAFTA and GATT, in becoming
    dependent on the more productive nations’
    capacity to export cheaper product to them,
    they’ll become gravely vulnerable to any of
    the exporting nations’ food-production declines,
    possibly resulting from bad weather conditions
    or bad economies. ‘Free trade’ in food sets up
    a looming catastrophe (read my essay, GATT:
    Ubiquitous Treason)…Wouldn’t such worldwide
    economic interdependence necessarily set the
    stage for a worldwide economic collapse should
    any one nation seriously falter? Such a
    worldwide collapse would make America’s Great
    Depression appear like good times. Why aren’t
    the NAFTA and GATT crafters arguing for more
    economic independence for nations – for rugged
    individualism among nations – rather than
    building this One World interdependency that
    their brand of ‘free trade’ necessarily

    The NAFTA Debacle (1995)

  5. yooper says:

    Idaho Locavore, ok, perhaps you’re right. The next time you think I’m full of bullshit, please bring it to my attention, I’d like to hear it……

    Sharon, I’m sorry I’ve been hard on you. I very much like the grist of you’re article, however you’ve made some assumptions that I don’t necessarily agree with. Especially the part about we’ll always be able to outbid others for rice. Btw, where did that go?

    As for myself, I try very hard not to suggest to anyone what they should or should not be doing. Like the grains of sand on the beach everyone’s situation is different. Some simply cannot change (even if they want to), perhaps you can be more sensitive to that. Other people, simply don’t believe there is a problem. Yet others, blow with the wind, one day one way, another way a day later…….

    Fast crash or slow, a lot of people are going to die. A very bright man once asked a question of me, “Why must you tell me, I’m going to die?” That stopped me dead in my tracks… Really it’s not my responsiblity what people do with the information I might present. However, it is my responsibility in the way I deliever it….

    Sincerely, yooper

  6. Idaho Locavore says:

    Well spoken, Yooper. Pax?

  7. Sharon says:

    Yooper, you are entitled to your opinion, and don’t have to apologize for expressing it on this forum. I’m glad, however, to know a little more about where you are coming from.

    I think the odds are good that we in the rich world will always be able to outbid those living on 50 cents a day for rice. Whether we’ll always have rice is another question – I didn’t say no one would ever be able to outbid us.


  8. yooper says:

    Sharon, I’m glad you got my message.

    Thanks, yooper

  9. Rain says:

    Sharon, thank you. Breathing is one of those things that gets forgotten when we panic. We’ve had years to think about this, and as I posted on another blog, no matter when things heat up, something is always left undone. One thing that helps is to reflect on what we’ve got. Even if everything, I mean every-freakin-thing, collapses tomorrow, Americans are for the most part in some kind of shelter, we’ve had a meal within the last 24 hours, and we’ve had a few immunizations. That right there puts us ahead of quite a bit of the world, not even counting the stuff in and around our houses.

    There was a bad tire dump fire in the neighborhood of our hospital once, and with very little notice our hallways and stairwells started filling with smoke. Needless to say, it was chaotic. I remember a homeless guy had dropped his bedroll at the nurses station and was helping the aides move patients who could walk so we could use the elevators for stretchers. He would help somebody, come back, look around, and mutter “Got my bag.” Then he would go off helping again. His definition of security was his bag — he had food and a place to sleep, and a few treasures.

    You can’t plan for all the possibilities. You might end up in a smoke filled stairwell, or running out of canned goods, or watching a gas riot some time in the future. But right now, in this moment, most of us have got our bag, and the people we love do too. We might even have a bit extra for someone else’s bag. If we work together and help where we can, I honestly believe we can make it.

  10. Melinda says:

    Sharon, I respectfully disagree that reading trashy novels is important to let yourself relax in times like these. I have those fears about what is going to happen, and then I relax by thinking out *solutions*. Fear and then denial or escapism seems counterproductive to me.

    Reading a book about solutions is really important. I’m reading Deep Economy now, and it has definitely taken my mind off the problems and put it toward finding solutions. Gaia’s Garden and other gardening books are great ideas. You can also learn how to knit, sew, and do other important -but relaxing- things.

    Now is the time to double task: relax and learn at the same time.

  11. [...] says one of the suggestions on a recent post by Sharon Astyk. Good advice. So don’t buy rice right now. Take a deep breath again, and recognize that you and I [...]

  12. Idaho Locavore says:

    Yooper, I apologize for my hasty remarks. And since Sharon is well able to decide for herself when someone has gone over the line while expressing their opinion on her blog, I will be more careful not to be hasty in the future.

  13. [...] Colbert and Kunstler are great, but enough levity. This gave me chills. Hirsch says we will soon look at the prices we are paying at the pump today as “the good old days.” Watch this, and if this is new and getting a bit scary, Sharon Astyk has some great info for you in this article, and in this one. [...]

  14. This makes sense, but more people need to read it to get legs.

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