Sharon October 15th, 2009

I want to go shopping.  I don’t mean I need to go shopping - I don’t, particularly.  I just want to go out to a store somewhere and spend money and buy something fun or pretty - a trashy novel, cute clothes for the boys, yarn or maybe a nice tablecloth for my table.  I need to spend money, I really do.

I want to watch television. I don’t mean I want to watch some particularly good or edifying television show that I’ve been longing to see. I mean I want to get a tin of pringles and zone out on the couch while watching something completely mindless, maybe in the infinitely repetetive “Law and Order” family, if they still exist.

A big pile of celebrity gossip magazines would do, maybe.  Particularly if it came with a gin and tonic and a big pile of Reese’s peanut butter cups, and maybe a couple of lottery tickets to allow me to dream of having all the money I want.

And yes, I’m quite  serious.  A reader of mine asked me how it was that I deal with all the bad news and the fact that my kids are going to be living in a much tougher world than the present one.  The answer is - variably - some days gracefully, some not, sometimes lightly, sometimes heavily.

Right at the moment, I deal with it about the same way most people do - I want a high from sugar or spending or numbness from a drink or television, and a good healthy dose of denial thrown in.  I’m a normal person, and if I were in a yarn shop right now, there’d be no stopping me.  All cookies flee from me right now. 

I’m in a lousy mood - I’m tired from a late, sleepless night.  I’m depressed by the news on the economic and climate front.  I have a cold and my back is bothering me.  Various other minor affronts are bugging me, and Eric is pissed about a mistake made by our bank and stomping around the house. 

Now the good thing about this circumstance is that my ability to indulge my desires is pretty low.  We don’t have tv reception, and YouTube plays so slowly that I might as well not bother.  I don’t have any gin or tonic, no reeses, no lottery tickets.  I can’t bring myself to go to the yarn shop, given the size of my stash,  and I don’t have time to go anywhere further out.  I suppose I could drive out to the local convenience store and read the Enquirer, but I’m just not that desperate, or quite that pathetic..yet.

I also know it will pass.  Truly, I do.  I know myself well enough to know that in the end, I won’t enjoy the feeling if I eat too much junk food (this does not mean I don’t ever do this), or the time spent reading trashy magazines.  I might enjoy the shopping, but, well, the boys have to go to Hebrew school and the car with them, and I have to stay home and milk and cook dinner.

I hate this feeling, and I want to escape into something, anything else - a fantasy, denial, anything to make the lousy feeling of fear for my kids and sorrow for my world go away.  I know that this too shall pass, and it couldn’t possibly happen soon enough for me.  And it will - I don’t usually stay down long. 

I don’t want my boys to grow up in a warmer, more depleted, more damaged, poorer world.  I want better for them than that.  And not just my boys, but my nieces and all the kids I love.  And I can do a little bit about it - just not enough.  Not enough.  It sucks.  It hurts.

Mostly, I choose to focus on the work to be done, and not on the likelihood of failure.  Mostly I choose to focus on the day to day.  Mostly I choose to hope things won’t be as bad as I suspect, or that if they are, I can insulate my kids, protect them, that somehow my children and I and my husband and the rest of the people I love will get to be insulated.  I don’t know that I believe it, but since I can’t know what’s going to happen, I try and trust that there’s a future worth having out there. 

And I know that people do have decent lives who are much poorer and live in tougher circumstances than I do - my great-grandparents and those that preceeded them had lives worth living, joys and comforts in with the tough times.  I try and distinguish between the objects that we associate with a life worth living, and the life itself - to remind myself that the objects themselves are only objects.

But I still miss them in anticipation of their loss.  I still have my down moments.  And I’ve tried chocolate, and exercise, I’ve tried beer and television, I’ve tried fantasies of escape and retail therapy, I’ve tried lying to myself and reading escapist novels. They all work, for a little while.  I’m not really opposed to any of them - they all have their place.  The problem is that they all have a small place - otherwise they become pathological, an endless repetition of something that fails to bring you out of yourself, and just makes it worse.

The only ones that work for me in perpetuity are these - prayer, the kind of disciplined, conscious prayer, that, if there is a G-d, one can imagine penetrating the divine consciousness simply from the sheer annoying repetition of it ;-) , and good work, ideally in service to an idea or to other people.  Even better is both at once.  So I’ll find myself some good work - ways to care for my kids or for other people, things that need doing on the farm, and silence the noise in my head with the music of prayer.  And probably sneak some chocolate in there somewhere, too.  As we’ve noted before, I’m not perfect.

I’m writing this, by the way, not to get your sympathy, or just to whine, but because I actually thought it might make a few people feel better to know that I’m not immune to whining either ;-) .

How do I deal? Pretty much the way you do - I whine and I cry, I get grumpy and bitter, I deny and I fret, I pick fights and I slack off.  And then, when I’m done, when I’ve allowed myself a little time to feel all these rotten things, I try and put them back in the box for a while - and no, it isn’t easy. But I do try, and mostly succeed, because the darkness of the future isn’t all there is, and it would be as false to wallow in my suffering, to indulge my anxieties for longer than strictly necessary,  as it is to escape endlessly into celebrity magazines and chocolate. In some ways I’ve got it easy - I don’t tend toward depression, I don’t have to fight my biology the way some people do.   I know that, and I’m grateful.  Just not that grateful right now ;-) .


Want to Meet Me?

Sharon October 15th, 2009

Hi Folks:

In the next month I’m doing two appearances, and I’m hoping I’ll get to meet some of you in person!

First, I’ll be in Macon, GA at Mercer University’s “Caring for Creation” conference, on Climate Change on October 29 and 30.  I’m speaking twice on the 30th, first at a breakout session on personal responses to climate change from 11:30-12:30 and then at a Plenary Session from 2-3:15.  The conference looks to be excellent and important, with more than 700 expected attendees and a number of wonderful speakers.  More info here:

Second, I’ll be at the annual Sip and Sign for the Holidays local author celebration at the Millbrook Winery in Millbrook, NY on Saturday, November 14 from 1-4 pm.  There will be local wines, tasty local snacks and 25 Hudson Valley region authors chatting and signing their books - including me. 


Dream Big

Sharon October 15th, 2009

Today marks the start of our Farm and Garden Design class, and I thought I’d start with the process before the process, if that makes any sense - with the dreaming that preceeds design. 

So close your eyes.  Or first, open them, and look at your property - or your friendly neighbor’s property, or your church’s lot, or your community garden plot.  Now that you’ve got it in your head, close your eyes.  And take what’s there and add on - what do you want to see?  Look at it closely.  Smell it. Taste it.  Listen to it.

What do you see?  A balcony that is covered with twining vines dripping grapes and hardy kiwis, with tomatoes and peppers, lettuce and herbs filling the corners, and scented flowers attracting butterflies and hummingbirds?  Do you see yourself on it, harvesting tomatoes and basil to go with that local mozzarella?

What do you see? A community garden plot that integrates flowers with food - borders of pot marigold and lavender around tall okra and sweet corn, pole bean tepees in front of a short hedge of blackberries, elder and honeyberries, and nasturtiums twining around the pumpkins.  Are you in it, watching the kids play with the children of other gardeners, while you make a salad of edible flowers and multicolored lettuces?

What do you see?  A patchwork of neighborhood gardens that you tend - a three sisters garden in your friend’s backyard, where her children help you twine the beans up the corn poles.  A perennial forest garden to be enjoyed by the neighborhood at your son’s school, where the kids devour blueberries and hide in the sunflowers?  A meadow of native prairie flowers in the front yard, attracting pollinators and wildlife.  A garden of roots and trees around in the back, and you invited everyone to a garden dinner, filling  your belly and your neighbors with sweet potatoe pie and plum tart.

What do you see?  A suburban backyard with a playset - and 10 raised beds, each filled with many meals worth of annual crops, and a chinese chestnut tree, that the children swing from and from which you harvest your winter’s nuts?  The birds nest in it, and the garden forms around its protective shape.  You see yourself planting seeds, while the little ones watch, and dig in their own patch, getting filthy and excited aboutt he possibilities of their earth.

What do you see?  An urban mini-farm on 1/10 acre - bees in their white boxes pollinate your dwarf apple trees, espaliered against the fence, chickens eat the weeds that poke up in the corners, rabbits feed the worms that feed your garden, and are fed in turn on stalks and scraps.  Meanwhile the lettuces wave like af flag and you walk with fragrant bundles to sell your herbs to the restaurant down the street.

What do you see?  A sunny half acre, filled with a medley of tropical plants - citrus, pomegranate, fig, banana, malinga.  Underneath the trees, grateful for their shade, run sweet potatoes and taro, while chile peppers and dryland corn fill a sunny corner.  Are you in it, watching the fish in your pond grow to dinner size, as the cat suns herself on a rock and dreams, just as you do, of a fish dinner.

What do you see?  A small farm of a few acres, with pigs that root out weeds and manure the ground and then feed your family, and chickens for eggs and a small woodlot, managed for mushrooms, coppiced wood and acorns for feed.  Every year you plant more trees, grow more crops, and new garden beds sprout like weeds.  There’s a sign at the end of the driveway reading “fresh eggs, raspberries” and the neighbors stop by to pick up your extras and trade neighborly gossip.

What do you see?  The family farm brought to life again - the land made productive again, the weeds cut back, the family brought back, swales built to catch precious water, with new crops and new techniques for making fertile space out of what seemed like a lost cause.  New hope, and the chance to work together again?  Do you see yourself, slowly, patiently planting new trees, repairing the tractor, laughing with your sister again?

What do you see?  Draft horses, pulling logs from the shady woodland, and a barn full of animals.  A business plan and a market for your lamb, your wool and your vegetables.  A diversity of plants and animals - life without monocultures.  A pond.  A quiet spot to rest, a kitchen full of peaches ready to can.  And you see yourself, at work, at rest, in the kitchen, on the land, but there, and present, and ready.

I don’t claim these dreams are easy to enact, or that they will always come to fulfillment - I have dreams myself I haven’t finished - for terracing and beds, for plants and animals I’ve never yet gotten to.  But without a vision, without a dream, without asking that question “what do you see” we can’t begin to make it into something real.


No Sustainable Per Capita Carbon Emissions Level

Sharon October 14th, 2009

You really need to read this:

“In a four-degree warmer world, adaptation means “put your feet up and die” for many people in the world, Oxford’s Chris West said bluntly. “In accepting the many alarming impacts, we see that it (a four-degree C increase) is not acceptable.”

The climate negotiators heading to Copenhagen in December must accept the fact that the world’s carbon emissions must eventually stop - and stop completely. There is no sustainable per capita carbon emission level because it is the total amount of carbon emitted that counts, explains Myles Allen of the Climate Dynamics group at University of Oxford’s Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics Department.

Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for many centuries, which makes it the most important greenhouse gas to reduce and eliminate. The current focus on CO2 concentrations like 450 ppm or 350 ppm is the not the right approach since it is the total cumulative emissions that determine how warm the planet will get, Allen told the conference.

If climate negotiators only look at slowing rates of carbon emissions, then natural gas will be substituted for coal because it has half of the carbon - but the total amount of carbon in the atmosphere will continue to increase.

“We didn’t save the ozone layer by rationing deodorants,” said Allen. “

I’m married to an astrophysicist, so I know how scientists talk.  I’ve spent a lot of my life as the only non-scientist in a room full of science geeks, and have gotten used to translating them into english.  It drives me nuts, actually, sometimes, my husband’s absolute reluctance to say that anything is so.  Scientific reticence means that you always express *uncertainty* so my husband will calmly observe to you that, yes, in fact, there are a few scientist out there who still believe, say, in the ether, rather than say “there’s no freakin’ ether.”  But, of course, there’s no freakin’ ether.   So I pay attention when they overcome their reticence and say “there is no sustainable per capita carbon emission level.” 

The truth is that if you’ve been watching the emerging evidence, that’s the logical conclusion - in some ways it doesn’t matter what’s in the ground - we simply can’t burn it. 


You Had Plenty Money 1922…

Sharon October 14th, 2009

You had plenty money, 1922
You let other women make a fool of you
Why don’t you do right, like some other men do?
Get out of here and get me some money too

You’re sittin’ down and wonderin’ what it’s all about
You ain’t got no money, they will put you out
Why don’t you do right, like some other men do?
Get out of here and get me some money too

If you had prepared twenty years ago
You wouldn’t be a-wanderin’ from door to door
Why don’t you do right, like some other men do?
Get out of here and get me some money too. - Peggy Lee

 The Dow broke 10,000 again today, and my favorite source of humor news, CNBC, has a range of headlines to make sure that somehow, at some level, they will be right sometime about something.  “October Crash Still on the Way: CEO” and “Dow at 11,000 to 11,500 by Christmas: Market Expert.”  The front story “Stock Market Rally Likely to Continue, but Hedge Your Portfolio:Pros.”  Hmmm… are these the same pros that think an October Crash is on the way or the ones that think that the Dow will be at 11,500?   Must be different pros - the good news is we’ve got a lot of them, and since they all completely missed the mark on the present situation, all of their guesses are equally good!  Yay!

Now my guesses couldn’t possibly be worse than the vast majority of financial advisors, but I make no claim they are better. I  don’t have the slightest idea where the Dow will be by Christmas.

What I do know is this - we still won’t have gotten anything meaningful to most Americans out of 14 Trillion plus in bailouts.  Stock market rallies look good - but they don’t actually help most of us all that much.  Unless they are sustained, those who rely on investments for income don’t get much out of it - and the fundamentals of our economy are deeply unstable - there’s nothing there to sustain a rally when we inevitably stop pouring in funds.  With the exception of a few people who can sell out now in the next few months, this rally isn’t likely to mean much for your long term economic well-being.  Most of us don’t profit from a rally in any deep or immediate way.

This rally, however, is what you bought.  That and a good bunch of road work.  And money for people who happened to have bought giant low mileage cars and wanted to change over.  To me it looks a lot like some rich fool  saying to me “I bought this awesome RV, and a jet ski…I didn’t pay the mortgage or the health insurance, and hey, there’s no food, but lookee at my jet ski.”  Sigh.

Back in December, when I made my annual predictions, I bet that things would go back to normal for a while, and so they have.  It is certainly possible that normal will extend out longer than I’d expected.  The problem, of course, is that “longer than I expected” is not the same as “for a really long time.”  At some point there won’t be enough money to pour into the system anymore - we’re getting awfully close to that point.  At some point we have to pay for the Jet Ski, or start watching out the window for the repo man.  At some point we start singing like Peggy Lee, lamenting what once was, “You had plenty money 1922, you let other women make a fool of you…”  Our turn as the world’s momentarily rich fool may not be over yet, but sooner or later, you got to do right.  And then we’re in trouble.


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