Shall We Nap?

Three years ago, in Switzerland, I read a book called Kill Anything That Moves, by Nick Turse, about civilian carnage in the Vietnam War. The author’s thesis is that Lieutenant Calley (infamous for his role in the Mai Lai massacre) was neither a renegade nor a “bad apple”; American military policy demanded, across the board, that its personnel kill as many Vietnamese as possible, whether those Vietnamese were involved in combat or not. Promotions – especially for generals and other higher ups – rode on body counts. So the more Vietnamese you killed, the more Vietnamese your men killed, the greater your chances of rising through the ranks.

Twelve years ago, in Arizona, I encountered the prophet Abraham, channeled by Esther Hicks (living on a wilderness homestead, I had few choices for auditory entertainment while working in the kitchen). I don’t love Abraham; I recoil from his “Law of Attraction,” which morphed (I believe) into the spine of The Secret, and recalled what Zendiks termed “The Law of Psychic Cause and Effect” (when bad shit happens, it’s your fault; when good shit doesn’t happen, it’s also your fault). However, I do appreciate one response he used to give to wisdom-seekers at the ends of their ropes: “Take a nap.” That is, stop trying so hard. Let your troubles be. Let your angels untangle them, while you sleep.

Would that the entire U.S. military had taken Abraham’s advice, right at, or even before, the start of the Vietnam War. Here was this vast violence machine that really didn’t know what to do, to get what it thought it wanted. Instead of admitting this, and retreating to bed, it ran a blood bath. On an individual level, each commander urging his men to up their body counts, so he could gain another star (or get promoted, or simply keep his job), could have done humanity a great service (or at least spared humanity great harm) by simply falling asleep.

Of course, while you sleep, you can’t exert force upon the physical world, which means, by the toxic standard we’ve adopted, you can’t achieve. And if you’re not achieving, you lose access not only to the money you need to provide for yourself and your family, but also to a sense of worth and purpose. You are what you’re paid to do; if you’re not paid to do anything, you’re useless.

The world-eating machine demands that we work and work and work. What miracles of healing might arise, from a nice long rest?

A Message from Dollary Clump

There’s really only one presidential candidate: Dollary Clump. As a special treat, I will channel hrim for you, so you can hear hrim speak.

“My fellow Americans. Hi. How’s it going? Wait – don’t answer that. I don’t give a shit. What matters to me is gaining power and attention, and justifying all the cash I’ve dropped on plastic surgery. Then again, you don’t deserve my concern. Why? Because you’re dumb. I mean, super dumb. You think a plutocrat like me, living on funny money from one scam after another, can relate to your problems, much less do anything to fix them? That’s absurd! I live in mansions, fly in private jets. I can’t remember the last time I cooked a meal for myself. Or cleaned my own bathroom. Or paid rent. I don’t even have hobbies like yours. You play – what? Baseball? Soccer? Scrabble? You like to knit, garden, read books? Well I like to fuck shit up! (All hail the deathconomy!) With my right hand I raise casinos and condo towers; with my left I approve weapons sales in return for kickba – I mean charitable contributions to my philanthropic foundation.

“Face it, kids: I’m simply not on your wavelength. Look at it this way – while you guys scurry around on your anthill, trying to make ends meet, I’m up here in the stratosphere, staring down at you and laughing my ass off. Why? Because you can’t stand me! I’m a liar, a jerk, an arrogant maniac! And – wait for it! You’re gonna VOTE FOR ME ANYWAY! That’s how rigged (in my favor) the game is. That’s how little imagination you have.

“I don’t know, guys. Sometimes I wonder. Do I even want the job of fleecing y’all? It’s almost too easy to be fun. I mean, I’ve heard of Stockholm Syndrome – but thinking a filthy rich poser like me is going to improve your lot, after watching your planet get eaten, over and over, by filthy rich posers? That’s just weird. Like, you guys need help. From someone else! Ha ha ha! Don’t look at me!”

Wild Hunger (You Remember)

Yesterday I retrieved from the library, and read, As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Stay in Denial (a graphic novel by Derrick Jensen and Stephanie McMillan). Wow. It’s hilarious. Now I’m wondering about my role as a domesticated animal.

In the book, wild animals lead the charge against the aliens who’ve received permits from the president to eat the planet (earlier on, we learn that wildness is the one thing that can stop the aliens, the one thing they’re afraid of); a few willing-to-be-wild humans – along with trees, rocks, winds, flies – join in. In the final frame, the victorious wild army sweeps down a winding road towards their next battle, this one with the corporations (who’ve objected to the alien invasion only because they’ve been eating the planet, and don’t wish to share their meal).

The wild creatures fight with all they’ve got – sustaining many injuries and casualties – because their lives depend on defeating the world-eaters; the domesticated creatures (human and not), addicted to the so-called comforts of life as they know it, refuse to fight at all.

Just how domesticated am I? Just how caged?

One thing that seems relevant is how much time I spend indoors.

For almost eleven years now, I’ve been walking at least five miles per day, which translates into at least an hour and a quarter outdoors. That’s something – but it’s not much. Even before reading As the World Burns, I’d been playing with the idea of requiring myself to spend more time – three to five hours, maybe – with no barrier between body and sky. Yesterday evening, I chose to bring neither umbrella nor raincoat when I left home with a storm brewing; as the rain soaked me, I savored its smell, and its taste. This morning, after stubbing my toe on concrete, I chewed up plantain leaves and wedged them in next to the wound, in lieu of a band-aid.

In As the World Burns, some wild animals tell some willing-to-be-wild humans that, once upon a time, humans and animals were comrades, friends. They say that’s the way it was meant to be, and could be again. This leads me to wonder whether social nourishment, to be complete, must include an RDA of interaction with creatures beyond my species.

About thirty years ago, in the dining room of my family’s Brooklyn apartment, I reached up to my scalp to find a bug in my hair. I flung it away, with a squawk, alarm coursing through my body; though I knew I wasn’t really in danger, I felt I’d survived a vicious attack. Just the other week, I found another bug in my hair, in our dining room in Beacon. I pulled it out, let it go, felt no alarm at all. It’s taken a while, but I’ve come to accept that insects will approach, scope, touch.

If this can change, what else can change? I am glimpsing the possibility of ease with going barefoot, nesting to sleep in tall grass. What am I missing, world, staying inside?

The Lottery, Writ Large

Engine Summer, by John Crowley, is one of those science fiction books that doesn’t read like science fiction. The world of the story is so real, so plausible, so tied to our current troubles, that it seems begotten not made.

Early in the tale, the protagonist, a boy named Rush That Speaks, leaves his cozy, low-tech enclave to go on an adventure with Seven Hands, his father. After walking for a while, the two gain a height from which Rush catches his first glimpse of Road. Disused for many years (decades, if not centuries), Road has cracked and crumbled, given way to trees and shrubs. No one has driven a motor vehicle in living memory; the technology needed to do so has been intentionally destroyed. Thanks to anthropogenic catastrophe, the Earth holds far fewer humans than it once did.

Staring down at this strange and wondrous ribbon, Rush asks Seven Hands, “What was it…for?”

“To kill people with,” Seven Hands replies. “The cars….went fast, you see, faster than bats but not so carefully, and so they collided all the time….But in the ancient days, they didn’t mind much…there were millions of them; they didn’t mind a few thousand killed.”

Nowadays, the annual number of deaths by motor weapon, in the United States alone, far surpasses “a few thousand” (Crowley was writing in the 1970s): It ranges from thirty to forty thousand, and the only statistic that reliably correlates with the casualty rate is miles driven (which, in turn, tends to rise when the deathconomy is thriving, and fall when it’s doing badly). Meaning, no matter what laws you pass, no matter how strictly you enforce those laws, no matter how many safety measures you take, Road is bound to claim tens of thousands of human lives per year (as well as countless lives belonging to beings of other species). This is why I refuse to call any motor-vehicle-related tragedy an “accident”: all such tragedies are expected, accounted for, built into the system. In our collective unconscious, we accept rampant bloodshed as the cost of doing business.

Which raises the issue of disposability. Is it true that we simply don’t care about losing thirty to forty thousand souls per year, in a country of more than three hundred million? Maybe we don’t. Maybe we feel a certain irritation with those vast hordes of others who are fucking shit up (e.g., by having abortions, or worshipping at a mega-church, or owning guns, or voting for Trump). Or maybe, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we believe that if we fasten our seatbelts and obey “Don’t Walk” signs the black dot in the lottery will never claim us, or someone we love.

Deliver Us, Lord, from Cracks in Our Story

I’m inclined, when I hear the words “save the Earth,” to (roll my eyes and) replace “the Earth” with “our asses.” Why? Because, as the saying goes, “Mother Nature bats last.”

Yes, we’ve done plenty of harm to our source, and could do plenty more – but she will wipe us out, with fire and flood, drought and famine, long before we reach the point of threatening her existence. We need her to survive; without us, she’d do fine. Go ahead and recycle, eat local, ride a bike – but admit that what’s at stake is not the planet itself, but our precarious perch thereon.

However: I am wondering now (thanks to something Gregg said last night), if the question of our perch is even in play; the actions we dump in the bin labeled “Earth-savers” won’t do much for us humans, so long as the matrix they’re part of – debt-driven disconnection and extraction – remains intact.

A couple months ago, at Firestorm Books in Asheville, Gregg and I encountered some photocopied pages from As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Stay in Denial (a graphic novel by Derrick Jensen and Stephanie McMillan). I’ve yet to read the book (I just requested it from the library); the title may reveal what we really seek to save, that is, our tale of our culture as a viable, even benevolent, frame for organizing life.

Let us gather in prayer at the redemption center: May the story we live in be true; may the less enlightened get a clue and help us fix its flaws.

I’m not against eating local or bike-riding (I do resent the shadow work and corporate welfare involved in recycling). Also I find healing power in laughing at our unwitting quest for indulgences – and relaxing into the beauty and communion our story claims we’ll only gain by working ever harder.

Waste Management = Corporate Welfare

Briefly, last summer, I had a gig requiring me to pick up litter, and sort trash from recycling, at a local park. One morning, as I was hunting detritus, a man in a car slowed to say, his mouth atwist, “People are slobs, right?” I half-smiled, didn’t reply. Once he’d driven off, I realized why agreement hadn’t leapt from my mouth: It’s not people who are slobs, it’s corp(se)orations. That’s whose litter I was picking up. Almost every item I dropped in my sack either bore, or had once borne, the name of a corp(se).

Yesterday I read a feature in a business newspaper about the push to get New York City to go zero-waste – that is, quit sending shit to landfills. Right now, handling the city’s waste is both a huge industry (worth millions – billions? – of dollars) and a massive source of shadow work. Not only do thousands of trucks travel millions of miles each year, to collect the waste and stick it elsewhere, but millions of citizens, every day, spend precious minutes rinsing, sorting, bagging, and otherwise prepping a never-ending stream of recyclables for their next pass through the downcycle. (If you’re truly committed, you pay to recycle your carefully sorted baby food pouches, potato chip bags, cereal box liners, etc., through any number of highly specific TerraCycle “brigades.”)

Why are we doing all this work? Who is it for?

For we the people, you might say – without waste-hauling, the streets would be a stinking mess (then again, this might slow motor vehicles, and save lives!). For “the Earth,” you might continue – she just loves it when we sort shit type A from shit type B and turn shit type B into astroturf! But – who profits from these enormous, never-ending expenditures of money and effort (besides some of the waste haulers and recyclers, who are paid by local businesses and taxpayers)?

That’s right – corp(se)orations. They get to make nasty, toxic, flimsy, ugly shit, sell it to us – fling it all over the lawn – and then snicker into their beer cans as the rest of us scurry to clean it up.

Waste is not intrinsic to living systems. In a forest (for example), one process feeds another; output becomes input. When we accept waste as the problem of the city, the local business, the citizen – to be solved by our sweat, our cash – we lose. Life loses.

Who wins? Corp(se)orations.

If Men Cleaned the World

The bathroom sink in the last Brooklyn apartment I lived in had a flat bottom. This meant that I received no help from gravity, when coaxing debris down the drain. The sink was designed to be sleek and sexy – it was not designed to be easy to clean. I’ve yet to encounter a home with this value built in.

I lay the blame on a gender divide: Most people who design homes – including furniture, appliances, and the like – are men; most people who clean said homes are women. (Institutions, on the other hand, are more likely to be cleaned by men – and more likely to be designed with ease of cleaning in mind.)

If men cleaned the world, I’m guessing, the world would be far easier to clean.

I dream of slatted floors, with gaps beneath them, into which dirt and dust could be swept. Faucet housings free of slime-filled valleys to their rears. Toilets with smooth exteriors. Window frames without schmutz-collecting moats.

A lovely thing about the wood stove we used to cook dinner at Medicine Wheel was its cast-iron top, which never had to be wiped because any residue it acquired quickly burned off.

Maybe the answer is not seeking advantage in the war on dirt, by streamlining living spaces for ease of cleaning, but ending the conflict, by bringing the outdoors in.

What is dirt, anyway? What is dust? How did we grow so determined to sequester ourselves within gleaming, spotless boxes? How did our domestic tools and materials come to need such protection? And how did we conclude that it’s perfectly reasonable for couples to occupy entire houses by themselves?

At Medicine Wheel, at least, there’s just one kitchen, one shower room, one indoor toilet – which substantially decreases the average cleaning burden. And cleaning is often done collectively, or at least in company. Everyone cleans up after dinner; when cleaning the common areas solo, you’re at least likely to have someone to talk to, if you want that. Plus, a house filled with unrelated adults (as opposed to a single couple) is more likely to include at least one or two people who actually like to clean.