Paris

The Hotel de Ville

A Tricolore thread winds through the weave of my life, and on the periphery of my awareness hangs Paris, a once possible alternate reality. Living there permanently was the dream I couldn’t quite pull off, but I’ve returned to visit time and time again. During the past few weeks however, Paris has held a different place in my mind and heart. This time, it’s not due to my familiarity with the city or that it still holds me under its spell. This time, since the November 13 bombings, Paris has held my attention with a special urgency.

I sat down to write tonight not to share stories and images recently collected while wandering through the Marais or in the Luxembourg gardens but because I have a burning concern and words that I’m not hearing spoken by the world’s most powerful leaders and I want to know why. It seems like simple logic to me.

I want to know why Obama isn’t saying, “There is no other issue but Climate Change. If we don’t take dramatic and urgent measures to address runaway CO2 emissions, nothing else matters. Nothing… period.” I want to hear him say, “If you care about immigration, refugees, guns, food, agriculture, health, gender and/or race issues, look deeper at climate change. Its all tied together in a big fat mess and we will never untangle it without addressing the climate.”

You will say, “He can’t say that. He has to be careful with his language. He has to be diplomatic. There are allies and coalitions of power that he’s working on subtly, out of our view.” I get it… He’s making deals. But what I also get is that there’s still only one issue. Climate Change trumps everything else, including the antics of the caricature pseudo-politician who goes by that name.

I also want to know why everyone who loves this big beautiful earth and all of its creatures isn’t having a fit right now. If you follow me elsewhere on social media, you might be tired of my fit, tired of me going on about the climate, tired of my posting petitions and begging you to sign them. I’m not going to pipe down about it. This is a big deal. I want you to join me. I want you to make a big deal out of it too. I want you to do whatever you think is your part to do so that we can enjoy this incredible place called earth a little longer.

I understand that it doesn’t seem like you can do anything about it, just you, personally. This thing is too big and too scary and there’s too little leadership. But that thinking only leads one way, to inaction.

We can change the direction of this runaway train. Each one of us can do something every day. At the very least we can lend our support, the very real and very powerful things we each have called attention and intention to the movement. We can start by asking ourselves every day, “Can I do this differently? Do I really need to fire up my car? Do I need to go on that business trip? Can we have this meeting via Skype?” If not, “is that because I can’t change the situation or because I don’t know how… yet?” But we can’t change it if walk around with our heads in the clouds because its too hard, or unpleasant or inconvenient to change our lives. We want someone else to lead. Well its too late. This is our planet and its changing so fast that within our lifetimes, and I’m 54, we won’t recognize it as the same place.

This week, record rainfall fell outside my window, again. This summer, it was record draught. The maritime Pacific Northwest is traditionally known for its green landscapes and gray skies, by relatively high precipitation, long, cool summers and somewhat mild winters. In places where high temperatures and draught already hold sway, and where flooding already threatens, exaggeration of these native conditions means unlivable conditions. Here in the PNW, we have no idea what that might be like. For us, climate change is causing inconveniences like no ski season last winter, and we can still pretend. But this week was different in Beijing, Norway and Cumbria. In Beijing, even breathing the air is dangerous. How is that even living? In Brazil, women in certain areas are being warned not to have babies because of the insect borne zika virus, which causes microcephaly (a neurological disorder that stunts the growth of the baby’s cranium) in developing fetuses. Warmer temperatures and frequent downpours speed up the breeding cycles of the insects, so during the summer months, they’re simply advising women not to conceive.

I’m writing tonight because I’m disturbed and I want to disturb your peace of mind too. I want to shake you up a bit. I want my friends and neighbors to get a little bit upset about this, because I am and I think you should be too.

Quai du Seine and Notre Dame

Its almost morning in Paris. If they haven’t been working all night, the delegates from hundreds of countries will soon reconvene for the last time. The talks end tomorrow and tomorrow is almost here. The agreement won’t be enough to turn back the tide, but it might be enough to gain a little time. Whatever the governments of the world decide, it will be up to each one us to hold them to it. What kind of a world do we want for our children and grandchildren and what are we willing to do for it?

The climate movement is gifted with talented artists from every discipline. They are poets and musicians and painters and performers. They are protestors and climate activists and they’re making art and making a ruckus in the streets of Paris. They’ve staged impromptu concerts and performances and built massive installations. Every day, I’m awed by the ingenuity and camaraderie I see via my screen. One might almost think its a festival, but the urgency and tension in the faces and air belie the seriousness of their endeavor. We all have something to offer this movement.

After dinner walk

As Paris awakens, I’m off to bed, but I hope that tomorrow I’ll awaken to a world united behind a common goal. Please join me.

 

We Are All Scared Babies

SB ChurchAfter writing in my journal this morning about how it seems as though the entire human race is freaking out, I opened my computer thinking I should write about this for my blog. As usual, I had about fifteen tabs open, but on the screen in front of me, I saw the following questions: “How will climate change affect different species?” and “Will organisms be able to adapt quickly enough in a rapidly changing environment?” (http://www.calacademy.org/library-of-life)

The dots between these questions and what I had been writing about earlier connected and formed a solid bridge. Aren’t these the big questions that human beings need to ask themselves right now? Take out the word climate in the first one and change species to people. “How will change affect different people?” and the second, “Will human beings be able to adapt quickly enough in a rapidly changing environment?”

It’s a known fact that human beings don’t like change. Some of us like it better than others and say that we like it… I’m in that camp, but what I mean really is that I like variety, because the truth is, I’m not capable of conceiving of my life as my own without its familiar context, like the color of my skin or that I am female and speak English as my native language and was born in North America… to say nothing of my education, age, religion (or lack thereof) or family.

I’m not referring to environment in the specific sense of the natural world here, but the environment as in the place we each spend our lives, whether its in high rise in a city or on a mountain in the middle of the wilderness. But the truth is, our environments are changing faster than we are comfortable adapting and so we’re all freaking out and blaming each other.

Maybe the only thing human beings are capable of doing to address this mess right now is to actually be honest about the fear that we are all feeling when we look around at the state of chaos on the planet and in the communities we call home.

Some of us only have to look as far as an empty shelf in the corner of a hut where there is nothing to feed our hungry children to know fear. Some feel threatened walking through their neighborhood because of the color of their skin. Some go to bed at night praying that they will wake up in the morning; that their home will be spared a direct hit by a flying exploding object because of their religion or ethnicity. Some hope that an unemployed spouse won’t come home drunk and beat them up yet again. Some watch incoming storms and wonder, will this one be the one that washes the land my hut has stood on for generations into the sea?

We think we need to stop the change. The urgency to “Do something about it!” seems to scream from every headline. And perhaps there are things we can do to actually slow down some of the changes. But I think the larger truth, that things are irrevocably changing, is demanding of us humans that we adapt.

What does it mean to adapt? To accept that the world is going to shit, buy a rifle and hole up in my house? Well, that’s one way to think about it, but really, doesn’t it mean that I have to change, and if I just go buy a rifle and hole up in my basement with my art supplies and books, I’m not changing. We humans simply don’t do this change thing very gracefully.

The strange thing is, that ever since the dawn of our species, we’ve had to change to survive. Whether you believe that we started out in the Garden of Eden wearing leaves and eating forbidden apples, or that we evolved from the great apes or chimpanzees somewhere in Africa, it doesn’t matter. In order to survive on Planet Earth, as the earth has changed, as the conditions in the environment have changed, humans have had to adapt. I’d like to think that we’re just having a giant collective temper tantrum because we are actually starting to recognize the imperative to live differently, like a baby does every time they are about to make one of those giant steps in growth, like sitting up, crawling, or walking. Each one of these is marked by a period of frustration involving, crying, thrashing, and all manner of unpleasant behavior that makes the parents think the child has suddenly become possessed. Then its over until the next developmental milestone approaches.

Perhaps we think we have more at stake this time; that we are mature and have created the greatest civilization in history and therefore only need to protect it. But that’s a pretty arrogant idea, and if we go back through history, we’ll quickly discover that there were other civilizations that thought they had achieved that status as well. Unfortunately, they’re not around to warn us that this arrogance only leads in one direction – the demise of said ultimate human civilization.

Unless we can, as a whole, develop a little cultural amnesia or humility, and simply look around and see what is asked of each of us today, right now, and what it will take to respond courageously to what is asked, it seems like we’re in for the ride of our lives. I do hope that somewhere along the way, we can begin to recognize each other as fellow travelers on a journey, not as white or black, Muslim, Christian or Pagan, man or woman, gay or straight, wealthy or impoverished, educated or not, just human.

How will we do this? Maybe the only way is through seeing each other’s suffering. We all suffer and we tend to be able to see each other’s suffering and respond to that. I’m getting over my head here, but perhaps if we can somehow come to understand that the collective fear of the human race is simply another form of suffering, we’ll survive this ride and come out better on the other side.

I have my opinions about certain elements of government and society that are making this whole mess worse right now, but behind those factions are bunch of scared babies, just like the rest of us. So ‘fess up scared babies… lets do it differently. I’m scared too.

This piece was inspired by a blog post written by Austin Kleon, the above referenced questions on the website of the California Academy of Sciences and a comment made by Theo Nestor in a writing class that we should write about the things that we spend a lot of time thinking about whether we believe we have the authority to do so or not.

Love the Life You Lead. Fall 2013 DAY EIGHT. Camille Dohrn

This is a piece I wrote last fall for what I thought was a Facebook page only. I found it tonight purely by accident. Writing it was a very difficult thing at that time. In rereading this tonight, I see how it was also instrumental in a healing process that means looking “death” or any (significant) loss, straight on and refusing to give it the power to stop me from living.

LTLYL...Love the life you lead

“What is the nature of my conversation with death?”I’ve ruminated on this question numerous times over the last four years while struggling with a string of deaths and losses. I’ve come to believe that its a question not to be answered but to ask, and to let it inform one’s life.

Love the Life You Lead. Fall 2013
DAY EIGHT. Camille Dohrn

The first time death came along and knocked me to my knees, I was 28. My father died suddenly while I was far away, on a bicycle in France. Life as I knew it seemed to swirl around me, all the familiar patterns morphing and changing until I didn’t recognize it any more. It was still there, but it seemed unfamiliar. I didn’t know my place in it anymore. I felt like I was outside, looking in, wondering what the rules of the game were. It didn’t occur…

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Subversive Meditating

blog-1True confession: I have a checkered track record with meditation. I started meditating a long time ago when I went to visit a good friend who had been through a number of consecutive personal ordeals and swore she had survived by meditating. We sat and listened to a guided meditation for about 45 minutes every day while I was there. I thoroughly enjoyed it. As far as I could tell, you just space out and keep coming back when the guy reminds you to. Back home, I decided to look into it a little deeper, “Maybe I should actually learn how to do this meditation thing for real.”

That was when the trouble began… “Am I supposed to close my eyes or keep them open? Hands on my knees or in my lap? Cross legged on a cushion or in a chair? What if you can’t cross your legs and sit for that long? What constitutes thinking, anyway? Is it thinking if I listen to the birds sing? Is it thinking if I watch the images in my mind? Are images thoughts? Oh god, I totally suck at this! How can anyone stop thinking???”.

I decided that I was not at all cut out for this meditation thing and that it was indeed a danger to my mental health. Well, I didn’t actually quit completely because I kept making secret little forays into meditating from different angles, at times practicing for months before stopping again. I finally told myself that my daily writing practice was a mindfulness practice and that was just going to be my form of meditation.

But I kept thinking that I should be sitting on the floor saying a mantra. Some sneaky gremlin had me convinced that because I was such a lousy meditator, I was actually only a pseudo spiritual person because any truly spiritual person wouldn’t be as bad at meditation as I was. It was supposed to be good for me dammit! Just like the vitamins on the window sill in the kitchen and the soy milk that was in my fridge which I never really liked. This went on for years…

This past weekend, after listening to yet another podcast where the interviewee talked about their meditation practice, I said “ok, fine, 10 minutes, starting tomorrow”, and I set a reminder alarm on my phone for every day into infinity and beyond.

Fortunately for me, tomorrow found me sitting on a ferry with nothing but reading material and my journal to distract me. I had no excuse. So I meditated… no big deal.

Day 2: I was all bunched up over something that had happened the night before that I needed to walk off, so out the window went the meditation plan. After a couple blocks, I realized that I could not solve the problem and it was tormenting me. “Damn, I should have sat my butt on the floor instead of going for a walk.” As quickly as that thought appeared in my overly anxious brain, I thought of the phone in my pocket and did a search for walking meditations. Ha, found! Thank you iTunes. “I am so clever…”

Within a few minutes I was breathing again. It was quite short so I listened to another one. And another…  On I walked, listening and breathing, taking in the drippy new morning around me, letting go, letting go, letting go. 30 minutes later, I stuck my headphones in my pocket, and listened to the symphony of birdsong while the light rain dampened my face for the remainder of my walk.

Yesterday was the real test. No excuses… I made my 2/3 decaf, 1/3 caf latte and walked outside onto the porch. “I’ll meditate after this…” and then, “I wonder if there’s such a thing as a coffee drinking meditation?” A totally subversive little voice answered me, “Why not?”

“Because coffee and meditation do NOT go together!”

“Says who?”

I drink coffee not for the buzz of the caffeine, but because the richness of the smell lures me, the creamy bitterness holds my attention, the feel of the softly rounded ceramic warms my hands, and the embrace of ease and luxury it offers is a beautiful way to begin the day. Its a tiny little indulgence just for me.

I sat down on the porch with the sun on my face and closed my eyes. My meditation lasted as long as the coffee. I sipped it. I breathed. I listened to the birds. I told my body that I was listening and I told my mind I was listening and if they had anything they needed to let me know about it was welcome. Thought amnesty… “olly olly oxen free”, originally, “all ye, all ye, all come free.” I giggled as I thought these words and then I listened again… It was quiet. My inner critic gremlins wouldn’t believe it. They started making noises. “You don’t have a quiet mind”. “I know, you’re right, I don’t, but at the moment its quiet so shut up.” And I waited for the noise to begin. The only noise was my breathing and the birds singing. A few times I wondered if listening to the birds sing constituted thinking, but I decided I didn’t care and I didn’t care if anyone else cared and returned to simply listening and breathing and feeling the sun on my face. Then the coffee was gone and the rain began.

What I may finally have learned was that I don’t need another “should” that my oh so nasty inner critic can abuse me with. It doesn’t need more ammunition. I realized that I had tricked it and that I can do it again by simply asking myself what I really want to do and then do it in a meditative way. Framed in this manner, meditation becomes a subversive act, and that is more powerful than anything my internal critic can throw at me.

My ten minutes (or however long it is), is time stolen from the press of responsibilities, the demands of home, dogs, family, the needs of the hundreds of people whose urgent emails fill my inbox, stealing time, for me, all for me… And that is radical!

 

 

Sun-day in the Arboretum

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome days, no matter how much might be amiss in the world that I should be personally attending to, how well or poorly I slept last night, or how many responsibilities are begging for my attention, I’m simply incapable of my usual brand of thrashing. I don’t have it in me to wrestle an idea to the ground, chase down my inner critic, or argue a point, even with myself.  On those rare and blessed occasions, particularly when they fall on one of the first days of spring, when the sun is just warm enough to go for a walk without a coat, I’ll often pick up my smaller camera and do just that.

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Today was one of those days. So while I had some ideas that I had intended to write about today, I’m not sure what happened to them. I think I lost them in the Arboretum, possibly under the magnolia tree with its impossibly large pink blossoms.

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I’m sorry to report that I haven’t solved any of the world’s problem’s today, but the world erased all of mine.

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On Vulnerability

Since beginning this post almost two weeks ago, so much has shifted that I’m not sure I know where to start anymore. Yesterday, I sat down to write and got sidetracked reading my friend Jeffrey Chapman’s blog post and the comments following it. What I had already written seemed directly connected to what I was witnessing on Jeffrey’s blog. I was writing about watching Brene Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability prior to my recent travels… that it must have set a tone for the way that I traveled throughout the next three weeks.

Having traveled a fair bit in France and Italy, I have a decent repertoire of memories to draw from. This time, something felt different. It wasn’t until I reflected upon the possibility that I was doing it differently that it all started to make sense.

Jeffrey’s post elicited a landslide of comments. Thoughtful and sensitive, full of depth and very personal, they came from the heart… The original blog post itself was unusual. In it, he was open and vulnerable about personal grief and loss. It was this vulnerability that elicited the ensuing rare conversation, which I found refreshing, exciting and heart-warming.

Waiting for the TGV to Lyon

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Family 4th of July

Returning to Seattle from a long weekend with family and fireworks, a quick summertime post seems a relevant detour from the travel narrative…

For years, I”ve loaded my tripod into the car next to coolers and shopping bags full of more chips, marshmallows, hot dogs and soda than anyone (or maybe just me) can possibly imagine eating. Alongside sleeping bags, dog beds, dogs and kids, I squeeze my camera and personal belongings into the remaining corners and head off to our family’s rustic shelter on an undeveloped piece of land bordering a pristine bay. Continue reading