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.


Paris Day 1

A little over a year ago, I stopped writing what was intended to be a daily post. Shortly before I stopped writing, a volcano erupted in Iceland. While claiming that the volcano’s eruption bears responsibility for my lack of blogging productivity might be a stretch, its a pretty good story…

In truth, my 365 day project ran out of gas. It might have been different if the volcano had stayed quiet. I was scheduled to fly to Paris on April 18, ultimately making my way to Genoa for an inspiring and challenging week long photography workshop with David DuChemin and Jeffrey Chapman. But I stayed in Seattle. I spent a week with a packed suitcase in the middle of the floor. My morning routine involved drinking a latte with a phone to my ear, trying to find a flight from the west coast of the United States to anywhere in Europe that was operating and wasn’t oversold. It didn’t happen. I finally threw in the towel and called in my travel insurance. A couple months later, CSA sent a check for everything I had spent that wasn’t reimbursed by the airline. In the mean time, I stopped writing daily blog posts and confined my disappointment to the pages of a moleskine. While I appreciated the Seattle’s beauty walking through the Arboretum and along Lake Washington, and I tried really hard to recognize that there is a time and place for everything, I was having a really difficult time finding my daily routine as inspiring as France and Italy.

It took a few days before I was ready to start unpacking that suitcase. I carefully placed the bag with gifts for family and friends on a shelf in my bedroom, not knowing when I would deliver them, but vowing to doing so. The suitcase went back to the storage room in the basement.

Fast forward one year: A rolling duffel bag sat on the floor with piles of clothing and camera gear all around it for a week as I decided what was going and what was staying. I finally took the bag of gifts off the shelf, made a nest for it among my clothes, zipped and locked the bag. The heavy pack containing laptop, external hard drive, camera, lenses and other critical items went on my back.

Continue reading

Landscapes and Dreamscapes

City Wildlands

In the course of a “normal” day, I think I wear three or four hats: cook, writer, photographer, editor, dog walker, (some days) jeweler… Is that why stay-at-home moms have a hard time figuring out what to do when they decide they want to go back to work? They have experience at almost everything and don’t necessarily recognize all the skills they have acquired. This morning I got a frantic call from the bathroom in the seventh grade hallway asking if I could please bring Gillian the book that she had forgotten by 10 am so she didn’t get detention. Continue reading

Circling back

After last night’s sorting through 20 years of thinking, on a string of topics that are finally all coming together, I needed a good night’s sleep. This morning it occurred to me, as I sat down with my notebook and pen, that what I had finally done was to make sense of my own journey through life to date. I rambled my way from being captivated by the french language as a high school student by a particularly inspiring teacher, which ultimately led me to live in France, and finally end up with not only a Bachelor’s degree, but a Master’s degree in french literature.  Along that journey, I spent 5 years working at a job as a stock broker at the height of capitalistic frenzy, the 80’s. I abandoned that job when I went back to school to get my graduate degree.  There was something even then that I found deeply disturbing about the pure lust for more and more money that led up to the 1987 epic market crash. In graduate school, though I was ostensibly there to study french literature, I dove headlong into the philosophical and anthropological questions of the moment. I found captivating the radical ideas I discovered in french post-modern thought. I considered continuing in the PhD program, but for some reason the practical part of me won that argument.  If I had three degrees in french literature from one institution, what were the chances that I would ever find employment living in the same city with that same institution.  Not only that, but really, in my heart of hearts, I knew that I did not have the makings of a career Academic.  So, I did the only thing that made sense at that moment in time. I had a baby. Right… Of course… That follows… But of course it does… Because I had to, in order to fully grasp the things that finally made sense last night and this morning.  I had to experience what it feels like to have a job that is incredibly financially lucrative, followed by one which is barely financially adequate (graduate student/french teacher), followed by one in which I am paid nothing at all (stay-at-home mom). The only thing that has changed about who I am is what I am doing. But, was I a more or less valuable person at any point in time because of the job I held, or the number of digits on my paycheck? I’ve struggled with that question, even though I really do know the answer.

The other thing that was suddenly clear this morning is that I hold two paradigms as fundamental to the human experience that are uneasy bedfellows. A number of years ago, a friend said to me, “you know, there really are only 2 emotions and all the others come from them: Fear and Love.”  I pondered that for a while, and came to believe that it is true.  As I explained to my children, fear is the one that makes your heart constrict.  Love is the one that makes your heart expand.  Fear makes me feel protective of myself and the things I hold of value.  Love allows me to give of myself and of my substance.  What I realized is that market economies are related to fear and gift economies are related to love.  The feeling of abundance accompanies love in a gift economy, and scarcity accompanies fear in a market economy.  As long as human beings believe that the only way to feel safe (no fear) is by accumulation (market economy) they will be denied access to that which they truly desire: Love.

Now I need to give credit to Dave, who wrote a comment today about how much he loves the Beatles lyrics that I quoted a week ago, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make”, because, I realized when I read his comment, that this is what I’ve been circling back to through all of this philosophical gibberish (which isn’t really gibberish).  But to understand it fully, and for me that means tracking back through the whys and why nots, I had to go through it all, and suddenly the last 30 years of my life do not look like a chaotic mess… a hairball of paths through life… a series of passionate interests overlapping and veering off in different directions.

I started writing this blog, telling myself it was for me and that it didn’t matter who read it or even if no one read it.  Then I found out there were actually people reading it and I got hooked by the graphs that showed how many!  Now, after little more than a week, I know that I really am writing for myself.  At least today.

I’m not sure how any of this can be represented photographically, but since it jelled after I was out with the dogs, maybe an image from my walk is the best answer. And since today was the first day in what seems like eternity that I enjoyed just being outside, I took my time.  Everywhere is water. Droplets cling to the tips of new growth as well as to the battered remains of the fall:

A rain-soaked world

And maybe now, after all this sorting, I will just get on with being… and continue on my merry way through the hair ball of paths that seem to all be mine to travel and just enjoy the myriad experiences that this crazy journey offers. Stay tuned…

I posted this several hours ago, and as I was cleaning out the overflowing inbox in my email, I came across a link that I had forgotten about.  I’d seen before, but after working through all of this today I watched it again and wanted to share it: in case anyone was reading this.

The Slippery Slope

I think I may have gotten a little off track lately.  In my efforts to notice and appreciate the beauty and richness of daily life, I have gotten bogged down by endless grey rainy days.  When focusing in and looking deeper into my own life doesn’t seem to do the trick, apparently I need to turn the lens to the world beyond these four walls – figuratively speaking.  It gets a little claustrophobic in here… Yesterday’s sunrise was a welcome relief, but this morning’s wind-blown rain was giving me trouble holding onto that “beauty in every moment” thing.  I think that sometimes, its the richness of life outside of my immediate environment that enhances the inside.  I’ve already mentioned that taking my camera with me changes the way I perceive the world, but my camera lives with me and it doesn’t always seem to do the trick at home.  Maybe I should take one whole week and only photograph things and people within my house… but not this week.

I began a new book today.  One of the benefits of being “forced” to exercise indoors is that I read more.  After once again abandoning the idea of errands on foot with doggies, I picked up the book that has been calling to me from the top of my pile, waving its hand and saying “me, next” like an over-eager kindergartner.  Its a book called, “The Gift” by Lewis Hyde.  As I read the introduction, I knew that I was on a slippery slope.  I should have recognized the symptoms yesterday when I started talking about “the gift” of the sunrise, and Alain De Botton’s article on art.  Suddenly, the language and the references were all familiar and I was in over my head.  I flashed back 20 years to graduate school.  Then I realized what I have been stalking for all these years… I don’t think I can sum it up, because, as I just said, I’m in over my head.  Some of the greatest minds in recent history in the fields of anthropology, linguistics and philosophy have already written about and discussed this issue well beyond my capacity to put it all together.  My graduate work was in french literature.  The names that I suddenly encountered in Lewis Hyde’s references were all familiar: Mauss, Levi-Strauss, Bataille, Derrida. All french … So all of a sudden, my brain is working overtime, trying to string together gift economies, the creation of art, stay-at-home parenting, indigenous ritual, etc.  Can you see the wheels turning?  Can you see why I am over my head in even attempting to write about this stuff?  Its been 20 years since I last read these works and yet out of the blue they have an immediate relevance to my own thinking.  The one thing I can confidently speak to is the idea that when we give something, we create relationships where we find meaning quite unlike the relationships that exist in the marketplace, where value is determined monetarily.  The idea that appeals to me deeply is that the things we freely give ourselves to are what allow us to experience the fullness of our humanity. Ideally, parenting (stay-at-home or otherwise) is one of those things. It is a gift. Something given without expectation of return. I would argue that it falls squarely into the lineage of the gift economies discussed and explored in great detail by some of the above named authors. The reason this is important to me is that I truly believe that our culture is long overdue for a realignment in such a way that human beings are valued not for what they accumulate, but for who they are and for what they give of themselves to enrich the life of the larger human community.

So, now to get myself out of this and back to something more concrete… I spent a lot of today with a camera in hand.  As a matter of fact, I ran the battery dead in one camera doing head shots of 7th graders for a teacher appreciation day gift.  I had my new toy, the Canon s90, a fancy little point and shoot, in my purse for emergency purposes.  When I got to the grocery store later, I found myself captivated by the displays.  Usually, grocery shopping follows a specific plan.  I start in the produce section and move through the store gathering the things on my list as I go.  I arrive at the far side of the store, check the list to make sure its all there, and head to the check-stand.  Not so today.  I spent over an hour and a half wandering around finding things on my list, but getting distracted between items, checking out beautiful labels and shooting rows of olive oil and piles of peppers.  The olive bar got two visits; one of which included a conversation about this writing with a man who congratulated me on being a stay-at-home mom.  I’d like to thank you, if you are out there… I never imagined I’d meet someone at the olive bar who wanted to talk to me about my blog! I got so hungry mid-shopping that I stashed my cart, bought a piece of pizza, sat down and ate it and reviewed the images I had captured so far.  When I returned to my cart, I still had a few more things on the list that required a few more detours through aisles of artistically arranged bottles, bags and jars.

In the Wine Department

The Olive Bar

Once again, the camera does the trick. Camera as metaphor… change the lens.  Value is all in the way we perceive things.  Whether its art, parenting, or grocery-shopping, I may not be able to change the culture I live in, but I can change the way I see things and accord them the honor they deserve.

I’m a little out of the practice of writing literary essays on post-modern french thought, and I’ve probably neglected to tie up some loose ends up there, but if I go back and try to make sure it all comes together, I will really be on a slippery slope.  I will more than likely find myself still sitting here with my eyes burning a couple of hours from now.  So tied up or untied, thats it for now.