Dystopian nonfiction, v.2

I’ve been thinking a lot about my choice of words for the acronym SCOTUS since I posted a few hours ago. I own that “Supreme Court of the Useless Shitbags” is indeed disrespectful–but I feel disrespected by their recent decisions.

While I won’t edit the previous post, or apologize for my disrespect, I will say that upon further reflection, I recognize that I shouldn’t feel the need to lower myself to the level of name-calling (shit-slinging) that people on both sides choose. I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Let this reflection be the first step in my journey back to a higher vibration and focusing on my connection to Source.

Thank you, Esther, Jerry and Abraham.

Dystopian nonfiction

Today you get two posts for the price of one.

Well, it’s been a painful summer thus far. To start, by now we all know of the SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the Useless Shitbags) decision to reverse Roe v. Wade. The only thing I wanted to do on June 24–literally THE. ONLY. THING.–was write a post to try and sort through the rage and helplessness and hopelessness and fury and disbelief and horror and disgust and . . . . I’ve run out of adjectives.

But when I went to log into my site, I discovered I had gone too long without accessing it–on top of which, I changed my phone number a few months ago and forgot to update it in my account. So even though I could log in with my username and password, because of our New Best Friend, two-step authentication, I couldn’t receive the security code to complete the login. Essentially, I learned that when WordPress says things like “Generating backup codes is essential and must be done,” they’re not fooling around. If you’re a WordPress user, and you have not done this, please, for the love of god, take care of it right. now.

O my. I have rarely been that frustrated. Like, setting my hair on fire and running down the block screaming frustrated. But here we are, a few weeks later, and all is well.

No. I take that back. All is most definitely not. O. fucking. K. In addition to the June 24 decision, SCOTUS has also severely limited the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon emissions from power plants. Yellowstone National Park and nearby towns were devastated by a 500-year flood. Glaciers are practically spontaneously combusting. Young men with too many guns feel entitled to mass murder people everywhere you look. Heat waves are cooking people around the world. Permafrost is melting, tundra is burning and islands are being swallowed by the ocean.

Unfortunately, I’ve become a bad news junkie. If I believed the Bible was an actual historical record, I’d be expecting a plague of locusts, a rain of frogs and the four horsemen. (Global flood? Check.)

What’s worse is that, as a huge fan of dystopian/apocalyptic fiction, I feel at least partially responsible for manifesting the dystopian nonfiction we find ourselves careening downhill into, like Calvin and Hobbes in their wagon.

[I particularly love Calvin’s quote in this image. It feels like where we are right now as a nation.]

I’ve been reading mainly dystopian/apocalyptic fiction for about the past six years–not so ironically since just before the 2016 election, in fact. At this point, I’m an armchair expert on zombies, nuclear winters, EMPs, coastal inundation, comets, asteroids, alien invasions, mind control, clones, mutations, robots and other AI, colonizing Mars and/or the moon, time travel and killer viruses. With that said, being an armchair expert does not mean I would be remotely prepared to survive if any of these scenarios actually played out. I literally can’t do anything except make jewelry and sun tea. I’d be one of those people curled up in a little ball, crying and rocking myself in a corner.

[Insert appropriate 30Rock scene:
JACK: In a post-apocalyptic world, how would society even use you?
LIZ: Traveling bard.
JACK: Radiation canary.]

It’s all so morbid; I don’t know what perverted little part of me gets off on this stuff, but I can’t help myself. It’s like I want to convince myself that things could be sooooo much worse than they are. I also keep thinking of the famous final stanza in t.s. eliot’s poem The Hollow Men:

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang, but with a whimper.

So, being a devotee of Abraham-Hicks and the Law of Attraction, and because the End Times are on my mind a lot these days . . . well, you do the math. I know it sounds dumb to nonbelievers (like Bible stuff sounds dumb to me), but I know that thoughts do, in fact, become things, and the Law of Attraction is real. Clearly what needs to happen is for me to return to my like-attracts-like, thoughts-become-things, Law of Attraction, Abraham-Hicks mindset. It probably wouldn’t hurt either to focus more on thoughts of unicorns, flowers, rainbows and fluffy kittens.

I need to disembark this apocalyptic train, and head back over to Platform 9 ¾ where life is magical, and magic is real. And now I’m mixing pop culture references, so it’s definitely time to wrap this up.

Calvin & Hobbes image courtesy the brilliant Bill Watterson

Here’s your bonus post: the entry I actually started on June 24, but was unable to post due to the reasons stated above.

We Won’t Go Back.

Please note: I am a middle-aged, middle-class, college-educated, privileged, White, cisgender woman and write from that perspective.

This was meant to be posted on Friday, June 24, “a date which will live in infamy,” in a way that has nothing to do with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Pearl Harbor, and everything to do with Merriam-Webster’s definition of the word “infamy”:

1. evil reputation brought about by something grossly criminal, shocking, or brutal
2. an extreme and publicly known criminal or evil act

Instead, I’ve spent the entire day trying to get someone–anyone–from WordPress to help me log into my site, which, as of 3:45 PM, has been completely futile. In fact, having sent my first cry for help more than six hours ago, and after receiving one completely useless reply about 15 minutes later, at this point I feel patently ignored. Apparently it’s critical (what’s a word that’s even more emphatic than critical? crucial? grave? exigent?) to not only immediately update your account when you change your phone number, it is even more critical (imperative? life-or-death?) that you print out a set of ten backup codes that you supposedly received years and years ago when you first set up two-step authentication. Oopsie.

Be that as it may, it would be a beautiful thing if one could speak to an actual human being when one needs assistance. Apparently that’s no longer a thing.

Anyway, back to this day that will live in infamy. As you’re no doubt aware, this morning SCOTUS (the Supreme Court of the Useless Shitbags) reversed Roe v. Wade, a landmark 1973 decision that has, for just under fifty years, protected a woman’s right to abortion at the national level. Interestingly, at the time of the 7-2 majority vote in 1973, five of the seven in favor were Republican-appointed justices, and two were Democrat-appointed. In fact, lifelong Republican justice Harry Blackmun wrote the majority opinion in the case. This was obviously before the Republican party married itself to right-wing American Christianity.

I, like many pro-choice Americans, have taken this right for granted my entire life. I never, ever thought I would live in a nation where abortion was not legal. The very idea was unthinkable. I’m pretty sure RBG is spinning in her grave. But thanks to former Fuckwit-in-Chief Donald Trump, SCOTUS is now stacked heavily with ultraconservative justices for whom this landmark decision is most likely–dare I say–only the first of many decisions designed to turn back the clock on human rights and environmental regulation. What’s next, contraception? Same-sex marriage? Clean air and water? These jagweeds won’t stop until we’re all once again barefoot and pregnant (and wearing gas masks), literally the property of our husbands.

I am fortunate enough, however, to live in a state with robust, codified abortion rights. That is no longer the case for most of my family and friends. It’s also not the case for our economically disadvantaged sisters and other folx who can’t afford to travel to another state for basic reproductive health care. If this decision were truly about not aborting babies, Republicans would have as their priorities universal health care, free birth control and education, affordable childcare, and the criminalization of child marriage–which is still a thing, even in the good ol’ USofA, the greatest country on the planet, y’all. But it’s not about babies, it’s about male power–specifically White, male power–over the rest of us.

Sometimes I just want to cry.

I have a simple question I want to ask the DMV. So I call the Salem metro area number listed on the Oregon DMV website, and, after wading through five minutes of menu options and automated recordings, am told that my expected wait time for a real person is . . . 38 minutes. Nope.

So I think I’m going to be clever and call the DMV office in my town. Nope. The local number merely rings into the state DMV number, and I get the same recording. Now I am left with two options: 1) forget about my question and use the online system to renew my registration, or 2) physically go to the local DMV office, mask up, take a number, and be prepared to wait 15 (super-optimistic) to 45 (more realistic) minutes to ask my question.

First-world problems. I know. But at the risk of sounding exactly like my father, who had to walk to and from school uphill both ways through ten-foot snowdrifts (this was obviously before bicycles, cars and schoolbuses were invented), I do miss the days when there were actual humans who were paid to answer the phone and respond to inquiries from citizens whose tax dollars were used for such things.

Least. Inspired. Post. Ever.

Lederhosen and jingle dresses

I grew up in a German-speaking household, with my maternal grandparents–both European immigrants–and extended German-Slavic, Lutheran family with whom I regularly spent time. My mum didn’t learn to speak English until she went to kindergarten. So much German was spoken in our home, in fact, that by the time I got to high school, I was so frustrated at not understanding what was, clearly, being said about me that I opted to take German all four years, plus a term of conversational German my first year at Virginia Tech, just for good measure.

Our culture–language, food, drink, holidays–enveloped us like a warm, comforting blanket. Though I remember a lot of polka dancing, cheek-pinching and entreaties to eat more, it wasn’t smothering, as portrayed in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Rather it was more like a support network of people I had no concept of being without. It just was. And though there was no overt talk of ethnic pride, nor was there shame or discouragement in being ethnic.

Photo of a white child and white adult woman dressed in traditional German clothing with green grass, a hedge and road in the background
My mum and brother, 1975

(The first time I walked into Novak’s Hungarian Restaurant a few years ago, the aroma actually brought me to tears. One whiff of a stogie has the same effect.)

I didn’t learn until I was in my thirties–from a coworker who had grown up on the Cheyenne River reservation in South Dakota–that the warm, fuzzy, cultural experience I’d had in my childhood is not universal. Chas told me about her family’s experience being sent to St. Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlain, South Dakota, where they–father, aunts, uncles, and cousins–were forced to assimilate into White culture and forbidden to speak their native language. Without delving into the horrifying depths of the history of Indian schools in the U.S. (you should take the time to research this on your own), I ask you to imagine, just for a moment, being ripped from your family as a small child and sent far away from everything you know to live among strangers who brainwash you into believing your food, language, religion, rites, rituals–everything about your culture and your entire way of life–are completely, utterly inferior and wrong.

Young girls wearing colorful dresses with bells on them

Unimaginable, right? Horrifying, yes? Morally and ethically depraved, even? Absolutely. In addition, our [White male] U.S. government also:

  • took millions of acres of valuable, productive land from indigenous peoples without compensation (also known as “stealing”),
  • relegated these folks to reservations, sometimes thousands of miles from their homeland,
  • entered into treaties and reneged on them.

Then our [White male] government appropriated indigenous children and sent them away in a concerted effort to wipe out their very culture. Sit with that for a while.

Am I White male-bashing? No. I’m dropping truth bombs. (If you’re a 30 Rock fan, you’ll get that reference.) As much as I am a part of American White European descent culture–part of the problem, but trying to be part of the solution–I simply can’t wrap my head around why a lot of White people still believe in the supremacy of their skin color. We can point to the past and say, “Those old White dudes who ran shit were so ignorant and racist.” Because yeah, they were. But it’s 2021, for chrissake, and there is no shortage of White people who still cling to the belief that Black and Brown people are inferior to them. How is this even possible?! (That’s a rhetorical question, BTW. I know how it’s possible.)

Since we can’t unlearn things, we become responsible for the knowledge we gain. We can recognize our past, be proud of who we are, and appreciate our customs and culture: but I believe that those of us who are of White European descent should, if we’re able, also commit to using our White privilege in an effort to right these past transgressions. That looks different to each person depending on who you are and what you’re willing and able to do.

Jingle dress photo: Wikimedia Commons

Raise your hand if you’re a misanthrope too

In January, mi jefe, Javier, began one week with a post about his dogs, Chato and Chiquita. While I admit they are totes adorbs, the two of them don’t hold a candle to my dog-children, Agate and Rye Lee the one-eyed wonderpug.

Now that we’ve established whose dogs are, in fact, the cutest, Javier’s main point was that he’s noticed humans seem to be more open to a meet-and-greet with dogs than with other humans, that humans exhibit more kindness and openness to dogs than the humans walking them, and so on. Being an introvert—and, not to mention, a bit of a misanthrope to boot—I am definitely in this camp. (In fact, I find myself referring to some humans as “[insert dog’s name here]’s mommy/daddy/person.”) It’s not that I actively wish humans ill, it’s just that I prefer the company of plants and critters. I always have.

I remember reading, many years ago, articles criticizing a scene in Michael Moore’s 1989 documentary Roger and Me, in which a rabbit is clubbed, gutted and skinned by a woman who sold rabbits for food and pets. She was trying to bring in a little additional family income because her husband had been laid off by GM. Defending inclusion of the scene, Moore commented, 

″It’s a pivotal moment in the film because people don’t want to look …. They don’t want to look to see the brutality of what has happened, not to this rabbit, but to this town – that a woman is reduced to killing rabbits for food in the middle of the hometown of the world’s richest corporation.″ [referring to Flint, Michigan]

Despite the point Moore was attempting to make, I read several articles criticizing animal rights activists who were, indeed, far more horrified by the scene itself than his reason for including it. Condemn me if you will, but I’m one of those people.

Why? Mostly because animals are innocent. One hundred percent, all day, every day, they are innocent of prejudice, hatred, revenge, segregation, slavery–all the horrid things humans have done to each other since homo sapiens became a thing back in the day. Though there are multiple species that practice theft, territorial defense, parasitism, even indiscriminate killing (orcas on narwhals and murder hornets on honeybees come to mind), I’m quite sure they don’t do these things because of religion, politics or greed. They do it because of a biological imperative, whether we understand it or not. Humans do it because we can.

In the late 1990s I worked for The Dumb Friends League, one of the largest animal shelters in the Rocky Mountain region. During my time there, I learned that there had been pushback over the years from people who thought the name was offensive, because animals certainly aren’t “dumb.” Founded in 1910, the League was so named because back then, “dumb” was the common term for being unable to speak. The board of directors rejected all efforts to rename the organization, because the mission of the Dumb Friends League is to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves.

There are humans who can’t speak for themselves as well, and I deeply appreciate individuals and organizations dedicated to their support and well-being. The difference is that while I feel strongly the vast majority of humans deserve food, clothing, shelter and comfort, I know for certain that we’re the ones who created a system in which scarcity are all too common. We’ve also created a world in which corporate farming and meat production are necessary evils, as well as forcing wildlife from its native habitat to make room for human expansion.

I won’t apologize for who I am—but I can also be a person who tries to practice kindness, compassion and empathy to the best of my ability towards both humans and critters.

There goes my hero, v.2

In a past life, I was a conservation organizer with the Sierra Club in Rapid City, South Dakota, working with a large group of like-minded organizations to garner support for what would have been America’s first national grassland wilderness in the southwest part of the state. I say “would have been” because, though we got as far as federal legislation being introduced, the project never progressed beyond that.  It’s very painful to look back on this time for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the distressingly large number of deaths of people I had come to know, respect and love through this job:  my beloved mentor and supervisor, Kirk Koepsel; the Club’s Northern Plains Regional Director Larry Mehlhaff; my good friend and regional coworker, Mary Wiper; our steering committee director, Rich Gordon; long-time Sierra Club volunteer Don Higgins; radio/TV outdoor show personality Tony Dean; and Keith Jewett, the father of my dear friend and immediate coworker, Chas Jewett.

Chas is the daughter of a Lakota father and White mother, born and raised on the Cheyenne River Reservation in northwest South Dakota. She joined our team in 2002 as an organizer, specifically focusing on tribal outreach. Though we supported each other extensively, my emphasis was more on partnering with “unlikely allies,” specifically hunter-angler groups. It would be a colossal understatement to say that we had many adventures during our five years as coworkers–unfortunately not all of them happy. It is significant to note that, while both of us were insulted, threatened, and even spit at during our time on this campaign, none of that disrespect was committed by her peeps (native Americans)–only mine (White people). 

That being said, few people in my life know (or will remember) that although Chas is the first native American person I can call a friend, she wasn’t my first native American Sierra Club coworker. That person was, in fact, a Lakota woman named Charmaine White Face, who for years had been organizing native American folks on national forest management issues in the Black Hills area. She joined the grassland wilderness campaign shortly after I did in winter 2001.

Though they are both Lakotas passionately committed to environmental and social justice causes, I don’t know that I could have dreamt up two more different women, personality-wise. Charmaine was as quiet and understated as Chas is talkative and exuberant. Unfortunately, I didn’t work with Charmaine long enough to get to know her very well: she left the Sierra Club abruptly after less than nine months in the position.

One day, on a Friday staff call with the two of us, our supervisor, Kirk, made a thoughtless comment having to do with powwow attendees enjoying themselves too much and being hungover on Monday morning after the event Charmaine would be attending on behalf of the wilderness campaign. Kirk, recognizing this the instant it was out of his mouth, apologized immediately, owning his cultural insensitivity. I could hear the embarrassment, mortification and pain in his voice. His comment was meant as a joke about people in general having a good time over the weekend and “paying the piper,” so to speak, on Monday morning, but in context it was highly inappropriate and hurtful. Kirk knew (as do I, as do many White folks in western South Dakota) that many native American families have been affected–even destroyed–by alcoholism, and that alcohol, in fact, isn’t even allowed at powwows. Charmaine, for her part, seemed to accept his apology and understand how badly he felt about what he said. 

Later the next week, Charmaine and I were in the office together, and I was on speakerphone with Kirk. To this day, I truly don’t know what set her off, but Charmaine suddenly flew into a rage the likes of which I had never seen. She screamed and cried and threw things; I was literally petrified with surprise and agonizing discomfort. I don’t remember what she called me, but I know it was something accusatory about conspiring against her. What I do remember is feeling completely and utterly at a loss about what to do with her boiling anger and the way she expressed it. I also remember feeling surprised, hurt and resentful that she would lump me together with Kirk and every other White person she was angry at: after all, I wasn’t the one who made the inappropriate joke. I wasn’t “in cahoots” with Kirk: I wasn’t a racist! 

As a clueless White woman in her late thirties, I had no tools with which to break this down. I had no idea how to process any of this. I had never experienced anything like it. I wish I’d had the skills and the emotional maturity to talk to Charmaine about what happened and make an effort to heal our relationship.

Today, though, I am better prepared to view this incident with the perspective of time, education, life experience and ongoing self-work. I can unpack and analyze most of what happened–and recognize it when it happens in a different context. I understand intent vs. impact. I acknowledge that we live within interlocking oppressive systems built by White people for the benefit of White people, at the expense of people of color. I recognize and own my Whiteness and my racism. I try.

I hadn’t thought about Charmaine and this incident in a very long time. But I had recruited Chas recently to present a program on the concept of culture vultures, and her words brought it to mind. I was able to talk to Chas about why Charmaine left the Sierra Club. Over the years, I was able to have conversations with Chas that I probably couldn’t have had with anyone else. And truthfully, the vast majority of the time I was learning from her–not the other way around.

Kirk, too, spoke honestly about what happened with Charmaine after Chas was hired. I think we made a great team for the short time we were blessed to work together. I don’t doubt that Chas carries a similar kind or amount of anger towards White people that Charmaine does, but she expresses it differently–and, like Charmaine, has always seemed to channel it into her decades-long work in environmental and social justice. It may be that she expressed it differently to me than others. Over the years we got pretty good at calling each other on our shit, in a way that we can both understand and absorb without hard feelings. I know I deserve to be called out more than she does, and I appreciate her friendship more than she knows. Like my brother, Chas is another one of my heroes.

What does White privilege look like?

What’s the difference between White privilege and essential work?

Well, for starters, essential work looks like this:

(No, those field workers are not on Mars.  They’re actually working by the light of their cell phones, because this is what the Willamette Valley sky looked like in early September.)

On the other hand, White privilege looks like this:

White privilege is volunteering to harvest grapes for your winery owner friends, once a year on a Saturday morning, on your terms. You have the option not to go if it’s too cold, too hot, too wet, too COVID-y, or too smoky. White privilege is performing this work as a recreational activity, and being provided lunch and wine after only three hours of picking.

By contrast, essential agricultural workers–the vast majority of whom are Brown folks–do this work all day, every day, regardless of how they feel, what the weather’s like or the fire burning a mile or two away that’s not only endangering their lives, but making it extremely difficult to see and breathe.

They plant, weed, prune, harvest and clear for the next crop:  they can’t opt out–not if they want to pay their bills and support their families. Their hardship results in my being able to drink wine (and eat fruits and vegetables) whenever I want. Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

Harvest time can be hot or cold, wet or dry. Comfort-wise, this translates into the potential for heat exhaustion, dehydration and sunburn or ending the day soaking wet and muddy up to your knees. Either way, harvesting grapes full-time is exhausting.

Nina Cassidy, Emerson Vineyards

According to Emerson Vineyards Assistant Winemaker Nina Cassidy, many field workers carry two 20-25 lb. buckets of grapes in each hand. They don’t stop to take selfies or arty photos.

In fact, they barely stop to hydrate, eat lunch or use the toilet.

According to a United Farm Workers Facebook post, Samuel (above, wearing a plaid shirt) earns $2.10 per bucket of grapes at a vineyard in Dayton, Oregon. Other winery owners pay contractors by the ton and have no way of knowing what each individual field worker is paid. They may also pay contractors a per-worker hourly rate for pruning or other jobs, but again have no knowledge about how much of that trickles down to individual workers. Sebastian, the vineyard manager at Airlie Winery, is Latino, as is his right-hand man, Guadalupe; Sebastian, in turn, works with winery owner Mary Olson to hire field workers and choose contractors. They’re among the lucky ones:  they work for a winery owner committed to workers’ rights and social justice.

While I was picking grapes, eating lunch and enjoying my wine that day, I thought a lot about the glaring contrast between our enjoyment and the experience most essential workers have, compounded this summer by a pandemic and the worst fire season in Oregon’s history. I thought about the 2014 movie Cesar Chavez and how much of that history I still know nothing about. I thought about the hundreds of bottles of Oregon wine we’ve consumed with family and friends since we moved here eight years ago, and how much time and effort went into those bottles.

Even if you take no further action, at the very least, be mindful when you eat and drink, and know how much effort went into making it possible for you to do so.