Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Building Community - One Meme at a Time


You may have seen these posters in gift shops like 10,000 Villages, or in a church basement, or in a resource centre - they've been around for years.  "How to Build Community" and "How to Build Local Community".  We have them in The Witchery - Winnipeg's Pagan Temple & Teaching space.  I see them a couple times a week.  Every time I read them - or glance at them in passing - something different strikes me and makes me go "hmmmmm".....

My first question is always - what is "community" - it has to be more than just a group of people who live in proximity - or a group of people who have a common interest, but perhaps no/limited interaction.  There are many definitions and shades of meaning to this word - some loaded, some nebulous, some semantic, some assumptive.  Large communities may have smaller communities within them, Russian like nesting dolls.

I think about these helpful hints and tips for community building from what I hope is a distinctly Pagan viewpoint.  I think about how I can apply them to my life - in ways that make sense and are sustainable.  I've been turning them over and over in my mind now for awhile - and thought that, in 2010 - I might share some of my thoughts.  These opinions will be based on the theme of "let me share with you what I am learning" - which is all I ever really do anyway, I guess.

Brendan and Juni's recent visit to Winnipeg - from my personal social time with them to the evening they spent talking and sharing at The Witchery - was focused on building community.  Episode 13 of the Magical Earth Quadcast captures an evening's worth of discussion that explores a variety of ideas on the topic.  They are both well traveled and have visited and participated in communities of many kinds - Pagan, musical, agricultural, etc...  Communities are all similar and different - just like the people that populate them.

How many communities are we a part of? Faith-based - interest based - familial - workplace - volunteer - we are intricately connected to each other in a myriad of ways.  How can I be a better more supportive part of the communities of which I am a part?  How can I - me - little old me - build community?  Let me share with you - over the coming weeks and months - what I have been learning.

How To Build Community:
Turn off your TV -  Leave your house - Know your neighbors - Look up when you are walking - Greet people - Sit on your stoop - Plant flowers - Use your library - Play together - Buy from local merchants - Share what you have - Help a lost dog - Take children to the park - Garden together - Support neighborhood schools - Fix it even if you didn't break it - Have pot lucks - Honor elders - Pick up litter - Read stories aloud - Dance in the street - Talk to the mail carrier - Listen to the birds - Put up a swing - Help carry something heavy - Barter for your goods - Start a tradition - Ask a question - Hire young people for odd jobs - Organize a block party - Bake extra and share - Ask for help when you need it - Open your shades - Sing together - Share your skills - Take back the night - Turn up the music - Turn down the music - Listen before you react to anger - Mediate a conflict - Seek to understand - Learn from new and uncomfortable angles - Know that no one is silent though many are not heard. Work to change this.

How To Build Global Community:
Think of no one as "them" - Don't confuse your comfort with your safety - Talk to strangers - Imagine other cultures through their poetry and novels - Listen to music you don't understand & Dance to it - Act locally -  Notice the workings of power and privilege in your culture - Question consumption - Know how your lettuce and coffee are grown: wake up and smell the exploitation - Look for fair trade and union labels -  help build economies from the bottom up - Acquire few needs - Learn a second (or third) language - Visit people, places and cultures -- not tourist attractions - Learn people's history - Re-define progress - Know physical and political geography - Play games from other cultures - Watch films with subtitles  - Know your heritage - Honor everyone's holidays - Look at the moon and imagine someone else, somewhere else, looking at it too - Read the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights - Understand the global economy in terms of people, land and water - Know where your bank banks -  Never believe you have a right to anyone else's resources  - Refuse to wear corporate logos: defy corporate domination  - Question military/corporate connections - Don't confuse money with wealth, or time with money - Have a pen/email pal - Honor indigenous cultures - Judge governance by how well it meets all people's needs - Be sceptical about what you read - Eat adventurously - Enjoy vegetables, beans and grains in your diet  - Choose curiosity over certainty - know where your water comes from and where your wastes go - Pledge allegiance to the earth: question nationalism - Think South, Central and North -- there are many Americans - Assume that many others share your dreams - Know that no one is silent though many are not heard. Work to change this.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Fragmenti: Scripture as Press Release

Every once in a while, I make a quick note, capturing a floating thought, and then lose that snippet of inspiration in the sea of email, post-it-notes, journal books, backs-o-business cards, scraps of paper etc... whatever is at hand, really - and then run across a fragment of contained inspiration and shake my head and wonder "where the hell did that come from."

Here's the most recent of what I lovingly laughingly call "Fragmenti" as I collect it into shoe boxes from time to time ......
"If the bible is made of of press releases, I want to read the blogsphere of those times. I trust the silent wisdom on the crowds more than the cherrypicked sound bites of the Niscean Council."

This comes from a past book study that had a Biblical theme - The Historical Mary: Revealing the Pagan Identiy of the Virgin Mother" by Michael Jordan (not THAT Michael Jordan). Part of the discussion was about how there were many gospels, many epistles, many chronicles, and that a group of men gathered to determine which version of Christian Orthodoxy would dominate, assimilate and obliterate all other versions of the Faith of the Carpenter from Gallilee.  I have read the Nag Hammadi Codex, and it makes for some very interesting reading.  (Hels Bells - even the subtle differences in various translations of the Holy Writ can provide much divergence in meaning as language changes and evolves over time)

My thought was that this makes the Bible, in all it's gloriously poetic beauty (in the King James version, at least - hate the newer dumbed-down adaptations) - basically a compilation of press releases. Mandated and approved messages to promote and propulgate the faith.  Cards shuffled and then carefully stacked to ensure that a winning poker hand was dealt to the Establishment in Rome to codify a new religious culture and reshape civilization.  They didn't count on the few jokers in the deck getting dealt when the cards got reshuffled in subsequent generations (Luther - Descartes - Henry VIII when he had women problems, to name a few in no particular order).

We all know how reliable press releases are. (ahem). "This is marketing, not a documentary" has never been more true.  Doesn't matter which side is putting out the spin - spin it is and spin it shall always be. Veracity is a rare commodity - almost as extinct as the IndoChinese Tiger (they think the last one just got eaten by hungry villagers, but they aren't sure).

I wish we had access to the full range of Citizen Journalism of the Ancient Times. It is lost to us - there are bits and pieces of historical writings and analysis, but very little remains of the Vox Populi that is fully and truly authentic.  So much of who we are as a culture and what we have done was based on the agenda filled interpretation of a couple books.

What if the same thing happened this century with The Spiral Dance - or The Witches Bible - or Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner - or Teen Witch.  Or a chapter from each one - in no particular order.  If all the Official Pagan Elders /Big Name Pagans from around the world gathered, and put together the Holy Book of Wicca and the government made The Craft the official state religion based on the book that was assembled by the Ultimate Red Cord Council.

I shudder to think.  Sleep tight.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Deconstructing Avatar The Movie


The "Pandora's Box" of emotions (from Apathy to Zeal)  that this movie stirs up will provide environmentalists, sociologists, spiritual thinkers, movie reviewers and citizen journalists with much fodder for contemplation and creative writing.

Let's start with some definitions - because the English language is important to me (and hopefully to you too, Gentle Reader)

avatar [ˈævəˌtɑː] 
1. (Non-Christian Religions / Hinduism) Hinduism the manifestation of a deity, notably Vishnu, in human, superhuman, or animal form
2. a visible manifestation or embodiment of an abstract concept; archetype
3. (Electronics & Computer Science / Computer Science) a movable image that represents a person in a virtual reality environment or in cyberspace
[from Sanskrit avatāra a going down, from avatarati he descends, from ava down + tarati he passes over]
Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged 6th Edition 2003. © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003

Now we can add another - Avatar as James Cameron's latest hi-tech sci fi blockbuster that is dominating the media and capturing hearts and minds and disposable income of people everywhere.  I have a personal chip on my cinematic shoulder when it comes to Mr. Cameron - his unbridled hubris at accepting all his Academy Awards for the movie about the ship that sank and waiting until the last possible moment - literally before acknowledging the tragedy and the lost lives of the people that allowed his King of the World moment to exist at all.  It went beyond ungracious to downright disrespectful.  The Tin Man of Cinema had no heart. Let's Party Til Dawn!

Fast Forward to now - where he has created his own special Oz - and has created a bio-luminescent world called Pandora, rich in unobtainium, inhabited by stereotypical "noble savages" and menaced by the Big Bad Corporation and its paramilitary wing(nuts).  They have bi-rotor helicopters, big cargo ships, armed walkers straight out the The Matrix and respirator masks, because the air is not fit for human consumption. 

The movie is visually stunning.  One part Alice in Wonderland - one part Oz - one part an inverted Altered States - where instead of regressing, the man in the isolation chamber becomes a 10ft tall sensitive New Age Na'vi, and gets indoctrinated and initiated in the culture of the Blue Nicies who are intrinsically connected to every seed that falls in the forest - their pointy radar dish ears can hear it all.  Their humanoid bodies are adorned with Rave-style glow-stick toned warpaint, crafty handmade jewelry, and pretty nifty "interactive" prehensile tails.  

Here's the kicker.  Would you guess that I loved this movie?  LOVED it. Left me speechless, in fact (I've since recovered).  It has entered into my top 10, may make it into my top 5 depending on how over the top the commercialism goes - if there's a jewelry line launched, I'm not going to be a happy camper.  I am not blind to the thinness and predicatability of the plot (I've already heard the Ferngully comparison).  

The truth is that there are only seven stories in the world (or 3, or 36 or 50) so the argument that "we've heard this one before" is a bit of a Straw Man argument - we've all heard it all before, but the joy is finding new and interesting stages upon which to host these basic stories.  Like Pandora - a true "world stage" if there ever was one.  One thought I had was that we do not know what natural wonders we have destroyed in our wholesale rape of our planet.  We have as many strange and wonderful flowers, birds and beasts as this imaginary world.  We will never know them all in our hubris and greed.

What I loved was the spirituality embodied in the culture of the Na'vi.  The interconnectedness of their world.  Their relationship to and dependence upon the Great Mother that is their planet.  The sustenance they draw from this connection.  The grief they feel at Her despoiling by the Earthers.  Isn't this what we Pagans are experiencing as we connect to our Mother Gaia in ever deepening spirals of awareness?  I accept but do not understand the ongoing debate about whether or not Paganism = Environmentalism.  In my mind, they cannot be separated.  I was also surprised that "we Pagans" were not more upset in the collective with the recent "Quest for Water" on our Mother Moon - that NASA was able to explode nuclear devices on this sacred celestial symbol and there was barely a ripple of protest from those who call upon Her as an ongoing source of potent magical symbolism.  But I digress...

Let's go back to the Pandora's Box of definitions of the word Avatar.  In definition 1, we learn that the Divine can manifest in any living being - and on Pandora - all life is sacred and part of the luminous numinous Divine. Some wise teachers have been called Avatars by their disciples.

In definition 2 - everything is a lesson, a teaching tool, an archetype.  It is a small step to go from archetype to stereotype, and every character in this movie get's caught in that revolving door like Keystone Kops.  Stereotypes are like clichés - they enable collective understanding because, their essence is both persistent and true over our history.  In my mind, an archetype is simply as stereotype that has been promoted to CEO of their particular Olympus.

In definition 3 -  the most contemporary definition, and the use of the word most familiar to today's computer literate cyber connected audience - our Online Persona - our virtual Presence - where, in some circumstances, we have the powers of the Gods (from instant communication across great distance to slaying Dragons with a single World of WarCrack sword blow). 

A number of bloggers from the Religious Right have already jumped on this "blatant pantheism" and declared the movie to be wholly Un-American in its portrayal of the innate goodness of the military (which is more like a Blackwater Ops troupe of gorillas than like anything that reports to the Commander in Chief).

It was refreshing to lose myself in a movie - to suspend my disbelief just enough to connect to some of the major characters - the marine who loses his legs and his brother, the scientist who is at odds with corporate greed, the helicopter pilot who becomes a warrior rather than a soldier, the Na'vi equivalent of Wind in His Hair from Dances with Wolves (another ongoing comparison - and a valid one, I think).

Is it an ordinary story with extra-ordinary visuals? Yes.  It is a story with a message, and it isn't subtle.  Can it move us to see our planet, our Mother Earth as a place in as much or more danger than Pandora?  Does it remind us too much of what we have done and continue to do to the indigenous peoples of our planet?  Does it make us see our part in a culture that can be best summed up by films like The Corporation - SuperSize Me - Koyanisqatsi - Sicko - Thank You for Smoking - and the list goes on...

I'm sure there will be a quiz on Facebook within the month - what character in Avatar are you?  Are you a tree hugging Na'vi? a Curious Scientist? a Corporate Marauder? A ParaMilitary Powermonger?  An apathetic bystander? are you living your destiny? are you hiding from your paralyzed reality by living in a fantasy world? Do you do the right thing for the right reasons? Do you look the other way?

Are you brave enough to fly?  Are you brave enough to try?

Pass the popcorn and the 3D glasses.  See you at the movies.
Enjoy the day,

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My Favorite Christmas - Dinner at Big Ruby's

I participate in a writing forum called Red Room and this week's topic was to write about "My Favorite Christmas" - this is my submission.  I continue to be humbled and grateful for the experience I am sharing in this post.  I share it in the spirit of the song that Musique Magique sings "You Can Light A Candle" - as my own contribution to lighting a small candle and seeing the light it brought to others.  I did nothing special.  Here's the story...

My friend Kelly owned a small cafe called Big Ruby's. It sat 40 people at full capacity, and was a real neighborhood meeting place in a lower class neighborhood with a middle class fringe.  It was the type of cafe where good and interesting food was well presented for very modest prices.  It had ambience, and provided the feeling of a big night out for those who would save up for a special dinner, and was "the" place to go" for a great cheap meal for those who found eating out more often more affordable.  Their yam fries were to LIVE for.
Rewind to Christmas 1997.  Dan, the cook at Big Ruby's had a crazy idea - that Christmas dinner should be available to anyone in the neighborhood who didn't have a place to go.  On him.  After a year of watching people walk past the cafe, he knew "the hood" and the people that never came in.  Kelly fully supported the idea, but had already made plans to go away to visit family out of town - so he handed Dan the keys and said "Make it Great - use what you need".  Dan put up the money for two of the largest turkeys I had ever seen, a hundred  plus pounds of potatoes, and everything else needed to make a traditional Christmas dinner.  All he needed was someone to serve the plates and help do dishes and clean up.
As a Wiccan, my holiday is Dec. 21st, the Winter Solstice - and given that I was a retail store employee, Christmas Day was usually for sleeping in, soaking my feet in Epsom Salts, eating well and resting up for Boxing Day.  My family is all out of town, and with no time off, visiting them was out of the question  It was a "day in" with my partner, my cats, and some rented movies.  When Dan told us about his plan - Jacinthe and I looked at each other, and said "We're there".
Dan arrived early that morning to get the food started - he didn't want any help peeling all those potatoes.  We arrived shortly after lunch, each with a change of clothes in case of Tragic Serving Disasters and a pair of very comfortable shoes.  We put some holiday decorations on all the tables, helped with the prep work, set up the beverage service area for expediency and put big signs in the windows of the cafe - "Free Christmas Dinner - all welcome - 4 pm - love, Big Ruby".  I called some of the shelters and social services hotlines to let them know what we were doing.  I also called the youth and adult hostels, thinking that people travelling might not have anywhere to go.  I called the crisis lines, the emergency health lines and anyone else I could think of that might be in contact with those in need.   At 4 o'clock, we opened the doors and waited. For about 30 seconds.  The door opened.
The first person in was a young man who had a light jacket, no mitts and no scarf. He had been waiting outside for a while he said.   He stood in the foyer, rubbing his hands together and said "hey, the sign says free dinner - what's the catch?"  No catch.  We seated him, brought water and  a coffee, and within minutes Dan had put together a perfectly plated traditional Christmas dinner - turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, turnips, peas & carrots, cranberry sauce, and a slice of Christmas fruitcake for dessert.  It was the first of over 100 perfectly plated Christmas dinners Dan the Super Chef produced from the kitchen that day.   Our guest looked around, and said "I can't pay for this" and we patted his shoulder and said "Courtesy of Big Ruby" and left him to eat in peace.  Others were arriving.
The next group crowding the doorway were a group of 6 kids - I'd guess ages 16 to 5.  We put them in the big booth in the window, and brought them dinner.  They ate slowly, carefully - and then I realized that their hands were cold.  Instead of coffee, we gave them big mugs of hot chocolate, rich with milk.  The littlest one fell asleep, his head on the window, gravy on his chin, boots kicked off. The eldest brother asked if they had to leave right away, and we told them to take their time. Warm up.  Have some more to eat.
An elderly woman, frail as porcelain was leaning on the doorframe of the foyer - a little unsteady on her feet.  We seated her, and helped her off with her coat, her hands were shaking so badly that she had trouble with her buttons.  Her clothes were shabby, but clean, she was wearing some costume jewelery that was missing a few stones, her nails were polished, and her makeup had been brightly applied-colorful streaks due to unsteady hands.  She folded her shaking hands to say a small prayer over her steaming plate of food, and asked, very quietly, if she could please have "English tea" instead of coffee.  We pretended not to notice the little bottle of amber liquid she poured into the metal teapot, but just kept filling it up with hot water and brought her an extra teabag.  She ate with delicacy as if she were at a formal banquet, and sometimes mumbled quietly to herself.  We weren't sure who she was talking to, perhaps memories of Christmases past in better times.
More arrivals.  A steady stream of curious hungry hesitant people.  We seated people together if we could, because it is more enjoyable to eat "with someone" than alone.  It also allowed us to seat more people.  No one minded having someone to share dinner and some conversation with,  it seemed.  The Christmas music played softly over the fragments of conversations, but the predominant sound in the room was the clinking of silverware on plates, and the gentle thudding of coffee cups being put down on the tables.  Followed by that special sound of the holidays - the deep sigh of contentment that follows a good meal eaten slowly in a place of peace, comfort and joy - possibly more peaceful, comfortable and joyful than where some of these good people came from.
Our first guest had carried his own plate to the counter and asked if he could take some food to a friend of his who wasn't able to leave her rooming house.  We packed up two full meals, wished him Merry Christmas and he went out into the night.  Our family of children were finally warmed up enough to finish their meals.  We asked if there was anyone at home, and they said "just our mom, and she's drunk."  We packed up food for them too. We even packed up some less than choice turkey parts (no bones) for a pet at home.  The old man's hands were trembling with joy when I gave him the two take home containers, with the top one labelled "Toby" - he hadn't asked, but all he talked about was his dog - the only family he had in the world.
The ever present question was "Is it really free"?  Yes. It is free.  We had to work hard to convince one sweet older woman, who smelled of an abundance of rye whiskey and a shortage of soap that she didn't have to pay, do dishes, or even pray (her big concern) "I won't say grace - God doesn't love me" she snarled with her chin jutted out and eyes blazing under the brim of her stained acrylic toque).  Are we from a Church? No.  Do we own the cafe? No - the owner is letting us use it.  Do they have to do anything? No.  No payment - no prayers - no exchange required.  Just enjoy your food, and Merry Christmas.  Is there anyone at home or in your building that needs a Christmas dinner?  We started asking that question of everyone.  We packed up as many meals as we served.
The cafe kept filling up.  If there was no one in the foyer, people lingered and had a third or fourth cup of coffee.  But at those times when all seats were full, or a larger family group would arrive and there weren't enough seats "together" for them, people would either finish their meals, or simply move themselves over to another table to join make a three-some a foursome so we could bus the table for the new arrivals.  There were timid smiles, the occasional handshake between newly made friends.  We cleared plates and poured coffee and hot water for tea.  One person offered to wash dishes.  We gave her another piece of fruitcake instead.
People kept coming in a steady stream until 7:30 pm.  Old people, young people, people who were obviously homeless, people who looked like they might be "the working poor", people with their children, children without parents.  Some people were in absolutely filthy clothes, or visibley hadn't washed well in a while.  Some were just shabby, threadbare, underdressed for the weather, with holes in the toes of their shoes.  No hats, no mitts, no scarves.  Thin jackets. Multiple layers of  t-shirts, collared shirts, hoodies and a jean jacket.  Some better dressed, or the children were well insulated against the cold, but the mother or father had a thin cloth coat - so you know where the priority spending was.  All of them hungry, and many not just for a hot full meal - many of them were hungry for companionship - conversation - and a moment of grace or maybe graciousness.  We treated them like paying customers.  We wanted them to feel like our guests.
We poured coffee and tea.  We provided seconds on request.  We packed up meals for those at home.  We send many people out with steaming styrofoam cups of coffee, loaded with sugar and cream.  From time to time, we would seat people, or serve plates and take a moment to listen - to hold a hand, to touch a shoulder.  Then the three of us would go hide in the back for a minute and share the stories we were being told and have a bit of a cry - then wipe our faces, put on our holiday helper smiles, and get back to seating, carving, serving, busing and washing the dishes.
The stories were unique and the same.  I am alone. My husband died this year. My wife has Alzheimers and is in  a home and I have no one to share Christmas with.  My children are far away. I can't afford food like this.  I have no heat in my apartment. I live in a shelter. I don't live anywhere. My mom is drunk.  My dad ran away. My son doesn't speak to me. I lost my job and my benefits ran out.  Thank you for the best meal I've had in weeks - months - years.  Thank you for doing this. Thank you for caring. Jesus loves you. Happy Holidays.  God bless you. Thank you. May I hug you. Thank you.  God bless you. Merry Christmas.
 A group of people came from one of the hostels.  We moved the tables so they could sit together, and they sang Christmas Carols in German after their meal.  They left a $20 tip, and one word written on a paper napkin - Danke.  Sometimes we would find a quarter, or two under the plate when we cleared it.  A couple cabbies showed up - and asked if the free dinner offer applied to them to. Absolutely.  Every cab driver that came in for a meal made a significant donation to the cause - they just appreciated a hot meal and a moment of connection on a very busy day.  We tried to give all the tips and donations to Dan to offset the expenses he had incurred, but he put it all in the Winnipeg Harvest donation can on the counter.
Our first guest showed up again with some friends in tow.  They looked rough - really rough.  Our new "old friend" could see our apprehension behind the smiles and he winked and said "Its okay, they're with me"  and the six of them settled into the big booth by the window.  We still had an abundance of food - so we made big "man-sized" plates for all of them.  Our first customer ate another meal.  We asked how his friend enjoyed her take-out dinner, and his eyes misted up and he looked deep into his coffee cup. "she says thanks, eh and Merry Christmas.  I found another friend who is living under the bridge for the other one, eh. He says thanks too. He was too drunk to walk here."  His friends never said a word, just tucked into the food on their plates with the careful gusto of someone who hasn't had a big meal in a long time and knows that pacing themselves is the wisest course of action on an unsteady stomach.  They shook our hands before they left with another meal packed up under their arm.  They never met our eyes.
As the evening wore on, we kept sending food home with as many people as we could - especially the families. One mother of 3 started to cry when I put down a big bag full of carefullly wrapped takeout containers and said "For tomorrow".  Our goal was to have no leftovers.  At 8 o'clock we took the signs out of the window and started a slow cleanup around the last of our guests.  When the last guest was done, we wished them Happy Holidays, and locked the door behind them, and turned down the "front of house lights".  We had kept up on dishes as the evening progressed, and Dan had cleared and cleaned the kitchen, so we did the final bit of clean up and pack up, washed the floors and restocked the salt shakers and sugar bowls for the next business day.
We were done. Emotionally and physically exhausted - but it was a "good kind of tired".   Big hugs all round, and we turned out the lights, locked the door and put on our warm winter boots and thick winter coats and snuggly heavy mitts and hats and scarves and got in our cars and went to our warm houses and full fridges, and closets full of winter wear.  And then I cried for about 2 hours while I struggled with my feelings about the day - the mixture of joy and sorrow - of cheer and despair - of compassion and pity  - of caring and daring to share - of seeing people that are often invisible in the business of my middle class life.  I have so much. I know it. and I am grateful for it.
This is the story of my favorite Christmas.  And I share it not because Dan, or Jacinthe or I did anything special.  We simply did what was needed to be done.  In many ways, it was no big deal.  Really.
It was special because I saw the true joy of giving and receiving.  We gave so little - and it meant so much. We gave warmth - of space - of food - of the heart.  We nourished people - body, mind and spirit.  We were reminded about how much we have and how much we can take it for granted.  We treated each person with dignity - welcoming them,  seating them, helping them with their coat, chatting with them, giving them the gift of our time in a moment of caring,  saying goodbye and Merry Christmas to each person.  A different experience for our guests than going to aa soup kitchen, mission dinner, food bank, church basement - all good works of giving that are sadly needed in our world.  We tried to take advantage of the unique environment of the cafe to offer "Big Ruby" hospitality.  That made it different and special.
To me the stars of the day, the heroes of the story (aside from Dan the Superman Chef - who will be so angry with me that I am telling this story in such a public venue so many years later) - the real heroes were those who were brave enough to come in drawn by a handwritten sign in a window.  Who dared to believe in the goodness of people in a world that seems to have disappointed them so often.  Those who went back and got friends - or told others in their circle what we were doing - so many people came because someone who had just had dinner told them to come and eat.  Those parents who sacrificed for their children. Those children who were fending for themselves because their parents couldn't help them.  Those who dared to dream that they could have Christmas dinner and feel the festivity of the season for an hour or two.  They let down their barriers and shared a table with strangers and many laughed and joked and "communed" with others that began the meal as strangers and ended it as momentary friends.
To those heroes - I thank them.  For the learning - for the lesson - for the reminder of how fragile life is, and how much I have.   Thank you for giving me the best Christmas of my life - better than the mountains of toys I received as a child, better than my first Christmas in my own home, better than any Christmas since.   Big Ruby's is gone now - Kelly moved on to other adventures, and Dan moved on to another opportunity outside of Manitoba. Every December I wonder what happened to some of the guests we served that day.  I bless them, and wish them peace and thank them from the bottom of my heart.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Astrology? Really? Yup.


Pre-amble: Vanity Fair magazine is not a fashion magazine - it is a serious piece of cultural journalism that takes its name from the Thackeray novel.  It may have celebrities on the cover, and occasional puff piece /celeb society type articles, but the majority of the magazine is pretty hard hitting and insightful cultural commentary - and is often ahead of major media in exposing the soft white underbelly of our real world - when the glitter falls off, so to speak.

Having gotten that out of the way.....

I've been reading Vanity Fair since it's rebirth for a variety of reasons (I have been known to call it People Magazine for the Culturally Literate proving that yes, Virginia, I am a snob who likes to have interesting trivia and stories to tell at dinner parties and since my life is far from interesting or exciting - this provides me with good stuff).

One of the regular features I used to love dearly was Michael Lutin's monthly Astrology column, that ended abruptly about 3 years ago.  All the weeping and wailing and roaring terrible roars and gnashing terrible teeth did not make the Astrology column magically reappear.  Color me majorly disappointed.

I'm not a bit believer in the "slice the population into twelve neat pie wedges and here's your truth du jour" type of astrology. Having said that - Mr. Lutin's monthly commentary was frighteningly accurate and insightful. So glad to find him again on the web at - not the world's sexiest website - but functional and delivers the StarGoods in the way that only he can.

In addition to Mr. Lutin's esteemed Insights on the Stars (celestial), I have been fortunate to find another keen pair of eyes that watches the stars, and she is proving to be as insightful as Mr. Lutin - though she expresses herself much differently.  Georgia Nicols is a familiar face to those who read their daily horoscope in the papers, but I have found her more indepth writings to be - star powered.  AND - she was born in Winnipeg (a little home town pride there!)

Take a look back through your year and compare it to her "The Year ahead for 2009" predictions from the beginning of last year and see what you think. You may want to tune into these fine folk for some signposts along the road type guidance in the year ahead.  Never hurts to have someone make you look at the meanderings of your life with a slightly different point of view.  Anything that slows me down and makes me think - even if I don't agree - the new perspective is often a good thing.

Have a blessed Yule - and a safe Calendar Change Day on January 1.  Here's to the new decade.   And while you are singing Christmas carols with your family and friends this week - add this one to the mix ... and then do what you can to make it come true.

Blessings to you and yours.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thursday Thankful 13

Yes - I am Canadian - and yes, it is American Thanksgiving - but in the spirit of SuPoMoMo* (thanks Ian!) I am rejoining the Thursday 13 Project  -  and I need to create a list of 13 things about something .... so this works for me.

13 Things I Am Thankful For
I started writing this post with things like - my health - my family - etc... and stopped to give my head a shake.  These are things that I am grateful for with every breath I take.  I need to dig deeper and see what might be under the rocks ... so here we go.....
  1. My daily thermos of Coffee (you knew it, didn't you) - it kickstarts my morning, pleases my palate, encourages organic free trade coffee producers AND a local business (The Black Pearl on Dufferin is my Coffee Supplier of choice - cash only (and yes, they  need a website, believe me I've tried)).  I get a Starbucks travel mug-fulla-goodness on Sunday morning on my way to choir as my special treat of the week - but 50 weeks out of 52, that is just a regular vente dark roast with a shot of vanilla syrup - the candy coffee supertreats are saved for my birthday weekend and the first weekend of winter when they roll out the seasonal lattes. Yummy. (your choices on coffee and chocolate purchases make an incredible impact on both people and the planet - learn more!)
  2. My Organic Food Buying Group - I belong to a group of about 40 families that bulk purchase food  together to improve the quality of the food we eat.  It is not a system of shopping that works for everyone, but it has made an incredible impact on our ability to eat almost 95% organic food at more reasonable and affordable prices.  As with any group - it has its lights and shadows - but any momentary challenge is more than surpassed by the ability to eat foods that taste like food is supposed to taste - fresh - life affirming - energy giving.  I hope I never have to go back to the Stupid Store.  This leads to:
  3. The wonderful food prepared for me by the loving hands of the Gaiaist Gourmet - my wonderful Jacinthe - who does amazingly magical things with simple wholesome ingredients and a spice cabinet that is unrivalled.  Seeing Julie and Julia has inspired her to almost move forward with an idea she had last December - to start writing about food and spirituality - basic cooking tips - how to make great food easily - how to connect with the Sacred Earth and the abundance of the Great Mother through gratitude for the food we eat and the water we drink - so please - encourage her! Dan thinks she should have a video blog portion - I just keep encouraging her to actually write about all her wonderful ideas - and recipe modifications - and what she learns in her extensive reading about the Earth and Food Production.  Ah - to return to Agri-culture rather than support Agri-business.   
  4. My Life in Music - music was my professional life for so long. I still miss not knowing what the new and exciting underground and unknown bands are - the best music is the music that never made it to the mainstream radio.  I am grateful for the changes in technology that made my job as a music store person almost obsolete - because now everyone can go online and find amazing music to introduce to the world. I have always connected spiritually through music - even the heavy thrash around the room stuff - the passion, the creativity, the connection to a greater energy so easily moves me to tears - or moves me to dance.  Losing my connection to music physically (a head injury in 2003 made music painful to listen to or sing for about 2 years) was devastating.  This brings us to: 
  5. Now being able to sing in a Pagan Chorale (Musique Magique - become a fan! check out our sound file!) gives me great joy. I love singing in harmony - I love helping arrange the music - I love writing the occasional piece (like The Lady's Prayer & The Family Prayer that make up the 2nd and 3rd verse of Our Family).  I love the healing that happens for those we sing to/for and for ourselves as singers.  I miss almost every single person who has moved through the choir over the years as life takes its usual tricky meanders through small group dynamics.  I would like us to add a few more voices in the lower ranges especially, and I would like us to sing "out" more for others - and I look forward to doing more recordings and the Big Secret Pagan Music Project that we have up our sleeves!  Stay tuned, as they say in radio land.
  6. The Witchery - we know that in 2010, unless someone from the Pagan community buys the house we rent, that we will lose our Temple and Teaching/Sacred and Social Space.  It has served us well since we moved in 2004 - it has seen laughter & tears (right from the day we moved in), special guests speaking on numerous topics, classes, rituals, growth, crap, and life force energy by many other names.  It will be the end of an era, to be sure, but all things have their season - and we will not be seeking another rental space.  It is time.  So - come out to the events that are held between now and the eventual "then" and celebrate having a Pagan Temple space while we still can. Email me for details if you are interested in upcoming programming.
  7. My teachers and mentors - I have been in a learning mode for the past three years - and the skills that I am learning professionally are making me a better Priestess as well - you wouldn't think that podcasts on social media and website optimization would also teach some profound magical and spiritual principles.  Hell, yah! (willing to name names if anyone is interested).  And I get to share what I am learning - especially with my other geek witchy friends - who are becoming better Priests as well.    Its all about managing energy, people. Couldn't be simpler. (cough hack sputter wheeze) Yup - just like walking on water - you have to know where the rocks are.  I've walked on fire- much easier.
  8. That I am Canadian - a frequent theme in my writing, I know - but having just spent a few days South of the Border (and had a wonderful time!) - I realize again how truly great our country is - how precious and beautiful and so very full of opportunity.  It is not perfect, but it tries very hard to do the right thing most of the time.  My country produced Leonard Cohen - Romeo D'Allaire - Stephen Lewis - John Kenneth Galbraith - Emily Carr - Louis Riel - & The Famous Five  - and so many more contributors to the Greater Global Good - I'm so proud to be a citizen.   
  9. Podcasts.  Love em. Can't get enough. Limited only by time and hard drive space.  Music. Learning.  News. Language Lessons. Spirituality. Diverse voices who know that they have something to say - and do whatever it takes to get it out there into the ears of eager listeners.  Hi tech with great production values - low tech with a can-do attitude.  Druids who make beautiful music.  BC Pagans who walk the Way of Wigglia.  Amazing Media Mages who can juggle Six Pixels without spilling a drop. Madcap Marketing Gurus who love Coffee. Spiritual Soul Sisters who add a little sugar and spice and create something very nice. Woven Tapestries of intelligent discussion.  Darker Shades of spiritual music and Elemental Castings that kiss the limitless divine. And so very many more - I almost feel like I shouldn't mention any by name (but these are my absolute faves) so I don't hurt anyone's feelings - but .... there are too many.... too many ....
  10. I am grateful for senseless stupid suspend your disbelief watch things blow up end of the world is upon us movies - 2012 - Armageddon - Day After Tomorrow - Volcano - End of Days - Die Hard 1/2/3/4/ - Stigmata - you get the idea - especially if they pretend to be socially relevant or psycho-spiritual.  There are days when senseless completely NOT Realistic violence (mostly against cars and buildings) is extremely cathartic.  National Treasure - just for the blowing up of the Charlotte  (okay, and for Nick Cage). I also am grateful for the Oceans 11/12/13 franchise - classy comedy that is not hard on the eyes.
  11. Tarot Cards - love them. grateful for the guidance they give me by making me think of things from different perspectives.  Love the artwork and grateful for the time and dedication shown by the artists to manifest these extremely complex ideas in two dimensional form.  I also love to teach Tarot - because I learn so much from the insights of the students.  I would love to do another intensive class - anyone interested in giving up one night a week for 80 weeks?  I also need to finish the damned book from the first intensive.  (tick tock, SuPoMoMo) 
  12. I am grateful for the Internet - on several levels.  Because of it, I have a fascinating career (and I thought my life in music was fun - this is better except there are fewer rock stars to party with).  Because of the internet, I have been able to meet people who have had a most profound influence on my life - and I can't even say for good or ill because it all unfolds as it is meant to - we make choices to open an email - respond to a job post - join a discussion group - create a profile in a social media site - participate in a forum - and the Ancient Ones laugh and point and watch us learn by living each precious present moment.  The Web has connected my faith community - and has contributed to its breaking - has connected me to people and pulled us apart - it provides up to the minute news and an archive of information of questionable authenticity - and it is only going to bind us tighter in its silvery threads of interconnectedness.  Speaking of the last thing I am grateful for today - given recent events of the birth-death-rebirth nature - I am grateful for .......
  13. The Pagan Community.  Words cannot capture the amazing learning and growth opportunities I have received simply by being a member of this faith community - mostly on a local scale, over the past 30+ years.   I hope, over the next however many years I get to share this wondrous planet with other bipedal humanoids with frontal lobes and opposable thumbs, that I can find some way to give back to the Pagan Community for all that it has given to me. 
So there you have it. A new Thursday 13.  Time to go grate some cheese for nachos and maybe even have a beer. (Half Pints - Manitoba's only locally owned and operated brewery) - grateful for them too. And for single malt scotch that is old enough to vote. And wool-cotton-silk-fibre for knitting. And books. And music. And my cats. And Amey. And the chance to see my dad this year. and having a warm home.  and ... and .... and ... for you - thanks for reading. I'd love to know what you think.  What are you grateful for?

Enjoy the day,

*Susan Posts More Monthly

Friday, November 13, 2009

You Say You Want A Revolution...

The words of the Upanishad tell us that the presence of the Sacred within and without can `lead us from death to life, from falsehood to truth, from dispair to hope, and from fear to trust, from hate to love and from war to peace.``
This week was punctuated at its midpoint by Remembrance Day celebrations. I stood with 600 of my fellow citizens at a small inner city park that was built to commemorate the Great War battle of Vimy Ridge - where my grandfather fought and was wounded. There are a couple very plain stone cenotaphs, and lots of green space, a children`s play structure, and some trees.  There was a lone bugler, four soldiers at the corners of the main cenotaph, a 21 gun salute, a number of people in uniform, and lot of old men in their Legion regalia with rows of hard earned medals pinned to their chests.  No bagpipes, or marching bands.
 There was a simple dignity that other more elaborately produced ceremonies have lost along the way.  There were tears, some fine ecumenical words from the Padre, and three wreaths laid with very little fanfare.
I hate and abhor the idea and practice of war, and yet ... someone has to stand up to the bully in the schoolyard. Someone has to defend those who cannot defend themselves.  That doesn`t make it right - it might just make it necessary at times.
My cousin died in Afghanistan - Canadian Forces Fatality 88.  He was a soldier by choice - because he wanted to help people have the rights, privileges and freedoms that he, as a Canadian enjoyed as his birthright - he felt a need to give back to the world for winning the birth lottery.  He stepped on a land mine.  A noble sacrifice - a waste of a good man`s life before he had the chance to fulfil his potential.
I hate war - and support the troops - because they are a necessary part of managing the chaos.  They are that thin red line that stands between us and those who would take away our way of life, given half the chance.  Given that I don`t agree with what much of our culture deems to be normal - it isn`t about losing the plasma tv and the reality shows, the fast food and the gas guzzling car.  To me it about defending my freedom of choice.  To worship how I choose.  To love whom I please.  To work in my chosen field, and to get whatever education I wish.  That I have freedom to protest - to write letters to the editor - to stand in front of my provincial legislature with a sign and 100 friends and yell at my elected officals until I get their attention.
I got a new passport today.  My Canadian passport has always been my most treasured possession.  I joke that the Canadian govenrment takes my tax dollars without verifying my identity, but I have to prove I`m a citizen or resident to leave the country - shouldnt it be the other way around?  I have voted in pretty much every election (civic - provincial - federal) since I turned 18.  I believe that voting should be mandatory for all citizens - even if they spoil their ballot - they should have to show up and add their voice to the election of those who make the decisions on our behalf.  No vote - no government services.  write Mickey Mouse across your ballot - just show up and be a citizen.  This is only one of my many revolutionary ideas.  I also truly believe that the revolution starts within.
I believe that we can each stage our own revolution within our selves - our families - our communities.  That we should start these revolutions - these wheels of change turning - and cast off the complacency, the apathy, the abdication of our world to the power brokers.  Revolutions don`t have to be violent - they are not wars.   They are both cause and effect.
Gandhi said that we should be the change we wish to see in the world.  I choose to eat organic foods whenever possible.  That affects everything in my world - my food budget, my shopping habits, my choice of stores (I belong to a co-op), my ability to compost, my dis-connection from food advertising that tells me what to buy ... revolutionary acts all of them.
I  try to vote with my dollars with everything I buy.  I am a conscientious consumer.  A revolutionary act.
The revolutions I have staged within myself over the past 30 years (I`m almost 50) have had an impact on the world.  I have been an agent of change amongst my friends and colleagues.   I can measure my impact on the planet - reducing it year after year to the best of my ability.
What revolutions do you need to stage in your world?  They do come in stages.  One small change that moves you closer to your Authentic self every day.  Casting off the constraints of what the advertisers tell you to do  or wear or eat or drink or drive or want and finding out what moves you - what thrills you - what enhances your inner and outer landscape.
Find the lever that turns the wheel of your revolution.  Change - grow - challenge yourself to see your world from that different perspective.  And here`s the fun part.  Your revolutionary wheel is a gear - with teeth that engage the wheels of others around you.  One revolution cannot help but start another wheel turning - another revolution will happen somewhere else to someone else.  Soon we have a power train driving a cultural movement -  that will have a greater impact than you can even image.
 I love the words from the Vedic scripture I quoted at the beginning of this post.  These are the goals that my revolution would like to achieve - summed up as a better world for all - as we walk together on this fragile planet.  A planet that someday might be without war.  A planet where some day, when we gather in our communities on Nov. 11 and wear our red poppies and listen to the Padre talk about the meaning of sacrifice for the cause of freedom - that we will shed our tears and shake our heads that we - as a species - were ever so young and foolish that we needed to fight for peace.
And until that day - at the going down of the sun, and in the morning - we will remember them.  They fought and died - were wounded in body mind and spirit to give us the gift of freedom - freedom to create our own revolutions, and to create a future history where we will study war no more.
 Enjoy the day.
 (this blog post was also published on

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

An now, a word from the Bishop.

John Shelby Spong is a voice of reason in the chaos of fundamentism.  His recent press release draws a line in the sand for this brilliant theologian who is not afraid to be on the right side of the debate - likely at great cost from some facets of his faith community.


October 15, 2009
A Manifesto! The Time Has Come!
I have made a decision. I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone. I will no longer engage the biblical ignorance that emanates from so many right-wing Christians about how the Bible condemns homosexuality, as if that point of view still has any credibility. I will no longer discuss with them or listen to them tell me how homosexuality is "an abomination to God," about how homosexuality is a "chosen lifestyle," or about how through prayer and "spiritual counseling" homosexual persons can be "cured." Those arguments are no longer worthy of my time or energy. I will no longer dignify by listening to the thoughts of those who advocate "reparative therapy," as if homosexual persons are somehow broken and need to be repaired. I will no longer talk to those who believe that the unity of the church can or should be achieved by rejecting the presence of, or at least at the expense of, gay and lesbian people. I will no longer take the time to refute the unlearned and undocumentable claims of certain world religious leaders who call homosexuality "deviant." I will no longer listen to that pious sentimentality that certain Christian leaders continue to employ, which suggests some version of that strange and overtly dishonest phrase that "we love the sinner but hate the sin." That statement is, I have concluded, nothing more than a self-serving lie designed to cover the fact that these people hate homosexual persons and fear homosexuality itself, but somehow know that hatred is incompatible with the Christ they claim to profess, so they adopt this face-saving and absolutely false statement. I will no longer temper my understanding of truth in order to pretend that I have even a tiny smidgen of respect for the appalling negativity that continues to emanate from religious circles where the church has for centuries conveniently perfumed its ongoing prejudices against blacks, Jews, women and homosexual persons with what it assumes is "high-sounding, pious rhetoric." The day for that mentality has quite simply come to an end for me. I will personally neither tolerate it nor listen to it any longer. The world has moved on, leaving these elements of the Christian Church that cannot adjust to new knowledge or a new consciousness lost in a sea of their own irrelevance. They no longer talk to anyone but themselves. I will no longer seek to slow down the witness to inclusiveness by pretending that there is some middle ground between prejudice and oppression. There isn't. Justice postponed is justice denied. That can be a resting place no longer for anyone. An old civil rights song proclaimed that the only choice awaiting those who cannot adjust to a new understanding was to "Roll on over or we'll roll on over you!" Time waits for no one.

I will particularly ignore those members of my own Episcopal Church who seek to break away from this body to form a "new church," claiming that this new and bigoted instrument alone now represents the Anglican Communion. Such a new ecclesiastical body is designed to allow these pathetic human beings, who are so deeply locked into a world that no longer exists, to form a community in which they can continue to hate gay people, distort gay people with their hopeless rhetoric and to be part of a religious fellowship in which they can continue to feel justified in their homophobic prejudices for the rest of their tortured lives. Church unity can never be a virtue that is preserved by allowing injustice, oppression and psychological tyranny to go unchallenged.
In my personal life, I will no longer listen to televised debates conducted by "fair-minded" channels that seek to give "both sides" of this issue "equal time." I am aware that these stations no longer give equal time to the advocates of treating women as if they are the property of men or to the advocates of reinstating either segregation or slavery, despite the fact that when these evil institutions were coming to an end the Bible was still being quoted frequently on each of these subjects. It is time for the media to announce that there are no longer two sides to the issue of full humanity for gay and lesbian people. There is no way that justice for homosexual people can be compromised any longer.

I will no longer act as if the Papal office is to be respected if the present occupant of that office is either not willing or not able to inform and educate himself on public issues on which he dares to speak with embarrassing ineptitude. I will no longer be respectful of the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who seems to believe that rude behavior, intolerance and even killing prejudice is somehow acceptable, so long as it comes from third-world religious leaders, who more than anything else reveal in themselves the price that colonial oppression has required of the minds and hearts of so many of our world's population. I see no way that ignorance and truth can be placed side by side, nor do I believe that evil is somehow less evil if the Bible is quoted to justify it. I will dismiss as unworthy of any more of my attention the wild, false and uninformed opinions of such would-be religious leaders as Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Albert Mohler, and Robert Duncan. My country and my church have both already spent too much time, energy and money trying to accommodate these backward points of view when they are no longer even tolerable.

I make these statements because it is time to move on. The battle is over. The victory has been won. There is no reasonable doubt as to what the final outcome of this struggle will be. Homosexual people will be accepted as equal, full human beings, who have a legitimate claim on every right that both church and society have to offer any of us. Homosexual marriages will become legal, recognized by the state and pronounced holy by the church. "Don't ask, don't tell" will be dismantled as the policy of our armed forces. We will and we must learn that equality of citizenship is not something that should ever be submitted to a referendum. Equality under and before the law is a solemn promise conveyed to all our citizens in the Constitution itself. Can any of us imagine having a public referendum on whether slavery should continue, whether segregation should be dismantled, whether voting privileges should be offered to women? The time has come for politicians to stop hiding behind unjust laws that they themselves helped to enact, and to abandon that convenient shield of demanding a vote on the rights of full citizenship because they do not understand the difference between a constitutional democracy, which this nation has, and a "mobocracy," which this nation rejected when it adopted its constitution. We do not put the civil rights of a minority to the vote of a plebiscite.

I will also no longer act as if I need a majority vote of some ecclesiastical body in order to bless, ordain, recognize and celebrate the lives and gifts of gay and lesbian people in the life of the church. No one should ever again be forced to submit the privilege of citizenship in this nation or membership in the Christian Church to the will of a majority vote.
The battle in both our culture and our church to rid our souls of this dying prejudice is finished. A new consciousness has arisen. A decision has quite clearly been made. Inequality for gay and lesbian people is no longer a debatable issue in either church or state. Therefore, I will from this moment on refuse to dignify the continued public expression of ignorant prejudice by engaging it. I do not tolerate racism or sexism any longer. From this moment on, I will no longer tolerate our culture's various forms of homophobia. I do not care who it is who articulates these attitudes or who tries to make them sound holy with religious jargon.

I have been part of this debate for years, but things do get settled and this issue is now settled for me. I do not debate any longer with members of the "Flat Earth Society" either. I do not debate with people who think we should treat epilepsy by casting demons out of the epileptic person; I do not waste time engaging those medical opinions that suggest that bleeding the patient might release the infection. I do not converse with people who think that Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans as punishment for the sin of being the birthplace of Ellen DeGeneres or that the terrorists hit the United Sates on 9/11 because we tolerated homosexual people, abortions, feminism or the American Civil Liberties Union. I am tired of being embarrassed by so much of my church's participation in causes that are quite unworthy of the Christ I serve or the God whose mystery and wonder I appreciate more each day. Indeed I feel the Christian Church should not only apologize, but do public penance for the way we have treated people of color, women, adherents of other religions and those we designated heretics, as well as gay and lesbian people.

Life moves on. As the poet James Russell Lowell once put it more than a century ago: "New occasions teach new duties, Time makes ancient good uncouth." I am ready now to claim the victory. I will from now on assume it and live into it. I am unwilling to argue about it or to discuss it as if there are two equally valid, competing positions any longer. The day for that mentality has simply gone forever.

This is my manifesto and my creed. I proclaim it today. I invite others to join me in this public declaration. I believe that such a public outpouring will help cleanse both the church and this nation of its own distorting past. It will restore integrity and honor to both church and state. It will signal that a new day has dawned and we are ready not just to embrace it, but also to rejoice in it and to celebrate it.
– John Shelby Spong

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Create an Eco-Masterpiece with me - Blog Action Day

hello, Campers...

and I call you all campers because almost everyone loves the great outdoors - even if its only for a weekend in the provincial park.  Some of us thrive on the wide open spaces and need time in nature to connect, renew our souls, breathe cleaner air, touch the earth, hug a tree - you get the idea.

There is so much discussion about how much we can do to reverse the damage of centuries of human behavior on the planet.

We need to keep the faith (calling all Gaiaists!) and we need to have and sustain and nurture hope.  We need to celebrate every small thing we do right - and call out every thing that we do wrong - to learn from it - to  learn to not do it again - so others can learn too.

I just wish that the World Scientific Brain Trust had never started the ball rolling by calling it Global Warming - mostly because I'm tired of the jokes about the weather - (bring on global warming as a solution to undesirable weather).  Sometimes it gets in the way of serious conversation.

This post is not meant to be overly deep or profound - but to acknowledge the day - that so many of us in the Blogosphere are focused on some aspect of climate change - and I believe that wherever we put our attention will flourish.

In so many ways - we "are the world" - we create it, we destroy it, it is the mirror that reflects everything we do.  It is the canvas that we paint with the brush strokes of our lives - each human is one filament in the paintbrush. Our diversity is the palette of colors that blend together - complimenting and contrasting to make the images of our daily living.

We can create a masterpiece - not by glossing over what we have done - but by restoring the image of Eden - the green and growing heaven we used to live in - one recycling bin and bucket of compost at a time.

Will you do your part?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

To Boldly Go... where millions have gone before (I went to Walmart)

A Polemic on Crass Consumer Privilege. The last paragraph has two great links that provoked this to varying degrees - so hope you enjoy the journey down the page.

My Folk Festival Chair broke. It's one of those low-down to the ground camping chairs that meet the maximum height requirements for sitting in the crowd at the Winnipeg Folk Festival (seat no higher than 2 feet to allow for visibility of the people behind you). The arm broke - rendering it unfit for Festival use - though it will get duct taped and used around the fire pit at home.

So - 5 days before Folk Festival - I have to find a new chair. You would think it would be easy in the Grand Metropolis and Shopping Paradise that is the Heart of the Continent. Not so easy when some of us are at best "reluctant participants" in the shopping culture. So we made a list of where we had heard other friends had located similar chairs. For the record - we are not Costco members - which is likely where all the most popular chairs are these days.

Went to Zellers - a somewhat Canadian Company and located walking distance from my house. No lawn chairs. Went to SuperStore (also somewhat Canadian) for the first time since 2005 (when we were shopping for the last Retreat). No lawn chairs. Went to Canadian Tire (notice a theme?)- no lawn chairs. Went to Walmart (Born in the USA) for the first time in more years than I can remember - and bought two made in China (sorry!) Folk Fest Acceptable lawn chairs.

And then I took a look around. In the words of Bette Davis in "Beyond the Forest" - what a dump. Unhappy looking staff. Even unhappier looking customers. The stock was a mess - opened packages, disordered shelved, sizes/brands mixed up, stuff shoved anywhere someone felt like it when they realized that they didn't want it anymore. Took a cruise through the women's' clothing area out of curiosity (many of my friends say they get great deals at Walmart on their sartorial choices). Clothes falling off hangers. Merchandise everywhere - sizes mixed up, clothes on the floor. The clerk at the fitting room counter had a mountain of clothes to re-hanger and put away - and she was the only clerk I could see. The socks and underwear section was a disaster - open plastic bags with their contents half pulled out, walked on - but hey - you know what I'm talking about - you see this every time you go to Walmart. It isn't a surprise to you.

it made my Old School Retailer Heart frantic. Now - I know that the stores are understaffed, and the staff are not well compensated, and all of that - I did 25 years in retail - remember? I am not faulting the Good People of Walmart-land.

They are fighting the onslaught of crass consumer privilege. The staff didn't turn the store into a wasteland where shoppers are forced to become mix and match hunter gatherers, foragers for the best deal and the undamaged item, where shoppers act like decadent Roman Emperors, tossing the gnawed rib bones of discarded items over their shoulder to land where they may in the churn of "made in sweatshop" merchandise that migrates from department to department.

I watched people do this - drop stuff, shove stuff onto shelves, leave hangers full of blouses on a rack of pants, knock things off hangers and let them fall - and treat the clerk at the Fitting Room area like she was their own personal slave - shoving an armload of clothes and a tangle of hangers into her face and walking away without a word. And I'm shocked that I'm shocked. I guess I've just been out of the jungle too long. Cue Guns & Roses.

Are people so powerless in their personal lives or places of employment that, at the first opportunity, they treat others with such disrespect? Do we really need to "lord" our power over others in order to improve our self-esteem? or are we treating people the way we are ourselves treated - not the way we want to be treated by others? Why do we act like we are the stars of our own celebrity reality show? Lights! Camera! Action! Someone needs to yell CUT!

I enjoyed my time in retail except for the customers that treated me/my staff members like we were somehow "less than" - that because we were in the service industry that we were "servants" - and there's a whole other soapbox diatribe possible about the concepts of customer service / public service / service industry.

I've had the opportunity in my extraordinarily privileged life to "see how the other half lives" - to have visited and shopped in stores where the rich shop and let me reassure you, faithful reader, that the true mark of classy behavior (as in upper class) is based on how WELL someone treats those who are providing a personal service. While the sample sale frenzy at Bloomingdales is legendary, there is a culture of respect that is part of the exchange in commerce among many in the carriage trade. (what a quaintly antiquated expression - it should be the Manolo trade these days). But I digress.

There is also respect for the merchandise. Every item in every store started as a thought - a creative idea designed to meet a potential need (or a manufactured need in some cases.) "It" is approved, prototyped, manufactured, packaged, crated, and transported (sometimes at great carbon-creating distance) to its intended marketplace. But what is today's mass produced merchandise really worth?

When I know how much a meter of fabric costs at Mitchell Fabrics (Winnipeg's finest family owned fabric store) - plus design, labor, and shipping - how can this pair of shorts be only $5? How much of that is profit for the retailer with their overhead and staffing costs, plus the shipping company, the distributor and the manufacturer? How much did someone get paid to make my $5 pair of shorts? Would I work for that wage? And where can they afford to shop based on what they make?

I'm not a saint - just a conflicted consumer. I try to vote with my dollars - AND I also need what I need to live my life, and sometimes there are limitations on where I can find the thing I'm looking for because of the Consumer Over-culture. I tend to shop in small, independent stores - and rarely make the trip into the big box world of retail because I can't stand it. The stores smell of chemicals - all those cheaply made goods off-gassing their poly-whatever into a contained space. People are rude. The staff are overworked, underpaid, and under appreciated. I make the foray into that world only when I need something I can't find anywhere else. And then I feel awful for days. Body Mind and Spirit.

I hate malls (and I've worked in them). I hate the big box malls especially, because I have to walk outside in the winter to get from store to store to store schlepping my stuff in a winter coat & boots - or drive/be driven across a football field length parking lot to get from one store to the next. Interior malls replaced the town square/central market of our cities by enclosing stores under one roof.

At least in an enclosed mall, you can meet friends, stop for tea, sit and watch the people go by and have a social experience - replacing that central civic meeting place which is now a thing of distant cultural memory and is almost considered an urban legend to current generations. With the big box malls, we've lost even that artificial semblance of "market day" being a socially interactive experience - now its every SUV for itself as people jet from store to store across an acreage that used to be farmland in my lifetime.

So what's to be done? Treat everyone and everything with respect. Say please and thank you. Shop with your dollars supporting your beliefs. Write letters of commendation when deserved - and not just for the "above and beyond" stuff - but for the smaller moments that matter. Own your contribution to the "mess" and do better (such as hanging things up on their hangers when after you have tried them on). Change the economy one necessary purchase at a time, to the best of your ability.

And if you see me at Folk Festival - I'll be the lady in the big black beaten up old straw hat in the brand new chair. trying not to feel guilty about it. But that's my baggage to deal with.

Oh yeah - check out the article in Sundays Free Press on how "free parking" really isn't free and imposes a surtax on people who take public transit, walk, cycle, or carpool to the store. And for a moment to ponder - check out this great post by No Impact Man - that's what prompted me to write this post. Its' a great blog about living responsibly.

Enjoy the day,
(sorry - no time to drop in attractive images today)