Turkeys and Thanksgiving and Such

November 21, 2012

This is a time when everyone (including my lovely family) is writing and talking about what they will cook and make for the Thanksgiving meal. As vegetarians and folks who are aware that many Native Americans refer to Thanksgiving as a National Day of Mourning, it is not quite as exciting for us.

Don’t get me wrong. I really love everyone taking time to be thankful and give attention to our families. I also am very aware that most folks, like us, don’t really tend to associate our holiday traditions with the supposed first Thanksgiving meal. Aside from the ridiculousness taught to most elementary school kids, pilgrims and Native Americans are not really part of Thanksgiving for many of us.

So I get that my feelings about Thanksgiving could be read as crazy liberal stuff, crazy vegetarian stuff. I am certainly not going to raise this with my family or neighbors because I don’t want to be seen as the strange one ruining the fun talking about Native Americans and trying to stand up for turkeys or something. We eat a vegan fall meal in our home on Thanksgiving and welcome anyone who wants to join us.

But, in a way, this is sort of my concern. Because violence get normalized when those who point out the violence (historical or present day) are the “weird” ones.

So, on the one hand, I want to avoid disrupting a nice day by good people who are just trying to have a good meal together. On the other hand, I want not to normalize the history and the killing that is quite literally at the center of this holiday, with the turkey in the middle of the table.

So here is the story we tell in our family around Thanksgiving:

Our son was born at home, at the end of a dead end road in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Our house was up against ten acres of woods and it was quiet and I can’t think of a better place for him to have been born. It was a chilly spring day that he was born. I wasn’t able to get out of bed for over 24 hours. Finally, when I got up for the first time my partner said, “Look out the window!!” I looked out into our back yard, which was right up against the forest and there were 14 wild turkeys, a deer, two bunnies, and a squirrel sitting out in our yard. It was misty out, early in the morning, the day after our son had been born.

We tell him that the animals in the forest knew that a new creature had been born in the woods and they came to welcome him. In a way, I’m sure that is not quite true. But, in another way, I have to wonder if it is. We had never seen any turkeys or deer until this moment – just the occasional bunny and our squirrels.

We tell our son that the turkeys were excited to see him especially because they are simple, peaceful animals and it is a message to us that we do best when we also live simple and peacefully.

We tell him the story of how, many years ago, people lived in the land we now call Plymouth, his birth place, and people came from Europe and wanted to live there too. We haven’t gotten to the details (i.e. the massacres) but in general we point out that it is hard when different people want to live in same place and we need to be thoughtful about how we live with others – the harm we cause and the ways we can lessen that. We tell him that his birth location and his welcome by the turkeys and other animals of the woods is a gift to him to remember the ways that we can live more peacefully, with a spirit of welcome. Eating animals in general seems strange to him since he has never eaten animals and rarely sees others do so. But, we hope that, over time, his birth story helps him remember his connection to animals and to history such that it calls him to make a different sort of world than the one we have.

I get that it might seem hippie or cooky to some. But, for us, it is a small way to say that there is enough killing in the world. There is enough pain and enough violence and we’re just going to do our best to lessen how much of that we take part in, recognizing that we can never fully extract ourselves from this broken world with broken systems of violence that we are a part of. But, at the very least, we’ll try not to celebrate it and try to opt out when we can.


A Life Lived Well

October 22, 2012

When I was in Kindergarten, I had a bit of a breakdown. I felt like I was not moving through my letter books fast enough. The other children were slow to learn the ABCs and I already knew them and we needed to move it along. I dropped out of Girl Scouts in third grade because I got so preoccupied with getting as.many.badges.as.possible as fast as possible that I could not enjoy it. Or get anything out of it.

It goes on. In seventh grade, it was getting to be the editor of the school newspaper and yearbook. As fast as possible. And making them better. Fast. By high school, it was starting to take college classes. Filling out the resume for college. After a full scholarship to my undergraduate school, it was getting more majors. And more awards. So I could go to the best graduate school. After getting into a graduate program at Harvard, it was getting into the doctoral program at Harvard. Then passing exams. With distinction. Then writing a dissertation. I wouldn’t just be spiritual or religious or involved in my church, I would be ordained. Soon it was getting a job. After getting a tenure track job, the big concern has been the getting a book contract. And being the.best.professor possible. I want my students to love learning, love the class, love me, become good citizens, become good thinkers. Somewhere in there: Get married. Buy a house. Have a baby.

I am tired. If I stop to think about what a good life looks like, I hardly know. When I am with my son, who I want more time with, I am worried about when I can clean the house. Or get back to grading. As the trees change and the air is perfect, I look out the window from Starbucks with my overly sweet drink and write more comments on the papers that my students will probably never read. As I apply for grants and funding, my screen blurs together and I wonder what I am doing. I pour over our budget and wonder how we can make what we do and still come up short at the end of every month. What are we doing all of this for if not to be able to pay our bills and have a good, peaceful life, right? A PEACEFUL LIFE, goddammit.

Sometimes it can feel like we are caught in a hologram… but there is no red pill, no way to step out of it, to snap out of it. I think about what I should do to get out – meditate, go to yoga, take time to be present, make better plans, manage time better, get therapy, read more books or better books, and I just add these things onto my to do list and run from meeting to class to meeting, somehow feeling good about myself as I ease the pain with the balm of doing.

I tell my students there are few important easy choices in our lives – as individuals, as citizens. And there may not even be a choice. We are formed over time and our brains develop little pathways and we do not undo this in a day or a night or by getting saved or by making definitive decisions that we really mean this time. We undo or redo this slowly, the way that we have been done up by our universe. Moment by moment. Dragging ourselves back from the chaos into the memory of what we all long for, aware of the cliche and the unoriginality of our desires.

These things are not changed by quotes we tape to our computer screen or put on our pinterest wall, we know, as we hurriedly find better pithy and inspirational quotes and clearer places to post them.

Perhaps this is my draw to God and grace. The idea that we are loved and ok always. From before time and until after time. No matter what we do. We want to believe it, but like the alcoholic who just has one more drink, and feels that emptiness and pain melting away, we put one more good line on our resume. One more grant or book or job or success. And we are good, right? Doing the right things. Right?


Learning Things Again and Again

July 8, 2009

I have started this post five times, and it always feels cliched and obvious each time.

So I will just say it simply even if it is cliched and obvious.

I am amazed at how often we have to relearn the simplest things. Like appreciating what we have. Slowing down. Setting limits. Living simply.

It is in every self-help book and Unitarian Univeralist sermons across the country week in and week out.

On our deathbeds what will we wish we will have spent our time and energy on? Meeting our work deadline? Or soaking up another ten minute play session with our baby and Penelope the pig and Pablo the penguin and the singing bear?

We will be glad we got every last speck of dirt off the floor, or will we wish that that we took another walk and loved the trees and the chipmunk that lives under the stones on the front steps?

Yes, we know. We know. Slow down. Appreciate. Love. Breathe.

But we must relearn these things day in and day out. It is hard to practice the sort of life we long for.


Life With Baby

June 2, 2009

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” – Annie Dillard

I am trying not to be worried that my house will never be as clean as I want it. Crumbs are not poisonous. They are not specks of doubt flung around announcing my inability to manage my life.

I was telling my partner – I need to think in terms of sanitation..the house must not pose a health hazard – rather than trying to actually keep it clean. I can understand a bit more now where good old Betty Friedan was coming from.

My sweet angel wants to be held. Always. I am not of the cry it out school of parenting. Or the school that thinks you can spoil your baby. He needs what he needs. He need reassurance. He needs my arms and my breast and my heartbeat. Still adjusting to his life that is his own and not 100% woven together with mine. As I said in an earlier post: It is flattering, but exhausting.

Yet. I want to life a life that is about love and peace and gentleness and kindness. Maybe I am some sort of cliche, but these things actually have meaning for me – they are not words – but a life that I long for and believe in. And it cannot be lived if I am running around like a mad woman muttering about papers that are not written or sleep that is not had or crumbs that have not been dust-busted.

So, I try to lose myself in my mesmerization. Let myself feel it. The soft skin. The wonder of our boy. The way his eyebrows are just little fuzzes that I can rub against my cheek while he is sleeping on my shoulder. Just let him sleep on my shoulder rather than try to put him down in order to do something else.

The way his breath smells sweet. The magic of watching him learn how to giggle.

How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.

So I will do what I need to do – the work, the school, the cleaning, the errands – as I can. But when I cannot, I will smell his sweet baby breath. Sit and wait for the wild turkeys to come and get the corn we have put out for them.

Pray.

Breathe.

Cuddle.

And try to let go.


How Much Is Enough? Buying Green Edition

May 5, 2009

I started my “How Much Is Enough?” series back in February, but haven’t quite got to it yet. Until now.

A while back I read an article about how, if you calculate the environmental cost of shipping ceramic mugs and the heat used to make them and the energy used to clean them it actually turns out to be better to use paper cups and throw them away than to tote your coffee mug around with you and use that. (This ended up not being true, but the point is that there are articles out there making such claims.)

It made me want to bang my head on the table. Because, just when you think you are doing the right thing, an article comes out and tells you that, actually, no you are not.

Then there was the article about how doing a search on google somehow uses more carbon than… well, something. The point is, of course, that it doesn’t occur to most of us that doing a google search uses any carbon or does anything bad, right?

And then, there was the fairly traded vanilla at Whole Foods for $9.99. Could that possibly be worth it?

And, there is my recent checking of the “yes I want to use green energy” box on the form when I signed up for electricity in our new home. I got our first bill and realized that this costs about $70 more a month! That is A LOT. And I have been reading articles about how the new light bulbs that use less energy actually cause as many problems as they solve because they have mercury in them which leaks when they are thrown away, poisoning things.

Aaaaaa! What is a green wanna be to do? How much is enough? And how much is too much? When is it “green washing” and when is it really better? I mean, if I buy unfairly traded vanilla for $1.99 and then give the other $8.00 that I would have paid for the fairly traded vanilla to a NGO, isn’t that probably better than spending $10 on vanilla? What about the extra $70 it costs us to get green electricity? We are still debating if we can actually afford this at all – can we buy $70 less in groceries each month? Yet, if we aren’t willing to do that, can we really say we even try to live up to our values, especially if we can afford it if we make adjustments?

I am pretty sure I am not the only person struggling with all of these questions.

Here is my theory on how much is enough when it comes to buying green:

First, take it easy. The reality is that our individual decisions are not going to make or break the future of the planet. What we do is important, but it is important not to inflate the difference we can make. Although I know it maybe sounds a little bit cheezy, I think we can only create peace in our world if we are peaceful. We cannot be peaceful if we are freaked out about every lightbulb.

Second, do what you can. We all have different things we can do/will do/want to do. We should push ourselves to do more than what is just easy to do. We probably can pay extra for the elecricity, even though it is a stretch. We don’t eat meat, but we fly and drive too much. We buy recycled toilet paper, but we can’t bring ourselves to use reusable wash clothes for this purpose as some do. We can’t all do it all, but we can push ourselves to do more.

Third, use some common sense. I know people are all into calculating this and that, but I think common sense probably goes further than we think. If $10 fairly traded vanilla seems absurd to you, it probably is. Biking is better than driving. Apples from your local orchard are better than ones from Australia, even if the local ones are not organic and the Australian ones are. While some things may need to be researched and carefully calculated, the whole reuse, reduce, recycle goes a long way.

Please feel free to leave your two cents in the comments. I would love to hear someone who has figured this out better than me!


How Much is Enough? Sustainability, Justice, and the Economy

February 15, 2009

This is a question I return to over and over again in my life and on this blog and my answer never seems that helpful. I guess I like to just keep thinking about it and trying new approaches which is better than completely giving up.

First, I want to be clear that this is a pretty darn privileged post. I know that, for a lot of people, any discussion of where to spend money is about whether to pay for medicine or food. Or how to pay for food. Or how to pay rent. The reality is, that I wish I was someone who would say, “You know what? Until other people don’t have to worry about how to eat or how to pay for life-saving medical treatment, I am only going to buy what I really need to survive and give the rest to more important causes.” But I am not saying that. I might someday. I wish I would. But I am simply not ready to make that sort of sacrifice – of, let’s be honest, my own comfort – for what I think is the right thing to do. This is about how to live more simply, how to better take into account issues of sustainability, justice, and the current economic crisis for people who are not dealing with acute and/or traumatic economic situations.

Given this – that I am not going to live ultra-simply – I still would like to live more simply and more sustainably, better taking into account how my consumption habits impact me, the world, and the values that are important to me (justice, equality, survival of our planet, etc.).

This is for three reasons: first, because it seems preferable to acquire less stuff for environmental reasons; second, because it seems to me that there are spiritual and personal benefits to having less stuff and depending less on acquiring things to make me feel better/more fulfilled; and three, because the economy sucks, I worry about our finances and job stability, and we really need to be saving money.

So how much stuff is enough to have? When it comes to buying stuff and having space (in your home, which costs money and uses resources) and spending money – what is being normal and reasonable, what is being conscientious, what is being extravagant?

With the economic situation and our recent move, I have returned to these questions more lately and at least until I am preoccupied with other things (baby to arrive soon), I hope to blog on it more.

I ran across a blog (I forget how) Enough which is:

a space for conversations about how a commitment to wealth redistribution plays out in our lives: how we decide what to have, what to keep, what to give away; how we work together to build sustainable grassroots movements; how we challenge capitalism in daily, revolutionary ways.

I haven’t read a lot of the blog yet. I’m pretty sure they are more radical than me. I think I am not so much into challenging capitalism (maybe I am into challenging capitalism as it currently is practiced/carried out, but not in general). But the rest of the point of the blog – thinking about what to have, what to keep, how we work together to build sustainable grassroots movements related to justice and equality…. that sort of thing is what I am interested in.

So this post is getting long. I think I will stop here, and say that this is the introduction to my How Much Is Enough? series which, at the very minimum, will include a post on How Much is Enough? A Question of Faith, How Much is Enough? Moving Edition, How Much is Enough? Baby Edition, and How Much Is Enough? Buying Green Edition. I welcome links in the comments to blogs, posts and websites that deal with these issues from any of the three (obviously intertwined) lenses that I’m using to look at this: the sustainability perspective, the justice perspective, and the personal economic perspective.

More soon!

p.s. Other posts I have done on this in the past:

Privilege, Justice and Sustainability Thoughts how to try to eat more sustainably without getting on our high horses, on the interconnectedness of justice issues (including the issue of food).

Book Review for The Simple Living Guide

Can Polyester Save the World? Part of the series of posts on my (failed) attempt not to buy new clothes for a year.

May a Curse Fall on the House of Pottery Barn: Trying to Want Less

No More Clothes in the New Year Thoughts on trying not to buy new clothes for a year. (Spoiler: It lasted five months.)

A Slower and Simpler Life (?)

I Could Keep Living Generally the Way I Wanted Does it actually take sacrifice to live a more sustainable life?


Privilege, Justice, and Sustainability

April 28, 2008

Over at My Moxie Life, Jacqueline writes about Why Food Isn’t My Politics (also mentioned at The Interdependent Web). She writes about how she and her family became vegetarian and…

Three years after that we moved to an intentional community in Missouri for a year. We, again wanted to experience living as lightly on the earth, community, and a back to the land ideal. It was while living with 70 other people from all walks of life that I began to shift my ideas about food…

What I began to realize was that food is only a choice for those who have the financial privilege to make that choice. It is an economics thing. If you come from a lower economic background or a definitive cultural background you will have food ideas around that. You MAY choose to break out of those ideas, but often, in the circumstances you CAN’T. You eat what is offered, and if you are lucky you are grateful.

It was the white middle and upper middle class kids that were offensively food oriented. THEY were making the RIGHT moral choice and they let you know in no uncertain terms that they were better because of it. Well, that screams of economic superiority, a bit of racism, and holier then thou attitudes.

These were CONSTANT conversations at East Wind while I was there and because of that tension and my wanting to understand where everyone was coming from I chose that food was something to be thankful for in whatever form it takes.

Education and poverty were more important to me then what someone served me at dinner.

So, we moved back to San Francisco omnivores… and have stayed that way.

I started to comment over at her blog, but the comment got a bit long so I thought I would post it here. I completely hear this idea that often liberals or other do-gooding folks go around being like, “Gosh, look at us. Shopping at Whole Foods, getting our vegetarian, local, organic food while we cruise around in our Prius. Golly, we are sure doing good by the world. Too bad there are those other people who are ruining the planet!” I know these people. I try not to be one. Probably I don’t always succeed.

So first, I want to affirm Jacqueline’s struggles with this issue and say that such struggles resonate with my experience (perhaps, um, too closely….). Yet, I think there are two important additional things to consider here.

First, I think we need to be careful not to set up a false dichotomy between “food politics”, and other (race and class or education) politics. Being attentive to the ways that our diet impacts the world around us – the natural world, humans, and other animals – is one important way to seek to live out our convictions related to compassion for suffering, non-violence, environmental justice, and human rights. Vegetarianism isn’t just all about saving the animals/lessening their suffering. It is also about trying to live more sustainably so that future humans have an earth to live on, and it is about being attentive to the ways that meat consumption, violence, the meat packing industry, immigration, race, class, food shortages, food riots, global warming, etc. are all related. Vegetarianism or veganism is, of course, not only way to address such concerns. But, I don’t see our food choices (to the extent that we have choices about our diet) as separate from bigger questions about justice, environment, class, etc.

Secondly, I struggle with the idea that if everyone/poor people/lots of people can’t do _________ (fill the blank with an attempt to be more sustainable/attempt at social justice activity), then it is a privileged thing to do and we are being too privileged/spoiled/snobby if we do this thing. I feel like this would apply to most volunteering, many if not most home energy efficiency measures, to many forms of education (expensive colleges/any colleges/many forms of homeschooling/private schools, etc.), buying organic/locally grown food, having the time and energy to grow a garden, driving a hybrid car, etc. The problem seems not to be that by doing these things (such as being vegetarian) we are not attending to the real problems like race or education, but rather that often our attitudes about our various “do-gooding” activities (like being vegetarian) are problematic.

The problem could thus be framed as the attitude that “We are doing the right thing (as privileged, liberals) while they (poor, others) are not,” rather then the problem being framed as the particular action we are taking (in the case of Jacqueline’s post, vegetarianism). If we look at it like this, the solution would not to be to stop doing action X, but to change our attitudes about action X.

For me, it is all about finding a balance between calling on each other and calling on ourselves to live as sustainably and justly as we can, while at the same time, being understanding that we can only do what we can do. I find it challenging, with vegetarianism, but also issues like hyper-consumerism, sexism, racism, classism, etc. to know how to best challenge my fellow humans try to live justly and more sustainably, while at the same time acknowledging the wide range of limitations to what each of us can do as individuals, families, communities, and countries. Certainly, to some extent, I believe all of us are called to call to humanity to be more just, more loving, less violent, and to live more sustainably, and to live out these principles in our own lives. But how much is too much calling? And how are we to do it without infringing too much on individual prerogatives, given that we cannot all do it all? And, are there different standards for calling upon fellow Unitarian Universalists, than, say, the general public?

Thanks to the post at Moxie Life for helping me to continue to grapple with some of these questions.