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Tim Bennett and I have just returned home from two screening tours of What A Way To Go. We toured 13 communities in the Northeast during August and 23 communities in the West and Midwest during October and early November. I’ve now got a finger on the pulse of current levels of awareness in the US about the seriousness of our global predicament. Our audiences I believe are the cream of the crop. They are the best, the most tuned-in, the most concerned. It was a pleasure to be with them. They shored up my waning fondness for humanity as a whole. But despite the obvious goodness of the ordinary people that I witnessed, I am not encouraged about our prospects.
I can say this with a fair degree of confidence: save for the few who are already fully awake, most people who are now looking at the world are just waking up to the four horsemen that we address in What A Way To Go: Peak Oil, Climate Change, Mass Species Extinction and Population Overshoot. They are just waking up and they have no accurate idea how late in the game it is.
What’s the game I’m talking about? The game of “civilized, industrial, technological life as we know it.” We are at the end of that game. And people are just beginning to wake up to the fact that it’s a game.
I’m talking about The Apocalypse, which, I’ve come to learn, literally means The Unveiling. We are on the verge of The Unveiling. We are beginning to pull back the curtain and see clearly what our civilization has actually been up to over the past two centuries and eight or ten milenia.
The Unveiling is upon us and only a small percentage of the people are waking up. Those that are, are waking up at the last minute. And they are waking up rather slowly and reluctantly. Most still imagine the full unveiling and revelation of consequences must be decades away. They believe it’s at least a generation or two off. Most, even after they see our movie, continue to think there’s time to create a mass awakening, a popular uprising, a reformation. They want to believe that there’s a revolution afoot, that “green building” and “hydrogen cars,” will save us, if only “we the people” will demand those things. They continue to think there’s decades yet ahead in order to turn away from catastrophe, that it’s possible to solve our energy and climate and ecological holocaust. But you don’t solve a holocaust. At best, maybe you survive it.
Hello. It’s not generations away. It’s not decades away. As Tim says in voice-over early on in the movie, “Turns out it may be just around the corner.” In fact, for most of the community of life, apocalypse is right now. Today, for two-hundred species, life ends at midnight, or noon, or even as I write this.
Two hundred species a day we are losing. Two hundred. As Daniel Quinn says in the movie, “This is calamitous.”
Many who have been studying peak oil for years now suggest that the “peak” may have happened a year ago. You can tell yourself that hundred dollar a barrel oil is just corporate gouging. That we can somehow make them stop the rising prices. But that’s delusion. No doubt the oil companies are going to make as much as they can manipulating the prices. But the prices are going up. And up. And up. There may be a few manipulated blips on the upward curve. But demand will outstrip supply, if it hasn’t already, and the price will continue to climb, blip, climb, blip, climb.
Likewise, the evidence that climate change tipping points have already started to tip is also mounting. Summer sea ice levels on the northern ice cap hit record new lows this summer, new lows that far exceeded past predictions. Extinction continues unabated, as does rising human population. Richard Heinberg, who published The Party is Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies in 2005, has just published Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines. The party is indeed over, and not just for oil, but for all the things we’ve become accustomed to, for all the stuff the culture has eaten up and spit out and landfilled and is now trying desperately to recycle.
People have no idea how late in the game it is. And, sadly, many don’t seem to want to know. If people wanted to know they would walk from a screening of What A Way To Go to their local library or independent bookstore and start ordering and reading books from the authors we interviewed. They would find our website and click links to the many sources of energy, climate, extinction and population information. They’d find and read The Oil Drum and Energy Bulletin. They would immerse themselves in the information because they’d want to know. But the truth is, most don’t want to know.
Having toured 36 communities with our movie in the last three months and having sat with over a thousand people in post-screening dialogue circles, I find myself sad and sobered. And I thought I already was sober. I thought I had a clue about how little consciousness exists with regard to the extent and consequences of our human impacts on the world. I thought that was the whole point of making a no-punches-pulled, hard-hitting, wide-lens documentary in the first place. We knew people were sorely uninformed and misinformed about how dire the situation is. But we were naive.
We were not naive about the lack of awareness. We were naive about the lack of desire for that awareness. People don’t really want to know. And a surprising number of people acknowledge that. They don’t want to know because they realize they are already depressed. They are depressed and discouraged. And they believe they would rather be numb and distracted. They don’t see a way through the depression and discouragement so they turn their backs and resolve not to look.
I’ve come to see that there’s a major paradox we now face, having made a documentary that is as comprehensive and thoughtful and hard-hitting as ours is, in the context of a populace that is as dumbed-down and disheartened and disempowered as America’s. I thought it would be an unequivocally good and empowering act to make a movie that is smart and compelling and that moves people emotionally. But in fact, for many, the movie actually becomes part of their sophisticated denial system. Having seen it they believe what is not true, and what is true seems to go right over their heads. Maybe it’s too smart. And paradoxically, maybe it’s too compelling. Most people don’t seem to want to think that hard. And they don’t seem to want to feel that much, either. So they don’t watch it again and again, as we have, to make sure they won’t go back to sleep.
As we listened to people, all too often we had the scary sense that they liked our movie because they wanted to get other people to watch it. They wanted other people to wake up. They wanted to believe that because the movie had been made it was an indication that things are getting better. They wanted to don a blank, hopeful, smile and declare weakly “People are waking up!”
Other people. Because it’s always other people that need to wake up. Not us. We already know. We are the choir. We don’t need preaching to. We get it. If we can just get this movie seen by other people, the people who really need to wake up, the masses, the leaders, the rest of the population, then everything will be okay. If only we can get this movie seen by everybody, then everything will be okay.
It’s not going to be okay. It’s too late for everything to be okay.
Soon after we had finished the movie, Marc Maximov wrote that What A Way To Go is an “ecological horror film”. When we read that comment in his article we laughed. We thought it interesting and startling that he would describe the movie that way, given that we had interviewed such luminary scientists as William Schlesinger and Stuart Pimm, and such amazing thinkers as Derrick Jensen, Daniel Quinn and Chellis Glendinning. I mean, who would have thought that Thomas Berry would appear in a horror movie?
But now I think Marc was on to something important. I think he astutely observed that in spite of the scholarship and intelligence and poetry in What A Way To Go, many people will respond to it as if it were a horror movie rather than as a documentary. When people don’t want to wake up to the nightmare, but are faced with an accurate and compelling assessment of their condition, they can, and will, relegate that experience to the file they’ve created in their heads labeled “Horror Movies and Other Things I Don’t Want to Believe Are True.”
Human beings are extremely creative when they want to be. That includes being psychologically creative. That includes being creative about constructing defense and denial mechanisms that serve to keep them numb and asleep. They seal off accurate knowledge about the world just as they’ve sealed off a thousand other real and unreal images that they’ve been exposed to via the media. They relegate the feelings that arise when confronted by the four horsemen of This Apocalypse to the same realms they relegate feelings elicited by Stephen King’s fiction, by terrifying dreams, and by the boogey man under the bed. They unwittingly label this documentary the way they labeled The Shining: Just Another Horror Movie. And, having filed the experience away, they then go back to sleep. They step into the fantasy that “green business” is selling: the solution to our environmental and social and resource problems is to be good consumers and to buy more stuff, green stuff. After all, people vote with their dollars don’t they? Wow, lacking real elections this is the deal: You can vote by spending! So the more you spend the more powerful you are. Wow. This is great! We can step into our powerful identities as consumers and accept our full responsibility as citizens. We get to vote every day we buy something. What a great fantasy: the destruction of the world will be stopped by spending more money.
The answer to these problems is simple, and everyone can be involved: one can shop. Because shopping is fun. And shopping can happen even at home or on the airplane. One can look adoringly at advertisements for hybrid SUVs. One can admire how Chevron is going green! One can fantasize about someday living in that wonderful solar heated, natural green home of 3-5 thousand square feet, with imported rugs on comfy, cozy, water-heated slab floors. And that next bedspread? Well, do consider hemp! That will make a real difference. Best of all, considering the time of year, it’s time to vow to make it a Green Christmas: buy beeswax candles and exotic fruit baskets and yoga mats. Buy imported things and support indigenous cultures. Buy big things and small things, green things and live things. And in so buying, we can all pretend that things will get better. That things are getting better. All one need to do is shop correctly. After all, shopping is fun. And stopping the destruction of the world should be fun.
I realize I’m on a bit of a tear here. I can’t help it. I sat with over a thousand people and I’m more discouraged about the awakening in the world than ever. And mostly I’m sad. I’m sad that as a group we are not getting it.
And the rest of the community of life is at risk. No. Wait. See how easily denial slips in? The rest of the community of life is not at risk. The rest of the community of life is being wiped out while human population numbers continue to increase, and shop.
On our tour, after the screenings, we avoided the typical Q & A. After all, while we admit to some extent of knowledge as a result of the last four years spent deep in research and analysis, we really aren’t experts, or authorities. We’re pretty smart and we’ve peeled off many layers of denial. And because of that we’ve let the magnitude of the global predicament hit us in the gut, over and over. But we don’t pretend to have answers or authoritative prescriptions. Not that anyone does. In fact we hold that anyone who says they have the prescription to stop the destruction and reform this system in order to make it work is either extremely ill-informed, lying, and or flat out delusional. There just aren’t any easy answers other than shutting down the industrial infrastructure yesterday. And that would not be easy.
So we didn’t do Q& A after screenings. We refused to be set up to be hit with people’s understandable projections and anger at all the authorities and experts who continue to confuse, disappoint, and exploit them.
Instead, on these tours, we invited people to pull chairs into a circle and talk with us and each other as concerned peers, to respond to the movie by expressing their feelings, by talking about what moved them, what emotions were touched. We knew this might be a stretch for many people. Most of us have been emotionally dumbed down as well as intellectually hobbled by this numbing and stupid culture. So we offered a menu of sorts to help people identify their feelings. We gave them a short list of the basic five: Glad, Sad, Mad, Scared or Ashamed. Turns out, this was a good thing to do. People actually reported on their feelings. They took the risk to do what is anathema for most Americans: they expressed their feelings, and they often did so in clear and heartfelt ways. I was touched and impressed. Circle after circle, people did this. They talked about their feelings with one another. Often it was quite moving. And on occasion I think the experience was not only cathartic but transforming for certain individuals. And probably it planted a fair number of seeds. I wonder, though, how many of those seeds will ever germinate into any kind of action. Despite the genuine expression of feeling in the rooms on those evenings, I don’t get the sense that the majority of these people went home to start radically changing their lives.
I say this because by the time the tour came to an end I began to see something that was fairly disturbing. The most frequently reported feelings were sad and glad, followed by ashamed and mad, with only the rare expression of people being scared. I think that’s backwards to what would best be experienced. I think if people were really letting the information sink in, if they were letting it past their denial and defense mechanisms, that they would, first and foremost, be scared.
Let me explain. If a person is not scared when confronted with the immanent demise of their lifestyle, then clearly they aren’t looking at it. They are relegating the information to the “horror movie” file and continuing to pretend. They are telling themselves that all this is going to happen in someone else’s lifetime. But, in fact, all this is happening RIGHT NOW. Preparations for dealing with this, for responding, for surviving it, for helping to heal it, needed to begin 300 years ago or 30 years ago. Or at least yesterday.
But my sense is that people aren’t preparing. They aren’t even considering what making preparation might mean. Way too often what I witness is that people see the movie and then continue to talk about careers and retirements and the future. Like the future will in any way resemble the past or even the present
I genuinely liked most of the people we sat in post-screening dialogue circles with. Their expression of concern and caring for each other and the rest of the community of life evoked fondness. I often said that the circles convinced me that the human species, at least some percentage of it, is worth saving. But I have to say that I don’t really think that one viewing of the movie or one sharing of heartfelt concerns actually changed very many people in any significant way. I still feel fondness for these members of my species. But I don’t hold any illusions that this movie is changing people, or moving them into action with any kind of appropriate speed or conviction.
So I feel compelled to say something. I hope many people who have seen What a Way To Go, or who will see What A Way To Go, will take this to heart:
Our movie is not evidence that things are changing. Once you’ve seen our movie, that does not mean you don’t need to radically and rapidly change your life in preparation for utter upheaval of how you’ve been living and what you’ve been planning and working for.
Please don’t watch our movie and then be glad that change is happening. Because the most prevalent change that is happening is that things in the real world of plants and animals and water and soil and climate are continuing to get worse. Rapidly worse. They’ve gotten worse since An Inconvenient Truth. And they’ve gotten worse since Al Gore got the Nobel prize. They’ve gotten worse since our movie was released on DVD and since we’ve traveled the country touring with it and sitting with people in circles to process it.
Things are getting worse and they are going to keep getting worse until industrial civilization either grinds to a halt or is stopped. Only when that happens will the great bulk of humanity that is enmeshed with industrial civilization stop destroying the community of life through the inexorable consumption of everything.
All evidence I see is that there isn’t going to be a popular mass uprising. So don’t be waiting around for THAT to happen. There isn’t going to be a technofix. And the aliens, if there are any, are not going to intervene and clean this up for us. It’s time to pay the piper, or the rats are going to continue to overrun our village.
So please, don’t wait for someone else to “get it.” Don’t wait for the leaders of your country, or company, or community to get on aboard. Don’t wait for someone else to wake up and make the changes happen. Because they aren’t going to get it.
I think what Upton Sinclair said is more true than we want to believe: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.” How many people’s jobs depend on them NOT understanding that capitalism is a dead end, that consuming is folly, and that technology is a hoax? Don’t depend on politicians or business people or even academics to understand what’s going on when their jobs, and their mortgages and their plasma television sets and probably their marriages depend on them NOT understanding it.
And don’t depend on yourself understanding it if your job and your current lifestyle depends on NOT understanding it. Denial is real and alive and most of us continue in it’s stranglehold.
Only when we wake up to that understanding will we begin to have some choices. Work your way to that place. Watch What A Way To Go thirty times or more, like we have. Read a bunch of books and websites. Choose to step out of delusion. It will probably mean you have to plan to quit your job. And maybe move. It will probably mean you have to consider a very different kind of life.
The good new is that, probably, a very different kind of life will be a life which has meaning and purpose and is grounded in the reality of soil and water and other living, breathing, feeling creatures. In some ways it will be a harder life that you’ll have to choose. But it will be better.
Feel your way into where you want to be and get there. Focus on the basics: water, food, non-fossil energy. Focus on how you can help to stop the destruction and start the healing. Listen to the voice-over at the end of What A Way To Go:
“The waters are rising. We’re going to have to let go of the shore.”
Listen to it again and again, and again. Until YOU get it. The waters are rising. It’s time to build an ark.
It’s time. Don’t wait. Build it now.
Just discovered Jarett Sanchez podcast. This one is a reading from John Taylor Gatto. Sally has listened to a couple of others and they were wonderful, thoughtful pieces. Anymore it is hard for Sally to do “hand work” without listening to a podcast because there’s just so much out there that is incredible. This particular one addresses our dismal lack of educational choice and how the larger system of schooling make it difficult for the wonderful, caring and creative people who are drawn to teaching to truly educate, to bring forth the unique individuality of their students. This is well worth the listen. And the other programs on Sanchez’ playlist look as good and even better. Bring on the ‘hand work.” There’s nothing like listening to wonderful ideas while shelling peas, or folding towels, or painting the trim in the bathroom!
This interview is part of a great podcast series. Well worth the listen. KMO also has many other programs that viewers of What A Way To Go and readers of All of the Above will be interested in. Sally and Tim talk with KMO about “stories” and how those stories have kept us stuck. In addition viewer will hear about the journey they’ve been on and some of the insights they’ve had since the movie was released.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Timothy Bennett
NEW SCI-FI/ADVENTURE NOVEL ADDRESSES GLOBAL SOCIAL/ENVIRONMENTAL/POLITICAL PREDICAMENTS
Blue Hag Books is pleased to announce the release of ALL OF THE ABOVE, first novel from author and filmmaker Timothy Scott Bennett.
U.S. President Linda Travis embarks on a heroine’s journey in this exciting page-turner. Briefed at gunpoint and told of the human-alien conspiracy that secretly controls her government, President Travis does something none of her predecessors dared to do: she runs. During the chase that ensues, from rural Vermont to the arctic wilderness of Bathurst Island, through the underground blackness of the aliens’ Ottawa Lodge to the bewildering landscapes of the astral realm, Linda encounters both adversaries and advocates where she least expects them. Along the way, she falls in love, recovers her buried past, and meets head-on the converging crises of energy, economy, and environment that threaten the entire world. Finally, Linda questions core assumptions about the very nature of reality itself. By doing so she sees clearly what she must do to help her people.
ALL OF THE ABOVE, Bennett’s first foray into the world of science fiction adventure, is sure to be received with excitement by the many fans of his documentary film What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire. Bennett now uses fiction to continue the conversation he began in his documentary regarding the social, psychological, and spiritual implications of our global human predicament. The story offers an inspiring and challenging view of the news of the day. ALL OF THE ABOVE invites readers to gaze through a unique lens anchored in new science, indigenous mysticism, and non-ordinary human experience.
Timothy Scott Bennett holds a degree in anthropology from Michigan State University, and has also studied theology and filmmaking. He lives in Maine with his wife, Sally Erickson, where he writes, renovates a hundred-year old house, rides his bicycle, and revels in the sea air.
ALL OF THE ABOVE is available for sale at Amazon.com in both PRINT and KINDLE editions. Review copies are available.
Blue Hag Books
New Stories for the Next Paradigm
Here’s a short but great little video by Richard Heinberg, one of the authors and scholars we interviewed in What A Way To Go. This is a piece that Post Carbon Institute produced. Worth the watch. Even more, worth actually digesting. When we suspend the assumption that economic growth is good, is possible, is recoverable, a whole host of opportunities and possibilities arise. On the other hand so long as one stays hoping for “economic recovery” bestowed from above by a benevolent authority who lives in a big white house or sits at the head of a shiny conference table in a glass and metal office building, there is only the opportunity to be, and feel, victimized.
Can’t resist passing this along. Series of articles in Business Insider.
Time to drop out of this system.
Toward the very end of What A Way To Go, writer/director Tim Bennett says “The waters are rising. The ice is melting. We’re going to have to let go of the shore.”
People will heed that admonition at many different levels. Looks as if we’ll have to let go of the “shore” of hoping technology will save us. We’ll have to let go of the “shore” of consuming our way to sustainability. We’ll have to let go of the “shore” of hoping the leaders will fix it for us. And so on.
But what about letting go of the “shore” of thinking we know what constitutes the very fabric of reality itself? What about letting go of the shore of materialism and rigid rationality? If you are ready to ask those questions you may be quite interested in the following video dialogue “Retelling the past, Reimagining the Future” between ancient history writer and researcher Graham Hancock and journalist and activist Daniel Pinchbeck as they talk in fascinating ways about all kinds of topics from the uses of ayahuasca for social change to the implications of the end of the Mayan calendar: December 21, 2012.
You’ll also be interested in watching for the publication of Tim Bennett’s new novel All of the Above, which will be available through Amazon in early August! He explores in fiction the last gasps of industrial civilization as a courageous woman president asks herself questions that both terrify and inspire. Watch for announcements here, join us on Facebook, or sign-up for our free enewsletter, if you haven’t already.
This talk is worth listening to. The bottom line Chief Oren Lyons articulates is “Value Change For Survival.” Really very simple. And he also points out that in fact that change will bring happiness to those who undertake it.
Here’s an interesting article from Transition Voice about Voluntary Poverty. It suggests among other things that actually stepping into “poverty” rather than “simple living” may actually yeild some not so obvious benefits. Worth the read. And there are comments on Transition Voice’s FB page as well.
“Unsettling in its direct confrontation of the Culture of Empire, this documentary is highly recommended viewing for anyone who might have the ability to reshape our future”and that includes all of us. The film leaves the viewer with no quick solutions but rather the challenge to create new options.”
Mike and Karen Sliwa are “Chasing a Different Carrot.” Follow their adventure here: http://cactusnewsonline.com/carrotchasing/
For all those armchair economists, here’s an interesting comment from George Soros:
who speaks in a Bloomberg interview of the US dollar no longer being the world’s exclusive reserve currency and also of a “shadow banking system” in China. That could spell big trouble for the dollar. Life at the End of Empire….
This was first posted in the Summer of 2008…
Six months. Six months since I jumped boldly into the Font of Helvetica and let the Roman Times roll. Six months since I last crept from my warm burrow to check for my blast shadow. Six months since I reported on the comings and goings of my own private Wobegon. Six months. Or maybe even seven. Where have I been? And where have you been? And how are you?
It was late in January, wasn’t it, when we went to Boulder and did a three-day circle with those kind souls there? Wasn’t that a couple of weeks after I wrote of my Uncle George? The winter was still with us, I think. I remember long mornings and longer afternoons, spent sitting by the wood stove. Sally made crusty bread, which we slathered with butter, and we played games with Andy and Stacy late into the night.
I was exhausted. The words don’t do that justice and my body cries foul at how shallow they sound, how poorly they express how it felt, and how it often still feels, even now. It wasn’t just the long years and days and hours of writing, shooting and editing. It wasn’t just the travel, the screenings, the tours, the plans, the particulars. It wasn’t just four years spent doing things I didn’t know how to do. The exhaustion went deeper still, wrapping itself around my core like a good ol’ boa, letting me know, kindly but firmly, that my life was no longer what I had thought it was, son, and that if I might could come to grips with that, maybe things’d go a bit easier for me. Having stared down our present predicament for as long as I had, having let grief and rage and disbelief and shame run their course through my body like a hit of bad acid, having actually died at every level save the physical, it was time to lay me down in the grave, oh sweet lord, sweet lord, and let the clouds roll over me, gray and damp and cold. Even as my body sat by the fire, my spirit crawled into bed in the fetal position, heaved a soft sigh of sad contentment, and let go, let go, let go.
Huge pieces of me have died away this past year. But the parts that remain, and the human body that contains them, are left with the work of grieving the loss.
Something happened, or, rather, failed to happen, upon the release of our movie and the screening tours that followed: the world did not suddenly, as my brother Derrick would put it, “undergo a voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living.” Had you asked me at any point over the past five years if I thought What a Way to Go would actually have that effect, I would have, of course, said no. My mind has long recognized the futility of that particular wish and has known, all along, that that was never my intent. It was just a movie. A log on the fire. A voice in the great council circle.
But my body, it turns out, failed to get that particular memo, and seems to have been holding out some hope that What a Way to Go would somehow – Somehow – against all odds, explode into the Zeitgeist like the Furby or the Pet Rock, hovering in the cultural firmament like the Virgin at Fatima (but with trendy archival footage), causing blind politicians to see, lame CEOs to throw down their corporations and walk away, and a sick and leprous culture to be healed, hallelujah. My body wanted desperately to find some way to stop what it saw coming, to spare us from the loss, the pain, the horror of what we have created, to take that cup from our lips and dash it to the ground. It wanted, just as Daniel Quinn wanted in The Story of B, to find some way to “make the Earth tremble and the stones weep and the skies open up.”
Didn’t happen. Leastwise so’s I’d notice. And my body, stun-blind and deeply fried, fell to its knees at the grave of that hidden hope and sobbed into the soil. “A loss of innocence,” my friend RC called it, nailing me to the cross I’d been hiding in my pocket with four steel-cut words. It was all Sally could do to keep my spirit connected to my flesh, so strongly was the urge to cut and run. Hot soup worked wonders. And candles. And the sight of empathetic tears and the soft sighs of understanding.
A loss of innocence. Grief. And a sobbing body helped back to its feet with loving hands, to stand again in anticipation of the sun peeking out once more from behind the clouds. This is the time in which we live.
But there was more to grieve. I found, as January slid into February and February melted into March, that I could no longer do what I’d been doing. I tried, but it was gone. I could hardly read my email, let alone respond to it. Couldn’t read blogs and articles and letters. Couldn’t read books. Couldn’t stay on top of the news. Couldn’t care. I couldn’t bear to open up Final Cut Pro and try to edit anything. And I couldn’t write.
I couldn’t write!
I tried. I did try. Ideas would hit me and burn inside with a bright enthusiasm and I would open up a new document. At last! But the excitement would burn away before I could reach the end of the second sentence and I would sit there, flummoxed, mugged, as blank and demanding as the page itself, until it hit me that there was nothing else. Nothing else. I was spent. Checking over my shoulder with embarrassment, as if to make sure I had not been espied in my failure to perform, I saved and closed and quit and stood and walked away.
I couldn’t do it any more.
I couldn’t explain. I couldn’t convince. I couldn’t cajole. I couldn’t push. For some reason never made clear, the great cosmic force who picked me up five years ago and sat me down and said Here! Make this movie! had seemingly left me without so much as a quick hug goodbye. At my keyboard, staring at those blank documents, I found, inexplicably, that I was alone. Alone. As if I’d come home from college to find that my mother had died a few weeks back and they’d forgotten to drop me a line. That thing, that being, that force, that goddess, that muse, that impulse, that goad, that love, that light, that fierce and gentle power who had sat by my side while I stewed in the anxiety of what was I doing, who held me in my fear and confusion and doubt, was gone. She was gone. And I was alone. And no literary device (Todd is going to kill me for saying this!) was ever going to take her place.
Exhausted, grieving, and bereft of that which had made me who I had been, and so, therefore, bereft of identity itself, I lapsed into radio silence, another station gone missing as the fall-out circled the planet. It must have been confusing, to those who had been listening to my transmissions. I know I’ve missed you.
One primary motivation that surfaced for Sally and me as we completed the documentary was that we wanted to find our people and connect with them, those awakened souls, those flipped-switches, those mutants, those sparsely scattered last-children-in-the-woods we knew were out there. Gol dang if it didn’t work. On our screening tours, in our travels, or just through the wires in response to our film, we met and connected and sat in circle or at table and fell in love with people more whole and real and beautiful than we had dared imagine. A few have since fallen fully into our lives but most, separated by distance and time and the demands of lives lived in the machine, had forged connections with us almost wholly through the wires and tubes.
When I lapsed into radio silence, I lost these people from my life. And I missed them.
I tried. I tried to keep email conversations going. But my response times dwindled to never. I tried to re-enter the lively dialogue on Derrick’s forum but found it almost impossible to engage. And even when a good man named Paul created a discussion forum just for What a Way to Go, I couldn’t seem to find myself there. I had nothing really to say. I couldn’t do what I’d been doing. I had died for real, it seemed, and everybody knew it but my still beating heart.
Robert was gone. And my brother Rafael. Ted was gone. And Janaia. Chris and James. John. Jan and Kevin and Carla and Adam and Terry and freeacre and Roxanne and Dave and Carolyn and Bernhard. More even than these. Gone not because they had dearly departed but because I had. Gone simply because that’s what searchers do when the search is finally called off, what mourners do when the funeral has ended. Lying there in my grave, listening to their car-wheels rumble as they drove away, I could only hope that these far-flung friends would understand, and know that I love them, and trust that they would go on without me, doing the good work they do in the world.
I speak of the grave but that doesn’t really catch it. It was not death per se that had gripped me, but metamorphosis. Beneath my skin I was melting away at every level, ego and assumption and story digesting themselves from the inside out, leaving a thick soup of random images and disjointed words, concepts and values and bits of information, the raw materials from which, possibly, something new could be created. While the process is far from complete, enough new fingers have formed to work the keyboard, and enough complete thoughts to make it, maybe, worth doing so. Rather than this being a voice from beyond the grave, it’s a voice from the thickest part of the soup.
Between caterpillar and moth there is something still, something wanting to be said.
Metamorphosis. The Holometabolic Contra Dance. The Great Constitutional Do-Over. My entire self began to break down, to slump like a stick of butter left out on an August afternoon. In the face of the mass extinction into which I was born, staring into the wild eyes of oil depletion and climate chaos, my ego could no longer maintain its form. Something had to give, and it would not be reality.
It would be me.
With fingers new and words drifting into novel (for me) combinations, I can tell you now what I see from the soup, and maybe give a hint as to where I might be headed. The thing you’ll have to remember is that I don’t yet really know. I’m pretty sure it can’t be known. So all I can do is my best.
What do you expect from soup?
The first thing I see is that I could no longer do what I’d been doing for the simple reason that it was no longer accomplishing what I have come here to do. It had the look and smell of accomplishment, I’ll give it that. But that was mostly illusion. The problem is that my purpose has changed. The research, the list, the writing, the documentary, the blogs, they all worked to accomplish the goal of waking myself up, and then those others whom I could touch and impact. But “wake ‘em up” can only ever serve as the opening act of a story. OK. I’m awake. Now what happens in Act II?
If you’re playing the numbers game in an attempt to score that hundredth monkey and trigger a mass consciousness change, it makes sense, maybe, to just keep at it until, like the Lion’s Club, you reach your goal. But at some point on my long walk it finally hit me that I don’t really believe in Mass Consciousness Change ™ as a way out of our collective predicament, that “things” probably don’t really work that way, and that, in any event, it isn’t actually what I’m now called to work towards.
So while continuing to digest articles about oil or climate, or writing blogs that point out both the train and the wreck, or composing emails that attempt to explain, convince, cajole or push, while doing these things still looked and felt, for a long time, like accomplishments, at some point some part of me knew that they had ceased to serve as such. The documentary would keep on chooglin’, doing what work of awakening it would do. It’s good work. Noble work. And I love and honor those who do it still. But me, the real guy living in this moment rather than that short-haired bloke in blue jeans and a brown blazer you see in the movie who keeps going on about cheeseburgers, the me that met this particular morning with wild long hair and crusty eyes wanting a cup of coffee, that me now had something else to do.
And that spirit, that muse, who sat beside me for so long? She left the room for the simple reason that that work, and therefore her work, was done. May the gods bless her for her help. I know I do.
The second thing I see from my spot here in the soup is that I never really belonged in this realm. By “this realm” I mean this public realm, this electronic realm, this machine realm, this world of blogs and comments and listservs and forums and essays and documentaries and tours. I never belonged here. For more than one reason.
It’s funny. Having set the intention to reconnect with myself as a living creature walking the Earth, it happened. The process has been slow and clunky, to be sure, and it’s far from over, I think. I fear. I hope. But I have to report that, more and more, as days spiral around, I experience my connection to my animal, my emotional, and my spiritual self. And I find, as I shift, that my ability and willingness to interface with the rough surfaces and sharp edges of the machine declines.
I don’t belong online. I’ve become too organic, too visceral, too human to interface well in the machine realm. My body needs bodies nearby, it turns out, so close it can feel their hearts and bathe in the humidity of their tears and the glow of their smiles. Online, I start to become Machine myself: the Smartass Contraption; The Anger Apparatus; The Know-It-All Doomsday Device. My own automatics get automated, my triggers triggered, my habits inhabited and possessed and used for purposes not my own. The animal me – the sensitive, response-able, creative, living, spark-in-a-meatbag me – gets lost in that maze of gears and wires and blinking lights. Leggo my ego!
Does any of this resonate?
I find that the one thing I most crave – long and open dialogue with others willing to question their deepest assumptions and come together to find a wisdom more profound than any of us can find on our own – is the one thing I cannot seem to find online. I can find DVD rewinders. I can find a banana splitter. I can even find a fish massage. I can find argument and debate, flame-wars and trolls, opinions and experts and authorities and saviors, but I can’t find, online, the sort of dialogue I am looking for.
Of course I can’t. It ain’t the right tool for the job. Like trying to paint a kitten with a bowling ball!
As clear and conscious as I try to be, I can still quite easily get caught like a stupor-fly in the world-wide-spider-web. I get defensive. I get hurtful. I make pronouncements and pretend that I know when I do not. I toss predictions into a chaotic system and try to coax them to life by sheer force of White Guy Entitlement ™ and unacknowledged attachments. The online/public realm becomes my world-spanning strap-on ego extender, hi-jacking my ready and rigid personality structure and using it, like our misguided friends at Sherwin-Williams, to Cover the Earth ™. And my ego is still too wounded, too confused, too separate, too invested, to be given that much power.
When people first “wake up” to the present predicament they are frequently frightened and befuddled. They’re looking for things like Answers ™ and Solutions ™ and they are overly willing to listen uncritically to people who promise such things. But I’ve been at this long enough to know that I have neither answers nor solutions to give them. Ultimately, all of their answers will be personal, and can be found only in their own hearts. All of their solutions will be local, and can be found only in their own lives. The last thing they need is another White Guy ™ figuring things out and coming up with an answer and a plan and telling them what he thinks they should all do. That’s so last paradigm.
And it’s what got us here in the first place, innit?
And if I continue to put myself in the online and public realm, writing and blogging about the End of Empire™, I run the risk of staying trapped myself in the belief that I can somehow solve it, save it, stop it or supervise it (and stay, therefore, trapped in the twisted mindset that has fueled our problem: the belief that we are in control). Groomed by parents and teachers to expect a life of “big things”, raised as yet another little prince by virtue not only of my talents and abilities but my White ™ skin and my socio-economic class, told repeatedly that I “can do whatever I want to do in this world”, I am particularly prone to falling into this cultural hole. Hey! I know! I’ll make a documentary! That’ll fix it!
Nope. Been there. Done, that. I will not run that risk. I don’t think that’s my Act II, to just repeat my first Act ad nauseum.
And it hurts me, to remain in that prison when the door is wide open and the sun is shining right outside. Just as it hurts to be laughed at, ignored, called names, misunderstood or dismissed. Just as it hurts to see years of hard labor stolen in bits and torrents at the click of a mouse. Just as it hurts to fall for the same old bait and switch over and over and over again. As slight as my foray into the public realm has been, as thankful and appreciative as the response has overwhelmingly come, as gratifying as it has felt to be of some service to those who have resonated with our movie, I’m not sure it has all been good for me. It has chafed “the soft animal” of my body, as Mary Oliver would put it. And chafed, that body has recoiled.
Having been advised more than once to “harden the fuck up”, I find that, in fact and in deed, I have. And knowing that fills me with sadness, because I don’t want to harden up. I want to be the sensitized, conscious, compassionate, open, feeling creature I’ve worked, and am working, so hard to become. I want to live fully and peacefully in the vibrant and connected animal body that I put on when I first got here. And I’m not talking wimpy here. Remember the butterflies that emerge from the soup. Have you seen those suckers fly in the wind? Tough little buggers.
As far as I’m concerned, my great strength lies precisely in my ability to stay open and feel my feelings fully and deeply. “Harden up” is from the dying paradigm. Control yourself. Put up with it. Stuff it down. Quit your whining. Keep it to yourself. Stiff upper lip and all that, old chap. Your reward will be in heaven. It’s a good way to sell stuff, maybe, but not a good way for an animal to live on a planet as alive and beautiful as this one is, if you ask me.
So it may be that it’s time for me to bid “this wider life” good-bye and find my place in this place. Maybe I need to simply stop. And sit down. And be still for a long, long time. Maybe I need to be still for so long that I will be able to actually listen. And maybe, listening, I will find my way. It’s so easy, for White Guys ™ like me, to be about the business of “saving the world”. But being still. Listening. Integrating myself into a place. Being of service to that place. Protecting it. Loving it. Becoming part of it. And finally, giving my body back to it with grace and gratitude. Now that would be something big and new, wouldn’t it?
And isn’t that what this is all about, this facing into the End of Empire: becoming something new?
I spent my years as a caterpillar, digesting whole trees worth of information. I grew as large as a caterpillar can grow, as full as a caterpillar can get. And then I began to fall apart. Because that was only Act I. There was soup to make. And then, after that, who knows? Something with wings?
Somewhere in the past six months we moved across the country, pulling ourselves up the globe from South to North. We spiraled in to a beautiful spot in a magical valley, with green mountains to the East and West and a river running through it, with water in the basement and winter just around the corner. It feels right: a suitable growing zone for a soul that first landed in northern soil. The land feels alive underfoot. My feet feel alive on the land.
And I no longer feel the need to make the Earth tremble. When I stand quietly with bare feet, I find that it already does.
I could fall in love here…
Michael Moore said of What a Way to Go that he had the sense that we knew we would only have one chance to say what we had to say, so we took the time to say it fully, an observation with which I would agree. I’ve had the same sense with this blog, and have let it run as long as I needed it to for that reason. I don’t know if I’ll be back. The kick-ass blog I’ve been working on about Al Gore may never be finished. Those novels lurking in the back of my mind may never see the light of page. I may never be much good at answering email again, or editing video. I just don’t know. I don’t know what kind of creature I am becoming. I don’t know what sort of wings I’ll be wearing.
Do caterpillars, when they spot a beautiful moth overhead, think to themselves: “one day…”?
End of Act I.
Act II. The curtain rises. Onto the stage walks a tall, stooped, middle-aged man with longish, tangled hair and a beard. Dressed in baggy shorts and a ratty t-shirt from the thrift store, he takes a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket, smoothes it, clears his throat and begins to read, his voice soft but sure:
I am the thistle in the field,
I am the bend in the stream,
I am the gaze of the clouds,
I am the fox on the flat,
I am the kingfisher in the sun,
I am the blush of the moon,
I am the fold in the hills,
I am the birch in the dawn,
I am the bear on the road,
I am the snow on the branch,
I am the boulder in the falls,
I am the butterfly in the gale.
Sparks in a pulsing illusion
I am part and whole and neither
Who but I will walk my path into the next paradigm?
Who else will bear my witness to the destruction of the life of an entire planet?
Who but I will grieve my grief?
Who else will protect my love?
Who will align my heart with the Great Mother and offer her my service if not I?
Who will shed my tears?
No one else.
The man stuffs the paper back into his pocket and looks out over the audience. He smiles. He waves a wave of love and gratitude and farewell. He bows a deep bow. Then he turns and walks off the stage as the curtain closes and the lights go dim.
The house lights come up and the audience stirs, mumbling about the strong smell of soup that lingers in the theater. Overhead, the soft slurry of wings can be heard and they look up to see a moth sputtering about in the lights.
Eventually it makes its way to a high window and is gone into the night.