I love leftovers. I have quite a full schedule most days, so a home cooked meal that’s already prepared is a lifesaver. This week I've been dining on mostly Harvest Feast leftovers, which is an especially decadent kind of leftovers. These are are extra special leftovers because the meal they came from was extra special. I am nourished in my body by the delicious food and nourished in my soul by the very recent memory of gathering with humans I love.
Experiencing abundance also puts me in mind of people who don't have enough. There are free food cupboards all over my neighborhood and local mutual aide groups coordinate regularly to bring hot meals to folks living outside all around the city. So some humans are taking care of some other humans as best as we can within our current societal structure. But that doesn't change the fact that while I sit in my nice warm home eating fifth and sixth helpings of a meal from several days ago, those folks are probably having a different experience.
Politicians and community activists put forth many ideas for how to address and eliminate the effects of poverty, including not having an indoor place to live and store possessions. At best, those initiatives and policies only address the symptoms. At worst, those initiatives and policies blame the victims for their own circumstances and make the struggle worse. Poverty causes a great many problems in society and the root cause of poverty is the extremely unequal access to resources in this country.
When I was a kid, a lot of my clothing and school supplies were hand-me-downs. I am the oldest child in my nuclear family, so I wasn't receiving a wardrobe from my older siblings. We were just poor. So I had clothes and shoes and backpacks and books from families that had access to more resources than my family. My over-worked-single-mom somehow managed to avoid framing these leftovers as shameful. It was more like getting presents from helpful and generous strangers.
I remember only one time when a class-mate made a snide remark about my pre-owned attire. At the time I was just confused. I registered (correctly) that guy was just being a jerk. But I was lucky. We lived in a nice neighborhood, I went to a school with a lot of wealthy kids, and my mom worked in an office for a lot of wealthy professionals. So the hand-me-downs we got were no well-worn discards, they were like-new leftovers.
We should all be so lucky. Wouldn't it be nice if we on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder could all have ample and shame-free access to the leavings from the lap of luxury? No. No it would not. That only sounds like kindness in the context of our current capitalist societal systems. Instead, I'd like a different system. The have-nots shouldn't be subsisting on left-overs from the ultra-wealthy. People born into poverty shouldn't have to pick up the scraps people born into wealthy decided to throw away.
Everyone should have their base needs met first. Once that is paid for, people can decided what luxurious things they want to buy with their personal extra. People who can afford to fund scientific efforts to extend their lives can afford to feed and house and educate the rest of our people. As Anand Giridharadas so eloquently said earlier this week "It is a policy choice to allow some people to accumulate that much money (hundreds of billions of dollars in the case of people in the United States) before everybody has the chance to live with dignity."
As constituents, a lot of us are inactively choosing the way things are right now. By doing nothing differently, we choose the status quo. The status quo where people with the most money make decisions the rest of us have to live with and die from. Anand Giridharadas reminds us this week that we can actively choose something different. There is plenty of precedent, even in our own national history. I would like to make the choice to redistribute excess wealth. I would like us all to make that choice.
Information and Inspiration
I enjoy cooking all the food for this week’s holiday. I love roasting a turkey, boiling and mashing potatoes, steaming veggies, making cranberry sauce, and baking pies. I even like the two-day process of preparing stuffing following my gramma's recipe. I don't enjoy calling it Thanksgiving. The holiday attached to that title is built on a mountain of lies and celebrates colonialism and genocide. Not inspiration for gratitude to me.
Since I realized what I was taught about thanksgiving in school was a lie, I've been trying different ways to morph my default November feasting into anti-colonialist mode. I have listened to land acknowledgments before dinner. Included traditional dishes with local ingredients in the menu. Spent the month of November consuming content about native history and googled what local tribes are up to in modern times.
The last few years I experimented with calling it Harvest. The timing is seasonally appropriate, with all the leaves turning pretty fall colors, pumpkin spices flying around and getting on everything, and all the other autumnal vibes. But Harvest still felt like a misnomer because most of what ends up on the table comes from the grocery store. I wasn’t cooking bounty harvested from my garden; I was preparing dishes I don’t cook often because they take a long time to put together.
It’s nice to have a nationally sanctioned excuse to spend what would otherwise be a workday gathering with friends and family to eat foods we don’t cook every day. So this year I decided to call it what it is: Feast. And I decided to use it as an excuse to talk about the detriments of colonialism still present in modern life. I also learned about two other alternate names for this long-standing holiday: Truthsgiving and Takesgiving.
What I really appreciate about these alternate titles is they include acknowledgment of the roots of Thanksgiving as well as the impact of that history on all of us today. They also offer an opportunity to examine how we celebrate and consider whether we would like to do that differently. For example: many people feel obligated to spend the day with relatives, whether they would like to gather with those people or not. If the whole tradition is made up anyway (and based on lies), that's all the permission you need to scrap the problematic parts and craft something more meaningful and fulfilling.
My favorite way to feast is with the group of friends who have gradually become my holiday family. I also like to invite all the strays and orphans to join us. Any coworker or friend or neighbor who is new in town or can't travel home to be with their people is welcome at our table. I spend three days cooking and baking and I enjoy pouring the time and care into food craft that I am too busy working to do on a regular week. We eat delicious food, we play games, we share stories and laughter, and commiserate over how much capitalism sucks. It's utterly delightful.
I want the November holiday to be a feast of truth and knowledge as much as a feast of food. I want to contribute to decolonizing my own worldview and as much of the world around me as I can. Fortunately we live in an age where information and historical accounts are extremely accessible. Unfortunately we also live in an age where misinformation is prevalent and powerful interests actively attempt to erase certain kinds of history. I am extremely grateful for all the Black, indigenous, queer and other historians of color who continue to tell the stories ignored by the whitewashed textbooks I read in school. Thanks to their efforts a more complete accounting of our past is available to peruse. All we have to do is look for it.
Information and Inspiration
This year we seem to have skipped autumn for the most part and gone directly from summer to winter. October was hot and sunny right up to the very end. Not at all the weather I grew up with (and still enjoy) as typical for the Pacific Northwest. I prefer crisp fall air and intermittent autumn showers. Leaves turning to yellow, red, and purple, gradually washed from the trees into soggy piles by the rain. Instead, we went to the pumpkin patch for jack-o-lantern fodder and mostly hid in the shade because it was an unrelenting 85 degrees.
This week it suddenly turned very, very cold after being very, very wet. So much for the transition of hoodies over summer tee-shirts, now it's time for wool sweaters and down jackets. So much for the transition from sandals to canvas sneakers, it's time for wool socks and insulated boots. It also suddenly became past time to pull the last of the root veggies and put the garden to bed for winter.
This transition to fallwinter was not the only strange feature of the 2022 growing season. The whole thing occurred amid abnormal weather. The fair planting weather started quite late in spring and was interrupted by a freak snowstorm mid-April. Then there were multiple intense heatwaves, and the summer rounded itself out by lasting way too long and finishing with a dense cover of wildfire smoke. And the weather itself wasn't the only strange thing to happen in my home garden. I also grew some unexpected crops.
Last year I planted pie pumpkins and spaghetti squash (among other things). This year I also planted pie pumpkins and spaghetti squash from the same collection of seeds. This year's spaghetti squash looked more like summer squash and the pie pumpkins were an entirely different shape and color... Same seeds; completely different results. Apparently this is a thing that happens and I was just lucky to get exactly what I intended the first year. Weird hybrid veggies is a risk you take saving your own seeds.
In other bizarre happenings, my carrots all grew three legs. The internet says carrots fork when the growing tip is damaged or impeded. The carrot beds were full of fluffy, rock-free, otherwise unimpeded soil, so physical obstacles didn't seem to be the cause. Digging further into the compendium of horticultural knowledge available online, it appears the transplanting I did to give everyone adequate growing space is probably to blame. Throw that in the basket of lessons learned for next year.
I've got plans for next next planting season, changes I will make to produce different results than this year's outcome. I wish we could do the same thing on a global scale for dealing with climate change. The COP27 United Nations Climate Change Conference concludes later this week and the prevailing call for next year's conference is that actual actions actually take place. Year after year it seems like pledges and commitments are made and not much shifts out here in the real world. People continue to suffer and extreme weather events keeping getting more extreme.
Well-known climate activist Greta Thunberg skipped this year's COP because it's just a bunch of attention-seeking greenwashing. I'm not sure what the leaders of the world’s richest and most powerful nations are planning to do coming out of it. It seems more and more like they don't have a real plan. Or that their plan is to let everything go to shit and hope they can colonize whatever resources are left to grab once large swaths of the planet become uninhabitable.
It's hard to craft a plan without a clear shared vision. Kind of like what the US Democratic Party is perpetually suffering from. There is no clear democratic vision other than "we're not psychos like those other guys who have clearly gone off the deep-end." That's something, but it's not policy. And it's not good enough to propel us forward in any particular direction. All it does is buy some time. But if all those politicians are doing is buying time to then buy some more time, what good does that do? Eventually the electorate will probably get so fed-up they'll be willing to do something drastic (like vote in Donald Trump as president, for example) just to get something, anything to shift. I'd rather not wait for folks to get so desperate.
I am reminded of the phrase "stand for something or you'll fall for anything." Leadership has to stand for something. And that something can't be ambiguous or vague. It's got to be clear and concise, easy to understand and easy to explain. We're way past the point where my individual choice to reduce, reuse, and recycle can close the loop and save the planet. Governments need to make sweeping changes to policy, industry must make drastic adjustments to the way products are manufactured, shipped, and sold. And we the people have to demand both.
Information and Inspiration
I’ve had this topic floating around in my mind for a long time. Almost since I started this blog two and a half years ago. But I have been waiting to write about it because it feels like such a significant topic. I want to do it justice and the stakes seem high, so I've been afraid to work it through and publish my considerations. This week, with the election fresh on all our minds (and hearts), feels like the time to face my fear and offer whatever is about to come spilling forth from my heartmind.
Most of the time I can't stand listening to conservative politicians talk about how they see the world. Their version of reality includes substantial vitriol towards people like me and even more towards people I love. The narratives they perpetuate are nearly all fear-based, making them dehumanizing and problematic. They are also ridiculous. Take all the Q-anon conspiracies as an example. Utter absurdity. And yet... there's a more-than-I-can-count-on-one-hand number of elected officials in the halls of the US Congress who act as though they are legitimate.
And even though I kind of can't fathom why, many thousands of ordinary people believe in those bizarre fairytales too. Which is highly concerning, but still not as concerning as another kind of lie politicians frequently tell: lies based on some kernel of truth. These seem more dangerous and more damaging than straight-up falsehoods.
After the 2020 election, I watched an interview with Lindsey Graham. He said Republicans would never win another presidency if something wasn't done about the voting process. That's probably true, but not for the reasons he espoused at the time. According to that travesty of a public servant, mail-in voting was rife with voter fraud and that's why the Republican lost. The reality is something more like: the more diverse and broad-based the voting population, the more they elect candidates other than the stuffy oldguard who have used their incredibly long run in-power to benefit only themselves.
More recently, you may have heard that violent crime is on the rise. According to Republicans, this is because Democrats are too soft on crime. Violent crime rates have, in fact, risen. But you know what else has risen during the same timeframe? Poverty rates. Also eviction rates, the income and wealth gap, and the effects of climate change. The world is a challenging place to survive in the best of times and we certainly haven't been living in those the last couple years.
Unfortunately, if we ask someone on the Left about the rise in violent crime, they will probably tell us it's because there are too many guns out there and available for criminal consumption. That is also partly true: there are more guns in the US than is probably safe given the desperate state of society. But taking away one method of violence won't solve the underlying reasons people turn to violence to express their desperation. We still have to eliminate poverty, ensure everyone has access to stable and affordable housing, close the wealth gap, and deal with the effects of climate change.
It's asking a lot of our public officials to check under the hood of their lofty blame claims, but it's also necessary. A partial truth might stir-up the base and win votes, but it doesn't solve any problems. It's also a lot to ask of most of my fellow citizens to abandon their desire to be right or righteous and make some short-term compromises for investment in long-term gains. But it's also necessary.
Left unchecked this phenomenon doesn't get any better on its own. In fact it gets worse. In martial arts, every concept we learn nowadays came from somewhere. Many from the way way back, long before anyone currently alive was born. These great universal truths were discovered by one person, who taught it to another person, who taught it to their students and so on down the line. Over time, the kernel of universal truth may get lost in the interpretation.
One teacher understands a particular foot position in a martial stance allows for better alignment and therefore a cleaner container through which their energy and power can flow. Their student may only learn "I put my foot here" because that is what I was shown. And so they teach their student to put their foot in a particular place, and so on down the line all the way to modern times when students are putting their feet in a specific position without any understanding of why it matters.
There are many of these truth kernels lurking among the things our modern figure heads say. But while some of what they utter may not be strictly untrue, the interpretation of the those words is profoundly incorrect and incredibly damaging. These slights and spins on truth are also frequently dished up with a healthy side of fear, which makes poor, desperate people even more worried and anxious and even less able to parse the absurd from reality.
I used to look only at intentions when someone caused me harm. I thought I was engaging in humanizing those folks, but ultimately it only served to enable more shitty behavior. Now I am practicing evaluating results instead. Mine and everyone else's. Intentions are relevant only to determine the flavor of work there is to be done. Someone who did an asshole thing on purpose has different work to do than someone who accidentally hurt someone with their inconsiderate words or actions. The outcome of actions, however intended, is what determines whether work needs to be done at all. And we all have a lot of work to do.
Information and Inspiration
Part of my family has a Halloween tradition to honor relatives who are no longer living. They bring out old photos and share stories of who they were in life and what they were like. The last time I visited that contingent of my family during Halloween I really enjoyed this practice. I learned more about some relatives whose names were already familiar to me, and I heard about some branches on the family tree I didn’t previously know existed. It was interesting and it was grounding.
This year I was not visiting those relatives for Halloween, but I have been feeling especially drawn toward ancestral connection lately. This feeling intensified for me while attending martial arts camp in-person for the first time in three years. In many martial traditions, establishing a connection to your teacher and your teacher’s teachers (and all their teachers) is just part of learning the art. I'm sure the pull I currently feel toward ancestry also partly derives from the onset of the holiday season, which is rich with nostalgia, tradition, and connection. It also comes from my longing to make the world a better place.
In my quest to cultivate a better future, I often consider the past. Especially the people who lived and worked and played on this planet well before I was born. Everything about modern life has been shaped by the people and institutions that preceded the present moment. And so much of how we conduct ourselves in the world and with each other is passed down to us by the people in our lives who had it passed down to them.
A lot of the rules we live by are unwritten. Often they are also unspoken. We pick them up by existing in a place, or a community, or a culture. Sometimes we learn about one of these unwritten rules only when we unwittingly act out of alignment with it. They are everywhere and they shape our every interaction. We cannot avoid them. We long-ago formed the practice of crafting and enforcing unwritten rules for survival, which is one reason they are so powerful.
The trouble with some of these kind of socially enforced agreements is that they are up for interpretation at every moment by whoever happens to wield the most clout. So we’re not all operating under the same agreements. For example, my household has agreed how we're going to communicate. We had an in-depth meta conversation to dig up all the assumptions and the unwritten rules we were operating under and examined each one. We then agreed on what things we will communicate about with each other and how we will express and receive those communications. We also agreed to review our agreements regularly to make sure they continue to result in our desired outcome.
As a household we established our own set of "default" interpersonal protocols and practices to facilitate healthy and effective communication. And they work because we took the unwritten communication rules passed down to us and intentionally agreed on something else instead. Unfortunately, these agreements are not the same default setting of the rest of the world. Fortunately, I take my communication practice with me when I venture out into the world. And so I get to be an example of how to live out my values of honoring the worth, agency, and humanity of everyone as well as being in-process.
And living out my values is critical to having an impact on the world around me. Ultimately I want to be a good ancestor. I want to leave the world better than I found it. To do that I must understand how I came to be here in this place and at this time and what operating agreements I was handed to navigate this place. I need to understand how the ground beneath my feet was shaped and how it was shifted over time. One way I deepen my understanding of the world is by learning more of the history of humanity. More of the history of the people who gave me their traditions. That puts the present into context and I can rest-in to that clarity. Then I can reach out to love the world.
Information and Inspiration
Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.