Transition Café – Fiction

I’ve been reading Richard Adams’ Watership Down out loud with a housemate. Each time I have read it in recent years, I have been reminded of how much impact this book has had on my life. It is the story of a group of English Rabbits who flee their home warren, following the visions of their Dreamer, Fiver. So many stories could be told about this book, I don’t know where to begin, but…

In the course of seeking Watership Down, they have many adventures throughout the English countryside, through meadow field, hedgerow, forest, creek, river, hills, and encounter different communities of Rabbits, whose cultures are extremely different from theirs, and from each other. When they go to form their own community, they borrow the bits they like from the other cultures, and seek to leave behind the parts they found dangerous or abhorrent.

There are also multiple stories-within-the-story, told mostly by their Storyteller, Dandelion, about their hero, El-ahrairah, the Prince of a Thousand Enemies. There are also amazing characters of a leader who acts more as a first-among-equals, a King’s Hand, an innovator, and others.

Part of the relevance of this story, to me, is that it is easily relatable to by Humans, so much so that it seems to be an allegory, although Adams said it’s just a bound edition of stories he made up to tell his daughters on long car rides. For myself, it has impacted my life in so many ways, from the study of English hedgerow ecosystems to a fascination with community and seeking to create it wherever I find myself, and the search for the ideal place and community.

Fiction can do this for us, I believe, in ways that even some of the best non-fiction may not be able to. Fiction, at its best, can allow us to imagine worlds we have not seen, speak to us in a language that may be easier for us to hear than our day-to-day, and inspire us to things we might not otherwise have thought of. At its worst…I may not even have seen its worst, yet, as our President spins out fiction after fiction, hour after hour.

And maybe that’s it, fiction to counter the ravages of Fake News.

Transition Towns have often a focus on re-storying, creating new stories to replace the old ones our culture has been telling itself. Perpetual growth culture re-storyed to regenerative growth culture, massive transnational empire-building re-storyed to small, local cultures who maintain active, healthy trade and exchange cultures with our neighbors.

What other roles could fiction have in the Transition Era? What roles has it played in your own life? Are there any books or stories which have particularly inspired your life?

 

Transition Café – Inspiration

It’s that time of year again, and the yard is full of teenagers. The house, too, it turns out, as youngsters keep finding their way in, and we keep gently ushering them out. Chestnut-Backed Chickadee, Bewick’s Wren, and Oak Titmouse so far. Flocks of hungry teens chasing their parents around the land, squalling for food. Otherwise dignified parent Birds looking harried and spent, trying to keep those mouths and bellies full enough that they can get a moment’s rest.

Young Chickadees, though, are now learning to open seeds on their own. They are anvil-pounders, so they hold a seed with a foot, a perch with another foot, then pound the seed open with their beak, using the perch as an anvil, extracting the nutmeat from inside. Right now, though, this involves a lot of surprised falling into the dish feeders and inexpertly-held seeds going shooting off into space. There is an art, too, to choosing a seed which is going to be easily gripped during flight and subsequent pounding. Some of them are getting it, though, while some are taking some time. Adults will sort through the feeder, looking for seeds which will travel and pound well.

What causes the youngsters to finally make that leap from begging, to experimenting, to proficiency, to fluency? A Human parent asked me, recently, about how to get children excited about engaging with nature. I think that at least one answer is common to both: be interested in it, yourself. The young Birds will, eventually, be curious about this thing their parents are doing, processing food in whatever way their people do so. Young Humans often gravitate, consciously or not, towards things their parents are interested in, or passionate about. Not in an “I’m passionate about this, so you must be, too” sense, but more obliquely, or in parallel, “This is something I love doing. If you’re interested, too, you can also do it.”

More specifically to Humans, perhaps, meet your kids halfway, at least. They have things they are interested in and passionate about, too, and they’d love to teach you about them. Let them. Ask them questions in a way that is genuinely inquisitive, not critical. Let them teach you about their worlds, on their terms. Of course, there are times when you have to be the “adult”, and exercise veto power, within reason, but this is not one of them. Your kids, too, should have arenas in which they have veto power, within reason.

Of course, so much depends on your beliefs about children, of how adults are to relate to children, how you were treated as a child, what kind of world you’d like to live in, etc… How many relationships is this true in? How do you get inspired to learn new things? New skills? To form new relationships? How did you get inspired to connect with Nature, or have you had that inspiration? If not, what would inspire you to do so? Do we even need Nature anymore, now that we can watch recordings of it on our devices? How do we get kids excited about being in the world, off their devices, when we have a hard time extricating ourselves from said devices, ourselves?

How is this relevant to Transition Towns, and life in the Transition Era?

Notes: Hands
Great conversation, last time. We bounced around, a lot, talking about romantic relationships, herbal medicine, Green Flying, as well as Hands in Transition Towns.

Skillshares?
Mugwort, other herbal medicines
Romances-how do you decide whether to respect your friends’ opinions?

Green flying-carbon offsets?
Hands:
-Repair Café-How to clean a hard drive
-Fermenting dairy
-General fermentation
-Biochar
-Starting seedlings
-Pruning
-General Horticulture
-Mending
-Bike repair

-Permablitzes

-Hiking?

 

Transition Café – Hands

We did a big house project, a few weeks ago, painting the big bathroom. The ladies collaborated on the painting project, while I kept them fed, watered, tea-ed, music-ed…a general gopher. The bluegrass playing during the whole evening gave this air of a commune, which was lovely. The next day, another coat was painted by another housemate, with the final one put on that afternoon, by one of the painters from the night before. Cleanup was a shared job.

Transition Towns loosely divide our projects into Head, Heart and Hands emphases, with an overarching theme of building community and the strong foundation of Permaculture ethics and principles, the ethics being Care of the Earth, Care of the People, and Generate and Distribute a Surplus. We’ll probably talk about all of these, at some point, but I’m interested in Hands, in this writing.

Shared work has been a form of bonding and community building since forever, among Humans, but also in the Greater-Than-Human world. Our Transition Initiative has gone in and out of emphasizing Hands projects, versus Head and Heart. Most projects are a mix of emphases, like a bread-making skillshare, where we are using our hands to make bread, our heads and hands to learn the technique, and our hearts and heads in the conversation and bonding with each other, or a Transition Café, which has both head and heart aspects.

What sorts of Hands projects do you find bring folks together? Gardening? Cooking? Helping others? Building? Permablitzes? Protests? Marches? Blockadia? Other projects? Is there a duration that is ideal? Daylong? A couple of hours?

Who do you like to do these projects with? Friends? Family? Folks you’ve just met? Folks you may not see again?

Years ago, a group of Transitioners and other friends got together to help me move to this place. We have had our ups and downs, inside the house and outside of it. This current generation of housemates benefits from the work of generations of housemates before them, nearly four years worth. There have been times when I have had wondered if we would ever be in the place of doing a house project together, as a community, but here we are. Where will our Transition Town be, a few years hence? What will we do, to get it there?

Notes: What We’re Reading

Being Salmon, Being Human, Martin Lee Mueller

Nourishment, Fred Provenza

The World We Used to Live In, Vine deLoria
Lean Logic, David Fleming

The Great Pivot, Justine Burt
Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer
Watership Down, Richard Adams

 

Fourth Friday/Films of Vision and Hope: Paris to Pittsburgh

Friday May 24, 7:30-9:30pm 
Fireside Room, Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, 505 E. Charleston, Palo Alto

An inspiring film about how cities around the country are moving forward with bold climate action despite the announced pull-out from the Paris Climate Accord. See the trailer…

See the trailer…

FREE, Donations appreciated. RSVP here.

Co-sponsored by Transition Palo Alto and Mothers Out Front: Mobilizing for a Livable Planet.

Inner Transition  – New Group Continuing this Month

by Victoria Armigo

Session 4: Engage Parker J. Palmer, PhD
The Supple Heart: Wrestling with Our Better Angels

Writer and activist Dr. Parker J. Palmer has long been at the forefront of applying grassroots efforts for improving the democratic process. In this session, Parker speaks with Tami Simon about the current state of national politics and what we can do on both micro and macro levels to improve the situation. Parker notes that even though it may seem as if anger rules the day, “It’s not actually the politics of rage; it’s the politics of the brokenhearted.” Here, Parker teaches us that it’s how we react to the million heartbreaks of everyday life that dictates the energy we put out into the world—and ultimately the health of our society as a whole. Highlights include:

  • Recognizing inherent privilege and learning how to mindfully apply its advantages
  • The ways in which the heart breaks
  • Why periods of tension and distress can also be revelatory
  • The difference between righteous and self-righteous anger

6:30pm Monday, May 20th. Check email for details.

Transition Café – Bystanders

My thanks to those who stepped up, last-minute, to host the Self-Organized Transition Cafés, while I’ve been out, much appreciated!

Learning new languages opens up new worlds to us. For me, learning languages of non-Humans as well as those of other Humans has been opening huge new worlds, for most of my life. Happily, the white-coat-and-clipboard set are now recognizing Animal languages as worthy of study (although the word “language” is still triggering for some of the old guard, so we’re supposed to say that while Humans use “language”, non-Humans “apply labels”. Anyway…) Very informative is learning the difference between Baseline behaviors and communications and Alarm or Distress behaviors and communications. For instance, learning the Junco term for “Snake” has helped me find some large, beautiful Gopher Snakes on a few occasions, now. Their term is a combination of spoken word and body language. I’m basically at kindergarten level, if even that, in learning these languages, although I get better all the time.

When Birds become aware of a predator in their midst, the Birds who are affected by that predator make the presence of the predator known to all. Alert Humans can figure out the identity of a given predator fairly quickly by looking at the shape, texture, direction, tone, and volume of the alarm. Not all alarms make a sound, some are silent, and the shape and texture of that silence can tell a great deal about what is going on in that space. More than that, Humans who are seen as allies will sometimes be sought or summoned by Birds who trust those Humans to assist them when they are threatened. One could say “it’s just Nature”, and refuse to interfere, of course, but Humans and non-Humans have had beneficial relationships with each other for as far back as oral history takes us. When did we forget this?

Something we are learning about bullies is about the importance of bystanders. Bystanders give important feedback to both the bully and the bullied. What do you do, when you see something cruel or violent being done? Do you pretend you don’t see it? Do you cheer on one party or the other? Do you join in on what is happening? Do you pretend so well that it didn’t happen that even a few seconds later, when asked about it, you can’t seem to remember? Are you pretending to not remember, or do you actually not remember?

The way bystanders behave in a situation where one individual or group is being bullied by another has a direct impact on how long that bullying continues, or on what the outcome of the bullying is. Saying “boys will be boys” or “girls will be girls” or “kids will be kids, they’re so cruel” tells the bullied that they have no allies, and the bullies to keep at it. What will you do when those kids begin bullying those weaker than them? Will you stand up, then? How will you explain to yourself the role you played in that? What about the ones who have nobody below them to bully, but they do have free and easy access to guns?

But really, what do you do when they attempt to stand up for themselves? As much as we pay lip service to the underdog standing up to their oppressors, what do you actually do when they attempt to, or when they even name their experience? Do you take time to sit with what you saw, with the testimony of the different participants, with the consequences of the situation and your participation in it?

Whatever your decision, you are part of that system. With the Birds crying to you to keep their children from being killed in front of them, you are their neighbor, and they must have some level of trust in you to make that ask. We know, now, that they study us, know us as individuals, and have relationships with us as such. This is not just theoretical, but is well-studied and reported in a host of books and articles, as far back as 1992, but observed long before that, and embedded in our oral histories.

We know, very well, the impact of bystanders on bullies and the bullied. The bully looks to you for approval and support, the bullied looks to you for approval and support. They are your neighbors, and they must have a level of trust in you to make that ask. This is not just theoretical, but is well-studied and reported, not just academically, but by every one of us who has ever been bully, bullied, or bystander. Can you support both to be their best selves, to shift out of that dynamic with each other?

Of course, this is not as simple as I make it in this essay. Predators need food, which can mean that someone else needs to die or watch those they love die in order to feed that predator. Bystanders may well sneak in for a quick swallow of spilled egg yolk or gobbet of flesh from a slain chick, and then have their chicks killed the next day. Do you honor the relationship you have with an individual, or turn away to allow “nature to take its course”? How do you behave with a Human neighbor? Human predators also exist, and can enable or inspire predatory behavior in others. They can have personality disorders which can make it difficult or impossible for them to stop hurting others, or to take pleasure in it. In terms of Human ecosystems, they certainly exist for a reason, and will continue to do so long into the future. It could be argued that that is “just nature”, as well. Does that absolve us of the decision to act or not act?

In the runup to the 2016 election, a number of White folks began wearing safety pins, in solidarity with our friends of color who were under threat by newly-empowered white supremacists. What does that actually mean? How many of us still wear those, or display them visibly?

If we choose not to act in service of our neighbors, Human and Otherwise, who will act for us? Why am I asking these questions in a Transition Café?

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Random and Useful Other Stuff:
Toby Hemenway’s (author of Gaia’s Garden and The Permaculture City) website: http://tobyhemenway.com/articles/
Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land, by Gary Paul Nabhan
Thinking in Systems, a primer, by Donella H. Meadows
Masterminds and Wingmen, Rosalind Wiseman
Queen Bees and Wannabees, Rosalind Wiseman

https://www.academia.edu/23891200/Why_Writers_Fight_Style_Guides_Over_Animal_Pronouns

 

4/26 Fourth Friday/Films of Vision and Hope: Teach me to be Wild

Flier_11x17_A3_TransitionPaloAlto_Apr26_2019_EMAIL

Friday April 26, 7:30-9:30pm 
Fireside Room, Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, 505 E. Charleston, Palo Alto
Free, donations appreciated.

TMTBW_EventBriteImage

This month we are screening the film “Teach Me To Be Wild” https://teachmetobewild.com/

The filmmakers Rajesh Krishnan and Anne Veh will be joining us for this very special evening. After the film John Malloy (featured in the film and Healing Circles) has offered to anchor a healing circle after the screening. The Film ends in naturally creating a safe space and it lends itself well for a circle of reflection. You can read more about their circle experiences here in the Daily Good article: http://www.dailygood.org/story/2258/holding-circles-of-healing-rajesh-krishnan-anne-veh/

Also learn more about John Malloy here:

“We Are All In This Together” A Conversation With John Malloy

John Malloy shares his life journey including his work over the last five decades with vulnerable communities in the Bay Area and his life mission of preserving and fostering the Native American Heritage.

“The Wisdom Of Circles” In Conversation With John Malloy 

In this intimate conversation with ServiceSpace anchors, John Malloy dives into the wisdom of circles, the role of anchors and facilitators, the nature of human groups, and different types of leadership.

Download and share flyer: Flier_11x17_A3_TransitionPaloAlto_Apr26_2019

Inner Transition April 15th

On April 15, 2019 the TPA Inner Transition Hearth & Soul group plans to meet at 6:30p. Location TBD. We will share a potluck at 6:30, listen to a Sounds True Waking up in the World presentation by Tara Brach PhD at 7p, followed by discussion at 8p. Details below for Session 2: Engage

Inner Transition  – New Group Continuing this Month

Tara Brach, PhD – Disarming Our Hearts: Letting Go of Blame

We have a deeply conditioned habit in our individual and collective psyches of making others wrong, fixating on “bad others.” For us to evolve and move toward a more peaceful and loving world, we need to release this trance of blame and bring a deep and caring presence to the vulnerability and intrinsic goodness in all beings. Through didactic presentation, stories, and reflections, this session explores how we get imprisoned in the habit of blame and the ways that the practices of mindfulness and compassion can free us. Highlights include:

  • The suffering of separation—how mistrust and fear are sustained by the habit of blame
  • Beginning to release the armoring around your heart
  • Learning to bring a compassionate presence to the unconscious, unmet needs that drive you
  • Freedom from trance—recognize the vulnerability and sacredness that lives in others and all beings

Oily Wells March!

March 16 -18
Palo Alto to San Francisco

oilywells

TPA is joining with other social justice, environmental, and faith-based groups, led by 350 Silicon Valley, to march for action in March. The 3-day, 34-mile walk from Palo Alto to the Wells Fargo offices in San Francisco will protest Wells Fargo’s continued investment in disastrous climate projects, including tar sands, pipelines, and extreme condition extraction.

Learn more about the action…

From Victoria Armigo:

For those who want to act in the world, please consider attending some part of this 3-day Oily Wells march that TPA is cosponsoring.

This is an invitation to join me and 350 Silicon Valley as we ramp up a campaign to expose “Oily Wells” by participating in the March for Fossil Fuel Freedom, a 3-day, 34-mile march from Palo Alto to the bank’s San Francisco headquarters on March 16-18. The pilgrimage will offer a chance to meet other concerned folks (from partners such as Idle No More SF Bay and the Sierra Club) and act as a human billboard attesting to the rapidly deepening climate crisis and the prospect for sustainable solutions.

It would be great if participants would please  register online today (3/11).  We need to know how many delicious vegan meals and snacks to serve to how many people and where.

We will spend two nights in church and community halls, with food and support vehicles for carrying gear provided. At “stagecoach stops” along the way there will be educational presentations and performances (featuring Oily Wells himself). Learn more and register now at www.OilyWells.com.

Just having you there, at any point along the way, as a show of support means a lot.

Please RSVP today.