What Makes us Human? An Interview with Joshua Oppenheimer

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October 6, 2014

Dear Friends,

Greetings from the Pacific Northwest, where apple cider and harvest festivals are making the last rays of summer sweeter.

We at TTC are gearing up for our annual partay – our fundraiser, which takes place November 16th in Seattle. Please come if you can. Our friends Chris Jordan, Christen Lien and Kate Goldston will be speaking about subjects close to our hearts. Heather Wolf, who has been co-leading the women’s retreats in Yelapa with me and Kellie Shannon Elliott, will be our emcee for the evening. Please click here for more information. We will be sending invitations later this month and would love to know if you would like to receive one, email us back.

This month we have the honor to present an interview with filmmaker, MacArthur Genius Award winner, and Academy Award nominee Joshua Oppenheimer. He is the director of The Act of Killing, which will be shown on Point of View (PBS) October 6th, and streaming from October 7 – 21st. Don’t miss it. Afterwards, watch interviews with Joshua online, and read interviews  in addition to ours below. When it’s released, go see  The Look of Silence, his award-winning companion film,  making the rounds of major film festivals currently, and getting top honors. Focusing on Indonesia, the two films present an intimate and unprecedented look into the aftermath of genocide in Indonesia, more than forty years later, for both the perpetrators and the survivors in a society where the perpetrators have maintained continuous power. The film making itself represents an act of courage in the face of a power structure where the threat of violence is omnipresent.

But, you must be wondering, why Calypso instead of Josh is our cover shot? In August, just after I interviewed Joshua, our kitty was shot at close range with a pellet gun, shattering her leg. The bullet didn’t sever her nerves so with surgery, she’s mending, thankfully. When I discovered she’d been shot, I felt so violated, so angry and hurt for her that I went house to house asking people if they owned a pellet gun –and posted flyers about it on every telephone pole as well as community FB page. The shot to Calypso felt like a shot to me. It left me feeling shaken, fearful, and vulnerable. I’d like to feel it was an accident, but most likely someone did it on purpose — and was able to act with impunity, for in all likelihood this person will never be caught and may never come forward. A man I told about the shooting said, “It was most likely an adolescent boy, a kind of rite of passage.” “A rite of passage,” I said, “Are you kidding? An example of the crisis of manhood, more like it.” Whoever did this was certainly dissociated from his heart.

All this was going on while I was transcribing my interview with Joshua. Listening to him humanize the murderers in his film (not condone what they did or suggest that justice should not be done, but simply humanize them), while concurrently going through my own intense feelings of shock, anger and sadness about Calypso was illuminating for me. Listening to him reminded me what I stand for and what we teach youth through Teen Talking Circles. I kept seeing the parallels between the heartlessness of shooting a pet cat, the horror of discovering that someone had smeared fecal matter on the flyers I put around the neighborhood, and the dissociated barbarity of the murderers in Joshua’s films. When Josh said in the interview that the act of killing is a fundamentally human act, I had to expand my understanding of what is human. I began to understand that what we call evil is human, and in order to prevent these acts in the future, we have to be able to look at the humanity of people who perpetrate them. As Joshua says, “It’s not so we can forgive and forget — by all means no. And not because there shouldn’t be justice — again, by all means no. But we need to be able to look at how and why human beings do these things to each other. It’s simply self-serving reassurance to say these people are monsters and have nothing to do with me. That is a reckless attempt to reassure oneself, because it closes down the possibility of understanding, and prevention.”

Cover of the March 10, 1958 issue of Time, featuring Sukarno, leAs a movie, The Act of Killing is art, history, and most importantly it is a blueprint for how to hold each of us accountable for our actions. It finally allowed the truth and lies of the genocide in 1965/1966 to be seen and grappled with by the Indonesian people as well as by us, in the US, who are also complicit. Our CIA gave a list of names to the Indonesian government to target. The film was shown many times privately in Indonesia before it was released to the public. Having initially ignored it, the authorities were finally forced to make a statement after the film was nominated for an Oscar in January of 2014.“They released an admission that basically said that what had happened [during the anti-communist purges] was wrong, but that they would deal with it in their own time,” Oppenheimer said in an interview. “That was a huge change, even if it was reluctantly done.”

I didn’t want to watch The Act of Killing. I was afraid it would be too violent and disturbing. Then, I watched Joshua being interviewed on The Daily Show. That is when I realized how much I wanted to talk with him, ask him what he learned, and what inspired him to do this work in the first place.

      

Joshua Oppenheimer
The Look of Silence Official Website
         The Act of Killing Website

Background: Before we get into the interview, which sums up the title question above at the end, let me give you a little history. On September 30, 1965, a small group of Indonesian junior military officers loyal to left-wing nationalist President Ahmed Sukarno kidnaps and kills six senior army generals and announces the creation of a revolutionary council to rule the country. The officers, led by one of Sukarno’s bodyguards, Colonel Untung, claim the killings were necessary to thwart an imminent, US CIA-backed coup against the Sukarno government. The next day, October 1, 1965, Indonesian General Suharto takes control of Jakarta and claims the killings were part of a Communist plan to take over Indonesia. For the next five months, he oversees the slaughter of between 500,000 and 1 million people, many of them targeted because of their affiliation with the PKI, Indonesia’s Communist party.

images-1During this period, Suharto is backed by the US, Britain, and Australia. The US embassy in Indonesia provides the Indonesian army with a list compiled by the CIA consisting of the names of thousands of Communist Party leaders who the Indonesian military hunts down and executes. To do his dirty work, Suharto employs thugs and small time gangsters–the perpetrators in Joshua Oppenheimer’s companion films, The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence. With US approval, the following day, Indonesia invades East Timor. As a teenager, I remember protesting this action along with other peace activists, in 1965.

President of Indonesia Sukarno (center)
shakes hands with Vice President Lyndon Johnson
as President John F. Kennedy smiles,
Washington, D.C., April 25, 1961

  Joshua Oppenheimer Interview, Skype, August 21, 2014

josh

  Linda Wolf: Good morning,  Josh.

  Joshua Oppenheimer: Good evening, Linda!

  LW: Oh, that’s right, you’re in Denmark!

  JO: Yes, it’s nice to meet you, finally.

  LW: You, too. I just have to say I love you!

  JO: Thank you! I’m absolutely sure I love you, too.

  LW: Speaking of love, you were born and raised in the US but have lived overseas a while, did you leave for love?

JO: No, but indirectly it’s why I left the states and didn’t come back. I met my partner, who is Japanese, in 1998, in London; we were both studying there, and we realized that because of the Defense of Marriage act, I couldn’t bring him to the United States and he couldn’t bring me to Japan for similar reasons. So we clung to England, and eventually became British Citizens, which was a big relief. Then we moved to Denmark in the beginning of 2011 to edit The Act of Killing, and found that we liked it so much more than London.

LW: I have to tell you, I think The Act of Killing is one of the most important films ever made. It wasn’t as hard to watch as I imagined.

images-3JO: I think the film is emotionally impactful, but not viscerally impactful. To the extent that there is gore in the film it’s so ridiculously fake, and that’s almost the point. But, of course some people get so drawn into it they think we’ve burned down a real village and attacked families of survivors

LW: But of course, it was a movie set.

JO: We built three huts in a corn field and all the children in the movie are the grandchildren of the perpetrators and indeed they were never told what the scene was about. We auditioned them for their ability to cry when we call action. There was a woman on the set who fainted. Indonesians will say she is possessed and they very tenderly try to send home the ghost that came over her. She’s not a survivor or the daughter of someone who was killed. Her husband was a high-ranking organizer of the death squads and is now a high ranking military leader. She might have been expressing the trauma of being the wife of such a man and not being able to talk about it. The film-making process was a safe space for her to explore that and give voice to that.

images-2It’s interesting when we show the film in Japan, audiences there see the film for what it is, which is a film about a man who’s façade is collapsing. The film is about a personal lie and a national lie.

LW: The lie that is told by the winners. I imagine that this film is making history by allowing the people of Indonesia to begin to live with the repercussions of the truth finally getting aired — the truth that the survivors always have known but never been able to talk about considering that the perpetrators are still in power.

JO: When I started my work in 2003 with the survivors they would come together and tell me stories about what they remembered from the killings. They would tell their stories in tears because they were so afraid they could be found out for telling and be arrested and made to do forced labor, because that was what used to happen throughout the Suharto dictatorship for the first thirty-five years.

LW: These lies and punishments have gone on for nearly 50 years. That’s a long time to live with the knowledge of the truth untold.

JO: As we would sit and talk,  every time we would hear a moped passing, even in the distance, everyone would go quiet and stop. The survivors, who were universally poor, could only afford bicycles — the people on mopeds were outsiders, wealthy enough to be on the side of power. So, everyone would go quiet and be afraid. If we could hide the film equipment we would. So, to gather the stories of what happened in 1965 and to focus on the historical account of what happened felt somehow to ignore the immediate, present tense reality of what was happening in front of my camera, which was fear. The question became, what was it like to live with killers all around you, still in power, with the fear they could do this to you again at anytime? That’s what we tried to address.

LW: Did the government know what you were doing?

JO: The army did indeed find out what we were doing. At that point the survivors suggested we try to film the perpetrators to see if they would tell us what they did to the relatives of the survivors. I approached the perpetrators, unsure if it was safe to do so, afraid in fact, but would find to my astonishment and horror that every single one of them was immediately willing to talk. They were boastful about what they had done. I felt that I had wondered into Germany forty years after the Holocaust with the killers still in power and the Nazi’s have never having been overthrown. That’s what it felt like, this is what it would be like.

As I interviewed the perpetrators, I started getting the details of how the killers killed, where they brought them, where the prisons were, how they gathered people. But the elephant in the living room, the real thing that was happening was their boasting. I thought, why are they boasting? How do they expect me to see them? How do they expect you, via my camera, to see them? And that is about impunity — the fact the killers win and the whole country is built on a lie.

What happens when a whole generation of young people is raised up on a lie, and the second generation is raised on a lie? What happens when everyone knows it’s a lie and is too afraid to talk about it? And that story, which was the present tense thing happening, was overshadowing the details of the historical account — that’s the story I think most Indonesian artists and activists who try to address these issues have been afraid to address, because that story involves standing up to power. And I think Indonesians can’t really address that on their own, or couldn’t. An Indonesian could not have made The Act of Killing, safely. I had an Indonesian crew that made it with me…

TAoK-creditsLW: Everyone of them listed as “anonymous” in the credits.

JO: …and an Indonesian co-director who’s anonymous who made it with me, but on his own he couldn’t have done it.

It was just that, holding up a mirror to a whole society, exposing the genocide that happened fifty years ago. We committed atrocities fifty years ago, too. We still commit atrocities, all the time. It’s not about exposing the atrocities, it’s about holding up a mirror to what we have become because of impunity. That’s what’s forced people to talk about the thugery, corruption, the use of gangs in politics, the legacy, the fact of the power of the killer today. That’s what’s opened up the space for the country to finally talk about their past and present in a new way. The reality you see in The Act of Killing is our underbelly. Every piece of clothing we own is haunted by the suffering of the people who make it for us. They’re all working in factories located in places where political violence has taken place. The human cost is incorporated into the price tag we pay for it.

LW: Sweatshop labor. So, what happened after your film was shown in Indonesia? Were you in danger for speaking truth to power, so to speak? Are you still close with any of the people from the movie? Do they fear for their lives?

JO: Indonesia is not like the Nazi regime where everyone has to sing from the same hymn sheet. Anwar, the main character, is still close to me and has seen the film and been very moved by it. He’s said to me, “This film shows me what it’s like to be me.” And he also said, “I am relieved to finally be able to show what all this has meant for me and for everybody in Indonesia, and not just to talk about what I did, which is what we have always done as perpetrators.” He and I keep in touch regularly.

He’s, however, only very slowly started to lose the favor of the paramilitary leaders for making the film. I know the paramilitary leaders and military establishment hate me and for that reason it’s unsafe for me to go back, and that’s why I shot the new film, The Look of Silence after finishing editing The Act of Killing, before it premiered. I knew once it premiered, I could no longer return safely.

There’s real hope the new president, Joko Widodo, represents a new chapter in Indonesia. But to be elected as president in Indonesia involves  huge amounts of money and the people with money are universally cleptocrats, universally thugs, and universally criminals who have become rich by stealing the national wealth, resources, purging rainforests, and just stealing it basically with the protection of the military and the Suharto regime. That’s how everyone in Indonesia with a lot of money got that way.

A lot of people are hoping that Joko will embrace The Look of Silence and host the premiere, and that would make it safe for me to go back. I think it’s quite unlikely that he will host the premier of the new film while his vice president is appearing in such an unfavorable light in the Act of Killing. But, I can’t safely go back because the paramilitaries and the military are still so powerful and still enjoying impunity. If  you are in the military and you committed a crime, you can’t be tried in a civilian court. You can only be tried at the military court, which means Commanders will always go after and sacrifice their underlings, because they are the ones that are organizing the military justice. So there’s total official impunity for the military and the paramilitary still can get away with murder.

LW: I can’t imagine what your mother feels!

JO: My mom would be really upset if I told her I was going back at the moment. But at the same time I can’t forget the fact that my crew is there. Ok, they’re protected to some extent by remaining anonymous, and we’ve managed to keep them out of the spotlight. But they live in Indonesia, and they face this risk every day. The main character in my new film, his face is in the film. We’ve had to move his whole family to another part of the country, find schools for the kids and support them to build a home and a new life, and that’s a sign that an awful lot still needs to change.

LW: You must feel very responsible.

JO: I see my films as an expression, a translation of 10 years of accumulated insight and also, blindness and ignorance, but ten years of life there. I remember when I first saw the film come together, it was exhilarating to feel something so condensed but it was also disappointing. 2 hours, 40 minutes of a movie is never going to encompass 10 years of living and this film is just the tip of the iceberg of a huge process that makes it possible to create safely. I’m proud that nobody involved with me to make the film, including Anwar, has come to any harm, or been arrested, or beaten up. There was one newspaper editor who was beaten up for publishing a story, The World Condemns Pancasila Youth (the group that ran the death squads for the army). That made me heartsick to think that something I created could have triggered this. But, luckily, the rest of the press complained aggressively about that whole thing and the police reaction, so that has not been repeated.

LW: What gave you the courage to do all this? Did you grow up an activist? Were you influenced by your Jewish heritage, have nightmares about the Nazis? How did you grow up?

JO: When they were young, both my parents were radicalized by the civil rights movement in the US and then the anti-war movement. My mother and step-father were labor activists, union organizers, originally they were labor lawyers and gradually left practicing law to become activists. In fact, it was a globalization related labor project that first lead me to Indonesia, to help a community of plantation workers make a film to document their struggles in organizing a union. I was 26 when I did that. It was transformative for me.

My father’s family, his parents, narrowly escaped the holocaust and my step-mother’s family, most of her family, was killed in the holocaust and I grew up with this sense that the aim of all politics and even the aim of all culture and morality is to prevent these things from ever happening again, and not in the parochial sense of never again to us, but never again. It was with anguish, I remember growing up, that my father would watch these things happening again and again and again all over the world.

When I came out, when I realized I was gay, I befriended a man who was older than me. All his friends had died of aids, his partner had died. It was the early 90s/late 80s and there was so much discrimination – there is still discrimination –  it was really intense. They were beating us up and calling us fags. We were afraid to walk home at night. I remember thinking that this is a community, and half of the community (in San Francisco and in New York) were affected by HIV and are going to die. So, I got involved with fighting against the stigma in the fight against HIV and AIDS, and then started to fight for treatment access in developing countries, once affective treatments became available. We made sure those medicines were available to poor people, particularly in Africa.

Banner hangAround that time the anti-globalization movement – the movement against corporate globalization was awakening me to a class analysis which was really missing among my peers and I started to realize there are a lot of people for who the American Dream is simply a lie. And it’s a lie that divides us from each other. I was always political and always caring about the underdog. In Indonesia, I was living in a very poor village with people who were being poisoned by a very successful Belgium multinational company — and murdered. All these things made very big impressions on me.

When I was traveling with The Act of Killing, I would say, look, everything that touches our bodies is haunted by the suffering of the people who made it. In the sense that everyone who makes everything that we buy comes from the Global South or China, where people are being kept afraid and oppressed by men like Anwar and his friends. So, in that sense we all depend on Anwar and his friends doing our dirty work for us all over the world, whether we like it or not. In that sense, we depend on them and so if Anwar and his friends are monsters, what are we?

Just as Anwar is damaged by the act of killing –you see at the end of film that he escaped justice but not punishment — he is somehow destroyed by what he has done as human being, and so are we. We are all damaged by living lives that depend on the suffering of others. We’re able to live these lives because we escape in fantasy, television, slick media images, gaming and social media, in part because we feel that there is nothing we can do about it anyway.

LW: That is what many young people feel until they realize that they can do something, anything…

JO: That sense of powerlessness is something we should not accept because when you accept that, you are accepting that you have no control over the conditions of your life and become some kind of zombie, some kind of robot. You are saying, ok I am not fully human because I am not having any control over my existence, or doing the work necessary to have control over the world I have inherited.

To do the work, you can’t do the work by yourself. You have to build communities and movements and to do that is work– it’s really hard work. But if you don’t do it you are surrendering your humanity. You are saying, ok I am just going to go escape into movies, entertainment, shopping and consumerism because I can’t do anything about the world anyway –which is saying I can’t live and I can’t actually make a difference because I have no control over my world. That sense of powerlessness is like surrendering to the slave movement somehow.

images-4LW: The thugs in your films were influenced by Hollywood, violent movies, and such. They acted like they were movie stars themselves! Do you think that the media has that much influence on causing them to be so violent? Many young women in our programs hate and hurt themselves due to comparing themselves to media images.

JO: I think it’s very complicated, just like it’s more complicated than seeing images of impossibly thin women, with impossible to attain physiques that causes us to become anorexic. It probably involves the way we cope with anxiety, the way we’re taught, loved, held or not held, the way we’re there for or not there for each other. Those images are also a symptom of that. That we objectify each other.

I think we all create ourselves and are created by stories, images, sometimes they’re second hand, third rate, usually third rate, half-remembered, borrowed from the media, and I think they operate effectively because we’re not aware of them. When we become aware of them, their hold on us doesn’t entirely go away, but it loosens. If I know I’m anxious because I don’t live up to this particularly image, if you know that consciously, the hold starts to loosen.

renc3a9-magritte-la-reproduction-interditeWhat’s most frightening is the way we tell ourselves stories to not see, to kind of avoid dealing with the most painful things. Because maybe we’re afraid and we don’t know how to deal with that. We’re afraid we can’t deal with it. We’re afraid of the consequences and so we switch off or give up on making change, on dealing with things, or maybe we simply feel totally disempowered and feel incorrectly that individually we can’t make the change we would like to see. The consequences are that we retreat into escapist reality. I think that is a terrible shame for the reason Socrates made awfully plain, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

I don’t think because the movies Anwar watched were violent movies that he became a violent man. On the contrary, the Hollywood movie that Anwar describes most vividly, that was helping him kill, was an Elvis Presley musical. It was the escapist fantasy that made it possible for him to be absent, dissociated from himself, and from the person he was that has a very intimate and tragic interaction with when he was taking peoples lives. It enabled him to become numb. That’s the real risk. That is the real danger, the ethical danger of escapism. We disappear in that. It’s the alienation we have from ourselves and each other, even inside our families –maybe especially inside our families and from our neighbors, in school, etc. that is so damaged and so damaging to all of us.

We have only one chance to live and be present mindfully, to notice when we are being swept up by a kind of kaleidoscope of glitter and shit, a kaleidoscope of beautified ugliness. Swept up away from ourselves, away from each other. To become mindful of that is to actually reclaim yourself and to reclaim your relationships with people. I think there’s a lot to just stepping down out of all things that we’re encouraged to escape into, and that are so seductive to escape into, that feel so good to escape into, in the moment — step down from that into just the present and be little bit more still.

LW: That is why we do teen circles. It is all about human connection, having a safe place and people who accept us as we tell them our truths, and who listen with compassion. It is all about coming back into our wholeness, our stillness as you say – just being present with ourselves and each other.  It’s been great talking with you, Josh. I can’t wait to see The Look of Silence when it is released. I am so happy we’ve had a chance to get to know each other a little. I have so much respect for you. Please come have dinner with us, when you are in Seattle.

JO: With pleasure! Thank you, Linda.

For more information about the issues and the work of Joshua Oppenheimer, check his website

Watch the interview with Joshua Oppenheimer on The Daily Show

Join us for the TTC party and better fundraiser. We are honored to have Chris Jordan, Christen Lien, and Kate Goldston presenting. Check the interviews here with Chris and Kate, and find out more information at our event registration page: Here

 

There is No Greater Power Than This…

The July TTC Blog Post: An Interview with Kate Goldston, by Linda Wolf

 

The beginning

The beginning…                                                                                                             Photo: Linda Wolf

Hello everyone,

The light has returned, and summer is upon us. Oh, the beauty! The garden is magnificent and life is lifing all around.

We just completed a most powerful TTC Facilitator’s Training and will be taking time to rest up and prepare for our Fall gathering on November 16th in Seattle, with Christen Lien. We say adios to our precious Lilly, as she takes off to parts unknown and hopefully grad school (what a great writer she is and what a delicious time we have had over the past years working together,) and we welcome back our friend, Ali Lockwood, who returns to assist me going forward. 

This month, we have a powerful interview with my friend, Kate Goldston. Kate is recovering her health after 21 years as a functional, and then nearly dead, anorexic woman. She is a medical miracle, according to all the doctors. I encourage you to take time with this read, as it will surely open your heart and bring you deep feelings and reminders of the ways women and girls in our world are manipulated to feel that we are not enough, unless we are thin.  

Much love and many blessings for a world much more in love than war, linda

 

Linda & Kate

Linda & Kate  – June 2014

I first met Kate Goldston about 21 years ago, when she was around eleven years old. My daughters, Heather and Genevieve, were friends with her two younger sisters. When I’d go pick them up after play-dates, often Kate would answer the door. I remember her as bright, warm, smart, and open. I remember she looked healthy and robust. My last memory of Kate was on a summer day, when she was maybe 13. She was sitting with her mother, on a beach blanket on the grass near a Lake we all went to. She looked skinny as a rail and sad. I remember I went up to her and asked her how she was, and if she was seeing someone. I don’t remember if I said out loud what I was thinking, but I know I let on that I was worried about her and saw that she looked like she had lost so much weight. I remember her mother seemed angry with me for whatever I said, and Kate looked embarrassed. My attention was unwanted, clearly. After that I felt a distinct coldness towards me and don’t remember connecting with the family again except by chance in the market. I never saw Kate again. 

A few months ago, Kate got in touch with me. It had been a good 20 years since that day at the Lake. I knew a little about her family’s issues over the years. They mirrored my own. (Difficult times, divorce, remarriage (her parents to each other – me to Eric.) When Kate got in touch with me, she told me she had just gotten ‘kicked out of Hospice.’ She let me know that she had been struggling with anorexia and bulimia for the past 21 years. She said someone had mentioned my name to her, and she remembered that I was the only one who called it back when it all started. She thought that possibly I would have something to offer her now that she was determined to stop killing herself, and begin the true healing process. She was done with her eating disorders, and resolute that this was her turning point. She said she was following her intuition in every regard, now, including taking her healing process into her own hands. She said she was going through the refeeding processing on her own. I didn’t understand what that meant, but now I do. The refeeding process can kill a recovering anorexic, or anyone who has been starved. The heart, sometimes, can’t take it.

I was blown away that Kate called me. I struggled for about 24 hours with whether or not I wanted to engage with Kate. I knew it would mean 100% of me, and it was going to be an emotional risk. What if I got involved and she didn’t make it? Would it hurt too much, if I let my heart get invested? I woke up in the middle of the night the day after she phoned me, knowing that I had no choice. I had to get involved.

I have to say becoming friends with Kate has been one of the greatest choices I’ve ever made. I love her, and I am committed to helping support her support herself and be her own beloved. I am committed to being there for Kate, through the ups and downs because I sincerely trust she meant it when she said, “I’m never going back, I am only going forward to full health.” 

Daily Facebook posts, sometimes twice or three times a day, with dozens of people responding...

Kate posts her feelings and experience daily on her Facebook page, sometimes twice or three times a day, with dozens of people responding… even those who have been angry with Kate for some of her behavior have turned around to find compassion and friendship.

Kate is changing the culture of Bainbridge Island, where we live. She blogs on her Facebook page every inch and ounce of her experience on this path of health and healing. She has cracked open the hearts of so many people with her truth. She has been a role model for vulnerability and intimacy exposing her truth and the response to her on our island has been incredible. Many have seen Kate around town, walking with her walker (gone now!) and worried about her. Her social calendar is causing her issues at the moment, because she simply cannot continue her self-proclaimed OCD behavior of walking all day to numb herself from the anger and seemingly endless mind chatter that haunts her. She has been changing in the past two months at a pace that is extraordinary and often uncomfortable to herself. Her family does not know how to respond quite yet; as they were certain that when she was in hospice, she was going to die. In fact, her mother did one of the most important things she could have done for Kate, which was to say she couldn’t bear anymore and left her to herself in her Hospice bed. Kate had to come to herself by herself and find herself, alone – it was to be her turning point; her “come to Jesus moment,” as she says.

Since knowing Kate, my own sense of self and process of self-acceptance has been blown open, again…I continue to face the haunting memories of my own eating disorders, and notice when I feel the old urges to overeat or stuff myself so as not to feel the pain. I cannot thank Kate more for being the Great Kate that she is. She is an inspiration and a miracle.

The following interview and photos were done a month ago, mid June. Since then, Kate has gained another ten pounds and made great strides in her mental and physical health. Over the past month, her doctors, who were not at all sure she would make it thought the refeeding process, have given her permission to start doing yoga and weigh lifting. Through community support and many TTC friends, we have fundraised for Kate to attend The Gathering at Hollyhock next week, where she will be meeting many new friends and great contacts for her ongoing process. Ironically enough, she will be carpooling with Vicki Robin, the author of “Blessing the Hands that Feed Us.” Synchronicity and some kind of spiritual guides are taking care of Kate, but most importantly, Kate is taking care of Kate.

Kate Goldston

Kate Goldston

There is no power equal to a person finally acting on what she cares about.

Linda Wolf: Kate, how are you doing right now?

Kate Goldston: It’s just really scary for me. I’m doing this healing process so publicly. When you’re an inpatient, you go in and they treat you, and afterwards you have to come out and reintegrate yourself into the world. But I’m reintegrating myself into the world and getting better at the same time. I’m learning to be human and to be myself, and to be part of a community. I’m learning more than a hospital could ever teach me as far as personal responsibility and giving and caring are concerned; as far as creating my own space and the family I want to be a part of, the world I want to live in. I feel satisfied with my life right now, but it doesn’t take away the discomfort of watching my legs get bigger, or watching my stomach get distended because of malnutrition. I can ignore it—that’s what I’ve been doing—because I just can’t react to how I look or feel now, I have to accept that I will be uncomfortable and act accordingly. It’s really exciting, though, too, because my life is taking off. 

vulnerableYet, I feel very vulnerable, because I’m not hiding anymore! A lot of people get uncomfortable with themselves and hide, and try to mask it. I’m being visible; I’m outside all day in the community. People ask me what’s going on and I tell them — ‘This is what’s going on: I’ve been anorexic for twenty-one years and I’m getting better.’ People are being very receptive to my honesty, and very supportive, in many ways.           

One thing that I love that’s coming back is my sense of humor. Now that everyone on the island knows me, I was telling a friend the other day that I think I should buy a float for the Fourth of July. I’d be like, ‘Hellooo, it’s been twenty-one years and I’m well!’ I thought I shouldn’t have given my walker away because I could have used it in the parade to do tricks. 

LW: Getting rid of the walker was a huge win for you. 

KG: Yes, and this week was huge for me. I got rid of everything in my apartment that represents illness and disability. I looked at it all and said, ‘See ya, I don’t need you anymore.’ 

LW: It sounds like you don’t need anorexia anymore. 

KG: I don’t. I still have behavioral patterns I need to change, but I’m getting what I need nutritionally. I’m taking care of myself. I’m strong enough to do yoga, now. I see a doctor every three weeks. I see my therapist, who I love. We talk about the discomfort of becoming a woman.        

I was going to die…that was my reality for a pretty long time. Being in hospice is pretty much as low as it gets. I was in hospice for about nine months—I left about three months ago. I got myself kicked out of hospice and said ‘I’m getting well.’ And that’s what I’ve done. 

LW: What does that mean, being in hospice? 

KG: For me, it meant they put me in a facility and were waiting for me to die. They gave me no medical care. They didn’t monitor my labs, my blood work, etc. I don’t know how I feel about hospice anymore after the treatment I experienced. Not being medicated, not being helped, just being left alone to die. I got to the point where I was like, ‘Okay! Today’s the day I’m going to break all the rules and go home.’ I was such an asshole, Linda. They were like ‘You can’t leave the facility’ and I’m like ‘Yes, it’s a beautiful day, and I’m going to go for a walk down to the beach, down the hill.’ So I walked to the beach down the hill and when I came back they were like, ‘You have to go home now.’ I was like ‘Great, it’s been real! That’s exactly what I wanted.’ It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I respect people’s end-of-life wishes. If you’re ill and you’re going to pass, you should be left to your own accord, and made comfortable.           

When I left hospice, I went home. My parents were furious that I got kicked out of hospice, so I was totally on my own. I had an apartment before I went to hospice, which I kept, so I just went back there. I decided to make up my own plan, using my own knowledge of what needed to happen, and I just moved forward one step after the next. 

I had gained a lot of knowledge from my experienced in rehab over the years, but I also had my own inner knowledge. I put together a plan of what I needed to eat, how much I needed to sleep, when I needed to rest, what electrolyte supplements I needed to be on, and I went through the refeeding syndrome by myself.

LW: What is that, the refeeding syndrome?

KG: It’s a rare syndrome that happens during a refeeding process. Your electrolytes go completely wonky as you gain weight, or as you get nutrition in your body after so much malnutrition. You’re at risk of having a heart attack if you don’t eat the right foods at the right time, and I’ve experienced this every time I gained weight in the past, and I knew it was going to happen again. So I was like, ‘all right, I’m going to hang on to whatever God there may be, I’m going to make up a plan, I’m going to figure out what needs to happen to protect my body, and that’s what I’m going to do.’

So, I’ve been going through it. My doctors were like, ‘We cannot believe you’ve done this. It’s a miracle.’ Normally, you need to be in a hospital and have blood work done every day. But I just knew, based on my own knowledge, and I relied on my internal sense of self. I pulled it all together and did it on my own. 

LW: It seems to me, that to do something like you’ve done, the motivation has to be really, really strong. What’s the motivation you’ve found to live? Was there a trigger point that caused that shift of, ‘This time, right now, this is it. 

KG: Yes, because I want my friends and family and life back and I want a future and I want children. And I want to not be so bored and selfish. I had reached the goal I had set for myself, and I was still not satisfied, and in fact was going to die.

LW: What was the goal? 

KG: 72 pounds. 

LW: Why 72 pounds?

KG: That was what I weighed when I hit my growth spurt when I was twelve. 

LW: So you wanted to go back to being twelve? 

KG: Yeah. Back to that weight. That was what I had told myself twenty-odd years ago. And the reality is I’m scared to die. I’m not ready to die. I had never felt death so close to me. I was crying every night in hospice, and I told the nurses you have to check on me every hour on the hour to make sure I’m breathing. I set my alarm for every hour on the hour. I did not want to die. 

LW: So let me get this straight. From the time you were twelve you wanted to stay 72 pounds…and when you reached 72 pounds you didn’t gain nirvana of any sort? 

KG: No. And I lost my family. They’re just not in my life. I see my dad, and sometimes I talk to my mom. My sisters are totally out of my life. They won’t be in my life until I get well. They just can’t deal with it anymore. 

I wasn’t treating people the way I wanted to be treated. I was stealing, I was occasionally puking, I was walking all day. It was ridiculous. It was constant torture and abuse that didn’t and doesn’t align with my value systems. It’s really, really important to me to live authentically. I want my value systems and my knowledge base to align with my behaviors. This is really important to me. I know how I want to treat people. I believe in a natural, holistic lifestyle, and I love humanity. I’m just starting to get it now….how to live. Truthfully. And honestly. I’m in a very different space than I’ve ever been in my life. 

LW: I feel that, Kate, and I sense that for the rest of your life you’ll be helping other people. What would you say to someone who’s still ill, who’s still not yet ready to live? 

KG: I would say that illness is a lonely world. It really and truly leaves you feeling void of emotions and connections. It denies you your true purpose in this world. And illness is debilitating. It makes you act in ways that don’t align with what being a good person is. Because being a good person involves being good to yourself and being good to your community and your family and to the people who love you. Treating yourself with such abuse has consequences on multiple different levels. The loneliness that comes with illness is so vast and painful that it inhibits you from being functional and just being happy. I always had this idea that you have to be happy all the time—that if you were well and normal and living everything would be great, you’d have this idyllic life. But it doesn’t work that way. Life brings you ups and downs. But that’s the beauty of life, because in your hardest times you can find inspiration from the good times you’ve had, and you also gain strength and become more of a person through your hardest times. Putting all your cards into the bucket of female idealism is a waste of energy and time, and it really is an incredibly painful experience to exist in that space. 

LW: So what could you have told younger Kate that would have been helpful? 

KG: I think I would have told her to have faith, and patience, and kindness, and above all gentility, and enter the world prepared to be accepted sometimes and not accepted sometimes —but to open your heart to the community and let your energy be released into the community. Because when you put out the energy you have, you attract people of like energy, who treat you the way you want to be treated. Don’t try to walk into the world manufactured, because when you are not authentic, you attract people into your world that treat you with less than you deserve. 

I was destroying my body in attempts to fit into the paradigm of expectations that society had placed on women. 

I Googled: Perfect Girls Bodies in the Media… how very unsurprising to see the results.

I Googled: Perfect Girls Bodies in the Media… how very unsurprising to see the results.

LW: Where did you get that message? 

KG: I developed early and I compared myself to what all other girls looked like, and they were smaller than me, and skinnier than me. And then of course I read the magazines, and watched TV. I thought I was so strong so I didn’t reach out to anybody for help, or guidance, or reassurance that who I was okay as I was. I got deluded as to what my role in this world should be. I got the message that everything that I represented was complete inadequacy. I always thought that my intelligence was a bad thing as a woman. All my friends, to be honest, were kind of ditzy, and flirted with the boys, and hung out with the boys. And I would rather read a book, or do math, or hang out in the woods, have a garden…I just didn’t fit in. 

LW: This is classic, right? In order to fit in, you had to pretend you were someone else, and in the process of doing that become disassociated from who you really are. 

KG: Exactly. And now I’m just coming back into my own. I’m trying to read again. I’m starting to garden. I’ve met a lot of new people. I’m really out there. Every time I’m scared of where I am I just go for a walk and meet new people. They say, ‘You look wonderful!’ I’m now hearing their compliments as they’re supposed to be taken, as compliments. I’m laughing off comments that are made with inappropriate terminology, like telling me I’m looking full-bodied. There’s a difference between full-bodied and fuller than I have been! When some people say ‘You’re filling out’ I say ‘Thank you. That’s very kind. I’m feeling much better.’ They’re not saying it in the same way as I used to hear it, when I was a girl developing and I felt like I couldn’t handle it. Now I know what people are intending to say.

Sexualization of Adolescent Girls

Sexualization of Adolescent Girls

LW: Do you feel like you were sexualized when you were young? 

KG: At ten I had size double-D breasts. I was 5’ 7”. I went from 4’ 7” to 5’ 7” in one year, Linda, and I went from 72 pounds to 152 pounds. If you look at my class photo I was taller than my teacher, I had bigger breasts than my teacher. I was a woman. I started my period at ten. I remember crying myself to sleep, thinking I never wanted to have a period again. I was scared shitless. That was the year we moved to Bainbridge from Brooklyn. So it was complete and utter back-to-back change, extreme change. I didn’t know how to cope. At age twelve I started getting really ill. From eighth grade to age nineteen I was in and out of hospitals. I spent a full year in Children’s Hospital. I was functionally anorexic until age twenty-eight. By the time I was twenty-eight I was sicker than I had ever been, so I went inpatient in New York for three months, came home, got literally sicker than I ever had been in my life, went back to New York for six months, stayed for law school, got even sicker, and had a lot of physical abuse from my community and the world I lived in there. I got attacked by a woman and she broke my jaw in three places, broke all my teeth and cracked my skull, right outside of my apartment in New York. I had to leave law school after two years there because of that. I had my jaw locked and had to be on a liquid diet, and couldn’t sustain my weight. I got hit by a bike twice which broke my pelvis, twice, and cracked my skull and my face. I weighed 100 pounds. 

LW: You’ve been through… 

KG: Hell. 

LW: Hell! How much do you weigh now? 

KG: I’d say I’m about 95 pounds. I was 72 three months ago. I know I’ve made progress. I don’t look at the scale when I go to the doctor’s office, because I know after all these years just by how I feel. I’m pretty good at telling intuitively…The feedback and numbers mess with my head. All these charts they give you nowadays don’t take into account stature, bone structure, muscle mass…it just confuses people. My lowest weight was death, and my highest weight will be when I have my period. 

LW: Were you ever sexually abused? 

KG: Never. But upon reflection, developing really early and walking into this society brings a form of abuse. It was incredibly uncomfortable as a ten year old to get whistles. 

LW: I remember, I also developed early, and felt so objectified by older men. I tried to starve myself, as well, but I could never do it. Food numbed the pain and numbed me. So, I would overeat until I was in physical pain, then I would feel my emotions and cry. It’s a different form of eating disorder. 

Illness is lonely. "I walk and walk for hours and hours to get away from the noise in my  head…"

Illness is lonely. “I walk and walk for hours and hours to get away from the noise in my head…”

KG: I found walking. I did make myself throw up for a while, but it didn’t provide the same relief that walking did. It was my moving meditation, my soothing behavior. It was like sucking my thumb. I still have that habit of walking, and it’s going to be the hardest habit for me to break. But, now I can at least sit down for an extended period of time, which I never used to be able to do. I walk to quiet my spirit, because I have a very powerful spirit and it always overwhelms me. I think it’s a gift if you can figure out how to use it—this very powerful energy. It can be angry, it can be happy, it can be excited, it can be anxious…it’s not sadness, so much. Walking draws me away from all those feelings. But, now that I’m back in the community, when I walk I stop to say hi to people, which is wonderful. 

I scare myself sometimes because I feel like such a huge presence. But I’m very fragile. I have to be careful with myself because I put all of myself out there, and I fear people will take advantage of that. Men have taken advantage of that. I attract people that emotionally wear on me. I’m learning that I need to protect myself in many ways. Walking with the earphones and hiding in my home and the puking all day and the dying…was me walking away from a world I’m very scared of. I’m learning to attract the right people into my life, people who feed me, physically and spiritually.

LW: Sounds like you are learning about boundaries? 

KG: Exactly, I’m learning to form healthy boundaries. I’ve been around a lot of mentally and physically ill people my whole life. I feel comfortable with that population. I’m not afraid of people with diseases. I usually have pretty good boundaries. I was walking home yesterday with one of the sickest alcoholics I’ve ever seen in my life…probably been drinking since he was ten years old. I had to help him home, because he lives in my apartment building. I’ve never talked to him before. You have to be careful of people, to see if they’re dangerous or not. But he’s not dangerous. I got a pretty good read on him. And he said, ‘I’m going to be honest with you, Kate. There’s beer in this bag. I have a really bad drinking problem.’ I said to him, ‘I know that, you don’t have to tell me that, I just hope you’re feeling okay.’ And he sad ‘Yeah, I’m feeling okay, I just went down to get more beer…” I walked him home and helped him put his groceries away. But then this morning, when I saw him, he tried to hug me. And I was like ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do that.’ I’m more than happy to help him get his groceries home, but when touch is involved—that’s a very personal boundary issue. I spoke up to protect myself. I’ve never done that before.

United N

United Nations Facts and Figures – click on this image for the full website

As women, because we are biologically and inherently the vulnerable population, we have to learn how to protect ourselves. We have to figure out our values and how we want to be treated – we need to educate ourselves about our own bodies and our own needs. I think it’s important for a woman to learn about her sexuality and what feels good to her. Sometimes it’s a one-way game, for a lot of people, and that is unfair. I’m a huge proponent of being touched. But it takes time to learn your body and what makes you happy. 

LW: What motivated you to get in touch with me after so many years, Kate? 

KG: Since I got so ill, I’m realizing I have to form a deep sense of spirituality to get me through this period of time. If I was going to live, and go through this recovery period alone, and put this all together alone, and trust in whatever higher power is out there, I had to trust where my life was being guided, as well. I met someone who mentioned your name, and I hadn’t heard your name in years. And I thought to myself, ‘She is someone I need to have in my life again. She is the only person that called me out on my anorexia when I was young. I think I need to talk to her and tell her where I’m at right now.’ I need people to hear my story, and to respect my story, and help guide me in directions I want to go in my life. I think it’s important for us all to figure out what makes us happy and where to go in this lifetime, and the people that surround you and love you can help you along your path, and teach you things that you need to learn. I felt that you would be one of those people for me. Your value system aligns with my own, and I need those kinds of people in my life. 

LW:  Thank you. Kate, how do you feel when you hear the word fat? 

KG: Fat means fear to me. 

LW: How do you feel when you see someone who is fat? 

KG: When I was young I would see them as completely out of control. But now I see them as exactly the same as me. We’re hiding behind our illness. We’re the same. I’ve had a few heavier than normal women ask me if I was a ballerina and I said ‘No, I’m an anorexic.’ Fat is a way of cloaking yourself, and skinny is disappearing.

LW: For most of my life, I felt I was too fat. I, too, compared myself constantly.

We are bombarded with the idea that we have to fit into one form. If we can not diet enough, then there is always liposuction!

We are bombarded everywhere, all the time, with the idea that we have to fit into one form. If we can not diet enough, or starve ourselves enough, then there is always liposuction or LipoLaser…This is a booth at our local Bainbridge Farmers Market where I met Kate to do this interview.

KG: There’s a plague that follows women. It’s a number, a box that we’re all supposed to fit into. You’re fucked if you do, you’re fucked if you don’t. No one can ever fit into that box. Some people figure out that they’re okay as they are. They learn how to ignore the messages telling them what they should weigh or be like. Right now I’m in my ignoring mode. When women whittle ourselves down into that box we lose a lot of the life that we want to live. Food is pleasure; it’s part of life. Rest is a necessity. Kindness is a necessity. Spending time with people you love is a necessity. In trying to reach that box, we lose a lot of those things, or become less available to receive those things. You have to ask yourself, is it really worth it? Or do I have less of a life? When you lose weight, you lose life, if you’re already in a healthy range.

Ten percent of the anorexic population will die. The way I see it, I was in that ten percent for a very long time. For twenty-one years. When I said fuck you to hospice I said fuck you to death. I literally told them to fuck off in a very asshole way. I broke all their rules and left and I said dammit, I want to live. Anybody can die at any point in our lives. None of us can know when that will be. We have to walk with the best intentions and live with the best intentions and hope that life will continue. We have to live each day with purpose and hope that tomorrow will be even better. All I know is that all of my doctors have said that I am a medical miracle, and that there’s no reason why I should be living today. And I say, ‘That’s the exact reason why I’m living, my friend.’ If God or whatever higher power has gifted me more time, I’m fully taking advantage of that. I’ve actually never heard of anyone who’s taken themselves through outpatient. It’s so precarious. You have to be monitored 24/7. And I did it with prayer and a good education. I know I can never go back to being as sick I was. If I go back there, I will want to die. That will be me giving up. Before it didn’t matter if I disappeared because there was no one there in my life, but now I’ve created such a large world and a large group of people in my life that care deeply and are counting on me to be around. ‘I can’t let my fans down, Linda!’ 

LW: Your biggest fan is yourself—but people will be crushed if you’re not around. I will be crushed! Sorry to put that pressure on you—

KG: I feel that pressure, but it’s a good pressure. People count on me to be around and I want to be that kind of person because that means I’m a cool person, that means that people love me, that means that people like the way I’m living, that means that people will treat me the way I want to be treated. And that’s what I want to hang around for. I’ve realized that it does get better and people have the capacity to change. I want to give my life to helping other people. I want to go into schools and talk with the kids. One of the most important people to me right now is a little girl named Posey. I tutor her in math. She was an orphan, adopted from China. She is counting on me and I want to be the best role model for her that I can be. 

Ballet Girls & Kate

Ballet Girls & Kate

Later in the day:

A couple hours after I dropped Kate off at her apartment, I noticed a group of ballet dancers, girls from our local high school sitting outside the market on the sidewalk, eating snacks. I saw them as I was putting my grocery bags in the car, thinking I should just go over and ask them some questions that I could include with Kate’s interview. I hesitated, but decided to boldly go up to them and introduce myself, explain the situation and see if they’d be game to talk with me. When I mentioned I had been interviewing Kate, nearly all of the girls knew who I was talking about. Our island is small, and Kate is very visible, as she walks a lot on the main streets. A couple of the girls said every time they saw Kate, they worried and had always wondered about her. Just as I was about to ask my first question, Kate walked out of the door of the market next to us. It was so surprising. Suddenly, I felt a little caught in the act of talking about her, and there she was – I even felt the girls felt uncomfortable or embarrassed. Yet, it was absolutely perfect! I explained to Kate what I was doing and asked her if she would like to introduce herself, herself. Here’s the conversation as it happened next.

Kate: I want you to know, I’m not embarrassed to talk with you. It’s what I want to do; talk with teen girls about what I’ve been through. I’ve lived on Bainbridge since I was ten, and became anorexic at the age of twelve, and just now, at the age of thirty-three I am in recovery. Just three months ago I was in hospice. You’ve probably seen me walking around with a walker?

The Girls: Yeah, my friends and I drove past you the other day! We were just saying how we noticed that you didn’t have it anymore, and how awesome that is.

Yeah, my mom is really worried about you!

Mine, too, and I always wondered who you were and worried about you, too.

Kate: I’m just pulling my life together, now. Being ill for as long as I have been and almost dying was such a waste. I’m now mourning the loss of time. Pouring energy into this basket of being this skinny person has been such a waste. We’re on this earth for more than what we look like. You can’t have children or a family or live in a good community when you are anorexic. 

The Girls: What are your plans for the future? How are you going to make up for the time you lost?

Kate: My future?…Find a man, have a baby, and go through menopause!

Girls: (Laughter)

It would be great for you to come talk with our class.

Kate: That’s exactly what I’d like to do in the Fall.

Linda Lisa Kate

A few days later, Kate, Lisa, Melinda and I, met for lunch. It was the first time in years Kate had eaten during the day, let alone with and in front of others. It was a milestone and we were celebrating. After lunch, we spoke again about the antisocial behaviors Kate exhibited during the sickest recent period of her life, prior to going into Hospice.

KG: I’m going to be very honest with you, I have a lot to face, as I get well. I have done so much damage to myself and others, and made so many bad choices that I don’t even remember all of them, because I was so fucked up. I did most of these things when I was so sick I had to use a walker, and was going insane. I was walking basically all day to avoid thinking… I was stealing to give things to others to have them like me. I was broke, living on $600 a month and I was stealing food that I just puked up, all day long. I house-sat for a woman and I spent all the money on eating and throwing up. The reason I posted on Buy Nothing Bainbridge that I was available to volunteer and to give my time, was my way of repaying and saying I’m sorry to the community that I hurt by my actions in the past. I know I am going to need ongoing help as I go through this process of recovery. After I was arrested and accused of stealing, my family pretty much disowned me. They just couldn’t take it anymore. 21 years of pain. So, to avoid thinking, I kept walking more and more…I would walk for hours, just to fill up my days. Once my family left me I felt I had no friends. I was so ashamed of myself. They put it in the local paper, everybody knew, everybody knew, and I just got sicker and sicker. I got so weak that I couldn’t even leave the house, and that’s when I started setting my alarms so I wouldn’t fall sleep, because I was afraid if I went to sleep I didn’t know if I’d wake up. I wanted things, I want things, nice things, I want nice food, but I’m so embarrassed that I can’t work, because I’m sick…I don’t know what I was thinking back then. I wasn’t thinking. I’ve always gotten what I wanted, you know what I mean? I know that’s embarrassing to say, but everything’s always come so easy to me. I was so good at school, and sports, and blah blah blah…but as I got older, it felt like I wasn’t good at anything. So I was like ‘Well, I know what I can be, I’ll be the skinniest. I’ll be the best at being skinny.’ It was just madness. It was this whole vortex of chaos and darkness. Every behavior fed another behavior. My parents didn’t know how to help me, and I didn’t have insurance that would provide the services I needed to get help. None of the drugs worked. My parents said, ‘You’re behaving so erratically we can’t trust you to be on your own anymore. You have to go into hospice.’ I was there for months. One day, on my birthday, my mother just walked out; she was just done with me. When she walked out of the room and left me, I was faced with myself, alone. My sisters wouldn’t talk with me anymore either. My dad was the only one who stuck with me. But, it was when my mother left that I woke up. It was then I decided I’d had enough.  I knew then that what I had to do. And since then, I’ve been on the path of healing myself, facing myself, facing everything, making myself change, even though I am not comfortable and sometimes, it is so hard, you have no idea. It is the hardest thing I have ever done. 

Linda Wolf & Kate Goldston

LW: Kate, I love you so dearly — you are great. You are a role model, an inspiration, and a heart opener for so many people’s transformation in our community. Your courage and openness has touched hundreds of people, who in turn are opening up publicly and to you and sharing their own eating disorders and understanding, and whatever wisdom they can give you. You are causing people to grow, and accept themselves and others with compassion, transforming judgments into acceptance. You have and are an example of taking ones own life in ones own hands and asking others to simply be with you as you do it. You have allowed people to support you; you have been receptive to everyone’s input –even with those people who are still angry with you, I’ve witnessed you take the high road. It is a true honor to know you and call you a sister and a friend. I, and so many others, deeply love you, Kate. Thank you for being in this world.  

the middle….

the middle….                                                                                                 photo: Linda Wolf

Resources:
ANAD: National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
Jean Kilbourne: Killing Us Softly videos
UN Women: Facts and Figures – Ending Violence against Women
I Am A Full Woman video

Wait! What? I had no idea! Well, how would you? An Interview with Dr. Seth T. Pardo, conducted by Linda Wolf

Seth Pardo color peace

Who am I? Isn’t that the life-long question we all face over and over again and in myriad ways? I do. I know, I’m Linda –whoever that is. Star stuff, for sure! Same as the elements that make up the trees and grasses outside my window. But as for who others think I am, well, I can’t control that, much. I can write up my bio declaring that I’m this and that, and I can somewhat arrange how people perceive me simply by what I decide to post about myself on Facebook! But, I don’t fool myself by my posts — I am still the person who wakes up each day knowing I am still becoming who I am.

But, one thing I am clear about is that I am a woman, in a woman’s body, and I am self-defining and self-identifying what this means to me all the time. I’ve learned over the span of my 64 years that my body does not lie. If I feel it in my body, it’s my truth. This knowing is one of the most important aspects of my being. It informs every decision I make, as long as I’m listening to myself.

It takes courage to listen to oneself, and to be true to oneself, to be honest first and foremost with oneself. My mama quoted Shakespear often when I was growing up. “To Thine Own Self Be True.”  It takes courage to dig deep and figure out who we are and who we want to be. It also takes courage to let go of being someone that we know we’re not — or to let go of continuing to do something that no longer fulfills us. To change takes such courage.

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be” Lao Tzu said that…

Seth T. Pardo is a man of courage. I met Seth at the secret waterfall in Mexico we go to every year with our women’s retreats. He and his partner, a clinical psychologist, and a couple other friends of theirs joined us for the hike through the jungle where at the end of the trail most of us stripped down naked and dove into the water. I’d met Seth the day prior to our jungle adventure, when he came by our Palapa to talk about the trip. I learned then that he lived in San Francisco, and was teaching at a university there. I had no idea then that he did his doctoral studies in the Department of Human Development at Cornell, with concentrations in Cognitive and Developmental Psychology and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, or that he was a Lead Evaluator at the San Francisco Department of Public Health or an Adjunct Instructor at Alliant International University. All I knew was that he was a nice guy with a beautiful partner and seemed really cool.

At the waterfall, the next day, I noticed that he didn’t seem comfortable to take off his all his clothes. I notice those kinds of things because I guess I don’t want to be the only one going naked and I’m just not willing to wear a bathing suit at a place like the secret waterfall! But, when he took off his shirt I was standing next to him and saw he had two scars across his chest. I blurted out, “what happened?” thinking he had an accident or something. He said, “I had an operation.” I can only explain that it was something like cognitive dissonance for me, because I still had not put it together that Seth was a guy, who was a girl in the past. He must have liked me and felt that I was truly being authentic and naive, because at that point, Seth decided to explain things to me. And suddenly, I felt like a complete idiot. BUT, OF COURSE! Oh… I get it. Duh!

But, did I really get it. No! It was the first time I ever saw the scars of an operation that someone chose to have, to remove their breasts. Cancer causes, I understood…but by choice? Inside, even though I still related to Seth as a guy, and what a beautiful guy at that, underneath I kept thinking, but why take such a drastic course — surgically modifying one’s body. Ouch! So, I was thrilled when I got a chance to interview Seth a couple weeks ago. I had a lot of questions I’d never had anyone to ask.

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I highly recommend you repost this interview because it is so important, and also read Seth’s study, Research, Facts and Findings: Growing up Transgender by clicking the above link. Thanks to Seth for agreeing to do this Skype interview for Teen Talking Circles, and thanks to Lilly for transcribing. Lilly came to work today saying she had just finished reading Middlesex, and wished it had not ended. She was thrilled to be able to work on this transcription.

So…Welcome to June everyone.

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Linda Wolf: When we met, I thought you were a guy, Seth.

Seth Pardo: I am.

LW: I mean I thought you were born a guy. I never imagined that you might have been born a female. Does this happen to you a lot, perhaps it’s something you enjoy—that people don’t know?

SP: Yes, it’s definitely something that I enjoy, that I have the option to come out if I want to. However, there are plenty of individuals within and around the trans community who make it a point to always be out. They wear their trans history and their narrative on their skin, out loud, and up front. I do that in certain contexts; I don’t do that in every context. Within the community its called “going stealth.” What it means is, somebody doesn’t have to be outed or out their trans history if they don’t want to– they can roam around in this world and no one will ever know. Their partners might not even know, though that’s rare these days. Some of their friends don’t know. Some of my friends don’t know. It is important to me, though, that people know what it means to be trans and that I am trans, that I have a trans history, and my history informs what I know about gender, and it informs what I know about being a man, and it informs what I know about being in a female body.

I’m picky about who I disclose to because there is a lot of discrimination. People lose their lives because they’re trans. Human beings can do such cruel things to each other based on things like gender.

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LW: It seems to me like you have a very unusual capacity for compassion and understanding of both genders, having lived in two skins, so to speak.

“How unhappy is unhappy enough before we do something about it?”

SP: Yes, I lived twenty-eight years of my life in a female body and I tried for a very long time to explore my identity and my experience in that body. But, I was depressed and unhappy — not to the point where it interfered with my life—I was in graduate school, had completed a master’s degree, and was on my way to getting a doctorate in developmental psychology. I’d graduated top of my class in high school—I was high functioning. But, I thought to myself, how unhappy is unhappy enough before I would do something about it? When I imagined the future, I could not imagine having the rest of my life in the body I then lived in. It was like I was constantly waiting for it to change on its own. But, I’m a developmental psychologist! I know that’s not going to happen. I went through puberty already and that was it. The decision to transition was a very difficult one and also a monumental one.

Before I transitioned, I went through a deep exploration of Self in a female body, really trying to make it work, really challenging myself to see if this was a way I could envision my future and having the answer always come back “No.” I started seeing a therapist when I was fifteen—that was encouraged in my family—and I have been seeing different therapists ever since. Those conversations allowed me to do the kind of exploration, the kind of soul searching, the kind of work that is required, as a human being, to have that empathy and self insight and self-awareness that you’re talking about — empathic and insightful and emotionally intelligent. I’ve had those skills my whole life; being trans is not what made that so. But it is having those qualities and having a trans-lived experienced that makes me able to communicate to others. It matters to me that I was in female body for twenty-eight years, but it also matters to me that I am seen as male in society, today. That is how I feel most comfortable and consistent with myself. I spent so much time trying to inhabit my life in a female body. It wasn’t that long ago. I deeply appreciate how supportive my family was and is, and am grateful for what I was able to learn about communication, interpersonal relating, over the course of my life. I don’t ignore my history in the female body. I wouldn’t be who I am today if I was not who I was then.

LW: So, you must have more compassion for men, and a more complex understanding of the pros and cons of being male, in a still male-dominant world? It’s clearly changing, but not fast enough…

SP: Patriarchy and male dominance really did a number on our society and throughout the world, when a system run by men declared women a piece of property, and as such devalued the authentic contributions of women to our society…fsdrfdsfsd

LW: …Riane Eisler identified it as dominance verses partnership or power-over instead of power-with – the violence towards women and girls, which continues and continues today, and the power differential that harms everyone, nature, even the health of our planet… So, I’m wondering if you feel you have more personal power as a male now, than you would have if you were perceived as a female?

SP: Yes, in our society, in the world, the way it’s set up, absolutely. As someone who is recognized in society as a white male, I have perhaps the pinnacle of privilege. It’s the recognition of that privilege that allows me to wield it smartly, or gently, for things that I believe will do good and not harm. I have experienced acting from a place of privilege myself, but I learned from those experiences and try not to repeat them. I try to increase my humility at every opportunity I get. I’ve experienced my share of violent affronts.

Before my transition was complete, before my voice dropped into a normal male range, before I had facial hair, I could pass as a young teenage boy. But when you get to graduate school, it’s unusual that a seventeen year old is in a master’s degree program, you know? Whenever I opened my mouth, people knew I wasn’t male. I had people yell at me things like, “Dyke” as well as “Fag” or various expressions of derogation that were meant to hurt and discriminate. I learned to ignore it. If I were going to bathroom and people were following me, yelling at me that I was in the wrong bathroom, despite having just called me a dyke, that felt very threatening, and unsafe. It happens every day to people, sometimes all the time, at school, even at home, on the sidewalk, at parties, and if I had that experience all the time, that would be traumatic. But I don’t.

LW: I heard the suicide rate for transgendered people is nine times higher than the rate for non-trans people. Do you see that as well?

SP: Yes, they’re disproportionately higher. If you take a group of individuals that are already upset, depressed, anxious, struggling with something so fundamental as a sense of self, and you throw on top of that stigma and discrimination, and you throw on top of that public health issues like HIV or hepatitis-C, and you throw on top of that socioeconomic issues, like getting kicked out of the house at a young age, not being able to get a job because you’re different, having to work on the streets just to make ends meet, getting wrapped up in drugs or having to sell your body, doing whatever you can to achieve the body that you think is going to solve your problems…you’ve now compounded many of the world’s biggest public health, socioeconomic and mental health issues at once.

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LW: You had breast removal surgery, I’m wondering if you have ever regretted it? Do you know people who regret it later?

SP: Absolutely not, for myself. The only tales of regret I’m familiar with are case studies in academic literature. Amongst my friends I don’t know a single person who regrets embarking on their transition. I will say that one of the growing considerations amongst the trans community, though, are issues of fertility. A lot of doctors don’t talk to them about their fertility options, like freezing eggs or sperm, in case someone fifteen years, twenty years later, is like, “Wait a second, what if I want to have a family with my own kids?” I think fertility consultation is one of the most important conversations that needs to happen for someone who is considering transition.

LW: Did you opt to surgically change your genitals? You don’t need to answer if you don’t want to reveal that.

SP: It’s ok –  No, I have not had any surgery below the belt. That’s a personal choice I made. In my personal opinion, the technology is not where I’d like it to be for me to feel safe volunteering my genitals to that kind of procedure. I’m not judging anyone else’s decision. This is the way I view it for myself. Each of us is very different.

LW: Right, there is no one transgendered person who speaks for all transgendered people.

SP: Right, I’m very grateful to the medical community for inventing those techniques and the doctors and surgeons for improving those techniques, and for the benefits that those medical advances have afforded my trans brothers. But it’s complicated, it’s expensive, it’s painful, and I have a very loving partner and our lives work the way it does. Right now I don’t feel the need to do that to be happy and healthy.

Also, I did not have a hysterectomy. For me, it’s healthier to keep the reproductive system than it is to get rid of it. I still have to go to the doctor’s to get regular pap smears. As long as a transman still has his uterus, and a transwoman has her prostate, we’ve got to get checked. It’s awkward sitting in the OBGYN office as a man and having them call my name.

LW: That must be awkward.

SP: I always get anxious when I’m sitting there with the lab tech and that person is about to do the pap, or the exam. I dread having to go to the doctor. I still get a little uncomfortable when I walk around in my speedo. I still don’t like to get naked in public. If I go to a hot spring or a massage or a sauna I don’t walk around naked, I don’t feel comfortable.

LW: After you transitioned, starting taking hormones, and had breast surgery, did you feel differently sexually? Did what turns you on change?

SP: Sexuality is far more complicated and far more diverse and far more complex than we assume – Same with gender. I published a research study with a colleague where we found that following gender transition, even three to six months into a transition, partner preferences changed. Yet, what our data show is not that the transition causes sexuality changes; some people switch and others don’t. Part of me thinks, and this is a hypothesis I need to test, that when a person is finally able to self-authenticate and live their life fully in their own skin, they stop restricting themselves, and they go through a second developmental exploration process—[pioneering sexologist], Aaron Devor said this. There’s a second puberty, a second hormone surge, a second emotional rush, a heightened sexual appetite. A lot more things become possible, because you’re starting to figure out “Who am I now? And who am I now? And who am I now? And what do I like now?” We are such diverse, sentient beings. It would be a shame for us to limit ourselves to boxes.

LW: We have a teenage family friend who identifies as male. He’s not yet eighteen yet but is clear he wants to transition physically. He wants to go from female to male, and has been identifying as male for about five years. What advice would you suggest for the parents as well as the youth?

SP: Well, given that this person has been identifying as male for that many years, he has made it very clear what his identity is. I don’t know this individual and I’m not a clinical psychologist, so I’m not in position to advise, but I think that this is teen is old enough to know who he is for himself. I think this person is also brave, really brave, for coming out and telling his family about how he feels. The fact that the parents are willing to listen is huge. It’s a scary thing whenever a family member, especially a child, comes out and says, “I am trans. This is what I’m going to do.” It’s a scary process, and there’s a usually a grieving process when that happens. Parents are going to grieve the loss of their daughter. I came out to my parents, that I was trans, when I was fifteen. I told them that I wish I had been born a boy, and that I would rather live my life as male.

An important resource for parents and concerned adults who want more information from a supportive network of families of transyouth is the TransYouth Allies website. I’m part of their research team.

LW: This young man is very lucky. His parents are very supportive and very understanding.

 SP: I suggest having a supportive therapist to talk to. If he wants to transition medically, find a therapist who will help guide him through the administrative process of getting a letter, finding a doctor who will prescribe hormones, making sure he has his labs are checked regularly, and that his body is responding well to the hormones. This is no different from a patient with pre-diabetes going to his or her doctor and talking about changes in diet or medicine. This is someone saying, “I need to do this to be a well-balanced individual.” It’s like identifying a health issue, a medical issue, and it needs to be addressed. You have conversations [with your doctor] to make sure that you’re informed of all of your options for treatment, and for moving on with one’s life, and go with the best option for you. Everybody’s different.

There’s a quote by Hillel — personally,  if I were brave enough to get a tattoo I’d probably tattoo it on my body somewhere — its, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?” I think about this quote often. It reminds me to practice self-love, it reminds me to have love for my neighbor, it reminds me to remain compassionate for others, especially those who are different from me and who make different choices than I do.

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LW: Do you want ever want to have children?

SP: I’m not interested in birthing a child. I could physically still, but I’m not interested. In general, if a trans-man has a uterus, and their genitals have not been surgically modified, that person can come off testosterone, wait six months after starting their menstrual cycle again and yes, get pregnant and carry the baby to term and have a healthy, happy child!

LW: Seth, I really thank you for the work you do and for speaking so openly and honestly with me today. Thank you for who you are, thank you for being in the public realm, for being in school systems, for being so bright, intelligent, aware, educated, deep…I’m so glad you are a spokesperson in the world.

SP: It’s a pleasure, and anything I can do to educate the world about trans people, to show that we’re just like everybody else, is a privilege.

More References:

Measures of Clinical Health among Female-to-Male Transgender Persons as a Function of Sexual Orientation: S. Colton Meier, Seth T Pardo, Christine Labuski & Julia Babcock

Transgender Experience and Identity: Lisa M. Diamond, Seth T. Pardo and Molly R. Butterworth, Handbook of Identity Theory and Research

The Genderbread Person v2.0, It’s Pronounced Metrosexual, a one-man comedy

The Social Justice Advocate’s Handbook: A Guide to Gender, Sam Killermann

EPSON DSC pictureSPEAK OUT!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buy Nothing Project: A paradigm shift to a gift economy – An Interview with founders, Liesl Clark & Rebecca Rockefeller

ttcflowerApril 2014 TTC Newsletter

Hello All, Welcome to Spring!

The veggie garden is reviving, the Robins are singing in the mornings, our family is healthy, and we have a Women’s Retreat in Yelapa starting in 3 weeks, and a Teen Talking Circle Facilitator’s Training coming up July 10th – 13th. Speaking of which, we have a few more spots in that training, so check in here for more info and to get signed up. The Early Bird Special lasts for 2 more days!!! If you’ve been wanting to take the training, now is a perfect time. These super cool people from Marin County can attest!!!

Marin County Training Group

Marin County Training Group

I don’t know about you but I’m thrilled to have Spring sprung! Even our aches and pains around here are minimized by the sunnier days. I can’t complain myself, though, because I just got back from Oaxaca Mexico, where I was taking a 10 day photography workshop with Mary Ellen Mark, and working for the MacArthur Foundation doing photos in the women’s prison (powerful), with midwives (amazing) and believe it or not I even addressed about 400 people at the state Justice Department’s morning meeting! I got to say to the riot police, “Hey, guys, machismo is dead! Listening from the heart is the only way forward…” I hope they heard me! I think they did. As they piled out in their trucks they were waving at me like old friends! Here’s a shot I did of some of the guys.

Oaxaca State Justice Department, photo by Linda Wolf; copyright MacArthur Foundation 2014,  CC-NC-ND

Oaxaca State Justice Department, photo by Linda Wolf; copyright MacArthur Foundation 2014, CC-NC-ND

 

Rebecca Rockefeller, Liesl Clark & Sailor

Rebecca Rockefeller, Liesl Clark & Sailor

This month we have a great interview on tap with Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller, founders of Trash Backwards, and the Buy Nothing Project (BNP). Buy Nothing Project is an “experimental, hyper-local gift economy,” founded last July on Bainbridge Island, WA. The first group formed was called Buy Nothing Bainbridge (BNB). I was one of the first 50 members. Since then it’s spread like wildfire. As of today, April 9th, there are more than 159 community specific Buy Nothing groups in 5 countries, hosting 29,084 members with 215 volunteers administering it. And each day this number is growing. The great thing is, you can easily start a Buy Nothing Project in your own community — all you need is have a Facebook account. Once you’re a member of a BNP FB group, you simply post a warm request for something you’re wanting, or respond politely to someone who has posted what you’d love to take off their hands, or post something you have to gift — a thing or a service or whatever! It’s that simple. Today, I posted that I had a philodendron plant that needs a new home, and got a response from a member saying she’d love it. So, now I PM her my address and she’ll come pick it up. Yesterday, I posted that I needed a clothes dryer for my mom, and someone posted that they had one to gift.

BNP is a paradigm shifter. Its about gifting, not trading or bartering. It’s about practicing the art of creating community relationships and about sharing things, time, energy, kindness, and compassion. Personally, I’ve made many new friendships with people in my own community I never would have met. If I got stranded on the road, all I would have to do is post, “help” and a dozen people would respond immediately.Being part of BNB, I’ve witnessed innumerable acts of generosity by BNB members. Like the teenage boy, housebound from the effects of Lyme Disease, who posted for anyone who wanted to come by and play board games with him – he got a bunch of responses; and the woman whose husband was suddenly hospitalized who posted for help to feed her dog and clean up her house left a mess when they quickly left for the hospital. That story got even more complex when the dog got out and was lost and dozens of people from BNB got involved looking for him in the middle of the night and posting sightings of him, until he eventually came home of his own accord! I’ll never forget the woman with cancer who couldn’t get back into her house due to mold making her sicker. She couldn’t take anything out of it as it was permeated by the smell of mold, not even her furniture. She posted that she basically needed to fill an entire rental house with new things. No problem, BNB members fixed her up!

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Then, there’s the various other experiments, offshoots of BNP, like the group of us who gleaned fruit to keep it from rotting, and turned it into jams and preserves to give away, and the family of 12 where the dad lost his job and the mom had to care for all the kids, plus an aging mother – they decided see if they could go for a year buying nothing; just posting their needs. No problem. And, the two women who decided to wear the same black dress for a year. They received lots of gifts of cool slips, shoes, under garments, coats, scarves, sweaters and other goodies to augment that one dress! One man has been posting for at least 4 months, asking for kilos of banana bread ingredients and I think at last count he’s made at least 300 loaves and given them away, even driving across the island to deliver them! He’s the same man who asked homeless people in Seattle what they needed and posted for stuff for them. Then there are the people who post that they made too much dinner and would anyone like to come by and join them at their table! The stories are simply endless. For me, I’ve received so many things and graces! There was the sweethearted woman who came by and helped me weed my garden for 6 hours, just out of the kindness of her heart, and Janet Billenstein, who answered my post for help to transcribe this interview because I was overwhelmed with other work.

Linda Wolf and Teen Talking Circle participants - NHK filming

Linda Wolf and Teen Talking Circle participants – NHK filming

Last year, the members of BNB came to the rescue for me when I was approached by producers at NHK, Japan’s public television station, asking if I could put together a day-long Teen Talking Circle for a series on cell biology and teen emotions. I needed to form a group of about 16 teens who would be willing to speak honestly and intimately on camera. And I needed them fast! So, I posted a request on Buy Nothing Bainbridge. In hours, I had parents and teens responding, and within two weeks I not only had the group filled, but Liesl Clark offered her home for us to film in, and another BNB member offered home-baked breads and cookies. I also got posts from parents volunteering to help carpool the kids to and from the circle.

Masatoshi Kaneko, Director, Science & Environmental Program Department and youth from Bainbridge Island & Suquamish, WA.

Masatoshi Kaneko, Director, NHK and youth from Buy Nothing Bainbridge

So how does the Buy Nothing Project work? Simple. First off, it uses the free platform provided by Facebook Groups and the rules are simple: “Join your local community group, post anything you’d like to give away, lend, or share amongst neighbors. Ask for anything you’d like to receive for free or borrow. Be courteous. Don’t post anything to trade, barter or sell.” BNP is NOT about discontinuing to purchase goods from local businesses that depend and thrive on all of us continuing to buy stuff. We all still spend our money! It’s not about money, really, or as I said above, about stuff. At least 1/3 of everything offered on BNB is stuff home-made! If you’re interested in starting a group, just contact Liesl or Rebecca through the BNP WEBSITE. The following is my interview:

Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller

Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller

March 2014

Linda Wolf: Hi Liesl & Rebecca, let’s start by you describing what the Buy Nothing Project is about, and what motivated you to start it?

Liesl Clark: The Buy Nothing Project is about setting the scarcity model of our cash economy aside in favor of creatively and collaboratively sharing the abundance of the real wealth around us, and in us. We’re using social media to offer random acts of kindness to neighbors day-in and day-out. There’s no limit to what you can give or receive. It’s the services offered and off-beat requests that are perhaps the most touching, enabling people to give in the most precious personal ways. What motivated Rebecca and I to start this project comes from a lot of different seeds.

Rebecca Rockefeller: Yeah, we both have a deep desire to rethink our interactions with material lifecycles – the materials we all use and live with. We are presenting a different view of ownership and status that isn’t so hinged on personal possessions and defining wealth and ourselves by the things we own, by ourselves. The BNP stems from the work we have been doing for the past few years where we started looking at the plastic waste on our beaches and in our watersheds, and tracking where that waste comes from — which is not from people far away, but us. We are literally drowning in our own waste, and a lot of it is single-use products and silly consumer goods that are designed to be obsolete almost immediately, and that break down or next week will be new and improved. We are taught in our culture that we are defined by our stuff. That is crazy. It’s crazy from a waste perspective, from a social perspective, and none of these things have any lasting meaningful value. What’s really important is who we are, what sort of people we are.

Also, we wanted to change the model of community groups bartering or trading, to one of pure gifting because, the most important aspect of BNP is not the stuff, it’s the people. We wanted to give people a platform where they could to communicate – where they could tell tell stories about the things they were offering, and not just offering more stuff. We wanted to give people a place where they could offer their time, their services, their wisdom, their caring, themselves –A place where people could see that we all have so much wealth in common and we can just share it, communally and collectively. For example, if I need a new couch, I don’t need to get a brand new one from a store, I might see a post from someone in the community and discover someone’s aunt is giving one away – one that she has great stories about it. So, I’m not just getting a couch; I’m getting a couch with stories that suddenly make that couch more than just a couch, but one I can talk about! We’re sharing a new way of looking at stuff that allows us to build a new value system, where it becomes cooler to share stuff with a story, not just get brand new stuff and throw the old stuff in the dump.

HappyChallah.VikiWalaskay                  august-22-2011-1424.janawalker[1]                  Dress.SandraFortierVisnack[1]

Much of where BNP comes from was influenced by Charles Eisenstein’s writings and the idea of sacred economics that gained attention during the Occupy Movement and that whole ground swell of thinking about sustainability. We’re asking the questions, who are we, who do we want to be, how do we want to live on this planet, and what do we think is important? BNP is part of that reappraisal.

Linda: Liesl, how does this connect to your work in Nepal?

Liesl: Well, all of the above matters to me, of course, as well. Plus, for me I’ve spent a lot of time witnessing the social commons in practice in places that are really remote. My husband, children, and I go to Nepal yearly to do archeological work and film making. We visit remote villages 13,000 feet above sea level where there is no “shop” in the village, so people have to share – they have to care about each other. We’re engaged in researching the question, who were the first people to settle in these last places on Earth? Among these last places are these high altitude regions. We’re questioning, were they pushed there or pulled there because of some reason? Probably both, but all we can look at is the archeological evidence, and what we have been able to uncover in these hill cliff caves are human remains that date back 3,000 years. What we’re looking for in the DNA of these remains and evidence of early adaptation is, did this happen over a long amount of time or not? How does this relate to a gift economy? Well, if these people were pushed up into these high altitude areas, if they migrated due to religious reasons for example, what kind of social system did they have and do they have now that keeps them sustainable? The remains we are unearthing show that the population was very healthy – and the people who live in these villages today are very healthy. The question is how are they doing it? How are they able to sustain themselves at the topmost ceiling of what human beings can survive? What we’re observing is that they take care of their each other. They are communal. They have built into their communities systems that work communally. What we asked ourselves is can this type of communal system, or something similar, work where here, back home, where we live? Can we create systems that sustain us in healthy ways? It is a very important question for us at this time.

Linda: You did a beautiful juxtaposition about this in your recent BNP short video, which I would love everyone reading this to see. Click here…

Children in Nepal with books from Buy Nothing Bainbridge founder, Leisl Clark

Children in Nepal with books from Buy Nothing Bainbridge founder, Leisl Clark

Liesl: The BNP works without using cash. It makes you think and be creative in how you are going to achieve your goals, and get your needs met, through your own community (BN group). We are about, as Rebecca said, connecting people. We’re about showing that true wealth is the strength of our connections. We believe that the more tangled the network of connecting gets, the stronger it gets. We’ve seen this in our work in the Himalayas. Interdependence, trusting and having everything be of equal value means everyone profits. Everyone profits from giving where no money is involved. What we have been co-creating is the purest gifting economy I have seen [in this country.] You not only need to give but you need to ask for what you want.

Linda Wolf and Myra Zocher

Linda Wolf and Myra Zocher with her homemade breads and cookies for our filming

Rebecca: We’re not saying, don’t buy anything anywhere – we’re not asking people not to buy from their local stores. We’re saying that in this one group, nothing is for sale. It is focused on giving. Giving in our local communities. Where we live, where we need help in the middle of the night, our home communities. Really lovely things start to happen when we are connected this way. This is about building different kinds of connections. And seeing this is the true wealth.

Linda: What you’re doing is shifting the stigma around shame; the shame of not having or looking good because you don’t have xyz – you’re shifting a lot of stigmas. To put ourselves out there and ask for something shows that we don’t have everything…it’s vulnerable!   You’re shifting this to have it be one of our strengths.

Rebecca: We’re so used to judging each other and ourselves by what we own and what we don’t own. We’re saying, that is not what makes us who we are! We are trying to encourage giving no matter what the gift is and to get out of holding onto stuff. As we said earlier, we’re drowning in our stuff.We are trained to hold onto stuff as if it defines us – what about human kindness and generosity?

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Liesl: Every single person on this planet needs human kindness and generosity and that is what is at the heart of this project. What we have discovered is that people haven’t really been given the opportunity to simply give without expecting something in return or receive without giving something in return. The BNP is simply an alternative experience of giving where there is no unequal power differential.

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Love is all there is!

Linda: What are some of the surprises that have been the offshoots of the BNP?

Liesl: So many. We have lending libraries stored at certain people’s homes with party supplies so if you need 200 wine glasses for a wedding you don’t need to go out and purchase them! We have tool libraries, and people get together at a local pub for “Books and Beer,” and there’s a group of people who call themselves Crochet Madness, and there’s the group that goes mushroom foraging together. We have a bike share program, and lately we have flags at the ferry terminal which indicate to people who need rides to different parts of the Island – the North End, or South End, etc – that someone is going that way. We have round robin helpers who each take a day to get everyone together to clean one person’s house, or make a community dinner, and then switch around. There are people offering their professional services for free, or just companionship. Once we saw a post for someone who was working on a deadline and needed a coffee, and someone responded that they’d be there right away with a latte. People are asking and receiving all kinds of things, and non-things! And what comes out of it is that we are valuing each other, not the things.

Linda: In someway BN is readdressing this idea of loneliness. The fact that you can go to a restaurant and post from your cell phone that you’d love company and then have someone respond that they’d love to join you. That’s pretty wonderful.

Rebecca: I see people who didn’t know each other before Buy Nothing Bainbridge now know each other and are spending time together in the same environments where they were before, but didn’t ever connect. It took this online connection to connect them!  In our society everything is seen as a commodity — there is a price on everything. Money makes it possible to have this surgically clean transaction between people. A gift economy fosters connection. It’s messy. Not always perfect. But, it’s human to human connection. And that matters. It is kind of revolutionary here, but as Liesl is seeing so clearly in her work in the Himalayas it is ancient. In my way of thinking, we are not going back to the old ways, we are bringing the old ways forward.

Linda: How are children involved in the BNP? Your daughter, Cleo and son, Finn, and your children, Rebecca, are all involved, aren’t they? Finn and Cleo, since you’re right here, can I ask  you some questions? How does BNP affect you? I know you’ve gone on various rides to give things away or pick things up and have even posted your own things to share.

Finn: It feels really good to see pictures of other kids who have received my things.

Cleo Athans Clark & Leisl Clark

Cleo Athans Clark & Leisl Clark

Cleo: I go into my room and I see I have too many things, and it feels yucky. I freak out just because I have way too much stuff. There are some things that I don’t want that I give to BNB and stuff I don’t feel is good enough, which I give to Goodwill.

Linda: What do you mean by yucky?

Cleo: I just get this feeling inside like I just want to get rid of all this stuff. I am wondering why I got it in the first place.

Linda: Wow, we adults think that giving stuff to kids will make them happy. I can see by what you say we need to rethink this a lot. Have you met new friends through this Project?

Cleo: Yes. We had a clothing swap here and a girl came that I played with. Her mom was there. We played dress up and make believe.

Linda: Liesl, Rebecca, what are some of the downsides of this Project? The times when you think, I just want to quit, I just can’t stand it any more?

Rebecca: The thing for me is most people are used to participating in models where they are marginalized, where they are being taken advantage of, and sometimes someone questions our motives or says unpleasant things online to us, and it hurts. The other thing that is painful is when people really do think its all about the stuff and get mad at us because they want to join a group they see as having better or more stuff instead of belonging to their own community. They don’t want to join their local group because they think it isn’t as valuable. That makes me feel sad. There have been disgruntled members, which is painful.

Liesl: It’s hard on some of the administrators, but we’ve gotten used to it. It can be frustrating to know that you are offering something which at its core is about joy, compassion, connection, and community and is really building strength of relationship to self and others, and then to have it inevitably misunderstood by some people.

Linda: One of the concerns I heard expressed almost six months ago is that when a group gets so big that dozens of people respond to an offer, it can get embarrassing. Even for me, if I see something I’d love, but I see that someone much more in need is asking for it, I simply can’t put my name out there to be in the running. So, in many ways, it is another example of how compassion is engendered in this community.

Liesl: Also, a common thing is realizing that if you post that you want something and get it and you’ve been posting all week long and received all week long, you still have to drive all over the island and get it! It teaches us that we have to decide how important is that “thing” to me, because even though it’s free, I still have to put out the energy and time to go get it!

Rebecca: Even with all the frustrations, this process of changing our value system is so completely worth it.

Linda: Thanks for doing this interview with me.

Muuuhhhh and hugs to Lilly Schneider for editing and posting, and thanks again to Janet Billenstein for answering my post on BNB and doing the transcribing.

For more about the National Geographic films by Liesl Clark, see this link.
For more about Trash Backwards, see this link.

Peggy Taylor: The True Story of a Shy Girl / Super Woman!

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Peggy Taylor is someone I have been inspired by for over two decades. I first met Peggy when my eldest daughter, Heather, attended the Power of Hope camp. Since then, we have interconnected professionally and informally over the years. I was super jazzed that she was available to be interviewed this past week on Bainbridge Island, where she comes weekly to be with her grandson, Mateo. Peggy lives on Whidbey Island, with her husband, Dr. Rick Ingrasci, a master of ceremonies of the world’s best “better parties” and their two Havanese dogs, Chico and Loki.

Peggy Taylor is remarkable, flat out! She is one of the most down to earth people I know, while also being smack dab at the forefront of some of the most progressive, enlightened, and effective programs, projects, (and books) available to teens and adults today. Her belief that we are all creative, that it is our birthright to express ourselves artistically – no matter how “good” we think we are – is at the heart of everything she does. Her resume is astounding: Co-founder, publisher, and editor of New Age Journal; co-founder of Hollyhock Institute; co-author of Chop Wood, Carry Water: A Guide to Finding Spiritual Fulfillment in Everyday Life (which has sold over 250,000 copies); co-founder with Charlie Murphy of Power of Hope, brilliant summer camps for teens, and PYE: Partners for Youth Empowerment; and in 2010, co-founder with Jamie-Rose Edwards, a former Power of Hope Camper, of YWE: Young Women Empowered, a creative leadership program for teen girls in the greater Seattle area. On top of all this she is the founder and co-director of her community choir, the Open Circle Singers, where everyone is encouraged to sing their hearts out whether they can stay “in tune” or not! She’s also a devoted mother and grandmother, plays a mean game of Scrabble, and is just an all around warm, caring, and great human being! The following is our interview…

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Linda Wolf: Peggy, I love your new handbook, written with Charlie Murphy, Catch the Fire: An Art-Full Guide to Unleashing the Creative Power of Youth, Adults and Communities. I know for myself, that we often do the work that heals us. I’d love to know what your own teen years were like?

Peggy Taylor: My teen years were very, very difficult. My mother died when I was fifteen and my father was an alcoholic, and remarried an alcoholic and then our house burned down. It was just one thing after the other. I lived in a kind of reign of terror. My father never actually hurt me, but the fear was always there. Consequently, I became very shy. I don’t think I was shy because I was naturally shy.

Linda: Were you very close with your mother?

Peggy: No, I wasn’t. I loved my mother, but I felt like I couldn’t really connect with her. She had a breast infection when I was born, and so I was separated from her for my first week of life. I think that got in the way of our bonding. Luckily, I had amazing grandmothers, and several other women who kind of adopted me along the way, and that made a huge difference in my life. But that all stopped when I got into my teenage years, except for my grandmothers.

L: What was your relationship like with other teen girls?

P:  Very shy and insecure. I had friends, but I always felt like I was on the outskirts. I traveled between groups. One year I got elected to student council and couldn’t have been more surprised. But the thing that saved me was a camp I attended, Brown Ledge Camp, when I was about 12 or 13. I went for a couple of years. My mother was a real fan of Parent’s Magazine and there was an ad in it for a summer camp in Burlington, Vermont that was advertised as having ‘no extras.’ We didn’t have a lot of money, so no extras sounded great to her.

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I don’t think she noticed the byline on the ad, which said, “Brown Ledge Camp: The Different Camp for Different Girls.” Brown Ledge was run by a former Broadway actress named Barbara Winslow. Most of the girls at the camp were from very liberal, intellectual families from New York City, which couldn’t have been farther from the lifestyle of my parents. It was like another world. There were only three rules: you had to be in your bunk during rest hour and at night, you had to be at meals, and you weren’t allowed to leave the premises. Other than that, you could just do anything you wanted, anytime you wanted. They had a merit system where you could earn badges. It was all choice-based learning. BLC Waterskiing 50s sm

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Brown Ledge Campers, circa late 1950s / early 1960s

In school, I was the kind of student who could get a B+ just by showing up; I don’t remember doing a speck of homework my whole career. I’d bring my books home and wouldn’t touch them. I thought I lacked self-discipline, I was so down on myself. Then, I got to Brown Ledge, and I couldn’t learn enough. I just completely woke up. I realized there was nothing wrong with me, there was something wrong with my school system. I remember coming home to Gloversville from camp and my mother saying, “Oh, you’re so uppity, if you don’t change you’re never going back to that camp again.” What was happening to me was that I was feeling good about myself! And this is the response I got. But I had a completely new perspective! The value base of Brown Ledge Camp really shifted me.

L: Did you experiment with drugs and alcohol as a teen? It was the roaring 60s, after all!

P. No, I was very shy about all that. I bought a pack of Salem Cigarettes one day and smoked them while looking in the mirror, but never did it again! I was pretty straight and narrow. I didn’t drink, or smoke really. I never did drugs. I played the piano a lot! I used to love American Bandstand, the TV show, and would come home from school everyday and call my girlfriend and we’d watch American Bandstand. I was a senior in high school when the Beatles came out.

L. Did you write, draw, dance?

P. No, I played piano. Classical. I never did dance.

L:  So, after high school, you went to college?

P: Yes, I went to Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, where my mother had gone. I’d already gone to Syracuse University summer school and had a couple of fabulous professors and loved it. But I got to Skidmore and I found the view of the professors very limited. I was really looking for something more holistic and integrative, but I didn’t have the words for it.  I dropped out after two years. I would have been the perfect student at a place like Antioch. I might have stayed in school if I’d gone there, but not Skidmore. After Skidmore, I never had much appreciation for higher learning institutions. I have a bit more now. Actually, when I worked at New Age Journal and someone came for an interview with me, my staff would jokingly say they’d stop them before they got to my office and have them erase any mention of having gone to college. Eventually, I did go back to college, Lesley College, but that was later.

My father had told me I’d never be able to hold down a job, and I believed him. My father thought I was a dilettante. He didn’t understand my interests. I was the odd one in the family. After dropping out of Skidmore, I fled to Boston, where I was introduced to a whole community of people involved with wanting to change the world from the bottom up. In Boston, I was introduced to Macrobiotics, and that community became like family.

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I started the first Macrobiotic restaurant in Boston, which was very successful, then lived for a year in Japan, which is where the Macrobiotic movement started. Then, I moved to London and ran a Macrobiotic restaurant there. By that time, I’d met Eric (Utne), my future husband, and he came over to help me run the restaurant.

After Eric and I got married we moved to Minneapolis and I had my son, Leif, in 1972. I was 25. Minneapolis was very hard for me. I didn’t like living there at all. In Minneapolis, I was too much of a hippie for the straight people, and too straight for the hippies. Plus, I’m a mission driven person…

L: What do you mean mission driven?

P: I just wanted to change the world. I’d always had that drive, but I didn’t have words for it when I was younger. In the Macrobiotic community I found people all charged up about changing the world. I realize now, in retrospect, that there were plenty of issues going on in the Macrobiotic community – spousal abuse and all kinds of things that I just didn’t see. But, to me, it was a wonderful community of people who were trying to make a better world. It was there I learned that I could actually have a strong community of friends, which I didn’t know before. Finally, Eric and I moved from Minneapolis back to Boston where Eric started working for East West Journal. Soon after we started New Age Journal with a bunch of other staffers of East West, but 3 months into it, we realized it wasn’t going to support us all. Finally, it was just Eric, another woman and myself running it.

L: Soon after you and Eric divorced, and later you met your current husband, Dr. Rick Ingrasci, and together you were part of co-founding Hollyhock Institute on Cortes Island, in British Columbia, right? How did that happen?

P: While I was working at New Age Journal, Rex Weyler, who I’d met at the Rocky Mountain Healing Art’s Festival, came out to Boston from Vancouver to help me with the Journal. At that time he worked with The Greenpeace Chronicles. He had found the abandoned Cold Mountain Institute up on Cortes, which was a former learning center known for Gestalt therapy practices. We joined him and a large group of friends to buy it at a discounted rate.

Around that time, I’d gotten completely burned out running the magazine.I had always felt that unless I was doing something that mattered, I didn’t deserve to be walking the Earth so I always worked very hard. We were just starting Hollyhock, and I was up there for a month with Rick and Leif. I remember there was another woman up there who was also burned out, and the two of us hung out in the lodge and played Mozart duets for hours and hours every day. Playing these duets, I started feeling, “Wow, just playing this music, just creating beauty is reason enough to stay alive.” So, I found my way out of the magazine and started learning Dalcroze Eurhythmics, a kinesthetic approach to learning and teaching music at Longy School of Music. I then entered a joint masters program between Longy and Lesley College and got a degree in creative arts and learning. At Lesley College, I came  to the realization that the arts was my way to heal. I found the arts extremely liberating. I thought, “Who needs therapy, just do art, in the right context.”

After I got my degree, I’d wanted to do creativity training for small nonprofits. But I didn’t feel strong enough to do it alone. Coming from my family I had developed quite a damaged sense of self-confidence. So I began looking for a work partner. We were living on Whidbey Island then; I was in my late 40s, and no partner was showing up. I began to wonder if maybe I was done living a passion drive life. “Maybe, I should just go to work at the local drugstore and learn to live a quiet life.” And then, an old friend, Joanna Macy, called one night. She was on Whidbey leading the Deep Ecology Summer School, and she wanted me to come over to meet someone named Charlie Murphy. So, I went over and listened to Charlie as he was giving a presentation on the work he was doing using poetry, music, and recording with kids in New Haven, Connecticut. As I sat and listened I thought, “OMG, here he is — this guy is my partner,” but, I had no idea how to tell him. It was so out of the box. I hadn’t done any youth work; he’d had done lots of it. So, I just left and didn’t even introduce myself to him.

Back home, I told my husband Rick and he said, “Call him up and tell him.” I’m like, “What am I going to tell him.” It didn’t make sense! So, I just  sat on it and waited. This was the summer of 1995. I knew he was going to be my partner, but I had no idea how it would happen. I was still working as the editor of  New Age Journal at that time, and we were about to collaborate with Hollyhock on a big conference in Seattle, The Body and Soul Conference.  We decided we wanted conference weavers for the beginnings of all the talks in the hotel conference rooms, so, I invited Charlie to be a conference weaver and to have his band (Rumors of the Big Wave) play. Also, I asked him if he would be on a panel with me, on creativity and social change. And he said, “Oh sure.” Poor guy, he was so unsuspecting. He had no idea I was absolutely sure we were going to be partners!!! and I’m kind of like weaving the web, but I still had no idea how it would happen! At the end of the conference, Charlie told us he was running a gathering for kids that summer called Power of Hope. And I thought, “BINGO!” I figured he was going to need help, so I volunteered to help out, and by the turn of that year, we were partners, working together.

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Charlie & Peggy

L: That must have been quite a conference. Plus Charlie’s band was so great! So you never told him all that time that you knew he was going to be your partner? You just held it in and just kept showing up to help him? That’s a lot of faith and patience, or full out shyness!

P: Yeah! He was working at the Y at the time, so I started going and working with him. I’d never worked with kids. I’d worked with adults, and I was still completely stage shy at that point. I remember in the early days when we had just gotten Power of Hope (POH) started, around 1997, I’d tell Charlie, “I really want to lead such and such,” but when the time came, I’d say, “No, I can’t do it.” And he’d get so mad at me, he’d say, “But you said you wanted to do it.” I’d tell him, “You have no idea what it’s like inside me.” I was just so shy. But, the work was changing me. It was really through  leading Power of Hope adult trainings , and forcing myself to go to Hip Hop workshops and Free Styling sessions at POH Camp, that my shyness eventually went away. And it hasn’t come back!

When we started Power of Hope, I felt like I was facing a major soul challenge. I felt compelled to  step out of the shell that had grown up around me because of my upbringing and acculturation.  Sometimes I say I started this whole organization for my own personal growth. But, this is why I think the work is so relevant for a lot of the youth and for a lot of adults in our trainings.  I can’t tell you how many people come up to me in disbelief when I say in trainings that I used to be terribly shy and that I’ve been able to step out of it. They want to know how to do that as well. And what I began to notice with Power of Hope was that many of the kids would arrive very shy and significantly decrease their shyness within the week and that shyness wouldn’t come back. They would actually shed it. The next year when they’d come back to camp, it was still gone!

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Power of Hope Counselors & Friends

To me, I see this transformation from shyness as a needed element of social change. If people are afraid, especially women are afraid of being seen and heard, how can we become fully engaged citizens?  Sometimes I call Power of Hope “the anti-shy camp.” Kids come and get positive feedback for taking risks and they step right out of their shells.

L: I’d like to deconstruct that word shy. In my sense of it, shy is kind of a protective layer over low self-esteem, or feeling ashamed, or not good enough or just not enough.

P. Some people can be very outgoing and still have low self-esteem. I think of shyness as more of a kind of skittishness. More fight or flight based. It’s very fear driven, and yes, of course, low-self esteem is all tied into it.

L: The fear of what?

P: Stepping up and being seen — being judged that something’s wrong with you and you’ll be exposed for who you are.

L: And ostracized.

P: Yeah and ridiculed, so why even try. I’ve come to believe that this yearning to become more fully present exists in all of us. I feel like we’re all part of a cultural trance and most of us have a powerful yearning to step fully onto the stage, so to speak, not in the sense of an actor playing a part, but the stage of our own life. When you do that and you receive a welcome response, I think it gets into your cells very quickly. It really is transformational.

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When young people are initiated in a supportive community by taking a creative risk, making themselves heard and receiving acceptance, they’re never the same again. We see this happen in our work all over the world. The need to be seen and recognized and heard goes beyond culture. It’s a basic human need. I don’t think people recognize the powerful transformation that comes with the simple act of expressing oneself creatively and being acknowledged . That’s why I get so fired up about it. It’s not rocket science. It’s very basic and very simple but somehow has not been clearly recognized in education and youth work.

L: I know. We see it all the time in Teen Talking Circles, this powerful transformation in young people and adults when they feel seen and loved for who they are no matter what they’re going through.

P: From the beginning of our POH camps, we’ve had talking circles every night. We have something called “family groups” and use a talking object. That’s always been a part of what we do. Verbal expression. In your work, Linda, all the safety you create in circle for sharing feelings and self-expression is just another way to get there. My fire is really about what happens when you add the creative/expressive element into even a talking circle. As soon as you begin to express through the arts, the right brain gets active. Whether you begin with metaphor, creative writing, drawing, or a theater game, something deeper happens. One of our coded ideas is, “The arts are the doorway to the inner life, the life of the soul.” As soon as you bring creative expression in, a door opens and everybody moves into a deeper place.

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A lot of adult groups  start their programs or meetings with a moment of silence. I say, “Why not mix it up and start with a quick theater game!” Silence is lovely and silence is nice sometimes, but when you play a theater game, you activate the imagination and people come alive. Or you can ask people in the circle to come up with a metaphor that represents their life right now and share that along with their name. When people take a creative risk, big or small, the right brain gets activated,   aliveness starts pumping through the group and the conversation quickly moves from the head to heart and head.

L: So true, which is why we have in our TTC handbook so many POH exercises as ice breakers. They really shift the connection between people, lower the fear level and bring up the energy level quickly.

So, what’s next for you, Peggy, now that you’ve come out with the book? It’s such an achievement and such a gift to all of us working with teens and adults.

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Peggy & Mateo

P: As far as work, I really want  to turn Catch the Fire into an enhanced E-book so there are short videos to demonstrate all of the activities. We’re also developing a four-part in-depth facilitation training—similar  to our Heart of Facilitation training—that we can offer   in other parts of the world. Nadia Chaney and I are going to be doing a four-part training in London this year. But quite frankly, I try to work half time now so I can spend two days a week with my grandson Mateo and follow my own creative interests. I’m fascinated with personal storytelling, and have been taking workshops with a woman named Ann Randolph, who does a one woman show. She’s amazing. She leads a workshop called Writing your Life for the Page and the Stage (www.annrandolph.com). The art of personal story telling is emerging as a performance art, the same way poetry did through poetry slams. Getting my stories on stage is the next step for me.

I no longer have the same desire to work full-out, building organizations to make change anymore. I lost my empire building juice at about 60. You can understand, right!

L: Yes, absolutely. I also feel something even more self-expressive is emerging in me.

P: What do you think it is for you?

L: I’m not sure. I’m taking a sabbatical this year. I was a child actress, so maybe I’ll go back to doing some kind performance work. I’m also interested in theater improv and the idea of story telling is such a magnet. I’ll have to look into the workshop Ann is offering. Photography is always still a great passion. I’d like to do some photography workshops/retreats, incorporating circle, and of course I’ll still keep leading our Teen Talking Circle Facilitator trainings. We have one coming up in June. I love leading the Women’s Circle Retreats in Mexico and this year, my daughter, Heather will be co-leading the circle with me, along with Kellie Elliott, who will be leading 5Rhythms. I’m enjoying taking the time off to just play piano and ping-pong, read, cook, and hang out with the family and friends without so much stress! Letting my left brain have a rest! That said, who knows! I’m playing it much more by ear these days… One thing I’ve really committed to is not engaging myself in what I don’t really want to be doing anymore.

Thank you so much for talking with me, Peggy. I’m so grateful for our friendship and this has been fabulous, getting to know you better.

For more information about the upcoming Teen Talking Circle Facilitator’s Training this summer, click on our logo below. At this training, we’ll gift each participant with a copy of Catch the Fire, Peggy Taylor and Charlie Murphy’s latest book .

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PS Peggy and Charlie have an upcoming workshop on Whidbey Island. Here’s the link. GO!!!

Interview with Chris Jordan: father, husband, son, photographer / cultural activist, musician and all around astoundingly beautiful person

Happy New Year Everyone –

Each month, we bring you with an interview with a muse, someone not unlike ourselves who faces the same existential questions and human experience we do.  This month, we present an interview with photographer and cultural activist, Chris Jordan.

I cherish Chris. In every way, I see  him being willing to be here now, to see the world without blinders, and live from his big heart.  Chris is what I call a willing participant in life as it is  and  as it can become. He doesn’t shy away from looking straight at the tragedies we humans inflict upon nature and living beings, as in his astounding upcoming film, Midway: a Message from the Gyre. Chris has spent years traveling to Midway Island with his wife, poet, Victoria Sloan Jordan, and film crew, to document the tragedy of the albatrosses who are dying en mass from burst stomachs due to eating and feeding their babies pieces of our plastic detritus, which ends up being swept in currents to what is called, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – (7 million tons of plastic spanning an area twice the size of Texas). Chris is not afraid to face these horrors, or that of poached elephants in Africa, mutilated and killed for their tusks. Chris walks his talk when he asks us in his film if we have the courage to face and feel these realities. 

Victoria Sloan Jordan, in her poem, Kaleidoscope, read at the 2010 TEDxGreatPacificGarbagePatch Conference, cuts to the core when she says, “How painful it is to be seento be called out of the darkness, cut from layers of sleep that hold us together, to have our eyes opened forever” The parallels are deeply apparent It is us, you and me, we, who have to face the pain of being called out of the darkness as well as the dead albatross, it is our eyes that are opened forever when we look at Chris’s work.  In the following interview I ask him how he lives with all that he sees and photographs.

Deep thanks to Chris for this great interview… Enjoy

Chris Jordan “I think of all the problems of our environment, whether it is the destruction of our oceans, or the damage to our atmosphere, or the cutting down of our forests or whatever as the symptoms of a greater disconnect that’s happened inside us, on a collective, global level. To me that is where the truest healing can really happen.” Chris Jordan

Chris Jordan (born 1963) is an artist based in the Pacific Northwest who is best known (so far!) for his large-scale works depicting the consequences of mass consumerism, garbage, and our love affair with plastic. His passion for conservation and awareness, and his love of nature have brought much attention to the inevitable consequences of continuing our unconscious habits and behaviors, and instead, as Joanna Macy says, contribute our energies to this time of the Great Turning- a name for the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization.” His work, while often unsettling, is a bold message, and one we need to face.

Linda: Chris, your artwork confronts so many tragedies and ills in the world today. I wonder how you deal with facing so many of the horrors in this time of “dire beauty,” as Caroline Casey says? How do you face it all and take care of the inner soul of Chris Jordan in the process?

Chris: Well, that is the big question. It’s the question I’m trying to live, because I want to face it all. I don’t want to turn away from the smorgasbord of horrors in the world, because that would be to live in denial. Yet, at the same time, I don’t want to dwell only on the horrors because there is so much beauty in our world, as well. There aren’t even words to describe how beautiful and miraculous every moment of our life is. I want to learn how to hold these two extremes as fully as possible, and I don’t know how exactly – but I’ll tell you one thing I’ve made a practice of this over quite a few years now going back and forth to Midway Island, and to places like Kenya, being with elephants who were killed for their tusks. And just recently, I had the experience of losing my mother. I was with her over the last couple months of her life, and was with her for her last weeks, days and minutes. It was the most profound experience of my life by far. I’m only beginning to make sense of the question of how we grieve the loss of our mother. I can’t even fathom that my mother is dead. It’s been two weeks now and I just broke down yesterday as it hit me on another level — that my mother is gone. I’m trying to figure out what that really means for me, it’s like the bottom just dropped out, and yet at the same time, on a global scale, we are losing our mother. I want to learn how to hold this all, and grieve it, and it just seems so huge and overwhelming.

Linda: What a metaphor…I know. It’s so painful. My mother is still alive and I think about having to face losing her one day in the not too distant future and it’s going to be harder than I imagine, I know. I sit with teenagers all the time who are just beginning to face the horrors of the world, and the many losses. I feel for them because they live in a world that has been systematically and a purposefully desensitizing them, especially the boys. I see you as a person in an ongoing process of re-sensitizing yourself all the time. I don’t see you distancing yourself from the pain of being alive, but going towards it. So, what do you do to take care of yourself — what feeds you with whatever it takes to remember that sense of awe and beauty that also exists to help balance out all the horror that you see?

Chris: It’s a weird thing — it doesn’t feel to me like there are “bad” feelings that have to be balanced out with “good” feelings. To me it’s a continuum. On one side are all the feelings we think of as “bad,” like grief, sadness, despair, hopelessness, anxiety — all the feelings that come up when we face the horrors of the world. And on this other side we have all the feelings we think of as good feelings, like joy and love, and happiness. For me it’s like this spring-loaded continuum that can only exist in both directions at the same time.

What I find is the further I allow myself to experience the horror, the despair and grief the more the other side opens itself up to me in equal measure. They’re completely related to each other.  I don’t have the experience that the further I go into the sadness and grief, the sadder and more despairing I’ll become. It’s the opposite experience. The more I grieve for what’s happening in the world, the more I experience being happier than I’ve ever been in my life.  I don’t feel like I have to somehow compensate for all the sadness by doing something that produces happiness. They come in unison. So, whenever I am at a gathering where grieving happens, spontaneously there’s a tremendous amount of laughter and joy and celebration. These hard feelings don’t last forever. It’s counterintuitive to me and I think counterintuitive to our culture as well.  I think we all live with this feeling that if we face the horrors of our world or our lives, we’re just going to be sad forever. A friend of mine said, “I’m afraid if I start crying, I’ll never stop.” It’s like we hold back all those feelings because if we let ourselves feel them, we just might be depressed forever. But, it’s not like that, it’s the other way around – it’s the holding back that is causing our depression and paralysis and anxiety. Once we let ourselves feel, it’s like the hurricane comes through, it comes through and it moves on and then there’s clear sky on the other side.

Linda: Have you ever felt suicidal?

Chris: Yes, many times.

Linda: When those feelings come up for you, what gets you through that moment and keeps you from killing yourself?

Chris: There are a few things. The main one is the love and responsibility I feel for my family. It would just be such a terrible thing to do to them. And the other thing is that I have this intuitive sense that something good is going to happen later and I don’t want to miss out on whenever that is.

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Chris Jordan and his wife, Victoria, at home

My wife, Victoria’s father committed suicide. I can totally relate to what happened for him in that moment, but what he’s missing out on now is just so incredibly sad. He has missed out on so much all these years. He wasn’t there for our wedding, he wasn’t there for so many wonderful things.  We have a nephew recently who committed suicide and I feel the same thing. It is just too final. When I’m feeling really down and I start thinking about suicide, I think about the finality of it – it’s just too final — and so I think, ‘Okay one day at a time, I can still choose to do it tomorrow, let me just get through today and see if I still want to tomorrow,’ and then I wait one more day and if those two days were just absolutely hell, I think, ‘Well I can still do it the next day… just give it one more day.’ But something inevitably happens, and everything shifts. And then I look back and think, ‘Man, am I glad I didn’t do that.’

Linda: OMG, me, too, I love you so dearly, Chris, and you mean so much to so many. But, I do understand those moments of great despair…I’ve felt them and had the same thought. But thankfully, these feelings pass for me, as well. My mama used to say when I was very upset, ‘Linda, let the world turn; everything will be different tomorrow.’  Sadly, just last week, another teen here on Bainbridge Island committed suicide. It’s usually the boys who succeed.

Chris: So tragic. The other tragic thing is that the vast majority of suicides are accompanied by some kind of substance abuse: too much alcohol or too much marijuana or taking too many prescription painkillers. Those things can really mess with our minds and they mess with the parts of our minds that would otherwise be self-reflecting.

Linda: Teens and adults both need to be very careful with what they ingest in terms of substances, plant medicines, etc. There are many times I’ve seen great benefits for someone having taken a plant medicine in the right situation. It’s been an awakening experience.

Chris: Yes, there are a lot of things that can take us into an altered space. But, I would put chemical substances, whether it’s marijuana, or ayahuasca, or MDMA or whatever, into the same container along with things like witnessing elephants who have been poached for their tusks, or being with someone who is dying. Any of these experiences can be transformational experiences. They can be incredibly powerful experiences that can either lead someone into a newly self-realized place or totally crush them. They can do deep healing and/or deep emotional and psychological damage. It is all about how that substance or experience happens and the container in which it happens.

I think a great deal of substance use today happens in an unconscious or unintentional way, like using substances like MDMA at a party. It can be incredibly harmful. Then, of course, there are a lot of other substances such as meth or heroin, and a whole category of drugs that I think are harmful no matter how they’re used. I wouldn’t say I’m against substance use across the board. But the effect of marijuana, for example, when it smoked every day and abused as a way of escaping the world versus used in a Native American medicine ceremony is very very different. Each way is equally powerful. But powerfully destructive or powerfully illuminating.

Linda: Sometimes, as an artist, I think if I took more drugs, I’d be more creative and I would see and know more profoundly what it is I really want to create and I’d do it. You know? I look at all the artists and spiritual leaders who have gone into different states of consciousness and think to myself that maybe I’d learn something more about being human or have a greater understanding of this and other mysterious planes of existence.

Chris: I know, it’s very seductive. All those musicians like Coltrane, sometimes I think, it must be all those hard drugs that made them into geniuses! I think each substance, or plant medicine has different affects on each person. For some people, they increase creativity, and other for people their creativity is decreased.  I know a lot of musicians who don’t touch substances because they’re afraid it will mess their minds up. And others who use them and say they’re not fully there until they have the substance in them. People have their own personal relationship with substances.

I think it is very important to look really deeply into why we do any substance because I know for myself when I use a substance, alcohol or whatever, on an impulse, I have to look at the impulse and ask myself if I’m trying to escape something. Am I medicating a feeling I don’t really want to have? When substances are used for that kind of purpose it inevitably backfires because we still have the feeling we were trying to evade. We want to feel more deeply and yet we don’t want to feel the pain. It’s a paradox. I think it is really important for young people, and for us as leaders of young people, to help them learn how to have these feelings and to process these deep feelings in community.

Linda: Yes, I agree completely. I know many young people are want to get out of their heads, so to speak. We sure did in the 1960s in my generation, but having a community to hold us as we feel that which we are ashamed to let anyone know we feel and to process these feelings is the ultimate high! You do that with Joanna Macy. Her grief workshops must be extraordinarily valuable.

Life in balance

Life in balance

Chris: Yes. Joanna Macy is one of the most respected teachers and practitioners of Buddhism in our hemisphere. Her website is amazing. There is a wealth of information there. She’s also written many books worth reading.  She looks at this very issue of how we bear the horrors of our world. She believes as I do, and much of what I believe I learned from her, that when we face the horrors and when we honor our pain and allow ourselves to really feel it, it is actually a doorway back to ourselves and our connection to the world.  It is not an exercise in pain, not a self-punishment kind of experience at all, it is a doorway, perhaps THE doorway, back to a deeply centered, deeply connected, deeply self-loving, sacred relationship with the miracle of our world and the miracle of our own life.

In her workshops, she takes people through a 4-step process. It starts with gratitude, and then gratitude moves into honoring the pain of the world. When we experience gratitude, we can’t help but face the destruction and feel the pain. Through facing the pain we realize that the only reason we feel sad that our forests are being destroyed or species are going extinct is because we love those things. And that that’s what grief actually is: Grief is not sadness, it is love. It is a bodily, felt experience of love for something we’re losing or have lost. Maybe at no other time do we feel our love as strongly as when we’re grieving. Love may be the most powerful of all our feelings. We protect what we love, we advocate for what we love. So, then, the 4th step in her process is going forward into the world, newly empowered, deeply feeling warriors for the earth. I love Joanna and have immense respect for her and for what she has been doing for so many years.

Linda:  What a human being you are, Chris: authentic, honest, courageous, loving, talented, open…

Chris: Thank you, you’re so kind — right back atcha, baby!  You’re just looking in the mirror, Linda!

Linda: Thanks, Chris – I have my days when I have no idea who the heck I am or what good I’ve done in the world!!! Let’s talk about your Running the Numbers Series, which is one of the most important and easy to understand ways of continuing to help people become aware of what’s happening. You keep coming up with so many more.

Plastic Bag 1

Plastic Bags, 2007, depicts 60,000 plastic bags, the amount used ever 5 seconds in the US, from Chris Jordan’s series, “Running the Numbers.” Go to Chris’s website, click on specific images to zoom from the wall size mosaic to the specific pieces that create it. This project visually and stunningly demonstrates such dismal statistics as the numbers of American incarcerations, plastic consumption and oil use.

Chris: That’s one other thing I’ve been wrestling with lately — how to stay with it. There’s not an on or off switch where one day you become enlightened or whatever thing we aspire to be and then you’re like that forever more. I saw this quote from Thoreau in Walden that I really love. He said, “It’s not enough to merely awaken, we must reawaken and continue awakening.“ It’s a cyclical thing that takes a tremendous amount of discipline and patience with oneself. I mean, one moment I feel in connection with the world and feel my love for the world and I’m doing new artwork and I feel like I’m on it, and the next moment or the next day, I’m drinking too much alcohol or wasting too much time feeling really lost and frightened and thinking about committing suicide. That’s one thing I think young people should really know. It takes work to stay awake and not only to stay awake but to keep reawakening. From Sunday night to Monday morning we can suddenly lose ourselves and be filled with anxiety. Even after 14 years of therapy, I can fall right back to calling myself a loser.

Linda: Oh, thank you for saying this. You are not alone!! I go through the same thing. It’s so human. It’s actually refreshing to know I’m not the only one who puts myself down so… and knowing that you don’t deserve it sure informs me that I don’t either! I recently heard that one way to see the idea of discipline is to become our own disciples. Be our own disciples! Everyday for the past year, the minute I get up and see myself in one of my mirrors, I go close to it and say, “Good morning, beautiful, Linda, I love you.” It helps a lot!

Chris: I have a friend you have to meet, Kurt, he is a deep practitioner of Zen. He goes on 28-day meditations, where folks meditate 16 hours a day, in total darkness. When he comes back, he’s just the same guy as when he left. One day, I asked him if there are any insights that happen for him there, or things he’s learned or something he can share, and he said in a beautiful kind of honesty, “I don’t know, I just do it.” A couple weeks ago, we were sitting around a campfire and he came forth with this insight that was the sum total of all his years of meditation. It was such an incredibly astute insight. He said, “Have you ever been doing something, like doing the dishes or just sitting around, whatever, and you suddenly go, “What is happening? What is this?” And on the deepest level, you’re just thinking, “What is happening?” Victoria puts it in a beautiful way. It’s an idea she’s been working with in her poetry, for quite some time. It’s preverbal. The real question is just WH? She writes it as WH with a question mark. Like WH?  It’s just pure WH!

Linda: Wait, do that again – I’m using Capture to take photos of you as we speak! I want to capture you doing WH? That’s hilarious. It’s so true. Yes! WH? It’s short for what the fuhhhh, right!?

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Linda: Got any favorite poems or music right now?

Chris: I love that Rumi poem, the one that goes “Out beyond notions of wrong doing and right doing, there’s a field, I will meet you there.” I mean, what deeper wisdom can there be than that. And as for music, oh my gosh, I just discovered a new musician, Mike Stern, and I’m completely in love with his playing. Do you know him?

Linda: No, I don’t.

Chris: I just saw him twice at Jazz Alley. He’s a jazz guitarist. His playing is just wicked! I’ve been a Pat Metheny fan for many, many years, and Mike Stern is on that level, but his playing doesn’t have the kind of sweetness that Pat Metheny has. Mike comes from rock, funk, blues, that kind of background. His playing is so incredibly hip and hard driving and cool. I’m all about Mike Stern these days.

Linda: Sweet, I’ll do a Pandora Mike Stern channel. Ok, here’s my last question. What is your favorite question interviewers ask you?

Chris: Pretty much the questions you ask. I always think it’s interesting when people start an interview, or introduce me as an environmental photographer. I don’t think of myself as doing environmental photography. What I’m really interested in is not making artwork and talking about what’s happening out there, but what’s happening in here, inside us. I think of all the problems of our environment, whether it is the destruction of our oceans, or the damage to our atmosphere, or the cutting down of our forests or whatever as not being the actual problems. These are the symptoms of a greater disconnect that’s happened in here, inside us, on a collective, global level. To me that is where the truest healing can really happen. I’m interested in questions like how can we face the pain and bear it, and transform ourselves. We need to heal the disconnect that caused the problems we have in the first place. That’s why I like to call myself a cultural activist, because that’s the place where we can change. We might not be able to do anything really meaningful about saving the elephants. But, one thing we can do, where we are all empowered, one place where we can really be an activist and make a big difference is right in here. This is one place where we can take complete responsibility and transform. What if there was more activism around that subject?

Linda: Oh, yeah. Well, it’s an inside job, right?

Chris: Yeah… Being around my mother in her last weeks and days, I became more interested than I’ve ever been before in energy — interpersonal energy — attuning to it. My mother became incredibly attuned to my energy. It was almost telepathic, near the end of her life, there were very little words but she was so tuned in to my energy. I realized that that’s the place where the most powerful activism can happen, shifting energy — on a cultural level, interpersonally, and individually.

Linda: I know you have to go to another interview, Chris, and I feel we’ve only just started to talk about this. Just one thing more: what are you up to for the future with your work? I know the Midway film is going to come out.

Chris: Well, yes, someday soon. What I really want is to get back behind my camera. I’d like to go back into Washington’s rain forest again. I have a way to photograph really big trees, that, as far as I know, hasn’t been done before. It’s a super cool idea I’d like to experiment with.

Linda: Well, I know whatever you are going to do, is going to be great, Chris.Thank you so much for this special time with you.

After this interview, I went out with Chris to photograph one day. Here’s a few from that experience.

Chris photographing reeds in the pond near his home, December 2013.

“Let the beauty we love
be what we do
there are hundreds of ways
to kneel and kiss the ground” Rumi

Linda's shot

Here’s one I did that afternoon using Chris’s 18mm Fisheye lens… reminded me of how much we need to reach out to each other….

Important Organizations to research and support:
Plastic Pollution Coalition   Plastic Pollution Coalition is a non-profit, global alliance working to stop plastic pollution and its toxic impact on humans, animals and the environment.

5 Gyres  Their mission is to conduct research and communicate about the global impact of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans and employ strategies to eliminate the accumulation of plastic pollution in the 5 subtropical gyres.

Iworry  The iworry campaign was created by The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) and exists to raise global awareness to the devastating impact the illegal ivory trade is having on elephant populations.

 

June Millington – A legend in her own time – November 2013

November newsletter 2014

Dear Friends,

Yes, it’s December — we missed November’s newsletter, so this is a Dec double dose!

This month, we are honored to share with you our interview with  June Millington. For y’all working with teen girls in any capacity, June’s story as an artist, a musician, songwriter, and the organization she founded with her partner, Ann, the Institute for Musical the Arts in Goshen, MA. is something you really want to know about. Their girls Rock and Roll camps are off the charts! I’m sure today there are many teen girls who are just as inspired by June as I was when I was a teen. Check out IMA. They have a fully equip recording studio in their barn! Watch their Ted Talks, videos, and send your girls their way!

Image June Millington in 1969, at Fanny Hill,  and 2010 at IMA

June Millington was twenty-one years old in ’69, the year I met her. I was 19. I had taken a job a few months earlier as a secretary at Warner Brothers Records. Fanny, the band she founded with her sister, Jean and Alice deBuhr, was just to become the first all-girl rock band to be signed to make an LP for a major record label, Reprise, a subsidiary of WB and the girls were coming in for a meeting. I  was asked to welcome them when they arrived. To say I was gob-smacked when they sauntered into the office, in their jeans and t-shirts, no make-up, long hair down their backs, is mild. I was stunned. Here, they were, girls just like me — but girls who played their own music and were going to be rock stars —  not just some guy musician’s old lady, sitting around watching him play… You have to remember, or at least imagine if you are young now —  1969 was not a bonanza year for girl musicians, let alone all girl bands, let alone girls playing rock and roll.

It was just my luck, karma, fate (you name it) that I got to spend a few precious minutes alone with the girls, that day, because it changed the trajectory of my life 180 degrees. We all hit it off immediately, so much so that June invited me to come on over to their house. The band needed a keyboard player and I told them I could play piano. June said, well, let’s try you out.  I went by that very night, and moved in a week later.

The band lived in a Spanish style mansion they christened “Fanny Hill” up at the top of Marmont Lane, up from the Chateau Marmont, an infamous hotel at the time,  overlooking the Sunset Strip. The house was rented for them by Warner Brothers. The “girls” were given just enough cash to scrounge by doing their own laundry at the coin operated joint down on Sunset, and eating frugally, but they had all the time time they needed to write, rehearse 24/7, jam, and come up with the songs for their first album. Richard hung around some, listening in to practices, and lots of other musicians would drop by, like Lowell (George) from Little Feat, to jam. Over the time I lived at Fanny Hill, there were many who dropped by to see this oddity, girls who could really play! Folks like Bernie Taupin, Tret Fure, Zakir Hussain, Dave Mason, Chris Williamson…

56570013Lowell & RichieLowell George and Richie Hayward 1970

I couldn’t play piano well enough, but I had experience as a photographer.  June has always had a love of photography and had put in a make-shift darkroom behind the rehearsal room, so I took it over her dad’s old Leica M3 and become the documentary member of Fanny Hill.

What I learned during those years has influenced the rest of my life as an artist, and as a woman, and the direction I’ve traveled in my life have their roots deeply planted in what followed. At Fanny Hill, I developed a strength and kind of audacity that gave me the confidence as a young woman to stand up for myself and dare to do things that busted out of the traditional way girls behaved or life choices most girls were headed towards. Witnessing the level of focus, intention, discipline and practice that it took to be musicians taught me more than anything, but it was the trust in me and reflection I got from June, Jean and Alice that nurtured me more than anything. We were young, inspired, creative and stepping out on edges and stages in front of people — I learned I could forget what others thought about me or projected onto me as I took my place on the stage to take photos. I felt I belonged, and was part of a group that was being uplifted — Fanny had financial backing and opportunities that most young bands never get and they were happening and I was on the bus with them!

Linda after Tour1Linda Wolf 1970, at Jessi Ed Davis’s house, photo taken by Sandy Konikoff

airplaneJoe Cocker, Jim Gordon, Kay Poorboy descending the Cocker Power plane 1970

The following year, I left Fanny Hill. I’d joined a thrown together tour as one of the two women photographers — one of 38 crazy people –musicians, 3 kids, their nanny, a pregnant dog named Cannina,  plus  a crew of roadies, sound men,and a documentary 5-man film crew, and on the road I went  with Joe Cocker Mad Dogs and Englishmen. After nearly 2 months, I came back to LA  for a spell and lived again at Fanny Hill before leaving for France for five years, to study.  That year Fanny took off …

billboardSunset Strip, across from the Whiskey, 1970

For the next number of years, the girls toured the world, recorded at the Beatles Apple Studios, and had hit records. They hung out with the Beatles, the Stones, tons of fabulous musicians, and jammed with amazing folks along the way.

As for the girls and me, we have always stayed sisters of the heart and my friendship with Jean, June and Alice deBuhr continues to this day.

And now, our interview with June Millington.

ImageJune & Jean Millington

Linda Wolf: How old were you when you first started playing, June?

June Millington: I played piano when I was about five or six. But I was such a tomboy and preferred to play in the trees. M mom just got so mad; she was like “Well all right, fine, don’t play!” We played ukulele pretty early on in the Philippines…But since switching to electric guitar in 1965 that’s been my consuming passion. I just love guitar. It connects me to the world, the universe, and it informs me. It’s my antenna. It’s my antenna and my connection.

L: As a young women in those years, a girl when you started to play out with your sister, plus being Amerasian  how did you experience both sexism and racism and the pressures to conform to what women/girls were supposed to be like?

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J: I think I was born with passion and an awful lot of will. That burning energy has certainly sustained me. Also, I think it’s a lot of luck, too.  But, I have to say that the racism I’ve experienced in my life has trumped everything in terms of what hurt me the most, probably because it came first. Sexism I didn’t even really notice that much when we started to play out as girls. People would go, “Oh wow, you’re really good! Not bad for chicks”—that kind of thing – compliments. So, I think my fire combined with the first racist feedback that we got, that was so hurtful, caused us to go into rock and roll because in rock you can create your own persona, especially at the time because nothing like us had existed before. It became dangerous later on when actually I didn’t need that persona anymore, but it was still there. That’s part of the unpeeling of life. Today, my life, my work with IMA, and writing my autobiography combine to my wanting to be of service. It comes from an integration of the early pain, the ongoing pain, the understanding of pain. In Buddhism, I learned that I am not my thoughts. Playing rock and roll and being part of women’s music and Buddhism has been my way through it all. It’s a very potent intersection, and I’m just lucky that I’m living it.

I’m also lucky is that I stumbled into women’s music, which basically is a melding of music in its purest sense, with spirituality and woman’s energy in it, with a sense of learning, and a sense of politics and empathy and humanity. You have to be a humanitarian to be a feminist. So I began to study that which had happened to women, and it was really shocking.

L: I know you did a YouTube movie that takes the viewer through the years. You honored me to allow me to sing in it! I’m going to stick it here so folks can get a broader picture of your trajectory. Take a minute and check out this video folks. Here’s the URL: http://tinyurl.com/mcoqbun

L. What’s your daily life like now, June?

J: I think basically I’m in service no matter what I’m doing. I am a Buddhist. If I go to a rock conference, I’m just present for what arises. And if I’m teaching at our rock and roll girls’ camps I’m doing the same thing — being present for what arises and staying mindful of my intentions. What else I’ve been doing is writing an autobiography, taping the autobiography. Plus, I’m helping the girls who come through IMA, the younger generation, trying to be a bridge, taking them along with us,  the older generation,  and of course, I have been doing music for the past 50 years.

L: Tell us about IMA.

J: We have Girls Rock and Roll Camps here at the IMA, which is a nonprofit 501(c)3 for women and girls in music. One of our mantras is, “Changing the world one girl at a time.” We don’t try to think too big at any moment. We teach workshops, record in our studio, and teach girls the business of music. We feel out what is actually needed by each girl in the moment, and we react to that, and try to bring whatever that is into reality.

Girls playing music and working together is not a luxury. We have to have music. Every culture floats and soars and rides on music. The past is taught through music. In many, many cultures that’s how they do it—they sing the story of the past. They sing the coming of being story.

June at IMAStudio at IMA 2010

One of the compelling thoughts I pass on to girls who come through IMA is that you do what you can when you can and you have to accept that you can’t do it all at once, and you have to forgive yourself when you fail. When girls walk into camp the first day of class I say, “You’re going to fail. For sure. You cannot learn all this like ordering fries at McDonald’s. You have to be really dedicated. And it’s always a journey. So one minute you’re playing scales, the next minute you’re creating something, thinking oh I didn’t know I could do that! You’re suffering because you’re practicing and then all of a sudden you’re in that creation mode. Discipline is just not quitting. Because it’s hard. It’s really hard.

L. I heard recently, the word discipline comes from the word disciple. When we’re disciplined we are being our own disciple.

J. Yes, and you have to expect you’re going to fail but the whole point is to go for the joy.  So you put the two together, discipline and joy, and it’s always interesting what comes up. It’s chaotic, it’s life, it’s incendiary, organic — and it’s what creation is all about. I tell the girls when they’re at camp they have to learn to trust the process and trust themselves, and to forgive themselves, and to be here, really be present.  I tell them to try not to text or make calls on their phones, or go to Facebook and all that kind of stuff, but to be here now — in the moment. I think kids need to hear that now. I think they need to know they have an option. They can be very busy, their mind flitting around from one thing to the next, but they can also let all that go, and just be in the moment and see what arises. That’s the essence of meditation.

L: I know when we were young, rock and roll was all about the boys. The screaming for Mick Jagger or the Beatles and before them, Elvis, was like 200 years of pent-up libido, I think… That male sex appeal and the audacity of their strutting around the stage, being rock stars was a major turn on! It was definitely something new to see you, a girl, wailing on the guitar like a guy in those days!  What do you tell the girls you work with in camp.

J: Fanny was essentially a funk band. We loved funk and we loved ballads. We loved the girl-group songs of the era—the Supremes, the Marvelettes, the Shirelles. But the frame that we had to mold ourselves into was to play like guys, because that was all society could understand back then-they needed to see girls who could play like guys. If we were going to be successful, we had to step into that frame; so we learned how to do rock and roll. For a long time, and still even now, people just want to identify me as “that chick rock guitar player.” I am a very inquisitive person, and I’m much broader than that. In 1975 I really started to get the Buddhist teachings. I left Hollywood. I prayed for teachers and they came, and the teachings came. And that’s been my journey ever since: Buddhism, women’s music, rock and roll, and now I’m also an educator and a writer.

june at IMAJune at IMA 2010

What I pass along to the girls who come to the camps or anyone who passes within my orbit or periphery is that you have to find that place in you  that’s true to who you are. I don’t think girls should try to ape the way guys do it. Guys do it from wherever their center is and girls should do it from their center. The only thing I can tell girls is to find that place in yourself that is true and authentic and go for that. We’re always learning from other people, other genres, other styles, of course, all the time, but you have to find that place inside you that is true to you. I ask girls to think about the question, why you were born into this world, why have you slipped into this dimension? When one gets an answer to that question, it’s not easy because now you have to take responsibility for your own existence. Learning the chords to “Johnny B. Goode” or pointing your guitar like it’s a phallus is easy, but being oneself – that’s another thing altogether! Times have changed.

L. Thank goodness, is all I can say. Here’s to women and girls finding their source of passion and fire and authenticity and making noise — whether that be in math, music or medicine. It’s time for us to find our true voices and let them resonate our bodies and vibrate into the world. You’ve been doing that a long time!

Thank you, June, for what you give so many of us and for being a role model, to me. I’m thankful my path led me to join yours back in 1969. I’ve so much gratitude to be your sister and friend.

ImageRehearsal Room at Fanny Hill 1969

Folks — Look up the women who are the foremothers of this era of music. Before the Go-Go’s, before The Indigo Girls, before the 390+ and growing list of girl bands on Wikipedia as of today, there was FANNY.