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.

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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?

drowning

drowning

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?

Image

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.

I didn’t know!!!!

Hi friends,

Well, I just discovered that we can’t send embedded videos in wordpress emails! oK – so ditch the last email you received from us, and click here: The first song is worth the time to sit with it all the way through — and then, sit back (BE PATIENT). If you let go, and read each paragraph after you listen to each song, you will have an experience very different than if you try to rush through them! I hope each will bring you back to your own life,  lift you up. Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays, Welcoming Solstice and the turning of the year… 

http://teentalkingcircles.com

ENJOY! 

Love, linda

Singing, Dancing and Merry alternative holiday Ditties

Hello,

It is nearly the end of the year, and we are all having the holiday experience, even if we don’t feel like it!!! It’s here — This is the time of year when I want to take a trip to the moon, but I bet there will be cheesy Christmas music up there already, too! OK, so I’m not into cheesy holiday music — any kind of it. Some of my friends see me as a downer because of this. But, wait. I protest. I just love beautiful holiday music – it’s just that I want to hear new, fresh songs that we can include — like this one… It is beautiful and meaningful… it is about caring for this precious Earth… LISTEN:

Yesterday, I went to lunch with my old boyfriend, Forrest. There was a time when I would have sung this song at the top of my cracking voice, tears dropping in sweet relief for the soul depth that such love brings.  I feel so blessed to love the people I have loved and to have them in my life, still loving them, knowing how much we gave to each other in our brief moments of mutual journeying. Our muses are arrows stinging the heart with sweet song.  LISTEN:

But, the moments, hours, days, weeks, months of pining for a lost love, “the only one I’ll ever have, there will never be another,” end… they really do. The sad thing is when lives are cut short because a young one or someone believes this lie… the soul, some say, is something we grow into — and suddenly, we know, it’s a new day… a new world… a new warmth … and our enthusiasm returns with great gusto. And love springs forth anew. Eric, my dearest – this one is for you… This one you gotta SING:

Everyone who knows me knows that two of my eternal muses are my daughters. There is nothing I have ever done, or could ever do that would amount to a hill of beans next to them. They have brought this very organization and body of love offerings to the world – these workshops, circles, books, gatherings in the name of Daughters Sisters Project (TTC). To them, and to their dad, Tom, my amazingly beautiful, big hearted wusbend, who I honor with all my  heart and soul – I dedicate this holiday lullaby. I sang this to my girls when they were little girls, most likely every night. And of course, we can’t forget the Dylan one either! SING TO YOUR YOUNG ONES:

OK OK OK, ONE Christmas song…just for Lilly and Matt, who are dancing around the office with me, in full feeling as we blast these songs full out…

Have a wonderful holiday season, all friends and family — to you, I leave you with one last ditty: One of my favorite young, enlightened sound vibe makers, Cosmo Sheldrake. This is superb holiday music! My suggestion, forget buying gifts, make compilation CDs for those you love.

Many hugs, linda (and lilly and eric — the singing/dancing office staff!)

LIVE THE LIFE YOU LOVE AND LOVE THE LIFE YOU LIVE!

PS… oh… nearly forgot — soon it will be Spring — and guess what, (we have to shamelessly let you know) we have two $500 off scholarships we can gift for the Yelapa Women’s Retreat (www.womenscircles.net) come dance and sing with us in Mexico – get in touch!)

October Newsletter: End of Year Fundraiser & Free TTC Handbook

“Real human warmth, compassion and connection makes life worth living…”

Awaken

10/8/13
Dear Friends,

For the first time in nearly two decades, we are having a virtual fundraiser this year to keep Teen Talking Circles healthy for the rest of the year. The reason: I’m on 75% Sabbatical this fall and winter, after 19 years as Founder and executive director of Teen Talking Circles. Why 75% and not 100% — because TTC is that important and I simply can not completely let go… I’m too concerned that we won’t be here if I do, and I know how life giving it is, how life saving it is, and I can not let that happen.

For the next six months Lilly Schneider will be helping me take care of TTC. She and Eric will be here in the office each week, making sure everything and everyone gets paid. But, we need your help. We know that we need $10,000 by December 31st. This always comes in for us in November when we hold our fundraising party. But this year, we are reaching out like this.

Please help us reach our goal of $10,000 by December 31st. Do it now, while you are reading this…and then read the rest. Simply, click here and email Lilly to make a pledge, and she will get back in touch with you.

To thank you for your pledge, we’d like to gift you  a free copy of our new, 3rd edition TTC Facilitator’s Handbook. Thanks to our printer, Alpha Graphics, we have 200 to give away! You might know a teacher, parent, counselor, homeless shelter, or other non-profit organization you’d like to gift one to. This makes two gifts!

Thank you for helping us make this end of the year campaign as successful as the year has already been. Thank you for helping us get here and keep going! Thank you for giving young people a way out — out of the pain of feeling separate, unseen, unfelt, confused, and despairing. TTC is love, pure and simple — and we all need it, especially in these teen years. “”The simplicity of circles is just incredible. You only need yourself, and two others, or three others, or however many. It transcends age, and gender. Boy, girl, young, old, it doesn’t matter. You’re all there for each other. And that’s the most important thing.” Claire Widman, Puget Sound Community School.

Love, Linda

ruins tables The Ruins, 2012 Fundraiser
Next year, we will party at the Ruins to celebrate 20 years of TTC
Stay tuned.

PPS — Here’s the skinny about 2013 thus far!

  • Over the past 12 months, our teen circles, programs, handbook, trainings, retreats, fundraisers,Youtube movies, radio interviews, magazine articles, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, TTC Blog, and conference presentations have reached thousands of people. (Included are TEDx Elliott Bay Women, Women Rising Radio, Lilipoh Magazine)
  • 40,000+ people from over 150 countries around the world, as of today, July 31st, 2013 have viewed and shared our Girl’s and Women’s Empowerment film, I Am A Full Woman (https://vimeo.com/35541100) and the comments they share are quite powerful.
  • We’ve provided 32 people from 24 organizations TTC Facilitator Trainings this year. (Included are people from Washington, DC Ethical Society, Tomales Bay Youth Center, Cliffside Malibu Rehabilitation Center, Oaks Christian School, Native American Community Academy, and  Marin Indy High School)
  • We reedited our TTC Handbook, and added new stories and experiences. It is our 4th edition.
  • We were given 200 TTC Handbooks (3rd Edition) to give away, as a donation from our printer. So, get your free copy!!!
  • We produced two fundraisers, which 284 people attended.
  • Our 2 Facebook pages and Twitter feeds have over 800+ people as friends.
  • In an initial search 40+ partnering organizations and important people are presenting TTC on their websites (including, chomsky.info; bainbridgereview.com; seattlechildrens.org; ojaifoundation.org; womenintheworld.org)
  • We have been invited to be consultants to 3 different programs, including my being present at the Generation Waking Up 4 day workshop, as an elder.
  • 13 people are on a list for a worldwide distance training (as soon as we can figure out how!)
  • Countless youth and adults have benefitted from this past year’s ways we have continued to offer TTC into the world. We can’t even keep up with the many ways those who have been touched, trained, or involved with our work is unfurling in the world. We do know that there are currently 2 master theses and 1 PhD thesis that are using TTC as the central focus of their study.
  • September 14th - A Japanese film crew from NHK, the PBS station in Japan hired TTC to run a circle of 13 youth on Bainbridge, which was filmed for a series on cell biology and teen emotions for a National Geographic Special to be shown next year.
  • group shot