Interview with Linda Wolf, Founder and Executive Director of Teen Talking Circles

In early May, three 8th graders from Hyla Middle School, an independent private school on Bainbridge Island, asked to interview Linda Wolf, TTC Founder and Executive Director in support of their final project for their Global Communities class. The culmination of this class project is scheduled to be presented at the Living Futures unconference in Seattle on May 18th.

At Hyla Middle School, 8th grade students have the opportunity to explore issues that impact their lives through the Living Futures Global Education curriculum. This year, students have focused their energies on a wide array of issues including environmental and inclusivity issues of the Puget Sound area, and building community for youth. This particular group focused on inclusivity and community building for youth on Bainbridge Island, WA. Their goal is to bring attention to strategies and solutions that can serve as potential models for other communities. As teens, they understand the need for change and see themselves as active agents in that change.

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Hyla Middle School 8th Graders

In this interview, Linda Wolf touches on poignant topics such as connection, empowerment, activism, substance abuse, grief, self-love and compassion and how TTC builds vibrant and authentic relationships that support and empower us in our personal growth which informs our capacity to affect social change.

On a personal note, as assistant to the Directors of TTC, I was deeply moved by the reactions of the teens listening to Linda speak. Their faces softened, their voices relaxed, and their eyes seemed to fill with relief. They were nodding their heads, saying, “Yes! Yes! This makes sense!”

It was an honor for me to witness this connection and I believe the true strength of our organization is that it allows us to see each other and connect in this deep way, listening from the heart and being heard and witnessed profoundly heals our wounds and this positively impact everything from our personal relationships to deep divisions in the political and social climates. Please let us know your thoughts and take-aways from this interview.

To listen to this interview on Soundcloud, click here.

Thanks for reading,

Jeny Rae Vidal
Assistant to Directors at TTC

 

Olivia: How long have you been on the Island?

LW: Since 1990

Olivia: How long have you been with TTC?

LW: Since 1993

Olivia: So, do you feel like you are pretty tapped in to the community of youth, ages middle age to high school?

LW: I have a lot of experience in the past but I haven’t worked directly in circle with teens on the Island for a few years; I run a middle school aged circle in Seattle, now. But, we look forward to offering multiple local circles on the island, starting this Fall.

Olivia: How would you describe the youth community on Bainbridge?

LW: I would say, in general the youth on Bainbridge are pretty privileged, mostly white, upper to middle class – they have mostly college-educated parents who are either stay-at-home parents or business people. The kids here have a lot of opportunities to be in nature versus growing up in the city. Being on Bainbridge is sort of like living in a gated community. I think there is a lot that young people on Bainbridge are missing out on though – one of the most obvious is a connection with youth from Suquamish. There is a whole diverse culture that is only 5 minutes away that this community has not merged with… and you don’t get that in cities where there tends to be much more diversity. I do see youth on this Island going through the exact same things that youth go through all over the world go through in general as adolescents and teens, though I think many youth on this island are perhaps more conscious about alternative ways of living.

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Dock Jumping on Bainbridge Island, WA

Jacqueline: Do you see patterns in middle school or high school that lead to drug use, alcohol use, failing classes or school?

LW: Yeah, I do. The way I would describe the biggest problem for all of us in this world, including teens, is that we live in a toxic system – an unhealthy paradigm of dominance versus partnership. The larger paradigm is one of power-OVER instead of power-WITH. For example, white men over everyone, men over women, adults over children, people over animals, people over the planet. It’s dominating and controlling power versus cooperative partnering and collaboration. We live in a system that doesn’t honor compassion, cooperation, sharing, communication, true friendship, equality, and respect as primary principles to live by, even if we espouse it as a value. We live in a system of power over. “You are less important than me because I am an adult.  You are less important to me because you’re brown. You’re less important because you’re Jewish. You’re less important because you’re a woman. You’re less important because you’re gay.” It’s all about domineering over people, the planet, animals. How can we be well when we live in a system where the paradigm is dominance?

We need a system of power-with, a paradigm of cooperation and partnership. I think that is the biggest problem we all have. Every single solitary one of us world-wide. The most important thing for me is to create something that holds us all in partnership, in cooperation, and respect – that has been the overriding value of the Teen Talking Circles Project. TTC is not about an adult coming in to a circle and lording over you. We are not going to try to mentor you, fix you, or tell you how to live.

TTCs are about listening and having the answers and wisdom come from you. What is it that you are longing for? What is it that you want out of life? As a facilitator we’re saying I was once a teenager, and even though I am 67 I have the teenager in me just like every adult has the teenager in her. Your parents have a teenager still inside of them. You happen to be teenagers. It’s co-mentoring that is most important to us. What do you know that you can teach me? What do I know that I can teach you? This creates a space where we can be truthful with each other.

Alcohol and drugs are a complex issue. What drugs are we talking about? Are we talking about marijuana? Are we talking about MDMA, acid, heroin, cocaine, meth?

Olivia: We are talking about substance abuse in general… It could be anything, like sugar.

LW: That’s a complex subject. Much of it has to do with wanting to escape our feelings. When we want to escape our feelings, we could do it in a number of destructive ways, as you say, through sugar, overeating, alcohol, cutting, sex –all kind of ways to distract ourselves and numb ourselves to real life and our feelings. The opportunity that life affords us is to feel grief – and joy. When we feel grief, our hearts break open and that is where the compassion comes in, the self-love comes in. If we are trying to avoid feeling pain, we’re going to use all kind of methods to avoid the wound, the pain, the grief, the shame.

What Teen Talking Circles gives us an opportunity to do is to share those feelings and find out that for goodness sakes, we are not alone. We all feel the exact same things. We all bleed red blood. We all have hurt. We all have shame. We all have wounds… so what?! That doesn’t mean that’s who you are; who you are is so much bigger. To see who you are is also a great healing and helps us to not want to divert, numb ourselves, leave the room, avoid people, not be real, or not be authentic. Right?

Olivia, Jacqueline, Keenan: Yeah! Yeah!

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” — Leonard Cohen Expansion: Sculpture by Paige Bradley

LW: See, these are things you already know… Young people have their ear to the world like listening with a stethoscope. Someone just said to me recently, “We radio out what we are feeling, seeing, imaging.” We radio it to each other energetically. That’s why we can feel what’s going on with other people at school. You know when someone’s giving you the eye. They don’t have to say a thing. You know when you feel safe – you know when you don’t. How are you to trust an adult if you feel an adult is not walking their talk? If you feel an adult isn’t facing themselves? How are you going to trust an adult if you know an adult isn’t really going to listen to you? How do you know when you are really being heard? Being heard is one of the greatest gifts you can give each other. Being heard heals us.

For years, I couldn’t say what I thought about “drugs,” like pot. I’ve wanted to just say to adults, ‘Look, there is going to be experimentation in the teen years, face it. Why? Mostly because they just want to know what is it already!’ Young people just don’t want to feel dumb around other young people who have done it and have to say they don’t know what it’s like. Now, there is religion, wisdom, parental advice that young people need to hear, no doubt about that … of course the advice I gave to my daughters was “don’t do it!” but the reality is that there is going to be experimentation. I experimented as a teen and almost everyone I know has experimented as a teen.

But, there is a real difference between experimenting safely and abuse, self-harm, or lack of self-esteem. I would bet that teenagers have been experimenting in every generation since there was ever a group called “teenagers” and adults haven’t liked it because we know that it can cause so much pain and worse. We know the pain that can happen but sometimes we have to let our kids find that pain, otherwise they will never learn – never make their own choices. They need to ask themselves what is a boundary that I don’t want to cross? How do I create a happy life? What is a healthy life? Balance. Balance.

TTC is an extraordinary place for young people to come together and be heard wherever they are at. We stand by the idea that if we as facilitators hear you or feel that you are hurting yourself with drugs or anything or being hurt by anyone, we are first going to encourage you to talk about it – and if we feel it is dangerous to you or others, we’re going to stand with you to get help outside of circle. But young people who are experimenting with something like pot and talking about it and showing up consistently to circle every week… we’re going to think you’re pretty much doing ok, most likely. But we’re going to ask you to dig into what is behind what you’re doing and the choices you’re making. It is all about balance and well-being and our facilitators are trained to be conscious about all this.  As a circle, we all agree to this on day one. This is talking circle – this isn’t psychotherapy, although it is very therapeutic. The thing about TTCs is that one of the basic agreements that we make with youth in circle from the get-go is that we are all coming to circle to become healthier, wiser, and more self-loving and self-accepting as well as caring about each other and others in general. So we assume that is what you want if you are committed to coming to circle each week.

Also, you young ones are the ones who become activated the quickest if you see or hear that one of your circle mates is hurting themselves or being harmed. Often in circle you would be the ones to ask permission from Joe to talk about it with him. We’ve seen this many times in circle. You develop real care for your brother or sister in circle and it becomes another opportunity to become co-mentors to each other, which is really a beautiful thing. This is part of the empowerment and growth young people develop and practice in themselves and with each other in circle.

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TTC on Bainbridge Island

Olivia: What kind of social changes have you seen over your time here on Bainbridge Island?

LW: I think change is cyclic. Things change but then they come back to be dealt with again and again but from a new place. It’s the same in our personal lives. We make changes and then time goes on and we have to learn the lessons all over again, each time growing and evolving.

Over the last 20 years,  circle has stopped being such an odd, unusual thing. It’s more common to have a “Gender Talks” group or guy’s circle, where guys are looking at the cost of sexism to them. I would say that activism is a lot more normal. Sexual identification is more gender fluid. But, it seems to me, from a larger perspective we’re back to a starting point on some of the same issues we had 20 years ago, especially right now with our current president, his administration, many of those who voted for him and a general political climate in the world right now. For us in the US, the rug has been lifted up and the stuff that has been swept underneath it for a long time is coming out again. Many of these issues came up when I was 16 and I was working against nuclear power, war, sexism, homophobia, racism – working for civil rights, for environmental issues, for women’s empowerment. I think this is coming back up to the forefront and young people and adults are going to have to awaken on a whole new level.

Keenan: How did TTC come about?

LW: TTC started because a friend and I wanted to write a book for teens, telling them everything we had learned that could help them navigate the teen years. We brought together 21 teens from Bainbridge and Suquamish ages 13-21 and we met for 10-weeks and created safe space to find out what the issues were for each one of the teens in the room and what they wanted the book to be about. We called our first circle a focus group – to focus on the issues — and a safe space to tell the truth. After 10-weeks, we thought we would write this book on teenagers for teenagers. We didn’t want to write another book for adults that would make adults feel comfortable about teens. We wanted to write one teens would pass to teens. Just so we’re clear — adults aren’t ever, usually, going to feel comfortable about your teen years, especially parents; it’s scary for them. They know what can go wrong. It’s scary and it’s exciting, and sometimes you live out what your parents did or didn’t do or what they wished they could have done and it’s crazy – very complex.

Anyway, after 10-weeks was up the girls in circle said, “Please! Please don’t stop, we have nowhere else to tell the truth like this! We have no place where we can totally be real and tell people what’s going on with us without being judged, labeled, punished, or where we are vulnerable to gossip or it being used against us.” So, we kept the circle going for two years and then we wrote the first book, “Daughters of the Moon, Sisters of the Sun: Young People and Mentors on the Transition to Womanhood.” Afterwards, we kept meeting every week. Actually a lot of kids from Hyla were part of our first circles. We held circle outside of school so none of the kids would get in trouble from the teachers or administrators if they talked about the more edgy stuff. The book ended up selling over 50,000 copies and was so successful people helped us start the nonprofit so that we could train other adults to lead circles in their communities.

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First Teen Talking Circles with Co-Founders Wind Hughes and Linda Wolf

Years later, we wrote a second book called Global Uprising: Confronting the Tyrannies of the 21st Century – Stories of a New Generation of Activists. The idea being that each of our personal issues are connected to global issues. For example, one of my personal issues as a teen was over-eating, which is how I tried to escape my feelings of insecurity and lack of self-esteem, I just ate and ate. I didn’t know how to throw up, I would just stuff myself with food and eventually cry. It was a paradox.

So where does that come from? I felt too fat. Why did I feel too fat? My mother was a fashion model and I compared myself to her. Where else was I getting the message that I was ugly if I was fat? Magazines, TV, movies. Who was selling me those magazines? Men and corporations interested only in exploiting me though promoting cultural norms around what a woman should look like and though ads in those media sources. How did I come to feel so objectified? Sexist messages were coming in from all sides. So, we once I started identifying and connecting my personal issues to global issues and started seeing all of the tentacles that interwove in creating my thinking that I was not good enough, I could start to take some action. I could become an activist. Once we can identify with our power to take action, we no longer have to be muted or overwhelmed by our personal issues.

Global Uprising came about because we were inspired by the WTO protests in Seattle that happened in 1999, where young people came together from around the world protesting these very things – Advertising messages, sweatshop labor, animal cruelty, the prison industrial complex, institutionalized racism, etc. Global Uprising is a book for teens, your age, that will teach you what’s wrong and why are we are behaving this way.

Olivia: So, what you are really saying is that we need empowerment?

LW: Again, a very deep question with many answers, empowerment. What is true empowerment? What I learned recently was that there is a real difference between force and power. True power can be very graceful, something I have to learn myself because I fought so hard in the 60s and still feel like I have to fight hard what’s going on in our country today. One of the greatest ways to have true power is through self-knowing, to cultivate self-respect and respect for others. To see your elders and the authority figures around you as human beings. To understand what it means to change the paradigm from power-over to power-with. There are many ways we can nurture our own agency. Being around people who support and uplift you is also so important, which is what circle offers.

Who are you? See yourself. You’re not this little thing that’s been labeled you. You are this enormous consciousness, you are not limited. You’re everything. What happens with a lot with young people is that someone will say to them, “Who do you think you are?” That’s disempowering beyond belief.

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“Girl in the Tree” Protest on Bainbridge Island. Driven by a deep sadness that her home town was developing unsustainably, teen activist, Chiara Rose protests 800+ trees being cut down for shopping center build. Hundreds of people show up in support of her. Great example of bringing the personal issues to external action.

TTC: Let’s turn the tables for a minute and ask you teens something. What one thing do you wish adults knew about the teen community?

Keenan: I would like them to know that we are mature and if we show that we are mature they need to know that we can handle more. Sometimes, say they are mature and their parents still treat them that they are not

Jaqueline: Here at Hyla, adults trust us that we are going to do the right thing… maybe a few of us need a steer in the right direction every once in a while. I think adults should know that we can make the right decision but nobody can always make the right decision.

Olivia: I want them to know that we are ready. With Internet and everything, there isn’t a time in our lives that we don’t know. There is no use crying about it, it’s done – you can’t stop it. You have to stop protecting us from things we already know because it’s counter-productive and annoying. All of that effort can be used to teaching us knew things. Of course, we are going to make our stupid jokes and goof around but we are mature, we just don’t act like it because aren’t expected to and it’s kind of fun to not be… but we still have it in us.

LW: It sounds like you don’t feel like adults are giving you credit for having a much broader understanding of the world. And that you do have a much broader understanding of the world even though you are still “kids”… and you are still kids in some ways because you aren’t working or having to work for your living – you’re still dependent. It sounds like you want adults to jump levels and treat you as more mature — perhaps they aren’t ready themselves to do that. It’s hard to let go of our children into an adult world that has so many pit-falls.

Olivia, Jacqueline, Keenan:  Yeah! Yeah! Exactly!

Olivia: Thank you for meeting with us. You have been so apt at hitting all of our questions. We would love to have you come in to our class and speak about this more! We would love to have TTC in our class next school year if possible!

LW: Yes of course! We would love to!

Thank you, Olivia, Jacqueline, Keenan, for inviting us to sit down and chat with you. We look forward to more opportunities to talk with you and see what we can learn from each other.

If you are interested in learning how to start at Teen Talking Circle in your community, please contact us at info@teentalkingcircles.com.

Interview has been edited slightly for clarification.

Pathway to Paris: An Interview with Jesse Paris Smith & Rebecca Foon

ttcflowerApril 2015

Hello dear friends,

So far, the TTC year ahead looks like it will be a sweet and potent one. This week nine women are on our way from around the US to Yelapa, Mexico for the 11th annual Women’s Sacred Circle Retreat – “a secret treasure”… And just last month we started a new Seattle Tween Girl’s Circle, which will be led by a collective of outstanding TTC facilitators, including Heather Wolf, Christine Castigliano, and Nora Harrington. We are planning a regional facilitator training in Oregon, and looking ahead to TTC trainings here at home and a super fundraiser in November again. It is hard to believe this is our 21st year!

In January, we were invited to support the annual benefit concert for Tibet House US, in NYC, by donating 38 handbooks to the stellar line-up of presenters, and 500 brochures went to audience members. In March, we were honored with a $1000 award from the Bainbridge Island Women’s Club, which will be augmented by the funds we will receive from One Call for All. If you’ve wanted to donate to TTC, doing it through One Call nearly doubles what we receive. It’s easy. Just click here. All funds go to scholarships.

In this blog post, I’m honored to be able to introduce Jesse Paris Smith and Rebecca Foon, who are clearly doing exactly this. They are on fire, giving themselves fully to the world in myriad creative ways. In the interview below, you’ll learn about their important project, Pathway to Paris — a powerful movement to bring together art, music, and attention to what Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, says is THE most important world issue we face daily — climate change.

Recently, Christen Lien sent me a link to a powerful video on Youtube, which has gone viral — I want to share it with you.

This video is evidence of why TTC exists. We need each other. We need to hear ourselves being heard. We need to know that we are not alone and not the only ones who go through all these things that come with being alive. This is the way to solve conflicts and work together to create ingenious ways to address the many issues we face on the planet. Together, we can shift the paradigm and bring attention to what needs attention in order to evolve in the most conscious ways.

plum trees blossoming in our yard

plum trees blossoming in our yard

The evidence of climate change is clear. Even here, in the Pacific Northwest, in my own backyard, spring sprung in  early February. Our plum trees were in full bloom, while the bees slept on dreaming of the honey nectar they were not going to find this year in our trees. Another example of climate change’s “inconvenient truth?” Everywhere we look we see an intensification of weather and climate extremes. Climate change is making hot days hotter, flooding heavier, hurricanes stronger and droughts more severe. It’s causing dangerous and damaging changes to the landscape of our world, affecting wildlife, and it is increasingly getting worse.

In Paris, this year in December, the United Nations Framework on Climate Change Conference will be focused on achieving a legally binding and universal agreement between all nations to cut carbon emissions due to burning fossil fuels, which is a big part of the cause of greenhouse gases and climate change.

Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben in Beijing             Photo: Linda Wolf

I remember meeting Bill McKibben in Bejing while on a sustainability tour with Global Exchange in 2005. He was briefing a packed room of Chinese journalists about this crisis back then. Today he says, “The future is bleak and there is no room for speculation, wishful thinking, or doubt.” Manuel Maqueda, co-founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, and founder and director of Kumu, says it is more correct to call this the climate catastrophe or climate crisis.

IT IS TIME TO TOTALLY SPEAK OUT

In 2005, with Kevin Danaher, co-founder of Global Exchange, I went on a Sustainability Tour of China. While in Beijing, I visited the Graveyard of Extinction at The Milu Park.  What a chilling experience. There were approximately 145 tombstones in the cemetery, toppled over on each other like dominoes that cover a space of 100 meters. I wonder if the hand has been moved further back towards us, at the end of the line, before rats?

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Graveyard of Extinction, Milu Deer Park, Beijing China                                      Photo: Linda Wolf 2005

It’s crazy serious and yet we can’t allow ourselves to be flattened by a conclusion that we are all doomed. Over a decade ago, I interviewed Maya Angelou and asked her what she would tell young people who were scared that things were so bad there was nothing that would fix them. Here’s what she said,

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Maya Angelou handing the world to girls, Seattle 1998. From Daughters of the Moon, Sisters of the Sun: Young Women and Mentors on the Transition to Womanhood, by K. Wind Hughes and Linda Wolf                                  Photo: Linda Wolf

“It seems terrible. There’s racism and sexism and ageism and all sorts of idiocies. But bad news is not news. We’ve had bad news as a species for a long time. We’ve had slavery and human sacrifice and the holocaust and brutalities of such measure. We can’t imagine what Attila the Hun did or the cruelties of the period when the church, the great Inquisition, sliced people open from their heads to their groin and gutted them. And women were burned at the stake and stoned to death, as were men. We can’t imagine it. Today we say, “Ah, how horrible.” But the truth is, we have had bad news a long time. Yet, amazingly, we have survived. And while on the one hand we have the brutes, the bigots, and the bullies, at the same time we have had men and women who dreamed great dreams. We’ve had Galileo and Aesop, Paul Laurence Dunbar and W.E.B. DuBois. We’ve had Sholem Asch, and Shalom Aleichem – great dreamers. We’ve had women who stood alone, whether it was Harriet Tubman or Mother Jones. We’ve had Margaret Sanger. We’ve had women who have stood in the gap and said, “I’m here to try to save the world.” You have to think who we are. If you made a map five miles long and five miles wide of the universe, Earth would be smaller than a pin-head. I think it may have been Durant who said if you make a model the size of the Empire State Building, and flat on the top of the spire you put a postage stamp, the model would represent how long Earth has been here, the spire would represent how long life has been here, the thickness of the stamp would represent how long human beings have been here, and the thickness of the ink would represent how long we’ve been sentient. So we’re the newest group on this little blob of spit and sand. This is what young women and men should know. They should know that we are carnivorous, yet we have decided somehow not only to not eat our brothers and sisters, who may be delicious, but to accord them some rights and to try to love them and look after them. I don’t want young men and women looking around and saying, “Oh my God, oh mea culpa, it’s so awful.” It’s bad but it’s also good, and it’s up to each one of us to make it better. Every one of us. We deserve our future.”

I feel deeply honored each month to write these posts and share the people who inspire me and help me make it through the hard times and the painful thoughts. I am so grateful to my friends who give me space to grieve and to return to love that much more deeply. Thank you for being part of my world.

Love, linda

photo: Chris Jordan

photography by Chris Jordan, used with permission

“…The interconnected network in an old-growth forest is thousands of millions of times larger and more complex than any human brain. Isn’t it strange how we mow those forests down, calling them “overburden,” so we can get to the coal underneath to burn for electricity so we can chill our beer by a few degrees and watch “the game” on our plastic television screens. We are collectively missing the real game so badly that anyone watching from a distance would have to be laughing hysterically. Or crying their eyes out for the tragedy of it…” Chris Jordan

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Rebecca Foon & Jesse Paris Smith                                                                Photo: Bobby Singh

The following interview took place on Skype, February 12, 2015.

Jesse Paris Smith and Rebecca Foon are world-renown musicians, who are deeply passionate about conservation, climate change, and social justice issues.They are currently focused on the project they founded, Pathway to Paris, which is a series of concerts and events to draw attention to the lead up of the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference taking place in Paris in December, 2015. They are planning two nights of concerts during the talks in Paris, to help build awareness and dialogue around the importance of coming up with a legally binding agreement. The concerts will also serve as fundraisers for 350.org, the leading organization dedicating to building a global movement of climate change.

189140_1599548273092_7972737_nJesse Paris Smith is a composer, pianist, and multi instrumentalist. She performs globally in multiple configurations, and her compositions have been commissioned for art installations, book soundtracks, and live film score performances. She is a graduate of the Sound and Music Institute, trained in integrative practices of music and sound therapy. She is on the Associate Board at Tibet House US, curating a weekly event called Mindful Music and Sound Series and is a regular participant of the Tibet House US Annual Benefit Concert at Carnegie Hall. She also co-curates and hosts Talkingstick, a monthly true storytelling and music event at the Rubin Museum of Art. In September 2014, with cellist, Rebecca Foon, she launched Pathway to Paris, a year long event series and online portal, focused on innovative solutions for climate change.

beckRebecca Foon is a Canadian cellist, vocalist, and composer originally from Vancouver, BC. She currently records under the alias Saltland and is a member and co-founder of the Juno Award-winning modern chamber ensemble Esmerine. She is an environmental and social activist, yoga teacher, produces musical and artistic events, and performs and records with many world-renown musicians, artists, and poets. She is a member of Sustainability Solutions Group, a sustainability cooperative that works with cities and municipalities to create climate change action plans.

Linda Wolf: So, how did the two of you actually meet?

Rebecca Foon: We met in London at Ornette Coleman’s Meltdown Festival. Both of us were playing there and got talking. I was living full time in Montréal and Jesse in New York. It was clear to us both that we had a lot in common and we stayed in touch. We both care deeply about environmental and social justice issues, as well as being musicians ourselves and loving world music. I could tell that Jesse was a very open person with a vision and passion for making positive contributions to this planet. That kind of vision, positivity and inspiration to create on-the-ground change through art and hard work is so important to me. I was very grateful when we began to imagine weaving art and music together for Pathways to Paris.

Linda: What exactly is Pathway to Paris?

Rebecca: Pathway to Paris is about building a movement of thinkers, academics, activists, artists, NGOs, and government people who come together to imagine ways to bring attention to climate change issues, especially now in the wake of the UN Climate Change Conference happening at the end of this year in Paris.

Linda: How are you doing this?

11150249_431001670406982_7657141607190801584_nJesse Paris Smith: We’ve been producing events leading up to our final concerts which will be in Paris during the first weekend of the climate conference in December.  We just had our second event at The Greene Space in NYC on April 8th. The event was live streamed so anyone in the world could watch and the link is still live to watch, and the show will also be aired this month on David Garland’s WNYC/WQXR radio show, Spinning On Air.

http://www.thegreenespace.org/events/thegreenespace/2015/apr/08/spinning-on-earth/

It was such an incredible evening of speakers, poets, musicians, all sharing in this discussion of climate change under the umbrella of this theme of April, which is Earth month and Poetry month. We had May Boeve, the Executive Director of 350, and it was such a wonderful evening of positive energy, with education, activism, and celebration.

Rebecca: The objective of the conference is to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement between all the nations of the world. The overarching goal of the talks is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. There are a lot of people and organizations also working to bring attention to the conference. We are working in partnership with 350.org as well as other sustainability organizations and groups.

Linda: The whole issue of climate change or climate crisis is hard to get our minds around. It’s so huge. I read on your site, Pathways to Paris, about the lead up and what’s at stake. I also read on the 350.org site that a big part of the crisis is that right now we’re at 400 ppm (parts per million) of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, and we add 2 ppm of CO2 to the atmosphere every year. According to 350.org, unless we are able to rapidly turn that around and get back to below 350 ppm this century, we risk triggering irreversible impacts (tipping points) that could send climate change spinning truly out of control.

Recently, in my interview with Noam Chomsky, I asked him whether objectively he had any hope for us. He said, “No.” I said, “Really? Wow, that’s terrifying.” He said, “You asked the question objectively do I think there’s hope. Objectively, probably not. But it doesn’t follow that we have to give up hope, we don’t know.”

Rebecca: It’s something I think about a lot. It’s something I think about when I imagine having children. I have to ask myself, do I want to bring a child into this world? What’s going to happen to the next generation and the generation after that? What will this world look like in 100 years? I don’t think anyone knows the answer to these questions. Science speaks volumes and says a lot but nobody really knows what’s going to happen and what the impacts of climate change are really going to be, so, yes, it is terrifying for sure. But I think what keeps me inspired is that I really believe in humanity, and I believe in this planet, and I believe in beauty, and there’s so much beauty in this world in every moment, and when you can tap into that — really living moment to moment, being awake in that moment as fully as you can, life is truly spectacular. The more love you can bring to your relationships and the way you interact with your environment is what’s important. I think for me living each moment fully gives me the courage to take in the next moment. I can’t really think too far beyond each moment in terms of the impacts of climate change.

Right now, red alert lights are flashing emergency with regards to the future of our lives and all life on this planet. There’s an enormous amount of urgency to take action now.  It is incumbent upon the united nations of the world to come up with a binding agreement that will impact behavior changes, by-laws, policies and best practices. For sure, I’m terrified of the future when I think about the long-term possibilities if we don’t act fast, and yet we can’t live in that fear. For me to stay inspired and keep allowing myself to enjoy this life as much as possible with the people that I love means I can’t allow myself to live in paralyzing fear.

groupshotwindLinda: Working with young people in teen talking circles, I’ve seen countless times how when we share the ways we feel, especially what hurts, we are reminded that we are not alone. We can also map how the issues we face are inextricably tied to global issues and vice-verse. Then, the feelings of despair go away and our life force returns so that we become empowered to make a difference by taking action on what matters to us. The more we allow ourselves to grieve the more capacity we have to love and the more energy we have to give.

Jesse: The first time I learned about climate change, I was in high school. I was in 10th or 11th grade and I was in a history class where we had to do a current event assignment. It was very late, the night before school, and I hadn’t done my homework, so I went to the deli to buy a newspaper. I was looking through the paper for something to do my homework assignment on and I found an article and read the words ‘global warming’, ‘fossil fuels’, and ‘greenhouse gasses.’  I didn’t know what any of these phrases meant but being a lover of nature and earth science, I was intrigued by the words ‘greenhouse’ and ‘fossil.’ But the tone of the article wasn’t a lighthearted article about gardening, or an archeological dig. I had AOL instant messenger up on my computer, and since it was very late, there was only one classmate online who I barely knew, and I wrote to him, asking what these phrases meant. He explained everything to me about global warming, as it was  commonly called back then. I became very panicked also very upset that I hadn’t been taught about this in school. For hours I wrote back and forth with this classmate, as I delved deeper into the subject, reading more about it online, and quickly looking for books and articles to brush up with. I really couldn’t believe we hadn’t learned about all this in school, and was upset about that, as if they had been hiding the topic from us.

So, I wrote my paper and the next morning turned it into class. After that, climate change was it for me. At that time, I wanted to abandon music and any artistic endeavors, because suddenly they felt to me to be so self centered when the planet was in so much trouble. So, I ended up writing hundreds of letters and signing petitions, and for the last year of high school I volunteered and worked with environmental organizations based in NYC and also with Ralph Nader.

But like any other vocation, there is a dark side to activism. Working with activists and politicians I saw so many people completely rundown, feeling defeated by these overwhelming topics so much bigger than themselves, that I actually did my final project in 12th grade on activist burnout. I realized I didn’t want to feel that way. I wanted to find some sort of balance between the passions of music and the arts, and environmental activism.

Linda: You’re one of the busiest people I know, Jesse. How do you deal with that kind of stuff now?

CandlesJesse: The most important thing is self care. Before you can successfully tackle climate change or any environmental or social injustice issue, you have to take care of yourself first. You need to make sure you’re okay first. If everyone just took better care of themselves, the world would be a better place. Find different things that work for you, and make them habits. Eating healthy, drinking healthy drinks. Things you do every day that keep you feeling your best. Whether its a sport, or meditation, talking walks, yoga, playing an instrument, listening to a certain kind of music, reading a book of inspiring quotes, any rituals or routines you can have that help you to feel good.  And last resort things too for when you feel stressed or overwhelmed. A teacher of mine taught us to have a ‘safety kit’ for moments when we feel overwhelmed. Like a box you have in your room where you keep different things that make you feel calm and happy, like some music you love, or a tea you like to drink, a book that makes you smile, photos, anything. The second thing after self care, is talking to and connecting regularly with other people, and connecting with others when you feel overwhelmed. It is so important to have people around you that are your tribe, that relate to you, are of like mind, share in your passions, inspire you, and help you to feel encouraged and hopeful. And people who you believe in, and want to help in the same way. People of all walks of life and ages.

For example, I live next door to a family of creative and socially conscious artists, including Anne Waldman, a poet, activist, and amazing role model and inspiration. She always seems to be full of so much hope and optimism, always looking towards the future. It’s so important to be surrounded by that kind of energy. She is so supportive of Pathway to Paris, and so encouraging to younger generations.

Rebecca: One way I take care of myself is through yoga and meditation. Personally, I’ve felt somewhat sad and depressed, and I knew I needed to talk to somebody about how I was feeling. I knew it would have to be someone who inspires me. I found out Julia Butterfly Hill does life coaching and contacted her. She’s the woman who lived in a tree for two years to draw attention to the destruction of the Redwoods through cutting down the forest.

bookcoverLinda: Yes, Julie wrote one of the stories in my second book, Global Uprising: Confronting the Tyrannies of the 21st Century – Stories from a New Generation of Activists.

Rebecca: One thing I got out of all our wonderful conversations is her philosophy around problem solving, which is what I’m all about — creative problem solving, innovation and doing things that haven’t been done before — rethinking approaches to messy problems. Now, I see problems as awesome opportunities and get excited instead of seeing them as huge weights that take all the life force out of me. Instead, I can dig into the problem and try to figure it out and brainstorm it with others, which is so important. I’m a big believer that one person doesn’t have all the answers. It’s about collective brainstorming to come up with the best solutions. That takes the weight off you as an individual.

Jesse: It’s difficult to imagine being 14 right now and being able to go on the smart phone or computer and see all the overwhelming information and news this is constantly being put up. That’s another thing I think is super important for young people – not to be on the internet so much. Not to live in this world of screens where its hard to know whats reality and what is false information. Get out in nature, go on a little hike, go to the woods, go to the beach, go outside and be with your friends. It’s so important even as an adult, to alternate between being in the city, being on the computer, and on the phone and getting away from all that stuff to be in nature, be creative. It’s so important to make sure you’re paying attention to balancing it out.

Linda: Speaking of inspiration, how have your families inspired you? What qualities have your parents instilled in you?

Rebecca:  I’ve grown up in a political arts family. My dad and my mom started Green Thumb Theater, a theater company known for political children’s theater in Canada and the US. After leaving Green Thumb, my mother ran a number of arts festivals and over the last 20 years has been the director of Inner-City Angels, which is an innovative arts education organization that brings artists and musicians into inner city schools to work with mostly immigrant kids.

innercityangels-photo-1My mom’s passion and devotion to these kids and commitment to bringing the critical issues of our time into the public education system through art has been very inspiring to me. And as a person, my mom is an incredibly generous, compassionate person and cares deeply about her family and the people around her. I try to emulate all those values that she has, of compassion, love, and generosity.

Linda: And how has your father inspired you?

Rebecca: My father is quite brilliant as a writer, has a very creative

Becky & Dad

Becky & Dad (Dennis Foon)

mind and his writing alone has definitely been the source of inspiration for me. He is completely supportive of me and loves and adores his family. I think of him as my best friend. He, too, weaves critical issues into his art to make change and that has been very inspiring for me.

Linda: Jesse?

trio

Jesse, mom (Patti Smith), and brother (Jackson Smith)

Jesse: One thing that is inspiring about my mom is that she’s 100% true to herself. If she wants to do something, she just does it. She lives her path and her purpose 100%, so everything she puts her energy into and devotes herself to is coming from a genuine place. I think she just is herself and can’t imagine being any other way. She knows who she is and she follows her own path. She doesn’t act out of a place of fear, or because anyone else convinced her of what to do. She’s not driven by money, success, or fame, and I think she has probably always been that way. It is inspiring to see her follow through with everything she wants to do, with anything she thinks is worth seeing through.

Linda: I have so much respect for your mother, Jesse, and her work. I knew her when I was young. We met in NYC when I was on the Joe Cocker Tour. And you have a very talented brother, Jackson. All three of you play music together. What fortune! What a family! What about your father, Jesse, I know he died when you were young?

Jesse: He died when I was seven. He was a musician; a guitarist and songwriter. Throughout my life I have had times of getting upset when I wished I could play music with him, or wondered what he would think about me, and if he would approve of my life choices. Most of what I know about him is pieced together from listening to his music, talking with my mom and brother, hearing stories from others over the years, and doing my own research. The other day, a friend was reading a book about the Black Panther party and I told him that my dad was involved with the White Panther Party in the 1960’s in Detroit. I pulled up some videos of him on the computer. Watching the videos, I was reminded how eloquently he spoke, and how politically active he was when he was very young.  As a teenager, his band was deeply involved with political issues. They were very radical. I was watching an interview, and he was speaking so clearly and passionately about the political problems of the 60s. His band was using music as a way to communicate with the people. They were doing what they loved, and using their talents as a vehicle to spread awareness and to increase the power of their voices. That’s very inspiring, and similar to what we are trying to accomplish with Pathway to Paris.

Linda: Listening to you two, I’m just in awe of your gifts and your beauty. I just want to have you two come here and live in my little cabin and work in my veggie garden with me; introduce you to everyone I love, and play music together!

Jesse & Rebecca

Jesse & Rebecca

So, what words of advice would you give a young person?

Rebecca: Dive in and learn about the issues. Challenge yourself to find ways of exploring the issues, whether it be talking about them at school or building movements inside or outside school with your friends or community to raise awareness and foster dialogues and imagine solutions.  Create concerts or café sessions, getting speakers to talk or starting petitions, writing letters or measuring your ecological footprint and challenging your friends to measure theirs. There are tons of really great ecological footprint calendars online, so just getting a sense of your own impact on the planet and creating fun ways of trying to reduce it, and inspiring others to reduce theirs. Thinking about the modes of transportation that you use and ways to move towards the end of fossil fuels because that’s basically what we’re trying to do  — to move to the end of using fossil fuels by mid-century. Find out what that means and brainstorm creative ways to get there.

Jesse:  I would say to take the time the find your passions, and then seek out and create opportunities to explore them. For me, two of my passions are music and environmental activism specifically focused on climate change. These are things I discovered as a teenager. When I was a teenager and I got interested in this stuff, I found both the internet and actually meeting up with people in real life to be equally important. My favorite environmental organizations had websites with petitions and letters, articles and book suggestions, and sections that listed meet ups or group activities and easy ways to get involved. It can be overwhelming, because there is so much out there, and seemingly endless possibilities. My advice is to identify what matters to you and do what you love, because if you’re doing that, you’ll be able to do a great job. I also want to say how important it is to find and identify mentors and older more experienced people in the field you are passionate about who you can learn from.

Rebecca Foon & Jesse Paris Smith

Rebecca Foon & Jesse Paris Smith        Photo: Bobby Singh

Rebecca: I’m so happy to have been able to do this with you guys and to share the story and so grateful to be a part of this with Jesse. I feel like it’s just such a beautiful time for Jesse and me to link different parts of our passion — our music and our love for the world and our passion for climate change solutions and to bring all this together. That’s the most inspiring thing — being able to reach out to people that inspire us and see their reactions as we share Pathway to Paris with them. Being tapped into a common mission and vision with others is such a powerful transformational tool. If anything gives me hope, it’s that. And so my advice for young people is to band together and tap into a collective power, because there is so much opportunity for action when you’re part of a powerful energy committed to creating positive change.

Linda: Thank you so much for this interview, both of you.

“It’s not that we need to save the Earth, we need to save the systems that make the Earth compatible with human existence and the existence of other life forms” Naomi Klein, Author

“What if there were just one being looking out through all the eyes in the world, what would that being be seeing? There is a challenge to try to wrap your mind around.” Chris Jordan, Artist

Each day, we still turn at warp speed around the sun and the seasons follow one by one. We have no idea what our best thinking can achieve, what possibilities we can imagine and manifest, when each of us is willing to face and frame the crisis we’re in as an opportunity. The fact that we love is miracle enough to keep on a path with heart. Choose one and all the rest intersect. There are many organizations with helpful websites. Here are a few more links to follow:
350.org

The Nature Conservancy
The Union of Concerned Scientists

Pathway to Paris – Click here to learn much more and get involved!

Pathway to Paris on Facebook – LIKE!!! LOVE!!!

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