Free hotel room for TTC Facilitator Training

A quick jot to say that the TTC Facilitator Training has a couple scholarships and a free hotel room for 2 people coming from out of town. June 16 – 19th, Bainbridge Island.

Register and contact our office, info @ teen talking circles dot com and let us know you want the room. It’s a double, so you would be sharing it with another participant of the training.

We only do 1 training per year… If you’ve wanted to do the training, start a circle, have better relationships with teens, learn Compassionate Listening, be a mentor and be mentored in return; this is the time! And you can’t beat this offer!

Go here to register:  www.ttcsummer2016.eventbrite.comlinda and heather--3

International Women’s day Shout out!

i am woman

Look into our eyes: I AM A FULL WOMAN





Are you for or against us?

Are you in or are you out?

Feminists come inside all genders…


  • In Guatemala, two women are murdered, on average, each day.
  • In India, 8,093 cases of dowry-related death were reported in 2007; an unknown number of murders of women and young girls were falsely labeled ‘suicides’ or ‘accidents’.
  • In Australia, Canada, Israel, South Africa and the United States, between 40 and 70 percent of female murder victims were killed by their intimate partners.
  • In the State of Chihuahua, Mexico, 66 percent of murders of women were committed by husbands, boyfriends or other family members.

Violence and Young Women

  • Worldwide, up to 50 percent of sexual assaults are committed against girls under 16.
  • An estimated 150 million girls under the age of 18 suffered some form of sexual violence in 2002 alone.
  • The first sexual experience of some 30 percent of women was forced. The percentage is even higher among those who were under 15 at the time of their sexual initiation, with up to 45 percent reporting that the experience was forced.

Harmful Practices

  • Approximately 130 million girls and women in the world have experienced female genital mutilation/cutting, with more than 3 million girls in Africa annually at risk of the practice.
  • Over 60 million girls worldwide are child brides, married before the age of 18, primarily in South Asia (31.3 million) and sub-Saharan Africa (14.1 million). Violence and abuse characterize married life for many of these girls. Women who marry early are more likely to be beaten or threatened, and more likely to believe that a husband might sometimes be justified in beating his wife.


  • Women and girls are 80 percent of the estimated 800,000 people trafficked across national borders annually, with the majority (79 percent) trafficked for sexual exploitation. Within countries, many more women and girls are trafficked, often for purposes of sexual exploitation or domestic servitude.
  • One study in Europe found that 60 percent of trafficked women had experienced physical and/or sexual violence before being trafficked, pointing to gender-based violence as a push factor in the trafficking of women.

Sexual Harassment

  • Between 40 and 50 percent of women in European Union countries experience unwanted sexual advances, physical contact or other forms of sexual harassment at work.
  • Across Asia, studies in Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines and South Korea show that 30 to 40 percent of women suffer workplace sexual harassment.
  • In Nairobi, 20 percent of women have been sexually harassed at work or school.
  • In the United States, 83 percent of girls aged 12 to 16 experienced some form of sexual harassment in public schools.

Rape in the context of Conflict

  • Conservative estimates suggest that 20,000 to 50,000 women were raped during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, while approximately 250,000 to 500,000 women and girls were targeted in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
  • Between 50,000 and 64,000 women in camps for internally displaced people in Sierra Leone were sexually assaulted by combatants between 1991 and 2001.
  • In eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, at least 200,000 cases of sexual violence, mostly involving women and girls, have been documented since 1996: the actual numbers are believed to be far higher.

(The Facts: Violence Against Women & Millennium Development Goals (compiled by UNIFEM, 2010). Available in English, French and Spanish)

What are we living for? TTC Interview with Chiara Rose D’Angelo


Hey friends,

It’s about time for a new blog post interview. This one, long in coming, is with Chiara Rose D’Angelo, a youth activist I admire greatly. But before we get into it, you should know that we’ve scheduled our yearly Teen Talking Circle Facilitator’s Training. Check out the dates. Would love you to be there. The more circles we have going, the more youth will unlock their voices… And we need them unlocked!!! Youth activism comes from the discovery that we need not be diminished by our fears or issues, we are not alone, and we can empower each other to take action for what we care about. Upcoming TTC Training

I’ve always considered myself an activist. And an optimist. When faced with the shocking statistics, horrors, and dire consequences of our collective greed, lack of spiritual connection, global unconsciousness and self-centered aims I’m stricken, but my basic instinct is to be positive, imagine solutions, create something, and believe that we’re smart enough to figure this thing out. It’s people like Boyan Slat and Chiara Rose, two youth activists, who keep my spirits up.

Both Boyan and Chiara are great examples of what Joanna Macy, calls “The Great Turning.” The Great Turning is the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization. Joanna says the Great Turning is happening right now in three dimensions: Holding Actions, Analysis, and a Shift in Consciousness. Check out The Great Turning

If you look back at previous TTC interviews, you’ll read about photographer/filmmaker, Chris Jordan’s documentation of the albatrosses on Midway Island, dying en mass due to plastic consumption. Yes, the mothers feed the babies plastic. Boyan is a Dutch student who has come up with a brilliant concept as to how to clean up those garbage patches of plastic in the ocean and it seems it is working…


About Chiara Rose D’Angelo

Last summer, on May 22, 2015,  Chiara Rose D’Angelo attached herself to the chain of the anchor of the Arctic Challenger as it moored north of Seattle. The ship was among those that Royal Dutch Shell intended to use as they drilled for oil in the in the remote and dangerous Chukchi Sea, the Arctic Ocean, off northwestern Alaska. Chiara stayed up on the chain for 66 hours contributing to a wide-scale protest heard around the world, $hell No, a massive activist effort to call attention to the insanity of drilling for oil in the Arctic Reserve and produce actions to stop any vessels from getting up to Alaska. Thousands of kyactivists took to their kayaks to block Shell’s rigs from moving up the waterways. The idea was that if the vessels were detained Shell would lose the critical time (weather) window they needed to have the rigs in place before winter.

Chiara Rose, a 20-year-old student at Western Washington University, set out from Bellingham, Washington, in the dark of night. She paddled through choppy waves until she reached the anchor, and then jumped onto the chain. She fitted a hook through the links, dangled a harness down, and pulled herself up. “I thought to myself, ‘Oh my god, I actually did it!’” Rose said. “I’m actually on the chain!”

The guts it takes to do something like this is inspired and inspiring. It is a flagrant, empowered action that screams in the face of the powers that be, “NO, not in our names” – and a powerful, positive force that can only be spurred on by life affirming values.

In an interview with Yes Magazine Chiara described the physical effects of being strapped in a harness for three days and nights as, “Unbearable.” She said there were moments that helped push her through, like seeing her friends boating up with supplies for her or a school of fish underneath her feet. “I was on Lummi historic fishing grounds,” referring to a local Native American tribe. “Being on a toxic site that used to be such a thriving site, knowing that it would happen to the Arctic, helped me push through.”

Linda's shot

This was not the first mind-blowing act of heroism I’d seen Chiara do. A year earlier, in the pre-dawn hours of August 18th, 2014, she climbed 70 feet up to a platform, clandestinely built by friends of hers, and began a tree sit in protest to a controversial shopping development that would eliminate 800 trees in a forested area on her native Bainbridge Island. The aim of her tree sit was to create more time for the community to move into action and voice their opposition to the project. As more and more island residents learned of her action, a vigil formed at the base of the tree where one by one community members voiced reasoned arguments or simply anger and sadness at the idea of another shopping center on an island where there were already too many local vacant storefronts and no need for another pharmacy, let alone the proposed Walmarts.

Chiara eventually was convinced that she had accomplished her goal and descended two days later. The minute she came down armed officers hired by the developer, Visconti, cordoned off the site and began to bring in the bulldozers. In the months that followed, the shopping center was constructed and is finished now. One afternoon, just as the construction was coming to an end I noticed a captive deer running back and forth confused as to how to get out of the fence blocking off the construction site. Clearly, this animal’s habitat had been the forest that was no longer there.

My first interview with Chiara was directly after she came down from the tree sit in 2014. Let’s start there.

August 20, 2014:

L: Chiara, why did you climb that tree?

C: I wanted to create a platform for our community voices to be heard. I wanted to reawaken people’s sense that their own truth was more important than the truth that’s given to them to follow. I did the tree sit so that people could recognize that we are not the circumstances we are given, we are the vision we create.

L: You mean we are disempowered by the truth fed to us but empowered by having strong voices and speaking our own truth. I agree with that. How did it feel to be up in that tree and seeing everyone congregating below it? I was there in the morning but by afternoon it was a pretty big crowd. People taking the microphone and with each person speaking out it gave courage to others to come forward and express themselves.


C: All sorts of emotions came forward for me. It’s pretty incredible to be with those kind of trees that are slightly degraded in the sense that they have lots of invasive species at their trunks, but they’re still there, still vibrant, and have so much energy. And it was really great to see so many people on the ground coming and speaking and using the opportunity I created to let their voices be heard.

L: How does it feel to see those trees being cut down right now in front of you, just 3 days after you were sitting in one?

C: When I came back here and I first saw the trees being cut I started balling. It was really painful, and now it’s just another day. I think part of the reason I didn’t want to come back is because I’ve gotten numb to it. When things happen over and over again, it’s no longer painful. When you go to war, and you kill someone it’s probably traumatizing the first few times, but it begins to get more and more normalized. That’s what cutting trees is; it’s normalized for us. It’s really exhausting to think that’s the human condition — that’s what we’re up against — thinking all the things around us are so normal, when they’re not. This isn’t normal. This is pushing our lived environment to its max.


L: What prompted you to become a youth activist in the way that you are? What was the turning point?

C: At a young age I heard a story about a tribal nation in the Midwest that chains themselves to trees and that if their prayers are virtu

ous then they are released, and if they are not they are held forever. I realized that most of my prayers are virtuous; I just don’t ever actualize them. And at that point in time I was like, ‘alright, I’m going to go to school and be an oceanographer because my dream is to save the Puget Sound.’ I got two years into that plan and I realized I haven’t done anything, nothing; I’ve only contributed to harming something that I love so deeply. Eventually, it just clicked, and I started taking action. I really, really encourage people to think about what is that wish that you have, that one wish you could wish for that is not about yourself, but is about something you can see and feel and empathize with. What is that? Find it, and do something about it. Activate. That’s really where we need to go. That’s the path.

L: Do you ever feel hopeless?

C: Rarely. I’m not a big person on hope. Hope is too often something people proclaim and then not do anything about. But rarely do I feel hopeless. I have a lot of love. I used to feel hopeless, before I did things. But as a full-time activist it’s hard to feel hopeless these days. There are so many wins these days. A coal terminal in Boardman, Oregon just got shut down. Oregon is now coal terminal free. We have two left here in the Lummi Nation. Up in Bellingham, where I’m going to school right now, the Lummi say they are opposed to it, they are a sovereign nation, this has happened too many times, they’ve had their watershed destroyed too many times, and it is not happening. The chairman of the Lummi Nation just declared that. I am blessed to see so many wins. There is so much happening all the time. I am honored to be a part of these movements, because that is where the hope is. If people feel hopeless, it’s time to do something. Doing something is not a hopeless feeling – it’s the most hopeful feeling you’ll ever have.

L: What do you want young people to know?

C: What I want young people to know is the right now you have the most energy and power you’ll ever have, as far as being able to wake people up. You’ll never be able to touch peoples’ hearts as deeply as when you’re young. The wrong people might make fun of you, but the right people will have to open up and have to open their eyes. And if you start talking about your future and what you want in your future, there is something there that people can’t ignore anymore. It’s time that we all started speaking our truths, because we won’t be silenced anymore.


The next interview with Chiara took place a few months after her $hell No action. And it should be noted that Shell Oil pulled out of drilling in the Arctic – news we were all beyond relieved to hear! The official reason for pulling out was that Shell did not find enough oil once they put their drills down to assess to make the project viable.


L : You went through such an intense experience on that anchor? What was it like?

Chiara : Physically unbearable. It’s crazy because I’m telling it now as a story, but I still have the body memory of the unbearable fatigue and I can feel the stress points still where the harness was hitting me. The inability to move a muscle up there felt like I simply stuck in my body. But, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally, I was clear, full, and felt this infinite energy. So much was happening in the moment; everyone wanting to talk to me – the Coast Guard, reporters, family… What was amazing was how clear my words were and how in even all of that pain and stress and intensity, I was able to speak so clearly.

The first two nights another protester came up and sleep underneath me. He was in a much more uncomfortable situation than I was in. His presence was so helpful in calming me. I had someone to talk to. But I didn’t sleep. There was no sense of night; the Coast Guard had their lights shining on us all night long and the chain felt so cold and sterile. Spiritually, I could feel everybody’s support, as if they were right there saying, “Go Chiara!” So, I didn’t feel so alone. Then, there was these floods of moments where people boated out to me, to drop off gear, food and water.

During the day I could see my friend’s sailboat on the horizon with a banner saying, “75% chance of spill, WTF?!”, and that was just like this beaming light of truth which I could hold onto. Every time I spoke with my mom and she told me that everyone was supporting me, I felt so blessed.

Right: Debra D’Angelo (Chiara’s mom)

L : So, Miss Chiara, what’s life like now?

Chiara : Interesting…. It’s a mix between my desire to find community and normalize and keep working to protect waterways. I started my activism at sixteen; I was eighteen at the tree sit. When I was in high school, I thought I could either wait to start being active; go through college and then get a job doing something good, or just start now. I decided to start in high school. The more I did, the more I realized that the youth voice has this different kind of power — this potent truth. When you’re really young and you know what you believe in, people listen.

L : So, now what?

Chiara : I’m going be down to Evergreen College to study about women’s indigenous work and the untold stories of indigenous women fighting for justice. I’m going to be immersed in a very serious and rigorous classroom program, which is what I’m looking for, with people that take it seriously. Then I’m heading back to Fairhaven College. I feel set and on path. I’m going to spend the summer advocating for the Salish Sea Marine Sanctuary, which would designate the Salish Sea as a protected zone. This would create an agreement between Washington, British Columbia, and the 200 plus coastal Salish tribes to bring animal populations back up to 50% of historic levels and restore the ecosystem so that it actually functions.


L : As an activist you have to learn facts and face so many tragic realities. What do you do with your grief?

Chiara : I feel it.

L : Do you ever get just despondent – feel things are just futile?

Chiara : I get angry, but I’m getting pretty skillful at making action happen out of grief and going through the process. Joanna Macy has this really beautiful thing she calls The Spiral. ( It is about four successive stages or movements that feed into each other — opening to gratitude, owning our pain for the world, seeing with new eyes, and just going forth. I have my own spiral, my own process. It hits me in a big wave. I feel the pain for the earth and I hold it and I know it, I don’t run away from it. I feel the grief in my body and then go and connect to what is beautiful about the earth and allow it to inspire me. Once I feel inspired, visions of what I can do come and once I have a vision I jump into it. I like to joke, when I go for swims in the Salish sea, I know it’s toxic, but I swim in it knowing it’s toxic. I feel the grief about that but my process brings me back to action.

Chiara: I have a question for you, Linda. How do you hold space so sacred? When I’m with you I just feel the good vibrations. How do you hold that?

L : I don’t know. I don’t try to do anything more than be authentic and be as kind as possible. I do my best to listen to my intuition and follow her lead! I am still learning to set boundaries and strike a balance for myself in every way. I’m very sensitive to vibrations around me. I play life by ear and think musically.

Chiara : How do you go about setting those boundaries?

L : I just energetically do my best to honor myself and my space. I’m an only child and most likely that helps and hinders me at the same time. When I was young, I didn’t listen enough to myself and learned from very uncomfortable feelings that I did not enjoy going along with things if I didn’t jibe with them…I also experienced early the rewards of being an activist and standing up for what matters to me. It helped that I was part of a strong 1960s movement as an activist. Strength in numbers so to speak. So, I’ve developed a strong response mechanism that reminds me to follow my feelings. If I don’t feel it, I excuse myself, or I speak my mind and usually that ends the conversation. Boundaries can be achieved gracefully – they also can be created with an energetic that causes broken relationships – so one has to choose the consequences one can imagine.

Chiara : How do you hold that? I come from a long line of women that were mistreated, so there’s this sense that just historically that’s the energy that I come from.

L : If you mean that you have patterns stemming from your family constellation, I know what you mean. That’s also a big part of my work to be more empowered. I felt “less-than” (others) when I was a teenager. Less pretty, less popular, less important, less liked… it stemmed from being different, feeling different, not being able to go along with the statis quo. I was very angry with the world of adults. They were in the dark ages and I was bursting at the seams. It was the beginning of a groundswell of change. When I discovered other people who felt like I did it was such a relief. Knowing I was not alone gave me the fuel to come out more and more – and of course, it was happening for a lot of people back then… it was the beginning of the realization of a generation gap, which was more like a generation paradigm shift. We were leaving the 1950s behind. LSD blew the lid off. Music also blew the lid off. Protest blew the lid off. With LSD people used to say it was like forcing the pedals of the flower to open rather than with meditation allow them to open organically and naturally. LSD and meditation were coupled for a good while, and yoga became popular in the West. It was almost like transform or die! I think my generation is the ageless generation in so many ways. I think what happened in the 1960s in terms of my solidifying my values and what I fight for, believe in, stand up for is the same now as then.

Today, the way I continue my personal transformation process is much gentler and slower and more basic. To encourage myself not to revert back to unkind ways of treating myself, I have a morning ritual. It’s very simple: I go to the sink in the bathroom, turn on the hot water and put a washcloth in the sink. Then I look up at myself and talk to myself as if I was just meeting a friend who had spent the night. I smile at myself and say with authentic loving feelings, “Good morning, Linda. I love you.“ If my monkey mind starts saying, “My God, you’re looking so old and wrinkled?” I push the thought away and smile at myself and say something like, “Linda, you are so beautiful. You are so talented. You’re doing great. Keep going, I’m with you all the way.” I want to speak to myself in the morning the same way I would speak to a child I was greeting first thing in the morning. I wouldn’t do it thinking judgmental thoughts, thus sending out downer vibes! I’d do it with love and positive regard. So, I give that to myself. It helps me start the day off knowing it is about uplifting my soul and spirit and hopefully, I remember to keep that attitude throughout the day. It is the only way I can contribute my best to the world and the only way I can trust I’ll treat others with the same love and respect. Doesn’t always work. I can fall into self-denigrating thoughts that stem from my family constellation, or get frustrated, tired, at the end of my rope and lose it –but essentially, I really do love life and people –and as long as I don’t allow myself to buy into any of the very misguided messages that we older women are over the hill, I’m fine. In fact, we older women are changing the world! And younger women, and feminists and activists and educators and spiritual guides… we are simply NOT alone!!!


Thank you Chiara, for your generosity and your deep love of life. Thank you for putting yourself on the line and for your strength and conviction. I love having you in my life!

February 15, 2016. Addendum:

Chiara is currently in school and will graduate this Spring with a degree in Ethno-Ecological Justice and is working on preparing for her hearing for her $20,000 dollars in fines she received from the US Coast Guard.



Freedom ; Love ; Belonging ; Trusting ; Knowing …

We have a great discounted TTC Facilitator’s Training coming up this Fall! Check the link.



Choose Life! I leaned recently the this symbol ; means a lot more than I ever thought. It means continuity; it means there is more to be said; more to learn and know and do – it means ongoing! Isn’t that what we all want from all our relationships — an ongoing quality that realizes the meaning and power of process? A period means full stop. No fun in that!, Especially when you’ve loved someone.

So, how do we love ourselves enough to keep going; keep loving; keep staying present in the process of living life; in the process of relationships?

How do we connect with our greatest self which exists in infinite space, connected to the infinite spirit of life blossoming  anew every millisecond?

And how do we connect with that great self in another?  Because surely, then the flow of our mutual lives remains unbroken.

Teen Talking Circles is not about one single circle on Bainbridge Island. It is about a philosophy and way of being that reaches across the planet and unites us in compassion and love, in acceptance, belonging, agency, and courage.

Teen Talking Circles are not just for teenagers. But to begin doing them at 12 years old makes an enormous difference in one’s life. To do them with kids on the street, in schools, in neighborhoods, everywhere is a great gift to give young people.

Homeless youth in Seattle

Homeless youth in Seattle

Teen Talking Circles are not panaceas – they don’t clear up all issues and problems we face, but they give us a strong opportunity to become responsible for our lives —  to tell the truth, to figure out our lives in healthy and conscious ways, and that surely frees us to find our ways in this world of so much pain and delight.

So, we have an offer for you  — we have been given a special gift of scholarship money in order to gift our next TTC Facilitator Training at cost. We have 9 spaces out of 11 to fill. Would you love to join us and experience TTC?

We’d love to have you come be with us for this positive experience.

Check out the registration page for more information. Love, linda

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, 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.


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?


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,


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


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, 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.

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 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 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, 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?


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:

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!!!

The Owl, The Dawn Chorus, Music for Bathing: It’s Cosmo Sheldrake, of course


Good February morning to you each and all. Crispy Hot Buttered Sour Dough Toast and Earl Grey Tea with 1/2 and 1/2 made me joyfully ready to begin this day, the first of February. Normally, I only eat seeds and nuts and dried fruit in the morning with my tea, but today I gave myself the delight of toast.This is going to be a powerful year, I feel it. My world of photography has taken a leap with a new commitment, a new friend (I’ve graduated to an Epson 7890), and a new photography website, and studio/office coming in this week.

Heather Wolf, Kellie Shannon Elliott and I are gearing up for The Yelapa Women’s Retreat in April; a TTC Facilitator Training is scheduled for July, and Teen Circles are in the planning; March & April blog interviews are scheduled with Jill Purce, Jesse Paris Smith & Rebecca Foon. Exciting!!! And way off in December, something important is brewing. Outside, the veggie garden is already sprouting garlic, planted in the rain last Fall. The world is a crazy painful beautiful place in need of all our love, positive vibrations, and good deeds. Spirit is calling us to breath deeply, slowly, stand with good posture and walk tall. We are called to be here now and live until our last story is writ. Blessings like red petals thrown from on high — dare to laugh, cry, hug, be — and live life fully. This month, we have the pleasure of introducing you to a most beautiful young man:


Before you read our new blog post here, click on the image above; then, come on back. Trying to describe Cosmo Sheldrake requires a lot of adjectives, and that will save me some, because it will be super apparent to you from the get-go who Cosmo is, and what talent he has!

cosmo header

Cosmo Sheldrake is a 25 year-old multi-instrumentalist, musician, composer, producer, performer, teacher, singer, improviser – a kind of a Puck-like spirit crossed with a romantic English gentleman crossed with a beat-box, hip hop artist crossed with a poet! Cosmo is simply someone you have to experience and thankfully you can do just that online and at his concerts and workshops, and sometimes even on Bainbridge Island at our very own family’s Iggy’s Brew House where he and his brother, Merlin, are part of the early story. (I fondly remember Heather & Sean (my daughter & son-in-law) and the Sheldrake boys brewing up some of their first experimental brews in our backyard.)

Based in London and Brighton, Cosmo also sings and performs with Merlin in their band the Gentle Mystics, OH YEAH! More of this please! In this crazy beautiful dangerous world, we need more gentle mystics.

But back to Cosmo. From the first moment I met him, I wished he were my rich uncle and I could go live with him in his castle in the British countryside. I was taken by his joyful spirit, his obvious talent and sonic gifts of music and song, which are infused with poetry, art, nature, history, and culture. His sounds are old and new all at once. He just made life more fun.

Cosmo is on his way up and out into the world, and I am so glad to be able to introduce him to the Teen Talking Circle world. Follow the golden crumbs and enjoy learning about, watching and listening to Cosmo Sheldrake.

All this said, we must remember every one of us starts at 0 with a drive or a passion, calling or vision and Cosmo is the first to say, if you have a vision, follow it –you must! — and hopefully you will be unfettered. I’ll quote William Blake here since Cosmo did him the honor of making a song from his poem, The Fly.

 “Poetry fettered, fetters the human race. Nations are destroyed or flourish in proportion as their poetry,
painting, and music are destroyed or flourish.”
William Blake

Cosmo is a reminder to us all to trust ourselves, and just plunge in and stick with it.


Linda Wolf: Cosmo, hello! So, tell me, what’s up?

Cosmo: As of today, I’ve just started to record a new album. I don’t have any idea quite yet where it’s going. I’m just starting to write it. It’s open-ended, actually.

Linda: How great. Where do you get your inspiration?

Cosmo: All sorts of places. I go on sound-foraging missions. I do a lot of field recording so a lot of the sounds or impetuses will become origins of tunes.

Sometimes, I’ll hear a tune on the radio and a tiny fragment will just stick in my head. Today, I was listening to Leonard Cohen on the train, and there was a tiny turn of phrase in The Partisan that stuck with me – a style of guitar plucking that ended up influencing the tune I’m making today. One time I was lying in India and there was a power cut and when it came back on there was this fan that started making this incredible noise and I recorded it, and made a tune out of the rhythm.

Linda: What a beautiful song.

Linda: Do personal relationships enter into your writing?

Cosmo: Yes, I’ve written a lot of songs for my girlfriend, Flora, and I write a lot of songs for family so yes, I love to write music specifically for certain people — and for specific times of day for those people. For Flora, for example, I’ve been making a series that starts with a lullaby — a piece of music that was made out of Owl songs for the night time, and then one of the dawn chorus for waking up, and one with whale songs called Music for Bathtubs.

Linda: Wow, a series of pieces that includes music for her baths. That is so beautiful. I love it. How old were you when you started making music?

Cosmo: I was four when I started taking lessons on the piano.

Cosmo Sheldrake, photo given to me by his mother for inclusion here

Before that, my parents packed me off to various classes that try to get young people clapping and playing glockenspiel and such. My brother, Merlin, had already started lessons and I was a bit jealous. My father made us practice, which I’m actually grateful for. Often young musicians quit if nobody is holding them accountable. It requires either a lot of personal will power or a structure to help them keep practicing. I was made to practice for 20 minutes a day and rewarded with dried fruit at the end. But when I was about thirteen I decided I wanted to stop lessons. It was a bit of a struggle because my dad was invested as he used to sit with us while we practiced. To him it was quite heart breaking that I wanted to quit. I both regret and don’t regret stopping lessons. I learned a lot from them. I never stopped playing. I carried on improvising.

Linda: Were other members of your family also playing?

Cosmo: My father always played piano and my mom was teaching workshops around the voice and chanting. And there were always musicians around the house. I was playing and listening to a lot of jazz, blues, and boogie-woogie when I was seven. When I was twelve, my mom gave me a recording of Keith Jarrett, The Köln Concert, and Miles Davis’s, Sketches in Spain. I fell in love with both of them; they were very influential.

Linda: Would you say the music you play today is in a genre of it’s own? Or is it a combination of forms?

Cosmo: When I first started, I was making hip-hop beats. I like to bring a lot of different sounds and styles together. I can trace in hindsight the influences on my music. I always struggle when people ask me what kind of music I make. What I’ve started saying is it’s sort of a collage, sort of cut and pasting, because I take bits and pieces from so many styles and places.

Linda: That idea of cut-ups was something William S Burroughs did quite a bit with his writing. Would you be wiling to play a little for me right now?

Cosmo: Sure

Linda: Can you support yourself with music?

Cosmo: I’ve had to just so I can carry on making it so that I don’t have to sacrifice my time by finding another way to make money and squash music into spare time. The ideal state is that an artist can live off their art. It’s never the primary goal. As long as I can use my time to make music and earn enough to keep it going, for the time being that’s all I want.

Linda: Do you worry about your future?

DSC09567Cosmo: Financially? Or just in general?

Linda: Both:

Cosmo: I have worried in the past but I have this sense of trust that things will work out. In the beginning, I had all this energy and motivation but no real way of getting it out. My music hadn’t realized itself yet, and I felt like I was smashing my head against a wall. But now, I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it. I have a sense of trust and faith.

Linda: Do you have a spiritual life or religious life that you draw upon?

Cosmo: Well, I guess, both. Musically, I sang in the Church choir when I was younger and I’d been brought up going to Church. But, some of my most profound connections to music have been in ceremony. The power of music in that kind of sacred space is an awesome thing and has definitely had a profound impact on me. I’ve also been inspired by poets like William Blake, who is a visionary and a mythical force. I’ve put some of his poems to music.

I did a workshop with Bobby McFerrin in New York once. He’s a deeply religious and spiritual man and the way he led improvisation circles was extraordinary. People would get in states of complete frenzy, and have huge awakenings. He frames it as being a vessel or channel — these are my words, not his. There are many sorts of devotional forms of music – Sufi devotional music, for example.

There is so much power in it and is amazing how it can move people. I definitely aspire to that and am interested in the question as to what the contemporary meaning of devotional music looks like for us Western Europeans and North Americans. The Christian tradition has hymns, but when I’m in Church singing hymns, I’m not profoundly moved by the music. Some of the most powerful musical experiences I’ve have, have been singing — mainly improvising — late at night with groups of people, somewhere.

Linda: How you deal with the present realities of the world situation, which seem to be pretty much out of control? Like global warming, over-population, terrorism, hunger, the economy, the environment, beheading, etc.

Cosmo: I go in cycles, I suppose. Sometimes, I feel despair and other times I feel much more optimistic. When I was younger, I was more proactive and angry and I protested. When I got older, I was more involved with working with people than just stamping my feet.

Linda: You just got off the road with Johnny Flynn and have been more and more in the public eye.

How does it feel performing in front of hundreds or thousands of people? Do you ever feel insecure?

Cosmo: Yes, sometimes insecurity worms its way up. Performing in front of people has been a journey. I remember my first performance; I was unable to even look up. I just kept my head down, staring at my feet, but slowly I got more comfortable. I grew up learning Suzuki Piano, where everyone plays and performs to other people, very multigenerational. I think what I get the most uncomfortable about or nervous or shy about are people’s reactions afterwards, after I’ve performed. People put performers in general on pedestals – I’ve done it myself to people, it’s something we do.

Linda: I understand. It’s so human. You have a powerful family that has had its share of being in the public eye. Your mother, Jill Purce, is well known as a pioneer in the sound healing movement, your father, Rupert Sheldrake, is a well-known intellectual, scientist, and a controversial figure, and your brother, Merlin has won the highest praise and awards at Cambridge. Have you felt competitive?

Cosmo: With Merlin? Yes, certainly, at points, but not generally. We’re very different. There were periods of time when I didn’t really care about school, wasn’t really engaged or working, and he was doing fantastically well. And I think just generally the younger/older thing in sibling relationships often have these patterns, which are very easy to slip into, but no, I wouldn’t say our relationship is a competitive one.

I’m inspired by Merlin; by his ability to frame huge concepts, structures or narratives in tiny details. He has a powerful eye for detail without ever losing sight of the bigger picture. And the sense of discipline and rigorousness he has. When he gets his mind going on something he’ll completely zone in. My general disposition is quite the opposite – its big broad-brush strokes and less about the details.

Linda: How have you been inspired by your father?

Cosmo: In lots of ways. His resilience and ability to stay completely grounded, focused, positive and light in the face of some very severe opposition. He’s had to put up with a lot of personal attacks. When I was about a boy, I watched a BBC piece about his new book, A New Science of Life, that had just come out. The opening shot was a shocking picture of his face being set alight. So the first or second time I ever saw him on TV was his face burning and he was being branded as a heretic. They called his book a book for burning. I’m very inspired by him being able to see the bigger picture and not get dragged down by the personal attacks he’s gotten and just carry on being positive.

Linda: I remember when he was stabbed while doing a speaking engagement. That was something. And your mother? How does your mother inspire you?

Cosmo: Lots of ways. Of course, her work with overtone chanting has led me towards my fascination with Mongolian music. But watching her in the space she holds in workshops as she’s facilitating; some of the stuff that comes up is so intense especially in the family workshops. And it’s intense from 10am till 11pm and sometimes she does week-long ones. She never loses focus. She has remarkable ability and concentration. She holds so many people in intense situations so calmly and in such a safe way that the whole group has great trust and faith. It mystifies me where she gets that concentration.

Linda: Your mother pioneered Family Constellations, where people work with others in the room who sort of take on the persona of deceased family members. What do you believe happens when we die?

Cosmo: There is a sheer wealth and thousands of accounts of near-death experiences where people say they experience a sort of bliss state. I think death would be similar to dreaming, an extended dream.

Linda: I remember thinking death and old age were so far away when I was young. I smoked and did dangerous things, but now I marvel at young people who take massive risks, even just still smoking cigarettes when they know they’re cancer causing.

Cosmo: I don’t think young people have changed that much since you were a young person. Young people feel they need to learn their own lessons. That’s part of the problem with the general education system. Young people will always be slightly self-destructive, I think. That may be a huge generalization. Generally, people are more wild when they are young and get more domesticated when they’re older. And I think that’s probably a good thing.

Linda: Death is much more present for us older folks, I think. If we live long enough, if we are lucky to live into old age, we have to make end of life plans and talk about them with our adult children. Hard subjects. Do you talk about these things as a family? Do you know what your parents want?

Cosmo: They’ve never gone through it all with us, but I know that my dad is very strong that he hates the idea of it all being some super medicalized environment.. I’m fairly sure both of them would not want that. I’m sure they would like to be at home and have it be a peaceful and organic experience. I think they’re very much against the idea of spending some exceptional amount of money trying to keep people alive in their last week, and leaving their next of kin in vast debt. Death is treated like some kind of failure of medicine.

Linda: Do you have any advice for young people?

Cosmo: This may sound cheesy but one thing that has benefited me is not compromising. There were many points when I’d be asked, maybe my mom or others would ask how are you going to make money. I think it’s important to have a sense of trust, I guess.

Linda: Yes, a friend of mine recently said to me that when we venture out and risk in order to reach a goal, it’s like walking a tight rope – we have to keep our eyes on the distance, and not look down at the rope. She said it was like not over-thinking things, giving ourselves a chance to find all the reasons we might fail in out attempts.

Cosmo: Yeah, if someone has a vision of something they want to do, so many things like that get compromised because of pressures to be realistic. They get questions like, ‘how are you going to do that? How are you going to make that happen?’ So, for me, I think it’s really important to just dive headfirst and give it a go because unless they do, how is it ever going to happen? And generally speaking, it gets harder and harder as people get older and more entrenched in social and familial responsibilities. So, I’d say, and maybe it’s not my place to say it, but carry on charging through, and don’t listen to anyone if you’ve got a creative vision; follow it through.

Linda: I totally agree with you.

Cosmo’s upcoming schedule is listed on his website. You can also join him through his FB page. Follow this guy – he is a true Pied Piper! I just love him!

What Makes us Human? An Interview with Joshua Oppenheimer


October 6, 2014

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

  Joshua Oppenheimer Interview, Skype, August 21, 2014


  Linda Wolf: Good morning,  Josh.

  Joshua Oppenheimer: Good evening, Linda!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LW: Did the government know what you were doing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LW: You must feel very responsible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JO: With pleasure! Thank you, Linda.

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

Watch the interview with Joshua Oppenheimer on The Daily Show

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


There is No Greater Power Than This…

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


The beginning

The beginning…                                                                                                             Photo: Linda Wolf

Hello everyone,

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

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

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

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


Linda & Kate

Linda & Kate  – June 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kate Goldston

Kate Goldston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LW: What does that mean, being in hospice? 

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

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

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

LW: What is that, the refeeding syndrome?

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

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

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

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

LW: What was the goal? 

KG: 72 pounds. 

LW: Why 72 pounds?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LW: Where did you get that message? 

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

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

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

Sexualization of Adolescent Girls

Sexualization of Adolescent Girls

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

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

LW: You’ve been through… 

KG: Hell. 

LW: Hell! How much do you weigh now? 

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

LW: Were you ever sexually abused? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

LW: Sounds like you are learning about boundaries? 

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

United N

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

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

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

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

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

KG: Fat means fear to me. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ballet Girls & Kate

Ballet Girls & Kate

Later in the day:

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

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

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

Yeah, my mom is really worried about you!

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

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

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

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

Girls: (Laughter)

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

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

Linda Lisa Kate

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

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

Linda Wolf & Kate Goldston

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

the middle….

the middle….                                                                                                 photo: Linda Wolf

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

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

Seth Pardo color peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

seth 1

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

So…Welcome to June everyone.


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

Seth Pardo: I am.

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

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

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

seth b&w

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LW: That must be awkward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


LW: Do you want ever want to have children?

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

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

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

More References:

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

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

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

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










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!


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

Linda Wolf and Teen Talking Circle participants - NHK filming

Linda Wolf and Teen Talking Circle participants – NHK filming

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

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

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

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

Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller

Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller

March 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linda Wolf and Myra Zocher

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

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

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

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



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.

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.