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

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

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

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

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

Linda: Were you very close with your mother?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L. Did you write, draw, dance?

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

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

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

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

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

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

L: What do you mean mission driven?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Charlie & Peggy

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

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

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

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Power of Hope Counselors & Friends

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

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

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

L: The fear of what?

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

L: And ostracized.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Peggy & Mateo

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

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

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

P: What do you think it is for you?

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year Everyone —

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

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

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

Deep thanks to Chris for this great interview… Enjoy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linda: Have you ever felt suicidal?

Chris: Yes, many times.

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

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

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Chris Jordan and his wife, Victoria, at home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life in balance

Life in balance

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

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

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

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

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

Plastic Bag 1

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

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

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

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

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

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Linda: Got any favorite poems or music right now?

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

Linda: No, I don’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linda's shot

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

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

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

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

 

Singing, Dancing and Merry alternative holiday Ditties

Hello,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 2013 TTC Interview with David Franklin, author of Radical Men, Simple Practices for Breaking the Myth of Masculinity and Embodying Your Authentic Self

Lilly Schneider: What motivated you to write your book?

ImageDavid Franklin: It’s complicated. I’ve been doing counseling, coaching, workshops and facilitation for years and have a strong desire to create a new paradigm around what being a man could look like. I’ve realized that so many of us share a similar struggle. I think somewhere in the back of my mind I thought that one day I’d write a book. The idea came up, and my partner was like “Just do it.” So I sat with it for a couple weeks, and then I just started writing it. I think I wrote it in three weeks.

Lilly: Wow, only three weeks? That’s awesome.

David: It just kind of came out. There really wasn’t much planning or forethought, but it’s a culmination of the work I’ve been doing for the past twenty years.

Lilly: Could you tell us a little about the work that you’ve been doing and the work you’re doing now?

David: I do individual coaching, and I also facilitate groups and workshops for men. In my work, I emphasize embodiment and presence. Rather than only talking about issues, my work focuses more on creating present moment change, in a way that men can then practice and take into the rest of their lives. Rather than a theoretical experience, it’s about providing practical tools men can use, to ultimately feel more connected to who they are, and discover more of their authentic self. My work combines numerous modalities and practices that I’ve studied over the years –from meditation to ecstatic dance, to music, to core energetic therapy, to various coaching styles all rolled into one.

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Lilly: So then does your book, as an extension of your work, provide exercises, and things people can do, with clear guidance?

David: There are fifty practices in the book, and they probably comprise the majority of the book. The rest of the book is more talking about where I’m coming from, what I’m proposing, and then how to actually achieve it.

Lilly: Was there an intended audience for the book?

David: It’s really meant for everyone. I think to some degree, the men who are going to get into it more are men who have already started thinking about it a little bit, or might have some idea that there’s more to what it means to be a man than what everyone takes for granted. I think anyone could pick it up regardless of where they’re at, and really get what I’m talking about—and do the practices. I also was hoping that women would look at it as well, hopefully women who are moms, or who are involved in raising boys— it will give them greater awareness around the possibilities of what it can look like to be a man so that they can parent or work with boys differently. Or for that matter with their partners—although a lot of times I’ve found that for men, when their partners want them to do something, they’re even more resistant to doing it.

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Lilly: So how did you get on this path? How did you find that this was your work?

David: Since I was young I had a sense of wanting to create real change on the planet. I didn’t necessarily know what that would look like, but I knew that something else was possible beyond how things were, and I just felt a strong call to do something about it, to step into leadership and to take action to create change. As a teen I went to a lot of counseling, as a client, and in my very late teens started exploring more spiritual practice, spirituality. Through those things I began to become a lot more aware, and also a lot more self-aware. I was twenty or so when I first joined a men’s group. I’d heard about men’s groups from a friend who had joined one and at first I was like, “Huh, that sounds kind of weird, I don’t understand.” Then he explained his experience and I was like “Wow, that sounds awesome, I would love something like that.” From that point on I experienced a strong resonance with it, both because of my own struggles as well as connecting and seeing how it impacted so many men. How men are expected to be seemed like such a burden to so many men, and I just really felt called to do something about it.

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Lilly: What do you see in our society that concerns you, that motivates you to do your work?

David: Men, historically and in our culture, have more power. And I think that men with that power very often misuse it, in a lot of different ways, because they’re so disconnected from themselves and from other people. A lot of our political leaders are men. A lot of people in positions of power and who make decisions are men, a lot of people who have control over how things get done are men. Realizing that, if you look at our world and the things that are happening, a lot of those things come as the result of decisions that people in power (men) have made. I think women have more so than men been willing to look at themselves and become more aware, maybe challenge themselves and challenge a lot of norms around how things are in culture. Many men really haven’t gotten there yet, and are either ignorant or in denial or stubborn, or just really don’t want to give up their power. If things are going to change, men are really going to have to step up and take the initiative and not wait for women to tell them to change or do it in reaction to that, but because they feel, “Wow, this really isn’t working” and that they have the power to do something about it.

Lilly: I think most people in the Western world would say they’re aware of the gains of feminism, the women’s liberation movement, the women’s empowerment movement. But this could be a men’s liberation movement hat perhaps the average person isn’t aware of. Carol Gilligan says in a recent interview we did, “matriarchy is not the opposite of patriarchy, it’s democracy.” Democracy is power with, not power over.

ImageDavid: In the late seventies, early eighties, there was definitely some men’s movement stuff going on, but at the same time it was nothing like the women’s movement. Where it gets tricky is people say “Oh, what’s the need for a men’s movement? Men have all the power. They’ve got it easy, they’ve got it good, so what do they need to change anything for?” Unfortunately that’s what keeps everything in check. People assume that men don’t suffer from the patriarchal system. But if you look at a lot of things that are going on in the world, it’s because men have problems and they’re not really looking at them. That impacts everyone. It impacts men, it impacts women, it impacts children, it impacts the planet. Men have all these things going on that aren’t really being acknowledged. Sure, they do have the power, and at the same time, look how they’re using it. Or misusing it.

Lilly: What are the challenges that you see facing you in your work—and what are the challenges that men face?

depression David: In my work there’s the initial challenge of just getting men to acknowledge that there is a problem. Because most men don’t want to look at it. Getting men to be open to the possibility of something beyond what is, or getting them to really look at themselves, is really challenging. And a lot of time it takes something really drastic to force men to look at themselves. It takes a midlife crisis or some severe event before men are like “Whoa, I feel totally disconnected from myself, from my family, I don’t feel happy with my work, I don’t really feel intensive meaning or purpose in my life, I feel kind of empty.” But a lot of men just don’t want to admit that. And again there’s the catch-22, because men’s programming sort of enforces the “don’t look at those things” attitude. The programming focuses them on achievement,  being big and powerful and having a lot of money; all those things that ultimately empty — not really fulfilling. So just getting men to hear the message is probably the biggest challenge. And again, the challenge is getting past the conditioning men have, getting men to be willing to feel and express their emotions, and communicate more openly with other people, getting them to have accountability for themselves and for their lives; getting them to be more active parents, and more active partners, and to actually do work in the world that’s meaningful, and that means something to them, rather than just doing it for a paycheck, just because they think it’s something they’re supposed to do.

Lilly: Thank you for talking with me today, David. Your work is so important. Best wishes.

Radical Men can be purchased online at David Franklin’s website, or checked out at your local public library. For more info go to: www.davidfranklin.net

For more info on important work by men, check out TTC board of advisor mentor, Jackson Katz. http://www.jacksonkatz.com

August Jubilee!!!

ImageHello Friends

TTC is officially no longer a teenager! We are 20 years old. I can’t believe it, actually. First, how fast time flies and second, how we keep on keepin’ on! Seems TTC is just as important now as it was then, if not more so. The world is just as confusing and just as exciting and teens are just as full of hormones, feelings, struggles, excitement, hopes, dreams, and adventurous spirits. 

We wanted you to know what we’ve been up to this past year (June to June). Because it’s because of YOU we are still here to meet the many various and awesome requests we receive to give whatever we know to others. 

Here’s the skinny – 
• In the past year, our teen circles, programs, handbook, trainings, retreats, fundraisers, Youtube movies, radio interviews, magazine articles, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, TTC Blog, and conference presentations have reached thousands of people (Included on the list are a presentation of Full woman at the TEDx Elliott Bay Women Conference, interview on Women Rising Radio, feature in Lilipoh Magazine, presentations at the Deva Premal concert and the Ruins Fundrasier, our TTC Training and the Yelapa Women’s Retreat.)
• 31,700+ people from over 150 countries around the world, as of today, July 31st, 2013 have viewed and shared our Girl’s and Women’s Empowerment film, I Am A Full Woman (https://vimeo.com/35541100) and the comments they share are quite powerful. 
• We’ve provided 32 people from 24 organizations TTC Facilitator Trainings this year. (Included are people from Washington, DC Ethical Society, Tomales Bay Youth Center, Cliffside Malibu Rehabilitation Center, Oaks Christian School, Native American Community Academy, and Marin Indy High School)
• We reedited our TTC Handbook and had 2500 new copies printed of our 3rd Edition!
• We produced two fundrasiers, which 284 people attended.
• Our 2 Facebook pages and Twitter feeds have over 800+ people as friends.
• In an initial search 40+ partnering organizations and important people are presenting TTC on their websites (including, chomsky.info; bainbridgereview.com; seattlechildrens.org; ojaifoundation.org; womenintheworld.org)
• We have been invited to be consultants to 3 different programs, including my being present at the Generation Waking Up 4 day workshop, as an elder. 
• 13 people are on a list for a worldwide distance training (as soon as we can figure out how!)
• Countless youth and adults have benefitted from this past year’s ways we have continued to offer TTC into the world. We can’t even keep up with the many ways those who have been touched, trained, or involved with our work is unfurling in the world. We do know that there are currently 2 master theses and 1 PhD thesis that are using TTC as the central focus of their study.

Our exciting next project happens on September 14th. A Japanese film crew from the PBS station in Japan has hired TTC to run a circle of 10 youth on Bainbridge, which will be filmed for a segment in a series on cell biology. How cool is this! Our local girls group starts again this Fall, and believe or not I’m taking a 75% sabbatical after 20 years from September – April, 2014. Lilly will be in charge!

Thank you again for everything you do for TTC, me, and the world. With gratitude and love, Linda 

See http://www.teentalkingcircles.org for dates of our June 2014 training and April/May Women’s Retreat. 

Noam Chomsky Interview with Linda Wolf for TTC – April 9, 2013

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Linda: It’s so good to actually speak with you again, Noam, instead of emails. It’s been about thirteen years. The last time we spoke on the phone was for the book “Global Uprising.”

Noam: Yes, yes, I remember that.

Linda: First off, I just want to say how much I love you. Our correspondence over the years has been such an inspiration to me. BTW, how is your “pseudo grandson,” as you call him, Ernesto?

Noam: Oh thank you, that’s a nice way to start. He’s doing fine. I just saw him this weekend, coming up to his third birthday… It was pretty nice weather, so we went out for a walk in the woods. He had a ball climbing rocks. Lovely, little kid. It’s interesting with his mother, and his aunt. These are young women who grew up in villages in Guatemala; by the time they were four years old, they were adults, working in agriculture, climbing trees to pick avocados. As soon as we get out in the woods, they start acting like children, and climbing the trees, you know, climbing boulders, jumping around. Ernesto with them, of course. It was fun to watch.

Linda: Oh, nice! So you were all together?

Noam: …Yes, there are some nice pictures that one of them took; the girls on top of a big boulder and Ernesto on the boulder.

Linda:  Noam, there are so many things I want to ask you. For example, I have a friend, Christen Lien is her name, she’s a tremendous musician, and she’s just created an album called Elpis. Elpis is the last of the evils in Pandora’s box. The Greeks translated Elpis as hope.

ImageChristen Lien

Noam: What is it about?

Linda: In Pandora’s box Elpis was the last, heaviest, of the evils, according to the Greeks. Christen is doing a study of the concept of hope. Thirteen years ago, I ended our last interview with “Do you have hope, Noam?” Everything that you speak of, that we know of, about the ills of the world, which are so terrifying, in so many ways, especially to young people—

Noam: They should be.

Linda: And they are. You know, there’s this spirit that we need to have, which we call “hope.” But I’d like you to dwell on that for a minute with me. If the Greeks thought it was the heaviest evil in Pandora’s Box, how can we come to terms with this idea of hope? Do you have some thoughts on that?

Noam: Well, the easiest way to do it is kind of like what I just described. Go out in the woods with a lovely three-year old kid and his mother and his aunt, who escaped from hideous atrocities. These are refugees. They’re Mayan, so they’re refugees from the genocide in the highlands in the early eighties. Everything was destroyed; people are still fleeing. It was very courageous—the mother of this kid crossed the border, I think, seven times…She was picked up the last time, and she was pregnant the whole time. She finally made it through, in her seventh month of pregnancy. I don’t have to describe to you what a border crossing is like. Solidarity workers who have hope, wonderful people in Tucson, you may know some of them, who roam the desert, illegally in fact, because they try to pick up stragglers, or leave water bottles, and so on –they managed to get her, to find her. She had a sister here, in Boston, so they got her here, and when she moved in with her sister, the landlady kicked them both out, so they’ve been living with my daughter, and Ernesto was born here while they were living with my daughter. But anyway, when you watch these people, and you just think of the—I mean you look at this little kid, of course he’s happy, he doesn’t know what’s happening — but there’s a shadow hanging over him. I mean his mother could be picked up any minute and be sent back to Guatemala. He’d go with her and grow up in miserable poverty in Guatemala, or would never see her again. All of this is right over their heads, but they’re happy, and cheerful, and looking forward to the future. Many things like this, you can duplicate them all over the world, and they’re signs of hope. In fact, if you look at what—it’s kind of a remarkable situation now—but if you take a look at what indigenous people, tribal societies, first nations, what they’re doing all over the world, it’s pretty spectacular. I mean they’re the only ones who are making a serious effort to try to avert major catastrophes that are looming — like environmental catastrophes. They’re actually trying to do something about it. Now, we’re doing the opposite. So, you want to have hope, look at people who are struggling and achieving. You can always find them.

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Linda: It’s a beautiful definition of hope, this story. But do you honestly think there’s much hope for this world, as it is?

Noam: Honestly?

Linda: Yeah, honestly.

Noam: No, but you can’t give up. I mean, objectively speaking if I try to be completely objective, if I forget about caring about people and the world and so on, then we’re just racing towards disaster, eyes open, going as fast as we can. In fact it’s rather striking to compare the poorest, least developed, least educated, what are called the “primitive” societies of the world, and the richest, most powerful, most educated countries of the world, and at the poorer end, you have what I just described. Ecuador has a large indigenous population, enough to influence policy. And one of the policy efforts in Ecuador is to try to gain support from the wealthy countries to keep their oil in the ground. They’re a big oil exporter. Keep it in the ground, where it ought to be: that’s Ecuador. Indigenous population. You go up north, to Canada, and the United States, the richest countries, ever—they’re putting every effort into extracting every drop of hydrocarbons out of the ground and using it as fast as possible. And are lauding the possibility, are euphoric at the possibility, of a century of energy independence, while busy accelerating the destruction of the world. If ever a future historian is looking back at this moment, he or she would think the species is insane.

Linda: Well we could be! This morning, I was ruminating about death and asking you what you think happens when we die. For me, spirituality is so deeply rooted in nature, and everything has its life, its lifetime. And I’m thinking, well maybe we’re just part of this, too. We Homo sapiens, we have a life span, and maybe that’s what we’re doing.

Noam: I wrote about this once. There’s a great biologist Ernst Mayr, died recently, about a hundred years old, he was a grand old man of American biology. He once wrote an article, in which he basically argued that intelligence is a kind of lethal mutation. He looked at it as biologist. You ask about the biological success of various species, and the ones who do very well are things like bacteria, which mutate very quickly and adapt to changing circumstances. Or beetles, which are all over the place, they have a fixed ecological niche, they can’t survive anywhere else. They stick to it, and they make out. But as you move up the scale of intelligence, to mammals, primates,  Homo sapiens, you find less and less biological success. That’s why there are very few apes around. Humans look like an exception, but that’s only in the last few thousand years. Go back to ninety-five percent of Homo sapiens’ history, we were scattered bands of hunter-gatherers. He points out just what you said, that the average life span of a species is about a hundred thousand years, and that’s roughly what homosapiens are approaching. So we may be following that unpleasant natural law which says we have achieved the capacity to destroy ourselves, so let’s go ahead and do it.

Linda: Wow. You spoke the word “no.” You said “No, really I don’t ultimately have any hope for us.”

Noam: But I do have hope, because you have to have hope. Otherwise you wouldn’t do anything, to try to carry things forward. And there’s always a chance, you know. 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.

Linda: Are you afraid of dying?

Noam: I used to be when I was about ten years old but I got over it (laughs.)

Linda: If you could go back, if you were let’s say thirty, or twenty again, what would you invest your life energy in right now?

Noam: I don’t know about you, but when I was twenty, or even thirty, I didn’t really think about it much. I just did what I thought I oughta do.

Linda: Get married, and have children?

Noam: Not even that, just anything. Now first of all there’s an interesting fact about the male brain which is relevant. The male brain matures rather late.

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The female brain matures at maybe eighteen or so. The male brain doesn’t mature about until mid-twenties. In fact in some countries like Canada they’re thinking of treating young men in their early twenties as juveniles, because that’s basically what they are. But one of the aspects of that is that you just don’t think about risk. I mean I can remember it myself, and I can see it with my children and grandchildren. Just do anything, because you’re invulnerable, you don’t have to think about the future. I didn’t think about it much, I just did the things I wanted to do. In fact I already was married, by the time I was twenty, and I didn’t think much about planning for the future. In fact I had no academic prospects. I was working, and it’s kind of an accident that I’m in the academic world. I was working, developing an area that actually didn’t exist, there was no academic—but it never bothered me much, I figured I’ll do something or other. The same with the political activity. I was very active about doing things I felt oughta be done.

Linda: But if you were forty, let’s say, now—

Noam: By the time I was forty I was pretty well settled, had responsibilities. By the time I was forty, actually, I was facing a long jail sentence. By then, consciously, I was thinking of what I was doing, because of the involvement in resistance activities. I was in fact up for trial when the TET Offensive came along, and it convinced the government to drop the trials. [The TET Offensive in 1968 [the National Liberation Front’s surprise temporary takeover of virtually all of South Vietnam’s cities overnight –Ed.]

Linda: I heard you say something so important in an interview recently about the movie, “Manufacturing Consent.” You said you were skeptical about that movie because it sort of placed you in a position of stardom…

Noam: I like the guys who made the movie, they’re friends, but they were just following me around. If I got off an airplane, you know…like some kind of celebrity. I’m not a celebrity.

Linda: Right, I really appreciate that, because as you said, it’s those who are working together on the ground, shoulder to shoulder, that never maybe get any recognition—

Noam: Like these indigenous people in Ecuador, for example. They’re really doing something. Who knows who they are?

Linda: So with young people today, my question is, where would you put your energy now, in what arena? I mean would you go to Ecuador, would you work with the Ecuadorians—?

Noam: The most important place to be is the United States. For one thing I’d stay here because it’s where my attachments and everything else are, but just objectively it’s the most important place to be. Because what happens here is going to be much more influential in the whole world than what happens elsewhere. Very important things happen elsewhere, it’s not that the United States runs the world, but you look at the degree of influence and power, although U.S. power is declining, has been for a long time, it’s still incomparable and will be for a long time to come. For example, take almost anything that’s happening. There was an international conference recently, and they general assembly reached a small arms treaty. Well that’s kind of important, you know. Tens of thousands are being slaughtered all over the world from small arms exports. In Mexico alone, most of the deaths come from guns from the United States, which incidentally wouldn’t be affected by the treaty. But the small arms treaty is important. Will it have any effect? Not if the United States doesn’t sign it. And it’s very likely that the U.S. won’t sign it. That’s one example, but you can proliferate them enormously. So the most important thing that can be done right now are changes within the United States.

Linda: Did you vote?

Noam: Ah, sort of. I mean Massachusetts happens to be a safe state, it’s gonna go Democratic, so I voted for Jill Stein, Green candidate, nice person. But if I had been in a swing state, I would have held my nose and voted for Obama because the alternative was—you know I don’t like him and his associates, the alternative was much worse. These things make a difference. Given U.S. power, it makes a difference whether say, if Bush was in office or Gore.

Linda: Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Noam. We’ll talk again soon, I’m sure. Best wishes to everyone. I hope you and Ernesto liked the cookies.

Noam: Yes, Cookies don’t last long here in the office!

Addendum:

June 11, 2013

Just prior to posting this interview, The Obama administration is reportedly preparing to charge NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden with leaking classified information. I wrote Noam for his response:

Noam: “He should be admired for bravely meeting the responsibilities of citizenship: letting the public know what their government is doing to them. The claim that the massive government surveillance programs are necessary to secure the population from terror barely merits ridicule, coming from a government that has quite consciously been increasing the threat of terror to Americans as the predictable consequence, well-understood in high places, of the global drone assassination program, which is also by far the most extreme international terrorist campaign in the world.”

Yelapa Mexico, Edward Snowden, Noam Chomsky, and the benefits of Kraut!

Lilly Schneider Interviews Linda Wolf, director of TTCImage

Lilly: Hi Linda, welcome back from Mexico. How was the women’s retreat?

Linda: Fantastic.  It was the best retreat yet.  There were 9 of us, a full house. A mother and daughter, who have come three times, already signed up for next year. They consider it a yearly “tune-up” for their relationship! For me, it’s an opportunity to feel very free, in nature, like I was as a young woman. And the nature there makes me euphoric. It is 2nd in biodiversity to the Amazon. Check out this house, Lilly, it belongs to Claudia Brown. She’s a massage therapist, a tropical garden gardener, has a bird sanctuary, and makes the most beautiful jewelry – lives in Yelapa full time. This lily pond is inside the house!

Lilly: Wow! Remind me where the retreat takes place?

Linda: In Yelapa, Mexico, a fishing village. Kellie Shannon Elliott (who will come next year again) led 5Rhythms dance each morning; we met in circle for a few hours before a late lunch, and later Norma Jean Young, a great Reiki Master, led us in relaxation in the late afternoons.  The thing I love the most about Yelapa is feeling of sun, the air on my skin, the sound of the waves 24/7, and that we get to swim in some of the most pristine water on the planet – One day, we hiked to this waterfall in another village to swim in a glorious poor. We just strip down and jump in. Here, see these photos. After the waterfall, we go by boat to another little fishing village and have a home cooked lunch with a Mexican family, replete with moonshine and guitars.

Lilly: That sound amazing! Well, that’s not the only event that the beginning of summer has in store for TTC, is it?

Linda: That’s right. Not only are we doing our facilitator training, which is happening in a couple weeks, and BTW, there are still a few places left (check our website: www.teentalkingcircles.org), but also some other partner organizations have some great offerings this summer. Check this out:

We have Isabel Machuca-Kelly from Wild Whatcom, along with Vanessa Osage of Rooted Emerging, offering girls’ talking circles in Bellingham, Washington. People can find out more about the details by checking this site: wildwhatcom.org/about-teen-talking-circles/ Also, Rite of Passage Journeys, in Washington, is doing some really powerful summer camps where they do circle. And Wilderness Awareness School has some amazing programs this summer. http://www.wildernessawareness.org

Lilly: I heard you’re invited to be an “elder” this summer at the Generation Waking Up Leadership Training, which is happening in a couple weeks on Whidbey Island, at the Whidbey Institute.

Linda: Yes, it’s true –  I don’t know many youth on the face of the planet who are more incredible than Barbara Jefferson, Dan Mahle, and Joshua Gorman, who are leading this Wake-Up. Check it out; there are scholarships and more spaces…http://www.whidbeyinstitute.org/conversation/id/53080a

By the way, we have an exciting event in the planning stages in September: We’ve been invited by the PBS station in Japan to create a special circle, which will be filmed for a segment of a series on cell biology. This one will be about youth development. I’m intrigued to see what they’re going to be doing. More about that later. We’re going to need some volunteers – so the call is out there. Any teens interested???

Lilly: Wow. How does something like that happen? That’s great…

Linda: They found us on the Internet.

Lilly: Hey, what about that Noam Chomsky interview I just transcribed – when does it come out? And the Joanna Newsom interview from so long ago?

Linda: The interview I did in April with Noam will come right after this blog post. The one with Joanna, very soon. Both are powerful and important. I’ve been interviewing Noam since 1999. I just wrote him today asking him to comment on the Edward Snowden’s leak. I just heard that ACLU has put forth a lawsuit against the government now, as well. Here’s what Noam wrote back. “He should be admired for bravely meeting the responsibilities of citizenship: letting the public know what their government is doing to them.  The claim that the massive government surveillance programs are necessary to secure the population from terror barely merits ridicule, coming from a government that has quite consciously been increasing the threat of terror to Americans as the predictable consequence, well-understood in high places, of the global drone assassination program, which is also by far the most extreme international terrorist campaign in the world.” Noam does not mince words.  I say, Activists UNITE… I asked Eric the other night what he thought we can do other than what we are already doing… I said it feels like the machine is so big, we’re like Cervantes’ Don Quixote, tilting at windmills. We agreed, we just gotta keep doing what we’re already doing. Working to help shift from the patriarchal, dominate paradigm to the holistic, partnership paradigm…

Speaking of interviews and just keeping focused on what one person can do, Brenda Starr, star reporter for KHSU, Humboldt State U interviewed me for Through the Eyes of Women. It will be aired Monday, July 8th, at 1:30pm PST and will be streamed on the station website, and on their blog: www.khsuwomen.wordpress.com. I speak not only about TTC, but about my photography, and how both these acts give me a way to express my values.

Other than that, we’re having a beautiful summer here in the Pacific Northwest – the veggie garden is full and we’re eating out of it daily – we’re also eating a lot of Kraut – Iggy’s Sauerkraut, to be exact. My tummy has gone down, which feels so much better. I was pretty bloated for some reason, but the Kraut, and this cleanse I’m doing with Chaparro Amargo, which we got in Mexico, is a summer boon to my system. I’m also intensely glad to have my daughter, Heather, back in town, and her sis, Genevieve is done with her first year of UW Nursing School (halleuluja), and Eric wrote another story while we were in Mexico…so life is good. Plus, I also love that you’re working here in the office with me on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Lilly…

Lilly: I love working here, Linda!

Linda: Thank you, Lilly. I love having you here!

Lilly: Thank you, Linda!

Linda: Ok, enough work for today – let’s go jump on the trampoline and get outta this office!  The sun’s out… can’t miss it while its here, now can we!  Oh wait, it just started to rain. Dang! No, wait, it’s back… let’s get outta here!