Category: sustainability

What is an Activist

When I began Sustainable Life in Action back in 2013 the Grassroots Leadership College had only been closed for a year and I was trying to find enough work to keep my rent paid and figuring out how to keep doing community organizing. My dreams were of starting a new Grassroots Leadership College maybe statewide or maybe in northern Wisconsin along the shores of Lake Superior. It wasn’t too much later that I left Madison. Life didn’t take me to northern Wisconsin, but to Minnesota.

In those days, for me, being an activist still meant organizing people, coordinating trainings, taking part in protests, speaking at rallies, being a force, and fighting out loud in a non-violent yet intense way. While my work was for a better world most of my actions still landed in the realm of working against the evils. I loved my work. I loved getting to know people, making connections, supporting others in achieving their dreams, creating positive social change. We did create change. Every time we people connected and came to know each other, to see each other as valuable human beings we were creating change, not to mention all the battles won.

Despite my love for my life work I was burning out. That’s why I started Sustainable Life in Action. It was a tool to encourage my own self care as well as to support others in caring for themselves. It has been a helpful tool for me. I hope it has been for others as well.

My journey as an activist has reached a new stage. It is an interesting one for me. After seven years in Minnesota and one in Poynette, Wisconsin, I have returned to Madison where Sustainable Life in Action began. When I left this place I was deeply involved in the activist scene. My name was known for work I’d done, nine years running the Grassroots Leadership College, coordinating the non-violence trainings for the capitol take-over during the Walker administration, Green Party stuff, Labor Radio and board leadership at WORT 89.9fm, and more. Now, I am coming back in quietly to a place where there are many new leaders and much of the old guard seems to have disappeared or maybe just is quiet in these times of COVID. It is coming back to a place where I’ve never been before.

It’s good to stand and watch this new place as I too am in a new place internally. After looking for jobs in the nonprofit realm and at the university and colleges to no avail, feeling my stomach churn a bit as I considered roles in organizing again, I decided to go back to another of my earlier careers. I accepted a position as an infant/toddler teacher in a large local child care. I’ve been intrigued by the reaction of old friends who seem to believe that going into teaching early childhood is leaving the world of activism. These people tell me how I’ve “done my time” and that it’s okay for me to do something else.

How can there be anything that is more about social justice than caring for our children? Being an activist isn’t all about holding up signs and shouting slogans. Being an activist is about how we live our lives. At this phase of my being, much of my time will be dedicated to holding the little ones and showing them love. I’ve also chosen to commit my time to being creative, telling my stories, and playing with art. All these things are important. I haven’t done my time, none of us has. We all have a duty to care for this place and for each other each day for the remainder of our time. How we do it is up to us.

Take good care of yourselves. That’s where it all begins.

New Life

The pandemic has provided its challenges and gifts. A lot of people seem to be looking at this past year as having been all about struggle and loss. A year that we’ll look back on with horror or at least deep sadness. I’m not so sure, at least not for myself.

Sure, there has been sadness. My Dad died last July. He was 92 years old. I miss him. I’ll always miss him. But, sadness at the passing of someone who is elderly and in the grips of dementia is always mixed. I will miss him, but I am also joyful that he could let go, move on, and no longer be held by the pain and fear that had become his life. Yeah, I got laid off. But, I got laid off from a job in Minnesota at a really unhealthy workplace where rumors, put downs, lying, and just generally disrespectful behaviors were the norm and wound up through a series of events finding myself working for a good friend on an incredible creative project and back home in Wisconsin.

It’s been a year for being open to possibilities. Last January a severe allergic reaction to a new medication for my epilepsy led to my doctor and I pursuing options beyond medications. In July I found myself at Mayo in the epilepsy monitoring unit. I started my visit on the anniversary of my Mom’s passing. I ended it a week later just after my Dad died by making the decision to honor them both by getting a vagus nerve stimulator implanted. I came back a week later and had the little device that is changing my life implanted close to my heart, reminding me of them. Now, it sends a stimulus through my vagus nerve every three minutes and, along with my medication, is controlling my seizures and making life normal again. My energy is back. It’s been months since I’ve woken up in the morning to a headache and sore tongue, and best of all my doctors and the state of Wisconsin agree that it’s safe for me to drive and live with the independence that a car provides when one lives in a small town.

A lot of people have gone on about boredom and loneliness because of the pandemic and I confess that I’ve had some moments of wanting to get out too, but mostly I have to admit I’ve appreciated this time alone. I’ve been reminded of the joy in slowness and the importance of creative space. I took guitar lesson for awhile, long enough to give me some basics to work with and to continue to teach myself. I’ve started to work on becoming an author of children’s books. Now that it’s spring I just started doing a little volunteering at Taliesin. I’ve been reading a lot more, continuing to write here, doing a little drawing too. How could I be bored or seeking something else when I am given the opportunity to find the creative space? The world runs us too fast and I am thankful that we’ve slowed down for the moment. It is sad that it took a pandemic to slow us, but I can only hope that we find some lessons about caring for our creative selves from this experience.

It’s not been all bad. It’s been a year for staying home and eating home cooking, a year for being creative, a year for relaxing and getting to know ourselves, a year for embarking on a new stage of life in so many ways. What lessons have we learned? What will we carry forth? What possibilities have we opened ourselves to? What is this new life that we are embarking on as this pandemic, hopefully, begins to draw to a close?

Save A Walleye, An Ongoing Lie

It was in 1974 that two brothers went fishing. Mike and Fred Tribble, two Anishanabe men from the La Court Oreille reservation in Wisconsin had called the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to inform them of the fishing trip and then went out on Chief Lake, crossed the imaginary reservation line, cut a hole in the ice, and speared a fish off the reservation.

This small action would lead to more than decade in the courts resulting in the historic Voigt decision which acknowledged the Chippewa’s (name used for Anishanabe in legal records) right to 1) harvest fish, game, and plants off-reservation on public lands (and on private lands if proven necessary to provide a modest living); 2) use both traditional and modern methods in the hunting and gathering; and 3) barter or sell the harvest.

The decision took the hood off a long simmering Klan-like hatred in the Northwoods. The boat landings were filled with protesters like those in the photo above. Still, despite threats to their lives the Anishanabe stood strong and fished. Over four years, a Witness for Nonviolence made of allies from around the state grew to stand a peaceful guard along the landings.

Over time, the protestors drew their Klan hood back over their being and things quieted. Many who weren’t Anishanabe started to believe that the struggle was over, that it had become safe again. That wasn’t the reality. Whether the protests are small and quiet, not magnified by the media or loud and in the light of the cameras, they are there and they are threatening.

Just yesterday I learned of a family who were out spearfishing and attacked by white men. The men threw things and harassed the family with racial slurs and threats and one of the white men pulled down his pants exposing himself to the children who were fishing with their father and other family. This is nothing new. Some fishers can tell stories of being shot at every year. Yet they continue because they are Anishanabe and they must be who they are.

When will we learn? The Anishanabe have hunted, fished, and gathered here since the great spirit guided them to this place. Their harvest is miniscule in comparison to that of those who sports fish and the tribes work hard to care for the environment and replenish the fishing stock. This isn’t an issue about fish. This is Wisconsin’s version of the Klan and it is simply wrong and needs to stop.

Want to really save a walleye? Support Native spear fishers and keep the racist freaks off the water.

Ikigai

There is a Japanese concept known as Ikigai or “reason for being” that I was recently introduced to by a dear friend who is providing me guidance as I think through where I might go in my next adventure. It is a bringing together of that which you love, what you are good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid to do.

Find your Ikigai.

I’ve been delving into this idea, seeking my Ikigai for some weeks now. I remain confused by exactly what is the difference between what the world needs and what I might be paid for. I don’t know if this is a result of having spent too many years in low wage sectors of the work force or being overly influenced by the realities of a capitalist society. But, in either case, or maybe some combination of both, I tend to believe that anything the world needs is something that one might be paid for. I suppose the question then becomes if one could be paid enough to live on, but as I said, I’ve worked a long time in low wage sectors of the workforce. My pay expectations have risen a great deal since I first began, but monetary riches aren’t really on my radar at all. These days I believe in a living wage, good benefits, and a welcoming work place. When I first began all I sought was a welcoming work place, the other two were just added plusses.

Writing my lists of loves and things that I’m good at brought back many memories. So many were filled with songs and stories, art and laughter. They were memories of caring times, whether those caring times showed themselves in miles of hiking for peace or to protect the water or raise funds for raptor rehabilitation or rocking babies or teaching adults or standing on the strike line. They were creative times filled with ideas showing themselves in a myriad of different ways. Some were sung out. Some acted. Others written in poetry or prose or simply spoken in stories.

This is what I have learned or maybe was just reminded of. I thrive on the creative, both that of others and my own. It simply feeds me. I value the opportunity to care, but care alone can drain me. The two together help me maintain a balance. As I seek my path forward I seek the creative and the caring.

I wish you all the best as you move forward and hope that we might all find our Ikigai

Let the Detox Begin

One of the realities of living in the world today is that our bodies are filled with toxins from before the time we are born. The air we breathe is polluted. The water we drink is polluted. Much of the food we eat is treated with chemicals or maybe isn’t really food at all, but simply a mix of chemicals politely called “processed food.”

There are benefits and there are downsides to this reality. We grow a lot more food then we’ve ever been able to in the past, but it’s generally less nutritious, or at least that’s true of the conventionally grown foods. We have tons more stuff than we’ve ever had before, but I’m not sure that we have as much, much less more happiness. We’ve also got a lot more medicines and health care tools to keep us going. Sometimes that’s great. Sometimes the medicines can add to the disease. That’s what brought me here today.

As many of my readers know, I was diagnosed with epilepsy. I think it’s about seven years ago now. Generally, it’s not a huge part of my life. It’s largely controlled by medication and I go about my day to day like anyone else. Over the past year or two though I had a couple small seizures which I suspect were caused, at least in part, by a stressful job situation. In any case, my doctor and I decided to try some changes to my medications. The changes didn’t work.

I had an allergic reaction which became something known as DRESS Syndrome (Drug rash with eosinophilia and systemic symptoms). I can be thankful to say that with a great team of physicians from the Mayo Clinic, mine was caught early and no major damage was done. Still, now and for the foreseeable future, the added toxins in my system mean periodic flares with exhaustion, weakness, rashes, and other symptoms.

So, instead of getting beaten down by this new challenge, I am trying to find the opportunity to learn and to renew. Yesterday, I sat down with my integrative medicine practitioner, Dr. Kelly Felmer, and we agreed on a plan. Over the next ten days I’ll be embarking on a detox diet; no dairy, meat, grains, artificial colors or flavors, and following a strict set of guidelines on what I can eat focusing on lots of healthy fruits and veggies. This morning is starting with a nice smoothie made with blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, carrots, and spinach. After the ten days of detox I’ll start on the autoimmune protocol, another clearly defined diet to help me heal my gut, get rid of toxins, and determine what foods might causing me harm. That will take at least a few months probably longer.

It’s a journey, but one that I get to define and one that, I hope, will get to the root of the health challenges that I’ve faced and make my overall physical, spiritual, and emotional wellbeing better for the long run. My plan is to share that journey here. I hope that you will come along.

Taking Care of Self

It’s been a few weeks. It feels that I should write something, but I’m not sure what. Life continues to present its challenges, encouraging me to reframe and seek the gifts.

I am continuing to look for a new job. I’m thankful to still be working at UMM, but it’s not the place for me. Maybe I’ve spoiled in my life in grassroots nonprofits, but I’m not interested in the hierarchy or pettiness. There are a lot of good people and I will always be thankful for having had the chance to meet and get to know them. I am thankful too for the opportunity to get to see the university from the inside at this point of my life.

We all know it’s not a good time to be looking for work. I am thankful for all my experiences and for not being held in any one place. I feel confident that I will find a great new adventure where I will be able to take my skills to make people’s lives just a little bit better.

My body remains unimpressed with something. It’s continuing in what is now the 3rd week of a rash that seems to probably be a reaction to my medication. It reminds me how much my body has to work with, how much I need to care for myself. It is a good reminder of the importance of my meditation, time away from the screen, time to play music, to cook, to be outside, to eat good foods with plenty of vegetables, all these things to show myself love. The doctors will give me medication. They will do their roles in providing care. But, it is my role, it is each of our roles, to give our bodies the best care we can. They are the only bodies we’ll have after all.

We all have these times. All we can do sometimes is just take some time off. Today I baked bread and attempted to make dandelion jelly. The bread worked. They dandelion jelly turned out too thin to even be syrup. But, it was an afternoon in the kitchen, just relaxing, doing something different. It was good. How are you taking care of yourself today?

The Emotional Winter

This may just be a short post, but it is a thought that I wanted to share before it gets lost somewhere in the cobwebs of my mind.

I was talking with one of my students earlier today. We were just chatting a bit about school and life and just how things were going for them these days. They were feeling rather down. It seems right now that’s how a lot my students are feeling and how a lot of other people I know are feeling too.

The student told me something that I had heard before from several others. They said that they were just trying to keep things going, keep everything normal, and just push on through. I said to them that I respected that approach, but things aren’t normal right now, why would doing the same thing as we do in a normal situation work?

Then I suggested that it’s like the seasons. Right now we’re in a sort of midwestern winter of reality. We can’t walk out in it in only our summer of self-care and expect not to be frozen and in deep pain. We need to wrap ourselves up in caring and gentleness right now if we are to do our work and face our reality. Our reality is there and needs to be faced. There is work to be done. We just have to prepare ourselves for the weather and sometimes just sit by the fire to keep our beings warm.

Too Much For a Morning

Woke up this morning to the news that both John Prine and Charlotte Figi (the little girl who inspired the creation of Charlotte’s Web , the CBD oil that became world known for its effectiveness in treating a form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome) died yesterday from the COVID-19 virus.

Then I read a bit about the voting yesterday in my home state of Wisconsin. Like many, I wonder how many will die from voting this year. I followed that with a look at my email. There I read a message from the university president about the likelihood of budget cuts in the upcoming year. It’s now 8:09 a.m.

You know there are some days that we just need to take off a bit. So, with John Prine in the background I am taking a little time to just write. I’ve got a meeting in a couple hours that I’ll join in, but I’m taking my crocheting with me and my dog too and just taking the time to listen to other folks from around the state to hear how they are handling this situation. It’s good to come together even when we can’t do it in person.

I don’t know what else to do in this moment. I like to solve problems and it’s hard when I can’t. I suspect many of us have that problem with this situation we are in. All I can do is tell myself what I tell my students– be gentle on self.

There’s nothing really new or inspirational in this post, but I feel it needed to be written if only for my own comfort. Still, I hope that maybe, just maybe it could offer a little comfort to someone out there to know that you’re not the only one who is sometime having those days where the bad news just seems to pile up and all you can do is step back to take pause and let it pound its way through. I hope that you’ll take good care of yourself today and know that we will make it. Things will get better again.

Using Time Wisely

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranked the US as the most obese country in the world in 2019. The World Health Organization tells us that we are one of the most depressed countries in the world.

The US is among the highest CO2 producers in the world. We continually are dumping poisons everywhere. We are continually putting poisoning our own food and the water we drink. Why?

We have a fascinating opportunity right now. At other times people might pay thousands of dollars to go on retreats to step away from their regular day to day lives and step into something new. We’ve all been given the opportunity for free. Sure, maybe it doesn’t come with an exotic vacation spot or maybe we’re still doing a lot of our work from before and some new jobs too, but we’ve got something here. How can we use it?

I keep thinking of something a friend use to say. He’d be presenting to groups, talking about all sorts of important environmental issues of the day and he’d tell people. “Don’t worry about protecting the earth. The earth, she’ll be fine. It’s us that we need to that we need to be concerned about. We’re the ones who will no longer be able to drink the water. We’re the ones who will no longer be able to breathe the air. We’re the ones who will no longer have food to eat.”

He was right. I suspect that this virus is simply another warning. The warnings are getting bigger and more intense each one after the other. We need to figure this out. What can we do?

You are there in your personal retreat. How can you take this time to care for yourself body, mind, spirit, soul? How does your relationship to this place where we live, this earth change? How do we show her respect? How do we stop poisoning her and poisoning ourselves in the process? When we walk together again who will you be? Who will we all be?