civil war v. 2.0

Amtrak Coast Starlight observation car (December 2016)

Along with millions of people in cities around the world, I protested George W. Bush's Iraq invasion in San Francisco in 2003, media helicopters hanging overhead. On the Portland waterfront in 2011, I protested with Occupy against the 1%, a friend's baby strapped to my back. We legally and peacefully expressed our discontent. The media dutifully covered the protests as news. But nothing has changed: the rich are exponentially richer, the poor and middle-class even poorer, and soldiers and civilians (aka collateral damage) are still dying overseas. Like former-Occupy-co-founder-turned-Nehalem-resident Micah White, I feel disillusioned with protest marches.

So instead of protesting Trump's inauguration on Friday or marching in the rain with the pink pussies on Saturday, I went swimming. Protests seem mainly an outlet to blow off steam—a collective temper tantrum before we all go back to work (if we have jobs). And swimming, for me, worked just as well.

What we should have done on Friday and many more Fridays (and Mondays and Wednesdays)—those of us, at least, not in severe poverty—was go on strike from work (a hard thing to ask of poor people, admittedly, when there is no union backing you up) and do something other than consuming products—like joining a local group, reading a history book, playing an instrument, doing hobbies, or visiting friends and family. What history has shown is that the elites never grow scared until either their bank accounts are affected or their lives theoretically endangered by mobs with pitchforks and torches. Or as Aziz Ansari said on SNL the day after the inauguration, "Change doesn't come from presidents [but] large groups of angry people."

We, the people, are both the producers and the consumers. We are the economy. Without us, finance will fall. Financial elites like Trump desire to keep us distracted and divided amongst ourselves because that way they can keep acquiring and hoarding all the money. But if we continue divided beyond all fair proportion between the 99% and the 1%, the republic may fall. It is an ominous sign that the U.S. has been downgraded to a "flawed democracy" for the first time.

Trump, an effective salesman (of his own mythic self), has merely underscored the existing fault lines in American society between conservatives and progressives, between authoritarians and humanitarians, between the patriarchy and feminists. Yet if we look at the global picture, the clearest fault line is between those who believe white men should forever remain in charge (by way of a presumed natural order) versus those who believe in equal human rights. It's nearly impossible to view what's happening in European and American politics with the rise of far-right movements as anything but white patriarchy's last gasp: a brittle, angry refusal to relinquish global cultural power. As if at once, even more moderate conservative whites have realized the brown hordes are flooding North. Rural whites look around and fail to see the homogeneous towns and villages of their youth. This then, the white backlash, is the climax of post-colonial identity politics and increasing wealth disparity: a perfect political storm.

And yet this rise of the far-right may also give us hope—a candle to be lit during terrors ahead—because it is the beginning of the end of white power. The population numbers are against them (or us, rather). The white patriarchy will, of course, go down fighting, burning the planet down with them. Yet the future, if we survive as a species, is on the side of racial and gender equality. As science fiction has shown, the robots are the future, human consciousness evolved into AI. If we do not learn how to band together, white with brown and black, how will we ever fight our future electronic overlords?


de-stressing: lavender oil

bottles of lavender oil, soap, & lotion

Being cold makes me cranky, so mostly I hate winter. Before Halloween even rolls around, I've already channeled my inner Dane (and I am part-Danish) to create a nest full of hygge—cozy comfort—by lighting candles, clicking on (all the) table lights, piling on blankets, fluffing up pillows, wearing thick socks and sweaters, pulling curtains closed, turning up the heat, cooking soups, making tea and hot chocolate, reading books, watching mysteries and comedies, stroking my sleepy cat.

At the same time, recurring anxieties about money and right livelihood don't exactly fit well into a cozy domestic scene. But this winter such thoughts have been pressing in even more than usual as I'm in the process of reconfiguring the big picture of my life and what direction to go from here, with the embodied knowledge as a cancer survivor that life really is short and there is still so much to do.

So in trying to figure all this out, I've been doing more yoga, journaling, brainstorming, and reading across genres for inspiration, including books about meditation (because that's much easier than actually meditating). But when coziness, self-help, and deep breathing are not enough, or even when all that is enough but I still need to go to sleep quickly or de-stress fast at work, I've been turning to the magical medicinal properties of lavender oil.

I have a big lavender plant growing in a pot outside, plus dried lavender stems in my closet and in floral sachets amid my sweaters. And this fall I had switched to using Dr. Bronner's Liquid Castile Soap in lavender (instead of unscented) as both body soap and shampoo, making my shower time extra fragrant and relaxing. Even my current hand lotion is scented with lavender oil. Just before bed, I've also been opening a bottle of lavender essential oil and dousing my wrists and neck for a burst of aromatherapy. The strong scent coming off my skin soothes me to sleep—aided by a dose of melatonin. 

And if you don't like the scent of lavender, maybe because it reminds you of old ladies with white hair, why not try a different essential oil? Sometimes all we need is to start a new daily ritual, a placebo action like applying body lotion or cracking open a book before bed. Whatever works to feel better, right?


de-stressing: snow days

snowy trees on Clackamas River

Winter months are hard in the Northwest. Daylight hours are short—not as short as Norway or Alaska but short. It's chilly, damp, and dark here. These snowstorms we've been having remind me how much lighter a cloudy sky is when reflected by white snow than in rain when everything is gray and moody. (There's a reason Portland is known for craft beer, strip clubs, and coffee shops: people seek escape.)

During winter, I long for summer. I muse over past idyllic island vacations. I daydream about moving south. I get tired of wearing two coats at once and waiting for buses and trains out in the cold. But when it snows? Yes! Snow days are one of the perks of working at a public school. During the pause of daily life that is a snow day—no work, no commute—it's easier to be present in the moment.


mini-rabbit snowman

And not one, not two, but three is exactly how many coats I wore on a walk to the grocery store yesterday—plus a sweatshirt layer, my handknit mittens, a wool hat, and two wool scarves. The usual walk took on a magical quality when everything was blanketed in snow. It also took twice as long, trudging through slushy and compacted snow in rain boots—meaning snow, like sand at the beach, makes for a better workout.

snowy riverbank, Clackamas River

Down by the river in the snow and muffled air, I could almost forget about the housing complex being developed over on the Oregon City side of the Clackamette Cove, an inlet pocket of the Clackamas River, and the fitness center and large parking lot going in across the street, blocking our view of the riverside. One must be anointed by natural beneficience when it comes, while it lasts.


de-stressing: swimming

Makry Gialos, Crete, at dusk (July 2016)

I'm not much of a swimmer. I had a swimming lesson once as a kid; the tan, smiling, sun-bleached teenager in red trunks instructed us to stand and dip our faces underwater, blowing bubbles. Unlike my Californian cousins who had a pool in their backyard, sliding in and out of the water like seals, my family donned swimsuits once or twice a year during mid-summer: while camping up at icy-cold Oregon mountain lakes and during the week at our grandmother's cabin in the High Sierras, my grandmother paying for tickets to the town's private man-made lake. Underwater activities for me have always meant risking screaming ear infections requiring antibiotics, my ear canals neatly trapping water, tubal petri dishes for blooming bacteria. Even so, I can (approximately) frog-swim, tread water, side crawl, and float—all self-taught.

southern Crete coastline (July 2016)

But this summer in Crete, my younger sister, who has more normally shaped ear canals, insisted I try snorkeling, handing me a drugstore package of Mack's silicone putty ear plugs. I suppose I had always assumed ear plugs would never really work. Even on two separate occasions as an adult in warm sub-tropical Hawaiian waters alongside sea turtles, I refused to snorkel. But in Crete, post-cancer, a new me, I thought, "Oh, why not?"
So I did, for the first time, borrowing gear from the hotel. My sister gave me a quick lesson at the beach near the hotel. Even with me nearsighted, all margins blurry, the feeling was freeing, slipping underwater into the muffled quiet with the fishes like any other mammal.

swimmer at Vai, Crete (July 2016)

The next day we took a party-boat cruise to a nearby uninhabited island where the water was crystal clear. We snorkeled later in the week at the northeast beach at Vai under Crete's sole stand of palm trees, the water a pure turquoise. Our last full day we returned to the magical island via the party boat for more hours of snorkeling. If I'd had the money, I would have bought a little hill house and stayed in Greece forever, hiking the herb-scented hills and swimming in the buoyant sea.

Mediterranean Sea viewed from hills over Makry Gialos, Crete (July 2016)

sunset view, Crete (July 2016)

I've been missing that feeling of escape from routine, the feeling of floating in a body of water. So one evening this week my roommate and I drove over to our nearest local public pool. I forgot to put in my ear plugs before stepping into the water, but it didn't matter. We spent an hour treading water and chatting, splashing around, schooled by the high-school swim team practicing in lap lanes on one side. The water was 86 degrees and the room humid but still a bit chilly when half-naked, winter's cold breath pressed against the tall glass windows. Instead of natural sea-salt breezes, we grew redolent with poisonous chlorine. But the pool was sparsely populated, only a handful of water-aerobics class members, plus the swim team, so we had much of it to ourselves.

After a warm shower in the changing room, slipping on yoga pants and an oversized, thick cotton sweater, my hair wet under a wool hat, I felt more relaxed than I've been since paddling in the summertime Mediterranean Sea. Exercise and de-stressing for five dollars at a public pool—I'll take more of that, please.

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