On Moving

I have been on a hiatus, not completely by choice but definitely out of necessity. My partner and I moved at the beginning of the month; today marks three weeks. And it wasn’t just any move, we bought a building, inherited two lovely tenants, and are now the masters of our domain in Bridgeport, one neighborhood south of where we used to live in Pilsen (although my wife continuously reminds me that — according to her — we didn’t really live in Pilsen because we were too far east).  Either way, we moved and it was a big deal. Only it took me a while to see that.


There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort. ~Jane Austen

Funny how survival — or maybe stress and self-preservation instincts — work. I was so busy for weeks, maybe more than a month, thinking and planning and anticipating and packing and overall feeling upended that I didn’t allow the realness, the bigness, of our move sink in until now. Yes, I was sad to move — our old apartment was the place where we became newlyweds and went through a lot — and yes, I was excited to open up a new chapter in our lives, but I didn’t have time to sit and let it sink in, let it settle in my bones and have it really permeate and feel real until now. Now that we’re on Thanksgiving break and I have time to sit and just be, to look out the windows and walk through the rooms and feel the doorknobs in my hands and hang my coat in the closet and wipe down the counters, do all those tiny mundane things that hardly register as anything, I’ve gotten it. We’ve moved. I moved. And now I’m here. And I love it.


The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s such a pleasure to know that this small corner of the world is mine, is ours, and that we’ll be able to make plans and see them come true. And this will be its own form of magic — coming home.



Was I that kid?

The classroom is most definitely a microcosm of society. Just like in “the real world” — also known as the world outside the classroom — there are moments of imbalance and injustice. What I’ve been struggling with and turning over in my head the last few weeks is what I can do about it, both as the adult in the room when I’m teaching and as a person in the world when I’m not.

Columbus Day just passed and I was going to say something about that, something about how it’s a bullshit day, that it should really be a day to honor the African Diaspora and the First Nations People rather than the conquerors. Then I was going to say something about facing the reality of our American culture, that many of the most “American” things emanate from non-white people and non-white places, ranging from the music we listen to to everyday technologies we take for granted.

But that statement alone wasn’t going to be enough; this nationwide, even worldwide negligence of balance, truth, and justice is part of it for me. It’s part of my slowly roiling frustration when I’m in the classroom this year. Another part of it is that now that I’m working with white kids — my first time in 11 years of teaching — I’m now seeing my biases up close on a daily basis and I’m seeing how extremely fucking sneaky they are, and worse yet, how little innocent white kids rely on them, base their entire stance in the world on them — and how adults like me perpetuate the cycle.

And so I arrive at a buffet of doubts and questions. Was I like these white kids when I was a kid? Did I take up so much space with my whiteness and the privileges it brings that I left no space for anyone else? Did my entitlement over-magnify me to the detriment of my peers? Did my implicit expectation that of course I’d win or get what I asked for or be chosen or go first take that experience away from someone else who was just as deserving — or more deserving? Did I just go through most of my life thinking I was a sweet girl in grammar school, friends with everyone, darling to all, while my classmates were just waiting for me to leave the room so they could finally breathe and take up some goddamn space?

I’d love to believe that I wasn’t like that. But maybe I was. Maybe I did take up that much space in the classroom, in the teacher’s psyche, in my classmates’ mental and emotional space. And with every inch I took, every time I raised my hand, answered a question, made some subtly domineering move in the classroom, my non-white peers got just that much less space for themselves, for their self-expression, for their self-exploration, for their risk-taking, for their leadership, for their ideas, for their questions, for their existence.

And there’s nothing I can do about it now, unfortunately, no way for me to go back and fix it, fix myself, teach my younger me how to not be an entitled jackass kid. But what can I do now? What can I do?

Well, I have to see this as my chance. I get to be a defender and a bridge and a guide all at once. My job is to guard the classroom space, keep it clear and open for all of my kids to lead, question, grow, take risks — to defend all of my kids’ rights to experience education, the act of learning and engaging and growing past their current boundaries. My job is to bring these kids together, bridge their differences, draw them close together and set up the expectation that they will always mingle, always integrate, always know one another, and always wish to know one another. My job is to guide them through rich and diverse materials, highlighting the beauty and value in everyone, in all of us, honoring our shared humanity. How exciting. How terrifying.

I acknowledge that I’m going to fail, and do it wrong, and forget myself and give in to something deeply coded into my brain. But I’m trying to push through my own shit to open up space and keep it open, one inch at a time.

Leadership is… (the kids version)

This entry is inspired by the way I found my classroom on Friday afternoon. I’d been out all day at a teacher leadership meeting, and returned to my building after hours to meet with my team. But before that, I stopped by my room — my home away from home — to reset a few things for Monday, and came upon a giant mess:  my desk overflowing with disorganized papers, pencils and facial tissues littering the floor, chairs strewn about the room, the morning message still left up on the board (eight hours later!!), a full newspaper stuffed into the teacher trash can, and a nearly untouched stack of assignments and activities that I had prepared the night before and left for the substitute teacher to lead the kids in doing. I can only imagine what they got up to all day. If only I could’ve been a fly on the wall.


Exhibit A: The messy desk — I promise, I don’t leave it this way!

We’ve had many examples — interesting examples — of leadership in the news in the recent past. And many people have delved into those newsworthy examples, people who are better informed than I am, so I will leave that to them. But the classroom and the school setting are very often parallel worlds to what’s going on in the larger community — the citywide community, the statewide or national community, the global community — and that made me think about what I’m going to tell my students, my kids, on Monday. So humor me as I work through a draft of it here:

Based on the conditions I found in the room on Friday, I can make a few assumptions about what happened, how you behaved, and how your substitute teacher behaved. Some will blame the teacher for being a bad leader — in some ways I do — but I also put responsibility on you — all of you — for letting this happen. I know you are just children, only eight or nine years old, but your experience on Friday was an important lesson. And unfortunately you’re going to see as you grow up that the leaders who are meant to be in charge, to direct you and your daily activities, who are supposed to make decisions that are on your behalf, designed to benefit you — they will fail. And when you find yourself in that situation, you have choices.

One, let go and have fun. Don’t resist and follow along. And why not? It’s not your fault that the leader’s doing a bad job, making decisions that aren’t best for you or your community. It’s not your job, it’s someone else’s. And I understand. However, in those times you have other options, ones that are more powerful than that.

Once you realize that the leader, the person who’s supposed to be at the helm, driving the bus and choosing the path, isn’t making good decisions, then it’s up to you. Because you see what’s lacking, it is up to you — it is up to you — to take the lead. I’m not asking you to be defiant or disrespectful of the adult in the room, the leader of the classroom, but I am asking you to look around and think. Consider what would be best for you in this moment, and think about how you can bring others along with you into positive, respectful, and responsible choices. That’s a leader and that’s leadership. Start with the people nearest to you, and suggest that you all do something together — read, study, work on something as a group. If you can, spread out and visit other parts of the room, urge and encourage those friends to do the same. Stay optimistic, be persistent and positive, be flexible in your approach to the teacher and your classmates, show resilience and bounce back when you are ignored, and strive to do your best — even if the final, positive results are only with you. That’s being a leader.

And being a leader, a true leader, a sustainable and honorable leader, does not often lead from the helm, lifted up on a platform, dictating or bossing or threatening. Leaders are living and learning and moving among their friends, striving to be their best selves in all circumstances, welcoming their friends into better choices, searching for and magnifying their peers’ strengths, supporting and encouraging them through challenges, believing in them persistently — all the while with their eyes, their minds and their hearts set on creating a bond and a community among everyone, with mutual respect and responsibility as their goal.

So, we are going to take a step to the side today, to reinvest in one another and to plant the seed of leadership in our hearts — in each and every heart here in this classroom. We are going to build our community stronger by getting to know one another more deeply, by creating personal goals, sharing those goals, and pushing ourselves everyday this week to be on each other’s team, to encourage everyone to reach their goals and to be their best selves. Because if we can find that leader in ourselves, then we will always have a choice — no matter what may come — and we will know how to stay strong as individuals and as a community, and we will reach our goals no matter what.

i see you, i thank you, i love you

I just came home from a long visit with The Kids. Let me explain. I’m not a mother, but I’m a teacher. So in a way, I’m a part-time mother to many. In this specific case, The Kids are a family of four kids who are currently being taken care of by their grandmother, who they consider their mom. The full storyline is a little muddled and gray, but in general the gist is something like the mom was mentally and emotionally unstable, had four (or maybe five) kids within about six years, and through a series of abandonments and neglect, left them with her own mother to take over full custody and care for them.

I’ve come to know them — and love the shit out of them — through my wife, who was preschool teacher to the youngest two, the boys. Through a long series of conversations and events we saw that one of the boys was gifted, like truly gifted, and he qualified to attend the regional gifted program that’s housed in my school. Besides seeing them at school, we’ve gotten closer to them over the years, taking them out on the weekends and during the summer, attending their teacher conferences and meet the teacher nights, helping with school projects, all that.

And we just came home from a long visit with them. Unfortunately they’re struggling to deal with school and their emotions and how to treat one another and how to listen to their mom — essentially how to process and deal with their unfairly fucked up lives. But none of this stuff is their fault, they didn’t create any of the circumstances or make any of the decisions that have landed them where they are today. And even though they’ve been struggling lately, overall they’ve been amazingly resilient and strong; they’ve gone through more emotional trauma than even most adults and they’re not even four feet tall yet.

Which leads me to thinking about several things. One, the mothers and fathers — parents through blood or love — who, regardless of what life has thrown at them, have pushed themselves to get to work, show up for their kids, do whatever is in their power to protect, nurture, and push their kids to their highest heights — I see you, I thank you, and I love and admire you for the sacrifice, the drive, and the never-ending persistence that you show. Because of parents like you, your child’s success is not a possibility, it’s already a fact. You are doing it, and it’s already happening.

Two, to the children of these circumstances — whether you are still small or already in a grown-up body living in the world — even if it doesn’t seem like you’ve had much in your life that was given to you, like nothing was ever easy, you are making your life — you are the creator of your fortune — and because you have come from such depths you have the capacity to know such heights. You have been burnished by hardship, and smoothed by rough waves, and your success means more to the world — it just does. Your accomplishments, your wins, your awards and prizes, they are a beacon and a victory, a jewel in the crown of creation, because your life demonstrates how a person can create something wonderful from almost nothing. You are a piece of magic on earth.

So to my friends and even unknown readers who are seeing this, I know it can seem like your life is hard and small and heavy. All the little shit builds up to a crushing weight. But take a minute and look back to those moments when you were low, so much lower than you are now. And ask yourself — how have I gotten this far? Most likely the answer is that it’s been through the care of a parent — from blood or love — and through you, your power and your decision to be better. Please keep going — don’t stop — you’re almost there. And I see you, I thank you, I love you.


Let go and let go until it’s really let go

I grew up Catholic. My mom took my brother and me to church every Saturday — well — kind of religiously. Why Saturday? Isn’t it supposed to be Sunday? Yes, sure. However, technically Sunday is the first day of the week and so Saturday is the last day of the week, a day of rest and the Lord’s day. Also, Saturday mass is less crowded than Sunday mass, so it’s shorter and we’re in and out faster. What can I say? My mom was a very efficient Catholic.

Regardless of what day and time I went to church, I grew up hearing about forgiveness. There was confession, where the priest forgave you your sins, there was praying to saints and Mary who could intercede for you, and there was also praying straight to God, whichever of the three members of the Holy Trinity you decided to pray to, who you might ask for forgiveness. This isn’t meant to be a critique of the Catholic faith or my upbringing, but in some ways — even as an eight-year-old — I just felt, or even knew that someone saying, “You’re forgiven” didn’t really mean it was so. Really? Just like that? Forgiven?

I spent some time as a child, adolescent, and young adult thinking about forgiveness and what it actually is, but I didn’t have much to grab hold of, something concrete. Even when I’d watch 20/20 interviews with the mothers of murder victims — the poster people of forgiveness — saying, “I’ve come to forgive [so-and-so murderer] for what he’s done to [so-and-so victim],” I’d watch and still wonder. What exactly happened, inside that mother, inside her brain or her heart or her consciousness or her spirit or her I don’t know what, that determined she had undergone the process of forgiveness?

I meditate. I’ve been doing meditation and energy work for years now, and in that setting, some of the energy I’ve worked with is the energy of forgiveness. It even has a color. Gold. And I’d use it in meditations, work with others using it, and still not quite get it. What is forgiveness? What’s happening here?

And maybe this is all obvious to you, if you’ve listened more carefully in church than I have or watched 20/20 interviews more intently or really gotten it when you meditated, but it hasn’t been like that for me. I just never knew if I was going to be capable of understanding forgiveness, of having forgiveness, of performing the act of forgiveness towards someone else.

Then, when I was in the process of meeting my now-wife, I was hurt. I was really hurt deeply by someone I had considered a friend, even a best friend — if that even exists for adults. After coming out to her (even I didn’t quite know and accept that I was gay until I met my wife), and telling her about my new relationship, she stopped speaking to me, excluded me from her own wedding party without telling me (I only found out when I went onto her wedding website to RSVP and saw the wedding party and that I wasn’t in it), and then informed me the night before my own wedding that she wouldn’t be attending because — well — just because.

And initially I was angry, and then happy because I was married the next day, and then numb to feeling anything about her because I was busy being married and working and living life. But finally the dust settled. And I could feel a space, a hole, that she used to inhabit. And I realized, I’m hurt. I’m sad. And I’m also fucking pissed. I had not forgiven her — at all. And every time I saw her I would either want to pretty much stab a pencil through her eyeball — or on better days — I’d want to be friendly, supportive, caring (her engagement fell through and she was pretty devastated for a while) but there was an invisible wall there, something holding me back.

I could go on and on for another 25 paragraphs about all the internal processing I had about her, our friendship, about myself, but I won’t. I did realize, though, that in order to let myself heal, move on, and make truer, more meaningful, and lasting friendships, I’d have to let go — I’d have to forgive. And every time I see her different feelings are stirred up within me, but when the dust settles, I let go. I let go a little more and then a little more and then a little more. On an energetic level I thank her for being who she was to me when we were friends, and I let go. And the letting go creates a space, a new space, a different space. And in that space forgiveness resides.

Life Is a Grassroots Campaign

Last week I wrote about my appreciation for my body, for all the things that it allows me to do. That appreciation still holds, but I’d like to go into it a little further; with all things simple, there is a lot to be mined from the depths.

I grew up studying ballet, a discipline which in general teaches its students to have anything from a mild distain to a full hatred for the body — usually because it’s not meeting the ideals of the ballet physique or the standards of what a body should do and how it should look doing it. If you want to seen an example of just how much ballet can skew your self-concept, take a look at this Russian ballet superstar.

In addition to ballet, add the fact that I’m female. The pressure to act and look pleasing  is so subtly pervasive, it’s like a mist in the air; you know there’s something there, but you just can’t quite put your finger on it. Then, compound that with female competition — who’s the most pleasing, the thinnest, the smallest, the prettiest — and I was swimming in a pretty chunky self-hatred stew. The trouble is, like I mentioned, it’s so pervasive and so common — and starts at such a young age — that I wasn’t even fully aware of it until I was well into womanhood.

I left ballet towards the end of high school — I wasn’t going to be good enough to be


Found in the lot next to my building. Reminds me of the stinky onion of self-defeat.

professional — and even though the physical training had ended, the mental training of ballet stayed. There was some good in that training:  I was very goal-oriented, self-disciplined, extremely respectful of authority figures and teachers, I had a lot of body awareness, and strangely good peripheral vision. But I also retained heavy self-judgment and self-doubt, I was perfectionistic, and I could hardly ever acknowledge that I was doing a good job, let alone doing “enough.” And these characteristics made it hard for me to be good to myself as a college student and a young adult. These characteristics also made it hard for me to be good to the people around me.

What does all this have to do with life being a grassroots campaign? Yesterday I was listening to a podcast with Mike White, a movie writer and director. The topics he discussed were wide-ranging, but mostly focused on people’s jealousy and obsession with status. At one point he said, life is a grassroots campaign; we start with ourselves, in the body that we’re in and the dirt that we’re standing on, and from there we build out to the people around us.

And I realized — intentionally or not — that’s what I’ve been doing since the day I left ballet. I’ve been working to let go of the self-judgment and self-doubt, the perfectionism and the idea that I am never enough. I’ve been loosening my grasp on “perfect,” and reframing my life around growth and self-forgiveness. A small, quiet, tiny but profound internal revolution.


I ask myself, are my health and body perfect? Definitely not. But can I see small changes  when I go to exercise, when I make a choice about what to eat, when I ask my body to do something challenging and it rises to the occasion?

I ask myself, is my job perfect, is this the job I want forever and always? No. But am I growing and changing through this job? Am I thinking of how I can use it as a bridge to develop into what I want and who I want to be professionally?

I ask myself, is my marriage perfect? Sometimes yes, but not always. But is it growing and changing with who we are? Are we approaching a life together focused on mutual love and support?

I ask myself, are my friendships and family relationships going the way I want? Mmm, it depends. But can I see how approaching a person with compassion and optimism can strengthen the ties we already have?

Can I see how my loving treatment of myself can build momentum, turn into a ripple and then a wave, and that over time it can radiate outward? And can I see that eventually I am the head of my own grassroots movement — one that is rooted in recognizing and cheering on growth, change, forgiveness, optimism, and resilience?


Thank You, Body

This week, again, was spent working in my classroom so what I planned to write about got a little derided. However, I think the things I’ve been thinking still apply. So, here we go.

Even though I’m female and I’ve been raised in an American culture that encourages girls and women to be their biggest critics — and even despisers — of their bodies (too fat, too skinny, too tall, wrong hair, wrong skin, blah blah blah) I love and appreciate my body so much, especially in weeks like these.

My body has been my lifelong companion. I mean, duh, obviously, but really — think about that — your body is the only living thing that will be with you your entire life. Not your parents, your siblings, your spouse, even friends or pets. Maybe a tree or a sea turtle, but for argument’s sake let’s just say it’s just you inside your body. And the fact that your body is alive and functioning means you’re alive and on this planet, living a life. Your body is your host and home for the life you’re living and simultaneously it’s a living organism with needs — just like any other living organism. And the profound thing is that this body is yours — and my body is mine — and that body goes with me and does pretty much whatever I ask it. Get up at 5:55am everyday? Okay. Walk briskly and stand in lines and carry heavy boxes and lift bins overhead and climb a ladder and get down from a ladder? No problem. Go five, six hours without food because you’re busy? Well, why not. And in some ways this is an everyday miracle. The fact that I can do and do and do and think and do some more — all while nearly forgetting about my body, having my body be a transparent tool that does whatever I want it to do, is a tiny miracle. And I am so grateful — my body is strong and loyal.

But loyalty reminds me — I have to be loyal, too. My body, my beautiful, miraculous, ever-giving body, needs some loyalty and care, too. Just like any other type of companion or friend, the relationship I have with my body needs maintenance. The basics, yes, like sleep and rest, nutritious food, clean water, a good dose of rigorous exercise — but also love and appreciation. I really do believe that my body, just like any other living organism, can feel the energy of love and appreciation and flourish in that love — and conversely — the energies of dislike, disappointment, frustration, irritation, shame, disgust can bring a body figuratively and literally to its knees. So why not just do it? Feel love for the body — for your body.

Because even when the body gets sick, when the body gets tired, when it falls short in some way that you deem, it’s still there for you, working for you and doing its best to keep you living — so that it can be the tool you need to live the life you desire. What’s not to love about that?

Creative Spaces

This week I spent most of the week driving around Illinois for the solar eclipse, celebrating my wedding anniversary, and also putting my work space together.

Over the last three days I’ve spent about 20 hours setting up my work space, my classroom. Every year in the late summer the room starts as a fairly blank canvas, all the furniture needs to be moved around, books and materials need to unearthed and a place found for them. Lots of thinking and rehearsing and trial and error goes into all of this; it’s not just about how I’d like the space to look and feel, but how 30 kids will like it, how they’ll feel in the space. I think about whether the placement of something is intuitive, too high, too far away, if a walking path is clear and uncluttered, if a rug’s location looks inviting, if I will be able to reach for something easily or I’ll have to hang over the side of a desk or bookshelf to get there, if the afternoon light will be too bright on a desk, if the room will be too gloomy on a cloudy day, if there’s a comfortable place for me to sit when I’m alone working, if there’s an obvious place for me to gather with groups.


The room in its before state. There’s no after picture just yet.

Is all this necessary? No, not really, and I don’t mind. But I used to mind. Every August I’d start to dread going back to school. It’s not fair, I used to think. I’m not getting paid for all this work, all these free hours. But something this summer shifted. I’ve realized — embraced, really — the fact that even this kind of work — moving books and hauling furniture — is creative. I’m creating a space that will stage all kinds of further manifestations of creativity:  ideas, discussions, projects, posters, friendships, experiments, and more cycles of trial and error. This time of year is my chance to create and curate another part of myself — the physical space that hosts my professional life. So I go back to work knowing that creativity has many faces, that I can let go a little more, and get lost inside my creative process in an old space that, this time around, is feeling brand new.

The Home Garden as Revolution

So last week I essentially glossed over my ideas about how and why I’ve been distanced from my food source. There’s a lot in those few sentences that can be unraveled.

First of all, I believe that through our specialization — particularly the kind of ultra-specialization that we have in our society in present time — each of us as individuals can easily lose sight of the whole and our place in it. I live in an urban setting, Chicago, and I do not have to see where any of my essentials come from, be it food, clothing, shelter, even toiletries or entertainment goods — unless I go out of my way to research, which let’s face it, would probably be online. As a result, I can get further and further into my own rabbit hole, focusing on manufactured problems and topics, like sports, celebrities, fashion, online personalities. You’re online right now reading a blog, so I’m sure you know exactly what I mean. However, when I stop to think about the underlying, root cause of all this, the main thing that I come back to over and over is money, and particularly creating false desires.

Think about it:  from the day you were born, you’ve been getting messages on who to be, what to have, and how to get there. Some of those messages are from your usual trusted sources, like family members who are invested in your health and well-being. But a huge amount of those messages are coming from marketers whose job is to sell you something — even if you’re not old enough to have a job and use your own money — you’re being sold a thing, an idea, a solution to your problems. But I don’t have problems, you say. Sure, but the way that so many products are sold is through implying that you can be more than what you are right now, and don’t you want more? Isn’t it a problem that you aren’t now what you could be, if you just had a little more? Be happier, healthier, stronger, fitter, cooler, richer, more than whoever you are and whatever you have right now. Our brains are inclined to problem solve, and marketing messages tap into that.

Once that level of desire is set in motion, and it’s not examined from time to time, it’s a cycle that carries on and on, maybe with no end. And to satisfy these desires, to solve these problems, to become better, we need money. To get money, we need to work. As workers, most of us are in industrialized, specialized work. And I know the word industrialized usually brings up images of factory lines, heavy machinery, all that. But it doesn’t have to. Most of us have jobs that do not see a task through from start to finish. Doctors are specialized to an organ of the body or a type of cancer. Mechanics are specialized to the type of car or car part. Engineers are specialized to the type of materials or scale of project. I’m not saying that your family doctor should perform your root canal or a civil engineer should design a NASA rocket, but there’s something to be said for seeing a task through from start to finish — how it all works, from small to big and from big to small.


What does all this have to do with having a garden? Well, the way I see it, when I’m pulled away from what I believe to be my more essential state — a living thing who inhabits a living body on a living planet — it’s easy to become lost in wanting stupid shit that I’d never want or care about in the first place. When I’m in what I believe is a more essential state for me — a humbled human who tries to live in communion with her planet, who tries to respect other living things, who strives only to take what is needed and leave the rest, who works to harmonize information about her past with her present experiences and future wishes, who wants to live joyfully and timelessly — there’s nothing that can be sold to me. All the shit in the sale bin seems unnecessary, a useless and distracting trifle that keeps me from living and being.

So the garden reminds me of that. It keeps me accountable and grounded to my experience on this planet. The plants remind me that everything takes time, patience will be rewarded. The plants’ signals teach me to be reliable and to be present everyday, to be observant of changes, no matter how small. The little critters that surround the plants, crawling, flying, hopping, burrowing, teach me tolerance up to a certain point, and then how to take decisive action. The air and light touching the plants remind me to appreciate fleeting moments and to meet all types of days, sunny, rainy, cloudy, with openness to possibility and surprise. And the garden shows me, very directly, where my food comes from, how long it takes to grow to maturity, and the distances it may need to travel before reaching my plate — that wanting more is not necessary. I have more than enough.

And the revolution comes with knowing these lessons. Because being alert and cognizant of where things come from may change our outlooks on life, on consuming, on having more and being more, on buying and working for the money to get more. The revolution is personal — and can seem small — but it can grow big. The revolution is in having the awareness of the whole, having the awareness of the external demands for us to feel less than whole and to buy something to fix it. The revolution starts when those feelings and tendencies are recognized and instead of falling prey to blind buying or unconscious consuming we pull back, see the game, gently put it to the side, and step out into our gardens to marvel at the powerful earth and our place in it.

Basil & Being on Earth

IMG_3126Years ago a friend and I planned to make caprese sandwiches. You probably know the one:  crusty bread and soft, white mozzarella, slices of tomato, a splash of balsamic vinegar, and a few basil leaves. I’d been growing a basil plant all summer, so I happily offered to bring some over to his place. Once I arrived and put the fragrant, green leaves on display he asked where the rest of it was. The rest? It took a lot out of me to cut off the six or so leaves that I brought. How much basil did he want? He laughed and it all worked out in the end, but that basil — and particularly how I treated it — has been something I’ve turned over in my mind ever since.

Since birth, we humans — at least the ones brought up in a Western culture — are taught to think that we are better than everything else, better than the rest of nature. When we are asked to describe or picture nature, there’s nature out there — animals and plants and maybe even whole habitats or ecosystems — and then over here we have humans. They are separate. And even in their separation, humans are on top of the pyramid, at the center of the circle, in control, stewards, captains of the ship. And throughout history we have selected certain species to accompany us outside nature, our domesticated species like livestock, but also our pets, our cats and dogs, and apparently even our plants. And I realize now that much like a specially loved cat our dog, I had been treating my basil plant like a pet. I wasn’t really treating it like a plant that had a natural or biological function. Because when the time came for me to use it as food — rather than as a green companion — I struggled. I didn’t want to hurt the plant, to affect its future growth, to mar its beauty. And again, that makes me question. Why?

As a person born and raised in an urban setting, I have never been close to my food source. The closest I’ve come is farmers markets on the weekend or apple picking in the fall. Other than that I can live in a world where I don’t come into contact with any of humanity’s working and domesticated species:  wheat, corn, orchard trees, dairy cows, the list goes on. And this distant relationship further supports my identity as superior to the nature that is out there as well as my patronizing attitude towards our domesticated species. However, humans are not separate from nature. We are a part of nature. Every human settlement is part of an environment, an ecosystem, and every human body is a singular instance of biology working its way through a day and life by interacting with other biological species. Time and again I’ve seen examples in books like The Wild Life of our Bodies and in videos like the one about the Yellowstone wolves, we’re never alone, a singular and independent entity. We’re all in this together.

So if humans collectively realized that we are not separate from nature — there is no reason to pretend that we are not a part of this planet — and that the hierarchy of species is a man-made invention, then what? Where would that put us?

We’d be down in the web with every other living thing, lowered to their status — or conversely, all living things would be raised to our status. And that leveling off of the hierarchy, that ending of the master over nature narrative, would ask more of us because we wouldn’t be thinking of only ourselves, our comfort and preferences, the continuance of our habits to the detriment of all else. But we’d be thinking of the earth’s plants and animals as our supporters and workmates, living alongside us striving as much as we are to thrive and grow. And we might start to think how do my actions affect the whole? rather than how can I feel best or get what I want now? And I imagine for myself and for many others we’d start to realign our attitudes, our thoughts, our behaviors, even our purchases and how we spend our time, to a different set of values — values that would question the conditioning we’ve experienced to buy and consume almost nonstop, values that would question assumptions about what is enough, values that would question the ethics behind what goes into the production of much of what we buy. Because if I hold a plant or an animal in equal esteem with myself, if I see it as an equal contributor to my health and happiness, and the continuation of a healthy planet overall, then that changes everything, doesn’t it? And the I hope that the next time I clip a few leaves of basil off my plant, savor a chunk of creamy mozzarella, or rip off a chunk of bread from the loaf that I’m not just eating to eat, but I’m aware that my actions place in the web of life as a thankful and shrewd coconspirator in Earth’s continuing abundance.