- Right to lose our way often. Creators have the right to wander, wend, and get lost as often as possible. To support each other in being lost, we listen first and at least as twice as long as we speak, and we share each other’s work and stories with the world. If we are asked to speak by another creator or world citizen who is struggling with being lost (not all do), we offer clues—not answers—as gifts for each other to find. Answers aren’t as interesting or useful as clues. Most days. We deeply love getting lost, finding our way, and offering clues for other wanders to find.
- Right to play. Creators can play whenever, wherever, however, and with whomever we choose, as long as we accept the responsibility to 1) invite all those that we impact to join us and 2) change the game together, on the fly, to suit the players and neighbors present with us. As Bernie says, “The players are more important than the game.” Earthlings deeply love play and improvisation and imagination and experimenting. All our children know this.
- Right to bask within difference. Creators are encouraged and supported in celebrating the different, the odd, the strange, the weird, the curious, the queer, the unexplainable, the horrible, the unshaken wonder within, and the outcast within ourselves and each other. We creators succeed in life in direct proportion to our ever-expanding and contracting ability to do this, and most of us set up daily and weekly rituals to practice doing just this. We deeply love curiosity and difference and outcasts and oddness, because we are all of that. As we stay with it, together, we come to love all of it. All of us.
- Right to trust humanity. Creators assume the best of humans and offer the benefit of the doubt to other humans without fear of being lied to, injured, taken advantage of, or killed. When we find that we cannot do this on our own, then we ask for help, accept help, and we help each other find people among whom we can try again. And we keep on practicing. We deeply love feeling safe in the presence of other human beings—particularly with those remarkably different from us—because this helps us feel safe when we’re alone and when we create and more confident and humble wherever we go.
- Right to be yourself and be celebrated. Earthlings are celebrated for being here, and being exactly who we are, from birth to death and in all the spaces in between. This is true whether we can see it and feel it yet or not and whether the humans physically present around us opt to participate or not. Trees, birds, soil, wind, stars, ancestors, and elders, for example, celebrate us all. When we aren’t able to be ourselves and feel celebrated, we tend to move and go get lost for a while. Or, to celebrate others to learn celebration skills. We deeply love to celebrate and be celebrated. Celebration eases the pain of loss, loneliness, illness, and death that are part of this beautiful life too. We deeply love all forms of celebration, even those that look and sound nothing like our own, and we love finding new holidays and learning new ways to celebrate.
- Right to receive an almost overwhelming amount of help from the place you live. Creators listen to the voice of a whole place before taking action. This means listening to the sounds and beings that your ears can hear when you’re outside, ideally walking or sitting on the ground, or inside with several windows open. For example, to change your part of town, listen to the people who show up; the birds, insects, and animals that show up; the sounds of the wind, plants, buildings, bodies of water, stars, vehicles, music, and any other sounds present; the ancestors now part of the ground and the sky; and then listen to the interactions between these things. Strive to be connected enough to learn from other whole places and beings taking or considering similar action. We deeply love this place we call home. She loves us back: which we can only figure out fully when we slow down and listen fully.
- Right to be a complete mess. It is not uncommon to see creators making complete fools of ourselves. We learn to proudly, openly share our works in progress, work that didn’t quite work, work that REALLY didn’t work, and work we’re stuck on and cannot proceed further on without help. We visibly ask for forgiveness when our fear accidentally hurts others. Proudly, openly ask for other perspectives and help. Proudly, openly share our difficulties, and our gifts, with our world, no matter how different or painful or odd they seem to ourselves or others. Proudly, openly weep and laugh. We deeply love earthlings, being earthlings, and all the messiness that attends us. Feeling broken? Emotional? Completely lost? Bring it on, baby! Creators can handle the mess because we love the mess and share the load as friends and community. We learn young here: there is so much art within the mess!
- Right to forgiveness. Creators make mistakes, try again, make amends, and receive forgiveness everywhere we go. We love spending time with new people and trying new things: both result in mistakes being made. Mistakes are part of our process. We learn to love being wrong or partly wrong as much as we love being right, because we—and those touched by our work and our selves—learn more (or perhaps we just remember better and longer?) when we’re wrong than when we’re right. This wouldn’t be possible without forgiveness and strong, generous, connected, wise, and wildly different communities. We deeply love living in a world so committed to experimenting, learning, growing, community, celebration of difference, and forgiveness.
- Right to not feel the need to receive apologies. Creators rarely expect others to apologize for being themselves, because we have the ability to move away (and we love to move), to imagine ourselves as others (and we love to imagine), and to create and believe rich, complex back stories (and we love to create). See #5. Creators prefer to focus on our creations and ourselves—looking inward to ourselves, our muses, our work, our nature (hello tree, my old friend), and our creator groups for solace and sense-making most days. We also know that we’ll mess up on this one because we’re human (fortunately, see #6, #7, and #8). Humans have expectations of others, and it often takes much of an individual lifetime of practice to let go of that need. Plants, animals, birds, insects, plants, stars, and soil are all far better at this one. Watch and listen to them to learn this. To show our respect for world citizens who differ from us on this, we apologize to those who need our apologies to feel whole. We seek to learn from those who differ from us on this.
- Right of shared space and home space. Creators respect our shared spaces, including the field of imagination, by treating them as our home: welcoming, comfortable, natural, and sacred within their messiness. Over time, we tend to blend what we believe to be shared (what citizens call public) space—blurring boundaries every chance we get—and what we believe to be home (what citizens call private) space for ourselves. And even when they overlap entirely, we honor both. We respect other people’s private space as private and our own need sometimes to return home. Just because we often experience this whole planet and universe as shared, and also as home, doesn’t mean all other earthlings can, or do, or want to, or even that we want to all the time. See #16 and #17. We deeply love our shared space and home spaces.
- Right to pilot your own friend ship. Creator friendships cross all imagined boundaries and last beyond individual lifetimes. Creators don’t attempt to be whole on their own (most days) and instead draw friends to them whose ways of being and skills and talents and lifestyles and struggles complement and stretch/expand their own. With certain people, our mutual energy expands exponentially. These are the friends we typically create with. Creation requires ample energy, so we move away from people when an energy drain is felt—even away from people we love, aware that movement back is always a possibility. Today, many of us are accustomed to being told that this way of being is wrong, so it’s become a right of passage into maturity for a creator to find peace with being who they are and contentment within being considered wrong by many world citizens. Friendships teach us to honor all energy. We deeply love friendships.
- Responsibility to own and evolve our own labels and titles. Creators have a right to experience ourselves as creators and co-creators instead of as a consumer, user, customer, planet destroyer, deplorable, snowflake, troll, wuss, woo woo, or any other lame-ass label human fear tries to force onto us. And. We have the responsibility to visibly live the labels and titles that we create. For example, creators create, barter, trade, swap, repurpose, recycle, grow, make, share, patch, mend, fix, gift, learn to love the old and the broken, forage, find, and live without what we don’t really need anyway, first. Then, we create some more for good measure. Only then do we buy. When we buy, we respect the seasons, respect the place we live, respect the earthlings around us, respect our bodies, and give thanks for what we’ve purchased and to all the makers who made it possible. As we can, we buy and sell with people who live nearby, with kind people, and directly with other creators, makers, artists, neighbors, small farmers, and other close community members who could use our support. Before we buy physical goods from a long distance, creators get a second opinion: we talk to an old tree or old animal first. We listen. If the tree/animal thinks it’s a good idea, then we proceed. Sometimes we get a second tree or animal’s opinion, but usually just for the fun of it. When our labels and titles lose energy, we have the responsibility to experiment, change, and create new ones as visibly as possible. Because we can, and so many others can’t, we accept this responsibility gratefully and we take it seriously in the way a two-year-old takes a toy seriously.
- Responsibility to walk in wonder, silliness, and gratitude. Earthlings are living, breathing, adorable, fluffy balls of gratitude, wonder, and silliness when we’re are born. Creators become more so as we gain experience and as we age. We are utterly surrounded by these things as we enter, as we walk in, and as we leave this world. We deeply love gratitude, wonder, and silliness—at all stages of life. Our responsibility is to learn how to stay with these core earthling traits no matter what (animals, creator ancestors, children, and true human elders are the ones to watch) and then to demonstrate them to others, particularly when people’s lives and worlds are falling apart.
- Responsibility of bees to make honey. Creators make things, grow things, and create their art or craft as if the whole world depended on it and as if their whole self does. We have the right to create/make/grow without explanation or apology for who we are, when we listen to the whole place we’re in and feel at our core that being who we really are is vitally important—even when we don’t know why yet (which, frankly, is most of the time). Deeply listening humans can trust their intuition. We are allowed to tell anyone who questions our value, including ourselves, to walk out into a field or the woods, find a bee hive, and talk directly to the bees about why they make honey. The bees will explain it better. We deeply love to make, grow, and create and to share our creations with others. That deep love of creation, and others, is enough. As with all these rights, to fully claim this right as our own, creators must experience this right as an innate right of all earthlings, not just humans. And of all world citizens, not just creators.
- Responsibility to work on your own—and walk away from others’—total bullshit. We stay present, listen, fight fairly, and fight for each other, instead of against one another. If this is our thing to work on, this is what we do. We are far too connected, and practical, for that work-against-each-other bullshit that some world citizen humans try. For creators, fighting against each other means fighting against ourselves—this flat out doesn’t work for creators. Ask literally any creator ancestor living or dead, human, plant, insect, or animal. Fighting yourself can be a teacher, yes. And still it’s one that you have to let go of to create interesting, new, or curiosity peaking work. Becoming a creator means letting go of the violence and the silencing within us in favor of creating. Again and again and again: this is a life-long daily practice. Humans who believe and do otherwise—who believe in violence and silencing as useful answers—are free to leave our presence as they wish: with our blessings. And we are free to leave their presence: as groups and as individuals. We commit to staying when we can stay—when it is our fight to fight—and to moving away or asking for more help before contempt builds a nest and sets up home within us. We move to regroup and rest and learn and grow and often because we see that it’s not our fight to fight to fight anymore or that with the help of others a fight can be reimagined into a spark and into flow. Those who allow violence and silencing of others to grow and fester within themselves cannot be recognized as leaders by creators. The violence and the silencing plugs their ears so they can’t hear the whole place that they’re in. Cut off from the world herself, they become isolated, predictable, and unable to move in interesting new ways, let alone in wise old ways, with others. Don’t be that guy. 😉 And when you are, forgive yourself, ask for forgiveness, and move on together.
- Right to cede your power to a government or organization and still be respected and loved. At the moment, world citizens who don’t claim these inalienable creators’ rights for themselves and their closest others—and who don’t own the responsibilities that attend this much freedom—cede their innate power to their national and state government constitutions and to their employers’ Human Resources policies. Creators who do accept these rights have the responsibility to treat world citizens with kindness and respect even when we don’t receive it in return. Especially when we don’t receive it in return. Because we don’t need to receive kindness and respect to have it—it lives within our communities, our work, our selves, and our home neighborhood, planet, and universe. Some believe that our art is for world citizens more than it is for ourselves. Whether that’s true for you or not (it doesn’t have to be), respecting the place we live means respecting those around us who don’t live, love, work, move, act, think, and worship like we do. We deeply love this place we live, which means loving all people here with us, even those who piss us off to no end, and not just other creators. Respect and kindness is how we demonstrate our love of this place. Many of us most enjoy the presence of other creators, because they allow us to be our whole weird and wild selves. The freest creators among us—elder creators—learn how to learn as much from world citizens who aren’t creators as those who are. Fully free creators can find the creator, and the citizen, in all earthlings. And love us all.
- Right to impact the whole world in a positive, lasting way. When we fully enjoy these rights ourselves, we dedicate our lives and our work to supporting those who want to, but can’t, fully enjoy them yet. We deeply love unleashing new creators and new work on the world. If we seek to impact the whole world in a positive way, then this is the direction we creators take. It’s not just about creating new work. Creators create more creators. Creator groups create more creator groups. Creator communities create more creator communities. Now try saying or singing that fast three times. 😉
- Responsibility to learn from everyone. This doesn’t mean you have to listen to everyone: we learn a lot by reflecting on who we listen to, who we don’t listen to, and why. This instead reflects the fact that creators can cross more imagined boundaries than other world citizens because of our deep love of doing so. We know that we are as likely to make our next vital connection and breakthrough talking with the woman driving the bus in The Netherlands or dancing with the man who washes dishes in Nigeria or playing with the local street musician on the road side as we are by talking to the tuxedo-wearing keynote speaker at a prestigious event or putting a resume into the hands of “the right people.” Those who can cross old, imagined boundaries to learn have a responsibility to do so. When we do, we open new possibility doors in our world. Creators deeply love the possibility of learning something new, or finding nuance within the known, from everyone.
- Right to receive what we need. From ourselves. Creators don’t require others’ minds to be open, for example, before moving forward. The question we typically ask ourselves is this: “Is my mind open?” We don’t require others to be creative, for example, either. Instead we ask ourselves: “Am I being as creative as I can be right now?” This tendency of ours supports internally felt freedom regardless of where we are or who we are or what is happening. That said, our experience of “self” is fluid. We are co-creators. Our self might be an individual, a small group, a community, a forest, flock of birds, or an ocean, for example, at any given point. Because the limits of our imagination rarely stop at our individual selves, our rights—and the responsibilities of deep listening, deep kindness, deep fun, and deep respect—rarely stop at our individual selves. Huh. Wow. This is so cool! Damn it feels good to be a creator.
- Responsibility to move through ideas and beliefs as a community and to let go of things—including our old ideas and selves—when they no longer serve the greater good. Without our creators’ love of doing this, and our love of continuing to learn to do this better with friends and community members, future humanity will be uniform, dry, depressed, and dull as shit. Not that I believe that will happen. Not with Mother Earth at our backs and more people waking up every day now. Just be aware that doing this work often pisses off other creators, not only other world citizens. Evolving beliefs and ideas and selves isn’t easy for most humans. At this moment. But that’s going to change in this century. Watch for it. Practice it. Dance it. Paint it. Draw it. Play it. And you’ll see.
After 20. This space has been intentionally blank for the purposes of creation. Please finish this list for your community, as often as is needed by the community as a whole…
 This is known as the Bernie DeKoven Principle.
 If you’re a creator committed to a particular human, social justice, or environmental cause, partner with a few world citizens who you create energy with and who don’t define themselves primarily as creators like you do—people interested in (and who are dedicating their lives and careers to) social amends, conflict resolution, pulling forth awareness or heart-felt apologies, and social or environmental justice. Creators aren’t experts on justice: we’re experts at falling deeply in love with the world/ourselves/simply what is. So we need to partner with world citizens such as wonderful and open-minded attorneys, judges, social workers, cops, activists, educators, conflict specialists, librarians, community-center employees, scientists, government employees, spiritual directors, and even the best politicians—not just animals, birds, fish, and trees—to foster change in human culture if we want to witness culture changes in our lifetimes. Well-informed citizens like these tend to have strong answers and cross-community connections. Creators tend to ask new and forgotten questions and arrive with a presence, and with work, that helps citizens imagine themselves as part of something larger than they previously imagined. Partnering with these people is a good match, because we teach each other and help each other not take ourselves too seriously. We remind each other of our core-deep curiosity and core-deep abilities to shift, reimagine, and play.
I want to be that hummingbird
following flowers from
Bellingham to Baja
I want to be
cheering all the others who
follow their ancestral dreams
back and forth across
My mentor and friend Bernie has been told by doctors that he has a year left to live. Thanks to Bernie, I’m now aware that I—like him—have a choice here. Each new day now, actually, I have this choice: will I choose Bitterness, Sweetness, or Bittersweetness as my companion today? Luckily, thanks to Bernie, I don’t have to face this choice alone anymore.
Bernie has been playing, studying play, learning about play, and writing about play since the 1960s (as an adult, that is—I’m sure kid-Bernie did more than his fair share of playing, he probably drove his folks nuts). It didn’t occur to me until just last week that I should search his ginormous and playful database of deep fun (Deepfun.com) for the word “bitterness.” But then I did. So I did. And I was stunned by what I learned. Which is this…
I learned that playing, studying play, talking about play, thinking about play, and writing about play and deep fun and all the ways in which they manifest themselves around the world is a damn fine way to spend your life. There is a Sweetness in Bernie’s life that shows up in my imagination as a small, slightly goofy, and often mischievous creature sitting just above his right, and sometimes left, shoulder. Sweetness is an angel and a devil combined, the dappled color of a turning fall leaf, and he whispers “Let’s play!” and “Oooo, let’s try that!” and “Come on, let’s go there!” into Bernie’s ear every day. How Bernie spends his time here—the playing and the studying and the talking and wondering and the writing—all these things do a remarkable job of keeping Bitterness from stepping into his life uninvited. All those decades of writing—writing practically every day, WOW—and it’s almost as if Bitterness was listening for places to enter, waiting for just the right moment, but very few Bitterness-warranting moments appeared. So he contentedly sat on his swing, swinging.
You see, in my imagination, Bitterness sits swinging on an old tire swing dangling down from a tree branch, watching Sweetness and Bernie race around the world, and Deepfun.com, like children playing tag at twilight. Bitterness is smiling, watching, patient, and waiting. Bitterness isn’t sinister: more like the introvert kid content and enjoying the solitary swing and happy to have the more rambunctious others just slightly farther away but still in plain view. Bitterness doesn’t need to step in much at all, because clearly Sweetness and Bernie have got this. Because Bernie listens to Sweetness most days, Bitterness knows that Bernie is ok. Bernie invites Sweetness in to play most days, or vice versa. So much so, that they’ve even started to look a little bit like each other. And some days now, I notice, it’s Bernie who is the dappled angel-devil creature sitting on Sweetness’ shoulder, not the other way around. (Bernie also married Rocky, who comes from strong Sweetness-embracing stock. Lucky, lucky Bernie.)
As I wade through his six decades of writing, I notice that Bitterness moved visibly onto the Deepfun.com playground just six times. Go and look and see. And wow. Each time Bitterness stepped in, it was to visibly demonstrate how to invite Bitterness in and how to play with Bitterness. Bitterness, I learned, wants to play too. He’s just different. He’s not Sweetness. Not so easy to play with. Here’s a summary of what I learned. To get the full demonstration, search for “bitterness” yourself on Deepfun.com:
- October 13, 2003. In a post called “The Dancing Referee,” Bernie links to a video where we get to watch a man bring grace and exuberance to the difficult role/job/profession of sports (soccer, in this case) referee. Bernie notices “The officials are there, not to have fun, but to keep the way clear so that fun can be had by others. They allow the players to leave aside concerns about fairness and safety, so that they can focus everything, everything on the game. But refereeing is often a difficult role, one that leads to argument and bitterness, insult and injury. To find a space for joy in all this, to transform yourself from an official to a performer, requires courage and commitment and deep enjoyment. It kind of makes you think that anyone, regardless of role or position or function or job, can find fun, if fun is what that person is ready to find.” He ends by reflecting on a sport that doesn’t require referees (Ultimate Frisbee asks players to be their own referees) and on one that does, saying “To understand fun, we must find ways to celebrate both.” Celebrate both even though I’m not a fan of both? Hmmm. Deep fun, indeed.
- May 13, 2008. In a short post called “Pangea Day,” Bernie shares a link to a movie in which people reimagined a border wall into a volleyball net. Hmm. So Bitterness and fun belong together? Even in the presence of the worst humanity has to offer? Hmmm.
- June 28, 2008. In a post called “Sneaky Fun,” Bernie shares a link to a site designed primarily for people feeling bitter at work. People who work at computers, that is. The site transforms the Internet (a virtual place where people sneak away from tedious real-world work to explore and play) and makes the Internet look like a boring Word document on your monitor, so that you can sneak in a bit of fun under your bosses’ noses. Helping the Bitter at work be a bit naughty? I love it.
- April 25, 2011. In a piece called “Backstory,” Bernie talks about getting overwhelmed by the world and its cruelty and messes. “I want to rant and rail, to make sounds of fury, to bite the bullet of bitterness and spit it in the face of stupidity, in the hands of brutality, in the eyes of cruelty and stuff.” Damn. Wish I’d written that. And he follows that with writing down his own purpose so he can more fully look at it—simultaneously giving the world something better to read about themselves: “I write these posts to help make things a little more fun. That’s exactly, precisely what I’m here for. Fun for me, for you, for anybody who isn’t finding enough light to delight in their days… For me, play is a political act. This is what I truly believe. Playing, celebrating everything with everybody, anybody. It’s as revolutionary as a protest song, as government changing as a rally. For me, fun is healing, is health made manifest. Body health, social health, mental health, soul health.” As he writes, I think to myself “Play is an act of revolution, and clearly I’m all in.” And suddenly the whole world, and Bernie, and I are so beautiful that it makes me cry. Dammit Bernie. When did Sweetness jump onto my shoulder?
- October 20, 2015. In a post called “Elder Fun,” Bernie plays with a distant friend recovering from a stroke, demonstrating how to let go of old patterns of fun to embrace new patterns and deeper fun as we age. Fun and Bitter. Bitter and Fun. Hmmm.
- May 8, 2017. At this point, Bernie and Sweetness are living with the reality that he has less than a year to live in this beautiful, beautiful world of ours. And so am I. After reading his essay, “Play a little, talk a little, play a little, talk a little, play, play, play, talk a lot, play a little more,” (Damn, dude, your headlines just keep getting better) in the comments following the post, a friend describes the piece as “Bittersweet.” After so many years of watching Bernie and Sweetness play together, Bitterness himself, it seems, has been transformed. Finally confident that he will be invited to play, he steps onto Bernie’s own page now, feeling mostly lucky and just a tad regretful, saying “Thank you, friends, you’ve changed me. I’d like to join you in the fun. But please, call me by my true name: Bittersweet.”
And so we welcome Bittersweet into our play—a rag-tag group we are, fond of fools and filled with accidental genius—playing tag and giggling again, as glorious and warm and present now as Twilight herself.
P.S. Speaking of swings and playgrounds, Bernie has gotten a lovely company to donate some really cool swings to his local park, but they need $4,500 for the installation. If you have a little extra money, consider donating it to this most playful of causes. Go here for more details: http://www.deepfun.com/gift-family-community/.
When the wind strolls
in, my meadow friends
dance and bow.
When waves rush
to crash across
my ocean friend, wide beach
smiles back at me and the eagles
on wind above etch sky-to-horizon greetings down
all the way home
so strong, having learned to be carried.
Can you hear the old playground laughter
between the creaks of empty swing-sways?
Hear playground teasing
within little sister crow’s
following big sister eagle back and forth
back and forth
boat house to nest
nest to boat house
boat house to nest?
Smile in self-recognition as
red-wing blackbird then begins
to nag big-sister crow.
Can you cherish the faded flap-flapping flag
forgotten by neighbors in their rush to return to the city?
Cherish wind: an
absent spacious presence?
Cherish sand: a
shattered toe-hugging perfect imperfection?
Cherish the polished-cream beauty
Here stones, books, and gentle evening light
invite themselves to play—
sated, triumphant, wildly creative,
complete within themselves, which feels completely inappropriate.
Silent and awkward at just the right moments.
Welcome. Please come in.
Humans invited here are few and far between.
Only those who gleefully join the chorus
certain their voice improves upon books
dancing warm light
And those certain of nothing at all.
All those invited
come to play
certain of little more than sea
Lost accidentally or on purpose.
quiet enough within most days to hear it.
I’m so glad you asked me in with that sunbeam
when I was a crying child.
I’m more glad that invitation
is absolutely everywhere now
when I look for it.
see her there
that wide open tree out my window
the one with gray arm branches, no leaves, and peeling bark?
holding divine moss in perfectly twisted hands?
the one that all the flickers love?
I am breaking, she says,
Here in this valley between home and field
among healthy trees and young green shrubs
small ponds at our feet
ivy and blackberries
winding up and up and up and still
some of the worried
younger trees and humans
are turning blue with fright again
You are breaking, my friend,
How long have I been here?
you wonder, looking
so dead to some
so teaming with life and generosity to others?
Maybe 300 years.
Lately I’ve been creating warm rotted wood
teaming with ants, bugs
bird nests, diamonds, dripping
mosses, catching dewy golden drops
spying into windows
dancing on roof tops
For 50 years while you flew around here in terror
I’ve been standing right here
offering everything you need
waiting for you to look up
Let me be her!
let my sap harden into a million rent-free ant condos
let birds and hives find my joints the perfect place for nests
let chickadees hide seeds in my bark to re-find
when winter’s ice claims all our ground
let billions find life in the soil, where my branches fall
let me rejoice in being fully here, fully home as home to all and dead to some
We are breathing, break
and just break.
May that be me!
content and confident
teaming with life
talking to busy humans more than 50 years after my death!
May I also always be breaking,
tears and laughter
birds and trees
seeing to that very that.
Ridiculously proud of the pussy-pink hat
—a sort of low-tech asshole detection device—
a kind woman knit for me and placed, very gently
onto my bare head.
What a gift she is.
What a gift you are.
Let’s re-gift the pink hat to the crows in the yard
Ooo! Or maybe to the women in town running the thrift store!
They’ll know who most needs it next.
tree, birds, women, hat
for 46 years of remarkably patient and perfect lessons
How to Breathe and How to Break
How to Shelter, Even In Death
How to Live Strong and Laughing and Untamed
Together In Unshaken Wonder
Since the inauguration two weeks ago, I’ve been having nightmares. I was too freaked out to share them, until I read Sherman Alexie’s new poem Autopsy about his dream that his passport was bleeding. Thank you, master poet. For sharing your pain. I woke up the other morning and jotted this down quickly, before the nightmare could fade…
First they cheered their new savior
Their hearts swelled
imagining that beautiful new world
no enemies near
wealth without fear
They saluted or swooned when he walked
in the room…
Well, except the women, who
shrank almost imperceptibly
inward and back, smiles intact
eyes averted and blank
hands gently cocked, ready to defend
when he approached
to hug them.
Then they watched their new president
his pals with dark smiling eyes
suits and ties
destroy their institutions
generations of work and promise
became ash at his feet
and still they cheered
for soon, so soon now, they’d have nothing to fear
Then they watched as he cut
with our oldest allies
provoke others into terror and war
They watched neighbors beaten
in the streets
When the homes of natives went up in flames
they grew silent, confused
they turned back to FoxNews
where they could read about
The Best Cabinet Since Lincoln
How to Use God to Defend Against Liberal Jackals
(go check that out if you think I made it up)
When they looked outside each new day
they wondered why
millions around the world
marched in the streets
against the savior, who well, sure
may look like a dictator
but they knew he wasn’t
because he was their savior
So they did what they’d been taught
they kept preaching kindness
while they watched babies
terrorized at their borders
and in their heartland
They preached compassion and forgiveness
please, don’t be crude
don’t say pussy
don’t bother me with your petty politics on Facebook
all the while
white guys with dark eyes
poured gasoline on tepees
on women, on nature, on life herself
and dropped the match…
When the world went up in flames
the day World War III began
they didn’t even notice
thought they’d be saved by their new president’s best buddy
There they stood, plain to see
two great men: one bad, one good
and both, sadly,
long since dead.
And they didn’t even notice.
Until their water became too expensive to drink.
Until mom got cancer
nobody could afford to treat.
With no EPA, scientists,
journalists, backbones, or basic human decency left
poison peddlers flourished
bees across the homeland died
more than half the crops
They found themselves
looking for rest and work
anywhere they could get it
A third of their children
died that first bitter winter
another third of them
drowned crossing rivers
the gentle earth gave them stones
to mark their passing
Most of their grandparents died
in one spot
because they were too weak
to climb their own savior’s wall
one mass grave for them all
So that’s how we showed up here broken
bleeding and starving
with literally no place left to go
at the world’s front door
Afraid, no more. Of
Aka, 55 books to read to slow yourself down and reimagine yourself as part of the creative, fun, difficult, and beautiful new/old resistance. The story of creating the list follows the list. I’m refusing to organize or categorize this list. The point is to explore, find something important to you, leave the Internet, and go find some books to read!
- Man’s Search for Meaning. Viktor Frankl.
- The Slave Ship. Marcus Rediker.
- The Half has Never Been Told. Edward E. Baptist.
- The Civil Disobedience Handbook: A Brief History and Practical Advice for the Politically Disenfranchised. James Tracy, Editor
- A Fighting Chance. Elizabeth Warren.
- Hot, Flat, and Crowded. Tom Friedman.
- Poetry as Insurgent Art. Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
- Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist. Sunil Yapa.
- Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self. Danielle Evans.
- Teaching the Cat to Sit. Michelle Theall.
- We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For. Alice Walker.
- Overcoming Speechlessness. Alice Walker.
- Silent Spring. Rachel Carson.
- Ishmael. Daniel Quinn.
- A Chinamen’s Chance. Eric Liu.
- The Other One. Hasanthika Sirisena.
- Culture Jam. Kalle Lasn.
- Power. Linda Hogan.
- Mean Spirit. Linda Hogan.
- Solar Storms. Linda Hogan.
- Republic of Outsiders. Alissa Quart.
- The Twentieth Day of January. Ted Allbeury.
- Deceit and Other Possibilities. Vanessa Hua.
- Fire Shut Up in My Bones. Charles M. Blow.
- Unbought and Unbossed. Shirley Chisholm.
- The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010. Lucille Clifton.
- Popular Songs: The Political Poems of 1890-1820. Percy Bysshe Shelley.
- The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Joseph Cambell.
- Women, Race, & Class. Angela Davis.
- Don’t Bite the Hook. Pema Chondron .
- When Pain is the Doorway. Pema Chondron.
- When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. Pema Chondron.
- The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times. Pema Chondron.
- The Left Hand of Darkness. Ursula K. Le Guin.
- Four Ways to Forgiveness. Ursula K. Le Guin.
- Tehanu. Ursula K. Le Guin.
- Sun Dogs. Lee Maracle.
- Daughters. Lee Maracle.
- Ravensong. Lee Maracle.
- Perma Red. Debra Magpie Earling.
- Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith. Edited by Alethia Jones and Virginia Eubanks with Barbara Smith.
- Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought. Beverly Guy-Sheftall.
- Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America. Melissa Harris-Perry.
- Divine Rebels: Saints, Mystics, Change Agents – And You. Caroline Myss.
- Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Audre Lorde.
- Wretched of the Earth. Franz Fanon.
- Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging. Sebastian Junger.
- Indian Killer. Sherman Alexie. (to start)
- Demand the Impossible. Bill Ayers.
- Rules for Radicals. Saul Alinsky.
- Ten Days in a Mad-House. Nellie Bly.
- India’s Struggle For Independence. Bipin Chandra.
- Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha). M. K. Gandhi.
- Emotional Agility. Susan David.
- Why I Am Not A Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto. Jessa Crispin.
This week I asked my 500ish online friends for recommendations for books to read. These are people I trust, not strangers. A diverse group, although as a middle aged white woman I know I will always be pushing to do better–no friends with disabilities responded, for example.
I need to get off the Internet more often right now, so that I don’t continue to get sucked into the complete partisan hell circus my country is unleashing every single day at us now. I want to more fully join the new creative, fun, difficult, and beautiful new resistance. Be a better accomplice and friend. I will still be online sometimes. Yet, as a creator I need big infusions of slowing down, resting, listening, wandering, and inspiration to be myself and to do my work well. Outrage helps my work too, but not all outrage all the time. That’s just not me. I’ve aged out of being able to sustain rage. When I don’t demand these other things, I become a reactor, not a creator. I become unrecognizable to myself. I end up sharing “news” that is actually lies. (Yep, I did that just yesterday. Thank God for smart friends who check when in my outrage I forget to!) I don’t think that being just another reactor and tantrum thrower is what we need right now (although I really needed to be that for a while this week). I think we need to remember who we really are. And by “we” I mean me and most of the people I know.
I asked specifically for creative, inspiring, resistance books. Both fiction and non-fiction. This is what I heard back in 3 days! Wow. I forgot what a deeply curious and gloriously book nerdy group of humans my friends are. Yay! The numbers in the list just represent the order in which I received the recommendations from various parts of my online world. I am not categorizing them–the point is to explore the list and find something new and important to you. Personally, since I want to read all these books, I will be reading them out of order in whatever order I can borrow the books from others, check them out of our library, afford to purchase them (some came very highly recommended), and find them personally inspiring. I own the Viktor Frankl book and all the Ursula K. Le Guin books if you live nearby and want to borrow them. Also, if you’re a friend and you notice that we’ve missed a creative resistance book that you love (in our few days of collective online brainstorming), please share it with me and I’ll add it to my reading list.
If you don’t have time to read 53+ resistance books this year, then follow me on FB or Twitter. I will be reading and sharing excerpts from these books online in 2017 and beyond. Trying to recommend specific books for specific friends. And hopefully, one day soon, I’ll find myself writing a book of creative resistance too. But this is not that year for me. This is a year of listening even more closely to my/our ancestors. To all of the people and groups who have already been doing this for a long time. Some for a very long time.
Note: I occasionally update this list with new books as trusted people and authors recommend them to me.
Here in our world, which is cold and dark at the moment, January just became Write a Poem for Friends Month. So all my posts this month will be poems I write for friends. This one is for my friend Danyale Thomas Ross. I considered her a friend for many months before I met her in person. Approached by neighbors–strangers (me and Knox)–via email, she jumped onboard whole-heartedly with our crazy Hopscotch CD–1.8 Miles of Fun! idea without a second thought. Made creating the event far more fun, made the day far more fun, just like she made the neighborhood far more fun. She’s been inspiring me every since: as a human, as a small business owner, as a woman, as a neighbor, and as a well-grounded person who takes big scary life leaps. Her courage and openness lift everyone around her. Love you Danyale!
And I Rise
Whenever I think
“The deck’s stacked against me”
“I have nothing important to add to the conversation”…
“This path that we’ve chosen is way too hard”
I think of you
Whenever I wonder
“Can a woman really do this?”
“Do good people really get ahead in this world?”
“What in the holy hell do we do now?”
I return to you, listen more closely
to your wide open story
When I give in
that I’m not exactly where I planned to be
I think of you
and your mother
all the women who believe
and each other
Whenever I fail
which is often
at being a good neighbor,
supportive friend and partner,
or small business owner
I come see what you’re up to
just to check in
to remember who I am
I see you at rest
and in action
There you are
that our world needs nothing
but my presence
wants nothing less for me
that I can stretch beyond each
with nothing but our shared history,
wits, kindness, and some friends
You haven’t taught me, yet
how to cut hair in the CD
how to farm in Texas or
how exactly to move from
this here to that there
how to rise
I got this idea from my friend Bayo who teaches me daily that we are so much more than we imagined yesterday. Thank you, Bayo. This is his list.
These are my current irreverent and unapologetically odd resolutions. In 2017, I am somewhat inclined to:
- Accept life advice only from birds, animals, and the strangest of the strange humans I know or meet.
- More thoroughly enjoy mom’s Alzheimer’s disease.
- Write odes (aka, poems/songs of praise) to everyday people and items on good days and to people/things I am angered by on bad days.
- Watch for dragons in the woods behind our new house. Talk to them only when we’re both ready and then mostly about magic.
- March peacefully in protest to 1) show solidarity with those most hurt by standard prejudices and practices, 2) make protests safer by my presence, 3) make new friends, 4) get more exercise, and 5) fall back in love with the world.
- Dance, sing, draw, swim, daydream, or write poetry every day. See that these take priority on days when I or nearby earthlings are especially frustrated, sad, or angry.
- Hold funerals or say prayers for lost socks, buttons, and other small things that disappear unexpectedly.
- Follow the examples of Americans with disabilities and mental illnesses, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, and LGBTQ+ Americans, as well as braver-than-me artists/poets/musicians, in their demonstration of what it means to be fully present and listen really well to those present. Here in my country this will be a year of remembering what it is to be a true friend, fully human, a beautiful earthling, and a strong community. A year of reminding ourselves and our institutions of our amazingly weird and wonderful nature.
- Get even more lost. Open even more space and time for purposelessness, pondering, poetry, parks, play, and pancakes.
- Take spontaneous road trips with my sweetie, my dog, and possibly, my three cats, if nobody volunteers to come watch them for us. Hint, hint.
- Enjoy dirt under my feet and fingernails. Enjoy dust, dust bunnies, stains, hairballs, and all their kin. Not just alone but with friends.
- Learn from those who unexpectedly thrive within resistance. Learn from strangely endearing scientists, off-the-charts kind religious leaders, and awkward-and-beautiful-and-trying grassroots organizers around the world.
- Financially support local poets and artists, the Standing Rock Medic and Healers Council, the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Planned Parenthood, and my two favorite media outlets.
- Recognize that both our home and our town wants to be a refuge for people more threatened by hatred and discriminatory policies than we are. Allow our home and our town to live to their full potential.
- Write a book that surprises me.
- Learn what it takes to remove a hate-filled demagogue from government office. Take an active part in the process of learning.
- Plant trees and shrubs selected by birds, bunnies, bugs, deer, and at least one dragon for their suitability to the place and time.
I lose the mom I grew up with to Alzheimer’s every day. This loss began roughly 12 years ago for me and is with me every day. Others who love her live with similar loss—we each lose her in different ways and stages.
You may see her smiling face in photos and think that the woman you knew is with me. You are wrong.
The woman with me today is someone entirely new. She’s new each day now. This woman speaks very little. She doesn’t follow conversation. She no longer sleeps poorly: she sleeps much of the time. She hasn’t known my name, or her own last name, for more than a year now. She calls dad, lovingly, “The guy.”
When Daniel and I walk in, mom usually recognizes Eva the dog first, then looks up, remembering that she loves us. Or, she at least loves us for bringing a dog to play with her. She smilingly pulls the dog and I down the hall to her dresser to show us the new bracelet or socks or sweater that the guy bought her yesterday. “He’s so good,” she often says. The love and strength that it must take to awaken with a stranger in your bed each morning? Yeah, I can’t even fathom that one yet. Its a love beyond all reason. I revere both parents more as a result.
Spoken and written language gone, mom can’t tell her stories in traditional ways, so she gets creative: using props, gestures, silence, telepathy, empathy, almost-right words, and half words. Which is cool. I love her stories now: each one is a collective haiku crafted of magic. Dad’s stories have lengthened, artfully weaving past and present together: a shawl around our shoulders.
Some days, while mom and I are walking down the grocery aisle she says to me “Hey! I really like you.” And I flush, flattered, knowing that she likes me as a stranger. “That must hurt,” people assume and, too often, say. But most days it doesn’t hurt. I am with a woman who likes me for me. Because of who I am in the moment. She likes me without expectations, family ties, history, or baggage of any kind. And maybe sometimes, because I just put lemon cake—a favorite of hers—in the cart. This sweet new woman likes me as a total stranger. I like her too.
Loss has shown me how “I like you” can be more powerful than I love you.
Loss demonstrates that the coolest stuff is always happening around the words. Difficult to see at a distance, while distracted, or worrying. Loss stills me into better noticing.
This year, I notice that staying with loss has immunized me considerably against the promotion of the always-winning, always-first (and ultimately violence-inducing) cultural myth and its associated orange-haired icon that flashes out at me from all the screens. Those who scream that always winning makes us strong and powerful ultimately haven’t got a clue. Been there. So very glad to be done with that.
If you want to feel strength, gently stay with your loss or a least visit on a regular basis. Listen. Hold her hand. Slow down with her. Be her friend. Walk into and through anger with her: into and through hate. Weep. Breathe. Go for a walk. Accept help from nature and cool people. Eat healthy foods. And put an occasional lemon cake in the cart to mend your hearts. That, friends, is what deep winning feels like. It honors loss. Deep winning eases minds and lifts hearts in all directions around it. Deep winning is hearing “Hey, I really like you.” from a total stranger who you—lucky you—already love like family.