Saturday, December 12, 2015

#149 Fine and well

Dear all,
    An unexpected pleasure in November was taking advantage of the later sunrise and mild weather to get outside and greet the day, and get a more intimate sense of the varieties of early morning color and light.  As we settle in, here in our part of the northern hemisphere, to await the shortest and darkest days of the year, i am reminded of all the different ways we have found to bring other kinds of light into the world.
    In a holiday season that can be full of extra stress and expectation/disappointment, I wish you small joys of connection, perhaps in unexpected places.

Fine and well

When I was growing up, everything was fine.  That was the non-negotiable way of the world.  I was fine.  My family was fine.  Life was fine.  We were told that we were a big happy family and, with no hard evidence to disprove it—and much to support it—we accepted this worldview as truth.

Since I was fine and my life was fine, and my mother was very busy working to keep it that way, there seemed to be no place for complaints.  So I never complained.  I settled into the job of having a happy childhood, and more or less succeeded.

What a shock to discover as an adult that this wasn’t the whole story!  My childhood hadn’t been as happy as I had been taught.  It turned out that my father was harsh and judgmental, my mother was emotionally needy, and in a family that prized education I secretly (even to myself) hated school.  All in all, it had been quite a chore to be the hard-working non-complaining responsible team member that my big happy family required.

It was a huge relief to realize that everything had NOT been fine. I took some time luxuriating in outrage at what I’d had to put up with, and the idea of complaining, while still seeming totally taboo, began to hold some attraction. Yet I was constrained by awareness of how relatively good my life had been.  To increase my confusion, the life I was living in the present was markedly better than my childhood, and as my perspective on the world widened, my own little problems seemed more and more petty and insignificant.  At the same time, I fought against being pushed back into that familiar position where the needs of the larger whole always and inevitably trumped mine.

Did I, or did I not, have a right to complain?  I started experimenting:  complain about this, complain about that.  In a way it was a relief to be able to notice and say out loud that some things did not feel fine.  But when I really got into it, I started to get confused about reality.  Were my complaints real?  Were they from the past or the present?  Was I really not fine?  I liked the possibility that there could be space in the world for my complaints, but did I want them to define my emotional state?

On the other hand, was the only alternative to be “fine”? I couldn’t buy that one either.  Things had not been fine in my family, and they are certainly not fine in the world. The attempt to believe or pretend that they are requires walling off great pieces of reality and agreeing to a small and defended life.  While I was born into relative comfort and have more than enough in the present, it’s not hard to notice that I’m in a minority.  Our peoples and our planet are in great and growing distress, and I ignore that reality at peril to my soul.

In a real way, “fine” has no substance.  Used as a response when people ask how you are, it’s clearly just code for “I’m choosing at this moment, for any number of reasons, not to complain.” It’s no more than an opaque brush-off.

I’m reaching for a response that captures more truth.  Currently this is how it sounds.  “I have a few complaints.”  There is space in this world for me to experience life as I experience it, and things will not all be sunshine.  “There is a lot to grieve and fear.”  I am connected to the larger picture, and I would choose to engage with all that is not fine rather than turn away.  And, finally, “I am well.”  I have found my way to a life of connection, joy and meaning, even in the midst of great suffering, and will not be rocked from that place.

In my experience, being fine calls for a cover-up, as completely as possible, of all that is wrong, and a commitment to construct a life on top of that cover-up.  Being well is the opposite—a commitment to connecting to the solid ground that lies underneath, and engaging with all that is wrong, and all that is right, from that place. I am happy to consign “fine” to the dustbin of history, and have great faith that “well” will see me forward.

Bathing in wood air

We all know that a walk in the woods refreshes--
great trees, bird calls and breezes
pungent scents of earth and pine.

Yet our senses fail to name the greater forces
here at work.

Mushroom threads—mycelia—
weave a network underground
sharing nutrients at the root
helping those great trees to thrive.

And all those trees give out
not just the oxygen
that we forget to thank them for
but other subtle essences
(named now by scientists, thus real)
that nourish us.

We are bathing in wood air
as they say in Japan
deep in the molecular life of the trees
breathing in the benefits of
living in an interspecies web.

Imagine:  A new economy is possible!
Economic conversion

As we look for precedents for transitioning an economy away from fossil fuels, there's an obvious on in our country's recent history.  During the Second World War, the U.S. government took strong measures to increase its control over the economy.  The War Production Board, established by Roosevelt by executive order, converted and expanded peacetime industries to meet war needs, allocated scarce materials vital to war production, established priorities in the distribution of materials and services, and prohibited nonessential production. It rationed such things as gasoline, heating oil, metals, rubber, paper, and plastics.

The auto industry, which had been producing three million cars a year, was turned to war production; from early 1942 through the end of 1944 essentially no cars were produced in the United States.  In addition to the ban on the production and sale of cars for private use, residential and highway construction was halted, and driving for pleasure was banned. Strategic goods—including tires, gasoline, fuel oil, and sugar—were rationed. Reducing private consumption of these goods freed up material resources that were vital to the war effort.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

If you liked--or missed--the film, The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, here's a trailer about the upcoming sequel:  Earth Island: Cuba, Community and Climate Change:

The Sustaining All Life delegation at the Paris climate talks, how they harnessed the power of listening and weren't afraid to look at the hard issues at the root of climate injustice.

A project initiated by George Lakey at Swarthmore College, that has gathered hundreds of stories of successful nonviolent action from around the world.

And have I mentioned Pope Francis recently?  I find him an ongoing source of hope.

More resources

Resource from my friend Daniel Hunter, Building a Movement to End the New Jim Crow; An Organizing Guide.

Recent posts on other web/blog sites:

In, Pamela Haines locates her family's homey DIY celebrations on a class spectrum of different connections to upward mobility.


Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:  (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years.  NOTE THE NEW URL. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at

Pamela Haines

To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing.

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