Advice

I was recently driving along with my friend Jovi, who identifies as a proud Christian, when a couple of bright-red latter-trucks came barreling down the street, sirens blaring, warning of fire. I clasped my hands and uttered, “Dear God, please don’t let it be the library.” She teased me knowing that I am a non-believer. I responded, “I believe in god when it comes to books.” (We learned later that it wasn’t the library and no one was hurt.) Growing up, I sang in a church band. As an adult, I occasionally pray out of habit but I am not a Christian. I see the beneficial pleasantries of fostering a spiritual relationship but I am not drawn to organized religion in any way. So it was a bit of an odd conversation when my mother suggested a profession in Christian ministry.

As my regular readers and close friends know, my employment has been threatened by budget cuts and, for over a year now, we’ve received a monthly lay-off notice. This regrettable situation has prompted unsolicited advice from those who are sure they have my best interests in mind. Unfortunately, those interests are usually founded loosely, if at all, in reality. I am not campaigning for elected office so I am not afraid to say plainly that the economy is not going to get better. We are not going to live more prosperously than our parents. We will not have higher-paying jobs, access to higher education or more technologically advanced healthcare. My mother’s hopeful suggestions of taking my literature degree and turning it into a profession as an x-ray technician is a hopeful, well-intentioned notion, but it is completely unrealistic. Not because I’ve been in an office job in the social services industry for the last six years, but because things like office jobs and x-ray technology are going the way of the dinosaurs.

There are many, many people who have seen their jobs disappear and have continued to fight to find a similar one, or who have replaced the one that they had had before with two or three other jobs. I know many parents have watched their adult children grow up, maybe graduate college and struggle. The world cannot continue to make up a need for more paperwork or more websites and the world cannot continue to use the energy it takes for things like x-ray technology. My generation may not have higher-paying jobs, but we can have better jobs, jobs that connect us to our land and our communities. My generation and the generations that follow may not have access to advanced degrees, but we can have deeper educations with more truthful depictions of history and well-rounded teachings about past present and future. We may not have healthcare in its present condition but if we stop eating genetically-tortured foods, grown in petroleum-induced comas once known as soil, we may not need the healthcare industry to prop us up like it does now. Ultimately, if we learn what we really need and stop trying to take everything we want, we will find what truly matters and what really fulfills us.

I am witnessing people opting out of the rat race, sometimes forced, but increasingly voluntarily. There are more and more people awakening. There are more people starting to understand that undertaking a meaningless profession in order to subdue a strangely-programmed need for things isn’t just pointless, it’s completely detrimental. Industrial society is ballooned with useless stuff and processed food and it’s time to cut the fat.

Maybe some of Jovi’s friends expressed concern when her office job evaporated and, rather than pursuing the same old thing, she decided to start her career as a poet. (www.joviradtke.com) Maybe my friend Sara received a lecture from a relative who didn’t understand her intentions when she explained that she was no longer going to work in a law office but was going to foster a community-based yoga studio. (http://theyogaseed.wordpress.com/about/) I will probably receive more strange looks for my choice to move to a farm and become a beekeeper. There have been people that I truly love who have laughed in my face. And I know that I am going to receive plenty more unsolicited advice.

What the world needs is more music, more flowers, more poetry, more compassion, more kindness, more community and more love. What we have done as a society in the last hundred years or so has not induced a world of peace or provided any real marker of benefit. It’s becoming more and more apparent that the world is ready for a shift, that it’s time to subvert the paradigm. I can’t speak for the many unemployed people still trying to do the same damn thing, still looking to find steady wages in a job that means nothing. As for Jovi, Sara and I, I can say, with cheerful certainty, that we are off on our new adventures with no regrets.

Fleeing to the Hills

With my back to the snow in Grass Valley, I dream of spring and peruse the Seed Savers Exchange website for heirloom seeds with titles like, “Eva Purple Ball Tomato” and “Burgess Buttercup Squash.” It’s a little late in the season but I’m not worried. I’m a gardener by default because I’m an eater at heart. I love food and spring doesn’t seem to be arriving in a timely manner this year. The seasons have shifted a bit and, while the equinox has passed, winter is still upon us. We have had nothing but rain for days in Sacramento and the foothills have had a pummeling of snow uncharacteristically late and low. The one weekend where we saw no rainfall was too early to plant, and the brief episodes of sunlight since have been, for me, filled either with an office job or errands. So I’ll be picking the last of my tomatoes in October.

Tomorrow my partner and I are meeting with a couple who own an organic farm in Nevada County, California. They are looking for care-takers to live on the farm and help out in exchange for food and board. The farm is on 10 acres and the couple has experience keeping bees. It’s exactly what we had envisioned and we are hoping it will be a good fit. The possibility has me dreaming of food and hoping the cat will enjoy her new rural life.

I fear our friends see our choice to move to a farm in the foothills as rash, escapist or as a form of avoidance. We are very fortunate that it happens to make sense for our family situation because my partner works in the area and has commuted from Sacramento for too long now. But it is also the perverbial “fleeing to the hills.” For me, it is about communing with the earth and it just so happens that there is not a lot of earth in downtown Sacramento. Further, it is important to me to find a community that shares my values, sees this moment in time as urgent and is taking steps toward food production, community outreach and neighborhood safety.

Like Michael C. Ruppert of www.collapsenet.com, I see the current situation in urban areas as dire and about to get worse. Specifically for Sacramento and many other counties, July is looking bleak. With the budget cuts to social services that are set to take effect July 1, many people who have been relying on the system to get by will face a terrible reality. Some will have to choose between things like gas to get to work or food for their children. Unfortunately, those types of choices turn honest people into thieves.

My fear of civil unrest is secondary to my desire to remove myself from dependence on fossil fuel and the aspiration to align myself with the earth and its bounty. Farming, using biodynamic principles and the permaculture model can create a symbiotic relationship with the earth that mankind, modern agriculture and industrial society has destroyed. Morally and spiritually, I feel that we must repair our relationship with the earth and I am looking for a life that will serve that purpose. I don’t yet know if the farmers we are meeting with tomorrow hold such a progressive vision but we may be able to help each other in that way. All new experiences and connections teach. I am excited to learn.

I think we can all agree that the world seems to be changing at a must faster rate than any of us could have imagined. The days seem to spin faster as resources become scarcer and scarcer. We are doing more work for less money, if we can find work at all. Benefits, breaks and workplace safety are compromised if present. News of disaster, war and revolution take turns littering the front pages of newspaper and websites. Still, none of us have stopped hoping for the health and safety of our loved ones; we all want the same things. This ever-changing present moment on earth may very well be our opportunity to work towards a sustainable, livable future. But we have to make collective choices about what we want that future to look like. Maybe we don’t build any more nuclear power plants. Maybe we fund farms and classrooms instead of bombs. Maybe we turn in our 9-5 work day and start a fall-summer work-year.

Life changes are stressful and life on a farm is not a picnic. My small frame is unafraid of hard work but that’s exactly what it will be: hard. I may be a gardener but I’m new to farming. I’m not going to lie. I’m frankly nerve-wracked. This step is a transitional moment in a journey that lasts a lifetime. And many more transitional moments are promised. Taking time to slow down, to plant things and to live by the seasons couldn’t be a bad idea. So here goes.

Making a Realistic Transition

I, like many, am still having a very difficult time wrapping my head around all of this. The events of the past week and a half have been overwhelming. I already knew that the mass media rarely reports facts. One of the things I’ve been able to substantially conclude from what I’ve learned these past days, is that our media is only able to report on comparisons. I was 6-years-old during the Chernobyl disaster and having the mass media tell me “This is just like Chernobyl” or “This is nothing like Chernobyl” means nothing to me. Having the media tell me that the USS Ronald Regan Air Craft Carrier’s crew was exposed to one month’s worth of radiation in an hour, means nothing to me. Could we actually get some real information here? But what really could I have expected from an institution that has spilled more ink about Brad and Angelina than on anything actually newsworthy? I’m still young. And I guess I really thought people and institutions would come around, that in the event of a tangible, visible catastrophe, those in charge and those dominating could be counted on to communicate essential information in an orderly manner. That is just not so.

If we wanted to know how people would react in a real, severe disaster, something of an epic world calamity, this week has shown us. With the exception of a small group of thoughtful people, I am not impressed. My friend Julie says that “America has bystander-disease” pointing out that, in any situation, Americans will just sit of the sidelines gaping. I applaud the heroes of the Red Cross, those workers left behind at Fukushima Power Plant and the military personnel who are directly involved with aid and action. There are people engaged in the Japan disaster who are taking charge and showing great strength. I do not want anyone to think their courageous action goes unnoticed. That being said, it is clear that there is no real leadership in our country or in others. Those that are in a position of power feel no obligation to reason with their countrymen or provide real information that may be useful. Those that have the sense and drive to lead, are not in positions of power. It is clear that local, small, community-concentrated groups of people will be the governance of the future and that the future is here.

In my steps for disaster/collapse preparedness, I’ve had to prioritize. I don’t have large sums of money stored anywhere so, with each paycheck, I’ve had to pick a few necessities to add to my stockpile. Food and water were the obvious priority. As the news about Japan simmers down a bit, and I am able to take a deep breath, what I’ve come to conclude is that, though I am much more prepared than most, I am still very unprepared. On my list of things to prepare for, “nuclear fall-out” was not on my top ten. The recent events once again reminded me how fast the world can change.

I’ve held on to my desk job in lieu of something more sustainable because it has been comfortable. Or, more specifically, the monetary reward twice per month is comforting. Still, each day when I arrive to my cubicle, something beneath the surface nags at me. And it’s not the spoiled-American angst that is captured in movies like “Office Space.” I’ve worked in social services for a private non-profit and have known for some time now that the job isn’t viable. It’s not that the job isn’t a lovely concept. Helping single mothers with child care is aligned with my feminist principles and my thoughts on child welfare. It’s that the service comes from a place of complete unsustainability. In most situations, the child care being paid for costs more than the mother will ever make in an employment position and the money paid out for the service will never be paid back in tax dollars. There are proven tax and social benefits down the line but borrowing from the future is exactly what got us in this mess in the first place. And truthfully, that mess is unraveling quickly as our agency faces more and more budget cuts and lay-offs.

In her book “Sacred Demise: Walking the Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse,” Carolyn Baker notes, “A thorough understanding of collapse means that life cannot go on as it has in the past; business as usual is over.” I have, for months, held onto my day job like a security blanket. I have been pushing paperwork when I could have been making connections, educating myself, planting a garden or just generally working towards something sustainable. The events of Japan, their surprise and resulting sense of immediacy has pushed me to embark on a new journey. I have volunteered to be a part of the next round of lay-offs at my agency so that I can start being present in making a realistic transition.

For me, that transition requires a move. I live in a densely populated area where people are many but resources are few. Additionally, I want to get back to the land as a part of my daily life and stay as fossil-fuel free as possible. My partner and I are looking into a cooperative-farm living situation. We are looking to participate in life with a community we are accountable to and that is accountable to us. I hope to subvert the monetary paradigm by dealing more in trade than in cash. More disaster is bound to come. More calamity is down the road. But there is safety in community and there is promise in sustainability. I’m working for that.