Tag Archives: social change

the dance party at the end of the universe

I have a hunch: a lot of people don’t join in collective climate actions (or other kinds) because it looks like work.

And it’s advertised like work. You read things, you go somewhere to get more things to read like pamphlets and reports, you listen to very smart people talk about stuff that uses a lot of long words, while sitting in hard plastic chairs, drinking bad coffee out of tiny paper cups, and then people ask you for money or petition signatures.

It’s fun for me, but I am weird. For most people, this is not fun. This is milling around with strangers who want you to change yourself or your life in some way.

So, what if you could have fun while doing something positive about climate change? I mean, normal-people fun.

 

If you live outside of Ontario–and maybe even if you don’t–you won’t know that this is Diane Saxe, formerly the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario; the Conservative Ford Government, after its 2018 election, promptly fired her and then began rolling back environmental regulations and policy. And Saxe, not one to ride gracefully into the sunset under such conditions, launched a speaking tour in response: about climate change, policy, and how destructive the Ford government’s decisions are.

I went to one of her stops several months back (and took Frances with me), and snapped a pic for IG, as one does (see: fun for me). And:

And that is exactly what Ann and I did: We had a tea party called Climate and Crumpets. There were many, many little sandwiches and pastries–some vegan, some not–and a few different types of tea with fancy tea cups and fabric napkins. We played games, we talked, we wrote ideas on a chart–because you can’t not write ideas on a chart. We fussed over the puppy. People sat on comfortable chairs. There were no petitions. And while I had some notes about things I wanted to say, mostly the conversation had a life of its own.

And, because I am drowning in fabric scraps, I made everyone a handkerchief out of a piece of super soft cotton–in part because it’s a sustainable use of the fabrics, but also because it’s important to acknowledge the feelings we have about the climate crisis, even the messy ones. Especially the messy ones.

It was fun: it was making new friends, having interesting conversations, eating treats, drinking tea out of fancy teacups, cuddling a puppy, and playing games (Ann did a bang-up job of role-playing an oil company executive who was totally sure that her money would allow her to continue polluting indefinitely … until it wasn’t. Then I think she was genuinely surprised).


I posted about the tea party on instagram and FaceBook, as one does.  And some local friends were interested in doing something similar, but this time less tea and more trouble: a local dance friend, Katerina, and I hosted a Climate and Cocktails party with a dance social after. Because as the famous lady said:

Image result for if i can't dance emma goldman

Which she didn’t actually say, but she did love dancing and revolting, so we’ll let it stand.

Anyway, in late November, we talked climate again. There were pastries, Katerina made Pisco Sours, we had Chilean wine, and chatted about climate change with a puppy looking on. We played the same game, complete with moustache-twirling villain, and a near climate-catastrophe. Eventually there was dancing. And it was (dare I say it?) fun.

It’s hard to find space to have any kind of reasonable conversation about any polarized subject, and it’s hard to find a subject more polarized right now than climate change. Getting people to have face-to-face conversations in small groups is, as the research says, more effective than mass one-way communications. But I think it also helps to make it fun: why shouldn’t there be snacks and drinks and games? The easier and more appealing it is to join in, surely, the more people who will give it a try.

I’m hoping to keep this up and see where it goes. If you’re interested in doing something like this (either locally with me or not-locally yourself) let me know; I’m happy to share resources and ideas!

A Citizen Mandate Letter

Ann is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me on the internet.

We met online in the early days of our mom blogging adventures, about (OMG) fifteen years ago. Over the years we’ve participated in panels together, Frances and I have spent wonderful weekends at her cottage, we’ve met up for dinner and coffee, we had that tea party (which I’m shocked to discover I haven’t blogged about yet!), and throughout Ann has always been so generous and supportive. You’d never know from the time she makes available for her friends that she’s a busy parenting author conducting readings and workshops and writing and rewriting dozens of books and I don’t even know how many articles.

And like everyone else I know for more than ten minutes, Ann has been on the receiving end of many of my rants about how important it is for citizens to be engaged in their government throughout terms, to pressure politicians and make their voice heard. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when she wrote a mandate letter on her website about the actions she’s committing to taking between now and the next federal election:

“I wrote this letter to remind myself that the actions citizens take in between elections are even more important than the actions they take during elections. I want the next government to make progress on three complex and interconnected issues — the climate crisis, electoral reform, and income inequality. My plan spells out what I, as an ordinary citizen, can do to encourage them to make progress on all three fronts.”

You should read the whole thing; and also, please consider writing your own! What issues are you most concerned about? How will you engage with our government to encourage them to act on those priorities?

It doesn’t need to be fancy or grammatically correct and you don’t need to share it, though public accountability never hurts. You can put yours on twitter, FB, instagram, or in the comments section here or on Ann’s site.

New cabinet postings were announced today and shortly our new government will be getting to work. How will you use your voice to influence what they do?

DSC_0062-2.jpg

Here’s mine:

Citizen Mandate Letter for Andrea McDowell

During the upcoming session of Parliament, I will be doing everything in my power to encourage my elected representatives to make substantial progress on the climate crisis, recognizing the way it intersects, reflects and amplifies so many other injustices currently faced: income inequality, race and gender discrimination, mental health, and so on. Every bit of genuine progress on any form or aspect of inequality will facilitate climate action, and vice versa, so long as that progress is taken with acknowledgement of the ways it all ties together.

This entails:

1. I will support the work of individuals and organizations in my community addressing climate justice. Financially, where I can afford it; with time and promotion regardless.

2. I will help my fellow Hamiltonians develop skills and knowledge in what the climate emergency means, what climate action we need, and how and when to have conversations with politicians. I know the science is overwhelming, and even among those committed to action, there’s a wide diversity of opinion and strategy. It’s hard to figure out who really means what they say and who’s just bluffing, particularly when you’re not in this space every day. What do government proposals mean? What are the consequences of those proposals? What does the science say? How can we participate?

3. I will write to my elected officials on all important matters of policy. When I do, I will connect those policy matters to the climate emergency; it’s not like drawing those links is hard at this point.

4. I’ll work to find and build the bridges between different political communities in good-faith efforts to move action forward. Climate is an issue that is too important to allow partisan warfare to derail efforts. We all sink or swim on this planet together; I can’t buy my daughter and myself passage out of the climate emergency by engaging in individual good works. So much needs to be done on so many fronts that there is near infinite room for people to engage on meaningful and substantial climate action and policy coming from very different perspectives; all efforts will be less than perfect, because humans are less than perfect, so if we spend our precious remaining time taking shots at imperfect climate proposals and actors we will shoot them all down, and do as much as any oil company ever did to bring about the end.

For years, working in the environmental field seemed like it would be enough of a contribution for me; then, after meeting people who live in remote northern communities already struggling with climate impacts 15 years ago, working to incorporate climate projects into my jobs seemed like it would be enough. After the failure of the Copenhagen summit, switching to a career in renewable energy and building wind farms seemed like it could be enough. I had an “I gave at the office” attitude on climate activism, broadly.

Then last year’s IPCC report came out. It hit me that Frances would be 27 in 2030, the deadline for halving global carbon emissions, and would either be looking forward to a challenging but possible future, or a future where the world just continues to disintegrate for her and everyone else in her generation. Leaving climate work at work no longer felt responsible. It no longer even felt tolerable. So yes, I’m tired and overwhelmed and frankly unsuited to community activism, as introverted as I am, but I’m doing it anyway, because I can’t look my daughter in the eyes if I don’t.

If our elected representatives were hearing from even 100 of their constituents once a month–on any issue–their priorities would shift. If we all could find one or two hours a month to do community climate work, we could move mountains.

Crafters for Climate

I’ve done something a bit mad, and I’ll talk about why I’ve done this to myself more in another post, but for today I’ll just tell you what it is:

I’ve committed to creating, hosting or participating in one public Climate Change event connected to each of my hobbies, ideally before the Canadian election in October but if that can’t be arranged ASAP.

Sewing was first: two small workshops held at Needlework here in Hamilton, using scrap fabrics to make small climate action banners and support the youth strikers, while I spoke a bit about what the climate emergency is and how it connects to our much loved hobby.

So great to see a bunch of kids out on Friday!

I’ve put it all together in this post as a toolkit that you can take to your favourite local sewing space and do yourself (or with a friend!).

Approach

I absolutely did not have this well thought out to begin with: I just went to my favourite local fabric store with a hugely sketchy pitch:

With the climate crisis being so much in the news, and the UN climate conference coming up again, and a federal election being faught over the carbon tax–and with Greta Thunberg and the youth strikers asking for adult support and participation in the Sept 20 and 27 climate strikes–wouldn’t it be great if an unexpected community like crafters and sewers were to speak out in support of climate action? We could fabric scraps, I suggested, and maybe piece them into a banner for the shop window or the protests–or people could make their own–or iron slogans on t-shirts, or make tote bags–or, I don’t know, what do you think?

Fortunately Kate and Liz were super enthusiastic and supportive and had the much better and easier idea of using fusible web to make banners, but yes, out of scraps. And I’d talk a bit about climate change while we all make our masterpieces, and we’d raise some money for a local environmental group, and in short, it would be fabulous. Liz and Kate did most of the work: making the blank banners, setting up the event on their website, and collecting donations. (A huge thank you again!)

Agenda

After everyone arrived, Liz and Kate gave a basic introduction to the event and a how-to on the fusible web. Attendees brainstormed a slogan, sketched it out, and started tracing and cutting. About an hour in, after everyone had their slogan planned out and was focused on getting it done, I jumped into my talk.

It was very short–just a few minutes–and we were all working on our projects at the same time, so it was very informal.

Afterwards we kept chatting while we finished up our banners.

Here’s the one I made on Saturday morning, hanging at home on the living room wall.

Talk

Do any of you remember seeing the headlines about “twelve years left to save the planet” from a year ago? And if you do, how many of you feel like you have a really solid understanding of what that means? What is it we had twelve years left to do, and what happens if we don’t do it?

Here’s the basic rundown:

If we want to be reasonably sure that the planet can continue to support human civilization in something mostly like what we’re used to, we need to limit total warming to 1.5C.

We’ve already experienced 1C of warming, so there is very little margin left, and the global carbon cycle is so slow that what we’ve already emitted will get us to 1.5C some time this century whether we continue to emit carbon or not.

That sounds bad, yes? So when global leaders met and signed the Paris Accords saying they would try to limit warming to 1.5C, it led straight away to the question: ok, great, but how?

The IPCC commissioned a study on that question: how do we do this? CAN we do this? And about a thousand climate experts from around the world collaborated on putting together the information that came together in last October’s report. What they concluded was:

  • If we cut emissions roughly in half by 2030
  • And completely decarbonize by 2050
  • And then go into NEGATIVE emissions in the second half of this century

We have about a 66% chance of keeping warming to 1.5C, though we may overshoot it for part of that time before negative emissions have an impact.

That twelve years is how long we have to cut our emissions in half. Of course right now emissions are still rising, so that’s a big challenge.

AND! It will affect our beloved hobby, too. Let’s talk a little bit about how: we’re sitting in a space where just about every product started out as a plant on a farm, and which will be affected by a changing climate. Textiles and fashion have environmental implications beyond climate of course, like water use and transportation and fertilizers and chemicals during processing and dyeing, but I’m going to limit myself to climate impacts today because that’s what we’re here for.

Climate change—impacts on cotton:

  • higher temps a mixed bag, depending on geographic region and how close they already are to upper tolerance levels
  • drought, storms, all decrease yields
  • yields in some countries already declining
  • during the 2011 Texas drought, 55% of cotton fields were abandoned
  • even in low-warming scenarios, yields in America expected to decline 30-46%
  • solutions include GMOs for heat and drought tolerance, using more wild varieties and cultivars that tolerate extremes better, and changing farming practices to better conserve water etc. Even so, yields will almost certainly decline.

https://www.greenbiz.com/article/why-climate-change-material-cotton-industry

https://www.bizcommunity.com/Article/129/358/172950.html

http://www.insidecotton.com/jspui/bitstream/1/2600/1/Bange%20and%20Constable.pdf

Linen/flax

Not as much research or writing, but yields are declining for now and expected to continue to decline; however, not as severely as cotton (because it uses the entire plant, not just the seed?)

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329655637_Flax_crop_production_and_climate_change_from_diagnosis_to_solutions_for_the_future_Philippe_GATE_and_Olivier_DEUDON

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25796897

Polyester/synthetics

A single polyester t-shirt has carbon emissions of 5.5kg, (about double that of a cotton t-shirt).

https://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/2019/02/26/textile-industry-and-climate-change/

Bamboo & Rayon

We also have a solution here too. There are definitely sustainability concerns with the production of rayon, but bamboo was described by Project Drawdown as having significant potential to sequester carbon because it’s a perennial plant that grows very quickly.


So there you go. Everything in the world, including this shop, affects and is affected by the climate crisis.

And of course, it’s not just textiles, is it? If it were, we might be less concerned, though I personally have no interest in living in a global nudist colony.

Reports on climate impacts expected for Hamilton this century include: more extreme weather events, more precipitation in the spring, winter and fall; more drought in the summer; more ice storms; more extreme heat, leading to an anticipated 2 months or more of extreme heat every year by the 2080s ; more invasive species; new pests and diseases to our region (like Lyme disease).

At the same time, these impacts are going to be worse for vulnerable and marginalized communities: women, racial minorities, people with low-incomes or disabilities, are all going to feel the effects more.

But this also means that just about anything you do to make the world a better, fairer place will help on climate change. For example, the same people at Project Drawdown found that if you combine the mitigation impacts of education for girls globally and improved access to family planning, women’s rights have as much impact on climate change as wind turbines.


You’ve probably already heard about the things you can do as an individual or a household to reduce your carbon: drive an electric car or take transit, avoid flying, avoid meat, change to LED lightbulbs, set your thermostat to use less heat and air conditioning—and those are all great, but if we need to decarbonize, we need societal change. Our province shutting down all the coal-fired power plants was, at the time, the largest climate mitigation project in North American history, because at a stroke we all emitted less carbon in our electricity regardless of our personal choices.

We need a lot more of that, which means action from all levels of government and business and industry leaders. Which isn’t going to happen unless they hear from a lot of us.

Which is where our lovely banners come in, and the school strikes and demonstrations. It’s amazing to me that even the conservative party has a climate policy for this year’s election. It’s crap, and it would make emissions go up, but they’ve got one–they’ve conceded that it’s real and accept that the public wants to see action. This is a direct result of increasing public visibility and pressure from things like the youth strikes. So the best thing for all of us to do is get more involved.

Other Ideas

You weren’t at the workshop, you aren’t going to a strike: how else can you be part of mobilizing and publicly supporting action on climate change?

It is uncomfortable and new territory for a lot of us, but so much is at stake.  Please find a way to be involved!

Theory

For the climate nerds, here’s the theoretical background: climate communications research shows that conversations about the climate emergency are more successful and lead to better outcomes when:

1. They are in small groups or one-to-one, rather than mass communications
2. They come from a trusted member of that community, rather than from an outsider
3. They are built on shared values and priorities
4. They tackle solutions and a vision of a desired and desirable future

These workshops put that theory into practice in the Hamilton sewing community.

Political Will is a Quilting Bee

Why progressive politicians with majority mandates don’t pursue more aggressive climate policy is one of the great mysteries of our time.

Apparently. Or not. Because to me it makes perfect sense. This conundrum comes from a complete misunderstanding of what political will is and where it comes from.

Political will is not like iron ore.

It is not a pre-existing resource that you need to look for, and, once found, can be used to make things like policies or new law.

And political will is not like a thunderstorm.

It isn’t a mysterious, difficult to predict source of energy that just shows up and dumps a bunch of rain and wind that you can then use to power change.

Political will is more like a quilting bee.

It is produced by people in groups acting together, in public, towards a common end.

You cannot make it on your own, and you cannot make it in private, but YOU CAN MAKE POLITICAL WILL.

Voting is one way of creating political will, but it is very weak due to its substantial flaws: it’s only semi-public, for one. No one knows who you voted for unless you tell them. And it’s dispersed: no one knows why you voted for someone unless you tell them that, either. Political platforms generally contain dozens of policy proposals or promises, and you probably didn’t like all of them, or all of them equally–so what are your priorities? And how are you communicating those priorities to your elected officials?

You should still vote, because that is your best chance of having elected officials who are open to your priorities and concerns; but it’s not enough, not by far. As a bare minimum, you should reach out to your representatives after elections to tell them what your priorities are, what changes you are counting on them to make, and what changes you are completely opposed to (particularly if they ran on those changes). It’s an email. You can write an email.

The public, declarative process of creating political will is why sustained protest movements have such a history of success: you have many people acting collectively in public who are very, very open about their priorities. Not any one person is single-handedly responsible for the political will created but, like a quilting bee, each one of them is contributing a square or a stitch.

Petitions, letter-writing campaigns, civil disobedience, organizations and organizing efforts, strikes, speeches, public meetings and events–all of them work. Ideally, you have a bunch of all of them as part of any sustained movement for change. If they happen often enough and there are enough people participating and they have a common-enough message, congratulations, you will create political will.

The politicians are the last stage in this process.

I don’t know how we ended up with the idea that politicians need to display leadership. Oh hell no. Politicians, particularly in democracies, have always been and will always be followers. Politicians who lead are consistently punished in elections. For progressive politicians, the line of doing the utmost of what is possible with the political will that’s been created without overstepping such that you lose elections–a la Wynne and Notley here, most recently–and see the incoming parties dismantling your legacies is particularly fraught.

Lots of politicians want to make positive change in society, but they can only do so if they have the political will required for the scale of change proposed–and that is the responsibility of the public to create. We can argue while the world unravels about us whether or not it should be that way, but it is; the public’s responsibility is to hold elected officials accountable for their decisions, publicly, in groups.

It doesn’t need to be terrifying. If you have an unholy fear of protest marches or have been completely indoctrinated that marching down a street with a sign is a sure way to be arrested, great, don’t do that. Go to a public meeting, a book reading, a speech, a fundraiser. Put a sign up in your window. Start or sign a petition. Write emails or make phonecalls. Send a cheque to an organization working on the issue.  And make it public. Don’t do it quietly. Let people know–friends, families, and your representatives. Do as much, as often as you can. In this way, you help to stitch the quilt of political will that our democracies need to create legitimate, lasting change.

A bunch of long words about something we already intuitively understand: social capital and building resilience to climate change impacts

(It’s a Season of Presentations apparently, Dear Readers; and here’s one I gave on Thursday evening at the first public meeting for a Community Response to Extreme Weather (CREW) group and project in one of our lower-income communities. It ties in nicely with the bit on Building Communities I wrote here recently, so I thought I’d post it. Hope you enjoy, and would love to hear your thoughts!

There’s a bunch of links to studies I referenced at the bottom, and I’ve posted the slides I used too if you’re interested)


Today I’m going to talk to you about how building social capital improves health and increases resilience to extreme weather events caused by climate change.

Which begs the question: what the heck is social capital?

As it turns out, nobody knows. There is no one definition.

But it does sound very impressive. Building social capital to improve health and increase resilience to extreme weather events caused by climate change! Lots of words with lots of syllables, exactly the kind of phrase that impresses donors and the public. It’s reassuringly technical. It even uses the word “capital,” which in a capitalist society, tends to be equated with “good stuff.”

But, like a lot of phrases that have lots of syllables, impress donors and the public, sound reassuringly technical, and make us think about money, it’s incredibly abstract. You probably don’t get a picture in your head of a person doing an actual thing.

Sometimes it helps to start with a thing’s opposite, so let’s try that. What is the opposite of social capital? Social isolation, right? Social poverty. That’s a phrase that probably brings a concrete picture to mind of a person doing an actual thing—but in their home, by themselves.

And we know it’s dangerous. It’s deadly even in the absence of compounding factors. Social isolation has the same mortality impacts as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. That’s incredible. A socially isolated person is 29% more likely to die from any cause. Loneliness is even contagious: a single lonely person can destabilize an entire social network, causing isolation to spread like a virus, according to one longtitudinal study. Loneliness causes people to be pricklier, to withdraw from potential connections faster, which increases their isolation and according to some studies leads to them being shunned in social settings. It doubles your chance of dying from heart disease. That person doing a thing, in their house by themselves, is dying from it— and the people around them are at higher risk of dying too.

Add in extraordinary circumstances like an extreme heat event, an ice storm, a power outage, and that person in their house by themselves is even more likely to die.

When I was brainstorming ideas for this presentation, I found three key rules for avoiding serious health or mortality impacts from an extreme weather event:

Don’t be old
Don’t be sick
Don’t be alone

Wow.

What a soul-crushing list.

They meant it tongue-in-cheek, but that is not going to help if you are old and sick, and you come across this list while you’re trying to prepare for an emergency—in your house–alone.

Public Health Units like the one I work in are highly, singularly motivated to help as many people as possible reach old age, where eventually, we’re all going to get sick. And then it gets pretty hard to leave your home and make new friends. And what about other isolating factors? Unpredictable work schedules, not speaking English, culture shock, disabilities—all are going to be barriers to getting out of the house and meeting people.

And if you’re already lonely, and if that loneliness is compounded by things such as poverty or illness, when an emergency comes to your neighbourhood, you may desperately need help and have no one to ask for it.

Which is why people who are old and socially isolated are the most likely to die in the wake of an emergency.

So how do we solve this?

As we said—build social capital to increase resilience in the face of emergencies such as extreme weather events brought about by climate change.

Great! What does that mean? What the heck is social capital?

OK, so it’s hard to define—but we know it when we see it.

It means friendship, yes? It means rebuilding trust in our communities, so we know we can ask for, give and receive help when we need to. It means connections and reciprocity. It means care. It means: who we know, who knows us, and who we can rely on.

And now it starts to sound like something you can picture someone doing—public meetings, the PTA, neighbourhood associations, the one kid who offers to shovel everyone’s driveway, tea with a neighbour, going to the playground.

If the research says that loneliness is destabilizing, painful, and deadly, what does it say about social connections? Here’s an abstract from a recent meta-analysis:

Social connection is a pillar of lifestyle medicine. Humans are wired to connect, and this connection affects our health. From psychological theories to recent research, there is significant evidence that social support and feeling connected can help people maintain a healthy body mass index, control blood sugars, improve cancer survival, decrease cardiovascular mortality, decrease depressive symptoms, mitigate posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, and improve overall mental health.

What about in the context of extreme weather events and other climate impacts?

Post-Katrina studies in New Orleans found that, when you compare neighbourhoods with similar income levels and demographics, those with more social capital—more civic engagement, more relationships, more connections—recovered faster and stronger than those without. Research conducted in communities recovering from Cyclone Alia in Bangladesh also concluded that social capital is crucial. Similar results were found in post-earthquake recovery in Kobe, Japan and Gujarat, India. Communities and neighbourhoods recover faster when the people in them have strong social ties.

As with a lot of climate solutions, rebuilding social capital has a funny way of making life better at the same time. Regardless of when or if an extreme weather event hits close to home, if we can rebuild those networks, we’ll be healthier, happier, stronger, and live longer—and unlike eating kale or jogging or flossing, it promises to be a lot of fun.


Presentation

https://www.forbes.com/sites/carolinebeaton/2017/02/09/why-millennials-are-lonely/#a4772e77c351

https://journals.sagepucom/doi/10.1177/1559827615608788?icid=int.sj-challenge-page.similar-articles.1

http://www.rickweil.com/Writings/RackinWeil2015PAASocialCapitalandRepopulation.pdf

http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/170078/Is-Social-Capital-good-for-your-health.pdf

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11069-018-3367-z

Start Where You Live

Right now, your body exists in a physical space: your feet, your back, your legs, press against some surface. Your lungs fill and empty with oxygen we don’t share. Your fingers rest against a screen or on keys; you can hear a furnace, or an air conditioner, or people talking or laughing, or a bus or cars going by, or the claws of a pet making its way around your home.

It may feel like you are a thousand miles away from all of that, with your mind and awareness hovering in some global ether-realm we call the Internet; but that mind and awareness are still in a body that exists in a physical place, so let’s start there, because that place is still the most important thing.

There is one thing you can do, starting today, to help fight climate change. It costs no money, requires no technology, needs no special education or data, and doesn’t ask you to march in the cold.

(Those are all good things too, and I may come back to them. But today, I want to start in a place where everyone is.)

Build community where you live.

Seriously. Start or join a book club. A hiking group. Toastmasters. The PTA. Your neighbourhood association. A wine drinking night. Paint Nite. A fraternity, for god’s sake. Anything.

Start forming community with real live human beings where you physically exist.

This is not the kind of climate pitch you’re used to. Let me explain:

1. Most of us never talk to anyone about climate change at all, let alone our feelings about it.

Most Canadians and Americans accept climate science and are either concerned or alarmed about climate impacts.

But it probably doesn’t feel like it in your day-to-day life, where it rarely comes up in the media, can be easily eclipsed by 20 disaffected climate deniers in yellow vests coming to town, and almost never comes up for us in our daily conversations. Over half of Americans have not talked about climate change at all in the last year.

(This isn’t my personal experience, because I talk about it all the time, for obvious reasons. To the point I expect people get sick of it and are too polite to say so. I can tell from the looks on their faces that this subject makes them very uncomfortable, and it is an absolute conversation killer on social media. If I post about Frances or Juniper, I’ll get dozens of likes and comments; if I post about feminism or social justice, I’ll get a handful; if I post about climate change, you could fly a solar-powered airplane through the middle of the resulting silence.)

There is a taboo about talking about climate change, which is weird, since we all talk about the weather all the time. Breaking that taboo in real life by bringing climate change up with your friends and acquaintances is itself a form of activism.

2. Our friendships and in-person social capital are declining precipitously.

But it’s not just climate change. It’s not just that this topic particularly makes us uncomfortable and shuts us up. Most of us have fewer friendships than we used to, and are having fewer serious conversations with those friends. The climate taboo is very real (says the woman who’s constantly running into it on purpose), but at the same time, how many of those people who haven’t had a conversation about climate change have actually not recently had a meaningful conversation with anyone about anything?

And if we’re not talking to people, how are we going to face this?

This loneliness and social isolation is bad for our physical and mental health. People need people, even though people are often unbearable shitheads. People don’t need all people, but, you know, we need enough non-shithead people in our regular daily in-person lives to not develop mental and physical health problems. Kind of like vitamin C and scurvy: you need a minimum amount to be healthy; this doesn’t mean you eat a load of rotten bananas because more is always better; but if you try to live without any fresh fruit or vegetables at all, you’re going to get sick.

It’s unbearably corny to call this Vitamin C as in Community, isn’t it? It is. We’ll pretend I didn’t write that.

3. Climate change is an everyone problem requiring collective, large-scale changes to our communities and economies.

Moving on: our social networks and friendships are declining. This affects us as individuals, and it also affects our ability to take on collective issues like climate change.

It affects even our ability to talk about it in a real and vulnerable way. Building those communities is the critical first step to having the conversations and eventually acting on them.

And we’re going to have to act on them as more than individuals.

North America has the most individualistic cultures in the world; I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we are consistently losing ground to other, more collective cultures on the fight against climate change. European social democracies, China’s totalitarian state, even small Pacific island nations are doing better at coming up with plans and transitioning their societies away from fossil fuels.

Whereas here, we seem to have a hard time even imagining what a non-individualistic, collective climate action might look like.

Climate change requires large-scale changes, collective changes, but in North America we seem unable to conceive of what those changes might be, beyond what we buy or don’t buy, or what government is in charge.

Lifestyle and purchasing decisions aren’t completely irrelevant, but they’re pretty close.

Think about it this way: if you went back a few hundred years and talked to people about abolishing slavery, and all they could talk about was buying fabric that wasn’t slave-produced, you’d think they were lunatics. Obviously the laws needed to be changed; it should be impossible to buy something made by slaves because slavery should not exist. Period (it still does, but that’s another post for another day). Same thing with carbon: it should be impossible for us to buy products and services with the potential to destroy the planet, and that requires legislative and regulatory change. You can buy low-carbon stuff and that’s fine, but it’s not going to get us where we need to go.

Similarly, yes, abolition and emancipation came from the government of the day, but they were pushed into it by collective action. Not by individual purchasing decisions. By letters, editorials, protest marches, lectures, and collective efforts like the Underground Railroad. By people doing things with their time in their actual biological lives and geographic location. Not on the internet. Not with their wallet.

Today there are examples of meaningful collective low-carbon actions all over the world. Renewable energy co-operatives that build, own, and retain the profits of solar and wind projects in communities. The Transition Town movement, reducing or eliminating the reliance of communities on fossil fuel energy. Divestment, pressuring institutions such as universities and local governments and pension plan investors to take their investments out of fossil fuel companies. Shareholder activism, where company shareholders force companies to reveal how exposed they are to climate risks and the carbon bubble. Lawsuits. Now the school strikes.

It is these actions and others like them that are going to eventually force the hand of government.

We need to work together. That means we need to know each other.

But frankly even just building the community without turning it into some kind of climate group has a vital climate impact. Here’s why:

4. Adaptation impacts are most keenly felt amongst the socially isolated; social connections are key to a healthy and adaptive response

During the European heatwave of 2003, 35000 people died. Many of them were elderly people with loving and caring families, but those families had gone out of town for their traditional August vacations. When the seniors found themselves in dangerously hot living conditions, they had no one to call.

During the Chicago heat wave of 1995, 750 people died. They were, again, mostly socially isolated seniors. They lived alone and had few if any friends or relatives nearby to see how they were doing.

It stands to reason, doesn’t it?

You can have a thousand FB friends and 10,000 twitter or Instagram followers, and when the power goes out, or the floods rise, or the wildfires are burning, or the heat is building in your apartment, none of them will be close enough to help you—nor will you be close enough to help them.

When climate impacts hit close to home, you are going to want to know your neighbours.

We are not just consumers. We are not just voters. We are not just Friends or Followers. We are human beings—mammals, animals who live in a geographic place with other animals and human beings who share that space. For hundreds of thousands of years, that was how we survived fires and floods and famine. We are going to need that again.

Losing the Plot (and maybe finding it again)

Those of you who have met me in the last few years, particularly online, especially particularly through the blog, may not know that I used to write. A lot.

As in, I started reading novels when I was five, and started writing them when I was seven. As in, I have an overflowing bankers box full of journals from elementary school through university. As in, I’ve published short stories, essays and articles.

And then, a few years ago, blogging aside, I completely stopped.

Occasionally I’d get an idea and write it down, but that was all.

What happened was–I lost faith in the narrative arc.

Doesn’t that sound weird? Who has faith in the narrative arc? But as it turns out, that’s the one thing I needed to have if I was going to write. Even non-fiction has a kind of plot, a series of events that link causally, a conclusion whether hoped-for or actual. Epiphanies. Breakthroughs. Progress. Injustice or obstacles overcome, whether internally or externally. Battles won, or lost. Something the book is trying to accomplish. Not just a series of  random, unconnected data.

And I lost the pattern. I lost the plot.

Everything was random and nothing meant anything. People didn’t change, not really; or if they did it was so rare, so obscure, so hard, so impossible to pinpoint, and so difficult to describe, it wasn’t really worth talking about.

Professionally, the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference just about broke me.  Nicknamed Hopenhagen, and widely discussed at the time in climate circles as the world’s last chance to prevent catastrophic climate change, which it ultimately failed to do. So here we are in 2019, with raging wildfires and hurricanes that maybe should be in a brand new category 6 and climate refugees and a political order that is barely doing the things it should have done 20 years ago but with so much pushback that every climate gain is constantly contested and under threat.

Copenhagen broke my heart. It felt like the world had died, or maybe that the world had been admitted to palliative care and I was waiting for either a miracle or the final passing.

Part of that was family stuff. Do you know what it’s like to watch people, for decades, determinedly entangle themselves with abusers? Who defend the people who abuse them? Who scrounge around on the floor for crumbs of attention from people who hurt them–who talk about this as “love” or “kindness”?

Watching someone cling to those who have been a source of immense pain and no pleasure would challenge anyone’s notions of change or progress or insight or epiphany. Not everyone wakes up “one day” and leaves an abuser, whether that abuser is a parent or a spouse or a partner or a sibling. A lot of people stay forever, by choice–and spend a fair bit of energy and time trying to get other people to stay too.

I used to think that I had changed. Yes I had a crummy childhood, and that crummy childhood left scars and quirks a mile wide and a mile deep, and yes it caused me to make a series of disastrous and destructive romantic choices, but I’m learning–right?

Oh, change.

No. As it turned out I wasn’t. Or I wasn’t learning as much as I thought, not changing as much as I thought, still had blindspots and quirks and scars nearly a mile wide and a mile deep. As hit me over the head like a concrete 2×4 when I broke up with a man who’d assaulted me, bugged the apartment of his ex-wife and hired a PI so he could keep tabs on who she was fucking, sold his house and moved to an apartment halfway between where I live and where I worked after we broke up, stalked me so well that I knew exactly who it was and yet had no proof.  Why did I ignore the signs? Had I changed or learned or grown at all?

Now. This may not be clear to you already. But I have treated change as something between a part-time job and a significant hobby since my teens.

I wrote lists of new year’s resolutions, with milestones, deadlines, checklists. I talked to therapists. I read self-help books and psychology books and neurobiology books and philosophy books and parenting books and how-to books of all kinds. I was never, ever going to turn into my mother. Not only does she hurt people as reflexively and easily as most people make a sandwich, but she is as a result almost completely isolated; there is no part of her life that I want. Change was more important to me than God, for the period in my life in which I was religious; change, overcoming, learning, and being a better person, was the single most important thing in the world to me before Frances was born. Nothing was too hard or too much in my quest to be and do everything she wasn’t.

And at 38, in the wake of this relationship, I was hit like a brick in the face with the realization that what I really needed to worry about was becoming my father.

It is very difficult to make change and progress your life goals and then realize at 38 that in some important respects not only have you not changed or progressed, but you were aiming yourself at the wrong finish line.

And the point of this isn’t actually to depress any of you, but to provide some insight into my state of mind beginning in 2009 and then building over the next several years. Climate depression (a real thing now, and nice to have more company, though I’d obviously prefer the alternative) meeting up with a terminally dysfunctional family and a personal crisis of faith, causing a killer case of writer’s block, and the inability to compose a single prose sentence except for sewing and book reviews for several years.

None of these facts have changed: the climate is still an actual global dumpster fire, and it’s possible–and even likely–that none of the work I do will make a measurable difference; my family on both sides is still a mass of enablers, abusers and mental illness; that I will almost certainly remain completely oblivious to at least some of my own blindspots, and damage myself or others in their shadows; and that no one wants me to talk about any part of this.

Everything I really want or need to talk about makes people extremely uncomfortable. You can hardly get people to nope out of a conversation faster than if you mention climate change, unless it’s to talk about a petite attractive well-educated well-spoken nicely dressed wealthy white woman completely lacking in empathy or conscience, especially when that woman is your mother. Both upend everything people want or need to believe about how the world is or works, and I get it, but also, I’m at a place and in a life where survival means looking at what’s there, actually there, not the pretty picture that was modge-podged on top of the festering rot.

Honest festering rot can be useful, if it breaks down into soil and feeds new life. Slapping a glossy photo on top, besides being a lie, prevents growth.

Anyway, here’s the thing:

Nothing I ever said to my family made a difference; it’s possible, even likely, that nothing I say about climate change will make a difference. Life is indeed meaningless and the values we assign to ourselves, our place in society, nature and the world are arbitrary.  I talked to my dad a hundred times about how he was being treated, and he still stayed, and he still died. I’ve been yakking my head off about climate change and what it means for us as a civilization, a species, and a planet, for twenty years, and scientists as a group have been talking about it since the 1800s, and CO2 levels are still going up and things are getting worse.

This was meant to be an environmental blog, once upon a time, though even back then I wrote a lot about sewing and I can’t see that not continuing. These days, it looks like half the world is freaking out about climate change in the same way I did in 2009, and I find that there are things I want to say. That it is possible to look at the future we’ve made and say, maybe there’s no hope, but there’s still a point; I can’t solve this, but there is so much good that I can do in this crisis, good that only I–or you–can do.  That there is a huge difference between 1.5C and 2C, even though both are terrible, and another huge difference between 2 and 2.5; hell, even the difference between 1.5C and 1.6C can be measured in lives lost, and every single one of those lives matters, and one of those may be the one you save, whether you ever know it or not.

There’s no point. I grant that. I have no control over how my words are received or the impact they have, if any. Our world is engineered to strip almost all of us of most of our power, and then convince us that the powers we still have are irrelevant: boring, pointless, trivial, and weak, confined to our wallets and the periodic drama of the voting booth, nothing in the face of a new Netflix special or whether or not Jennifer Aniston is pregnant for real this time. I know it. You know it. And nevertheless. I’m going to speak, if only because if I don’t, I won’t be able to live with myself.

There’s no plot. We’re all sitting around like climate change is some Hollywood drama or Marvel movie and a hero is guaranteed to arrive in the 11th hour with a foolproof plan so the rest of us can sit back and wait, but we are not guaranteed a hero, and we’ve had plenty of plans offered to us over the decades, and we’ve decided none of them are to our liking.  Ok. So maybe out of some combination of hubris, denial, laziness, skepticism, neurological hijinks, unfettered capitalism, historical flukes, democratic erosion, colonialism and greed, humanity goes extinct and takes most of the world with it. Hell, trees almost did that, once upon a time.

There’s no narrative arc. The western story of social progress built on economic growth is, like Wile E Coyote, marching on thin air while the ecological basis of our species disintegrates beneath us, and will eventually plummet–is in some cases already plummeting. Maybe we’ll dash madly back to solid ground in time, and maybe we won’t, and in either case my words are unlikely to make a real difference. So be it.

I’m saying it anyway.

The Age of Angry Women

I’ve been keeping journals since elementary school, and they are, generally, what you would expect from journals: hard-back notebooks filled with lined pages covered in a not always legible scrawl of to do lists, New Year’s Resolutions, goals I had or things I wanted to try, quandaries I was trying to work through, and of course, what was going on in my life and how I felt and what I thought about it.

Or, often, what I thought I should think about it. What I thought I should feel about it. In my first journal from elementary school, I’d gotten the idea that girls were supposed to write about their crushes in their diaries, so I invented crushes so I could write about them in my diary, but not all of the things I thought I should think or felt I should feel were so entertaining. Often it was things that made me sad, or angry: I wrote about those feelings in the hope and expectation that by getting it out I wouldn’t be sad or angry anymore. It never worked.

In January 2017, I stopped writing in black and blue ink and brought out the coloured pens. I started to make charts, draw sketches, record dreams I’d had, write down quotes from books or poems I’d read.

This is one of those things that’s very awkward to say, and which I’ve been told is scientifically either implausible or impossible so I don’t mention much, but: I don’t have many memories of my childhood. I remember some friends, some teachers, school trips, other kids’ birthday parties, summer camp, the cottages. I have a handful of memories of my Dad and my brother. Of my mother, I have one clear memory before the age of 14, and a handful of other extremely unpleasant memories of things that involve her or where she was present–I know she was present–but her presence in that memory has been wiped clear as a white-board. For me, narrative memory starts sometime in middle school. Before then, I have my journals, and things people have told me, and weird snatches, and lots of stuff that doesn’t involve my family, and that’s it.

This image, for instance, does not resonate with me at all. I don’t have a childhood self to return to–though if you do, that’s great, and I’m happy for you. Apparently it resonates with a lot of people because it is all over my FB feed.

So early in 2017, in addition to watching the world slowly side into a dumpster-fire the size of Jupiter, I also was tired of trying to figure out what was in those missing years, who I would have or should have been, how I turned into who I am. Unlike most other people, I’m not tethered to a remembered history. It’s odd, it’s often uncomfortable, but it’s true, so I may as well make myself up. And my journals became a way to do that: to construct myself.  I still wrote to-do lists and plans and quandaries and what I thought I should think and how I thought I should feel, which still never worked, and pages and pages of — questions, quotes, the bits of myself that I inherited from trauma and wanted to keep (eg. loving nature), the bits that I inherited from trauma and wanted to change (eg. fearing people), the bits that might actually have nothing to do with trauma at all (eg. sewing), and what exactly I wanted to put in the empty spaces between them (eg. dancing).

We all engage in self-construction somewhat. The difference is, if you had parents who loved you, you had people from your earliest memories mirroring back to you a version of yourself you could flourish in. You might outgrow it, you might need to stretch or bend it, but there was part of that mirroring you could live in. When your parents hate you, the version of yourself they give you is ugly and contorted. If you try growing into it, it kills you.


In October of last year, I read through Adrienne Riche. Here’s some bits I wrote down:

it’s your own humanity you’ll have to drag
over and over, piece by piece,
page after page
out of the dark.

Which was as good a description of my project as I could ask for. But then, in relation to all those feelings I was trying to write away, this:

Anger and tenderness: my selves.
And now I can believe they breathe in me
as angels, not polarities.
Anger and tenderness: the spider’s genius
to spin and weave in the same action
from her own body, anywhere–
even from a broken web.

Maybe, I thought, I didn’t have to write them away. Maybe the anger isn’t the problem. Maybe I can let the anger be?

This, of course, is not a problem unique to me: We live in a world that delights in convincing women that we don’t have the right to feel our feelings, and if we do, we don’t have the right to express or act on them, and if we choose to anyway, we can’t expect anyone to take them or us seriously. We are hysterical, we are emotional, we are too sensitive, we are irrational, we are illogical, we are hormonal: if we want to be taken seriously in almost any context, we need to strip ourselves of any evidence of emotion, and then be labelled “cold.”

On the one hand, my upbringing made this worse: I lived in the same misogynistic culture, and was brought up in a misogynistic fundamentalist Church, and had a deeply abusive family. From all quarters, I got the message that I was not valued, and not valuable. It was awful. I won’t sugarcoat it. I’ve struggled with suicidal depression since elementary school (for which I was also blamed).

On the other hand, it’s meant I had nothing to lose in walking away.

Oddly, I’ve come to view this as a gift. Though maybe that’s the wrong word, because it came with a very steep bill.

Regardless, when I came across the message–and when it then proliferated across the literary landscape like a climate change-fueled wildfire–that my anger was not the problem, I could embrace it, without facing unpleasant pushback from people in my life who would tell me that the anger was ugly and uncomfortable and I should shove it back in its box.

In June of this year I fell into Jan Zwicky again. I don’t know why she isn’t a better-known or more-loved poet. Here’s some bits from Beethoven: Op. 95:

…You were right: stupidity
surrounds us, and our own
splits the skull most sharply.
Also: that nothing
is achieved without the grimmest labour
on the slenderest of hopes. …

…you were right
about discipline, and politics,
the steep well of fury, and finally
what the fury goes through to: love
like a hand through the wall of the chest,
like a hand in fire, fire
tearing itself, in the hand’s flame
a heart, in the heart’s fist
an ear.

That image!

What the fury goes through to: love like the hand through the wall of the chest.

There’s been, also, approximately a hundred books written very recently by women about women being angry and getting shit done using that anger as fuel, and I’ve read three of them: Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper, Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister, and Rage Becomes Her by Soraya Chemaly. I recommend all three, and I recommend reading them close together because they bolster and complement each other beautifully. Rage Becomes Her is approximately 250 pages of all the shit making women angry followed by 50 pages of what to do with it; Good and Mad is a historical and present-day journalistic narrative account of women using their anger to achieve positive change for society; and Eloquent Rage is a personal exploration of the uses of justified rage in the life of one Black Feminist activist. As well, all three provide an intersectional viewpoint that, while not complete, at least makes a conscious effort to broaden the scope beyond the most privileged.

Spoiler: they’re solidly pro-anger. Anger is justified, anger is fuel; anger tells us what’s broken and gives us the energy to try to fix it; and we live in a world that veers between discomfort and vilification where angry women are concerned, where it is hard to believe in the validity and uses of our anger. Where we still feel the necessity of bottling it up and slapping a smile or a joke on it. Where if you aren’t angry whatever happened didn’t bother you that much and if you are angry, you’re the problem.

Chemaly, Cooper and Traister would all like you to be angry, to express that anger, and to use that anger to propel activism in service of making a better world.

Cooper:

“This is a book by a grown-ass women written for other grown-ass women. This is a book for women who expect to be taken seriously and for men who take grown women seriously. This is a book for women who know shit is fucked up. These women want to change things but don’t know where to begin.

“To be clear, I’m not really into self-help books, so I don’t have one of those catchy three-step plans for changing the world. What I have is anger. Rage, actually. And that’s the place where more women should begin–with the things that make us angry.”

Chemaly:

“See your anger not only as a possible symptom but also as a way to recover yourself. If you are among the millions of people who have experienced abuse in childhood, for example, or physical and sexual violence in adulthood, anger is inevitable. Women who suppress this anger suffer more deleterious effects related to that suppression. Recovering from these assaults and their memorizes is hampered by ignoring what your anger represents as an agent of better health.”

“Anger is an assertion of rights and worth. It is communication, equality and knowledge. It is intimacy, acceptance, fearlessness, embodiment, revolt, and reconciliation. Anger is memory and rage. It is rational thought and irrational pain. Anger is freedom, independence, expansiveness, and entitlement. It is justice, passion, clarity, and motivation. Anger is instrumental, thoughtful, complicated, and resolved. In anger, whether you like it or not, there is truth.

Anger is the demand of accountability. It is evaluation, judgement, and refutation. It is reflective, visionary and anticipatory. It’s a speech act, a social statement, an intention, and a purpose. It’s a risk and a threat. A confirmation and a wish. It is both powerlessness and power, palliative and a provocation. In anger, you will find both ferocity and comfort, vulnerability and hurt. Anger is the expression of hope.”

Traister:

“‘It’s so powerful and kind of reminds me that the other side of the anger is the hope,’ Morales wrote to me. ‘We wouldn’t be angry if we didn’t still believe that it could be better.’

And if it gets better in part because of women’s ability and willingness and need to feel their anger and to let it out into the world, then what we would be living through right now would not be a trend or a fad or a witch hunt, but an insurrection–a righteous revolution, led by angry women.”

These books are fabulous and necessary and inspiring and, yes, enraging. I graduated from tea to wine to whisky while reading them, because believe me, they made me want to burn the world down. Traister, Cooper and Chemaly are right: women have a lot to be angry about; and our anger is not only justified and useful but necessary if we are going to fix the mess(es) we’re in.

But they missed one thing.

Anger isn’t just accountability and revolution and hope and optimism and power and independence and motivation and clarity and purpose and the place we should begin. It isn’t just good for our health and our souls to feel and own our anger.

Anger is love.

Fury is love, the hand going through the wall of the chest to the heart.

What you are angry on behalf of is what you love. If you are only ever angry on your own behalf, you only love yourself. If you are never angry on your own behalf, you don’t love yourself. Everyone I know who is never angry is a victim of abuse, usually starting early in childhood, that convinced them that they’re not worth defending and it’s selfish to defend themselves and it’s hopeless to even try. My father never got angry at the way my mother treated him, or very rarely, because he’d been convinced and then continued to convince himself that it was wrong and bad to value himself enough to feel anger on his own behalf. There are others in my family who are much the same–all women, mind you.

Think of when you have been angry in your life, and why, and look behind that anger, and you will find what you were defending–what you love. Anger on behalf of the poor, the exploited, on behalf of victims of assault or abuse or misogyny or racism; anger on behalf of children, of the environment, of the future, is a positive expression of love. You can’t love those things and not be angry when they’re threatened.

(And yes, the white man who only ever gets angry when his comfort and position are threatened only loves himself, and his comfort and position. It is absolutely a reflection of a person’s values and their heart.  Similarly the person who only ever gets angry on behalf of victims who live on the other side of the world, and can’t be bothered to react emotionally to victims in their own life.)

Anger is an angel. Anger is tenderness. Anger is what allows us to spin and weave a better future, even from a broken web. Fury goes through to love like a hand through the wall of the chest. Be as angry as you need to be.

The Old Year

A Year In Sewing

I tend to be wordy even when I try hard not to be, Dear Readers, so no recap. Just a few links to some favourite projects and a couple of duds.

Things I Wear All the Time

Favourite Dress to Wear to Meetings, Warm Weather Edition

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It’s super comfortable, a bit different, eye-catching and–of course–it has pockets.

Favourite Accidental Favourite

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Technically this was a practice project, but I wore it all the time this summer.

Favourite Flounces, Times Three

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I Need A Nap

And I’m thinking of making it again with long sleeves, for the cold weather.

Favourite Floral

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For obvious reasons.

Favourite Dress Maybe Ever

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Which made all of the practicing worthwhile.

Favourite Dress to Wear to Meetings, Cold Weather Edition

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In ponte. Yay for ponte! I wear this one at least a few times a month now that it’s cold out.

Favourite Knit Shirt

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Except not really, because I also like a lot of the altered Renfrews I’ve been sewing, but I haven’t blogged them (yet). Of the ones I have blogged, though, this one gets a ton of wear.

Yes, this is seven; it was still hard to narrow down, and there are so many more I wear all the time and are either too new or just narrowly less loved than these ones.

Duds

Why Is Yellow See Through?

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Size is wrong; needs altering before I make it up again; haven’t worn this version even once. Sigh.

Not the Flounce You’re Looking For

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Maybe in a different fabric; not in this lawn.

 

A Year In Reading

2017 was a fantastic year for literature; this tends to coincide with political and cultural turmoil, so I can’t say I’m 100% wholly happy about it, but I did really like a lot of books. I’ve made a GoodReads shelf for this year’s reads, and below are my top 7 with reviews.

Amatka

Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

The Lonely Hearts Hotel

The Stone Sky (Broken Earth #3)

The Black Tides of Heaven (Tensorate #1)

Her Body and Other Parties

The Break

If there’s one that you must, simply must, make time for, it’s N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, of which The Stone Sky was the conclusion. It was stunningly, brilliantly good and a perfect comment on and antidote to our current moment.

A Year in Greening

This used to be a green blog, and in my actual day-to-day work life I’m still a professional tree-hugger, and this has been a year for environmental issues and happenings. I won’t dwell–in this post–on the climate change clusterfuck of 2017 of wildfires and hurricanes and Trumpster and his disaster cabinet leaving the Paris Accord (lucky you! something to look forward to on zoopolis next year), and will instead dredge up a few moments of hope.

I’m really looking forward to being a part of this initiative, recently announced and long worked-towards.

And I’ve spent a good part of my work time over the last year working on climate change impact adaptation planning in the community, which has been a mostly fulfilling way of combining intersectional politics with my climate change work. We* all know that climate change impacts vulnerable populations the most, globally and locally; but vulnerable voices are notably absent from climate change adaptation plans generally, which tend to be based on assessments by technical experts, who tend to be professionals and engineers, who tend not to be members of vulnerable communities. Starting the process of getting out into the community and finding those voices has been slow and difficult but mostly great.

(*”We” being those people not so stupid as to believe that 99% of climatologists globally have been somehow bought into supporting the theory of anthropogenic climate change.)

A Year in Quoting

One of my (admittedly geeky) habits is to reread A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve, and one or more of the other Dickens Christmas books over the holiday. In all of the fighting over what Christmas is, what it means, and who it’s for, we tend to overlook how singularly important Dickens’ ideas of what it was about are to how we celebrate it today and the importance it has in our modern holiday calendar–and we have almost completely lost sight of the ways he used the holiday and his writings about it to focus on the less fortunate. Dickens’ Christmas books are not about middle-class happy families enjoying turkey and a nice bottle of wine after opening welcomed and appropriate gifts; they are about the vast numbers of people who can only dream of that. Dickens was a Victorian Social Justice Warrior, and he used his Christmas books to affect change in the attitudes of his contemporaries. (Except, of course, notably, for women.)

If I were you, I’d bypass The Battle of Life and The Cricket on the Hearth (the latter of which was more popular than A Christmas Carol in his lifetime), and read The Chimes or The Haunted Man. Here, to round off this year, is a bit from The Chimes, which takes place on New Year’s Eve:

The Year was Old, that day. The patient Year had lived through the reproaches and misuses of its slanderers, and faithfully performed its work. Spring, summer, autumn, winter. It had laboured through the destined round, and now laid down its weary head to die. Shut out from hope, high impulses, active happiness, itself, but active messenger of many joys to others, it made appeal in its decline to have its toiling days and patient hours remembered, and to die in peace. Trotty might have read a poor man’s allegory in the fading year; but he was past that, now.

And only he? Or has the like appeal been ever made, by a seventy years at once upon an English labourer’s head, and made in vain!

The streets were full of motion, and the shops were decked out gaily. The New Year, like an Infant Heir to the whole world, was waited for, with welcomes, presents, and rejoicings. There were books and toys for the New Year, glittering trinkets for the New Year, dresses for the New Year, schemes of fortune for the New Year; new inventions to beguile it. Its life was parceled out in almanacks and pocket-books; the coming of its moons, and stars, and tides, was known beforehand to the moment; all the workings of its seasons in their days and nights, were calculated with as much precision as Mr. Filer could work sums in men and women.

The saddest thing about The Chimes for me is how utterly contemporary so much of it feels. The wealthy assholes who pepper the book with their observations on the low character and ingratitude of the poor can be found any day of the week in a modern newspaper–now together with immigrants, refugees, and millennials. Inequality is rising. We seem so determined to repeat the mistakes of the Victorian era (in some cases literally, eg. the Trumpian’s determined clinging to a coal based economy, ffs); there may be lessons still to learn from the authors who took that society to task.

Review: Banned on the Hill: A True Story about Dirty Oil and Government Censorship

(What happened? Summer. Also, home laptop broke. New laptop working, but would not connect to network. None of these things facilitate blogging.  Hiking and gardening are more fun anyway, yes?)
Banned on the Hill: A True Story about Dirty Oil and Government Censorship by Franke James
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am the first person to mark this book as “read” on Goodreads. I find that a little depressing … but I’m happy to be the first to tell you why you should read this fabulous book:

1. The art. Franke’s illustrations and visual essays are always striking, quirky, and to the point.

2. The number of essays included. If, like me, you’ve been following her work for the past few years, this is a great way to have several of the back-story essays (including “Dear Prime Minister,” “Fat Cat Canada” and “What Can One Person Do?”) as well as the “Banned on the Hill” essay that chronicles her attempted censorship by the fine folks the Department of International Affairs.

3. The information and the stories. It’s infuriating that this is happening in Canada, but since it is, it’s better to know about it than not. And it is wonderful to have people like Franke James so determinedly bringing that message to so many different audiences

There were at least a dozen pages I wanted to rip out and frame. Instead I might scan, print and frame them (solely for personal use of course).

If you care about climate change and the obstructionist position Canada has taken both internationally and domestically on this issue, you will want to read this book. When you’re done, share it widely.

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