Celebrity Deaths

Began to compose social media post about David Bowie dying then thought “the world doesn’t need to hear my thoughts on David Bowie dying”

This gets you +224 points on The Good Place

We, the social media generation, often react to the deaths of famous people (who are, in reality, strangers to us) as an order to sit in judgment over their lives. Often this is positive, sometimes it’s not. Either way, it seems arrogant. I have my own bubble, so I tend to agree with the final judgements passed on the formerly living, but regardless, I’m usually, like, “why?” What is the point of this? Is there anyone reading your post who doesn’t already know why you think Donald Rumsfeld or Rush Limbaugh is a bad person? What’s the motivation? To get more angry “likes”? Or dull hearts? I dunno. Even the generic praise seems boring and unhelpful. I can get interested in people’s artistic or spiritual connection to folks they don’t actually know: the Prince album that got them through their coming out period; the Joan Didion book that weirdly made them feel seen, but more often I just skip over these so-called tributes.

This is, of course, prelude to writing my own…

I rarely respond to celebrity deaths in writing – maybe 3 in the last 5 years – but quite a few hit the press in quick succession last week, and at this moment I feel inspired to celebrate the good they brought into the world, or into my particular little life, now that their active contributions have ended. Yay, humans! In that spirit, here is a tiny tribute to these guys:

  • Bob Saget
  • Meatloaf
  • Louie Anderson
  • Thich Nhat Hanh

Bob Saget’s reputation was huge among comedians, a group with which I’ve had perhaps too much interaction. Folks seem to agree that he was a good guy, and who doesn’t want to know that a celebrity is a good guy? Right on, Bob. I know little of his work, but I lovelovelove good standup comedy, and profane standup is typically my favorite standup. I believe pushing people out of their comfort box is not only okay, but important; that addressing issues and ickiness that people don’t want to talk about opens our minds and even our hearts; that finding the humor in the horror is finding light in the darkness and that nothing is “off limits,” if it’s done right. As Wavy Gravy said, “if you don’t have a sense of humor, it just isn’t funny.” The Comedian as Court Jester has probably never been more important than it is right now. Perhaps never less important, either. When is speaking comic truth to power unimportant? Saget followed in a centuries-old tradition of Jews and others who laugh to keep from crying.

Meatloaf. Ah, Meatloaf. Lots of folks have referenced his embarrassing show of Trump support several years back, but if you’re getting your political guidance from Meatloaf, I don’t know what to tell ya. Let me instead evoke the sweet, goofy, steroid-enhanced, testicle-free, ex-wrestler he played in Fight Club. Robert Paulsen is the most compassionate and lovable character in the movie, and admirable in a sea of toxicity: a burly man who holds space for other men to cry; a goofy and loyal friend; a person who can fight without anger, hatred, or guile; a character whose death is the warning light that things have gone too far, the trigger for the protagonist to battle back to consciousness and self-awareness. (Oh, and a friend in the music business who worked with him said he was a kind man, if you need that topper.)

Christine Baskets

I liked what I knew of Louie Anderson’s standup, though he wasn’t one of my faves. I heard good things about him personally once I moved to his home state (good guy!). But he really grabbed me in an interview with Terri Gross several years ago. I just fell for him. There was a sweetness, mindfulness, and openness about him that was so gentle and refreshing, and so aligned with how I want to approach the world. It was that, more than anything else, that led me to start watching Baskets. And Baskets is where I fell in love with Louie, as Christine Baskets, who is one of my favorite characters ever. She is subtly hilarious, but broke my heart repeatedly. She’s bold and strong and sensitive and loving and sometimes misguided; her vulnerability and strange generosity is beautiful and devastating. A less compassionate actor could have easily made her a joke; Louie made her an suburban American warrior.

And then there’s Thich Nhat Hanh. (I think I can leave out the character assessment for this one.) I can’t possibly begin to pay tribute to perhaps the most influential Buddhist monk of our time. (I know most would say the Dalai Lama, but in my spiritual world, Thay was more directly inspiring.) If you have a spiritual practice or inclination and don’t know him, check out some interviews or one of his scores of books. Although I am not a religious Buddhist, he’s been a huge influence on me. Not only through the many teachers I’ve learned from who started their journeys with this sweet-voiced little Vietnamese man, but because he lived the practice of and apparently invented the phrase “engaged Buddhism”, which I’ve been actively studying for the past year, and hope to commit to for as long as I’m still on the list of life. He stood up to conservative and monastic Buddhism before it was fashionable and spent much of his life trying to make the teachings understandable and accessible to the Western world, in a way our ilk could understand. He opened a path to liberation from our materialist, consumptive culture, our mindless anger, and our blind selfishness. To Hanh, mindfulness necessarily encompasses not only our own “selves” but our interdependent world, and right action necessarily includes the work to help alleviate suffering wherever one finds it. I know a lot of people have a hard time with death, and this post is, let’s face it, inspired by death, so let me close with this wise man’s words on the topic:

Our greatest fear is that when we die we will become nothing. Many of us believe that our entire existence is only a life span beginning the moment we are born or conceived and ending the moment we die. We believe that we are born from nothing and when we die we become nothing. And so we are filled with fear of annihilation.

The Buddha has a very different understanding of our existence. It is the understanding that birth and death are notions. They are not real. The fact that we think they are true makes a powerful illusion that causes our suffering. The Buddha taught that there is no birth; there is no death; there is no coming; there is no going; there is no same; there is no different; there is no permanent self; there is no annihilation. We only think there is. When we understand that we cannot be destroyed, we are liberated from fear. It is a great relief. We can enjoy life and appreciate it in a new way.

This body is not me. I am not limited by this body.

I am life without boundaries.

I have never been born,

And I have never died.

Art Hack

Art Hack

I cannot draw.

This is so true it’s not even critique. Playing Pictionary exclusively with non-artists, my work is irrefutably the most distorted, the least comprehensible. A horse may reasonably be interpreted as a capybara, a sailboat as a place setting. It’s one of those failings I’m no longer ashamed of, though of course I’ve always wished I could create a somewhat representative work, even if visual art is likely beyond my reach. Some people have trouble expressing themselves in words. I have not only been lacking in the ability to convey thoughts, ideas, or images in a visual fashion, I haven’t been able to successfully convey anything in graphite, paint, clay, crayon, ever.

Then, last summer, I started getting into trees. Not, like, physically into them (or just barely). But really falling in love with trees. I have to give credit to Richard Powers’ The Overstory, a book I would not have read if the author hadn’t had a remarkably forgettable name (a work I read of his years ago was one of my most loathed novels of the decade). For whatever flaws it has, The Overstory brought trees alive for me in a way that nothing in my child-of-hippies, nature loving, environmentalist past has done. I was suddenly thirsty with the need to know trees.

How does one meet trees? In the beforetimes, one would naturally show up at one’s local arbor social, chat up some tall, deciduous babe, maybe leaf together. But what of these pandemic times? Where does one socialize with a firmly planted, silent species?

Rather than returning to a method of learning that has, I now realize, always bored me, overwhelmed me, and failed me – that of book study and rote memorization (a methodology I think I may have repeated for decades because I saw it as a way to punish myself for my not knowing, ignorance being a sure sign of my laziness, ineptitude, and lack of intelligence, rather than an accident of circumstance), I sought another way in. I had been using iNaturalist at the recommendation of Jenny Offill’s ironically inspiring book, How to do Nothing in an attempt to identify local birds, so I posted some snapshots of trees in my area and begged the wisdom of the app’s community for identification, but soon found that there’s a lot more you typically need to identify a tree than a bird. A clear avian photo or song is likely to produce a positive identification from an avid amateur, but when I tried arborday.org’s tree identification gauntlet after iNaturalist failed to produce results, I found that with ~60,000 species on Earth, you need a lot of info to id a tree – info I didn’t even comprehend, let alone have the ability to produce (pettiole? pinnately compound? lobed margins? did they teach us anything important in school?). I had to gather data, and short of standing in front of a tree with my blech-inducing laptop to document objective information for long stretches of time, the best way to do that was to start sketching.

Not the whole tree. Too overwhelming for my detail-oriented brain, plus I am wary of attempting representation, for the reasons explicated at the top of this post. I was focused on essential pieces of the tree: the design and texture of the trunk, the exact shape of a leaf, the pattern of leaf placement on a branch, any acorns or fruits or other adornments.

Begin at home, they say. So I literally did. Not with the Black Walnut in my backyard – a tree I love so much I regularly ruminate on the heartbreak of its eventual demise (likely long after my own), much as I do with my dog (likely much sooner), but not with my partner (weird). I focused instead on the unknown boulevard tree, across the sidewalk from my front yard. I grabbed a camp chair and hauled my small stash of gear outside. I started with the trunk, carefully recreating every swirl, protrusion, and knot as clearly as possible with my new charcoal pencils in my new spiral-bound sketchbook. It didn’t take long to realize that not only was I not going to capture the 2×2′ chunk I had planned to draw, I would be lucky to finish 1/4 that much. It struck me that this was because I was essentially copying the details 1:1, that my brain hasn’t developed the skill to shrink the patterns down. I was literally just drawing what I saw, exactly as I saw it, to the best of my ability.

TREE!

Who cares? The year before, I didn’t think I could draw anything and now I had put something beautiful on paper. The intricacies of the trunk were engrossing. I could honestly have continued getting to know them for hours, if I had enough paper. Instead, I restricted myself to a small chunk of bark and moved on to a branch, being careful to accurately represent the characteristics I had seen on the arbor day site: how the branches grow out of the tree, how the leaves are arranged on the branch, the relative size, color, and texture of the berries all over it. Leaves are, bless ’em, portable, so if you tire of people’s stares, or worry about paranoid neighbors calling the cops, you can take a fallen leaf indoors for the rest of the session. My leaf was covered in little nipples (yep, that’s what they’re called), which I thought were bugs or disease, but turned out to be characteristic of my tree species which, after triple-checking with the Arbor Day foundation, a UMN list of common trees in my state, and a YouTube video for confirmation, I found out was a hackberry. As my first tree it is naturally special, but get this bonus: it has edible fruit! Those little berries that my dog regularly snacks on are tasty little morsels – very little, as the seed takes up almost all the space, but if you get them at the right time of year, the fruit tastes like fig. This was probably the best tree I could have started with, because I love to eat, and because I am always, in the back of my mind, looking for ways I might be useful after the demi-apocalypse. They’ll definitely let me live when I deliver these little delicacies.

Once I got to know this tree, I saw it everywhere. Not only because we were now acquainted, but because my block is lined with hackberries. Stupid human planning, and here’s hoping no hackberry disease comes to our lovely street anytime soon, but now I know.

This is the practical. I now know a tree. Several, in fact, as I repeated this practice some weekends while the weather was good – not as much as I’d like, but, you know, I know some trees, if you get my drift. The unintended but unsurprising bonus was how this intimacy breathed life into my spirit. I see trees differently now. I see the world differently now because I have paid attention to a handful of trees.

It can happen with any element of nature – birds, trees, insects, flowers. Once you really get to know a few of them, you are invited into a world in which the contrast has been turned up at least 100%. Once you know a thing, you literally see it in a way you could not previously. And once you can see that specific category of thing, you can use that awesome brain power to identify difference – how is this tree unlike my tree? What animals like to hang on my tree? What creatures prefer others? Which of my trees look healthy, which don’t? What in the immediate environment might influence that? The wacky thing, for me, is that all of these questions came from a place of curiosity, not of intellectual greed. The more I paid attention, the more my attention expanded. I started boring my partner on walks with my constant, simple observations like, Look at that beautiful trunk! What a scratchy leaf! Why aren’t there branches growing there? I don’t think one needs to know the name of something – cultural or scientific – to connect with it, but I do think I need to know some name, have some way to identify it so that it becomes real to me, and the ecosystem it interacts with becomes like the home town of a loved one – an abstraction now infused with meaning because it means something to someone you care about.

Until I started practicing it myself, I didn’t understand this apparent paradox: how can naming a thing, which is essentially putting it in a box and separating it from myself, bring me closer to it? I think of the neuroscientist who wrote about her massive stroke, explaining that the loss of words for the things around her allowed her to feel fully at one with everything. I don’t have a definitive answer (and don’t have to – I’m all about the nonbinary these days) but I think it has something to do with attention. For example, if we looked at all of humanity as nothing but people, it might keep us from stereotyping them as friend, enemy, good, bad; but if we resist any classification, we are left without an understanding of the whole or any of its parts. Once we start paying attention, we make note of differences, but also similarities and qualities and patterns. We start to see the object in relation to ourselves and other things we know, which connects it to us, even if only in difference and novelty. It’s not a perfect relationship, but it is a relationship.

Once I started paying attention to just the 1/2 dozen trees I’d sketched or otherwise identified in my neighborhood, I was also able to assimilate some of the knowledge I’d picked up from the books I’d been reading to theoretically connect with nature for years. For example, knowing that trees interact and act as communities to protect and defend themselves led me to predict and confirm that none of the Black Walnuts in the area would bear fruit this year because we had a remarkably dry summer and they were collectively conserving their resources. I felt terribly smart.

The living world has come alive for me in a way that is simple and tangible since I started sketching trees. I feel like I’m a part of my species-rich community, that we are actually connected in the sameness of growth and change and struggle and rest, and in the distinctions that live and breathe into and out of each other; our interdependence making each others’ existence possible. Knowing the plants and animals around you used to be essential to human survival in a quite literal way. Now those of us with a mediated relationship with our food and water can live without that, but it’s a lonely existence. As humans have isolated from the life around us, are we not like tourists in a foreign culture? Navigating our way through greenery and fecund landscapes either gingerly, not wanting to stir up trouble; or tendentiously, like an imperialist set only on extraction and exploitation. So many people are feel so lonely and disconnected. I think the massive pet adoption that swept many countries at the beginning of the pandemic was a wise response. Finding a way to connect to any of the infinite varieties of life that bloom in all but the most persecuted communities simply makes all life better.

The House of Write

The House of Write

My partner is currently writing on the couch, while I type at the dining room table.

The dog doesn’t like this. It’s okay for us to watch TV together while she disengages, but two people staring at computers in the same area calls for whining/moaning/crying. Usually at me. I am the head of household and decision-maker, and thus I am the problem.

My partner and I are both writers who don’t get paid to write, or only occasionally. We both have full-time jobs. He has depression, anxiety, and ADD, and thus a real need to create low-pressure environments for himself. In other words, he plays video games in his remaining free time. I have a half-dozen volunteer commitments, and my spiritual practice. (He’s working on the latter.)

I would love to post here or on my other blog once a week. I would love to commit to that. But I have this weird thing about keeping promises, one that doesn’t necessarily jibe with my spiritual beliefs. I know I have no control over the future. I know that the means is the end. I know that I would approach any commitment with the best of intentions, and even if I did fail, who would I be hurting? You, dear readers? Part of my evil self would really love to think that your lives would be noticeably worse if you were denied a piece for even a single week, but we know that’s not true. The only one hurt would be my ego, my high-achieving self, my judging little voice.

But I do want to write. I think about writing all the time – I have thoughts scrawled all over the place, including in the 70+ “drafts” sitting here on WordPress, with titles like The Weight of the World, Sour Grapes Make Fine Wine, and Sucker, and no further content. Did I think I could actually figure out what overwhelming force compelled me to make those notes, and did I think I would actually remember well enough to complete them? Or was I so spiritually advanced that I tossed these prompts out there knowing I could never get back to the place I was when I wrote them, and preemptively accepting the ultimate work as equally valid? Presuming these drafts are all worth pursuing, or reconstructing, I have more than enough content to get me through a writing year, but that’s a big presumption. And even with my anti-perfectionist commitment to not spend too much time editing anything, it’s nearly impossible for me to finish a post in less than 3 sittings. The Didion piece was a rare exception, but it was also written in the middle of a 5-day holiday weekend. Sitting in front of a computer makes me feel gross, and I have to do it all day for work. I’ve gotten much better at caring for myself since working from home – taking breaks to meditate, exercise, go outside – but the last thing I want to do at the end of a work day is sit at a computer and write. Which makes this all … hard.

I’ve relocated to the couch now, next to the guy. Dog then started moaning at us again, so we yelled at her until she joined us. We don’t want to yell at her: this is one of her rules. She will not join us on a piece of furniture unless we demand she does it in an aggressive tone. Then – maybe – she’ll cuddle up. She wants to come up, mind you, she just doesn’t want to show that she wants to come up, so she insists that we verbally abuse her. Fucking freak. And she doesn’t have the excuse of an abusive childhood.

She is now lying all the way across my guy so he can only type with one hand. Mission nearly accomplished.

What if I just commit to posting something every week? Does a Goodreads book review count? What about some fluffy day-in-the-life-of tidbit? What’s the purpose of posting, anyway? To spread ideas? Give of myself? Get attention? WHO AM I ASKING?

My ego, of course. But that’s not all of it. Those of us who write, overwhelmingly, feel compelled to write. As hard as it is to start, and infinitely harder to finish, I feel better when I write. I understand myself more, my emotions are softened, and I take the time to process in a way I don’t always do in the course of a regular day. It does me good.

All of that could happen without a blog, and even without a computer, but I’ve chosen to put writings out into the world on a semi-regular basis. It’s a mixed bag. The occasional feedback is great, but the pressure to publish frequently is sometimes counterproductive. I sometimes envy my partner, who has stopped blogging and is only working on pieces by himself or with an editor. But something drew me to this, and something tells me it might be helpful for others, so I keep going.

I guess that’s my 2022 commitment: to keep going. And lookee here – I’ve finished a post in one sitting (two locations; with canine assistance). Wishing you all joy & wisdom. Until next time.

The Death of Didion

Joan Didion was my favorite writer. That “was” may go back to a time before her death. It may have ended when I read Blue Nights, but I have yet to choose a replacement. Her style was extraordinary in its simultaneous originality and simplicity, and I followed her with devotion, while knowing I could never write like her. Perhaps because I knew I could never write like her: terse, incisive, stark, and stripped of emotion, while effectively evoking it from the reader. She is one of only two big writers who I have gone out of my way to see speak, and meet.

I was introduced to Joan Didion’s work, as I was introduced to so many of my favorite artists, by my college professor/surrogate father/friend who died last year, also of Parkinson’s, though a decade younger than her. He gave me Play It As It Lays in the midst of the drama of my depressed, self-absorbed, self-destructive sophomore year in Los Angeles, where it largely takes place; studying acting, which is the career of the protagonist; chain smoking, like he;, obsessively driving the freeways when I couldn’t sleep, as she did; routinely tearing through specific intersections highlighted in the book. I gobbled it up like it was the one essential nutrient keeping me alive. To this day, it is one of my top 5 favorite novels. That was the beginning of my obsession, which stretched over 12 books. Her memoir Where I Was From is the rare holdout on the shelf, and will now be my holiday reading. Because that’s what we do when writers die. At least I bought it while she was still alive to reap whatever profits were to be had.

I didn’t love all of her books. The political ones, in particular, were too insider-y for me. I don’t know if I’d understand them better now than I did then, and I don’t feel any need to find out. But when she was on … fuck. She had a way of making the ethereal tenable, and making the mundane revelatory. The contents of a purse (The Book of Common Prayer) could say as much as a deep psychological delve into a character. This was a revelation to me.

We tell ourselves stories in order to live.

I don’t think of Didion as a spiritual person, and I don’t think she did, either. But anyone who deliberately digs deeply into their own mind is bound to run up against the boundaries of things, the immaterial. Her famous quote above is right out of Buddhism 101. But rather than trying to escape the narrative and simply be, as Buddhists do, she relentlessly shoveled the shit, which might be almost the same thing, in the end.

Depression, in Didion’s works, is depicted not by talking about it: characters don’t discuss their feelings. They may not say much at all. They exhibit certain behaviors which represent certain states or weaknesses or depressive or anxious characteristics. It is the behaviors that hold their attention, not the motivation underneath. They are trapped in the idea of their own identity, or what it should be, or what they think others perceive it to be. They follow the directions drawn for them instead of being present in their own lives. They are detached to an exceptional degree, so that the protagonists may seem to be narrating their own story as they’re living it, or rather instead of living it, believing that changing the narrative will change the person herself.

She had watched them in supermarkets and she knew the signs. At seven o’clock on a Saturday evening they would be standing in the checkout line reading the horoscope in Harper’s Bazaar and in their carts would be a single lamb chop and maybe two cans of cat food and the Sunday morning paper…. To avoid giving off the signs, Maria shopped always for a household…. She knew all the indices of the idle lonely, never bought a small tube of toothpaste, never dropped a magazine in her shopping cart. The house in Beverly Hills overflowed with sugar, corn-muffin mix, frozen roasts and Spanish onions. Maria ate cottage cheese.  

…she had an uneasy sense that sleeping outside on a rattan chaise could be construed as the first step toward something unnameable …

Play It As It Lays

A journalist and sometime screenwriter herself, her characters seem to also be watching the movie from the outside, narrating the story of their lives instead of living it, moving through a kind of fog or mild narcotic state. And not just in her novels. In her essays, the commentary on her life, her thoughts, seems to her far more real than her life itself.

Something real was happening: this was, as it were, her life. If she could keep that in mind, she would be able to play it through, do the right thing, whatever that meant.

Play It As It Lays

You are getting a woman who for some time now has felt radically separated from most of the ideas that seem to interest other people…. Quite often during the last several years I have felt myself a sleepwalker, moving through the world unconscious of the Moment’s high issues, oblivious to its data, alert only to the stuff of bad dreams.

In the Islands, essay (The White Album, 1979)

Joan Didion, as you probably know, wrote a gut-wrenching book on her reaction to the death of her husband, because she didn’t know what else to do, how to act, how to Be. (I read it in one sitting because it was beautiful and because it was too painful to carry over into a second day.) She grounded herself in curiosity about her own inner workings, and also recognized that she could not hide from grief behind words. That grief was present in a way that she often was not, shrouded in her protective magical thinking. And the uber-narrator is acutely aware of that.

Perhaps the writing brought her some peace. It definitely brought thousands of readers to some understanding – of her, of themselves, of grief. The best artists make the specific universal, and the universal personal. In her analytical way, she turned herself inside out – for us? For her? No matter. We could see ourselves reflected there, in all our gory vulnerability.

Life changes fast/ Life changes in and instant/ You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends

The Year of Magical Thinking walks us, and Joan herself, through the months after her partner’s death, but it’s not that different from the rest of her writing – writing as both interpreter of and substitute for living, “both a way of keeping a distance and a way of getting close. It’s both those things, simultaneously.” (interview ~2011). Writing is both a way to connect and a way to detach. Look at the lines above – the first words she wrote after her husband died weren’t explaining her own feelings, her own experience: they pulled the lens back on the moment – declarative, conclusive, not even in the first person. It isn’t about her, it’s about LIFE, in the abstract, writ large. She struggles both with the need to write to figure out the story, and with wanting to resist creating a narrative that may not be honest.

I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.

Why I Write, NY Times 12/5/76

There is something spiritual about Didion’s work, in its explicit omission. Her focus on behavior and thought and physicality recognizes its own exclusionary nature, thereby opening up the possibility for more. In Play It As It Lays, Maria’s fear of losing herself to inertia and pathos drive her to keep pursuing self-awareness.

By the end of a week she was thinking constantly about where her body stopped and the air began, about the exact point in space and time that was the difference between Maria and other.

There is some terror in losing that distinction, because the character has no resource for dealing with it. She’s surrounded by self-serving, profit and status-driven people in a dry, manufactured, materialistic world. But the pain in living that detached narrative is palpable.

I’ll close this attempt at analysis with as much reportage as I can muster. The scene: a woman, far nearer 40 than 20, waits in line to meet her literary heroine, cradling her favorite novel and the writer’s recent memoir under her arm. As she watches the other attendees step up to the table, she cycles through reasonable, thoughtful, intelligent praise, something that hints at her own mental acuity, and with respect for the subject: that she has read more of the author’s works than anyone alive; that of the thousand novels she’s read, this is among the very best. She looks up as the distance shrinks and decides she doesn’t need to say anything at all. She can just hand over the books for signing. Then she approaches the table, and the tiny, old woman looks up, with eyes that look beyond and through what is in front of her, but stare definitively at her own, and the fan blurts out, “I love your writing SO MUCH.” The author opens the books and signs, saying nothing, and hands them back. Was there a tired sigh? The woman walks out of the theatre and goes on with her life, a new narrative to tell, with a new character under her belt: the fawning fool.

Thank you, Ms. Didion, for all of it.

Rethinking Anthropomorphism

https://www.npr.org/2021/10/09/1044619808/opinion-a-gorillas-life-and-death-in-2-viral-photos

In my too-recent somatic experience of really feeling like a part of a mutualistic, interdependent world of plants, animals, and the constant exchange of electrons, anthropomorphism has come to mean something quite different than it used to. I don’t know if it’s the wider acceptance of Buddhist and Indigenous philosophies or the climate crisis or something else, but I’m also seeing more blurred lines in recent non-fiction books, including pieces about how the brain works, ecology, health, and others.

Here’s my supersimple explanation, based on nothing but my own education, of the evolution of anthropomorphism in Western culture. In the Romantic era across Europe and elsewhere, there was a shift in the intellectual classes towards an appreciation of nature and the other living things in it (some of them, anyway). You see this all over the English and European poetry of that era (late 18th-early 19th century), and the influence on American, especially Transcendentalist, literature as well. In a culture of hierarchies and human supremacy, granting human thoughts and feelings to “lesser” animals seemed a conciliatory and respectful practice. More recently, the ascription of human characteristics to non-humans has been considered childish and aspirational – something fanciful that we do to pretend that animals are more like us and force affinity where there is none. It is this position that is showing some much needed deterioration.

Unfortunately, some of the most habitual line-drawers between humans and others have been scientists. Much of the non-Right in this country is very rah-rah about science these days, and with good reason. But we’re deluding ourselves if we think that the purported objectivity of science precludes the field from prejudicial framing and, thus, prejudicial conclusions (see Braiding Sweetgrass for more on all of this). Naturalists, biologists, and other scientists of the living world have often been the first to dismiss talk of plant intelligence or the attribution of “human” emotions to non-human things. I understand how highlighting shared traits could be perceived as anthropocentric, that we should let animals just be animals. However, we can only understand the world in a context we recognize, and we are not just observers of the natural world, but participants in it. In order to participate we have to connect. In order to connect, just as with humans, we find things in common. If every emotional or motivational or intellectual connection we discover is dismissed as projection, it makes it very difficult to feel an affinity with other life forms. We are a part of this world. And other things in this world think and feel and act in ways similar to us. Trees have elders who help out younger trees, elephants perform ritual goodbyes for dead community members. Many animals hug each other with affection, or for consolation or conflict resolution.

Scientists employ […] technical language to distance ourselves from the rest of the animals. They call ‘kissing’ in chimps ‘mouth-to-mouth contact’; they call ‘friends’ between primates ‘favorite affiliation partners’ [….] if an animal can beat us at a cognitive task […] they write it off as instinct, not intelligence. Primatologist Frans de Waal terms this ‘linguistic castration.

Why Fish Don’t Exist. Lulu Miller. pp 181-2

We’ve hung onto this hard line between human and non-human life as if Darwin and his ilk never existed, as if we still didn’t know that humans are just animals that evolved in a distinctive way. We have been so enamored of our “superior” intelligence that we couldn’t even acknowledge that intelligence is a characteristic shared with other living things, let alone that others might be more intelligent than us in any area. But we are finally starting to give non-human life the credit it deserves, finally starting to talk about the way trees send messages through forests to protect each other, the way octopuses and grouper work together to hunt, or a crow manipulates tools, as intelligence.

When we have acknowledged non-human intelligence, we have judged animals based on how well they can do what we have classified as “human” talents – recognizing themselves in a mirror, performing tricks, remembering where items are placed, etc. Anything that is not an area wherein humans excel is classified as instinct. This overused quotation is still sound:

If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

Or we will believe it is stupid. It’s even harder to get people to recognize the intelligence of non-animal life. How can something without eyes or what we call a brain think? Calling trees or fungi smart is almost embarrassing.

We have also held our species up as emotionally superior, capable of a wider range of feelings and sympathies than other animals, despite the at-least-equal amount of evidence that we are less compassionate, more cruel, and indubitably more destructive than any creature that ever lived. We see ourselves as more individually distinctive as well, less of a type and more of a solo creature, even though we are perhaps less able to independently care for ourselves than any other plant or animal, less able every year, it seems. Plus, anyone who’s had more than one dog knows that there is no such thing as a “dog personality”. Every dog I’ve had has been at least as distinct as each of my friends.

Indigenous cultures have had little trouble recognizing and respecting our species’ essential and interconnected place in the natural world, because to do otherwise would be to put your life and the health of your community at risk. The only way to live off the land is to live with the land, to recognize what was required of us and what could be expected of and negotiated with other species. The religions that emerged out of this life reflected that mutualism, just as European religions, placing the idle and intellectual above and apart from farmers and hunters and those who worked with the earth, created religions of hierarchy and separation. We have long dismissed indigenous knowledge as mythical and unscientific, because the science used was not recognized as legitimate. But it is science, based on generations of observation and experimentation, and with conclusions rationally drawn therein, just as with non-indigenous science.

Early “big e” Environmentalism believed that the best thing for humans to do with nature was leave it alone, as if we are not a product, part, and partaker of nature; as if we’ve become so far removed from the source of our very being that we cannot possibly be anything but a scourge to the living world. I’m not mocking. I get it. Certainly, keeping drilling out of the arctic and development off coastlines is understandable. This was a motivation behind our National Parks. Protecting nature from us is perhaps not as self-promoting as some other practices, but it’s just as isolating and unnatural. Seeing ourselves exclusively as a threat to the rest of the world is just as insane as seeing the world exclusively as a threat to us. It’s like labeling your liver as a threat – sure, it can do damage when things go wrong, but it’s also an essential part of the package, one the body can’t live without and one that cannot live without the body.

Why do we insist on drawing these lines? Does it make us feel special? Do we refuse to acknowledge our kinship with other living things for the same reason we refused to acknowledge that the earth was not the center of the universe? Is it some quieter but still extant idea that in order to have our Special Relationship With God, we must be different from everything else? Do we cling to the favoritism of a distant, immortal, esoteric being at the expense of forming meaningful relationships with our mortal kin all around us?

If we do tend this direction as a capitalist, Euro-centric culture, what good does it do us? Does separating ourselves from everything in the natural world improve our wellbeing in any way? If so, how? Because it allows us to destroy entire ecosystems, species, dramatically reduce the livability for most things on the planet, without compunction? Maybe the ease, comfort, and continual newness for which we sacrifice our world does make us happier, in a way. I certainly like central heat and Youtube Alan Watts lectures on demand, but they don’t make me any less lonely. The loneliness that emerged from deciding we were the only intelligent species on the planet may have created our obsession with the things and conveniences for which we sacrifice our only home in order to fill the lonely maw inside us. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle that doesn’t seem very smart.

In the new edition to her gorgeous book, World as Lover, World as Self, Joanna Macy writes that our dependence on and concern for our othered neighbors may not be as alien as we are led to think, and the refusal to recognize our compassion for the world does not serve us.

Many therapists have difficulty crediting the notion that concerns for the general welfare of our planet might be acute enough to cause distress. Trained to assume that all our drives are ego-centered, they tend to treat expressions of this distress as manifestations of personal neurosis. […] “What might this concern represent that you are avoiding in your own life?” In such a way is our anguish for our world delegitimized,

and even mocked, especially when expressed by indigenous groups who have historically and spiritually cultivated and respected a connection to the world they interact with, and thus have felt the pain of detachment more deeply than most of the rest of us.

We are told that we could not possibly feel a true emotional connection to things that are not human, that the only legitimate loss is human loss (the loss of a pet is only considered significant if compared to a human, e.g. it’s a member of the family, it’s like a child). What does this denial cost us? How much less lonely would we be if we recognized our kinship with trees and squirrels and forests? It would likely place us more thoroughly in the world, which would benefit the rest of the planet as well as ourselves.

Going on a hike doesn’t just make us feel better because it “clears our head”. Nature itself makes us better in ways we do and don’t understand. MRIs have shown that

When participants viewed nature scenes, the parts of the brain associated with empathy and love lit up, but when they viewed urban scenes, the parts of the brain associated with fear and anxiety were activated. It appears as though nature inspires feelings that connect us to each other and our environment.

https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/how-does-nature-impact-our-wellbeing

Having a view of the outdoors from a hospital room reduces recovery time and the need for painkillers after surgery. In psychiatric units, studies have found that “being in nature reduced feelings of isolation, promoted calm, and lifted mood among patients.” Just 20-30 minutes in a “natural” environment significantly reduces cortisol levels.Trees emit phytoncides to deter insects, which generate immune responses in humans, increasing and activating the white blood cells that kill tumor- and virus-infected cells in our bodies.

Depression, anxiety, and drug overdoses are higher than ever recorded in the US. Where can we go for comfort? What if we could turn to a river or flock of geese for a sense of connection, endurance, shared struggle, and rest? We can, but we rarely view immersion in the world beyond the one humans have created as a real place of sanctuary, even though it is our collective ancestral home. Is the drama of the human condition the result of us putting our intellect above and apart from everything else?

Could the recognition of non-human cognition make our lives better? Could it make us better neighbors, better tenants? Could changing the language of anthropomorphism tear down the wall between us and the rest of the planet? I truly fail to see the harm in recognizing the humanity, for lack of a better word, in the vibrant & varied lives with which we share the Earth. Unless we are deliberately separating ourselves in order to keep guiltlessly extracting and destroying? Recognizing our kinship on a global scale would force a shift in worldview, one that might put a stop to our extractive and exploitative economy. I dunno. I think it would be worth it, for all of us earthlings.


Creative Imperfection (Perfection, pt 5)

Paris through the Window, Marc Chagall

We would have stagnated and likely died off as a species if we had settled for perfection. Evolution requires variation – a mutation from expectations, from what was extant or even conceivable before it happened. Our selectively cultivated foods – our pluots and actually tasty apples – came out of a desire for variety and difference: improvement, not perfection. When the focus shifted to profit, perfection took primacy over variety. (In the narrowest sense of the word profit, meaning a strictly financial benefit for the titular “owners” of the item in question, because the loss to the world has been enormous.) When we move from variation to perfection, we get shit. Look at the strawberry. Mass produced, global strawberries are engineered to be very red, very large, and very firm – the perfect image of a strawberry, and perfect for easy picking and long, bumpy transport. They are also flavorless. We are so averse to imperfect looking foods that we created a space for an alternative, radical industry based on selling “ugly” produce to people on subscription, because grocery stores won’t sell them. Because we won’t buy them. Perfect-ly good food, wasted because it doesn’t fit our model of what a particular food should look like.

Likewise, any ideal is just as timebound, subjective, and limited. Who created these standards? In the US, certainly, they are largely male, wealthy, White, able-bodied … you can keep adding privileged identities. What are those guys missing? The answers are infinite. Their idea of perfection has led us to waste food, people, ideas, art. Perfect children were quiet and still and obedient. Perfect citizens conformed with social expectations and followed laws, which have at many times been exceptionally cruel and immoral.

What even is imperfection? Is it just a name we give something that doesn’t fit the way we want it to be, the way our necessarily limited human expectations circumscribe the parameters or potential of a being or object? Is perfection simply acceptance? Is that what Neem Karoli Baba demonstrated when he instructed Larry Brilliant to eradicate smallpox while unironically insisting that everything was exactly as it should be? Is a world without pain and horrors a perfect world? Or is the world always perfect, regardless of Global Weirding, genocide, pick your cause; and is our empathy and grief and work to change those circumstances as inextricable a part of the perfection as the ghastly circumstances themselves? Is a perfect world one in which suffering is present for us to relieve? Is that super self-serving and monstrous? That, just as plants and animals must die to feed other plants and animals, and forests must burn to allow for new growth, our human world must be filled with resource extraction and cruelty? Maybe. Or maybe we just throw out the idea of a perfect world and instead live the paradox of simultaneous acceptance and opposition.  

Buddhist, Native American, and other religions imply the idea of an individual entity being perfect independent of the community which literally and figuratively keeps them alive is absurd. Our selves don’t end at our “skin-encapsulated ego” (Alan Watts), and neither does the strawberry’s. That perfect strawberry is here reinterpreted as a massive failure because it poisons the soil, the farm workers who pick it, the air we breathe through the chemical inputs to grow it and fossil fuels to ship it; and denies nutrients and spreads disappointment to the people who eat it. In these interconnected worldviews there is no place for perfection, which attempts to delineate something that is by nature fluid. As the infinitely amazing Deep Ecologist Joanna Macy writes, we have deluded ourselves with the idea that power, or success, means domination. “This is not the way nature works. Living systems evolve in complexity, flexibility, and intelligence through interaction with each other.”[i] Evolution is never just personal; our environment decides which mutations are worth reproducing. Every creative act, every change is a collaboration between living things and their environments and cultures.

In the creative realm, the concept of perfection puts restrictions on what a thing can be, and creative potential can be smothered by such boundaries. If there is perfection to be reached, there is an idea of what is acceptable or appropriate, and therefore an unspoken idea of what is unacceptable, which is pretty much anything unfamiliar and innovative. If War and Peace is “the perfect novel,” where does that put The Vegetarian?[ii] Or Beloved? Or any number of works from other cultures that I have not been exposed to? What is a perfect face and who decides that? We’ve all seen the destructive potential of “the perfect body” and many carry that burden to the detriment of our health and happiness. The idea of perfection has led us to waste food, people, ideas, art. At one time, perfect art was representative, and representative only of the “noble”. Every genre of art rejected the previous genre’s idea of perfection. Nadia Comanechi achieved “perfect 10s” in her Olympic routines in the 70s. Now that same performance wouldn’t even get her into the Olympics. But that’s just time, you might say. Indeed, time is a characteristic of culture, and just as arbitrary and whimsical in classifying excellence. Think of all we would want (in the dual, Shakespearean sense of the word) if previous standards of perfection were enforced. Future creators will say the same thing about our standards, even though that is hard to imagine. A culture of perfection makes the new harder to imagine. We assume that we know what a thing can be, and knowing is the beginning of the end. A beginner’s mind is a space for exploration, creativity, and growth; an expert’s tends to resist change

With perfection out of the way, there are so many more ways to be. Perfection is static, proscriptive, and therefore inhibiting. If the nature of all being is boundless, as Buddhism and psychedelics tell us, then either nothing is perfect, or everything is. And if we are perfect and thereby liberated from the pointless goal of achieving perfection, what could we do with the energy we now spend on self-improvement and material comforts to salve our cravings? We could make gloriously imperfect art, perhaps, or grow imperfect tomatoes, or form imperfect, diverse, messy, mutualistic communities that cultivate the joy of future imperfections.


[i] World as Lover, World as Self– 30th anniversary edition, p.152

[ii] The Vegetarian, Nan Kang, translated by Deborah Smith. Perhaps my favorite novel of the last decade. (©2007, English translation ©2016)

The Perfect Definition (Perfection, pt 4)

Let us first acknowledge that any idea of perfection was made by humans: specifically, almost always men, and usually White, European man. I’ll start with one of the most influential men: Jesus. (Depending on what culture and century you live in, he may or may not be White.) The religion founded in his name has had an immeasurable influence on European-American culture, though I’d argue that his actual message (even the distorted, subjective transcriptions of his message) is far more universal, far less anthropocentric, and far less judgmental than what Christian, European culture has chosen to latch onto. Still, there is definitely some judgey stuff in the New Testament. This one was occasionally thrown at me when I was a kid, from Matthew 5:48. This translation from the King James Version of the Bible:

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your
Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Since I took up with Buddhism, I find echoes of that same nonbinary and compassionate worldview hidden in secret pockets all over Jesus’ rags. So what did he mean by perfect in that quote? It’s difficult and perhaps pointless to parse language in the Bible – the flaws inherent in multiple translations (in this case from Aramaic through however many versions before the English), the inaccurate memory of the people recording his words, their own bias that led them to that memory, etc. But I still think it’s valuable to interrogate the choices in the translation. From my beloved Shorter Oxford Dictionary, at the time the Bible was translated into English (1611), perfect had many different meanings, including

  • Completed; fully formed; adult
  • Having all the essential elements, qualities, or characteristics
  • Not deficient in any particular
  • Being an ideal example of
  • Of or marked by supreme moral excellence
  • (Rare, but thanks to our buddy Shakespeare): in a state of complete satisfaction; contented

All sorts of stuff going on there, but only one aligns with what I, and many of you, have hanging over us: the goal of being exceptional, without flaws, and lacking in nothing. Perhaps older definitions shunned that, because only GOD could be perfect. In our contemporary, more secular language, we have these Google-ready definitions:

  1. being entirely without fault or defect : flawless a perfect diamond
  2. corresponding to an ideal standard or abstract concept a perfect gentleman

Who decides when to apply those adjectives, and how? If we take a moment, we can surely all recognize that an ideal standard or abstract concept is a construct, that there is no universal, objective ideal. But the idea of without fault or defect is just as fraught, inviting all kinds of ableism. Who decides what a defect or fault is? If it’s a variation from the norm, would that also include instances of what we might consider excellence? What if someone is exceptionally fast, intelligent, or beautiful? Is that a defect? If perfect is ideal, what is ideal? Standard? Doesn’t that seem like a low bar? I’m starting to think there are at least two clear problems with the idea of perfection: the burden of the unattainable goal, and the limitations of the standard of ideal. Both too much and not enough.

The World English Bible translates Matthew 4:28 passage as:

Therefore you shall be perfect, just
as your Father in heaven is perfect.

I know I’m a word nerd, but this reads very differently to me. First of all, the structure seems to imply a precursor, something that led to the therefore, whereas “Be ye therefore perfect” stands more easily on its own. The prelude is the Sermon on the Mount, which is filled with mostly groovy stuff, the grooviest of which comes right before this statement. Matthew 5:38-5:47 is all about loving your enemies, turning the other cheek, giving to those who ask and those who don’t. I particularly like his critique of “love your neighbor,” which basically says: any asshole can love their neighbor; that’s amoral. Loving your enemies takes work, and is generative. Stop picking sides: God shines on everyone and rains on everyone. This is how you get to perfect – loving everyone and treating everyone without prejudice. Shall (all you lawyers out there know this) means will. It’s a commitment from Jesus, not a command. It’s already there. If you care for others as you would for yourself, you are already perfect.

Let me circle back to the “complete” definition of perfect. It could be the most fucked up or most forgiving option of all of them. In my monkey mind I have used complete as a standard for a painfully long time. Particularly when it comes to writing. I had to keep editing, keep refining, keep proofing until a work was complete, and despite never getting there, I never abandoned the quest. I was so thankful for deadlines in school or work, because I would eventually have to stop writing, imperfect as the piece always was. But as hard as it is to complete an essay, or painting, or symphony, it is exponentially insane to think of achieving completeness as a person. If at some point one becomes complete – when they have the spouse, home, and child/ren perhaps; or when they break the world record while winning gold in the Olympics, how do we characterize everything after that? Who are you post-perfection? We see people struggle with this all the time. What do you do when you’re “past your prime”? How do you find meaning if meaning is tied up in perfection/completeness and you’ve reached your destination with nowhere else to go? How much more liberating would it be if we held onto no ideals at all? Is that absurd?

In the Buddhism I hang with everything you need, including enlightenment, is available to you at all times because Buddha nature already exists within everyone, and perhaps everything. So we are already Complete, already perfect, with just a wee bit of really fucking calcified artificial frosting hiding all that nutritious goodness.

Ram Dass keeps returning to Completeness in How Can I Help. That is, recognizing that every person on the planet is already complete. When we seek to help people, we may be serving them food or companionship or understanding or shelter, but not because they are lacking in some way; rather because we have or have access to a thing that they need, so it’s only natural to transfer the resource to the area that requires it, like putting lotion on your own dry skin. In a sense, both giver and receiver are just fulfilling our parts as members of the ecosystem, and in that way we are perfect. If we approach others as lacking, imperfect, incomplete, we are not really serving them, we are serving ourselves and our own judgment and rules and fears and ideologies. That kind of help may give someone the calories they need to go on another day, but it can leave them with a feeling of inferiority, of insufficiency, and it doesn’t actually serve us as individuals or us as members of a human and ecological community, because it is reinforcing separateness and contributing to inequitable thinking and behavior. Recognizing everyone’s completeness, everyone’s perfection (as I can so easily do with Vicious) is a path to an equitable and multifarious world.

To be continued. Again. I could go on and on… and I do.

Next time: Creative Imperfection

A small, furry loss (perhaps)

the squirrel, in the tree

We have a gorgeous, enormous black walnut tree in our backyard which has many fans, particularly the human and furry types. It’s not so much a bird tree as a squirrel tree, and I’m particularly enamored of watching squirrels, so that’s fine with me.

Over the past few months, we’ve recognized the formation of a relationship with the critters, or at least one of them. The squirrel in question will sometimes sit and watch us chatter to each other outside, will stop and look at me as I leave the house, rather than immediately escaping to safety, will often pause when I say good morning to it. It has even cautiously descended the trunk a bit when V is clearly outside to, as far as we can tell, get her to chase it back up. We see one or two squirrels pretty regularly, but never more than that, so we’ve decided that they must be residing in 2 of the 3 or 4 nests nestled in the large branches. Sometimes we listen to them chattering to each other across the tree. We’re so into them, and the one in particular, that we, just last night, shared the story of our extended family with some friends (who were not all that into it; fair enough: we’re odd). This is our household: 2 humans, one dog, two squirrels, a network of outdoor spiders, the bunny babies that the shitty rabbit mother abandons to us to protect 3 or 4 times a year, and the occasional chipmunk or mouse, welcome in the yard only, though there is sometimes disagreement on that.

And then, this morning, B came up to the office after I thought he’d left for work and tearfully told me that one of our squirrels had died. It didn’t show any signs of attack; he just found it on the ground by the tree. And then I remembered – the nest of dried leaves piled on a chair and the grass next to it. I’d seen it after I walked V earlier, and innocently assumed it was a nest that had fallen into desuetude – it couldn’t possibly belong to one of Ours.

I felt crappy for the next few hours. Not for the squirrel – I can no longer believe that death is bad for the dead – but for us, and for the squirrel friend we imagine it left behind. I had been worried that our buddies might not have enough food for the winter because our tree decided not to fruit this year, likely due to the drought, and wondered if we should donate some nuts…. And now – one less squirrel to worry about. It’s been a while since I felt a loss. But when I finally left the house this afternoon, a squirrel ran all the way across the yard to scatter up the tree next to me, pausing when I said hello. And when I returned from my errands, it stopped and looked at me before heading out on its own. And just now, when I came out to write this, it ran up the tree trunk again, pausing at the fork and checking out V & me.

Maybe it’s the more social squirrel that survived, which would be nice, but still sad. Maybe it’s looking for its friend. Maybe it is trying, in some knowing, unknowable way, to let me know it’s still here. (There it is now, climbing to another resting spot.) Whatever the magical or materialist reality, it has certainly made itself known today as squirrel. That Squirrel still lives. That there is Squirrel and there will be Squirrel. And whatever squirrel loss we have endured, Squirrel survives; long after we and V and even the tree are gone. I’m grateful for that illumination.

I’ve been thinking a lot about anthropomorphism lately: the arrogance of attributing human attributes to plants and animals, and the arrogance of assuming we know their limitations. I’ll dig into that sometime soon. This is just a squirrel story.

Paradox Note (Perfection, Part 1)

As an American, or perhaps as a Westerner, or perhaps as a White person, non-binary realities are difficult for me to accept. I have meditated and learned and experienced enough to believe that a thing and its opposite can both be true, but truly living that BothAnd-ness is another thing. What did it mean when Neem Karoli Baba told Ram Dass that the world is both perfect and terrible, when he told Larry Brilliant that everything was exactly as it should be and that he had to go out and eradicate smallpox? Practitioners can get caught up in the everything is perfect concept in Buddhism and use it as an excuse not to serve others or engage in the pain of the world. We are taught not to work with the sole expectation of achieving a goal, that the means is the end, and yet the Boddhisatva vows commit the sangha to relieve all suffering everywhere.

How can the world be simultaneously obviously, painfully fucked up and also just as it should be? How can we accept this non-binary without becoming cynical? Without believing that if this is the way it’s supposed to be, we are therefore meant to be miserable, greedy, tortured, imprisoned, violent, starving? I don’t think that’s the point.

Then there is My Dog. I have never used the word Perfect so easily as with this creature. Nothing else seems apt. She is moody and cold and stubborn and lazy and Perfect. There is no contradiction there; it’s simple and obvious. Her perfection doesn’t mean I don’t get annoyed with her, and her occasional brattiness doesn’t mean she isn’t perfect. Perhaps you have the same experience with your cat or your child. I’ve never felt that way about a human, even my favorite humans, and I don’t know whether it’s because I have some unattainable ideal in mind or no ideal at all. Perhaps it’s a failure of my ability to truly love human beings with the same generosity and vulnerability with which I love non-humans. Do I know them too well? Or the species too well? Perhaps that is the problem – trying to hang love on reason. Not in the love is irrational sense, but in the love is beyond rationality sense. Love is a spiritual pursuit, not a material or intellectual one. Perhaps, as such, it can withstand all apparent contradictions. And my neurotic, cat-like dog can be whatever she wants to be, and still be loved and perfect.

This is the only non-binary, nondual reality I can affirm as true rather than just believing it possible. I choose to see it as a jumping off point rather than a limitation. And I do want to take that leap, because something in me thinks that if I can really embrace nonduality, interconnectedness, bothandness, acting with integrity and wisdom will be a hell of a lot easier.