Thoughts on Literature, Food, Faith and the Subversive Power of Living Small

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Being Peace
In the peace movement there is a lot of anger, frustration, and misunderstanding. The peace movement can write very good protest letters, but they are not yet able to write a love letter. We need to learn to write a letter to the Congress or to the President of the United States that they will want to read, and not just throw away. The way you speak, the kind of understanding, the kind of language you use should not turn people off. The President is a person like any of us.
Can the peace movement talk in loving speech, showing the way for peace? I think that will depend on whether the people in the peace movement can be peace. Because without being peace, we cannot do anything for peace. If we cannot smile, we cannot help other people to smile. If we are not peaceful, then we cannot contribute to the peace movement.

Thich Nhat Hanh

This morning, after being sucked into the war coverage despite myself, I went into my library in search of ... what? Context? A reminder, as Wallace Shawn said in this essay , that since we are each capable of violence and anger, it's our responsibility to turn to the better angels in order to resist succumbing to inner violence. So I pulled Being Peace off my bookshelf, and headed out to the front porch for a little downtime. A cup of tea. The puppy on my lap (he's nearly too big), and the words written by this gentle man who has seen so much violence and terror. The world started to feel like it was on its axis once more. A reminder that even small efforts count. A reminder that calling Ari Fleisher a dickwad is not right speech, and doesn't help the cause. Sigh.

posted by Charlotte at 3/22/2003 03:49:00 PM

Of course I support the troops. Please folks. Of course I support the troops. My meditation on violence and killing aside, these are people who volunteered to do a dirty job, and who are out there in unimaginable conditions. May they all be safe. May they behave with honor. May they be a beacon of hope to those ordinaray Iraquis they encounter. I have enormous faith in ordinary Americans. It's our regime I distrust. It's the civilian command I distrust.

All that aside, today is a day for gardening. I have raised beds to dig out and build. I have peonies that need cages to protect them from the dogs. My last seed order arrived yesterday, and it's time to start tomatoes and herbs and flowers so that in a month, when our "official" last frost date passes, I can start putting them out. Seeds of hope here in southwestern Montana.

posted by Charlotte at 3/22/2003 06:58:00 AM


... what Steinbeck is arguing in his writing is that we have to be responsible for what he terms the whole thing, known and unknowable, in a very deep way: that if you step into a tide pool, you have to realize that that step has changed the entire universe, and that will fit neatly into what Silko's arguing in Ceremony, the whole sense of having to be careful, to walk in balance, to be responsible for knowing that every single act of humanity changes the world. Steinbeck was arguing that sixty years ago, before anybody in white America really was... Louis Owens

I've been meaning to write about Louis for some time now, but it was a ridiculous photo I saw on the San Francisco Chronicle website a couple of days back of troops preparing for battle by doing a "Seminole War Dance" that brought his spirit back into the room. It was the kind of thing that he would have laughed at, with that dark laugh of his, a laugh that for a long time managed to stay just ahead of the despair at its heart.

I've been thinking of Louis because he was the only writer I knew personally whose work took as its central question the real problem of evil, how evil walks in the world, how evil manifests itself in violence. Louis's novels, particularly The Sharpest Sight, Bone Game and Dark River all take as their central question the ramifications of violence -- on individuals, on cultures, on landscape and place. Louis is the guy I would have called, or emailed when I saw that silly photo, the guy I would have gone to because Louis had the singular ability to acknowledge your fear, your despair, your flagging faith with the kind of dark joke that could keep you going.

And I've been thinking of Louis, because for several days I've been trying to wrap my brain around the process that brings a person to the point where he or she feels entitled to kill another person. There was a death penalty advocate on NPR the other morning, I only heard a fragment of it, but he was saying that the Supreme Court's recent stay of execution wouldn't deter him from proceeding with executions even in the face of DNA evidence exonerating those on death row. Coming on the heels of our President's weird television appearances in which it was clear that he was looking forward to going to war, that despite his words to the contrary, all his body language screamed how badly he wanted to go to war, that he really really wanted to go kill Iraquis, and that he felt fully entitled to do this, that he felt they deserved to be killed by him, I found myself missing Louis. So this morning, when I couldn't sleep, I went to Google; I thought maybe I could find something of his out there about violence that would help me make sense of this process. There's a section of the interview from which I pulled Louis' quote about Steinbeck, where he and John Purdy discuss Vietnam. Louis didn't go to Vietnam, but his beloved older brother Gene did, and came back deeply wounded by the experience. Gene disappeared one night, and it was thirty years before Louis found him again. (His essay Finding Gene describes the experience.) I thought this exchange about Dark River was interesting:

JP: ... I like how you play with ...the "week-end warrior" who is out there trying to experience the "thrill" of war . . .

LO: The militia . . .

JP: Yeah, but even more insidious than that in some ways, less blatant. The professional person who comes from the urban center to learn the ways of the "wilds" and to hunt humans. Then the convention of the Vietnam veteran, the Black OPS type of characters, and you take them all apart.

LO: Well, good. I’m glad you think that. And actually, the militia were inspired by a group of guys I ran into when I was backpacking on a reservation. They were wearing camouflage uniforms, out practicing war. Disneyland with weapons. I know there are people like that, practicing violence against others. ....

JP: That group is an interesting group because it has such a wide array of characters; they’re all participating in the same type of activity, but operating from different backgrounds and values, so there are these moments of crises for some of them: "Are we going to kill these women, or what?" It is no longer a game, and they have to decide.

LO: Ironically, in a group like that the most violent are often the individuals who never experienced war.

JP: They haven’t had to live the aftereffects.

LO: Well, yeah. You were in Vietnam. You know what I’m talking about. I wasn’t but my brother was there for three years and a lot of my friends were there and a number of them died there. It seems to me that it is almost always the people who haven’t experienced the immediacy of violence who are capable of getting involved in it as a game.

As a game. That's certainly how it's being portrayed on the television (yeah, yeah, I turned it on again last night despite my best intentions). As the latest, "realest," reality TV. But those aren't suckers who volunteered for some stupid tv show out there, they're actual people who for any variety of reasons agreed to take up arms and defend our country (note: defense not offense) and despite the ways the media and the government are colluding to try to assure us that this is a "clean" war, that these strikes are "surgical" go read the guys who were there the last time, and what they have to say about the experience on the ground.

The doublespeak is so virulent right now. This morning's newspaper is full of angry letters to the editor from people outraged by the peace demonstrations. There is this suffocating voice from the right, a voice so full of anger and hostility, calling for unanimity. Claiming that dissent is treason. Claiming that we all need to obey. Like my inability to figure out how someone makes it okay in their own head to go kill someone else, I don't really understand why anyone would think a nation of people all lined up in lockstep agreement is a good thing. Unless maybe it's denial at the heart of it all.

Louis says in the John Purdy interview:
I guess one thing I'm working on in most of my writing is the way America has tried, and continues to try, to bury the past, pretending that once it's over we no longer need to think about it. We live in a world full of buried things, many of them very painful and often horrific, like passing out smallpox-infested blankets to Indians or worse, and until we acknowledge and come to terms with the past we'll keep believing in a dangerous and deadly kind of innocence, and we'll keep thinking we can just move on and leave it all behind. That's a reason that one of Nightland's protagonists, Will, ends up living on a ranch containing a world of buried things, including even a smashed Range Rover.... But he’s going to stay there. You can’t run from that buried history.
But you can try to shout down anyone who mentions it, I guess. You can start a war to "prove" our dangerous innocence.

Louis was my mentor and my friend. I can't ask Louis any of the questions I want to ask him, the questions I'm posing in this entry, because on July 25 of last year, Louis put a gun to his chest and shot himself. Somehow the violence he'd spent his life exploring in fiction came off the page and claimed him. Louis' friend Glen Martin said it best, expressed the shock and sorrow and anger many of us felt, still feel.

Violence begets only violence.

posted by Charlotte at 3/21/2003 05:39:00 AM


Turn off the TV! Warning -- Rant ahead.

Here's the LivingSmall call to action -- turn off your TVs. Don't give them the ratings push they think they're going to get. Don't buy into the propaganda, the hysteria, the doublespeak of it all. There they were last night, all those "anchors" and reporters and just look at them! The excitement in their eyes. The thrill of it all. It's started! It's finally started and they get to go off and play with their new toys, get to watch things explode, get to stand on the deck of the aircraft carrier while the planes take off. I get this. I'm a person who jumps up and down like a five-year-old over firecrackers, for goodness sake. I'm a person who thought the air show over the San Francisco Bay during Fleet Week was about the most exciting, seductive, frightening thing I'd ever seen. And yes, since I got access out onto the pier, I'll admit, the Navy pilots were incredibly sexy and attractive. But that doesn't make it right to succumb to that kind of thrill seeking. So fuck you Mr. President and fuck the networks and CNN and all the rest of you. I'm not watching. I'm not being sucked in by your shameless propaganda.

This from my friend in Washington DC: "Here in the real world of homeland insecurity, there are fighter jets circling overhead day and night, not to mention Marine 2 shuttling Cheney look-alikes to and from their undisclosed locations at CAMP DAVID hint hint....Phony presidential motorcades scream through the city to confuse the enemy. Meanwhile a deranged tobacco farmer drives his John Deere into a decorative pond a hundred yards from the White House, and holds all 38 discrete protective agencies at a standoff for 48 hours.
But we're not worried, we've got duct tape."

What? Is there no end to their arrogance and delusion? Fake motorcades? Give me a break. At least behave with a little dignity if you're going to start this stupid war. Who do you think you are, Sadaam Hussein with your look-alikes?

Via the cooler head of Jeanne at Body and Soul, I highly reccommend this terrific article by Wallace Shawn -- this quote just might become the LivingSmall motto:
Sure, it's been great, the life of comfort and predictability. But imagine how it would feel if we could be on a path of increasing compassion, diminishing brutality, diminishing greed--I think it might actually feel wonderful to be alive.

And if amid all this craziness today, if in order to get the sight of Ari Fleisher's condescending asshole newsconference out of your head (okay, I turned the TV on, but I was looking for my new favorite show, BBC America's Ground Force, where a pack of charming English people transform the garden of some worthy person in two days, not Ari-dickwad-Fleisher) you might want a little laugh, you could always go check out this very funny interpretation of the Dept. of Homeland Defense's warning signs.

(So I wonder if I have enough keywords here to trip the John Ashcroft Big Brother sensors off. If so, fuck you too, assholes.)

posted by Charlotte at 3/20/2003 10:16:00 AM


My arborist agrees. My local arborist came by to give me a quote on taking out an overgrown juniper that is way too close to the foundation (and shades the porch too much), and we got talking about the war. He said he's really frustrated because he feels like there's nothing he can do now but pray. And pruning helps, he said. Doesn't change anything but a body sure does feel better after a couple of hours of pruning.
He said I did a pretty good job on the apple trees, too.

posted by Charlotte at 3/17/2003 02:17:00 PM

What is there to say? Be prepared for the focus here to get smaller, small to the count of my fifty-by-one-forty foot lot. I am going into nearly full news blackout mode, because I just can't even begin to formulate a way to deal with this madman president and his end-time cronies who actually seem to want a war. I really thought we'd avoid this -- perhaps it's my tendency toward optimism, but somehow I though that millions of people marching in the streets all across the globe might make some impact on this president. But I'm now convinced that he's such an elitist bastard that he sees all the opposition as proof of his own righteousness. Now let's hope he doesn't declare martial law and call off the 2004 elections. Now let's hope the Democrats perhaps awake from their slumber and do something.

In the meantime, LivingSmall will concern itself with building a garden, growing flowers and vegetables, and the reading and writing of books.

On the garden front, the fabulous local hardware store, Kenyon Noble delivered the wood for my raised beds this morning. Delivered it for free, mind you, unlike a certain big box hardware store that has opened in Bozeman. Delivered by a cheerful man who assured me that he dug through all the 2"x12'"x12' boards to find me nice straight ones that weren't split. So, this weekend I'll be building my slightly elaborate raised bed kitchen garden, with some help from the brother. I'm trying very hard not to be seduced by the warm weather. It isn't spring yet. We'll still have more hard freezes. This weekend I also pruned the remaining two apple trees, which was enormously satisfying as I got to both lop off enormous limbs with my handy little hacksaw, and got to climb the tree to do it. Other garden chores included moving rocks to dismantle the rock garden I built on New Years Day (changed my mind about that one), built a low stone wall/pile from the stones, and put up lots of wire fencing to begin training the dogs about which parts of the yard are garden, and which are yard. That is going to be an ongoing task, I'm afraid. They currently seem to think the dormant perennial bed is the place they should poop.

And today's excitement is the arrival of my propagation heat mats ... I hung the hand-me-down shop lights in the basement this weekend, and I now have two very nice 3'x4' surfaces on which to start propagating seeds. Also another surface of the same size (old metal utility shelving units that were in the garage in California) that I've made into a sort of gardening desk. I've got all the books down there, and the calendar, and the notebook in which I'm trying to keep track of what happens when. It feels kind of like Ranger Rick science ... like when I was a little kid with my microscope and chemistry set doing "experiments". Although my degrees are all in English, I was a real science wannabe, and did a considerable amount of environmental biology as an undergrad. So I want to start building some data on my little corner of the universe. That is, of course, if our president doesn't start WW3 and bring us all to nuclear (nuc-u-lar) destruction.

posted by Charlotte at 3/17/2003 11:34:00 AM


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