Stitching Resilience

These days, the big buzz word when talking about disaster preparedness seems to be resilience. It used to be more about strength regardless of whether we were talking about a building, an organization, an ecosystem, or a person’s physical or mental health. But as anyone who has ever been through an earthquake knows, when it comes to structural soundness of a building it’s the combination of fortitude and flexibility that gives you your best chance.

The same is true for people. Being able to lift a lot of weight doesn’t mean you can run fast, or dodge obstacles, or swim. The same goes for our brains. Luckily, there are some simple things you can do to develop your psychological resilience:

  • Cultivate strong relationships: Have someone to talk to that you feel comfortable with and can trust. It can be even better to have an assortment of people with different interests and expertise so you can get different perspectives.
  • Learn to roll with change: Change is constant. Learning to recognize what you can control and what you can’t in any given situation can help minimize stress and wasted energy.
  • Develop flexible thinking: This is one of my favorites to practice. Planning a road trip? Map several alternate routes to see which might be more fun. Working on a story, craft, or art project? Try making lists of all possible options to see how many you can come up with.
  • Practice optimism: When something goes wrong, especially really wrong, it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Even just remembering it’s there, can help make reaching it that much easier.
  • Take care of yourself: If you’re tired, hungry, hung-over, in pain, or physically compromised in some other way, you’re not going to be able to think as clearly or quickly as if you’ve had a full night’s sleep and a healthy meal. Likewise, if you’re over-stressed.

And this advice isn’t just good in disasters. For example, over the weekend I was working on a quilt. I had a design but hadn’t started making it until Saturday morning and it was due on Sunday. Because it was small, it didn’t take that long to make, but once I had, I realized  that the design didn’t work. The thread was too close to the color of the fabric so the accents didn’t show up and without that, the whole thing just looked like big blobs of unrelated color. At first I panicked, knowing that there was not enough time to start over, but when I turned the quilt over I realized that the thread that was invisible on the front, stood out like mad on the black back. By making the back the front, the project and my sanity were saved.

Dig Deep, Burn Bright (back)
Dig Deep, Burn Bright

Water, Water, Everywhere

I wanted to talk about water. I wanted to tell you what I remember about the last big California drought back in the 70s, about how we were only allowed to flush the toilets a couple of times a day and how my mother used to run the hose from the washing machine into the garden to water the plants–especially the hydrangea which never seemed to get enough. Funny, because of that I never liked those plants when I was a kid. Now they are one of my favorites.

The first time I came to Santa Fe , I got a letter in the mail explaining the retreat center’s policy on water usage. The told us only to flush toilets when they really needed it. They encouraged us to take military-style showers which consisted of rinsing quick, turning off the water to soap up, then turning it back on to rinse again. Even during the worst of the California drought, I’d never done that. It was eye-opening.

These days I keep a bowl in the bathroom sink to catch hand washing water for flushing the toilet or watering plants. I wear clothes longer between washes. I don’t plant hydrangeas.

Water is one of the most difficult things to do without. They say that a person can live without food for more than three weeks, but without water, only about three days. Especially in the desert when summer humidity levels can drop as low as 4%. But I’m not just talking about survival here. I’m talking about the everyday mundane tasks like washing our hands, or doing the laundry or dishes. We are so used to turning on the tap, it can be hard to resist. Would we be able to survive in a world like the one in the film? How about a world like Frank Herbert’s Dune where even the clothing is designed to recycle every bead of sweat and then some? It’s hard to say, but with California in the midst of their worst drought in history, and the southwest sweltering and dry as a bone, I hope we can.

Feature Friday: Pumzi

Recently a couple of stunning short films about the apocalypse landed on my Facebook feed. I was so impressed by their beauty, clarity, and messages, I decided to share–not just those two, but any others I may hunt down along the way. Not only do they have something to tell us about our possible futures, but I believe it’s important to support the artists that created them.

To that end, welcome to Feature Friday: short films, books, movie and TV shows, and other digital media that can help shed light on our human condition in these days of rogue weather, terror attacks, deadly viruses, and other threats to our health and sanity. I hope you enjoy our first installment: Pumzi, a short science-fiction film written and directed by Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu. The title means “breath” in Swahili.

Never Look Away

You may wonder: why the apocalypse? You may wonder how I can stare into its darkness daily and not go mad. Let me explain, starting with a story.

In September, 2010 I came to New Mexico for the first time to study with writer Natalie Goldberg. Before I came, I had been trying unsuccessfully to make changes in my life. I enrolled in her retreat to get out of dodge and hopefully gain some perspective, find some hidden clarity, decide what to try next. Given that I moved to New Mexico only six months later, clearly it worked. But it wasn’t just the move that mattered.

During the course of that first week, I learned that in Natalie’s practice she has three unflinching commandments: shut up and write, continue under all circumstances, and never look away.

Natalie had recently returned from a trip to Auschwitz with the Zen Peacemakers, led by founder Bernie Glassman, where they sat by the tracks reading the names of the dead, bearing witness to their suffering and death.

I believe it is only through witnessing the suffering and darkness as well as the joys of life that we can embrace the whole of humanity, both in others and in ourselves. By trying to avoid the pain and fear, we cut ourselves off from a big part of what makes us human, what makes us truly alive. It can also cut us off from something just as important.

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torments of man,” but what are we without it? Contentedness has a way of slipping into complacency. Complacency into apathy.

Hope can cost us dearly, just as looking into the dark heart of humanity can fill us with pain and fear. Then again, without the dark we have nothing against which to measure light.

Within each apocalyptic and dystopian story, within the heart of each prepper lies a seed of hope–of survival, of a chance for a better world.

State of the Union

It can feel hard to know what to believe.

The truth is, even the scientists can’t say for sure what’s coming. But something is definitely coming. Some of it is already here. And whether you think it’s just a “cycle” or the end of days, there are things we can learn, things we can do, and ways we can get creative to help make this life, and change, a little easier.

Tomorrow, I’ll share one filmmaker’s post-apocalyptic vision and start brainstorming about avoiding or surviving that potential future.

The Apocalypse Garden

Once upon a time, there was a girl who grew up in earthquake country. Despite the fact that her family home was built on bedrock, she grew up just knowing that, any day, the big one could hit and take  everything away.

Now, maybe it was that. Or maybe it was the stories that her father read to her each night, filled with wild rides, and one ring to rule them all, and other battles of good vs. evil. But whatever the reason, she grew up obsessed with tales of the apocalypse.

And as she got older, she learned to store extra food, and how to turn off the water and gas, and stay indoors during lightning storms. In late 1999, she bought extra water and boxes of Duraflame logs in preparation for Y2K. And when she bought a house of her own, she made sure it was seismically up to code.

This house of hers had a huge garden and a second-story window that looked out over the ocean. And when it came time to plant, she didn’t choose flowers. Instead she created an apocalypse garden, where each tree and bush and seed would grow to serve more than one purpose–herbs for cooking and to attract pollinators, cherries for fruit and one day wood, winter and summer squash for food and to shade the delicate roots and stems of newly planted apple and plum. But her favorite was the black bamboo grown in barrels along the back fence. The shoots could be eaten, the stalks could be used to build, and the grove blocked a neighbor’s ugly yard.

That house belongs to some someone else now, and the girl has traded her ocean for the wide skies of New Mexico, but she still carries that garden within her. And in this increasingly uncertain world, those books that inspired her feel less like fiction or fantasy and more like a map for the road ahead.

And So it Begins

Tomorrow starts the 31 Days writing challenge. My first response when I heard about it was, “like I need another project,” but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it could be just what I need. You see, I’ve been struggling with a Big Project–the kind that feels like it could be The One. But the more I got into it, the more difficult it became, and not just wrangling the profusion of ideas. The paralysis increased as I looked closer at what my actual day-to-day might look like, and hit crisis mode when I realized that wasn’t anything near how I wanted to spend my life.

I put that project on hold and in the open space another project that I’ve played with here and there for years began to raise its head. What better way to see if it’s something that could really work than to spend 31 days immersed in its world.

So here I am, with a new blog on a domain I bought back in 2008. Six years is long enough to wait for a place in the light.

Day 1: The Apocalypse Garden
Day 2: State of the Union
Day 3: Never Look Away
Day 3.2: Feature Friday: Pumzi
Day 4: Water, Water, Everywhere
Day 5: Stitching Resilience
Day 6: Connecting Climate and Human Health
Day 7: Disaster News Update: Japan
Day 8: Once More with Imagination
Day 9: Small Lessons from Daily Life
Day 10: Feature Friday: The Sand Storm
Day 11: Hobbyists as Heroes
Day 12: The Benefits of Practice
Day 13: 4000+ Is Not Just a Statistic
Day 14: Risk to National Security
Day 15: Wordless Wednesday
Day 16: Ebola Number Crunching
Day 17: Feature Friday: All That’s Left
Day 18: Thinking About Pandemics
Day 19: Get Rid of Stress in 60 Seconds
Day 20: The Best Weapon
Day 21: This Week’s Apocalypse Update
Day 22: Wordless Wednesday
Day 23: Throwback Thursday: October 23
Day 24: Feature Friday: Ebola and Panic
Day 25: The Meaning of Apocalypse
Day 26: To Sleep, Perchance…
Day 27: Pele Visits Pohoa
Day 28: An Ounce of Prevention
Day 29: Wordless Wednesday
Day 30: Remembering Sandy
Day 31: Feature Friday: Ambition
Day 32: 31 Days Recap