Tag Archives: hope

Mourning the Living

RIP Great Barrier Reef
Illustration: Andrew Holder

I have a confession to make. A few days ago, I came across an article that made me lose hope. According to an obituary published on Outside Magazine’s website by writer Rowan Jacobsen, the Great Barrier Reef has died. And though other sources have argued that it still shows some signs of life, even they imply that hope for recovery is slim.

It took me a while to find words to talk about this. One of the most beautiful and important environments on the planet, teaming with life and color, has gone cold and gray. It is a loss so great that I can’t get my head around it. I almost can’t believe it. I don’t want to believe it. It is so horrific and terrifying that I would rather believe it’s a lie trumped up to scare us into changing our ways. It makes me understand how people could consider climate change a conspiracy theory despite the overwhelming data all around us proving that it’s true.

I won’t ask how we got here. That part is glaring and obvious. The more important question is what do we do now? As for me, the answer is get back to work.

This is a time of mourning, but we can’t let it stop us from doing all we can to prevent future loss, to reclaim all we can of the beauty that seems to be fleeing this world at ever increasing speeds–before it’s all gone.

Even if some part of it survives, the reef will never again be what it was, but there is still great beauty in this world of ours. And there are so many ways to protect what we still have. And so many ways to add more. If not a reef, a painting. If not a crystalline blue sky, a poem. If not a rain forest, a song. Because I believe, as I have said before, that the only antidote to the hatred and fear and destruction in and of this world is to create. Make art. Make love. Plant a tree. Believe.

Don’t mourn the living. Fight for them.

Paradigm Shift

Lately I have been thinking a lot about one question:

What if instead of prepping for the worst, we prepared for the best?

This idea of working toward best case scenarios can flip even the most optimistic standard prepping idea on its head. Suddenly, we are creating, not reacting; embracing, not avoiding; dreaming, not fearing. Suddenly we move from the powerlessness of living at the mercy of a dangerous world to the empowerment of creating a more hospitable one. Suddenly we evolve from talks of prevention, defense, survival, to building, healing, living–from fear, to hope, maybe even to joy.

I will admit, it’s not an easy shift to make. The world can be a dangerous place. And we do need to prepare for times when the gap between our dreams and reality is wider and deeper than we can imagine a bridge to cross. For some of us, that may be most of the time. Which is why it so important to think about ways to make our lives easier, simpler, better, more manageable, safer during quieter days.

For example, instead of acting from a place of fear that says, “I could get cancer and die,” we could, knowing full well that cancer exists and is a risk, consider a variety of other responses, like:

  • What could I do to become healthier and minimize that risk?
  • What might improve my chances of recovery if I did get sick?
  • What might help make the experience of being sick less complicated and more comfortable?

Or better yet:

How can I create my healthiest, happiest, most fulfilled life?

What if, instead of focusing on disaster, we focused, in a very practical way, on that? And then consider what it will take to get us there, what hurdles we may need to overcome, what things we can do to stay on track when obstacles cross our paths.

Because there will be hurdles, obstacles, unplanned derailments, that’s what prepping is all about, but they will only one small piece of a larger puzzle not the focus of our lives or plans.

What might your best case scenario look like? How might it feel?

Blooming Cholla
Blooming Cholla


A Path Through Fear

I have been thinking lately about a news story I read back in January.  A Utah couple were found dead in their home along with three of their four children–a murder-suicide precipitated by fear of the apocalypse.

Although their example is extreme, it highlights a crucial dilemma so prevalent in our world right now,  particularly for those of us involved in prepping or the study of the apocalypse:

How do we, as individuals and communities, think about and prepare for our uncertain futures, knowing the suffering, loss, and devastation they may hold, and yet still find a way to live in the present, to embrace and enjoy our lives without being crippled by fear?

Because, really, this isn’t just a question about the apocalypse. Our futures have always been uncertain, except for the simple fact that every one of them will end. And yet, many of us still manage to get out of bed in the morning. To have children. To plant seeds in the garden. To make plans. To fall in love.

There is something ingrained and essential to our nature as human beings that allows us to imagine that we will still be here when those seeds push up from beneath the dark earth. When they unfurl their first leaves. When they burst into blossom. When they finally scatter their own seeds.

That something is called faith–a word that comes from the root “to trust.”

We are not talking about a sunny disposition that makes us believe that things will be better tomorrow. An optimist says, “The war will be over; your wounds will be healed, the depression will go away; all will be better soon.” The optimist may be right, but unfortunately he or she may also be wrong. For none of us can control our circumstances.
— Henri Nouwen, Turn My Mourning into Dancing

Faith is not about thoughtlessly clinging to best possible results. Doing so can be dangerous. It can blind us to unseen threats, to actions we could take to improve our odds, to what the people around us are going through.

And so we must make a choice. To walk through life with our eyes closed, experiencing neither the beauty nor the pain, or to face our fears up front, to look them in the eyes, to call them by name.

Because here’s the thing: When we choose the second path, when we look into out own worst case scenarios, we reclaim our power. And when we take the next step and begin to address them–acknowledge them, talk about them, prepare for them–we may find ways to lessen or avoid them. As we begin to confront the things that scare us, they start to lose their hold. And as one-by-one the shadow each fear has cast over our lives begins to desolve, we will see it isn’t just our future we are liberating. It’s our present.

Knowing a thing, naming it, that gives us power–not power over or against, but power within.

Or better yet, be afraid. But also trust–in your strength, in your capacity for healing and compassion, and, yes, in your preparations, once you make them. We are, as a species, uncannily resilient. Let us embrace that legacy.

Feature Friday: @Large Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz

This past December I visited Alcatraz for the first time. The decaying former prison feels haunted. It echoes with each step. It’s cold, and damp and inhospitable, and the perfect place for Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei’s latest installation: @Large, a multi-piece experience that asks us to look deeply into the themes of imprisonment and freedom.

“The misconception of totalitarianism is that freedom can be imprisoned. This is not the case. When you constrain freedom, freedom will take flight and land on a windowsill.”
— Ai Weiwei

As in The City, Not Long After, Ai Weiwei’s work shows us that freedom is worth fighting for, and that art can be an even more powerful weapon than guns in that fight.

To learn more about this exhibit visit for-site.org.

Climate Change

On Sunday November 2, 2014 the UN panel on climate science issued a new report on global warming. Its goal: To help drive participation in and completion of a new international climate agreement.

Despite growing efforts in many countries to tackle the problem, the global situation is becoming more acute as developing countries join the West in burning huge amounts of fossil fuels, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said here Sunday.

Failure to reduce emissions, the group of scientists and other experts found, could threaten society with food shortages, refugee crises, the flooding of major cities and entire island nations, mass extinction of plants and animals, and a climate so drastically altered it might become dangerous for people to work or play outside during the hottest times of the year.

Justin Gillis, “U.N. panel issues its starkest warning yet on global warming,” The New York Times

Climate change is no longer some distant uncertainty. It is here now. And as governments continue to delay action, the window of opportunity for slowing looming catastrophe is rapidly closing.

If our governments don’t act, what can we as individuals do? It’s pretty clear that recycling cans and shortening showers, doesn’t amount to even a drop in the bucket. What we’re going to need is a rapid, widespread grassroots movement in which we find a way to end, cold-turkey, our addiction to fossil fuels. But the truth is, that kind of change is hard, even for those of us who want to change. So where, if anywhere, does our hope lie? Quite possibly with our kids.

GWE 110214 2 from StoryPortrait Media on Vimeo.

Envisioning the Future

One of the things that inspired me to finally start this blog was a recent episode of Project Runway titled Welcome to the Future. In it the designers were challenged to come up with fashions that could be featured in Marie Claire 20 years from now. In order to do that, they had to imagine what that future might look like. Now, granted, the fact that the challenged assumed that the magazine would still exist 20 years from now means that they weren’t focused on an apocalypse, but I still felt like most of the designers didn’t take their stories far enough. One mentioned recycling, one made a small nod toward climate, but all I could think about were the questions they didn’t answer:

  • Would the places we now inhabit become to hot or too cold and how could fashion compensate for that?
  • What if the drought currently plaguing California and the southwest continues to get worse–how would the lack of water impact what we wear?
  • Might the world be a more dangerous place requiring clothes that are also protection?
  • Would our lives be more rooted or more nomadic?

My mind was filled with books and movies related to our possible future: Dune, Mad Max, The Man in the White Suit

So imagine my excitement when I learned that there was an apocalypse-themed art show opening in my own town called End of Days.

Twenty-four artists were…asked to develop prophetic doomsday statements regarding how the end will come, and then…create clothing, accessories, and sculptural elements to address these prophecies and address issues related to human impact on the environment.

Hydration Salvation by Consuelo Pascual
Hydration Salvation by Consuelo Pascual

Which is pretty much exactly what I had been looking for. And though I would say the artists met with varying levels of success in terms of execution, each and every piece was thought-provoking–from the image of a virgin bride in her wedding dress and gas mask, to the sculptural dress of cabbage and leeks (my favorites being Sam by Thelma MathiasAt the 11th Hour Go Underground In The Old Library. Lock All The Doors Behind You. by Deborah Klezmer, and The Lineage Gown by Alicia Piller.

Envisioning the future can not only give us ideas that may help us survive,  it allows us to build mental and psychological muscles that can help us cope with the unknown–as long as you focus on how might it be, what would we need, can I prepare, instead of  we’re all gonna die.

The Meaning of Apocalypse

Today at lunch, a friend asked me to define apocalypse. We had been talking about this blog, about an upcoming End of Days-themed art exhibit, and why all sci-fi seems (to him) to be apocalyptic.

To him, apocalypse means the end of everything–the total destruction of the world and everything in it, à la Revelations. For me, sure, it could mean that, but I prefer to take a broader view. In my world, and the world of this blog, I define apocalypse as a catastrophic event. That event could be:

  • Global–a meteor hitting the earth, climate change
  • Regional–the Irish potato famine, the black plague
  • Local–tornado, earthquake, wildfire
  • Personal–losing a loved one, losing your job or your home, learning you have cancer

When my neighbor Ann was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer that had already metastasized to her bones, she became suddenly interested in apocalypse fiction, perhaps looking for models for how to survive, perhaps looking for ways to handle the worst, perhaps looking for ways to put her illness into perspective. When she asked me for recommendations, I gave her my short list. When she asked me why I love apocalypse fiction so much, my answer was even shorter: hope.

Hope is the foundation of most apocalypse fiction, and perhaps all prepping and survivalism. The belief that there is a chance, and that maybe, with a little work and luck, we can improve that chance. That even if the world does devolve into Mad Max, that somewhere out there lies Tomorrow-morrow Land, where the children will be safe. Somewhere out there lies a place where the sick will be healed.

Perhaps that is what drives us to stock up on staples at the onset of autumn, knowing that cold and flu season isn’t far behind. For my part, I hauled out to Costco on Thursday for discount tinned fish, a 12 pound bag of short grain brown rice, and two 48 count boxes of extra strength Mucinex. Protein, carbs, and medicine–the best bang for my buck. All I need now is a case of chicken broth since Ann isn’t here to bring that to me anymore. The loss of soup when sick isn’t a catastrophe, the loss of Ann, that’s another story.

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.