No excuses. I haven’t posted in far too long. But today is a good day to begin. A week plus into the new year, I am in a place that I can settle (Providence) and have the time to focus (a la Felix) on an issue that is my new life’s mission and the subject of my next book, Darwin’s View One Breath After Midnight. As anyone who read my 2013 blog knows, that mission is to save the world. And to do that, democracy must be saved from what I have dubbed Demo-n-capitalism. Thus, Carl and I have joined the NH Rebellion.
Have you heard of it? The goal of the NH Rebellion (as part of the organization Open Democracy) is to make big money in politics the central issue in the 2016 presidential primary. The corrupting influence of special interest money on politics is the issue that citizens across the political spectrum are concerned about, and it is the one issue that politicians don’t talk about. It’s time to talk. It’s time to act.
That’s why Carl and I are girding ourselves for next weekend’s NH Rebellion walk. Last summer, we walked 16 miles along the NH seacoast for the same reason. In the process, we experienced a high degree of pain. We are in relatively good walking shape but, apparently, not that good. Carl claims it is because we began that walk at our usual brisk pace. All I know is that by mile marker nine, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t make it. The flashes of pain in my hips and knees that occurred with every step negated any calls from my blistered heels. So I am kind of dreading this walk. I don’t want to feel that kind of pain again. Which would cause one to wonder why I have not been training.
Well, we have been in our way. Three or four times a week, we have gone out for a walk. A seven mile walk one day. A four mile walk another. But not consistently, more on the shorter end of the mileage counter, and not in the boots we are going to wear for the Walk. I haven’t anyway because I don’t own a waterproof pair of boots, and the pair I wore on the last long walk gave me, as mentioned above, blisters.
We got a letter from Lawrence Lessig who is the founder and main walker of the NH Rebellion. He is worrying—a pastime I can relate to—and wrote all us walkers a letter with a list to check off and sign so he can rest assured that he isn’t going to be walking with a bunch of lame, sneezing casualties. The missive to be signed is called the “New Hampshire Safety Commitment” and Carl and I would be doing ourselves a favor to commit to it. Right?
I certify I have the following risks covered: *
Please check each box you have prepared
I have a warm, waterproof coat (REALLY waterproof!)
I have waterproof covers for my legs
If the temperature is predicted to be below 15ª. I have warm mittens
I have checked the forecasted temperature
I have stuff for my feet to avoid slipping
I am committed to sufficient hydration
I have walked MILES in the boots I will bring
I have liner socks as well as wool socks
I have walked multiples of 5 mile stretches in training
I am prepared to be completely moved by the incredible mix of people committed to saving this democracy.
Yesterday morning, I could only check the “I have checked the forecasted temperature,”—which, frankly, at this point is irrelevant, given we are still a week out and this is the northeast where weather changes with the wind.
Does wind bring to your mind Darwin’s View? It does to mine. The day we left Darwin’s View was—surprise!—windy. I would suggest is was one of the windiest-for-the-most-consistently-long-time that we have experienced up there. Which is saying something. But I have learned to reassure myself that the house isn’t going to be destroyed by the passing gales by thinking: The cars are not blowing across the field. Neither is the picnic table, the cast iron grill, nor the chickens and their coop. But that morning, when Carl came in to say good morning, he asked if I had looked out the window since the sun had come up. I looked out the window. And there, skittering across the field, was the soft tub that has been stored next to the house for two years, empty and awaiting its repurposing. Joining it were the styrofoam casting forms we have saved for the same purpose: repurposing. Carl layered on the clothes and went out to gather the runaways. The wind blew him over. And then took his eyeglasses. He noted the time. He was late. He tossed the cats into the car and headed for Providence. I left Darwin’s View an hour or two later, with my mother and her companion, headed for New York City.
There’s nothing like that sick feeling of leaving home in such an unsettled and insecure state. We had lined up two people for chicken care, but it felt all too irresponsible and fly-by-night as the wind continued its shrieks and buffets. And then came the rest of the week.
Yesterday, I arrived in Providence at 1 pm by train from NYC where I had been for three days not walking. Carl picked me up and we suggested to each other that we get in an eight mile walk by walking to REI, buying appropriate and waterproofed walking attire, then walking back. But then we arrived home and had to deal with a few things: we had no gas in the house. We had a screwed up credit card bill. We had about a foot and a half of mail to review. And it was really cold out and we didn’t have appropriate outerwear.
The Gas: Unbeknownst to us because we were at Darwin’s View in New Hampshire, National Grid upgraded the gas lines in our neighborhood a few weeks ago. When Carl arrived here in Providence this past Monday, he turned on the stove to make himself a tea, to find there was no gas. Since then, Carl has spent his time on the phone, juggling calls with the gas company with those to our credit card company.
Credit Card: On December 18th, Carl sent in a credit card payment for a larger than usual credit card bill because it had our “Cross-country, whistle stop book tour with flash reading!” charges on it. On December 24th, what is becoming an annual event occurred: our credit card was shut down. On December 26th, I called the credit card company and was told we had not paid our bill. Even though the money had been removed from our bank account. After doing due diligence, we found out that the check had arrived at the wrong bank on December 22 and had been some might say illegally cashed and the money withdrawn from our bank on the 23rd. From the 26th to today, we have been calling three too-big-to-fail banks, trying to rectify this situation. While also making calls to all the companies that we have on AUTO pay that are now unpaid because the credit card is shut down.
Whatever happened to good, old-fashioned checks? Well! We sent checks to both our gas and electric companies. The one written to the gas company is currently MIA. And the one written to the electric company (ridiculously high for some unknown reason) was applied to the gas company (markedly low for known reasons—no gas is coming to the house).
2015 was not looking good from a financial perspective. I was beginning to suspect that all those balls we have been holding up in the air for the past two years were falling around us . . . and still a foot and a half pile of mail to go through.
We plowed through it. Christmas cards. Junk mail. Donation requests. Tax bills. We took care of them all and filled our recycling bin to the brim. The gas company fellow arrived with a map. He pointed out where the gas line had been replaced. Apparently, we are at the very end of the gas line, and they cut the line before connecting us to our house. We all agreed it was a lucky thing we don’t count on gas for our heat.
All to say, we did not walk to REI. We drove, in our LEAF, as much a part of the buy, buy, buy system as ever. But I had to get boots. I wasn’t going to walk 13 and 17 miles barefoot in the middle of an arctic freeze. And I didn’t want to happen what had happened to the Climate March: that I didn’t go.
I still haven’t gotten over that. Because I know it would have made a difference if I had been there. In all the time that I have been thinking about democracy and capitalism and climate change, I have come to this knowledge: what we do as individuals makes a difference. How we are in the world matters. Too many people don’t know or believe that. The NH Rebellion being a good example: People I have told about it have all supported the goal: to get money out of politics. But they have wondered/scoffed/smiled indulgently at my naiveté that walking will make a difference.
“What good will it do?”
I think about how I live my life. I am attempting to write a book that isn’t getting written for a variety of reasons, not least the question “Why write it? Who would read it? Who would publish it? Why bother?”
And my flute. I am not in a band. I have no one with whom I regularly play. No one to play for, per se. I didn’t even put on my yearly recital this past year. Why practice? Why bother?
For the record, I get up every day before the sun, and try. Every day, I have and will continue to write. To play the flute. I hope, to make a difference. And so to the question, “What good will it do?” my response is this: “It will do far greater good than doing nothing. Than sitting back, arms shrugged in a woe-is-me way. We have to do something.”
In my teens and twenties, I ran. I wouldn’t bother to go out if I couldn’t run five miles and I ran every day. Sometimes ten miles. More or less. With time, my knees and back gave out, and so I began to walk. It was not the same. I miss running. This week, when I was in New York City, I got on a treadmill at the hotel, hoping for a boost of endorphins. I began by walking. But then sped it up until I realized I had better run or I’d fall off the machine. And so I ran, and remembered all those miles I used to run and why: Running soothed my inner chaos by balancing physical with mental activity. But in New York City, my knees began to twinge and my back verged on a rebellion of its own and so I slowed the treadmill back to a fast walk, and noted how unsatisfactory it felt. Why?
Perhaps because walking on a treadmill is a very different experience than walking outside, be it through woods or even along highways. Walking can be grounding if done with intention.
Or maybe because running feels as if you’re getting somewhere, and walking feels so slow and takes more time. But where was I going? I was on a treadmill, after all. And why the rush?
Because the world is ending. Climate change is here. Every day, more death, destruction and delay.
I think of all the writers who have walked miles and miles a day. They took the time, not as a means to an end but as an end in itself. Walking as a form of thinking. A slower more resolute form of thinking because—and how many times have you heard this?—all we have is this moment. To connect and be. Is it even possible with all the energy flying around, whirling about us, to slow down. To be calm. At peace.
Walking as a form of transportation. If we choose to walk instead of drive. What difference would it make? What if everyone chose to walk instead of drive.
Next weekend, walking will be a form of rebellion against the past’s transmogrification of the beauty of the world into ugliness, democracy into demo-n-capitalism, and love and compassion into hate and greed. Will it make a difference?
Hope springs eternal because humans have a need for purpose. We have an awareness of the world around us and even if we are doomed, which I believe we are, we still have to try. Even if all seems lost, how dare we give up? So long as there is love and compassion and a heartfelt belief in the beauty of Nature and the energy that connects us all, we must set about our days with the knowledge that what we do matters because otherwise we give up what our species thinks puts us above all others: our humanity.
It is for each of us to make a difference.
Thus every day until next Saturday, I will walk in my new boots in the knowledge that it matters. Because it does. Participation is what makes a democracy work. The more individuals involved that there are, the greater the impact. So I hope you’ll join us, in person or in spirit, for the NH Rebellion next weekend.
For an interesting TED talk on our food choices, check this out: