politics and religion

I’m reading that the new president of america will be proposing a “religous freedom” executive order in order to allow discrimination based on religious sentiment. And I just have to think. I have to wonder. Since when was discrimination a bulwark of any religion? The context in question is typically Christian businesses wanting to refuse service to someone for some reason – but no matter who, or why, that just baffles me, because it is NOT a Christian sentiment. after all, Jesus sat down for dinner with the people whose lifestyle he disagreed with, and notably defended a prostitute from public judgement. Jesus said that he will judge people in the afterlife based on how attentive they were to the needs of others during their lifetime. he argued that kings and tyrants did not deserve the respect one should accord to God alone. and he continually championed the downtrodden and oppressed.

What is this strange new religion that needs political protections because it’s so out of line with human decency and traditional values? I looked to the ten commandments, and wrote a poem about this sick hypocrisy that infects our society today.

– Ten Commandments (New Religion) –

Worship no other gods –
but worship money, power, and sex
as though they were gods.

Do not make idols –
rather, make everything into a product to sell
and bow down before the profits.

Do not use God’s name for evil purposes –
except to justify bigotry,
hatred, war, and destruction.

Keep a day of rest –
and scorn those who lack
the opportunity to avoid labour.

Honour your parents –
until they become needy, then
dehumanize them as it suits your lifestyle.

Do not kill –
unless you have the power and privilege
to suffer no repercussions.

Do not commit adultery –
instead, rape the weak
and interfere with others’ private lives.

Do not steal –
just pillage and plunder
and confiscate.

Do not accuse anyone falsely –
unless a scapegoat is sought
or tempers are hot.

Do not covet that which belongs to your neighbour –
just take it from them
and destroy them if necessary.

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– said demeter to persephone –
(to katya)

When a god dies
winter arrives in the world
and winter makes the fallow earth
the fecund altar
of cycles and circles.

While a god lives
walking amongst us
Arrayed in most delicious flesh
and sparkling jewels,
we revel in the Moment
and are bonded with the Present
and freed from all our Fears.

We must take the lessons of Springtime
fragrant with purple nectar
leaking lavender juices
swollen with secrets
and plant them in strange places
where they will keep us alive.

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Making the Most of 2017

2016 was an interesting year. i was rather successful in getting things done and learning new skills, but i did fall short of many of my goals. i didn’t read nearly as many books as i wanted. i didn’t write nearly as much as i needed. but i learned how to use various exciting power tools. my arms and shoulders became too muscular for my favourite winter coat. i helped a friend do some pretty monumental and important things to improve her life that she couldn’t have done on her own. i ended 2016 with the feeling that i am more of an adult than before (my birthday on december 5th always helps with that growth sensation), and i ended 2016 with a clear perspective on my station in life, my roles and responsibilities, my obligations, and my goals.

i only posted twice in this blog in 2016. once about david bowie and once about standing rock. i started re-working a writing project that i’d begun long long long ago, but i didn’t get very far. i didn’t finish any paintings and i can’t remember if the two in progress were started in 2016 or 2015. so let’s clear the slate, set all the progress-meters back to zero, and cement my resolve (or resolutions) for 2017.

i will turn my collection of hoarded dead materials into living shining art. i will resurrect unfinished writing projects and make them breathe again. i will dance with the energies around me. i will cherish and embrace my solitude. i will finish things that i’ve started.

i will restore and respect my body. not merely a necessary utensil, my body is my temple and my fortress. it is the base of all my operations, it is my safety and my strength. it becomes an afterthought as i throw myself into activity, but i must strive to keep it a priority and break the cycle of ignoring my flesh.

i will cultivate a more sustainable relationship with the resources around me. weaning the world off fossil fuels is the work of vast numbers of individuals, making incredibly small changes and choices from one moment to the next. there’s no blueprint for this undertaking. our relationship to fossil fuels is like that of an addict to their addiction. gasoline entangles almost every single part of our lives. i am prepared to re-evaluate all aspects of my lifestyle, in order to achieve deeper growth in this area.

i will nurture my human relationships. i will continue to pursue all the opportunities i encounter to help build my community. i will reach out to my friends and do my best to share my opportunities with them. i will use my voice on city council, and i will turn up the volume. human interactions are the arena in which i truly challenge my comfort zone, and in 2017 i will bring on these challenges like heaping servings of all my favourite desserts. i’ve been watching, learning, and waiting. i’ve been waiting patiently. and when the curtain fell on 2016, i knew deep in my marrow and down in my gut, that the waiting is over.

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Standing Rock is Important to Every Community

Why Standing Rock Is Important to Our Community

The Standing Rock protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline is taking place in North Dakota. Why is that important to Appleton, Wisconsin? There are three main reasons why this is important to us.

The first, has to do with why Energy Transfer Partners is trying to put the pipeline by Standing Rock. They were originally going to route the pipeline north of Bismarck, but people living there said no. They protected their resources, they said no and they were successful. But instead of saying “not in my backyard”, they could have said “don’t put this in anyone’s backyard”. Until recently, we didn’t have the advantage of technology like the internet and infrastructure like social media. When terrible things happened far away, we never learned about it until it was too late to get involved. Now we can be vigilant about everything happening anywhere, and we have a responsibility as human beings to reach out to each other and unite our voices – when we make someone else stronger, we make ourselves stronger. Corporations and governments have relied for centuries on the fact that those who would oppose them are isolated and lack resources, to the point that they take it for granted. Standing Rock is an historic event relevant to every city everywhere in the same way that the Arab Spring was an historic event for the human race.

The second, has to do with militarization of the police force. Any mobilization of militarized police is an assault on the freedom and liberty of every citizen in a democracy. This really doesn’t need much explanation. If we don’t take action against militarized police, then we are undermining the liberty and civil rights of ourselves and all people on American soil. Standing Rock is one of the most publicised instances of militarized police in our lifetime, and it is happening right now as we speak. We must do everything we can to prevent this militarization of those who are supposed to “protect and serve”, otherwise these authoritarian tactics will become normalized and taken for granted, and it will become even more difficult to fight the oppression and abuses of government and corporate collusion.

The third reason, is that water protection is relevant to every community, and especially to a community like Appleton with the resources and privilege we enjoy. One of the committees I serve on as a council member in the city of Appleton is the Utilities Committee, and I couldn’t even begin to describe how proud we are of our water quality, and how much we invest in managing our water as a precious resource. We sit on a river, we draw our water from Lake Winnebago, and our water and wastewater treatment plants are some of the best in the country, maybe even the world. How much do we take this for granted? Do we even know how many pipelines already cut through our land and threaten our lakes and rivers? Snaking through Wisconsin, we have pipelines operated by Enbridge Pipeline Inc, Magellan Pipeline Co, Koch Refining Co, Westshore Pipeline Co, and Mid-America Pipeline Co, with terminals in Superior, Eau Claire, Wausau, Green Bay, Waupun, Milwaukee, Madison, and Janesville, and that was all just as of 2012. If the Dakota Access Pipeline is successfully constructed, it will lead to more pipelines, and the struggle is already at our own front door.

To recognise the relevance of Standing Rock to our community, most fundamentally we have to embrace a perspective that acknowledges and encompasses the connectivity of all our systems, social and physical, and remember that what affects one location, affects us all in many ways both visible and invisible, both obvious and counter-intuitive. It’s easy to understand that we all have essential human rights. Having a right to life, gives us a right to water, because water is life. It’s harder to understand that we live in a time when governments have failed us, corporations have abused us, and the only actual guarantee of our right to life, is the action we take personally and collectively to protect each other and our resources, in order to defend the right to life for future generations.

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The Spirit of Dionysus

David Bowie, image from “The Rolling Stone” magazine

In 1993, David Bowie said in an interview, “We shouldn’t be afraid to experiment. Experimentation is about pushing the parameters of our knowledge. It is the spirit of Dionysus, the energy that makes us what we are.”

Those words guided me through adolescence and have continued to guide me throughout my life. David Bowie is more than a role model or a muse or a teacher. He is Dionysus.

We are all Dionysus. We are all struggling little creatures trying the best we can to be the energy that makes us what we are. David Bowie has inspired us, given us strength and courage, and shown us how to make experimental art out of every aspect of ourselves, even our own death.

When our role model dies, it’s our turn to become a role model for the next round of kids. Let’s push the parameters of our knowledge by reading, and encouraging others to read, all of David Bowie’s 100 favourite books. And, of course, let’s keep sharing his music forever.


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The Colour of Our Prayers

While we pray for Paris,
let’s remember to pray for more than forty dead in Beirut.
And while we count the dead,
let’s remember those who died at a funeral in Baghdad,
killed by a suicide bomber too.

As the world unites with symbols of
the Eiffel Tower and teardrops,
let us not forget the green cedar on the Lebanese flag
and the red and white representing peace and sacrifice.
Let us remember that red and white
are colours on the Iraqi flag too.

Red white and blue are the colours of France
and the colours painting social media
as the world unites in grief and mourning.
While we pray for Paris,
let’s remember to pray for everyone else.

And while we count the dead,
let us not forget
that beneath country and flag and skin and symbols,
all people have the same
red blood and
white bones.

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staying healthy gives you strength

autumn is here. temperatures, humidity, and amounts of sunlight are changing. i tend to be most vulnerable to physical illness this time of year. to start the winter well, i need to start the winter strong. eating well is an important part of avoiding a cold or preventing bronchitis and so on. it’s so tempting to eat lots of processed mass-produced food this time of year because it’s a quick and easy way to replace the energy cost of diminished sunlight. but it’s not worthwhile. this should be taught in schools.

the meal above features Japanese style omelette, garden tomatoes, onions, and two different types of cabbage.

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I Love Sustainability. So I Decided To Live In It.

By Vered Talor Arnon

Author’s note: This is a direct response to the article “I Love The Victorian Era. So I Decided to Live In It.” by Sarah Chrissman. The reader should peruse it first, so that the structure and subtleties below make sense.

I study life, specifically sustainable lifestyles. My methods are quite different from those of academics, materialists, and philosophers. Everything in my life is connected to my topic of study, in fact there is no escaping it. From the electronic devices I use, to my bathroom habits, every minute detail of my existence pertains to my study of sustainable living.

Seven years ago I moved into an upstairs apartment in a big house on a corner lot. The lot prides itself on the expanse of lawn with southern exposure, which is ideal for gardening. When we moved in, the landlord told us that the garage had been condemned by the city, and shortly thereafter he had it demolished. We dealt with the concrete and gravel aftermath as quickly as our employment schedule would allow. Now where the garage stood we have a cattail pond, a raised garden bed, and an area of grass bordered by mint, chives, grapevine, echinacea, milkweed, chamomile, and other wildflowers. I frequently have to weed out the invasive thistles, Queen Ann’s Lace, and knotweed.

Every morning I make tea and save my teabags for compost. Each day I wash my dishes with a scrubber made out of t-shirt scrap and the orange mesh bag from grocery store oranges. I carefully consider everything I’m tempted to throw away, and keep a store of plastic bags, rubberbands, glass jars, and many other items, which I find ways to re-use and re-purpose in order to avoid buying mass-produced disposable products as much as possible. I hoard scrap paper and have never bought writing paper as an adult, in spite of writing prolific to-do-lists, writing letters, and keeping journals and diaries. I have a “Jamesbury Clinches” stainless steel letter opener with a plastic-coated handle that my dad kept in his desk when we lived in California twenty-six years ago.

There is no air conditioning in our house. When the weather is too hot for comfort, I make large batches of iced tea that I keep in an old gallon pickle jar in the refrigerator. We have box fans but we restrict their use as much as possible, generally only using them at night when it’s too hot to fall asleep otherwise. We also don’t have an electric clothes dryer. We hang our clothes outside on a clothesline when it’s seasonal, or on drying racks in our attic in the winter. I’ve been amazed by how much longer my clothing lasts when the amount of machine aggravation it’s subject to is cut in half.

Our heat runs on natural gas, so in order to keep it low and save resources, we wear sweaters and drink hot tea. In the winter we pile extra blankets on the bed, and our cats all cuddle together instead of sleeping apart. Many of our blankets were mine when I was a child. Many were pulled out of the “discard piles” on move-out days when I was in college. I have never purchased a bedframe. My bed was a stack of futons (collected from move-out days, with the exception of one gifted from my mother) until seven months ago when no amount of fluffing and flipping could remove the craters worn into the cotton batting from years of use. We re-purposed the futons in various ways in our attic, and purchased a foam mattress for our new bed. We considered this purchase for more than a year before making it, since it is a mass-produced product. The lumpiness of the futons was adversely affecting our spinal health, and we knew that we could devote more energy to making the world a better place if our headaches and backaches diminished.

We try to grow as much of our own herbs, fruit, and vegetables as we can, and preserve what we don’t need right away for future use. We shop at the farmer’s market and local grocers, and focus on “buying local”. I’ve been brewing my own kombucha for years now. Most of the utensils and baking ware in our kitchen were used by my family during my childhood. We grind herbs and spices with a mortar and pestle. We have a stove but we often eat our leftovers cold.

Whenever I leave the house, I always make sure to bring a marvelous accessory called a handkerchief with me. The handkerchief can be used to blow my nose or wipe my hands, avoiding the use of disposable products. It’s just mind-blowing to realize how much tissue one uses, once one starts using a handkerchief instead!

I bathe every morning with a wash cloth and soap in front of my bathroom sink. I reserve showers for when I’m actually dirty or smelly, and I reserve baths for when I’m not feeling well and need the medicinal benefits of a hot soak. I wash my hair with vinegar from a spray bottle. I don’t use a hairbrush or comb, although I still have my combs and brushes from childhood. I make my own deodorant out of witch hazel and essential oils. My toothbrush comes from a company that encourages you to mail it back to them when it’s worn out so that they can recycle it to make new toothbrush handles.

I have a cellphone in order to participate in the society around me as a responsible and accessible individual (I couldn’t fulfil the duties of my elected office on City Council without it). I read articles on my computer about problems in the world and write electronic messages to individuals, sharing ideas or passing along information, with the hopes of finding solutions to problems, or at least sustaining the morale of those who share my frustrations. I have never had a driver’s license, and I ride my bike whenever possible to get where I need to go. My bike is a green Schwinn that my partner found for me on Craigslist after he forgot to lock my previous bike and it got stolen. He has a car that he inherited from his father, but he has a bike too and we’re always striving to bike or walk more when we go places together.

The process didn’t happen all at once. It’s not as though someone suddenly dropped us into a pre-established sustainable culture and society one day – that sort of thing only happens in science fiction novels and poetry. We had to work hard for our dreams. And honestly, the life we now enjoy is still far from sustainable in many ways. A sustainable lifestyle is built bit by bit, one commitment or attempt at a time. The best we can do to support each other in moving forward with our dream of sustainability is to keep working at it every day.

Even before I encountered the concept of sustainability, I saw the problems inherent in the way people live. I grew up in the People’s Republic of China, where water and electricity could just stop suddenly, and it could be hours or days before it was restored. I never espoused the prevalent notions that resources should always just be there whenever people want them. I never embraced that sense of entitlement and I hated the title of “consumer”. Looking back, it seems inevitable that I would develop a passion for sustainability, but nonetheless it was a gradual process of learning and self-discipline.

It’s hard to say exactly when or how it started. I struggled when I was younger with health conditions that were resolved by changing my diet. As I stopped consuming high fructose corn syrup and other chemicals, I began to pay more attention to ingredients in foods. I changed my grocery shopping habits and started to see all my shopping habits in a new context. Learning how to live a more sustainable life was a way to make myself healthier, and make the world a better place, at the same time.

I was so intrigued by the changes I began to experience, that I sought out other like-minded individuals so that we could combine our efforts and pursue sustainability together.

Soon after, I started up a commune. But group living and social dynamics have their own separate set of challenges, and fifteen people cannot share a bathroom without plumbing failure. After experimenting with the commune for a few years, my partner and I decided that it was time to scale things back in order to restore balance. As housemates moved out, I stopped admitting replacements, and eventually the human count was reduced to two.

Focusing on sustainability on a daily basis gave us insights into our own intimate connection with the past, present, and future. We became more aware of our physical health, our mental state, and all the harm that unsustainable living has done to us in the past. We came to understand how things as subtle as how many squares of toilet paper we use have an impact on the world around us, now and into the future. As we gained this new awareness, and became accustomed with our new practices, only then did we feel we were truly blossoming into our adult selves.

When we realized how much we were learning from our own experiences, we continued to wonder what others’ experiences could teach us. We kept our minds open and sought out new information, and shared our experiences with others.

We learned about planned obsolescence. We learned that more and more things are made to wear out, rather than last, in order to fuel the system of materialism and consumers. We learned that meaningful interaction between people is often reduced to an excuse to buy a useless gift that the recipient doesn’t need. We saw that people were increasingly deriving their sense of identity from the things they have rather than the things they do.

Everything escalated organically from there, and now my whole life revolves around this ongoing research project. No one gets paid to be sustainable, and maybe that’s why more people don’t take it seriously, but those who don’t take it seriously are making a big mistake. Getting paid doesn’t matter if there’s no water to drink or food to buy.

The artifacts in our homes have become a burden that modern humans obsess over. They provide shelter and insulation to cut one off from the outside world and shut out all the ugliness, fear, uncertainty, and tragedy. People see an advertisement on their television, and that becomes their truth, and they go out and buy a certain food or a certain device. Connection to each other and connection to reality languishes as collections are amassed and “newer” and “better” are coveted.

We’re devoted to getting our own insights and perspectives on sustainability, not just parroting stereotypes that “everyone knows”. Sustainability is a process of trial and error, not a script to read or an image to cultivate. Society has let what’s possible distract us from what’s necessary. Interacting with everything in our lives with heightened awareness helps us to connect with what’s important and see what’s necessary in spite of the distractions. Maybe one day we will enjoy a culture that values balance, harmony, and the conservation and preservation of resources. As we continue learning, we hope as well to be teachers. Sharing the lessons we learn broadens our worldview. Learning from each other inspires and elevates us.

We don’t have to go to extremes to keep in touch with natural seasons. Gardening automatically creates the context and opportunity for paying attention to weather and marking the different points in the year. And we don’t have to reject all technology as “unnatural” or harmful. For example, while human scientific advances are what enabled mills and factories to pollute the rivers, now with our polluted rivers, it is only human scientific advances that will help us figure out how to repair the damage that’s been done. Living sustainably does not require one to mete and measure every ounce of every resource as though the ideal state is to use no resources at all.

A sustainable lifestyle entails living carefully, but living carefully is not inherently sustainable by itself. You can make an elaborate and spiritually symbolic ritual out of polishing an old spoon, but that’s not going to help you or anyone else in the world ensure spoons for future generations. When we create rituals that replace awareness, we succumb to distraction and lose touch with our dreams and goals.

Of course many people still haven’t encountered the concept of sustainability, and it’s a challenging lifestyle to choose given all the pressures and obstacles our society, especially American society, presents at every turn. Materialism and consumerism are entrenched so deeply that simply opening a dialogue about their harms can be perceived as a personal threat.

But really, more people should be talking about sustainability. So many people masturbatorily expound upon how to be happier with their “true selves” or why their escape from reality is sexier than the last person’s. There are a lot of problems out there, and quite frankly, we shouldn’t be pursuing lifestyles that ignore them. Everyone likes to think that their life is hard enough as it is – but the truly hard part comes when another town runs out of fresh water or another swath of farmland turns into another swath of desert.

We live in a world where people are preoccupied with their sense of identity and struggle to be different. Nonconformists are bullied while everyone else tries to pass themselves off as a nonconformist in some way, in order to feel a sense of individuality. The true victims and the true nonconformists suffer while their voices are suppressed and privileged narratives dominate our cultural consciousness.

This is why more people don’t follow their dreams. They know the world is a cruel place, but they’re afraid to accept their own responsibility for the status quo, and are persuaded by the dominant narratives that they’re not “cool” or “unique” enough to be a force of change anyway. In this process, people turn to materialism for comfort because they no longer dare to dream of a better world for everyone.

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wanna know a secret?

i am always thinking of things i want to write about when i don’t have time to write. then when i do have time, those things seem mundane and boring and not worth writing about.

heqat on the bed

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swedish ivy

my sister gave me some swedish ivy cuttings some years ago. the story goes something like this: while she was studying oriental medicine in Saint Paul Minnesota, she and her room mate got some cuttings from a friend who got some from someone who got some from someone etc, with the original cuttings procured from an enormous swedish ivy plant in the White House in Washington DC that has been thriving there since the Nixon administration. apparently there’s some sort of tradition for people to propagate the plant after working as an intern in its vicinity. my ivy tends to bloom in the winter. these pictures were taken in february 2015. i continue the tradition by giving cuttings to anyone who wants them.

swedish ivy blooming swedish ivy blooming

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the magician’s worktable – working title

one day i will create an amazing piece of multi-media artwork. to make this possible, i am saving all the clippings from my cats’ toenails, as well as my own, and i am saving cat whiskers too. i am collecting teeny-tiny little jars and containers. the multi-media piece will be called “the magician’s worktable” or something along those lines, and will tell a story about “found objects” and how these “dead things” and “discarded things” become the expression of a cherished relationship with a vibrant living environment. this piece of art will also attempt to provide commentary on the mirror of microcosm and macrocosm. if you would like to contribute materials, i would love to embrace your generous donation!

dalek and toenails

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kittens and creativity

heqat in the art studioheqat sits on a trunk in my art studio. all the cats like to perch around me while i’m working.

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my greenhouse room

greenhouse room

my greenhouse room is dedicated to plants. it’s where i start my seeds before spring comes. it’s also where the fish tank is. i put a screen in the doorway instead of closing the door, so that the room can share its humidity with the rest of the house. i use the grow lights in the winter but not in the summer. all the plants that can’t handle the winter huddle together here and then get to go back outside when spring arrives.

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kombuchai make my own kombucha. it’s delicious and nutritious. actually, sometimes it tastes like pure vinegar. i leave it sit too long when i get too busy.

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more kitchen plants

kitchen cabinet plantsthe space above my kitchen cabinets is just big enough for plants. pictured here are some spider plants, swedish ivies, heirloom geraniums, and standard ivy. the cabinet artwork on the left and right are by Qiuniu, the star-chart next to the solar flare was painted by another friend.

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my oldest aloe

kitchen plantsthis is my kitchen table. the aloe in the red pot started out as a tiny little thing smaller than my hand in 2005. most of the aloes i have are its babies. as you can tell from the other aloes on the table though, some of them are pretty big babies!

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house plants in the bedroomhouse plants in my bedroom. picture taken earlier this winter. i try to fill my house with as many plants and books as possible. i also try to cover all the wall space with art and randomness. the plants seen here are all aloes and spider plants.

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subtle choices

corexitsometimes i catch a glimpse of the big picture so clearly, i can’t help but recognize that what seems important to me is really very small in comparison. what makes sense in a bubble is bizarre in actual context. no matter how much i try to challenge the world around me to look at things differently, the only progress i can measure is in challenging myself. i attack my own comfort zones like a wild dog attacking fleas.

i’ve been shovelling a lot of snow this winter. and doing other things. and all the while i think of what i want to write. i have really important things to say sometimes. things that the world needs to hear. thoughts that need to be shared even if it’s only strangers in far away countries who actually read them. and then i find myself in front of my computer. and i’m always doing other things. i don’t make time. i need to work on that. you’ve missed out on a lot of great essays and poetry. i’ve missed out. and i’ve just been accepting that, day after day…corexit

a friend of mine said recently, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change, I am changing the things I cannot accept”. i want to have that attitude. but i can’t find any immediate role models. acceptance is so insidious. acceptance has great connotations – open, welcoming, embracing, appreciating. but that’s not what it usually means, not down here on the ground, not down here outside of the control tower – acceptance usually means resignation, limitation, settling for less and hushing one’s voice. it’s got a Confucian connotation to it in my mind, inextricable from “know your place” and “defer to your elders”. “accept” is most commonly used in the context of mundane material transactions. “now accepting applications”, “this machine does not accept $5 bills”, “please accept this free gift with your purchase as a token of our apology for the long lines at checkout”.

the words we use – the words we choose – are beyond important. remember that. the next time you feel that you really ought to try to change something, go ahead and change it instead of accepting a status quo that doesn’t include fulfilment or happiness.

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one of my muses


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one of my muses

cui jian.

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