Rob Stewart’s REVOLUTION

I have a confession to make: I don’t watch environmental films.  After all, I know what they’re going to tell me, right? And I’m doing my best, right? Do I really want to listen to someone tell me how bad things are when I already know? But flattery will get you lots of places, and when I was offered the chance to screen and review Rob Stewart’s new film Revolution, I said yes.  (For the record, I didn’t have to promise the review would be good, and I don’t get any kick-backs based on click-throughs.)

Flamboyant Cuttlefish.  Production still courtesy of REVOLUTION.

Flamboyant Cuttlefish. Image courtesy of REVOLUTION.

What I’d been forgetting is that films don’t just tell, they show.  Revolution is, firstly, stunning.  It’s filled with shots of creatures that make you think, “Wait, that’s a real live living thing?  That’s so crazy and cool and gorgeous and just plain weird!”  In the narration of the film, Stewart says, after describing his first experience with a shark, “…sharks were like dragons or dinosaurs, but they were real.”  This film is filled with images that remind you of how fantastic and unlikely and breathtaking this world is.  Just for that, it’s worth watching.  Just for the sheer joy of remembering that we’re on the same planet as creatures like cuttlefish and baobab trees.

Of course, it isn’t all happiness and joy.  There are darker images:  Ruined coral reefs.  The Alberta tar sands.  Huge plastic bags full of dead seahorses, caught for consumption.  The impact of these images lies in the fact that they’re not shoved in your face the way Game of Thrones loves to spatter blood around.  Instead, they’re presented almost gently.  As in, huh, bags full of something brown.  And then you recognize that they’re seahorses, small ones, so there must be thousands in those bags.  And then you think of the way seahorses move, because you’ve been watching gorgeous images of sea creatures.  And perhaps, if you’re like me, you think of how seahorses have always been one of those animals that seem to be out of a fairy tale, one of the creatures in this world that really seems to argue for the reality of magic, or something even better.  And seeing them there, body after body piled into clear plastic bags, so obviously a commodity speaks for itself.

Production still courtesy of REVOLUTION.

Rob Stewart and young activists in Saipan. Image courtesy of REVOLUTION.

It’s this gentle, almost meditative quality that really drew me into the film.  Told almost conversationally, in the format of a memoir, Revolution follows Stewart’s own experiences: learning about animals as a kid, making the film Sharkwater, and realizing that it’s not just sharks that need saving, it’s the oceans, the forests, the atmosphere, and us.  While Stewart does call his audience to action, he’s not shoving an agenda at the viewer, and this film is refreshingly lacking in pontification.  Stewart acknowledges both the crushing frustration of watching politicians do nothing again and again – but also offers evidence that hope is merited, that people really do care enough to make changes.  He encourages personal action and personal responsibility, while acknowledging his own outsized debt to the environment incurred in the making of the film. Perhaps the best thing about this film is Stewart’s talent for sharing his own contagious affection for the creatures filmed, for the natural world as a whole, and for the young activists striving to make things right.

Sifaka. Image courtesy of REVOLUTION.

Sifaka. Image courtesy of REVOLUTION.

Conversations about the environment so often only happen among those who already agree with each other.  The liberals talk about how scary global warming is, while the conservatives, I imagine, talk about how crazy those conservationists are.  This is a film that I think might be able to cross those boundaries, because you just can’t help but be delighted by shots of leaping sifakas (a type of lemur)  and pygmy seahorses, because it’s a first-person narrative (“I did this” instead of “you should do this”), and because this is a story told in an openhearted way.  I know no one wants family fights over climate change, but this is a film that just might start a conversation instead.

I was ready, when I hit play, for the harrowing statistics, the overarching problems.  They’re problems that I already fight to contribute to as little as I can, that I already obsess over, that, frankly, I usually do my best to avoid hearing more about.  What I wasn’t ready for was Stewart’s modest way of presenting our generous and exuberant world – the world we’re fighting for.  As he asks, “What if we had a world to fight for instead of fighting against our problems?  What kind of world could we create if we designed it to be beautiful for us and all species?”  It’s worth finding out, and if you want to share with friends why we’re fighting for that world, or if you could use a refresher yourself, watch this:

Fired Up about Fire Cider

This post was updated on 2/26 to include new links, and to reflect changes re: the applicable Facebook page.

You may have heard that the term “fire cider” has been trademarked – a term that Rosemary Gladstar coined and that has since become common parlance for a preparation involving deliciously warming herbs like garlic, onions, ginger, horseradish, and turmeric; apple cider vinegar; and honey.  Like many, I was appalled to hear this.  The herbal community is in many ways a gift economy, whereas this move has every appearance of shameless commercialism.  To remove a term in common usage – one that herbalists all over the world use thanks to Rosemary’s generous teaching of this recipe – is detrimental both to the herbal community and to the English language.  Already, words that herbalists might or might not otherwise choose to use are exclusively the realm of the medical community (“diagnose, treat, or prevent” are forbidden except in a disclaimer, and even “tincture” may be iffy because of its early use in conventional medicine), but it’s a new twist for Shire City, an herbal company, to take “fire cider” away from the herbal community.

The good news is that this is not the end of the story.  Here are some resources to keep up on the news and to help make sure that the story ends well:

Why I Love Valentine’s Day

Godward-An Offering to Venus-1912
“Offering to Venus,” by J. W. Godward

I’m not sure if I know anyone else who really loves Valentine’s Day.  Those without a significant other feel left out of all the hoopla, and those who are attached are either nonplussed or stressed about the holiday.  For me, it’s a stepping stone that helps me through the dourest part of the winter.

New England seems to be tailor-made for Christmas.  We have crisp, cold days and snowfalls that paint the branches of our bare trees white.  Our evergreens look as though they’ve been drizzled with icing.  Our landscapes sparkle in undulating drifts of white or blue or pink, depending on the hour.  Indoors, we deck the halls with garlands and swags, and we dress ourselves in our cheeriest berry red or forest green.  On New Year’s, we might even wear sparkles.

Then, we seem to remember that our states started out as Puritan colonies.  We revert to greys and browns, and occasionally navy blue.  The landscape is still beautiful, but the roadsides grow dull with dirty snow, and even a fresh snowfall might not be quite so cheerful without the contrast of vibrant greens and reds.

“Pink Rose,” by Jonathan E. Russell

We wouldn’t dream of wearing pastels before Easter, but Valentine’s Day, that dear Hallmark Holiday, gives us permission to break out the bold pinks and purples, and to give red another go.  All the gaudy advertising (with its pressures to make sure our partners receive the most expressive card, the sweetest chocolates, the biggest bouquet) is packed full of these colors.  And flowers!  Cut flowers may be the most frivolous indulgence on earth, but in mid-February, I can’t help but be happy for the sight of them.  So, while I’ve never been one for big, expensive gestures on Valentine’s, I revel in the brilliant hues that it throws my way.

I think Valentine’s Day should be a day of frivolity.  Pink hearts and Victorian cupids aren’t the symbols of fully realized love or devotion.  They’re the symbols of fresh affection, of new found delight in each other’s company.  So if you’ve someone to celebrate with, forget expensive celebrations and do something silly and fun.  If you’re on your own, celebrate your own company with an at-home spa treatment.  Either way, consider celebrating Valentine’s like the kids do:  Give a little platonic love to everyone you meet.  One year I signed and sealed a whole basketfull of cheesy kiddie Valentines and handed them out to everyone I saw that day.  People were delighted.  When I handed out the last few cards of the night at the local pub, I had one friend give me a big hug and break into tears.  I’ll never forget that, and I’ll never forget what it taught me:  Even a seemingly insignificant gesture – so long as it’s made out of love and kindness – is worth making.

PS:  Next year, I’m hoping to have Glitter Dragons Valentine’s to hand out…

Saving the Harvest

“Autumn,” by Giuseppe Arcimboldo

When I moved to Philadelphia, I was psyched about shopping at Trader Joe’s.  I’d heard about the place for years, especially from some friends in L.A.  It sounded like some kind of crunchy paradise, where food was both organic and cheap.  The nearest Trader Joe’s was quite a ways across the city, but my boyfriend and I would zoom over on his motorcycle and then make our way back, with groceries strapped to the bike and my back, him steering and me balancing a full chicobag in each hand.

It was great, until I read the label on a can of beans or something (something not at all exotic) and saw that they were from New Zealand.

I eat organic because it’s healthy – but also because it’s better for the environment (which ends up being healthier as well).  So I felt like the organic-ness of the food was canceled out by the fuel that was expended getting it from New Zealand to Philly.  It was a bummer.

Now that I’m back in Vermont, I try to make organic eating affordable by getting things in their basic form (veggies instead of soup, flour instead of scones), by taking part in a CSA, and by shopping at an awesome local store that sells “discounted gourmet foods.”  This generally means that they’re selling, say, a dented can of coconut water for 75 cents or a case of near-expiration Liberte Greek yogurt for under $5.  (Believe me, I can eat Liberte yogurt fast enough to beat that expiration date!)  I don’t know if you have a store like this near you, but I’m really glad I do.  I also feel good about shopping there because a lot of their food (even though it’s perfectly yummy and healthy) would go into the dumpster if they didn’t exist.

I got to thinking of all this because I heard an interview on Here and Now about all the food that does go into the dumpster.  In that interview, Jeremy Seifert of the documentary Dive! (about dumpster diving) mentioned that 96 billion pounds of food go into dumpsters in the US every year.  That’s 96 billion pounds of food wasted, not to mention the labor of the people who grew and processed that food, the land that food was grown on, any pesticides and fertilizer that went into those crops, and all the fuel and packaging involved in getting that food to the store shelf.  That’s heartbreaking.

Times are hard, but in a land of such abundance, I think the primary solution may be simple:  not to waste what we have.

Dear Yoga Journal,

Dear Yoga Journal,
Please don’t become yet another fashion magazine disguised as a health mag.  I was cool with your features on yoga wear, though I’m kind of attached to the comfy-yet-flattering sweats that I also wear to bed on extra-cold nights, and I don’t feel a need to be trendy while sticking my butt in the air and trying to keep my hands and feet from slipping in opposite directions.   

But I’m just bummed that you used up paper to tell me that that “This season’s tall boots and structured jackets take you from studio to street without missing a beat,” as you explained on page 32 of this month’s issue.  In fact, though I’m a very amateur yogi and have so far only learned about the yogic principle of aparigraha, or non-jealousy, from you, this fashion spread seems (with its slender, coifed models and fancy, flattering outfits) calculated to cultivate a feeling of jealousy (and thencely consumerism).  And a wise publication once told me that “Jealousy means that we desire to be what someone else is, or to have what someone else has. Rather than finding who we are, we look at someone else and say, ‘I want to be that.’ Aparigraha, in its essence, helps us discover our own selves so that we no longer feel the need to covet what someone else has, or be what someone else is.”

So I hope you’ll show me some yogis with style, and forget about the fashion models.
Yours in regular readership,

Inciting Change through Intention: Prayers, Lovingkindness, Rituals, etc for the Gulf

MeetUsAtTheWaterHello friends, and welcome ’round the campfire.  Please pour yourself a long drought of water and drink deep.

I’ve tried not to follow news about the oil spill in the Gulf.  It’s too heartbreaking.  When, for example, @nprnews twittered “BP spill=months of sad animal photos ahead”, I just couldn’t click through.  The thing about this one is – even if you and I went all out, trucked down there and volunteered, it wouldn’t make it all better.  This isn’t a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, it’s a hole in the ocean.  But you know that.

Bill McKibbon recalls, “When a well started spewing oil off Santa Barbara in 1969, it spurred the first Earth Day, which in turn launched the environmental movement and a fundamental questioning of the balance between humans and the rest of nature. It turned out, in other words, to be a real Moment.”  Whether such a fundamental evaluation will happen in 2010 remains to be seen.

But I read over at Mrs. B‘s about the June 12th event you see in the vid below.  Divining Women has asked folks all over to go to water (a beach, lake, stream, or just a bowl of tap water) and pray, chant, perform a ritual, meditate, dedicate a yoga practice, or do whatever works for you to help heal this damage.  In short, perhaps, to incite a Moment.  Here’s hoping.

These Feet are Made for Walking

A friend of mine – an astute, genuine, young, beautiful woman – expressed yesterday that she believes “deep down, every single one of us loathes her body as much as she loathes the ones she compares herself too.”  She was talking about this culture of insecurity and consumerism that advertising/media has created.  A culture that encourages us (women in particular) to regard our bodies as something that can be primped, plucked, painted, and surgically altered until they’re perfect.

As an alternative – and as a follow-up to the last post – I’d like to offer that we might think of our bodies in terms of experience.  For example:  Say I look at my feet and think, gee, they’re calloused and rough and need a pedicure.  Instead, I might look at them and think of all the miles and adventures they’ve carried me through.  With the first POV, I’d feel distaste, even shame.  With the second, I feel gratitude.

I might even give myself a pedicure because of that gratitude: because my feet have served me so well, I want to take good care of them.  I’ll want to wear good quality shoes, not cheap heels.  I might do exercises to build up the muscles in my weak arches, because if my feet are healthy and strong they can continue to take me on long hikes and stunning climbs.

Which is to say, btw, that rejecting media/consumerist culture doesn’t mean you stop taking care of yourself (or become a [insert big air-quotes] “dirty hippie”).  It means you take care of yourself in ways that make you healthier and better able to take advantage of this life (rather than primping yourself so you fit someone else’s ideal).

So today, if you read this, please find one part of your body that you are grateful for.  It might be your hands that allow you to type out your blog, or your arms that let you to hug your children, or your hips that help you shimmy.  Sit with that feeling of gratitude, and experiment with whether you can extend it to other, less appreciated, limbs and curves and angles.

Check it Out: Why Experiences Trump Material Goods

This week, check out PsyBlog, wherein Jeremy Dean takes psychological research from academic journals, then successfully navigates that tricky balancing act whereby the info becomes accessible without being dumbed-down.  My fave article so far?  “Six Psychological Reasons Consumer Culture is Unsatisfying”  Here’s a sample:

This experiment suggests that thinking of material purchases in experiential terms helps banish dissatisfaction. Try thinking of jeans in terms of where you wore them or how they feel, the mp3 player in terms of how the music changes your mood or outlook, even your laptop in terms of all the happy hours spent reading your favourite blog.

Alternately:  Get tea with a friend instead of buying eyeliner.  Go to a festival instead of buying designer jeans.  Backpack through Europe instead of buying a shiny new car.  Because the car depreciates as soon as you drive it off the lot, but experiences, I find, only get more valuable with time.