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Thursday, August 9, 2007

Incremental Things

It's been a productive week here in my little house on the northern side of the Ohio River. With the BBPiT out of town since last Friday, the young'un and I have shared our studio space, she on the desktop computer, me at my sewing machine, as I cleared out old sewing projects and produced a half-dozen shoulder bags from gently-worn t-shirts and outgrown sweaters in the process.

Making shoulder bags is a little odd for me, since I'm not much of a purse-toting gal. I've carried the same two -- an old woven bookbag and a little black camera bag -- for years. But shoulder bags are easy to make, so who cares if all they do is adorn the hooks on the back of my studio door? I can look at them any time I like and say "I made those."

Yesterday I watched a promotional clip from a film called "The Devil Came on Horseback," a documentary about Darfur that I really and truly do not want to see. Then I heard an NPR story on Katrina refugees living in FEMA trailers 30 miles from nowhere outside of New Orleans, losing their minds to isolation and despair after they'd lost everything else to the floods. Later on I read a news report about our current government's use of torture in its insane "war on terror." All of these things and a hundred thousand others cry out for attention, for amelioration, for redress. And what do I do? I sew shoulder bags.

In my web-wanderings today I came across a quote from Buckminster Fuller, which reminded me of that other quote from Albert Einstein, both of which address the idea of effecting change. Fuller said (and I'm paraphrasing) you can't change things by fighting the existing reality, you can only create a new reality that makes the existing one obsolete. And Einstein said (again, to paraphrase) problems can't be solved with the same level of thinking that created them.

What new realities, what new levels of thinking, would have to be achieved in order for there to be no more Darfurs, no more post-traumatic suffering from tragedies like Katrina, no more government-approved torture?

This is not a rhetorical question. It is a question that troubles my thinking on a regular basis. At its root it asks, how can we live on this planet without doing all this terrible stuff to each other?

I don't believe the answer lies in our somehow becoming "better" people. So long as we are members of the human species, we will be all those things humans have always been: petty and greedy and hateful, violent and selfish. But like the old man with two battling wolves inside of him, we will also be generous and kind and helpful and courageous and loving. The wolf that prevails will be whichever one we feed. Right now we're feeding the wrong wolf. Our culture -- our planetary culture representing all but perhaps the 5% of tribal peoples still in existence -- is all about feeding the wrong wolf. We don't have to continue doing so.

Sometimes change is momentous: you can't cross a chasm in two steps. But more often it's incremental. A small step, then another. I realized when I was sewing this past week that I'm not very good at it, but I'm better than I used to be, and the more I do it, the better I'll be. Small steps. One bag at a time.

I used to believe in revolution. Now I believe in withdrawing support from things I don't want to be a part of. I used to believe in speaking truth to power. Now I believe in speaking truth to those willing to hear. I used to believe in leaders. Now I believe in doing the work that is in front of me, even if it's just writing about things that trouble my mind, or turning old t-shirts into something a little more useful.

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