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When Atlas Shirked Cover

When Atlas Shirked, by Nynia Chance

In honor of #MayDay, I have managed to get my new novel available in eBook form for free! In When Atlas Shirked, a dystopian Christian America uses love and fairness to forge peaceful community solutions to political & class warfare.

The novel is part Orwell, part #Occupy, part Christlike-Christian, and all Hope. It’s the antidote to the selfish and cruel version of atheism* of Atlas Shrugged, as it explores the powerful force of a community combining forces to defeat the poverty and isolation that had overtaken their alternate America. In comparison to Ayn Rand’s infamous novel, I like to say it’s All the Politics, Half the Page-Count, and a Hundred Times the Heart.

*Note: This novel is not anti-atheist, it’s anti-bigotry, anti-hate, and anti-malice. It explores the concepts of equality, Women’s Rights, Gay Rights and Social Justice through the experiences and evolving Biblical understanding of a young Christian woman. Others’ views have a voice in her story as well, showing that there is also another side to Faith or even simply reasoned Philosophy. Take a look. You might be surprised.

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I’ve always felt the biggest obstacle for Occupy is getting the 99 Percent to realize we are all, in fact, the 99 Percent.  We see news reports of the big marches and protests, and think of Occupy being for those who chant slogans and get arrested.  For about 98 Percent of us, that sounds like a pretty radical step to take.  Love or hate, people tend to think that Occupy is for the fringe and the furious out there in the streets and public squares.

Not to say that I’ve been all that engaged.  I’ve been a dedicated fan of Occupy Wall Street since they first hit the news, and was thrilled to see people embrace the Occupy spirit in every aspect of life.  It was a brilliantly galvanizing idea whose time had come, bringing together all the groups that had previously been struggling to coordinate in a consistent and efficient way.  But I had suddenly started writing a book the day before the first gathering in Zuccotti Park, which was occupying my every spare moment, and then some.  I followed Occupy and a zillion other issues as I researched and speed-wrote in a parallel reality, wishing I had the opportunity to get more directly engaged.

Finally, I hit the Tax Day release deadline my subconscious had set for myself, and came up for air, just in time for the May Day General Strike.  I promised myself that if there was an activity I’d be able to make it to for solidarity with my fellow 99 Percenters, I’d be there.  I’d sacrificed a lot of myself for seven months over a message of solidarity that maybe nobody would ever read, and I’d be darned if I didn’t then sacrifice a little to connect with actual people.  So after hosting my sister for a week and catching up with work and family, I started my search.

I was disheartened to find out that Occupy Miami didn’t have more hope for a big May Day turnout, but looked up Occupy Fort Lauderdale and saw that there was a gathering the next day at a church I’d meant to visit, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Lauderdale.  It was only about 20 minutes away, and was scheduled to be right during my baby’s naptime so he wouldn’t miss me.  (And no, Frank, I couldn’t have brought him!  He’s coming off a clingy growth-spurt and never woulda made it!)

So the next day I tucked in my little guy, put on my favorite dress and my best hat, and on a whim grabbed my three sheets of test-run Business Cards so I wouldn’t be scrawling my email address on sheets of paper.  Shy Nyn had to take a day off, and I resolved to meet at least one person I’d want to keep in touch with.

Now to live in the Sunshine State is to embrace the rain, and it was pouring hard as I hit the Florida Turnpike.  Unfortunately, when it pours like that, everybody drives like they are frightened of this strange water that falls from the sky.  I drove safe and kept my focus by singing “Holy shining jewel of love!” over and over to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, something that came up while I was writing and stuck with me.  This put me in a great mood by the time I reached the church, which was blessedly easy to find.

After seeing how scant the participation seems to be around here, I was actually really glad that I had a hard time finding a parking space.  I apologized to the grass as I parked on it, then was glad for my umbrella as I was held up in the parking lot reading the best array of snarky and compassionate bumper stickers I’d seen in some time.  The one I hadn’t seen before was “Socialism: Tax the Rich, More Money for You!”  Given the appeal to self-interest, I just found that hilariously ironic.

As I walked up to the church, I remembered how tickled some people have been about the idea of strong religious support for Occupy Wall Street.  Naturally, a Unitarian Universalist church would be a perfect host to a gathering of unity, but whenever there’s more traditional Christian or Jewish community support, people make a double-take.  And that tickles me, because I grew up with the idea that Faith and compassionate fairness went together like chocolate and peanut butter.  I seriously can’t help but picture it like an 80’s commercial, “You got your Bible in my Occupy!  You got your Occupy in my Bible!

The welcome was of course warm and enthusiastic, and after spelling my name for my nametag the greeters said “Of course, you have to have an awesome name to go with the awesome hat!”  I then went in to scout the tables that were freshly set up, and immediately had the chance to sign a petition for the Citizens for Pets in Condos, a really big issue in a part of the country where most housing is condos and generally only the waterfront condos for the wealthy allow pets.  They didn’t need to explain the importance of the issue to me any more than their table-neighbors who let me sign my support for OURWalmart, the Organization for Respect at Walmart.  (Note to self: make time to visit WalmartAt50.org to read more stories.)

I then went across the way to take a look at a beautifully simple flowchart of the Foreclosure process in Florida, done up by a wonderful woman with the Occupy Fort Lauderdale’s Foreclosure Mobilization team whose name I didn’t quite catch.  It was really easy to follow, and made me realize what a simple process the whole thing was, if you could take a step back and look at it.  She insisted that it really wasn’t a complicated process, so she put together the chart to illustrate that.  This made me finally break out a business card, where on the back I had a link to a free copy of my book (free at least through May Day, in case you’re curious), as I asked her if she had the chance to take a look at Chapter 8 and let me know how well I broke down the tax structure, which to me seemed simple but I wasn’t sure how well I did.  (Typing that now, I see the Chapter 8 / Bankruptcy connection – funny!)  Now I realize she won’t likely have time, but she was kind about it, and it broke the “my card” ice for me.

As I was letting her go, Steve of the Mardi Gras 10 approached me and asked if I could sign in support of those who were fired for attempting to organize for workers’ rights.  I only had to hear the word “unionization” to grab a pen, while he filled me in on their fighting back and upcoming March for Freedom, Not Fear on May 8th.  I thanked him quite sincerely for fighting back, when it would be so easy to keep his head down and try to just ‘get along’.  It is because of people like him that I even have the right to vote, so I genuinely am grateful.  I tried not to gush and moved on so he could get his signatures.

I then made my way to the tables on the other side, overhearing someone saying he was Internet famous.  Very curious, I asked who he was and what he was famous for!  The very genial and boisterously unassuming Marc Luzietti introduced himself, aka chegitz guevara.  He’d said that he was talking with a friend of his from the area, and wherever he travels, he’s asked if he knows chegitz, as there are so few radicals connected with one another in South Florida.  And the funny thing is, because there are so few, of course they know each other.

Marc was there with One Struggle South Florida, who had brought a very nice Volume I, Edition I of the mini-paper captioned “Anti-Capitalist News and Analysis”.  I got to meet the brilliant Stephanie McMillan before I realized she was the cartoonist of Code Green. (I’m a fan, and there’s a Code Green on the back of the paper!)  I asked her how she got involved with One Struggle, and it turns out she’d founded one years back, and recently they decided to revive it.  Good timing, I figured.  I brought out my card again and we talked about my book, which ended up being the anti-Atlas Shrugged without my quite meaning to start out that way.  Given the title is When Atlas Shirked, she pointed out that it’s a much better story if that was my intention all along.  I agreed, and really it’s not far from true, so that’s now my story and I’m sticking to it.  All the Politics, Half the Page-Count!

I wanted to talk more with Marc, but I was too hard to hear from across the table so I went to slip in behind him, those at the table next to his being momentarily away.  He told me it was too tight and I’d never make it, to which I replied, “Watch me.”  I ungracefully moved down and he helpfully moved a seat over, and filled me in on just how small the radical group in the area is, as he’d mentioned before.  There were only about 18 in their group, which didn’t surprise me.  I mean, I let him know it surprised me at first when I moved down here, as it was super easy to find groups a few hours north in the much smaller Gainesville, and even easier in Salt Lake City.  (Shout-out to the Rudies and the Straight-Edge of the early 90’s!)  He said that most major cities there’s an easier time, but when he’d come down from Chicago, there was like nothing.  He didn’t even find the group here until he happened to pass a protest on his way to work.

A friend of his came up and ribbed Marc about missing a gathering because he had to work, then launched into how he was going to kick off a speech at an upcoming gathering.  He asked what we thought about Obama opening up oil drilling or somesuch with the idea that it would remove our dependence on foreign energy sources, which we both figured was a political grandstand with no actual effect.  Marc then went on to explain about the fuel reserves and the extremely cost-ineffective nature of the oil left on our soil, and that’s when I realized that things I figure are self-evident from my months of engrossing myself in major political crises like what Marc was explaining… aren’t as well-known among the politically involved as I’d thought.  It actually surprised me that all needed being said, which humbled me in my assumptions.

Marc, his friend and I then debated for a bit about whether the Democratic Party was ever for the people, and I argued that we at least had a window of history where those who were actually getting stuff done at least had a sixty/forty… okay, fifty-one/forty-nine majority.  He then reminded me about being the original party of segregation and having to be dragged into supporting civil rights, and we agreed that essentially, America has always been a one-party system: The Money Party.

The song playing then switched over to Give Peace a Chance, and Marc said he had a love-hate relationship with it. I agreed, but he actually had a real good reason versus it just being overplayed.  He was at a protest in Chicago once, and the song was being led by a woman who was a bit off-key.  Worse, the news coverage managed to capture just her singing in the mic without the large crowd’s vocals or even presence in the footage.  Conversely, a small group of fifty or fewer pro-war protesters were there, and the news team managed to get a photo of them at such an angle that implied they were a gigantic crowd versus this one “crazy woman” (because clearly, singing about peace makes one loony, particularly if one is not blowing the roof off Carnegie Hall with the performance).

That’s about when I borrowed their pen and started scrawling the word “FREE” atop the back of my business cards and staked out my empty space at the table to hand them out, at Marc’s suggestion.  After slipping under the table real quick for a mug of some of the best coffee I’ve had in forever, I sat back down to listen to Marc’s and Stephanie’s conversations with friends and putting my card into peoples’ hands.

That’s how I got to meet Jarek Loovali, who moved here from Estonia “way too long ago”, as he put it.  He mentioned how tough (or was it strange?) it was to come here from Estonia, where they had free healthcare, free secondary education, and support for their people.  I commented how there are so many Americans who’ll laugh off Estonia as “a small backwater country with nothing”, and yet there, people have so much more they share with one another.  Jarek commented that he thought it was easier for smaller groups to come together like that than larger ones, which really is about spot-on.  I supposed it was a matter of “Oh, these are my family, I can help them!” versus what we’ll have here, of “But not those people, THOSE aren’t my family, and I can’t let them take what’s ours” or somesuch.  It was time for a coffee refresh, so back under the table I went so I could be ready for the meeting’s start.  I made it back just in time to find the table-neighbors returned, but not minding my squatting one bit.

And that’s how I found myself handing out info on a Christian Progressive Political Galifesto between a one-time Socialist Florida Congressional Candidate on my right, and the South Florida Raging Grannies on my left. I didn’t catch the name of the marvelous woman with the long grey braids, but she had the kind of presence that was unassumingly dominant in a kind sort of way.  I thanked her for sharing her space and shared my card, which she accepted while trying to very tactfully admit that she’s not Christian, but she respects a lot of Jesus’ message.  I let her know that’s perfect, because my project tried very hard to illustrate how a very valid Christianity is incredibly generous and community-oriented, dedicated to taking care of those around us.  That struck a note, because she expressed some frustration with the gulf between what Jesus seemed to teach, versus all the harm that’s done in his name.

We had to break that off, as Reverend Gail Tapscott kicked off the meeting.  We heard from Hatian immigrant Romane Petit about the commonalities of the struggles faced in Haiti and here, and from Steve in the difficulties faced by himself and his coworkers.  One strong example was the woman who was working three jobs at minimum wage to support her five children, and couldn’t afford health insurance even though it was offered through the union.  Following him was Alex Johnson to talk through the foreclosures process in  Florida and how to fight it, but about halfway through I spotted the back of a familiar head.

It was Enrique, one of my favorite baristas at Your Big Picture Cafe, where my son loves to go flirt and play with Legos while chatting along with us as only a 17-month-old can do.  (For the record, they’re all my favorite, and Jasmine we’ll miss you terribly!)  He was there with Food Not Bombs, yet another group I’d kinda heard of but not fully connected to in my psyche until meeting them.  I ended up chatting with him and his friends for a while, missing some of the meeting and losing track of time.  (Thanks for the coffee folks, the food looked great but I wasn’t very hungry so I left it for others!)

It was a very busy time for them, so soon they had to go, and I happened to run into one more guy I’d spotted and wanted to hand my card to, just a’cause.  He was interested in what I was up to, and we sat outside chatting for a while rather than going in.

My new friend was Frank, who said he’d recently been of the planning committee, but as of last week was taking a break to take a step back.  (I’m sorry I forgot your last name, Frank, but it was a highlight of my weekend to be able to talk with you!)  He asked if he could read my project online or if he’d have to print it out, and I advised him that printing it out would be quite a bad idea, as it’s about 500 pages.  He very politely balked and asked if I had an editor, and then seriously insisted, had I an editor?  I answered yes, but it was a quick volunteer job, and I’m afraid my style is so “incorrect” it worked against the generous help…  (And yeah, I’ve got a technical writer and also an avid reader going over it again, making a few more corrections, but I figure it’s more important to own up to an correct my mistakes than freak out and hide them away in shame.)

Regardless, I asked him where he’s from, and he ran through the different places he’s been since Jersey, where he was originally from, and then quoted Robert Frost to say that if there’s any place he can go that has to take him, it’s here.  And as I told him, anyone who quotes Robert Frost makes me happy.  I mentioned where I’m from and what I do, and talked about “helping make sure what we can afford to offer and what we need to charge”, and he questioned the “we”.  “Don’t you mean they?” he asked?

And I explained that I did mean “we”.  Oh I don’t get too wrapped up in identifying with the company I work for, but I also don’t believe in trying to separate myself from what I do.  Where I participate in what the company does, I own it.  It’s my decision, it’s my work, and that makes it “we”.  I get frustrated at times though, and we talked about how hard it is to have patience with others, particularly when they don’t always have patience with you.

“But that’s the thing,” I said, “because the measure of who you are as a person is not how others treat you, but how you treat others.  Especially if they aren’t treating you so well.”

“That’s a pretty hard thing to remember,” Frank laughed as he said, or something to that effect.

I laughed, too.  “Oh definitely!  I never said it was EASY!  Just that it’s important.  So it’s worth the effort.  The important bit is to not let the frustrations bottle up.  You have to keep them in a bucket, and pull them out now and again with a friend, to let them out with some Recreational Griping.”

The term tickled him, and we talked a little more about the importance of letting off steam, and the concept of Master Teachers.  I was talking about the people who are most frustrating in life being those who can teach us the most, and he referred to the teachers of the autistic child in his life who call the children Master Teachers for their unique perspective.  For example, a six year old calmly explaining something to a teach who had spent years in graduate school attempting to master.

And that was when I heard the Raging Grannies were starting their bit, so I had to bid Frank goodbye with my thanks for the lovely chat.  I had stayed longer than I’d thought my ears would make it, and I didn’t want to miss their song in support of the Postal Workers, who’ve always been there for us.  (And not just my family friends growing up, I seriously love the U.S. Postal Service and want to see them get a fair deal.) Once they were done, I dropped the last few of my cards onto the table where Jarek was with the rest of the mini-papers, and he said he’d get them handed out as we said goodbye.

I got the chance to say goodbye to my friend with the grey braids before I went, and she laughed off my compliments with a “Yeah, we were a real professional group, you could tell!”  I dismissed her dismissal by insisting I thought they were perfect, and was grateful for it.

Then it was time to go.  So I collected my umbrella from outside the door, and trekked back past all the merry bumper stickers to my car.  And on the windshield was a final little connection from my first reaching out to the Occupy movement.  There were three feathers right in front of my eyes, like a miniature angel had popped by with its blessings from the realm between the righteous and the wicked, where everything is Shades of Grey.  (I presume the pigeon was not harmed in the shedding of these feathers.)

And that really was the perfect way to sum the whole thing up.  People can tend to think of Occupy as a hard-edged band of rabble to whom everything is an Us versus Them of Black and White.  As though they’re just another case of You’re Either With Us or Against Us.

But that’s not it.  It’s not even close.  Because we all have this sense of something not quite right in the world, of there being something we’re supposed to be or have that isn’t quite coming through.  Some of us turn to our community for answers, some to a church, some to politics, and some to all three.  But however and whenever we seek out a way to fix that feeling of brokenness, the fact remains that it’s up to each of us to make our own solutions, however we can.  Even the top 1% of the top 1% who are doing so much to harm those around them, they also bear the same problems and responsibilities of a fractured world.

So in this quest against that feeling of Something Not Quite Right, there is no Us, and there is no Them.  There is only team We the People, and nowhere is that open-hearted community more genuinely felt than the welcoming arms of Occupy groups and those who comprise them. The marches and protests and fighting against police-state abuses are very important, but equally or even more important are the meeting of minds and hearts that don’t always agree, but struggle to find the common ground from which we may all move our world forward.

So if you’re looking for ways to try a new patch-job on that aching hunger in your soul, I strongly recommend you take a look at the resources on Occupy Together to find a group near you. If there isn’t one, or if for some reason you can’t make it in person, start following an online community, maybe even add a comment or two. You don’t have to put yourself on a police line to make a difference.

Just please, remember, Occupy isn’t an exclusive club, or even a militant movement.  It’s a mindset of exercising your Inalienable Rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, and protecting those rights for others.  Even if you keep to yourself, make it a point to be more mindful of who and where you are, and occupy your own space.

Above all, please, learn the courage and self-confidence to Occupy your own space.  And when you find you need some help in that, you don’t have far to look.  There’s people all around you willing to stand by you and Occupy Together.

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Recently I was talking again about the so-called Crab Mentality.  I don’t know how accurate this is about actual crabs, but the idea is that when you’re out gathering crabs from the shore, you don’t need a lid for your bucket.  You just need two or three in there, and they’ll keep pulling each other back down if one of them starts to make it out.

I’m sure we’ve all got examples the analogy brings to mind.  What I’ve started to think of lately, though, is how we’ll pull ourselves back and hold ourselves down, rather than wait for someone else to do it for us.  We’ll keep our heads down and our mouths shut rather than let us put ourselves out there or otherwise break free of our quiet little rut.  I’ll bet that idea brings some examples to mind, too.

Now don’t think I’m saying we oughtn’t be mindful of how and when we put ourselves or our ideas forward.  I’m all for the habit of taking a moment to think about how something you do or say may come across.  Big-headed arrogance not only puts people off what you’d otherwise have to share, it obscures your own view, too.  The little voice that says, “Did you think this one through?” — that’s worth listening to.

But the voice that starts off with “Do you really think you deserve…”  That’s the Crab Mentality.  When we start to share our thoughts and talents, the Crab Voice butts in with “Do you really think you deserve to take the spotlight?”  When we step forward to take our turn, it pokes at us with “Do you really think you deserve to go ahead of all those other people?”  And worst of all, when we stop to appreciate all the beautiful gifts life has given us, our hearts are weighted down with an oppressive, “Do you really think you deserve these things when there are so many who want?  What makes you think you have a right to be happy, when there is so much misery in the world?”

That last bit is what hit me this morning.  I was thinking of my fantastically wonderfully rewarding life, with enough food to eat and safety and shelter and so much love and joy and plenty, and I actually started to feel guilty for being so lucky.  As though receiving these blessings meant another had to go without.

And this is even though I already know that’s not how the world works.  Life is a place of plenty, and the more we enjoy and share that bounty, the more of it there is.  If this was about wasting water or gobbling up limited resources, that’d be one thing.  But this was about treasuring the fulfillment of simple wants, and basking in the glow of tender moments.  You know, the sorts of things that make the world greater, not less.

I know that taking suffering into your own heart doesn’t remove it from others.  I know that you can’t lessen the hurt in the world by embracing pain.  I know that the world needs happiness and joy to be shared within and among as many hearts as possible, that this is the only way to reduce the misery and pain that’s out there.

That’s why it feels so silly to admit I actually felt bad about being happy.  Because I know better.  I guess that just goes to show that being aware of the subconscious push to commodify and objectify happiness, doesn’t always make you immune.  It’s so easy to let yourself be just another prisoner of the war against a more peaceful world.

So I decided that’s what I’d write about today.  I still feel a nervous twinge of guilt, but it’s fading.  Cause as I’m sitting here typing I realize I have a choice: I can either subtract from the joy in this world or add to it.  Everything else aside, it’s just so darn much more fun to choose the latter, so I’m gonna practice that.

And as much as I hear unspoken voices asking me if I have the right to indulge in this happiness, I can’t help but ask, “Voices, what makes you think you have the right to add to the misery in this world by demanding mine?”

And a poem for National Poetry Month…

It’s what you wear from ear to ear
at least, that’s what they say
But when it’s time to curse or praise,
they tell it another way

“Who does she think she is?” they ask
if she’s too pretty or too plain
“He’s drowning in denial,” they sneer
if his failures don’t show enough pain

“Money can’t buy happiness”, they nod
while they try to sell you a slice
All while they claim to measure Success
not by merit, but by amortized price

So they hound as they hoard and condemn as they preen
While they suckle at wealth they demand we all wean
If you hurry after them, you just might see and be seen

But for my part,
with a peaceful heart,
I’d far rather bask in the glory of Nature’s green.

Join me my friend,
and through to the end,
and we’ll hold court with life’s true kings and queens.

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As I’ve mentioned, I don’t tend to like talking religious specifics, but that’s only because I tend to view them as rather personal.  It’s absolutely not a matter of not being familiar with them.  Though I will admit I tended to see the specifics differently from how many would say I was supposed to view them.

I was raised in the Mormon tradition by a very traditional Mormon family, and studied some of the religion at the very traditional Brigham Young University.  I grew up reading the Book of Mormon and other Mormon scripture as well as the Bible, every single day.  Read all of them cover-to-cover a few times, and came away with a very loving, giving and forgiving message.

To me, the Word of God was all about treating one another with unconditional love and compassion, answering every need with charity and every hurt with tenderness.  It was not our place to judge what others would choose, merely to offer what we felt was a wise example through our kindness and support of their troubles in life.  We were expected to keep only what we needed for ourselves, sharing the rest so that all may be cared for, in body as well as in spirit.  All were our brothers and sisters, to be sustained through the bonds of community without judgment of who (or what) others would call them.

Yeah, like I said, some would say I wasn’t getting the message.  However, I came across an article the other day that reflected my own thoughts back to me:

Ironically, while Romney would prefer to discuss wealth inequality in “quiet rooms,” the topic consumed both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young’s sermons and writings. For a short time in the Book of Mormon, the Nephites abandoned their love of riches and established “Zion” — a classless utopia that “had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, but they were all made free.”

The Nephite story provided the template for Smith and Young’s social experiments with communalism. They would both try repeatedly to replicate the mythic Zion. Smith repeatedly told his followers, “if you are not equal in earthly things you cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things.” Young also championed wealth redistribution, “We have plenty here. No person is going to starve, or suffer, if there is an equal distribution of the necessaries of life.”

When Mormons Were Socialists: Why the Mormon Church’s Founders Would be Very Disappointed in Mitt Romney by Troy Williams

I remembered seeing a church musical all about a young pioneer woman who resented the communal economy of the early city of Zion, only to become disillusioned with the soulless materialism of the world outside.  She returned to find them throwing out their communal values to chase the American Dream, and imploringly sang to them the same chorus they had sung to her about the shininess of materialistic wants: “It doesn’t matter!  It doesn’t matter!”

I found it pretty goofy and overblown for what I figured was an old message that went without saying.  I was pretty disappointed when I realized that it still needed to be said, and to people who continue to profess more public Mormon piety than I ever felt I should.

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Today I’m blogging off a comment I put down for Jo Ann J. A. Jordan, one of WordPress’s many genuine poets.  While writing it, I realized I want to tell this to everyone, and for them to feel the truth in it. Let’s see how this goes…

One of life’s tragedies is that we feel as though we have to seek permission to honor in ourselves the ways we follow the calling of our souls.  It’s like we don’t have the right to be who we know we must become, unless some group of people with sufficient authority grants us their permission through honors or awards.

Alan Watts got it right when he said it’s a mistake to to try to separate something being done from the thing that’s doing it.  As I ended up writing it once, truth lives not through nouns, but through verbs.  We are what we do.  If one writes, one is a writer.  If one sings, one is a singer.  If one dances, one is a dancer.  If one creates, one is a creator.  That’s because a writer is one who writes, a dancer is who sings, and so on.  Descartes had it backwards: I am, therefore I think.

Somehow, we lost that.  I won’t get into my theories on how this happened, but we got trained to look outside for validation.  This oppressive need for outside validation is part of what makes people arrogant and obnoxious over whether they or others have a rightful claim to particular nouns.  Some people get pompous and ridiculous over nouns they seize, further discouraging the humble among us from feeling like we can use them.

Forget about all that.  It doesn’t matter.  What matters is who you do, because this is what creates who you are.  You create to feed a hunger in your soul.  Let it feed you.  Don’t question whether you have a right to how good the soulfood makes you feel — it’s yours.  You need it.  EAT IT.

Would it be great for more people to find and enjoy and reward you for your work?  YES!  Is that needed for it to be valuable?

No.

You are a part of this world.  That means your presence inherently makes a difference in what the world becomes.  You can’t escape that.  When you care for yourself and find value in this, then your difference is a good one.

And that’s what matters.

So please, do what brings you joy.  Remember to smile at yourself, and feel the warm glow of doing what you cherish.  That right there is the greatest service to world peace.

If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.

Thich Nhat Hanh

And because I promised, a poem on sports for the Poem a Day challenge:

My doubt falls away

I no longer need to win

Running is the race

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You know how when you’ve got something new in your life, it’s like suddenly reminders of it are showing up all around you?  Somehow you know that they always had to be there, it’s just that now you’re noticing them.  At the same time though, it absolutely feels like they’re there simply because you’re looking for them.

That’s how I felt once I started really getting into the theology and politics of When Atlas Shirked.  When I started writing about…

  • The difficulties faced by pregnant women and especially teens, news started really hitting me about so-called Personhood Initiatives were leading to the criminalization of and punishment for difficulties with pregnancy, or even accidents.
  • Toxic economic and ecological conditions in factory towns, Revered David Bouie invited the Koch brothers to visit his home in the cancer-plagued neighborhood of a town I visited family in just over a decade ago.
  • Efforts to prevent “those people” from voting, Voter ID and other disenfranchisement efforts were hitting the news full-swing.
  • A sinister national firewall used to silence criticism and dissent, then the next say SOPA comes out so much worse that I actually have to rewrite that section
  • Puppeteering of public opinion through manipulating peoples’ emotions of fear and disgust, science starts reporting again on the primal nature of disgust and how disgust shapes politics
  • Sexual abuse and assault in the workplace and the military, a wave of articles reference statistics on incidents and reporting, particularly in the military.
  • Religious freedom in the military, and I start finding the infiltration of the American military by extremist sectarians that are so relentlessly aggressive in turning the armed forces into their taxpayer-funded missionary force, a group of soldiers have to struggle to fight for their right to serve under the American Constitution, not these sectarians.  (And 96% of those soldiers are Christian, just not the same kind as the extremist sectarians.)
  • The labyrinthine mishmash of the industrial food business and start seeing folks talk about the effects of GMO on public health (despite some GMOs starting to fail), and states tried to pass laws that would make it illegal to document abuses by the agricultural industry
  • The importance of sharing a non-reactionary, Christlike perspective on Christianity, and the news out there seems to push more and more the idea that Christianity = Extremist Judgmentalism, making it harder for people of faith to connect those around them with their story.
  • Oh right, and the day after I started writing, a group of folks had a little get-together in Zuccotti Park.

Anyway, I know none of these are new issues.  But in a crash-course of just a few months, they all started hitting me over the head in wave after wave of new perspectives.  Things that I thought I understood, I found myself questioning and re-evaluating, growing alongside Liz as I explored through my own experiences what she might be trying to say about her own, alternate world.

I do realize that most of what I linked up there is pretty depressing.  It’s a bunch of mega-downers, a cavalcade of all that’s going wrong in our world.  But note that most of the links are from groups that are working on solutions to these issues.  I didn’t feel surrounded by gloomy problems, but by courageous people staring straight into the void, and rather than blinking, start lighting up their candles to fight the darkness.   I haven’t even touched all the beautifully wonderful examples of positive change from Yes Magazine alone!

And that’s what continued to drive me to write.  It’s what helped me feel so electrically engaged, despite all the heartaches of peoples’ tragedies, despite the downward trajectory of national trends, and despite being sick with a sequence of colds and flus from the last two weeks of December through much of February.

I felt the passionate optimism of all those out there, working hard in their own ways to help our world overcome our crises, calling to their communities to join them in building a better future.  This inspiration carried through into Liz Franklin’s ceaseless faith in the power of Love in her own world, giving me greater hope for how it can transform ours.

That’s why I kept my eyes and ears open to the cavalcade of coincidental news, working almost obsessively to help it shape what I was trying to share.  That’s why I let myself feel driven to push this out so hard, so fast, getting Liz Franklin’s story into written form.

Of course, now that means I need to find a way to take this message of hers, and get it to folks in a way that someone else out there can actually read it, maybe even benefit.  Funny how that works, huh?

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So the funny thing is, my book was supposed to be non-fiction: half-memoir, half-philosophy, half-childrearing.  (Yes, it was supposed to be three halves.)  It actually started off that way, with me starting to talk about having recently become a parent who had a pretty good bead on how to really pay attention to the kid’s tiny wants and needs.  I started talking about some of my past and how I felt it had helped me get my head situated, thinking maybe I could convey some idea of what worked for me in a way that might help out somebody else.

I think I got about a page or so in before the story got away from me, having been claimed by Liz Franklin.  I even had to go back and completely redo what I’d written, because it was her past I needed to write, not mine.  Before I knew it, she had introduced me to her Incorporated States of America, and had begun dictating her life story as quickly as I could type.

And I had to type pretty fast to keep up.  She had a lot to say, this fictional activist for a more Christlike community, and I felt like this figment wanted it said right, and right away.  Whenever I took too long to get a chapter down, I started to feel the crushing weight of an arbitrary deadline.  I actually had trouble getting to sleep at times, unless I promised myself I’d put extra time to writing the following day.

I don’t know how that sounds to you, but to me it was pretty odd, and at times incredibly annoying.  As I told a friend of mine, I felt less like an author and more like a fictitious medium.  It was more Ghost than Ghost Whisperer, though, with me feeling more like Whoopi Goldberg than Jennifer Love Hewitt.

Not to say it was all a six-month episode of automatic writing 500+ pages.  A lot of my own understanding of social, economic, community and even spiritual justice went into When Atlas Shirked.  I gave up much of my Thanksgiving vacation heavily researching income distribution and tax structures, struggling to ascertain a relatively simple representation of the system in my own America, and how to convey its ridiculous unfairness in a remotely engaging form.  (See Chapter 8: We used to think, but now we know.)  My entire Christmas/New Years Break was spent trying to disentangle the vast spaghetti-bowl of the global agribusiness-energies-tradewars Unholy Pact, and what this could mean to Liz and the hazardous state of her world.  First Quarter 2012 was a struggle to keep up with an incredibly stressful push at my day job, give my little guy loving attention until his bedtime, and then research and describe what it could take for an Interfaith community to lead the charge against a final push by the Totalitarian Kleptocracy that was claiming their country.  But as draining as it all was, the pushing from the story matched the pull I felt from things in my own world that deserve greater attention, that need so much to be heard.

So yeah, while I can’t fully explain why I felt so driven to push through a Christian-perspective narrative of fighting for Social Justice, it’s no mystery where it came from.  Though Liz Franklin’s America is not our America, it could be — for bad or for good, depending on how well we connect with one another to find solutions to the crises we’re facing.

What does surprise me is that my story is so very religiously Christian, since I’ve always considered religious details to be a rather personal matter.  (You’ll note that the Archives in this blog are rather Omnidenominational.)  I guess it makes sense though, since the current narratives in the American discourse are dominated by a Christian perspective that’s so at odds with the one I grew up believing.  It actually rather hurts to see such divisiveness and judgmentalism pushed forward as the only possible Christian perspective, and I kept waiting for folks to understand that there is another way.  I figured it was really important for the world to understand this, so I waited patiently for that understanding to come.

Though as very patient as I can be, I can be even more relentlessly persistent once that point of patience has passed.  I guess part of me figured it was done waiting, and had to give a shot at helping that message be spread.

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Wow, so I’m trying to share some thoughts about When Atlas Shirked, and I find I’m not sure where to begin!  So I figure I’ll start at the beginning.

As you can tell from the archives, I’m pretty free with my thoughts once they get going, but haven’t been that good at sharing them consistently.  I absolutely never saw myself able to hold a train of thought long enough to write a book.  In fact, that’s the one thing I always swore I’d never be able to do.

So then one day I was sitting in a coffee shop that was hosting a regional job fair, supporting the friend who needed a ride.  While she was going through the rounds of interviews, I helped keep track of other applicants’ seats and watched their stuff.  Between their own interviews, I chatted with them and generally tried to help them feel more relaxed at the prospect of competing for the limited jobs that are out there.

I ended up speaking alone with this guy named Dean.  The topic had turned to “where we’re from”, and I talk about coming from a relatively fundamentalist Christian background, and how I learned much from that to carry with me in all the other ways I’ve learned to learn, and so on.  I then said something like, “You know, the usual.”

He then politely informed me that he didn’t see that as usual, at all.  Rather, whenever talk turns to things like religion or Christianity especially, it’s generally fairly divisive in an All or Nothing kind of way.  That either one is completely, doggedly pro-their-own-religion and anti-all-else, or one has renounced one’s old religion with quite some unkind things to say about where they’ve been.  And that he never has seen someone so casually respectful of all people and their hopes and beliefs, certainly not sitting chatting in a coffee shop.  Those weren’t his exact words, but that’s generally what I took away from what he said.

Though I resisted it at first, I soon realized he was right, which was so very wrong.  Cause I think most people are somewhat aware of that interconnectedness among us, and all it would take is some decent examples to help us share it.

So, on Dean’s advice/request, I went home and started to try writing some decent examples.  Within a day or so the project had taken on a life of its own, somewhat taking over mine.  For months, I struggled to keep up with it as well as the rest of my full-time life, barely making it through.  I wasn’t even sure just where I was going with it, just that it had somewhere it wanted to go.  And that I felt pretty strongly that I had to help it get there.

And that led me to letting a book come into being, without much thought to where it was going to go once it got here.  Which is not at all the way I’d recommend writing and releasing a novel, especially one you’d like folks to find and read.  I definitely would have planned out target audiences, and researched how to write what they would seek out, and so on and so forth.  It feels really a backwards way of doing things, now that I stop to think about it.

But if I’d ever stopped to think about it, I would have been paralyzed from moving forward.  I certainly never would have written half of what went into that book.  So I wouldn’t even be here, wondering what just happened.

I guess, out of all those 594 words I just wrote, that’s the lesson from this whole post.  Something I’m going to go brew a hot cup of tea and have a nice, long think about.

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As mentioned in my last post, I am in the process of finishing up a project.  I have just finished a book, When Atlas Shirked.  It has just been launched as an eBook via an experimental publishing house, Nexus of Now Media.  It can be purchased at the site (though the immediate download isn’t working, due to issues with the server), or also at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

To save resources (ours and the earth’s), it has been launched as a Digital First Edition.  I’m planning to have it available via print, so since our funding’s pretty low, we’ve launched a Kickstarter Pledge Drive.  We’ve set a relatively ambitious goal of $2,500 to be raised in the next 28 days, ambitious because we’re charging ahead with getting stuff out there before advertising, etc.  That’s what’s making this “experimental”.

Why are we pushing so hard, so fast?  Because we want to get the message out.  This book is the culmination of so many of my hopes and dreams and concerns and fears for my fellow human beings, and that has made it equal parts philosophy, religion, politics, community, relationship, science fiction, and even psychology.  It’s told in first-person retrospective from a young Christian woman, whose understanding is opened up through Love to other ways of seeing the world.  And most of all, it’s a book of Love, at a time when I feel our world needs Love more than ever.

Because you see, I feel we’re at a bit of a crossroads.  Especially in America, we’ve got folks all at each others’ throats, treating one another like enemies even though we’re all really on the same team.  In life on this planet, there’s no Us versus Them, since we all sink or swim together.  So the hope is that through When Atlas Shirked, we could spread the message of how we could stop dragging each other down, so we can save ourselves together.

I’ll be writing more over the next while about what I’m trying to share in When Atlas Shirked.  In the meantime, you can read the first three chapters here.

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Last night I was reading Cary Tennis’ advice column in Salon again, where he answered a churchgoing man in a churchgoing family that’s a part of a tightly-knit churchgoing community. The man’s difficulty is that he had become agnostic, and was no longer sure that he fully agreed with all that the church he went to espoused. But he was concerned about whether he should tell his wife or friends about his shifting beliefs, his unanswered questions and unspoken answers. He didn’t want to cause any pain and heartache but he also didn’t want to be dishonest, and frankly, he was feeling pretty alone about it.

It got me thinking about the very doubt there is about belief itself. Not only is there the issue of whether our beliefs are correct, but also whether they provide us a place in our community, or in heaven, or even in a state of peace. It’s so much more than an issue of being right; it becomes an issue of merit, of belonging. If we’re wrong on fundamental issues, there’s the threat that it could set us up for a truly isolated, horrible time of it for the rest of our lives, or even for the rest of forever. Like uncertainty needs all the extra baggage to make it easier to sort out, right?

So when pondering thoughts of the great global belief war, I usually end up thinking about the baseline rhythm of love that I feel thrumming throughout every corner of the universe. Yeah, there’s some real disharmony out there, but under it all is that current-countercurrent of uncompromisingly binding open-hearted love that has outlasted every single bit of harm thrown around, and I figure, will continue to override our best efforts to thwart it. It’s a force bigger than we are. And it loves us. And at the most minute focal-point of it all, that’s all there is to it.

Here’s how Cary put it:

May I say one thing regarding my own perhaps crazy beliefs on the subject? I really believe it is possible that a grace exists in the universe that in caring for you and saving you does not care one whit whether you believe in it or not, and does not care what you think is true: a grace whose intelligence is so freely boundless and beyond us that whatever we think of it does not even occur to it, or occurs to it the way the consternation of a dog occurs to us when we bathe it. We take note of the consternation of the dog but we do not find it persuasive; we already know what we’re going to do with the dog. We’re going to bathe the dog.

Cary Tennis

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