Joy is Not Made to be a Crumb

Self-care for people who can't be bothered to do it

Joy is not made to be a crumb

I keep flipping this Mary Oliver line over and over in my brain like a koan. My first thought was that I loved it because it makes me think of baked goods. But that’s just extra. The whole poem is perfection. 

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,

don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty

of lives and whole towns destroyed or about

to be. We are not wise, and not very often

kind. And much can never be redeemed.

Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this

is its way of fighting back, that sometimes

something happens better than all the riches

or power in the world. It could be anything,

but very likely you notice it in the instant

when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the

case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid

of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

—-

Mary Oliver was anywaying before most of us were born. The message is simple, of course. The world is crap, seize joy. But I need this beautifully written reminder to not be afraid of life’s plenty. I’m good at leaving the bar before that last regrettable Jägermeister shot. Trick statement. All Jägermeister shots are regrettable.

We are always in a hurry in the morning, so what’s one more family dance party tune? Life is fickle and people are mowed down. My cousin Deborah’s wonderful Bulgarian dance teacher was struck dead by lightning, even though well-minded minders tell us such things never happen. So when the moment is full of the literal crumbs (bread and cereal all over my son’s face) of joy, I want to say yes, Teddy, we can squeeze in one more dance before school! I need this koan to remind me to do so.

So much of my climate lament has been endless variations upon the theme of ‘we are not wise.’ But seeking to rectify that shouldn’t preclude me from savouring all the joy I can soak into my bones, right? We can be foolish and still savour the crumbs. My niece Dahlia is only four and yet so wise. Walking home from dinner while eating a Kit Kat, she announced to my dad, “I’m savouring it.” She even savours the word savour, drawing it out over a few adorable seconds.

At our office my amazing friend Luke came to speak to us about accessibility. He’s the founder of Stopgap, an organization that has built over 2,000 door ramps across Canada, making businesses and amenities accessible to people who couldn’t otherwise access them. Luke uses a wheelchair after an extreme mountain biking event gone awry. Basic things are much more difficult for him, and yet he’s one of the most hilarious, positive, and generous people you’ll ever meet. 

He told us that before his accident he was eating a piece of pie from one plate. Now, he’s eating a different slice on a different plate. He’s not sure if the piece is the same size, but it still tastes delicious, perhaps even more so. And he’s enjoying every last crumb.

This weekend my sister and three of her friends (with a median age of 70 between them!) held a huge music and dance festival in Montreal. It was the culmination of hours upon hours of effort. And it was excellent. Even though we’d been there since 9 a.m., at 2 a.m. I watched my sister laughing and beaming as she danced. It was a perfect vision of a person who recognizes joy and literally leaps to meet it. There may also have been some Slivovitz involved. My point is that there are people who take Oliver’s words to heart all around me. Lightness of spirit. 

This week 

Does climate grief keep you from fully embracing joy? Are you able to find and relish joy even if we’re a deeply foolish species? Hope so. Send me your joyful crumbs if you’re so inclined.

Good reads

Bill McKibben in The New Yorker on following.the.money.

The new face of climate activism is young, angry - effective in Vox.

License to wear a unitard and dance in the middle of an intersection has been granted to me

Fer serious

I was wrong about climate art.

Mostly. 

Reader Casey wrote this, and it sums up my wrongery best - 

I like to think that creating art that is mindful of the potential for positive change may in fact evoke that positive change in more than me.

That’s it. Just entertaining the idea that something you make may inspire change is enough. Whether anyone actually take inspiration from your dance quintet is mostly beside the point. If a tree falls in the forest, at least there’s a forest that hasn’t been burned by Bolsonaro. Just this week a friend added me to Artists for Real Climate Action, where everyone from a climate mime to modern dancers are busily making climate art, or at least talking about making climate art. If Climate Mime feels empowered by his work, that’s enough. If one or two others do as well, that’s just panto gravy.

Writes Tess: 

I’m knee deep in a film about prison inmates working on a farm. It’s criminal justice meets agriculture. And after a day of listening to these inmates talk about what is meaningful to them and how this farming gives them pride when all the world has for them is shame, I read this and remembered, “what about climate change”. They work outside everyday on the shores of the Rideau which is swelling into their crops. 

Just making art through the lens of climate change means all sorts of new layers. I can’t wait to see this film. Speaking of film, Jennifer writes:

I just watched Wasted! the food waste doc directed by Anna Chai and Nari Kye. It manages to communicate the seriousness of the problem, while at the same time showcasing so many beautiful ways to divert food waste at every level. It also manages to be the beautifully shot food porn we're used to from series like Cooked and Salt Fat Acid Heat, which of course is partly the point: food is beautiful and shouldn't be wasted! Also funnily enough, it's executively produced by Anthony Bourdain (RIP), and he brings his classic acerbic dark humour to it. At the very end, he even talks about how if he had his way, this whole project would have been a lot darker, but obviously they had consciously made a doc that didn't need a Big Lebowski chaser. Highly recommend. 

And then there’s the climate art that is just so epic and beautiful it can’t make me blue. Todd shared this wondrous piece on Facebook, and I keep going back to look at it over and over again.

I thought poetry about climate woe would make my want to cry/die/lie in a pool of lukewarm jello, but reader Josette sent me some poems about parenthood and planet that were lovely. This one is so good:

I loved this piece from The Nation on XR and hope not despair. This para in particular: 

The lesson here is not that any one strategy is particularly efficacious. It’s that collective action is the surest antidote to solitary despair. This is something that Americans have largely forgotten. When I asked Clare Farrell, another founding XR organizer, how she managed to keep afloat despite the ever-rising tide of apocalyptic news, she answered by recalling an early XR slogan: “Hope dies, action begins.”

I love the art of good climate writing (not looking at you, Franzen), and the by turns wry and earnest language of planetary sloganeering. Hope dies, action begins. It’s equal parts bad Bond film title and perfect climate cri de coeur. Lord knows, we need both.

THIS WEEK

You don’t need to like climate art to make your own. Make a Global Climate Strike poster or graphic, wontcha, and share it somewhere PUBLIC.

LAST WEEK

I did ask my boss if we could close for climate, and I am so happy to report that he said yes. I wrote a piece about it for our company blog, and am hoping I can get more Canadian companies to hop on board. You? Any luck?

This newsletter now has 500 subscribers (wtf!). If you like it, tell a friend. If you hate it, tell two!

Have a wonderful week! 

Oh right, the unitard thing is here!

If you fail to plan, you plan to eat ice cream and watch Netflix

Or, put the Global Climate Strike in your calendar?

For a long time I’ve just assumed that I would never be able to participate in civil acts of disobedience because I don’t have the time. I don’t have time is my party line, and because I love rigorous adherence to my own tropes, I’d never thought to question it. Until yesterday.

I have time. I have time to do all the things I deem “essential,” like making unattractive cakes, and looking at pictures of unattractive cakes, and taking my children to various activities they will likely never medal in. Yes, I exhaust my vacation days and then some, but if I actually care about something (like the existential threat of climate crisis), shouldn’t I build that concern into how I allocate the time I clearly do have? 

In order to treat this allocation of time with the same seriousness I would a vacation, I booked the day off for the global climate strike. I turned my Facebook ‘interested’ to a highly committal ‘going,’ which lets you know I am not here to play. I am suddenly full of frenetic bliss at the thought of willfully allocating time to trying my hand at this peaceful civil disobedience thing. 

But just moments after my initial revelation that I could give of my own time, I had a second revelation, prompted in no small part by the Objectivismy sounding Australian tech company known as Atlassian. They’ve joined a laudatory effort to encourage employees to attend the Global Climate Strike. It’s called Not Business as Usual, and 20+ Australian companies have signed up.  Here in Toronto, generous bosses cheerfully let their employees skip away to the Raptors victory parade. Why not the same top-down support for those wanting to stave off apocalypse? I’ve asked my boss if we can allow all interested employees to go. I’ve asked my boss if we can spearhead a similar Canadian initiative. I’ll keep you posted.

THIS WEEK

Will you ask to take Friday, September 20th or 27th off wherever you are? Will you carve out calendar time for action? LMK!

LAST WEEK

I got so many interesting art recommendations, ideas, poems, bits of brilliance. I will stop baking ugly cakes so that I have the time to compile them for next week! Thank you to everyone.

READING

Such a good little piece on reframing, and how Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is a master of rephrasing the ask when she gets a divisive, baiting question thrown at her.

And while I’m Warrening, Jay Inslee DIDpave the climate path, so his campaign was certainly not for naught.

Have a great week!

That rainforest really ties the planet together

The Big Lebowski, doom art, and my love of deformed cakes. (Yes, really.)

(TikTok gal trying Kombucha!)

The Dude abides. I don't know about you, but I take comfort in that. It's good knowing he's out there, the Dude, takin' 'er easy for all us sinners.

— The Stranger  (Sam Elliott)

When I was 18 I won a seemingly wonderful paid summer internship at the Jewish Community Centre in South Florida. My job was to catalogue their entire film library. It was the perfect gig for a film student who hated the beach in August.  Ninety percent of the library was Holocaust films. I’d watch hours upon hours per day, and emerge blinkered and blinking into the scalding light of the late-afternoon Boca Raton sun. The relentlessly dismal film fare was interesting (especially to a child of Holocaust survivors) but mood destabilizing. Weeks of chronicling humanity at its most depraved, in films that ranged from boring to emotionally devastating, took their toll. To this day, when people tell me there’s a new film or book about the Holocaust, my initial response is, “another one?

Wow, I meant to do a light post, after last week’s fem rage and revolt. Where is the Lebowski you promised me, Sarah? It’s coming, dudes. The point I’m crudely inching towards is one about the horrible things we choose to make art about, and whether they change behaviour. Yes, we need films about the Holocaust —but do I have to watch them? Yes, we need art about climate change — but do I have to look at it?

It’s a heathenous thing to admit, I know. And a bit rich coming from someone who soaked up her fair share of Canada Council grants making self-indulgent animations about her grandparents’ lives. But at the same time … I am the person who is NEVER in the mood to watch Schindler’s List. I’ve been 32% of the way through Tanya Talaga’s horrific account of life in Thunder Bay for a year now (I WILL finish it). I generally feel so beaten up by the state of the world that when I get home I have no bandwidth left for the horrible. I just need to look at Nailed Its. 

But lately something has shifted. I saw the incredibly smart and hilarious film Booksmart, and pretty much laughed for an hour-and-a-half straight. And yet the next day I puzzled over how there was not a single mention of climate in the film. I know … what kind of weirdo thinks about these kinds of things? But in a movie that was so on point, so perfectly of the moment in every other way (The two main characters have a safe word: Malala) the lack of even the palest acknowledgement of our climate crisis felt strangely off. 

Last week Globe and Mail writer Marsha Lederman published a pretty great opus about her efforts to explore climate art. She writes about feeling similarly attuned to art that doesn’t even nod to climate:

In the middle of my climate-art immersion, life – and work – went on. I saw two plays at Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, both excellent, but I walked away those nights thinking, “Yes, but climate change.”

And while I ripped through both seasons of Fleabag and didn’t think about the apocalypse even once, I have mostly been consuming art and reconsidering, through a new lens, art that I’d already seen.

In the piece Lederman reads climate books, interviews climate authors, goes to climate art shows, and generally muses on the question of whether art will save us. (Answer: maybe?) She talks about art’s power to move the action dial when nothing else will. I’m skeptical, but interested. Especially when she talks to The Dude.  

Or, as Jeff Bridges put it when I spoke to him about this, “Artists, man. They have tremendous things to kick in as far as the health of our planet. God, absolutely. From music to paintings to movies – everything.”

I asked whether he felt an obligation to make art about this issue, given the platform his fame offers.

“It’s a combination of responsibility, but it’s kind of like love too,” he answered. “My wife comes to mind. I have a responsibility to be a good husband, but it’s also a joy, a pleasure. I love my wife. So doing things in her favour, that’s in my favour, too; it makes me feel good." (As if we needed another reason to love the Dude.)

If it makes the Dude feel good, and moves change even a tiny bit, I’m on side. I’ll drink a White Russian and try to watch his climate change documentary, Living in the Future’s Past. But I may need to follow it with a Lebowski palate cleanser. In fact, if you would like to join me (and live within the KMs to do so, let me know!)

I think my ultimate feeling is that I like my damning information delivered in less arty forms. I’d rather read an IPCC report than hear Leo Di Caprio narrate one, though I know I’m in the minority there. 

Where I think climate art is most successful is when it’s embedded into everything, as it will only continue to be as the crisis escalates. I took my kids to catch the last hour of the Brian Jungen show at the AGO last week (as you do), and marvelled at how he weaves the story of humanity’s materialism into art that doesn’t scream THIS IS ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE. Instead, the effects of consumerism are literally woven into his work. Non-Canadians, if you don’t know Brian Jungen, he is our most amazing living artist! 

I love a giant straw installation as much as the next beverage aficionado, but if the point is to get people to move and change and react and engage, who knows.  I’m still puzzling over the efficacy of a 90-foot tall Shepard Fairey mural that doesn’t explicitly state that its about the climate crisis. It’s a beaut. But will it get anyone driving buy to vote climate? Will it do anything?

Anecdotally, I think the lighter stuff works better. Heavy documentaries about climate change have been around since Al Gore first opened KeyNote...and we’re not getting there. We know facts don’t sway people. We know social comparison and social norms often do, which is why art that embraces climate change and its havoc as part of the essential state of existing may do more than grave and gravelly-voiced documentaries and their portentous soundtracks. 

You? Have you watched all the climate docs and not wanted to crawl into a hole and die? LMK

THIS WEEK
Is there a piece of climate art that you love? Share it? And send to me pretty please.

LAST WEEK
The Daily had a great podcast on the Amazon yesterday.

Have a wonderful week!

How do you say fartnozzle in Portuguese?

On emotion, and who gets to write the climate narrative.

It’s not just the Amazon that’s on fire, it’s Feminist Climate Twitter. And I love it. The fire was partially started by this fantastically incisive Amy Westervelt piece on literary bro climate appropriation and its desire to cleave to epic narratives at the expense of, you know, the truth:

“There have always been a lot of women covering environmental stories, but the breakout stars, the loudest voices, have tended to be those of white men. More recently they are specifically literary white men, for whom climate change is the ultimate epic saga, in which all of humanity is both villain and hero. “We” had a chance to act on climate decades ago and blew it, the story goes, and now “we” must rise to the challenge and save humanity. If we don’t—and we’re unlikely to—”we” will have only ourselves to blame.”

This white literary male climate narrative tends to heap blame at the foot of humanity, on a collective ‘we’ that has never existed. We had it coming, they say, failing to take into account that the people who have had the power for hundreds of years are not the people who will suffer most. These writers frame the climate crisis in the most clichéd of narratives: we’ve done bad, but with a little collaboration and a few tweaks, we can kick this climate change nonsense and still make it to that N+1 reading. Conveniently, this narrative always leaves most of the entrenched power structures, inequality, and polished brogues in tact. Conveniently, this narrative always leaves out the fact that the “we” that got us into the mess was mostly the same “we” that is writing the story, facts be damned.

A complaint levelled at women and discussed at length in Westervelt’s piece is that we bring emotion and anger into the climate discussion. But making up epic stories about the arc of our human experiment in the name of storytelling is emotional narrative fallacy of the highest order. The emotion that women bring to the discussion is the opposite of a sweeping story. Instead, women often ground their stories in the emotion of the personal, which is actually the number one rule of climate communications — make it human, personable, relatable. 

I think what I bristle at most is the assuredness of voice, this strident solutionism. Jonathan Safran Foer is sure that if we just stopped eating meat we’d fix this pesky problem and be home in time for a nice tofu dinner. Yes, we do need to banish the beef. But we also need to fix the entire system that allowed us to destroy earth and equilibrium in the first place. Without that, we’ll be eating tofurkey on a scorched planet. 

The women climate writers and scientists I follow on Twitter are thoughtful, practical, and occasionally emotional … and that’s what makes them wonderful. Seeing their vulnerability, fear, and poetic reflection on the current state of the planet helps me a lot. And it gives me strength. Speaking of strength, back to Westervelt and another key point: 

“When I started learning more about climate change and what’s coming, I started running. You know, so I’ll be ready when the apocalypse comes.”

A few years ago my friend Carla said something similar about starting to work out so she could take on the fascists when the shit hit the fan (spoiler alert: the shit has hit the fan and she is jacked). I was equal parts surprised and impressed at the time. But I now hear this sentiment pouring from the mouths of kick-ass women all over the place. It comes from the opposite place of the elite writerly climate savant who thinks the world will be saved through tofu and geoengineering. Indeed, the women who give voice to these deeply physical and passionate commitments know from systemic inequality, as Westervelt explores in the piece. They know that it’s OK to be scared, to rage, and to practice their jabs, because this is no time for measured.

I was on a high last week, alive to the fact that being outside with friends, dancing, making music and drinking honeyed Slivovitz is the way to be. I came back to too many Twitter GIFs of a burning planet. It cued up the usual haze of everything is awful. But the raging ladies of Twitter made me realize that everything is beautiful and awful at the same time. And that I should take up kickboxing.

This Week

Woman, man, or cat, how do you rage against the dying of the Amazon? Let me know!

I raged against the ridiculousness of Elections Canada’s insane partisan climate announcement, which they summarily walked back/embarrassingly recalibrated, to little clarity. 

Reader and IG friend Erin made a cameo in my latest YES! Magazine comic, on fixing stuff, or spending all my time trying to fix stuff.

Last Week(s)

Mary told me what kind of a baked good she was: “I am a “tid-bit”...a cinnamon tid-bit to be precise. These are crispy sugar and cinnamon pieces of leftover pie crust. My mother always made sure there was extra crust trimmings.”

Sarah G. on Stuffism: I'd say my stuffism is maybe half made up of lust for new things that's driven by social media and the like. I feel a bit guilty about it, but I try to satisfy my lust by buying second hand. It's still capitalism, but at least it's extending the life of something that was unwanted, and I'm not giving my money to The Gap. Is Goodwill any better? I dunno, but sometimes I've got to stop driving myself mad with ethical dilemmas and just live.

The other half of my stuffism, though, is appreciation for the unique character and usefulness of old things. This half can feel like a cage of guilt over throwing anything away, no matter how useless or used up or unwanted. "I can't get rid of that, I grew up with that!" - said over a cracked coffee mug that my mom used to like that sat on my counter in a state of limbo for months. I struggle to distinguish between age and value. I'm also hyper aware that everything around me involved natural resources and labor, and I want to be respectful of these things and take care of them. Juliet Schor calls it True Materialism - a deep valuing of material goods because of the fact that they are made from finite resources. I'm proud of the fact that my house is furnished with entirely second-hand goods, but it's also just a bit more maximalist than I'd prefer, and sometimes I've taken on stuff from my family because it made me so sad that they would otherwise throw it away. Or even, "don't give it away, a stranger wouldn't appreciate it like I will!" Ugh! My grandparents were avid antique-ers and ran stalls at what they called swap meets, but I think were just flea markets. I definitely inherited a love/appreciation/desire for old stuff from them, as well as a bit of hoarding tendencies. Do you have any advice for breaking overly sentimental attachment to every. damn. little. thing?

I love this idea of True Materialism. Focusing on really appreciating things. Like rainforests and Slivovitz!

Have a wonderful week!

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