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A Fire Makes Its Own Weather

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Or some thoughts for my talk at the

2019 Re-Imagining End of Life in San Francisco

My pal Mara Holt Skov invited me to present the work of the ECOPOESIS Movement at Re-Imagining End of Life, city-wide gatherings from Oct 24 – Nov 2, 2019, in San Francisco. So I sat down today to prepare my talk. I got lost in my thoughts and before I knew it, the sun was setting over the Pacific. But it was the unusual orange-sherbet glow on my wall that caught my attention. The smoke from the Kincade fire, burning in Sonoma for five days and expected to burn at least until Nov 7, had amplified the colors in eery ways.

I am writing a talk that thinks about David Bowie’s song “Fashion” from Scary Monsters, and how he was responding to what was called the New Romantic movement in London, from about 1978 to 1980. The bands dressed in ruffled shirts,  nun-habit sorts of jackets, had architectural or flouncy hair, sported extreme make-up, the more outrageous the look, the better, all carefully pulled together for effect. Spandau Ballet, Talk Talk, Duran Duran, among others. Their sound was electro dance and they were in conversation with David Bowie’s remarkable spirit of reinvention.

I was thinking about reinvention and thinking of the 1980s and how in 1988, James Hansen testified to the US Congress that there was clear evidence of global warming. And how we needed to pay attention to our contribution, as humans, to re-shaping the Earth’s atmosphere. And we needed to act.

Of course, we heard this and then we did nothing. We kept eating foods from the agro-businesses, burgers and crops grown with ever-more intensive chemical helpers. We kept driving our cars, and in fact in America, the cars got bigger and pounded out more CO2. We did not build strong public transit options. We celebrated the extraction industries, the mining, by buying and indulging in their products to fuel our homes and businesses. We just kept right on burning our little fires, as it were. Then we all fell headfirst into the dream and lie of the tech bros and started burying our faces in screens. Who had time to worry about global warming! The systems were so complex it was impossible to see a way out. Wasn’t someone else working on it, too?

This leads us to a question, so shall we look at it? If we think about the song “Fashion,” we see Bowie responding to the New Romantics who were in turn responding to him. He has a particular point of view: He refers to the goon squad, we are the goon squad, that dictates a particular fashion behavior, and it seems he is not entirely on board. I have read interpretation that this strict adherence to the outrageous for the sake of the outrageous, he felt may have been saying, it was akin to a sort of cultural fascism. And he wanted us to look at it.

So what does this have to do with ecologies or end of life? Well, let’s say the discussion is how we all adhere to certain stories of our reality, how we see what we are all getting up to? That we can agree there are hard-sided realities in fact — like the Pacific Ocean is a reality.

Then there are our shared stories of how things are, more like the borders we draw between countries. Borders are a fiction that we all agree on. When we start disagreeing with these stories of how things are, the extreme end is, of course, revolution.

I think what ECOPOESIS is inviting us to do is far from revolution but it is indeed a form of revolt.

With ECOPOESIS, we have invited people to gather together with us to think about ecological topics and to make what we call “embodied messaging” about them.

When we first met in April, we gathered around one writer’s ideas and then we made expressions of how we feel about the times in which we live, using the text and the making to shape feelings and responses.

But before the final works were made, we spent hours in the morning focusing on another organizational tactic, which asked people to define three words that were occupying our minds: Remain, Resist, Retreat. ((In fact, we could have used any of the “re–” words we had gathered for our list. Recreate. Renovate. Reshape.))

What I am thinking I might talk about during my ECOPOESIS paper for Re-imagining end of life, is how now is the time to re-think our stories of how things are. And to tell better stories, stories that have more power and accuracy based on our shifting ecosystems and real needs to adapt and change, perhaps very quickly.

How we can push away the onslaught of apocalyptic visions of the looming future, a future where all of us, including humans, go extinct.

Or go to Mars.

Or get new AI headsets to allow us to think more quickly and adapt faster, or whatever the plan is in that department.

I am thinking that all revolts start as thoughts and then they become embodied. You refuse to give up your seat on a bus. You march to the sea to get salt. You stop going to school on Fridays to protest inaction on climate change.

I will publish the talk here.

 

 

ECOPOESIS: The Beauty of Embodied Conversation or…I don’t want you alone and terrified when you think about climate change

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I want to share some ECOPOESIS Movement thinkings and feelings that came before, during, and after a recent talk I gave at Maldives National University. Every time I talk about the ECOPOESIS Movement, I fall deeper into what it is inviting us to do as humans.

<<<<There were close to 180 people in the MNU auditorium that night – architects, designers, politicians, university administrators, faculty, and many many students — and that was so beautiful — they came to hear the headliner act, my brilliant colleagues from California College of the Arts, Margaret Ikeda and Evan Jones, who were presenting their work as part of BUOYANT ECOLOGIES. My work with ECOPOESIS is part of the Architectural Ecologies Lab at CCA, founded with Adam Marcus, also an architect and someone who sometimes works with ice.  I was honored to be there, to share some words about ECOPOESIS. We were also humbled by the fact former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed attended; President Nasheed offered key leadership to the climate talks in Copenhagen in 2008 and continues to be a global thought leader and inspiration around climate. >>>>

((Adam, Chris Falliers, also an architect, and I founded ECOPOESIS at CCA in 2018-19 and the idea is beautifully simple. We have three more years of ECOPOESIS activities, so please reach out if you interested in joining.))

ECOPOESIS: Confronting//Confronting Our Demons

Let’s call the times we live in Confronting Our Demons. But as we confront our Demons, something else, unexpected happened: The search for solutions became part of the problem.

Stay with me, please, while I explain. Discussions about how horrible humans are and our disgusting waste problems have elevated to a grotesque level. I am often in these discussions and I hear my own words and think, Oh my god! How awful I sound! I engage in a caricature of a discussion, often including only the most rarefied group.

The ECOPOESIS Movement is about re-focusing our dialogues, our chats, about the process of speaking to and hearing each other.  It is about how we don’t need to be alone and terrified, it is about how we can create circles of people as a means and an end in and of themselves. We can create messages we can share with each other to hold the terror at bay.

A key part of these discussions is how we use our hands and creativity to connect.

ECOPOESIS is braided activities, making and talking, and we draw, write, cut, paste, create audio and video, so the conversations are embodied. We edge closer to some realizations about our realities and how we understand what our realities are and what they might be.

ECOPOESIS is about feeling. How do you feel about climate change? Our feelings about climate, life on Earth, and all the tentacles that emerge from climate discussions — racism, speciesism, misogny, hate speech, economic justice, and on and on.

The ECOPOESIS Movement is about leveling the field, a place where we can look at and feel these complex feelings while creating embodied messages.

Some people may feel that they want to scream. That’s OK. Screaming is a good, artful, and biological response. The messages we collectively make help us decide what sort of postures we might want to get into as humans.

Remain, resist, retreat, were our three, key words shaping the group chats of ECOPOESIS 1, in April, 2019. These RE- words allowed us to give shape to our discussions. Each gathering will focus on RE- words.

The ECOPOESIS Movement is also about playing in language that emanates from ideas of LOVE.

What do we love enough to take care of?

Do you love yourself, your partner, your dog, your teaspoon, your oceans, your birch trees, your Milky Way, your plastic, your satellites enough to take care of them?

<<<<<I want to acknowledge how generous these architects are with me, and how much they teach me each and every day I am with them. They see the world with such specific imaginaries — thinking about ways to create forms to help us all, humans and non-humans, survive the Sixth Mass Extinction. How’s that for a work brief?>>>>>

 

Plastic, I Love You

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

(This is the first image that came up when I searched “Plastic Love” in Free Photos. Interesting. As a lover of plastic food models, the cupcake is particularly appealing.) This is the beginning of an essay I am writing for my next collection, The Late Great Golden State. (The title essay comes out Fall 2019 with The Bellingham Review — thanks so much Suzanne Paola for inviting a piece and for accepting it.) Here is the current draft. I am really vibe-ing on writing short these days. Let me know what you think.

On Plastic

Plastic is a miracle and I love it. Right now we are all talking about how we hate plastic but why should we do that? It’s like burning your own house down. Plastic is in all of us and in everything. Plastic is better at existing on Earth than humans are! It takes so many forms and it never, ever vanishes, like human bodies do. No! Not plastic. Resilient. Noble. Forever.

My forever love.

Think of this substance with tenderness: We can mold it into anything. It absorbs and emits light, it can be ductile or rigid, it is so strong, yet so magnificently light. You can see why humans fell in love with it. A substance of our design imbued with so many gorgeous qualities. It seals, it insulates, it protects. Plastic serves us. 

However. Now are days when we wish this service had been more curtailed. We love you, plastic, but we are also now terrified by you. What have we created? And, gulp, can we get rid of you? Yet you are our intimate. Each day, I touch you in your many forms. I sit on a plastic toilet seat at dawn, I drizzle eucalyptus-scented soap across my arms in the shower — from a plastic bottle. (I think about how glass bottles in the bath would be so dangerous!) 

And so I meditate on your brilliance. How many of us have you saved? I know you saved me after a car crash, formed into so many tubes lacing into so many holes in my body. Plastic: Stranger blood flowed into me, guided by plastic. Nourishment came to me. You protected all the sterile gauze and pads when my babies were born. 

But oh! Plastic how we misunderstood you. How we had this craven desire for you, how we pushed you to be all things to all people. Yes! How we enslaved you to our capitalist markets, how we found you could be made into cheap versions of coveted animal materials — tortoise, bone — how we called you vegan leather. 

Capitalism: You made this possible in the late 20th century. You were ready to serve, unjudging, ready to be useful. And now what is your recompense? You are 

Or. Maybe you had a plan from the beginning. Maybe you wanted to be not simply of us but in us. And so you waited and waited and saw how with each painful accommodation, the heat, the chemicals, the hours of molding, you might have a shot. What if you could break free from our systems and, for instance, go for a swim in the ocean? Your larger plastic brain saw the ocean from so many perspectives, from sunscreen bottle to chair to strap around handsome lifeguard to buoy slung across handsome lifeguard, to straw, to cup lid. What if, you imagined, you could find a way to live in that ocean, that great gelatinous sea? What if indeed? 

And so. Here we are. I am you and you are me. You made it into that ocean, so hard to see you there, you exist as a microscopic cloud, you fold into my skin as I dive into the waves. Uncapturable. 

I hesitate to say this but now I wonder: Do I get a vibe of you do you, and I do me? Is that what we have here? Because I want you to know, I do not blame you. I am deeply, madly, deeply in love with you.

What did Roland Barthes say: Ubiquity made beautiful.

We Are the Loop: Feel Its Tug and Pull

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We are the loop. And we love the loop, don’t we, particularly the delusional but understandable idealism that is applied to how we buy and use objects, stuff, all the many things we tote around. Late-Capitalism has us in a very fast loop now and we buy, consume, and discard at a rate that boggles zee mind. Except that it doesn’t really boggle our minds — that is, create a sense of marvel (and if you spell “boggle” with one “g” it means demon or phantom, which I secretly love.)

The thing is, there are people in the world who know this is a real problem, all this buying and trash sorting and not using things for more than five seconds. The thing is we are the loop and we can create some friction to slow it down. How do we do this? Through words and symbols. Through creating processes to slooooooow things dooooooown. Through pausing with people, known and strange to us, to talk about how we feel about it all. Every time we pause to speak to this, read to this, write to this, we slow down the loop.

I gave a talk at the Maldives National University on July 24, 2019, about the ECOPOESIS Movement, which I founded with Adam Marcus and Chris Falliers, and a loop image-object came along for the discussion.

But not any old loop: This is the loop we humans were gifted in 1970, to describe structured reintegration of our waste, through industrial systems, and then back in new and exciting forms. We were not creating too much, for instance, plastic. We were energizing the loop.

ECOPOESIS wants to react to many things: The dearth of language, our need for new signs, the instantiation of ecological discussions in science/political/philosophical circles — often feeling far from the rest of us humans and non-humans. The speed of the loop.

Some of the words I said: “We are also reacting to the current state of ecological messaging and symbols, which we feel are out of date. For example, this ubiquitous American recycling symbol that proposes our plastics are in a perfect loop of reuse. One swim in any of the world’s oceans proves this wrong in the 21st century.”  Gary Anderson, then a 23-year-old student at USC, submitted this design in 1970 for a contest run by the Container Corporation of America — and the brief was to illustrate the path for recycled paper.

I then took off one of my shoes, designed by Rothy’s here in SF, that used re-cycled plastic as its material. I feel good about myself for buying shoes made from plastic (a fantastic material, by the way, which we choose to falsely deify and then demonize to keep Sauren’s Eye off of us as individuals? Perhaps?) To make this point: There is a loop, it is not one that is over there — a glyph to assuage feelings of guilt about your stuff.

You are the loop and the loop is you.

My next post is going to talk about my own love affair with plastics.

 

 

 

But How Do You Feel? July 10, Ganges, France

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***This is the third in a series of posts tracing some thoughts and notes from my July 2019 trip around the world. I stopped for two weeks in France followed by two weeks in The Maldives. Very different ecosystems, very different vibes. Many moments of clarity and feelings — about ecologies, climate change, life with other humans and non-humans. One of the best things I heard came from a Swedish designer at the residency in France, as our group, up late, talking, talking, talking in the still (heat-wave) night: “But how do you feel?”  What do we feel as we head deeper into the sixth mass extinction, sitting in a very old market town in the Cevennes, in baking heat? How do the rest of us talk about being ecological — away from theory, science, philosophy, technological solutions, ecological artists? What does it mean to be human in these times? Is it a scream? A dance? A long, loud laugh?

We are in Ganges as the huge heatwave (round 1) begins to abate. But. It is still stifling and so most days we work in the early hours, thinking largely about large-scale, participatory design projects — from edible forests, to refugee resettlement, to urban food systems. My own contribution to this conversation is ECOPOESIS.

My own thinking about this movement is being nudged along by the brilliant John Thackara and Kristi Van Riet, who once ran Doors of Perception out of Amsterdam. A lot of their insights will serve to up-end my internal gyroscope about how people come together.

They are at home now in Ganges, in a 17th-century manse with many nooks for gathering and talking. The idea of ECOPOESIS is to create dialogue around climate change — and what we are finding is that people are eager to share their feelings about this. There are so many feelings to feel. There are so many ways to come at this — philosophically etc. One evening in Ganges, I presented the project rather informally to a group that included Danish technologists. The group was quite intent on trying to understand what ECOPOESIS is — and really helped me learn that I need to use words like “process” and “solution” (we are a process, we are not trying to be a center for creating solutions) — and I felt a moment of almost cartoonish “DOH!” Why? Because it is so easy to get caught in the rabbit hole of the process, entangled in larger aspirations, and to use language that does not necessarily warm and draw in the listener. Which is particularly odd because the project is about dialogues, which means hearing. How did I not hear the lack of accessibility in our language? I also started to think about, based on John and Kristi’s insights — that we might be slightly off our mark in how we initially designed ECOPOESIS. That is, how can we have more events with fewer people — rather than one event, as we did April, 2019, with a few dozen people and a specific intellectual “thought leader” — offering us guiding principles? We have an opportunity to better understand what it means to have feelings about ecologies — and climate change — across smaller-scale events, largely located outside, en plein air. This shift fascinates me, as a writer. One of our goals is to have publications emerge from our work — so if that is the case, then why not meet more frequently, in a more scaled way?

One fascinating thoughts  we all share and come back to — how we can get to talking about ecologies and all the tentacles, economic justice, misogyny, racism, outside of the halls of privilege — like the Academy, like San Francisco, like a design retreat in a small market town in France? Back in SF, we are being crushed by gentrification and economic warfare against all but the extremely wealthy. Gentrification cannot be “conquered” but we need to look at the bizarre irony of being in a place long known for its innovative and discursive cultures and what we have now.

So. One of the insights is that in order to make this movement, this ECOPOESIS, we need to stay in motion, we need to stay vulnerable, and we need to stay close to the edge of hope. And we have to deliver better words. We need better words to better describe what it means to be human (and non-human) in these times.