Sunday, January 10, 2016

Traveling While Vegan

While fining vegan food on the road, in airports and train stations and rest stops, has become much easier in only the last year or two, traveling while vegan can still be a challenge, especially when traveling with non-vegans or in rural, remote, or not necessarily vegan-friendly areas, and when one is unable to simply prepare and bring along one's own supplies.

I have recently spent some time traveling (some of my experiences can be found on my travel blog, Traveling Catlady), and while most of the time, it was fairly easy to find vegan choices even in chain- and fast food restaurants, I also realized that, when on the road, vegans sometimes have to do the best they can, which might not be what they want. For example, even when ordering a veggie burger without cheese and mayo, it is not always possible to make sure there is no egg or dairy in the patty or the bun. When toast or bread is served at a restaurant, one does not always know whether there is butter in it. And sometimes, even when things are expressly billed and promoted as "vegan", one cannot always be sure that those making these claims know, 100%, what the word "vegan" means. I, for one, have accepted these obstacles as being part of the experience of being vegan in a decidedly non-vegan world, and I was able to decide for myself that, if I was able to avoid clearly non-vegan foods, I would not worry about potentially hidden, impossible to detect non-vegan ingredients when on the road. For me, that is simply a necessity if I am to remain sane and vegan and leave my house at the same time.

However, in order to minimize the potentially non-vegan pitfalls hidden in inconspicuous-looking and -sounding food items, I have found my smart phone to be a great help. Specifically, certain apps geared towards finding vegan food on the road are invaluable for the traveling vegan. While "Happy Cow", the go-to website when trying to find vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants, has a tremendously useful app, this might not be a great help when traveling in more remote or rural areas, or stopping at fast food places along the interstate. For these cases, I highly recommend "VeganXpress", an app available for iPhone users, which lists vegan menu items at chain- and fast food restaurants. While many vegans try to stay away from these places for health and ethical reasons, it is tremendously useful on the road, when there may be few options for vegans altogether.

For more useful vegan apps, check out 8 Vegan Apps You Need to Download

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Adventures in Gardening - Part 1: Seed Starting to Hardening-Off

This is my first year attempting to succeed with a community garden plot, and so far, it has been quite the ride!

But let me start at the beginning. Before even knowing whether I would, in fact, be able to rent at plot at the local community garden, I started seeds as if I were sure of the outcome - in other words, I went a little overboard. In fact, I started so many seeds that I was able to supply a good number of my friends with little plants, and fill up a good chunk of my community garden plot. Just imagine what I would have done if I'd only had my (north-facing) balcony to work with!

I ordered all my seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds - well, all except the ones I had left over from last year.
I started eleven different varieties of plants: Three varieties of tomatoes (Pink TigerBetalux, and Tiny Tim), two varieties of basil (Genovese Basil and sweet basil from seeds I saved in 2012), Purple of Sicily cauliflower, German Chamomile, two types of sweet peppers (Friariello Di Napoli as well as  Mini Bell Peppers), Oregano/Wild Zaatar and Ground Cherries. I started the seeds in peat pellets, and ended up with 200 (!) pellets, divided between the 11 varieties. This is what my set-up looked like:

 I watered the pellets, distributed the seeds, labeled everything, and covered it with plastic wrap to create a little green-house of sorts.

This was on March 11, which, in retrospect, turned out to be a little early for Wisconsin. My plants germinated very quickly - the cauliflower after only two or three days, the ground cherry within about two weeks, and everything else somewhere in between - and I had pretty decent germination rates, ranging from 100% for some plants (such as the Pink Tiger tomatoes or the cauliflower) to 80% (Tiny Tim tomatoes, though these seeds were from last year). This meant that by March 30, things looked like this:

As you can see, some plants are already in slightly bigger pots. Those were my cauliflower plants, which germinated really quickly and grew surprisingly fast. Despite the fact that I had them under grow lights, and kept the lights really close to the plants, some of the cauliflower plants became slightly leggy. The same was true for the Pink Tiger, which exhibited their most pronounced characteristic (seemingly uncontainable growth!) from the very beginning. The following picture from April 8 shows how big the cauliflower and Pink Tiger seedlings had gotten in just under four weeks.

The following picture is a close-up of one of the Pink Tiger seedlings on April 12 - four weeks after I had planted the seeds! Given this rate of growth, I had to start transplanting most of the seedlings by mid-April, which caused several problems. For one, I had to do this outside, in order to prevent a huge mess in my apartment. I almost lost some of the tomato and basil seedlings to some cold wind. Even though the day I chose for transplanting the temperature was in the mid-40s (and I assumed the plants would be able to handle this for a short period of time), the wind was much colder and the basil and tomato plants quickly became limp and looked almost wilted. They recovered completely after I brought them back inside, but I was pretty worried about them.

The second problem, after the shock of exposing the baby plants to the cold too quickly, was one of space. The bigger pots took up much more space than the peat pellets. I gave away the first few batches of plants around April 25, much sooner than I would have wanted, and before they were fully hardened off. 

The photo below gives you a pretty good impression of why I had to make room for the remaining seedlings to be transplanted. It was taken on April 26, a good three weeks before the average last day of frost in Wisconsin. Some of the tomato plants are already getting very tall, and the seedlings that are still in the peat pellets are quickly running out of room to grow. Because the plants grew so vigorously and I had limited space, I also had a few issues with mold/mildew developing on the peat pellets. I was worried about this causing harm to the plants, from damping off to other fungal infections, so I sprayed the pellets with garlic water about once a week (crush several garlic cloves, soak them in water for at least two hours, strain the liquid and fill it into a spray bottle). Using garlic water too often can do harm, as the fungicidal qualities of the garlic can also harm beneficial soil organisms, but it worked well when applied about once a week. I also set up a box fan to blow air over the seedlings and thus create an airflow for a few hours a day.

I started hardening off the plants in ernest around May 3. Honestly, that was a little too early, but because of my limited space, I did not have a choice. That's another reason I will start my seeds about two weeks later next year. Below is a photo of the plants on May 3, on my balcony. 

They had to stay in that location until May 10. I was out of town for most of that week, and in that time, some of the tomato plants developed some sort of problem. Their leaves became yellow and spotted, which looked a lot like early blight - not a good sign at all. I removed the affected foliage and sprayed the plants with a water-oil-baking soda mixture, which is supposed to kill the fungus causing early blight. Unfortunately, I think I went overboard and made the tincture too strong - which seemed like it was effective against the disease (blight), but also led to the demise of several other tomato leaves - they seemed to dry out from contact with the baking soda-mixture.

I Part 2 I will tell you about planning my garden plot, transplanting my plants, and starting additional varieties from seed.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

On Shame

Here's the thing: Shame is not a bad emotion. When do we feel shame? We feel shame when we have hurt someone, when we have done something bad or mean or hurtful, and we finally realize that it was just that. Shame is a social emotion - we feel it because we have harmed someone else and we feel bad about doing it. It is a "good" emotion in that it might prevent us from doing the same harmful thing in the future.

However, shame is also an emotion of social control. We might feel shame not because we have done something bad, or we realize that we have, but because someone else thinks what we did was bad. This might be because our actions were, in fact, hurtful or harmful or cruel, and we are just unable to see it, but we do not want to look bad, so we feel shame, or it might be because what we did was not actually "bad", but is still considered unacceptable to somebody else.

If you are a woman, chances are you have spent most of your life feeling ashamed for something. Sure, we also shame men (for all kinds of actions or inactions), but we specifically enjoy shaming women. You know all these magazines calling out celebrities for becoming fat or old or for wearing the wrong clothes or for being caught naked? Of course, these articles are not really about them - they are there to put us, the readers, in our place. And they are almost always about women. It's women, even famous women, who are bad mothers, who dare to look less than perfect, who sleep with people younger than they are (this has never been a problem for men), who screw up. We judge them, and at the same time, we feel ashamed of our own imperfections.

If you are a woman, you have probably grown up with a feeling that you are constantly being watched, constantly being judged, and that you are not "making the cut" in one way or another. You should be ashamed. 

Women are told to be ashamed of how they look. Ashamed that our bodies grow hair in places they "shouldn't". Ashamed that their bodies bleed once a month (oh, the humiliation of getting your period at the wrong time and discovering a bloody stain on your clothes!). Ashamed of not being a size zero. Ashamed of getting older. Ashamed of wrinkles and loose skin. Ashamed of wobbly thighs and wobbly arms. Ashamed of pregnancy scars on our tummies (think about all the advice we get on how to get a "bikini body" - and the underlying message is: Don't you dare wear a bikini when you don't look like this!). Ashamed of being caught without a bra (your breasts MOVE when you walk!!!), without make-up, in sweat-pants, on a "bad hair day".

We are told that we should feel ashamed of how we feel. Ashamed of feeling desire or lust. Ashamed of feeling hunger. Ashamed of feeling rage, even ashamed of wanting to feel pleasure. We are told to feel ashamed if we don't look "fuckable", and ashamed if we dare to actually want (or have!) sex. Ashamed of loving the wrong person, or loving in the wrong way. Ashamed of being too emotional and hysterical. Ashamed of being unemotional, frigid, and cold. 

We are told to feel ashamed of our relationships. Ashamed that we don't have a boyfriend. Ashamed that we don't want a boyfriend. Ashamed that we have too many boyfriends. Ashamed that we have - or want - girlfriends. Ashamed that we do not want monogamy. Ashamed that we do want monogamy, but at the wrong time or with the wrong person. Ashamed that we are not married yet. Ashamed that we got married too soon. Ashamed that we are divorced. Ashamed that we are the ones who asked for a divorce. Ashamed that we are not the ones who asked for a divorce. 

We are told to feel ashamed of our performance "as women" (yes, being a "woman" is a lot of work!). Ashamed that we are not feminine enough. Ashamed that we are too feminine. Ashamed that we are not serious enough (Really, you cannot be taken serious in a job like this if you use pink, sparkly pens!). Ashamed that we are too serious ("Smile!"). Ashamed that we do not want children. Ashamed that we do want children. Ashamed that we are not stay-at-home moms (After all, what kind of mom would leave her kids with strangers?). Ashamed that we are stay-at-home moms (After all, what kind of lazy slob would sit at home all day and let her husband do all the work?).

We are told to feel ashamed of getting older, of wanting to have sex, of being "inappropriate", of being too loud, too fat, too ugly, too hairy, too bitchy, too angry, too masculine, too girly, too slutty, too prudish, too nerdy, too vain.

We feel shame for never being enough. Not smart enough, not pretty enough, not thin enough, not sexy enough. You know all those blogs and magazines and books out there touting the Perfect Woman, the thin, athletic (but not too strong!), well-groomed (but not vain!), blond, white, smart (but not too smart!), successful (but not too successful!) mother of two (you might get away with one or three, but that's really all that is acceptable, and you might already be pushing it!) kids who works a high-powered job as some sort of important (but not too important!) semi-manager in a big financial company. She does all her own housework (and her house is always clean and spotless!), she cooks dinner from scratch every day, on the weekends she does her own gardening and redecorates the house. She throws elaborate dinner parties and birthday parties, and every night, she is shaved, and oiled, and perfumed, and decked out in lingerie, ready to pleasure her husband (because, of course, sex is a duty, so she performs it well, but she is a good woman, so she does not, herself, feel anything as dirty as desire or lust). If your life does not look like hers, you are taught to feel ashamed. You have failed, as a woman. If you had only tried harder or worked harder or been less lazy or less ugly or less outspoken or less ambitious, you would be her. But you are who you are, never enough and still somehow too much, and so you should be ashamed. And we are. If there is one emotion every woman on this planet has felt more times than she can count, I guarantee you, it is shame. Shame for who you are. Shame for how you feel. Shame for what you want.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sex, Age, and Objectification

I know I haven't written a blogpost in a long, long time, but several things happened this week that made me decide to take up the pen ... well, the keyboard ... once again.
For some reason, this has been the week for me to come across articles about sexism in all its forms in short order.

On one side, there is what could be called "traditional sexism", as maybe exemplified by this article by Ashley Judd. She talks about the kind objectification that we generally think of when people mention sexism. The sexually explicit threats and taunts. A woman says something you don't want to hear, or behaves in ways you don't want her to behave, so you use this tactic to "put her in her place". Ever wonder why the worst thing you can call a woman is ... well ... a woman (albeit, of course, a "deviant" woman or an "ugly" woman.) Or - worst of all - you could refer to her as part of the female anatomy. This, of course, could be seen as the culmination of successful objectification - you have turned her from a complete human being with wants, needs, flaws, dreams, skills, and wishes, into a body part you threaten to use as you please. Not only have you dismembered her and taken away her agency, but furthermore you have reinforced why you have the right to do - because she is, after all, just a woman, and if and when she misbehaves, you know just what to hold over her head to make her shut up.

Of course, this particular article also serves as a good starting point for thinking about the specific nature of online interactions, and the intersection between online "life" and sexual harassment. In other words, would all these people using sexualized and gendered threats and insults online feel equally comfortable saying the same words to a woman's face - and what would be less disturbing: if the answer to this question was yes, or if it was no? Has social media, and this new way of interacting with each other, propagated this kind of behavior, or are we simply seeing more unfiltered thoughts, but thoughts that have always been there and have always been widespread, even before the advent of the internet? 

From there, it is only a short step to thinking about human nature. What is it that leads us to think it is ok to treat others this way? Why do we think we can violate another human being's bodily autonomy and integrity with threats of violence, or actual violence? And where in our messed-up history have we gotten sex and violence mixed up so profoundly? How did we end up taking something like sex, which is supposed to be about respect, appreciation, pleasure, and intimacy, and have turned it into one of the nastiest weapons, one of the most common and most effective ways to violate, humiliate, and degrade another person. I know many people, especially feminist authors and scholars, have said that rape and sexual assault are not actually about sex but rather about power, and that makes sense. On the other hand, we are deliberately using sex as the means to establish this power structure - which does indicate that, as a species, there is something fundamentally wrong with us. 

Of course, you can't talk about degradation, humiliation and violence without at least acknowledging how we treat other, non-human beings. In other words, the only way to end the objectification of other humans may be ending the objectification of non-humans first. If it is ok for me to objectify a cow simply because she is a cow and I am not, who is to say that I am not going to objectify another human being by the same logic (for example, because she is female and I am not)?

In addition to all these already "rosy" thoughts, I came across an article written a few months ago about the complicated intersection between sexism and ageism
Everyone knows that the rules of aging are different for men and women. Think what you may about Madonna, but she is not doing anything that men of her age haven't been doing for decades - and nobody cares. Mick Jagger or Robert Redford can be "sex symbols" way past their 60s, but if a woman in her 50s presents herself as a sexual being, she gets ridiculed. Now you can argue that this is just Madonna, and that she is not the norm when it comes to middle-aged women (which is true), but in the end, that is not the point. The point is that we have a double-standard for men and women. This double-standard starts in early childhood and remains in place through young adulthood and middle-age all the way into old age. The biggest perfidy, though, is how the double standard changes over the course of our lives.

What does this mean? It means that, as a young girl, you are supposed to be well-behaved, pleasant, calm, clean and quiet. As a young woman, you are supposed to be attractive (but God forbid you actually have sex! Make men fantasize about having sex with you, but don't express desire yourself or you are a slut!), sexy, smart (but not too smart or it interferes with your attractiveness!), and once you enter middle-age, you are supposed to disappear.

What does that mean, you may wonder? It means that, as soon as your body does not (or no longer) conform to this standard of youthful beauty, because it is too "ugly", too "fat", or too "old" (see how you will always be "too" something? Too smart, too loud, too bitchy, too fat, too old, too boring, too ... fill in the blank). If you think about it, this demand for women past a certain age (what that exact age is fluctuates a bit, but seems to hover somewhere between 38 and 42) to become invisible is simply the continuation of the sexual objectification is described above. Your body, the object at someone else's disposal, is not supposed to belong to an autonomous being with wishes and desires. What could drive home the point about your worth being tied to an impossible standard of youthful beauty better than the experience of having your worth disappear overnight. We all need to be seen. It is, I would argue, one of the most fundamental needs of human beings - to be seen for who we are. What does it tell you about power structures in our society if we can take away another person's visibility for no reason other than that they have lived for more than x number of years? What could teach them about their inherent worthlessness better than ridicule as an accepted response to the expression of their own needs and desires?

If you read Robin Korth's essay that I linked to above, you may have been surprised by the cruelty and callousness with which the man she calls Dave informed her of her unacceptability as a sexual being. She, he told her, did not conform to his standard of beauty, because she was too old. He informed her what she could do to make herself look younger - and thus more desirable to him.  She writes: "He was totally oblivious to the viciousness of his words. He had turned me into an object to be dressed and positioned to provide satisfaction for his ideas of what female sexual perfection should be." This could be the textbook definition of objectification: for him, her body is an object he has the right to use for his pleasure, and if she does not make it appealing (that is to say, young) enough for him to find her acceptable, she immediately becomes invisible. 

What is, then, the logical consequence of the way we teach young women that their worth is defined by their sexual desirability and then teach them that their worth will disappear when they dare to age? I am sure you guessed it - they will try everything in their power to keep their bodies "young". Plastic surgery, body "re-contouring", breast "enhancements" ... all these are natural consequences of objectification. To add insult to injury, women who torture themselves with botox and surgeries only end up being ridiculed for it. The ultimate punishment: demean human beings for trying to conform to a standard that was impossible to reach in the first place.

So what should we take away from this? Is there some great lesson to be learned from Ashley Judd and Robin Korth? Maybe. If so, the message is that true beauty comes in many shapes, forms, sizes, and ages, and those who are superficial enough treat others this way are not worthy of your time and affection anyway. How much more satisfying and rewarding our relationships would be if we simply related to each other as individuals, truly saw others in their all their unique, glorious, flawed beauty, and treated each other with dignity, kindness, and respect.

So in the end, I think one of the root causes of all this cruelty and objectification we encounter even (or especially?) in what should be our most intimate (and thus safe) relationships has to do with who we view other people.

To put it simply, our lives have become so economized, so governed by business transactions, that we have become unable to relate to others without applying the same principles. A relationship, especially a romantic relationship, thus becomes a business deal. What can you do for me? What can I get out of this? We evaluate and we judge. Instead of trying to connect, for the sake of closeness and intimacy, we connect because we want to own, because we want to possess, because we don't want to be alone, because we want to feel validated, because we want another person to tell us we are loved and important and special. We see them as an investment, thus we basically see them as an object to be used. One of the ways this mindset materializes is through objectification, as discussed above. We - especially women - are trained to "trade" sex for affection. We are trained to not actually want sex, but to use it as a bargaining chip. Men are told that they are allowed to judge the "merchandise" they are investing in. Of course, this has been so internalized that women judge and evaluate other women in the same way. We have accepted that youthful, conventional beauty is our currency, and thus we judge our own and each other's worth based on it.

So how can we get away from this? I have no answer. I know that it took me many years to see these things. It took me many years to realize that it is ok not to want what most others seem to want. It took me many years to realize that the only relationships - may they be friendships or romantic connections or both - worth having are the ones that are based on respect, freedom, and trust. In fact, we are so conditioned to think our worth depends on being partnered that we rarely stop to examine why we should want to form close, intimate ties with someone. Is convenience and convention really a good basis? Shouldn't we try to create a life that we are simply happy to live, on our own and according to our own rules so that, when we choose to connect deeply, to share ourselves intimately, we know we are doing it out of affection and not out of fear? 

These are not easy questions to ask ourselves, and engrained behaviors are hard to shake - they are hard to see. Furthermore, who wants to admit to themselves that they are doing things simply because they have been trained to? I had a couple of long relationships back to back when I was in my early and mid-twenties, and after the last one in that string ended, I decided to do some serious soul-searching. Why was it that I thought I should be out looking for someone, when I was really quite happy on my own? Why did I feel guilty for not dreaming of marriage and children? Why did I feel like others pitied me? Did I pity myself? I realized, after much reflection and meditation, and hours spent writing down what I wanted and felt, hours spent acknowledging, maybe for the first time, some of the wishes and desires that I had kept hidden from myself, that I did not pity myself. I did not feel incomplete, but I did feel like I should be feeling these things. Messed up, I know. I decided then and there that I would never again enter a relationship out of convention or because I wanted to avoid the endless questions ("Have you found someone?") and pitying looks. I promised myself that I would only choose to share myself for the right reasons from now on - out of affection, love, and the wish to connect deeply with that particular individual. I have stuck to this rule ever since, and my life has been that much easier and my connections with others that much more fulfilling. Would a change in perspective, similar to the one I had, help us end objectification in all its forms? Probably not by itself, but it would put us on the right track - towards seeing others as individuals with gifts, flaws, desires, wishes, and traumas, and it would ensure that we see them as souls to connect with because of what we have to give, and not because of what we hope (or expect) to get.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

We Cry

Wir weinen (we cry). Outpourings of a different kind, in German and in English.

Wir weinen. Ohne Tränen weinen wir, durch Erkenntnis zu Stein erstarrt. Die Zeit spült über uns hinweg, ein stetiger Strom. Er spült die Ecken rund und ebnet die Furchen und Kanten. Wir verschwinden, lösen uns auf. Der Himmel vergießt rote Tränen, ein Strom von Blut, das aus den Wolken quillt. Wer blutet? Im Panzerhemd reiten wir in die Schlacht, jeden Tag eine neue Schlacht, jeden Tag ein neuer Feind. Und zugleich immer derselbe, wir kennen ihn und doch erkennen wir ihn nicht. Er tötet unsere Seelen durch Kälte. Wir erfrieren in Gleichgültigkeit. Wir ersticken in Stille, denn wir haben unsere Stimme verloren. Oder haben wir sie nie gefunden? Wir kämpfen ohne Aussicht, doch wir kämpfen um uns. Wer aufgibt, hat verloren. Wer aufgibt, ist verloren. Verliert sich oder findet sich nie. Wer sind wir? Wir sind die Kinder dieser Welt, die Kinder Gottes, die Kinder der Tränen. Wir kommen aus dem Nebel, aus dem Vergessen und doch dürfen wir nicht vergessen. Erinnern ist leben, ohne Vergangenheit haben wir keine Zukunft. Wir sind die Zukunft und die Vergangenheit, das Gestern, das Heute und das Morgen zugleich. Und doch sind wir nichts. Wir sind ewig und vergänglich, wir sind Licht und Dunkel. Wir sind und doch sind wir nicht. Alles strömt, fließt, gleitet und wir mit ihm. Wir wissen nicht, wohin wir gehen. Wir sind viele und doch sind wir allein, jeder mit sich, jeder für sich, gefangen in sich selbst, gefangen vor sich selbst. 
Wir sind Krieger und Bekriegte, sind Leben und Tod. Wir sind Blinde und doch können wir sehen. Wir sind Sehende und doch sind wir blind. Unsere Seele verbrennt, aus Angst zu erfrieren. Feuer und Eis leben in unserer Brust. Wir sind Gottes Tränen, zum Leben erwacht. Wir wollen lieben und doch lieben wir nicht. Wir wollen nicht hassen und doch hassen wir. Wir sind alle anders und doch alle gleich. Was uns trennt, verbindet uns. Was uns verbindet, trennt uns. Wir sind Wasser und Luft, wir sind Meer und Sturm. Wir sind Anker und Segel, Fleisch und Schwert. Wir verletzen die anderen und mit ihnen uns. Auf der Erde verwurzelt schweben wir über den Wolken, zerissen. Unser stummer Schrei hallt über die Erde, doch wir hören uns nicht. Das Leid macht uns taub und der Schmerz macht uns stumm. Wir drehen die Messer in den Wunden, jeden Tag. Wir wollen die Welt verändern, aber nicht uns. Die Erde zuckt und bebt und die Verzweiflung brennt tiefe Furchen auf ihrem Weg ins Meer. Jemand steht uns im Weg. Wer ist es? Wir erkennen ihn nicht, denn sein Gesicht ist im Nebel verborgen. Er wendet sich ab und verschwindet. Wir selbst sind es. Wir wollen alles wissen, nur nicht, wer wir sind. Angst fesselt die Träume und erwürgt uns von innen. Wenn die Träume sterben, sterben wir mit ihnen.  Ein Eiszapfen im Herz schwelt mit kalter Glut. Wut ist wie Feuer, das verzehrt, Liebe wie Feuer, das wärmt. Gleichgültigkeit macht die Herzen taub und blind, wir bemerken den Hass nicht mehr, wir bemerken das Leid nicht mehr und nicht den Schmerz. Wir sind die Kinder der Freude und der Trauer. Hinter uns die Wüste und vor uns das Meer kämpfen wir verbissen für unser Paradies. Zu oft kämpfen wir gegen Verbündete und der Feind lacht, genährt durch Demütigung und Blut. Wenn wir das andere hassen, hassen wir uns. Hass vergiftet und Gleichgültigkeit erstickt. Wir kommen aus dem Nebel, doch wohin gehen wir? Ins Licht oder ins Dunkel? Wir sind die Kinder der Tränen. Tränen der Verzweiflung oder Tränen der Freude?

We cry. Without tears we cry, turned to stone by realization. Time washes over us, a continuous stream. It smoothes corners until they are round and evens out grooves and sharp edges. We disappear, dissolve. The sky is shedding red tears, a stream of blood oozing out of the clouds. In a coat of mail we ride into battle, every day a new battle, every day a new enemy. And at the same time always the same one, we know him but we don’t recognize him. He kills our souls with coldness. We freeze to death through indifference. We suffocate in silence, we have lost our voice. Or have we never found it? We fight without a prospect, but we fight for ourselves. She who gives up has lost. She who gives up is lost. Loses herself or never finds herself. Who are we? We are the children of this world, the children of god, the children of tears. We come from fog, from oblivion, but we are not allowed to forget. Remembering is life, no future without past. We are the future and the past, simultaneously yesterday, today, and tomorrow. And still we are nothing. We are eternal and ephemeral, we are light and darkness. We are and yet we are not. Everything flows, streams, floats, and we with it. We don’t know where we are going. We are many, and still we are alone, everyone with herself, everyone for herself, imprisoned within herself, imprisoned before herself. We are attackers and attacked, life and death. We are blind and yet we see. We are seeing and yet we are blind. Our souls burn, for fear of freezing to death. Fire and ice live in our chest. We are god’s tears come to life. We want to love and yet we don’t love. We don’t want to hate and yet we hate. We are all different and yet we are all the same. What separates us, connects us. What connects us, separates us. We are water and air, sea and storm. We are anchor and sail, flesh and sword. We hurt others and with them ourselves. Rooted in earth, we float above the clouds. Our silent screams echo across the earth, but we do not hear ourselves. Suffering makes us deaf and pain makes us mute. We turn the knife in the wound everyday. We want to change the world, but not ourselves. The earth twitches and trembles and desperation burns deep grooves on her way to the ocean. Someone is standing in our way. Who is it? We do not recognize him, his face is hidden in the fog. He turns and disappears. He is us. We want to know everything except who we are. Fear shackles our dreams, and chokes us from within. When dreams die, we die with them. An icicle in the heart smolders with cold embers. Rage is like fire that consumes, love like fire that warms. Indifference makes the hearts deaf and blind, we no longer notice the hate, we no longer notice the suffering, or the pain. We are the children of joy and sorrow. Behind us the desert, in front of us the sea, we doggedly fight for our paradise. Too often we battle our allies, and the enemy laughs, nourished by humiliation and blood. When we hate the other, we hate ourselves. Hate poisons and indifference suffocates. We come from the fog, but where are we going? Into the light or into the darkness? We are the children of tears. Tears of desperation or tears of joy? 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"I'd Rather Be A Hammer Than A Nail" ...

When did we come to live in a world where empathy is equated with weakness? Where caring is seen as irrational and somehow inferior? And what does it mean for us to live in a world like that?

Our beliefs and convictions about the world shape how we see it, and consequently also how it is. In other words, we create, in a very real sense, the world we live in. If we believe it to be a hostile place, where you have to take advantage of others, or be taken advantage of, that is the kind of place it will be. If we think that you have to be ruthless and selfish to be successful, that is how it will be. If we think that being successful means taking as much as we can from as many others as we can, that will become the reality we face. This is the purest self-fulfilling prophecy there is. 

A little while ago I encountered, in the deepest depths of the internet, a discussion about humanity's deepest fear. People were discussing what we, as a species, were most afraid of. Answers included the usual suspects: death, the unknown, fear. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that we are, in fact, most afraid of vulnerability. To make yourself vulnerable means to give someone else the power to hurt you. It means to give someone else power, period. And given the world we have created for ourselves, we can reasonably expect that the others will use that power against us. Every time you tell someone about your fears and insecurities, you risk them using that knowledge against you. To throw your words back in your face, to put a finger in the wound when you least expect it, because you have just told them where it hurts the most, where that chink in your armor is located.

I remember a friend telling me how she ended a relationship because she feared that her boyfriend was about to break up with her, and she wanted to be the one doing the breaking up. She did not want to be the nail. I remember years of holding in my feelings, afraid that if I expressed them, the people I cared about would no longer like me, or that they would use the insights into my soul to hurt and manipulate me. To some extent, we all wear a mask, in a desperate attempt to remain in control. It is ironic, in a way, that so many of us seem to strive for intimacy of some kind, for a connection with another being, while at the same time being terrified of allowing ourselves to be seen in our flawed vulnerability. That is why we posture. We put on a show. We succumb to "peer pressure". We tell our young men to "man up". We are ashamed of tears. We distrust. Not too long ago, I was riding on the bus. After most of the other passengers had disembarked, and only a few of us remained, a woman asked me if I had a cell phone. My first reaction was to say no, because I thought of all the instances that are reported in the news where people are taken advantage of. They allow a stranger to use their phone only to have their phone stolen. They take out their wallet to give someone change only to have that person grab the wallet and run of. So I said, no, I don't think I have my phone with me. And then I thought: is that really the kind of world you want? A world where, if you ask someone for a small favor, they will automatically say no, because they expect you to take advantage of their kindness. And so I changed my mind. I told the woman I would check and see if my phone was in my backpack. I let her use the phone to make a call. And nothing bad happened to me - quite the contrary.

Some of the indifference we see towards the immense suffering of humans and non-humans is certainly due simple complacency - life is easier if we don't stop to contemplate the consequences of our actions. Some of it is due to a sort of denial that allows us to continue living in a profoundly inhumane system with our soul intact. And some of it is due to our misperception of what it means to be strong. Our whole system is built on the exploitation of the vulnerable - the "weak" - humans, and especially non-humans. We tell ourselves that we have a right to exploit, torture, and kill millions of non-human animals simply because we can. Because we are "stronger" than they are. But isn't kindness and compassion the greatest form of strength, in a world where empathy is equated with weakness?

Does this mean that we should trust blindly? Bare our heart and soul for everyone to see? Let people use and abuse us time and again? No. It simply means that maybe we can imagine a world where we don't have to choose between being a hammer or being a nail. A world where we can be neither. And maybe we can try to create that world, by overcoming our fear of being vulnerable - and by not taking advantage of those who dare to be vulnerable in our presence.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Small Lives

Small lives. That is the name of a story (poem? collection of thoughts?) I wrote a while ago, during one of my less happy days. Most of the things I write are somewhat sad. Some are even dark. There is no better way of overcoming negative emotions than to put them down on paper. At least for me there isn't. And so today I decided to translate one of my stories (poems? collections of thoughts?) into English, and put it out there for the world to see (or at least for those of you who read this!). So here it is. It's called "Small Lives". I am posting the German original, followed by the best English translation I could manage. Feel free to tell me what you think by leaving a comment. Over time, I might feel brave enough to post more of my creations.

Kleine Leben

Sein Leben ist ein kleines Leben. 
Er träumt kleine Träume. 
Sich die warme Sonne auf den Pelz scheinen lassen. 
Im Gras liegen und die Wolken beobachten. 
Einen trockenen Platz zum Schlafen und immer genug zu essen.
Frei zu sein von Angst und Schmerzen, umgeben von denen, die er liebt.
Sein kleines Leben ist nichts wert.
Sagen wir.
Er ist nur ein Tier.
Hat keine Gefühle.
Kein Bewusstsein.
Sein Leben ist ein kleines Leben und kleine Leben zählen nicht.
Weil es so viele gibt.
Kleine Leben.
Mit kleinen Träumen.
Die er hat.
Aber nicht haben kann, weil er ein Tier ist.
Und Tiere haben keine Träume.
Aber das weiß er nicht.
Deswegen sitzt er da, in seinem Käfig, umgeben von Dunkelheit und Angst und Gestank und Schmerz.
Tagein, tagaus sitzt er da. Und träumt.

Mein Leben ist ein kleines Leben.
Ich träume kleine Träume.
Mir die warme Sonne auf den Haut scheinen lassen. 
Im Gras liegen und die Wolken beobachten. 
Einen trockenen Platz zum Schlafen und immer genug zu essen.
Frei zu sein von Angst und Schmerzen, umgeben von denen, die ich liebe.
Mein kleines Leben ist etwas wert, zumindest ein bisschen.
Sagen wir.
Auch ich bin ein Tier, aber ein anderes Tier.
Aber ich habe Gefühle.
Ein Bewusstsein.
Mein Leben ist ein kleines Leben, aber es zählt, zumindest ein bisschen.
Obwohl es so viele gibt.
Aber eben nur ein bisschen.
Kleine Leben.
Mit kleinen Träumen.
Die ich habe, genau wie er.
Aber die er nicht haben darf, weil er nicht so ist wie ich.
Tiere haben keine Träume. Zumindest solche Tiere nicht.
Aber das weiß er nicht.
Und ich auch nicht.
Aber wir müssen es lernen, er und ich.
Und dann, wenn wir es gelernt haben, dann hören wir auf zu träumen.
Wir beide.
Weil wir es nicht mehr können. Wir haben keine Träume mehr.

Kleine Leben eben.
Davon gibt es so viele.

Small Lives

His life is a small life. 
He dreams small dreams.
To let the sun warm his fur.
To lie in the grass and watch the clouds pass by.
To have a dry place to sleep and always enough to eat.
To be free of fear and pain, surrounded by those he loves.
His small life isn’t worth anything.
We say.
He is only an animal.
He has no feelings.
No consciousness.
His life is a small life, and small lives don’t count.
Because there are so many.
Small lives.
With small dreams.
Which he has.
But he can’t have them, because he is an animal.
And animals don’t have dreams.
But he doesn’t know that.
That’s why he is sitting there, in his cage, surrounded by darkness and fear and stench and pain.
Day in, day out he sits there. And dreams.

My life is a small life.
I dream small dreams.
To let the sun warm my skin.
To lie in the grass and watch the clouds pass by.
To have a dry place to sleep and always enough to eat.
To be free of fear and pain, surrounded by those I love.
My small life is worth something, at least a little bit.
We say.
I am an animal, too, but a different kind of animal.
But I have feelings.
A consciousness.
My life is a small life, but it counts, at least a little bit.
Despite the fact that there are so many.
But only a little bit.
Small lives.
With small dreams.
Which I have, just like him.
Which he isn’t allowed to have, because he isn’t like me.
Animals don’t have dreams. At least not animals like him.
But he doesn’t know that.
And neither do I.
But we have to learn, he and I.
And then, when we’ve learned it, we’ll stop dreaming.
Both of us.
Because we can’t do it anymore. We have no dreams left.

Small lives.
There are so many.