Ways to Reduce Your Environmental Impact

By Ella Stern

“…remember that even though you aren’t an elected government official, you still have a voice, and the best way to make lasting change is to use it.”

Climate change: one of the most pressing issues of our time, one that affects the very future our generation will or will not have on this planet. From the largest corporations to each individual, humanity urgently needs to change its ways.

The issue is, there’s a lot of dialogue about the problems, but not as much about how to be part of the solution. Some of the actions that prevent the most emissions (greenhouse gases released into the air) are switching to a renewable energy source, living car-free, avoiding air travel, and being vegetarian or vegan. But what some people don’t know is that there are many smaller, easier steps that also reduce one’s negative impact on the climate.

1. Conserve Energy.

One of the easiest ways to reduce your effect on the climate is to simply turn things off when you’re not using them. This sounds obvious, but think about it: how often do you leave lights on in a room you’ve left? Keep a device on when you’re not using it? Leave the charger in the wall when you unplug a device? Leave the water running? The list goes on. Even if you are coming back soon, there is no reason to leave things on when no one is there. It takes just a second to flip a switch or unplug a charger, which is worth it to help the environment. Similarly, it is good to turn down the heat (in the winter) or air conditioning (in the summer) when you leave the house. Another strategy is setting goals for things that conserve energy, like taking shorter showers. For example, you can try to reduce your shower time by a minute a month in order to decrease the amount of water you use.

While this is important, there are some household appliances that use much more energy than others. One of these is the clothes dryer. One load in the dryer takes the same amount of energy as leaving an LED light on for about 300 hours. Hanging your clothes up to dry instead of putting them in the dryer saves a lot of energy. Even if you only skip the dryer when you have time or when it is warm out, skipping it sometimes is better than not skipping it at all. Additionally, you can save energy by using cold water instead of hot water to wash your clothes. This saves approximately 144 lbs of carbon dioxide emissions each year.

2. Compost, Simple Recycle, and Recycle (Correctly!)

41% of the trash that comes from households in my town is food waste. Composting is a solution that reduces the amount of trash that ends up in landfills, gives nutrients to the soil, and absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Rather than throwing your food waste in the trash, you put it in the compost bin. It gets turned into soil that can then grow more plants to help the environment. Depending on your composting service, you can sometimes compost things like paper towels and coffee filters as well. My family started composting years ago and it has easily cut our amount of trash in half. 

Another trash-reducing service is simple recycling, which recycles old clothes and household appliances. As Simple Recycling’s website says, without curbside recycling services like this one, 85% of clothes and usable home goods – 20 billion pounds of them – go to landfills rather than getting recycled or donated. And in addition to being good for the environment, in some places, Simple Recycling is free!

I’m sure everyone has heard many times about the importance of recycling. But it is just as important to make sure you’re recycling the correct things. Putting something non-recyclable in the recycling bin is much worse than putting it in the trash (where it should go). It clogs up the recycling machines, can contaminate other items, has to be transported to a landfill, and sometimes requires money to be spent to purchase new machines. Some common recycling mistakes are recycling things like Dunkin’ cups and takeout containers that have a wax finish, and not washing residue off of otherwise recyclable things. Recycling rules change in different places, so it is important to double-check. 

3. Plant Trees.

Another very simple way to help the climate is to plant trees. Many things in this article just reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but trees go a step farther by taking existing carbon dioxide out of the air. They absorb it and store it as they grow. According to this article, “research estimates that a worldwide planting programme could remove two-thirds of all the emissions from human activities that remain in the atmosphere today.” Because of this, some cities have initiated plans to plant a certain number of trees in a certain amount of time. Also, the search engine Ecosia donates its profits to tree-planting: the more searches on Ecosia, the more trees get planted.

Trees aren’t the only plants that absorb carbon dioxide. Garden plants not only take CO2 from the atmosphere, they prevent it from getting there in the first place. Food transportation accounts for about 5% of food emissions. If you grow food in a garden, you won’t have as much need for produce that has been transported a long distance and might have been farmed in a way that was unsafe for the workers.

4. Food

Food makes up 10%-30% of a household’s carbon footprint as well as one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The environmental impact of food comes from many factors, like land being cleared for growing, emissions that come from farming, water pollution that comes from farming, water and energy needed to create the final product, emissions from transporting the food and keeping it fresh, single-use packaging, and food waste, among other things. You certainly don’t need to completely cut off your consumption of certain foods, but here are some things to consider.

Red meat, like beef and lamb, is the food with the largest carbon footprint. Beef from dedicated beef herds gives off 60 kg of CO2 emissions per kg of food. Cheese and other dairy products, chocolate, and coffee are some of the other foods that give off the most emissions. Because of this, eating vegan, vegetarian, or no-red-meat is a great way to reduce your impact on the environment, as shown by this infographic. For example, one person switching to a vegan diet reduces 1.5 tons of carbon emissions per year. Additionally, it takes 300 gallons of water per day to produce the food for a vegan diet, as compared to 4,000 gallons per day for a meat-eating diet. However, going vegan can be very difficult for a variety of personal, health, and financial reasons. The good news is that reducing consumption of the foods that are worst for the environment (for example, rarely eating red meat) is still far better for the environment than doing nothing at all.

If you want to learn more, this article dives into the specifics of the things that contribute to the climate impact of food.

5. Shop Sustainably.

Sustainability when shopping can come in the form of avoiding single-use items, shopping second-hand so as to reuse existing items, and not buying more than you need.

Avoiding single-use items, especially plastics, is crucial for the safety of our oceans and their wildlife. The world is currently putting about eight millions tons of plastic into the ocean each year: the equivalent of a garbage truck’s worth of plastic every minute. This has resulted in countless disasters, including animals eating or getting trapped in the plastic, a garbage patch twice as big as Texas, and microplastics finding their way back into the foods we eat. Even though single-use plastic is pervasive in our society, there is good news: there are plenty of alternatives constantly popping up. By definition, the alternatives last longer than single-use plastic, so they pay off in the long run. Investing in a reusable water bottle, bringing cloth bags to the grocery store, packing lunch in reusable sandwich bags and containers rather than plastic and tinfoil, using cloth napkins rather than paper ones, carrying reusable straws or even takeout containers with you when going to get food, and supporting places that recycle and use reusables are all good ways to help.

In the past year or two, thrifting has become more popular, and for good reason. When done in a conscientious way, shopping second-hand and upcycling is better for the environment. “Fast fashion” refers to the ever-changing trends in clothes that cause people to buy trendy things that they only wear for a short period of time. The climate impact of this stacks up quickly. 400 gallons of water are needed to produce a T-shirt, and 1,800 gallons are needed to produce a pair of jeans. 60% of fibers in fabric are synthetics, which come from fossil fuels. 85% of textiles end up in landfills or the incinerator. 20% of industrial water pollution comes from the manufacturing of garments. Therefore, it is best to be mindful of what we buy by trying to purchase used items and not buy more than we need. However, it is important to be aware that shopping second-hand is a necessity, not a choice, for low-income people.

6. Take Action.

Finally, remember that even though you aren’t an elected government official, you still have a voice, and the best way to make lasting change is to use it. For any issue, you can write to your representatives, organizations, companies, places in your community – you name it – to let them know what you think and/or to give them advice on how to improve. Environment-specific ideas include writing to a company or corporation that gives off lots of emissions or uses materials that are damaging to the environment. (You could write to one of the 100 companies that are responsible for a staggering 71% of the world’s carbon emissions. Coca-Cola has been the largest source of plastic pollution in the oceans for multiple years: give it suggestions for plastic-free innovations. Ask your local grocery store to adopt a plastic bag tax. Tell your favorite restaurant and the farms where it gets its food about the importance of reducing food loss and food waste.) You could also research climate legislation that is currently being considered. Then you can write to congresspeople, President Biden’s advisors, or even the President himself to ask that they approve or tweak the legislation so that it is best for the environment and the people.

The effects of climate change are felt unevenly. The people and countries that have the fewest opportunities and resources to be environmentally friendly often get hit with the worst climate disasters. I would argue that, aside from a duty to the future of the planet, those that have a larger effect on climate change (wealthier people and countries) have a larger obligation to help.

There are a lot of climate problems today, and a lot of solutions, too. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of things it seems you are being told to change. Remember that you don’t have to change everything, and especially not all at once. Doing what you can, when you can, as well as speaking up for the planet, is the only way things will get better. It is crucial to do the work now so that the planet is liveable in the future.

Dreams Really Can Come True

By Jenn Marks (of DidWeJam)

It’s a well known fact that The Brothers Comatose is my favorite local band and is in my top-five favorite bands, period. Yes, I felt I needed to emphasize the period there. 

The author (far right in sunglasses) with Jill and The Brothers Comatose & KC Turner as the Photo Bomber

Last weekend, a long time dream (one that pre-pandemic, I would have said was unattainable) was realized. The Brothers Comatose* played a backyard concert just for me**. So many people helped to make this dream a reality, not least of all the amazing Jill Katz who hosted this backyard concert at Beauty!! KC Turner played a pivotal role when he decided to make lemonade out of the lemons that COVID brought, by organizing backyard and driveway concerts, including this one. And of course, The Brothers Comatose, who really are the kindest, funniest talent that I’ve ever had the pleasure of getting to know, played a key role.

*The Brothers Comatose Trio played at Jill’s. The trio consists of the brothers Ben Morrison (guitar, vocals), and Alex Morrison (banjo, vocals); and Philip Brezina (violin, vocals and pure gold).

** just for me and 30 of Jill’s closest friends who were available on a Sunday afternoon in July.

I really don’t know how to explain what I mean about The Brothers Comatose without being too wordy, but I also feel like that’s a key part of this story so here goes. I ‘met’ The Brothers Comatose within a year of moving back to San Francisco after my 6-year tour of the other [inferior] C states. Teri and I went to a festival in Big Sur and The Brothers Comatose were the closing band the one night and they were just amazing. Teri remembers ‘Trippin’ Down the Mountain’. I remember ‘Dead Flowers’. We both remember the lads (not the Brothers) licking the light bulb and what a fun time everyone was having. Chopsticks were passed around so that the audience could provide some percussion. It really was a night and subsequently we sought them out in and around the city. We bought their CDs at the festival and listened to them (and Pete Bernhard) the entire way home.

I remember talking to Ben at the Sweetwater after a show and buying a t-shirt and talking about the festival and how much we enjoyed them. I remember talking to him and Alex before or after one of their shows at Brick & Mortar with Crystelle. Not long after that, I was running into Ben at shows around town and he would always stop and chat. And he’d remember my name which always surprised me since he has so many fans. They have never disappointed at a show and they are always as nice as can be when approached ‘in real life’. I’ve taken so many friends to see The Brothers Comatose at so many venues. I’ve sent friends in other states (TX, MD) to see them. I’ve seen them in Tahoe, in Virginia, in NYC. and I would have seen them in DC too, if it weren’t for flight delays. I’ve had songs dedicated to me (The Van Song at the Red Wings Roots festival in VA) and Ben has made it clear from the stage that I am *not* the stalker that he sings about in his song ‘I Hope You’re Not Sorry’. I’ve sat with Ben and Alex’s mom at shows in the city. They’re genuinely nice people!

Another fun fact: Ben turned me on to Lake Street Dive before people knew Lake Street Dive because he knew I would dig Bridget.

The fact that I had this dream of TBC playing a private show for me and now it was happening, after our long 13 years of lockdown (yes, it was really only months, but some of those months felt like more than a year) was more than I could have ever hoped. I honestly didn’t think there was anything that could be better than that and then suddenly it was happening.

I had spent 13 months of Friday virtual zoom happy hours with Ben (and Erika and later Desi and sometimes Alex and others) and here’s Ben walking in and hugging me. And then I was catching up with Ben and Alex and Phil as they were setting up and then suddenly they were playing. And they were so good! I love their new songs that they’ve put out during the pandemic and they played all of our favorites and Phil told entertaining stories that really were pure gold, and it was just a good time. My face hurt from smiling and laughing and I couldn’t stay in my seat; I had to get up and dance.

There were only 30 of us, so it was really intimate. They were playing what we (I) wanted to hear. They even called me up to the stage to consult on their final song. I was able to negotiate two final songs because they had promised ‘Trippin’ Down The Mountain’ to someone at the beginning, but they [almost] always end with ‘The Scout’ and it’s a favorite. They agreed with my logic (I logic good with beer) and sent me back to my spot, but not before they acknowledged me as their manager. Like I said, I didn’t think it could be any better than my own personal TBC backyard concert and then I was the manager and that *was* better. So there you go.

I’m not really sure that anything will actually surpass last Sunday. I’m not sure that I need anything to surpass last Sunday. I do know that I needed last Sunday in a way that I didn’t realize. It was so good to be surrounded by that much love and good music in such an intimate and beautiful setting.















 

Thoughts on Watching “Summer of Soul”

By Leah S. Abrams

If you were to watch the recently released documentary, “Summer of Soul” and, the next day, watch the “Woodstock” footage, both shot in the summer of 1969, one seen by multiple generations and the other – the astounding other – having sat in a basement for over fifty years, I challenge you to come away not feeling like two entirely different countries are on display. Not surprisingly, I would choose to live in the country represented by the lost footage of Harlem.

I remember my reaction to seeing the “Woodstock” footage – I have a vague recollection of later watching some uncut version which I recall largely as an error in judgement. I was utterly disheartened. I’d been so enamored with the idea of it, I was a fan of many of the presenting artists, so taken with the idea of a music festival that stood for something – was a protest for peace and a bucking of “the system.”

But the stories of things like not taking the “bad acid” had not been exaggerated and I recall thinking, mostly, “oh, gods, I never would’ve gone there. Look at all that mud and how are they all so OK being utterly filthy and who in hell wants to be naked in that with those east coast summer bugs and who exactly brings a kid to this sort of thing?”

How is it that I – that most all of us unless we’d been there or heard from someone who had been – never knew that, over the same summer, down in the city, in the heart of Harlem which had, that previous year, experienced such unbearable grief and devastation, there was a free multi-concert series as part of the, not first, but third Harlem Cultural Festival – a Summer of Soul series? Here in Manhattan, massive crowds of every age assembled, a community-wide family picnic, to hear a line-up that made my jaw literally drop and prompted a text to my mother that I’d found the festival for her, the woman who never could comprehend my fascination with Woodstock and was rightly appalled by my various attempts at a “hippie” look over several decades.

Where Woodstock claimed to be a festival about peace and love, it comes across, frankly, as a college party you call “epic” and, if you see it played back, recognize as a mucky mess whose grandness was nothing more than a drug and alcohol induced momentary epiphany that fades with sobriety and where the performers are your basic train wreck. I wasn’t sure where there was any actual mission or missive on display.

Now, all these decades on, they release what is surprisingly high video and audio quality of what was going on, simultaneously and all summer long, in a neighborhood that has long held a most special place in my heart because it is home to so many of my favorite writers and musicians (not to mention eateries).

In Harlem that summer, they were walking the walk – here was a festival whose mission did not smack you over the head nor hide itself entirely – no, this was the real deal where you get swept up, overtaken by this spirit, this very clear vision of how things really are in both the pain and the incredibly hopeful strength of community with a calling to embrace that, to rise up and show the powers that be what neighbor-caring-for-neighborhood can look like.

That summer of 1969, in Marcus Garvey Park (then, and still also, Mount Morris Park), struck me as several weeks of experiencing “Passing Strange” for the first time, with a slightly new cast and script each week. I should explain – I have never before or since been taken to another world, one so clearly not based in the realm of the physical body but in the realm of souls, as when I saw an early preview performance of “Passing Strange” when they still had costume pieces and an extra 45 minutes of material. I have only come close to reliving the experience upon subsequent live performance viewings of that show and each time I introduce someone to the Spike Lee filming of it… until I watched this documentary – this transformative church-like experience.

As a Jewish Unitarian Universalist upon whom the similarities between Judaism and Islam have never been lost and who likes to imagine herself a Druid, I assure you I use that church term universally. It isn’t that it is a holy experience, it is a transformative call to get on our feet, to celebrate life – the act of living, and to take action.

The Reverend Stephen Kendrick, in a sermon at First Church Boston some weeks back, talked about the ongoing struggle and that we have to always be fighting for what we can do to make things in the world more just, more fair, but that it isn’t about peace – that we cannot fix a world in which we simply find ourselves, like any other living thing that has come to being here. We did not create the world and so why should we be so arrogant (that may be my phrasing) as to think we can “fix” it? What we can do is be in the present moment, take in the world and experiences of others in it, and then fully embody the joy while also working toward a shared betterment – not an absolute solution where there is none.

That sermon came to mind more than once while watching Questlove’s stunningly brilliant documentary, “Summer of Soul.” With each performance, not to mention each interview and filmed reaction for the documentary itself, the message was alive – it’s broken, but we’re working to fix it and we are rejoicing in what is beautiful in and around us, come on and do it with us.

I want to remind you that, in the preceding half decade, four of the most influential Civil Rights leaders were assassinated, with Malcolm X having been murdered here in NYC, just north of Harlem, during an era when the mainstream media largely portrayed this beloved neighborhood of resilience suffering from systemic neglect, this place that was home to some of our nation’s should-be-most-recognized legendary artists of every variety over multiple generations as violent, decrepit, a place to be avoided, pitied, feared. Adding insult to injury, a picture emerged of the Black Panthers – community members providing free meals to kids and families, offering security in a place under-protected both by a lack of police presence and a suspicious, violent response from the police who were there – as violent insurrectionists.

Here I’d like to note that the only actual destructive insurrectionists in our nation’s history have been white nationalists, like the people who successfully breached the Capitol  on Jan. 6th, with the help of some active members of Congress, the military, and police officers, threatening death to members of the government, including raising a gallows to hang the V.P. And, so that you don’t forget, these people came waving Confederate flags, sporting swastikas.

But I digress. Or do I? As much as “Summer of Soul” was a transportive spiritual experience, I was continually struck by all the political and social messaging embodied by this festival, particularly as contrasted with Woodstock.

Think about it – at a time of extremely heightened racial tensions, there existed, among other lost footage no doubt, this account of what Harlem was really about, who the Black Panthers actually were and all the care they offered that could be a balanced model for those now railing against what I’ll call reimagining rather than defunding the police, and what preachers like Jesse Jackson were truly saying and how affecting that message should be universally, and it was ignored. On top of that, you had on display mind-blowing performances by the country’s greatest musicians – Stevie Wonder, an almost unbelievably young Gladys Knight and the Pips, B.B. King, Sly and The Family Stone, a positively glorious Nina Simone, and on and on and on. There is a moment with Mavis Staples and Mahalia Jackson that literally brought me to tears.

These aren’t just the best of the best in music because, to be completely fair, some of those folks were at Woodstock and a select few, including Richie Havens (a personal hero, thanks to my mother and children’s television), gave brilliant performances, but this Harlem festival footage showcases superb camera work, editing, and sound engineering, all lacking from Woodstock. And then there is the documentary that Questlove has put together to finally share this film with the world – the two can be hard to distinguish.

I guess what I’m getting at is that this is all suspicious, no? While being abundantly clear? If I were in charge of a U.S. promotional campaign, I would for damn sure be putting this doc and not Woodstock into the world. I think back to some of my high school and jr. high teachers who could have had access to this for their creative history teaching approaches and feel again the too frequent disappointment in my country.

But then I take myself where a glimpse of this great cultural festival took me – to a recognition that, no matter how hard people may try to wipe out history, it hangs on to eventually be exposed and, in this case, provide a cynical-leaning me with reason for pride and gratitude toward that same country that is home to such tremendous spirit and talent and community strength.

We must, as it has long been said, simply keep on fighting on, appreciating each small step forward even as we know they go too in reverse in what may be the best evidence we have that time is not at all a linear path toward a destination or ultimate resolution. We journey ‘round, momentarily grateful for this bit of inspiring history coming to light, this collection of material that, as Mavis Staples describes: ““All of it is good – all of it makes you feel good.”

Positively Pivoting

By Chrissy Brooks

Chrissy shared the first of this series with us back in March – find out where folks are at now and take a look back at where they were:

Today I am poolside, reveling in the joys of an outdoor club pool where my kids can swim in the California sunshine.  Our athletic club recently re-opened for recreational swimming, although registration is very limited due to COVID restrictions. Nevertheless, we are ecstatic to return to the pool, even if we have to socially distance from others. Three months ago, the possibility of bringing my kids to the pool seemed unlikely.; but today I feel hopeful that maybe we can soon return to a new kind of normal. 

Since my last blog, Pivoting During the Pandemic, my live performance career has been frozen in time. With little work for me in Musical Theater, and my husband working remotely, my family has decided to relocate this summer to the Monterey Peninsula, leaving behind the bustling Silicon Valley. Like so many others, we decided that we wanted to keep some aspects of the slower pace of life we experienced because of quarantine and COVID restrictions. Since March 2020, our lives have changed, and in effect, we now lead a much for balanced life. 

I feel hopeful that the changes we have made, and will be making this summer, will be positive for my family. I am currently unemployed, but busy focusing on my family and our big move to the Monterey Peninsula. Although Musical Theater and performance venues are starting to re-open, I am hesitant to hurl myself back into a career that pays little money for a lot of work. 

Once we have settled down, I hope to explore different areas of interest, specifically: voice over, writing, recording, and real estate.

I feel brave for choosing to pivot during this historic time, but I also feel supported by others who have also chosen to seize this opportunity and take a leap of faith. 

Three months ago, Leandra was fearlessly looking for a career and life change, after finding work in costume design lacking in both money and time for self care. Today, Leandra and her partner Skylar own newly renovated Suzon’s Coffee Lounge in Sequim, Washington. Leandra is her own boss now, and feels passionate about her work. Her career change was inevitable, she says, “because I [she] was working way too hard and not seeing the financial pay off for my work. I was making major sacrifices in my personal life, and was experiencing burn out at a very young age. I want to work to live, not live to work.” Leandra still believes that pivoting careers was necessary, and she urges others wanting a change to “trust your intuition and follow it. I believe that you will not be led astray”. If you’d like to follow her journey of first time coffee shop owners, please follow Leandra and Skylar on Instagram @suzonscoffeelounge

Last we spoke with Katie Coleman, she had left the SF Bay Area, after closing Hamilton with the SF Company, where she was musical director and pianist. She had relocated to New York City, where she earned her real estate license in February 2021. Since then, Katie has done over 40 real estate deals, and is enjoying her new career. She is “so glad I [she] made the jump and would do it over again in a heartbeat.” Although Broadway is still closed, she hopes she can find a balance in her future post pandemic life where she can incorporate both her new and old career. She says, “I used to define so much of who I was by the job I had, but now I know that no matter how much of myself I put into my job, even if the world decides it no longer needs that industry, I’m able to pivot and find success elsewhere.” 

Tripp Hudgins also relocated during the pandemic, traveling with his family cross country from California to Virginia to be closer to family. He remains unemployed since March 2021, and is hoping to finish his dissertation by the Fall. For Tripp, pivoting was necessary but difficult. He says, “It’s terrible. And necessary”. He still encourages others to pivot if they feel like a change is needed, but he also wants others to know that realistic expectations are important to remember when things “may or may not come your way”. He hopes to make himself more marketable by finishing his dissertation, and possibly get a job in the tech sector, since academic jobs are presently hard to come by. 

Nina Meehan, CEO and founder of Bay Area Children’s Theater Company (BACT), has continued to adapt to make her company successful. With the help of her Artistic Director, Khalia Davis, Nina was able to focus on strategizing the re-emergence of BACT in a post COVID world, while her company shifted to audio and online programming. Nina has also used this time to focus on and create a leadership structure in her company that allows for more input from staff members, so that she feels confident in their decision making powers. Her confidence did take time to cultivate though. She says, “There is no change without risk.  Taking that big risk can feel scary and you have to dive straight into the fear and truly feel it, which a lot of us avoid.” Nina is happy to share that BACT will be opening their first live outdoor show since March 2020. You can buy tickets for “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” here: https://bactheatre.org/tickets-events/dont-let-the-pigeon-drive-the-bus/

Adaptation, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is “a change or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment.” And, so, we must adapt to be successful in this post COVID world. Leandra, Katie, Tripp and Nina have all pivoted because of the necessary adjustments needed in their lives to be successful. Like my friends, I too, have pivoted. Was it the right move? Only time will tell. But today, I feel hopeful. 

Seeing Out National Poetry Month

As National Poetry Month draws to a close, we thought we’d leave you with some voices from around the world.

THE JOURNEY
Margaret Reckord, Jamaica

Moon-soaked
she emitted
a cold radiance
that made all
who loved her
leave her alone
As well
they might -
hers was the single
silver track
upmountain
to the moon.
TO MY UNKNOWN FRIEND
Irina Ratushinskaya, Ukraine & Russia
(translated by David McDuff)

Above my half of the world
The comets spread their tails.
In my half of the century
Half the world looks me in the eye.
In my hemisphere the wind's blowing,
There are feasts of plague without end.
But a searchlight shines in our faces,
And effaces the touch of death.
And our madness retreats from us,
And our sadnesses pass through us,
And we stand in the midst of our Fates,
Setting our shoulders against the plague.
We shall hold it back with our selves,
We shall stride through the nightmare.
It will not get further than us - don't be afraid
On the other side of the globe!
LIFE-HOOK
Juana De Ibarbourou, Uruguay
(Translated by Marti Moody)

If I die, don't take me to the cemetery.
My grave is opening
right at the surface of the earth, near the laughing
clatter of some birdhouse,
near a fountain and its gossip.

Right at the surface, love. Almost above ground
where the sun can heat my bones, and my eyes
can climb the stems of plants to watch
the sunset, its fierce red lamp.

Right at the surface. So the passage
will be short. I already see
my body fighting to get back above the soil,
to feel the wind again.

I know my hands may never calm down.
The ghosts around me will be dim, juiceless, but my
     hands
will scratch like moles.

Sprout seeds for me. I want them growing
in the yellow chalk of my bones.
I'll climb the roots like a grey staircase, and watch you
from the purple lilies.

Olivia Gatwood Poetry

In honor of National Poetry Month, our Women’s Wednesday post this last week featured Olivia Gatwood. For this week’s blog, we offer you the first poem of hers that our founder ever heard – so profoundly impacted, she immediately purchased Ms. Gatwood’s collection, “New American Best Friend” and can’t recommend it highly enough.

Check out the links below the poem too!

(Please note that the pieces in italics should be indented, but the formatting is being fussy.)

ODE TO THE WOMEN ON LONG ISLAND
after Jennifer Givhan

I want to write a poem for the women on Long Island
who smoke cigarettes in their SUV's with the windows
rolled up before walking into yoga, who hack and curse
in downward dog and Debra from the next block over, who
has strong opinions about Christmas lights after
New Years, who says that her body isn't what it used to be
but neither is the economy or the bagels at Rickman's Deli
so who really cares, who, during Shavasana, brings up
the rabbi's daughter, who got an abortion last spring,
and Candy in the corner, who is mousy and kind but
makes a show of removing her diamond ring before 
class because it's just too heavy, calls Debra hateful
and the class takes a sharp inhale through the nose
then out through the mouth. and after class, after Candy
rushes home to check the lasagna, Debra lights up
a smoke and calls her best friend Tammy
So then the girl calls me hateful
hateful, can you believe it? What a word
some kind of dictionary bitch over here
and so you know what I says? I says
you don't know the first thing about hateful,
wanna know what's hateful? Menopause.
And it doesn't really matter if Debra actually said that 
to Candy (which she didn't) because Tammy is so
caught up that Candy called Debra hateful (which she did)
that next week when Tammy runs into Candy while
shopping in Rockville Center and Candy asks Tammy
how she's doing, Tammy will adjust the purse strap
on her shoulder and say, We all have a little coal
in our stocking, Candy, and Candy will shuffle away,
certain that Tammy knows something about her marriage
that she shouldn't and she doesn't, she just loves
Debra, who just has a lot of opinions and had Candy given
her the chance to finish her sentence, Debra would have 
talked about the reproductive rights march she went to 
in the sixties and the counterproductive sex-shaming
methods of organized religion. I want to write a poem
for the women on Long Island, whose words stretch
and curl like bubblegum around the forefinger, who
ask if I have a boyfriend and before I answer, say
Don't do it. Don't ever do it. You know
my friend Linda, she's a lesbian,
like a real lesbian and whenever I go
over there, she lives on Corona by
Merrick, by the laundromat you know where
I'm talking about? Whenever I go over there
and see her and her wife, what's her name
I can never remember the girl's name
anyway whenever I go there I says you know
what I need? I says, a girlfriend, that's what I need.
The women on Long Island smoke weed once a month
on the side of the house after their husbands - Richard Larry
Gary Mike or Tony - go to bed, they let their teenage
daughters throw parties in the basement while they watch
the Home Network upstairs and keep a bat by the couch
in case anyone gets mickied, even if it's their own son
who did the drugging, the women on Long Island won't
put it past any many to be guilty, even their kin who,
after all, have their husband's hands and blood and
last week, when a girl was murdered while jogging
in Queens, the women on Long Island were un-startled
and furious, they did not call to warn daughters.
They called their sons. Took their car keys, their coats, 
locked the door and sat them at the kitchen table,
If you ever, and I mean ever, so much as
make a woman feel uncomfortable
I will take you to the deli and put your
hand in the meat slicer, you think I won't?
You hear me? I will make a hero out of you.
With mayonnaise and tomatoes and dill and onions
I want to write a poem for the women on Long Island
who, when I show them the knife I carry in my purse,
tell me it's not big enough, who are waitresses
and realtors and massage therapists and social workers
and housewives and nannies and tell me they wish
they would have been artists but
Life comes fast. One minute you're taking typing classes
for your new secretary job in the World Trade Center
and the next it's all almost over, life I mean, but I kicked
and screamed my way through it, and so will you,
I can tell by the way you walk. One more thing
when they call you a bitch, say thank you,
say thank you, very much.

Recommended Links of Olivia Reading

Featured poem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqpip0H1QTE

2019 at the strand: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gxCveb9ZBE

2017: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJ8W522jPyk

What We Never Learn, or Why “Battlestar Galactica” should be required viewing

By Leah S. Abrams

What I hope is that we learned, learned so very much, about how to make a different world rather than the familiar, severely broken one, how to live up to the promise of our species.

But we have been here before.  Nothing, except maybe The Big Bang, and probably not even that because surely it too was replicating a previous event, is actually unprecedented.  I am about as weary of that term as I am the word “pivot” and the most worn-out phrase of them all, “lean in.”  How many songs, poems, essays, lectures, etc., etc. tell us how “it’s all just a little bit of history repeating”? (If the reader is interested, the writer hears the great Shirley Bassey in her head while typing that.)

At the cult favorite’s highly contested final episode of the early 00’s “Battlestar Galactica” remake, I wept, a good deal.  Now, if you’ve watched a show or film with me, you know this is not all that unusual.  Early on, I learned that the people who torment you for being too sensitive, crying too easily, will largely give you a pass on the behaviour if it’s in a dark theatre, in response to something seemingly external like, say, “E.T.” (And here the writer would like to thank Adam F. Goldberg for “The Goldbergs” episode addressing those of us who had a hyper-emotional response to the 1982 Stephen Spielberg hit.)  The art that affects me that powerfully hits somewhere fundamental to my core, often a message I take as commentary on the human species at large.

I remember watching that last “Battlestar Galactica” episode and thinking I would opt for Captain Adama’s choice – just sit it out, alone, peaceful, quiet, with a stellar natural view, lost in time with recently deceased love-of-life.  (Did I not warn you that there are spoilers? They remade the thing nearly two decades ago, so this is on you.)  After all that battling and seeking, to come to realize there’s nothing most humans (or cylons) can offer that will bring the calm of solitude, of giving the brain over to the person who created joy, inspired, was your comfort and confidence and confidant, even if they’ve departed to another dimensional energy.  For me, then, I imagined spending eternity with memories of my dad who died a couple of years before the show came out.

If I could, though, I also thought at that viewing, I would opt for the Starbuck out.  To realize the pattern never ceases repeating, that the only way out for real is to let go entirely of the self, to accept that a thousand lifetimes will pass and the humans will keep not retaining the great lessons supposedly learned, doomed to be the species that willingly rejects its ability to transcend all its innate potential, forever choosing instead to give over to its most base selfishness and savagery.  One may say it’s the chimp in us beating down the inner bonobo.

But the truth of it is that I’m still a bit of a Lee Adama – having seen the potential to do it all differently, holding onto the dreamer’s vision of actually creating a global society where cities and countries and borders are at last dispersed with in the great realization that they are a construct like so much of our lives.

Frankly, it is a shame that our global pandemic has not featured a universal required viewing of that “Battlestar Galactica” redux.  There they were – years of warring and re-learning to literally save the species from extinction, a species thrown from its own planet, searching for this mythical Eden called Earth.  Too many of us humans refuse to recognize just how close to the brink we are and that our supposed progression has largely amounted to over-population and unnecessary infringements on our planet, resulting in catastrophic destruction.

Chew on this offering from biologist Edward O. Wilson on if humans were to suddenly disappear: the earth “would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten-thousand years ago.”  But “if insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.”  Why do I raise this point?  Insect numbers and diversity are declining at alarming rates:  a decrease of 80% in numbers and 40% in diversity of New Hampshire’s beetles, Netherlands’ butterfly numbers down 85%, in Germany, a 30% drop in species in widely protected grasslands and forests. (Kolbert, Elizabeth; “Where Have All the Insects Gone,” National Geographic, 05-2020.)

There is only one answer for surviving ourselves and we learned, throughout this last year, that it is achievable.  Already, though, I fear we are largely turning our back on the lessons.  Our worldwide break from “flying the friendly skies” and clogging up roads and bridges every morning and night in some bizarre insistence that all the humans go to their little cubes at the same time, largely resolved our climate impact problem.  I am not suggesting we stop everything for all time, but what if we were able to collectively celebrate that success, so inspired by its actuality that we came together and rose to our potential?

We choose to poison the planet.  We choose to create societies around money and power, both made up by us.  What we value, how we categorize and judge and demonize other members of our species?  It is all made up by us.  We have within us, and we have now seen real-time evidence of this, the ability to team up more universally to create a better reality for the entirety of our own species while simultaneously reversing our massacre of every other living species and our shared home, a planet revered above all else in “Battlestar Galactica.” 

The more time marches itself along in the linear fashion we’ve put upon it, the more confounded I am by we humans.  Over and over, we willingly battle; destroy; see things as winning over someone else, succeeding only when we can see another lose, suffer.  Instead of realizing that the energy spent tearing others down could be rerouted to create what amounts to “paradise on earth” for all, we prefer to boost ourselves at the expense of others.

Still, like the younger Adama, I can’t quite let go of the glimpse of the possible.  And I can’t quite help feel but the last year has taught me more about what is actually important and how our time could be spent if we weren’t in such a hurry to return to the constructs of martyring behaviour that leaves us at our worst, doomed forever to the repetition of global illness.

Days of Covid: Empty Springside Hill

By Leah S. Abrams
Clove cigarettes
the scent of them
wafting on breath
of breeze
tasting like 
dreamy memory
pure delight of
small human
in its natural habitat
outdoors
the constants
the guaranteed smile
makes you
PAUSE
Breathe deep
Become aware of
the world
that is beyond
the world
In childhood
nothing so sweet as
smell of spring
fresh grass
warm cushion of it
idyllic sun-basked bed
And now
Here
May 2020
empty hillside
clover green
beckoning
as a lover
unmasked
as satisfying
air filling the senses
a gift from
the heavens themselves
and you
who does
follow
fathers’ advice to
stop! smell the roses
cannot fathom
how much more
glorious
could be
so forbidden
stealing
a thrill
beyond
imagining…

Obituary

A poem by Jamie Rosler
I hold grudges
Or maybe
they hold me

Time and again
I remember
The things I didn't say
The points I didn't make
The wrongs I didn't right

Or you didn't

Or we

Forgiveness
without an apology
Forgive you
For me

Old friends & ex-lovers
visit dreams
Surreal impossibilities and mundane meetings,
in the world
in my head
Interrupted sleep
Startled by imagined moments

There was a wake yesterday
I've been sleeping better

One less grudge
One loss I'm not sorry for

Not sorry for me
Though
sorry for a mother's loss

Forgiveness
without an apology
Forgive you
For me

I hold grudges
Or maybe
they hold me

3 Questions for your “Coronaversary

By Gabbi Traub

I recently read an article  about the three questions you should ask yourself for your “Coronaversary.”  The author also mentioned how the term “Coronaversary” wasn’t quite the right term considering it’s not something to celebrate, and I happen to agree.  But there isn’t a better word for “the one-year mark for when the world shut down and everyone lost something due to a global pandemic.”  So, Coronaversary it is. 

But her questions were really thought-provoking, and I thought I’d share them with you, as well as my answers, or what I’ve come up with so far.  

  1. Where were you last March? 

I’m going to answer this question and all subsequent questions both literally and figuratively, because I think both are important to note, and because it really has changed for so many people.

Let’s see, last March, the Before Times.  I was living in Jersey City, commuting 5 days a week to a job at a restaurant in Manhattan, and dreaming of a day when I wouldn’t have to work in the service industry anymore (LOL). I was overworked (though I didn’t know it at the time) and simultaneously stressed about money (I had just taken a week off work to attend a friend’s wedding out of state, and no, servers do not get PTO). I was exhausted, but complacent enough as I was making good money for easy(ish) work and thought I was “doing what I was supposed to be doing”. I was also happily cohabitating with my partner and the cat we had just adopted.  

I remember thinking – man if I could just afford to take a month off of work and do nothing and reevaluate things maybe I could finally breathe and get my sh*t together. (Little did I know my wish would be granted, tenfold). Looking back I see I was doing it all to myself – I could have taken fewer shifts when I needed to, I could have buckled down and looked for a new day job.  But I had always moved very quickly, filled my days to the brim, overworked myself until I had to completely shut down for a time and reboot.

  1. Where are you now? 

Physically, still in JC living happily with my partner and our cat (who I have come to love more than any other creature in existence and that includes my partner – don’t worry, he knows and feels the same about her). But wow.  This past year has kicked me in the a$$.  I just hit my one-year unemployment-versary (this “versary” is also not quite so celebratory…).  My restaurant still hasn’t opened back up, and I just didn’t feel safe looking for another restaurant job during the pandemic.  Plus my partner works in healthcare and I didn’t want to add to our risk.  I’m currently at a crossroads of what I want to do with my life in terms of profession, though my path has recently become a bit clearer. I am living in a constant state of limbo- and that has a lot to do with my partner’s career being up in the air as well.  It’s hard to start anything new when you don’t have solid footing.  

  1. How have you changed in the past year? 

I could talk for days about how much I and my life have changed. Here are my most important highlights: 

My priorities have shifted a lot.  I have always been career first, relationship second. However, being with my current partner and making it through quarantine and covid together (so far) has honestly saved me, and, at least in my eyes, really strengthened our relationship.  We’ve always been pretty good at communication, but having to share a space 24/7 while having totally different personalities has been quite a…challenge. This was definitely a make-it-or-break-it scenario for so many couples and I just got lucky.  I wish I could joke around and say we were at each other throats or wanted to kill each other but sappily this just reaffirmed why we chose each other and why he is a priority for me.  (And for anyone who knows me well, is a HUGE world shift).

The pandemic (and subsequent political issues and racial reckonings) put a lot of pressure on my relationship with my family and have really redefined how I view my relationships with them.  I have always been close with my immediate family and still am, but it has definitely been an eye-opening year. Cryptic I know, but there are some things strangers on the internet aren’t privy to (no offense, I’m sure you’re all lovely). 

My relationship with my body has changed.  I honestly don’t know if that’s better or worse.  I gained most of my pre-covid “working too much eating too little” weight back.  Not being busy and being forced to sit still has left me with no choice but to both “make an effort” and to think about it constantly.  I spend much more time thinking about why my thighs don’t gap and why my skin isn’t clear and glowing. On a positive note, I now have a consistent workout routine, and I have gotten very creative with my cooking and baking adventures.  But it’s no longer “easy”.  Which I know is a luxury to say, but it’s still such a challenge for me.  I will say, with a year of workouts under my belt, my butt has never looked better. 

Finally, theatre, my true love and professional aspiration since I was a little girl- has fallen by the wayside.  I barely sing anymore (except the occasional Bridgerton Musical sing-a-long on Instagram; don’t @ me, it’s incredible). While performing will always be my first love, my drive for being a professional performer just isn’t there anymore.  I want to love what I do, not fear and loathe the process. I hope it comes back into my life in a fun and loving way, but my priorities have shifted so much that there isn’t room for it to be my whole life anymore.  

On that mildly depressing note, I do want to say that overall I feel much more secure as a person than I did a year ago.  Granted, I’ve been in therapy for 6 years now and that definitely has something to do with it, but having the past year of forced stillness and reconciliation has taught me so much.  It’s kind of like that saying “the older you get the less you know”? I’m just excited to learn and move forward in a way that’s just unapologetically me.  I think I’ll get there, but change takes time, and patience is not my finest virtue.