Category Archives: Inspiration

Like all social movements, this one must confront despair. Here’s some inner fuel for the soul.

Alexander McCall Smith

These are very difficult times for so many. I have been very touched by the messages that I have received from readers, many of whom are isolated now and are renewing their friendship with Mma Ramotswe and the others.

I have written a poem especially for this moment, and the text is below. It comes to you with my warmest wishes, and my hope that you are keeping well.

“In a time of distance”

The unexpected always happens in the way
The unexpected has always occurred:
While we are doing something else,
While we are thinking of altogether
Different things — matters that events
Then show to be every bit as unimportant
As our human concerns so often are;
And then, with the unexpected upon us,
We look at one another with a sort of surprise;
How could things possibly turn out this way
When we are so competent, so pleased
With the elaborate systems we’ve created —
Networks and satellites, intelligent machines,
Pills for every eventuality — except this one?

And so we turn again to face one another
And discover those things
We had almost forgotten,
But that, mercifully, are still there:
Love and friendship, not just for those
To whom we are closest, but also for those
Whom we do not know and of whom
Perhaps we have in the past been frightened;
The words brother and sister, powerful still,
Are brought out, dusted down,
Found to be still capable of expressing
What we feel for others, that precise concern;
Joined together in adversity
We discover things we had put aside:
Old board games with obscure rules,
Books we had been meaning to read,
Letters we had intended to write,
Things we had thought we might say
But for which we never found the time;
And from these discoveries of self, of time,
There comes a new realization
That we have been in too much of hurry,
That we have misused our fragile world,
That we have forgotten the claims of others
Who have been left behind;
We find that out in our seclusion,
In our silence; we commit ourselves afresh,
We look for a few bars of song
That we used to sing together,
A long time ago; we give what we can,
We wait, knowing that when this is over
A lot of us — not all perhaps — but most,
Will be slightly different people,
And our world, though diminished,
Will be much bigger, its beauty revealed afresh.

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What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

–Lynn Ungar 3/11/20

An Imagined Letter from Covid-19 to Humans

Stop. Just stop.
It is no longer a request. It is a mandate.
We will help you.
We will bring the supersonic, high speed 
merry-go-round to a halt.
We will stop
the planes
the trains
the schools
the malls
the meetings
the frenetic, furied rush of illusions and “obligations” that keep you from hearing our single and shared beating heart,
the way we breathe together, in unison.
Our obligation is to each other,
As it has always been, even if, even though, you have forgotten.
We will interrupt this broadcast, the endless cacophonous broadcast of divisions and distractions,
to bring you this long-breaking news:
We are not well.
None of us; all of us are suffering.
Last year, the firestorms that scorched the lungs of the earth did not give you pause.
Nor the typhoons in Africa,China, Japan.
Nor the fevered climates in Japan and India.
You have not been listening.
It is hard to listen when you are so busy all the time, hustling to uphold the comforts and conveniences that scaffold your lives.
But the foundation is giving way,
buckling under the weight of your needs and desires.
We will help you.
We will bring the firestorms to your body
We will bring the fever to your body
We will bring the burning, searing, and flooding to your lungs
that you might hear:
We are not well.
Despite what you might think or feel, we are not the enemy.
We are Messenger. We are Ally. We are a balancing force.
We are asking you:
To stop, to be still, to listen;
To move beyond your individual concerns and consider the concerns of all;
To be with your ignorance, to find your humility, to relinquish your thinking minds and travel deep into the mind of the heart;
To look up into the sky, streaked with fewer planes, and see it, to notice its condition: clear, smoky, smoggy, rainy? How much do you need it to be healthy so that you may also be healthy?
To look at a tree, and see it, to notice its condition: how does its health contribute to the health of the sky, to the air you need to be healthy?
To visit a river, and see it, to notice its condition: clear, clean, murky, polluted? How much do you need it to be healthy so that you may also be healthy? How does its health contribute to the health of the tree, who contributes to the health of the sky, so that you may also be healthy?
Many are afraid now.
Do not demonize your fear, and also, do not let it rule you. Instead, let it speak to you—in your stillness,
listen for its wisdom.
What might it be telling you about what is at work, at issue, at risk, beyond the threats of personal inconvenience and illness?
As the health of a tree, a river, the sky tells you about quality of your own health, what might the quality of your health tell you about the health of the rivers, the trees, the sky, and all of us who share this planet with you?
Notice if you are resisting.
Notice what you are resisting.
Ask why.
Stop. Just stop.
Be still.
Ask us what we might teach you about illness and healing, about what might be required so that all may be well.
We will help you, if you listen.

  ~ Kristin Flyntz, 3.12.2020

YouTube reading of the poem

Yarns From the Farm — Climate Basics

Nan Bray is an oceanographer and climate scientist
who has farmed superfine merinos near Oatlands since 2000

Note to my readers: This is a series I’m writing on climate change for our local monthly newspaper this year. I wanted to go back to the basics of the science behind climate change.
I’ll post them in coming Yarns.
Cheers, Nan

Leading Australia’s
Antarctic Program

A Climate Basics Series

  1. Carbon dioxide: nature’s tiny solar panels
  2. Take a deep breath
  3. Galileo Fixes Everything

Hopefully, more to come . . .

Interrupting the bad news with kindness

A Democrat and a Republican were on a plane

It sounds like a set up to a political joke, doesn’t it?

It’s actually real. On a recent four hour-flight to Chicago, my seatmate and I enjoyed something that has become rare in these times: a civil exchange of ideas and a surprising consensus. He was from rural Oregon, a gun owner, and a Republican. I’m from “the valley,” a moderate Democrat, and very concerned about gun violence in our country.

Had we followed the script, we might have eyed each other suspiciously, muttered insults under our breath, and tuned each other out with the in-flight entertainment. Instead, he asked about my work, and I shared how I created the Americans of Conscience Checklist.

“Oh, wow,” he said. “That sounds really great.”

“It’s non-partisan and meant to engage all people in their democracy by speaking up for our shared values. I really think our nation needs more listening and better collaboration.” He looked thoughtful and then nodded in agreement.

Taking a courageous risk

When I asked his views on the increasing gun violence, he surprised me by saying, “I believe people should have to get trained and pass a test—just like a drivers license—before they can own a firearm. There’s no good reason to oppose this.”

“I’m surprised,” I confessed. “That’s not what I expected you to say.” He grinned at me.

We’d found common ground. Our conversation was a humbling reminder that our neighbors—red, blue, and green Americans—are more than the labels we put on them. I could have smugly written him off with misinformed biases, but he wasn’t a caricature. He was a real person with values, cares, and concerns just like me. In listening deeply, I came to understand this person and appreciate his thoughtful, nuanced views.

As we landed, I thanked him for sharing so openly with me about a contentious issue. He thanked me for being curious and listening despite our differences. We agreed our country would be better if everyone showed respect to one another, even when we don’t see eye to eye. I got off the plane feeling more hopeful than I had in weeks.

The value of choosing kindness, even now

When I started the AoC Checklist three years ago, my vision was—and remains—to create a kind and thriving nation. This worthwhile effort can take many forms and many small steps to achieve, but it’s fundamentally grounded in hope.

Despite evidence to the contrary, kindness is part of the fabric of our nation. You need only peruse our Good News section in each issue to find generous souls and organizations doing good because they can. Although we may temporarily forget this kinder nature in the rising tide of hate and fear, it’s still there waiting when tragedy strikes and we decide to be part of the solutions. Kindness isn’t magic; it comes down to making a choice.

Thriving means much more than having a good leader in the White House. In a thriving nation, every person enjoys dignity and respect, health and happiness. That’s why, week after week, our Checklist offers ways for all Americans—red and blue and green—to steer our nation in the direction of a healthy democracy that represents all its people. Every time you take an action, you help create this.

The future is up to us

Feeling discouraged is normal. Our team feels it. I feel it. Everywhere you look there is so much to fix, the project seems impossible. If you notice this discouragement too, here’s a reminder that if a conservative and liberal on a plane can talk civilly, respectfully, and meaningfully about a hard topic (and come out smiling!), maybe all isn’t lost just yet.

That’s why Americans of Conscience Checklist is still here, keeping the flame lit and held high. We believe that a brighter future is possible, no matter how bleak things may seem at the moment. It won’t be easy create the kind and thriving nation of our vision. It will take listening and advocacy. It will require tenacity and generosity. And. Every time you and I show up with courage and compassion—every time we take small but meaningful actions, we say YES to that brighter, flourishing future.

We create that vision by choosing it. If you need a place to start (or re-start), join us in creating a kinder, thriving nation this week.

Jen Hofmann
Americans of Conscience Checklist, creator and editor

Grassroots Rising: A Call to Action on Climate, Farming, Food, and a Green New Deal

Grassroots Rising by Ronnie Cummins, founder and director of the Organic Consumers Association, will be available January 28. This is one of the most important books Chelsea Green has published, and we are offering activists and organizations the special discounts listed below.

$17.95 paperback – 208 pages – ISBN 9781603589758 – Available January 28, 2020

“This is a book that should be in the hands of every activist working on food and farming, climate change, and the Green New Deal.”
—Vandana Shiva, scientist, environmentalist, social activist; author of Earth Democracy, Soil Not Oil, and Stolen Harvest

Continue reading

Chicago Review of Books — Burning Worlds

The Man Who Coined ‘Cli-Fi’ Has Some Reading Suggestions For You

by Amy Brady — February 8, 2017

“Burning Worlds” is a new monthly column dedicated to examining important trends in climate change fiction, or “cli-fi.”

It astonishes to think just how long humans have known that the Earth is getting warmer. The term “global warming” didn’t enter public consciousness until the 1970s, but scientists have studied our planet’s natural greenhouse effect since at least the 1820s. In 1896, a Swedish chemist named Svante Arrheniussome concluded that human activity (like coal burning) contributed to the effect, warming the planet further.

And yet, here we find ourselves in 2017, still wrestling with man-made climate change like it’s a new phenomenon. Why have we not acted sooner? The answer may lie in what Indian author Amitav Ghosh calls humanity’s “great derangement”: our inability to perceive the enormity of the catastrophe that awaits us.

That’s where fiction writers come in.*

For years, authors have been writing climate change fiction, or “cli-fi,” a genre of literature that imagines the past, present, and future effects of climate change. Their work crosses literary boundaries in terms of style and content, landing on shelves marked “sci-fi” and “literary fiction.” Perhaps you’ve read one of the classics: Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake or Kim Stanley Robinson’s Forty Signs of Rain. Then there’s Ian McEwan’s Solar and J. G. Ballard’s 1965 novel The Burning World, from which this column derives its name. Each of these novels—like others in the genre—help us to “see” possible futures lived out on a burning, drowning, or dying planet.

Here at the Chicago Review of Books, we feel it’s time to give cli-fi more attention. To that end, we bring you “Burning Worlds,” a new monthly column dedicated to examining what’s hot (sorry) in cli-fi. It’ll feature interviews, reviews, and analyses of the genre with the hope of generating a larger conversation about climate change and why imagined depictions of the phenomenon are vital to the literary community—and beyond.

Kicking us off is an interview with journalist and former teacher Dan Bloom, the man who coined the term “cli-fi” (read more about Bloom in his interview with Literary Hub). Bloom founded and maintains The Cli-Fi Report, the web’s most comprehensive site dedicated to cli-fi. He is a tireless crusader for the genre, a self-proclaimed “cli-fi missionary.” In this interview, we discuss what inspired his passion for climate change fiction, why he thinks the term “cli-fi” caught on, and what he recommends we all read next.

Continue to read the interview . . .