Hope: Dream a Better World

IMG_1230 - Version 2Amidst all the Year in Reviews and New Years Resolutions and post Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Festivus consumerism hangovers, I’m thinking a lot about the power of hope. The power of dreaming a better world. The power of dreaming and then doing something concrete to help bring about a better world. Direct service, political advocacy, and activism: we need a healthy combination of people involved in all three areas of civic engagement. And just because we might be drawn to one area (like direct service) and repelled by another (like in-your-face activism) doesn’t mean that they aren’t all equally as important.

Brought to you by the U.S. government (with the amusing tagline “Government made easy”) is the website page “Popular New Year’s Resolutions.”  They list thirteen resolutions with the first being the all too familiar ‘lose weight’ and the second being ‘volunteer to help others.’ The ‘volunteer to help others’ links to the Tumblr blog for the Corporation of National and Community Service, the federal agency responsible for national service programs like AmeriCorps and SeniorCorps. Continuing with the hope-inspiring web-surfing, I discover Tublr’s Year in Review 2014/top blog posts and sites. Under ‘activism’ I find some terrific blogs, including Seattle-based Citizenship and Social Justice, CultureStr/ke (arts and activism around immigration), Pioneering Justice (photojournalism on human rights issues), and 100 Days of Activism. There are also some amusing blogs, such as Cats Can’t Be Vegan, Idiots.

Art and writing as activism. The living writer who best exemplifies what it means to dream a better world (and to write great literature about it) is science-fiction writer Ursula Le Guin. This year at the National Book Awards, Le Guin received the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. In her powerful acceptance speech (YouTube video of it here), she states:

“Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom — poets, visionaries — realists of a larger reality”

For a good article related to her speech, read Bill Moyer’s article “Ursula Le Guin’s viral video: we will need writers who can remember freedom” 12-27-14. And for a link to the complete transcript/copy of her speech, Le Guin has it on her author website here.

Happy New Years. Resolve to dream (and write and create and serve and agitate) a better world.

Resource:

A terrific training module/activity guide I use (in an adapted form) in my undergraduate community health course is the Bonner Foundation’s Bridging the Gap Between Service, Activism, and Politics.

Women Writing Dangerously

IMG_0404 - Version 2Here’s my favorite excerpt from Washington State’s poet laureate Elizabeth Austin’s powerful poem “The Girl Who Goes Alone” (From her collection Every Dress a Decision, Blue Begonia Press, 2011):

“I walk into the wilderness alone because the animal in me needs to fill her nose
with the scent of stone and lichen,
ocean salt and pine forest warming in early sun.

I walk in the wilderness alone so I can hear myself.
So I can feel real to myself.”

You can watch Elizabeth reading the entire poem at the Hedgebrook Rising! Town Hall Seattle, April 9, 2013 here. She is an amazing poet and an awesome performer. I’ve had the opportunity to take voice coaching from her on ways to strengthen my ‘spoken word’ performance–something that doesn’t come easily to me. The most useful bit of advice she gave me and that I now use as an internal mantra before I read publicly is “It requires you, but it’s not about you.” A calling up of the muse I suppose but it often helps.

Creating a safe space in the wilderness for ‘women writing dangerously’ is what Seattle-area philanthropist Nancy Nordhoff had in mind when she opened Hedgebrook on Whidby Island near Seattle twenty-five years ago. She recruited Gloria Steinam to be on the advisory board and Steinam has written most of her memoir there. It’s an old farm on Useless Bay that has six cozy cabins which house a stream of women writers in residence. The Hedgebrook staff treat these writers to what they call radical hospitality. They provide food and lodging and protected time and supportive space in which to write. As Steinam says of Hedgebook, it is a place that nurtures women’s voices, a place that creates both personal and political change: it is important for the world to hear from women (and to be open to listening to them.) The Friends of Art Zone created a lovely 25 minute documentary on Hedgebrook that you can watch here.

I am honored to have been given a three week writer in residence stay at Hedgebrook this fall and am busy planning my dangerous writing. Hedgebrook is committed to nurturing a diverse community of women writers from across the globe. If you–or someone you know–is a woman writer in need of some radical hospitality, consider applying for a Hedgebrook Writers in Residence award (deadline: September 3rd) or come to one of their onsite master class retreats. You can also order a copy of their new cookbook Hedgebrook Cookbook: Celebrating Radical Hospitality (SheWrites Press, 2014). Their food is reportedly amazing. And for those of you on the East Coast, there’s now a Hedgebrook spin-off in Brooklyn called Powder Keg (writers Holly Morris and Sharon Lerner, co-founders and Hedgebrook alums.)

The photo here is of a sunset at Olga Bay on Orcas Island where I try to take an annual solo writing retreat.