The Illusion of Dichotomy

There’s a call-out post about organic produce that made me hopping mad, but it took me a few days to articulate why.

It wasn’t that it was challenging a lot of what I value (though it did).

It was because it made a false dichotomy.

It listed all the ways in which eating farm to table was cutting out urban jobs or how wearing organic fabrics was money you could spend donating…

and it erased the fact that we can choose both.

Dichotomy

American culture borrows this love of considering things mutually exclusive from other older cultures all the way back to at least the Hellenic expansion. The Greeks loved to divide things up. One of the more devastating ways we still buy into this is in the idea that body and spirit are unrelated–it is best to live in the mind and suborn the body.

Because we seem to love to sort things neatly into good or bad, we still are trying to shed this idea that the mind or spirit is higher, while the body is just low biology.

The more we learn about the wholeness of the body with emotions and thoughts (and the more we learn how damaging our disregard of our bodies’ natural processes is) the more urgent it gets that we reintegrate.

We need to shed the dichotomy.

A Problem of Perception

The problem with the post wasn’t that it was pointing out ways that were more helpful to spend your money to benefit the economy or others. It was the standpoint it took–if you spend money on organics, you are stealing from others.

The false dichotomy here is: if you spend money on one thing, you cannot spend it on another.

One of the examples was buying organic sheets. So yeah, that seems a little over-the-top. I can only think of a few kinds of people who would do that: people who have lots of money…and people with the kind of life-altering allergies or sensitivities that mean buying the special version of everything.

If your person is the former, they can both donate to a cause AND buy their sheets organic.

In both cases, the dichotomy is more about anger at a perception of how other people spend their money than about realistically asking people to make change.

The No-Lose Alternative

My family has been buying purified water from a small local business, unpasteurized milk from a nearby dairy, and organic produce for about a decade now. A lot of these behaviors came from a paradigm shift where a health crisis changed the way we did EVERYTHING.

Sometimes you have to spend money on yourself first, to save your life.

My mom now owns a wellness business with an income that allows her to help out family and neighbors, provide jobs to several people (including one insolvent daughter), and also help facilitate others getting healthier.

She’s helping them live better and be more financially stable by first helping them heal. And donating to causes she believes in.

The underlying assumption of the article was that because it’s not immediately for the common good, it shouldn’t be done. (There was also a rather overt trust in the most click-bait-y of research results tearing up the Internet to prove organic isn’t better. Hint: that’s not really what nuanced, careful research shows.)

It’s not true, and it’s also just heartbreaking.

It’s OK to Make Contextual Choices

I am aware that buying bottled water comes with a ecological impact, so I try not to do it. My family gets purified tap water from our own area, and have our own filter. I even drink tap sometimes!

If I was stranded out in the desert (or even downtown Suburbia) and needed water, I would be OK with buying a bottled water from a store or vending machine. No amount of me not drinking that water is going to actually put the bottle back, though it’s good to be conscious of the impact of our small choices.

I can believe in supporting local farms, and also contribute to food pantries. I can pick out ugly vegetables in my grocery store, and also have a co-op that give me pretty stuff.

Every day is a web of choices that need to be made in balance.

The modern culture of the Internet is fond of villainizing and heroizing–but it’s OK to hold a balance. No one thing is the answer to all needs. The real thing we need in life is to be making conscious choices with the information we have, and make a space for discomfort, to give others what they need.

This is Not A Response Call-Out Post

Bringing it back, be wary of dichotomies. I don’t want to challenge that specific writer as wrong (though I will continue to speak my mind about the lack of nuance) but I do want to point out that it doesn’t serve anyone.

Sure, it gets some hearty amens from people who don’t see what it’s like on the other side. For someone to seem to be allergic to everything, hoping that buying non-fragrance detergent is going to help them sleep at night.

It appeals to our idea that there are easy rights or wrongs–and that we can feel good about ourselves if we are in line with them.

Both sides of that dichotomous article? Are right.

Pod-Blast 2: When “The Better Way” Is Too Uncomfortable

One of the most fascinating things about people is how they can know things (either personally or collectively) that they completely ignore.

This isn’t the first episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History (and they’re all worth listening to) but this one melds the kind of light trivia (ways to shoot penalties in basketball) with bigger ideas about humanity.

Check out The Big Man Can’t Shoot either here at the podcast website, or on iTunes.

This episode has stuck with me–since my brother plays hockey, the sports connections resurface. Really, though, my paradigm shifted enough I don’t need to hear the word “draft” (listen and you’ll get why) to think about the terrifying revelation in this podcast.

Which is that even if people know, even if they EXPERIENCE better, they will go back to the old but less uncomfortable ways.

It’s terrifying, because we’ve probably done it. And this is why we need to get a group of people around us who want to make the same changes–and up our resilience or threshold for standing out.

If this podcast tickled your brain (or shifted your whole world), the rest of the Revisionist History episodes will, too. I’ll be continuing to highlight my favorites in this series!

Pod-Blast 1: Magic Lessons Ep. 1

Boundaries are tough. They’re also vital. Brene Brown defines vulnerability as connection and intimacy within boundaries. Without boundaries, sharing things personal and vulnerable for you is reckless–and does not build connection.

I’ve been thinking about the importance of modeling boundaries. If I won’t say no, because the people around me don’t, then how can any of us start building good fences and become good neighbors?

Modeling is also vital in creativity. That’s what it’s all about in today’s first podcast blast where I share top mind-altering podcasts I’ve loved.

I’m a relative newcomer to podcasts. Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons are what really sold me on how much they had to offer, starting last year. So let’s launch with HER launching episode!

Episode 1: Do What Ignites Your Soul

This episode answers a writing mom’s inquiry into why she feels stuck. She knows it’s partly guilt–guilt that if she’s not 100% devoted to her children and only them, she’s taking something from them.

This is far from the truth. Moms model for kids what it is to be a person–and this includes boundaries and behaviors toward your own well-being and dreams.

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Image taken from the blog of the mom in question, Erin Janda Rawling

Check it out!

Magic Lessons by Elizabeth Gilbert – Episode 1 (Season 1)

The Process of Un-Numbing

Apparently I am becoming a person who weeps at the movies.

OK, “weep” may be an exaggeration–“cries fat, warm tears” is more accurate. But still, for someone who never cried during a movie before the age of 20-something*, this is an unexpected twist.

I honestly am not quite sure when it happened–that I decided emotions were dangerous and had to be muted. All I know is that when I first started doing some uncovering and emotional work, I did NOT expect it to take years to thaw from that deep freeze.

But anyway: MOVIES.

Granted, the two movies I watched this week that made me feel like a watering pot are Inside Out and Moana.

Both are emotional journeys–which, if you know anything at all about me (even if it’s just the headlines of my blogposts) is kind of both my kryptonite and my superpower. Funny how that works.

It also is partly that I am seeing everything through a lens of emotional journeys these days.

But a girl going out on a ship to save her island in the face of criticism and having to believe herself worthy? Having to convince a demi-god he is worthy not because of his powers but as a person?

T_____T

I feel like I might have a detailed write-up on this movie in me. But maybe while I’m still bringing myself to tears when I think of the theme song ISN’T the time.

 

*this is slightly inaccurate: Ever After made me cry. But it was definitely more the last straw on the camel’s back of 15yo hormones, jet-lag, and reverse culture shock. It was definitely an outlier.

Translating “Write What You Know”

When they said “write what you know” I don’t think they meant “set your werewolf poems in the landscape you walk everyday” exactly…but I do think that’s the spirit of it.

This is a writing rule a lot like “show don’t tell”. It is used so liberally and often without nuance.

I think I’m finally really figuring out how to do this. It’s been about 20 years since I started writing seriously, so this is a little alarming, as far as rate-of-growth is concerned…but anyway, a lot more of my writing is coming from a personal place. No matter how strange the subject matter.

I think hearing this phrase, people immediately leap to “but I have been very boring”.

I know. We’re writers–being boring helps us actually get work done. Unlike acting or other arts which can happen impromptu, we need to sit and be still for long stretches to accomplish anything.

And here’s the thing: I started out writing stories about ninjas in imaginary oasis countries. And now I’m writing…well, about the same kind of thing. What has changed?

My heroine is shopping, and her different ethnic background means she has to look at clothing for housewives. My hero gets excited about buying a box lunch at the train station, instead of taking one packed by his mother.

The were-canines worrying about being shot if they trespass on someone else’s land in dog-form.

And of course, I still need to do my research about the things I’m not familiar with. But I can also look at a story where I somewhat phoned in the setting details and when wondering how to fix it, think about whether it would be more interesting to have it happen in an alternate US Midwest, rather than an imagined historical Britain.

The phrase isn’t “limit yourself to what you know”. It should maybe be “draw on things you know all too well”.

The cliche phrase will still be everywhere, but now I’m going to think, “Ah yes. Do crazy things using details I know from my own experience.”

Which does mean breaking out of boring, every once in a while, to get exposed to new details. I’m thinking about letting some were-creatures take up residence in New England, too….

Taking Cheer from Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick’s Day! A day holy to people wearing shades of green that make redheads LOOK green, and equating Irish heritage with being alcoholics numbing the pain of monocropping potatoes for the British Empire.

You can tell I’m Irish-American because my sense of humor is a little bitter.

But actually, I’d like to raise a metaphorical glass to the historical Patrick. There was a man who turned a dark time of his life into a calling, a passion.

And there was a time of history where the ending of one empire, the end of the world for many I am sure, sent out the seeds of a new civilization. One, in its own ways, as barbaric and cruel as any of the great empires. The one I feel perched at the very edge of.

The saving of ancient literature in Irish monasteries, with love and passion, mattered dearly. Do you think the men copying manuscripts hour after hour knew their own historical significance?

I doubt it. I hope they get to see it from their vantage point now.

I have often in my lifetime (with typical inherited pessimism tinged with arrogance) been sure I would see the fall of my own civilization. Recently I’m thinking the time-line looks uglier than I thought.

But maybe writing, and working on my passion, might matter.

So again, a toast to Patrick, who is apparently the patron saint of nothing BUT Ireland. Maybe he would have liked to be the patron of memoir or those beehive monastic cells or something.

I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul

says the ancient text (translated) attributed to him.

Amen.