Let Me Share With You My Broken But Strong Heart

The plan for blog post #2 was to talk about “the Youth” and what our (us adults) responsibilities towards them are in the age of Empire collapse and climate change. As I started typing I could feel the warm waters of my anguish melting the ice-shelf of my rage from underneath and I pulled back quickly in an attempt to prevent the transition from emotion trapped and contained into emotion running wild and free.

When you can hide how you really feel people are more willing to hear you and take you seriously. When you can’t hide how you feel (I was NOT born to play poker) people are more accepting of moderate anger than they are of sadness. I could very well be stuck in how I personally equate things; anger = strength, sadness = weakness. Do I really believe this? Not for others but for myself, yes. “Suck it up”, “Tough it out”, “Shake it off”, just a few of the orders barked at me as a child whenever I showed that I may have a feeling that got hurt, and oh the praise that I received when I would perform toughness! So the two things that I was praised for growing up, excelling at school and being a tough cookie, had everything to do with how I perform and nothing to do with how I feel. Guess what I prioritize above all now? 

When I think of the melting of Antarctica, and how it’s melting, at the speed in which it is melting, I identify with the process in a way that I feel like it is a part of my psychological foundation. My rage is an ice shelf, maintained and fed by the steady conditions of freezing my anguish and frustrations into yet another sheet of rage to be added to the shelf. Rage is strong, it is energizing and reflective, it is a lighter burden to carry. Rage feels like you are still in the fight, and that I haven’t lost yet. Rage is also a lot like guilt and worry in the way that they all take so much energy they feel like you are doing something about what is triggering them, when in fact you are not. 

My anguish is a whole other story. Anguish feels like I’m coming apart, a loss of control, the more the river flows the more rage it melts and the river gets stronger and I am swept away in my sadness. I am at its mercy, I have given up, I am so fucking painfully vulnerable. Anguish is loss and defeat. And everyone can see me melting down and it is a horror to behold. Anguish is failure. Failure to maintain. Failure to “suck it up” and “tough it out”. There is no praise in anguish. 

I mean, tough cookie >>> cry baby, amirite? 

When I think about adult behavior in relation to the All that we are facing I completely bypass “sadness” and head straight to disgust, judgment, and rage. Twitter offers me a space in which to unleash that rage, a space to offer a tiny glimpse of the monstrosity that is hidden below the waterline, but even that is uncomfortable and I do stress, but I must have some relief! When I think of children in relation to the All that we are facing, I can’t tough it out to save my fucking life. Nothing I do allows me to transition that pain and shame and fear into a solid I can hold and manage, it just runs through my fingers and gets fucking everywhere. And I sit here drenched in my sadness with increasing temperatures on the horizon and no relief in sight. I have no choice but to contend with the emotion-level rise I am experiencing.

I know that in teaching and educating children it is a combination of telling and modeling and that you must have both. But if your “telling” does not match up with what you are “modeling” no one, and I mean NO ONE, sniffs that hypocrisy out faster than a child. Then you’ve lost their respect and their trust. I interact with children quite a bit and when I talk with them about all the ways the world is changing I acknowledge and very much honor all their feelings, no matter what they are. Where I need work is modeling that expressing sadness is just as valid and strong as expressing anger. That showing one’s vulnerability is a risk and that is what makes it so brave for a person to do. And the magic that happens in that sharing is then more people start to feel brave enough to share and all of a sudden you know you are not alone, and that changes everything.

Putting my broken heart out into the world for all to witness goes against all of my conditioning. It is excruciating. I feel my cheeks burning right now as I type about it. But of all the things we owe our children and the generations to come, one of the greatest responsibilities that we have towards them, is to start embracing the discomfort of the work we MUST do now. That work starts in how we teach our children to carry, process, and express the emotional burden of living in a world that is coming apart. And when it comes to modeling That, you cannot fake the funk.

We Are Always In Drought

My friend John Austin, retired NPS natural scientist and author of Floods and Droughts in the Tulare Lake Basin (you’re welcome), defines drought as being when water usage >>> water availability. Basically water debt. You might ask “If we are using the water we obviously have the water to use!” and that totally makes sense, on the surface of things.

“Water debt” shows itself in a variety of ways; lakes are sucked dry, aquifers (underground water bodies) are mined then starved of replenishment, rivers are reduced to trickles or become seasonal. And while there are seasonal bodies of water, this is not what I am talking about. When human use of water exceeds what our watersheds can provide without damage being done to themselves and the non-human life they would otherwise support, that is water debt, that is drought. According to this sensible definition, California has been in drought for decades.

Shoot me now but maybe the signs along the 99, put up by the Trump-loving growers of the Central Valley, are right, maybe we are in a man-made drought. Though certainly not in the way they mean it. In the way they mean it they are passing the buck while shaming for more. There is this thing BigAg does with presenting, from their perspective, our statewide water usage data that even the supposedly non-partisan, science-driven PPIC bends the knee to Ag and uses, which is they count “the Environment” as a “water-user”. This takes Big Ag from using 75%+ of developed water to using “only” ~40% of total water supply (average between dry & wet year usage). 

“The Environment” is NOT A WATER USER because IT PROVIDES THE FUCKING WATER. We NEED healthy lakes, rivers, streams, aquifers. We NEED all the non-human life those bodies of water provide for. We NEED biological diversity and landscape resiliency. 

Big Ag is a water hog. “We Feed the World!!!” “Water is Never Wasted on Growing Food!!!” Wine and nuts do not feed the world. I would someday like to develop the tenacity it will take in order to look at international trade agreements since WWII in regards to agriculture. Someone give me a grant that can sustain me for 2 years while I investigate how the fuck California came to “feed the world” and why in the face of ever-growing air, land, soil, and water degradation our supposedly progressive governor will sacrifice the Delta and ultimately the Central Valley in order to sustain the status quo for as long as possible until full system’s collapse.

No one can tell me otherwise. Climate change and the state’s so far very weak responses to, guarantees this. 

Feeding the world is coming at a terrible cost. I know for a fact the cost is not California’s alone. One place in all the world does not come to dominate the growing of crops that are not indigenous to that place without there being an incredible loss at the place and to the people of its origin. But I digress, this is a topic that deserves so much more attention than I can give right now, I really need to expand my range before I can go there in good faith.

In California alone the losses from the continued overuse and abuses of water are exponential. We have allowed growers to wantonly overuse water all the while their thirst is never slacked, they demand more and more and MORE and MORE, as if they are entitled to every drop. We have people whose wells have run dry because the pistachio grower “next door” could afford to put in a $350,000 well and pump whose straw reaches deep so even after they have sucked their neighbor’s well dry they can continue extracting. In the Tulare Basin alone, to recharge our aquifer would take a century of regular wet years and severely curtailed extraction. This will NEVER happen. And this is just one example of hundreds around the world.

This is why I say California is always in drought and has been in drought for decades. Our water debt is reflective of the monetary debt our households, our cities, our states, and our country is in. We have consumed more than we actually have and we are now going to have to start paying up, because you can only go so deep into red before you find yourself utterly bankrupt. We may be able to print more money to maintain a facade, but that is not the case with water, no matter how much some may wish it so.

How to Grow Courage and Tenacity: Just Add Water

So I’ve gotten myself into something I wish I hadn’t and now here I am, writing a “water blog post” as part of a project for a critical thinking class I’m taking. We were tasked with choosing two intellectual virtues to personally work and do weekly report-backs on along with choosing ways to track our progress and hold ourselves accountable. 

I’ve chosen intellectual courage and tenacity to focus on because I’ve been feeling like a lazy coward in regard to my activity in the water world lately. Now, I’m historically my own worst critic and I do not give myself an inch (unless I’m procrastinating, then I give myself unlimited mileage) so I might not be the biggest laziest coward but who the fuck am I comparing myself to anyways?

You are now reading how I’ve chosen to exercise and develop my intellectual courage. I’ve been meaning to start a water blog for years then a few years ago I came across On the Public Record and very much was like this is the blog I would want to write but 1000x better than I could ever write it. A good enough excuse to not even start. With writing like that out there why embarrass myself? It’s one thing to pop off on a tweet (and I even stress tf out about that too!) it’s another to really lay out your thoughts and open yourself up for being accountable for what you think and say…. (I want to come back to this.)

Now, in regards to developing tenacity. I’m HOPING that in exercising courage on a regular basis it will reignite my tenacity… As of right now, I am fried to a crisp. I am BURNT OUT. It’s weird to care so deeply about something but to have been caring and fighting and fighting and fighting for years and to see things just getting worse and to see the same fucking people who brought us to this wretched place be tasked with getting us out and those who are supposed to be your allies and comrades buy-in for a “seat at the table” just to get bent over that table and fucked? ARRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH I CANNOT ANYMORE.

See? Look what I have gotten myself into. 

So, I’ll start simply by talking about HOW I think about water. This informs all of my beliefs, perspectives, and opinions on water management in California. 

The bodies and veins of water that are part in parcel to the landscapes we inhabit are our responsibility to care and look out for. They do not belong to us. Water does not belong to us.

Water isn’t an “it”. Water is a force, an element, a creator, and a destroyer. Water is why and how and where and when we live. Water is what we are composed of, primarily. There is no substitute for water.

In his 1980 Thanksgiving Day Take Back the Earth address, Indigenous activist and poet John Trudell of the Santee Dakota said,

“We cannot protect ourselves if we do not protect the Earth. The Earth gives us life, not the American government. The Earth gives us life, not the multi-national corporate government. The Earth gives us life, we need to have the Earth. We must have it, otherwise our life will be no more. So we must resist what they do.”

For the human species, water cannot be separated from the planet. We need both. Not one or the other, but both. 

I am not a religious person, but if there is such a thing as a sin then it is a sin to commodify water. It is a sin of hubris, greed, and shortsightedness to pollute water, to lay claim to and use more water than the body or vein can give without being damaged. It is a sin to steal water out from under your neighbor’s feet so that you can grow fodder for the cows, wine for the bourgeoisie, and subpar nuts for snacking (have you had pistachios grown in Iran????).

And now to revisit this:

“It’s one thing to pop off on a tweet (and I even stress tf out then too!) it’s another to really lay out your thoughts and open yourself up for being accountable for what you think and say….”

I don’t mind being held accountable for what I think and say. However, I do worry about the possible consequences, not only for myself but also for the people I work with and for. I would not choose for them to be held accountable for what I say. I don’t want the kids and communities I work for to potentially suffer from me openly talking about what I think and how I feel about water and its arch-nemesis, Industry and all of Industry’s minions and sympathizers. Potential fallouts are real and I do not take them lightly.

The CA water world is small and full of climbers and on the whole hell-bent on the maintenance of the status quo at all costs, even if it ends up costing the Delta and the Central Valley, and it will.  My burnout is directly related to completely being over (code-switching and) trying to be fake enthusiastic about the same fucking water agenda we’ve had for 5 decades now, just repackaged with every bullish or slick new governor, with their most newest and hip way of saying the same fucking thing (As OtPR so eloquently states HERE and HERE.) 

So! Heres to relearning how to jump off cliffs with gusto! This is my first cliff jump, let’s see where (and how) I land. 

On the California fires & why what Trump says isn’t fucking funny

I was going to tweet this but I honestly just don’t feel comfortable sharing this via a thread. I don’t want to make these fires about me and my personal experience as a child. I am a Californian, yes, I have been in a horrible fire, yes, but not these fires. On top of that, I have a really hard time just talking about my experience (unless asked and even then) because I hate people’s useless pity and that is the inevitable response. Either that or the “you are SO STRONG” response. Both I could do without. Forever and a day.

What has finally driven me to even say a thing are the people who are having a field day with Trump’s inevitable ignorant commentary on the disasters in Paradise and Woolsey.  It’s all fucking fun and games until you have to watch the people you love burn to death in front of your eyes, listening to their screams and pleas for help until the heat and smoke inhalation silences them forever and there is not one goddamn thing you can do to help them. It’s all fun and games until you look down at your own body in wonder, because at first you don’t feel a thing, at least I didn’t, but you can no longer walk and your fingers no longer move. Your skin has been either melted off or into hard plastic, depending on the degree of the burn. It’s all fun and games until it’s your family laid out and burned themselves to varying degrees, watching the flames climbing higher and higher, trying to get far enough away so that you don’t get caught up in any explosions.

This just isn’t funny. There isn’t one funny thing about any of this. I completely and utterly fail to find any humor in any of this.

I am so fucking angry at Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom for welcoming that raging piece of shit who clearly despises everything about our state into the state, to gawk and do nothing but divert attention from those that DESPERATELY need it onto himself. Norms be damned! He NEVER should have been allowed to step one fucking foot into California let alone anywhere near Paradise. He makes a fucking mockery of everything. He has no respect, no compassion, absolutely not one fucking thing to offer.

And I am so fucking angry at everyone who just chomps at the bit every time that fucker says something completely off the wall. They just lap it up. It’s so gross. It’s so unnecessary and all it does is feed him while at the same time minimizing the horrors of what fellow citizens are suffering. How can you make jokes? How can you laugh? THIS ISN’T FUNNY.

I’ve spent 30 out of 40 years walking around with the worst tragedy of my life written all over my body. I do not dwell. I do not  indulge in self pity. When mindlessly asked by strangers to share some of the most intimate and painful details of my life in order to sooth their curiosity and grant them a moment of relief that at least they don’t have my life, I minimize what happened to me for my own peace of mind otherwise I end up having to comfort and reassure them. I KNOW this is what is in store for those who will be left visibly scarred by these fires and my heart aches for them. Like the landscape they will be the ones left carrying the scars of those fires and everyday  they will be reminded by their reflection or the insensitive of what they survived but so many others did not. Some will be stoic, some will wish they had died in the fire, some will allow their scars to dictate the rest of their lives, some will minimize their suffering so as not to forever be an object of pity, but none will ever be allowed to forget, and I seriously doubt they will ever find these fires funny.

My family was 1500 miles away from home when the back axle to my grandfather’s RV snapped, slammed into, and punctured a full gas tank then dragged along the asphalt creating the sparks that set my world on fire. The RV landed on its side and my mother who was driving pushed me out of the driver’s window but didn’t have the strength to hoist herself out. I stood on top of that RV, unaware that I was on fire, as I watched my Mom burn, screaming for my grandfather to help her, screaming at me to jump. And I did jump eventually. I jumped and rolled on the dirt and dried grass. The RV exploded moments after and I knew for a fact I would never see my mom again. I never got to go home after that night. Not to my mother’s house. I never got to go to her funeral, because I was in the hospital.

Thousands in Paradise will never get to go home ever again. Too many will not be able to attend the funerals of their loved ones. No one will be able to grieve properly for years to come because survival mode does not have space for grief.

30 years after the fire I survived I’m still in the grieving process. I lost my mom and ultimately my family to that fire. None of us were ever the same. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose my entire community. To be but one family amongst hundreds to suffer that magnitude of loss is beyond me.

And there isn’t one goddamn funny thing about ANY of it. So stop with the jokes. Stop making them, stop sharing them, stop fucking liking them. Because you aren’t making fun of Trump. You are minimizing the very real horrors that are ONGOING.