A man with the right scruffed-up beard and breadth of chest swaggered into the S and M dungeon that was my place of business, and twenty minutes and one grand later had my chin — still soft with the downy fluff of teen-girl skin — held steady in one paw while the other one flew at my face so hard and fast that I ceased to exist as the same collection of matter I had been the previous instant.
When Sarah’s mother, Penny, got sick four years into our marriage, we decided to move back to Mississippi, considering it penance for the sins of our youth. We signed a lease on a house, a white one-story on the historical register with a wraparound porch and angels, stars, and the moon painted on the transom above the front door.
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One quality that helps a marriage work is when partners respect each other and are each grateful for what the other brings to the relationship. Relationships run on an economy of gratitude. And if your partner needs to change his or her behavior, it’s important to ask for that change without attributing bad motives to the behavior. When you do argue, or when your partner gets angry, look for the soft emotion under the hard one and talk to that. A belief in the goodwill of the other person is critical.
You have to practice tuning out the noise of the culture to hear the messages transmitted from your gut and your heart. You have to become like a bird-watcher and be vigilant and develop the skills to spot and name the quick flash of awareness in yourself.
[Economics] tries to use equilibrium concepts to model a system which is in a constant state of disequilibrium and is continually evolving. As I began to dig into all of this, I decided that economics is politics in disguise. It is simply a way of rationalizing certain decisions about how to allocate resources from the point of view of the people who have the money to pay economists: the powerful interest groups like military contractors, politicians, trade associations, and the like.
Global depression, I could call it in clinical jargon to indicate the pervasive nature of the disorder in the psyche. But lately the term has taken on a new meaning for me, suggesting a worldwide malaise shaped by the unconscious link between our suffering and the wounds the earth itself sustains. It seems as if the degradation of nature has produced a dark, subliminal undertow affecting the collective psyche.
I lived downtown in an apartment complex that, for its Second Empire facade, transient tenantry, and despotic manager, I had dubbed the “Totalitarian Hotel.” The manager, Mrs. Vollstanger, was a gouty old Prussian and always wore pearls and thick, embroidered white sweaters.
Look at it this way: Keeping a child on welfare costs about sixteen hundred dollars a year in cash and services. To keep that same child in foster care costs about six thousand dollars a year. And if that child winds up in prison, the cost is around twenty thousand dollars a year. Most governments figured out a long time ago that welfare is the cheapest way to keep people out of institutions — and also to keep them from taking to the streets to protest their poverty.
I have to say, what kept me there was not the science but the place. I wanted to be there in a way that had purpose. I didn’t want to visit or go on long kayak trips. I wanted to spend my life in Prince William Sound. For five years I lived at a field camp for three or four months at a time. The work gave me a purpose for being there: a part to play in protecting the ecosystem.
Families used to control what their members ate and pass along learned wisdom in the form of a food culture. Now that’s gone. Most people don’t eat as families. We eat individually, going one-on-one with the food supply, which is how the food industry likes it.
We think of apocalypse as a moment — a flash of light, then you’re gone — but if we study the earth’s history, we find that it’s not one moment. It’s actually a long process. In fact, it’s hard to see where it begins or ends. Like right now: evidence indicates that we’re experiencing the planet’s sixth mass extinction — a period when the rate of extinction spikes and the diversity and abundance of life decrease. Each such extinction event takes hundreds of thousands of years to play out, and it’s generally 5 to 8 million years before the previous levels of biodiversity return. So are we at the end or the beginning of a cycle? This could just be a temporary spike. The pattern could swerve in a different direction.
But to find the sacred only in the wilderness would be like finding it only in a beautiful church on Easter. Unless the sacred is imbued in your day-to-day life, in your work, in the food on your table, in the attitude you take toward the health of your own community, its value is limited.