To me, a woman without children, the idea that a mother might not have even a few hours to herself to nurture her passions and pursue her own dreams is horrifying. Who could be more deeply concerned with the future of our society? Who could have more at stake in the work to see the arc of history bend swift and sure towards justice? Who could want more for a better world for future generations, than a mother? What words do we have for her? Is it enough to tell her that we honor her sacrifice and expect her to keep soldiering on? Do we pay lip-service to her noble self-giving as a way of refusing her the full depth of her desires, the fullness and complexity of her humanity? Or do we find a new way of living together?
They say you can't be neutral on a moving train, and if recent developments on the American political scene have demonstrated anything, it's that the Catholic Church is a train headed in a pretty distressing direction: away from equality and social justice, and set on a collision course with the wall of separation between church and state. In many ways, the Catholic Church abandoned me years before I finally woke up to the fact and left of my own accord. For years, I struggled with the feeling of being a solitary Catholic liberal crying out in the wilderness. I felt beleaguered by atheists and secularists on the one side of me, criticizing Catholicism for being a monolithic monstrosity of backwards-looking conservative patriarchy, while on the other side of me were many of my fellow Catholics striving to make the Church exactly that.
Steampunk isn't going away any time soon. It speaks to a deep ambivalence that many of us hold about the modern, industrialized cultures that we live in — societies in which computer technology seems each year to get more obscure and esoteric, in which skill and creativity are treated as less important than fame and wealth, in which ecological damage and environmental destruction persist despite our vast scientific knowledge about how the ecosystems of the world work and our own role in that destruction, and in which strict gender and class norms are often subtly (or not so subtly) reinforced even in the same breath as we congratulate ourselves on our diversity and tolerance. Steampunk looks back to the historical roots of modern culture in the generations before the first world war, picking at old scars and still open wounds, exploring what went wrong and what we might have done differently. It is absolutely vital that we engage in that process, even in the face of ghosts we would rather leave undisturbed.
As a writer and creative type who thrives in the online world, issues of copyright protection and piracy can be very real problems for me. Of course I want legal protections for my work. As an avid reader and web-surfer who loves lolcats and Dinosaur Comics as much as the next person, I want the artists, writers and creative types out there who produce content for my favorite sites to have those same protections — even, no, especially if those creative types are just some college students messing around on YouTube and not Hollywood stars making millions off the latest blockbuster. But that's not what SOPA/PIPA is really about. The SOPA and PIPA bills are like the ring of power forged in the fires of Mount Doom: one law to rule them all, one law to find them, one law to bring them all and in the darkness bind them. Sponsored by a bloated entertainment industry that overcharges for pretty much everything, these bills would put in place the kind of invasive oversight infrastructure that would not only allow large corporations to sue technology start-ups and independent artists out of existence based on little to no evidence of piracy or copyright infringement, but would require on-going surveillance of user-produced content that makes Facebook's privacy problems look like child's play. Any website perceived as a potential threat to the Powers That Be would be vulnerable to lawsuits, while individuals would be subject to censorship and data-mining as a matter of course, creating a hostile and uncertain online environment in which conformity becomes the order of the day.
"What would happen if the government collapsed?" My oldest stepdaughter asked after I'd spent fifteen minutes explaining exactly what a bond was and why I was filling out paperwork to report which ones had been lost so that the government knew how much money they owed me. Her siblings all sat quietly, listening intently to the more-grown-up-than-usual conversation, and her voice carried a weight of anxiety in the silence. "This is going to be one of those Princess Bride moments," I told her. "I'm going to let you know that the giant screeching eels don't eat you. I'm telling you now because you look nervous."
As we enter the colder winter months, the days grow darker and time seems to slow down, thickening like sleepy sap in the bare-limbed trees. Yet for many of us watching the protests of the #OccupyWallStreet movement unfold over the last two months, the country seems poised on the brink of something revolutionary. A tension hangs in the air — the trembling stillness of hope and excitement, but also trepidation and anxiety. This pervasive mood has me thinking a lot recently about the Eastern spiritual philosophy of Taoism, and the lessons of stillness, receptivity and harmony with nature taught by its founders, Laozi and Zhuangzi. How might the insights of Taoism help us to understand the potency and influence of the #Occupy movement? And what can it tell us about where the movement might be heading in the future?
There's just too much in the news these days to keep up with here. Every morning I sit down to Twitter and my RSS reader right after breakfast and catch up on the latest updates coming out of the #Occupy movement. Some days, the news fills me with anger and frustration and grief; other days, with hope and gratitude and joy. More often, hope and anger mingle and turn in an intricate dance. It's hardly possible to separate them. There is something like tragic, sorrowing relief when the violence of an oppressive system finally surfaces, like that moment in a dream when the monster only you could see finally lets its cover slip. There is a kind of horror to that hope, and hope even within the horror. I think maybe this is what it will always be like to be a human animal. Still, I sit mostly on the sidelines. I have lots of excuses for not getting more deeply involved, and most of them sound pretty lame even to me. I've done my best to support the movement by making donations and helping to spread the word — I'd like to think that counts for something. I want to believe that for a movement so profoundly shaped by social media, communication and education have their place alongside direct action. That these acts are themselves a kind of protest.
It's easy to think of the poet as the dreamer and visionary, protected from the noise of common society, fiercely guarding the sacred solitude in which she does her work. It's easy to imagine the peacemaker and political activist as the motivated mover and shaker, always busy, always at work on a plan to influence those in power and change the world. These ideals have often been at odds in my own heart as I've struggled to understand my place in society and how best I can live my life as a member of the world community. When the poet and peacemaker act together, not as opposites but as allies, the creative work that results can change the world in unexpected ways.
We have a rare chance to shape the future of Pagan/polytheist culture with an awareness of the mistakes made in the past. We have seen how seemingly innocuous influences in the early stages of the development and evolution of a New Religious Movement can quickly grow to become entrenched prejudices and twisted justifications for violence against those who are different. We have the chance to recognize those same potentials in ourselves, and to do our best to avoid them. Instead, I worry that we are too eager to make those same mistakes again, to invite a mythology of victimization and perpetuate a story that subscribes to the same tired "us versus them" duality that many of us were trying to escape when we left Christianity behind.
Last month, I had the fantastic opportunity to attend the inaugural Wild Goose Festival down in central North Carolina, a gathering of progressive and emergent Christians interested in engaging with questions of social justice, peace, community, art and spirituality in a postmodern, multicultural world. I admit, as a Druid and a Pagan, I had my trepidations about attending a Christian festival — worries about what kinds of assumptions others would have about my own religious affiliation, anxieties about potential misunderstandings or miscommunications that could arise (although growing up Catholic and holding a degree in comparative religious studies, I'm reasonably well-versed in the unique ways Christians sometimes use language or make off-hand Biblical references) — but I resolved to set aside both my fears and my cynicism and attend the festival with as open a mind and as soft a heart as I could.