In our fathers’ footsteps


Image by David Valentin

I’ve been having a think today about what this whole Independence Day thing is about, and I get the feeling I/we may be sleepwalking just a bit.

My first thought was, “Wow, I’m so grateful today to have the freedom to shape most of my life around doing what I love most – writing, singing, doing yoga, making art and music – and somehow I manage to get by…”

But my ability to do these things is not because I’m independent.  I am self-propelled in many respects, but my ability to do what I do is greatly enhanced by the enthusisasm, love, generosity and participation of others.  Everything from my family providing me with an affordable place to live (for the moment)…to musical compadres working with me to write, record, produce and perform the music I dream up, to the angels who help keep me in amazing gear (and help me keep that gear in working order)…to friends whose perspective, wisdom, humor and sense of adventure are often the main thing keeping my head on straight…to the mysterious mechanisms of this exquisitely strange and delightful planet which conspire to keep me walking around in this little body on a daily basis…all these things point to the fact that I am very much an interdependent being.

As are we all.

But what really got me thinking was the fact that this holiday is set aside for us to party like there’s no tomorrow in celebration of our freedom from an oppressive empire, which we achieved in order to, ourselves, go and become…well, an oppressive empire.

Things like this make me scratch my head, and wonder long and hard about human nature. How in the face of danger, oppression, an uncomfortable position, our instinct is to run, but in running, we eventually find that we have been only running from ourselves, and that we often become the thing we resist, as a teacher of mine used to say.

I’ve recently been in a mad search for a new title for the album that I’m currently finishing.  It’s been called Body of Glass since its inception, but as the project developed and revealed its nature in full contrast, the name didn’t seem to really capture its essence.  So I’ve been doing one of my favorite things, playing with words, exploring their roots and nuances, and making up new ones from bits that point at the thing I’m trying to name.  I came up with one this week that I really liked.  Keith suggested consulting a rhyming dictionary to help invent words that rhyme with what I mean, and I realized that my new word rhymed with one of my favorite albums of all time, Joni Mitchell’s Hejira.  Hejira means ‘journey’ but more specifically ‘flight of a people from a hostile environment’ – and in my nation’s own hejira, mainly in pursuit of religious freedom, we’ve succeeded in putting our roots down in a new land, and promptly spreading out to oppress other peoples, whether it be through slavery, forced indebtedness, or outright war – the current incarnation of which, ironically enough, turns out to be largely based on religious intolerance (and surely a bunch of dinosaur blood underneath that thin veil).  Even within the borders of our own country, our fractious state and polarization of attitudes and public conversations largely revolve around cultural and religious intolerance.  We are terrified of ‘other’ – mainly because we haven’t taken the time to get to know it.  That’s the way it usually goes.

We’ve really gotta get our act together.

How does this happen? Well, I try to remember to look for answers to things happening outside myself inside myself.  If I see it out there, it’s usually happening in here too, on some level.  Truth be told, I have certainly made many of the mistakes of my own personal father, specifically in trying (probably somewhat desperately) not to make those mistakes. I’ve avoided some of the worst of them, but I suspect the trick is not to run, but to stay and face what scares us, oppresses us, makes us uncomfortable.  Ok, this is the point in this essay where I’ve stepped away, drank wed rine (see what I mean?) and come back to try to remember all those deep thoughts I was having ten hours ago.  So you’ll excuse the hippie chick in me for proposing at this point that perhaps we actually need to *love* away the stuff in us that scares and/or repels us – I mean, at least love it enough to pay enough attention to it to decipher what it is really trying to reveal about ourselves, so that we can set about teaching ourselves to be better, or at least more sensible.  For instance, oppression.  Why do we oppress?  Why does anyone try to control anything?  Basic animal survival instinct, I guess. We respond to our fear of a lack of enough to go around by going to any and all ends to make sure that if/when the world runs out of stuff, we’ve at least got a pile of stuff in our lap to keep us fat and happy.  Makes sense.  Unsustainable, but understandable.  But in today’s world, we’ve got to get to sustainable.

How do we get to sustainable? I’ve got next to none of the answers, but a burning desire to find as many of them as I can before quitting time. I’m sure it’s got to do with self-examination – of our motives, aspirations, the conscious things that drive us as well as the shadowy ones. I also think it’s useful to consider carefully the things – structures, beliefs, systems, energies, and other humans, that sustain us.  Where does that water come from, the parts in our computers that enable us to learn so very much about life and each other (while simultaneously enabling us to distract ourselves from life and each other, at times), the electricity and all the other powers that warm us and propel us forward in our personal and collective journeys on this unfathomably deep, strong and fragile planet that collects and holds the imprint and memory of all our footsteps. The more thoughtful we are, the more we ask and answer those questions, trace the source of our sustenance so we can see it, honor it, and care for it properly, the more we will probably come to discover that what we ought to really celebrate and nurture is not our independence, which is a seductive but ultimately destructive fantasy of conquering our environment and ‘winning the game’, but interdependence, which may require more work and deliberation in some respects, but may just end up making it easier on us all, as we remember that life is and always has been a circle dance and not a solo performance.

So, happy Interdependence Day. I hope it was a good and sparkly one for all.

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  • http://darinwilson.info Darin

    Great post, Artemis!

    I would argue, however, that oppression is not a basic animal survival instinct. Animals fight and kill each other, but only for food, and they don’t take more than they need. You don’t see animals actively working to keep another species from thriving.

    Humans oppress because of the scarcity mentality of our culture – not Western culture specifically, but the culture of ownership that has emerged since the birth of what we (ironically) call “civilization”. I believe that a lot of what we think of as flaws in humanity are actually flaws in this culture, which have only come up fairly recently: the last few millennia, compared to the 200K years that homo sapiens has been around.

  • http://artemis.fm artemis

    Thanks so much for your insightful feedback Darin, you make a very good point. Greed and scarcity mentality are painfully well-woven into human culture at this point. I still think the fear that drives them has some of its roots in animal survival instinct, but it’s twisted since we have become so disconnected and out of balance with the natural world that sustains us. Hopefully we can use our clevers to evolve our way out of this dysfunction, and with a quickness.