1.19.2015

THE WHITE HOUSE CALLS MOMS CLEAN AIR FORCE!

I am over the moon! Moms Clean Air Force was invited to sit in the First Lady’s box Tuesday evening as President Obama delivers the State of the Union. Surely this signals the president’s commitment to doing all he can--and more than any other president to date--to tackle the dangerous problem of climate pollution.

 Representing our 400,000 members--and I hope that includes many of you readers of Slow Love Life--Nicole Hernandez Hammer, who was born in Guatemala and moved to the US when she was four, is the mother of a seven year old son, and the Field Manager for the Florida chapter of Moms Clean Air Force. I first met Nicole when she popped her son and her husband in their car, and drove from Fort Lauderdale to Washington, DC to join me for a meeting between members of Moms Clean Air Force and EPA Administrator McCarthy. 

As I listened to Nicole talk passionately, urgently, about the porous limestone bedrock on which Miami is built, and how sewage and drainage systems are increasingly compromised as seawater rises through the ground—I thought: I want her working for Moms Clean Air Force. I want her to take her knowledge and her passion to the people of Florida, and urge them to act on climate change.   

That's exactly what has happened. Nicole  left academia to work for Moms Clean Air Force, and she has concentrated her work in the Latina community. She says, "The debate is settled, our climate is changing, our seas are rising. Now is the time for action. I worked to confirm that the climate is changing and now I am working on behalf of my son for action -- we need to fight climate change today.”

I could not be more proud of my fantastic colleagues. I could not be more thrilled to have created, and to be leading, an organization that is doing such important work: protecting those closest to our hearts. The love we all feel--for our families, and for this beautiful world into which we are born--will win the day. Love has to be stronger than pollution.

Thank you, all of you, for being on this journey with me. We have come far, in a short time. But we have a long road ahead. I know my work with Moms has taken me far from this blog, but then again, what I write about here is at the heart of our work on climate. I knew that the work would be demanding--no one said it would be easy--but I could never have predicted how deeply, and spiritually, rewarding it would be.

12.20.2014

ALL SHINY AND BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL AND MELTING


Perhaps because I was a crow in another life, I am drawn to glittery baubles wherever they appear--around women's necks, hanging from the ceiling of the Metropolitan Opera, whatever, I have to stare.  And we all know how New York does that magical thing: just when you think the days cannot get more dreary and sopping, a gift arrives--a burst of radiance lifts you up out of your boots.


The other evening I wheeled around the corner off Sixth Avenue onto 43rd Street, hurrying to dinner, when Poof! There appeared before me as if at the snap of a wand an ice show of epic proportions. I know, I know. You're thinking: ice sculptures, so very suburban wedding. (And so? what's wrong with that? But never mind.)


These were refined and marvelous, and anyway, like I said, a crow in another life. They sparkled. I couldn't resist. Gigantic snails, moths, dragonflies and toadstools were sprawled across the block.

The whole thing was so ridiculous and so enchanting: a woodland scene of ice, a veritable Alice moment of things larger than life, or perhaps I had suddenly shrunk--all this even though I had not yet reached the "Drink Me!" bourbon I was looking forward to ordering as soon as I sat down. Thoughts of a cool Old Fashioned vanished and I had to linger over this improbable scenario for a while.











I couldn't find any explanation as to why these batty sculptures were hanging out on Sixth Avenue, who had made them, or why they had been left there. They were sitting on what looked like a shallow pool, or basin. But I looked closer and realized that the bee's lines were softening. The ice had a gentle gleam to it, because it was melting.

The toadstools were dripping; the snail had tracks of tears; even a dragonfly looked as if it were about to lift off the bubbling surface of a pond.







Meantime I had had to remove my coat, I was so warm. And beginning to feel a bit panicky.

Here we are, mid-December, and we're manically swinging from balmy winter days in which it is best to go out in sweaters, and frigid days when the wind is blowing so hard you want to bury your head in a hood.





There in front of me the Guardian of the place appeared, from out of nowhere, bearing a wide window scraper. He was pushing the slush away from the sidewalk, trying to shore up the bases of the sculptures.


"Too warm for winter," he muttered, when I asked him how long the sculptures would be on display. "Too warm for ice."


Across the street--because it has to be this way, right? this being New York, a place of profound synchronicity and occasional good karma to make up for all the bad--a gigantic poster in a window caught my eye, a confusion of messages. When I took a closer look, I realized that I was seeing the night's lit buildings, and the ice sculptures, too, superimposed on a picture of a penguin sliding down an iceberg.

The International Center for Photography has a show of photographs by one of my heroes, Sebastia Salgado; these are from his recent book, Genesis. (I interviewed him for The New York Times. Go, before it closes on January 11. Go, and fall in love with the world all over again.)


And along the side of the ICP building is a photo show you can see from the street, pictures by James Balog of melting glaciers. Of course, because it has to be this way, right? Everything connects.

Our gorgeous feats of engineering--what miracles of ingenuity and imagination humankind has achieved--our beloved, gravity-defying world of skyscrapers, wreathed in glittering lights. Our affection for the creature world, such that we carve its portraits in ice so we can decorate our sidewalks--even while we crowd them from their homes, crowd them off the very planet.

Our art melts. Our world melts. The only question left is whether our hearts will melt swiftly enough to let a torrent of care and concern and love rush in to change our climate-changing ways.


12.19.2014

CLINGING TO A TREE

Does it get any more beautiful than this? What a brilliant surprise on such a grey day in the woods.


12.09.2014

THE END OF NORMAL

Rain streaming down windows on this soggy winter day. It strikes me, suddenly, as I think about what the weather's been like during a year that is shaping up to be the hottest in recorded history: Forget that talk about "the new normal". We are at the end of normal. Our warmer skies here in the East hold more moisture. All our weather systems are becoming unpredictable.

But not to sound depressed: I'm grateful to have a beautiful place to stay dry--and to be able to make the choice to go out and get soaked. A large part of our adaptation to the climate change we are in will be psychological: how do we keep our spirits buoyed? For me, the answer lies somewhere in finding beauty all around me, honoring it, and using it as the fuel that keeps me fighting to solve this problem.


12.05.2014

WINTER GARDEN BOOK REVIEW

Always one of my favorite assignments: round up the best and most interesting of the garden books of the season, and figure out how to knit them together. The New York Times Book Review publishes the piece in print this weekend but it is up online now, with, as always, wonderful illustrations.

I just got through with a book that didn't come across my desk when it was published, sadly, as I would have raved about it then. But it is never too late. Anyone interested in how our ideas of landscape, wilderness, and gardens evolved, and continue to change, should read Rambunctious Garden by Emma Marris. 

11.17.2014

SHE'S BEAUTIFUL WHEN SHE'S ANGRY: A MARVELOUS, JOYFUL, PROVOCATIVE DOCUMENTARY. THE FEMINIST REVOLUTION IS FAR FROM OVER--WE HAVE LOTS OF WORK TO DO

She's Beautiful When She's Angry is the first documentary ever made about the beginning of the Women's Liberation Movement. We're talking the 1960s and early 1970s--what some call "second wave feminism", the first belonging to the suffragettes--the era of Betty Friedan and Shulamith Firestone and Bella Abzug and Kate Millet and Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem, bless her Playboy Bunny ears.  The days of redstockings and consciousness raising and that bible of reclamation--Our Bodies, Our Selves. The early days of the rights of women of color, the Mad Men era days, when women began to come out of the closets (where they were not and are still not being paid for their work) to find jobs in law offices and corporations--and out of the closet to love as they chose.

The movie is full of fascinating vintage footage from newscasters, and great lines from men (and plenty of women, too) who were opposed to equal rights, or simply befuddled: what is it those girls want again?  She's Beautiful is rambunctious, joyful, provocative, earnest, profound--and utterly mesmerizing--just like the women who made the movement.

I hope every young woman, and every young man, will see this movie, every history class and every poetry class and every economics class, every high school and college campus--and you can find a screening in the next week, various cities. Why see it? Because knowledge is power. My children's generation, the 20 and 30 years olds, should know where we came from to get to them. For those of us who lived it and breathed it, those of us whose very souls were forged by the feminist movement--director Mary Dore has given us back a history that was dimming, ever so softly and gradually, into the dark recesses of lost memory.

Boy, we were beautiful. Simply stunning. We were angry, too. So perfectly, fittingly, brilliantly intense. And funny, and direct, and demanding, and witchy, and creative, and crazy. I love the title, She's Beautiful When She's Angry, because it was a line that was so often used to demean us, undercut our authority, as we were passionately arguing a case, making a point. But you know what? We are beautiful when we're angry.

The only question is, why aren't enough of us still angry?

I watched with tears--of recognition, gratitude, and bewilderment--streaming down my cheeks. We accomplished so much. Our daughters and our sons are better people, and have better, bigger, healthier lives, with many more choices, because of what we did.

But then, why does it feel as though we're slipping backwards? Why are things beginning to feel harder for women, and why is the world feeling more sexist--again? And how are women themselves contributing to that uneasy, insidious sense of oppression?

These questions have been weighing heavily on me over the last few years. I still think women (and men) can have it all--maybe not all of it all, but some of it all, and maybe not all at once, but over time. But too many women of my generation are sending messages of weary, resignation, when what we should be sending is instruction on how to develop the qualities that make you successful in life: Resilience. Persistence. Determination.

I'll bet you can choose just about any company, any day, (or go on any number of dates) and listen to men be as condescending and dismissive in 2014 as they were in 1977. I'm still watching, with startled recognition of something old and familiar--as women's voices go unheard in meetings, as men repeat what women say and take ownership of their ideas, as men put their female colleagues down. I'm listening as young men seem to practice being sexist and condescending--trying it on for size, with no one stopping them.

I'm watching as women work so hard to make places run--but they still don't run enough of those places. And I'm watching women be as ruthless in undercutting other women as any man could dream of being. What's worse, the boundaries of tolerable behavior have been blown open in the last few years, so young women aren't just dealing with sexist attitudes, they're dealing with physically frightening, downright dangerous situations--and not just on college campuses. Get a young Silicon Valley woman to tell you about what goes on at tech conferences...starting with Titstare.

And most of all, because the documentary is such a visual treat (great soundtrack, too), I've been thinking about the visuals surrounding young women and men today. When it comes to the selling of lifestyles and fashion, we are living in one of the most weirdly sexist eras I have ever seen. The porn of the sixties looks quaint by comparison to the advertising we see everywhere today, on billboards, on television, online, in magazines and catalogues. We used to protest that men turned women into meat. Now, women are turning women into meat, or helping men do it.

And women's magazines are the ones publishing most of this stuff. Women's magazines are creating the fashion copy that invites us to bind our feet, to wear things that throw us off balance, literally off our stride.  We're urged to cut open our faces and bodies, inject ourselves with chemicals, for the sake of...well, what, exactly? Surely not to be taken more seriously. To be more ornamental in the workplace? To be more attractive to husbands who might stray? To be less threatening to men?

At what cost, all this visual surround? When exactly did we lose our bearings on what is degrading to women? Why has everything become so sexualized? Why are women okay with this?

Are we colluding in our own undoing?

The Internet is marvelously, inspiringly filled with conversations by women of all ages, but especially young women--being beautiful and angry. They are talking about the way we love, the way we work, the way we walk, the way we dress, the way we parent and the way we regress.

An excellent film provokes response. Mary Dore's gift for inspiring activism shines through every frame. It made me want to get out in the streets again. It made me step back and think about what's left undone.

Sure enough, a woman's work is never done.

There is no equality, no freedom, no respect, when we are routinely earning less than men. And that's what's still happening, fifty years into this fight.

I'm okay with telling young women to lean in, don't give up, engage. But many of them will lean in--and topple into thin air, finding nothing to lean against.

It makes me angry to ask our daughters and nieces to fix the pay gap. They can't. They have no power. They're trying to get their first jobs, for heaven's sake. This is our job. A system-wide problem needs a large scale solution. We--the mothers and fathers of these young workers--are the people who should be slamming that pay gap shut.

The pay gap is not just a high level or mid level problem--in which, for instance, we find that women CFOs are paid 16% lower on average than their male counterparts. The salaries of the youngest generation of women working today--our daughters--are not on par with those of men. A Wells Fargo report showed that college-educated millennial men made $20,000 more per year than women with the same education level. Median annual income for millennial men: $80,000. For women: $63,000. And this is happening way before women and men start planning families. The pay gap begins right out of college.

In general, the pay gap has not changed for a decade; some states are worse than others, but in no state in this country are we at equity. Not one state, and not in any occupation. It gets worse as we get older. In 1960, women earned 61% as much as male workers; by 2009, that figure was up to 77%.

Progress? You bet. Success? No way.

We can argue till the cows come home (those cows! are they doomed to wander the globe endlessly?) about all the factors that "justify" different pay grades to accommodate all the choices women have to make about blending their work lives with their careers. There are plenty of economists out there ready to defend a pay gap for women, or even explain it away.

And here's something I really don't get: Human resource departments are dominated by women, who make up over 70% of the profession, according to a 2012 article by Susan Strayer. You'd think that with that kind of power--and these departments have enormous power within companies--the pay problem would be gone. But it isn't.

Why aren't HR departments at the vanguard of equal pay--and child care solutions?

We should defend the right to control what happens to and in our own bodies. We have a great, and justified, fear that this right is being eroded, as abortion laws are being revised around the country, and clinics are being forced to close. But some of what's happening is what we always knew was going to happen because of the weak spot in Roe v. Wade, the point of implosion: the matter of viability.

Neonatal care has improved by stunning degrees in the last decades; our understanding of the age at which a premature baby can live on its own has changed. Most Americans, women and men, are uncomfortable with abortion at that late edge. And most abortions are not (and have never been) late term abortions.

The second thing that's changed is the widespread use of fetal monitoring: another technology that has changed by stunning degrees. (And I might add, that fetal bombardment by ultrasound is itself a nervewrackingly unmonitored, unstudied development. Some pregnant women are buying home devices to monitor their fetuses every single day. Anxiety has run amok.) We now have the ability to watch, in painstaking detail, a miraculous amniotic ballet, watch the divided brain merge, watch the exposed fetal heart throb, watch leg and arm buds unfurl. That's made us more aware of what we are doing when we abort.

None of this heightened awareness means, however, that we should lose the right to control what is happening to or in our bodies. Most Americans agree; we want our reproductive rights protected, vis the constantly failing Personhood Amendments.

Rich, too, isn't it? that the very people who won't do a thing about global warming--because "I am not a scientist"--suddenly become medical experts when it comes to women's bodies, even though they are by no means doctors.

But it would be a political error to focus all our feminist energy on reproductive rights. We have other, very large, battles ahead. Feminists ought to be up in arms about the amount of toxic chemicals--the tens of thousands of them, known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors--that are completely unregulated, being tested on our bodies, and those of our infants and our adolescent daughters and sons.

We're slathering ourselves with chemicals, we're sudsing our hair with them, we're eating and drinking them, we're breathing them, and they're lodging in the fatty tissues of our breasts, our brains, and in our kidneys and livers, and going right through the placental barrier, right through the blood-brain barrier, and ending up in our fetuses. (Why aren't the fetal rights folks all over this aspect of a child's health?) Our babies are born contaminated with chemicals. We don't even know what we're exposed to in any given product--because of trade secrets. We cannot trust retailers to protect us. Our legislators have totally dropped the ball.

And because of the ongoing difficulty in establishing direct causal links between chemicals and any one affliction that strikes us, because exposures are minute, each day, but accumulate over years--and because anyway, we are ignorant of what we are exposed to (trade secrets!)--we are unable to do much but worry. Or refuse to participate in the beauty industry. Or--and!--demand regulations to protect us. Demand that retailers do a better job of regulating toxics out of their stores. Boycott. Protest. Demand, demand, demand.

And what about the hundreds of thousands of women who work in the beauty industry? They are at the highest risk of exposure to the toxic stuff we put on our nails, in our hair, on our faces--they're up to their elbows in unregulated, untested chemicals, day after day after day. Most likely, many of these beauty workers aren't even making a decent minimum wage.

I will quickly note air pollution and climate change here, as well--only because I write about this every week over at Moms Clean Air Force. Anything that has an impact on a child's health, including the skyrocketing asthma rates sweeping the country, takes a toll on women. Mothers are usually the ones who take time off to care for the sick child. Mothers are usually the ones paying the hospital bills in the poor communities that are disproportionately suffering from bad air quality, the communities with oil and gas development facilities in their backyards, near schools and playgrounds, the communities laced with major highways and truck traffic.

The feminist movement will have third, fourth, fifth waves--if we are smart enough not to upend civilization so drastically that human rights go out the window altogether.

I sure do wish we didn't have to get angry. But here's to many more years of being beautiful.






11.11.2014

SMALL NATURE


The autumnal garden: decaying, mildewed, gnarled, wizened. I find it inexplicably touching. And marvelously beautiful. The brush of powder on an ancient, wrinkled cheek, a whisper of perfume that is already almost a memory.


The tinge of intense color on a fraying head. I don't really want to say too much; the wonder of this time of year comes of watching quietly as life recedes. In the Northeast we have had a long, slow fall.


There's comfort in the knowledge that life will return, in its time, and that, in our time, we will have the privilege of witnessing rebirth. But this season does not make me feel the need for comfort.


I find that I am less and less drawn to "spectacular nature"--landscapes on a large scale, whose power I recognize, but whose grandeur does little to move me. I'm not often in spectacular nature--you have to fly there, or drive there, or climb there, or sail there. It is usually out there, over the horizon, beyond an ocean, up on a mountain, beyond my time frame. I'm glad it is there, but it doesn't mean that much to me in my daily life.

I am more drawn to small nature. Everyday nature, in our backyards, or along median strips on highways, or in vacant lots in derelict neighborhoods. Small, but spectacularly beautiful. Nature right in front of us...nature that beckons: just notice, and fall into love. Somehow I think it is small nature that becomes most meaningful to us; small nature that leads the way into cherishing the large world.


It is the nature of nature to die. And it is a beautiful process, all the way through. Will I get to a place where I can witness my own aging as beautiful, all the way through? I think so. I think that place lies somewhere in accepting the small nature of our lives. We are mostly unspectacular, and spectacularly beautiful.  It gives me enormous joy to be alive, a witness, a watcher, my attention caught, unexpectedly, so that I am quietly holding still, holding my breath as the season sighs.