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As the World Turns

photo: Dina Stander, 'over & under the bridge'

December 29, 2023

I describe my philosophy towards life as Pragmatic Optimism and at the moment optimism is a stretch. 2023 rolls out the door like a beaten old jalopy and the tricked out tank of 2024 will bluster right on in. I find myself reluctant to cross the bridge. Its a presidential election year in the U.S., with human decency and democracy hanging in the balance. The country is brewing up a shit storm, teetering on the edge of christian fueled fascism, armed to the teeth, and who knows what will now unfold. How I wish I was making all this up! Don't mind me. I grew up on the Songs of the Lincoln Brigade, have lived immersed in Woody Guthrie's flavor of patriotism. I'm well accustomed to political disillusion. America as it is has always been a bewilderment. A heady mix of rich-get-richer blues, raw beauty, intimate landscapes, and the crush of human story making. What will the story of 2024 bring?

Meanwhile, to contend with the year-end anxiety I went to scope out the new 'celebrity' head shop that recently opened in a town nearby. I am highly amused that Cheech & Chong landed a swanky Dispenseria right across the street from the Yankee Candle flagship store. Offering up the best choreography for a chuckle along with sharply pointed commentary on this moment in American consumerism. I stayed in my car for a while, watching the grinning weed tourists come and go. Everyone smirks like they're in on the joke, but are we?

My work in the death-o-sphere is about making meaning with people in fundamental ways, during moments of monumental challenge. In 2023, the individuals and families I collaborate with in my doula and celebrant practice have brought me the most spectacular lessons about being human, and being mortal. This year has been remarkable for me professionally, including an invitation to offer a burial ground blessing and amends for a Settler family's contribution to Indigenous genocide. And ending on a high note with two special events. In early November my year-long project, Healing Waters (2-part video linked below!), culminated in a well attended storytelling fundraiser with the themes of loss, mourning, solace, and hope. And in December I presented at a university symposium, TechnoLegacy/AnalogWake. Right up my alley. Both of these events have brought new connections and opportunities to talk about and model community care circles.

I was also the recipient of a surprise this year, very much in the community care circle model, in the form of a modest but significant gift. A grant (that I did not have to apply for!) arrived like magic and opened a door to new possibilities. Money rarely comes without labor or strings attached. This gift caused me to pause, think, consider, and finally to imagineer. I invested in securing an out-of-home office, supporting another creative business enterprise along the way. Yesterday I put a sign on the outside of the new office door. I closed it and sat inside, listening to the quiet of space that is mine to create in. There is a resident cat that I am not responsible for but can enjoy visiting with. In addition to being a home for my company, Last Dance Shrouds, the office will support a funded community health pilot project: mentoring volunteers who support Queer elders in doula-informed communication and care practices for death wellness. Because, as Stephen Jenkinson himself once quipped to me, “once all the [positive death movement] brouhaha has passed, the people doing the work will still be out here doing the work.” So, um, yeah… building community care circles

All of this constructive looking ahead is indeed a leap of hope. 2024 is an election year that will begin for me with a long-delayed spine surgery. If I'm lucky and all goes as intended I'll still be able to use my voice, hands, arms, and legs upon recovery. I hope the same can be said of the country once the election dust has settled. I have very basic post-surgical goals. I want to be able to wipe my own ass. I want to be able to drive my own car. These are my bottom line ideals of personal independence and criteria for quality of life. Both require dexterity, presence of mind, and the capacity for a little twist. Not my first spine surgery rodeo but I'm antsy because the surgery is in my neck, too close to the brain and seat of being for comfort, too close to my vocal chords to ignore… I also want to wake up sounding like my self.

As for the nation, even if he's defeated in '24. I'm not sure we can recover from what the 45th president wrought in America. Maybe we can build consensus once again that nurtures a community of care. Maybe we can lean towards (actual) woke, without any of the snark or hate. And if the far right fuckers win or some other post election chaos ensues, the usual circles of caring individuals will be here still. As we know, once all the brouhaha has passed the people doing the work now will remain strategically located, out here doing the work. Pragmatic optimism.

As the world turns, here on the cusp of whatever comes next, I whisper a blessing for my neurosurgeon's steady hands. A plea for democracy and a sane nation. An encouragement for everyone doing the work. A leap of hope. A wink of mischief. Yabba dabba doo!

PS: If you would like to 'be in the audience' for Healing Waters, the show was taped by the kind folks at Montague Community TV, 2 videos embedded below. I am immensely grateful I am for their support, accessibility, and documentarian skills. There are two whole hours of storytelling here. The only thing missing is the selection of vintage hankies displayed with a sign, need a hankie ~ take a hankie... If you watch the show please comment on this page so that I will see your feedback. I am so curious to hear...


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