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Sustain-Ability

The notion of sustainability, bandied about as the ultimate goal of international development programs, troubles me.

In its simplest definition, sustainability is the ability to exist constantly.  Few things in our world – from marriages to businesses to social projects – actually enjoy sustainability in that sense.  Some endeavors are just one-off or ‘band aids’ to avoid deeper engagement.

Sustainability is a concept widely used by western development organizations to mean ‘balanced’ efforts to meet basic human needs – but usually in a hurry. Large NGOs with government contracts enjoy ready access to capital. No so much for the small organizations doing equally worthy work.

Sustainability is always in flux, changing over time and place. It’s not a goal but a process.

The greater the level of poverty, the more challenging it is to improve the lives of those who experience it. The ‘unbanked,’ the un- or undereducated, the sick and traumatized face a struggle of indeterminate length to achieve an acceptable quality of living.  Being a woman,  and especially a women of color, means you have to navigate out of a deep trough of exclusion and internalized devaluation.

If we are to inculcate sustainability in initiatives that assist the poorest communities, then we have to reallocate resources to women. The two resources that matter most: knowledge and capital.

Where women are systemically excluded from education, we offer rigorous instruction. Where women know only subsistence economic activities, we share the knowledge, tools, and mentoring that growing a profitable business requires. Where women need to meet operating costs, we open accessible channels to capital, knowing their children’s welfare motivates their long-term vision.

Success as they define it takes as long as it takes; some achieve breakthroughs, others fail and must try again. Both outcomes have to inform the patience and quality of assistance.

It’s the group we must elevate, enabling them to build both social capital and access to capital – without draconian conditions.

We have an effective way to assist this mighty transition:  the Women’s Center. With this foundation, we can let go of that nagging sense of impermanence when we witness their resilience.

Botticelli Belly

I wrote this nearly five years ago. Still relevant….                                                                                    

The Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli’s most recognized work is the Birth of Venus, a masterful rendering of the naked body of a nubile woman (‘birth’ notwithstanding). She is young, perhaps late teens, with buff arms and abs, pert tits, creamy smooth thighs, luscious hair the color of ripe papaya draped demurely across her pubes, and a belly that pooches sweetly beneath her navel.

The Birth of Venus

Modern images of women would feature most of these traits as representative of the ‘ideal’ white woman’s body. But the belly would have to go. Flat and taut across the pelvic bones – that’s today’s beauty burden.  Mostly this is a young woman’s fad. Producing a baby or two makes a Botticelli belly the normal for another vast group. My observations at the gym suggest that even women who work out have belly, and many have much more than a Botticelli belly.

Body image, one of the many battle grounds on which women get stranded, is the insidious usurper of self-worth. We do not choose our genes, but too often find ourselves regretting the ones that did not provide the ‘right’ hair, body shape, skin color or texture. That’s time wasted in the much more urgent struggle to live powerfully.

Women are the planet’s transformers. We advance in this purpose only by repudiating – loudly and publicly – the demeaning messages, the false ‘idols’, the egregious transgressions of men, and the insidious dictates of patriarchal culture.

We’ve also got to reconcile with our dark side, our most troubling behavior: undermining other women. Whether through verbal or physical assault or a ‘freeze out,’ few actions are more likely to damage a woman’s soul. We know how to ‘get to’ each other. Inflicting hurt never produces anything worthy of women.

The best of our female nature –  intuition, a capacity for nurturance, strength of mind  and heart for human needs – adorns us with unique power. To turn the testosterone tide of our culture, we’ve got to run with our natural gifts.

In her book Solomon’s Song, Toni Morrison wrote: “She needed what most colored girls needed: a chorus of mamas, grandmamas, aunts, cousins, sisters, neighbors, Sunday school teachers, best girlfriends and what all to give her the strength life demanded of her – and the humor with which to live it.” 

This is every woman’s need – and every woman’s gift to give.

Wrinkle Resistance

Face as Map

That faint tracery of grooves first manifests for every woman in a different part of her face. It feels sudden, like discovering your smooth shiny vehicle door has been keyed by someone with a grudge.  So-called ‘crow’s feet’ branch from your eyes across your temples, stress lines become furrows in your forehead – both vertical and horizontal, the slight indentations where your mouth laughs sadly evolve into the hinged-jaw look of a marionette.

Ultimately they all merge, your whole face a web of wrinkles. If live into my 90’s, just two decades more, I expect to acquire that facial topography. I’m not there yet, but my face is full-on into a relentless mapping exercise.

That relentlessness of facial alterations can be a shocking, a daily source of distress. Until you stop counting. Until you think with more affection about what these ‘etchings’ mean. They map out our years, our life experience. They confirm that we have survived for a long time, that we’ve achieved ‘elder’ status in the Human Tribe.

Looking ‘old’ in America simply has not been acceptable for women. And too often by women. Women spend a LOT of time and money tending or fending off this worry. To hide the evidence that we have aged, we spend over $2.2 billion every year on anti-aging creams and moisturizers and non-surgical cosmetic procedures. That’s not even counting facial cosmetic surgery. Or the ubiquitous consumption of cosmetics.

I’m as vain as the next woman, but I wasn’t going to bite on this misguided notion of what looks good. I decided instead to tend judiciously to my hair and skin and let my genes do the rest. I missed early induction into secret society of face painting. So I opt for just the basics. I’m not willing to pony up as much as it costs to be elaborately ‘made over’ every day.

Crowning Glory Story

White- or grey-haired women have ‘disruptive coloration’ [defined in the world of birds as a type of ‘cryptic’ coloration catching the eye and distracting the observer from recognizing the whole organism.]. On some, their un-pigmented hair looks fabulous; for others it represents a dispiriting loss of youthfulness.

Between 75-90% of American women color their hair. Most often to cover grey as it begins to assert itself. A vast industry devotes huge resources to analyzing and projecting what women will buy to mollify their terror of aging. I loathe being predictable to such corporation predation.

If we women let go of needing even half the stuff we buy to soothe our vanity, we’d free up hundreds of millions of dollars for few pressing social needs: mitigating the planet’s climate crisis, or making sure every human gets enough to eat, or providing the means for all  girls to be educated, or a million other tiny or vast efforts to improve our collective experience of life in the 21st century.

For me, there’s Women’s Centers Movement.  It’s necessary we do what we can.

The Gold in the Hills

Spent a couple of days cruising around Placer, Amador and Calaveras counties, the Sierra foothills area known as “Gold Country” in California.

Placerville hosts a serious homeless encampment; first time I’ve seen a camp that bags its trash and sets it out for collection. Judging by the size of the trash-bag mound, it’s been a long time since anybody came to collect. 

All the big retailers seem to be doing brisk business. The historic downtown areas and just-outside-of-town strip malls show/hide empty storefronts.

We passed a closed-up store with a sign ”Carole’s Chocolate Lounge.”  The images conjured may propel the only entrepreneurial aspiration I need going forward.

Lotta Trump signage here. I wonder if the CA Republicans paid for all the flashy banners along the road. Not many people wear masks.

I had not watched any TV since the last real (2019) baseball season. The commercials seem obsessed with making home, clothes, cars and pets smell good.

My unwillingness to be interrupted constantly while viewing a show made for short night of TV.  So pleased to see a pregnant weather lady!

We hiked around to a few prospecting sites on the Silver Fork of the American River, the Mokelumne River, Woods Creek, and the Stanislaus River. All refreshingly cold and clear. Just a fleck of gold for the effort.

Route 49 – a two-lane blacktop connecting the towns of Placerville and Sonora – is as smooth as a dance floor.  However, the tiny towns strewn along it evidently have barely enough people to bother with a main street or even an official building in decent repair. A few have gone ‘agri-burb’ with Tractor Supply Depots and auto parts stores and Subway, McD’s, Burger King, Taco Bell and Starbucks – all with drive through service.

The Railtown 1897 State Historical Park was a sweet find on a day when virtually no one else showed up.  Dozens of vintage rail cars and locomotives, most made ‘back East’ and shipped to California. It’s the oldest continually operating rail roundhouse in the States. Thousands of iron parts stacked about – relics of a time when transport was huge and heavy.

Resting tonight near Jackass Hill, where a depressed Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain took refuge with some unusual friends during his sojourn of escape in Calaveras County.    

Memorable places:

Pope’s Beach on the west shore of Lake Tahoe. Copses of pine trees grow across the beach almost to the water’s edge.  Sandy bottom as far as I could see.

Route 50 into S. Lake Tahoe – the muscular rock faces take my breath away.

Knight’s Ferry, empty like a set from a post-apocalypse film;

The ice cream store Yummie Ha Ha in Angel’s Camp;

Route 108 between Sonora and Oakdale – rolling hills of black oaks pleasingly socially distanced amid tawny dry-grass meadows, a landscape that makes me feel unreasonable smitten. As if the land itself could be my lover.

The weeds and grasses have gone frowzy, effortlessly scattering their seeds in the breeze. A place not anything like Oakland, tawdry with trash and graffiti.

Aimless on the road, drifting through the day – what could be more golden?

Elemental

COVID and the Uprisings have put us on notice that we longer have time to piss around with the same brutality and ineptitude that have characterized much of our nation-making. 

Women need to inhabit all key leadership roles In the movements that arise at this time.  We want to crowd out the possibility of a planetary train wreck that men in power would greedily host. Now is the most stunning opportunity in most of our lifetimes to remove the barriers between us and to spread around the capital controlled by too few.

What makes women so much better suited to tending the human herd?

Our blood attachment with our children means we viscerally prefer not to see them killed, maimed, starved, or shot it.

We can get a lot done with just a look.

We are trained from a very early age to take care of people not us.  Then we learn to take care of us too.

We’re quick to read subtext, value nuance, and engage in soul-lifting conversations with those who share our dot in the universe.

The depression thing that has undercut so many of us will lighten or dispel as we gain traction being in charge and being valued, including by ourselves. Are you in for the long haul?