August 29, 2007

You can call on beauty still and it will leap from all directions

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:18 pm by nevavegan

You can call on beauty still and it will leap
from all directions

you can write beauty into the cruel file
of things done things left undone but

once we were dissimilar
yet unseparate that’s beauty that’s what you catch

Adrienne Rich
from Part 7 of “Calle Vision”
from Dark Fields of the Republic

I was thinking about hope and this is where I wound up. Going back to Adrienne Rich and knowing how right she is. In every part of “Calle Vision” actually, because it’s a lot about the terrible things we do to animals and each other. But it’s also about finding yourself, however broken, and knowing that it’s still better to go on than to give up.

I was finishing up Pattrice Jones’ AfterShock as well, and pondering this question: how do I make myself useful. Given everything, where do I go, what do I do?

Pattrice talked about the healing power of the narrative, because until we can connect one event to another we can’t make sense of them. But to me it is more than this. The narrative is my form of communication. To me there is never a concept independent of circumstance. Instead we are caught up in time and place and what we believe and what we do are intrinsically tied to those things. So I tell stories and I hope those stories convey what matters most to me, and I hope they help.

I was feeling lost in arguments, terrified by the cruelty all around me, and saddened by the indifference I see in response to that cruelty. So many people walking around numb. They don’t want anyone or anything to get hurt, but they can’t feel it or know it when it happens. So they stay numb until someone manages to hit a raw nerve and then they lash out wildly against that pain. And I thought about Pattrice’s words, that this is all part of our fracture, our internal fractures, the fractures that divide us from the earth, from the animals, and from each other.

So to get back to myself I had to call on beauty again. I didn’t go to work today. I took the day off and took the dogs to Greenbelt Park. It’s not a big park, it’s not spectacular. There are no falls or unexpected rock formations. Instead we, the dogs and I, spent our morning in the green leaves and saw three turtles, two deer, and countless butterflies. One spicebush swallowtail fluttered near my face for a moment and then as she flew away her wing brushed my cheek. Even with the trash, the drought, and everything, Rich was right, beauty rushed from all directions. Life was everywhere. Deer grazing. Frogs swimming. Insects buzzing and gathering and fluttering. All those tiny creatures living just as they should, their miniature bodies seeking food and moisture and enjoying another sunny day. Who would deny them this?

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August was the cruelest month…

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:53 am by nevavegan

Well, not really, but I like to misquote Elliot whenever I get the chance.

I’m taking a couple days off from work to get my head on straight again and maybe do some hardcore cleaning.

I feel like lately all I have are thoughts bouncing around in my head and nothing focused for a post.

After nearly losing two of our rescued cats earlier in the month, I could escape the evidence of cruelty in my own neighborhood.

Months ago someone had murdered the beautiful heron that frequented our tiny litter-filled park. Stumbling on his body, just too late to help, was a terrible thing. Knowing that someone purposefully killed this beautiful creature was worse.

More recently walking the dogs I found a beheaded robin and a beheaded starling, but all around me my neighbors were planting flowers and setting up bird feeders. It seemed incongruous, this stuff going on while older women in bright sun dresses put up signs saying “welcome to granny’s garden.”

The cat poisonings stopped as mysteriously as they began. Possibly because Sean had given our prime suspect a firm talking too and our neighbor Stuart was observed saying loudly outside that if he figured out who was doing it he wasn’t going to bother with any cops.

Then the other day, walking the dogs, Stuart came out to tell me that somehow one of the male ferals looked burned and he was worried someone had done it on purpose. The good news is the cat, now named Shorty, is living on Stuart’s porch now and is all healed up. We don’t know what happened. It could have been anything, but with the attacks on wildlife, I do wonder. In a neighborhood of mostly nice people, one sociopathic individual can still wreak havoc.

Yesterday walking the dogs Stuart came out to talk to me again, mainly to ask me if I’d feed some of the ferals over the weekend since he’d be out of town. Then he wanted to talk about Michael Vick. He said “Neva, I know you’re a vegan (he pronounced it vaaaaay-gun) and I read Courtland Milloy comparing dog fighting to eating meat, but it ain’t the same, it just ain’t the same. Somethings wrong with someone who could do that to dogs.”

I couldn’t disagree with him on that point, there’s something deeply wrong with someone who can kill animals and take pleasure in fighting them and hurting them. But I couldn’t get too in depth with the topic since he then said that “the skeeters were eating him alive so he had to get inside.”

But maybe there’s also something wrong in a world where so many of us are so blind to so much pain all around us. There are sociopaths and then there are people who care but turn it off in various ways because caring hurts too much. I can turn it off to some extent as well naturally. To not do so is to become completely overwhelmed. But at some point I hope more of us can wake up and start making changes. Most people, my co-workers, my neighbors, abhor cruelty. They think less of people who are purposefully cruel, yet through their buying habits they support cruelty. How do we bridge the disconnect? Keep reminding them? Bring them vegan cupcakes on holidays?

August 24, 2007

Renting Dogs?

Posted in companion animals, dogs, taste better at 12:28 pm by nevavegan

Just a quickie to comment on the recent story about a company that rents out dogs by the hour.

Many of us in the rescue/animal welfare/animal rights community have been upset by this story because it seems to reduce dogs to the level of other rented things–cars and tuxes. It’s also disturbing because it fails to acknowledge that dogs bond with their caretakers and need a consistent home, a routine, and pack-feeling they get when they bond closely with a few people.

I read the whole thing and wondered who would ever be willing to pay for such a service.

For people who love dogs but don’t have the time or energy to adopt one there are always options.

When my aunt was first diagnosed with cancer she longed to adopt a dog, but she couldn’t in good conscience do it because she didn’t know how long she’d be able to care for a dog. Her prognosis wasn’t good and she feared that any dog she took in would outlive her and face upheaval and possible homelessness. So my aunt found the perfect solution–she made friends with a person in her building who had a dog and dog-sat and dog-walked this neighbor dog when she felt up to it. This brought the affection and company of a dog into her life and helped out her busy neighbor as well. And it was good for the dog to get the extra attention.

Others find they can satisfy their dog-nurturing urges on a part time basis by either fostering dogs for a rescue group, or just spelling the full-time fosterer off by taking the dogs to the dog park for an afternoon. Dog lovers can volunteer at a shelter, they can help out at adoption fairs, and they can always dog-sit for friends and family.

Dogs take a lot of time and care, and I applaud those who are responsible enough to wait to adopt until they are sure they can provide the perfect home. But sometimes you just need to go running with a dog, or get a sloppy lick across the face. There are tons of good options without resorting to “renting” a dog.

I’ve been quiet: a few good things.

Posted in happiness, real life at 12:41 am by nevavegan

I had a conversation about veganism in the locker room tonight, sparked by wearing my vegan shirt. So that’s a good thing. The two women I talked to seemed interested in trying some vegan foods I suggested. Everything is always kind of awkward and rushed in the locker room so we didn’t get too in depth.

Liam and Squeaker are well, so that’s in the positive column. Liam is usually so scared of people, he cringes if I reach out to touch him. No, I wasn’t mean to him, it’s just a feral thing. Anyway, since I took care of him when he was sick he’s been coming to cuddle with me sometimes. Of course he wakes me up at like 4:00 AM by kneading on me with his claws. But I’m just so happy he’s better I can’t complain.

I really, really love this stuff I got. It’s a hemp/avocado/olive body oil in vanilla bean fragrance by Althaea herbals. I have really dry skin so a lot of lotions just aren’t enough, but at the same time I have sensitive skin and most skin oils irritate my skin. This stuff is incredible, my skin is insanely soft.

I ate mujadara for lunch for day. So awesome!

Walking the dogs today I saw something that I thought were little bits of white plastic by a hole in the sand, I looked closer and realized that they were the shells from turtle eggs and the baby turtles had hatched and pushed on out of the sand. Which is a great thing to think about, though unfortunately I didn’t get to see any baby turtles.

The gas company came and finally fixed the leaking gas pipes on our street and didn’t even have to hurt our tree, which I’d been worried about. And yay hopefully no more overwhelming gas smell and houses blowing up (that didn’t happen in our neighborhood but in District Heights). But we’d been calling the gas company for the longest time.

August 20, 2007

Survivors: Vulnerability

Posted in animal advocacy, animal rights, survivors, veganism at 1:57 pm by nevavegan

I have not been posting the survivors writing exercises lately. Many are just too close to the bone, so to speak, and putting them out there into the ether seems strange.

So it was somewhat coincidental that the most recent writing exercise was on vulnerability. Do we avoid the appearance of vulnerability? Do we fear vulnerability so much that we can’t even admit to ourselves when we need help?

To put this stuff out on my blog is in itself an admission of vulnerability. I know that there are people in the world who like to probe others for a sore spot, the slightest bit of weakness and then exploit that. There are others who respond to an admission of vulnerability with their own flood of emotion, relieved that someone else expressed fear or weakness or pain, because now they feel they have permission to express their own emotions.

I’ve been reading Pattrice Jone’s Aftershock recently and I have to admit it’s very interesting and also very reassuring. So I’m sure many ideas I’ll cover here can be traced back to her.

One thing that keeps striking me over and over is how our very denial of own vulnerability can lead us down a path where we stop seeing the pain of others. If we need to believe we are always right (in other words we are not vulnerable to making mistakes) then it is hard to admit that we’ve hurt other people or hurt animals. If we need to be right all of the time, then we can’t allow ourselves to reconsider our past actions, including the harm we may have done to animals by eating them or the products from their bodies or wearing their skins.

If we can’t admit that we ourselves hurt, then it is difficult to understand the pain of others. This might mean turning a blind eye to humans that are being exploited and it might mean telling ourselves that animals don’t mind their confinement, enslavement and eventual deaths for our purposes.

If we can’t allow ourselves to understand that we sometimes need help, how can we comprehend a world out there full of others, human and non-human who are suffering and can’t protect themselves, who are dying and can’t defend themselves, who live only to satisfy the capricious needs of their captors? We can’t admit that this happens because to empathize with that total lack of control means understanding that we ourselves could, if only for a few different turns in our lives, be reduced to a position of zero control.

I am so grateful for everyone who has offered me a helping hand through life. I like to feel that I’m pretty tough and I can take care of myself, but there are definitely days when the only things keeping me sane are going home to a husband who loves me unconditionally and all those furry faces who live for my return. None of us can do this on our own, but sometimes we’re forced to realize that and other times we manage to pull on the blinders and power through believing ourselves untouchable.

Thank you survivor community for letting me ponder these issues again in a safe space. Thank you to everyone working to make the world better.

Then I Handed In My Super-Secret Abolitionist Decoder Ring and Went Home

Posted in abolition, animal rights, veganism at 1:56 pm by nevavegan

Mary Martin, a self-admitted abolitionist recently called it “the a-word.” I sympathize. I would consider myself an abolitionist, and yet there are times when maybe I don’t measure up? I’ve seen a number of arguments lately against arguing from environmentalism, or arguing against vivisection on non-ethical grounds (like my recent post on how stupid some animal experiments are). Those methods, according to some, fall short, because they don’t emphasize animal issues from a rights point of view.

What does it all come down to? I think people should be vegan. I think veganism is the only ethical way to live in this world, the world we have, not the ideal world we make up in our heads to excuse our own shortcomings.

I think that to promote veganism we should be honest. We shouldn’t downplay the plight of the animals because the horror of it upsets people. We shouldn’t tell people untruths about veganism or give poor nutrition advice. We shouldn’t pretend we are perfect. But we should face our fellow humans as humans and tell them what we know and what we understand and hope that at least part of that message sinks in.

I don’t think we can promote veganism by praising people for using slightly less awful methods of slaughtering, nor do I think we can promote veganism by giving free advertising to restaurants that don’t really serve vegan food but now use cage-free eggs.

I don’t think we can promote veganism by being degrading to people, whether that means the exploitation of women, or trying to trick people into veganism by capitalizing on their desire to be thin alone. For what it’s worth everyone I’ve known personally who became vegan only to lose weight gave it up because they were looking at it as another diet and then a new fad diet came along and they decided to try that one. Which is not to say that people can’t be motivated by their own desire for health, I’m just not sure the pursuit of thinness alone is enough. But others have told me they knew people who were only vegan for health reasons who stuck with it, so my experience doesn’t define everyone’s, I guess.

But when it comes to promoting veganism I’m going to open up the toolbox and use every tool at my disposal that I don’t find unethical. I think animals have a basic right not to be bred and brought into this world simply to be used and killed for our taste buds or amusement. That’s basic. But I’m going to throw the suffering argument in too. Then I’m going to throw the environmental reasons at my audience. If they want to talk religion, I’ll talk religion. If they’re concerned about health I’m going to reassure them that veganism is healthy. There are lots of reasons to be vegan. There’s really, as far as I’m concerned, one ethical way to view animals. However, it takes a radical re-thinking of our current world view to get there, so I’m all for using everything we have. I’m not against appealing to every reason and every emotion, I just use those things toward veganism, not toward promoting Burger King.

August 19, 2007

Thoughts on the Sermon on the Mount

Posted in veganism at 1:55 pm by nevavegan

With a special thanks to Bruce Friedrich for his assistance and the fixing of my typos!

As a child I spent many summers without air conditioning, without TV, reading the Bible during the worst heat of the day, memorizing and later reciting key passages. Other days my mother sent me over to the house of one of leaders of our church and I would spend afternoons with her, talking and delighting in the wild birds that came to her feeder. Living like this, surrounded by trees and animals and clear springs streaming out of rock, it was easy to feel like this really was Eden, that the world was beautiful and whole and everything was as it should be.

I have tried to look back over my life and identify those moments where I began to see animals as individuals and the early influences that lead me toward compassion. I’m not sure exactly where religious and secular thoughts blended, but somewhere in all of this thinking of a compassionate God, and thinking of the kindness and gentleness of Jesus had a powerful effect on me. I remember that church leader reading to me that no sparrow falls without God noticing, and I thought that if God cares for the sparrows then I should care about them too.

This is a hard topic for me to write about because I grew up in more than just one religion and found value in all those practices. I found more in inclusiveness and commonality than maybe most are comfortable with. This is not meant to tell anyone what or how to believe, but just to share something that was meaningful to me and may ring a bell with others.

My grandmother always said with regard to our neighbors and acquaintances of other religions “It doesn’t matter, we all worship the same God anyway.” Her best friend was Muslim, and this never created a conflict for her. “Religion is about how it helps and changes you, not about changing other people.” Growing up I had a Jewish best friend and my great uncles were born Jewish though they didn’t practice, and I was friends with Hindus, Wiccans, and Seiks, Atheists and Agnostics. I’m sometimes reluctant to even speak on spirituality for fear of not being inclusive enough or somehow making someone uncomfortable.

Not too long ago my friend Britney said that she hated to see me not talk about things that mattered to me because I was afraid of being associated with intolerance. Why not claim it for yourself again, she asked. It’s not like the fundamentalists own the Bible. She felt that if I found parts of the Bible important in my own development of compassion I should talk about that, not hide from it.

So, here goes. To touch on what my grandmother said about spirituality or religion being important because of how it changes us, not because we use it to change others, I feel that it’s not enough to say the words of certain prayers or wear a certain symbol. We have to examine our lives and try to do better. In both the physical world around me and in wisdom handed down to me through religion I tried to find my own ways to do better, and so often my thoughts came back to how I treated other people and also how I treated animals.

My father performed marriages and funerals, and along with my own memorization of Bible passages I remember watching him give talks of love and of comfort. So often he returned to “The Sermon on the Mount,” particularly the opening known as the Beatitudes, or the later part on faith and worry, as instruction for how to live in this world and not be consumed by it. The words were always so beautiful and echoed in my mind days afterward. When asked to recite a passage out loud, those were the words I always returned to.

In contrast to the voices in our culture that say we have to be cruel because the world is a cruel place, this sermon emphasizes why, despite the cruelties we may see around us, we must still struggle to be compassionate and gentle. Jesus warns us it will not be easy for us to love the way we should and to care the way we should, but that we shouldn’t let our fears and the obstacles in our path stifle that love. He also tells us that others will not always understand or appreciate when we try to do the right thing, but we should not give up.

When I first became vegetarian many of my friends and family members reminded me that the world is an unfair place and that we need to “take care of ourselves first.” This was somehow to them a justification for eating animals. At first I was doubtful about how I’d make it as a vegetarian (and then later as a vegan) because I was so used to eating animal based meals. During that unsure time I thought again about the words “consider the fowl of the air, for they reap not, neither do they sow, yet the lord thy father provideth for them.” I felt reassured that if I was doing something to care for the weak and exploited by no longer eating animals, that somehow this would be ok.

This doesn’t mean that I took the idea of nutrition lightly or didn’t do my homework. It only means that I had to believe that there’s room enough in this world for compassion and empathy. When we talk about protecting the meek and gentle, we cannot help but think about all the exploited animals around us. Jesus never said it was acceptable for us to use others simply because we are stronger, or smarter, or more powerful. Instead he emphasized mercy, which is having the ability to do harm, even the desire to do harm, and choosing instead to help and protect. As our understanding of non-human animals has grown, and we have found that they think more deeply than we ever gave them credit for, that they feel emotion, and feel pain and fear just as we do, then we have to also think of them as our neighbors in this world. When Jesus instructs us to care for the needy and help others, to me this means not only our extended family of humans, but also the animals who are suffering in unprecedented ways and surely need our help as well.

This is an antidote to the ingrained belief so many of us hold that we need to be cutthroat (quite literally) in looking out for ourselves. When we live in a world, like those of us lucky enough to live in the US or Western Europe do, where we’re surrounded by plenty, then our instincts to stock up against famine, to hoard against disaster backfire on us. We have stores of grain rotting while people elsewhere in the world starve. We suffer diseases of excess, too much fat, too many calories but not enough nutrients. And we still believe this idea that we have kill animals for our own survival, that we have to be hard-hearted or the world will eat us alive. Jesus told us that the poor will be rewarded, that the meek are literally our future, and that those who act with love and kindness will lead the way. We can create a world based on kindness, but only if one by one we all take that leap of faith and do something selfless. So often in my life I fall short of that goal, but in becoming vegan I gave up something I liked, something I had trouble imagining my life without, because I felt it was kinder to the earth, kinder to the animals and kinder to people all over the world. I thought it would be a sacrifice, but I found instead love and beauty I hadn’t imagined. Naturally I was provided for, more than provided for. Veganism no longer feels like a sacrifice to me at all.

Of course this is a small thing. It isn’t giving up all my worldly possessions and wandering the earth as a beggar. It’s a small thing with huge benefits, for the animals, for me, and for the world.

When I think also of what the Sermon on the Mount meant to me in particular I go back to this theme of the incredible care and love that God invested in creating us, the world, and all the plants and animals in it. Those lines about the lilies of the field, though ultimately about impermanence, also remind us that though we try to create beauty ourselves, we cannot come close to what God has created. Each wild flower, however common, was formed in beauty and love. Every bird is cared for, his wings crafted exquisitely for flying, the seeds and berries perfectly suited for his diet. So if we acknowledge all of this as gifts, how can we toss it aside like garbage? When I realized the destruction animal agriculture was causing to the planet, all the forests lost, the water polluted, and the animals maimed and deformed, it seemed that we were taking everything we had been given and destroying it. The only responsible choice seemed to be to step away from that destruction and find a new way to live in harmony with the world.

One argument my family brought up when I first decided to stop eating animals was that meat-eating is natural because animals eat other animals, and because people all over the world eat animals. Aside from the obvious concern that so much of what we, as humans, do now has very little to do with nature, I also think about the spiritual instruction that we should try to do better than what we see all around us. While Jesus spoke with reverence and kindness toward animals many times, he never said that we should be like them in every regard. Instead we are capable of thinking about our actions beyond just instinct and desire. Although animals also demonstrate mercy and kindness, we hold ourselves to a higher standard to pursue these qualities in all aspects of our lives. Jesus also tells us it’s not enough to just imitate what those around us do, instead we concentrate on doing right ourselves and trying to live a merciful and just life.

I’m not a theologian, I can’t pretend I understand every word of the Bible, but there are some passages that just stuck in my head and I found my thoughts turning to them again and again. I know enough to know that many people find different meaning in these words than I do. For example, most of my family disagrees with me on my interpretation of the lines about being the salt of the earth. For me personally, these lines conjured images from museums of ancient salt cellars that demonstrated the value of salt in pre-industrial ages. In biblical times I know that salt was both common and precious. It was something that people needed every day just to survive, it wasn’t pretty or showy, but it was difficult to pry from the earth or filter from the sea. So when I think of a person as the salt of the earth, I think of someone who is nurturing and sustaining of life, but also human, or “down to earth,” not flashy, or wealthy. This says to me that we should try to protect and care for other people, but also for all life, including animals, and try to sustain the planet itself. So in my view, veganism isn’t glamorous, it’s the opposite of conspicuous consumption actually, it doesn’t make anyone famous or powerful, but it is a simple, often private, commitment to protect and nurture life.

Not all or even most of my reasons for being vegan are spiritual. I find so much logic, so much self preservation even in veganism. Anyone, of whatever religion or non-religion, can find value in compassion and mercy of course. But I do think that people who are spiritual can find that veganism is the natural extension of the beliefs they already hold. We can look back at words that have always helped us through difficult time, and now with new eyes understand that we should extend our love to all living creatures and to the earth itself.

August 18, 2007

Picture Day

Posted in real life at 8:29 pm by nevavegan

By the way, I’m thrilled to know that other people also sing silly songs to their companion animals. I knew I couldn’t be the only one, but now I have confirmation.

I don’t really feel up to philosophizing today, so if there’s any point to this post it’s that vegans do fun stuff sometimes, and we’re silly, oh, and vegans look young… I don’t know if that last one is actually true, but I do think healthy living can help. I don’t know, but here goes.

I am still tired today because I got up bright and early so Sean and I could go the arboretum and have our pictures taken. I accidentally met a photographer/filmmaker because he was making a short film on proper bunny housing, and Sean has created the ultimate bunny palace. Said photographer agreed to take our pictures and give us “mates rates.” So that was just such a stroke of luck!

Anyway, long story short, Sean and I really have no pictures of us together since we didn’t have a wedding and any pictures of us have been taken by other hikers as we happen upon them on trails. Needless to say I’m always drenched in sweat, bright red, and have my eyes shut in such hiking pictures. And sometimes showing such pictures is like “here I am about to pass out and this is the thumb of some hiker we don’t know.” Not very romantic.

This might sound entirely self-indulgent, but I also kind of feel like I were to die tomorrow people would have trouble remembering what I look like because there would be no decent pictures. Plus people seem to have trouble remembering what I look like anyway. Sean and I ran into the father of one of his old friends recently and later the friend asked her father “Was Sean with his wife when you saw him?” The father said “No, he was with some redhead.” The friend said “The redhead IS his wife!” I’m thinking redhead? Who? No, I don’t think so.

Also the acquiring of a picture would be nice because Sean previously had one that he liked that he took himself in his office and he recently removed it. He said too many clients were asking “Is that your daughter?” and then acting weird when he said “No, that’s my wife.” I feel somehow like Dorian Grey in reverse where I’m aging in real life but still appear to be a petulant pre-adolescent in photographs. So it would be nice if Sean could actually have a picture of me in his office without people wondering where he went to get around age of consent laws.

Also, when we did get married we asked the J.P. to snap a picture of us. But I have camera-fear which just translated as fear in the picture, so it kind of looked like someone was holding me at gunpoint to take my picture. It was bad, horrible really. I used to have it in my office but too many people were asking “Awww, is that you at your prom? You look so nervous!” Sigh.

In any case the cats are recovering well. Liam is really completely back to his old self and you’d never know there was anything wrong except for his shaved ankle where the iv was. Squeaker is still not eating like I would like, and getting her back to eating is difficult, so I’m still putting some food directly into her mouth to make her eat. She doesn’t seem to mind one bit actually, and it’s made giving her the antibiotics much easier because she knows something really yummy is coming next, but eventually she’s going to have to go back to eating on her own.

Other than this I’ve mainly been working on silver for a while now and I’m pretty much pleased with the results though certainly there have been some hitches. I hope to start selling some soon to both offset my massively breath-stealing vet bills, but also to contribute to some worthy causes, so stay tuned.

Here’s a sneak peak. These are a double-sided dangly pendants I’ve been working on. I put a dime in for scale. I use this stuff called PMC/ACS that is silver particles recycled out of old film or things like that combined with a wood putty so I can shape it. Then I fire it and all the wood burns out leaving essentially pure silver behind, but it gives me huge flexibility with what I do. Each of these pendants have two sides, one I painted and then used water etching to make it 3-D, the other side I cut out the silver like I do with my paper cutting art to make the design. The bird is a bird on both sides, the deer is a deer on both sides. I used sterling findings and glass crystals, plus amethyst on the deer and green flourite for the bird. Oh, and I treated them with sulfur to give them a nice patina.

The painted sides

And the cut out sides

And just for the sake of complete self indulgence here is a picture of me looking much younger than I actually am standing in front of the National Cathedral, just to illustrate the problem.

August 17, 2007

We Are Spokes In The Wheel

Posted in rant, veganism, wordy at 7:35 pm by nevavegan

Or Why I Keep Breaking the Golden Rule Every Freakin’ Day

I’ve been pondering the Golden Rule since Bruce Friederich’s post over on Animalblawg where he said in essence that fighting for animal welfare reforms is just extending the Golden Rule across the species barrier.

While I at first bristled at the implication that I’m so speciesist that I can’t extend the Golden Rule across the species barrier, my next realization was worse. There are tons of areas in my life where I simply don’t live up to the Golden Rule, and I had to start thinking about why that might be. The thoughts this stirred up are complicated and troubled. In some spots they make perfect sense to me, and in others I wonder if I’m doing the things I should. But here goes…

Before I delve into other life areas where the Golden Rule isn’t guiding my every action, I had to ask myself if Bruce is right. If I were to apply the Golden Rule to every single campaign, letter to the editor, blog entry, etc. would I be lobbying for welfare reforms to make small improvements in the lives of farm animals. Possibly. But on examining this I have to say that if I were to truly put myself in the position of the animals and ask “what would I want” I come closer, though maybe not as far as the Jerry Vlasak view. The animals would want me to charge the battery egg farms, punch the farmer in the face, and start opening cages.

What holds me back from that action, and why I think that action is not good for the movement as a whole, is complicated enough to warrant a whole entry by itself naturally. So if we just for now take that off the table for later discussion, what’s the next thing? It’s likely Bruce is right and any small improvement to the lives of these animals is significant to them. At the same time I have to understand that the reforms made today won’t affect the animals alive today, instead these reforms might not be instituted until generations of animals later, might be instituted in an uneven manner, some farms may cheat and never institute them at all. Further, for the animals born in later generations that might have more space, we are still talking about unthinkable cruelty, unimaginable crowding. So for those generations born under the welfare reforms we’re pushing through today, we’re still talking about millions of animals born into misery, living their whole lives in misery, and dying in agony.

Just so I’m not sugar-coating anything here.

So looking at that, I still have to say that if I try to imagine what it’s like to be a chicken, and then have a choice between someone giving me one or two extra inches of space now or just fighting for the rights of future chickens… But that’s where it gets tricky, because when I try to put myself in that position the thing that runs through my head more than anything is “please kill me now.” I can’t imagine being in that position and I can’t imagine retaining any will to live under those circumstances. But then I’m bringing my own baggage to it, where I personally fear captivity more than death. So to set my reactions aside. For most if the choice is between a little space and no space? Sure most would choose a little space.

My issue continues to be that if we, the “Animal Rights Advocates” pat farmer Jim on the back and call him a hero for crowding huge numbers of chickens into a dim barn, but on the floor, not in cages, does the general public also think farmer Jim is hero? And if they do think he’s a hero do they see eating the animals he raises and slaughters as their only obligation to helping animals. If they are people who say “Peta is so radical, I could never live up to their standards,” then what are they to think about “Burger King Victory?” Ah, you know the speech, I’ve said it all before.

But then my rambly mind went to other places, other aspects of my life where I’m not adhering to the golden rule and why I came to be this way. In some respects it was purely utilitarian. I was raised to fill other people’s needs and put my own last, and with that kind of upbringing comes this huge guilt that I’m being selfish when I ask for something for myself. But it took really getting to that point where I started to think I really might be consumed by the needs of others to start trying to reconsider some assumptions I’d always held. The first realization was that if I allow myself to be destroyed, whether that destruction is a complete mental breakdown or actual physical death, then I’m useless to everyone, useless to me, useless to the world. So, if I define the choice as being between fading away/falling down and doing nothing, or doing the things I feel are within my reach while preserving my own sanity, one choice seems obviously better for all involved.

This might be easier to understand when we apply it to survivor work, so we can get specific, rather than remaining purely theoretical. We have all heard that old metaphor about the oxygen mask on the plane—put yours on first, then help others, because you can’t help anyone if you’re out cold. In survivor work we sort of have to cling to that idea because so often the women volunteering to help and counsel victims of sexual assault or other forms of violence and abuse have lived through those same experiences themselves. Having been there themselves, they can often provide excellent real world advice, tons of empathy, and a truly understanding ear. But survivors often find old wounds re-opened through doing this work, and they also might be vulnerable to being manipulated or used in various ways.

If we think only in terms of the Golden Rule, we can end up going down some dead ends. When we think of the one survivor in front of us at the moment, we can feel her need for company and comfort. She might express anger she can’t express at others toward us. We do understand those things. If we were in her place we’d want someone who could supply bottomless compassion, without resting or taking care of herself, who could take our rage quietly and make something positive out of it. But we also know that this is about more than this one woman in front of us at the moment, it’s also about all the others before, the others waiting their turn right now, and all the many more who will need help later. So we have to pace ourselves and look after ourselves, even knowing that to the one person begging for more help right now, our distance, our sanity-preserving detachment seems unthinkably cruel and selfish.

However it is a trap to think that we must be everything to everyone. Saving the world is not our task to be shouldered alone, instead it is a shared task for all of us. This is not to say that we should shirk personal responsibility and do nothing because we’re waiting for others to take up the slack. Instead it is an understanding that we are spokes in the wheel that we are slowly moving toward better things. The wheel cannot turn without us, but it can’t turn with our effort only.

So to be better spokes we need to seek out those tasks that are suited to our skills and experience, and try to excel in those areas. We need to keep an eye on the big picture, because we don’t want to be so wrapped up in our own tasks that the wheel starts spinning backwards. At the same time we need to think about being effective in our own way, putting our particular talents to work.

If we are to go back to working with people, not animals, we have to believe in our own work, and believe in the ability of others to do their work. Even when we are faced with the disappointing reality that others can fail us and can fail the most vulnerable out there. But we still struggle with this idea that we do our part: the reporter does her part telling the stories and raising awareness, the educator does her part trying to instill respect and compassion in young people, the advocate does her part accompanying the survivor to hearing… Even the lawyer for the other side is doing her part because it protects all of us to try to have a fair system and make sure the convictions we get are actually for the right people and are just.

To go back to animals, a friend told me a story of going out leafleting with an organization and being told by the organizer that if people rejected taking a “vegetarian starter guide” she should urge them to eat cage-free eggs and free-range meat. The rational of the organizer was that the suffering we’re facing is so vast that if people aren’t open to being vegan we should immediately offer them a much smaller step. But this is working on the assumption that we’re the only ones out there. We’re not and we need to recognize that. We can hand them a leaflet, even if they don’t take it we’ve put the thought in their mind “there are people who care so much about animals that they go stand in the sun all day to ask me not to eat them.” But then they might see a news story, read a book, meet a friendly rescued cow or a thousand other things. We have to hope that us, standing there, leaflet in hand, is just one spoke in the wheel. Though I do recognize that some people just aren’t open to change, but if they’re not then how likely are they to go out of their way for free-range anyway.

If a group like PeTA who already has a reputation for holding the hard line against all forms of animal exploitation praises certain exploiters, sends out press releases, and gives them free advertising for getting slightly better while still torturing and killing countless animals, what’s the message there? It’s because they don’t want to be a spoke, they don’t want to fill that role of continually hitting people with one message. Instead they want to be the whole wheel and be everything to everyone. Which is understandable of course, particularly when we see so many people doing nothing, in fact seeing nothing. But is it effective to try to be the whole wheel? Does it mix the message up? I think so.

August 16, 2007

Odds and Ends, or real life is kicking my butt

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:33 pm by nevavegan

Playing cat-nurse and just the worry, etc. in addition to the normal routine has me pretty tired this week. Liam and Squeaker are both very much improved. Thank you all for your kind thoughts.

I’m not sure I can manage to put together one coherent post today. So this is just bits and pieces.

On the real life front I wrote previously about my attempts to press assault charges against my neighbor and how those efforts went nowhere. At one point the trial was postponed because he was locked up in prison in Virginia. I was never able to figure out what he’d done in Virginia as the records aren’t online. Maryland though is online and it seems he’s had three more arrests in Maryland since the incident with me last September. (That’s 3 more in addition to whatever the offense in Virginia was, and no idea if there are additional arrests in DC either) There is another trial date set, but he’s requested a jury trial which might mean the judge will decide it isn’t worth it and just never send it to trial. I feel so exhausted with the whole thing and everyone is telling me not to expect anything.

I sort of consider the whole thing closed, but I hate to think that this guy is just still hurting people. But oh well. I did what I was supposed to and gave my statement and all. Beyond that I have no control over it.

Next up I want to touch on a discussion that’s come up lately about whether women are held back from embracing veganism by domineering male partners. I’m not sure how I feel about this because I’ve known a fair number of men who claimed to give up veganism because their wives or girlfriends didn’t want them to be vegan or made fun of them for it. But there have been some articles lately telling women to eat meat to impress men and other weird things. I always thought it should be the exact opposite, straight men should go vegan to impress women. I swear I have so many beautiful, intelligent, accomplished female vegan friends who would love to meet a guy who was at least making efforts toward veganism. Think you’re a huge geek and nobody will ever love you? Eat tofu and volunteer at an animal sanctuary!! Works like a charm.

Related to this though, I can’t help but think how much better a place the world would be if people would just be nice for a change! You know, if someone’s spouse wants to be vegan that person should ask why it’s so important to their partner, and then listen, rather than mocking and bullying. Yeah, I know, I’m a hopeless dreamer.

If anyone wanted a chuckle, someone was going through our neighborhood selling home security systems, and she stopped me just as I came home from work before I’d gotten to my door. I told her I already had a security system. She looked for a sign or stickers and not seeing any, she kept pushing her system, I said no thanks…. But the thing I wanted to say, but didn’t was “How about I unlock my door and walk away, and if you can step through my front door and stay in my house for at least 30 seconds, I’ll buy your security system.” But I was afraid she’d actually try it and then I’d get sued. It seems she didn’t notice the German shepherd and hound faces peering out at her. I know I should not make light of the protective tendencies of my rescued dogs, but it did amuse me for a while.

On the front of becoming the most ridiculous person who ever lived I’ve starting singing a new song to the bunnies while I feed them and clean up their area. I sing them Bif Naked’s “Lucky Ones” only I change all the words to be about bunnies. So it goes “It was on bun-day when my bunny told me, never pay the bunny with love only, and what could I say to you, except that I love you, and I’ll give you lots of treats. I know we are we are the lucky buns, I know we are we are the lucky buns.” I also find this additionally amusing to my warped sense of humor since Biffy is vegan herself. It is a beautiful song. I mean her version, not mine, is beautiful.

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