Everybody Dance Now

When I first moved to San Francisco 17 years ago (I was 23! *Insert cry of dismay about where did the time go*), I developed a severe phobia of earthquakes that only worsened as the months went on. Around the same time, we were having little tremors here that occurred in the middle of the night. I would wake up, always one minute before it happened, and then my blood would run cold with each little shookah shookah shookah. My fear went the way that all fears do once they are given a shot of anxiety. I became convinced that my worst fears were true. Not only was there going to be a big earthquake, but that it was going to happen very soon, and absolutely to my own detriment.

I started having nightmares too. Ones where the floor would start to tilt, walls would crumble, the ceiling would collapse and I would falllllllllll. Oh, and the tsunami ones too, or freeways and bridges collapsing. Always because of an earthquake, and always with me being utterly helpless and in harm’s way.

Here’s where it gets fun. I no longer remember what preceded things shifting, if there was any remarkable event or conversation that brought in change. I do recall that I was teaching a physical comedy unit to my middle school drama students. We were practicing prat falls (there’s a correct way to fall, did you know?), slapstick, juggling and partner trust work. All the kids were incredible, but I had a few shining stars who really gave each class their all. And one night I had a dream that featured three of them…

I was driving to work, trying to navigate my way through San Francisco morning rush hour. As I approached an area of freeway overpass craziness, the violent tremors began. Traffic stopped, concrete started falling, and the ground just buckled and swayed. Ahead of me, in the median of the road, I noticed a human figure. And he was…juggling. I jumped out of my car and ran towards him, at the same time realizing that it was one of my students! He had a big goofy grin on his face as he caught my eye. Simultaneously to my right, the pavement was moving in a wave-like pattern, and moving up the street, dancing carelessly, was a girl in my class. High above on an overpass, another boy was balance beaming on the railing. I started shouting at them, telling them to be careful, it wasn’t safe, what were they thinking? The juggler kept juggling, and the girl on my right approached me, never faltering in her step and said,

Just dance with it Mary. Just dance.

The nightmares stopped and my fears evaporated.

Just in case you already feel like it.

Lately, I have had a reoccurence of that sort of bone-chilling anxiety. Unfortunately, it is not regarding something that can be left to chance, or brushed off lightly.

I don’t know where this concern went in 2012…I think I shut down a bit after Leo died, unable to take in any more fear, or process any more grief. Lucky for me, my psyche never lets anything lay low for long (*sigh*). The dawn of 2013 has seen a rebirth for me in the hyper-awareness around Climate Change. As in, it’s happening, it’s happening now, and it’s happening fast.

I don’t want to create anxiety for you, and I’d rather you walk away from the computer today feeling empowered (we’ll get to that part, stay with me). So I’m not going to sledgehammer the whole shebang home, but I do want to say a few things…because while I don’t want to alarm you, the situation is truly, without question, terribly alarming.

All the new reports coming out give proof that climate change is advancing much more rapidly than scientists had previously predicted. And I know that we are all experiencing this general sense of things speeding up. I believe this is due in part to the reality of exponential growth.

Watch this video. If you haven’t met David Suzuki yet, you’re in for a treat. I’ve been following this cat since the mid ’90s (I am totally carbon dating myself today, eh?). This is a fantastic explanation of not only exponential growth as it relates to population and climate change, but also how it relates to the economy.

Here is the first analogy for exponential growth that I learned while studying Appropriate Technology as an undergrad.

French children are told a story in which they imagine having a pond with water lily leaves floating on the surface. The lily population doubles in size every day and if left unchecked will smother the pond in 30 days, killing all the other living things in the water. Day after day the plant seems small and so it is decided to leave it to grow until it half-covers the pond, before cutting it back. They are then asked, on what day that will occur. This is revealed to be the 29th day, and then there will be just one day to save the pond.

from Wikipedia.

The thing is, most of us are under the delusion that we still have time to act. That we can resolve our environmental issues at some point down the line.

This isn’t true. We have to act NOW.

So I’ve been quietly freaking out about all of this. Sometimes my anxiety takes the shape of guilt that I’m not on the ground in Texas. Sometimes it looks like grief that colors everything. I give my daughter a sea weed snack and I bemoan that soon the oceans will be too sick to eat from, that soon food production will be very very difficult. That I cannot give my daughter the promise of a bright future, while at the same time processing the loss of the one promised to me.

Take a breather real quick. Here’s a picture of a cute kid and a dog. (We’re dogsitting Wolfie).

Doing our part can no longer be confined by green consumer choices. Climate change makes little personal efforts a bit dismal. Like, it’s still important to support a ban on wolf hunting outside Yellowstone, but changing weather patterns will mean a loss of biodiversity that makes hunters look like Elmer Fudd. We must keep doing what we can in our own lives…this gives us fuel, a sense of purpose, it nurtures the muscles we need to Do Things Differently. But it is now time to turn our gaze onto Big Oil and the corporations. I confess I often feel overwhelmed by politics and greedy lobbyists, instead deciding I will create change without waiting for CEOs or congresspeople. Unfortunately, the planet can’t wait for them either. It’s time to be a hero. (Click on that link. It’s a good shot in the arm for courage.)

We’re not alone. Yesterday, 18 climate scientists sent a letter to President Obama, reinstating the dire need for him to ban the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Dear Mr. President,

You take office for the second time at a critical moment. As you may know, the U.S. has just recorded the hottest year in its history, beating the old mark by a full degree; the same year that saw the deep Midwest drought, and the fury of Hurricane Sandy, also witnessed the rapid and unprecedented melt of the Arctic ice pack.

If we are to restrain the rise in the planet’s temperature, it will require strong action from, among others, the planet’s sole superpower. Some of that work will be difficult, requiring the cooperation of Congress. But other steps are relatively easy.

Eighteen months ago some of us wrote you about the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, explaining why in our opinion its construction ran counter to both national and planetary interests. Nothing that has happened since has changed that evaluation; indeed, the year of review that you asked for on the project made it clear exactly how pressing the climate issue really is.

We hope, as scientists, that you will demonstrate the seriousness of your climate convictions by refusing to permit Keystone XL; to do otherwise would be to undermine your legacy.

Go here to see who signed the letter.

This give me hope, something we need to feel empowered.

Action is inhibited by inertia, fear, self-doubt, isolation, and apathy. Action is facilitated by urgency, hope, YCMAD (you can make a difference), solidarity, and anger.

But here is what has pulled me out of anxiety and fear, into hope, anger and action.


We were getting ready to take Wolfie for a walk, and I walked down the hall to discover this vision. She had gotten herself dressed, without underwear or pants. When I asked her what she might have forgotten she said, “Socks!”.

We laughed together and then I decided we needed a dance party to celebrate her awesomeness.

As we pranced around together, I remembered my dream from years ago. I felt my anxiety shift to responsiveness. There is only so much control we have around our future. There are choices to be made (and ones that must be made in regard to CC). The rest is LIFE. Meant to be lived, with presence and joy. With whatever transpires, we still have choice, to be made in each moment.

Today, I am choosing to dance.


8 thoughts on “Everybody Dance Now

  1. A few things to note…..
    You are a wonderful writer.
    That singer in DeVotchKa is really really really super underpants throwing handsome.
    The tuba(?) player is awesome for putting purple glitter on her instrument. This is the kind of song that makes for happy dancing, but with sad tears. And finally, why the fuck don’t more people people get the link between consumption and climate change? (i’m talking about my people, the people around me)
    Today I choose planting with my kids. We are planting out a herb garden, and some swan plants.
    Dance bebe dance.

  2. very nice!
    fear is such a crazy thing! i’m trying to get beyond all my fears because really, they do nothing good for me and actually leave me frozen doing nothing to help the situation. i’m glad you’re choosing to dance 😀

    miss ya!

  3. Tonight, I went out in the dark to track down Lakota and put him away in the garage. Since it was dark, I couldn’t find him too readily, so I stopped whilst out in the middle of the yard, held my breath and listened. The wind here makes a hollow queer sort of whistle/moan through the trees, and in that moment, that sound, coupled with the gossamer rustle of olive leaves all around me filled me with such a profound, full feeling of love and longing. And then… all at once, despair tread on my soft heart, heightening the longing I felt… I wanted things to to just *be beautiful* and whole and pure.

    I could feel the departure of the trees and the almost perfect silence of the sleeping world. This deep longing I felt tonight, and have felt all my life, suddenly made sense to me. I desire a life that is… the only word I can think of is “whole.” I want a life that’s lived in love and respect for the land.

    I want the past back.

    But since that can’t happen, we have to fight for our futures and our children’s futures.


    Love you.


    P.S. Yes, please — a chat would be wonderful.

  4. dancing with you mary. glad to read this. you have a gift for conveying this stuff in a way that is so accessible and real. i graduated from the same department at uc berkeley as john harte, the third guy down on the signatures on that letter. these are serious scientists. not that you were wondering. the water lily story is breathtaking and is what will stick in my mind long after i close this tab. xoxo

  5. We’re studying climate change on our homeschool co-op and I went from: yay! lets talk about composting and buying local! to: holyshitwearefucked.
    It’s really hard and sad to think about and I don’t know the answer except to do my best to do the little things (that won’t really help unless 7 billion people do them but make me feel better anyway) and celebrate the wildness and natural beauty that is here now.

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