Plans for This Year

I look at the end of the year in terms of my spiritual calendar rather than the secular calendar. The old year ends at Samhain (October 31) and the time between Samhain and Yule (Winter Solstice) is a time for reflection, recuperation, and inner work rather than starting new projects. Therefore, the time between Yule and Imbolc (February 1) is a good time to start articulating plans for the remainder of the year from Imbolc to Samhain.

For better or worse, my plans are very much in flux right now. My biggest focus right now is sheer economic survival. Currently, I only have part time employment and my income still isn’t enough to cover my expenses on a consistent basis. On the one hand, I’m very grateful for the support of friends and loved ones at this time in my life, and I feel very secure in the knowledge that I will continue to have access to the basics of food, shelter, and utilities, regardless of my financial situation. However, one of my major goals in life is to be source of funding for the ecological and social justice projects that I support, not a drain on my friends and loved ones. As long as my income is this low, that simply isn’t possible.

Therefore, I’ve cut back on some of my Real Life Superhero work in order to focus on researching and pursuing various job offers and other projects that may generate income. I still do the radio show, and I still work with the Big Muddy IMC when I can, and I still go to other events here and there when time permits. But other projects I have in mind have been put on hold until I get my finances in order.

I’m hoping that within the next month or two, one or two of my ideas for part-time income will pay off and I’ll be able to return my attention to expanding my RLSH work. I like to believe in my capacity to succeed, so I’ve already started considering what RLSH projects I’ll be working on when the time comes.

Some of my RLSH work will depend on the exact nature of my new income. I’m currently applying for a part-time position with a local non-profit, so the outcome of that application process will surely affect what direction I go with my community involvement. One of my long-term goals is to create an increasing amount of synergy between my paid employment and my Real Life Superhero work, so I will focus on RLSH efforts that are related to my paid work. That way, the organizations that employ me will benefit from my extra volunteer hours, and I will benefit from extra job security in the process.

In addition to any RLSH projects related to my paid work, I also have a few ideas in mind for entirely new or independent efforts.

First of all, there’s the second annual Hero Fest. Last September, with the help of several friends, I organized an event called Hero Fest to celebrate local community service organizations. The first Hero Fest was small and simple, but I’d like to expand upon the idea and hold another one this September. This time, I’ll have a good 6 months or so of lead time to recruit more volunteers, involve more community groups, and do more promotion and outreach. I plan on starting on this sometime in February, so if you’d like to get involved, feel free to contact me today.

Beyond that, I can think of dozens of assorted community service projects that I would like to see take shape in the next ten and a half months. Sometime in the next few weeks, I plan on brainstorming a list of potential RLSH projects, picking one or two to focus on myself, and then presenting a few of the others online in order to see if I can find any fellow community members who want to take the lead on these projects.

One of my goals in being a Real Life Superhero is to inspire other people to action — so if you’re looking for ideas about how you can make a difference in our community, our region, and our world, I’ll be happy to share my thoughts and advice. As a philosopher and teacher, I see this sharing of ideas and facilitation of communication as a whole Real Life Superhero project unto itself.

Of course, there’s more to life than being a Real Life Superhero! I do have other goals and interests in life too.

My physical fitness regimen started with yoga and has now expanded to include jogging once a day and other forms of exercise three times a week. I started this daily jogging on November 2nd and plan to continue it until at least November 2nd of this year. As my health and fitness levels continue to improve, I may alter or expand this plan — but I’m making sure not to push myself too far in too short of a time.

I’d also like to travel outside of Southern Illinois at least two or three times in the coming year. I love having deep roots here in Southern Illinois, but I also love seeing new places, meeting new people (and old friends), and having new experiences.

Finally, I have a few other ideas for the new year in mind that are still in their infancy. Some of these relate to my spirituality; some relate to my professional life; some relate to my community life; some cross these boundaries to address several aspects of my life at once. I don’t want to go into any detail on these, though, until I give them some more thought and talk them over with a few close friends. I’ve got about a hundred ideas on my mind right now, and I know I’ll only be able to act on a dozen or so in the coming year, so I don’t want to put too much energy into random brainstorming thoughts until I’ve taken the time to sort through them and refine them.

So, that’s what I’ve got planned for 2011. Wish me luck, and let me know if you have any thoughts on my plans and visions for the new year.

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Cache Girl Saves the World

Cache Girl Saves the World (DVD cover): This is the cover art of Cache Girl Saves the World, a "novel in visions" produced by author Adam E. Stone and musician and storyteller Thirza Defoe.Cache Girl Saves the World is a pioneering experiment in film and literature produced by author Adam E. Stone and musician and storyteller Thirza Defoe. This project explores an innovative new approach to storytelling, combining audio of the novel’s text with music and still photographs of the story’s action to create a “novel in visions.” The images, words, and songs of this visual novel tell the tale of Ta’li, a young woman on a physical and spiritual journey in search of healing for herself and a way to awaken empathy in the hearts of her fellow humans.

If someone picks up this DVD expecting it to be a conventional film, they may initially find themselves disappointed. There are no moving pictures here, only still photographs combined with the voices of several characters and the music and background audio of the story. There’s also none of the hectic rush through an action-packed plot that the average American viewer may expect from a mainstream film. But a viewer who enjoys the nuances of character development and is patient enough to let the plot unfold at its own pace will be greatly rewarded for their effort.

In terms of the experiment in medium that the producers are exploring, Cache Girl Saves the World is by and large a resounding success. The images chosen serve to compliment and expand upon the character dialog and narrative of the story, enhancing the literary content with visual beauty while not distracting from the audio. As someone who has lived in Southern Illinois for over a decade, I found this combination of audio commentary and still photography to be especially effective when used to reveal the majesty and history of the Cache River and Southern Illinois at large. The text was poetic, and the photographs were stunning — but when combined, they expressed the beauty of the land far better than either could have done separately. Much like a graphic novel, this “novel in visions” format allows for a synergy between the literary and visual arts that is rarely captured in other media, including film.

The story told through this medium is equally compelling. Again, if the viewer picks up this DVD expecting a conventional tale, they may find themselves disappointed. The narrative of Cache Girl Saves the World focuses heavily on a combination of gradual character development, an examination of indigenous and imperial culture, and an exploration of spiritual themes such as empathy, empowerment, individual versus community interests, and learning to live in harmony with each other and the land. This is no simple Hollywood tale, and some viewers may not be ready or willing to explore such philosophical topics, especially without the dazzle of Hollywood special effects to keep them occupied. But anyone who appreciates a good book, or a good campfire tale about a vision quest and nature spirits and real people trying to find their way in an unreal world, will be delighted to set aside Hollywood’s conventions for a while and walk with Ta’li through the swamps and woods and prairies of Southern Illinois and beyond.

As with any production, there were a few minor shortcomings. At a few points toward the middle and end, there were a few images that were repeated more often than they needed to be. Sometimes, the repetition added visual continuity, artfully marking a return to a previous plot thread or emphasizing a recurring theme of the narrative. At a few points, however, it seemed like this thematic emphasis may have been better served by a new image rather than repetition of an old one.

On the whole, however, I would describe Cache Girl Saves the World as a resounding success, both in terms of its pioneering exploration of a new medium and in terms of the creativity, relevance, and dramatic appeal of the literary narrative. It drew me in from the very first few moments of dialog, narrative, and imagery, and it kept me involved in the story and concepts right up to the conclusion — and beyond.

This experimental “novel in visions” is well worth experience. I’m confident that anyone who gives it a chance will find it compelling, thought-provoking, entertaining, and perhaps even inspiring in their own journey of self-healing and healing of humanity.

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Inner Fire

Yule, also known as Winter Solstice, is the longest and darkest night of the year. This is a time to look inward — a time to make our peace with the dark of the year. At this time, we gather with loved ones, warming our cold hands over the hearthfire and reflecting on what we truly value in life as we look to the East and await the return of the Sun.

In theory, this is a time of festive celebration and quiet contemplation, pausing after a hectic harvest season to relax, collect our thoughts, and prepare for the coming Spring. This year, however, my Yule has been a little different. Yes, I’ve been turning inward — but instead of simply basking in the warmth of my inner fire, I’ve been stoking it.

Samhain, the holiday celebrated at the threshold between October 31 and November 1, is considered by many Neo-Pagans to be the end of the old year and the start of the new. It is the Final Harvest, a time to honor ancestors, harvest what is going well in our lives, and cull what no longer serves us.

The day after Samhain, I decided to start jogging. I didn’t really have a plan at first — simply an urge, an impulse, an intuitive desire to follow through on improving my health and fitness. My yoga practice has been a wonderful tool in this process, and I couldn’t have made it this far without it. But it dawned on me that I need to build up my inner fire right now, and I don’t have the strength and flexibility yet to do the forms of yoga most suited for building my inner fire.

And so, as the old year died away, I started to jog.

When I started, I could barely jog at all. I’m not afraid to admit this. The moment I started jogging, I felt stiffness and resistance in my hips and back, and my heart and lungs almost immediately went into overdrive, insisting that I stop this madness immediately. But somehow, I managed to complete a single lap around the block — and that was good enough for my first day.

Every day since then, I’ve been jogging once a day. Through the snow, through the rain, I’ve jogged without fail. As one lap turned into two laps, and two laps turned into three, I realized I was onto something. My body warmed; my muscles strengthened; my fascia (connective tissues) started to soften. In essence, my body started to rebuild itself at the cellular level, restructuring my flesh for activity rather than inactivity.

My inner fire is rekindling, and my whole body is transforming in the process.

My goal now is to jog every day for a year and a day, taking a break on any days when I’m too sick or sore to jog. Once a week, I also go to the gym with friends for jogging and weight lifting and some time on the rowing machines. So far, it’s been going well, leading me to believe that if I continue to get plenty of food and rest, I’ll be able to keep up this pace indefinitely.

Of course, this doesn’t take the place of my yoga practice! Yoga is still at the center of my approach to self-healing. This dramatic shift in activity level would probably be tearing me apart if it weren’t for the fact that I’m continuing to go to yoga class once or twice per week and doing more yoga at home on most of my days away from class. The jogging stokes my inner fire, and the yoga allows me to smooth out the kinks and work on the long-term goal of improving my strength, flexibility, and overall body alignment.

So now, 49 days later, I find myself sitting at home on Yule after a day of jogging, walking, talking, working, and philosophizing. My recent focus on rekindling my inner fire has in some way drawn me away from other pursuits in the community, if only temporarily. But as the Sun rests at its lowest point in the sky, and I sink fully into this inner work that lies ahead of me, I’m starting to wonder if I may once again be reaching a turning point.

The celestial turning point we observe at Yule is very subtle. To the naked eye, it may seem at first as if nothing has changed. But ultimately, everything has changed. Nights that were getting longer will soon be getting shorter. The arc of the Sun will soon rise higher and higher in the sky. We still have some of the coldest days of Winter ahead of us — but tonight is the darkest night, and our days will only get brighter from this point forward.

This doesn’t mean that we should put too much energy into looking forward. We should be here, now, on the darkest of nights, and sit for a while with the fact that our lives are often shrouded in shadow, buried in cold soil, cloaked in impenetrable mysteries that our conscious mind may never grasp.

But as I sit here in this place — a place of doubt, a place of uncertainty, a moment when I wonder if the light outside will ever return — I find peace in the silence and the stillness. For even on the coldest, darkest night, there are seeds sleeping in the soil. And even in the dead of winter, there is still life in my flesh, my heart, my soul.

I don’t know what the future holds. Maybe I won’t find the success I’m hoping for, and maybe humanity as a whole will never emerge from the dark night of the soul that we find ourselves in these days. But what I do know is that here, now, in this place, in this moment, I feel a light and a life within me that can never be extinguished, never be killed, never be lost even on the longest, darkest night.

I’ve felt this inner fire in my heart for a long time. But for years, I’ve had trouble bringing it out of the world of spirit and into the world of flesh. Now, with each lap that I run, each asana I perform, each prayer that I pray to my Goddess and God, I feel that fire more fully in my body. This fire is no longer just something that I know, or I see, or I speak about, or feel in my heart. It’s something *I AM* — a passion that I live, breathe, eat, sleep, experience in every cell of my body.

Drawing this fire into my body isn’t a simple or easy process. There have already been kinks along the way, and there will surely be more to come. But it’s better to be fully alive in a place of creative chaos than to be trapped forever in an unchanging world of separation between flesh and spirit.

I’m experiencing a great awakening, the full effects of which won’t be outwardly visible for some time to come. If my life path follows the Wheel of the Year, as it sometimes does, then each of the coming Sabbats will bring with it a new stage in this journey.

At Imbolc, some new glimmer of hope will become apparent, even though times still seem dark. At Ostara, something new and colorful will blossom in my life. At Bealtaine, the power of my passion will be readily apparent, a tangible creative force to be reckoned with. At Litha, I will experience the fullness of this new creative force. And over the course of Lughnasadh, Mabon, and Samhain, I will harvest the fruit of this creativity.

Of course, this is all conjecture. Maybe I’ll crash and burn tomorrow, or maybe it’ll take years for me to come closer to achieving my dreams. But today, I feel the power of the moment deep within me, and I have high hopes that this power will become manifest over the course of the remaining seasons of the year.

As the light grows brighter, so will I. As the Sun rises, so will I. As the Wheel of the Year turns, my life will turn around, and I will shine more brightly than I ever have before.

Here’s hoping, eh? If all goes well, my good fortune will be your good fortune. I’ve been keeping my community work to a minimum during this time of inner work — but as the seasons change, I hope to have more time, more money, and more energy, both for my own sake and for the service I long to offer to my community.

Hopefully, then, we all have a bountiful harvest to look forward to in the coming months. In the meantime, I am content to sit in the cold, in the dark, stoking the Yule fires through the longest night of the year, stirring the hope that in due time, the light will return.

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Half the Sky

Calling all superheroes, activists, and people of conscience! The time has come for us to join forces in a bold new grassroots effort to promote and protect the health and dignity and freedom of over half the world’s population!

I’m a member of a book club that’s currently reading a book called Half the Sky. Here’s the website for the book and the movement that is growing up around it:

Half the Sky Movement

As the subtitle indicates, Half the Sky is about turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide. We still have a few chapters left to review, but since my library book was overdue, I decided to finish reading the book early. Therefore, I’m ready to start spreading the word and issue a call to action.

The strength of this book, as I see it, is that it focuses on stories — personal stories of women who have been harmed by various forms of oppression, and personal stories of women who have successfully taken a stand against the challenges that face them.

It’s one thing to hear a statistic; it’s another thing entirely to hear a personal story.

The statistics tell us that several million women a year are victims/survivors of sex trafficking, which is essentially a euphemism for sex slavery. We’re not talking about women who choose to offer sex in exchange for money; we’re talking about women who are kidnapped, deceived, and forced into providing sex for strangers, in exchange for money that all goes straight to their captor.

As horrible as such statistics are, they’re usually not enough to motivate people to take action. Personal stories, however, draw us in and make such injustices seem more real to us.

Half the Sky is full of such stories. One story involves a woman who escapes from sex slavery at great personal risk only to be returned to her captors by corrupt police. Another story involves a woman who survives such treatment and goes on to lead an organization that helps women who have escaped from sex slavery and are seeking to empower themselves so that they can hold onto their freedom.

The stories of this book cover a wide range of challenges facing the women of the world, including sex trafficking, maternal mortality, rape as a weapon of war, and the many other challenges of the second-class status that women endure in many places around the world. The authors don’t just focus on the problems — they also focus on solutions, particularly solutions that have been demonstrated to work and that we as readers can choose to support.

The book focuses on problems faced by women in “developing” countries. As people living in “developed” countries, it’s often hard for us to even know what exactly is going on, much less what we can do to improve the situation. Some foreign aid efforts do nothing, while others may even make the situation worse. That’s why Half the Sky focuses on organizations that are started by people in these developing nations who have found their own ways of addressing serious problems. This not only ensures that the programs are suited to the complex needs of the local community, but also shifts our perspective on women in these countries, treating them as self-empowered liberators who could simply use a little assistance from someone who shares in their commitment to social justice.

I can talk until I’m blue in the face about this book — or until my fingers are raw, I suppose, since I’m typing this message. But anything I say or type won’t be enough to inspire you. What will really make a difference for you is reading these women’s stories of oppression and liberation. Once you’ve seen what they’ve been through, and what they’ve done to face the challenges that surround them, you will surely be moved to do what you can to help.

The Half the Sky Movement offers many of the same resources as the book. The book is a more complete approach, offering both more stories and more ways that you can help. I encourage you to read the book. But in the meantime, the website is a good start. I encourage you to check it out right now — not later, not tomorrow, but as soon as you’re done reading this entry.

Once you’ve read the book, you’ll probably want to do something about it. I know I do! My book club hasn’t finished reading it yet — but when we do, I bet we’ll start talking about what we can do to support one or more of the organizations mentioned in the book. If you share our concern and passion for this cause, we can surely work together to make a difference.

This isn’t just a “women’s issue,” folks. This is a human rights issue, and a call to action for anyone with a sense of conscience and an ounce of compassion in their hearts.

Some people look at the scope of these problems and do nothing because the problem itself seems unsolvable. And really, who can say if humanity will ever live entirely without the evils described within this book. Personally, I believe that we can eliminate at least some of these evils over the course of several generations.

Either way, what we do know is that there are women (and men) right now who are working diligently and effectively to make life better for individual women and children who have suffered through sex slavery, and rape, and needless maternal complications, and a variety of other life-threatening and life-altering problems. These empowered women, who have seen some of the worst of what life has to offer, are doing good work to help their fellow women right now. With your support, and my support, they’ll be able to give better help to more people.

So what are you waiting for? Check out the Half the Sky Movement. Read Half the Sky. Talk with your family and friends about it, and help turn oppression into opportunity for women worldwide.

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My name is Treesong. I'm a father, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois. I write novels, short stories, and poetry, mostly about the climate.

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