From Our Readers

Aligning the Personal, Political, and Planetary to Create a Transformative Future

For several years, I worked on a memoir in which I tried to make sense of my privileged childhood and how my personal experience was shaped by the politics of my era, as well as by the experiences of my parents and earlier generations. Then, in 2011, I suddenly woke up to the destruction of the environment and the reality of climate change. I started a blog, ‘Transition Times,’ as a way to process my grief, fear, and anger over what was happening to the planet, and as I wrote my blog posts, I began to consider how privileged my entire generation of Americans had been to grow up imagining that the Earth could continue to give and give without limits.

Suddenly, a new path of memory opened up: I remembered what a nature girl I’d been in my childhood. I loved my family’s country home in upstate New York so fiercely that I cried every time we had to head back ‘home’ to the city on Sunday afternoons. At eight years old, I would get up before dawn on Saturdays so I could go out by myself to the ridge and watch the sunrise over the valley. I would stay out all morning, watching the birds and deer, communing with the trees, and daydreaming in the sunwarmed grass. Learning about the loss of wilderness and the destruction of species from reading magazines like Ranger Rick and National Wildlife, I was so upset and ashamed of what humans were doing. The first story I ever wrote, at nine years old, was about a wood nymph named Estrella who sets off on a quest to try to save her forest from the loggers.

But I also had to remember how I became alienated from nature in the course of my education and indoctrination as a member of my tribe of privileged Americans. I learned to sleep in on weekends, to bike on the road instead of trekking up the mountain. I was too busy with my career and family to pay much attention to what was happening to the planet. And that is, in fact, the epitome of privilege: not having to pay attention, being oblivious to the suffering of others. In my memoir, I compare this privileged lifestyle to the field of poppies in The Wizard of Oz. It’s just so comfortable, such a pleasant dream, that you never want or need to wake up.

But unlike many of my peers, I did wake up. After going through the classic stages of grief over the destruction of the environment, I made a vow to dedicate the rest of my life to doing whatever I could to wake others up too.

I was particularly interested in reaching out to other women. Thousands of years of male domination brought us the industrial growth system now wrecking the climate and destroying countless species, including potentially our own human descendants.

Women, as the bearers and nurturers of future generations, are hardwired to be empathetic and caring. If we could overcome our socialization of habitually deferring to authority, if we could learn to speak with courage and confidence out of the love and concern in our hearts, I believed we could make a difference. It was a matter of aligning the personal, political, and planetary— starting with each individual’s ideas and passions.

The end of my memoir, What I Forgot, and Why I Remembered: A Purposeful Memoir of Personal and Planetary Transformation, is a rallying cry for women to find the courage and conviction to confront the challenges of our time. We can’t do it alone; indeed, a shift from competition to collaboration is key to the possibility of success. To this end, I brought a group of women together in 2014 to found the Women’s Collaborative for Creativity and Leadership, which encourages women of all ages to envision transformative pathways to a better world and to strengthen their voices through opportunities for writing and public speaking in a welcoming environment.

It’s not just about women though. A successful alignment of the personal, political, and planetary requires a balancing of the masculine and feminine energies present in every human being. Men must resist the socialization that suppresses their feminine nurturing side, just as women must embrace our inner warrior for good. The destabilization of our planet is a reflection of the imbalance of our species, too long skewed towards masculine values of competition and domination. We have forgotten what we most need to remember: that we are just another species on this planet, and if we destroy her, we destroy ourselves. I believe there is still time to remember and get back into alignment. But we have to act now.