“Messenger” by Mary Oliver

Thanks Odin for sharing.

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

~ “Messenger” by Mary Oliver, from Thirst

interstitial being(s): on biking

during the quiet quarantine months early in the pandemic, i accidentally found a personal trainer in my partner. he has slowly and patiently taught me how to become a cyclist in mexico city which has bloomed into a new relationship with my body and given me hundreds of hours of mental space to think as the wind moves past my skin. rather than picking up a pandy hobby like sourdough bread, airfrying, painting or whatever, i’ve traveled more than 10,000 miles by bike, mostly across the biggest megalopolis on the continent.

before i met my partner, i couldn’t imagine how to trace a path across some intersections on a bike. take for example an intersection near my apartment at the time: there are multiple parallel (lateral) streets with bike lanes, sidewalks, and medians in between, a monument in the middle of the road, dedicated public bus lanes either in the middle or edge of a multi-lane road — all crossing each other like a crumbly 10-by-10-grid of pie crust. as a pedestrian, you must be attentive to cross it slowly, so i couldn’t imagine it as a cyclist amidst the traffic, having had no desire to become a tiny fish sneaking between sharks that could pulverize me at any moment.

also: there are these things that look like traffic circles which do not behave as such. or, rather, they can look like traffic circles but are not. for a specific example, see what happens around the angel de independencia:

pay attention to the cars…

then, on top of the already complicated and always degrading physical infrastructure, add multiple layers of more chaos: people jaywalking everywhere; others pushing heavy, wheeled things in the bike lane or road because the sidewalk is too cracked; frenetic lane-splitting motorcycle delivery drivers; street vendors in moving in wide, 3-wheeled bikes; innumerable pot holes; random fallen wires which may or may not have electricity (but that i think/hope are mostly unused fiber optic cables); …and then add the giant chaos layer of drivers who have never passed a drivers test because it’s not a requirement of getting a license here (!!) – oh and the ugly but true feature of how normalized it is to drive drunk in this city – not to mention myriad forms of public transit belching black clouds of exhaust. it’s beyond easy to feel overwhelmed by a constant onslaught of heavy moving objects that could impede one’s (hypothetical) path on a bike. (not to mention that all of this is built on a slowly-sinking ex-lake-bed with pyramids and other sacred sites half-buried throughout.)

it is upon this unfathomable canvas that i’ve slowly sribbled GPS-guided lines across the map over these 3+ years.

recently, something suddenly shifted: i’ve come to see these heavy moving objects radically differently. i started to see their edges and spaces between them.

this might be because my partner was a fixed gear rider when we met. the nature of fixed gear bikes is that they don’t (usually) have breaks, so to stop, you need to slow the rotation of the rear wheel with your own weight, pushing in reverse against moving pedals. or hop up and force a skid to slow down. needless to say: it takes much longer to stop than a bike with breaks. and in a place where stopping on a dime seems like it should be a vital requirement, there are a surprising amount of fixie riders. (cue pensive head scratching and furrowed eyebrows: what the hell?)

a pattern that i’ve noticed over the years in trying to learn from and (sometimes) mimic my partner’s cycling behaviors is that, whereas i’d find myself stopping behind something – a parked car, a crossing pedestrian, a 3-wheeled bike vendor taking up 90% of a bike lane – he’d have kept going and i’d lose sight of him. it has taken me a long time to figure this out, but the way i’ve recently understood it is that he sees and focuses on the spaces in between things rather than the thing itself. whereas i still often feel a visceral onslaught of things coming at me, things i should avoid smashing into, or things i should swerve around, and the added handfuls of unknowns like a possible car door being opened or the depth of a puddle in the rain – i think he navigates by thinking about, seeing, and sensing the spaces that he could temporarily occupy.

instead of only sensing an obstacle, sense paths around it: a subtle shift, but one that’s fundamental to flow.

imagine, for example, lane-splitting between two lines of moving cars*. the embodied fraction of a second determination of whether or not the space between two rear-view mirrors is bigger or smaller than the width of your shoulders: can i fit? and knowing that this “yes” or “no” is a switch that flips on and off as the cars move in relation to each other…it’s kind of like tetris. but in 3-D. but instead of a shape of bricks, the shape is your body: with all it’s softness and exposed skin and breakable bones (and maybe your precious bike).

(*my partner calls this “ratoneando” – being a rat – by the way. something like “scurrying” might be a decent translation.)

if you want a preview, here’s an internationally known fixie rider and race-winner from CDMX, with an excerpt of her ride on calzada tlalpan:

so: the interstitial – the space between – is constantly shifting, not fixed, structured, or contained. this is because it is based on the relationship between two or more things which are also in movement.

this realization immediately felt metaphorical to me. though deeply physical in the case of biking, i know that it relates to systems transformation, next economies, network structures, repairing our relationships, maybe even internal family systems and shadow work

(most of) white/western/scientific thinking tends to focus on an object of study, or maybe a dichotomy of object and subject. however, what i’ve always found fascinating about network science is that it also includes the links between the two things, paying attention to relationships. same with ecology.

focusing on interstitiality is different than that though: it’s noticing what’s not there – the space, the emptiness – between or outside things. this is a necessary absense in the same way that the spaces (called “rests”) between notes are necessary for music. in the same way pauses after questions create invitations and invoke creation.

this space or emptiness is a point of origin: from nothing emerges new.

it is also a point of termination, like how the edges of a thing bleed into, degrade into, and return to the nothing.

the interstitial includes this liminality and edge-ness, and it includes what/where those things fade out into.

passing through the spaces between creative blocks

one application of the metaphor i’ve been running into lately is around what i’ve been taught to call creative blocks. it’s a deeply frustrating feeling to repeatedly run into the same block. the guiding principle says i need to “overcome” the block, or perhaps somehow “go through it” or maybe “disarm” or “dismantle” it. (similar vocab exists in relationship to oppressive systems, too.) all of this thinking continues to focus on the block itself, ignoring the rest: infinite space around it that i could potentially move through: alternate paths.

there’s a freedom that comes with seeing** the spaces instead of seeing the obstacle. you’re not impeded, rather, you have choice. it feels powerful. that you get to decide how this is going to play out. that there are so many more ways than one of going about this.

(**i realize i am very visually-dependent in describing my ways of sensing, but other senses are surely implicated: feeling and hearing come up for me, too. smell and taste don’t feel that relevant at this moment.)

who or how do i have to be to exist in that space?

i believe that developing this wider way of sensing and being is necessary for the next phase of humanity. and as soon as we can develop, practice, and share it, it becomes immediately easy to know that transformation/transition is well under way. you begin to see the edges of structures of capitalism crumbling. you see the germinating seeds of what’s next. you see elders and those who have maintained connection folding time, pulling indigenous tradition through colonial contexts. you see experiments and less solid formations which may or may not persist.

i suppose i always end with questions…so some questions on my mind are: how do we start to see what artists call “negative space” in a physical and social sense? where are the negative spaces around us, and how do we inhabit them? what do we notice about our being when we’re in that space – do we have to shift somehow to be able to fit in there, or do the expand once we’re there? how do we develop shared vocabulary or ways of collective sense-making about being in these ways?

A Small Needful Fact (Ross Gay)

Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.

Ross Gay

Land as Investment

This post was originally written while I was part of Regenerative Finance.

Take-away points

  • Remember to broaden frame of investment/wealth beyond cash assets
    • SRI and impact investing will tend to focus on cash.  Continuing to ignore other types of assets is colonial.
  • Investment in land seen as “safe.”
    • Doesn’t depreciate, doesn’t require maintenance, tangible asset
  • Investing in land is reliant on historical and continued genocide, forced assimilation, colonization.

Commodification of nature

Capitalism rooted in colonialism erases or downplays the importance of land and “natural resources” as foundational to growth.  One of the major ways to turn land into a natural resource is called commodification — or the process of turning something into a commodity by converting it from its original form to a value that can be measured in dollars.

Take a tree for example, a complex living being that can do many amazing things: turn what we breathe out into oxygen; produce a huge variety of delicious tasting fruits, nuts, syrup, and berries; provide a home for birds, mammals, and other animals; can induce a sense of awe in us if we pay attention (see: redwoods, live oaks in the south of the U.S., bristlecone pines that are 5,000 years old); I could go on.  In his book Cradle to Cradle, architect William McDonough illustrates this point too:

“Imagine this design assignment: design something that makes oxygen, sequesters carbon, fixes nitrogen, distills water, accrues solar energy as fuel, makes complex sugars and food, creates microclimates, changes colors with the seasons, and self-replicates.

Why don’t we knock that down and write on it?”

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that trees are – for a variety of reasons – magical.

Capitalism takes these magical beings and turns them into something that can be traded on a market – paper, lumber.  Occasionally, economics can understand “environmental services” – more of the things that McDonough was getting at – the valuing of sequestering carbon, and then complicate the tree’s value, as well as make a stronger economic argument to keep it alive and healthy.

By the way, this is all reliant on a lot of separations within nature.  Trees are separate from birds that live in them, separate from the soil and water and fungal networks that nourish them.  We are separate from them.

So…commodification turns parts of nature into things that can be traded on markets, and made money from the sale of, based on an agreed upon value.  “Raw materials.”

This relies on separating us from nature, from our other ways of relating, and the interrelatedness of its parts.

Other related ideas include water investment and privatization, carbon trading and treating land itself as property.

If you’re interested in any of these things, I highly recommend watch Tom B.K. Goldtooth’s video on Youtube:

History of the land under the United States

United States history is different than the history of the land that the U.S. currently occupies.  Who was here before the “start”?  How is their deep history erased by current narratives that start history at 1776?  How does our understanding of the U.S. as one nation erase the hundreds of other sovereign nations that also currently inhabit this land?

Here’s a quick timeline to illustrate the 1.5% of history since European settlement of the land as contrasted with a conservative under-estimate of total human habitation of the land, 20,000 years ago. It also includes what our current timeline calls “0.”

“Counter to the western stories that we’ve been here 12,000 years, we’ve been here over 60,000 years, likely over 100,000 years, and there is a great deal of evidence to support that,” says Paulette Steeves, director of the Native American Studies program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

A more complicated understanding of history that many of us did not receive in school is necessary to understand the depth of relationship that indigenous people have had and many continue to have with this land currently called the United States for thousands of years.  In contrast, the colonized period of this land is relatively small, a few percent of total peopled time.

Land as Investment

Investing isn’t just about money.  All capitalism relies on commodification of nature and land and the genocide required to do those things as well as direct investment in land.

Wealth redistribution tends to focus on dollars and donation of money.

International land grabs are kind of a big deal too.  The Oakland Institute has some great resources on that topic.

It’s imperative that our interpretation of investment be broadened to also encompass land.  Investment in land doesn’t have to look like owning a real estate property, there are lots of ways to invest.  And certainly all of capitalism happens on land anyway.

The process of commodification – turning trees into paper, into an abstract commodity that can be bought and sold – is the process of disconnecting ourselves from place, of literally uprooting ourselves and nature and abstracting it into something else.  In its very nature, this is colonial — it is void of a sense of place, a sense of context, history, and connection.

There’s a strong connection to present-day gentrification and displacement – these are not new concepts.  This is also super connected to the gentrification that’s happening around the country (and many parts of the world) as people move around.  The idea that people are movable, easily displaced, that a value connected to a place will drive people out of being able to live there — rooted in racialized colonialism.

Land Reparations

Land is not arbitrary.  Things like “equal redistribution of land” or “land as commons”  are colonial concepts that continue to erase deep relationships of indigenous people to *specific* places.

For a really basic idea of what I mean here, think about a place you call home.  About how it smells, about the plants that live there and how they change over the course of a year.  About all the people you are connected to in that place.  That place can’t be anywhere, it’s a specific place to you with many histories.  Multiply that by 20,000 years and then it might be similar to indigeneity.

One example of a land reparations project I’m familiar with locally is an indigenous women led project called the Sogorea Te Land Trust. It asks settlers on Chocheño Ohlone land to pay a “tax” to fund the purchase of land to be stewarded and used in ceremonial practices.  There are several other indigenous led land trusts around the country.

Finally on a related note, it can’t be left unsaid that this country’s histories of slavery and (forced) immigration complicates our relationship to land in the present.  (For more on this, see my summary of an academic paper called Decolonization is not a Metaphor.)

I’m going to leave you here with a few resources, some questions to consider, and let you know some of the questions we’re currently holding as Regenerative Finance.  Want to be in conversation with us?? Far out!  Drop us a line.

Some Resources

Questions to consider

  • Do you have investments in land? What does that look like? REITS, a home you live in, homes you don’t live in, relationships to real estate developers, buildings, infrastructure, …?
  • Do you have investments that are involved in the commodification of land?
  • Whose land are your investments on or in? What’s your relationship to those people? What’s your current relationship and ideal relationship?
  • What has your family’s historical relationship to land been?
  • All of our wealth was extracted from land, what were the steps in that process, and how does that feel? What are you going to do about it?

Questions we’re dealing with as Regen

  • How does land fit into regenerative investing?
  • If a project we work with is not indigenous-led, what would it need to do to be decolonized?
  • Given that so much wealth is accumulated through direct investment in land, what are we doing about that?
  • How do we take this message as settlers to other settlers?  How do we continue to bring this topic up in the impact investing scene?