Envision Instead of Fear

It’s difficult for me to think about anything else these days other than the cries of parents and their children separated at the border, piles of dead bees, melting icebergs, duped coal miners, and bleeding black fathers prostrate on ground. The access to global news 24/7 has increased my anxiety to the extreme and rendered me immobile at times.  Beginning as a rebellious teen and evolving into an artist and a teacher, and now a mother, I have spent most of my life pushing against power and working towards equity and environmental sustainability in my own ways. Many of the issues keeping me up at night have always been there, but some of us have enjoyed the privilege of being protected from witnessing them on a daily basis.  Thanks to FOXNews, CNN and Facebook, we have entered a new era of media overload, alongside an American crisis, as we watch so many democratic progressive successes evaporate at the hands of corrupt puppets under the guise of religious prophecy.

Meanwhile, I am raising two daughters that need hope, confidence, and freedom of thought in order to be able mature into individuals that find their place in the world.  I am feeling quite hopeless these days so it is difficult to show a strong front while responsibly parenting.  Of course, my kids cannot be forever protected or raised to be naive Pollyannas – they do need to see behind the curtain – but premature stress and anxiety has real consequences.  If they spend their lives having to fix themselves from too much pain, it will take that much longer before they can contribute to the gargantuan task of nudging humanity towards enlightenment.  So…we hide some stuff and we discuss some stuff and we attend marches and volunteer and we call our representatives and write some checks and we act locally while thinking globally.  We do what we can even while feeling it is not enough.

Yet, THINKING is still an open, limitless frontier.  Our dystopian future isn’t yet here and our minds are our own. We can envision.

I’m often asked how I met my husband and we have a fun story. I thought him to me.  After a string of unsuccessful relationships and at a point where I decided I would no longer seek any new ones, I made a proclamation for myself.  At a long-gone bar next to the Dali Restaurant in Somerville Massachusetts, I said to Margot over a Guinness, “I promise myself not go get involved with another person unless I meet an Italian engineer interested in art and science.”  Those were the witnessed words. That was in March of 1999. Soon after, Margot and I went on our camping trip with two other amazing women and drank whiskey in the hot dessert air of Death Valley.  We toasted to our independence, strength and sisterhood.

In April, upon my return, I was standing in the back of the room at the volunteer orientation of the first Boston CyberArts Festival at the Computer Museum in Fort Point (now the Children’s Museum).  I had arrived late and found myself standing next to Giuseppe, a charismatic Italian artificial intelligence PhD student. He was there to meet some interesting artists while in town.  We chatted (rudely, during the meeting) and he flirted and I realized I was sunk.  My visualization had materialized. Not only was he Italian, but he was Sicilian-born, a donkey ride from where my great-grandparents were from. Not only was he an engineer, but he was profoundly interested in music and culture and using technology to enhance human experience.  And not only was he available, but he was attracted to my strength, edge and artistic “dark side”.  An unbelievable match.  We spent almost every day together from that point on. He pretended to know how to rollerblade and submitted to the Massachusetts Avenue test from Boston to Cambridge without injury.  I read Il Gattopardo, a novel about the foundations of the Sicilian mind, by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.  We married a year later in 2000 with two transformative ceremonies in both Cambridge and Sicily.

We have since grown together and apart and back again. We have traveled to and from Sicily more than twenty times. We have created many businesses and cultural projects together. We have supported each other’s interests and challenges and our love has endured.  Our most important collaborations are our two daughters.  We continue to be pushed, pulled, and inspired by them every day.  I envisioned a life partner and it came to be.  The fear of another failed relationship and the heart-ache that goes along with it was replaced by knowing what I wanted and recognizing him when he was standing next to me.

Recently I asked my teenage daughter to envision her future as a strategy for enduring the pain and complexity of her 14 year old existence. She wrote, “I will have good and true friends, I will be happy and healthy. My ideal friend will be nice and understanding, will be ok with being weird, is not super judgey or afraid of everything, and does not care too much about what others think of her/him.”  These are simple desires – very personal and not about the fear of fascism – but they are authentic.  In order for her to develop into the heroine the world needs she must discover her authentic core and bravely climb her mountains.  She will take on Voldemort when she is prepared.

What are our authentic visions for the future of our communities, our America, our world?  If we were to envision a future devoid of racism and white supremacy, environmental collapse, greed, and religious extremism, what would that look like?  I remember two Star Trek episodes of my youth, This Side of Paradise and The Mark of Gideon – in both stories, one about chemically induced happiness and the other about immortality, the problems of society and environmental limitation are not solved, but they are both visions of the future.  Remember Logan’s Run? That sci-fi dystopia where everyone who reaches the age of 30 has to die in order to maintain order? Having a vision gives us something to work towards and push against, to deviate from or steer towards. There are no simple answers to complex problems.

While we are banging our drums and swearing at our neighbors, we need to offer an alternative to hate and fear.  Here is mine:

I envision our future when compassion and generosity replace greed, mistrust, and narcissism; individuals are measured by the content of their character and not the color of their skin; all women, men, children, the marginalized, the weak, the old, the infirm, the abused, and humans of every skin color, origin, belief system, gender expression or sexual orientation will have an equal shot at safety and opportunity; solar panels, wind farms, and systems that use recycled plastics and discarded oil power all of our energy needs; a government made up of enlightened public servants, with long views, who support scientists, artists, designers and engineers alongside their research, accrued knowledge and inventions; education is respected, supported and appreciated as the foundation of civil society; expression, humor, sarcasm and free speech are understood and debated peacefully; the bees flourish, climate change is stabilized, and clean water is available to all; coal miners get free training for environmentally responsible jobs, and migrant farm workers have access to education, health care, and a path to citizenship; the inevitability of death is embraced thoughtfully and sensibly and seen as part of the circle of life; women have complete control of their bodies and have safe, legal and free access to birth control of all kinds; men’s masculinity is measured by their tenderness and respectfulness; individuals have the freedom to express the gender that allows them to fly; mcmansions are no longer a thing and golf courses are only allowed where there is no negative environmental impact.

It’s too many words for a protest march sign. But not too many for my dreams.  I look forward to the day when this vision stands next to my children’s children and they recognize their good fortune.

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