A New Year’s Challenge and How I Gave You a Holiday Gift Without Your Knowledge

We are poised to begin the New Year.  2014…  Yaaaay…  Are you someone who loves to load up on resolutions and good intentions at this time of year, digging your treadmill out from under a mound of drying laundry and stocking the fridge with kale?  Or do you think resolutions are ridiculous and you deliberately make zero alterations to your life in the month surrounding the arbitrarily-designated “fresh start”?.

Either way, I am delivering the same challenge to you all!

But first, I just wanted to remind you about my Christmas Day post.  Remember it and how awesome it was?  No?  Probably because it didn’t happen.  I thought of you all that day, and was going to post.  The problem is, you would probably have hoped that I would send some Christmas puppy cam your way.  Or something else lovely.

Christmas gift 1

Of course by now you know that the reality would be something far more dark.  My mind would birth a yule post about global warming, or the ivory trade, or something equally un-fun.  Feliz Navidad and Happy Kwanzaa!


And then I would have to deal with letters.


So on Christmas Day, I gave you the best thing ever…Nothing!  Interesting side note: that is what 99.99999999999% of the world gets from me every day, but I know that one or two of you check in every once in a while, and for you, relief on that day!

In October, I took a month-long online course with the Institute for Humane Education called “A Better World, A Meaningful Life.”  This course came at a particularly significant time for me.  Now 40, childless and faithless, I struggle constantly with how to make meaning in my life.  I have noticed that friends with children pour their hearts and souls into their children, knowing that their raison d’etre is raising happy, healthy children.  Those with faith that something lies beyond this life feel that their work in this fleshy body is a mere stepping-stone to something greater (or recycled or different).  I, having no adorable carriers of my DNA nor a belief that I will meet anyone after my heart stops beating, merely stare into the black void, sure that there is nothing more than what I see, trying to figure out how to shape my hours and my days to have purpose.

All my pondering points back to some fundamental things.  First, I am really not at all special.  I say that with no self-pity; I simply mean that in the scheme of life I am one insignificant human.  Second, though insignificant, I was privileged to be born in a time and with the support, brain, air, water, and money to be able to make choices.  Thirdly, those choices can be either positive or negative with respect to other people, animals, and the environment.  And fourthly, the actual meaning in my life comes from being extremely conscious of how to make choices with points 1, 2, and 3 above in mind.  I do not want to float along hoping or thinking that everything will work out on its own because I know that it won’t.  Terrible, unspeakable things are happening in the world this very second.  A baby is dying for lack of a cheap vaccine.  An 8-year-old girl is being sold into a life of sex slavery.  Elephants are being shot for ornaments.  A rabbit’s eyes are being singed with oven cleaner to test its safety for humans.  Our North American penchant for never experiencing discomfort is leading to an over-consumption of oil that is burning the world.

Here’s the bad thing: This is all so depressing we could just ignore it and trust that as long as things seem to be going well for us, it’s okay.  We could say that things are fantastic as they are, maybe knowing deep down that that means we are on some level okay with the terrible things that are happening to others.

But here’s the good thing:  We could realize that we all have a role to play here.  We could take this opportunity to look horror in the face and say we actually aren’t okay with how things are and that we are going to make changes in our lives.  What can do?  How do I want to see the world?  What do I want to pass on to future generations?  There is no external measure for what is successful or necessary; we all know in our hearts what we need to do.

I am including below the MOGO plan, courtesy of the Institute for Human Education.  This call to be a better planetary citizen means something different to each person, but it is a delightful opportunity to take inventory of our values and goals.  I am rather clumsily pasting the text below.  Please take some time to consider this plan for the new year and beyond.  I will be right there with you, evaluating my own choices and actions.  Please post in the comments what you think of the MOGO plan, and what changes you might be making in your life.

HAPPY 2014!

MOGO Questionnaire and Action Plan

The following questionnaire and action plan gives you the opportunity to reflect upon your choices and your vision for your life and put into words some concrete goals. As you complete it, try to tap into your deepest wisdom and your most ardent hopes for yourself, your family, your community, and the world we all share.

If you haven’t already begun a MOGO journal, now’s a good time to start one.  Let this questionnaire and action plan launch you on your journey toward MOGO living, serving as a guide to which you can return again and again, and which you can modify and expand with new knowledge, experiences, and understanding.

You’ll notice as you complete this questionnaire that most questions are divided into three parts: a) What you currently do, b) What you want to learn/do, and c) What steps you will take. The purpose of this three-part approach is to help you: a) Identify the ways in which you already live according to your values, b) Inquire about what you need to learn to lead a MOGO life, and c) Introspect in order to make tangible plans so that you might live with deeper integrity.

Initially, there may not appear to be much difference between (b) and (c). You’ll be asked in (b) to clarify what you think you need to learn, or what you’d like to change. Then you’ll be asked in (c) to write down the steps you will take to follow through, and it may seem that you’ve already done this in (b). But, the purpose of the third part of each question is to make very concrete, and very manageable, plans for yourself. Please make sure to write down only those ideas that are actually possible to carry through, and which truly inspire you.

  1. The qualities (virtues) that are most important to me are:

2a. With my family, friends, and neighbors I model the following qualities:

2b. I would like to model the following qualities more consciously with my family and friends:

2c. In order to achieve this goal, I will take the following steps:

3a. In relation to my health (physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual) I take care of myself in the following ways:

3b. I would like to learn/do the following in order to improve my health (physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual):

3c. I will take the following steps to improve my health (physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual):

4a. In relation to people who produce and supply the products and services I use, I currently make the following choices to prevent others from suffering or being exploited:

4b. In relation to people who produce and supply the products and services I use, I need to learn about the following in order to make choices that better reflect my values:

4c. I will take the following steps to learn, think critically, and make more humane choices in relation to people who produce and supply the products and services I use:

5a. In relation to animals (wildlife and those used for food and clothing, in product testing, in forms of entertainment, who are in shelters, etc.), I currently make the following choices to minimize animal suffering and exploitation:

5b. In relation to animals (wildlife and those used for food and clothing, in product testing, in forms of entertainment, who are in shelters, etc.), I need to learn about the following in order to make choices that better reflect my values in relation to animals:

5c. I will take the following steps to learn, think critically, and make more humane choices in relation to animals:

6a. In relation to the environment (air, salt water, fresh water, land, soil, forests, rainforests, natural resources, etc.) I currently make the following choices to live an environmentally friendly, sustainable life:

6b. In relation to the environment (air, salt water, fresh water, land, soil, forests, rainforests, natural resources, etc.) I need to learn about the following in order to make choices that better reflect my commitment to protecting and restoring the environment:

6c. I will take the following steps to learn, think critically, and make more environmentally friendly, sustainable choices:

7a. In relation to activism and volunteerism, I already do the following:

7b. In relation to activism and volunteerism, I would like to help more in the following ways:

7c. I will take the following steps in order to help others through activism and volunteerism:

8a. In relation to charitable giving and sharing my resources, I contribute in the following ways:

8b. In relation to charitable giving and sharing my resources, I would like to contribute more enthusiastically and effectively in these ways:

8c. I will take the following steps to contribute more enthusiastically and effectively:

9a. In relation to democracy, I’m active and engaged in the following ways:

9b. In relation to democracy, I need to learn the following in order to be more meaningfully and actively engaged and participatory:

9c. In relation to democracy, I will take the following steps to be more meaningfully and actively engaged in the democratic process.

  1. This is the epitaph I would like to have:

  2. In order to turn my intentions in this questionnaire into practical changes, I will use the following methods to support and discipline myself (this support can be internal, such as starting a meditation practice, or external, such as taking a class, finding or creating a support group, or a combination of both):

  3. Within the next week, I am going to do the following 3-5 things in order to implement this plan:

  4. I am going to put a reminder to myself in my calendar on this date to assess and evaluate my efforts and successes at fulfilling my commitments and to plan again:

MOGO plan reprinted with permission by the Institute for Human Education (http://humaneeducation.org).  Created by Zoe Weil.

Bringing You Some Cuteness, STAT!

So…I understand my blog is probably not the most cheery place to visit.  TWW comes from my mind, and let’s face it, my mind is not the most cheery place to visit.  In a couple days I was actually about to post the bleakest instalment yet.  Don’t worry; it’s still to come, dear reader!  I just think maybe I’ll wait until the new year when your brain is sluggish from sugar cookies and you think reading TWW is slightly less depressing than looking at your credit card statements.

What made me realize that maybe I should lighten things up was when I talked to my mom yesterday.Image

Lines had been crossed.  I knew that the only thing I could do to bring my mom and you, dear reader, around was to provide you with something light, something to give you a smile.  So here, at last, what you have been waiting for: a live puppy cam.  Enjoy!  http://explore.org/#!/live-cams/player/bergin-university-service-dog-program

It’s Not Easy Having a Horn: RIP Western Black Rhino

I am guessing that right now your minds are on the death of the great Nelson Mandela.  Or maybe the protests in Ukraine.  Or maybe what you are going to have for supper.  My mind, however, is stuck in early November, when I learned that the western black rhino had been declared officially extinct.*  Nestled among stories about Rob Ford’s unapologetic apologies and thieving senators, the story of the rhino’s demise was marked with no more gravity than the day’s weather.

Slaughtered for its horn, which is prized in traditional Chinese medicine, this species of rhino is simply with us no more.  Ploof!  Gone.  Millions of years of evolution (sorry, creationist followers) screeching to an unceremonious halt.  I can honestly say I was not surprised by the apparent lack of caring about this loss; after all, we have trinkets to purchase for Christmas!  And it’s cold in Saskatoon!  And can the western black rhino lower the cost of my cell phone bundle?  Who has time to care?

But what exactly is the depth and degree of our dissociation from nature if we don’t blink upon hearing that we have decimated an entire species?  Does it seem weird that we know and care more about getting a new flat-screen TV on sale on Black Friday (OMG!) than that while we sleep and play, animals who have dwelled on this planet with us since before recorded history are gone?  And not just mysteriously gone.  They have been pursued, chopped, orphaned, and shot by none other than the “smartest” species on the planet.


Truly, I know that there can be beauty of intention in humans.  I happen to like – even love – many of them.  🙂  People rally around dogs with broken legs, organize donations for families whose homes have burned down, and flock to the streets by the thousand for Batkid.  And good for them; we need to care and have a sense of community.  Where, though, is our collective cry when a species – which poses zero threat to humans, by the way – is decimated by our own?  Why can we muster greater moral outrage over Miley’s twerking than we can over our relentless killing of animals?  Why can’t we gather around the water cooler and talk about positive action for stopping the ivory trade?  Or [insert anything meaningful here]?  Listen, I know that many of you pour your hearts and time into making a difference in the world, and I thank you.  You are exempt from my rantings.  I also understand that my cause is not necessarily your cause, and you might be doing other lovely things for the world and just don’t care a lot about large grey mammals.  You are also exempt.  🙂

But here’s the thing: how much can happen to animals and the environment before we start to care?  How long can we move along in our heated/air-conditioned bubbles (depending on the season) not caring?  I don’t know, but I am pretty sure we should all start caring.  The first reason is practical, since the extinction of the western black rhino for the harvesting of its horn is a chilling sign that people as a rule lack the foresight to plan for the future.  Today we are willing to drive a species off the planet in order to have powder purported to help with fevers.  Tomorrow that same blindness will lead to tooth-and-nail fighting over clean water, fuel, and food for everyone.  The insulation of money and North American wealth will do little when we are scrambling for life-sustaining resources.  There should be a message here.  Regardless of the resource, if it is being consumed (poached) more quickly than it can replenish itself, it will run out.  This is a fact understood by toddlers scrambling for candy from a piñata, yet it seems lost in a world where the economic ethos is one of limitless growth.  Remember our old pal the western black rhino?  The beleaguered creature who, if given a choice, probably should’ve picked not having a horn?  The one that was shown the hard way that when humans cast a voracious eye upon a commodity, it will be exhausted? Image

Reason would suggest this could be a cautionary tale for us.  Even if we haven’t learned from various over-fishing events, the dwindling number of bees, the over-hunting of the buffalo, the over-trapping of the beaver, and the seemingly endless list of endangered species, at least maybe this time we can learn.  NOBODY gets the horn now.  Neither rapacious humans nor its rightful owner.  In ten years, NOBODY will get the ivory.  At some point, NOBODY will have oil.  The fate of the western black rhino could serve to teach us that that if we are greedy and short-sighted, we end up with nothing.

But besides feeling terrified by what humans are capable of doing to animals and the environment, I also care about the extinction of the western black rhino for its own sake.  This creature wandered the plains of Africa from time immemorial: eating a bit, having the odd calf, sometimes getting taken down by a lion or super-hilarious hyenas.  It was just there, doing its own thing, as it should.  Then, enter money, and the western black rhino was slaughtered en masse for human greed.  I lament that the world lost this species’ uniqueness.  I feel heartsick that we cannot or choose not to appreciate the inherent worth of animals.


E. O. Wilson brilliantly captures why humans should care about other animals both for their own sake and for self-preservation: “Humanity is a biological species, living in a biological environment, because like all species, we are exquisitely adapted in everything: from our behavior, to our genetics, to our physiology, to that particular environment in which we live. The earth is our home. Unless we preserve the rest of life, as a sacred duty, we will be endangering ourselves by destroying the home in which we evolved, and on which we completely depend.”  http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/31624.Edward_O_Wilson

When it comes to the slaughtering of the western black rhino, we have proven not to be smart, or forward-thinking, or kind.  We have stood by as yet another branch of the rich tree of life is pruned, and part of the richness of our life has been lost as a result.  The implications for us are both spiritual and ethical, and I believe that our continued indifference to the plight of animals does not bode well for our own future.Image

*There is no uniform agreement on the time of extinction due to difficulty measuring, but the International Union for Conservation of Nature made this declaration in 2011 or 2013, depending on the source.  I guess it’s hard to be accurate declaring when you are seeing the last of a species.  😦

Want to do something?  Read up!  🙂







One Square of Chocolate

The first time I visited my cousin in Toronto, there was a partially-eaten bar of chocolate in her cupboard.  The presence of this treat fascinated and disturbed me.  How was only part of the bar gone?  Did all of my cousin’s teeth simultaneously break off and render her unable to chew the almonds within?  Did she have a small stroke and forget that the bar was there?  Did someone break into her house without her knowledge and deposit half a candy bar that she had yet to spy in her kitchen?  Each scenario seemed more plausible than the truth, which turned out to be that apparently my cousin eats only a square or two of chocolate at a time.  I’m sorry, what?  One or two pieces of chocolate?  My response to this information was a chuckle.  Until I realized she was serious.

You, dear reader, are probably thinking one of two things right now.  You might be thinking, “Yeah, I do that all the time, what’s the big deal?”  Alternatively, you share my inability to comprehend a discipline more elusive than one allowing you not to consume a chocolate bar in its entirety.  I mean, it’s right there.  It is cocoa-y and sugary.  Maybe it’s mint-flavored.  Whatever.  The point is, this is unfamiliar terrain for me.  When I buy chocolate, it haunts me.  It occupies my thoughts as I shower, work at the computer, and make phone calls, until it is consumed.

I have yet to learn the quantity of chocolate that can be in my house and live to see the next sunrise.  I have bought several bars at once thinking perhaps I will panic less if there is an excess of chocolate.  A glut, as it were.  This turns out to have the very undesirable effect of proving that when it comes to chocolate and me, words such as “glut” and “excess” cease to have meaning.

I can try to talk myself out of the shadow of the chocolate.  A familiar battle breaks out in within the confines of my cranium.


My midbrain screeches for the chocolate as does a toddler in the check-out at Safeway.  In steps my valiant pre-frontal cortex, here to apply benevolent authority.  This part of my brain calmly explains to the whiny midbrain that it has already ingested a great deal of chocolate that very day.  Moreover, consuming chocolate in the amount so petulantly requested is unwise and will subject the entire organism to weight gain and myriad health problems in the long term.  The midbrain digs in, synapses firing overtime like tiny limbs pummeling the tiles of the grocery store floor.  My PFC feels it is starting to lose ground to this relentless creature.  It had plans, for frick sake!  It hoped everyone would be on board to start the diet today!  Shorts of some sort could be worn this very summer if the appetite for chocolate could be curbed!  Also, in order to prevent a sugar coma, the organism would benefit from a more sensible snack.  Maybe an apple?


The tug of war continues in a manner understood well by Dave Foley: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0xRAju32tc

Inevitably, my midbrain’s short-term assault on my PFC wears it down, crushing reason and logic in favour of sweet, sweet sugar.  The organism trudges to the cupboard, salivating and glaring at the brightly-wrapped rectangle within.  The first bite brings a flood of dopamine and endorphins, quelling the inner tantrum  even as my PFC bemoans the bond between midbrain and chocolate.  One bite closer to diabetes, one bite farther from pain-free joints.


Gabor Mate would have lots to say about this.  He might speak more about heroin flowing through someone’s veins, but the hold of chocolate over this organism is like a fairly-traded, cheaper cousin.  This addiction is why I can’t have nice things.  It’s why I can’t have a selection of treats in the house to be sampled sensibly over several days.  It’s why there’s a tiny chance that my not-so-distant future holds a diagnosis of diabetes.  And it’s why, despite my knowing it to be true, a little part of me still doesn’t quite get how someone can eat only a single square of chocolate in a day.