Debate as Rorschach Test—or Why I’m Voting for Hillary Clinton

Watching the second debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, in the wake of the release of Trump’s sexual assault tapes, was a gut-churning, visceral experience for me and, I suspect, for every woman who has ever suffered from sexual assault or the fear of rape. Clinton won my admiration and respect for her grace under fire, and her ability to remain focused, clear and smiling while Trump stalked her.

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Trump literally threatened her, saying he’d jail her if he becomes president—a new low in American politics—and then proceeded with a display of disrespectful and intimidating body language, pacing, turning his back, and looming up behind her for all the world as if he were auditioning for the role of predator in a film noir thriller.

Every communication involves both text—the words we say—and subtext—everything else, tone, body language, syntax, etc.  Trump’s text was bad enough:  besides threatening to jail Clinton if he wins, he promised to ramp up the nuclear arms race, support more development of oil and coal, and continued to defend his racist, sexist positions on women, people of color, immigrants and Muslims.  But his subtext was downright creepy—from the dismissal in his tone every time he mentioned his ‘locker room talk’ to the lurking, snuffling monster imitation of his physical presence, not to mention the venom in his voice every time he said the word ‘she’. 

Yet even while he dissed and dismissed Clinton, he also attributed to her almost Godlike powers, continually complaining about how, although she’d been in politics for thirty years, she hadn’t solved crime or education or poverty or a host of other problems.  As if she were a Queen with absolute power, not a participant in a system with multiple conflicting powers, checks and balances.  Or maybe not a Queen, but that other deep archetype of female power—a Witch!

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Oh, a Witch!  For decades I’ve been writing about the legacy of Witch persecutions and how they leave us with a collective fear and distrust of women’s power.  I’ve embraced that archetype to attempt to transform it, but watching the debate and the discussions around this election, I see how deep and powerful the unconscious images are.

As disturbing as Trump’s performance was, I find it almost more alarming at how many people—including friends of mine that are staunch progressives—join in on the chorus simultaneously inflating and disparaging Clinton’s purported powers.  “A vote for Clinton is a vote for murder/suicide”.  “If Clinton is elected, your children will become cannon fodder.”  “Clinton showed her true colors, and they were ugly.”  “Calling all Hillary sheep…the poor lambs are so going to be disappointed if their savior Queen is elected. But in their usual stupidity they will excuse her by telling themselves that Trump would have been worse.”

Huh? What is going on?  Why this venomous hatred for a woman who actually has one of the better progressive track records of recent times?  Granted she’s a long-time, professional politician, who has made mistakes and compromises.  Yes, she takes money from Wall Street—so does every other politician except Bernie Sanders who made a huge step forward by showing just how far you can go on small donations.  But he is the exception. As long as politics are dependent on money, politicians will be beholden to money.  Why this intense hatred so specifically focused on Clinton?

At the end of a talk I gave last week in Santa Barbara, a young woman approached me and said something I found extremely insightful about the current political moment.  Her name is Margaret Gregston, and I want to credit her because women so often don’t receive credit for our contributions.  “People think they hate Hillary Clinton, but really they hate the political system,” she said. “Hillary Clinton is bearing the brunt of people’s dissatisfaction with the whole thing, just as women always catch all the flak.”

Thank you, Margaret!  Much has been written about the misogyny involved in the virulence of people’s hatred for Clinton.  But there’s an aspect of this that goes deeper than simple misogyny.  It goes to the heart of the risk all strong women take when we stand up, especially publicly—the deep archetype of our collective fear and mistrust of powerful women.  We risk being seen as the Witch—She whose powers are immense and unfathomable, scary and malevolent.

Where does that archetype come from? Dorothy Dinnerstein, in The Mermaid and the Minotaur, a book that came out when I was a young psychology student, talked about the projections that burden women. As infants, we see our mothers as the Goddess-like source of nourishment, comfort and well-being, and yet even the best mother fails us at moments.  We awake hungry, or uncomfortable, we get ill or injured, and because Mom appears to us to be all-powerful, we believe her lapses in care are deliberate slights, and her limitations are purposeful withholding. 

At the same time, Clinton bears the brunt of another common projection onto women—the Mom Who Spoils Your Fun, the dull, fuddy-duddy restrictor of pleasure, the enforcer of homework and bedtime, the Responsible but Boring One.  She pays a price for being sane, rational, responsible, committed, with a long record of actual political battles and achievements, wins and losses. How mundane, how dull, compared with Trump who gets to play both Rebel Adolescent in revolt against that same political system we’re all frustrated with, and Flashy Divorced Dad offering us a trip to the bizarre horror-show amusement park of his fantasyland,  while every now and then channeling the authoritarian Voice of Dad, telling Hillary she should be ashamed of herself.  No wonder his supporters aren’t disturbed by his bullying and lies—they don’t see themselves suffering the brunt of them, they want to be him!  While nobody sane wants to be Hillary—slogging along in the trenches of public service, valiantly trying to talk about children’s health care while dodging a hailstorm of accusations and the fallout of her husband’s transgressions.

So, I’m speaking to my friends and allies on the progressive side—can we stop the viciousness? Like her, don’t like her, criticize her, but leave off the venom, please!  Your vitriol hurts women—all of us.  It reinforces the archetypes that see women’s power as dangerous and malicious, the same archetypes that contributed to the burning of Witches and that make women vulnerable targets of male rage.

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Vote for Jill Stein if you like—I won’t. I don’t believe a protest vote makes sense at this moment.  We had our protest vote—that was Sanders, in the primary, and it was tremendously effective.  It pushed the Democrats farther to the left than they’ve been in decades, and we can build on that—if Clinton wins.  If by some fluke she loses to a bigoted, racist bully, at best we’ll spend the next four years desperately scrambling to limit the damage.  Every racist killer cop will take heart and the alt-right will claim a mandate for racism, rape culture, climate catastrophe, and possibly nuclear war.  We will lose whatever small margin we still have left for addressing climate change and avoiding massive global environmental meltdown.

At this point, Trump’s chances of winning seem slim.  But even a slim chance is still a chance, and surprises can happen—look at the Brexit vote, where all the predictions were that it would lose. 

I would rather see the Green Party focus its efforts on local elections, on running people for school boards and water boards and town councils where Greens can be effective in important ways.  That’s how the right wing gained their power base.  Stein’s policies are great, but she has no experience that would qualify her to fight off the sharks in Washington if by some miracle she got elected. 

I’ll be voting for Hillary Clinton—because I support her policies on women, on children, on climate change, on the human rights of people of color and immigrants in this country.  I want to see her appoint the next Supreme Court justices so that we have a chance to overturn Citizens United and get rid of the worst abuses of money in politics.  I am wary of her foreign policy, but I believe with her as president we will be in the best position to organize, to increase the progressive base and push for those bigger changes in the system that we all want to see.  I also think that those traits people don’t like about her—her ability to strategize and her political savvy and insider knowledge—are exactly what’s needed for her or any politician to have half a chance of getting anything done in this current polarized climate.

  But whether you do or don’t agree with me, please get out there and vote!  There is much more at stake than the presidency—there’s the House and Senate, local and state elections, referendums and local issues that have vital impacts on real people.  We need a Democratic landslide to send a strong message that we reject racist, sexist inflammatory politics and that they won’t be rewarded.  We need to break the obstructionist Republican deadlock on the House and Senate.   We need to do everything we can to turn the country back from a dangerous, destructive path of hate and discrimination.  Clinton is not Emma Goldman or Mother Teresa—nor is she Cruella de Ville.  She’s a real, human being with a solid track record and policies I partly don’t like but mostly do, and I’m proud to support this strong, savvy, responsible woman whom I believe will move us forward on the vital issues of our time.

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Death and Mystery

We like to think things happen for a reason. We like to think that if we are good, and play by the rules—whether they are the larger rules of the mainstream world or the rules we have crafted for ourselves out of our own vision of how life should be—then good things will happen to us. Possibly we need that comfort to go on living in a world full of accident and malice.

Of course that comforting belief has a terrible corollary—that if bad things happen, we somehow deserve them, or have brought them on.

Yet goodness is no true bulwark against loss and death and disease. Good people die, while those who are full of hate and greed and selfishness appear to thrive.

The Goddess doesn’t offer us easy comfort or consolation. We don’t have heaven to reward the good or a hell to punish the bad. We might believe, as Martin Luther King says, that the arc of the universe bends toward justice—but we observe that it has a long, long way to go.

Rebecca Tidewalker died yesterday. I don’t know why. She was a lovely young woman whose life was about service and love and work for justice, an artist, dancer, ritual-maker and teacher. She didn’t smoke. She ate organic food. She had a sweet and loving heart, and a deep willingness to look at her own shadows and do her own work. She had a loving partner and was joyfully seven months pregnant when she was diagnosed with fourth stage lung cancer. She embarked on a healing journey, together with her partner and her loving and supportive community, that became a model of how community can function at its best.

Her story should have had a happier ending. If anyone deserved a miracle cure, it was her. If ever there was someone who could call on the healing power of Witches and Mary and Jesus and a circle of loving friends, it was her.

Why should she die, why should her loving partner be bereft and her baby son left orphaned, when people who smoke and eat junk food, who spew hate and prejudice, who neglect their kids or abuse them, who wallow in greed and violence are still walking around alive on the good green earth?

I would like to believe that things happen for a reason, but that’s a belief for good times, to comfort us with some sense of security and continuity.

Bad times demand we confront the mystery—that we don’t know why. That there is no reason. That sometimes we just get dealt a really raw hand.

Or if there is a reason, a larger pattern, it’s so big we can’t see it. We’re staring at one puzzle piece, not the picture.

All we know is that we can choose how to play the hand we’re dealt. We don’t have faith in some ultimate judgment that will right all wrongs. But we do have faith that if we face our challenges with courage and love, we serve the great forces of healing and regeneration that surround us. A brave, loving and compassionate soul is like a light, that calls forth the best in everyone around her.

Rebecca and her community of loved ones and supporters have been a beacon for us all, an example of how community can be at its best.

A mist obscures a

Shining star. We can’t see it,

But the light remains.

There is no reason—no pat answer to the question, “Why him?” “Why her?” Or the question, “Why me?” that we all ask.

But there is meaning, the meaning that we make.

Rebecca Tidewalker, Iridaea, Solas, and all the loving community that surrounds you, I thank you for the way you have made death and disease and tragedy also mean love and connection and faith. I honor your courage, through my tears.

Weaver, Weaver,

Weave her thread,

Whole and strong into your web.

Healer, Healer,

Heal our pain,

In love may she return again.

Summer Reading Giveaway!

To celebrate the start of summer, I am giving away two signed copies of City of Refuge

   Imagine a world
Where Nature is our greatest teacher
and all beings are honored as sacred.
Hope is alive in the City of Refuge!

In a world that often seems to be upended by chaos, stories that envision a positive future are crucial tools for continuing to keep focused on hope. City of Refuge is a powerful example of that. If you haven’t had a chance to get a copy for yourself yet, head on over to the Facebook post on my author page to enter to win one. Just click like on the Facebook post and comment with your favorite quote from any of my writings and you are entered to win.

Two winners will be chosen by me and notified through Facebook. The contest ends on Friday, July 1st, and is open to anyone residing in the United States or Canada. You can see the official contest rules below.

City of Refuge is available on Amazon as an Ebook or Paperback if you don’t want to wait to see if you won the contest!

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Official Contest Rules:
NO PURCHASE IS NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.
1. Eligibility: This Campaign is open only to those who are able to like and comment on Starhawk’s Facebook Page.The Campaign is only open to legal residents of the United States and Canada, and is void where prohibited by law. The Campaign is subject to all applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations. Void where prohibited.
2. Agreement to Rules: By participating, the Contestant (“You”) agree to be fully unconditionally bound by these Rules, and You represent and warrant that You meet the eligibility requirements. In addition, You agree to accept the decisions of Starhawk as final and binding as it relates to the content of this Campaign.
3. Campaign Period: Entries will be accepted online starting on Friday, June 24th at 3pmPST and ending Friday, July 1st at 8pmPST.
4. How to Enter: The Campaign must be entered by liking and commenting with a quote from Starhawk’s writing on the post on Starhawk’s Facebook Page. The entry must fulfill all Campaign requirements, as specified, to be eligible to win a prize. If You use fraudulent methods or otherwise attempt to circumvent the rules, your submission may be removed from eligibility at the sole discretion of Starhawk.
5. Prizes: The Winners of the Campaign (the “Winner”) will receive a signed, special edition paperback copy of City of Refuge (approximate retail value: $29.95). Actual/appraised value may differ at time of prize award. No cash or other prize substitution shall be permitted. The prize is nontransferable. Any and all prize-related expenses, including without limitation any and all federal, state, and/or local taxes, shall be the sole responsibility of Winner. No substitution of prize or transfer/assignment of prize to others or request for the cash equivalent by Winner is permitted. Acceptance of prize constitutes permission for Starhawk to use Winner’s name, likeness, and entry for purposes of advertising and trade without further compensation, unless prohibited by law.
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11. Disputes: THIS Campaign IS GOVERNED BY THE LAWS OF THE UNITED STATES AND CALIFORNIA, WITHOUT RESPECT TO CONFLICT OF LAW DOCTRINES. As a condition of participating in this Campaign, participant agrees that any and all disputes that cannot be resolved between the parties, and causes of action arising out of or connected with this Campaign, shall be resolved individually, without resort to any form of class action, exclusively before a court located in California, having jurisdiction. Further, in any such dispute, under no circumstances shall participant be permitted to obtain awards for, and hereby waives all rights to, punitive, incidental, or consequential damages, including reasonable attorney’s fees, other than participant’s actual out-of-pocket expenses (i.e. costs associated with entering this Campaign). Participant further waives all rights to have damages multiplied or increased.
12. Winners List: To obtain a copy of the Winner’s name or a copy of these Official Rules, send an email to: info@starhawk.org Requests must be received no later than Tuesday, July 12th, 2016.
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Facilitating Diversity

As I sit down to write this post, I’m taking a break from preparing for our Passover Seder here at the ranch—a ceremony that’s an amalgam of my Jewish roots, Pagan practice, and our very down-to-earth desire to give thanks and celebrate another season of baby lambs and kids.  The goat kind, that is.  I’m remembering a Seder I hosted more than twenty years ago, and it is making me think of some of the challenges and rewards of trying to facilitate diverse groups and work together across the lines of diversity.

Support diversity scholarships for Earth Activist Trainings! Photo by Brooke Porter Photography

Two dear friends were co-hosting with me.  Both were friends of mine, but didn’t know each other.  Marcia Falk, is a brilliant poet, liturgist, author and feminist rooted within the Jewish tradition. She’s written many books of liturgy in both English and Hebrew, including her latest, The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season. Kate Raphael is a lifelong, courageous activist for LGBT rights,  justice for Palestine, and many, many sorts of peace and justice work, and an author of a great mystery novel set in the West Bank, Murder Under the Bridge.

At that time, a new tradition was circulating in the LGBT rights community, based on a story that two lesbians had approached a rabbi and asked, “What is the place of a lesbian in Judaism?”  The rabbi had purportedly answered, “The place of a lesbian in Judaism is like the place of a piece of chametz on the seder plate.”

Now chametz, for those of you who don’t know the tradition, is yeast bread or bread-related substance, and one of the core strictures of the Passover holiday is to banish all bread and anything remotely related to it.  The story goes that when the Jews fled slavery in Egypt, they left so quickly they didn’t have time for their bread to rise.  I actually believe the custom is older, and has to do with a ritual purification of the remnants of the old grain harvest before bringing in the new.  In any case, Orthodox Jews scrub the house from top to bottom, carry out a thorough search for any stray crumbs of chametz that might have crept in, and burn the crumbs in order to purify for the holiday.

So, at our Seder, Kate wanted to put a piece of chametz on the Seder plate to symbolize solidarity with LGBT rights.  Marcia was horrified—not because she didn’t support LGBT rights.  She was a strong supporter of gay liberation, but putting a piece of chametz on the Seder plate, to her, was viscerally horrifying.

We never really resolved the issue. Kate couldn’t let go of the symbol, which was vitally important to her.  Marcia literally couldn’t stomach it.  The guests were coming, the chicken soup simmering, and we ended up with two Seder plates at opposite ends of a very long table, for the duration of a very long, tense ritual.  Decades went by before I dared host another Seder!

But I tell this story to illustrate some of the issues that emerge when we try to work together across our differences.  Today I regularly find myself facilitating very diverse groups.  I direct an organization called Earth Activist Training, that offers permaculture design grounded in spirit with a focus on organizing and activism.  We offer Diversity Scholarships for people of color and differently abled people working in environmental and social justice, and as a result, our groups often span many sorts of diversity—racial, gender, religion, class, physical ability, age, interests and experience.

Permaculture—ecological design—teaches that diversity brings resilience.  A diverse forest can withstand disease or fire or hurricane better than a monoculture of genetically identical cloned trees.  A diverse human system has a greater range of perspectives, a wider intelligence and understanding, than a group made up of people who all share the same background.

But a group with different life experiences and perspectives will also have differing needs, ideas, goals, and responses, that can generate conflict.  In the role of  facilitator or teacher, our responsibility is to create an atmosphere that welcomes everyone, in the fullness and complexity of the many identities we each carry.  But that’s not always easy to do in a context in which oppression continues and the pain is ongoing.

So what can we do—when the differing needs in a group intersect in painful ways?  When a black mother’s fear for the lives of her boys in a hostile world intersects with a Deaf woman’s pain at being robbed of all her communication devices by a thief the police suspect is a local black teen?  When an Egyptian activist’s pride in his heritage bangs up against the blacks students’ need to claim Egypt as Black Culture?  When a sincere, heartfelt gift of a precious object triggers an indigenous students’ pain at the appropriation of her culture and heritage?

I can’t answer that in one blog post—or a dozen.  But I’d like to share some of my own experience—often learned by making mistakes—the experience of an older, Jewish-American, flagrantly Pagan woman writer and teacher who has been struggling with these issues for a lifetime.  I hope to make this the beginning of a small series, and invite the voices of some of the other facilitators and teachers from a variety of backgrounds whom I work with.

So—lesson number one.  Clenching my teeth and muttering “Please, Jesus, rapture me now!” doesn’t help.

Remembering the goal is the starting point.  If our goal is to create a world of justice, how can we respond in a way that will further that will foster more justice?

When we care about justice in this world, and we experience or hear about injustice, we often feel angry, powerless, afraid.  Those feelings are extremely painful—especially helplessness.  I don’t know how to get the cops to stop killing black kids and people of color, or how to stop the theft of indigenous land, or how to close down the tar sands.  But I might know how to police your language, or shame another white person, or lash out at the messenger who reminds me how dire the situation is and how little I’ve done about it.

But in the role of facilitator or teacher, I can’t do that.  My responsibility is to create an atmosphere where everyone can learn and grow and be heard.  I can’t be responsible to that role and indulge in blaming, shaming, or name-calling.  I need to move the group toward learning, by encouraging and modeling listening, and sitting with the pain that arises, naming and acknowledging it.

Pandora Thomas, who is often my co-facilitator in these matters, always reminds us that the goal is to further real relationships, which include the fullness of conflict and disagreement—not to simply pacify the waters and create a surface harmony.

If we create space in a group to address these deep issues of injustice and discrimination, pain will arise, but so will the opportunity for change and growth and learning on a deeper level.  However, the intensity of the pain can also blow a group apart and make other learning impossible if we are not prepared for it.

So I’ve learned, the hard way, to find the right time and space for these discussions.  Not too early—for the group needs a chance to settle, bond, and build trust.  But not too late.  Not late at night, or right before the day off, or right before the end.

Conflict can be creative and productive—when it stays focused on the issues. When attacks become personal, and people get locked into defensiveness, the underlying issues get buried and we lose a huge opportunity for learning.

Had I been wiser, at that long-ago Seder, I might have been able to step us back from the content of that conflict and say, “Hey, this is really about the deep pain of feeling excluded.  The pain lesbians feel at being excluded from the Jewish mainstream—and the pain we all feel as Jews about being excluded for 2000 years.  Once we acknowledge that pain, maybe we can find some common ground.”

It’s easy to get locked into something that feels like a solution to the problem, but really might only be one possible way to address it.  Whether or not we put a piece of bread on the seder plate, discrimination against lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender folks will continue.  In some situations, that symbolic act might strengthen the group’s resolve to challenge and fight that oppression.  In other situations, it might simply create division and deflect attention from the real issues.  Once we unpack the hurt, and remember the goal, we might be able to find some way together to create a symbol of inclusion that will work for all of us.

Earth Activist Training teaches permaculture design with a grounding in spirit and a focus on organizing and activism.  Upcoming courses include:

September 28-October 2nd at Quail Springs in Southern California

You can stay up to date on all the upcoming Earth Activist Training courses on the website.

We have just launched a new fundraising campaign to support EAT’s Diversity Scholarship Program, which makes training in permaculture and ecological design accessible to people of color and differently-abled people working in environmental and social justice.  If you are inspired by the work we are doing, please consider making a donation to our campaign on Generosity. Or you can donate HERE

Photo by Brooke Porter Photography

A note on the bread-on-the-Seder-plate story:  
In later years, I noticed that the bread seemed to be replaced by an orange, which seemed to me to be a reasonable substitute.  But in googling around for this post, I found this article by Susannah Heschel, who originated the orange tradition in the ‘80s, to symbolize inclusion of women, lesbians and gays, the widows, orphans and all who have been excluded.  She asks that we eat the orange to remember the juicy contributions all these groups have made, and spit out the seeds of hate.  

Rebecca Alpert, whose 1997 book was entitled Like Bread on the Seder Plate: Jewish Lesbians and the Transformation of Tradition, suggests that no lesbians ever actually put bread on the plate.  http://forward.com/opinion/172960/slice-of-bread-for-lgbt-jews-and-all-the-excluded/  She should have been at our Seder!  Joshua Lesser, after a trip to offer solidarity to the Immokalee workers striking for their rights in the tomato fields of Florida, suggests placing a tomato on the plate for all those still enslaved.  http://forward.com/opinion/172962/for-those-still-enslaved-tomato-symbolizes-solidar/ And Rebecca Vilkomerson places an olive for the Palestinians and all oppressed peoples, in commemoration of the olive trees destroyed by the Israeli army. http://forward.com/opinion/172963/put-olive-on-seder-plate-for-palestinians-and-all/  And Susie Kisber recounted for us the story of a seder where the crust of bread was shellacked so that it could be placed on the seder plate but not actually touch it and compromise its ritual purity!

Both Kate and Marcia read a draft of this article and graciously consented to my writing the story, and all of us agree that we’re older and wiser now, and might be able to handle the situation more flexibly.

A living tradition grows and changes—and so can we!  The deep message of Passover is that the work of liberation goes on, in every generation.  Let us approach it with courage and compassion, and welcome in a new spring of hope.

I have had many teachers and co-explorers on this journey, too many to name them all.  But today I’m thinking of some of the friends with whom we began the WomanEarth Institute back in the early ‘90s, an attempt to form an ecofeminist learning environment that addressed issues of racism and exclusion:  Ynestra Kind, Luisah Teish, Rachel Bagby, Gen Vaughn, Margo Adair, Shea Howell, and many others.  And some of my current co-conspirators in Earth Activist Training and related groups:  Charles Williams, Pandora Thomas, Rushelle Frazier, Jay Rosenberg, Brandy Mack and Wanda Stewart.

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Why Sell Through Amazon?

The self-publishing adventure continues! I now have City of Refuge available on Amazon, both as an Ebook and a Print on Demand paperback book. Occasionally I get an irate message on my Facebook feed or email, something like:

“Starhawk, I thought you were a progressive person—how can someone with your politics deal with Amazon?”

To be honest, I’ve tried for years, decades, to discourage people from buying from Amazon.  Their business model contributed to driving hundreds of independent bookstores out of business.  They are not great to their warehouse workers, and exploit them.  It’s my personal belief that having used books available on Amazon very cheaply has cut deeply into royalties for authors and revenues for publishers and made it extremely hard to make a living as an author.

IMG_6928All that is true.  Unfortunately, there is no way to effectively self-publish a book, and NOT deal with Amazon.  For that matter, even books that publishers put out get sold on Amazon.  Many of those wonderful women’s bookstores and independent bookstores are gone now, and Amazon pretty much is where you have to go if you want to sell books in any quantity.

We can blame Amazon for this—and certainly they are to blame. But so are the thousands of individuals decisions people have made, to buy something quick online instead of going out the door to their local bookstore.  But then, maybe you’re too tired to go out to the local bookstore because you’re working a job where the staff has been downsized and the workload has been increased and by the time you get home, you’re too tired to drag yourself back out the door.  And that discounted used book you get on Amazon is all you can afford, if you want to read at all.

I originally planned to have the Ebook and some version of a Print-on-demand book also available on my website. Then, in the course of the Kickstarter campaign, we discovered that most people don’t know how to download an E-book and get it into their reader. They’re used to Amazon or iTunes doing it for them.  I don’t know how, really, myself—let alone know how to tell you how. So, without support staff, it didn’t seem like a good idea.

We will eventually have the book available online in other places. Bookstores can order City of Refuge now through Ingram Book Company, but I make a very small amount per book sold through Ingram, unfortunately: $3 per book as opposed to about $7 a copy from each Ebook on Amazon and around $8 a copy for the paperbacks I sell through CreateSpace on Amazon. I encourage you all to ask your local independent bookstore to carry the book— even though I make a lot less on books sold to brick and mortar bookstores. If you or your local bookstore wants to order directly from me so that both of us make a few extra dollars, you can have them email info@starhawk.org and we will send them a link to order directly. Why was it I wanted to self-publish, again?

Of course, I could print books myself and sell them directly. I did print an extra 1000 copies above the Kickstarter run, and selling them directly is lucrative. But backbreaking. I can’t quite imagine even Amazon has a 73 year old employee with two extremely painful knees over due for surgery staggering around carrying 25 pound boxes of books. I do—and he doesn’t even get paid.  Well—he does have some special perks—he’s my husband, but a salary, pension and paid vacations are not part of the package. Come to think of it, my knees aren’t so great, either. And if I could get paid even a warehouse-worker’s wages for the four years I’ve put into the book, at this point I’d be very happy!

So, there you have it. I’d love to live in the world of City of Refuge, in an economy designed to support creativity and compassion.  But, in this world, I’ve got to do what I can to make the work sustainable for me.  If it’s not, I won’t be a very good advocate for anyone else.

Equinox Blessings!

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Spring Equinox—Eostar, the festival of the ancient Goddess who gave her name to Easter.  The days grow longer—now day and night are in perfect balance.  I understand why eggs are such a part of this holiday—not just that they symbolize new life, but now with the longer days the chickens are laying abundantly.  I have eggs for breakfast with the deep golden yolks that only come from chickens who scratch in real dirt and eat realbugs. Fertility is all around us.  Baby lambs and baby goats frolic in the grass, and it all looks like an animated Easter card!

With everything blossoming and burgeoning with life, it’s hard to worry about elections or climate change or any of the incipient catastrophes potentially bearing down on us.  And I’m not trying too hard to make myself worry—in spite of a deeply ingrained cultural belief that if you don’t worry enough about bad things happening, you’ll somehow make them happen.  As if worry and stress could create a bulwark to hold back the badness.

I’m letting that go, with this holiday.  The really bad things that happen—they tend to sneak up on you anyway, hitting when you least expect them. Worrying can’t ward them off, it can only undercut our ability to replenish our own springs of energy and hope. We need these times of renewal and joy to keep us going and help us weather the storms when they come.

I truly believe the daffodils want us to notice how the light shines through them so they glow, translucent in the late afternoon. The lilacs and madrones want to make us drunk with their scent.  Responding to nature with joy and gratitude and wonder is part of our job as humans, part of the way we maintain the balance.

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So go do your job—take a moment today to gaze in wonder at an unfolding bud, or to plant a seed, or to really pay attention to the chorus of bird song.  Find your inner balance, and let it bring you the renewed energy we need to redress the imbalances in the world around us.

A blessed Spring Equinox to you all!

Tales from the Tour

I’m currently on tour on the East Coast, and so far it has been a wonderful experience! The first workshop on Stories for the Future with Bright Flame was wonderful, with an amazing group of around sixty people in the Community Room at WestBeth, an artists’ co-op in the West Village.  We worked with stories on three levels:  our personal stories, with ourselves as protagonists, exploring our identities, our core questions and the beliefs that either help us move forward or hold us back.  We had people draw a simple mask on a paper plate—I’ve done this before and I’m always amazed at what comes out.  For myself, this time, it was an Iberian eye Goddess but somehow in my rendition she looked a lot more like a cartoon space alien.  I will have to ponder the meaning of this!

We also worked with our ancestral stories, with the strengths we draw from our heritage, and also what aspects we would like to release.  Then we ended with a ritual in which we stepped through a portal, out of time, to envision a future we wanted to live in, and plant its seeds in that timeless place.  Lots of singing, drumming, chanting and dancing—and raising of power to help us realize that vision!

On the beautifully decorated stage in Syracuse. Photo by Marie Summerwood.

On the beautifully decorated stage in Syracuse. Photo by Marie Summerwood.

Then on Sunday I did a talk and reading at Evolver’s new Alchemists’ Kitchen herbal shop and elixir bar in the Lower East Side.  I challenged myself to actually read some of the erotic parts of the book out loud.  To my surprise, I enjoyed it—and hopefully the audience did too!

It’s always a challenge to decide what parts of the book to read, how to convey the essence of it without giving away too much of the plot.  There’s a lot of action in the book—but it’s much harder to find those sections and read them without spoiling it for future readers.  So I tend to read more poetic parts  that are easier to take out of context.  Some times I want to tell people, “Hey, it really is exciting!  Trust me on that.”

And today we had time for a long stroll beside the river with Bright Flame and my old friend the ecofeminist writer and theorist Ynestra King.  And matzoh ball soup and perogi at a Unkrainian restaurant after the reading, with other old friends.  A really nice way to start my travels.

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I am now on to Philadelphia, where I have several workshops which sold out quickly and a couple of University talks which are open to the public. Next up on my tour will be Oregon and then Austin in March. You can see the full calendar of all my tour stops here.

The Roller-Coaster Ride of Book Production

I looked back at my blog the other day and realized that the last entry still read “Our Kickstarter campaign is nearly to our goal…” Somehow I never actually updated the blog—even after we completed our campaign as the second-highest funded fiction project ever on Kickstarter!

The reason for that is simple—from the time we started our campaign, I didn’t have a spare moment to blog! Keeping Facebook and Twitter updated was about all I could do. It has been a wild, roller-coaster ride of huge ups and downs all along the way. I want to share some of them—both in gratitude and to possibly caution and help others who might set out to do something similar.

When a Kickstarter is going well, there’s no feeling like it! Not even the money, although that helps, but the sense of support, the feeling that other people have faith in your work. It’s like having a wind at your back—everything you do feels just a bit easier.

But it is still a lot of work! And much of that work involves things that honestly, I don’t like doing—constantly promoting it, asking your friends and colleagues to promote it, calling in favors and racking up debts. I don’t recommend launching one when you are also travelling, teaching a fourteen-hour-a-day program, and trying to read and correct proofs of the manuscript at the same time!

I had wonderful help from Alli Gallixsee, who did an incredible job orchestrating the campaign and figuring out how to build it and make it work. Here’s another nugget of advice—if you’re not a digital native, if you aren’t savvy about the ins and outs of social media, find someone who is. I could never have done it without her. I also had great support from Philip Wood, who edited the video, and Jessica Perlstein, who made the wonderful cover image for a book that didn’t yet exist!

But that was done—and reaching the goal, and closing out the campaign well above our goal, was a definite thrill!

Then came the book production. Actually, that began well before we launched the Kickstarter, as I didn’t want to get people excited about the book and then have them wait ten months to get it. I really wanted people to get it before the holidays.

Well, some of you did!

So I borrowed money to begin the editing and copy-editing before the Kickstarter launched, as they take weeks and months to do. It was a gamble, but I was reasonably sure I could raise the money to pay back the loan.

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As I look back on this little period of time, it seems like an endless set of decisions to make without having adequate information for making them—especially around things like how much it would actually cost to produce the book. Just an example, we couldn’t get a firm cost for printing the book until it was edited, copy-edited and designed and we knew how big it would be. We couldn’t get a firm cost for postage until the book was printed and we knew how much it weighed. We couldn’t know how many books we would need to print until the Kickstarter was completed. NOT printing books and simply doing Print-on-demand would have been much less expensive, but since we had promised books as a Kickstarter reward, and we needed something like 1200 of them, printing them seemed like a good idea.

Jennifer Ruby Privateer, whom I enlisted to manage the project while I was travelling, found us a wonderful printer, an employee-owned company in Wisconsin called Worzalla. We also hired them to do fulfillment—to package and mail all the reward books. Originally I had planned a marathon session in my garage with friends—but that would have added a week to our tight timetable and we thought having Worzalla do it would be quicker, although more expensive. However, we neglected to ask them a key question—how long will it actually take? I was appalled to discover, a month after I’d flown back there to sign all the copies that needed to be signed, that they were still slowly mailing and shipping books—and that they’d left the foreign books, which take longest to arrive, for last.

With all the guessing, and the comfortable sensation of having money in the bank, it was easy to make a whole series of decisions, each of which increased costs somewhat, without realizing how they were all adding up. In retrospect, I should have also recruited some hard-nosed financial manager type to crunch numbers as we went along. In any case, sometime in December, when I got the final estimated bill from Worzalla—for fulfillment, not including all the postage—the money ran out.

The roller coaster crashed. I cried.

But there was a reason I wrote the book, and invested so much in having it edited and designed, and worked so hard to make it good. And that was to have people read it. And as the books got sent out, and responses came in, that little cart on the roller coaster began to ratchet up again. Because people genuinely love the book!

As a writer, you expect your friends to tell you they like your work, even if they don’t. But you soon learn to discern the responses that mean they really, really like it! It’s the comments like, “My roommate’s light was on at 4 am and she was still reading it” that let you know you’ve told a story that engages people. And overall, I’ve been very, very happy to know that I’ve reached people with the story.

Will it work out financially, in the end? The jury is still out on that one. If the book sells, and I can eventually pay myself for even some of the years I’ve spent on it, I’ll be able to buy myself some more writing time to do another. That’s my hope.

I also haven’t forgotten the audiobook. That’s my next project, on top of the tour that will launch this month at Pantheacon in San Jose and continue on the East Coast in the coming weeks. Later I’ll be in Portland and Austin.

If you’re considering a similar project, here’s three pieces of advice:

1) Get someone savvy about Kickstarter and social media to help plan any campaign of that sort.

2) Get some humorless, curmudgeonly, mean and meticulous person to manage the money.

3) Don’t put a tight deadline for yourself on a project that involves a high learning curve with a lot of unfamiliar aspects. (My brother warned me about this—you were right, Mark!)

Now, as we begin to launch the book for real to the general public, I can feel that breeze on my back again. I’m hoping to turn that roller coaster into a nice, level train track (running on solar electric) that will deliver me to some peaceful place where I can dive into a new writing project.

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City of Refuge is now available on Amazon as an Ebook, and will soon be available in physical form. Official publication date is March 1, but your local bookstore can order it now from Ingram Book Company. Here’s how you can help support the book:

  • Ask your local bookstore to carry it.
  • Post a review on Amazon or Goodreads.
  • Tell your friends about it!

Thanks so much for your support—it makes the wild ride so much more fun to know you’re coming along with me!

A Wild and Diverse Earth Activist Training!

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Pandora Thomas on our site visit.

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Our January Earth Activist Training opened with the sound of clapper sticks and flutes, and the steady beat of a Pomo drum. Our old friend Neil, who has spent many years doing solidarity work with local tribes, had arranged for two dance groups of Pomo and Miwok to come and officially open the training. We hoped that some of the younger people would feel comfortable enough to stay on and take the two-week course, and in the end, four people did. And we were grateful to hear some of the language, the songs, and watch the beautiful dances of the original people of this land.

Charles Williams demonstrates making an A-frame to find contours on the land.

Charles Williams demonstrates making an A-frame to find contours on the land.

Our training takes place in the territory of the Kashia Pomo, at a Buddhist retreat center founded at a former minimum security prison that once housed firefighters. The folks at the Padmasambhava Peace Institute have hosted us for many years, and are very supportive of our work. Their center also has the supreme advantage of being just fifteen minutes down the road from Golden Rabbit Ranch, where my co-teacher and ranch manager Charles Williams and I are developing a model of carbon-sequestering, permaculture ranching, with sheep, goats, chickens, olives, lavender, and many healing and medicinal herbs, including Chinese medicinals.

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The dance troops stayed on for a couple of days, and the next afternoon we brought everybody up to Golden Rabbit for a tour of our place. After many years of drought, we’re finally having a wet winter—but the rain paused, contenting itself with being more of a heavy, mystical fog, and we were able to show off some of our systems and teach about principles and patterns at the same time.

Marlena Ramborger contacted me two years ago, wanting to take the course.

Marlena Ramborger contacted me two years ago, wanting to take the course.

Virginia Beach was a great resource, introducing me to the Deaf community and culture.

Virginia Beach was a great resource, introducing me to the Deaf community and culture.

We also had four wonderful Deaf students at this course.  Marlena Ramborger contacted me two years ago, and it was a long, sometimes frustrating but ultimately fruitful journey to find the resources to pay for interpreters and provide access.  Virginia Beach was an important resource and support, guiding me through an introduction to the Deaf community and culture.  Our amazing interpreters, Mary Nelson and Tadd Cohen, worked a marathon set of shifts. All of us in the course learned a lot about Deaf culture, which is rich and expressive, and watching the visual translation of verbal concepts added whole new dimensions of a kind of visceral, kinesthetic understanding.

In spite of the (blessed and much-needed) rain, it was as if the Weather Goddess had read our schedule, and we were able to get our for all of our hands-on projects: digging swales, propagating and seed-starting, making compost, sheet mulch, mushroom inoculation, hugelkulture (building raised beds over wood-piles), cob building, graywater…and some close encounters with the sheep, goats, and new babies!

Erik Ohlsen from the Permaculture Skills Center presents as Tadd Cohen interprets.

Erik Ohlsen from the Permaculture Skills Center presents as Tadd Cohen interprets.

We had a rich diversity of participants that spanned different age groups, backgrounds, races, genders, levels of experience…many sorts of diversity! At times that made for challenging discussions and hurt feelings—but hanging in there, working through it, and continuing to communicate also leads to deeper understanding. It can be painful to confront the realities of oppression and discrimination and to wrestle with our own grief, sense of loss, and sometimes, guilt and shame. But it can also be tremendously liberating and enriching to step beyond the bounds of our own assumptions and learn from a wider spectrum of experiences.

Mary Nelson interprets for Erik Ohlsen.

Mary Nelson interprets for Erik Ohlsen.

Earth Activist Training offers Diversity Scholarships for people of color working in environmental and social justice areas, for many reasons. We have a commitment to bring the tools and skills of earth regeneration to people from the communities most impacted by injustice, and we find that offering scholarships works, while many other strategies do not. A diverse course offers learning and challenges to all of our students that goes far deeper than just a new plant list or natural building technique. Ecology teaches us that diversity in a system generates resilience, and that is true in human systems as well, for when we bring together people of diverse backgrounds and life experiences, we see the world through different eyes, and become smarter and more compassionate as a result.

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To do this, we depend on grants and on your donations. We are grateful to the LUSH Charity Pot Program, the Dougherty Foundation, California’s Department of Vocational Rehabilitation who all provided partial funding for this program. But we are especially grateful to all the individuals who continued to support these programs over the years! Thank you!

Creating a Book

Cover art by Jessica Perlstein

City of Refuge by Starhawk

(Yikes–just realized how long it’s been since I updated this blog!  We made our goal, and far beyond it, and I will soon write another blog to update you all on the whole, roller-coaster process as we officially launch the book this month–February, 2016!)

First, I want to share the exciting news that we’re over 80 per cent of the way to our first funding goal for City of Refuge, the sequel to The Fifth Sacred Thing. This is all thanks to each of you who has supported our Kickstarter campaign!

I thought I would take a moment to share with you more about what really goes into making a book.  What does it take to produce a book like City of Refuge, the sequel to The Fifth Sacred Thing?

First, you have to write it.  For me, the first draft is always the hardest, the one where you take that blank page and formulate a story, characters, plot elements, dialogue.  The first draft is generally rough— while the second draft is where I take all the scattered fragments and pull them into a structure, weave the various story lines together, and decide what goes with what.  The third draft is where I look at the actual writing, the language and metaphors and cadence of the dialogue, revisit the structure, and polish it up.

In the case of City of Refuge, I wrote three full drafts and then sent it out to a few select people for feedback.

After that, I wrote two more drafts, adding some new structural elements, removing some, rearranging some sections and adjusting the flow.

There!  The work is done—but actually, it’s not.

After that, it goes to an editor who does what’s called ‘developmental editing’.  She looks at the flow, the structure, the length, the pace, and makes suggestions.  We have phone calls.  She reads the whole book through, then reads it again, making notes and also doing ‘line editing’—looking at the language and making suggestions.

Generally, I resist them.  But in this case, now that I’m paying the editor myself, I accept most of them, if only to get my money’s worth out of the process.  I reread the entire manuscript, with her comments, and make changes.  Maybe I reread it again, to see how it all flows once the changes are made.

She rereads the entire manuscript, and again makes comments and suggestions that again I wrestle with.  I make more changes.

I then send the manuscript to the copy editor—a second person who looks at it in terms of grammar, spelling, and continuity.  We wrestle with deep questions such as, “Should we capitalize Madonna in Madonna Lily?”   And, “Do I really need to start every second sentence with ‘And’.”

She sends it back to me.  I look at all of her suggestions, take out about 80 per cent of the exclamation points I’d put in, send it back to the original editor for a final read-through, read it again myself—all epic 250,000 words of it!—and then send it to the proofreader, who checks for typos, spelling errors and mistakes.

The proofreader sends it to the designer, who creates templates for it and formats it for print and Ebooks.

The designer sends it back to the proofreader, who checks for new errors that may have crept in.

And then it goes to press.  Or upload, as the case may be.

The progression of a cover; from sketch to final. Art by Jessica Perlstein.

The progression of a cover; from sketch to final. Art by Jessica Perlstein.

There’s a few other aspects in there—getting a cover illustration made, getting an ISBN number and copyright etc. etc. Not to mention promoting the book, sending out review copies, working out questions around distribution, etc.  But that’s the basic process.

And that’s why I decided to go with a Kickstarter campaign to help pay all of these wonderful people who are helping me.  Until we transform our economy to a gift economy, I believe in paying people fairly for their work.  Even me—I aspire, at least, to paying myself something for the four years of work I’ve put into this.  But that will happen only if we exceed our original goal.

Oh yes, and I would like to get the roof fixed before it rains!

I’m so tremendously grateful for the response the Kickstarter campaign has already garnered.  We’re over 80 per cent there.  Thank you, everyone! If you would like to pre-order a special edition copy of City of Refuge for yourself, you can do that before August 31st HERE– after that you will have to wait for the public release!  We plan to have books available to our Kickstarter supporters well in time for the holidays!