Goodbye, Cruel World.

At sunrise today, my 15-year-old and I were parked high up in Oakland’s majestic Mountain View Cemetery, sipping spicy chocolate (thank you Mayans) and waiting for the world to end.

It didn’t, of course; every time we thought we spotted a zombie it turned out to be a pre-dawn dog-walker or jogger.

Stone angels, animals, saints, goddesses, and mythical creatures on the gravestones and tombs raised their wings, horns, hands, and faces to the sky, as pink light crept up the highrises in the distance. All morning the family’d been discussing all the possible world endings: nuclear war and winter; that asteroid; the Rapture. I told him about the four horsemen of the apocalypse and he immediately suggested how fun it would be to ride around town dressed in black, yellow, red and white with his friends. I told him about the seven seals.

The world has been ending for a hundred years or more. The seals have long since been broken. We tore open the seal of the earth’s crust to get to coal, oil, and natural gas, paying the price and reaping the benefits. The human body is no longer sealed; open-heart surgery overcame death for so many. Breaking the atom opened up our world to the horrors of fusion, but tapped into the power of the gods. The Exxon Valdez was only the first of many catastrophic leaks of earth’s secret goo into the clear waters of the life-giving oceans; now water lights on fire coming out of the tap.

The seal of mystery that shielded our knowledge of genetics was torn open to give us cloning, and all the varieties of birth we now routinely enjoy broke the sacred seal of the womb. We broke gravity’s spell with flight and space flight; the consequence being a tear in the sky, in the ozone layer that protects us from the life-giving sun’s dark side.

We destroyed the isolation of the Self and the Family with the warm lights and noises of communications. There is no longer a sense of space between us, since we can see each other’s faces and hear each other’s voices anytime we choose (if we’ve got the right equipment.) (Perhaps time itself has been broken now that we seem to record all of life’s moments). Even war no longer takes the effort of building up a militia or an army; it is practiced daily by children with strong thumbs. When guns are handy, it breaks out in its newest form—pure, random annihilation—in the unlikeliest of places.

A flock of birds passed by—seagulls and crows flying together. I told my son about the Thanksgiving we spent in Disneyland when he was three. It was the first year that The Nightmare Before Christmas took over the Haunted House. (Breaking a seal of some sort or other…) We stood on the platform of the train depot and surveyed the crowds on Main Street, excited for the tree to light up. But the cozy, private feeling that a crowd of humans gets when lights go on (be it for Christmas, Hanukkah, or Diwali) was spoiled by the non-humans who crowded the square. The raw voices of two hundred crows drowned out the Christmas music. When the flock took flight they darkened the sunset skies with their rushing wings, chilling our normal feelings of hope. Was it an omen? Sure it was. The millennium turned and more previously unimaginable horrors unfolded. Towers fell. IEDs exploded. Money was made. All the broken seals let in the hurricanes and fires, just as predicted. The theme of the times came clear, spoken best by former Nazis soldiers who had done their duty, kept ignorant of the great evil by their tiny field of vision: “We didn’t know.”

We turned on the radio to see if there was any news and, to our delight, REM was singing, It’s The End of The World As We Know It. “Do you think you’ll be tired of this song by the end of the day?” I ask the kid. “I could never get tired of this song,” he grins. “It’s awesome.” His dad played five more great songs before we left this morning: When the Sun Goes Nova by Bruce Cockburn; Apocalypso by Jimmy Buffet; ‘Love You ‘till the End of the World by Nick Cave, and ‘Til the End of the World by U2. The world ending is one of our favorite themes, celebrated by so many of our favorite books and movies. Dr. Strangelove. Mad Max. Planet of the Apes. 12 Monkeys. The Stand. Fight Club. Good Omens.

On some graves, beautiful paperwhites are blooming, traditionally the first flower of spring. “The world really is ending,” I say quietly. He asks me what I mean. “For the seahorses.” I’m wearing seahorse earrings. For the herps, honeybees, and snuffed-out songbirds. “Everything seems so normal and lovely up here, but we’re having the most massive species dieoff since dinosaur days.” “Oh, yeah, climate change,” he says, tired of science. Then the radio tells us Gangnam Style just got a billion hits.

Yes, we know we’re all just having fun with the day. “Hey, I just thought of something,” the manchild says. “Today a calendar ends, not time itself.”

I raise my Xoclatl to Mayans, who saw time as a circle. The circular heirloom pin from Guatemala that I’m wearing on my lapel is now obsolete. We sip our chocolate and trip on the moment; today ends not only a 5125 year cycle, but a 30,000 year galactic cycle and a bunch of other cycles, too. On the solstice, the world always feels like it’s ending. That’s why the early Christians put Christmas right after; pagans were already cheering the return of the sun.

I tell him about the Age of Aquarius, and the spiritual hope that what today truly symbolizes is a consciousness shift. Good riddance to this age of breaking, destroying, conquering, and dominating. We’ve all had enough of that.

Worlds are big things that end and are born slowly, with many overlapping timelines. I spent the last months of 13 Baktun finishing a book about bullying, which frames the problem as an essentially spiritual issue, and a human rights issue. It’s got so much good stuff in it that it might make a tiny ripple that nourishes the new world that has been beginning for some time.

In some ways my own life feels as if it’s ended; after a few months of overlapping small-scale catastrophes (death, robbery, data loss, fallen trees, fender-benders), I wander around in a concussion-induced daze, tired all the time. My lights are low and I haven’t felt like myself in months. I said a silent prayer that tomorrow really would bring new goodness to earth, or just a good day.

Raindrops fell on the window and the headache was coming on. But the party didn't end.


A Mann-tle full of Mann-imals

These pictures say what words cannot.

Goodbye Jeanne Mann (you creative jeanne-ius)... you will be missed by all of us.


5 Wishes for our Second Term

I only have five small wishes for the next four years. Okay, they're big wishes. But they're good ones that will make the country more safe, sane, and sustainable.
  1. End oil subsidies*
  2. Stop Education Reform
  3. Overturn Citizens United
  4. Bring back the Public Option
  5. Ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Some of these are links to petitions, others are still links are to more information. Please share any new developments and serious petitions in the comments here or on FB.

*(subwishes include subsidizing renewables, ratifying Kyoto protocols, and adopting 350ppm as a national security priority)


Walk-Off Pie

I don't know what the A's recipe for a success is this year (I suspect it has to do with math), but I just invented this dessert in honor of the Oakland A's. (There is no math required.)

One box of Cocoa Crispies
One tub of Reddi-Whip
One handful of peanuts, in shell
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
Green and yellow sprinkles
One Magic Marker

Using the Magic Marker, edit the tub of Reddi-Whip to read, "Reddick Whip." Edit the Cocoa Crispies to read "Coco Crisps." (We'll just call the butters "batters.")

Shell the peanuts, throw shells on the floor.

In a microwave-safe bowl, mix four cups of the Coco Crisps with the "batters" and peanuts. Press into a pie pan and chill. When stiff, spoon the Reddick Whip into the shell. Sprinkle with sprinkles.

Serve directly to the face.


New Lyrics for "Olympic Theme"

Now we can sing along while watching the show!


Look, world, I’m on TV!
I’m at the Olympics,  the best that I can be

Playing for my country,
I bring the Olympics the best of humanity.

Running, and jumping, shooting in archery!
Swimming, and stroking, balancing on my knee!
Throwing, and skating, showing you I can ski!
Flipping, and leaping, hoping for victory!

(musical bridge)

Riding, and rowing (I love the diversity);
Fighting, and reaching for my place in history!

© Kristen Caven 2012
for Dave Caven


A Tale of Two Schools (and Charles)

An enormous banner hangs above the freeway near my house: Keep All Our Schools Open. Nearby, tents are set up outside a school that has been slated to close. Families are staked out in grief, frustration and desperation, wishing they could stop the tide of budget cuts that have taken their toll on this town since people voted, thirty-five years ago, to pay fewer taxes.

The school district is caught in a bind. With less money for teachers, their services dropped, and parents who could left the schools. With fewer students, the money was spread too thin. To keep all schools from going under, they have to close a handful. A handful of beauties, like Lakeview School, an Art Deco gem that predates the highway that practically climbs over it.

School populations wax and wane with the generations. These sturdy and buildings have a lifespan that is often too short. Of course, schools are more than buildings; they are communities of people traveling through time together. Young teachers do their best to help the children of young families. These teachers will grow older and the students will grow up. The parents will go on to be active at other schools. Principals come and go. The building abides.

There was an old school building in Denver that met such a fate back in the 1970s. Built in 1902, Byers School saw five generations pass through its old doors, each one leaving the building marked and scarred with their passing.

In the 1980s a creative developer named Charles Nash saw something in this forgotten place and turned it into condominiums. I worked for him on my summer vacation; my whole family did. While my mother worked as his business assistant, her three teenagers swept out debris, caulked cracks, washed walls. We tore out broken linoleum and found wood floors underneath. We blistered off and sanded down a quarter inch of paint to reveal wood paneling, including some initials scratched into the wood by a penknife while waiting for the principal.

Charles designed each unit with a reverence for the history that was in his hands. He polished the wood floors back to life. He laquered the carvings in place. He left the green chalkboards exposed, with an eraser and some chalk in each tray. He recognized my artistic talents and put me in charge of giving a rescued carousel horse a makeover, for the front lobby.

Lakeview School is Occupied, capital O, a new hotspot for righteous anger at the carelessness with which the super-duper-rich make decisions that benefit themselves and leave children to the brutal tides of fate. Charles was rich, not one-percent rich, but well-off, successful, and generous. Over the years he became part of our family and was always generous with us, helping with college, with celebrations, and one summer, plane tickets to Europe. He lived elegantly, but not lavishly, his strivings toward beauty, not power.

In addition to Byers School and the dozens of old houses he renovated, Charles turned an abandoned church into homes as well (as time changes, churches are going the way of public schools), and his life's achievment was restoring a decrepit hot springs in the Rockies (and possibly haunted—my mother-in-law saw a body in the pool when she went for swimming lessons there as a child) into a gorgeous retreat and sought-after spa. He could see the potential in a place lost and unloved. He could see beauty in his mind's eye where others saw rust stains and mold. And he could call that beauty forth with a little time, effort, elbow-grease, and team building.

Typically, I would be focusing on education crisis here, but I'm filled with memories of an old friend who taught me to be a preservationist. Charles died somewhat tragically last week, and we will miss him. My brother, who bonded to him most deeply of all, lost a father. There are thousands who see Charles' sculptures and sit by his fountains and scribble on his chalkboards and sit in the spot on their carpet where colored light comes through the stained glass, who will never know the person who saw them doing so long before they did.

I wish the world had a thousand Charleses, who could see broken spaces and hopeless cases and intervene with powerful whimsy. I wish there were someone with the imagination to see Lakeview School, and Maxwell Park School, and Lazear, Marshall, and Santa Fe... and all the schools closing across the country... as living and evolving things. I feel pain for the families of Lakeview, whose love for their community is not strong enough to keep things stable. I admire their actions, which will teach such an amazing lesson to their children, whether they succeed or fail. Life is full of change, of loss, and surprises, not all of them good.

All in all, I dream of good architecture —both material and financial—that understands this. To have good architects, you need good education, and  you need a place for everything. Down the road I dream of Lakeview as a new place of learning, a community center near a restored vintage theater and a vibrant park, where people live or stay for a while in rooms with chalkboards, where people learn new things, find new strengths in themselves, and make new friends.


May Cobbler Be With You

In which I launch the blook!

And I reminisce on the Zumbathon...

And a movie starring TINA FEYwants to use Renaissance Woman as set decoration!  
renwom 2
click to

Total Eclipse of the Son

As the light weakened yesterday evening, I got this sorry feeling in the pit of my stomach, being one of those who gets S.A.D. when the light goes. But my husband whipped up an eclipse box, neighbors came out, and soon we were all playing with the little crescent-shaped shadows the sun made everywhere as the world didn't end.

I remembered a solar eclipse twenty-some years ago that occurred just as I was pondering making a move with a guy I liked. I heard on the radio that from a psychic point of view when the sun and moon cross, it's a good augur for male/female relations. Here we were, playing with the sun and our son.  Throughout the evening I realized how often our smaller problems often eclipse our bigger ones.


Caveman Fever

I've just had the most interesting conversation with my old roommate, Daniel Suelo, who is now very famous for giving up money. (No, that's not why we stopped living together.) I kidnapped him after his booksigning last night, so I could give him some free stuff and feel good about myself. (Actually, I wanted him to meet my family.) And now the time comes for him to get back to San Francisco so he can meet up with the author of his biography and get on to the next stop on their freakishly popular (thank you, the 99%) book tour.

Rockin' the new caveman fan fashion trend....
Daniel and I reminisced about living in a six-person household in Boulder, Colorado in the mid 1980s. We were a ragtag bunch of ungrounded youth, unsure of what to do with our lives, collected by my big brother Damian, who had met Daniel in a Religion course at CU. All we wanted to do was talk philosophy, listen to the new Sting solo album, and eat leftover rice from The Harvest, Boulder's most happening natural restaurant, where my little brother Felix was a busboy. We managed to get along okay with little to no money, not (of course) by choice, being resourceful and helping each other through our problems. We built important life skills together, like home dentistry. (Today's Obamacare kids have it so easy, enjoying dad's health insurance 'til age 26!)

Boulder has, or at least had, at the time, anti-commune laws leftover from the 1960s, so when the landlord found out there were six unrelated people living together in his suburban home, he evicted us. Before we moved, we contemplated easier solutions. For example, since three of us were related already, I could just marry Daniel, and then the household would be over 50% related. It was almost worth it to get married just so we could hyphenate our names: "Daniel and Kristen Shellabarger-Baumgardner." Even better: Shellabaum-Gardnerbarger.

Back to today. Since my almost-hubby doesn't use money, I'm planning to give him the gift of a BART ticket. But hmmm.... He has to make a Muni connection. How to deal with that? Daniel's choice to break up with money brings up so many curious and interesting questions. (FAQs are here.) Is it aesceticism or aestheticism? How do you live in a mindset of acceptance? What if you break your leg? How do you eat a thistle? We discussed the many options of him getting from BART to Muni. Would he hop the train? Could he stand around with the book in his hand and hope someone came up to offer him a ticket? Hold up a sign that says, "I don't use money. Help me get on this train."

I've been peppering him with questions all morning, (help him train for the Santa Cruz audience, of course,) but now I really want to know: "Do you EVER use money, if someone gives it to you?"

He replies, "sometimes people will give me money to buy something they need, but I don't use it to buy something for myself."

"So, If I gave you $2, could you buy a Muni ticket for my friend Daniel?" Ha HA! I trapped him with my clever logic! He grins and blushes, deeply.

But I don't want to be the one to come between a man and his art—and I do believe he is living his art. I'll just give him a ride and enjoy the adventure.


Barefoot Avengers (a.k.a. "The Perilous Pumps of Pepper Potts)

I was a little grumpy getting dressed to go see The Avengers today. Inspired by the viral pics of Avenger eyes that populated Pinterest this week, I wanted to dress up a bit to see the movie my family's been waiting for since the tag on the first Ironman movie in 2007. But I don't have a Marvel favorite like the boys do. Donald wore his cool Tony Stark shirt with the glow-in-the-dark Arc Reactor and Dave, of course, Spiderman.

"Black Widow?" Dave suggested.

"Boring," I said, wondering if I could fashion sort of a Thor-ette fur cape; I always had a thing for Valkyries. "I wear black three times a week." With a sigh, I pulled out my red leather boots and Wonder Woman t-shirt, even though she's so DC.

I love Ironman. I want to be Tony Stark just as much as my son does... the cars, the gadgets, the architecture, the careless brilliance, the charm, and of course: the fun fun flying! But I confess I spent much of the first movie worrying about the perilous pumps of Pepper Potts. I could really relate to Stark's uber-competent administrative assistant, without whom he's nothing; I've been there many-a-time. But those fuck-me pumps really put her in grave danger. There she was in the third act, racing through the Arc Reactor lab, thinking on her feet, so physically and emotionally vulnerable on those spindly legs, running from danger. And then it blows up, and action moves back to Tony in his super-suit fighting with Obadaiah Stain in his super-duper suit, and all I can think about is: did Pepper's heels get caught in those metal grates? I am so relieved to see her again, when she appears to put band-aids on Tony's face.

I really loved when Natalia "Natasha" Alianovna Romanova, a.k.a. the Black Widow, showed up in the second movie. For one thing, she and Pepper never really competed, which is what Hollywood tends to make pretty and competent women do whenever they're in a room together, as if there is only room for One Per Movie or Man. (In real life, smart/gorgeous/amazing women adore and inspire and bond with each other.) The movie passed the Bechtel Test in the first scene Natsasha shows up, when Pepper is interviewing her about her mad skills with professional respect. And when she fought... she fought in flats! I know there's some sort of weird respect for superheroines who fight in high heels... but anyone who's ever broken a board (or a face) knows that your power comes from your balance, and the soles of the feet are as important as an open, sensing palm.

So when I saw Pepper in the opening scene of The Avengers, I nearly made a fool of myself by standing up and applauding when I saw her walking around the penthouse lab in cutoffs and...yes, bare feet! I don't know if there was any sort of "pregnant and..." implication here, but to me, a girl who spent shoeless summers running around fields and gravel creek beds and jumping on horses...this was a symbol of feminine power realized.

That is the ONLY spoiler you'll get in this review, and you'll be glad to be surprised by the rest. I came out of the movie not caring what I wore; the writing was so satisfying and layered I won't need to see another movie for a week. Or two. But I still wonder how to beg my Marvel-ous movie contemporaries (I was born in the same year as Joss Whedon so, it's almost like I know him) to introduce a new strong female character to the Avengers. Someone with total earth powers and the ability to heal and nurture life. Someone with a good costume.


St. John's ForNever...

Awww... I didn't win the contest to update the lyrics for my alma mater.  So, here's what the world missed...

(Click here to start soundtrack...)

here's the old version:
St. John’s forever; her fame shall never die.
Fight for her colors! We’ll raise them to the sky!
Each loyal son pledges you his heart and hand;
For her united, we as brothers stand.

here's my new version:
St. John’s forever! Your wisdom through us flows.
Bless your sons and daughters with knowledge that grows.
Johnnies eternally discussing love and law
For her united, we fight for ta kala! *

At convocation our odyssey begins
And with each page’s turning the mind of Man opens
The logos of freedom to seek reality.
Dialogues and elements our only rivalry.

As we continue our journey of the mind
Through discourses and amalgests, a greater truth we find.
Our nature strives toward beauty through sonnets, songs, and art:
The eidos of creation within the human heart.

Through fables, treatises, pensées, we feel the years fly by
Critiques, essays, principia our knowledge amplify
Contracts, novels, theories fill our precious days
Declarations, constitutions, operas, preludes, plays.

Speeches, fragments, poems, phenomenology;
Thoughts of great minds forming our own philosophy.
Past war and peace and quantum leaps, our epic journey ends,
And we become liberis, your books our cherished friends.

Now we have walked with giants, yet for all we’ve learned,
Endings are beginnings; for knowledge we still yearn.
Not content with laurels, the examined life’s our goal.
St. John’s eternal! The mater of my soul.

St. John’s forever! Your wisdom through us flows.
Bless your sons and daughters with knowledge that grows.
Johnnies eternally discussing love and law
For her united, we fight for ta kala! *

© 2012 Kristen Baumgardner Caven

*Alt: We read and waltz and play croquet and fight for ta kala!


Peace Wants a Piece of the Pie | Mother's Day National Action

Mother's Day began with mothers coming together and calling for greater wisdom and diplomacy, their hearts sick from losing their sons to senseless wars.

The Peace Alliance understands that building peace takes as much effort and energy as preparing for war, and is our best national defense.

I love this campaign! And I plan to make a pie this year. Join me!

Peace Wants a Piece of the Pie | Mother's Day National Action


Leap Day Cobbler

The Leap Day issue of the Cobbler called readers to action with this quote from 30 Rock: "Every four years you get a magical extra day! A day to do the things you ordinarily wouldn't do - to take chances!"

Then I discussed my own "leap" into web fiction and begged readers to sign up to read my forthcoming BLOOK.

I also introduced my first kindle book, let readers know about my free ebook, and announced a new blog about LOLs.

The featured 'stuff' was the "Sorry about your Uterus" card and the Relax t-shirt.


FREE E-Book: Inside the Mills Revolution

"This cartoon journal won a first place prize in the 1990 Bay Guardian cartoon contest, catapulting its author into a glamorous international career"

Inside the Mills Revolution