Stories are Doors

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القصص أبواب = stories are doors 

The first word I learned on my first day of Arabic class was الأمم المتحدة, the United Nations.

Five years later, I walked inside COP22 in Marrakech, the U.N. talks on climate change, trailing red Moroccan mud on my shoes.

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After passing through airport-esque security (no, my shotgun microphone is not a weapon; no, I’m not concealing anything in my hair), I waited in line for my accreditation badge to be printed. I stood behind a delegation from Sudan and an ambassador from the World Bank. The World Bank man liked our green shirts printed with the words “Climate Justice Storyteller” across the front.

I studied Modern Standard Arabic for four years (2009-2013). Save for layovers* in Doha and in Abu Dhabi, I had never set foot in the Middle East before attending COP22 this November.

*Airports don’t count, right? But they are beautiful intersection points. See Naomi Shihab Nye:

Harvard students who take Arabic fall into neat categories: the vast majority who want to work for the State Department or the CIA; aspiring business leaders; the ROTC guy who occasionally came to class in uniform; and a poet obsessed with words (*points at self*). Our vocabulary lessons were skewed accordingly. It was two years before I learned how to ask to use the toilet. Official state functions were deemed more important.

In Morocco, my Modern Standard Arabic was woefully useless. I could introduce myself politely and barter for a taxi or a handful of oranges, but not much beyond that. The dialect spoken in المغرب diverges sharply from the formal stuff I learned in class. If I spent a few more months focusing on immersion, I could probably pick it up. Living breathing languages are beautiful for their twists and turns, but COP was about something else.

One thing I love about learning languages is that it teaches me to be a better resident of my own tongue. I’ll never be done learning Arabic, or English (!) for that matter.

Language is an approximation, always. The words that describe the thing (round, asinine, plastic, vertigo) can never BE the thing. Ceci n’est pas justice climatique. 

I’m most interested in the ways that stories (and poems) become doors, portals through which we access experience that is outside of what we would have come across otherwise.

I remember the first poem I ever read: “Zinnias” by Valerie Worth

Zinnias
by Valerie Worth

Zinnias, stout and stiff,
Stand no nonsense: their colors
Stare, their leaves
Grow straight out, their petals
Jut like clipped cardboard,
Round, in neat flat rings.

Even cut and bunched
Arranged to please us
In the house, in the water, they
Will hardly wilt– I know
Someone like zinnias: I wish
I were like zinnias.

That poem, for me, was a door. I had never seen a zinnia before, but I felt like I could feel the flower’s texture. I wanted to be “stout and stiff”––as if looking at a flower could make me more confident, more alive. It wowed me (and still does) that words could do that.

How can the climate movement harness the power of a poem? How can we be “like zinnias” and “stand no nonsense”? Where do stories come into play?

@SustainUS celebrates the end of #COP22

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A group of 13 storytellers from as far afield as Utah and Hawaii joined together to find out. We were selected as part of a Storytelling Challenge run by SustainUS.

Hundreds of people applied. I had my second round interview when I was super-sick, an amoeba wreaking havoc inside my intestines in Cambodia. I must have said something semi-coherent, though.

It was a privilege and an honor to receive the call from Morgan Curtis on July 4th: “Will you join the delegation?”

I said yes.

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SustainUS Climate Justice Storytellers at COP22

Fun fact: I met Morgan Curtis through this blog! She wrote to me about a year and a half ago asking for tips for her bike trip to Paris for COP21, which resulted in this post. And on Monday we’re meeting up for vegan pies in Oxford. LOOK OUT, WORLD.

In the months before November, the SustainUS delegation had weekly Google Hangout calls to work out travel logistics and figure out how we wanted to show up together inside the U.N space.

At a retreat in Oakland, California, we gathered to do a version of Joanna Macy‘s Work that Reconnects and to practice the basics of Nonviolent Communication, a method that involves listening without the intention of responding. Instead, I learned how to listen for needs.

It is a huge privilege to have access to the U.N. space, even as an observer. I wanted to honor the stories of climate change that need to be told; the voices that weren’t present inside the tents of COP22 because they were not allowed access, or the voices that, even present, were systematically silenced within. Why don’t indigenous nations, for example, have a seat at the negotiation tables as sovereign nations? Tribal sovereignty and environmental justice / climate issues go hand in hand.

I view my purpose as one of amplification.

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I spent the eve of COP22 on a rooftop with local activists talking solidarity across movements. Stories = fuel.

Earlier that I day I attended COY, the Conference of Youth that proceeds the Conference of the Parties (COP) each year. I stopped in at Green School Bali‘s booth, a storytelling space inspired by this episode of This American Life where a Japanese man uses an old phone booth on top of a hill to communicate with the dead. Inside the Green School booth, you could sit down and tell your own story of climate change. The personal is political is ecological.

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November 9, 2016: we are mourning, we are taking action

And while we listened, the world changed. My country elected a climate denier / sexist / homophobe for president. OH JOY.

The day after, SustainUS gathered with international youth climate activists outside COP22 to mourn the election results. The president elect isn’t going to do shit for the planet, so it’s up to the people. We sang. We stood in solidarity with youth climate activists from around the world.

If I had to be in this struggle, there’s no other youth activists I would rather be in it with. Our work starts now. The next four years are critical to take action to limit catastrophic climate change.

I am inspired by how this group shows up, together, in the face of systems of oppression and extraction that feel so heartless.

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prayer circle for Standing Rock held outside COP22

We brought human stories to the UN. We listened.

There’s no other group of people I’d rather be facing the climate crisis with. Now the real work begins.

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At the midpoint of the conference, I marched in Morocco’s first climate march with thousands of other activists.

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“People change not climate change. System change not climate change. Today, today, before tomorrow.”

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Local activists marched alongside the international community. In their eyes, the Moroccan regime used COP22 to greenwash its crimes. SustainUS stands in solidarity with local Moroccan activists fighting against an oppressive regime that values profits over people #300kmsouth.

I traveled to COP22 not because I believe that the U.N. can solve all the worlds problems, but for stories. I believe that storytelling, listening, and amplifying voices can be tools for social change.

Manari Kaji Ushigua Santi, President of the Sapara Nation of the Ecuadorian Amazon, took the time to talk with me about climate change:

“We have to get to know ourselves again – who are we? We are part of a chain of life in this earth. We are not a being more important than all other beings. No. Where do energies come from? From the sky and from the earth. We don’t want people to exploit all these natural resources. Each resource: petroleum, gold, uranium, copper – all of those have life. They are elements that help us balance with the sky and with the earth, so that the earth sustains itself. What happens if we exploit all those resources? The world starts to dance.”

Since the end of COP22, I’m thinking more about the dancing world. The unsteady world. The world in which I will grow old.

(P.S. For an awesome book about dance, check out Swing Time by Zadie Smith. I’m in the middle of it now and the way she writes about movement is stunning.)

How will people look back at this time: the age of screens? The age of environmental indifference? The age when we stood by and let destruction happen––the destruction of species, of the oceans, the Arctic, our coastlines?

Stories are the doors I build and walk through.

How can we tell the stories of the climate justice movement so that it brings in more people than it shuts out? COP, for example, has an old white man problem. I’ll be writing more about this soon.

I want to move through and move beyond closed doors and into new doors. Old doors. Doors where I dismantle the hinges, piece by piece. Doors I ram through and slam my body against, day after day. Doors I repair. Doors where I have no idea what’s waiting on the other side.

a city of doors 🚪 #marrakech #morocco

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Hungry for more? Here are a few door-like essays that I wrote during COP22:

Truthout: “From Standing Rock to Morocco: Indigenous Protesters Act in Solidarity Against Corporate Polluters”

Earth to Marrakech: “Meet Andy Costa, a Cycling Activist from Cote D’Ivoire”

Everyday Feminism: “Five Alarming Ways that Climate Change is Racist”

Earth to Marrakech: “Indigenous Leaders at COP22 Stand in Solidarity with Standing Rock”

Pacific Standard: “How Youth Delegates at COP22 are Mobilizing Ahead of a Trump Presidency”

Sierra Magazine: “Dispatches from a Youth Delegate at COP22”

(If you’re wondering to yourself––how can I keep this little storytelling boat afloat?––pop on over to my Patreon page. Any and all support is much appreciated. Plus you’ll get access to cool stuff like 1x poem every month written by yours truly.)

Until next time,

indigogirls

Imlil, Morocco; mountain dance

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Tui in Whanganui

The bird life in this hemisphere is outstanding. Here’s a tui singing at sunset above the Whanganui River.

Whanganui, New Zealand
December 2015

This video made possible by supporters on Patreon.

https://www.patreon.com/posts/3954730

If this blog is at all a source of inspiration for you, please consider popping a tip in the proverbial jar — any and everything keeps me going on the move.

Also also…!

I have a piece about a water story from Nukuloa-Gau, Fiji, coming out in print & online with No More Potlucks on New Year’s Day. I’m looking forward to sharing that audio recording & story with you all.

P.S. Someone on FB commented on the video above that they would “love to hear the bird minus the road sounds.”

To which I replied: “We live in a world where birds and cars coexist. The beautiful thing I find about recording sound is that it’s all there, even the messy / ugly bits. Recording gives me permission to listen more carefully. I can’t manufacture sounds. I listen. Birds are notoriously difficult to record — it was lucky that this one was so close to my friend’s balcony.”

If you want to hear *just* birds, though, this website is a great resource for native bird songs in New Zealand:

http://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/native-animals/birds/bird-songs-and-calls/ 

DKL, over and out.

x

Happy Holidays!

dkl

Beautiful people of the Internet,

Sending big love your way from a river town in New Zealand where I am hunkered down for a few months to work on writing a book proposal.

It’s slow going and there are lots of little projects to get out of the way before the nitty gritty book proposal production happens HOWEVER — I am in good company.

I’m housesitting for an ex-Buddhist nun and her petulant cat, Dostoyevsky. I’m blasting Amy Winehouse’s album Frank. It’s the time of night when the sky turns indigo. I’m getting back into the swing of rowing and have been invited to race early on in January. I’m going to spend xmas with one of my favorite families on this island. Strawberries are in season and I’m eating them by the handful. I celebrated the solstice in the company of friends. I ate carrot cake in the shape of the sun. I chased kids around a paddock. The sky was sherbet. My hair smells like woodsmoke.

This time six months ago I welcomed the shortest day of the year in Australia. I gave my friend an asymmetrical haircut, communed with some sassy chickens, rode a penny farthing, learned how to drive a stick shift, and drove this here fine manual truck over a mountain, through lots of muddy puddles, OVER A TREE, and to a waterfall.

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I stalled my parents’ car so many times when I was learning to drive a stick that I thought this day would never come!

Australian mud is red & good.

Safe to say: that winter solstice was one of the butchest days of my life, and also pretty darn wonderful.

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solstice sunset in Canberra, Australia — June 2015

This time last year I was in Tuvalu, finding the groove of living on a small island, and about to celebrate a very Tuvaluan Christmas.

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Tuvalu Blue (Funafuti) — December 2014 

In other news:

I have an article that TERRIFIES ME TO SHARE (embrace the vulnerability, yep) coming out between xmas and new years,

— you guys you guys it’s for Buzzfeed! More on that soon —

… plus a photo feature on the way for a digital mag. Ohhhhhhgoodness get to work Devi, there are deadlines to meet!

So many things make my heart sing.

Merry, merry.

This has been the year of the bike.

Hugs to you and yours.

xo

P.S. Sign up for my email list, you know you wanna: http://eepurl.com/bKRzKH

P.P.S. If you want to make all my holiday wishes come true, here’s my Patreon:  http://patreon.com/devi_lockwood  

I Love Mail, and I Want to Send Some to YOU

Guess who sent 24 postcards, 13 letters, and one package last week to exciting places I have never been like Chicago, Tasmania, Rhode Island, Wyoming, Switzerland, and Thailand?

*points enthusiastically at self*

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That was a lot of mail, ya’ll. I made friends with everyone in the post office while I stuck on the stamps.

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Thanks to my Kickstarter backers for helping me get across the Tasman Sea.

If you want to be a part of this action (I write good, full letters brimming with stories from the road / sea) check out www.patreon.com/devi_lockwood. One reward tier is a piece of mail from me, delivered to your real-world mailbox every month.

If you want to commission a single letter / poem, you can always contact me at the “Contact Me” tab above––just let me know what you’re thinking and we can make it happen! This could be a beautiful surprise for someone you love, too… plus you get the added benefit of supporting this little solo female touring cyclist that could!

I love writing letters / telling stories on paper & will continue to support the postal systems of the world for all my life.

LONG LIVE HANDWRITTEN MAIL.

Big love,

Devi

P.S. The stamps all have baby Jesus on them. I had no choice in the matter. ‘Tis the season?

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P.P.S. Sending love and light to you all, today and always. Go gently. Send handwritten mail. Give someone a hug. Goodness knows we all need it.