a trail home :: audience

“Do you want us to pack these for you?”

She looks up from the screen at the horse of a man, smiling and rolling her eyes up at the ceiling: “Of course I forgot to empty the cupboards.”

She redirects her smile toward the massive kind man, then laughs at herself, inviting him to join in.

“Could you, Jav? I totally forgot the kitchen stuff! Super bright!”

“No worries. You know we’ll take care of you, Sarah! This is, what, the 5th time we’ve moved you in, like, five years? You know we got this.”

“Thank you—I adore you guys!” she blows toward the retreating hulk, laughing again. The one constant in her life since starting this journey: her moving company team.

She watches Jav pick up the boxes—gosh she missed these guys—looking quickly back at her screen, with a little smile, as he heads back in her direction and to the full kitchen cupboards.

The sun breaks through the drifting fog, opening up a light blue section of the sky’s face, then covers it again in seconds, changing the light; changing everything in it. Sun on skin smells sweet, and her entire being is transported to spring at home, on glorious trails, on green-gold rolling hills surrounded by glorious oak and bay trees; life and smiles and variety and choices. Home.

“You want us to wrap the CDs and DVDs for you? How about the books and this old radio?” Like fog pulled up and over the cypresses on the ridge, her attention is pulled back to Jav and the Oregon “old tech corner” she re-created here, in California. All her old music and stories and media, that nourished her when there was no electronic world for months in her little red house in the trees.

“That’s okay, you don’t have to—I’m just bagging them up and giving them to the Farmer’s Market tomorrow! Thank you, though!”

Last stop before home, and this is the last of most of the household stuff she owns, except art, some furniture, her hiking shoes, and some personal things. Everything else goes to others who need it in this little town, like the last two little towns. She loves how concise her life is now; nothing extra, just who and what matters.

She can’t believe it’s finally happening. It happened so fast. She’d been knocking, politely, for 3 years, and no one responded to her. They opened the door, they looked, they read, then they disappeared. No reflection. No feedback. The universe was clear: these people are not your audience. You’ve confused them for family so long that you believe you need to return, show what you’ve learned, why you left, account for your choices: show them you’re the intellectual they raised. She has family now, though, real family. She can let go of the professionals who she’d cast in the role of family for decades. She has a sister to love now.

She’s forgiven herself. When she started this journey, there was no one in the world she detested more. She knew who she’d become, who she was in the world: just a collection of skills others wanted or needed; being a whole human had always eluded her. If nothing changed, she knew where it would end, with her cashing out, one way or another. It didn’t end that way, though. She’s a whole human being now: emotional, vulnerable, strong, smart, and full of love. Awkward. Earnest. Present.

“So did you finish that book you were working on, that one you went to Oregon to write?”

Jesse, Jav’s partner, is holding different sized flat packing boxes for the art in his brown hands. She reaches her white hands out to take the biggest flat box from him, the one about to slide out. She remembers that a brown man’s generosity and kindness made the last five years’ journey possible. A deep, grounding sense of purpose fills her suddenly; warms her body, relaxes it. She knows that none of this was an accident

“The universe had other plans for me, Jesse, I swear! I’m working on different stuff now. I had no control over the last few years—just been riding and responding, trying not to fall off the edge of the world!”

“Sounded pretty crazy to just up and move to a different world—thought you might have some stories to tell.” He smiles, stops, actually interested and curious in her response. She knows he’s a professional—like pretty much everyone she knew before starting this journey–but he’s also a friend, now that she’s present, too.

“It was, and I do!”

The universe made it clear to her: you have to tell your own story. She listened and she wrote, and she told all of the stories of all of the people she met along the way, all those she promised she’d be back. And her audience heard her.

Now she and Sparkles are going home.

a trail home :: suizas

They stopped speaking Spanish with her. Insisting on English or nothing by ignoring her “hola!”  No one in produce smiles back at her now. Her enchiladas suizas order got very hot, which she loved–and she knows that it wasn’t the intended effect. Her favorite raspberry danishes disappeared, the ones she raved about in the review. Everyone has taken a side, and no one is standing where she stands. This is one of the costs of speaking up in an everyday authoritarian culture.

She loves the little town up the road. Except for very similar experiences with a few businesses, this little town is not like the other little town. There is money here, and resources for those who qualify. And, in California, laws protect the most vulnerable from the most egregious of power-stealing “professional” practices.

But this town is fed by the white men and women who live up the street; her neighbors. The ones who decide it’s okay to kill hedgerows and down redwoods and cut grasses to soil and slowly prune away all the shrubs, for aesthetics and sales. Who approve of destroying the homes, shelter, safety, and food of the other animals who live there. All the lives of those who live in the little town depend on the rich, mostly white folks: her neighbors, who profit from a slogan and an idea that they no longer embody. They have forgotten the foxes and the owls and the crows and the bees.

All those tree guys and “landscapers” and contractors with cash in their pockets can feed their families, pay their bills, maybe get something extra, take a day off. Their whole lives are in her neighbors’ hands; whatever they say, goes. The customer is always right. Just cut until they tell you to stop. They shut down any connection to the one making the noise, making waves about lost worlds and other animals. They all say, “We have nothing to do with her. See? Nothing. She does not exist. We’ve shown you who has our loyalty.” And everyone forgets the deer and the quail and the raccoons, and the bobcats.

And everyone says, “She’s crazy! What’s wrong with her! The trees will grow back someday! The grasses will grow back eventually! We’re just pruning so it grows bigger! It’s all for fire safety because California’s burning up! We’ll show her what really matters: JOBS, MONEY, FEEDING OUR FAMILIES, NOT MAKING WAVES, NOT CHALLENGING, NOT QUESTIONING. GETTING ALONG. NO DISSENT.” And everyone forgets the rabbits and the bats and the big birds and the monarch butterflies.

(She hears them. No hurt feelings. They have their jobs, and she has hers. She’s been documenting all of it, all along, and the patterns are damning in their lack of democratic norms and practices. The same power-stealing and hoarding she found in the other little town are here, just on a bigger, easier-to-see scale.

She thought she could limit her scope to the poisonous power relations of the oversized homeowner’s association, to her neighbors who mindlessly destroy habitat. Leave the little town out. They weren’t relevant, anyway. She was wrong. By trying to shut her down, show her who’s boss, they showed her their roots and where they lead. It now becomes a different story.)

"a trail home" :: chapter 1, section 2

She pulls onto Highway One, turning the volume all the way up as she pushes the accelerator down. “La Llorona” begins, its sad slow guitar riding along with the increasing tempo of the car. As the little silver SUV picks up speed, she sees the massive wind tunnel hole through the Cypress hedgerows on her right, the one made by the raging white man next door. She sees all the downed trees on the ground, approved by the white woman in charge here who’s responsible for protecting this place. She feels the familiar anger seep into her cells. It’s followed quickly by a resistance to the shame they mindlessly project onto her for expressing that anger.

They’ve questioned her mental health here. They did the same thing in Cave Junction when she expressed her anger at the white people there who wouldn’t stand and bear witness while the NRA mfs dined and planned. Or who wouldn’t raise their voices in response to the white supremacist posters and barbeques, to let the POC know “the good guys” have their backs. She knows the accusations and insinuations are just a version of the silly “snowflake” stuff, the trauma vandalism that’s become so popular. What they don’t know is that she has a formidable facility, now, with her emotions; can express anger, then be done, move into calm, and then joy. Emotion does not undermine her; her facility with its contours and shapes makes her stronger and more connected. She also knows that they simply do not have the capacity to understand her and engage with her emotionally themselves, so they passive aggressively attack her instead. Just like Cave Junction.

She also knows her anger is healthy—an accurate response to the unnecessary human destruction of everything that matters around her. She has never, in her whole life, been as lucid, as emotionally present, and as aware as she is now. She can see connections they will never comprehend. She continues adding their responses to the data set, where it’s coming together in identifiably damning patterns. Then, she lets thoughts of them go.

The speedometer reads 50, and the weeping guitar in this version of “La Llorona” transforms into the first verses of the 8-minute song. She sings along:

Salías de un templo un día Llorona
Cuando al pasar yo te ví
Salías de un templo un día Llorona
Cuando al pasar yo te ví

Her mouth, now, easily forms around the words, and her strong voice cries with the singing woman. At first, she only cried, and sang sad sounds, because her mouth couldn’t form the words. She was deeply ashamed that she sounded like the white people around her. In this glorious moment, her body is filled with Spanish, with the beauty and warmth of a language she didn’t know was so much a part of her until it was gone. Her old world was filled with brown and black people—with smiles and greetings and acknowledgement and life. Human connection. Power-sharing. Variety. Creativity. She knows, now, that this is healthiest for human beings. She orients toward that world, with everything in her, every single day.

She breathes in the sadness and longing of the song’s lyrics, letting their salve soak into her body as the speedometer hits 60.

Tapame con tu rebozo Llorona
Porque me muero de frio
Tapame con tu rebozo Llorona
Me muero de frio

As she nears 70, longing and loss and beauty grow enormous, filling the interior of the car with light as it speeds past the ruins of cleared trees—other beings’ worlds—and toward the health of her refuge.

She pulls off the highway and onto the little road to her left. Quickly slowing down to 10 mph, her tires crunch over what’s left of the gravel on the road through the preserve. The sun’s starting to go down to her right, and its beams dance through the trees and shrubs, intersecting with the slowly moving vehicle, seeming to guide it to the familiar spot it sits in while she’s off in the trees. She turns off the ignition and it ends the music. She sits a moment in the silence, “me muero de frio” echoing in her head. She waits a moment for the echoes to still, then for the silence, then the birdsong, which enters from the wings of the forest stage. There are no other humans here. She smiles, leans her head back against the seat, weeps just a tear or two, and thanks the universe.

She pops the rear hatch, and hops out of the car, her legs eager to be moving on the trail. She changes from the old flip flops into her loved and well-worn hiking shoes, her fifth pair in three years. She loves her shoes. And her feet. When she started this journey in 2015, she had 40 more pounds and plantar in both feet. North bay trails changed that, and back home in Kennedy Grove, she learned to walk again in long strides. Her feet are healthy and strong now—she lost an arch, but no more plantar. She sits a moment, smiles, then laughs and announces, “OOOOOOOOOHHHHHHH — I LOVE this place and I love my feet!”

She stands up, adjusting the shoes. The beginnings of hikes are always filled with anticipation. What will the light look like today? Which way should she go—up and around or down and back up? A little moisture in the air promises a thickness of light she hopes she can capture in images. And, even if she can’t catch that, it doesn’t matter: everything about her is nourished when she’s here. Trails and trees saved her life, and they are still her life. She smiles again. Laughs. She closes the back hatch, walks to the front again, and reaches in to get her water bottle and phone. She closes and locks the door, tapping the handle with the back of her hand to remind her body she did, in fact, lock it.

Wondering how much time she has for the hike, she looks down at her phone to see how much life is in the battery. It’s at 88%, so she has lots of time. Time is different for her than for anyone she’s ever met. Maybe something about owning her time makes it different. Or the present-ness that comes with years filled with crisis and revelation. Or the poison of her present actuality triggering in her a mode of living in possibility.

She knows that all the changes she’s experienced the last five years have also changed her experience of time. It doesn’t really matter why, though. She doesn’t have to keep documenting every little temporal nuance so she can report back when she gets home and account for her whereabouts and her choices. She’s now freed of what she thought was her responsibility in that regard. She smiles again. Putting the water bottle in her right hand and the phone in her left, she sets off. Her soles make little noise on the still rain-wet, packed red pine needles of the trail. She decides to head down first, then back up and around.

There’s a logic to a healthy forest, a relational logic. She can always tell when a place has been haphazardly logged or cut through, even if understory hides the scars. The trees don’t seem to be connected to one another when their families have been hacked through by men with chainsaws. In healthy forests, trees are beautifully in relation with one another. They incline toward each other, interacting, weaving, intermingling. But slowly, like Norman moves, in Skinny Legs and All. It’s hard for humans to see. She didn’t see it at first, either, when her body’s pace was revved up by all the noise around her. She’s learned to see, now; she’s embodied her human version of the trees’ pace.

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a trail home :: you know

You know that imagination is as important as rationality, and you know that your imagination died decades ago.

You know that emotions are at least half as important as breathing, and you know you do not have access to or facility with half of who you are.

You understand that your lack of imagination and inability with your own emotions puts you at a significant disadvantage in navigating a rapidly changing and evolving world. You know that there are millions of humans whose whole lives are in front of them, millions who are fully present–in imagination, in emotion, in possibilities—and they terrify you.

You grasp for the pills and the treatments and the infrastructure sold to you by AMAC–to keep your unhealthy, dying body going. You believe their narratives telling you you’re entitled to every single bit of what you “earned” in a lifetime of “self-made” success. You believe the stories about deserving a second chapter, to be a “new” you who is entitled to construct fresh layers of resource-consuming life choices. The tales are nourished by those who are dependent on your resources. And you thrive on their need.

You know that the starved and shriveled half of yourself—where imagination and emotion live–is the half connected to new experience, to the actual, to the body, to the earth—to joy and self-knowledge and pain and hope. It is the half that makes the other half meaningful. You know that your quarterly earnings statement only gives you a sense of fragile security, but no love or light or humanity.

You know that everything you lack is everything that makes it possible for humans to evolve, to become more than their little self-interests. You know that the universe detests stoicism and the empty place where imagination should reside.

You know you drive the slow-moving vehicle of your life sitting backwards, gripping the steering wheel with white hands while fearfully staring out the rear window, throwing molotov cocktails of misinformation and old, poisonous ideas out your passenger side window at those shouting at you to pay attention to the road, and running down anyone and anything in the way of your slow-motion destruction.

(Except you’re not really going slow, are you? You’ve hooked yourself on to a fast-moving vehicle of destruction driven by a madman bent on stealing everyone’s power, including every living thing on the planet. And now, even if you wanted to, you couldn’t get yourself off of there. And there’s nowhere for you to go anyway, right, even if you could be convinced to stop enabling and empowering the madman. You know you’re toast if you have to justify what you’ve allowed to happen, so you just enjoy the ride, ignoring the screams of those writhing in pain under the indifferent treads of your hot tires.)

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a trail home :: sea ranch

She wakes, crying. Yesterday’s images won’t leave her mind: the laughing men with roaring chainsaws telling her to calm down; the world-shattering grind of chippers; all those newly gutted spaces where trunks and branches and leaves and roots—other beings’ worlds–used to stand. In this ghost town of a development, run by an outsized homeowner’s association, just one woman continues making all the decisions, to decimate an ethic, while destroying the homes of all the other beings here except the human beings.

It never stops—there are crews constantly cutting, slashing, slicing, chopping, breaking every single day, all over Sea Ranch. Shelter, homes, other beings’ infrastructure—now sticks and cut trunks and piles of chips. The human architecture—its surrounding “garden” freshly shorn— awaits the few human visitors it’ll see all year. Some humans stop in for a few days; others stay longer; just a few others live here year-round. The ghosts in the Sea Ranch ghost town — the “owners” who work with rental agencies to sell vacation spaces — use this fragile part of the California coast as an investment strategy. But they can’t see whose worlds they destroy because the approving woman silently stands between them and the obscenity of lost worlds.

She lies in bed, eyes closed, while the countless rabbits she’s seen huddling under gutted trees won’t leave her mind, because she knows she’ll see them again today. The quail scattering to find shelter and yelling for days, trying to find each other past the sheep’s electric fences and “weed” whackers. All the new bucks in the neighborhood, looking for food, hiding under shrubs because the trees are just standing trunks now. The big birds, looking for the missing big perches. The monarch butterflies, who should live in the Monarch Glen behind her house, disappearing because they can no longer overwinter in the cypresses next to the Glen. The Monterey Cypresses have been gutted by an angry “owner” next door who didn’t want to mow and “clean up” anymore. A wind tunnel hole lives there now.  

There’s a scene in the movie, Lone Plains Drifter, where men with whips surround an unarmed man in the middle of a rural town. It’s nighttime, and all the townspeople are in their homes, silently looking out their windows. As they watch, the surrounded man is slowly whipped to death. No one comes out of their houses. No one yells, “stop!” No one tries to divert attention. No one does anything to help.

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a trail home :: lists*

Full immersion into the bottom of these two rural cultures means:

  • I do my own hair color and cut.
  • I make most of my own meals.
  • I haven’t had a professional mani/pedi in almost 2 years.
  • I haven’t been to a movie theater in almost 3 years.
  • I can’t get in to see a dentist for more than a year.
  • I have one or no option for internet.
  • Those around me ignore me into invisibility.
  • I chose to nurse a deep puncture wound on my hand for months instead of seeing the one power-stealing male doctor in town.
  • The natural environment around me is being destroyed.
  • I use my own manual labor for property maintenance.
  • My groceries cost me a third more to buy.
  • Gas is a quarter more per gallon.
  • I live across the street and next door to angry white men who rip their need for control right out of the animals and trees and grasses around them.
  • The roar of trucks and service vehicles on my street is consistent.
  • Passive aggression is a consistent barrier to my forward momentum.
  • Inaccurate information intentionally offered is a barrier to my forward momentum.
  • Practices based on outdated information and uninformed assumptions are barriers to my forward momentum.
  • Opaque professional processes are a barrier to my forward momentum.
  • No one believes or trusts me here.
  • My professional credentials have no value here.
  • I am judged by my zip code.
  • POC assume I’m like all the other white people around me.
  • Fear of punishment (retaliation, blocked access to resources, ignoring into nonexistence, etc.) is weaponized against me.
  • If I screamed for help here, no one would hear me.

Little red and black stickers, just the first two months of goo:

  • SR Water company Mary’s barely contained rage at the newcomer.
  • The SRer on Foothill Close with his dog, Taco, flashing his light in my bedroom window and waking me just to stare through the window at my exposed body.
  • The three SRer women at night on Antler with the white dog pushing their flashlight into my face, while I’m holding Sparkles, shouting that I’m being judged by SR “owners.”
  • Mark Hellender on Leeward ignoring my shouts to “stop!” dragging the golden retriever by her neck on a choke chain all the way down the street.
  • The many, many SRers on Highway 1 playing the slow-down game: “Steal everyone’s forward momentum who doesn’t have a little red and black sticker on their windshield.”
  • The raging SRer next door shoving the mower around while a child screams from inside the house.
  • The man on the beach–with the two cute little white poodles who distract and trip visitors—smiling and jogging away in the other direction as I struggle to stay upright against the tide.
  • The “concerned” SR neighbors who “saw” Sparkles in the sewer, on the highway, near the sheep, and near their pit bull. (All inaccurate information offered intentionally– weaponized fear.)
  • The SRer who let her dogs run at me on the Chapel trail, while smiling silently as I stand as still as possible in fear, objecting.
  • The SRer in his little pickup on Timberridge who stopped while I was taking a picture just to laugh and say, “it’s just a tree—haven’t you seen one before?”
  • The TSRA woman territorializing the Moonraker pool.
  • The other SR woman at Moonraker sourly surveying the “colored” people and “renters.”
  • The literally hundreds of offered smiles to SRers not returned, and their physical turning away from waves of greeting.
  • The attempts at small talk that splat and die, unacknowledged.
  • The intentional avoidance of eye contact with all “outsiders.”
  • The totalizing effect of small town talk.

*This is an illustration of normal communication and practices found in one or both rural cultures. It is data.

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Cathy's Core Philosophical References


“My life is the instrument of my work. These ideas–accessibly expressed–guide how I live my life and how I move through the world.”


at the Kruse Preserve, with the trees

Persons. I understand that a person is a mode of being made up of meaning and value. I understand that there are human and nonhuman persons. I understand that the nonhuman persons’ world is tangled up with human points of view, our values and drives. I understand that all persons are born with freedom and dignity, that we enact them in our mode of being. I understand that freedom and dignity cannot be stolen from persons because they are embodied, not attached like accessories.

I understand that feeling is the fundamental mode of human and nonhuman persons’ experience, from which all other modes of experience originate. I understand that the authenticity of emotion is always already empirical. I understand that how we know, how we value and make meaning, and how we are is always person-al, always already from a point of view. I understand, too, that who we are is in our bodies, and that we perform and shape that embodiment in relation with other persons also performing and shaping. I understand that this is how we bring our human selves into being and how we create our worlds.

I understand that the deeply person-al and intimate is a rich site for cultural knowledge and change. I understand that lives are stories and that thick description–in a multitude of modes–gets as close as humanly possible to recreating worlds to share them. I understand that stories create and recreate persons and cultures.

Relations. I understand that the universe is, at bottom, radically relational, and that means there is no entity that is disconnected from or irrelevant to other entities. I understand that nothing in the universe is independent from the rest, and that seeming opposites—dualisms–are actually contrasts, each element necessary for the other.

I understand that contrasts create novelty, and that two entities in relation can create a third: a structure to understand the relation. I understand that healthy and unhealthy ideas live in relations, and that we can see ideas in our practices: in what human persons do and in what we say.

I understand that power is a relation between persons. I understand that meaning is a relation between terms. I understand that language is a relation between mind and body, and that language can create and protect healthy relations between human persons.

I understand that relationalism (aka relativism) makes it possible to unfix from the “view from nowhere” (aka objectivism) and embrace contingency, tentativeness, and a respect for living complexity. I understand that nothing in the living complexity of our relational worlds requires any of us to reduce it all down to a lifeless standard or two.

Power & Change. I understand that humans learn how to use and interact with power, first, in family cultures. I understand that non-democratic power relations and systems turn persons (modes of being) into objects to be controlled, disciplined, and punished. I understand that persons often adapt to non-democratic relations and systems by accepting their harms as normal.

I understand that the non-democratic power relation is forged in persons’ accommodation of the imposed object status. I understand that persons turning toward power and acknowledging it as legitimate, create that legitimacy in relation. I understand that democratic power relations in a culture are created one power-sharing relation at a time.

I understand that relations—living connections between entities—are the basis of change in the universe. I understand that human being happens in becoming—and it is in becoming that we can shape the process of change. I understand that human language structures human and nonhuman persons’ experience and that language is the primary way humans can change that experience. I understand that the universe’s change processes and patterns are far bigger than persons’ efforts to change them.

Frames. I understand that there are valuable insights in the rubble of what humans toss in the waste heap of ideas, and that we can reclaim what’s valuable only by understanding first. I understand that the interminable fight between modernists and postmodernists can be avoided altogether by taking the process road. I understand that truth is grown in the soil of social relations and its health and usefulness are what make it valuable.

I understand that middle ground is beautiful and functional, and that hope is practical: it is a site where thought and action of persons can transform the present into a living image of an imagined future. I understand that education is a practice that can enliven the enactment of freedom in human persons. I understand that educational spaces where power relations can be embodied and performed make visible the previously invisible.

I understand that nothing in the universe—not one thing–replaces or recreates human contact, face-to-face experience, touch.

Time & Possibility. I understand that everything and everyone unfolds in time, and that our very bodies incline toward an unrealized future. I understand that there is nothing—not one thing—that persons can do to slow time down, to speed it up, or to stop it. I understand that humility and presence are the most beautiful and useful human responses to the flow of time.

I understand that it is in the flow of time that we feel–that we apprehend and articulate–the what if: the possibilities of human evolution. I understand that possibilities are as real as what’s actual. I understand that time is the creative force of existence, and that the mindful human experience of time makes possible creativity, novelty, openness, commitment, and purpose.

I understand that all of these gifts are embodied and realized in the courage of our convictions, in the beauty we create and share, and in the kindness we offer to persons, human and other-than-human. 


Core References


Louis Althusser, On The Reproduction Of Capitalism: Ideology And Ideological State Apparatuses (London, Verso, 2014)

Cory Anton, Selfhood and Authenticity (State University of New York, 2001)

Randall E. Auxier, “Concentric Circles: An Exploration of Three Concepts in Process Metaphysics.” (Southwest Philosophy Review, 7, 151-172, 1991.)

Leslie A. Baxter & Barbara M. Montgomery, Relating: Dialogues and Dialectics (Guilford Press, New York, 1996)

Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope. (Cambridge, MIT Press, 1995)

Augusto Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed (London, Pluto Press, 1979)

Judith Butler, Gender Trouble (Routledge, New York, 1990)

Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter (Routledge, New York, 1993)

William Cronen, Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature (W. W. Norton and Company, New York, 1996)

Joan A. Dunayer, Animal Equality: Language and Liberation (Derwood, Maryland: Ryce Publishing, 2001)

Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (Random House, 1977)

Michel Foucault, “The Subject and Power,” in H. Dreyfus & P. Rabinow (eds.) Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics (U of Chicago Press, 1977)

Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (Basic Books, New York, 1973)

H.L. Goodall, Jr., Writing the New Ethnography (AltaMira Press, Oxford, 2000)

Jane Goodall and Marc Bekoff, The Ten Trusts (HarperCollins, San Francisco, 2002)

Antonio Gramsci, Selections from The Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, in Q. Hoare & G. N. Smith, trans & eds (New York: International Publishers, 1972)

Charles H. Hartshorne, Wisdom as Moderation: A Philosophy of the Middle Way (SUNY, Albany, NY, 1987)

Martin Heidegger, Being and Time (State University of New York, Albany, 1996)

bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (Routledge, New York, 1994)

William James, The Meaning of Truth: A Sequel to Pragmatism (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1909/1979)

Douglas L. Kelley, Just Relationships: Living Out Social Justice as Mentor, Family, Friend, and Lover. (London: Taylor & Francis, 2017)

Erazim Kohák, “Personalism: Towards a Philosophical Delineation” (The Personalist Forum, 13, 3-11, 1997)

Erazim Kohák, The Embers and the Stars: A Philosophical Inquiry into the Moral Sense of Nature (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1984)

Susanne Langer, Feeling and Form: A Theory of Art developed from Philosophy in a New Key (Charles Scribner’s Sons: New York, 1953)

Drew Leder, The Absent Body (University of Chicago Press, 1990)

Robert C. Neville, The Highroad Around Modernism (SUNY Press, Albany, NY, 1992)

Luca Parisoli, “The Anthropology of Freedom and the Nature of the Human Person.”(The Personalist Forum, 15-2, 2000: 1-27)

Charles Sanders Peirce, The Essential Peirce. (Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1992)

John Durham Peters, Speaking Into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication (University of Chicago Press, 1999)

Della Pollock, telling bodies, performing birth (Columbia University Press, New York, 1999)

Calvin O. Schrag, “The Topology of Hope.” (Humanitas 13, 1977: 251-273)

Charles Sherover, The Human Experience of Time: The Development of its Philosophic Meaning (Northwestern University Press, Evanston, IL, 1975/2001)

Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Contingencies of Value: Alternative Perspectives for Critical Theory (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1988)

Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. by D.R Griffin and D.W. Sherburne (The Free Press, New York, 1929/1978),

Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas (Cambridge University Press, 1933)

Alfred North Whitehead, The Function of Reason (Princeton University Press, 1929)

Alfred North Whitehead, The Concept of Nature (Cambridge University Press, 1920)

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First Rural Portal Project edition anticipated January 20, 2020 in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Center for U.S. Rural Cultures Studies is an Accelerate Publishing project. Accelerate: A Niche Publishing & Communications Consulting Co.,–est. in 2015–is a socially just for-profit small business in California.

Enlivening Democracy in Rural America

UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens, 2016 (photo credit: cathy b glenn @dr.cbg @just.trees.yo @etsy.dreamlightimages)

The rural-urban divide—represented in broken politics, predatory capitalism, and propagandist media—continues to stoke racial divisions in this country. Rural areas cover 97% of land mass in the United States, and 60 million human beings live there. Although the humans in these areas impact the rest of the country—indeed, the rest of the world—outsiders know very little about the cultural norms in which these U.S. citizens live and grow. Indeed, most non-rural U.S. citizens know only what they read or hear in the media, and currently those representations are dictated primarily by those interested in generating clicks, revenue, and controversy, not understanding. Moreover, the scant U.S. rural academic research focuses primarily on top-down, abstract economic and political analyses. The research–framed in capitalist terms and missing a grounded analysis of power–obliterate any understanding of the actuality of the everyday lives of rural human beings.

What is sorely missing is a first-hand methodical understanding of the cultural norms and practices in which U.S. rural citizens live and grow. Since the rural purge in the 1970s, rural citizens have had virtually no representation in urban cultures, leaving them without the cultural reflection necessary to create their existence. Decades long internalization of that invisibility left rural Americans vulnerable to those with influence pretending to hear and see them only to later exploit them.

Rural cultures are becoming more diverse as immigrants, non-white urban residents, and young people move out of urban centers. Many newcomers find themselves ignored and marginalized by rural norms and practices, the social soil of which locks down their agency and stalls efforts at change. Rural cultures are often disconnected, creating stagnant, poisonous information ponds of outdated mediated knowledge and misinformation. As a result, many of those citizens live in a world of conspiracy theories and threats of imminent race wars, both of which generate fear and grow white militias.

These cultural factors add up to relational communication practices that create the rural social soil in which all other activity–political, economic, or mediated–is planted and grown. When that social soil is poisoned by non-democratic human relations, it undermines the enabling conditions for healthy democratic (power-sharing) relations and practices.

In a democratic culture like ours in the United States, sharing power via systems and processes is a taken-for-granted cultural norm. When those top-level systems struggle, our focus must turn to enlivening relational cultural norms and practices.

Democratic practices–how humans do power-sharing–occurs between humans, in our relations with one another. Democratic policies are implemented via those communicative processes, but democracy is not in the systems or processes. The heart of any democratic culture is the human commitment to share power, via systems and processes, and that commitment (of lack of it) can be observed in communicative processes and everyday practices.

The conditions for the possibility of our current political climate were grown in rural America. It is time to turn toward rural cultures to understand how to enliven the foundation of our democracy, and re-animate the commitment to share power, relationally and via our democratic systems and processes.

You can help support the Center’s research and creative work by purchasing a Newsletter subscription for as little as $100.

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First Rural Portal Project edition anticipated January 20, 2020 in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Center for U.S. Rural Cultures Studies is an Accelerate Publishing project. Accelerate: A Niche Publishing & Communications Consulting Co.,–est. in 2015–is a socially just for-profit small business in California.

Total Immersion Protocols

The Private Principal Investigator‘s immersion protocols emerged from field experience in what can accurately be described as “extreme ethnographic conditions” or “hostile field environments.” I organized similar ethnographic experience characteristics from my immersion in each rural culture into the following categories of methodological protocols:


Setting up a new basic life

Starting at the bottom

Extended unplugged living

Relations in systems

Living simply and frugally

Cultural work

Zip code considerations

Coping with isolation

Emerging and transitioning

Processing and debriefing

Documenting and documentation

Grounding theory in projects

Creating

Sharing and marketing


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First Rural Portal Project edition anticipated January 20, 2020 in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Center for U.S. Rural Cultures Studies is an Accelerate Publishing project. Accelerate: A Niche Publishing & Communications Consulting Co.,–est. in 2015–is a socially just for-profit small business in California.

"a trail home" :: experts

I’ve seen, experienced first-hand, and documented everyday authoritarianism in U.S. rural cultures that no other researcher or scholar writing about authoritarianism has noticed or addressed. How is that possible? A few reasons.

First, it’s because none of them have any actual experience in authoritarian cultures. Most are privileged humans who have always lived in power’s comfortable confines, and unless you’ve felt powerlessness consistently and had to adapt to that power-scarcity to keep living, you’ll always assume everyone else can just stand up and be powerful. It’s nowhere near that simple, but their projections onto what they don’t understand—and its reflection back to them in their published words–create the impression their work is accurate and complete. It is a dangerously uninformed position from which to make any claims about authoritarianism, particularly when everyday authoritarian practices are growing right under our democratic foundation. The “experts” just don’t have the experience to understand.

It’s also because the already existing body of literature (all of it) begins with the assumption that authoritarianism is in systems and in men-at-the-top, and those systems and men-at-the-top are where all the power resides. Scholars focus their analysis where they assume change can be made, but they can’t see that changing the power relation happens at the bottom, never at the top. With their unexamined assumption up front blocking their view, scholars can never understand the locked down power at the bottom, can never appreciate that power-stealing (everyday authoritarianism) is stopped dead when there is no one from whom to steal power. Indeed, they can’t even know that they don’t know, so they begin where everyone else has started: in unexamined assumptions that continuously reproduce radically incomplete rural knowledge–mostly framed in capitalist terms and without a grounded analysis of power–they then present as authoritative.

It’s also because there is simply no body of scholarship about U.S. rural cultures, let alone one that might have noticed the power-stealing patterns of practices that constitute everyday authoritarianism and that support state-level men-at-the-top and the systems they’ve hijacked. U.S. academics have ignored U.S. rural cultures so they could study “exotic” foreign cultures. Other scholars have followed in the steps of the body of literature addressing so-called “third-world” rural problems, and those frameworks have kept them locked down into particular lines of analysis. There is simply no existing framework within which to make sense of everyday authoritarianism (power-stealing and hoarding) in power-scarce, resource-scarce, and reliable, accurate information-scarce U.S. rural cultures.

It’s also because most academics live in a world of words and abstractions, and that point of view “raises” their thought processes above emotions, above feeling. Such a move is valorized in their world: rationality without emotion is the sine qua non of the straight, white, male scholar, the standard in academia. It is also a serious mistake: all beings experience the world first in emotion, then abstract up from it. When scholars stay in the abstract without an actual connection—some experience—back to the phenomena they describe, analyze, and argue endlessly about, they blindly erase the everyday ravages of authoritarianism in favor of obsessing over authoritarian personalities and oppressive state apparatus. They forget the humans and the locked down power and potential at the bottom in favor of analysis, argumentation, publications, book tours, and vitae lines.

It’s also because most academics, like the rest of us, have had little to no exposure to accurate representations of our rural neighbors. In the 1970s, U.S. television executives canceled en masse every rural television program. Nothing was broadcast to rural populations that reflected them: they did not exist in worlds where television was the authoritative voice, which was everywhere. The few representations consistently made fun of rural people, and those were the only images the rest of the country saw of our rural neighbors. If there are no representations of a population in our culture, they do not exist, for anyone, academic or not. You can’t see connections to something that doesn’t exist.

The “experts” about authoritarianism are wrong. They are all looking in the wrong direction–up to politics, media, capitalism–for answers and solutions. They need to be looking “down” to the basis of everything: relational power patterns between humans and how to reorient toward personal power-sharing practices. All of those little, granular interactions between humans create the social soil in which people and policy are planted. If it is poison, people and policy are dysfunctional and unhealthy. The U.S. authoritarian knowledge scarcity is why The Center for U.S. Rural Cultures Studies exists.

And the last three years’ ethnographic work has shown me that we do not have time to fuck around with bad knowledge about authoritarianism.

Other scholars who’ve researched or commented on everyday authoritarianism outside the U.S.

Brian Porter-Szűcs, Everyday life under authoritarianism in Poland, 17 July 2018

Insa Koch, Everyday authoritarianism in Britain, 2018

Nur Amali Ibrahim, Everyday authoritarianism in Singapore, 8 March 2018

Marlies Glasius, Authoritarianism is in everyday practices, May 2018

Emily Walton’s “misrecognition” in a US rural culture, 4 November 2019

Tom Pepinksy, Everyday authoritarianism in Malaysia, 6 January 2017

You can help support the Center’s research and creative work by purchasing a Newsletter subscription for as little as $100.

1 Year Newsletter Subscription

First Rural Portal Project edition anticipated January 20, 2020 in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Center for U.S. Rural Cultures Studies is an Accelerate Publishing project. Accelerate: A Niche Publishing & Communications Consulting Co.,–est. in 2015–is a socially just for-profit small business in California.