The Moon Candy Rebellion

I was invited by storyteller Simon Hodges to share a story tonight at his extraordinary every-4-weeks gathering in Amsterdam. There were some wonderful tales, magical myths, and fabulous yarns. I read The Moon Candy Rebellion for the first time to an audience that wasn’t a roomful of activists, and I couldn’t have asked for a warmer crowd and setting. Simon’s created a glorious storytelling space, surrounded by art and full of odd, beautifully diverse seating from antiques to the surreal story teller’s chair to bean bags and blankets on the floor. It’s an event worth catching if your in Amsterdam for the next one on the 15th of December. Actually, it’s an event worth travelling to Amsterdam for. Have a listen to a tiny portion of Simon’s epic rendering of the Welsh tale of Lleu and Blodeuwedd.

As for me, this is the tale I told.

Every night, for many many years, I made up a bedtime story for my boys, Doon and Dylan. 

I populated those stories with some very odd heroes — kind of enlightened troublemakers who would act up and be very very naughty, though often for a very good reason. And one day it occurred to me: I wonder if this has anything to do with my profession?

I worked as an activist with Greenpeace for 35 years. I went to sea to save whales, I went to jail for stopping a nuclear weapons test. I was surrounded by enlightened troublemakers. And it occurred to me that I might be making up for a lack of stories about those kind of people and the values they championed. 

I was always jealous of parents who could pull a book down from the shelf about a teacher, or a firefighter, or a police officer, and point to it and say “That’s what I do. That’s what my friends do.” Because it can be really hard to tell a five year old that “when Daddy and his friends do a good job, sometimes they go to jail.”

Where were the bedtime stories that celebrated what Steve Jobs called “The Crazy Ones” — the ones crazy enough to think they could change the world? Not just the artists and inventors and entrepreneurs, but the activists? How many children’s books have you read that celebrate civil disobedience, or questioning authority, or challenging the status quo when it’s unkind, or unjust, or dangerous? When it tells little girls that they’re weak and can’t do all the things boys do?

There’s the Lorax, and the Butter Battle Book, and my great love, Pippi Longstockings. A few others, but not many choices for parents who want positive role models of boat-rockers. Of kids who meet conformity with creativity. Who conjure up beautiful disruptions to create a better world. 

So I took the thrilling advice of Toni Morrison, and thought about the bedtime story I most wanted to read to my kids, and wrote it. 

Now I promise this is a story not a lecture. So imagine you’re five. You’ve got your pajamas on. The pillows are plumped up behind you and you pull the duvet up to your chin.  Are we sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin…

Here’s a recording of the reading. But if you were there, skip down to the one below to see Iris Maerten’s awesome illustrations.

We want to release this story in a big way — creative commons, open source, skipping over the publishing industry, going people-power direct and using that magical art of asking for help.

We’ll be releasing an early reader/beta version of The Moon Candy Rebellion as an ePub shortly, and we’d love to have you in on the hijinks we’re hoping to get up to. We’ve just set up a Facebook page, a twitter feed, and a webpage where you can sign up as a Moon Candy Rebel to get a copy in exchange for your feedback, suggestions, and input into ideas for how we get our little book into as many little hands as possible through some beautiful disruption, and how we can use crowd-sourced, #newpower tools to turn it into a real book you can hold in your hands and read to your child. Or yourself. It’s all about how we make courage more contagious, and raise up a generation equipped to resist despotism and create the more beautiful world of joyful abundance we all know is possible.

 

 

Thanks, TEDx Amsterdam

I want to live in a world that’s more like the TEDx event in Amsterdam. A place bubbling with optimism and enthusiasm and good ideas and beautiful people and the buzz of human connection. I loved everything about this year’s event, from the theme of #NewPower (Hat Tip: Jeremy Heimans & Henry Timms) to the backstage assembly of the audience (we have all now officially been on a TEDx stage!) to the speakers to the gadgets to the vegan food served with edible spoons to the volunteers.

It’s hard to choose a top 3 among the brilliant ideas powerfully presented. Irene Rompa’s incredible reaffirmation of human kindness was the kind of spirit the world desperately needs more of: Continue reading “Thanks, TEDx Amsterdam”

The American election was a referendum on systems change.

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My heart breaks for my homeland. My heart goes out to friends who have felt the hate of bigotry and misogyny and now feel the sting of further marginalisation. My heart fears for a future in which America rolls back decades of progress on the environment and social justice. And my heart freezes at the prospect of the arsenal of armageddon and the apparatus of a surveillance state being in the hands of a petulant bully.

But here’s what pains my heart the most: Trump just out-played every one of us who stands for change at our own game. 

We were the ones pleading for systems change. We were the ones championing disruption. We called for the departure from the status quo.

Did any of us talk in the populist terms of a utopian vision like “Making America Great Again”? Did any of us really listen to the anger of rust belt white Americans and channel that anger toward upending a system that was crushing their futures? A system in which Democrats and Republicans were equally complicit?

We talk at them about climate change. We talk at them about dwindling resources. We talk at them about species loss. We talk at them with cautionary tales of the cost of failure.

We tried to sell people on a nightmare. We spoke in stories of denial, fear, loss, and guilt and wonder why people turn away.

Continue reading “The American election was a referendum on systems change.”

Add a cup of story, salt to taste.

Sometime back in the waning days of the last century, the Greenpeace information technology department was standardizing all staff’s email signatures to a horrible piece of text from a mission statement the organisation had written by committee, agreed by consensus, and promptly buried in that darkest recess of any NGO website, the governance section of the About Us page.

I was particularly aggrieved to see it dredged up into the light of day, as I’d written it.

Continue reading “Add a cup of story, salt to taste.”

Activism & Storytelling: Level 3

Mister Fox is a passionate believer in the power of story. And he will yammer on about it at any opportunity. This is the third and final part of his discourse on Activism & Storytelling, which he delivered from atop a small hill, silhouetted by a full moon, to a wily band of radical animals who believed a better forest was possible, and that brave individual and collective action could make it a reality.

Level 3: Change the story, change the world.  Beyond strong motivational narrative, beyond consistent organisational stories, the real gold, and the real challenge, lies at the invisible layer of story as the operating system of society. Continue reading “Activism & Storytelling: Level 3″

Activism & Storytelling: Level 2

Mister Fox drops in regularly to visit with forest friends who run organisations dedicated to this and that. Mister Owl’s Wilderness Health Organisation, the Association of Unassociated Hedgehogs for Fewer Roads and More Hedges, and his favorite, the Henhouse Liberation Army. He likes to help them tell better stories so the entire forest understands who they are and what they do. Last week, he talked about how stories can help make for better communications. Today he’s talking about how story works at the level of their organisations.

 

Level 2: Consistent organisational storytelling solidifies your identity and makes social movements more efficient.

An organisation with a strong story can use that story to design and select its programme, to test its communications, and to be crystal clear to its audiences about who it is and what it stands for. Charity: Water’s founder Scott Harrison tells a beautiful story,  of how he set out with the twin mission to bring safe clean drinking water to everyone on the planet and to reinvent charity for a new generation.  That he managed to get that twin mission right into the organisation’s name is even more impressive.

Continue reading “Activism & Storytelling: Level 2″

Activism and Storytelling: Level 1

When Mister Fox talks about storytelling to activist organisations, he finds he needs to talk about stories at several different levels.

I like stories with the number 3” says Rabbit. (This may have to do with the fact that rabbits can only count to 4)

Very well,” says Mister Fox,  “There are three levels of storytelling for change. Today we’ll talk about level 1” Continue reading “Activism and Storytelling: Level 1”

Activism and Storytelling

mister fox & little prince
The other day Mister Fox and I dropped in on the Little Prince’s planet to have a talk with Fox. You remember, the one that wanted to be tamed, became the Little Prince’s friend, but then became sad when the Little Prince went away. Fox reminded the Little Prince of his responsibility to all that he’d tamed, and memorably said:

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Mister Fox and I are interested in  that, because it sometimes seems that a lot of people’s hearts are blind. I’m always surprised by how some people can see stories all around us and some can’t. How some see the opportunity in hacking at society’s stories and some don’t.

Continue reading “Activism and Storytelling”

The Wall. The Mug. The Door.

A long time ago, when the web was young, a mysterious box arrived at the secret mountain headquarters of Greenpeace International. I was working then as the director of what we called “New Media.” New Media was anything that involved a computer, and I and a team of freshly minted digital ninjas were ruboxnning around with our hair on fire telling anyone who would listen that this “World Wide Web thing” was going to be HUGE if we could all collectively get over the idea that it was just a new way to deliver press releases.

The box was addressed to Karen & Ludmilla, the inseparable duo who made up our Supporter Services team. Karen recognised the name on the return address: it was from “Grateful Child,” a frequent correspondent, contributor to our online bulletin board and commenter on our website. Wes, as we eventually came to know him, was one of those voices that was consistently positive and upbeat and helpful. He’d field questions about the organisation from other posters knowledgeably, bring context to a discussion with a nugget of activist history or eastern philosophy, provide a deep link into our website when someone wanted to know more, and post wonderful, hippy-themed promotions of our content and online actions at his own website. In short, he was one of those supporters who crossed over that weird imaginary barrier all of us who work for organisations draw up between “us” — the folks within the bricks and mortar of an organisation — and “them,” the audience and supporters that we speak to when we blog, create web content, send press releases, talk at from the other side of a lens.

Let’s call it The Wall.
Continue reading “The Wall. The Mug. The Door.”

2015: The Year the Carbon Beast Blinked.

For all of us working to stop global warming, 2015 will be looked back upon as the year we  pushed Big Oil and King Coal hard enough that they at  last took their first, inevitably fatal steps backwards. They have loomed large — mythologically large — as teflon-shielded, weaponised giants. Petroleum vampires towering over our capital cities, their teeth deep in the neck of our governments, feasting on blood and money.  Mighty coal gorillas beating their chests atop mountains they’d decapitated, throwing boulders down upon the villages below. Governments bowed down before them and did their bidding.  They smirked and threw fistfuls of gold at the feet of our cultural and scientific institutes and ordered them to sing their praises. And for three decades, they seemed unassailable; impervious to the forces of democracy and the liliputian non-violent armies that dared oppose them.
Personally, I see four major events in 2015 challenged that story.

Continue reading “2015: The Year the Carbon Beast Blinked.”

COP21: Celebrate, dammit, you worked hard for this

It’s not perfect. It doesn’t yet mean the end of the dig, burn, and dump consumer culture. And it will require difficult decisions by risk-averse politicians. But it spells the end of the era of fossil fuels, and let’s face it, people, we worked hard for decades to get this. So I’m disappointed when I search #Celebrate #Cop21 that I don’t see spontaneous celebrations in the streets of every city in the world. But it looks like there was a damn fine party in Paris, well deserved, and we can all virtually do low-carbon high fives. And while you’re at it, why not tip your favorite climate activist with BitCoin via ChangeTip, and let’s get the bankless future started. I’m sending tips called “Cop21 Toasts” to folks in Paris and around the world who propelled this day forward in so many ways. Pass it forward. So many people in so many places around the world were a part of the great slow tidal wave that brought this agreement forward. So many people have suffered and sacrificed and stood up. Let’s not let this escape notice: we’re changing the story of the future. This day was another scrap of evidence that the great ship, forest-masted and sun-soaked in its voyage through space, has a chance. 

Continue readingCOP21: Celebrate, dammit, you worked hard for this”

Aboard the Rainbow Warrior: Life loves to walk us in circles

Rainbow Warrior

Some years ago- never mind how long precisely- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me. –Herman Melville, Moby Dick

I’ve just walked up the gangway onto the Rainbow Warrior here in Keelung, Taiwan. Four years ago nearly to the day, I sailed upon this ship’s maiden voyage. It was an immeasurably magical experience, marked by extraordinary companions.

I recently noted the coincidence of dates on Facebook, and a friend responded with something beautiful: “Life loves to walk us in circles.”

Well, I’m grateful for this circle returning to its start, and for other circles that are just beginning. Continue reading “Aboard the Rainbow Warrior: Life loves to walk us in circles”

Meta Fiction, Story, and Philip K. Dick’s Man in the High Castle

SPOILER ALERT: If you’ve not read The Man in the High Castle, the following contains plot element spoilers.

The Man in the High Castle manages to jam three of my favorite things into a single novel. First, it’s by Philip K. Dick, who may not have been the greatest crafter of prose in the world, but imagined some of the most enduring science fiction tales in English literature. Second, it not only features the I-Ching, Dick claims that it was actually in part written by the I-Ching. He says he used the book of changes as a creative guide, ceding decision making about many aspects of the narrative to the text of the hexagrams. And third, he may have made that whole thing up in order to create a mind-bending metafiction. Or not.

Now, to break down the central meta-fiction we’re dealing with here:

The Man in the High Castle is a book written by Phillip K. Dick with the help of the I-Ching about an alternative history in which Japan and Germany won World War II. Central to the book is another book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which is a novel written with the help of the I-Ching about an alternative to THAT alternative history in which Japan and Germany lost World War II.

In a nice twist, the television series coming out on Amazon Prime in November 2015 renders The Grasshopper Lies Heavy as a film instead of a book, neatly transporting the parallel mirror effect to the medium in which the story is told.

If that’s not meta enough, there are points in the plot where the I-Ching features as a doorway between worlds — two characters cast paired hexagrams, in different places at the same time, linked by a single changing line. Another character finds himself eerily transported into a surreal vision of San Francisco which may be the one in which Dick was actually writing the book — or at least one in which Japan had lost WWII — through a piece of jewelry crafted by the character who throws the identical hexagram.  The hexagrams that are cast in the book all predict the future or shape the behaviour of characters, and (if he’s to be believed) were actually cast by Dick in order to determine plot movement and character behaviour.

In the final scene of the book, in the presence of the author of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, Juliana Frink asks the oracle itself why it wrote the book. Continue reading “Meta Fiction, Story, and Philip K. Dick’s Man in the High Castle”