And so, after all these years, it’s my last Christmas in Como.
This 100-year-old neighborhood, built as a servant city on the virgin prairie back when wolves still howled along the streetcar route to wealthy, new Arlington Heights, endures. Homeboy Liquors changed its name but is still the same store, people still lie in the gutter every once in a while, and the sign for Edmondson’s Chicken never lights up all the way. There’s a continuity in that.
A month ago, I looked around and thought: “We ain’t hit the apocalypse yet.” And I realized that, in many ways, while I preached health and hope for the future to everyone else, I had been living my life with private unease and uncertainty.
My job, the one I created for myself seven years ago when we founded Great Plains Restoration Council, is all about healing ourselves through healing our Earth, our prairie, and teaching all kinds of kids about it. In a sense, my job is believing in the future, acting now, and helping others do the same.
But doing that involves daily understanding that, if enough good people do nothing, we may not make it because of burgeoning ecological and social collapse, a possibility that is still all too real.
And so for years, I’ve let the horror and sorrow of the world privately inhabit me. In a way, I never let myself out of the war zone. The violence that people do to each other mirrors the violence they do to the Earth. I’m a writer, but maybe I’d begun to think: What good is art if society is going to collapse? As a stone-cold soldier in a world gone mad, always working to open the door into that elusive green and peaceful future, I lost some of my own balance.
I’ve been trying to break out of this cycle and get settled, without feeling like I’m selling out. It’s difficult, with the massive amount of service I need to do. But my son and his mother, who live in Houston, have taught me to love on a level I never knew existed. I’ve decided to renew my commitment to life, to literature – to the future.
My ass’ll probably be a hood rat ’til the day I die, but I’m ’bout to become a first-time homebuyer across town. Brand-new house – I won’t know what to do with myself.
With all the world’s problems, I never paid any attention to my own living conditions before now. Survived on a small salary, lived in, uhhh, spare quarters, knew I still lived like a king compared to folk in Darfur or Baghdad or a thousand other places.
Even though I keep a clean, vegetarian household, my collapsing old house got progressively worse. There were periodic outbreaks of fleas (from all the squirming alley cats outside?). Rats ran across the wires at night. Giant cockroaches dragged their twitching bodies out of the shower drain like that dead woman in The Ring. The place never had heat or A/C. In the summer I shut the hot water completely off, didn’t buy bananas because they liquefied before sundown, left shampoo bottles open so they wouldn’t explode. On frigid winter nights, the ghetto fireplace (stovetop burners) kept things from freezing. And something lives below the bathtub, near the water heater. He bangs the pipes, coughs, and sneezes. Got big shoulders. I’ve gotten used to his company. Only in the last few weeks has he started snarling, a low, fang-dripping rumble. I’ve finally decided he’s a chupacabra.
I died inside very early on in life from all the hatred and ugliness, then for a long time burned in a strange netherworld of thug callousness and super-sensitivity. For the last seven years I’ve worked 60- to 80-hour weeks building our ecological health movement to the breakthrough point. Now we’re seeing exhilarating successes on the ground and in our communities, we just got a major grant, and I’ve got a book coming out shortly. The publicity that the New York PR firm is planning is a li’l scary. (After all, my dream job used to be that of a baggage handler at the airport). These days feel like those first few moments before stepping off a cliff.
It’s a time of transitions. Whether we admit it or not, we all know it’s do-or-die time. We’ve got less than 20 years to turn things around or face worldwide consequences of collapsing water and food supplies, irreparable ecological damage, and all the societal upheaval that comes with those disasters.
As for Como, the chicken that used to tease the chained dog is long gone. I never see the crack lady anymore, with her exotic dress of newspapers and head wrap fashioned from a girdle. The abandoned 1910-era house with its 1970s Christmas lights recently burned down to the prairie dirt it was built on. The dog fighters still dump their dead pit bulls down in Death Gulch by the lake, where sunflowers turn their faces to the sun and where one day water (an ancient underground spring?) cracked through the asphalt, burbling and sparkling. My 2003 string of green Christmas lights still hangs forgotten from the scrawny front-yard mesquite tree. The prairie winds blow warm up from Mexico, for now, rattling my old house by its ears. Chupacabra sneezes and snarls and bangs the pipes. It’s dark and late, this Solstice moment before the returning of the light. Crickets sing outside, until the next arctic front pushes back. l