Monday, 27 February 2012

Transition Themes Week #12 The Bigger Picture

Welcome to our Transition Themes Week #12. During this week we'll be looking at some of the practical projects Transition Norwich are engaged in from Energy Lookouts! to Norwich FarmShare. We'll also be hearing about the new Abundance project and its mapping of fruit and nut trees, as well as a great car-sharing offer in the city. We start however with communications and the key look at the frame in which Transition sits.

It's easy once you get involved with the detailed focus needed in maintaining projects to lose sight of the bigger picture. So this week, as well giving value to all our micro works-in-progress, we are also keeping an eye open for the macro - those big planetary drivers, from climate change to resource scarcity, that inform our on-the-ground narrative for change. Simeon Jackson will give an update from the Economics and Livelihoods group and our guest blogger, Mandy Meikle, will be reporting on Peak Oil. As the Transition 2.0 film has its preview this month, here's a reflection on one of the key communication tools in keeping this bigger picture in our sights - the grassroots cinema. Vision on!

The Last Picture Show
It's no go the merry-go-round, it's no go the rickshaw
All we want is a limousine, and a ticket to the peepshow
(Louis MacNeice)
The first thing you do is show a film. It starts with Power of Community. It starts at the 11th hour at the End of Suburbia. You go against your wishes, lured by a love of documentary, and find yourself talking animatedly amongst strangers about Life at the End of Empire, asking whether you can come to the next core group meeting. In these films there is a moment when you realise that life is not the fairy tale you have been taught to believe. It's the moment you join Transition.

The second thing you do is take the camera into your own hands. Or rather, you have it thrust into them and find yourself instructed by The Producer to interview people as they gather for the 2011 Transition Conference in the bar.

"What right now, here, Ed? I've only just arrived!"
"You're part of the media team. No time like the present."
That's another moment. The moment you realise you are in it for the long haul.

Grassroots cinema

Today we are taking a look at Transition and Film Media and reflecting on how films influence the way we think, feel and move in changing times. The documentaries we go to see and the videos we make ourselves. Films powerfully affect the way we perceive the world. They can maintain the illusion that everything is fine by providing us with entertainment and feel-good escapes, or they can confront us with reality. We can be mesmerised by the shiny surfaces of our fossil-fuelled civilisation, lulled by official everything-is-under-control voiceovers, or we can look behind the scenes at its unglamourous workings for ourselves.

To find the Inconvenient Truth means you walk down another path, enter unfamiliar venues and make connections you might not have thought of before. You walk past the neon signs for the latest thrillers and romantic comedies at the city multiplex. You notice the small poster at the local newsagents or on the Parish notice board. You stumble under the stars across the common to the barn where Sustainable Bungay and Waveney Greenpeace are watching Robert Newman's The History of Oil, or down a side alley to sit on the studio floor of Unit 6 to watch Transition 1.0 at Transition Norwich's First Birthday celebration. You come across these films by surprise: in temporary cinemas in festival tents, in village halls, in converted Volkswagens, powered by bicycle dynamos, or any number of inventive community spaces where the new In Transition 2.0 is being previewed this month:
It was shown in Lewes Town Hall, The Dukes in Lancaster, at the Watershed in Slaithwaite, the town building in Wayland, US, in the office of Project Lyttelton in New Zealand, in the fire station in Moss Side, a front room in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, US, a Hindu temple in Tooting, a school in Finsbury Park, a hall in Tokyo, Japan, in ‘Cinema Paradiso’ in Auroville, India and in a village in Portugal. (Rob Hopkins)
In these places you find yourself in an audience that is as much at home watching films about community growing projects as it is watching those about Collapse. Committed organisers run these film nights regularly alongside the initative's food and energy projects to give the necessary frame in which Transition sits. They show the bigger social and environmental picture that we do not see in our small everyday world and, perhaps more crucially, provide a meeting place where we can pay attention to the issues which are rarely discussed by conventional media, or at the supper table amongst friends and family.

Joining the dots

Although often considered to be just an early part of forming initiatives, these impromptu grassroots cinemas are a key part of the culture of Transition. They not only enable people to celebrate the movement through showing the In Transition movies, but also maintain awareness about fracking and peak oil and economic collapse and the facts about our industrialised civilisation that are normally kept hidden from view. To join up the dots in our own fragmented minds and come to different conclusions.

What are these dots? It's the panel discussion about climate change at the premiere of The Age of Stupid in Cinema City , it's the on-line debate about Transition and activism sparked by the documentary Just Do It! It's an empathic response to Josh Fox's Gasland, to the industrial food system in Food Inc, to the consequences of the oil we consume every day in Joe Berlinger's Crude.
It's any number of YouTubes we watch daily, recorded by citizen journalists around the world: from Happy Birthday Grow Heathrow! shot by Felix from Transition Brixton, to The Revolution is Love with Charles Eisenstein (Sacred Ecnomics) at Zuccotti Park. It's the animated Fossil Fuels in 300 Seconds narrated by Richard Heinberg. It's the new Crisis of Civlisation film where you can makes your own remix. It's Transition Norwich watching itself Unleash and celebrate its third year. Standing with Nick, being filmed by Tom at Occupy Norwich. It's the effort we make to join these moments up and make a coherent picture.

There are many that argue that communities don't want to look at shocking films and they are not an inviting way to market Transition. That they are not well-made enough, too disempowering and depressing, too American. It's true: a lot of people are stll enamoured by the matrix of conventional media, caught up in the star system, who prefer BBC spin and Hollywood fantasy to reality, but that does not mean that those who want to keep our eyes open should not show them to the world. Even if only a small group gathers to take part, that collective focus and discussion are taking place where none happened before. It takes practice to engage in a complex multi-faceted way of seeing the world, instead of following the familiar storyline of baddies and goodies, the happy ending, and the OK Corral. Reality has its own powerful allure. And a shared reality even more.

Creating the new narrative

In Liverpool I am looking for "the story". I have been giving workshops on Social Reporting (that will form the basis for the national Transtion blog), holding a shaky camera for an interview with Ben Brangwyn, interviewing Rob Hopkins about the forthcoming Transition Companion, but I haven't found that aha! moment that makes sense of everything. I am about to stumble upon it. While the open mic is in full swing in the bar, two Transitioners from Barcelona are holding an impromptu screening of two short films and a follow-up discussion. Many of us in the audience have no idea what has been happening in the squares of Spain this summer. Many of us also have not heard each other speak about about the economic issues raised by the indignats of Europe. It is two months before the word occupy will run like wildfire through the grassroots media.

As the YouTube flickers against the wall, I can see the story. I don't care about the production, or the fact there are no actors I recognise. I am not here to escape, or dream the American dream, I am here to create a new narrative. I can hear it in the voices of the people, taking the microphone in the squares, I can hear it in the voices of the Transitioners standing up to speak in the room. It's a world where we are the director, the cameraman and the crew. We are the actors and we are the audience. It's a world we are creating together as we take the production back into our own hands.

Sustainable Bungay/Waveney Greenpeace in the barn watching The History of Oil; Collapse with Michael Ruppert; videoing at the Transtiion Conference wtih Ed, Mike, David and Adrienne; still from Transition 1.0; Poster for Gasland; cardboard notice in Barcelona, May 2011

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

rita, mark, josiah (and me) too - coming together in groups #1

In the last post of our Sustainable Relationships week (and a half!) we consider perhaps the most challenging relationship of all: with our fellow Transitioners. Here are some reflections posted yesterday on the Social Reporting Project in response to The Transition Companion's first Ingredient.

When Rob Hopkins launched the new Transition Com- panion on twitter, the question I asked in 140 characters was which of the 82 ingredients and tools did he consider the most important: "working in groups" was his reply.

Coming Together in Groups is the first ingredient in the book's storehouse; it is the essential thread that runs through the whole movement and distinguishes it in many ways. There are all manner of protest and campaign groups, political and philosophical movements and most of them are organised by small configurations of people. However in these groups the bigger picture is held to be the key unifying factor: us against them. In Transition the social fabric of the group (us) is considered priority. Because this is not an individual or a mass response to peak oil, climate change and economic recession, this is a community-led response, and learning to work in community is one of the hardest tasks we face. If we are serious about responding resiliently to the challenges of those drivers and powering down we have to learn to break out of our chronic individualism and work as a crew in dynamic and creative ways.

This is not to say Transitioners have it down. We so don't. Everyone in Transition can tell you how their respective groups or projects have formed and stormed and fallen by the wayside. How people clashed, initiatives dissolved, all manner of disaster tales. I am no exception, I have been in theme groups that fell apart, lost my temper, my cool, been foolish, been excluded from a core group, taken part in projects that did not happen in spite of everyone's talent and good intention. And I have also been in a core group for three years that has weathered the storm and prospered, and taken part in projects that have undergone radical shifts and succeeded in every way (and still do). I have sorrowed and rejoiced in equal parts, lost valuable colleagues and gained friends. And most of all, like everyone else disenfranchised and unrooted by modern society, I have found myself through these communal experiences, belonging to my neighbourhood and my native land in ways I could not have imagined.

So partly to explore this topic (in our week on Ingredients and Tools Part 1) and partly in response to Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed's statement (in yesterday's post) that Transition has "failed" in galvanising everyone to take part, I would like to share an insight I had when I was eleven years old.

Breaking form

Every Saturday at school we had a film afternoon at the lecture hall. It was the big highlight of the week: sitting in the dark watching the flickering screen, seeing places I didn't know and people whose lives I would never experience. One of these was The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. It was an old-fashioned Hollywood film, cheesy in many ways, and looking at it now I would probably wince at all its imperialist and religious overtones. But there was a scene in it that has stayed with me all my life. The film depicts a true story of a maid who becomes a missionary in China during the war with Japan. At the beginning of the film Gladys (played improbably by Ingrid Bergman) works to helps break this practice of footbinding that had been imposed on women (by women) for a thousand years. A group of women look at her in silence, and then two old women step forward. She shakes her head as the pain, unleashed from decades in captivity, will be immense. Let the younger ones do it, she tells them. But the elders know that if they have the courage to go first, the rest will follow.

There are many who say our current social and environmental problems are political, caused by capitalism and a dominant global hegemony, and this is true. But we can cannot really change these larger outer structures, unless we deal with the inner ones as well. Mostly our problems are perpetuated by a kind of cultural footbinding that has been in place for thousands of years. We are broken as children and as communities: our natural relationships with the world and each other are severed and we are enmeshed in unnatural ways of behaving and relating with one another. Hierarchical, hostile, subservient to the rulers of civilisation, we play out these constrictions daily, mostly unconsciously. And no matter what the rhetoric or rules of good governance we decide between ourselves, when we come together as groups these invisible forces control us and our endeavours unless we consciously dissolve them and unbind ourselves.

As individuals we can do this as a practice, with ourselves or within our relationships. In groups getting out of these binds is more of a challenge. Even naming them out loud is hard. We are advised in the Companion to seek outside help with the conflict that it inevitably arises, but most of us do not know the world of counselling, or want to engage in it. We feel these antagonisms between ourselves, as we come to meet: the feelings of repression or gloom. We find ourselves acting out roles that are not our own, scapegoating people or being scapegoated, taking the flack, taking too much responsibility, being excluded from communications, forming elite bands, being treated as a volunteer. Haughty, subservient, dismissive, flaky, silent, babbling, critical, self-important. Mostly we feel alone and under pressure. Me against Them.

Sometimes it feels as if the very fabric of the places we meet in - the pub, community centre or council chamber - impose their own restrictions upon our working together in harmony. As we struggle to bring in new ideas we find ourselves defaulting to the civic or feudal shapes the ancien regime has imposed on people through history. We find our fellow Transitioners disappearing into mental abstract realms or spiritual fantasy, preferring ideas to reality. Our contributions to the Bungay newsletter sound like dreary notices from the Parish magazine.

"Why are you writing like a member of the W.I?" I cry exasperated to Mark as we assemble everyone's copy.

"I don't know," he says. "It just comes out like that!"

If we are lucky we like each other. If we are determined we keep meeting each other come what may, keep inventing new and creative ways to do Transition. If we are "elder" enough we take off our binds, get over ourselves, cut the slack, be unremittingly generous. If we are wise we read the excellent essay, written in the 70's about the Women's movement, The Tyranny of Structurelessness and realise that our "cages" sometimes feel comfortable to us, the only thing we can count on, and that liberation from the known is scary, often painful and always challenging.

If we are smart, we do these things ourselves first, like Ghandians, and know the consequences of freedom, before we urge anyone to do the same (or criticise them for not doing it). We show everyone what the future looks like by living it conspicuously everyday. We don't lose heart. We know that one day our small local enterprises will join up, link together and make an extraordinary map across the world. Bearing this in mind, we get on with the business at hand.

Ten tips for coming (and keeping) together as groups

Taken from my experiences in the Bungay core group and the Transition Norwich bloggers

keep your doors open invite people to join meetings and the enterprise - network with other groups outside transition

keep insisting on a co-operative structure people have different roles but equality is key - value everyone, include everyone (that's you too!)

communicate, communicate, communicate keep those channels open, no secrets - remember if you are in control you are not in communication

do not react wait three days before you reply to THAT REALLY ANNOYING EMAIL

keep working together eating together, drinking together - even when you don't want to

share everything community culture starts here - vegetables, eggs, tools, knowledge, skills, books, cars

maintain a rhythm keep putting out that daily blog, that monthly green drinks/film night, quarterly newsletter on time

make a commitment to the project you love do that thing with all your heart

allow space and time for everything to unfold especially the tough parts - let go and hold on (that's a Zen one!)

awareness see this ingredient as the quicksilver of the social alchemy that is Transition - without this group the future you desire will not take place anytime soon, the old business-as-usual order will prevail

Like all pioneers of something new and radical we need to know we are breaking form. And that creating a new infrastructure - from local food systems to alternative media - is hard work, but that endurance furthers. Every time.

Wishing everyone the best in all your groups wherever you are. Come together, right now!

Coming Together as Groups is the first ingredient of The Transition Companion by Rob Hopkins (Green Books). All ingredients are available on-line as resources and also as playing cards.

Photos: Cathy, me, Eloise and Kate in Margaret's garden at Sustainable Bungay core group meeting; poster for Inn of the Sixth Happiness; cycling with Bungay core group; meeting fellow blogger, Kerry at the Bicycle Cafe, Norwich; last night at Happy Mondays at the Community Kitchen.

Friday, 17 February 2012

I am another yourself

There are several crucial relationships we sustain in life, from the relationship we have with ourselves as individuals to the one we have as a collective with the planet. But the one I want to focus on today is the one you have with the person who stays with you no matter how hard the wind blows. Your partner, husband, friend, colleague, compadre, the one who walks beside you, who feels they have always been with you, without whom you could not make this passage through life.

Here is a picture of my fellow voyager and Transtioner, Mark Watson at the beginning of our travelling years. It's in Guatemala, 1991. We have just left our old lives behind. We have left family, friends, given up our work, sold everything we own and gone on the road. We are writing a book together. The town is beautiful, the sun is shining, the houses are painted in the colours of the rainbow, but our inner worlds are in turmoil, as all kinds of monsters, lurking beneath the facade of the life we once knew, are now coming up for transformation.

We are realising that this journey we have undertaken is as much about the inner world as it is the outer. As we wake up in Central America we find ourselves battling with the history stored in our bodies and dreams, with class and sexuality, with our ancestors and relations, with the Irish famine, with the Victorian workhouse, with the silent wars of our grandparents, with our own childhoods, with past lovers and school bullies, with the archetypes of Mummy and Daddy, god and goddess, with the karma of generations. We are working these things out in a country that is just coming out of the horrors imposed on it by an imperialist shock doctrine. We don't know about that history yet, though we can feel its invisible legacy, as we sit facing one another with the volcanoes all around us.

Many modern relationships are unsustainable. High maintenance, fragile, hierarchical, about power and profit and pleasure. Making sure that the people near you give you what you desire - parents, partners, children - worrying about what your neighbours and colleagues think. Making sure you don't encounter the pain of your inner worlds and compensating for a lack of connection to the earth with possessions and holidays and distractions.

It's not anyone's fault. It's how we have been brought up in an individualist Empire which trains us to be heartless and competitive, to battle with our wills and egos and to escape into our minds. We are not brought up to be our own true beings, governed by our hearts, in synch with the living systems, in relationship with all creatures, all plants, all peoples. We confuse control and fantasy with love. It wasn't until I left the city and my native land that I realised I was a very different person than my family and my friends wanted me to be and that my whole life up to that point (I was 35) was hemmed in by those contracts. It was a kind of gaolbreak Mark and I were attempting in Guatemala.

Why am I writing about something that began in a faraway country between two people 20 years ago ? Because in Transition we need to be different kinds of human beings to weather the storm that is coming. To be honest a blog post is way too small a space to describe the complex untanglings that release us from the constricting, conventional moulds society puts us in. It's not about washing up (or washing up liquid - those "green" matters that divide modern households), or romance or even psychology, it's a lifework you decide to undertake together, in the same spirit you join Transition.

We need to know how to work together, and having unsustainable relationships where we go unconscious and act out the hostile, undealt-with parts of ourselves, hinders (and sometimes destroys) that kind of fellowship. We need to learn to live in relationship with all beings, as initiatives and communities, and foster the kind of relationships where we are free to be ourselves and at the same time fully aware of the other people in the room. Not as projections to suit ourselves and our ideals, but as fellows without whom you cannot make it through the night. To be aware that we are, all of us, changing the inner structure of ourselves, as much as we are our use of energy or water. Powering down those archetypes of empire inside us, as we come to meet each other in completely new configurations.

If we are lucky we have a partner we can do this work with. If we are lucky we have enough time and space to go deep into what it really means for men and women, of all cultures and upbringings, to forge a harmony between them. To turn the legacy of darkness we carry inside into light and warmth. But many of us do not. Some of us have partners and families and friends who do not see it our way at all and contradict our every move. Equally some of us now find ourselves amongst people who feel kin to us in ways we find hard to describe.

Many times I have felt like leaving Transition, flouncing off in the way I used to with lovers (how dare they speak to me/treat me like that!) but every time I have stayed. I would have kept travelling forever if I could, remained in the country (like Chris) that I loved more than my own.

But history is demanding something more from me, from all of us. It's demanding a return. And those of us who know that, deep inside the core of ourselves, need to hold to that feeling, as we turn to swim against the flow, like the salmon returning to the source of his origin. We need to know we are not alone in our endeavours, we are not alone in our houses, in our small neighbourhoods. That each of us carries a piece of the future inside our hearts, the colour of the rainbow. What powers us is not fossil fuel or hatred, ambition or prize, but the one thing that will turn the world around, that turns everything around at the breaking point, as the darkness closes in. It turned our relationship around as it hit the rocks in Guatemala, at the point we realised we were in it for the long haul and would never make it till dawn unless we made a vital opening move.

Your heart holds the key to my liberation.

Transition only happens because of you. Because of us.

Mark in Antigua, Guatemala, 1991; myself in the same town and year; later in conversation, Merida, Mexico; with Karen and Mark in New York, 1992; social reporters in Finsbury Park, 2012; with this Low Carbon Life crew, Norwich, 2011

From topic week on Relationships in Transition

Thursday, 9 February 2012

I got the power!

This post originally appeared on the Transition Social Reporters project on 9th February 2012 as part of the Energy week.

OK it's the eighties. I'm storming into my flat after a bad day. Someone spiked my article, my lover walked out, they ran out of ciabatta at the deli, it's been raining too many days in a row, whatever. I throw my bags on the floor, grab a vodka from the freezer and hit the music. I play it loud.The song everyone is playing on the city dancefloors this season. I'm dancing alone in my flat, like millions of other people. Frustrated, talented, energetic, stuck like a bird in a cage. The music and the alchohol fuel my veins and make me feel, for a moment, alive. I got the power!

It's thirty years later. I'm not storming any longer, or drinking vodka, or writing lifestyle pieces on beige swing macs. I'm looking at a week where the giant energy corporations have increased their mauling of the earth for oil and gas and electriity, in order that the vast global metropolis most of us live in can keep going. A week where the news is all about superfracking, nuclear power, hydro-dams, coal-fired plants. A week in which UK carbon emissions rose 3.1%, Josh Fox, the director of Gasland was arrested, and fossil fuel poverty and profits soared.

I could pick any of these monsters against which brave activists pit themselves to prevent their disastrous impact on climate and the environment. I could list the campaigns in countries throughout the world, some of which succeed and many of which do not. I could look at the projects that are setting up alternative sources of power throughout the country, the fate and fortunes of the solar industry, investigate the wind turbines that soar above the fields at Kessingland, or the community wind turbine owned by the rural villages of Cookley and Walpole.

I could sing praises, and I could weep.

But this is not the subject of my post today. Because no matter how we change the sources of energy that run our homes, transport systems and keep the military-industrial complex fuelled to the max, we make these moves within an old paradigm. We want the same world we have been brought up in, just run on clean, natural stuff. A world where we can put on the kettle in the morning and feel like the good guys in Avatar. So my Transition energy story is not about any of these things. It's something that starts in that London flat with the person I once was.

Powerdown story

The reason Derrick Jensen once wrote that the personal does not equal the political when it comes to carbon reduction, is that big social changes necessarily come in big social forms. Small consumer acts like turning off the shower or changing the lightbulb do not challenge a system which allows private companies to suck the oil from the tar sands of Alberta and then sell it to people as “ethical oil”.

Unless, that is, you do them within another paradigm.

Personal powerdown within Transition brings a subtle force into everything you do that is hard to quantify. It means that when you talk of energy descent action plans for your community, you know what it takes on the physical and emotional levels, because you have done that descent yourself. You did not “change your behaviour” because you wanted to salve your conscience, or increase your well-being. You made those radical moves because one day you woke up and realised the storm was coming. In a culture wrapped up in a carbon bubble, in the illusion that our energy supplies will last forever, you have become a dissenter. And, as every dissenter finds within history, your push against the river bears consequences you do not always see.

Turn Out the Lights

When Tully Wakeman returned from the 2008 Transition Conference in London he was fired up. He was, he said, a peak oil man up until that point, but now, looking at the three years we had to avert catastrophic climate change, he realised that other strategies needed to come into play. Upstairs at the Baptist Church fifty of us gathered and discussed what moves we could make that might inspire the city to massively reduce its carbon emissions. We started up several neighbourhood “Transition Circles” that looked at individual energy use. Although most of these circles ended after we had explored the main drivers of home energy, transport, stuff and food, they radically altered the dynamic and the direction of the initiative.

As we discussed our gas bills, car logs and shopping lists over kitchen tables, monitored meters, started up buying co-ops, we uncovered a rich seam of stories among ourselves. A narrative we were not aware of before. These tales and testaments gave our descent meaning and value and became the driving force of an innovative community blog, This Low Carbon Life. As we pledged to reduce our carbon emissions to 4 tonnes we reflected back our experiences to one another, laughed about wearing thermals and living without central heating, wrote about (not) flying, the industrial food system, waste and all the Resistances we had to change. We were invited to join Norfolk County Council’s Cimate Change Partnership. We ran Carbon Conversations at the University and the City Council, formed new incentives, like the recent Energy Lookouts! scheme. We kept our pledge.

It was personal, but it was also social. Something we broadcast to the world.

Going Down the Mountain

In a field in Norfolk, sitting around a campfire discussing the Circles, I embark on a Transition tussle with a new age astrologer.

“We have eternal power within us,” she insists.
“We live on a planet of limit,” I tell her, “And we need to go down.”
“We are going up in another way, she adds.
“No, we are not,” I reply. "We are going down."

The powerdown story is not a popular one. Not within the consumer culture, not within governmental or spiritual circles, all of which promise us a Shanghri-La at 21 degrees and boundless power at our fingertips.

We live with a wildly inflated sense of ourselves, in a world powered by the strength of a thousand horses. What can possibly replace that?

The Power of the Small

It’s thirty years later. I am walking along a cliff edge on the bitterest day of the year, The sea is roaring below me and there is no one on the beach that stretches all the way down to Sizewell Nuclear Power Station. Holding onto the hawthorns up here you can feel the wind shudder through their branches and into your body. It is an exhilarating feeling. The power of nature running through you.

One thing that I learned about powerdown. You can’t do it without the earth. It is a social move, a community move, and Transition can teach us to make those moves wherever we live. But it’s also an earth move, a reconnection that all urbanised human beings long for, even though we do not know we long for it. To live in a new paradigm we have to find a way to disentangle ourselves from the military-industrial complex within our bodies and imaginations. We have to forgo those supercharged egotistical flirtings wtih artificial power and tap into the forces of nature inside and outside ourselves.

What are we powering down for after all? Is it just to keep our lifestyles going at all costs? Or are we reconstructing a different relationship with the planet and its people?

The main reason we don’t want to know about peak oil, or the geo-political reality that fuels our radiators and petrol tanks, is that we cannot imagine a future without perpetual energy and the small pleasures it brings. A future where we are no longer in control of the switch.

I can’t imagine it either on a big scale, but I can know it in a small way and imagine what it could be like if everyone was doing these moves together, the way we once did in our Norwich circles. How it brought us close to each other. How it still does through our communications. How your body becomes strong in a winter without heating, walking the neighbourhood, eating food that is grown without the toxins of agri-business, how your emotions no longer swing violently, your mind feels clear. When you face these realities, something breaks inside. You feel liberated, because you are not longer caught up in the illusions of power. Bird out of the cage.

You are still dancing though, thirty years on, feet on the ground, still point inside. Tapped into another kind of energy inside. Some things stay with you forever. Those moves you make on the dancing floor called earth.
Photos: in London flat, 1989; Stop Kosovo campaign the 350.0rg; Amazon river planned to be used for the Belo Monte dam; Plundering Appalacia; boarding a flight from Cartegena to Mompos, Columbia,1992; branches protecting coppiced hornbean, Suffolk; up a birch tree on local tumulus, 2011.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

A Day in the Life of a Transitioner

It was cold when I woke up last Sunday. The jackdaws were gathering in the fields and there was a hard frost on the ground. Ah, good I said to myself. Then I sighed, put on two large jumpers and went downstairs to put the kettle on for coffee and a hot water bottle. Switched on the computer and got down to work. It was 7am.

How has Transition changed my life? Utterly, completely, forever. This is not how I would have started a Sunday morning several years ago. I would not, for example, have known why the birds were feeding in the arable fields, I would not have rejoiced in and lamented the frost, thinking simultaneously of the vegetables and the fruit trees that need a winter to flourish and the shivering people in the Occupy encampments. I would not have put on two recycled jumpers or got down to write a blog at 7am. The central heating would have automatically warmed up the house, and I would be up around nine, thinking about my private world, lying in a hot bath.

I could go through each moment of that Sunday and every detail would form part of a Transition narrative: from my breakfast millet (Sustainable Bungay buying group) and apples (our Produce Swap day) to our neighbour's car that we now share. But most of all it would show how that narrative is shaped by the times I go up to Norwich and my relationships with the people there.

Here I am at 11.30am talking to Kit at Occupy Norwich about Occupied Times in London. I've put some stuff in the kitchen, I tell him, freegan soya and some organic Suffolk potatoes and onions. It's really cold on the streets at Hay Hill, and they are hard pressed, holding an anchor in a week when the Occupy camps are under fire and yet still organising an arts festival in the city this weekend.

Afterwards I head up to the Forum to meet Mark and Marguerite from the One World Column where we discuss the rota for our weekly blog. We have lost two valuable writers this year. Can we keep going? We look at each other, knowing that we will keep going because something larger than our small lives impels us. Because we are not just Mark and Marguerite and Charlotte. We are also Greenpeace and the Norwich Carbon Reduction Trust, Stop the War and Transition. At lunchtime I go onto a meeting of Dark Mountain Norwich where ten of us discuss an event we are planning in June over celeriac soup and skip oranges in Diana's main room. Here we are, writers, students, scientists, artists, filmmakers, designers, singers, makers, in a circle as the event self-organises before us. Holding a space open so the future can happen, responding to the times we are in. And none of us strangers in this endeavour.

Here I am in the centre of Norwich where once I just came to visit the market, the library or go to a film. Here I am where every street corner I see now through Pattern Language eyes, through the meetings and events I have experienced with Transition Norwich. Here I am outside the Forum where the Low Carbon Roadshow opened the Earth Hour, where I protested against GM potatoes, lit a candle for Copenhagen. Here I am in Bethel Street going past the police station where I once sought a licence for our first Transition Norwich party, past The Greenhouse which hosted the Low Carbon Cookbook's inaugural meeting, where This Low Carbon Life crew meet to discuss the rota. Here I am with people I would never have met had I not been in Transition, able to make this easy passage between different movements, as we link up like the imaginal buds of an emerging butterfly.

How does Transition change your life? Utterly, completely, forever. Because if you embrace what it does, in the way my fellow reporter Jo Homan wrote about so beautifully last week, it will turn your life upside down - like a love affair. It will satisfy you in a way no consumer dream can ever do. It will broaden your intellect, it will engage you with the physical world, the earth and your own body, it will break you out of a tyranny of isolation as Mark wrote on Monday, and all the self-pity and antagonism that goes with that state. It will make you empathic with your fellows, connect you with the spirit of the times. And most of all it will give you back yourself.

Because in the old world I am, like everyone I else meet, negligible: a nobody, struggling to appear like a somebody, so some institution or 1%er won't come down on my head and crush the living heart and soul out of me. But in Transition, in this emergent future we co-create, I know my presence is as vital as frost and winter apples - and so is the presence of Kit and Mark and Marguerite and everyone at Diana's that Sunday. Our meeting up means something. And those conversations we have bring a depth and immediacy into our lives that is hard to put into words. Somewhere inside us we know it is this struggle for meaning in times of adversity that makes everything in life worthwhile, even suffering of the greatest sort, as writers from Vaclav Havel to Viktor Frankel have testified.

Our skills and abilities that job centres and governments consider negligible have complete meaning and relevance here. In the three years I have been in Transition my own communications skills, which have no worth in mainstream media, have resulted in hundreds of posts, four community blogs, two newsletters and a fledgling national newspaper. They have brought all kinds of people together and allowed us to relate our own experiences, where none of us had space or context or impetus to do so before. I have been able to pass on my trade of writing and editing - the great art of telling your own story-which-is-not-just-your-story. Thanks to Transition I have visited my fellow social reporters around the UK, met up in Finsbury Park, covered the Sunrise Festival, the Uncivilisation Festival, the Conference, and this May will publish a book I never thought would emerge into this sunlit world.

Sometimes you put your life on the line for a vision. It is a small light that burns inside you on a cold day. It appears to take everything you ever loved away, and then it gives you everything you have ever loved back. It's a return story. It's our return story. The story we tell the world, as we walk down the mountain, in the dark, together.

Photos: winter apples from Bungay Community Garden Produce Swap; Bank of Ideas at Sun Street, London; lighting a candle for Copenhagen outside the Forum, 2009; Josiah and me at the Greenhouse, just before the first Low Carbon Cookbook meeting; sunflower detail by Mark.