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Monday, December 31, 2007

Cups and Saucers and Some Year-End Links

Devilish cups and hypnotic saucers: I painted this when I first moved into my current house, when I was just beginning to put paint on canvas. I'd sold my coffeehouse the previous year, so perhaps it is an exorcism painting, which seems a suitable image for the end of the year, when the old goes out, and the new wanders in and pulls up a chair and asks for cream and sugar.

Anyway, on this last day of 2007, I'm sharing with you a few of my favorite places in the blog world. Places I think you might like. It's not an exhaustive list; it's a sample. A sip. A demitasse.

My favorite blogs tend to be written by dreamers, people with the ability to turn a concept into a landscape of possibilities, some practical, some less so. Like Evelyn Rodriguez at Crossroads Dispatches who has a fascinating mind. Her posts are mystical and enchanting, and beautifully illustrated. And Dave Pollard at How to Save the World. He's not really trying to save the world, exactly, but to transform it, and us. His regular Saturday links pages can keep me at my keyboard for hours.

It was through Dave Pollard that I came to know the Cassandra Pages. A recent excerpt:
At midlife, much more aware of my own mortality and the limitations of time and energy, the quest has changed: instead of trying to reach personal goals, I struggle to make the best use of whatever time and energy I have, not so much for myself, but for other people, because I've learned that giving fully and freely actually enriches my own life much more than being focussed on myself alone. (full text here)

I've also become a fan of 37 Days, and in particular, this delightful post about the author's telephone conversation with poet Billy Collins.

The Contrary Goddess is equal parts affection and exasperation, rant and compassion. "
I'm a woman, a wife, a mom, a cowgirl. I'm a seeker, a lover, a friend & thorn. I'm a horseman, husbandman, hillbilly, heathen. I am that I am."

Richard Power posts some of those most compassionate political writing on the scene today. Even if you don't like political blogs -- they wear me out, quite frankly -- there is reason to add Words of Power to your daily or weekly scroll. Excellent music videos, as well.

Oh, and one more thing. My web-wanderings have taken me to so many fascinating places this year, and thanks to Sharon B's patient illustrated instruction at In a Minute Ago I now know how to use Google Reader to subscribe to my favorite sites. Yes, I'm a woefully slow adopter of all things tech -- no cell phone, no ipod -- though here I am with a blog, and now a Google Reader page. Go figure.

I'll share a few more of my favorite places in a future post. For now, I leave you with a thought from Richard Bach, quoted in a recent post at 37 Days:

Here is the test to find whether your mission on earth is finished.
If you're alive, it isn't.

Happy New Year.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Solstice

A feast for the neighborhood birds (and squirrels) on Solstice:

Dragonstar displays our offering: a tall feeder full of sunflower and niger seed; mini-bagels spread with suet and seed; suet balls rolled in niger seed, and a tray of millet sprays and peanuts in the shell. Yummy!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

O Tannenbaum

We put up our fresh-cut tree in the art room this year, but the living room is always given over to our family treasure: the BBPiT found this little beauty at an antique mart about five years ago, in its original boxes, with a revolving stand, and it came with not one but two color wheel lamps to illuminate its loveliness. We decorate it in all appropriate tackiness, with rubber devil ducks, Carmen Miranda ornaments, oversized jingle bells and candy, and this year, a little thermos (dangling front and just off-center). And I do believe that tree-topper is to die for: originally an antenna bauble, I think, re-purposed for the season.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A Wee Bit Random, Part II



It's raining here on the northern side of the Ohio, fast rain falling straight and true. It hits my roof with real purpose, runs in ribbons over the eaves, heedless of the gutters -- which at any rate are festooned with a season's growth of very small maple trees. There are some jobs I just don't keep up with.

I've lived in the midwest for ten years. I still find the weather disconcerting. Rain in December feels amiss, even though it's typical. The first year I was here I wrote a song about it:

It's the middle of December and nighttime comes early
My hometown in New York is on its second foot of snow
While here in Indiana the winter's barely started
And I find myself reluctant to let the autumn go...

Dragonstar and I are considering ways to celebrate Solstice, a mere two weeks away. Someone on an email list suggested a Dark Party: candles, shadow-puppets, gathering around the fireplace for winter nibbles like nuts and fruit and mugs of hot chocolate. We don't have a fireplace, but the rest of it sounds appealing.

Last night we went to a Tacky Christmas Party, where the fruitcake was front and center, and by the end of the night every slice had been eaten -- or at least taken. Perhaps the host and hostess will find it stashed and perfectly preserved between various chair and sofa cushions in the coming months.

The picture at the top of the post was taken at the Blue Ridge Center in North Carolina this past September, when the woods are at their greenest and most lush. A mere season ago; I suspect that now that path looks much like the wild corner of my back yard, with its skeletal trees and serpentine brown vines.

Yesterday we shopped for a Christmas tree in the rain. The thoughtful members of the boy scout troop that set up the lot had laid thick paths of straw through the trees, but the ground was still soggy and waterlogged. Our shoes got very wet.

We found a perfect tree. Today we'll be putting it up. I hope the rain lasts all day.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Gifting

My friend Jenny makes gorgeous soft sculpture goddess dolls. Her studio is a custom yard barn that occupies a section of her back yard, and in it she creates wonders like this one, embellished with raku that she and her husband Joe create. Their entire house is a shrine to art, filled with items she and Joe have made and collected over the years. This beauty to the right is on its way to my sister, who is graduating college this weekend, just two weeks shy of her 42nd birthday.

The BBPiT is giving me the gift of a place to create this year: our detached garage is becoming a studio and workshop, with room to spread out and work on those large messy pieces that I can't bring myself to do in the dining room: mosaic tables and book binding and custom painted guitar bodies. Best of all: there's plenty of room for both of us to work out there without stepping on each other's toes, which is so not the case for the dining room.

Dragonstar and I bought most of our other gifts at a local art sale, and I'm making a bunch of items for my friend Beth to give to her family. Beth has donated piles of clothes to us over the past couple years, some of which go into our closets, but most get re-purposed in one way or another, cut up and transformed into fabric mobiles, pillows, and shoulder bags. The items I'm making for her are part of our reciprocal gifting.

There is a sense of balance in this process, a feeling that we are participating in a good economy. What we do doesn't show up as part of the GDP, and it won't help the corporate bottom line, but it is productive nonetheless. It creates the sort of interdependent micro-economy that can give rise to a sustainable community. Not that we think much about that when we're trading art or time or ideas. We do it because it's worthwhile, and it's fun, and it makes us happy.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

I'm No Libertarian, But...

On the question of spending priorities, Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul could give the Democratic contenders for the White House a lesson on straight talk. In his most recent column for The Nation online, contributing editor Robert Sheer writes:

As Rep. Paul points out, for what the Iraq war costs, we could present each family of four a check for $46,000--which exceeds the $43,000 median household income in his Texas district. He asks: "What about the impact of those costs on education, the very thing that so often helps to increase earnings? Forty-six thousand dollars would cover 90 percent of the tuition costs to attend a four-year public university in Texas for both children in that family of four. But, instead of sending kids to college, too often we're sending them to Iraq, where the best news in a long time is they [the insurgents] aren't killing our men and women as fast as they were last month."

Sheer adds this thought on universal health care:

On this matter of covering the uninsured, it should be pointed out to those who say we (alone among industrialized nations) can't afford it that we could have covered all 47 million uninsured Americans over the past six years for what the Iraq war cost us. How come that choice--war in Iraq or full medical coverage for all Americans--was never presented to the American people by the Democrats and Republicans who voted for this war and continue to finance it?

The theater of politics is a dismal slog these days. And really, was it ever not so?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Mighty Kindness

Quick bit: Particularly for readers within the gravitational pull of Louisville, Kentucky, as well as others who want to be inspired by a creative, artistic, multifaceted, community resource, please take a moment to visit A Mighty Kindness. Newly launched and filled with energy and spirit. Go visit!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Five Ways to Increase the Peace

There was a song we sang at the end of every service at my Science of Mind church. Its first and last lines are, “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.” Here are five ways to be a more peaceful person.

  • Be nicer to your kids. For some people, just saying “good morning” with a friendly face would be an improvement. No matter where on the scale of “nice” you are, take another step or two. Kids need it.
  • Be nicer to your parents/spouse/significant other. You know: the person or persons who represent the single most significant adult relationship(s) in your life. You profess to love them, right? Well then, love them. They need it, too.
  • Be nicer to your friends and acquaintances. If your friends aren’t worth the effort of a little added nice-ness, they aren’t really friends, and neither are you.
  • Be nicer to strangers. If you’re like me, most of your encounters with strangers come when you are driving your car, and they are driving theirs, and you’re just hulks of steel hurtling along the road. Easy to dehumanize. Easy to toss epithets (or at least think them.) Try sending blessings instead. Yeah, it’s corny. Do it anyway.
  • Be nicer to the nonhuman community. I assume that all living creatures have needs and desires, and that theirs are as valid as mine, and ought to be considered. So I do. And so can you, in whatever way makes sense to you.

If peace is something far away, something to be brokered between warring nations, then it’s a task far beyond my ken or control. If peace begins at home, with me, then it’s easy to find ways to further the cause.

Peace radiates. Pass it on.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Sicko

Michael Moore’s Sicko came out on DVD yesterday, and last night the BBPiT and I sat down and watched it.

Today, I have one question for all those people who argue against socialized medicine: why is it okay to socialize the cost of war, to the tune of $12 billion a month and counting, and it’s not okay to socialize the cost of health care? Why is it okay to draw from the common pool of funds to bomb cities and kill people all over the globe, but it's not okay to draw from the common pool of funds to provide people with medicine that will keep them alive? What kind of people are you to think this way?

What kind of people are we to allow this kind of thinking to prevail?

Okay, so that was four questions.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Zoo Logic

My daughter was born on Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, when the veil between the worlds is thin and all the ancestors can mingle in the here and now, in their spirited, diaphanous sort of way. Or so I like to think.

We wanted an outdoor outing to celebrate the day. I suggested we go to the zoo. Dragonstar happily agreed. There were new exhibits to see since we’d last gone, new habitats to admire. It would be a pleasant way to spend a fall afternoon. The zoo. Perfect. It was settled.

And then I got my November issue of The Sun, that remarkable magazine out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Its featured piece – a long essay in place of the usual interview – was by one of my favorite authors, Derrick Jensen. This was the title of the essay:

"Thought to Exist in the Wild: Awakening from the Nightmare of Zoos. "

Well, then. Not so settled, after all. And now I was faced with a dilemma. I could read the essay and let it ruin our plans -- for I know the power of Jensen's writings -- or I could set the magazine aside for a few days, take my daughter to the zoo, and read the essay sometime later, when it would no longer hold sway over my behavior.

Of course I sat down and read the essay. And of course it utterly ruined our plans.

If you see an animal in a zoo, you are in control. You can come, and you can go. The animal cannot. She is at your mercy; the animal is on display for you. In the wild, the creature is there for her own purposes. She can come, and she can go. So can you. Both of you can display as much of yourselves to the other as you wish. It is a meeting of equals. And that makes all the difference in the world.

Two pages later:

Zoos, like pornography, offer superficial relationships based on hierarchy, dominance, and submission. They depend on a detached consumer willing to observe another who may or may not have given permission to be the object of this gaze.

Yes, Jensen is provocative. And no, it wasn’t the first time I’d found myself troubled by the idea of zoos and what Jensen calls their “world in a box” approach. No matter how pleasant the new “rainforest habitat” at our local zoo may appear, it isn’t real, it has borders, it holds its creatures captive. And no one who loves animals can really enjoy seeing them in cages.

But here's the thing: in reading Jensen’s essay when I did, I was able to consider all this before I actually paid our money and went inside our local zoo, whereas I am usually struck by sadness only after arriving and walking around and seeing all the creatures who would never be free. Call me a slow learner, call me self-absorbed, but at least this time I got the information I needed when I needed it: when it could actually influence my actions.

That is progress.

Will our going or not going to the zoo affect the lives of those creatures? Of course it will, in the same way the departed ancestors can affect us, if we’re willing to pay attention when they slip through the veil and join us for tea and sugar cookies. (Or birthday cake. ) When we withdraw our support from the things that hurt our souls – be it zoos or compulsory schools or the Bush administration – those things eventually lose their potency. And when we redirect our energies toward what is life-affirming and free, the world is enlivened, re-enchanted.

Dragonstar has decided she wants to go letterboxing instead. That’s more like it. We love a good treasure hunt. I just hope all the ancestors will fit in the car with us, and that at least one of them is good at reading a map.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

My Gazebo, My Church

Yesterday I sat under a gazebo beside a small pond in the middle of a church parking lot, writing in my journal and listening to the rain while my daughter attended art and drama classes offered at the church by our homeschool co-op.


We live in church-going country, and all the homeschool groups here are church-based to some degree. We are not church people, and so have chosen the least-churchy of the groups to participate in. It’s worked out well enough. My daughter likes the classes, and no one has questioned our spiritual beliefs or practices, or tried to convert us, or made us feel unwelcome.


Still, I prefer to sit outside in the gazebo by the pond, rather than in one of the rooms made available to us inside: the fluorescent-lit lunchroom where toddlers play, or a classroom set aside for quiet study, where other moms pore over curriculum while their kids scribble away on worksheets. Outside, I can listen to the frogs in the pond, and offer up a few sun salutations in between paragraphs, and I have the gazebo all to myself.
But yesterday it got chilly, and windy, and rainy, and it occurred to me that I might be more comfortable inside, if only I could find a quiet place to work. So I gathered my things and went into the church.


Let me just say that they don’t build churches like they used to, which is a terrible shame, even for those of us who are not church people. The churches of the past are truly soulful places, built with reverence out of soulful materials: stone and brick and wood. They are lit through tall windows, and stained glass; they contain and transform the elements of the natural world, they do not try to exclude them.


The church I wandered through yesterday was a steel-frame mega-structure wrapped in vinyl cladding, hospital-clean and cavernous and corporate, and about as soulful as the food court at the mall. I wandered down hallways marked by overhead signs: gymnasium this way, restrooms here, classrooms to the left, offices to the right. I passed the main worship center, which occupies the central section of the building. All three sets of doors were locked. I looked through the narrow windows in the doors. It was pitch dark in there. No natural light whatsoever. That wouldn’t do, even if it the doors hadn’t been locked.


I finally found a room called a chapel. It, too, was locked, but as it was on the periphery of the building, and had windows along one outside wall, I could see inside. This was a chapel? If not for the trio of narrow wooden crosses on the wall, it could have been a corporate board room. There was even a plastic bottle of water, half-consumed, sitting on the edge of a “media booth” designed for power point presentations. I mean, really.


I don’t mean to pick on this particular church, because the mega-church a mile away is just like it, as is the mega-church across town. I just can’t understand the sort of spirituality that would lead one to embrace this sort of house of worship, any more than I can understand the desire to eat at the mall food court.


I went back outside and sat beneath the gazebo, watching the drops of rain hit the surface of the pond and the trees swaying in the wind. Even in the grey, the world looked illuminated, while inside that church, the worship center would remain as dark as pitch until someone thought to turn on a light. And maybe even after.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Mass Transit is Just Not Profitable!

At a mass transit meeting in Indianapolis recently, a representative from the Reason Foundation declared that the automobile would remain our mode of transportation for the "foreseeable future" and that mass transit options ran a distant second in addressing traffic congestion and corollary problems of sprawl and smog.

His argument went something like this: mass transit is just not profitable. It generally requires large expenditures of public funds to operate and maintain. And the Reason Foundation, as a libertarian think tank, holds to the ideology that public funds ought never be spent for things that private enterprise would otherwise handle if only there were sufficient profit in it. No profit to be made? That must mean people don't want it -- and if people don't want it, why build it?

I find this kind of reasoning circular and unhelpful, and more than a little disingenuous. The supporting infrastructure that made the automobile industry possible in the first place has been so heavily subsidized by public spending it ought to qualify as a branch of government. The interstate highway system was created with public funds. Local roads are built and maintained with public funds. Driver's licenses and vehicle registrations are administered by government agencies. Roads are patrolled by government workers -- police, sheriffs, state troopers.

It should come as no surprise that the Reason Foundation supports the status quo. It has produced studies and reports that claim that sprawl is not a problem and air pollution is not getting worse and that any difficulties that arise from global warming ought to be dealt with as they emerge, not taken as evidence of a need to change behaviors to ameliorate the trend itself. It's one approach, I suppose -- akin to the "race for the cure" rather than a "race for the cause" -- and it's reminiscent of Daniel Quinn's example of positioning ambulances at the bottom of a cliff to take the injured to the hospital, rather than installing a good barrier at the top to keep people from falling off in the first place.

The ambulance is profitable, you see. The hospital, ditto. The barrier, not so much.

The Reason Foundation argues that mass-transit ridership is simply insufficient to support a system economically. But here's a news flash: those interstates were pretty empty at first. And as anyone who's ever driven I-90 knows, a lot of them remain pretty empty for long, desolate stretches even now.

The simple truth is, if we believe there can be no alternative to the automobile "in the foreseeable future" then we will have no alternative. Rather than invest our imaginative efforts into developing a new transportation paradigm, we will simply drive ourselves over the cliff again and again, and wage wars over oil to perpetuate our lifestyle, and pretend that all is as it must be.

When I lived in Los Angeles I sometimes took the train to my job in San Bernardino, some 70 miles inland. That train ride was often the best part of my day. When I lived in Boulder I commuted by Express bus to Denver to work downtown, and it was a pleasure. A pleasure!

Imagine that.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Only Affirmation You Need

About twenty years ago I began working with Affirmations and Intentions and the Law of Attraction, with the concepts of thoughts as things, and the collective consciousness of the universe -- all the stuff that's recently re-emerged into the general awareness through books like The Secret and authors like Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle.

My introduction to these ideas and concepts came when a friend and I stumbled into a Science of Mind church in Glendale, California, where they happened to be at the beginning of an eight-week course in Manifesting Abundance. Since my friend and I were both a bit impoverished at the time, it seemed like a good idea to stay and see what unfolded.

So we stayed, and for eight weeks at that church we wrote things down on pads of paper, we made lists, we meditated on our purpose, we affirmed our desires, we visualized achieving our goals. We were told to go home and practice our affirmations and visualizations, to come back the following Sunday for another booster shot of positive thinking, and we did. And I'm glad we did, because twenty years later I'm here to testify: this stuff works.

But let me add one caveat: it doesn't necessarily work the way you think it does.

The basic idea of affirmations, and setting intention, and visualization, is to figure out what you want, commit yourself to your goal, and let the universe help guide you wherever it is you want to go. You name the "what" and let the universe handle the "how." Simple? Yes. Easy? Hardly.

Here are some things I've learned in the past twenty years about getting what you want.

1. You don't always know what you want, and you don't always want what you think you want. From the time you were born, you have been receiving all kinds of messages telling you what it is you should want, what you're good for, what you can expect for yourself, what you deserve. You have been trained to want things that might not have anything to do with what you really want.

2. You can get what you think you want, and still not have what you really want. See #1.

3. Other people often want things for you that you confuse for what you want for you. Parents and spouses are sometimes guilty of laying their own desires onto your shoulders. You can waste an awful lot of time going after someone else's dream.

4. If you examine your life it will be clear what you've been programmed to want because your life will be full of it. It may not be what you really want, but if you've been operating on default, what you have is indeed what you've been asking for. If what you have is not what you really want, it's time to ask for something else.

5. The hardest part about Affirmations and Setting Intention is figuring out what you really want. Sometimes the search to uncover our deepest desires seems overwhelming. If you've been operating on default for a long time, you may have to sift through a lot of programming to find out what makes your heart sing. But the answer is in there. For a clue, try to recall what you wanted out of life when you were nine or ten and go from there.

But remember the caveat. When I was ten, I thought I wanted a horse. What I really wanted was to be free. It's taken me a lot of years to recognize that the one was actually a symbol for the other. This is why I say that Affirmations, Intentions, and the Law of Attraction don't work the way you might think they do. The process is less linear than it may appear, and more dream-like, more Jungian.

Once you get clear about what you really (really, really!) want -- the only affirmation you need is the one that says "Yes." But getting free and clear of all that other stuff, now that is probably the work of a lifetime.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A Wee Bit Random Tonight

September ended with a crash of cymbals, a drum solo, and a long slow fade into the cricket-chirp of a new month. The BBPiT returned from Denmark and proclaimed that the Danes have it all over us in so many ways. No billboards! Universal health care! Windmills! Traffic circles! Extra letters in their alphabet!

I fear they will be under water when the polar ice caps melt, though, considering they are a country not even half the size of Ohio -- for now -- surrounded on three sides by water, barely more than a land bridge between Germany and Sweden. Apparently they did not have a winter this past year, if weather is what makes a winter. It's warmer there than it used to be, in other words, but at least no brain-eating amoeba have been discovered on the Baltic shores yet, one more point for their side.

Dragonstar has been immersed in Tamora Pierce, and I've been reading Ursula LeGuin's Tales from Earthsea and Seth Godin's blog, learning about wind mages from the one and zip cars from the other. For some reason my library shelves most of LeGuin's work in the Young Adult section (along with Tamora Pierce). Not sure why this is, though I have noticed that most of the fantasy genre fiction in the adult stacks centers on wars and medieval-esque social arrangements, two elements which are largely absent in LeGuin's work. Draw conclusions as you will. For those who are interested in tracking it down, Tales was made into an anime feature film in 2006.

And the zip car thing is a great idea, never mind the likelihood that we will all be riding horseback again (in the brave new post-petroleum world of the future) by the time they make it to my fair city.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Wherever You Put Your Foot, There is the Path

He was a Christian, and one night spoke of his belief:
"Your faith must be strong enough that you can walk the path blindfolded.
"

Without thinking, I responded, "No. Wherever you put your foot,

there is the path. You become the path."


We looked at each other, stunned. At the time I had no clue as to the meaning
of what I had just said, but I knew it was true.
~Derrick Jensen~
A Language Older than Words

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Cages: A Very Loaded Analogy

My old cat Isis is yowling to be set free from her kennel.

Her kennel is large and clean, with a soft padded sleeping platform, a private litter box behind a curtain, fresh food and cool water. It is a nice kennel. And she hates it.

She is kenneled because she is incontinent. Too, when she is in her kennel she is protected from our other three cats, two of whom like to ambush her when they think the humans aren't looking. Isis is a feisty cat, but she will be 20 this Halloween, and her eyesight is failing, and she's all of eight pounds, and she is no match for her 15-pound housemates. So I tell myself that the kennel is as much for her comfort as my own, but it isn't, not really. She's in the kennel because I don't want cat pee all over the house.

It's a perfectly legitimate reason, and I see you nodding your head. Nevertheless, she still hates it.

Each morning I come downstairs to her yowling, and I open her kennel, and out she trots, and within minutes she is sleeping in her favorite chair, an old woven-seated wooden kitchen chair, where she more or less remains all day. It's not as though she wants the run of the house. She doesn't follow the sun, like the other cats, she doesn't go upstairs to sleep on a soft bed. She isn't looking for human companionship, either; she's more likely to get that in the room where her kennel is, since it's our music room, and one of our computers is in there, and someone is almost always working or playing in there. No, it's not soft places or friendly people she wants. What she wants is to be out of that kennel.

That's all: just out.

Kennels are cages, of course, and cages are places where we put living creatures who would otherwise wander off, led by their own desires, curiosity, interests, needs. It ought to go without saying that there are all kinds of cages in this world, all kinds of ways to get stuck in a box -- most of which do not involve incontinence. And there are all kinds of justifications for sticking others in a box: convention, control, conformity, convenience.

Isis doesn't like living in a cage, and being the sour old cat that she is, will probably never accept it. And her yowling is so annoying that sooner or later she is let out, and off she goes, tail in the air.

We could learn a lot from that cat.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Two Blogs to Share

I love Christine Kane's wonderful blog, in which she writes about all things creative and conscious and courageous. Christine is a singer/songwriter who leads women's retreats four times a year and tells the most disarming tales of her life as a traveling performer, blogger, and mindful human being. Today she quotes from my (other) favorite creativity coach in her post:
"Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”
-Julia Cameron
And from Keri Smith, illustrator and author, thoughts on a similar theme:
for me, a lot of the self-help stuff was a form of control, a way to make me feel like I was doing things "correctly". more importantly, a way of proving to others that I was great, instead of actually feeling good inside and accepting things as they are. messy and sometimes in need of fixing.

in need of fixing is a perfectly good place to be.

Read her sweet and funny blog here.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Thoughts on Living and Learning

It's taken me a while to begin to wrap any kind of useful language around the experience Dragonstar and I had at this year's Live & Learn Unschoolers Conference in North Carolina. Words have failed me for days.

But as a first attempt, let me share with you what keeps coming up for me in the aftermath of our return to our daily lives: the conviction that we as a people need whatever it is this conference offers. Our society needs it. The world needs it.

So many of us crave workable alternatives to our desperately dysfunctional culture, but we are stymied in our quest to get there from here. To move us forward, we need to see actual demonstrations of those alternatives. Theory is not enough. Books and descriptions won't do. We need to see it -- experience it -- in action.

We need to see what really happens when relationships between family members are based on principles of kindness and trust and mindfulness and respect. We need to see how it really works when these families who are committed to living their lives based on these principles come together and interact.

And as we observe, we need to pay careful attention to the details of what we're seeing: what is present in those relationships and those lives, and just as importantly, what is absent: coercion, guilt, shame.

Unschoolers know that unschooling isn't merely a method of education, it's a way of life. It's a principled approach to being in the world, to being present and accountable. And when several hundred families come together and demonstrate those principles -- imperfectly, because we're human, but with true and honest intent -- you have the makings of a cultural revolution.

Next year's conference will be held in the same location in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. If your interest is at all piqued, it might be time to come see for yourself what another way to be in the world might look like and feel like.

There are plenty of porches at the Blue Ridge Assembly, by the way, some wide and public, some sheltered and private, and all of them are well-stocked with rocking chairs, just waiting for your arrival.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Live and Learn 2007


Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world;
indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead

Sunday, September 2, 2007

September

Pomodoros from the abundant backyard garden
of my artist friend Jenny.

I love September.

I call it the "birthing" month -- ninth month of the calendar year -- and for most of my adult life it has been the month for launching major projects and undergoing significant transitions.

Seven years ago in September I opened my coffeehouse. Three Septembers later I sold it to its current owner (and it's still going strong.) The following September our family moved into our current house (where we remain in spite of our landlord's decision last spring to sell. BBPiT says it's one of those rare occasions when our landlord's procrastination actually works in our favor.)

Last September I opened Out of Hand Studio, followed shortly by my gallery. That led to an association with ArtWorks Gallery, a downtown co-op, which in turn led to new friendships with a group of awesome creative people.

This year Dragonstar and I are marking September with a trip to North Carolina for the Live & Learn Unschoolers Conference in Black Mountain. It's our first time going, and we don't know exactly what to expect, except that we'll meet lots of enthusiastic unschoolers -- they're expecting something like 500 attendees.

So it's September: the month of fruition. We're ready for it. Outside the grass has turned to straw (to borrow an image from folksinger Patti Griffin) but in our creative gardens all sorts of juicy things are coming into ripeness.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Don't Look at My Finger, Look at the Moon

Dragonstar and I got up this morning to see the BBPiT off on his latest musical journey -- accompanying a pair of up-and-coming country artists on their first tour outside of the States -- and as a bonus we got to see the lunar eclipse.

We sat in the grass out front, binoculars in our hands, and in the company of a scraggly black and white neighbor cat we call Old Man, we watched the moon disappear.

Once it had set below the tree line, we jumped into the car and went to the river, where the view was unobstructed, and watched the sky until the light of day made it impossible to see where the moon had been.

Pre-dawn is a contemplative time, the moon itself offering only reflective light. Or none at all. We sat near the place where my art gallery had been, and I noted that the building now houses an Apostolic ministry. From one Church of Creation to another.

Dragonstar and I sat for a while in the cool of the morning and scoured the sky for signs of the moon, and finding none, came back home, and went back to bed.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Finite Incantatem

We've had a month now to contemplate the seventh and final installment of the Harry Potter adventure. Yesterday Dragonstar passed along a link from Spinner's End at Mugglenet.com, the great virtual universe of all things Potter. I share it with you in place of any feeble attempt of my own to make similar points. The author -- who refers to herself as a member of the "Women of a Certain Age Who Read Too Much Harry Potter" club -- gets it. The piece is nice and long, with lots of good chewy insights. Go read.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Not My Shade of Green

After two weeks of temperatures hovering in the upper 90s, even crossing into triple digits a time or two, we have been teased all day by grey skies and the taunt of thunder. Earlier this evening the wind picked up, and we opened up the house to a fresh breeze for the first time in days, but then the wind calmed, and the trees grew silent, and the rain didn't come. Now it's sunset, and the thunder is audible again, but Dragonstar says the air doesn't smell like rain yet. So we'll see.

Have you seen this book? I brought it home from the library today, and haven't read it all the way through, but I already I know I hate it. It's an exasperating rehash of the same well-intentioned save-the-planet advice we've been hearing for decades: recycle your plastics, compost your coffee grounds, drive a fuel-efficient vehicle, don't waste water, buy food at farmers markets. You'd think we'd have this stuff down cold by now.

But more exasperating than the recycled advice on carpooling are the assumptions the authors make about how we live our lives, and the utter omission of all of the options we have in that regard. Real options, not paper-or-plastic pseudo-choices.

There is an entire section on entertainment, for example, that addresses battery consumption and music downloads and the disposal of obsolete cds and electronics, but offers not a single sentence about making our own entertainment -- sitting around with guitars, or a deck of cards, or a pile of art supplies -- which are all far "greener" than recycling used batteries from the Gameboy.

In the "shopping" section, the reader is encouraged to buy organic baby food in reusable glass jars. No mention that buying special "baby food" is an unnecessary expense, and that avocados and bananas come in their own biodegradable wrappers and mash in seconds to perfect baby puree.

And finally, there is a section on buying school supplies, which of course offers no sidebar about alternatives to school that don't involve stuffing a backpack full of new stuff every fall. And how green is the average school building, anyway?

Well, so. I brought the thing home. My exasperation is my own fault. But I also brought home a brand new novel by Doris Lessing called The Cleft, and an older one from Starhawk called The Fifth Sacred Thing. I trust that somewhere in there I'll find good reading.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Incremental Things

It's been a productive week here in my little house on the northern side of the Ohio River. With the BBPiT out of town since last Friday, the young'un and I have shared our studio space, she on the desktop computer, me at my sewing machine, as I cleared out old sewing projects and produced a half-dozen shoulder bags from gently-worn t-shirts and outgrown sweaters in the process.

Making shoulder bags is a little odd for me, since I'm not much of a purse-toting gal. I've carried the same two -- an old woven bookbag and a little black camera bag -- for years. But shoulder bags are easy to make, so who cares if all they do is adorn the hooks on the back of my studio door? I can look at them any time I like and say "I made those."

Yesterday I watched a promotional clip from a film called "The Devil Came on Horseback," a documentary about Darfur that I really and truly do not want to see. Then I heard an NPR story on Katrina refugees living in FEMA trailers 30 miles from nowhere outside of New Orleans, losing their minds to isolation and despair after they'd lost everything else to the floods. Later on I read a news report about our current government's use of torture in its insane "war on terror." All of these things and a hundred thousand others cry out for attention, for amelioration, for redress. And what do I do? I sew shoulder bags.

In my web-wanderings today I came across a quote from Buckminster Fuller, which reminded me of that other quote from Albert Einstein, both of which address the idea of effecting change. Fuller said (and I'm paraphrasing) you can't change things by fighting the existing reality, you can only create a new reality that makes the existing one obsolete. And Einstein said (again, to paraphrase) problems can't be solved with the same level of thinking that created them.

What new realities, what new levels of thinking, would have to be achieved in order for there to be no more Darfurs, no more post-traumatic suffering from tragedies like Katrina, no more government-approved torture?

This is not a rhetorical question. It is a question that troubles my thinking on a regular basis. At its root it asks, how can we live on this planet without doing all this terrible stuff to each other?

I don't believe the answer lies in our somehow becoming "better" people. So long as we are members of the human species, we will be all those things humans have always been: petty and greedy and hateful, violent and selfish. But like the old man with two battling wolves inside of him, we will also be generous and kind and helpful and courageous and loving. The wolf that prevails will be whichever one we feed. Right now we're feeding the wrong wolf. Our culture -- our planetary culture representing all but perhaps the 5% of tribal peoples still in existence -- is all about feeding the wrong wolf. We don't have to continue doing so.

Sometimes change is momentous: you can't cross a chasm in two steps. But more often it's incremental. A small step, then another. I realized when I was sewing this past week that I'm not very good at it, but I'm better than I used to be, and the more I do it, the better I'll be. Small steps. One bag at a time.

I used to believe in revolution. Now I believe in withdrawing support from things I don't want to be a part of. I used to believe in speaking truth to power. Now I believe in speaking truth to those willing to hear. I used to believe in leaders. Now I believe in doing the work that is in front of me, even if it's just writing about things that trouble my mind, or turning old t-shirts into something a little more useful.

Friday, August 3, 2007

A Bridge in Minnesota

Garrison Keiller once said the problem with America is that nobody wants to do maintenance.

A bridge spanning the Mississippi collapsed in Minneapolis Wednesday. Everyone seemed surprised except the engineers and the inspectors from the NTSB, who have been saying for years that a significant number of our nation's bridges -- and highways, and ports, and levees, and railways -- are in poor condition, including that very bridge in Minneapolis.

In other words, we were warned.

I'm about halfway through The World Without Us, the latest book by journalist Alan Weisman. In it, he writes, "Back when they told you what your house would cost, nobody mentioned what you'd also be paying so that nature wouldn't repossess it long before the bank... No matter how hermetically you've sealed your temperature-tuned interior from the weather, invisible spores penetrate anyway, exploding in sudden outbursts of mold... or you've been colonized by termites, carpenter ants, roaches, hornets, even small mammals. Most of all, though, you are beset by what in other contexts is the veritable stuff of life: water. It always wants in."

It always wants in. In Minneapolis, in New Orleans, in our basements every spring, the water wants in. And while we're spending $12 billion every month fighting wars half-a-world away, the failure to do maintenance here at home is taking its toll.

Today I read that federal agents for the Department of Homeland Security were patting down passengers without cause at two bus depots in Indianapolis. Last time I checked, this was illegal. Meanwhile search and rescue teams are still looking for bodies amid the submerged vehicles in the Mississippi River. And two years after Katrina, New Orleans is still waiting for deliverance.

Maintenance ain't sexy, but without it, bridges fall down, and levees give way, and freeways buckle, and subway tunnels flood, and your roof sags. And pretty soon, there's no home, or homeland, worth securing.

In his essay, "Property, Patriotism, and National Defense," (Home Economics, North Point Press, 1987) Wendell Berry writes, "I have been arguing from what seems to me a reasonable military assumption: that a sound policy of national defense would have its essential foundation and its indispensable motives in widespread, settled, thriving local communities, each having a proper degree of independence, living so far as possible from local sources, and using its local sources with a stewardly care that would sustain its life indefinitely, even through times of adversity. But now I would like to go further, and say that such communities, where they exist, are not merely the prerequisites or supports of a sound national defense; they are a sound national defense."

Bridges, levees, communities, security. Twelve billion dollars a month. Will someone draft Mr. Berry for president, please?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Woody's Birthday, a Little Belated

Woody Guthrie's birthday came and went, and I meant to make something of it, but one thing and then another came up, and now here it is almost August. Well, better late...

As kids in our neck of the woods scour the shelves at Target and WalMart for their back-to-school backpacks and all the stuff to stuff therein -- they return to the grind August 8th -- my thoughts turn to all the things that don't fit into backpacks or curricula or accepted canon. For example, every school kid in this country can probably sing the first verse of Woody Guthrie's best known song, "This Land is Your Land." But how many can sing the two least-known verses to that best-known song?

In the squares of the city, in the shadow of a steeple
by the relief office I'd seen my people
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on that sign there it said "no trespassing"
But on the other side it didn't say nothing
That side was made for you and me.

Unschoolers are sometimes subject to the criticism that there will be great gaps in our kids' education as a result of our unconventional approach to learning. But there are gaps in all our educations, in all our knowledge. I was nearly thirty years old before I heard these two verses of Guthrie's most famous song. Why have they been left out of the canon, and what else is left out along with them?

Woody Guthrie was born July 14, 1912 and died in 1967. He lived through two world wars and two undeclared wars, the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. He mingled with communists and tagged his guitars with the slogan "This Machine Kills Fascists."

The Official Woody Guthrie Website can tell you more about him than I ever could. I just wanted to raise a toast in honor of his birthday, even if I'm a little bit late.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Hens & Chickens

My dad used to grow these by the hundreds in the rock garden along our driveway and up the path that led to the back door. I don't recall ever seeing them flower, though they must have at some point or other. These are Dragonstar's. She's had them for two years, and they seem to be doing well. They'd gone brown earlier this year, and I'd given them up for lost at the beginning of the summer, but they look happy now with their little clusters of blossoms.

We stood in line at the bookstore until 12:45 a.m. Friday night/Saturday morning, Dragonstar in her purple Tonks hair, me in the long black cape she'd cast off midway through the evening, awaiting our copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. We spent most of yesterday swapping the book back and forth. Dragonstar finished it last night, but she's keeping her lip zipped. I'm about halfway through. We'll be going back to the bookstore to participate in the post-mortem discussion on August 4. Yeah, I know, we're HP geeks.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Deprofessionalized Intellectual

Gustavo Esteva is an activist in Oaxaca, Mexico. He calls himself a "deprofessionalized intellectual." In a recent article he writes of his long-time acquaintence with Ivan Illich (Deschooling Society) and of his experience creating Uniterra, a "university" of apprenticeship in which there are no teachers, no classes, no curriculum, just people coming together to learn what they need to know in order to maintain, or create and sustain, livable, functional communities.

Esteva writes:

"When we all request education and institutions where our children and young people can stay and learn, we close our eyes to the tragic social desert in which we live. They have no access to real opportunities to learn in freedom. There are no conditions for apprenticeships. In many cases, they can no longer learn with parents, uncles, grandparents – just talking to them, listening to their stories or observing them in their daily trade… Everybody is busy, going from one place to the other. No one seems to have the patience any more to share with the new generation the wisdom accumulated in a culture… Instead of education, what we really need is conditions for decent living, a community…"

Read the entire article here. It's long, and worth it.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Unfettered, Unscheduled, Unschooled

I have a special notebook I keep with my other journals, a big unlined book about 10"x10" with hard covers (all the better for scribbling in), spiral bound (of course) with sheets of thick brown paper that remind me of postal-wrap. I began working in it about 16 months ago. It is my Big Book of Grand Ideas.

In my Big Book I have developed a Center for Creative Living, a small press, an intentional community, a cob house, an art and craft fair, a funky retail shop, a documentary film and a poetry chapbook. Of these Grand Ideas, three actually converged to form my erstwhile art gallery/creative center, and a fourth -- the small press -- is sprouting wings and getting ready to fly.

I am an ink-on-paper person. Dreaming on the page is how I operate. But I'm convinced that without the unfettered, unscheduled hours provided by our unschooling life, few if any of those dreams would ever be realized.

Developing a creative "what if" and moving it off the page often means clearing the decks, clearing the calendar, leaving a broad swathe of time in which to doodle and ponder, withdraw and connect, walk about and be still. Dreaming big takes time!

So we give ourselves time. Our days are spent wandering about, noodling on the computer, making art, poking around in the yard and down by the river, going to the library and the grocery store and the bookstore. We have a few scheduled activities, but only a few. Dragonstar is taking a weekly drama class that anchors her in a community of creative friends. I have tickets to a musical this weekend. We plan on seeing Harry Potter on opening day. But that's about as scheduled as we get.

We don't have scads of money. By contemporary standards we don't have much money at all. What we do have is a sense of authority over our lives. And guess what? You, me, that teenager down the street, we're all authors. How sad that so many of us feel we must give ourselves over to ghostwriters, to family and friends whose "good advice" can cripple our fledgling creative souls, as well as to "experts" and "authorities" who don't know us at all, don't understand our dreams, our vision, our passion, our gifts, but still feel compelled to instruct us in how best to live.

In truth, there are a multitude of ways to live. This thing we call unschooling is itself a big broad path. Walking it allows us to swing our arms, to reach for the sky. A mind not cramped by other people's notions of how things need to be is a mind that can give birth to Grand Ideas, those "what ifs" that could change your life, or change the world.

Everybody has dreams. I suggest you write yours down. Start a Big Book of your own. You never know what might come of it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Dragonstar's Bouquet

Shasta daisies and red yarrow from the back yard and a sprig of mint from her mint bed on the south side of the house, tucked into an empty bottle of Spanish olive oil brought back from a BBPiT European tour in 2001.

The shastas have grown very tall this year, and are producing scads of blossoms, and until the blast of heat in June we had lots of spiderwort and Asian day flowers. But the lack of rain and temperatures in the 90s have taken a toll. The only other plant that's really flourishing is the bamboo that came up alongside the compost bin last year, and is now thick and green and forms a nice barrier between the bin and the neighbor's line of sight.

We're trying to have a lazy week, after our busy-ness of last week at Patchwork Central's summer art program, and the anticipation of more busy-ness next week when I'm scheduled to lead a session there on creative journaling. In the interim Dragonstar has been working on timed writing exercises with an Instant Messenger buddy and I'm noodling at my art table wondering what to tackle next.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Hey, Baby

Every year around this time an old song by the L.A. band X called "Fourth of July" comes to mind, and I always intend to look up the lyrics and add it to my repertoire of seasonal songs, and I always forget. The bit of lyric I remember and go around singing for a few days prior to the 4th: "On the stairs I smoke a cigarette alone. Mexican kids are shooting fireworks below. Hey, baby, it's the Fourth of July."

My time in L.A. ended nearly fifteen years ago, just after the Rodney King verdict left the city in flames for several days. I was living in Burbank at the time, far from any danger, and it wasn't the turmoil that sent me packing, it was the desire for an easier way to live. I told a colleague at my job that I wanted a more bohemian life. He laughed and said I was a few decades too late for that. But I hung up my Ann Taylor suits, shelved my high heeled shoes and moved to Boulder, where I went to work at a community radio station and tried to figure things out anew.

Circumstances brought me to the midwest a few years later, and lo and behold, things move so much slower here that living that bohemian life was not such an anachronism after all. I may have had a hard time finding an organic tomato in the supermarket for the first several years, but I could fulfill a long-time dream of opening a coffeehouse on a fraction of what it would have cost to do it elsewhere. And I could paint, and write, and have my daughter with me in a place where homeschooling didn't raise eyebrows.

For ten years Dragonstar and I have been following our bliss in this place where so much makes me crazy -- the sprawl, the billboards, the lack of small cafes and walkable neighborhoods. The coffeehouse has passed into other hands, and it still thrives, which is gratifying. I know all my neighbors, most of them by name, and when the fourth of July comes around, I'll wander to the river and watch the fireworks and sing those lines from that old X song. The organic tomatoes come from the garden now, and I wear t-shirts every day, and we're barefoot a lot, though I still have several of those suits and high heels packed away in the closet, along with a copy of the L.A. Weekly saved from those volatile days all those years ago. Souvenirs.

Dragonstar is off with her dad to a Renaissance Faire, and the neighborhood kids are shooting off fireworks. Hey, baby. It's (almost) the Fourth of July.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Retro

I'm not much of a baker. It doesn't suit my temperament, all that measuring and sifting, all that kneading and rolling and dusting of flour, the hot oven, the interminable wait, the inevitable disappointment when the cake falls, the pie filling doesn't set.

But never mind all that. Lately I've been a little more eager to get out the bowls and rubber scraper, with the addition of this little lovely to my cast of kitchen characters.

I found her at a neighborhood garage sale, and she spoke to me in a language beyond skill or temperament. Avocado green! Original box! Two dollars! Sold!

"But you don't bake."

So? Surely one needn't be a whiz at cakes and tortes to appreciate such a treasure.

Both my mother and grandmother, not to mention all my aunts, could roll out perfect pie crusts and scratch cakes that didn't sink in the center, so I suffer not from a lack of good teachers, just lack of aptitude. Blame it on my fractious personality, but truth be told, I find solo baking a little bit lonely. I might enjoy it more in a different kitchen, one large enough to fill with women friends, and a couple bottles of wine on the table to pass and season the conversation, if not the biscotti. No one I know has such a kitchen. We're all making do with 1950s kitchens -- tons of character but no space -- or apartment kitchens, where it's crowded even with just you and the cat.

Maybe when the landlord sells the house we'll move to a place with a big kitchen. BBPiT (Best Bass Player in Town) says how about a farmhouse in Lynnville? Ooh: baking in the shade of the stripper pits. That would be different.

Still: garage sales yield the most surprising things. And who knows what inspiration might come tucked inside the box? Pineapple upside down cake... banana pudding... the urge to re-do the kitchen in foil wallpaper and daisy-shaped placemats... The possibilities are endless. I think I'm going to ponder them while I make a chocolate pie.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Left Brain Right Brain Bug Brain

In my morning web wanderings I came across an essay at Life Without School that explores the difficulties encountered by right-brain learners in left-brain world. An excerpt:

"Mass institutions of education teach in a left-brained fashion. They use such formats as sequential scope and sequence resources, short-term memorization, part to whole "show me" steps, and verbal-based written work. There is nothing inherently wrong with this process, as there are a group of people who function best with this style, but there is an equal group of people who learn in an exact opposite manner. Right-brained people learn best with random interest-based resources, long-term association, whole to part conceptual formats, and visual pictorial mental work. Because our schooling systems are "no fault zones", they are prone to labeling these children who learn differently than they instruct as ... disordered, broken, or learning disabled."

I believe I've met some of those children, and their parents: mothers in particular who were desperate to find another explanation for why their child was having so much trouble learning to read. If you know one of those parents, pass along the link above.

In other news: we were paid a visit by this young katydid the other day. Brilliant transluscent green, about three inches long from antennae to rear legs. Dragonstar jumped a foot into the air when it finally launched itself from the rear window of my car and made off across the lawn.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Water Company Cometh

Yesterday I got to thinking about water.

For reasons relating to my landlord's Unfortunate Decision to Sell My House, the water bill he was supposed to pay had not been paid. It had not been paid, in fact, for many months. Since the bills are sent to his house, not mine, I was blissfully unaware that the situation had become dire. So imagine my surprise when a man from the water company showed up in my yard with a funny little tool, opened the plate covering the water access valve, and turned off the water to my house.

Dragonstar was in mid-shower. I was putting in a load of laundry. Suddenly we had no water. Nothing from the tap, nothing filling the toilet tank, nothing coming from the water spout on the fridge. An instant was all it took.

Well, it got me thinking. It also got me cussing my landlord and pleading with some very unhelpful customer service reps at the water company and stomping around the house in righteous fury, which was all very dramatic, but somewhat beside the point. What I began to contemplate was the precarious nature of this infrastructure under which we live from day to day. We expect the water to flow from our faucets. Things fall apart very quickly when it doesn't.

Curiously, just one day before, I read this report from the city of Mysore, India, located in the southern reaches of the subcontinent, near Bangalore. Things are not good in Mysore. There is not enough water. The reporter tells of pipes that gurgle at 3 a.m., and if you're awake and you hear them, you grab as many containers as you have and fill them until the water stops flowing some three or four hours later. It may not flow again for days.

You learn to live a contingent sort of life. You learn to get while the getting is good.

After the third call to the landlord's voice mail and as many to the water company, we were able to get our service restored. In the meantime, my neighbor brought a pitcher of cold water to us, made her bathroom available, and told us to help ourselves to water from her outdoor faucet. Today the laundry is getting done.

In Stillness Speaks, Eckhart Tolle writes "The dysfunction of the old consciousness and the arising of the new are both accelerating. Paradoxically, things are getting worse and better at the same time, although the worse is more apparent because it makes so much 'noise'."

In the desert cities of the American Southwest people continue to water their lawns through consecutive years of drought. The Colorado River dries up in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, and overdrawn Lake Powell has a green algae bathtub ring, but more taps are being added all the time: Las Vegas and Tucson continue to grow. Farmers used to believe the rain followed the plow; the great Dustbowl proved them wrong. Now some fools seem to believe that water follows the developer.

There is word of a car being developed that runs on water. Should we be pleased at this, or should we wonder whether fueling our personal vehicles is the best use for this vital resource?

Here at home, yesterday's crisis becomes today's anecdote. My landlord finally called and apologized, and offered me a reduced rent in exchange for taking over payment of the water bill. So is the glass half-full or half-empty? Sometimes it's both. And sometimes, as George Carlin says, it's just that the glass, like the question, is too dang big.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Inculcating Norms

In The Homework Myth, Alfie Kohn deconstructs the rationale for assigning homework. He might just as easily be writing about schooling in general. Two quotes:
"The point evidently is not to train children to practice making meaningful decisions, or become part of a democratic society, or learn to think critically. Rather, what's being prescribed are lessons in doing what one is told and learning to work hard regardless of whether the work is worth doing."
And:
"Perhaps the assertion that homework is "practice for life" is a partial truth: It's really practice for a life spent working in corporations. And perhaps it's not just about teaching skills that may be useful to a future employer; it's about inculcating norms, helping to produce workers who are used to, and will not complain about, the long working day."
Finally, a thought from Derrick Jensen, from A Language Older Than Words:
"Only recently -- especially after teaching at a university for a few years -- have I come to understand why the process of schooling takes so long. Even when I was young it seemed to me that most classroom material could be presented and assimilated in four, maybe five, years... I've since come to understand the reason school lasts thirteen years. It takes that long to sufficiently break a child's will. It is not easy to disconnect children's wills, to disconnect them from their own experiences of the world in preparation for the lives of painful employment they will have to endure. Less time wouldn't do it, and in fact, those who are especially slow go to college. For the exceedingly obstinate child there is graduate school."

Monday, May 28, 2007

A Sacred Act

From entrepreneur and social activist Paul Hawken:
Inspiration is not garnered from litanies of what is flawed; it resides in humanity’s willingness to restore, redress, reform, recover, reimagine, and reconsider. Healing the wounds of the Earth and its people does not require saintliness or a political party. It is not a liberal or conservative activity. It is a sacred act.
Read the entire article at Orion.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

A Stack from the Stacks

Ah, we love our libraries.

Dragonstar has gone with her dad on their annual Memorial Day weekend camping trip, first heading to Alabama for the Acoustic Cafe music festival, then to Murfreesboro, Tennesee for the Renaissance Faire. My other sweetie has a gig in New Harmony tonight. That leaves me to my books, and such books they are!

The urge to try a new art form has prompted me to grab a couple dramatic anthologies, Laugh Lines and Talk to Me, one containing contemporary short comedic plays, the other a collection of monologues. No, it's not acting that intrigues me. It's play-writing. So of course I'm reading plays. Lots of plays. Both anthologies are Vintage paperbacks edited by Eric Lane and Nina Shengold.

Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek has been on my Must Read list for years. Why has it taken me so long? An excerpt:
Nature is, above all, profligate. Don't believe them when they tell you how economical and thrifty nature is, whose leaves return to the soil. Wouldn't it be cheaper to leave them on the tree in the first place? This deciduous business alone is a radical scheme, the brainchild of a deranged manic-depressive with limitless capital. Extravagance! Nature will try anything once.
I am a long-time fan of Margaret Atwood. One of my early attempts at writing a novel was inspired by her wickedly wry exploration of girlhood and the tentacles of girls' relationships, Cat's Eye. Her latest work, The Penelopiad, is a reworking of the myth of Odysseus from the perspective of Penelope. Of her marriage to the suitor from the "goat-strewn rock" of Ithaca, the Spartan princess tells us, "And so I was handed over to Odysseus, like a package of meat . A package of meat in a wrapping of gold, mind you. A sort of gilded blood pudding." Yummy.

Two books to inspire the writer: one from the amazingly prolific Joyce Carol Oates, another from Mary Pipher, who gave us Reviving Ophelia a few years back. Oates grew up near my home town in western New York state. We have that much in common, anyway.

Several years ago I read two books by Susan Chernak McElroy, one called Animals as Teachers & Healers, the other Animals as Guides for the Soul. Both books take for granted the rich emotional life of our fellow creatures. Is it as astonishing to you as it is to me that science still doubts the full and complex emotions of dogs and chimps and birds and gazelles and, yes, elephants? Jeffrey Masson's When Elephants Weep is scholarly and fascinating. If the field biologists who describe story after compelling story of animals in love or in grief are commiting the sin of anthropomorphism, what but arrogance can you call the dismissive response of those scientific court stenographers who claim that only humans -- the vaunted "anthro" -- can love and grieve? Anecdotes are not science, say the scientists. So? Anecdotes are stories. To dismiss the story is to miss the point entirely. The story is the thread that weaves human culture. It is not an inferior way of knowing, it is an other way of knowing. Not either/or, but both/and.

Creativity by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (some names ought to come with pronunciation guides) is a follow up to his book Flow. My favorite bit of advice contained in this later work: "Start doing more of what you love, less of what you hate." Brilliant. And I only had to read 357 pages to get to it!

But then, I do love to read.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Roots and Flotsam

We wandered over the hill to the riverbank this morning. The Ohio has receded, shrinking in its channel, leaving great swaths of parched earth on the northern side, dirt all cracked and fissured and reptilian. A family of Canada geese was breakfasting in the tall grass -- how fast it grows, that grass, those weeds. A city crew had already been through, whacking down the tallest of the new tree growth along the shore. I don't know why they do that. Mercy killing?

A great stump had washed up, its roots upended, all fingerlings and ganglia. I broke off a section to bring home. Then I added another small wedge of driftwood, its bark largely gone, bleached bone showing through. The last piece: a section of a plastic bottle, produced to hold Dove dishwashing liquid, the white bird of peace embossed on the severed torso.

I put the pieces together in my back yard. Is it art? Is it beautiful?

The riverbank is littered with plastic. Folgers coffee containers, margarine tubs, lids and caps and bowls and bottles and jugs. We can wish it weren't so, wish all the trash would stay in its place, which is somewhere called "out", that place where we cast our unwanteds. But maybe all that trash is really testimony: the wretched refuse of our teeming culture. Why hide what we are, what we do? Why pretend that "out" is anything other than what it is: the places in the world we'd rather not see. And why protest when those places overspill their bounds and wash up in our backyards? This is our stuff. Yours and mine. We might as well claim it: at least that's honest. Call it art if you like, call it beautiful if you can. But let's at least call it ours.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Now It's a Garden

After last week's post Dragonstar and I headed up to the local plant and produce store to get ourselves some tomato plants. The selection wasn't good, but we managed to find three worthy specimens as well as a very pretty bell pepper all aflower. Once home, we tucked them into the dirt and pronounced it good.

And isn't that lettuce just the prettiest? We tried a new kind of sowing system this year: just strew it and forget about it. The result: lots of luscious plants growing cheek by jowl, no room for weeds to sneak in, and a delicious variety of tastes in every handful. Can't get Dragonstar to eat it, tho. She's not a lettuce kind of girl. But wait until those sugar snap peas mature. She'll be having breakfast right off the vine.



Saturday, May 12, 2007

Saturday Garden Blogging

It's mid-May. The sun is high. I should be watering the tomatoes. But alas: there are no tomatoes in my garden this year, no peppers, no eggplants. This year we have put in only sugar snap peas and lettuce, early crops that went in before we got The News About the Decision to Sell the House, and will peak in production by Solstice, and surely we will not have vacated the premises by then.

We are not actively looking for another house to rent, though it feels like a reconfiguration of our situation is on the distant horizon, inchoate and shimmering like a desert mirage. Our landlord has been mute on the subject since that call last month, just after the deadline for filing taxes (Coincidence? I don't think so), when he announced in somewhat of a panic that he was putting the house up for sale. Is he proceeding with that plan? Have cooler heads prevailed? I don't know. I will find out when I find out. Meanwhile it's snap peas and lettuce, and chives, and pretty purple salvia, the latter being inedible as far as I know, but satisfying of a different sort of hunger.

I just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, which has left me a little wistful about the meager garden we have this year. Maybe a few tomato plants wouldn't be such a bad idea after all. Early Girls that will ripen in July, Sweet 100s to pluck and eat right off the vine. If we have to leave them behind, so be it. We live here now. Might as well live as we like, while we're here, right now.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

New ATCs

What do you do when you have the house to yourself for the entire weekend? If you're me, you make art.

These are a couple of the new Artist Trading Cards I've been working on. Dragonstar and I are going to the Live & Learn Conference in Asheville in September -- the largest conference in the country for unschoolers, or so I hear -- and from what I understand there is a lively ATC crowd among the attendees, so I'm stocking up on cards for trading.

I wandered the internet a bit yesterday, and found this. Gorgeous, inspiring, humbling. I had to go sit down outside after viewing only 60 or so images, and there are nearly a thousand images on the site. You could get lost for days in there.

Current reading list: Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle; Anne Lamott's Grace (Eventually); and Apocalypse 2012 by Lawrence E. Joseph, a strangely upbeat exploration of the end of the world as we know it.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Paper Beads

A while back Dragonstar and I wandered in to our local coffeehouse to spend the evening with Troubadours of Divine Bliss, a most-aptly named duo from the Louisville area.

While Dragonstar went to sit with friends up front near the stage, I set up camp at a table with two fellow artists, Beth and Jane.

Now, Beth and Jane are much like me in that we don't spend much money on our art materials. We typically work with what we have, and much of what we do is experimental. Also, none of us can sit long without pulling some craft or other from our bag. Beth usually has her knitting sticks. I often have collage ephemera to sort and trim. This time it was Jane who came prepared. She set out a bottle of glue, a handful of plastic coffee-stirrers, and small strips of paper torn from pages of an old book. As the Troubadours serenaded, she took a strip, spread some glue, and rolled the paper neatly around a coffee-stirrer.

Well, call me intrigued. Like the hundredth monkey and the sweet potato, I watched for awhile, then I picked up a strip, dipped it into the glue and rolled. Then Beth took a pile of strips, and the next thing you know we have an impromptu paper-bead-making party going on. We made dozens of stir-sticks full of little beads. Talk about Divine Bliss. The time flew by. The music was sublime. Our fingers were coated with Elmer's. And during the liveliest version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow you could ever hope to hear, Jane looked up from her work and said, "It really doesn't get any better than this." C'est bon.

Over the next two days I made the handful of paper beads shown above. The paper I used was cut from two experimental pencil drawings I made using the set of Prismacolor pencils my boyfriend gave me this past Christmas. The drawings were terrible, but I think the beads are kinda pretty. They're coated with Mod Podge gloss, which makes them nice and shiny. Sort of like that evening.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Letterbox Stamps

No more store-bought stamps for us! Today Dragonstar and I carved our own signature stamps for our letterbox treks, using Speedball tools and a 4x6" rubber stamp pad, cut into four sections. (So we have two left... I see alter-egos in our Letterboxing future.)

We drew our designs on cut-to-size pieces of paper, then transferred them to the stamp by laying them face down on the surface and burnishing the back with a pencil. (You remember the technique: you probably learned it when you were seven.) After that it was just choose a carving nib and be bold!

Dragonstar's stamp needs no explanation. My stamp is "Buffalo Pearl" because I am originally from the Buffalo area, and "pearl" is my name in Gaelic.