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, 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?