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.