Wednesday, April 23, 2008

When the Ducks Are All Lined Up...

I came across this paragraph in a recent essay by author Ron Miller on the Paths of Learning website:
When the culture shifts, when a holistic worldview finally replaces our technocracy, children and families will have access to many kinds of learning environments, and they will be free to cultivate their own personal destinies. Instead of being managed and measured, learning will be organic, more attuned to the developmental needs of children and the sustainable patterns of nature. This will be the end of schooling, and the rediscovery of genuine education.
Here's what I'm thinking: replace all the future-tense with present-tense and you might have something.

In other words, don't wait for the culture to shift; shift yourself now. Don't wait for the holistic worldview to replace technocracy. If that worldview resonates with you, embrace it now, replace that technocracy now, in whatever way, small or large, you see fit.

Change doesn't happen after we get everything set up right. Change happens as we go, moment by moment, in the decided acts of individuals who make specific choices, one at a time, day by day. Cultural change occurs in increments. Only in hindsight does it appear seismic.

Be bold. Don't wait. Do it now.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Yard Art

When I first moved to southern Indiana I went driving around the countryside with my now ex-husband, commenting on the proliferation of lawn decor: little windmills and fat gnomes and a seemingly endless parade of life-size deer that sometimes appeared solo, sometimes in a little family grouping of buck, doe and fawn. Of the deer I remember saying, "Maybe people put those out to attract the real ones." A short while later we passed a yard birdbath depicting Botticelli's Birth of Venus (aka Venus on the Half Shell), and my ex quipped, "I wonder what they hope to attract with that."

Tin Kitty, above, is our only outdoor cat. She keeps watch over the vegetable garden (planted two weeks ago with sugar snap peas and lettuces) and guards the flowering weeds.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

My New Favorite Thing

No more gasoline-powered, oil-burning, stinky, noisy, hard-to-start yard machine for me. I used my new reel mower for the first time yesterday. Online research prepared me: I was warned it wouldn't like twigs (true, it didn't like them at all) or tall-stemmed weeds (but it'll eat them with enough encouragement) or overgrown grass (ditto). But it did a fine job overall, and I am so happy with it I may even begin to look forward to mowing the yard. I feel so green...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

What it Means to be Healthy

He's writing about health care, and his focus is Prince Edward Island, Canada, but here's what I'm thinking about this engaging post from Robert Paterson's Weblog: if we're ever going to heal ourselves, not to mention this dysfunctional culture of ours, it's going to take a revolution in perspective, starting with how we see our children.

Paterson notes that 30% of Prince Edward Islanders drive more than 60% of the cost of health care. Of this group he writes:
The 30% - this is a modest estimate - are that group of people who also enter school at grade 1 unable to cope, behave and read. They have been wired for helplessness.
Unable to cope, behave, and read. Unable, in other words, to conform to norms and expectations and the needs of the system. For whatever reasons, this 30% is developing at a pace unacceptable to the institutions into which they are being placed. So why are they there? Can we think of no alternatives that might better serve the needs of these children -- the needs of all children -- rather than the needs of the system? Can they, for example, be given the freedom to learn what they need to learn at their own pace, in their own time?

Paterson continues:
If you grow up believing that you have no control in your life, your flight or fight stress process works all the time flooding your body with cortisol. It is this that weakens and finally compromises your immune system.

This is true in all primates.

And it is most true for the youngest among us. In western culture, children don't even own their own lives until they are 18 or 21 years old, by which time they have been subject to some 13 years of compulsory schooling and tens of thousands of corporate and cultural messages designed to propel them along an acceptable path, one which perpetuates the very system that has robbed them of their sense of control -- and, apparently, their health -- in the first place.

But control over one's life is often an illusion at any age. Ask the average college grad coming into the world of work owing $30,000 or more in school loans how much control they feel over the direction of their lives. Ask the mortgage holder. Ask anyone dependent on a paycheck how much control they really have. If one of the keys to good health is a sense of control over our lives, we might want to rethink our relationship to our entire economic system. To borrow from Wendell Berry, we could begin by asking, "What are people for?"

Further along, Paterson talks of medicating the diseases that arise due to a compromised immune system, and finds:
What works the best is when people are connected to others like them in a safe environment, where they are not judged and where they can help each other.
Connected. In a safe environment. Where they are not judged. How many schools meet these criteria? How many work places? How many homes?

Toward the end of the post Paterson describes a healthy environment, and it's not so much about the purity of the food, the air, the water, the soil, though I assume he would agree those things matter. Rather:
It is where the young are loved up and cared for by a trusting group. It is where the mothers are loved up and cared for by a trusting group. It is where the adults care for each other.

We are primates. Our immune system is driven by our social environment.

Loved up. Connected. Can't you just hear the pharmaceutical companies now: where's the profit in that?

There is much more to Paterson's post than the brief bits I've included here. Please go read it in its entirety. It is thoughtful and enlightening and just might spark your imagination in all kinds of revolutionary -- and enormously healthy -- ways.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


I remember an author (and dang it I can't recall who!) writing about the difficulty of transitions -- not just the big ones, like moving or starting a new job, but the daily ones, like getting out of the shower. (It sounds like an Anne Lamott lament. Anyone?)

These last several weeks have been a study in transitions. The evolutionary biologists like to speak of "punctuated equilibrium," where things shift and settle, shift and settle, first over here, then over there. We have been walking with our "train legs" for quite awhile, trying to maintain our balance through the sway.

Meanwhile, the daffodils in our yard have reached their utmost expressiveness, and the violets are finally showing themselves, and the little stand of tulips, whose color I never remember from year to year (oh, that's right: yellow!) are all in readiness. Sort of like us.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Traveling II

It's good, when you go away on vacation, to be gone long enough to realize you have indeed been somewhere. Twelve days about did it for us. By the time we headed for home -- a leg of the journey that took far longer than we would have liked -- Dragonstar and I were spent. We were done being gone.

Returning on the Amtrak from Phoenix is inconvenient. There is no train service to the city itself. The nearest point of departure is Flagstaff, two-plus hours north. The train leaves that station once each day, at 5 a.m. It gets into Kansas City the next morning, around 7:30, too late to catch the first train to St. Louis. The second train leaves at 4 p.m.

And so you wait. Union Station in Kansas City is gorgeous, and you'd love to explore it, but there are no lockers to stow your gear, and even though you thought you were "packing light" your 30-lb travel bag has become a lead albatross around your shoulder, and from the look on her face it's clear that your traveling companion is feeling the same about her 30-lb travel bag. Not for the first time you wish you had brought your wheeled bags instead, and not for the first time you remind yourself that your wheeled bags would not have fit in your tiny Superliner Roomette. You barely fit in your Superliner Roomette.

And so you pass the time in Kansas City dozing in the waiting room in the Amtrak wing of the station, because dozing helps the hours go by, and because the wooden benches are not nearly so uncomfortable when you are in the prone position.

Eight hours later, no longer concerned with how you look, you climb back on board a train, headed for home, grateful for the roomy coach class seat with its deep cushions and its footrest. The novel you bought at the bookstore in Phoenix takes you all the way into St. Louis. Your sweetie is waiting at the station, as happy to see you as you are to see him. It was 89 degrees the day you left Phoenix. It is perhaps 50 degrees in St. Louis. You have traveled far. You all climb into the van, and begin the long drive home.

Above, right: tin mask nestled in a stone shrine at the Mystery Castle in Phoenix.