Monday, November 18, 2013

Book Report: The Unsettling of America

Wendell Berry has been calling me for many years. His thoughts glowed like gems in Michael Pollan's books and I've heard his poems from time to time on The Writer's Almanac. But, my illuminated path brought me to him now, at this moment, after about a year of settling into the Waldorf approach to education, and family life.

The Unsettling of Americais about farming, but it's author argues that this subject touches all others. His central argument is that the Industrial Revolution was dedicated to specialization and expertise, which eventually lead to isolation. Modern life has applied specialization and the rule of experts to every aspect of human existence; in farms, factories, schools, hospitals, churches and banks. The trouble is that isolation is deadly to a human being. We thrive on making connections, on our sense of being part of a whole, and on working jointly. 

Though this title was first published in 1975, many of the problems he described  have become further exaggerated. For an example, look at our increased reliance on technology that insists that we connect to each other by being alone in a room sitting before a screen. Consider the way consumerism has become the supreme method of personal expression and goods have become cheap in both senses- inexpensive, yes, but shoddy and disposable too. 

This dislocation and constant striving to separate systems into finer and finer parts, is what I find so deeply appealing about the Waldorf approach. At it's best, it is rooted firmly in holism.

I am not a machine that can be separated into parts and then reassembled, made to run quicker, faster, and more efficiently. Instead, I am a creature with parts that all function differently, but rely on complex integration to work with greater depth and wisdom over time, as I develop my capacities.

I have a spirit, which can experience things my mind and body cannot. It can sense elation, freedom and despair. It knows things my mind and body don't- it has foresight, and the power to restore. It relishes mystery, beauty and the unknowable.

I have a body, which gives physical sensation to my existence- it gives me access to the bounty of sensual experience, the delight of a ripe cherry- perhaps too many, like Zorba the Greek. My body knows the pleasure of sinking into my bed after a long day of hard work, the smell of my husband's unwashed hair, or the texture of his beard on the soft skin of my neck.

I have a mind which relishes the task of absorbing new information, then analyzing it's strengths and weaknesses, then synthesizing it into something that belongs to me because I have applied myself to it and created my own thought from it. My mind enjoys a puzzle, a challenge, sorting, organizing and solving.

But none of these parts of my being can function totally independently of one another. My body must be fed and well for my mind to be engaged. My spirit must be willing, even delighted, for my mind to take on the task of learning with sustained effort. My body's sensations are what help me feel the existence of my spirit- the soaring feeling in my chest that echoes and thrums in the soaring arches of St. Peter's Basillica- that is my spirit stirring restlessly, but it was my body that let me feel it's existence, and my mind that helped me name and reflect on it.

The point is that for me as a human being, these complex systems must interact and work together. They can't be singled out or walled off from one another and still allow me to grow and change- which is what all healthy living things must do.

Here is one particularly eloquent passage about unity. He quotes Sir Albert Howard's words: "Real organization always involves real responsibility," and describes how this man went from the laboratory to the fields to stop studying and start knowing.

"He unspecialized his vision, so as to see the necessary unity of the concerns of agriculture, as well as the convergence of these concerns with concerns of other kinds: biological, historical, medical, moral  and so on. He sought to establish upon agriculture the same kind of unifying cycle that preserves health, fertility and renewal in nature: The Wheel of Life, by which death supersedes life and rises again from what is dying and decayed.

It remains to be said only what has often been said before, that the best human cultures also have this unity. Their concerns and enterprises are not fragmented, scattered out,  at variance or in contention with one another...If a culture is to hope for any considerable longevity, then the relationships within it must, in recognition of their interdependence, be predominantly cooperative, rather than competitive.

A people cannot live long at each other's expense or at the expense of their cultural birthright-just as an agriculture cannot live long at the expense of it's soil or it's workforce, just as in a natural system the competitions among species must be limited if all are to survive...

The definitive relationships in the universe are thus not competitive, but interdependent...Under the discipline of unity, knowledge and morality come together...To know anything at all becomes a moral predicament. Aware that there is no such thing as a specialized- or even an entirely limitable or controllable-effect, one becomes responsible for judgments as well as facts. Aware that as an agricultural scientist he had 'one great subject' Sir Albert Howard could no longer ask What can I do with what I know? without also asking How can I be responsible for what I know? "

Unity offers the sense of purpose and responsibility that is so woefully absent from the culture I live in. If I can see myself as part of the place I live in, with other people who depend on me and on whom I depend, then the decisions I make have a greater weight, because they are not contained to my life alone.

When I am responsible only for myself, I don't always make healthy or conscientious decisions. (Like, eating PopTarts for dinner with the T.V on.) But when I am responsible to those around me, I am motivated to do my best. (Cooking for days to prepare a Thanksgiving feast for our community of transplanted friends in Hawaii.) Simplistic examples, to be sure, but tangible ones.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Money is like Manure.

Money, Money, Money, Money. It's fascinating stuff. I'm not very accountable with the little bit that I do have- I spend it on eating out, entertainment, shopping, and it's easy to lose sight of long term goals. Since Eric and I have a goal of running Becky Kazana together full time, I recently decided to actually write down those goals, so I'd have a way to measure our progress and to remind myself of the larger benefits of the daily sacrifices it takes to be thrifty.

I turned our goals into an illustration for our fridge. It'a an interesting portrait- remember what Holly Golightly's mobster accountant tells her in Breakfast at Tiffany's? He says her receipts could be turned into a best selling novel. I imagine that's true of almost anyone's bank account.

Our goals include saving money for a baby or two, money for our emotional and physical health, money for travel (those are airplanes, dressed in the national costumes of places we might want to visit!) and money as a result of creative work- a reward for being a consumer, not just a producer.

Another of my cherished movie axioms about money comes from Hello, Dolly!. She quotes her late husband, saying "Money is like manure. It should be spread around, encouraging young things to grow." Originally, I loved his because I thought of it as avoiding stinginess or miserliness. You can't take it with you, so enjoy it, right? But I think it also means that wealth is something that you must cultivate, care for. Money on it's own isn't an end. It's what you can grow with it, what you nurture with it that makes it valuable. For me, that's my health- my relationships, my body, my mind, and the experiences I will gather over the course of a lifetime. It isn't things, the way I used to think it would be.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

City Groceries

One of the great pleasures of living in a city again has been the access to such extraordinary food. In Hawaii, we enjoyed beautiful local papayas, with their orange pink flesh and black seeds glistening like shiny pearls, freshly caught ahi in sushi and poke studded with salt and black pepper, and local favorites like crunchy, salty sweet seaweed salad and roasted seaweed chips. But for fine dining, we were mostly on our own. There was nothing to be had but overpriced steaks and chocolate lava cake.

Here in Minneapolis, there is no shortage of incredible places to try, and we've had fun working our way through. The Lowry, Rye,  Burch Steak, Sebastian Joe's, Nightengale and Roat Osha are all within walking distance.

But the grocery stores have been the most refreshing change of pace. We live across from The Wedge which is a community run co-op, and the place we go most frequently for a gallon of milk or eggs. But Kowalski's is definitely my favorite stop. It's a luxe shopping experience, with beautiful lighting and aisles set closer together to feel more like a boutique than a supermarket. Last time I was in, I discovered some recipe cards for creating a perfect cheese board, complete with suggestions for cracker, jam and wine pairings. I felt inspired to have a fall wine and cheese party, and started musing about music, a guest list and which linens to use. It made me glad to be back in a city again, where access to fine things is as simple as a stroll down my block.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Mailbox Refresher

Our mailboxes looked like this. I took matters into my own hands. Goo gone and a razor blade got the sticky mishmash of labels off. I sanded them with a fine grade sandpaper and gave them several coats of black Chalkboard Paint .  

Next, I used a chalk pen to write all the names directly on the box. It's a great solution for an apartment, because we can just wipe it clean when someone moves in or out and add the new line up of names. Our mail carrier actually thanked me. "I can see who lives here!" she said.

 I"m looking forward to returning to my long absence from blogging soon, I need to reclaim my creative space and am glad to have this spot waiting. Where are your creative energies flowing right now?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Makeover the Moon

 I found this little fellow during a thrifting expedition. He decided to come home with me and spent a few months serving as a paperweight on my desk. I liked his hand carved features, but wasn't sure how best to accentuate them. Then a few weeks ago, inspiration struck and I spent a pleasant morning on my front porch with a cup of coffee, sanding out his rough edges. Next, I added a little iridescent paint and an eye screw. I strung a few glass glitter stars strung on some fishing line and...

now he's shimmering and swinging sweet dreams over our heads each night. I'm crazy about his garbo-esque eyebrows. After all, if the moon can't get away with stage makeup, who can? What have you made new lately?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Delicious Caramels & Caramel Corn from Annie B's!

Annie B's makes incredible caramels and candied popcorn. They are always running fun contests on their Facebook and Twitter pages.

They recently asked: In 10 words or less, tell us why your mom is the best, and win her some caramel-y goodness!

I replied: She still hasn't stopped reading me fairy tales. I'm 30. #WhyMyMomRules #GiveHerCandy

I made the mistake of having them send the candy loot to my house- when really, it should have gone to straight to my wonderful mum. I think you know what happened next... The sweet note inside warned that the popcorn was especially addictive, and it didn't take me long to polish it off.

In fact, I just had to place another order to make it up to my sweet mother, who really does still read me fairy tales.

Best of all, the caramel corn is gluten free, perfect for my Mom, recently diagnosed with Celiac disease and who recently celebrated one year of living gluten-free. She says she feels like a new woman since cutting out flour

I have a feeling she's going to enjoy every sweet, salty, buttery and delicious morsel.

Merci Annie B's!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Escape from the Internet: A Digital Diet for Creativity

Escape Key by Elhorno
Being submerged in the internet for work each day means that managing my screen time has become a central issue in my life. I'm developing tricks for limiting technology use so I can stay present in my life. One is the digital diet outlined here. I like the simple metaphor of food he uses, because we all have to eat, but what, how much and when, all need to be tailored to our own bodies. 

I've personalized my digital diet by staying offline before and after work, (including my smartphone). For me, the five to eight hour window at work to check and reply to emails and get updated on Facebook is more than sufficient. I've also begun using mindfulness practices, list making and task batching to keep focused- a huge challenge since managing social media is my job! The cyclops we know as television is still part of my life, though I like to keep it at less than one hour per day, preferably none. 

However, none of this addresses the issue of finding time to be creative outside of work. Brene Brown says, "Unused creativity is not benign. It metastasizes." This haunts me, and I feel it with increasing urgency being back in a city so devoted to the arts. 

I've been trying to see a live arts performance at least once a month, since the Twin Cities is second only to New York City in theater seats per capita. The quality is impressive, and it's quite affordable if we see something edgy. During each of these performances, I feel that pang Brown spoke of. It's a squeeze of admiration, awe and jealousy for the people up on stage who are living their dream so fearlessly. It's not that I want to be a great actor. It's that I am an artist and I am not practicing my art. 

In the film Pollock, Lee Krasner says, "You are Jackson Pollock and you don't paint!", and it is her deepest recrimination. He's also a womanizer, and an alcoholic, but she can't forgive how he has turned his back on his talent. 

When I had the luxury of more time to pursue my creative work, I often wasted it on household tasks. I love to potter around my house, baking, organizing, crafting and sometimes, blogging about it. But do those things develop me as an artist? They are creative, but are they art? Are they the one, unique song of my soul? 

I don't think so. They are things I do to feel productive, without actually tackling the work. Artistic work is internal, it means peering into your own soul and seeing what bubbles up from that dark, deep, mysterious well. The housework is tangible, I can see the result when I sort my underwear drawer or mop the floor. Art  sometimes has a physical result, a drawing, an essay, but that isn't the reason for it. That is just an after image, a footprint, a shadow. The real thing art does is to fills you up, in an invisible way, with satisfaction at the effort of looking, taking, and making. It also fills you with a yearning for more of that. 

So how can it be that something so good for me can be so hard to do? So hard to make time for? What is stopping me? My jobs aren't stopping me. My housework isn't stopping me. The internet isn't stopping me. It's me stopping me. But why? Where does fear come from when only good things have ever come from practicing art? 

Do you wrestle with finding time to be creative? Do you want to take the time to listen to the song of your heart, but also feel afraid to listen? 

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