Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Three weeks ago today 20 little children, their teachers and a long-suffering mother were senselessly gunned down by a seemingly mentally ill young man with assault weapons.

The entire nation watched in horror.  We wrung our hands.  We tsk-tsk-ed.  We said some prayers that day.  We wrote angry rants on Facebook.  Some of us wrote our congresspeople.

Then it was Christmas, a fiscal cliff, a new  year, new stories.  We turned our attention elsewhere.

We must NOT abandon those kids and their families or the families of the brave schoolteachers.

We must NOT just tsk-tsk.

The NRA works every day of the year to ensure guns are plentiful.  What are WE doing?

Did you know that there are over 80 guns for every 100 people in America?

Can you think of one good reason why anyone, anywhere, at any time needs an assault weapon?

Please join me in REGULARLY writing our president, your two senators and your one representative to demand an end to assault weapons, to demand a tightening of gun control measures and to demand better funding and accessibility for mental health programs.

Will this prevent another Newtown, Connecticut?  Perhaps not.  But when the more civilized nations of the world have banned assault weapons or instituted gun control their mass shootings have disappeared.

We can make a difference.  We owe it to those small children to act on their behalf.

I pledge to contact my representatives at least once/month for a minimum of 26 months to demand positive change.  I plan to do it on the 14th of each month.

Will you join me?

Do not abandon those kids

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Sundays are Spirituality Day here at Taking it to the Streets

Driving home from the movies last night, my friend and I were admiring the Christmas lights that have sprung up in my town like daffodils in the spring.  Festive, cheerful, sentimental (bringing back such fond memories of childhood) they are a harbinger of the coming winter holidays – for many of us, Christmas.

I’ve noticed how many religious traditions have holidays at this time of year that celebrate brining in the light.  Which, if you are in the Northern Hemisphere, makes a lot of sense as we move inexorably towards Winter Solstice, this longest night of the year.

We bring in the light.  We reassure  ourselves that really, don’t worry about it, the Sun will return! (and interestingly, Christians talk about the birth of the S-O-N, as we all re-welcome the rebirth of the S-U-N).

For me, having Christmas trees is a similar remembrance – the fecundity of the earth is not GONE, it’s just sleeping.

I so enjoy these aspects of “the holidays” and enjoy the music (well, at first – after the one hundredth time I hear “The First Noel” it DOES grate…).  The sense of festivity, of conviviality, of warmth – all those beckon me in, invitingly.

What I don’t enjoy is the way our desire to love and please one another – to connect, to see and be seen – has been perverted into a frenzy of often mindless materialism.  I am particularly put off by “Black Friday” and the attendant hysteria around getting deals.

When my friend Becky died after a 111 day bout of cancer, at the age of 46, I very viscerally got that the race between time and money is truly a no-contest race – time trumps money every time.  Because, despite gloomy economists and a sagging economy, I will tell you  that you CAN get more money.  Time?  not so much.

That’s why time is one of my two favorite gifts to both give and receive (for the other see the third bullet point below).  What do I want?  Quality time with people I love.  The chance to laugh and love and talk and sing.  Just that.  Maybe a drawing from the wee children in my life, or a poem.  In fact – you can write me a poem too – that would be delightful.

Oh, I’m not a curmudgeon (at least not on this score).  I am a believer in buying “stuff” for little kids (though I don’t do it at Christmas when they gorge themselves on stuff, preferring to send surprise gifts throughout the year).

Here’s my list of things to consider in celebrating this season:

  • Create memorable holiday traditions with your family and friends and focus on the experience.  My family decorated our tree on Christmas Eve when I was a kid and we always had walnuts and tangerines while doing so – just putting those out at this time of the year brings me a flood of happy memories.
  • Consider doing donations as gifts.  My wonderful friends and neighbors, Pete and Julie, do that with their adult siblings – all band together and do a group donation to a favorite charity.
  • Some charities make it easy to be specific – I love Heifer, International where you can pick a specific animal. My dad grew up on a farm – we have given him a cow for Father’s Day or his birthday – honoring him, but changing the lives of other people.
  • If you’re not a fan of what you consider to be “handouts” then invest in someone’s dreams on behalf of your loved one with an interest paying loan to Kiva (“Change a life for $25”) or Kickstarter (“Fund and follow creativity”).
  • Consider an outing to a cultural place together – and then go out for hot chocolate afterwards to discuss your adventure.  Museums, plays – if you are in or near a big city the possibilities are endless – but I bet you have such choices wherever you live.
  • Or, celebrate winter (if you live in the Northern Hemisphere) by being IN it – go ice skating, sledding, take a walk in the woods, sit outside by a firepit – be with those you love in the bracing outdoors (and then that hot chocolate or hot toddy will be especially welcomed!)
  • Cook together.  Instead of stressing on the performance art of pulling off a feast – or the expense of catering one – invite your friends to make a cozy winter brunch or simple dinner – the laughter and happy talk as you  prepare the food will infuse it with even more love.
  • Do something crafty together.  Similarly, decorating can feel like an Olympic competition – but it doesn’t have to.  How about having a “let’s make our holiday decor party” with your women friends (I’m just not picturing guys enjoying this – but if they do, invite ’em!)
  • For many of us, this is still a spiritual or religious holiday.  Whatever tradition you celebrate – Diwali a little while ago, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa – “remember the reason for the season” and find ways to deepen your spiritual connection to God as you understand God.
  • Finally, find a way to be generous to those in need.  One of the happiest Christmas’s I have spent was one in my twenties when I baked cookies for the firemen in the firehouse down the street and then went and volunteered to help at a dinner that the local Catholic Church put on for the homeless and those in need on Christmas Day.  While I was serving turkey and mashed potatoes, a lady, probably in her 40s, with Down’s syndrome came up to me squealing “Look! I got a watch! I got a Mickey Mouse watch!” – her exultation with her gift totally made my day and all these years later still makes me smile.

My plans, still unfolding, contain many elements of what I’ve listed above.  How about you?  In what ways do you find deep meaning in this season?  Have you found a way to keep it both simple and meaningful?  As always, I’d really like to know!

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“Today I am grateful for love over hate, yes over no, the future over the past, hope over fear and WE THE PEOPLE over billionaires, corporations and Super PACs.  VERY VERY VERY grateful!”

That’s what I wrote on FaceBook on November 7.  It’s been a long and often vitriolic election season.  Our country has been so divided.  And, as was true for me in another highly charged time – 1968 and 1972 – it has affected me personally as the political divide in my family has caused pain on both sides.

When I was a child one of my father’s maxims was “if  you  can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” – and after the obvious differences in our family got highlighted with the whole Chik-Fil-A anti-gay-marriage event, my upset has kept me from my blog.

But I woke up on the morning of November 7 after what was, for me, the single best overall election in my lifetime of voting, realizing that I had just participated in a historic event.

The tide has been turned.

The discord isn’t over and there are challenges ahead.

But a very significant change has occurred – we have crossed a threshold and there is no going back.  America, which has been slowly and inexorably changing, crossed a tipping point.  Ward and June Cleaver are dead – the new day has dawned!

The coalition of purported ‘minorities’ are, in fact, the new majority – Latinos, African-Africans, Asians, and single women.

This nation has long been known as a melting pot – and now that reality is the new order.

One of the insightful articles I read (Manchester Guardian? Josh Levs? How I wish I had bookmarked and can’t now find it) said that this election showed that the culture wars of the sixties won.

20 women senators! Our country’s first gay senator!  Gay marriage gets a boost in 4 states – from the PEOPLE, not the courts!

When I was young we dreamed of, longed for, and some worked towards “The Revolution.”  It took 44 years, but it has finally come to pass!

Now comes the work that I personally mapped out for myself at the beginning of this year, and from which I got sorely distracted by divisive politics – Create. Positive. Change

I am very excited about the prospects for America.  I believe in Hope.  I believe in Forward.  I believe in – and embrace – positive change.  Most of all, I embrace “We the People”.  And, as I posted on FaceBook – I am SO energized and ecstatic that We the People won:

“WE THE PEOPLE won – Not the Koch Brothers, Not Addleson, not Citizens United, Not corporations – WE THE PEOPLE.”

God Bless America, land that I love!

From the most re-tweeted tweet ever – victory!

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Like the rest of America (and the world) I am mourning the horrific shootings Friday in Aurora, Colorado.  And while there are many factors that likely contributed to this nightmare, two things stood out for me:

  • It occurred at the premiere of a violent movie. 
  • It occurred in a country in which assault weapons are “legal”

What shocks me is that so much of the country acts as if these two facts are totally unrelated to this tragedy and the many before it (and the many that will continue unless we change our ways).

To my mind, if you go to violent movies, watch violent television, read violent books or play violent computer games you are contributing to the epidemic of violence in America.  Worse yet, if you allow impressionable children to do any of these things you may be raising a kid like James Holmes. 

Why do we pretend that the violent images we put into our brains – or worse the developing brains of children and adolescents – have no effect?

For the same reason we believe that the junk food and poisons (including carcinogens like sugar) we put into our body are “treats”, not the cause of most illness.

As Al Gore would say, these are “inconvenient” truths.

Inconvenient in that facing them would make us as individuals, and America as a country, have to change our ways.

Let’s not forget what the Second Amendment REALLY says:  “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Well-regulated.  Milita.

NOT assault weapons and 6,000 rounds of ammunition for a lone individual.

What did we think would happen when we broadened this definition? (And hey, thanks, Supreme Court, thanks a lot…)

Similarly, you can read news stories on the epidemic of obesity and the “health care crisis”.  People give young children non-stop sugar, sugary drinks and fast food.  Which is exactly what they feed themselves.  Really, what do they think will happen?

I asked my friend Kay when she was working as a nurse in a hospital what percentage of patients were there due to either accidents or genetic disease and what percentage were there due to lifestyle.  She said at least 75% lifestyle.  My reading on the topic says that that is the low end.  It’s more likely 85% or more. 

But we pretend that taking our kids to see Batman or taking them to McDonalds are “treats” and not the genesis of thinking violence is okay and lifelong health problems.

In my mind, the most important question to ask in situations like Aurora, Colorado or the national obesity/disease epidemic is “Who benefits?”

Who benefits by lax gun laws in America?  The NRA and the politicians they support.  Not you and me.

Who benefits by the obesity/disease epidemic (they are one and the same):  Big Food; Big Pharma; Insurance companies and the medical industry.  Not you and me.

I’m sad about Aurora.  But I’m also mad as hell. And I’m mad that Americans let themselves be duped by rich lobbyists and industries over and over again.  It’s time to wake up and take back your lives. Protect your children.  Or — expect more cause and effect.  Because, if you ask me, it’s NOT unintended consequences.  It’s basic cause and effect.  Violence in equals violence out.  Junk food in equals disease and death.

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Old boots

When I was a young woman, oh, about 10 minutes ago, my now-brother-in-law was a hippie artist Princeton student.  He had the coolest old boots.  I had boot envy – wanted old boots like Arthur’s.  But I was probably 24 years old and “old” would have been, at best maybe 6 years old.

Then I got my own hippie life.  Like all of my contemporaries, we thought we were making the world a-new.  And it would NOT – no, no, no, never, no more – be like our parents dreary lives.  One of the things we re-invented was food and cooking.  No TV dinners for us! Tsk! Tsk!  We discovered wooden spoons – an implement never seen in our parents kitchens.  And cast iron frying pans.

How I envied  old, seasoned, well used black cast iron frying pans.  The one I bought at an Ace Hardware on Clark Street in Chicago just didn’t have the look I wanted.  You know – old.

We’re also the generation that solemnly proclaimed “never trust anyone over 30” and raucously sang along with the Who “Hope I die before I’m old.” Which, a lot of us did.  And if life were fair I would have been amongst them. Thankfully, life is often random and some of us have diligent angels.

The seeming disparity between my lust for old boots and old pans and concomitant disdain for old people was not, I believe unique to me or even to my self-indulgent generation of Boomers.  I  do believe it’s somewhat endemic to American culture and our emphasis on ‘style’ over substance. Thus, the patina of age is desired without what it takes to get there.

Last year, in March, two things happened in the same month.  I got my first pension check from my long-ago employer (it was the first month after I turned 62) and I bought a motorcycle.

I’m not real materialistic but the motorcycle opened up a world of potential materialism to me.  Jackets! Boots! Chrome everything! Yahoo!

But I’m also part Scottish and part Dutch so I settled down and realized I could turn my old Red Wing boots, which I so proudly bought in my hippie days – into my motorcycle boots.  I’m pretty sure I bought those boots in 1978 and probably since about 1985 they’ve mostly sat in my closet unless I had to do something that involved climbing extension ladders or some such.

It’s given me great pleasure to have my old friends, the Red Wings, part of my life again. I am remembering many a path we’ve been on together. You can see a little white moon of paint – from before I had the house sided and I used to paint my house – needed the boots for all that ladder work.   They’re worn in so they really fit my feet ‘just so’.  Look as macho as they did when I bought them ‘back in the day’.  And they really are quite practical for the motorcycle.

Yesterday I found an old classmate from high school on another classmates Facebook page.  Carol and I became Facebook friends.  I was looking at her pictures – marvelling at how beautiful she looked, how accomplished she was.  Remembering her in high school – the kinda nerdy super-smart girl.  Cute then, memorable now.  Seasons.

And each season has its joys, its sorrows, its unique zeitgeist.

Simone de Beauvoir wrote: “…those interested in perpetuating present conditions are always in tears about the marvelous past that is about to disappear, without having so much as a smile for the young future.”

I think I was smiling at that young future when I was in my early 20s – wanting old boots, old frying pans.  Settledness. And sureness. A stability that doesn’t belong to youth (and would only slow it down).  Hello, old boots!  Hello, old pan!  Hello, old Diane!  Be with this now and see what tomorrow brings.

How about you?  Was Simone de Beauvoir right?  And how about our goofy culture with its glorification of youth?  What’s your take?  As always, I really want to know!

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We are collectively waiting.  Corporations wait with huge coffers of cash (Apple, for instance, is sitting on $98 BILLION).  The unemployment rate, officially, around 8.3% in February 2012, doesn’t include the long-term unemployed – we can guess that 10-15% of working-age people are sitting on the sidelines.  Entire industries (construction, finance, and to some degree manufacturing) have a lot of sidelines going on – in terms of workers, production, etc.  11 % of US homes are vacant – and that number seems to be increasing.  Then there is the tsunami of Baby Boomers starting to cascade into retirement – and the sidelines.

So what is “the sidelines”?  In this sense it is “a sphere of little or no participation or activity.”  However, I think there’s a sense of impending and previous participation implicit – so to me it’s more like limbo “an intermediate or transitional place or state.”

I think of the sidelines as a resting place.  The coach has pulled me out of the game – but temporarily.  I am watching the action on the field, maybe drinking some Gatorade, catching my breath – and beginning to plan my next moves.

I believe any sentient being can see that we are on the brink of – and to some degree, amidst – great, sweeping change.  The old order is very rapidly dying away and yet the new one is yet to be born.  It is a gestational, liminal time, to be sure.

What then, shall we do?  I wrote about one such solution in this post – Power to the People! Let’s Turn this Country Around.  I wrote this post right after my beloved friend was diagnosed with what turned out to be terminal liver cancer – so I got distracted.  It may be time to revisit implementing some of these ideas.

I’m also participating in The 99% Spring and plan to be involved in that.

There is so much abundance – time, energy, talents and money – sitting in abeyance while people are hungry, lonely, angry and tired.  Isn’t it time to change that.

Please join me in the 99% Spring.  And if you are interested in beginning dialogue on the ideas I laid out in Power to the People, let’s dialogue about how we can begin.  Margaret Mead was right:  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

I’m in.  You?


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Lessons from “The Artist”

I’m not totally sure why I almost never go to movies – once someone drags me to one, I typically enjoy it – but it’s just not something I do.  I can’t remember when I last watched a movie at home – and the last movie I had been to ‘at the show’ was “This is It”.  I know – weird, right?

So when my friend Kay wanted to take me to see “The Artist” for my recent birthday – and then told me it was a SILENT movie – I was curious.

We went to see it at the Catlow Theater here in Barrington, which dates back to the original silent movies – a perfect venue for the movie.

I was totally entranced by the film!  Amazed by how deep, thought-provoking and heart-wrenching it was.  As you might have noticed, I am the woman in love with words.  So I was shocked that a movie in which there weren’t even many written parts – thus, no words could be so evocative.

I saw the movie the night after my birthday.  I’m in the “Wait! how did I get to be this OLD??” stage of life. So that night, my thoughts were that it was about being washed up, past your prime, a has-been.

But as I reflected further I saw a few other themes that really resonated with me.

The importance of change

To me this was probably the primary message of the film.  Life is constantly in flux and thus fame and fortune are almost always ephemeral.  And regardless of the ‘fame and fortune’ part (though that was central to this movie) our lives become stale, dull and predictable without change.  “Change or die” – it’s true. Though, as you might have noticed, many of the dead are walking around. Perhaps you’re working with one, or – worse – married to someone whose soul has died, but whose body is trudging along.  Or worst of all – maybe it’s YOU!  Doesn’t have to be – take a lesson from this movie and find a way to go with the flow, change with the times, and be flexible.

The dangers of hubris

A related lesson was that pride really DOES go before a fall.  Need another such lesson?  Kodak.  In my film-camera days I could not have imagined Kodak going bankrupt.  Just because you are the ‘king of the hill’ now doesn’t mean you will always be (didya hear that Apple?)

Remember those who got you here

There was a powerful lesson in the movie in honoring those who have helped you succeed.  Need another such lesson?  Bonnie Raitt.  She routinely thanks and helps the (largely African-American) blueswomen who preceded her and from whose well she drew

The love of animals is one of life’s greatest gifts

I don’t want to spoil the movie for you if you’ve not seen it, so I haven’t been giving specifics – but if you’ve seen even a TINY preview or read anything about the movie you’ll know that an adorable Jack Russell terrier plays a significant role in the movie.  If there was a hero in this movie, it was Uggie, for sure.  And when the movie felt bleak, Uggie provided love and hope.

I really loved this movie a lot.  Did you see it? What did you think?



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Sundays are Spirituality Day here at Taking it to the Streets

Last night my friend and I went to see Mary Chapin Carpenter.  We’re big fans – so we see her whenever she tours Chicago.  As always, it was a great concert.  The music was perfect.  She looked beautiful.  Her presence befit someone who has been ‘playing out’ for a few decades. 

The last encore song she was on stage alone with her acoustic guitar.  As she strummed she talked of Steve Jobs recent death.  How she loved the part in his Stanford commencement speech about how you should wake up every morning happy about the day about to unfold – that if you’re not happy about it for a few days running you need to make some changes.  She said how happy she was – she gets to wake up and play her guitar every day, and on really happy days she gets to play for audiences like us. 

She then said she wanted to thank her Dad for her career.  Because it was her dad who pushed her out of the safety of her room and told her to go play out at an open mic.  It was due to his encouragement that she was a performer.

Then she simply said “and yesterday my Dad died”.  The audience gasped.   She said he wanted her to be out – to keep on going.  We all rose to our feet, me (and I suspect many others), crying all the while, and we clapped and clapped and clapped.

Then I put together how throughout the night amidst her very ‘in charge’ stage presence she had left a trail of bread-crumbs of vulnerability.  She had mentioned that the last few years were hard ones – and that she was single.  I knew of health issues.  So I assumed the undercurrent of sadness or wistfulness was about that.

The song she played to honor her dad was about her love of solitude.  About how it’s a bit scary for her actually, in a room full of people.  I didn’t put it together until this morning that the lyrics of her song and touring in a big bus don’t necessarily go together, but as Bob Dylan says she “keeps on keepin’ on.”

I thought too, of a close friend whose young partner died this past winter.  They had been together for over a decade, they were in their 40s, they were happy.  They were busy.  Making plans.  Having parties.  Working.  Playing music.  Then suddenly one of them had cancer and 111 days later she was dead.  I’ve watched my surviving friend have the courage to keep on.  To get up, go to work, live in the house they shared, care for their many animals, do the things they used to do together – now, abruptly on her own. 

Or my Dad, who did all a human can do to keep another human alive and then my Mom died anyway (14 years ago yesterday, as it turns out).  My parents married when my Mom was 21, my dad just 20.  His parents had to sign for him to get married.  If he had dated much before Mom, I would be surprised.  They were married 54 years when she died.  When he gave a thank you talk at Mom’s funeral lunch – stood up and gave a tribute to Mom and thanked everyone for coming – with power and authority I thought “wow, my childhood belief was right – my Dad IS Superman.”  Courage.  The willingness to keep on.

The two phrases that come to mind for me for this courage come from writers:  Samuel Beckett wrote a play called “I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On”; in “Tangled Up in Blue” Bob Dylan wrote “The only thing he knew how to do was to keep on keepin’ on.”

And just as surely as spring follows winter, joy can follow sorrow if we are bold enough to not only ‘keep on keepin’ on’ but also to ‘listen to your heart and what your heart might say’.

Dad remarried a wonderful woman – they’ve been together for nearly 13 years now.  And while you can’t replace a parent (I know), I believe Mary Chapin Carpenter will continue to reap the effects of her father’s love for her, and hers for him.  I think having the kind of incredible courage and dignity she showed last night creates a luge-track for grace to rush in.

I’m going to send her a card – sympathy yes, but gratitude too.  If you’re a fan (of her music, of beauty, of grace under pressure) maybe you will want to, too.  The only address I could come up with comes from her website – for her booking agent, but that will have to do:

Mary Chapin Carpenter
% Monterey Peninsula Artists
509 Hartnell Street
Monterey, CA 93940

And today I give thanks for three incredible examples of courage:  my Dad, my friend Annemarie, and Mary Chapin Carpenter.  May your courage, dignity and grace be rewarded with an abundance of comfort, joy and love.

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Wednesday are Community Day here at Taking it to the Streets

My paternal grandparents were farmers in Doon, Iowa. They had a family farm with different animals (chickens, cows and pigs is what I remember) and raised different crops. Grandma had a huge garden, even after they moved to town.  When it was harvest time they’d get together with their friends and go from farm to farm. While the men harvested in the fields as a team, the women canned, smoked meats, quilted.

In what we call “the Sixties” which actually occurred mostly in the 70s, there was a small but notable “back to the land movement” with homesteading hippies.  Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sang Joni Mitchell’s lyrics in “Woodstock” – “We’ve got to get back to the land and let our soul free.”

According to Wikipedia “In the 1930s, 24 percent of the American population worked in agriculture compared to 1.5 percent in 2002”

But there’s a new phenomena arising – a very different “back to the land” that doesn’t involve “tune in, turn on and drop out” lifestyles. In fact, it more likely involves minivans, soccer playing children, iPads and Starbucks.  “Urban homesteading” (which often occurs in suburbs) is a term being bandied about for the increasing numbers of people who want to take a more active role in producing the food they eat.  From back yard gardens, to keeping chickens and bees, to smoking your own meat, canning, drying food. 

When I went to the workshop put on by the McHenry County Transition group (mentioned in this post) there was information about creating your own solar energy source, canning, soap-making, beekeeping, creating community – an entire panoply of skills that were once the province of only rural folks.  Yes, some of the people attending lived in very rural areas, but the suburb my friend and I are from is far from rural, however bucolic it may appear to be.

I think this movement which fits hand-in-glove with the localvore and sustainability movements which also interest me, is a sensible response to both the ills of the world (as the Transition Town movement talks of – the confluence of Peak Oil and Global Warming) but also with some really good generational synergy – the ambitious sometimes driven members of my generation – the Baby Boomers – are starting to mellow; and the younger generations seem much more focused on connecting with life and one another – not as driven by “success” and greed.  It’s a nice confluence.

I like the idea of getting back to basics. And what is more basic than food, really?  In a world that seems more and more corporate and inhumane, taking back our lives, starting with what and how we eat seems a truly radical act.

Tackling urban homesteading on my own seems pretty daunting to me.  But I remember Grandma talking about those canning parties and quilting bees and getting together “to put food by” and it all sounded very warm and friendly and enlivening.  I could very much welcome that.

Of the 18 posts I’ve tagged “Food” the ones below seem most connected to this topic. So if Urban Homesteading and “rolling your own” (crepes that is – now what were YOU thinking?) interests you, pop in on these topics and please add to the conversation!

Something’s in the Kitchen with Diane (a Whole Lotta Somethings, actually)

More Cohousing Lite – Cooking Parties

Power to the People – Let’s Turn this Country Around!

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Farmer Jane

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It’s Ideas Day here at Taking it to the Streets

A 264 page Socratic dialogue about saving the earth and the teacher is a gorilla?  And Diane says “Read it!”  – say, what?

My local Borders store is one of the ones they closed so I was in there trying to nab some bargains.  I wanted to reread Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse and found I had given my copy away – so that’s what I was after.  The young man who showed me where they hid fiction there said he had always wanted to read Hesse.  I told him Hesse is PERFECT for young people and that his best book, by far, is Siddhartha.  So we struck up an easy camraderie around books.  I had worked in a bookstore when I was in my 20s and somedays I still AM that person, albeit cleverly disguised as an aging hippie.

So the young man told me about HIS favorite book, Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn.  that’s when he told me the gorilla part, apologetically, as, I suppose, I should be with you.  He told me that that really doesn’t get in the way and that the book was really fantastic and inspired him still.  On his enthusiasm alone, I bought the book and this past week I read it.  And wow! I’m glad I did.

I asked the other day on Facebook if “Socratic, didactic” was a redundant phrase and my friend Sean and I came to the same conclusion – a work that is Socratic is, perforce, didactic.  But one could have a work that is didactic, but not Socratic.  This book is both.  The back cover uses the beginning of the story as a hook:  “Teacher seeks pupil.  Must have an earnest desire to save the world.  Apply in person.”

And earnest is a good word to use in regard to this whole book.  Both Ishmael and the unnamed hero are earnest, each in their way.  And Daniel Quinn surely is.  Since I too am earnest about saving the world from the perils created by our modern way of life, this suits me fine, but others may find the preachiness and earnestness too much.

Besides tieing in with my interest in sustainability and the importance of simple living, the book also hit a chord with my philosophical bent.  It touched on some ideas about the Bible that I must say have never ever crossed my mind. Since I want you to read this book and for me those ideas were the most surprising parts of the reading experience, I’m not going to say more, other than it has really given me some new viewpoints.

As one who believes that we are all one and by WE, I don’t just mean white humans living in North America and Western, but all humans, animals and plants (I do limit my ‘all onenness” to sentient beings, so maybe that is my little prejudice), this book rang very true.  I guess that’s why a gorilla is involved – as a spokesperson for all that humankind is so blithely, unthinkingly destroying. 

The timing is good for me.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my impact on the world and have noticed that I’ve been loathe to cut across lawns to get where I’m going, not wishing to tread unecessarily on the grass.  Even I find that odd and a bit too precious, but it has been a strong internal dictum this spring.  So I listen.

Though this super easy to read novel and Judith Schor’s academically-tinged Plenitude would seem to not have much in common, I think they both evince a “middle way”.  I think the Conservative reply to Progressives call for change in response to environmental meltdown is that we’ll all be living in caves like Osama bin Laden – a world with not only no Starbucks or Internet but maybe not even houses or food or jobs – “it will be awful!”

And the Progressives say “Ya, just drive your Hummers and watch the whole world turn into one huge earthquake-tsunami-Gulf Oil spill…” – oh, wait. We have that now.

But both Plenitude and Ishmael say we CAN have a saner life for the whole planet without living like monks.  Unless it’s the kind of monks who have gardens, raise chickens and bees and hang out with friends and chant and sing.  Oh, that sounds like the life I’m moving towards! 

So I have to say, I found the gorilla part a bit too precious, really I did.  I think it would have amused me more when I was the hippie bookseller, not the aging hippie talking to the cool-dude bookseller.  But  the points Quinn makes are valid, it’s well-presented, and very thought-provoking.

And hey, if you’re WAY into it, he’s got a whole online community happening.

And I think Ishmael was right – we’re running out of time.  So have a read, think about the world you are helping to sustain and the role you want to play in it.  Definitely a thought-provoking book!

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