David Orr from "Earth in Mind"
May 27, 2008
Our little part of Vermont sits in the corner butting up against Berkshire county in Massachusetts and Washington and Rensselaer Counties in New York. So, when I picked up James Kunstler's World Made By Hand I knew the setting intimately. Kunstler, who is more known for his nonfiction books takes draws on the ideas from much of his other writing, including the Long Emergency.
The idea behind the novel is that oil has run out, the United States has been ed in Washington DC and Los Angeles, and there has been two epidemics that have wiped out 1/3 of the population. But that is just the background. The story focuses on one small town in upstate New York and what life is like there. Told through the eyes of Robert who is a carpenter (at least at this point of his life) we see how, in a time when there is no power, no cars, and no centralized government, how the world of this small town evolves. While the plot of the story is driven by various conflicts and adventures Kunstler spends most of his time describing how, in a world without all of the modern "necessities" people get things done.
After reading the first third of the book one night I had to put it down for an entire week. I would get up in the middle of the night and think about the best way to use the land the family cabin is on, I made a list of all the skills I need to learn, I even figured out details about what strengths different family members had how they would be useful. I had to put the book down so that I could refocus myself. After a few days I went from the stressful 'Oh my god this is going to happen tomorrow' attitude to seeing that this isn't immediate but it is possible one.
Last night I picked up the book again last night and finished it. The stress of the week before had subsided and I was excited to find out about the characters. While it isn't a complex emotional story Kunstler does manage to make a reasonable transition from nonfiction to fiction with this novel. I've reviews that criticize his white only setting of the novel but I think it makes sense, he wanted to focus on how things would work, the only diversity is religious. But every book can't be everything, it is just one story so I forgive him the limits he put on the story. It would have been a different book if there were cultural differences that had to be addressed. This is a work of fiction it doesn't have to all things for all people.
The stress that World Made by Hand has left me with has transformed into an excitement that I haven't felt since childhood. While I know none of this is going to happen tomorrow or next month I get a thrill from imagining what exactly life would be like. As a kid I would spend hours imagining so many different realities for myself. What if I was a medieval knight on the road what would I bring? What would it be like to live in "olden days" (Little House on the Prairie)? These questions would fill my mind for hours, including much of my school days. But now I understand that it isn't just if these events happen to prepare for them but that some of these skills and approaches to life might actually be better for me.
All you hear about lately is local food and going green, change for saving our planet has been co-opted by fashion and popularity. What so much of the discussion about these changes forgets is how it affects us as people, right now. We've started making all of our bread products (with a few exceptions) this means that I spend up to an hour a week kneading dough. Not a big deal, except for me it is one of the best parts of my day, sure I could use the mixer to do it but there is something balancing about it, I look forward to it. A lot of these changes involve slowing down and taking more time to focus on ourselves, our families and communities, something that hasn't been important for decades. We live in a country where fame and excessive wealth is considered the apex of achievement. Children are spend more time with nannies and tutors than their own families so that everyone can spend their time 'getting ahead'.
Personally I'd like to slow down a little and spend more time focusing on being a family and enjoying our lives. Of course, that involves financial security but I am not willing to give up our happiness for a financial number that grows inversely to the amount of time we spend together or at least doing things we love.
May 17, 2008
[Thanks to Abi for letting me use her computer and play with the chickens]
A few weeks ago as I sat in a figure drawing workshop waiting for the model to arrive I was talking to the woman sitting next to me. She is ninety and has been an artist since she was eighteen. Still she makes her way up the four flights of stairs in an old factory building to her son’s studio for our weekly workshop. She was telling me the story of their home on a hill in
May 16, 2008
For those of you Alder fans who have been complaining about the lack of pictures. I promise you that he is cuter than ever and that you are totally missing out... but of course you'll see soon.
As for the rest of our life... well you'll just have to wait and see when we figure it all out.
Have a great weekend.
May 10, 2008
I give this to everyone of you out there who is a mother or has had one.
Enjoy your Mother's Day
May 8, 2008
Getting ready Halloween 2005
Meredith had a wonderful quote on her blog from Elizabeth Gilbert: "When you sense a faint potentiality for happiness after such dark times you must grab onto the ankles of that happiness and not let go until it drags you face-first out of the dirt. This is not selfishness, but obligation. You were given life; it is your duty and also your entitlement as a human being to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight."
To me this is what motherhood can seem like. Some days it seems as though life with A is just a series of actions that waiver from making him happy and getting stuff done. Those are the days where it is a struggle to find the balance of joy or contentment for both of us. I know and understand what I need to give him for happiness, the things to do with our days and minutes that will make him smile and be at peace. But there is a certain sense of unrest that I feel sometimes when there are things to get done or ideas I want to get down on paper or projects I want to start. Days like that I am not a good catch partner, I can not bring myself to love every dandelion he brings me.
I miss alone time when there wasn't a list of things to get done. I miss when the creative process was always the first on my to do list. But I am learning how to include him in my process, when I bake bread he has his own dough to knead and roll. He has his own drawing space, that he goes to when he wants to draw but he wants me there with him, not drawing my own things but sitting there just watching. I want to be him there, I would scribble and draw excitedly. Instead I watch as my linear son is more interested in lining the markers up and balancing the tops on the table.
So I am learning to search out the things to do that we both love to do. We go for long walks, throw sticks into streams, make mud, we bake and we sing silly songs. Still when we come home and we are sitting on the floor stacking jar lids I turn on the radio and occupy my mind with the world through public radio. I am engaged in both directions but I am also full of guilt that I can not love spending every minute in Alder's world.
What is the secret to entering that world? I know I go there sometimes, and the day goes by smoothly, we both get things done to fill our souls but it is a mystery how and why those day come together. Other days I rush to negotiate time alone to finish just a little of what needs to get done, never getting all the way through to creativity. This blog , most days, is my is my creative outlet.
Yet I agree that we need to holding onto happiness, because it is a fight that we are in. A fight with norms a fight with expectations and with loss of autonomy. So I try every night to look back and see what worked, where we were both happy, and I try to hold it close to me and try to live in it so that the next day I can bring these moments back and add more of them to our day. And maybe, just maybe, I'll have the energy to write a few pages or make something after he goes to bed tonight.
May 5, 2008
Maybe I should take a break from posting about our saga of choice making. I think I will instead I am going to talk about the other parts of our days, the beautiful bits. Of course everything is a little slow in posting since our internet access is limited to a 2000 laptop at the coffee shop. Still it gets us where we need to go, a little like an old and dependable car.
Instead I'll ask you guys what you want me to talk about, why not.
Leave a comment with ideas!
May 2, 2008
the top one on my jean jacket,
that green string.
Back when everything was in doubt,
we would all knit on Thursdays
at the bar with our beers or wine
by our sides.
We all seemed to be in transition
new lives shifting
The tumult of uncertainty and
winterness was everywhere.
New England cold in Colorado.
But those Thursday nights there
was a bit of lightness (of heart)
and new adventures planned.
Still days were counted in between.
In a long lingering conversation
(of art and books and politics and music)
we wanted to remember how engaged
and warm it felt.
So each of us cut from our skeins
a little bit to tie where they might be remembered
through the hole in my top layer
a bit of cotton a bit of cotton still remains
each time I see it my mind echos
with the warmth of beer and friends
'there's always knitting' said with humor and love.