Sunday, September 27, 2009

Writer's Block

The pictures above are from a project I took part in called Writer's Block-- which involved setting up strangely shaped writing surfaces around campus with questions and chalk to generate community dialogue on Constitution Day. Some of the questions were:

Should students be required to participate in National Service?

Should states be required to make higher education affordable to all?

Should teachers be allowed to share their political views in the classroom?

Should convicted domestic abusers be allowed to purchase firearms?

Should students be required to get the swine flu vaccination?

Autumn's Town

I went for the most sensual and centering autumn walk. Staring at scenes that made my heart break. With their beauty. humanness. transience. and nostalgia. Yards scattered with tricycles, red and yellow Fisher Price cars, and different-sized kick balls. Overgrown gardens-- their vines drooping with swollen tomatoes and the delicate remnants of rain. I experienced deep front porches, seeping supper smells, and the first chimney puffs. Warm lights flicked on, house by house and I heard music and murmurs. A gray, flowing- haired couple with wool shawl and puffy vest unlocked the door to their home. The black pavement was speckled beneath my feet with red, yellow, and brown leaves, and the heat had waned from the setting sun. I drank in the scenes and thought to myself

this is how humans live. This is what it feels like to be alive. And everything was perfect to my open mouth, cool cheeks, and shining eyes.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Obama Speaks Out

These speeches are worth reading, listening to, and talking about:

Obama addresses American students

Obama addresses health care reform

Monday, September 7, 2009

Recyclable Clothing

According to the U.S. EPA Office of Solid Waste, Americans dispose of 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per person per year. While glass and aluminum recycling have pervaded national consciousness, we need to become more aware of the environmental repercussions of clothing production and the avenues for recycling our clothes.

The information below is from Earth 911's website and provides insight into the impact of what goes into our clothing:
  • Polyester, the most commonly used manufactured fiber, is made from petroleum in an energy-intensive process that emits volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and acid gases into the air. The process also uses a large amount of water for cooling.
  • The manufacturing of nylon emits nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas with a carbon footprint 310 times that of carbon dioxide.
  • Rayon, derived from wood pulp, often relies on clearing old growth forests to make way for water-hungry eucalyptus trees, from which the fiber is derived.
  • Cotton, found in most clothing, is the most pesticide-dependent crop in the world. It takes one-third of a pound of pesticides to make one t-shirt.
  • When manufacturing clothes, dyeing requires a hefty amount of water, and its fixatives often flow into rivers and sewers. Also, all 'easy care' and 'permanent press' cottons are treated with formadehyde."

For more information on the environmental impact of the clothing industry, see the "Waste Couture" report in Environews.

In 2005, Patagonia created it Common Threads Garment Recycling Program, which aims to make all Patagonia products recyclable by 2010. While the company has faced challenges in this mission, it exemplifies corporate social responsibility for consumers, investors, and others in the industry.

Moving from awareness to action, what is our role? Earth 911 suggests that if you are going to buy new clothes, purchase those made with sustainable materials: sustainable cotton, hemp, and bamboo. The following is a directory of stores that sell sustainable clothing:

An even better option (if you need to purchase at all) is used clothing: "The 12 to 15 percent of people who shopped at consignment and thrift stores in 2006 saved 2.5 billion pounds of clothes from re-entering the waste stream."

You can also do your part by recycling clothes you do not want. This can be done by selling them online; donating to organizations like Salvation Army, Goodwill, or Purple Heart; or setting up a community sharing event like the one I wrote about below.

Buy Less, Share More

On Friday, I met an inspiring bunch. Their faces were ruddy from autumn's nip and their long hair had a somewhat oily sheen, which made me self-conscious of my sweet-smelling locks. Their earth-toned shirts looked soft and darkened by wear. Yet the most memorable thing about them was their energy. Their eyes shone, and they practically danced in place. They were so filled with purpose and fire.

I was first attracted to the area when I saw homemade wooden trailers hitched to bikes. My eyes then traveled to the grass where wool sweaters, dog-eared gardening books and Irish short stories, an old radio, and leather boots lay. A cardboard box bearing the words "Buy Less, Share More" sat amidst the items. I browsed the stuff with other curious students, and then approached the boys who stood off to the side.

They were excited to see their idea of giving away used items come to fruition. According to them, hundreds of students and professors had stopped or walked by throughout the day, and many asked if they could contribute their own things. The project will continue every Friday with nice weather this fall. Given the extent of consumerism in our country, I respect their example and plan to contribute my own items to the sharing pile.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Cleaning Day

It is an inside-out sort of day. My outer skin of feelers and stimuli has been working overtime to take in and process these first two weeks, and has now gone inside for a rest. It has gone inside of my body, as a car goes to the shop or as a boat goes to the yard. My outer skin needs some touching-up. I need to scrape the impressions off like the barnacles on the bottom of a boat. I need to scrape, scrape, scrape until I can see the peachy, soft skin. Too much of this skin is hard and calloused now. Too much of it is worn and incapable of receiving and absorbing. I need to run water through the mesh and put things back in working condition. When the skin is inside, the body is inverted. Muscle meat and organs are exposed and they flinch at external interruptions. Time to go into the cave. Time to go into the cave which can serve as my skin for awhile. It’s cleaning day.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Time to Talk

In my introductory piece, "Delayed Introductions," I compared my blogging experiment to the trial of a new relationship. I have to admit now that I'm still very confused. After watching the movie Julie & Julia and seeing the clear theme, direction, and deadline in the character's blog, I've come to view my project as more scattered and incomplete than ever. The nice thing about Julie Powell's blog (from the movie) is that it had a beginning, middle, and end; one main topic; and an obvious audience: foodies and meandering 30-somethings.

My blog, on the other hand, officially began several weeks after I started writing, has no mid-point, or projected end. It jumps from cultural relativism to self-awareness, and from activism to poetry (both mine and that of other people). It has no clear audience at all. This is not meant as a pity session. I'm not asking for praise. I simply want to acknowledge that I am no expert. This medium does not fit as snugly as a journal, and most likely never will. It's more difficult than I thought to switch from a process focus to a product focus. I'm carting my writing back and forth between my blog and journal, changing language here and emphasis there. It's like a custody battle, in which neither parent has won.

Nevertheless, the experiment goes on... no matter how tiresome the carpooling. I just can't help thinking it's an inherently selfish pursuit.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Creative Identity

Last night, a friend asked me what I live for. I love questions like that. I said I live for writing, relationships, and exciting ideas.

"You're a writer," he said. "And I'm a musician, and E. is an artist. Everyone else just goes along and sort of enjoys life, but they don't have identities. There aren't enough people with true identities in the world." Interesting idea.

The identities M. spoke of concern creation, usually born through processing: "I write to understand the world," "I play to empty my mind of clutter," or "I paint to escape." He speaks of people who feel deeply enough to become overwhelmed and seek creative outlet. For such people, art is like a well-executed trip to the bathroom. They become full of words, experiences, and emotions and look forward to a good, cleansing dump. After the climatic release, they ascend into an abstract, floating state of calm. Some compare it to a high, and in fact, some of the most far-out products have been created in this state. But for the artist who undergoes this process out of personal, spiritual need, the product is a delightful after-thought (sometimes drawing questions like, "Did I produce that?"). It's all about the process, the ride.

But not everyone's identity is tied to creative outlets. Some people enjoy a variety of pursuits more casually. Most prefer to stay more surface-level in their interactions with the world. How would M's definition of identity apply to these people? Would identity be based on profession or one's place in a family? Would it be based on personality or a combination of these things? How necessary is it for people to go deep within themselves and reach these glorious, cleansing epiphanies? Does it make the world a more meaningful, productive place? Do these people have added power and perspective? Are their identities truly dominated by their artistic outlet, or are all identities too complex for such simple definition?

What would the world look like if we all had to process and create?

People Pensieve

I held the receptacle
As he emptied himself of words and stories
Until the retches smelled like roses
and sounded like milky baby burps.

Alas, he rests peacefully,
I'll bear his burden for awhile.

The Green and Red Project

Something exciting is happening in Glen Rock, New Jersey! Teenagers have emerged from under bags of potato chips and tangles of gaming cords. TV-glazed eyes have regained their sparkle and mechanical voices have broken free from drone. Liberated, these kids frolic down the streets of their town-- clad with hammers, sanding machines, and paint brushes-- to David Bowie's "Dancing in the Streets." So happy are they to be creating functional art in the summer sun!

Susanne Rabens, of R=U Properties, LLC, has built a corps of teenagers to competitively improve residential properties in Glen Rock by making them more environmentally-friendly and by building the furniture and designing the landscaping. A magical thing has taken place as students let their creative juices flow, different generations from the community interact, and people work toward a common goal. While I poked fun at the stereotypical teenager above, the dear friend, M., who told me about this idea is more like one of my heroes from the Winking Circle than anyone else. I am excited to follow the progress of these students and their homes-- and to share the perspective below:

"The first time I met Susanne Rabens was at Glen Rock's local bagel shop where I am an employee. She was rushing about searching for teenagers to get involved in the Green and Red Project. At the time I thought nothing of it, just some eccentric woman running up and down the streets of Glen Rock spouting some kind of nonsense.

Many months have passed since that day and it turns out that none of her talk was nonsense. The Green and Red Project has blossomed from the small bud of 11 Glen Rock teens acting as board members to a small army of about 55 oily and hormonal students from Glen Rock High School. I enlisted as well and have so far worked on a variety of projects, from tearing up floorboards and knocking down walls to attempting to make candles out of old light bulbs and shelves out of books.

The amazing amounts of creativity I've seen on the project are mind-blowing. The artistry of many employees is to be admired by all. Many a boring piece of furniture has passed through these young hands and been transformed into an explosion of color and helter-skelter design. This is extremely unique furniture. A coffee table that somehow reminds me of Finland, and occasionally Sweden or the dresser that makes me crave Skittles with its bright and flavorful colors. You won't be finding anything like this at Pier 1.

The community this project has formed is also another example of the outstanding qualities of the project. Truthfully, it doesn't even feel like work anymore, it's more like living in some bohemian commune and going to improve on it every day."

- Macauley Davis

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Questions of Travel- by Elizabeth Bishop

There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams
hurry too rapidly down to the sea,
and the pressure of so many clouds on the mountaintops
makes them spill over the sides in soft slow-motion,
turning to waterfalls under our very eyes.
--For if those streaks, those mile-long, shiny, tearstains,
aren't waterfalls yet,
in a quick age or so, as ages go here,
they probably will be.
But if the streams and clouds keep travelling, travelling,
the mountains look like the hulls of capsized ships,
slime-hung and barnacled.

Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there's a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?

But surely it would have been a pity
not to have seen the trees along this road,
really exaggerated in their beauty,
not to have seen them gesturing
like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.
--Not to have had to stop for gas and heard
the sad, two-noted, wooden tune
of disparate wooden clogs
carelessly clacking over
a grease-stained filling-station floor.
(In another country the clogs would all be tested.
Each pair there would have identical pitch.)
--A pity not to have heard
the other, less primitive music of the fat brown bird
who sings above the broken gasoline pump
in a bamboo church of Jesuit baroque:
three towers, five silver crosses.
--Yes, a pity not to have pondered,
blurr'dly and inconclusively,
on what connection can exist for centuries
between the crudest wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden cages.
--Never to have studied history in
the weak calligraphy of songbirds' cages.
--And never to have had to listen to rain
so much like politicians' speeches:
two hours of unrelenting oratory
and then a sudden golden silence
in which the traveller takes a notebook, writes:

"Is it lack of imagination that makes us come
to imagined places, not just stay at home?
Or could Pascal have been not entirely right
about just sitting quietly in one's room?

Continent, city, country, society:
the choice is never wide and never free.
And here, or there . . . No. Should we have stayed at home,
wherever that may be?"

Meditation on Place 2- Nowhere Like Home

My friend, H., was recently talking about her village in Namibia. There is no electricity or running water, but people live happy, full lives, surrounded by family and connected to the land.

After studying around the world, in countries as diverse as Germany, New Zealand, Fiji, Mexico, and the United States, and working with development agencies in Washington DC, she has come to feel strongly about perceptions of places like her village. "People think that our lives are backward," she said, "But we do not feel that way. They try to give us things and change our infrastructure, but many would prefer to be left to their ways."

I have included the collection of pictures below to show the vast array of homes around the world. None is inherently better than another, and the ways of life that each represents should be respected, rather than judged or changed. We owe this to our fellow humans, and the Earth cannot sustain us any other way.

Belari, Pakistan

Berber home, Atlas Mountains, Morocco

Jerusalem, Israel


Khayelitsha Township, South Africa

Khayelitsha Township, South Africa

Chennai, India

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Shanghai, China

Lantau Island, China

Dominican Republic

Milot, Haiti

Embera Village, Panama

Limon, Costa Rica

Rondo, Spain

Warsaw, Poland

United States

Nova Scotia, Canada

*I took the pictures that enlarge when you click on them. I found the others on an educational website, which has eluded further search, and thus citation.

Puberty on the Scale of the Planet

I really enjoyed this blog post on the New York Times website. It gives an interesting perspective on our stage of human existence.