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.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Crossing Paths with Janine

Last night, Z., H., and I cooked chicken enchiladas for a woman named Janine, her one-year-old son, Jermaine, and two new friends, Tom and Karen. Janine and Jermaine are staying in the church we’re attending for the summer, while Janine gets her feet on the ground. Each night a family makes them dinner and another sleeps over in the church. We did not know quite what to expect going into the evening, but we were excited to connect with new people.

We ate in a nearby house that the church owns, at a table set "lavishly" with baby carrots and ranch dip, SunChips, salad, and the various juices and teas that people have left after their meals. Janine said that she was allergic to spice and couldn't eat the enchiladas, so Karen scrounged for something in the refrigerator. The first few options did not work, but eventually we found something she liked. At first the conversation at the table was forced, and I felt like the whole system was patronizing: everyone fawned over the baby, questions were c-l-e-a-r-l-y articulated, and Janine struggled for space. Yet, barriers fell as the meal progressed, voices dropped into normal cadence, and the interaction became more genuine.

Janine told us about her five brothers, one or two sisters, and “no good” father from Africa. She connected with H., who is from Namibia, with her African roots. She told us about how she works in her son’s day care, and Tom and Karen wondered if it was the one they had sent their kids to, many years ago. We told her about college, and she told us about how she is pursuing her degree. She wants to be a police woman, and her face lit up when Tom told her that the renowned local police chief also grew up in the city and had a child when she was young. As we talked, Jermaine sat quietly in the high chair and observed the scene. Karen commented that he was so well-behaved and how that’s a sign of a good mother. Janine said that was she was so happy when she found out that she was having a boy that she nearly fainted. Boys are so much easier, she said. They don’t want to grow up as fast.

The conversation moved to Michael Pollan and the local food movement. Z., H., and I had gone over this with Tom and Karen the night before when they ate at our house, but we brought it up again in light of the new foods. All of a sudden, Janine piped up, “You can never trust what you eat. All those chemicals in the food! It’s better to grow your own food.” I smiled to myself. Here the three of us were, subconsciously wrapped up in our educations, opportunities, and promise, discussing a movement perceived as elitist by some, and Janine was right there. She got it all. Her statements made me realize, once again, that people are inherently similar. We might dress or speak differently. We might face different challenges, but we want the same safety, belonging, and joy. While I had wondered before if Janine would feel bad about taking our food, the thought seemed irrelevant now. We were not giving her charity. We were opening ourselves and sharing a meal, just as we would with any dinner guest. She was no less than us because she could contribute fewer material things. In fact, with a degree in the works, a full-time job, and a well-behaved son, she has a lot for which she should be proud.

After dinner, Z. and Tom went into the kitchen to clean up, and H. and I took Jermaine for a walk to give Janine a break. Not yet two, the boy already had a clear personality. He was shy at first, but gradually he would smile. He liked to close the dishwasher, help push his stroller, and carefully lock the front gate. When we returned him to his mother, we felt a warm affinity for him and for Janine. Our paths had crossed by chance in the over-planned improvisation of life. We locked eyes before she turned toward the cold church and we got in Tom’s car to go home. I did not know until the end of the night that Janine was younger than me.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Senior Prom and Letters to India

Sifting through boxes of old ideas, I stumbled upon two projects I want to highlight. The first was developed by a group of friends as part of an honors leadership course. Moved by the isolation and institutionalization of senior citizens in our country, they hosted a "senior prom" to bring together local college students and members of an assisted living home. The students came in suits and gowns and danced with the older folks. They pushed them around in wheel chairs and listened to their stories. It was magical to see the light in peoples' eyes as they got into the festivities. The event sparked conversations about our country's treatment of the elderly and the value of interaction between the young and the old.

The second project was one that I developed with a group for the same class. Motivated by the negative effects of cultural imperialism and misunderstanding, we ran a global diversity awareness program at a local church and middle school. The program consisted of a group discussion about diversity on local and global scales, educational games, a presentation on India, and a pen pal initiative with an orphanage in India. We were impressed by the insight students brought to discussions (particularly the younger group!) and touched on ideas of cultural relativism, tolerance, and respect. We mailed over 100 letters to India and a month or so later received a holiday package with pictures and notes. It was a truly special exchange.

Meditation on Place- Home as a Reflection of Self

The following is the first in a series of meditations on place:

I've always been able to recognize the places that move me: the beach house where I've spent barefoot summers since before I could walk, the creek in my backyard at home. I've spent my life seeking, exploring, and immersing myself in such settings; but it wasn't until a family rental house in Florida that I understood why.

When we unlocked the door, I instantly felt at home. The kitchen table was located only feet from the front door like in cabins I had read about in the Little House on the Prairie books in younger years. It was an honest house because it did not hide the table in a cubby room, but presented it as one should, at the center of life. As I traveled deeper into the space, the strength of the house hummed and came alive. Beyond the table, in the same room, warm-colored couches and overstuffed chairs gathered together in front of a fireplace. Their intimate positioning was reminiscent of long talks over tea and family reading parties. The wood walls and floors framed the scene, with rings and veins still evident in their boards. I related to the house because it did not hide itself under a paper or white-washed veneer. Instead, it possessed a noble and basic beauty in its stains, like an old woman who bears her wrinkles with pride.

It was dark by the time we had unloaded the car and settled into the house. The wind pushed outside in wet gusts across the water, making the house seem warm and safe. Yellow lamplight turned the walls in the room to honey. While my brother and sister played Poker on the floor and my parents moved between the bedrooms, I surveyed the scene in cross-legged repose from the kitchen table. My hair was still damp from the shower as I cuddled in my navy sweatshirt and sweatpants and pondered the clean and simple of the world. With a glass of water at my elbow, I opened the thick spiral in front of me, trying to keep the paper binding from becoming soft as I found my place.

On the first night in the house, I withdrew from the festivities. I observed, not as an outsider, but as someone who was more inside of the day, people, house, and emotions than anyone could have been merely by physical location. I wrote about it all. I put down how I had done ballet stretches in front of the darkened glass door and seen my reflection in the moonlit waves. I wrote about the feeling I got from being so close to nature and the simple truths that seemed to reverberate from the wooden ceiling beams. I discovered that living in the house was like spending time with a best friend or crawling into a favorite t-shirt. I saw myself in the house's layout, structure, and location and came to understand that my comfort in the space really represented my comfort with myself.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Girlhood in America

In Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique, Friedan analyzes women's magazines from before and after World War II. In the 1930s, magazine stories pictured the female heroine in the cockpit of a plane, with her adoring man beside her. She was portrayed as passionate, independent, and strong; and their relationship was equal and dynamic. Yet media and advertising depictions in the 40s, 50s, and 60s stepped away from this New Woman and the gains of the first feminist movement. They put women back in the kitchen and back in the home, which as part of a woman's life is healthy and good, but when it becomes a national obsession and cultural ideal, can be limiting. Journal articles and ads went from female empowerment (what women have and can give to the world) to female subjugation (what women need).

Now the emphasis is not as much on the perfect 50s housewife, but the perfect body: the perfect weight, boobs, and butt. Women feel enormous pressure from the barrage of these ideals. See articles on anorexia and bulimia, plastic surgery, weight-loss programs; and the movie clips below.

Dove Evolution

Beauty Pressure

Killing Us Softly

I lived a fairly sheltered childhood in terms of media. I did not have cable TV, and the only shows I watched during the week were "Wishbone" and "Arthur." I did not know the members of the Backstreet Boys or NSYNC until sixth grade when a friend took it upon herself to tutor me. I was largely disconnected from popular culture and all that it entails.

A year or so ago, I did an experiment. I bought some magazines like "In Style" and "Lucky" and ripped out all of the advertisements which showed idealized or sexualized portrayals of the body. I hung them in my dining room, so that any time I was passing through, or sitting down to eat, I would see them. An interesting thing happened: I found myself desensitized to the images. The ads became normal to me, as they have to many women and girls in America.

This brings me to the following questions: are we fighting this at all? And what are our options? Could advertisers be prevented from objectifying the body, just as Camel had to remove the Joe Camel icon from its ads? Could policymakers restrict the amount of money (and in effect, the volume) of ads a company can put out? Could we create a publicity campaign about the healthier and more functional portrayals of the body in countries less hyped on the consumerism drug? What is our duty and role? Where is our voice?

Midnight Color Madness

A few days ago, some friends and I did graffiti of our own. The goal was to get out in the community and get people thinking about ideas.

The mayor's office hopes to encourage more groups to chalk, with messages like "Happy fourth of July!" and "Enjoy your night on the town!" It's an effort to bring people together, spread happiness, and generate community pride.

(Click to enlarge)

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Banksy is a English graffiti artist I heard about through my friend Alex. His work is incredibly thought-provoking:

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Thoughts from Kashmir

I met a man named Saghir today while shopping in his store. Our conversation quickly turned from bartering to world issues, beginning with the partition of India and the bloody fights for Kashmir (where his family is from).

Saghir said that Americans are nice, but very naive. They think people from other countries are scary, dangerous terrorists. They do not travel beyond our borders or realize the repercussions of their lifestyles. Many Americans do not read the newspaper, or better yet think critically about what they read.

Mass media keeps us in a bubble-- isolation through a culture of fear. He held up the New York Times and Washington Post to show that they had the same picture of an Iranian protest on their front pages. This is not a true depiction of life in Iran, he said. While it's important to understand these events, the majority of people in this country are not violent and rioting. They are peaceful and family-oriented; they work hard and like to have fun. Americans never see this side.

Saghir said that people in America point fingers. They say that Middle Eastern women are subjugated because they wear burqas or head scarves. But Pakistan and India have had female leaders, and the United States has not. He said that Americans blindly support Israel and have a polarized view of blame. To Americans, it is the defenders versus the terrorists, while the truth (if it could be called that) is a version of gray.

Before I said goodbye, Saghir reiterated his original point: Americans are nice, but very naive. We shook hands and I continued to ponder this idea as I walked away. I'm already planning my next visit to Saghir, the little man in the dusty store.

Urban Foraging

I found this awesome article on my friend Alice's blog.

I got too excited not to mention it here, so check it out, along with Alice's impressions.

For future reference, her blog is linked to this page... and the delectable things she cooks up will make your mouth water!

Recession's Silver Lining

The recession has negatively affected people in many ways: some have lost their homes, others their retirement funds, and still others their children's college savings. Yet positive things have come from the economic crisis, as well.

People have become more creative with limited resources-- playing monopoly in chalk on a city street, walking places, and making wash cloths out of old bath towels. Ailing businesses have closed and sprawling ones have consolidated, eliminating some of the excess in our consumer culture. Fewer people have bought new cars, and more are biking to work. It's as if the economic crisis is stripping the fat of society and reminding us of what's most important: relationships, the environment, slowing down. The following articles are about the simplification of life, some because of the recession, and others on people's own volition. These stories are grounding and refreshing, free and unafraid.

Living with Less

Frugal Portland

Tight Times Loosen Creativity

The Joy of Less

Last but not least is Thomas Berry. His writing does not refer to the recession, but suggests the idea that the "universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects." Berry challenges us to think differently about our place in the universe, which correlates with some of the priorities I have been developing, and some of the ideas referenced above.

Thomas Berry

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Beautiful Feet

The following is from my journal during a recent travel abroad. I'm going to build on these ideas in later entries when I write about functionalism, simplification, and getting back to the basics of life.

It’s a liberating experience not to shrink from mankind. I’m seeing poverty in a different way that I’ve seen it before. I’m seeing the humanity in it, which is easier in countries where gun violence is not a problem and the cities are centers of humanity rather than crime and pain. Clothing is worn for function, not fashion. Pants and shirts clash; they are dirty or small; they are sweaty or rolled up; they are mere afterthoughts for the body and soul inside. The same goes for shoes. Some people wear them, but many of the shoes are old and falling apart. The feet inside are calloused and tanned, the nails are rounded and thick; the feet have an animal quality to them, which cannot be civilized by a piece of protective skin. These feet are ugly, but that makes them more beautiful. They drive tuck tucks in Chennai and sink into wet mud in the village Erode. They grip weathered wood on boats in the Mekong Delta and chase tourist buses in South African townships. They are more natural than soft, pink feet with painted nails. The clothing and shoes here do not change the person, just as the people and their civilizations did not change the land in countries like Morocco and Namibia. I like when humans and nature can maintain their integrity in relation to superficial or invasive things (clothing and humans, respectively).

The houses we have seen are not bunkers like mine. They let the heat and humidity through the windows and the rain in through cracks in the roof. They are small and pieced together by colorful pieces of metal and wood. Some of them—in the South African townships, in poor areas of Chennai, and on the riverside in Vietnam—look as though they will collapse with one puff of wind. They do not cover or hide the people. The people are outside—tending the clothesline or cooking food, washing things in a bucket or holding a child. There is more transparency here—the same as with the clothes. The people seem stronger because they don’t hide behind thick walls. They seem happier because the community is closer knit and everyone raises every child. I don’t mean to romanticize poverty. These peoples’ lives are hard—filled with hunger, drugs, violence, and disease. I do not want to have their lives—or to live in their homes—but I respect them, and theirs is not an inherently doomed or sad way of life. I’ve seen their faces fill with joy, and I have seen human strength.

Woman pulling her boat through a traffic jam in Vietnam (click to enlarge)

Man in Vietnam

Child in a village outside of Chennai, India

Sweaters in Summer

I was in class the other day when I noticed that I had goosebumps and that members of my class were rubbing their arms to stay warm. I thought to myself, "It's eighty degrees outside and students are reminding themselves to bring sweaters? Where's the logic in that?" If we cannot have the windows open, why can't we at least sit comfortably in our summer attire? Additionally, why should professors (particularly business professors) feel obligated to wear the traditional long pants and long shirts? Such formalities do not reflect temperature patterns. They are superficial uniforms, which separate us from our natural selves.

Recalling an article from the September-October 2006 "Sierra" magazine, in which a man traveled to malls and other public spaces, taking room temperatures and encouraging executives to lower the thermostats, I decided to do the same. I checked the thermostats in the buildings I frequent (some of them were around 65 degrees!) and contacted the Office of Physical Plants to learn more. Apparently, the buildings were warmer during the first few weeks of summer because the thermostats were still on "winter mode." Now, they've switched to "summer mode," which is entirely necessary, of course. I'm currently trying to convince OPP that raising the temperatures a few degrees would protect the environment, save money during the economic collapse, and keep students comfortable rather than cold. The dialogue continues... but for now, we shiver on!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Delayed Introductions

I realize now that I’ve gotten ahead of myself. I haven’t introduced myself (my name is Carolyn), or the way I will approach this blog. The following will be musings on the latter idea:

Why am I creating this blog? Am I more confident in my ideas and believe that I should spread them? Is it some sort of ego trip? Or a trick of youth… because this is the only forum that will receive my words? Am I trying to market my mind, as people market their social lives on Facebook? Am I trying to connect with others with similar ideas? It’s taken me a long time to enter the blogging world. I have eyed it from afar but hesitated to step onto the stage. What do I have to say to the world? What unique filter can I provide? What can I say that an adult will not know with 11 more layers… and then scoff at as the naivety and idealism of youth? No, I will not claim to be wise; but rather, curious, purposeful, and active. Here I will relay the ways I question, create, and exist in this world. Hopefully, my journey will generate dialogue or inspiration for others along the way.

How will this blog change me? I am an avid journaler, producing 145 typed, single-spaced pages in the past five months alone. Yet my writing has always been for me. Sometimes it is eloquent, and sometimes it is choppy. My voice is clear and indicative of my mood and the writing task at hand. How will this translate to a public space? How will I share myself between the journal and the blog? How much will my voice come through?

Interestingly enough, I’ve found my early forays into blogging to be analogous to the beginning of a relationship: full of giddiness, excitement, and some confusion. Whereas in a relationship, one learns (among other things) to balance emotional, physical, and intellectual interactions, I have engaged in blog balancing acts, as well. How much should I write? How light should I be? How much should I focus on thought versus action? How much should I focus on mine versus others’ ideas? I was somewhat of a bumbling idiot at the start… trying on different voices and tones… in a frenzy of several posts in one day. I was learning to find myself in this new writing relationship. And as in any relationship, if I am to gain anything from blogging, I hope that it will be honesty, growth, and new levels of fulfillment through time. I guess for now, I'll have to wait and see.

When I Grow Up - by Sekou (the misfit)

Ask me now mommy.
Am I too late?
Ask me now what I want to do for a living.
Am I too late? Cause I think I finally figured it out

I don’t want to do for a living
I want to be for a living

I want to be life.
I want to make things grow, and move, and breath, and reproduce, and respond.
I just want to make things respond and react and rejoice and relax and relate and release and receive
as soon as I recite.
When I grow up,
I don’t want to be like those other kids mommy who want to be doctors and ballers and astronaughts.
I want to be passion, and heat and energy.

When I grow up,
I don’t want to be a fireman mommy, let me be the fire
The explosion behind the soul’s big bang theory that leaves in it’s place . . . desire
That burning within that gives life to the word “aspire”
Let me warm the cold souls of the despairing and heartless
Let me light the paths of those wandering in darkness
And provide children with their first definition of “hot”
And when the artists of the world have become so infatuated with ice that the whole world freezes over,
Let me be the poet that melts the ice-caps, drowns the planet, and starts this world over -
2 poets at a time like Noah. . .
When I grow up

I don’t want to be an astronaut mommy, I want to be the space that he explores -

Not the doctor mommy, let me be the cure.
The prescription for a better life . . .
the way through which the sick and the shut-in can find hope, health, happiness, and healing.
I want to be the pill of which they take two, and the call that is placed that next morning.
I want to be the white blood cell that strengthens the immune system,
the clot that stops the bleeding,
the antidote that counters the poison;
I want to speak antibiotic poetry that defeats your life’s viruses,
but only if you take my words in 3 times a day until the entire bottle is gone;
I want to be the perspective of the world through the eyes of an autistic child who is diagnosed with a sickness when in fact she merely sees the world with a clarity that the rest of us could only dream of having. . .
When I grow up

I don’t want to be a preacher mommy, I want to be the word

Not the artist mommy, I want to be the art
Not the painter, let me be the canvas
Not the choreographer, let me be the dances
Not the poet, let me be the stanzas

When I grow up

I don’t want to be a singer mommy, I want to be the sound!
The song you sing the way you sing it when you think aint nobody else around

When I grow up,
I don’t want to be a lawyer mommy I want to be justice.
Not the philosopher, but the philosophy that the brilliant minds try to follow,
Or the brilliance in those minds,
Or even the elusive concepts that they can’t quite figure out like
hope, purpose, faith . . . and time.

I wanna be time mommy!

So that the world will go to sleep every night feeling like they never got enough of me.
And will panic when they feel me slipping away.
Time! So that I will never feel this depression I feel now for being abandoned by it
Time! So that I will never again be before myself, never be out of myself,
Never be too late, never be too early,
So that for once in this life of unfulfilled dreams that have left my cheeks streaked from salt water erosion and my mouth pertpetually coated with the bitter aftertaste of disappointment,
for once I can be right on me!

When I grow up,

I want to be the antonym of void,
the antithesis of without,
the contradiction of silence,
the inverse of absence,
the reverse of regression,
the antilogy to emptiness,
the illumination of shadows,
the opposite of darkness . . .
I wanna be the opposite of darkness when I grow up mommy!

So that when the greatest poet in existence
recites the first line
of the greatest poem ever written

“let there be light”

. . . then I can begin.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Thought Work vs. Physical Work

"I had a dense tangle of reasons for wanting to build something, but one of them was to join the world of the makers-- homo faber--and leave, if only temporarily, the dodgier world of words. I was looking for an antidote to the increasingly abstract and abstracted nature of my altogether typical working life, most of which was conducted in front of screens at an ever greater remove from the natural world."
-Michael Pollan, on constructing his writing house in 'A Place of One's Own'

Reading this quote, one starts to wonder... are we meant to be this disconnected from the natural world? These articles address this idea:

The Case for Working With Your Hands

Many Summer Internships Are Going Organic

Use Your Voice

I am a daydreamer. Today when I should have been paying attention to something else, I began thinking about the town I grew up in on the Jersey Shore. It's a long island-- 18 miles, in fact-- with no public transportation. I began designing a public transportation system to send to the mayor.

First, I thought about beneficiaries. Significant numbers of old people and immigrant workers live on the island, and both groups (sometimes) have limited access to cars. Where would these people want to go? Work, the grocery store, community center, library, and hospital, to name a few. After creating some alternative bus loops and a list of advantages and disadvantages, I emailed the proposal to the mayor. He replied within a few hours that bus plans have been in the works for a year and we might see results soon. So while I did not actually affect anything, it was empowering to use my voice.

Later on, some friends and I emailed senators about the same issue. Because of the energy crisis (particularly involving oil) and global warming, it's the perfect time to advocate for and innovate with public transportation.

Maternal Instincts Gone Astray

After joining the local foods movement at the consumption end, I decided to try my hand at the production end, as well.

I am now the proud mother of a sweet banana pepper plant.

I planted it this weekend, after a particularly exciting trip to Home Depot. It sits on my window sill most of the day, but today on my lunch break, I came home and put it outside for some sun. The plant is supposed to get six hours of sunlight a day, and I worried that it would not get that from inside! It might seem strange that I referred to the plant as a child, but I've never been responsible for a living thing before. I feel like a new mother, fretting about food and maintenance schedules (I guess a real mother wouldn't use those terms). I've started to record leaf growth in a journal and I've taken a few pictures so far. These efforts are purely scientific, I swear. Down the road, I hope to plant herbs and berry bushes to keep the banana peppers company. The beautiful thing about adding to a plant "family" is that you don't have to worry about replacement levels or overpopulation. You can let the "family" grow and grow!

Trekking through Suburbia

One characteristic of suburbia is that it is structured around the car. This weekend I decided to challenge that idea. After a power lunch, I got on my hiking boots and packed my day pack for the "trail." I must have been quite a sight hiking along the highway. People honked as they passed in their SUVs... it was mostly old men, but perhaps someone was inspired! It was four miles each way to my destination, which was a small community outside of my college town.

After arriving, I read for a little in the diamond (equivalent to the town square) and took a nap in the sun. I felt a little like a hobo, as posh couples passed on weekend shopping sprees. I smiled to myself and rolled over in the grass. Before beginning the trek home, I visited the local museum. A grandmotherly woman named Ann clapped her hands when I entered and proceeded to lead me through the museum. Her shoes were off, and she seemed grounded and real. In the 45 minutes I spent with her, I heard about her and her husbands jobs, some of their grandchildren, and helped her climb the stairs because of her bad hip. She gave me a hug before I left and told me to come back with friends.

On the walk home, I felt refreshed. How centering to have escaped the weekly grind, how calming to move at the pace of my feet, and how energizing to make a new friend. It takes effort to uproot routine and live in the moment. But every day I want to try.

Civic Engagement


Today I went on a civic engagement spree, attending both the city council and school board meetings in my town. I was eager to see how many people attend and what kinds of things are discussed. The city council meeting was slightly bland and virtually unattended, though our town is installing LED lights (yay!)... but the school board meeting was fascinating. Parents, teachers, professors from the local university, and journalists had all shown up to argue about the math curriculum in the local schools. Should the school district stick with “Investigations,” a discovery-based model, or move toward a more traditional, memory-based scheme. This issue relates to the larger debate between (traditionally) Democratic and Republican education mindsets. The Democratic mindset has been for educating the “whole child” through experiential learning, team projects, and treating education as a public good. The Republican mindset has been for “excellence,” individualism, standardized tests, lots of homework, and competition. The Democratic mindset is generally refuted after economic downturns because it’s seen as soft and weak—not competitive enough for the global economy. We have been experiencing this Republican backlash since 1980 with Reagan’s “A Nation at Risk.”

The issue manifested itself tonight as follows: teachers, people associated with the schools, and some parents supported the “Investigations” curriculum. Parents and external “experts” (professors, engineers, and particularly self-possessed parents) supported the traditional curriculum. Two of my favorite commentators supported the former (this is also where my allegiances lie). The first was a woman from Taiwan, who said that the true issue between the international achievement gap is not curriculum, but the time spent in the classroom. Children in Taiwan go to school before it's light, come home after dark, go to evening tutors, and spend every other Saturday in school. The main pedagogical approach is rote memorization. The woman said that she’s impressed with the way her sons can talk about and conceptualize math. They are more empowered and creative than she was with her math education. Coming from a part of the world the U.S. tries to imitate, she passionately called for this school district to “stay the course” (at least in this way). The other commentator I particularly liked is a man who worked in the school district, though not as a teacher. He tried to dispel the misconception that teachers are robots who read from scripts, suggesting instead that they’re dedicated people who tailor the curriculum to meet each child. He said that parents know their children, but that it’s impossible to know all children. As a result, parents and other external experts should leave the task of deciding curriculum in the hands of the true experts and professionals: the teachers. All in all, it was an exciting evening. I relished the chance to see a national debate brought down to scale.