I came across this article in the Washington Post today on the economic dangers of our consumption society and how the economic favoritism toward the very wealthy hurts the rest of us. What I found interesting about the article is that it’s not a matter of the wealthy taking more than their share (although we know that is a factor), but that as the wealthy increase their consumption so does everyone else in an attempt to “keep up.” And this results in heavy debt, etc.
This got me thinking about how necessary it is for us to intentionally embrace a sustainable or even minimalist lifestyle. It is not only healthier for the planet, it is also better economically. I would also argue psychologically.
In the past few years, we have downsized significantly I recognize that this downsizing has as much to do with our stage in life as it does with an intentional desire to reduce our footprint. But I have to say, I am happy to have done so. There are a few things I miss. I still would like a master bathroom. But I don’t really need one. I would love a hot-tub. But I’m surviving quite nicely without one. I’d like to be able to park my car in the garage rather than having it on the street (my husband’s workshop is in the garage – we used to have it in an outbuilding). But, in that we live in a mild climate, it’s not a big deal.
As my Uncle Art used to say, “wanting and getting are two different things.”
And now, I’m questioning the wisdom of wanting. My goal is to get more into the habit of asking “do I need this or do I simply want this.” And then act accordingly. I think I’ll be healthier on many different levels.
In the spring I wrote about how I wanted to facilitate a TeachMeet in Portland. It’s still something I’d like to do, but I was stymied by the logistics of it. It wasn’t getting the space, the participants, and organization that got in the way — I’ve dealt with that before. It was the funding. The more I looked into it, the more overwhelming it became. I would have to create a nonprofit organization in order to solicit funds, and that required bylaws and a board of directors and oh, lots of paperwork. It’s not the work that put me off. It was that I lack the social capital to make it work. It’s an undertaking that needs a team, and I don’t yet have a team.
Bottomline is that I haven’t given up on the idea, but I’ve realized I need to reach out and connect with more people.
So that’s what some of this summer has been about. I joined several organizations and a writing group as a way to make more connections. It’s hard. I’m a person who likes her private space and while I like people, it takes a while for me to open up, warm up and connect. I have always been envious of my colleagues who can walk into a room and be friends with everyone by the end of the evening. I’m amazed by people who have the gift of making connections and networking and making things happen. I wish I were like that, but I have learned that I have other strengths that should be used.
This summer involved a lot of rethinking and regrouping. What are my strengths? What can I further develop? What do I need to do to move forward?
I know it’s going to take time and effort.
I’m just starting a new project. I decided to organize an “unconference” called a TeachMeet Portland. I learned about it through my Twitter feed and have been in contact with Jason Bedell, who organized the first one in the US a few years ago. I’m excited, but a little overwhelmed at what I’m taking on, but I need a challenge. It’s not a money making thing – but I’m hoping it’ll get me into the community more and give me a reason to network.
Wish me luck, and if you’re interested in finding out more, click on those links!
My cat died in the middle of last night. 1:50 AM to be precise. I deal with grief by writing; thus this post. So forgive me for being self-indulgent in reviewing Kitty’s life with me.
Her official name was Hunter, but we never called her that. She came to us about five years ago. She was a feral cat and skulked around our yard. She was extremely shy and never let me near her. She would sleep during the day in one of my gardens or at the edge of the woods that surrounded our house. She looked so bedraggled and scrawny that I began setting out food for her. Over the course of several months, I moved the food closer and closer to the house. Eventually she allowed me to gingerly touch her, then one day as I sat on the porch, she came up and jumped into my lap. At that moment, she became my cat. I brought her to the vet, got medication to clear up the ear mites and skin infection, got her shots, and she became an inside cat.
We never knew what her previous life was or even how old she was. The vet estimated between 4 and 7. I think she was even older because she developed hyperthyroidism two years ago, and typically that occurs in cats over the age of 10.
Over the course of many more months she moved from hiding to slinking around the edges of the room and sleeping under a table to being comfortable out in the open. She would jump on my lap, but that was the only place she would jump. She never jumped on furniture or countertops. She gained strength over time and became less fearful, although she was never a confident cat nor one I could walk up to and scoop up. She could be held only when she wanted it.
When company came, she hid. She tolerated my husband and accepted my daughter and my close friend, MR. She didn’t care for anyone else.
Last year we sold our house and relocated across the country. It was a trying time. My husband was living in Portland, and I remained in Rochester to sell the house and pack everything up. After the house closed, I lived in short term apartments. Kitty, Kitty-boo, Kitty-girl, Kitten-Kaboodle, Catbert (for those were some of the names I used for her) was my buddy through all this. I tried to find her a new home because I feared the move would be too difficult for her, but she was stalwart. She hated the first temporary apartment (it was too noisy, hence it was the first temporary apartment), but loved the second one, a studio with a large picture window overlooking a parking lot. She would sit in the window for hours watching the world go by.
She made the trip across the country like a champ. She slept on the floor of the front seat or cuddled amidst the pile of stuff in the back. She handled the strange hotel rooms acceptably well causing me consternation only once when I had to tear a bed apart to get to her (she had hidden in the farthest corner). She adapted to her new home with her usual timid approach. The first month was spent in one room huddled under a futon. Then she began venturing out to explore the rest of the house. She hated that it was under construction because she hated loud sudden noises, but she coped. As the construction on the house calmed, so did she. Eventually, she became her old semi-confident self.
She discovered our fenced backyard and defended it from the neighboring cats. She would sleep in the sunny garden beneath the rose bush and against the house. She loved going in an out the sliding glass door and in nice weather, I often left it open just enough for her to slip in and out at ease. She didn’t like the rain, but would sit and look out the slider at the deck and watch the rain fall.
She was my buddy. At night, as I sat using my laptop or reading, she would demand my lap. She would stretch across my arms and purr and sleep. After my husband went to bed, I would often stretch out on the couch and she would perch on top of me or curl up next to my chest and purr and sleep. In the mornings, she would meow for her breakfast, and at around 4:30 or 5 PM she would meow for dinner.
I generally dislike maudlin books and movies with the theme “things my animal(s) taught me,” and I know everyone’s animal is special to them but in reality, they are just another animal. I’m not a sentimentalist or romantic when it comes to animals.
I wouldn’t say she was a particularly special cat or attractive cat. She had long, soft orange fur. She was a delight to pet. And she shed like crazy. But I bonded with her like I’ve bonded with no other cat.
Maybe it’s because she was so emotionally wounded and allowed me into her life. Maybe it’s because it’s from her that I really learned and understood the power of patience and taking things slow and accepting something as it is.
So, I’m sad. Today I’m going to bury her, pack away her things, and donate her unopened food. The house will be cleaner, but also a little less alive.
I figure we gave her a few extra years that she wouldn’t have had if she had stayed feral. Her last years were safe and comfortable. She was happy and healthy up until the very last. Two nights ago she made us laugh by racing down the hallway. Yesterday morning she woke me as usual for her breakfast and spent time watching the rain. She ate her dinner then disappeared into her hidey-hole beneath the bed in the guest room. She never seemed to be in distress and it appears death came quickly and painlessly.
Sometimes I think I hear the pit-pat of her nails on the floor, but it’s only the rain.
I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, and it came to a head over the past few days. I’ve continued stewing about it, and decided that I must write about it in order to figure it out and it get it off my chest. I’m not expecting to change anyone’s mind with this post. Heck, I’m not even expecting to enlighten anyone. I just want to share what I’m thinking.
As anyone who knows me knows, I’m a pretty big geek when it comes to technology and social media. I did my doctoral dissertation on instant messaging (back in the day with it was THE thing). I’ve since been looked at other social media tools and find them useful and interesting.
Most recently, however, I’ve been disturbed by what I’ve come to think of as soundbite personal politics that are on Facebook. I have seen a tendency among some to post political “posters” “pictures” “cartoons” or phrases that are superficial at best and offensive at worst.
There are a number of problems with this behavior. First is it’s superficial. The soundbites lack substance. Calling Obama a socialist doesn’t do anything expect serve as a way to mark one’s territory. If you consider Obama a socialist, that is your right, but back it up with some facts. Don’t just say he’s tromping on the constitution, back it up with data. What parts of the constitution is he tromping on and how is he doing it? If you think Rick Santorum’s scary because of his theocratic tendencies, don’t just put up a cartoon comparing him to the Ayatollah — back it up with facts. What has he said that is theocratic and how is it contrary to the guiding ideologies of the United States.
The second problem with soundbite personal politics is that it lacks nuance and ends up being offensive. By making blanket statements about one group or another, the person making the post offends people s/he may or may not intend to offend. You may not care if you offend people, but then you shouldn’t care if I remove you from my news feed. An apology of “I didn’t mean you” doesn’t cut it.
The third problem with soundbite personal politics is that it contributes to the confrontational media environment. Arguments are made based on personal attacks rather than facts. I have tried to listen to right wing radio because I want to understand the perspectives of that ideological group. But I always end up turning it off because the speaker doesn’t really say anything except to hurl insults at the other party. That is why I like radio hosts such as Diane Rehm. Her show truly is an example of civil discourse.
If we are to learn and to grow, we must be able to talk about ideas and facts. Name calling and baiting will not help us move forward as individuals, a nation, or as a world.
I believe that one of the strengths of the United States is the fact that we can disagree. That we have always disagreed. When one studies the history of the founding of the United States, it was contentious. The constitution is the product of compromise between some pretty great minds (although I do wonder if it would have been even better if some female voices had been allowed to be heard). It is that ongoing debate that keeps this country healthy. Things become dangerous when one voice, one platform, one belief system is allowed too much sway.
Name calling and labeling shuts down that conversation. In her wonderful TED Talk “On Being Wrong“, Kathryn Schulz, a self-proclaimed “wrongologist” said,
“Think for a moment about what it means to feel right. It means that you think that your beliefs just perfectly reflect reality. And when you feel that way, you’ve got a problem to solve, which is how are you going to explain all of those people who disagree with you? It turns out, most of us explain those people the same way, by resorting to a series of unfortunate assumptions. The first thing we usually do when someone disagrees with us is we just assume they’re ignorant. They don’t have access to the same information that we do, and when we generously share that information with them, they’re going to see the light and come on over to our team. When that doesn’t work, when it turns out those people have all the same facts that we do and they still disagree with us, then we move on to a second assumption, which is that they’re idiots. They have all the right pieces of the puzzle, and they are too moronic to put them together correctly. And when that doesn’t work, when it turns out that people who disagree with us have all the same facts we do and are actually pretty smart, then we move on to a third assumption: They know the truth and they are deliberately distorting it for their own malevolent purposes. So this is a catastrophe. This attachment to our own rightness keeps us from preventing mistakes when we absolutely need to and causes us to treat each other terribly. But to me, what’s most baffling and most tragic about this is that it misses the whole point of being human.”
So, if you want to convince me of something, show me how I’m wrong, but do it with facts and logic, not with emotion, name calling, fear mongering, or labeling. Don’t assume I’m ignorant, moronic, or malevolent. Don’t resort to soundbite politics, but instead give me a thoughtful coherent argument. And pay me the compliment of listening to my ideas as well.
In the end, I’m not sure if I’ve figured anything out or even if I feel better for having written this, but here it is.
I welcome your comments, but please keep them respectful and in the spirit of growth and learning.
When my son was young, he loved to play with Legos. On occasion he would get upset when things weren’t working as he had planned. We would sometimes tell him to rethink what he was making. Maybe he could turn it into something different than what he had planned. We wanted him to learn flexibility, imagination, and innovation. He now is an adult that we are proud of.
But that’s not the point of my writing today.
Sometimes we are reminded of the lessons we gave in the past when we have to relearn them ourselves.
I’ve started knitting again after many years of not. I’ve long been searching for some creative work that is not related to my academic work. I put my energies into cooking and baking, which has been great, but two people can only eat so much and stay healthy. I am also putting my energies into gardening, but there are down times on that as well. So, inspired by my colleague Rachel who is one of the most creative people I know, I started knitting. Because I have tendonitis and arthritis in my hands, I learned the continental method which places less stress on the hands. It’s also faster (supposedly). It took me a while to learn, but now that I have, I can’t imagine going back to the English or throw style of knitting.
But that’s not the point of my writing this either.
I wanted to make a cowl. I wanted something to keep my neck and shoulders warm as I read or worked on the computer. I looked up patterns and discovered the moebius loop and the moebius cast on. After watching a Cat Bordhi’s YouTube video on moebius knitting (multiple times), I learned the technique and made a simple cowl.
I was happy with it, but wanted something that would cover my shoulders. I found a pattern, but it called for a finer yarn and needle than I had. Being the stubborn type and really wanting to use the chunky yarn I had, I decided to use the pattern anyway — as a starting point. I knitted away and ended up with a huge moebius circle. Not wide enough to cover my shoulders, but so incredibly long that I could wrap it around my neck three times. But, in that it was chunky yarn, that made a huge monstrosity around my neck that was incredibly unwieldy.
So what to do. I could rip it all out and start over, but my expert knitter friend Mary Angela insists that I should not do that. I should learn to embrace my knitting mistakes as evidence of my journey. That’s when my advice to my son came back to mind. I looked at this thing I had created, played with different ways of wrapping it and decided to sew up one edge to make a wide scarf.
But as I was sewing, I noticed that it was starting to look like a hood. I stopped sewing at a point, plopped the hood on my head, and played with the wrap.
It works. Now I look really stupid in hoods, so this isn’t something I’m going to wear in public, but it does what I wanted it to do with the added advantage of covering my head should the need arise.
But that really isn’t the point of my writing this either — well sort of, but not really.
My real point is that sometimes we do have to start over. But other times we have to take what we’ve got and make it work. Right now I’m struggling a bit because I’m still without a job. I’m continuing to look, but things haven’t worked out yet. I’m also looking into volunteer opportunities. Thus far nothing has sparked either. In fact, I find it rather odd that volunteer coordinators don’t even get back to me when I contact them. But that’s a topic for another post.
My task is to take what I’ve got and make it work. It will just take me being imaginative, innovative, and open to what is presented to me. Like the moebius scarf that mutated into a snood.