“All that I Hope”

If you know me, you know I love to read. I usually have multiple books going at once to suit different moods, plus an audiobook.

But ever since this shit got real a few weeks ago, I’ve had such a hard time focusing enough to dive deep into a book. I miss getting lost in literature. I seem to have only so much attention span, and have mainly used it up on work and this blog. And on endless scrolling for updates.

This week I’ve started to see some improvement in that arena though.

That’s partly due to a sweet surprise: Knowing my love of reading and how frustrated I’ve been to not be deep in a good book right now, a writer friend left this luminous book on my porch earlier this week.

20200402_201519 (768x1024)

It is a wonderfully creative mix of art and text depicting the life of Charlotte’s Web author E.B. White.

(A quote:

“All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.”

Amen, E.B.)

So the last few mornings, instead of going to my smartphone before/during/after breakfast, I have held off, and instead enjoyed dipping into this treasurehouse. I go from there to my walk, instead of checking the latest, and from my walk to my work desk.

It is tactile instead of digital. That’s a plus. It strikes me that part of my struggle with reading right now is the reading material would be mediated through my Kindle, because the library is closed. And that’s one more screen in a day of already more screen time than I’m used to. (This feels like a mighty petty concern in the scheme of things.)

In any case, it really makes a difference in my mental and emotional state when I monitor my media intake. I can’t do anything about the news, and some stories completely unseat me, so it’s best if I take it in small doses. Even if it is history in the making, I don’t have to follow every single development.

Gratitude: Language, literature, creativity, life. Also: my neighbors’ magnolia tree, which I see from my front window. It glows even brighter on overcast and rainy days.

20200331_081413 (1024x768)

Magnolia tree on a recent rainy morning

Tip of the Day: If there is a habit that doesn’t support your resilience (like my morning smartphone-checking), what if you replaced it with something else, just for a day? And then see how it feels. And if it feels good, try it again the next day.

Resource of the Day: Wendell Berry reads his poem about hope in this Bill Moyers clip.

 

 

Getting and Spending

“Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.”

A long time ago, when I worked in a corporation, I kept this William Wordsworth quote on my cubicle wall to remind me of what I knew—that my life was about more than producing and consuming.

Now I see that this statement doesn’t go far enough. Not only does endless productivity and consumerism crush our personal power, it destroys our planet.

Witness the fires devastating the Amazon. Deliberately set, left to burn until God knows what point of no return. Why is Brazil’s rainforest burning? In part, to feed consumer demand for paper, lumber, soy, and beef. (That’s not even taking into account the impact of mining minerals like copper, tin, gold, iron ore.)

We could blame the people who set the fires, but the more we buy into capitalism, the more complicit we are. Not to say that we don’t need to hold companies and governments responsible for the greedy policies that encourage slash-and-burn deforestation. But when something “out there” disturbs me, I try to to look within to see what is being reflected back to me. 

7469978464_6ebe7c0c7c_z

Photo by Katja Schulz, via Flickr Commons “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” —The Dalai Lama

Curiously, I started this blog post wanting to talk about doing nothing. In her new book, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, Jenny Odell reframes doing nothing as a potent form of resistance.

I have yet to read the book, but a review of it in Yes magazine piqued my interest. It is not a call to passivity, but an invitation to true transformation.

Odell writes that our constant activity and stimulus-addiction keep us from imagining the bold action that would truly change the world.

If we keep trying to feed a bottomless hole with products or busyness or information, we just heat the globe more. But if we step back and get quiet, allow ourselves to feel, we might get in touch with radically different possibilities. Like undoing capitalism.

The master’s tools will never bring down the master’s house, as Audre Lorde put it decades ago. We’ve got to make new tools, and to do that, we’ve got to dive deep.

What of the need for urgent action, to fight the powers that be? Charles Eisenstein has suggested that our urgent scurrying from problem to problem (along with our shame-and-blame culture) are symptomatic of a bigger cultural story driving the intertwined problems of our age. Not only symptomatic, but propping up that story, which is one of alienation, separateness.

We are part of this world. By getting quiet, concentrating ourselves, choosing to stop doing from time to time, we heal a little corner of it. We don’t always know the extent of that healing’s reverberation, but it’s real.

Now, if I stop there, I could use this truth as an excuse to never make a move that feels scary. Worse, as license to let injustices ride and exploitation continue unabated.

Without some measure of self-awareness—and a willingness to act when needed—“doing nothing” becomes self-indulgent. But sitting still, without input from screens or other media—isn’t that the cradle of self-awareness and compassion, a place that can spur inspired action?

A friend posted this quote yesterday along with her rainforest-inspired commitment to a vegan diet: “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” —The Dalai Lama

Where does it arise from, the deeply committed, maybe-small-but-world-changing action? From a spacious, quiet place, in touch with the deep pain of our time, and in touch with infinite possibility.

How to help the situation in Brazil: This Newsweek article lists some action items and organizations to support.

A Tale of Two Projects

A  few years ago I was working on a book that took me to the west coast and parts of the Midwest to talk to people in the community resilience movement. I wrote a book proposal and shopped it around and had some mild interest from literary agents. I received a grant for research travel, and I was selected a trio of writing residencies, and I wrote a bunch of words.

P and D sawing

A photo from one of my sojourns–a Bloomington homeschooling cooperative based around permaculture principles.

I still have those words. Some of them have turned up in posts here and other places. (People seem consistently most intrigued by the Mudgirls natural building collective.) But I have yet to use them in some final-final form of Thrivalists. Every agent who loved the topic ended up declining because of my “thin platform.” They didn’t believe that I would garner enough readership, in other words, to make me worth the risk.

I began to disbelieve it myself. I added that to a bone-deep doubt that anything I could do would ever be good enough or come together coherently enough to produce a book.

I shelved the project, and began to work on another, supposedly interim, nonfiction book. It was supposed to be a six-month jaunt into something different-but-related: I would write of my own healing journey, and how it connected to the buried ruins of a 19th century women’s mental institution (“Seven Steeples”) where I was volunteering at a modern-day farm.

IMG_20170720_173116403

Last week I toured a Traverse City, MI asylum of roughly the same era as Seven Steeples.

Two and a half years later…

Yeah.

Still working on that one. And I received a grant this year to further the project, which feels great! but also kind of heavy and dubious, since the first grant did not (yet) result in publication.

Next month I will hand my manuscript to a professional for editing services, thanks to the Indiana Arts Commission’s generosity.

In the meantime (while still freelancing in the farm profile arena) I periodically send out pieces of each work-in-progress to see if anyone is interested in publishing them as essays. Nope nope nope. (Though I’ve had a few very nice rejection notes!)

Till this month. To meet a shorter word count and fit a theme of “Roots,” I reworked a segment of Thrivalists about the role of fungi in rootedness. I incorporated some newer, slightly woo-woo material (sort of a mashup of both projects), and sent it to Topology Magazine. They published The Gift of the Fungi, which is ostensibly about what I learned at the Radical Mycology Convergence, but is also about coming to embrace a wider sense of possibility.

I felt a curious lack of enthusiasm for the news that the site would publish it. The old “any club that would have me as a member” dilemma? A sense that I could have snagged a higher profile outlet, if I’d persisted? Some of each.

Plus a sense of : “I went to California, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Illinois and Ohio and all I got was this lousy T-shirt?”

The end product is supposed to be a book, not a little online article.

Well, then a writing buddy reminded me of something Charles Eisenstein asked in a podcast : Would you write even if you had only one reader, even if you knew that that reader might take your words and change the world… but you’d never get credit for it? He wrote a piece about how this type of loyalty test first arose for him. An excellent read if you have time.

Why do we do what we do? What is our ultimate goal? If it’s about fulfilling our purpose, taking our place in the Divine scheme of things, then words like “platform” and “readership” are less important than resonating our truth.

web eagle creek park

Spiderweb photo by Barbara Jablonski, taken at Eagle Creek Park

In the world we live in, money and fame are gods. What we have to offer doesn’t count unless it brings in income or gains huge exposure. Charles and my writing buddy and I refute that story, and I suspect we’re not alone in that.

Oh and by the way, some ideas are percolating about that old project as I hit the home stretch (?) of the new one. I haven’t seen the last of the inspiring Thrivalists that shared with me. I can tell because of the way my blood hums when I think of putting their stories in a wider frame.

Maybe I just needed to expand (not my platform but my being) before I could put the work out there. We’ll see.

Pass the Book, Please!

On my walks through the neighborhood I have encountered a curious thing: a little house-shaped structure mounted on a post, with sliding glass doors enclosing one of my favorite things: books!

Little Free Library in my neighborhood

Little Free Library in my neighborhood

It is a Little Free Library, part of a worldwide network designed to cultivate the love of reading by setting up free book exchanges.

Gotta love that. I decided to donate a book and take another home, just for fun. I’d like to say my donation was carefully selected after much intensive soul-searching, Top Ten list-making, and pick-pondering, but the truth is I had just visited Bookmamas, our little independent bookstore, where I was given three advance reading copies of books marked NOT FOR RESALE, so I stuck one of those in.

Putting my book into the mix.

Putting my book into the mix.

The little house-o-books was crammed chock full. Perhaps more people need to stop by and check out the selection.

I came home with a book called Dune Road, by Jane Green. It’s a novel about “divorcee Kit Hargrove (who) has joyfully exchanged the requisite diamond studs and Persian rugs of a Wall Street Widow for a clapboard Cape with sea-green shutters and sprawling impatiens….” Not my usual fare, but hey! I’m open.

Me and my find

Me and my find

I just love the coziness of the little structure, and the community feel of it. I want one in front of my house! (Neighbor-readers out there: do you know if this little library’s stewards made it by hand–or other details about it? No one was home when I knocked–or perhaps they were hiding from the camera phone-wielding/windblown/book-crazy stranger on their doorstep).

I was just wrapping this post up when the friend working across from me at the coffee shop mentioned that Tuesday is World Book Night, wherein book-lovers sign up to distribute 20 copies of a book–printed and shipped pro bono, with authors foregoing royalties–to people who don’t regularly read. She had ordered a box of books to pass out, so we stopped over at Bookmamas to pick it up.

Special edition books for World Book Night, designated to be given free

Special edition books for World Book Night, designated to be given away

Anyone out there ever participated in a book exchange or giveaway? Are you participating in World Book Night? Chime in and let us know what’s going on in your neck of the woods.