Right now I’m reading…Anne Lamott

To be completely honest, I’m usually not a fan of how-to books, of writers who give advice on how one does a particular thing well.  They too often squelch creativity by providing a cookie cutter way to do a particular project.  I’m more of a ‘look at the necessary components and maybe a picture and then give it a go’ sort of person, ie when I did crafts as a child I never followed the instructions, instead gathered the ingredients for the orgami/cookies/glitter star ornaments and made it up myself.  Sometimes this was successful, other times a disaster entirely.  But I always enjoyed myself.  However, one how-to book has stolen my heart entirely, and that is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.  Because in most ways it’s not really a how-to book at all, rather a surprisingly personal and often hysterical account of how and why one writer does what she does.

Though I am only about 2/3 of the way through the book, I have learned, or rather, re-learned, several things about writing:
-more often than not it’s an arduous process, but do it anyway if it’s what you love
-write in small pieces, ie. what you could fit into a one inch picture frame
-when it’s done well, fiction writing in particular writes itself; the characters unveil their true selves and create the plot as a result
Anne has the uncanny ability to say things I’ve heard before (sometimes several times) and make them sound fresh through life and workshop anecdotes, hilarious metaphors, and a friendly yet cynical conversational tone that makes you feel as though you’re conversing and complaining about your kindred writing spirits over a nice cup of French roast, rather than reading her writing alone in your room.

I’m still skeptical about writing fiction, as my failed NaNoWriMo attempt attests to.  Blog posts, poetry, and random bits of journalistic-type writing on food and books and social issues, sure.  But stories, let alone a novel?  Still kind of scary.  But Anne Lamott inspires me to give it a go when I next feel compelled to document the world in my head and heart.

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Live Blogging at the Design with Nature Conference- Aldo Leopold and the Return of a Life Thread

Aldo Leopold was actually my initial reason for registering for this conference, so I’m glad we’ve finally arrived at the speaker focusing on his work.

From the first fifteen minutes of Prof Stan Temple’s talk, I’ve already learned that Aldo’s mother required him to keep a daily journal starting at age 8, a practice he continued for the remainder of his life and expanded to include lists of observations in nature, and that he spent 15 years in forest service in residency in the Southwest (sounds like another nature writer I know).  The former fact invokes empathy, the latter desperately makes me want to go to the desert 🙂

The subjects and attendees of this conference have brought a life thread back to the surface: working on and cultivating the immediate, close, and particular, both in time and in physical space, versus big ideas and planning and imagining that transcends time.  In a matter of hours I have met many wonderful, enthusiastic people.  One of the the exhibitors is the owner of a horticulturally-themed bookstore in St. Paul with whom I spent at least ten minutes discussing his storefront garden.  My table mates over lunch were landscape design grad students, a small town resident who started a prairie garden, a country club member who planted prairie plants on the golf course, and a woman interested in native plants in her garden.  All lovely people, all focused on their projects, the specific, small world they have created.  Their stories were marvelous and tender, and I truly hope to cultivate a life and place that I love to a similar degree.  However, when I brought up Transition Towns and bicycle commuting and the big-idea lifestyle change movements I’m so excited about, I was largely met with quizzical stares.  While these individuals love their particular plot of land, the large scale community building and lifestyle changing to address bigger environmental issues is not an aspect of their worldview lens.  I’m sure I’m not giving any particular person nearly enough credit, and likely with time and further conversation many people would prove to be more deeply engaged that I could perceive in a first impression.  But the separation between the big ideas and the direct action is disheartening.

To bring it back to Aldo Leopold…particular projects and big ideas need not be mutually exclusive, and I think nature writers like Aldo, Wendell Berry, and Edward Abbey are perfect evidence of this.  These men (because unfortunately the majority of historic famous nature writers are men, save Rachel Carson) had particular landscapes they loved, hikes and creatures and parks that they protected in both words and body.  However, through their writing their passion for place became a microcosm of passion for the planet, for ideas and change movements that affect the big picture, the WAY WE LIVE.

I am tempted to make excuses for those whose center is their own particular world, a place they cherish while the world at large might go by the wayside.  Tempted to say we need not all be visionaries, that the world needs leaders and followers, etc etc etc.  But the truth is that we all must be visionaries, big thinkers, but we must do it TOGETHER.  In light of the drastic social and environmental changes that have been happening for decades if not centuries, we all need to radically rethink how we live and interact with each other and the world.  But most importantly, we need to write about those visions and talk with each other to move into the future collectively.  Staunch individualism is outdated and, moreover, impossible for holistic health of the individual, community, and ecosystem.  Dream!  Plan!  Discuss!  Do!

This will be my final live blog from the conference.  It would be great to get some feedback on whether or not this is something worth doing again.  Have a great weekend everyone, and keep thinking and talking about your hopes for the future.

Live Blogging at the Design with Nature Conference- Photography

from Rick Darke, first conference speaker:
*taking photos of specific places for a year, places that are visited/crossed in the normal necessary journey
*look at the layers in one landscape
*if the whole thing is narrowed down to one view one is ignoring diversity
*landscape is light, depth, mood, natural frame, change, place, layering, seasonality
*things have to thrive in the conditions that exist now, not some imagined future, not some nostalgic past
*palimpsest
*color, form, and order is there in wild landscaping

I’ve been wanting to take pictures, not because I think myself any sort of true photographer (I’ll leave that to several friends that take marvelous photos), but because I constantly crave documentation of the beautiful world I inhabit- the bridges across the Mississippi River, the freeze and thaw of late winter, the hearty citizens of my fair city that venture out regardless of weather.  While photographs can contain one specific moment at one specific place, I want my photographs to show change in a place I love over time.  It’s fitting, serendipitous even, that I just discovered this amazing time lapse photograph via a friend today.

So Twin Citians, any ideas of where I might take photos for a month or year?

The big question: this conference is generally about the landscape of nature; how does that fit into/over/with the human landscape?

EDIT: Rick ended his talk with “how many people are happy to be alive today?”.  I raised my hand with glee.  Glorious.

Live Blogging at the Design with Nature Conference- Intro

I’m spending my Saturday at the Design with Nature conference, learning about landscape and heritage from a collection of speakers in the conference center at the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus.  Ordinarily I end up ungodly lethargic after sitting for hours listening to speakers at conferences with nothing to do but take notes that I will likely never refer to again.  However, today I had the foresight to bring my Netbook for notes, research (it’s so much easier to remember to look things up immediately upon hearing about them instead of making strange little lists in my notebook to look up later that lose their context and thus their meaning), and an experiment in live blogging.

Hopefully everyone is out enjoying a lovely late February day in various wintry pursuits, but if you’re in front of your computer, stay tuned for a handful of musings and (hopefully) pithy quotes from the conference today.

Beautiful things: February edition

February is almost over.  A month that in past years distressed me to no end (see  Valentines Day and the agonizingly long winter) and this year February redeemed through the magic of Vitamin D and varying weather that, dare I say, was almost pleasant.  Between continuing to create, the slow return of spring, and a singularly adorable cat, it’s been quite a lovely month.

The return of the chives!  I had though them dead for certain, but lo and behold the green stalks have begun to emerge through the remnants of last year to make delicious seasoning for my morning eggs of the future.
Recent record purchases and the ensuing well soundtracked project time has given my days off a new feel.  Now I can spend my time quilting, blogging and reading to the tune of Brothers and Sisters by the Allman Brothers!  Or the epic that is 2112!  ::commence geek out on orchestral and Southern classic rock::  Even though vinyl isn’t sustainable persay, I figure used vinyl has a smaller footprint than new cds, hence the inclusion of a record player on the wedding gift registry 🙂

Handquilting!  I’m taking a class at Glad Creations Quilts and feel like I’ve discovered the perfect project in many ways.  It’s useful, it’s portable, and it starts loads of great conversations with strangers.  The project for the class is a sampler quilt wall hanging, but I hope to make a full bed sized quilt using one particular block pattern and all recycled/reused fabric in the not too distant future.

This little cat has squirmed her way deep into my heart.  Su-Su (or Sioux-Sioux as I spell it in my head) looks like a kitten, occasionally acts like a dog, and is maybe the best example I’ve ever encountered of a cat that could melt that heart of any supposed cat hater.  There’s a great quote on a mural on the animal hospital I pass by frequently that says something along the lines of “Until one has loved an animal, one’s heart is not fully opened”.  Su-Su is living proof of that.
Transition Towns and sustainability/community building work have been particularly inspiring this month.  I plan to write a more comprehensive post on this in the future, but for now suffice to say that parties and potlucks and canning and backyard chickens make any impending apocalypse due to climate change seem that much less terrifying and that much more an opportunity to truly know your neighbors, live lightly on the earth, and build authentic community.

What have you been loving this month?

New Scandinavian Cooking: One of the few television shows worth watching

In general I abhor television.  It’s a time suck that normally provides little to no intellectual stimulation and it’s programming frequently imparts the worst of our cultural values.  I’m also a long time vegetarian.  So you wouldn’t expect that my favorite 8:30pm Monday and Wednesday pastime is watching New Scandinavian Cooking on public television.  But you would be wrong.

New Scandinavian Cooking is what television should be.  It’s funny, educational, and most importantly, a truly useful show.  Though I haven’t tried many of the recipes (at least three quarters feature meat, so it’s unlikely I ever will attempt them), New Scan Cook does more than showcase Scandinavian cuisine- it highlights a different quirky cultural locale in every show, including historical customs, vocations, geographical features, anything and everything interesting about various cities and tiny towns across Scandinavia.

In addition to intriguing cultural tidbits that fan my desire to visit Scandinavia someday soon (the fjords of Norway in particular have called to me for years now), I’ve found myself wanting to test out new or rarely used ingredients in my cooking.  In the middle of winter finding fresh local herbs and many local vegetables is difficult- though Scandinavian cooking does frequently feature root veggies, a winter staple- so most of my experimentation has been waiting for spring to arrive.  Fresh dill, creme fraiche, and aquavit, here I come!

I find most cooking shows to be 1.)Slow 2.)Excessively complicated or 3.)Filled with ingredients I never see myself using.  But New Scandinavian Cooking, with its fascination with simple, local dishes and the food of the proletariat (my words, not theirs) is relaxing, refreshing, and altogether approachable.

It also doesn’t hurt that Andreas Viestad (my favorite host) is extremely adorable and the epitome of an attractive, active, enthusiastic Scandinavian man.  Le sigh.

Have fun cooking, friends, and if you live in Minnesota, be sure to check out New Scandinavian Cooking at 8:30pm on Channel 2.

Happy Generosity Day!

I’ve never particularly enjoyed Valentines Day, for many of the same reasons that my father refuses to acknowledge it as a worthwhile holiday.  Love should be celebrated every day, or at least whenever a couple/family/community feels like it, not on a Hallmark-sanctioned day.  So I heartily endorse celebrating today as Generosity Day, as described in this article from GOOD magazine, an experiment originally done by Sasha Dichter of the Acumen Fund.

Why is Generosity Day worth celebrating?  Here’s what Katya from Network for Good answers:
1. It is a nice thing to do for others on a day when not everyone feels loved.
2. It will be make you happy. (There is plenty of proof that helping people makes you happy.)
3. It will make you approach your life and work from a place of abundance rather than scarcity. (It’s a good idea to be generous when you’re hungry.)
4. It will make you better at the work of inspiring generosity in others.

May everyone give and receive love today and all days to those closest to them and the most distant stranger, without expectation of reciprocation.  And remember to say yes to acts of generosity!